Imagine: extra-creative nonfiction

by Emily Hamstra

John Lehrer’s book Imagine: how creativity works didn’t slowly creep off the bestseller list, it just disappeared. First, Lehrer admitted that he “recycled work” from articles he previously published. Then, he admitted he fabricated the quotes from Bob Dylan included in Imagine. The Christian Science Monitor summarizes some of the false quotes. Imagine has been pulled from bookstore shelves, and it’s vanished from the the bestseller lists it dominated a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, at my library, the hold list on this title has grown. Whether the interest in the book relates to the controversy surrounding the book, or simply the lack of supply in bookstores, I’ll never know.

I was talking with my colleagues about what to do about Imagine. I work in an Undergraduate Library, where we provide current and relevant research to first and second year students. Books containing outdated information are regularly weeded, moved into storage, or moved to the Graduate Library. Should we keep this book on the Undergraduate Library shelves? What do we do with a book that puts words into someone’s mouth? Will students be quoting Lehrer’s version of Dylan in their papers? (A colleague directed us to Anatomy of a Fake Quotation). My colleagues and I talked about using the Imagine controversy as an opportunity teach students about sources in library instruction sessions. We could use this as a case study to frame effectively incorporating sources into writing, and the impact of misusing sources. We need to remind students to not be sloppy in their writing and research. We often get so focused on teaching students how to find the sources they need in our one-shot instruction sessions or at the reference desk, that we forget the most important piece of research and writing– using those sources effectively. Leaving that piece out is sloppy on our part.

Imagine, we decided, will stay on the shelves at the Undergraduate Library. People continue to read other books that have been exposed as extra-creative nonfiction. Remember the A Million Little Pieces scandal? Frey and Oprah have apologized to each other and six years later, the book continues to circulates. How about Three Cups of Tea? Mortenson paid back $1 million dollars to his charity, and his books continue to circulate. Imagine, too, will continue to circulate.

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