Friday, March 9, 2012

Not Your Father's Nonfiction

Here are a pair of brand-new nonfiction books that I've read recently and recommend; I mostly read fiction, and when I do delve into the nonfiction world it's usually of the narrative variety, but these two are outside my usual reading realm. That being said, they were both absolutely fascinating!

The Lifespan of a Fact by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal.  This book is endlessly fascinating!  I had no idea until I read The Lifespan of a Fact exactly what happens behind the scenes of any responsibly published nonfiction piece. This book was born out of an article by John D'Agata that had a few too many factual inaccuracies to get published by mainstream periodicals. Enter Believer magazine, who was willing to publish the article as long as they could determine where facts left off and fiction began. They put their staff fact checker Jim Fingal on the job, and some years later, the article was finally published. Now Norton has published this wonderful behind-the-scenes book, with D'Agata's article intact, printed in black, and surrounded by the fact checking correspondence, much of which is printed in maroon.  It’s clear to me after reading this book that the unnamed fact checkers are the unsung heroes of the publishing world, no matter where we draw the line between journalism and creative nonfiction, and I’ll never take them for granted again. Take a look at this book that is both intriguing to read and a beauty to behold. 

The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall.  I was surprised upon picking up this book to see how much our lives are defined by story: there are the expected books of course, but also tv, movies, jokes, commercials, lies, gathering ‘round the water cooler, and even sports events; really, the list goes on. Gottschall delves into the fascinating evolutionary, cultural, biological, and even neurological reasons why our species is defined by our storytelling, both communal and individual.  This is by far the most compelling non-narrative nonfiction I’ve read in simply ages, and what’s more, it should be required reading for every single reader and writer out there. This book will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in a few short weeks, but it's available for pre-order now through our website or by calling the store. 

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