Reality TV for the Novel


The problem with the nature of commercial entertainment isn't that it loses something by virtue of responding to mass appeal. if that were true, hip-hop would never have gotten off the ground. Rather, it's that after a while, you end up getting so much of the same tried-and-tested, cookie-cutter formula that everything kind of feels like another version of something that came before it.

This is the problem with literature today, where in fiction you either have your basic whodunit murder story, or you have your seen-it-since-the-70s dystopian sci-fi narrative (although today there's usually a romantic dalliance added for effect), or it's your trashy boy-meets-girl-breaks-up-with-boy romance genre beyond that. In non-fiction, it's not a lot better either - it's essentially your standard fare of 8 chapters, a preface and an afterword, with a freelance journalist walking you through a story you have probably read somewhere before online 9 months ago.

So I was curious to see what Daniel M. Harrison, who is the Editor-in-chief of Coinspeaker, one of the web's most popular Bitcoin news sites, meant when he mentioned at a conference that he had "turned down offers" by a number of traditional publishers for his upcoming book, since he wanted to "play around with the format and centrally the idea of what it is and is not acceptable to print these days."

The work manifest in Harrison's vision is now available in paperback form and on Kindle and is called Butterflies: The Strange Metamorphosis Between Fact & Fiction In Today's World.

It's easy to see why Harrison was skeptical about how much publishers would want to interfere with the book. Butterflies, which is centrally a work of philosophy with a kind of fictional narrative running throughout it - gets right to heart of ideas that get little play in popular media circles. For instance, there is a chapter in the book called "50 Rays of Light," a clear send-up of EL James' "50 Shades of Grey." If James came across a little like a stuffy librarian attempting to push her boundaries, Harrison appears like the opposite kind of writer: he doesn't have any to start with and kind of discovers them along the way!

Harrison, a professional financial journalist who was trained at the Wall Street Journal and was also a Motley Fool columnist for 8 years, offers some really compelling insights about the direction of the modern economy and America's political system.

There are a couple of brilliant Bitcoin stories embedded in the book - one of which is 67 pages long - where Harrison deconstructs decade by decade the evolution of Central Banking since 1897 and comes to the conclusion that the present-day economy looks more like the one back then - when Central Bankers weren't deemed necessary really - than it does the one of 20 years ago.

The fictional narrative that runs throughout the book is sort of Steven King-meets-Philip Roth, with explicit and creepy narratives about a bunch of millenials exploring a lifestyle of excessive drug-taking, questioning every value that they are taught by their parents, sometimes making piles of money and winning all the accolades of celebrity that such achievements entail, and other times going for broke, or starting frauds and blowing their brains out, all while seemingly trying to figure out what their intuitive rationale tells them about what to do with their lives. In that sense, reading Butterflies is like reading a highly dramatized version of your average day in New York city.

Butterlies is the first of new genre of literature that Harrison dubs "informed fiction." Informed fiction, he explains, is a type of fiction where real life stories and hard-reporting, including the use of real names and factual accounts, are infused into the fictional narrative in order to give the book a "documentary-like quality."

I think it's easier to think of Informed Fiction as Reality TV for the novel, however. If it takes off, then not everyone is going to like the nature of this sort of literary revolution, for sure - including its seedier and less wholesome approach to portraying sides of life we'd rather not think about when trying to "tune out." Journalists will attack it as not being "real journalism," too - so Harrison has got his fair share of critics on his hands.

But I applaud the effort Harrison is making to try and make literature a place that is ultimately more connected and innovative as a place where ideas can be exchanged and discussed in a way that no else has done before.

In that respect at least, this was easily the best book I have read this year.

Butterflies: The Strange Metamorphosis of Fact & Fiction In Today's World is available on Amazon in paperback and via Kindle.