Nonfiction in journalism

Meghan O’Rourke launches a defense of Joseph Mitchell’s Old Mr. Flood, prompting TMFTML to ask why O’Rourke must turn Slate into a “house of lies.”

I must say, what little I’ve read of the Mitchell book did not impress me.

O’Rourke defends it in service of her argument that literary nonfiction should involve a blend of truth and invention. She calls for “a new magazine genre, somewhere between fact and fiction.”

Linton Weeks of the Washington Post couldn’t disagree more with arguments like O’Rourke’s. Weeks recently expressed great disdain for the memoir genre and called for a return to fact-based autobiography.

The debate is not new. See, for example, “Notes on the New Journalism,” an Atlantic Monthly article from May, 1972, which makes some of the same arguments that O’Rourke does, also using Mitchell as an example.

It seems to me that O’Rourke is calling for something that already exists in some sense, in the stories and articles of solid, funny nonfiction writers like David Sedaris and Jonathan Ames, and in the hands of lesser talents who are likely to sour the whole batch of apples.

What do you think?

In other news, the Weekly Standard concedes that there’s much to dislike about Robert Lowell, but says, “to read the thousand pages of his ‘Collected Poems’–finally published this summer, a quarter century after Lowell’s death in 1977 at the age of sixty–is also to see how little his failings matter to his poetry.” (Via Terry Teachout’s smart blog, About Last Night.)

Eight-inch Jack Kerouac “bobblehead dolls” stand on copies of On the Road and will be distributed in partnership with the University of Massachusetts at Lowell at a sporting event in August. (Thanks to Matt for the link.)


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