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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

What Do You Want to Know?

YA Readers and Thinkers

Whenever I finish a draft of a book, I look for readers — experts in the field, other authors, teenagers. Luckily enough through librarians I’ve met over the years, friends with older kids, teachers I usually find YA readers willing to read a stack of printed-out pages. But the helpful adult also then asks, what do you want them to tell you? And that is not clear cut. With the expert reader, I am looking for flaws, for mistakes of fact or interpretation, as well as for new ideas I may not have encountered. With the authors, I want to know about style and flow. But with the teenagers it is less clear. I suppose I want to find out if the book works — does it speak to teenagers? If not, why not? Or, perhaps even more important, where not — where does the reader find it a slog? I want to know if I have done my job — learned about a subject, and written about it in a way that speaks to my readers. But that is only one kind of question.

As I have been saying in this column, there are many, many ways to handle nonfiction. I want to find out if the reader "gets" what I am doing, and, even more, I want the reader to be stimulated, to be challenged. One version of my ideal reader would come back and says, "I loved it, but you lost me here." But another version of that perfect reader sould say, I never thought of that, or is that really true, or if what you say here is so, it makes me think… In other words, I want the book to begin a conversation — and since I am in touch with the reader, I want to hear his or her end of it.

So in one way, sending books to readers is a fail/safe, a test run. I want to learn about what is wrong while I can still fix it. But in another, after the months of facing my screen, I want to show what I’ve done and engage, get responses — the question then is not, did you like it, but what did it make you think? I want to know the thoughts reading my book engendered. And that really is the entire thread of this blog — that nonfiction offers the pleasure of thinking, and the more it does so, the better.