Bak, John S., and Bill Reynolds. Literary Journalism Across the Globe: Journalistic Traditions and Transnational Influences. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2011. 306 pp. $28.95.
This collection of sixteen essays about literary journalism across the globe is a valuable addition to the scant literature on the genre. Its value derives both from the fact that even a superficial reading opens our eyes to the extent that literary journalism - or some derivation of it - has been and is being reported, written, and published in every corner of the world in response to a need for a form of journalism that connects the many subjectivities within nations.
In doing so, this collection helps to refute the view that the United States is the genre's principal player, but it still reveals the transnational dynamic in how the New Journalism of the 1960s and the 1970s in the U.S. helped spawn similar movements elsewhere. Indeed, the collection shows us that while what we call literary journalism may take on different aspects depending of the exigencies of particular nations, the genre's goal across nations is similar in its attempt at the "probing of the 'real' world," as cultutal historian Warren Susman once put it.
As with any such collection, the book's essays vary in their quality and degree of scholarly rigor. Still, even after a reading of a casual, almost gossipy essay on literary journalism in Canada, I came away with a good sense of the problems of structure and agency that literary journalists face in that nation, especially in a Western outpost such as Vancouver, where they must deal with the dominant publishing powers far to the east.
Briefly, several themes emerge across the essays.
One is the transnational pollination of new forms of writing. For example, an essay on "Literary Journalism in TwentiethCentury Finland" reveals how Hunter S. Thompson and Gonzo journalism inspired several Finnish writers to break out of old molds of teporting and writing.
Along those same lines, several essays show us how literary journalism - or literary reportage - was a response to the times when the scientific model of traditional inverted-pyramid objective reporting was seen as not up to the task of adequately informing readers. And related to that, there is some confusion, discussion, and debate about distinctions between the terms literary journalism and literary reportage. Even with John C. Hartsock's well-argued introductory essay on that subject, this distinction is never really made clear. The one sense I come away with is that reportage deals more with active, socially conscious advocacy than straight literary journalism. Of course, then, I am left asking how we would classify such works as James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Meni But whatever the definition, these essays reveal that reporting in the genre across nations involves immersion in the subject, and the writing includes such techniques of the fictionists as dialog, different points of view, and scene-setting. …