When I'm old and gray, I probably won't remember very well every book that I've read. In fact, upon recollection, the contents of each novel will most likely be condensed to a single descriptive sentence; for textbooks, a verb and noun will do (i.e. Napoleon loses). As insignificant as that sentence may sound, it is considerably more than two words. Fiction simply stays with me better because I think it's more meaningful than any other type of writing and up until a month ago, I thought the line between fiction and nonfiction was very clear. Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down confuses the intricacies of my brain, which do not know whether to allot a sentence or two parts of speech in the dimly lit section of my cerebral cortex, a precious reserve for very succinct memories only. Her writing style distances her book from a typical nonfiction one because not only does she make facts very personal with her strong sense of I, the filter she puts on her research and use of frequent anecdotes make me believe she is more of a unique storyteller than an intellectual gatherer of knowledge
[...] Fadiman's tone and diction skew the historical research so that readers immediately fall on the side of the Hmong and come to relate to them as the book develops. This kind of loophole—making the research come off a certain way without manipulating the actual facts—is a smart way of drawing on the emotions of the reader, which is something fiction more so than nonfiction, attempts to do. If I want to convince my reader that workshop is the best way to improve writing, I can provide statistics, testimonies, and psychological research all on top of each other even though it's true that there are many successful writers who never participate in workshops and some who even say it's detrimental. [...]
[...] Anyone can do research, but it's the means of presenting that information that distinguishes between a good writer and a creative one. There's nothing wrong with quoting from a philosopher or historical figure, but Fadiman takes it to another level by adding in the human element. Her nonfiction book about a Hmong family that struggles to keep a daughter alive amidst cultural conflicts is fully backed up by testimony and research, but it is her role in them that makes the quotations in the text so compelling. [...]
[...] It is the people involved (Jeanine Hilt, the Kordas, the Lees, and more) who make the book worth reading. Fadiman teaches a valuable lesson about the art of nonfiction writing, which needs a little creativity and a little bit of the human element. From workshop, I can intertwine what I learn about fiction writing with an account of an actual workshop session, written out in real time. While fellow writers exchange comments and analyze stories, I can insert my research into relevant actions. [...]
[...] What is most deftly done and distinguishes Fadiman's book most from nonfiction writing is her role as a storyteller, who shares many anecdotes and weaves her research through the story of one Hmong family's struggles with preserving their culture against all odds. Not only is the human element present here, but Fadiman understands how important it is to apply research to life. People reach people. By alternating her more formal research with the account of the Lee family's experiences, Fadiman applies what her research attempts to convey to that particular family and as a result, her intention reaches me in a very organic way. [...]
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