by Nancy King
I was in the library, looking at the fourteen-day books, when I suddenly stared in amazement. There, on the shelf, was one of my novels, A Woman Walking. Stunned to see it in the section with well-known authors, I picked it up. My joy evaporated when I saw that it was with nonfiction books. Thinking it had been left on that shelf by mistake, I started to put it in its alphabetical order in the fiction section but then I noticed it had been classified as nonfiction. Who could find my novel hidden between how to improve your sex life and what to do about Iran?
“Okay,” I said to myself, “take a deep breath. Do not be judgmental. Do not attack. Be friendly and nonchalant. It’s probably a mistake that can be easily rectified. In a calm, cool, dispassionate manner, simply tell the librarian that a mistake has been made, that the book has been erroneously classified.”
Feeling rather proud of myself for not getting upset or excited, I took my time, formulated a non-accusatory response, and ambled to the librarian’s desk, patiently waiting until she finished taking care of the woman in front of me.
“May I help you?” she inquired.
“I hope so,” I said, smiling pleasantly. “This book,” I told her, holding A Woman Walking, “is a novel but it’s been classified as nonfiction.”
She shrugged. “Then it’s nonfiction. The people who classify books know what they’re doing.” She turned away from me and picked up a pile of books from the desk.
What I wanted to do was jump across her desk, shake her bureaucratic neck, and teach her the basics of logic. Instead, I took a very deep breath, ignored the sarcastic responses bubbling up inside me, and quietly said, “Excuse me, but it’s a novel.”
Obviously annoyed, she slammed the pile of books on a back counter, turned toward me, and repeated herself with vehemence, as if I’d attacked her. “I told you, people who classify books are experienced. If they say a book is nonfiction, it’s nonfiction.” She sat in her chair and stared at the computer.
Hah! Now I had her. It was time to show my high card. I could just picture her apologizing abjectly. “I’m the author. I’m telling you, it’s a novel. Fiction.”
Without looking at me she asked, “So what do you want me to do?”
“I’d like you to tell the classifiers that the book should be properly classified as fiction.” I held up the back of the book. “See, it’s written right here. Fiction.”
First she buried her face in her computer and then she pointed it towards me. Triumphantly she crowed, “See? The other branch also has it classified as nonfiction.”
Kafka, where are you now that I need you?
“Don’t the same people classify books for all the branches?”
“Yes. So what?” she responded testily.
Garbage in, garbage out. “So, could you send a note to the people classifying books for all the branches that this book is a novel? Fiction. Tell them you received this information from the author.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” she said, clearly infuriated.
She arose from her chair and looked past me as though I didn’t exist. She spoke to the man standing behind me in a loud, no nonsense voice, “May I help you?”
No question about it. I had been tossed away like an old worn book.
I waited three days before calling the library to see if A Woman Walking had been reclassified. It hadn’t. After talking with three people who knew nothing about anything, I asked to speak to their supervisor. My message was simple. My manner was civilized. Inside, however, I was fuming, ready to blow. Forcing myself to speak more calmly than I would have believed possible, I explained, “My novel, A Woman Walking has been classified as nonfiction.”
“Let me look it up on the computer.”
I waited. It didn’t feel good to be harboring an inner volcano ready to explode at any moment so I began practicing a phrase I’ve been learning: calm begets calm. I tried to imagine myself as the poster girl for calm.
“That’s right, it’s nonfiction. It’s a folktale,” said the supervisor, matter of factly.
My inner volcano was now boiling. The lava was red hot. Knowing that an angry response would get me nowhere, I forced myself to speak in a neutral voice, “No, it’s a novel written in the folktale genre. But, even if it were a collection of folktales, folktales are fiction—traditional stories, handed down from generation to generation—they can’t be authored.” I took such a deep breath I feared I might hyperventilate. “If it were a collection of folktales it would say retold by or based on the folktale from . . . it would say the country the stories came from.”
“If it’s been classified as nonfiction, it’s nonfiction. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
My inner volcano was now shooting plumes of red into the air. It was all I could do to keep from shrieking, “Look you stupid fuck, I’m the author. I wrote the damn book. I tell you it’s a novel. Novels by definition are fiction! Instead, I managed to say, reasonably calmly, “If you will just look at the back of the book you can see for yourself; it says, fiction.”
He didn’t miss a beat. He didn’t bother to hide his obviously superior knowledge. “Sometimes we classify fiction as nonfiction.”
“I’m busy. Thank you for contacting the library. Goodbye.”
End of story.
I will try again.
I refuse to be known as the world’s first nonfiction novelist
Nancy King has written many books and articles dealing with imagination, creativity, drama, and literacy. You can read the first pages of her novels: A Woman Walking, Morning Light, and The Stones Speak. on her website: www.nancykingstories.com. Her books can be purchased from her website or ordered by local bookstores.