Fairness & John McPhee’s ‘Archdruid’

August 6, 2010 | 2 Comments

[H]uman judgment tells you what to do in journalism—not god or the rule book or the facts. That’s not a trivial point: journalism is saturated with judgment, and a lot of that judgment belongs to the individual journalist. The trouble arises (and this is the whole reason we have the bias debate) because American journalists some time ago took refuge in objectivity, and began to base their authority on a claim to have removed bias from the news.—Jay Rosen “What’s …

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Honesty in memoir, ver. 3.2

April 17, 2010 | 6 Comments

John D’Agata’s new book About a Mountain portrays Congress deciding to make Yucca mountain a nuclear dump, and, as if in response, a sixteen-year-old boy makes a suicide leap off the balcony of a skeevy Las Vegas hotel. In an otherwise rave review last February in The New York Times Book Review, Charles Bock took D’Agata to task for changing the date of the boy’s death to better serve his narrative (D’Agata gave the correct date in a footnote). D’Agata …

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Honesty in memoir, ver. 3.1

April 12, 2010 | No Comments

Vivian Gornick’s view of literary memoir as a return to storytelling in her influential treatise The Situation and the Story. After reading David Shields’s anti-narrative yawp Reality Hunger, I happened to be rereading Vivian Gornick’s influential treatise on nonfiction, The Situation and the Story, and saw that she holds a far different view of the reason for the memoir explosion of our time—and she holds as well a different prescription: not more voice, the talking heads Shields loves, but more of …

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Honesty in memoir, ver. 3.0

April 7, 2010 | 6 Comments

The etymology of fiction is from fingere (participle fictum), meaning “to shape, fashion, form, or mold.” Any verbal account is a fashioning or shaping of events. Remembering and fiction-making are virtually indistinguishable. The memoir rightly belongs to the imaginative world, and once writers and readers make their peace with this, there will be less argument over questions regarding the memoir’s relation to the “facts” and “truth.” —David Shields, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto A year ago I aired David Shields’s original …

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John McPhee’s plans & his surprises

March 17, 2010 | 4 Comments

The February 8 issue of The New Yorker featured an essay by John McPhee called “The Patch.” It’s about one of McPhee’s passions, fishing for chain pickerel, but it takes an unusual turn for McPhee when it also portrays the dying in 1984 of his physician father, who taught McPhee to fish. The elder McPhee, felled by a stroke at eighty-nine, was unresponsive until his son told him about a pickerel he’d just landed with his father’s ancient bamboo rod. …

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When narratives collide

October 15, 2009 | One Comment, a social-action network, sponsors an annual blog day on October 15, and today all participants are writing on global warming. A friend challenged me to participate with an angle related to writing. So, Jean, here it is! A winning narrative has emerged on global warming: the phenomenon is real and human-caused and may be ameliorated. But controversy hasn’t been laid to rest, for the issue is a surrogate for heated human differences. Some conservatives seem to feel that liberals …

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Norman Mailer on nonfiction

October 1, 2009 | One Comment

from an interview with the late writer Norman Mailer by J. Michael Lennon for Creating Nonfiction: A Guide and Anthology by Becky Bradway and Doug Hesse: “The form, the medium, determines the message. And the message you receive from a novel is different from the message—usually less interesting—that comes to you from nonfiction. Therefore, I like my nonfiction to read like a novel. By which I don’t mean that I fudge the facts. On the contrary, since I’m already out …

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