The Lifespan of a Fact

( 2 )

Overview

Named a top 10 Best Book of 2012 by Slate.com
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 ...

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Overview

Named a top 10 Best Book of 2012 by Slate.com
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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
An essayist (D’Agata) and his exasperated fact-checker (Fingal) debate the line between art and reality in this inventive fencing match. The text reproduces D’Agata’s article (published in The Believer after another magazine killed it) about a teenager who leapt to his death from a Las Vegas hotel (an expanded version became the book About a Mountain), Fingal’s Talmudic fact-checking commentary (reflected in the book’s equally Talmudic design), and the authors’ barbed e-exchanges on everything from the number of strip clubs in Vegas to the origins of tae kwon do and the existence of D’Agata’s mother’s cat. Invoking poetic “rhythm” and “emotional truth,” D’Agata cheerfully admits to embroidering the story with factoids; meanwhile, Fingal’s efforts to verify them, which required seven years and the help of medical journals, academic linguists, satellite photos, and field research, get wrapped up in their own crazed erudition and nit-picking while opening a fascinating window into the fact-checker’s ingenious craft. In their lively, labyrinthine argument, Fingal seems the dogged conscience to D’Agata’s preening writerly ego—until Fingal realizes there may not be a reliable factual record to check. Very à propos in our era of spruced-up autobiography and fabricated reporting, this is a whip-smart, mordantly funny, thought-provoking rumination on journalistic responsibility and literary license. Agent: Matt McGowan, Frances Goldin Literary Agency. (Feb.)
Fortune Magazine
“If you like compelling, emotional stories set in wild, business-friendly locales, this book delivers.”— Daniel Roberts
New York Times Magazine
“...Thus begins the alternately absorbing and infuriating exercise that is the book The Lifespan of a Fact, a Talmudically arranged account of the conflict between Jim Fingal, zealous checker, and John D’Agata, nonfiction fabulist, which began in 2005 and resulted in this collaboration.”
New York Times Book Review
...The Lifespan of a Fact... is less a book than a knock-down, drag-out fight between two tenacious combatants, over questions of truth, belief, history, myth, memory and forgetting.”— Jennifer McDonald
L.A. Times
“...[H]ere is the genius of this little book, for as it progresses, D'Agata and Fingal turn everything around on us, until even our most basic assumptions are left unclear. Who says writers owe readers anything? Or that genre, such as it is, is a valid lens through which to consider literary work? ...[T]he book is "an enactment of the experience of trying to find meaning"— a vivid and reflective meditation on the nature of nonfiction as literary art.”— David L. Ulin
David L. Ulin - L.A. Times
“...[H]ere is the genius of this little book, for as it progresses, D'Agata and Fingal turn everything around on us, until even our most basic assumptions are left unclear. Who says writers owe readers anything? Or that genre, such as it is, is a valid lens through which to consider literary work? ...[T]he book is "an enactment of the experience of trying to find meaning"— a vivid and reflective meditation on the nature of nonfiction as literary art.”
Lydia Davis
“A fascinating and dramatic power struggle over the intriguing question of what nonfiction should, or can, be.”
Maggie Nelson
“A singularly important meditation on fact and fiction, the imagination and life, fidelity and freedom. Provocative, maddening, and compulsively readable, The Lifespan of a Fact pulses through a forest of detail to illuminate high-stakes, age-old questions about art and ethics—questions to which the book (blessedly!) provides no easy answers.”
Daniel Roberts - Fortune Magazine
“If you like compelling, emotional stories set in wild, business-friendly locales, this book delivers.”
Gideon Lewis-Kraus - New York Times Magazine
“...Thus begins the alternately absorbing and infuriating exercise that is the book The Lifespan of a Fact, a Talmudically arranged account of the conflict between Jim Fingal, zealous checker, and John D’Agata, nonfiction fabulist, which began in 2005 and resulted in this collaboration.”
Jennifer McDonald - New York Times Book Review
“...The Lifespan of a Fact... is less a book than a knock-down, drag-out fight between two tenacious combatants, over questions of truth, belief, history, myth, memory and forgetting.”
Kirkus Reviews
A riveting essay delving into the arcane yet entertaining debate within the writing community over the relationship between truth and accuracy when writing creative nonfiction. In 2003, D'Agata (Creative Writing/Univ. of Iowa; About a Mountain, 2010, etc.) wrote an essay that was rejected by the commissioning magazine for "factual inaccuracies." That essay, which became the basis for About a Mountain, was eventually accepted by The Believer. The editors asked their fact checker, Fingal, to wade into the piece, red pen in hand, but they offered some important advice: "John is a different kind of writer, so you are going to encounter some irregularities in the project. Just keep your report as thorough as possible and we'll comb through it later." The two men spent seven years wallowing in the murky waters surrounding esoteric literary questions such as, how important are memory and imagination in writing literary or creative nonfiction? Just how far can an author go when altering the facts for literary effect, and still be writing the Truth? What constitutes fabrication? At one point, D'Agata vented his frustration at Fingal's refusing to acknowledge the differences between the techniques of journalism and creative nonfiction. "I am tired of this genre being terrorized by an unsophisticated reading public that's afraid of accidentally venturing into terrain that can't be footnoted and verified by seventeen different sources," he writes. The authors present the narrative in a question-and-answer format with sections of the original essay under scrutiny reprinted on the center of the page, allowing readers to understand the back-and-forth conversation between D'Agata and Fingal. The book will not appeal to general readers, but it will be eagerly devoured and loudly discussed by creative-nonfiction writers and readers who thrive on books about books.
Justin Moyer
Debates about truth in nonfiction are older than the cases of James Frey and Stephen Glass: Edmund Morris invented a character (himself) in his Ronald Reagan biography, Dutch, and Truman Capote concocted a comforting last scene for In Cold Blood. D'Agata and Fingal contribute to the discussion with the format of their book, in which they argue their positions in alternating typefaces. Although D'Agata's essay can get lost amid the commentary, it's fascinating…to watch a fraught back-and-forth about the number of strip clubs in Las Vegas evolve into a treatise about the nature of reality.
—The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393340730
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/27/2012
  • Pages: 128
  • Sales rank: 212,950
  • Product dimensions: 6.80 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

John D’Agata is the author of About a Mountain, Halls of Fame and editor of The Next American Essay and The Lost Origins of the Essay. He teaches creative writing at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, where he lives.

Jim Fingal is now a software engineer and writer in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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