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4.0 out of 5 stars Unique behind-the-scenes look at the genre, 27 April 2011
LittleMoon (loving my life in the rain) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The New New Journalism: Conversations with America's Best Nonfiction Writers on Their Craft (Vintage Originals) (Paperback)
In 1973 Tom Wolfe announced that non-fiction had become "literature's main event", and a bunch of America's best-known writers were loosely gathered up, often unwillingly, under New Journalism's umbrella. Fiction writers such as Truman Capote and Norman Mailer tested the waters with their "non-fiction novels", Hunter S Thompson was going gonzo, and publications like Esquire, The New Yorker, and Rolling Stone encouraged these experiments in journalism.

Whilst New Journalism tested the boundary of non-fiction/fiction, and its stylistic qualities, New New Journalism has taken accuracy as a core value, and instead "experiments more with the way one gets the story." New New Journalism is "the literature of the everyday", and as such is characterised by "rigorous reporting ... on the minutiae of the ordinary": many of the writers featured have spent months or years getting to know their subjects, and their worlds, on an intimate level, plumbing new depths (and dangers) in immersive reporting.

Boynton's superb introduction traces the history and ideas behind New Journalism and puts its latest incarnation, New New Journalism, in a literary context. It is a form that has been fostered in America - thanks in part to dedicated outlets, but also to something greater hinted at here in the interviews; a desire for understanding, a quest for the key to 21st century life in the US. If "Reality TV" is the popular manifestation of this driving force, then New New Journalism is its literary component.

This book comes from Boynton's practice of inviting writers to speak at the journalism classes he teaches at New York University. He has succeeded, I think, in his mission to "re-create the spontaneity and excitement of those classroom encounters" and brings us a series of 19 interviews with New New Journalism's finest practitioners that follow a "hypothetical work from conception to publication." His questions range from "Do you make outlines?" to "What kind of authorial presence do you strive for?" from "What does a typical writing day look like?" to "Do you think that journalistic inquiry can yield truth?" He covers the nuts and bolts of reporting, as well as probing abstract issues of meaning, and ethics.

In their replies, each writer comes across as a personality, and it makes for hugely entertaining reading. Even though there are continual divergences in approach, and method, there is confluence in a shared desire to give the reader what Leon Dash might call "not "absolute truth"", but some kind of authentic experience; what Richard Preston speaks of as "human truth", or Ted Conover as "literal truth". How each writer goes about getting at this "truth" is what this book really uncovers.

As an interested reader, I found this book revealing in a unique behind-the-scenes sort of way; imagine being able to sit down and ask your favourite writers how they go about their craft? Boynton does this brilliantly, asks all the right questions, and the writers are surprisingly forthcoming in their answers. Students of journalism, as well as anyone interested in writing as a process, or non-fiction as an entity, must surely find these conversations insightful. Boynton provides a detailed bibliography of sources, and useful lists of each writer's books, most of which sound fascinating. These references in themselves are valuable as a reading framework for anyone interested in getting to the heart of this genre.
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