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by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal

Pub Date: Feb. 27th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-393-34073-0
Publisher: Norton

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.

In 2003, D’Agata (Creative Writing/Univ. of Iowa; About a Mountain, 2010, etc.) wrote an essay that was rejected by the commissioning magazine for “factual inaccuracies.” That essay, which became the basis for About a Mountain, was eventually accepted by The Believer. The editors asked their fact checker, Fingal, to wade into the piece, red pen in hand, but they offered some important advice: “John is a different kind of writer, so you are going to encounter some irregularities in the project. Just keep your report as thorough as possible and we’ll comb through it later.” The two men spent seven years wallowing in the murky waters surrounding esoteric literary questions such as, how important are memory and imagination in writing literary or creative nonfiction? Just how far can an author go when altering the facts for literary effect, and still be writing the Truth? What constitutes fabrication? At one point, D’Agata vented his frustration at Fingal’s refusing to acknowledge the differences between the techniques of journalism and creative nonfiction. “I am tired of this genre being terrorized by an unsophisticated reading public that’s afraid of accidentally venturing into terrain that can’t be footnoted and verified by seventeen different sources,” he writes. The authors present the narrative in a question-and-answer format with sections of the original essay under scrutiny reprinted on the center of the page, allowing readers to understand the back-and-forth conversation between D’Agata and Fingal.

The book will not appeal to general readers, but it will be eagerly devoured and loudly discussed by creative-nonfiction writers and readers who thrive on books about books.