Telling True Stories – A Review

Earlier this week, I finished reading “Telling True Stories”, edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call (Plume, 2007, ISBN 978-0-452-28755-6). This is another writing book that I’m certain that I will read again, both in parts and the whole. I have others on my shelf that evoke similar sentiments, of course, but this book particularly strikes me in several ways. It is focused on nonfiction writing, yet it ignores neither narrative nor poetry. Indeed, the various writers praise both story and “song” as a way to enhance nonfiction writing. Also, the book includes original contributions by many (more than 50) authors, some familiar and some obscure. This tapestry of experience has produced a delightful and multi-faceted creation. Many of these authors, whether drawing upon their own work, or well-known works of others, show vivid examples that made me think, “Aha, and now I see”. In other cases, I thought, “Hmmm. Now, I would never have made that connection on my own.”

Still others provided enough tease that I decided to purchase or borrow one of their books. David Halberstam is one of those authors. He wrote a book entitled “The Teammates” about baseball legends Dominic DiMaggio, John Pesky, and Ted Williams, of the Boston Red Sox. Fascinating stuff this was. I love baseball, anyway, though I don’t follow it much these days. The story was so well written, though, I had a hard time putting it down.

This book includes additional value in the little things. Various sidebars are scattered throughout the book, including one on “The Ladder of Abstraction”, one panel discussion on interviewing techniques entitled “To tape or Not to Tape”, and another entitled “A Storyteller’s Lexicon”. The book also includes a list of website resources, a thorough index,  one-paragraph biographical sketches of all the contributors, and a suggested reading list that goes beyond a simple bibliography and is keyed to those contributors.

Section titles include, “An Invitation to Narrative”; “Finding, Researching, and Reporting Topics”; “Name Your Subgenre”; “Constructing a Structure”; “Building Quality into the Work”; “Ethics”; “Editing”; “Narrative in the News Organization”; and “Building a Career in Magazines and Books”.

Great stuff. It took me a whole year to read it and digest it. It was well worth the time. Even though I don’t recall where I bought this book, or how much I paid, definitely I would say it has been worth the money. You will enjoy it, too, dear reader.