On Research

In Masters & Doyennes, Writer’s Rituals on October 19, 2009 at 1:07 am

Regarding the all too important, but all too easily consuming act of Research, in The Guardian’s “A Life in Writing” Nicholson Baker steers us to the nearly extinct yet vital source of newspapers:

[They] are the single most efficient way to immerse yourself in the past. If you want to know about 1908, don’t go to some secondary source – read the newspapers. Any old edition will have some revelation which doesn’t hold with our received notions of the time. It changed my understanding of history and perhaps made possible the writing of a book like Human Smoke.

When you write non-fiction, you have to at least pretend to be a person of some unflappable normalcy who is making reasonable judgements. Fiction, on the other hand, allows you to be a little more provisional and vulnerable, and truer. You can think over the self-medicational function of rhyme and, on the same day, cut some of your finger off with a breadknife.

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