Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The New Kings of Nonfiction

I ordered this book, which is a collection of nonfiction essays edited by Ira Glass from This American Life, from the TAL Web site. The nonfiction essay is my favorite form of writing, the kind of writing I wish I was better at. It's also why I've maintained my subscription to The New Yorker since I was in college. And why I usually read it cover to cover each week.

I was so excited when the book arrived that I dove right in, ignoring my children and reading at the dinner table. It turns out that my excitement was justified. There were some absolutely outstanding essays in the book.

My favorites were Malcolm Gladwell's on the theory of Six-Degrees of Separation, Dan Savage's on his attempt to reform the Seattle Republican Party from within, Susan Orlean's on an averge 10-year-old boy, and some writer whose name I can't remember at the moment on her life as a hostess at a hot New York nightclub.

Other essays were so-so, like the one on how people remember World War II. It had some interesting bits, but it dragged on way too long. Another was on the author's adventures at the World Series of Poker. I don't know enough about poker to really grasp the full impact of the story.

I completely skipped the essay by David Foster Wallace. I attempted to read The Infinite Jest when it was published and was showing up on all the Best Of lists that year. But when I got 3/4 of the way through and still had no idea what was going on, I gave up. I had begun to suspect that the jest in the title was really on the reader, that I'd get to the end and still not have a clue. A friend who managed to get through it confirmed my suspicion, so I'm glad I didn't struggle through.

But back to the book - I'd highly recommend ordering it. Make sure you order it from the TAL site so that they get the credit for the sale.

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