In search of the truth, or something like it
If you come across a New York Times Magazine story with a John Hodgman byline, check the facts carefully. Very carefully.Making the leap from literary agent to journalist some years ago, Hodgman landed a story assignment from Men’s Journal, covering the developments at the food courts at Minnesota’s mammoth Mall of America. The various food emporia were strange enough that there was no need to embellish the article to make it boggle the mind. Hodgman, though, couldn’t resist.”It was such a crazy place that you wanted to take the exaggeration to the next level,” said the 33-year-old, a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine.
Shortly after submitting the Mall of America piece – which never ran, even if the edited version deleted the fictitious parts – Hodgman began writing an advice column for the online McSweeney’s.net. And Hodgman’s tendency to flirt with the truth began to become an occupation.”As I covered the questions, I realized I didn’t have time to do research,” said Hodgman of his time doing “Ask a Former Literary Agent.””I thought I could be more enlightening if I made up the responses.”Hodgman is one of four New York writers who will participate in the Off The Page program at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. Also reading their work: David Rees, creator of the political cartoon “Get Your War On”; Amy Sohn, novelist and writer of the New York magazine column “Mating”; and Jonathan Ames, author of the comedic memoir “What’s Not to Love?” and a frequent guest on “The Late Show with David Letterman.”
Hodgman’s presentation will include a reading of the unedited version of “The Mall of America Diaries.”Hodgman is currently at work on a book of true, amazing, completely made-up facts, “The Areas of My Expertise,” due for publication in the fall.Chopin, notes Hodgman, was a Polish-born composer in the Romantic tradition. “That’s true. And it’s interesting in a way.
“But if I say he was obsessed with ladybugs and let them run up and down his arm while he played – that gives a lot more insight into Chopin and bugs and the creative process. And if it were true, it would be very interesting. I think I have more of an obligation to be interesting than to be truthful.”Hodgman doesn’t see anything remarkable about his presenting fiction as truth. Everyone’s doing it.”The barrier to entry is pretty low,” he said. “You look around today and more and more people are getting into it all the time – politicians, journalists, your friends and neighbors. And it seems to be a rewarding career.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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