Tuesday, June 18, 2013
In Praise of Journalism (Contra Dirda)
Michael Dirda, in his absorbing review of James Salter’s new novel All That Is, says, “Robert Phelps once told me that the true test of one’s devotion to a writer is a willingness to collect his or her journalism” (“‘The Glory of Certain Moments in Life,’” The New York Review of Books, June 6, 2013). I’ve never felt that way. For me, it’s the opposite: it’s a writer’s journalism that I prize; I have to force myself to read his or her fiction. The way I look at it, fiction is merely a tune-up for the creation of the really important stuff – journalism. For me, Hemingway’s 1933 Esquire piece “Marlin Off the Morro: A Cuban Letter” is one of the best things he ever wrote. The same goes for Mailer’s 1968 Harper’s article “Miami and the Siege of Chicago,” Pritchett’s 1956 Holiday Magazine travelogue, “South America,” Brodsky’s 1986 New York Review of Books memoir “In a Room and a Half,” Nabokov’s 1972 Saturday Review essay, “Inspiration,” Zadie Smith’s 2008 New Yorker memoir, “Dead Man Laughing,” Seamus Heaney’s 1978 Irish Times essay, “Full Face,” Martin Amis’s 1993 New Yorker essay, “Don Juan in Hull,” Joyce Carol Oates’s 1987 Art & Antiques essay, “George Bellows: The Boxing Paintings,” John Updike’s 1972 Horizon essay, “Remembrance of Things Past Remembered,” Margaret Atwood’s 2002 Globe and Mail piece, “Of Myths and Men.” I could go on and on. Far from being a “test of true devotion,” a great writer’s journalism is often the source of my deepest reading pleasure.
Credit: The above portrait of Norman Mailer is by David Levine.