The Fine Art of Literary Fist-Fighting: How a Bunch of Rabble Rousers, Outsiders, and Ne’er-do-wells Concocted Creative Nonfiction by Lee Gutkind - review by Rosa Lyster

Rosa Lyster

Two Sides to the Story

The Fine Art of Literary Fist-Fighting: How a Bunch of Rabble Rousers, Outsiders, and Ne’er-do-wells Concocted Creative Nonfiction

By

Yale University Press 304pp £25
 

This is a true story. Straight after finishing university, the man who is now my husband spent a short time as an intern in the office of the publication you are reading. His fellow intern was a sixteen-year-old boy, furiously annoyed about being there and subject to periodic check-ins from his headmaster. The name of this boy was Richard. My husband and his sixteen-year-old colleague spent their days going through the dozens of books that arrived every morning, sorting them into piles. If I had more space to flesh out this scene, I would include a long paragraph describing them rustling uneasily through shards of cardboard, dust motes swirling in the air, Richard remarking that he had never known a man to drink Diet Coke before. 

Richard and my husband came quickly to fear this job. ‘That’s non-fiction,’ my husband would say, pointing to a book about wine. ‘What’s non-fiction?’ Richard would say, exasperated – by the exercise, by the idea of someone reading a book about wine, by publishing itself, maybe. ‘Non-fiction’, my husband would say, ‘is when it’s not made up.’ ‘So everything in this book is true?’ Richard would say, pointing to the volume at the top of the non-fiction pile, Craig Brown’s book about Princess Margaret. ‘It’s more like it’s trying to be true,’ my husband would say. ‘What?’ Richard would say. ‘It’s more like it aspires to the status of non-fiction but uses techniques we associate with the novel,’ my husband would have said, if he had been able to come up with such a definition on the spot. ‘What?’ Richard would have said. 

The harder my husband tried to distinguish between these categories, the less sense his explanations made to himself and the more irritable Richard became. My husband found himself tormented by a mocking inner voice as he came to realise he did not know the answers to what he had

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