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The Lifespan of a Fact
The publisher description begins, “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?”
Great question. The debate continues in last Sunday’s front page New York Times review. It’s worth a read. The question goes beyond the place of facts in nonfiction and into the nature of nonfiction itself.
Teens interested in journalism, involved in debate, indeed anyone serious about research or writing, should give this a try. Seeing as it addresses truth versus reality, maybe students of philosophy, too. Those who work in school libraries might share it with relevant teachers. This short book would make for a fascinating lesson.
Adult/High School–In this election year, this book is even more prescient than the authors intended. The main story is that of 16-year-old Levi Pressley, who committed suicide by jumping off a building in Las Vegas (where he lived). This story forms the core around which the book is built, the discussion between John D’Agata, the author, and Jim Fingal, the fact-checker and an unnamed editor on the nature of the writing and how the Pressley story is presented. Each section of the story is picked apart, with proven facts, e.g., the $400 that D’Agata spent on Venus Investigations, in black and unproven facts and opinions/exaggeration, e.g., slightly altered quotes, in red. The depth of research Fingal performed in order to determine the terminal velocity of a falling body, the location of the hotel information desk, and other seeming minutiae is impressive. Students of journalism and politics, and those doing in-depth research into history, will learn a valuable lesson about writing nonfiction and the attention to detail that is required.–Laura Pearle, Venn Consultants, Carmel, NY
Filed under: Nonfiction
About Angela Carstensen
Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.
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