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22 July 2008 @ 11:22 pm
Dangerous Joy of Dr. Sex  

And while I'm plugging good works by my friends... 

When I read nonfiction these days, it's usually because the topic is something about which I badly want to know, or because it's something I'm professionally obligated to read; rarely do I read it for the beauty of the writing itself; for that, I usually divert immediately to fiction.

It was therefore a surprise and a delight to read Pagan Kennedy's forthcoming book, The Dangerous Joy of Dr. Sex and Other True Stories.

(While I normally shy away from name-dropping, I think in this case I have to do a bit of it for full disclosure: I knew Pagan way-back-when, a quarter-century ago. So I'm not a completely unbiased reader. )

I loved it.

When I received the book I took it on a walk along our local bike path. To put things in context, understand that I don't usually take walks longer than a mile or so, and that I almost never try to read at the same time, because I figure I'll break a bone that way.

I walked for five miles, and I read 90 pages.

Unlike fiction, nonfiction inevitably raises the fascinating question of the writer's influence on, or interaction with, the facts. In recent years we have seen some overblown scandals about the veracity of memoirs that have led, in my opinion, to some excruciatingly dull debates about "truth" and "fiction." Normally I would leave such matters entirely alone out of sheer boredom, but Pagan won't let me do that, because she is careful to assert that she does not fabricate any detail -- does not, in other words, pull a Truman Capote. This is an important assertion, because the stories Pagan tells are wild, of the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction variety; so by certifying that every allegation was researched, she makes the stories seem weirder still.

At the same time, there's no question that Pagan acknowledges, even claims, interaction with her subject matter. She notes that three of her interviewees were awarded substantial grants (including two MacArthurs) following the publication of her articles about them, and in one case says flatly that it was a result of the article.

But more than this, it raises the question of the extent to which one can be truly creative when using nothing but the truth. The answer is: Very creative indeed.  I lost track of the many gorgeous sentences, the sentences that must have taken hours.  It is, in many places, like reading poetry.

I can't recommend this book highly enough.  Go out and read it.

Current Location: Providence, RI
Current Mood: happyhappy
Current Music: Philip Glass, "Akhnaten"
ninja_pencilninja_pencil on July 29th, 2008 09:49 pm (UTC)
Hey, you found me, and now I'm strangely embarrassed about my dog's shameless grooming avatar!

I had no idea you inhabited this world of live journal, and we even have a mutual friend - Mike Merriam. This is great! I've received rejections from a few of the mags you listed in the YBSF Honorable Mentions! (Clarksworld is a tough nut to crack, but they pay well, so I will get in there.)

Take care, and thanks for adding me :)

Chris C.
Ken: Huxleyken_schneyer on July 30th, 2008 02:11 am (UTC)
Well, you gave me the Hoax web site URL, which led me to the author's LJ page, and in her most recent post she thanked one ninja_pencil the way you'd thank a patient spouse or roommate, so I deduced...

Don't worry about the dog. I've seen all sorts of odd icons. Mine are all of dead artists, but I'm thinking of adding some personalized ones later.

Michael Merriam is partially responsible for getting me to try publishing original fiction. He read some work of mine in another context (which I can't mention here), and encouraged me to go out and try my luck.