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In Fact : Essays on Writers and Writing

Mallon, Thomas

33 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0375409165 / ISBN 13: 9780375409165
Published by Knopf Publishing Group, New York, NY, U.S.A., 2001
Condition: Fine Hardcover
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FINE/FINE unread copy protected by Brodart Archival cover. Size: 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall. Bookseller Inventory # 000529

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Bibliographic Details

Title: In Fact : Essays on Writers and Writing

Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group, New York, NY, U.S.A.

Publication Date: 2001

Binding: Hard Cover

Book Condition:Fine

Dust Jacket Condition: Fine

Edition: First Edition.

About this title


From the acclaimed novelist (Henry and Clara, Two Moons), essayist (A Book
of One's Own), and critic (1998 National Book Critics Circle Citation for Excellence in Reviewing)--an engaging new collection of essays.

In Fact gathers the best of Thomas Mallon's superb criticism from the past twenty-two years--essays that appeared in his GQ column, "Doubting Thomas," and in The New York Times Book Review, The American Scholar, The New Yorker, and Harper's, among other publications. Here are his evaluations of the work of contemporary writers such asNicholson Baker, Peter Carey, Tom Wolfe, Do DeLillo, Joan Didion, and Robert Stone, and reassessments of such earlier twentieth- century figures as John O'Hara, Sinclair Lewis, Truman Capote, and Mary McCarthy. Mallon also considers an array of odd literary genres and phenomena--including book indexes, obituaries, plagiarism, cancelled  checks, fan mail, and author tours. And he turns his sharp eye on historical fiction (his own genre) as well as on the history, practice, and future of memoir.

Smart, unorthodox, and impassioned, this collection is an integral piece of an important literary career and an altogether marvelous read.


Every profession is rich in what might be called marginalia: odd rituals, freakish human behaviors, and accidental blessings. In his second essay collection, Thomas Mallon admits to his love of the incidental in his own trade: "I have always been drawn to literature's suburbs." No wonder In Fact includes pieces on fan mail, obituaries, indexing, handwriting, the book tour, and plagiarism. Yet Mallon has more than marginal points to make. In his rumination on plagiarism, he discusses the frustrations of a poet who's had his work pilfered, and concludes: "In these times when there are fewer and fewer ways to be unlike everyone else--writing, with its fingerprint uniqueness, its irreducibility, may be more precious than ever to those who produce it."

This sense of the "fingerprint uniqueness" of writing infuses the entire book. Having fled academe to become a novelist (Dewey Defeats Truman , Henry and Clara, Two Moons), Mallon wrote the "Doubting Thomas" book column in GQ for a decade. A clutch of his reviews are collected here, and his critical writing has a feeling of urgency: this guy believes books matter. His passions are most evident (and most entertaining) when he's writing about books he doesn't like. His review of David Guterson's East of the Mountains, for example, contains this felicitous reference to the same author's bestselling debut, Snow Falling on Cedars: "Let us start by trying to divine the appeal of the by now ubiquitous Cedars." The sentence possesses the refined disgust of someone holding a dead mouse between forefinger and thumb. Elsewhere Mallon takes on DeLillo, Wolfe, and Vidal, along with such past masters as H.L. Mencken, Siegfried Sassoon, and John Kennedy Toole. One caveat: Most of these essays were written for a magazine with the word gentleman right in its title, and women get short shrift here. Mary McCarthy--"an object of youthful admiration, then a critical subject, and eventually a friend"--makes several appearances, and Jane Smiley receives an enthusiastic notice. Otherwise, this is Boy's Town. --Claire Dederer

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