How Accurate Is Your Non-Fiction Reading?

Checking The Facts

In this age of “get the story out there as quickly as possible” it should concern you that what you are reading may not be true, simply because the facts have not been checked.

In the February issue of Harper’s is a fascinating excerpt entitled “What happened in Vegas” which is from the book The Lifespan of a Fact by John D’Agata, author. Jim Fingal, fact-checker, to be published February 27, 2012 by W.W. Norton.

The W.W. Norton book description:

An innovative essayist and his fact-checker do battle about the use of truth and the definition of nonfiction. 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.

We are in an age where non-critical thinking proliferates.

So imagine when you read something that is supposed to be based upon facts, but a little sleuthing on your own yields inaccuracies. Where do you draw the line between fact and fiction? As Norman Mailer once said about his famous 1973 biography of Marilyn Monroe, “I would classify it as faction.”

The excerpt reproduced in Harper’s should give everyone a moment to pause to reconsider the truthfullness of their own non-fiction reading.

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