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Literary Nonfiction Bleg

January 5th, 2007 · 6 Comments

So, on the theory that one of the surest ways to produce better writing is to read it closely, I’ve been on one of my periodic kicks of poring over some of the hoary classics of “literary nonfiction” or “new journalism” or “long form narrative reportage” or whatever the preferred term is this week. Largely I’ve been recurring to the universally-hailed classics, stuff like Hunter Thompson’s “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” and that crystalline profile before which all scribblers genuflect, Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” Sooner or later I’m going to get around to Hersey’s Hiroshima. But it’s occurring to me that my pool here is actually shamefully shallow, so what would folk recommend next? If you had to suggest one long article by, say, Didion, Wolfe, Dillard, Mailer, Capote, or whomever, what would it be?

Tags: Journalism & the Media



6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Scott Eric Kaufman // Jan 5, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    This I can answer. (Not for nothing am I a “senior instructor of literary journalism.”) I’m assuming you want good articles, not necessarily representative ones, so:

    Didion, “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream

    Mailer, any excerpt from Armies of the Night

    Wolfe, “Radical Chic

    McPhee, “A Roomful of Hovings

    Capote, well, the only choice is In Cold Blood

    Joseph Mitchell, “Up in the Old Hotel

    I can keep going, if you’d like me to.

  • 2 David Weigel // Jan 5, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    Mailer: Either “Superman Goes to the Supermarket” or one of his boxing essays.

    Wolfe: Probably “Radical Chic.”

  • 3 joanne mcneil // Jan 5, 2007 at 5:00 pm

    richard mccann – To Whom It May Concern. (not really what you’re looking for, but pretty damn beautiful.)
    theodore dalrymple — the knife went in
    john berger – why look at animals?
    william langewiesche. – the ship breakers
    susan orlean – the surfer girls of maui
    anais nin – in favor of the sensitive man (hehe)

    You can pick a Joan Didion essay by stichomancy with the White album or Slouching Toward Bethleham. Jon Kraukaurer deserves the sales and acclaim. and isn’t “new journalism” just travel writing with or without the travel? I love Aldous Huxley’s Along the Road. That’s the book that made me want to become a writer.

  • 4 Nicholas Weininger // Jan 6, 2007 at 12:44 am

    John McPhee is my gold standard here. Start with the three in _The Control of Nature_ and move on to _Encounters with the Archdruid_ and _La Place de la Concorde Suisse_. When you want more of a unified long book instead of long essays, _Coming Into the Country_ has a lot for a libertarian to enjoy and reflect on, as does _The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed_. Really almost anything he’s ever done is worthwhile; his latest _Uncommon Carriers_, a compilation of New Yorker pieces, is among his best too.

    I second Joanne McNeil’s comment about travel writing without the travel. For this reason I would place Paul Theroux among the masters of the genre, though his stuff is generally booklength. _The Great Railway Bazaar_ breaks down nicely into set pieces, though. Jonathan Raban is also extremely good.

  • 5 alkali // Jan 7, 2007 at 11:26 pm

    There’s a very good anthology of Esquire’s non-fiction from the 1960s called Smiling Through The Apocalypse that has a lot of this stuff — no longer in print but very findable from Amazon, ABE Books, etc.

  • 6 laurex // Jan 9, 2007 at 9:45 pm

    You might check out The Art of the Personal Essay, which has a pretty good survey of this sype of writing.