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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

France

The Other Life

When we go shopping here in Rouen, we go to a store that is really an all-in-one mall. At the same store we buy our food; get a new SIM card for our cell, pick out clothes for the kids, get gas for the car – if we had a dog, he could get a haircut; if we planned to stay in France, we could buy a house; we select CDs and DVDs; and they have a fine bookstore with an excellent nonfiction for kids section.

Since it is August, there are displays of books for kids to take on vacation: all-in-one workbooks on all their subjects; done in a fun style, then there were many books on knights; castles; medieval life – with overlays, draw bridges to open; and many other examples of bookmaking fun. In all their presentation of history and science had an exhuberance I rarely see in our books. The books suggested that these were interesting subjects anyone would want to read. Then I went over to their extensive hardcover graphic novel section. I liked the covers more than the interior art – which had a certain sameness – kind of a movie on the page, Conanesque realism. But one story caught my eye: Empire.

The conceit of the series is that Napoleon had conquered Constantinople; then Asia. In effect, the French ruled India, while England was marginalized. That could have happened. And, in a way, it summarized my sense of France: an alternate land, a place of beauty; intelligence; grandeur, a coherent society that could have been the model for America, to the world, but which lost out to England. Makes me want to come back and explore it again and again.