“Dickens,” observed one of my students—as in Charles, as in fiction. The word “paternalism” arose, though more as a question than a charge: Did Boo, in assuming the role of an omniscient narrator, inadvertently set herself up to look down on Mumbai from on high? Another student wondered why one of the blurbs on the back was from David Sedaris. “Isn’t he, like, funny?” Behind the Beautiful Forevers is not a funny book, but it wasn’t the blurb-presence of a humorist that caught my student’s eye. It was what Sedaris wrote: “It might surprise you how completely enjoyable this book is, as rich and beautifully written as a novel.”
Read more of "Like a Novel: The Marketing of Literary Nonfiction" in the Summer issue of Virginia Quarterly Review.