Sunday, July 10, 2011

Brendan O’Meara

Brendan O’Meara is a freelance journalist.

Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year is his first book of narrative nonfiction.

Last month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I’m a nonfictionist. I love that when I read nonfiction, what I see in dialogue happened, and, if the reporter/writer is to be trusted, verifiably true. There’s something about that that draws me into the orbit of nonfiction. That said, I read a ton of fiction.

I finished White Teeth by Zadie Smith, a book about the tangling of three families and a struggle to find identity. I read Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil, a Holocaust allegory that was very layered, to keep it short. These are all gripping from a character sense. And when the transition is made back to nonfiction, you quickly realize you’re nothing without characters.

I read fiction because I like the depth the authors reach and I ask, “How can I elicit that response in nonfiction? What questions can I ask my characters to reach that level of depth and feeling? And when my real-life characters are in moments of conflict and friction, how can I crack that egg open, spill it into the pan, and see what cooked them about it?

My nonfiction “recents” include Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, which I think belongs on the Mount Rushmore of narrative nonfiction books. It’s the type of book (about the survival of Olympian Louis Zamperini, whose war plane crashed in the Pacific, and of his subsequent torture in a Japanese POW camp) that if it were written as a novel would be dismissed because it would be, ironically, unbelievable. The reporting is Un. Be. Lievable. It’s well-cited and anybody who does nonfiction will look bask in the index and revel in the thoroughness she took.

I read Senior Year by Boston Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy since I’m researching for my own memoir about my father and baseball. Shaughnessy chronicles his son’s senior year playing baseball, so it’s helpful to see the father angle since I’ll be taking the son angle. David Halberstam’s Summer of ’49 is a book I’m currently using to help fill in the holes of my father’s childhood (he was five in 1949) as a baseball-loving boy growing up outside of Boston rooting for the Red Sox. Halberstam, too, is an impeccable reporter who spins such a lyrical yarn that I often think, “Wow, this is nonfiction?”
Visit Brendan O'Meara's website and blog. Follow the author on Twitter, and "like" Six Weeks on Facebook.

The Page 99 Test: Six Weeks in Saratoga.

--Marshal Zeringue