New Kings of Nonfiction. Ira Glass, Ed.

A fabulous collection of nonfiction writers. It turns out I’m a somewhat “king reader of nonfiction” as I have read three of the pieces in the book in various sources. (Dan Savage’s Republican Journey, Michael Pollan’s Power Steer and James McManus’ World Series of Poker.) Ira Glass, my radio boyfriend, says in the introduction:

“As far as I’m concerned, we’re living in an age of great nonfication wiritng, in the same way that the 1920s and 30s were a golden age for American Popular Song. Giants walk among us. Cole Porters and George Gershwins and Duke Ellington’s of nonfiction storytelling. They’re trying new things and doing pirouettes with the form. But nobody talks about it that way.”

I loved almost all of the pieces in this collection and reading it, I lamented that I don’t have time in my life right now for a subscription to Harpers and Atlantic Monthly where I used to read great nonfiction like this all the time. I can still remember reading the World Series of Poker article. I was completely absorbed and not only do I not play poker, I don’t really understand the rules of the game. The way the article was written, however, pulled me in. How far would James McManus make it in the World Series? From that point on, any reference to poker in my life was immediately linked to that article.

In this book, I particularly enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell’s titled “Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg.” Do you know Lois? I wouldn’t be surpised. I also liked “Losing the War” by Lee Sandlin. In 50 pages Lee Sandlin gave an overview of World War II and challenged me to think differently about the D-Day invasion. I’m ashamed to say that “Host” was only the second or third piece I’ve read by David Foster Wallace though I have read a lot about him. I love his footnotes (see rant in the review of “The Year of Living Biblically”) and his footnotes within footnotes were particularly delightful. I think his writing style most emulates how people read things on the internet.

Great short nonfiction informs people without the time or inclination to immerse themselves in a subject, for it provides enough information to get them asking questions. When done right, it successfully transports the reader to another world.

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