A sampling, from Daniel Defoe to Norman Mailer and beyond.
By Peter Conn
THE ART OF FACT:
Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism
Edited by Kevin Karrane and Ben Yagoda, G’91
New York: Scribner, 1997, 558 pp., $35.
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In their prefatory remarks, editors Kevin Karrane and Ben Yagoda cheerfully admit that they can’t define the phrase “literary journalism” very precisely — something to do with good writing in the service of newsworthy events. Never mind: whatever the limits of the term, it has provided an immensely productive pretext. In The Art of Fact, Karrane and Yagoda have assembled a wonderful assortment of prose, published over the last couple of centuries by an honor roll of English and American writers. George Orwell is here, along with Rebecca West, Truman Capote, John McPhee, Lillian Ross, Ernest Hemingway, Gay Talese, Ben Hecht, James Agee, and many others.
The 60 or so essays, book chapters, articles, and interviews in the anthology range over subjects from movie stars to snake handling, from prison life to jungle warfare. Each item is preceded by a short introductory essay, which provides helpful biographical summaries together with a smart comment or two on the distinctive style of each writer.
To impose a semblance of order on their richly diverse materials, Karrane and Yagoda have arranged their selections under four headings: “Pioneers,” “Telling Tales, “The Reporter Takes the Stage,” and “Style as Substance.”
The pioneers comprise writers of the 18th and 19th centuries, who created most of the devices and conventions of literary journalism. Novelist Daniel Defoe combines interviews with firsthand observation to capture the bravado and cunning of the famous thief, Jonathan Wild. Biographer James Boswell tells a funny story about Dr. Johnson’s prickly relations with John Wilkes. In a section from London Labor and the London Poor, the reformer Henry Mayhew evokes the pathetic life of an eight-year-old girl who ekes out a marginal existence selling bunches of watercress.
The final pioneer in this opening section is Jack London, whose People of the Abyss remains a classic account of poverty in England at the beginning of this century. London, an eccentric combination of socialist and social Darwinist, submerged himself in the notorious slums of East London. His motives were in part revolutionary, and in larger part sheer curiosity. By putting his own responses and feelings at the center of his work, London anticipated the self-absorption that would reach its febrile apotheosis decades later in the gonzo journalism of Hunter Thompson and his acolytes.
Aside from their intrinsic interest, these earlier writers provide the anthology with an indispensable historical dimension. It was the pioneers who developed the repertoire that their journalistic successors would characteristically deploy: anecdote, elaborated metaphor, and selective research anchored in personal experience.
By far the majority of the selections in the volume have been published in the 20th century, and mainly in the postwar years. That balance is predictable and appropriate, since this has been a golden age for non-fiction of all sorts, not just journalism. Perhaps Philip Roth was right when he famously proposed that contemporary reality beggars the powers of fictional invention, and that non-fiction will have to take over the imaginative job that novels have traditionally done.
Whatever the explanation, biography and memoir, the personal essay, science writing, and political and social history have all flourished in our time. Superb prose can be found in just about every genre — outside of literary criticism and philosophy, to be sure, which cling grimly to opacity as if it were a virtue.
The pleasures of this book come equally from rereading familiar work, and from discovering writing that is less frequently reprinted. Among the former, John Hersey’s Hiroshima, represented here by an excerpted scene of shared suffering in the city’s main park in the hours after the bomb, derives its power from Hersey’s restraint and descriptive clarity. In The Armies of the Night, on the other hand, Norman Mailer communicates the tumult of the anti-war movement by exuberantly recreating his own manic participation in the March on Washington. It would be hard to imagine writers whose styles and temperaments differ more profoundly than Hersey and Mailer. To compare them is to prove again that there are no literary formulas: the two have nothing in common except their vast talent.
Since there isn’t space here to rehearse the book’s entire table of contents, a few further examples will suffice to illustrate its reach and quality. Richard Ben Cramer’s account of Bob Dole losing the 1988 New Hampshire primary to George Bush offers a convincing, moving portrait of a gifted but limited politician at a moment of crisis. It also reveals more about the deformed process of presidential election than volumes of abstract analysis.
John Simpson vividly reconstructs the massacre in Tiananmen Square, which he covered for the BBC. In doing so, he acknowledges troubling doubts about his own conduct and raises a larger question: when does journalistic objectivity shade into complicity with a murderous government? In a profile that first appeared in The New Yorker, Joseph Mitchell pays tribute to “Lady Olga,” the most famous bearded lady of the century. Not a hint of condescension or titillation mars Mitchell’s address to Olga; she emerges from his essay as a dignified, thoughtful, and altogether admirable person.
The selections in The Art of Fact provide a collective demonstration of audacity, literary ambition, and sheer ability. Kevin Karrane and Ben Yagoda have chosen shrewdly, and produced a volume that provides ample quantities of instruction and pleasure.
Peter Conn is the Andrea Mitchell Professor of English and author of Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Biography, which recently won the Literary Award of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia.
A selection of recent books by alumni and faculty, or otherwise of interest to the University community. Descriptions are compiled from information supplied by the authors and publishers.
POSTMODERN AMERICAN FICTION:
A Norton Anthology. Edited by Paula Geyh, G’90, Gr’94, Fred G. Leebron, Andrew Levy, Gr’91.
New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1997.
672 pp., $24.95.
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From William S. Burroughs to David Foster Wallace, this book offers up fiction from five decades of postwar American life. It includes works by 68 authors: short fiction, novels, cartoons, graphics, hypertexts, creative nonfiction, and theoretical writings. The editors’ introduction sets the backdrop of the profound political, technological, and cultural change in postwar America that gave rise to postmodern fiction. The closing section opens up the complicated relationship between postmodern fiction and literary theory. Each copy of the anthology includes a user password to access hypertext fiction. Geyh teaches twentieth-century literature and theory at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. Levy teaches American literature and writing at Butler University in Indianapolis.
By Dennis Barone, G’79, Gr’84.
Elmwood, Conn.: Potes & Poets Press, 1997. 180 pp., $14.00.
“This is poetry infiltrating prose,” writes one reviewer promoting Barone’s new book of stories. His writing “bristles with voices caught in each other’s cross-fire,” writes another. “History speaks, the City speaks, Literature speaks — even Gilligan speaks, this time in French. In this new collection, Barone reminds us that memory is always collective as well as personal, and that it is from the echoes of all these voices that we recreated the real story.” Barone is professor of English and director of the Concentration in Writing at Saint Joseph College, Conn.
MADE IN GOD’S IMAGE?:
Eve and Adam in the Genesis Mosaics at San Marco, Venice.
By Penny Howell Jolly, G’70, Gr’76.
Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1997. 155 pp., $45.00.
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Jolly, a professor of art history at Skidmore College, offers a provocative reading of a single well-known work of art: the stunning mosaics that illustrate the story of Creation in the church of San Marco in Venice. Most scholars have studied the Genesis mosaics to reconstruct a nearly destroyed fifth-century illuminated Greek manuscript, known as the Cotton Genesis — the most luxuriously illustrated Early Christian manuscript known. Jolly studies the mosaics as a reinterpretation of the story of divine creation and male and female roles, and thus as a social document that reveals a great deal about the perception of relations between the sexes in 13th-century Venice. The book incorporates recent studies in “narratology” and feminist theology, as well as a discussion of how a medieval audience, unschooled in reading and writing, was visually literate and able to “read” these images. From blue trees symbolizing darkness and evil, to postures denoting authority and shame, to Eve’s newly seductive body as a locus for power following the Fall, Jolly explains the mosaics’ messages to its medieval and modern audiences.
ART AND LIFE IN BANGLADESH.
By Henry Glassie, Gr’69.
Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1997. 520 pp., $49.95.
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Bangladesh is a country that few think of except in terms of desperate poverty and horrendous natural disaster. Glassie, professor of folklore and co-director of Turkish studies at Indiana University, says, “To see the place as a setting for excellence, to see the people as rich in art — and not as poor in money as it is convenient for people rich in money to do — is to invite destruction of prejudice and to enable comparisons helpful in self-reflective evaluation.” By listening to its artists, recording their words, and showing us their work, Glassie lets us appreciate a thriving world of potters, weavers, decorative painters, sculptors, and bronze casters.
THE FIELDS OF PRAISE.
By Marilyn Nelson, G’70.
Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Press, 1997. 210 pp., $24.95 (cloth); $16.95 (paper).
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In this book of poetry, Nelson claims as subjects the life of the spirit, the vicissitudes of love, and the African-American experience. She brings alive the most rarefied and subtle of experiences: A slave destined to become a minister preaches sermons of eloquence and wisdom to a mule. An old woman scrubbing over a washtub receives a personal revelation of what Emancipation means: “So this is freedom: the peace of hours like these.” Memories of the heroism of the Tuskegee Airmen in the face of aerial combat abroad and virulent racism at home bring a speaker to the sudden awareness of herself as the daughter “of a thousand proud fathers.” Nelson is professor of English at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. Her previous titles include Magnificat, Mama’s Promises, and Homeplace, which was a finalist for the National Book Award.
HOW CAN I FIND GOD?:
The Famous and Not-So-Famous Consider the Quintessential Question.
Edited by James Martin, W’82.
Liguori, Mo.: Triumph Books, 1997.
224 pp., $13.00.
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A young friend who had lost touch with her church asked Martin, “How can I find God?” He did his best to answer her question, and then decided to ask other people of faith what to tell his friend. This book is a collection of those answers, including the advice of people from many faiths — Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Native American, and Buddhist — and a few who are still searching for one. Respondents include the famous and the not-so-famous, the young and the old, the rich and the poor, and people of various ethnic backgrounds. Contributions from Penn alumni include passages by Betty, SW’76, and Bill Baumann, whose volunteer work with the Mennonites have carried them around the world, and Jacque Braman Follmer, W’82, a Protestant who has been active in several different churches and is studying to be a secondary math teacher in Iowa. Martin is studying at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., in preparation for ordination to the priesthood. He previously worked in corporate finance and human resources.
THE PREGNANCY PRESCRIPTION.
By Hugh D. Melnick, MD, C’68, and Nancy Intrator, CW’74.
The Josara Companies, 1998. 183 pp., $17.95.
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Too often, infertile couples are treated as medical patients, subject to costly and invasive tests, procedures, and even surgery in an effort to diagnose and then treat whatever is keeping them from conceiving. But infertility is not a disease, argue Melnick and Intrator. It is the natural process of reproduction gone awry — and conception is far too complex to dissect and repair with any degree of reliability. This book offers a step-by-step plan for overcoming infertility by augmenting the natural process of conception and using state-of-the-art advanced reproductive techniques to bypass those stages of the reproductive system that appear most likely to be malfunctioning. Melnick is founder and director of one of the first independent, non-hospital-based infertility centers, Advanced Fertility Services in New York City. Intrator is a past patient of Melnick’s and a writer who specializes in health and family-related topics.
ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW IN BUSINESS I LEARNED AT MICROSOFT.
By Julie Bick, WG’90.
New York: Pocket Books, 1997.
160 pp., $16.00.
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Veteran Microsoft manager Julie Bick takes you behind the scenes at one of the world’s most successful companies to share the lessons she learned there. This insider’s guide covers topics from managing your career to leading a winning team to running your own business. Bick reveals what she learned from her teammates, her competitors, and her mistakes, illuminating every piece of advice with anecdotes from life at Microsoft.
THE SERPENT IN THE CUP:
Temperance in American Literature.
Edited by David S. Reynolds and Debra J. Rosenthal, C’86.
Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997. 248 pp., $17.95 (paper); $55.00 (cloth).
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Writing about the physical and moral dangers of intoxication has long been a feature of American culture, from the anti-alcohol diatribes of colonial clergymen to the confessional narratives of contemporary Alcoholics Anonymous members. This book examines the rich history of that literature, affirming the centrality of temperance as a reform movement at least equal in importance to the abolitionist, suffrage, and labor movements. Each of the 10 essays included in the volume explores some aspect of the ongoing American battle with the bottle. Rosenthal teaches English at Kent State University and at Case Western Reserve University. Reynolds is distinguished professor of English and American Studies at Baruch College and the Graduate School of the City University of New York.
Welfare Capitalism Since the New Deal.
By Sanford M. Jacoby, C’74.
Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997. 345 pp., $35.00.
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In light of recent trends towards corporate downsizing and debates over corporate responsibility, Jacoby — professor of history, management, and public policy at UCLA — examines the history of twentieth-century welfare capitalism — the history of nonunion corporations that looked after the economic security of employees. Building on three case studies of “modern manors” — Eastman Kodak, Sears, and TRW — Jacoby argues that welfare capitalism did not expire during the Depression, as traditionally thought. Rather, it adapted to the challenges of the 1930s and became a powerful, though overlooked, factor in the history of the welfare state, the labor movement, and the corporation. Fringe benefits, new forms of employee participation, and sophisticated anti-union policies are just some of the outgrowths of welfare capitalism that provided a model for contemporary employers seeking to create productive nonunion workplaces.
LIVING, STUDYING, AND WORKING IN ITALY:
Everything You Need to Know To Fulfill Your Dreams of Living Abroad.
By Travis Neighbor, C/G’90, and Monica Larner.
New York: Owl Books, 1998.
340 pp., $14.95.
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You want to go to Italy for six months, but don’t speak the language well. How do you look for a job? Your heart is set on buying a farmhouse in Tuscany. What are the legal pitfalls to avoid? You’d like to study in Rome but your college back home doesn’t have a program. Which schools can you apply to? This companion guide to Italy, written by two seasoned expatriates, answers these and other questions about living there and tells readers, step by step, how to accomplish what they’ve always dreamed of doing — whether it’s taking summer language courses, teaching English, volunteering on an archaeological dig, or starting a business. Neighbor, a writer who lived in Florence for more than four years, is now a senior editor at Departures magazine in New York. Larner, who lives in Rome, is a journalist for Business Week.
How the Best Companies Are Preparing for the 21st Century.
By Jerry Yoram Wind, Faculty, and Jeremy Main.
New York: The Free Press, 1998.
384 pp., $27.50.
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With the rapid proliferation of information technologies and stepped-up competition in the global economy, business executives must develop flexible strategies for responding to the emerging needs of customers and society. Based on eight years of in-depth, worldwide research at the SEI Center for Advanced Studies in Management at the Wharton School, Wind and Main present an integrated, real-world framework of the qualities that the 21st-century corporation must possess to meet these needs and to succeed. The authors contend that although it has “worked” in the past, the 20th-century corporation can’t perform today at the level demanded by the torrid pace of competition and change. New demands from customers, employees, and society itself drive the corporation to be different. In Driving Change, they offer a grounded blueprint for a new corporation that is flexible, learns fast, thinks and acts globally, links all its activities with an electronic web, delivers what the customer wants, creates value for all its constituents, and encourages employees to make decisions. Wind is the Lauder Professor and professor of marketing at Wharton, and founding director of the SEI Center for Advanced Studies in Management, Wharton’s think tank dedicated to the future of business. Main, a senior fellow at the SEI Center, is also author of Quality Wars. He specializes in writing about management.
An Invitation to Cognitive Sociology.
By Eviatar Zerubavel, Gr’76.
Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998. 164 pp., $24.95.
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Why do we eat sardines, but never goldfish; ducks, but never parrots? Why does adding cheese make a hamburger a cheeseburger whereas adding ketchup does not make it a ketchupburger? By the same token, how do we determine which things said at a meeting should be included in the minutes and which ought to be considered off the record and officially disregarded? In this wide-ranging and provocative book, Zerubavel, professor of sociology at Rutgers University, argues that cognitive science cannot answer these questions because it addresses cognition on only two levels: the individual and the universal. To fill the gap between the Romantic vision of the solitary thinker whose thoughts are the product of unique experience, and the cognitive-psychological view, which revolves around the search for the universal foundations of human cognition, Zerubavel charts an expansive social realm of mind — a domain that focuses on the conventional, normative aspects of the way we think. Through the use of anecdotes and analogies, Zerubavel illuminates the social foundation of mental actions such as perceiving, attending, classifying, remembering, assigning meaning, and reckoning the time. What takes place inside our heads, he reminds us, is deeply affected by our social environments, which are typically groups that are larger than the individual yet considerably smaller than the human race.