Recent Nonfiction

First of all, if you’re at all interested in participating in the next Slaves of Golconda group read, make sure to head on over and vote for your selection. The list of books for us to vote on is great. Anyone is welcome to participate, and you don’t even need a blog. We welcome new people!

I recently finished Janet Malcolm’s book The Journalist and the Murderer and (unsurprisingly, given my history with Malcolm and the fame of this book) loved it. I’d wanted to read it for a long time and even more so after listening to the Serial podcast and hearing people talk about how relevant The Journalist and the Murderer is to everything that happened there. So the time was right. Her opening line is famous: “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.” From there she tells the story of a convicted murderer who sues a journalist for writing a book that makes the case that the convicted murderer did indeed commit murder. Although the trial ended in a hung jury, it went surprisingly badly for the journalist. Malcolm shows how this happened and along the way explores the nature of journalism and the fraught question of whether and to what extent it’s acceptable for a journalist to mislead an interview subject. In typical Malcolm fashion, she is in the book herself, her own reactions and emotions as much a subject of her investigation as the lawsuit. It’s all wonderfully layered and complex. And Malcolm is such a brilliant writer. This book is now sharing a place along with The Silent Woman:Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes for my favorite Malcolm book (out of the four I’ve read).

If you like nonfiction, READ JANET MALCOLM. That’s all there is to it.

I also recently finished MFA vs. NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction, an essay collection edited by Chad Harbach. The essays were generally very good. A couple were very academic in tone, but most of them were personal and informal — personal essays about people’s experiences in writing workshops or as teachers on the one hand, or as editors, agents, publicists, and NYC writers on the other. The book’s central dichotomy doesn’t stand up under scrutiny — the world of American fiction is much more complicated than MFA vs. NYC, but that doesn’t detract from the interest of the pieces. If you like reading about the publishing world and where your fiction comes from, it’s fun.

Finally, there are some recent or forthcoming nonfiction works I want to get my hands on ASAP. The first is the new Maggie Nelson book, The Argonauts. I adore Nelson’s book Bluets and have high hopes for the new one. And then there is Sarah Manguso’s Ongoingness: The End of a Diary. I admired Manguso’s earlier book The Guardians very much. Claudia Rankine’s book Citizen is poetry, not nonfiction, but I’m going to add it to this list anyway. Also on my radar are H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, Excavation by Wendy Ortiz, Savage Park, by Amy Fusselman, Bulletproof Vest, by Maria Venegas. I could go on and on.

So many books!!!

20 Comments

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20 responses to “Recent Nonfiction

  1. I think you would love H is for Hawk: so raw and lyrical. I really enjoy reading about your non fiction adventures, because you always have such interesting books to recommend. I must read some Janet Malcolm now!

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  2. I’m glad (and not surprised) to hear that you enjoyed The Journalist and the Murderer so much. I liked The Silent Woman a lot better, but I still liked this a lot. After I finished it, I read several articles reacting to it, including McGinnis’s own response on his website, and I was frustrated at how many people seemed to read it as a simple excoriation of journalists and journalism, quoting that first line as a thesis statement meant to be taken at face value. That simplistic, knee-jerk reaction, to me, is a greater condemnation of journalism today than anything Malcolm says in this book.

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    • I’ll have to see how the two books sort themselves out in my mind over time (Silent Woman vs. Journalist) — it might change. I’d like to read more about the case too; I’m sure there is a LOT out there. I’m curious especially about Errol Morris’s book A Wilderness of Error, also about the case and about Malcolm’s book. And yes, your point about the first line is important — it’s there for Malcolm to explore and undermine, not to argue for in a straightforward way.

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  3. The only Malcolm I’ve read so far has been the Plath, but as a journalism major and former reporter, I see nothing wrong with that quote.

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  4. Just checked and the libraries here don’t have it. I’ll order a copy just as soon as the Double Dog Dare is over.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh Bulletproof Vest sounds really good. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction but surprisingly I’m reading two non-fiction books right now. And, I’ll head on over to the Slaves!

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    • Considering how much I love nonfiction, I’m surprised that the percentage of nonfiction I read each year is always significantly lower than fiction. I guess I read it more slowly, but I often end up loving it more.

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  6. The Malcolm sounds really interesting. did it make you think about journalism a little differently? I can fully endorse Rankine’s Citizen. It is excellent.

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    • I remember your post about Citizen! As for journalism, Malcolm made me think about the interviewer/interviewee relationship in greater depth than I had ever thought of it before. I’m familiar with the idea of the story rarely turning out as the subject of the story would like it to, but I hadn’t thought through how often a journalist might have to deal with that situation and how tricky it can be.

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  7. I’ve never read Janet Malcolm before – I’ll have to look her up! I’m also looking forward to reading Rankine’s Citizen. So many books, indeed!

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    • Malcolm is definitely worth looking up. If you are at all interested in Sylvia Plath, then The Silent Woman is the place to start. If not, this one might do well. She has a lot of books available, including one on Stein/Toklas and another on Chekhov.

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  8. Eva

    I’ve never read Malcolm, but now I’ll add her to my TBR list.🙂

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  9. I’m right with you on Janet Malcolm and Maggie Nelson. I’ve also got The Guardians to read on your recommendation and am looking forward to it. Now to check out the other names on your list – we have such similar non-fiction tastes!

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  10. OMG, how come I missed this post? (I might need to change my feeder) I love Malcolm books and I loved Serial, and up until this minute I didn’t make the connection, silly me! I really need to get this book now.

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  11. Pingback: The one that reminded me of serial | Smithereens

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