The Lifespan of A Fact

The Lifespan of A Fact

Book - 2012
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How negotiable is a fact in nonfiction? In 2003, an essay by John D'Agata was rejected by the magazine that commissioned it due to factual inaccuracies. That essay--which eventually became the foundation of D'Agata's critically acclaimed About a Mountain--was accepted by another magazine, The Believer, but not before they handed it to their own fact-checker, Jim Fingal. What resulted from that assignment was seven years of arguments, negotiations, and revisions as D'Agata and Fingal struggled to navigate the boundaries of literary nonfiction.

This book reproduces D'Agata's essay, along with D'Agata and Fingal's extensive correspondence. What emerges is a brilliant and eye-opening meditation on the relationship between "truth" and "accuracy" and a penetrating conversation about whether it is appropriate for a writer to substitute one for the other.

Publisher: New York : W. W. Norton, c2012.
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780393340730
Branch Call Number: 808.02 D'AGATA
Characteristics: 123 pages ; 24 cm.
Additional Contributors: Fingal, Jim


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Jul 29, 2012

John D'Agata came to my Non-Fiction class in 2002, with this very essay, and we argued this very argument, more or less. (Or maybe I should say was in 1998? Which one sounds prettier? A comment is a kind of essay, right? I can say whatever I want?) Then I saw it published at long last in Believer magazine, a year or two ago. And now this, this strange quasi-performance piece. He's been publishing this essay for 10 years. Surely, we don't have to hold artist's feet the fire all the time, but I think poetic license requires at least some cognitive dissonance, fact wrestling with soul, whereas D'Agata has no quibble. Mostly the facts he fudges can be given a wide berth, but he still goes out of bounds, even when they aren't plausibly an obstacle to good story-telling, "emotional truth", or whatever, just to be provocative, I guess. Good, he provokes an argument. In my eyes, though, this is not an issue of shades of grey. Few would seriously argue against that reality doesn't deserve some flexibility, perhaps a great deal, but I'm not one to believe that all is relative. If there's one thing this book shows me, it's that there's not a sliding scale between fact and fiction. It's something quite different.

Jun 18, 2012

I've never read a book quite like this before. Really gets you thinking about what is the truth, what constitutes a fact and how much "poetic license" is acceptable when writing non-fiction. A great choice, too, for know-it-alls and the people who love them!


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