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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Matter of Fact by John von Daler


                In order to satisfy my own sense of order I always have imagined that it started with the #Salinger story where Zooey (I think) rummages through the medicine cabinet in somebody's bathroom.

                As you can see already, I'm not a big one for facts. Though I remember that episode with great affection, I cannot pinpoint its exact location.
                Zooey makes a note of every product, prescription, lotion, button, pin, pill, tonic, whatever he touches in the cabinet. He gets to know his host through his bathroom secrets. How great is that!
                From then on (again in the untidy archive in my mind) The #New Yorker became fascinated with facts. Quite often John #McPhee lead the way. He wrote articles that you never would have read anywhere else. Things like a day in the life of a barge captain. Or how to make some intricate product from start to finish. It was always personal, well-written, and above all, factual. He informed us that Bill #Bradley could feel the difference when he shot the ball at an incorrectly positioned basket. Even if the difference were a fraction of an inch. And McPhee measured that fraction to make sure.
                I was brought up with the New Yorker. Subscribed to it all my life. But now the facts have caught up with me.
                I do not want to be dragged through the minutiae of some process any more. Nor do I want to meet some skilled artisan carefully plying his trade as we visit him on a pleasant morning in his atelier only to digress from that well-lighted place to a research-filled journey through his upbringing and education for ten or twelve paragraphs and then to hop back to that same morning (now afternoon) where we again find the artisan of our attention half-finished with his product, waiting to dissect the whole process for us.
                Maybe I just am fed up with the whole "show, don't tell" commandment that dominates our literature. It's as if we are supposed to turn our books into films. Authors are supposed to give the reader the facts and then get out of the way. Then the reader rides the book like a rollercoaster into oblivion. But "show" is something visible, like a movie; "tell" you do with words - and books are made up of words.
                Well, with tears in my eyes I canceled my New Yorker subscription. At about the same time I started to write.
                Believe me, as an author I plan to get in the reader's way. If you want the stark facts, go to the movies. My readers should be blind and let me be the seeing-eye dog. And the facts will be all wrong.

               

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