Here’s a great interview with Philip Lopate on literary non-fiction. Note what he has to say about our infamous James Frey. Also, what he says about “reflective nonfiction” , which I think is very wise and so necessary in a world where writers are so concerned with “the market”: “You could finesse a certain amount of technique, scenes, and dialogue, but it’s hard to finesse having or not having an interesting mind. I try to read writers who are better than I am, or who have deeper minds than I do because I need to learn.”
I read Lopate’s book Being With Children when I was studying to be a teacher. It was cool to stumble upon him again and to find in his interview unexpected wisdom in the middle of my day, this time on writing, reading and living, “One issue is the limits of our sympathy, and that we can’t always sympathize with people in need or in trouble. We wrestle with our solipsistic condition, and most people fall into a kind of self-absorption. We know that we should be open more to others, but we’re very self-pre-occupied. But, if we become friends with our minds, we will be less harsh on ourselves for not being perfect, for not being saints. We’re not saints, for the most part.
One of the things that literature does—and here I’m not just talking about essays, but about Greek tragedy, Shakespeare, the great novels of the nineteenth century—is it allows us to be more understanding about human frailty, about error, tragic flaws, and therefore, makes us more forgiving, and more self-forgiving. That’s a kind of wisdom.”