After my  comments about the importance of reading widely (and Allan Little's impassioned guidance on the same theme), Alan McGuinness asked me to recommend my favourite novels about journalists and journalism. You know about Scoop by Evelyn Waugh.  I also recommend Towards the End of the Morning by Michael Frayn, The Quiet American by Graham Greene and Yellow Dog by Martin Amis. Of course, journalists should not restrict themselves to fiction about journalists.

So, in the hope that others will add many more and better suggestions, here is a very small selection of novels I have enjoyed, from which I have learned, and which I think you might appreciate: Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon,  Money by Martin Amis, The Rotters' Club by Jonathan Coe .  

Comments

I really enjoyed reading Tell Me No Lies by John Pilger, it is not a novel but is a collection of fantastic journalism.

My Paper Chase - Harold Evans

Flat Earth News - Nick Davies

Too Big to Fail - Andrew Ross Sorkin

The Great War for Civilsation - Robert Fisk

East of Eden - John Steinbeck

Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell

A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess

Euphoric as I am to have encouraged a discussion about reading, and glad as I am to see such interesting responses, may I make a modest proposal?Perhaps we should start separate threads for fiction and non-fiction, or this could get confusing. My proposal was about fiction.  

 

For a while now, I have been feeling I am missing out .
The thing is, sadly I appear to have given up reading fiction.
I didn’t mean to do this.
However, I tell myself I don’t have the time for it.  I currently have six non-fiction books I am “reading”, all of which I know will inform and entertain me.
I am well aware that I probably won’t read them all from start to finish.
However, it  happened that one of the books on my bedside table, which I am re-reading, is Ryszard Kapuscinski’s Imperium. It is wonderful reportage.
It is also supposed to be all true.
Then, according to this piece, it turns out he was making half of it up.
Perhaps I was reading more fiction than I thought.
This perceptive piece by Timothy Garton Ash looks at how much any of this matters.

 

 

Though they're not exactly new allegations.

I feel like I should be feeling a bit betrayed by Kapuscinksi, but I don't think I'm letting myself because I enjoy his books so much.

Having said that, maybe I wouldn't have enjoyed them so much if I'd known more about the way he 'blurred the boundaries between fact and fiction'.

I certainly think he should've been more honest about his writing. You regularly see a disclaimer in a memoir-type book saying 'in some cases I've condensed conversations that took place on separate occasions into one for narrative purposes/ condensed two real-life people into one character for the same reason' - could Kapuscinksi have done something similar? If it's not all true then he shouldn't be presenting it as such.

Either way, I won't be able to hold him in the same esteem again.

Personally, it really bothers me. I believe reporting needs to be true all the way through for it to work.

I don't like finding out Kapuscinski did this. I don't like commissioning editors who look at my rough cuts and try to persuade me to present someone in a misleading way. And it still bothers me that on a couple of occasions I have had arguments with colleagues about this and have ended up cutting something which may or may not have crossed the line.

Everyone who makes news or factual programmes comes up against this.

The very first "documentary" ever made was partly constructed. There was the Bear Grylls controversy over the making of his survival programmes.

 

It's hard to say how spelt out it should be when people are stretching the boundaries of truth - Hunter S Thompson didn't say it explicitly it, but you know, somehow, that that's what he's doing. That's not the case with Kapuscinski, though.

Of course documentaries and news programming shouldn't do it - but is there a space in between fact and fiction here too?

For example, docu-dramas regularly distort and change things, and can then end up defining the public perception of an event - is that wrong? Should there be a clearer line between 'faithfully reconstructed' programmes and ones that are changed for dramatic/ideoogical purposes?

I doubt it would make a difference, though - some people will always get their knowledge of certain events through entertainment/Hollywood - there's no way of making that adhere to journalistic principles. I guess we've just got to live with the mess.

Don't forget graphic novels - the Adventures of Superman (Clark Kent), Spiderman (Peter Parker), Tin Tin and Transmetropolitan (Spider Jerusalem) all feature journalists as the main character

Novels to read