Reason contributor Bill Steigerwald has published a couple of ground-breaking exposes with Reason about John Steinbeck's literary fakery in the "non-fiction" classic Travels with Charley in Search of America (read the Reason pieces here and here). The 1962 best-seller by Nobel laureate Steinbeck purported to be a true-life odyssey around the country in which the aging writer took the pulse of the nation. As Steigerwald has definitively showed, the book, whose claim to truth is essential to its narrative and lasting cultural power, was largely fabricated to accord with Steinbeck's left-liberal point of view.
While Steinbeck scholars sniff that all non-fiction writers are obviously liars (one of them even said the fabulism deepened his "faith" in the book), The New York Times editorialized that such attitudes are intellectually corrosive.
And for a taste of what's in store, check out this New York Post piece by Steigerwald. A snippet:
Academics soft pedal Steinbeck's fictionalizing — i.e., fibbing — saying it doesn't matter because he was telling greater truths. Of course, that "truth-telling" begs some questions. At what point do all the fictions in "Charley" — or memoirs like "A Million Little Pieces" or Greg Mortenson's "Three Cups of Tea" — discredit the book's value as an accurate and honest account of reality? And at what point do all those phony quotes from dozens of Steinbeck's made-up characters in a nonfiction book add up to literary fraud?…
2 1/2 generations of trusting readers of all ages were duped by Steinbeck. No writer could get away with it today — and no one in the past, no matter how talented, should, either.