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The Lifespan of a Fact Paperback – February 27, 2012
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“...[H]ere is the genius of this little book, for as it progresses, D'Agata and Fingal turn everything around on us, until even our most basic assumptions are left unclear. Who says writers owe readers anything? Or that genre, such as it is, is a valid lens through which to consider literary work? ...[T]he book is "an enactment of the experience of trying to find meaning"― a vivid and reflective meditation on the nature of nonfiction as literary art.” (David L. Ulin - L.A. Times)
“Very à propos in our era of spruced-up autobiography and fabricated reporting, this is a whip-smart, mordantly funny, thought-provoking rumination on journalistic responsibility and literary license.” (Publishers Weekly)
“A fascinating and dramatic power struggle over the intriguing question of what nonfiction should, or can, be.” (Lydia Davis)
“A singularly important meditation on fact and fiction, the imagination and life, fidelity and freedom. Provocative, maddening, and compulsively readable, The Lifespan of a Fact pulses through a forest of detail to illuminate high-stakes, age-old questions about art and ethics―questions to which the book (blessedly!) provides no easy answers.” (Maggie Nelson)
“...The Lifespan of a Fact... is less a book than a knock-down, drag-out fight between two tenacious combatants, over questions of truth, belief, history, myth, memory and forgetting.” (Jennifer McDonald - New York Times Book Review)
“A riveting essay delving into the arcane yet entertaining debate within the writing community over the relationship between truth and accuracy when writing creative nonfiction....” (Kirkus Reviews)
“...Thus begins the alternately absorbing and infuriating exercise that is the book The Lifespan of a Fact, a Talmudically arranged account of the conflict between Jim Fingal, zealous checker, and John D’Agata, nonfiction fabulist, which began in 2005 and resulted in this collaboration.” (Gideon Lewis-Kraus - New York Times Magazine)
“If you like compelling, emotional stories set in wild, business-friendly locales, this book delivers.” (Daniel Roberts - Fortune Magazine)
About the Author
John D’Agata is the author of About a Mountain, Halls of Fame and editor of The Next American Essay and The Lost Origins of the Essay. He teaches creative writing at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, where he lives.
Jim Fingal is now a software engineer and writer in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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Top Customer Reviews
Fingal fact-checked the piece to an inch of its life. Fingal's dedication is truly breathtaking, and close to borderline obsessive-compulsive. Fingal checked every statement made in the essay from the color of the carpets in the hotel from which Levi jumped to the time that it would have taken Levi to fall.
Where Fingal stands for the "fact" in non-fiction, D'Agata stands for art of non-fiction. D'Agata wants to engage the reader, keep the reader's interest, and, well, create art. So, were there "white palls of dust" swirling through the Las Vegas streets on the day that Levi died? It makes for a nice image, but Fingal's fact checking turns out that the weather records show only a "gentle breeze" that day. Fingal's response was that "it makes for drama." (p. 24.)
This is the story of the interaction between D'Agata and Fingal. The layout of the book fits the back and forth and forth style of the argument between the two. The text of D'Agata's essay is printed in the center of the page with Fingal and D'Agata's debate presented in a "gloss" format around the main text.
If you like debate, and/or the back and forth of a intellect and wit, the book makes a great vehicle for dipping into. It is like eavesdropping on a clever, non-obscene, intelligent facebook argument that you have absolutely no stake in. Since I like that kind of thing, I found the book entertaining.
The interest of the book is not really in the particular topics being argued about. A reader who expects to sit down and read this book from beginning to end will be lost and disappointed. Rather the book is ultimately a "meta" argument about how important facts are to a non-fiction story. Is it only the core facts that matter or is a non-fiction story or must a non-fiction story be entirely non-fiction?
I tend to think of myself as a fact absolutist, but this essay made me pause. Does it matter that there may not have been "swirling palls of dust" in the street? It does make for a better image and memorable. On the other hand, if I'd been there and remembered the day, I might be tempted to disbelieve the whole thing based on the inaccuracy with respect to small things.
Ultimately, the relationship between Fingal and D'Agata seemed to become a matter of personality. Fingal clearly felt that D'Agata's repeated excuse about not taking notes, or other apparent dodges, were simply a way of covering up the fact that he was "making s*** up." D'Agata, for his part, clearly felt that Fingal had gone over the edge into a condition better treated with drugs. Nonetheless, the discussion remained cordial....sharp but cordial.
This is a fascinating book that forces one to think about facts, truth and the "art" of non-fiction writing.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Without it, I would not have considered whether essayists need to tell the truth or bend it.Read more