The Best Creative Nonfiction, Vol. 1

Lee Gutkind, Editor . Norton $15.95 (329p) ISBN 978-0393330038

This anthology, an offshoot of the journal Creative Nonfiction , kicks off an annual series drawing together the best representatives of a fertile (if ill-defined) genre still struggling for recognition. In his introduction, Gutkind tries to clarify the subject, a seeming “contradiction in terms,” but the pieces speak for themselves, blending precise research and astute observation with flavorful, fascinating narratives. Carol Smith, a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer , contributes an account of “The Cipher in Room 214,” a 1996 female suicide found in a downtown Seattle hotel who left behind no clues as to her identity; Eula Biss details powerfully her experience with chronic illness by riffing off the 0–10 scale on which her doctors ask her to rank her pain. Most pieces are first-person, memoir-style accounts—writers include a former stripper, a fatally ill man, a narcoleptic and a prosopagnosic (a woman who can't recognize faces)—but a smattering of profiles include an insightful Poets & Writers piece by Daniel Nester on notoriously over-creative nonfiction writer James Frey. Happily, Gutkind reaches several steps beyond the literary journal scene—blog excerpts turn up, and a piece on the secret language of hackers (or “h4ck3rs”) comes from John McPhee's Princeton University creative nonfiction class—to find a wide range of topics and styles; though some selections are stronger than others, the richness of the “real” makes the anthology work as a cohesive whole. (July)

Reviewed on: 12/31/2007
Release date: 07/01/2007
Genre: Nonfiction
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