Gay Talese in “Telling True Stories”

Gay Talese in the Los Angeles Times piece “Gay Talese talks with David L. Ulin.”

I chose Gay Talese’s essay from the book “Telling True Stories” (Penguin Books Ltd., 2007) to write about because I enjoyed his methods of finding a story: thinking about the people one wouldn’t normally think about. I also enjoyed the method of David Halberstam, a friend of Talese’s, but his explanantion made out writing nonfiction as easy, when I know it isn’t. His essay seemed to consist of ‘I had an idea, I wrote a best-selling novel, I made a lot of money. I had an idea, I wrote a best-selling novel, I made a lot of money. Again.’ Gay Talese, in writing about the “losers” of the world, managed to convey a sense of struggle in his own writing: he recounted the months and years he put into his work, the self-funded plane tickets and Chinese hotels. At least with Talese it appeared to take effort to write decent nonfiction.

The son of Italian immigrants, Talese describes how his father, an “eavesdropping tailor,” listened in on his customers and retold the stories he overheard; and so Talese developed a hunger for the stories of ordinary people, of losers “in every sense of the word” like the phallus-less John Wayne Bobbitt and the Chinese soccer player who missed the winning kick. Talese pursued these characters and painstackingly gathered every detail of their otherwise unnoticed stories.

As a novelist, Talese has written eleven books, but he began his life in writing with newspapers, but he eventually left the New York Times, saying newspaper writing could not support his delving into every detail of the lives of the ignored. However, whether one is writing for a newspaper or a novel, the aspect of nonfiction writing Talese expresses is to look into every detail of the ignored and find something extraordinary.



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