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!!!