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14 November 2011


These are two of my favorite categories! Though I agree that "nonfiction novel" is annoying and confusing. It makes me doubt the truth of what I'm reading, and that makes me testy.

First -- "Out of Africa" is a memoir! What's it doing in the "Nonfiction Novels" category? Tsk, tsk, Time magazine.

While I haven't read Tom Wolfe's "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," I'd really like to throw it off the list and replace it with "The Right Stuff." (This is primarily because I love "The Right Stuff" beyond all reason.)

In the "Politics" category, I'd add "Hardball" by Chris Matthews. It was a book before it became a TV show, and it was better as a book. I've read this thing at least twice, and it's fascinating behind-the-scenes stuff.

I'm tempted to suggest "Locked in the Cabinet" by Robert Reich, though it's got a very specific focus -- the viewpoint of Clinton's secretary of labor. But it's darn fun to read.

"Game Change" by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin may be the "Making of the President 1960" (Theodore White) of our time. I just know I found it hard to put down. And the 2008 election year was interesting enough that I'd put it alongside 1960.

Bless you--I knew others would be better at coming up with titles for these categories than I would!
I agree totally about "Out of Africa"--Memoir! Personally, I abhor the heading "nonfiction novels" because it feels like we're trying to make nonfiction more friendly or likable like fiction or something. Nonfiction is not fiction! And it doesn't have to be! Tsk, tsk, indeed!
I've read parts of The Right Stuff but never the whole thing, and I know it's one of your favorites? What's your favorite thing about it? (I'd toss off The Electric... title too; I think it had a time and place but it's disconcertingly dated now.)

And thank you for the Politics suggestions--all very solid! I just couldn't list any because after writing a Political chapter for my book The Inside Scoop, I couldn't read any more political books seriously (although I do sometimes still read them for laughs, like Sarah Palin's memoir). And then I voted for Obama (as the lesser of two evils), and was rewarded with him staying in all our wars and bending over for financiers and health insurance companies. Sadly: I AM DONE WITH POLITICS. For ever and ever, amen.
Although you're tempting me with "Hardball." Whenever I think I'm out...you draw me back in!! :)

Love, love, love The Right Stuff. Great movie too. I read the book because I loved the movie so much.

Of the first group, I've read only "In Cold Blood". Although most libraries shelve it in 361 true crime, every so often you will find it in fiction because of some of the "reconstructed" conversations, etc. Then again, I found Elie Wiesel's "Night" in fiction recently too. I definitely would add "The Right Stuff".

In the politics list I've read "All the President's Men" and "Making of the President 1960". Both were great. "Game Change" was magnificent and I agree with Unruly Reader that it sets the standard for presidential campaign books for the coming years.

I tend to read nonfiction "hot off the press" if it is a subject I'm interested in and nothing I've read in these two categories recently jump out as books of the century (or whatever time frame we're in). In politics, if you don't read it immediately, the book can slip into being history.

Nonfiction novel was Capote's term for In Cold Blood -- he claimed to have invented a new genre, I think -- though I much prefer narrative nonfiction. I think guys like Capote and Mailer liked it because they thought of themselves as Great Writers which meant they must be Novelists so even if they had lowered themselves to writing nonfiction, they still got to call it a novel. Puh-leeze. If they were going to have a narrative nonfiction category, I can think of a lot of guys from the New Yorker school I'd prefer to those listed -- Trillin, Frazier, Horwitz.

As far as politics go, I liked Joan Didion's Political Fictions a lot. The Boys on the Bus is a classic of New journalism about campaign reporting (which is what I'd call Electric Kool-Aid and let me jump on The Right Stuff bandwagon, too -- love that book). So is Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. I haven't read it but Joe McGinnis made his name with The Selling of the President, another one that yanked the curtain away from the political wizards.

Clearly, I have got to read The Right Stuff all the way through, and sooner rather than later.

Well, you're right about the "reconstructed" conversations, but if that were the criteria, almost all nonfiction (certainly all memoirs) would have to be shelved in fiction! Messy.
I never got around to "Game Change" but based on you and Unruly's recommendation I may still have to force myself to do it.
Perhaps this is another reason I'm tired of political nonfiction--lately I've actively been staying away from the hot new nonfiction (unless it's an author I really love, like Joan Didion). I don't know why that is--I should force myself to read more new stuff because the six months after a book is published is almost the only time it garners any discussion any more.
And perhaps I just answered my own question--I like discussing the older books that have disappeared before their time, I think.

I think you're right about that. I've read scores of books about the "new journalism" and the "new new journalism," but for some reason I've lost interest in the topic. I do agree that the Mailers and Capotes of the world seemed to take a disproportionate amount of interest in making the claim that they'd "created" a new NF genre.
I liked Didion's "Political Fictions" too but it's been so long since I read it. I think she brings a nice mix of detached fascination, or something, to the subject. Like it's a car wreck none of us can look away from. That seems the proper metaphor for politics today.
The only Joe McGinnis I've read is his big true crime title, although I forget the actual title right now. How old is The Selling of the President? (And thanks for all the suggestions!)

Fatal Vision is McGinniss' big true crime title. The Selling of the President is from 1969, about the 1968 campaign. I think Didion's brilliance, besides her style, is her perspective as someone who's not a fulltime political reporter by profession or temperament and thus can see things and make connections in a classic "emperor has no clothes" way.

Citizen -- You'd asked my favorite thing about "The Right Stuff." I think it's Wolfe's description of the way most Americans viewed the astronauts as heroes (a term that horrified the astronauts themselves), even as the public virtually ignored the test pilots who were defying death to break altitude and speed records. And the way Wolfe writes it is stunningly perfect.

I second Nan's vote for "Selling of the President." That's a great addition.

The public has a tendency to ignore real heroes, let's face it. I'm sold--I'm adding The Right Stuff to my TBR list.

Ah yes, thank you, Fatal Vision. I think that's the only McGinniss I've read.
And bingo, you've hit exactly on Didion's appeal as a political reporter. So refreshing to read the outsider's perspective sometimes. That's why I like Matt Taibbi, too, he directs as much criticism at the press as he does to anything else.

I liked THE RIGHT STUFF, but my favorite Tom Wolfe is FROM BAUHAUS TO OUR HOUSE. Sheer fun -- wjy didn't I think of that back in the "Art" category?

For political non-fiction, nobody has ever topped the acidulous snark of Procopius's SECRET HISTORY, but alas -- it all happened long ago, so it's considered "history", not politics. But it's
still delicious shadenfreude to read him dish the dirt on the scandalous shenanigans in Justinian's court. Runner-up: Suetonius's TWELVE CAESARS, but that has long stretches of dullness between the juicy bits.

Yawn. I'll stick with Michael Connelly.

I'm not backing off now. I tore through 300 pages of his book "Angels Flight" yesterday. I'm almost done. Utterly fucking brilliant. I can't wait for "The Drop" to come out. Just two weeks to go.

You should give "The Last Coyote" and "Angels Flight" to Mr. CR. Then when he tells you how awesome Harry Bosch is, you'll have no choice but to get hooked.

If you do enter Boschworld, do not start with "The Narrows" or "Nine Dragons." Other than those two, you can read the books in pretty much any order. (You have to read "The Poet" before "The Narrows," and there's a major plot twist in "Nine Dragons," the impact of which won't be felt unless you've read "Trunk Music," "Angels Flight," or "Lost Light.")

So there. Every time I stop by, I'm going to push Connelly on you.

Again you shame me with your extensive NF reading. I've not even heard of any of the titles you suggest. But thank you--the Secret History book sounds fascinating, even if it is history. (And I'll note your Art suggestion in the Art section of the master list I eventually hope to compile--thanks!)

Push away. I've requested the first Bosch book, The Black Echo, from the library. (And I'm reading it first--Mr. CR can just wait!) Further bulletins as events warrant.

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