Thursday, August 2, 2012

The lifespan of my interest in
The Lifespan of a Fact

John D’Agata and Jim Fingal’s The Lifespan of a Fact has called to me from bookstore shelves on several occasions. The book purports to be the record of seven years of back-and-forth between a writer (D’Agata) and a fact-checker (Fingal). Publisher W. W. Norton calls the book “a brilliant and eye-opening meditation on the relationship between ‘truth’ and ‘accuracy.’” Notice the quotation marks.

Now that I have the book from the library, I am glad that I resisted the call. What to make of a writer who claims to have changed a seemingly factual “thirty-one” to “thirty-four” because “the rhythm of ‘thirty-four’ works better in that sentence”? Nothing, because that detail alone (on page 16, the second page of the text) made it easy for me to suspect that this book is not worth my time. Some further dipping clinched it.

But wait: there’s more. A piece by Craig Silverman of The Poynter Institute makes clear that the book is not even what it purports to be, a record of a seven-year fact-checking process.

Me, I believe in truth and accuracy in nonfiction, no need for quotation marks around either word. Oh, and no need for made-up quotations from Bob Dylan either.

A related post
George Orwell on historical truth

comments: 1

Pete said...

Indeed, I've heard that the authors came up with the book concept halfway through the fact-checking process for the original article, which undoubtedly tainted the remainder of their discussions. So it's a mostly-faked book about a mostly-faked article, hidden under the presumably marketable sheen of nonfiction. Sorry, not interested.