on July 6, 1998
As a writer of non-fiction, I'm grateful to the editors of this book. It's the best and most complete survey of the development of non-fiction writing I've found, reaching back to Defoe for examples of techniques we've come to think of as recent developments non-fiction reporting, and moving through the "new journalism" writers to contemporary writers such as Ted Conover and Michael Winerip. The editors have written elegant prefaces not only to the book but to each of the dozens of writers included,giving biographical information, historical context, and information on the writing they've chosen to include (why they chose an early Hemingway column from the Toronto Star, for instance; the importance of Joseph Mitchell's profile on a bearded lady as opposed to his more well-known pieces). I would have liked to have seen something from Ian Frazier's Great Plains or Janet Malcolm's meditation on the art and impossibility of objective biography The Silent Woman, both of which push the craft of non-fiction writing into original territory. Nonetheless, this is a great book for students of non-fiction, non-fiction writers and especially for teachers of non-fiction. And as a collection of great writing, it's also great reading.
on May 29, 2006
Perhaps the reduction in reading of 'literary novels' is due to the general decline in other forms of writing: evidence of this possibility can be found by comparing the original styles of prose collected in this anthology with the general journalistic style today that is either turgid, 'stylishly hip (meaning writing TO the audience, not FOR the audience,' or just plain banal. Every newspaper on-line or off now has a 'new journalist' feature or features, but there are two problems with most of the writers who work on them: they are mediocre writers because they have not learned from people who write well nor have they taken the time to become keen observers of human behavior; To take just two examples from this book, Gary Smith writes about basketball and Native Americans in Montana and finds the soul of his subject while R. Ben Kramer takes a look at Bob Dole in the 1988 primaries and finds the hurt spirit beneath his mediated image. Such observation and expression requires a devotion to understanding one's subject, not a devotion to drawing attention to one's self. Literary journalists nowadays cater to the desires of their editors, which means too often, the desires of their publishers and in turn the desires of the corporation that owns the entity, and most likely the corporation doesn't know anything about writing or humanity, and couldn't care less. True 'literary journalism' is an art form, but like other skills it requires lots of apprenticeship, honing, and maturation. Right now such values are on hiatus owing to our need to quickly fill the 'information hole' of a vast array of media: the results being cloned authors coming off an assembly line.
on March 2, 2013
This book was a Christmas present from my daughter-in-law and I can't remember a gift I've enjoyed so much.
There are fifty-eight pieces in the book and they span a great variety and time frame of literary journalism beginning with entries by Defoe, Boswell and Dickens, and winding up with Tom Wolfe and Joan Didion. Many of these pieces are extracts of a larger work and are so entertaining and well-written that you immediately want to read the entire work. It's like being confronted with a group of fifty-eight jars, each filled with a confection such as jelly beans, cashews, gum drops, chocolates, etc.
The editors and compilers, Kevin Kerrane and Ben Yagoda, provide an introduction to each piece, a minimal review with hints on what to look for and appreciate, helping you become a more critical reader.
I found a huge number of pieces both entertaining, educational and sometimes disturbing. "The Fight to Live" by Al Stump covering the last days of baseball legend Ty Cobb falls into the last category. Tom Wolfe's "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" was definitely in the first category with language and descriptive prose defying description. In the educational category, David Simon's extract from "Homicide" tells you exactly what not to do when hauled into an interrogation room by inquisitive and demanding detectives.
There's something here for everyone, both reader and writer alike. An excellent compendium of real life activities described so well.