Monday, March 5, 2012

Review: The Lifespan of a Fact

The Lifespan of a Fact by John D'Agata (and Jim Fingal, fact-checker)
published by W.W. Norton
123 pages

Wow. Let's just start with that one word. Moving on, this slim "book" is unlike anything you've ever read. It's a sort of companion piece to the astoundingly good About a Mountain (also by D'Agata). About a Mountain was originally an essay that was later fleshed out into a book. The Lifespan of a Fact is the story of that original essay but really it's about fact-checking, but no, it's really really about truth vs. accuracy, but seriously it's really about Art and Literature and the failings of Genre Labeling and Nonfiction and suicide and James Frey but it's also about everything.

(Just for clarity, the book is structurally set up in a unique way, where the center of each page has a section from the essay that Jim Fingal (the fact-checker for The Believer) is examining and then as a kind of border to that text is Jim's own comments on what he feels needs to be verified and sometimes John (the author) responding to Jim's accusations.)

My first thought was, "This is brilliant and this is going to be amazing." About 20 pages in my thought was, "This is getting a little repetitive but it's still interesting and surprisingly addictive." Then I kept reading, a chapter or two a night (they're pretty short) and then I powered through and read like four chapters because John (the author) and Jim (the fact-checker) were really getting into it ("it" being an argument/discussion/pissing match/exploration). And then the last six pages or so is just John and Jim going back and forth, trying to really get at something True and Real about Art and Literature and it ends beautifully.

I believe this will go down as one of the most important books of its time. It will be taught and studied. It will appear on every Nonfiction course syllabus.

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