I just spent a very happy hour at my local library. John W. Glenn and I met with some 4-5th graders and a few adults to talk about our forthcoming book The World Made New. The neat part was the enthusiasm from both the kids and the adults, including an elementary school librarian and an assistant principal — for new ways of thinking about history. Which leads to the problem — as I’ve said here and many of you have commented in your posts and in private emails — schools select safe and familiar textbooks, chain stores are not interested in nonfiction, many parents who buy books for their kids look for novels — as so books that have new ideas, new ways of approaching nonfiction topics cannot reach the readers who would like them if they knew of them.
I suspect that the very size of the problem is the beginning of the solution. That is, the general ignorance of and aversion to nonfiction is so widespread that it is ripe to be toppled. What I felt from the crowd today — and I’ve seen in other similar gatherings — is rain on a dry field — a craving that is all the stonger because people didn’t even realize they had it — they simply did not know that nonfiction could come to them in exciting and new ways. I suspect that we are in the position of a Maoist revolutionary movement: we have to take the countryside — all of the local libraries and schools we can reach — such that the perception of what nonfiction can be grows as a kind of groundswell. As we get that message across, we create a revolution of rising expectations — people know that nonfiction can offer more, so they demand more — they can recognize what is wrong with the mix of textbooks that have no narrative power and reading lists dominated by fiction.
Take heart, fellow toilers in the field, our readers are out there, "waiting for this moment to arise." All we have to do is to fly "into the light of the dark black night."