Among Murderers, literary journalism

Good Prose

‎In the last few days I have begun to send copies of my book to some of my subjects. Naturally, I wonder what they think about the book. Will they recognize themselves? Will they like or dislike “their characters” and my treatment of the subject matter? These questions made me revisit some of the (accidental) qualities of the relationships between a writer and her subjects.

I was exuberant when I stumbled across Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction, about the literary friendship between author Tracy Kidder and his editor at The Atlantic, Richard Todd. The whole book reads like an important manifesto: WE THE NONFICTION WRITERS BELIEVE! Kidder and Todd’s observations resonated deeply.

Below are some of the remarkable quotes about writers and their subjects.

“To write is to talk to strangers. You want them to trust you. You might well begin by trusting them—by imagining for the reader an intelligence at least equal to the intelligence you imagine for yourself.”

“For immediacy of effect, writers can’t compete with popular music or action movies, cable network news or the multiplying forms of instant messaging. We think that writers shouldn’t try, that there’s no need to try. Writing remains the best route we know toward clarity of thought and feeling.”

“I sat gazing out the window, listening, I swear it, to the book I wanted to write.”

“Every story has to be discovered twice, first in the world and then in the author’s study. (…) One discovers a story the second time by constructing it. In nonfiction the materials are factual, but the construction itself is something different from fact.”

“At the extreme, of course, the author’s gradual understanding of the subject becomes the heart of the narrative.”

“We want to understand characters in a story better than we understand ourselves.” Continue reading