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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

bland diet

Why Is Adult NF Full of Opinions, and YA NF So, Well, Restrained?

Adult NF sells to its readers, who are expected to be able to pick and choose on their own. Look in any chain bookstore history section — it is organized by era and topic. Any way you like your Civil War books, the store has something to offer: great generals, famous battles, exposes, new revelations, secrets, spies, academic studies, — you want it, they’ve got it.

YA NF is sold to adults, who buy for readers. Look in any chain bookstore NF section (there is no history section) and you find absolute chaos. The chain assumes that if parents want their little darlings to read about great generals, famous battles, secrets, spies, etc. they will take their charges to the library. If parent and child happen to be stuck in the NF section in the bookstore it is to buy a birthday present, or a tool to help at school.

So if you rule out the chain bookstore, that leaves the few independents, the library, and on-line sales. It seems to me that authors of NF for younger readers need to make the case to you — librarians, reviewers, parents, teachers — that having a point of view in our NF books can be a very good thing. It can make them impassioned, personal, lively. Sure we need to point to other views, have good source notes and guides to further reading. But bland is as bland does — it is safe, but, well, boring. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t see a big groundswell of kids clamoring for boring books.


  1. Is it restraint or a lack of passion?

    With non-fiction I wonder if it comes down to publishers fearing the same sort of backlash that confronts science texts that dare to offer Darwin’s theories. It seems everyone is staying safe for the sake of sales and library acquisitions.

    What might be interesting is to have non-fiction 2-in-1 books where a subject is covered by one author from one perspective and then you flip it over and give another author a shot at the material. Not two authors working together but two separate viewpoints, allowing the authors to direct their focus on what they feel is important, allowing the younger reader to decide for themselves what sounds right. Imagine, say, a biography of the Beatles from a liberal and a conservative viewpoint… what would they say? History books with two sides telling the same story, art movements covered by opposing sides of academia — many possibilities.

    That could make some interesting reading for adults as well.

  2. debwaugh says:

    david e — Check out Opposing Viewpoints and Current Controversies. They might be what you’re thinking of. Although I still find them a bit bland.

    I buy and/or donate a lot of adult books for my library. I think this concept of moving away from bland to rich reading will be a great way to promote them.