Finding new and surprising things to write

A writer colleague (my buddy Don, see below) asks a question that must occur to any of us whenever we look at a vast collection like the New York Public Library, or even a well-stocked bookstore: Has everything already been written? Sometimes it feels that way, but it won't be, until everything human has already happened. That will be some billions of years hence, when our sun dies. Meanwhile, there are always new events and new twists and even new meaning to old truths.

Proof of that is in the work of those in Robert S. Boynton's new book, The New New Journalism. It includes Boynton's interviews with 19 other practitioners of what Lawrence Weschler calls "writerly nonfiction," and Boynton wants to call "literary" or "creative" of "narrative nonfiction." I like the last term best, to describe what I try to do in my reportorial and essayistic work. At a panel at the Barnes & Noble store in Union Square the other night, I got my first chance to see and hear five of them: Bill Finnegan, Ren Weschler, Ted Conover, Adrian Leblanc and Ron Rosenbaum. They are as different from one another (in temperament, writing style, working methods) as any of them is from me, and in that difference I felt we were really united -- each of us struggling in our own peculiar ways to write the best we can. Reading Ron Rosenbaum and Gay Talese (also in this book) alone gives you an idea of how immensely wide those differences can be, and still produce works we want to read.

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