Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

What Is Your Favorite Work of Literary Journalism?

By Mark Athitakis

Early 2012 seems to have become one very long longread about the virtues and pitfalls of reporting. Last month About a Mountain author John D'Agata and fact-checker Jim Fingal collected their punchy exchanges about accuracy and essay writing in the book The Lifespan of a Fact. Soon after, This American Life retracted a report on Apple manufacturing workers in China based on monologuist Mike Daisey’s show The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs after details were called into question. The ocean of commentary about D'Agata and Daisey has been enough to make many forget that the best-reviewed nonfiction book of the young year is a work of reportage, Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers, and that it largely earned such glowing admiration for its careful attention to detail. When somebody gets it right and tells it well, we celebrate; when somebody told it well but got it wrong, we vent.

So for the latest iteration of “NBCC Reads,” in which we poll our readership and friends of the NBCC on their favorite books, it seemed like a good time to ask this question: What is your favorite work of literary journalism?

By “literary journalism,” we mean nonfiction writing as distinct from formal history, criticism, biography, or memoir—we're looking for examples of thorough investigation and witnessing of events, told with novelistic grace and journalistic rigor. There are plenty such books among NBCC award winners and finalists, including Michael Herr's Dispatches, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's Random Family, Ted Conover's Newjack, and John Jeremiah Sullivan's Pulphead. Those books sit alongside old-school works such as Lillian Ross' Picture and John Hersey's Hiroshima, as well as modern classics like Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief and David Simon's Homicide.

Any title is eligible. Please do include a few sentences explaining your choice (or choices). We're not picking a winner, but we'll include as many posts as we can here on Critical Mass. We also hope to sponsor panels on the subject around the country in the coming months; please let us know if you'd like to take part in that.

Please send your responses to The deadline is April 20. Thank you for taking part!