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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

In Praise of Two Pronouns

I Am Loving Two New Nonfiction Books — In Large Part Because of The Pronouns They Use

Kadir Nelson’s We Are The Ship is getting all kinds of praise, it does not need my endorsement. But as I was reading it to my avid-baseball-fan 7-year-old-son, I began to notice something that I particularly liked: "We." From the title on, the book is, as Nelson explains in the end the "collective voice, the voice of every player, the voice of we." But I actually think there is another "we" lurking in the book. Nelson is not writing as the omniscient, objective voice of historical truth. He is not a depersonalized judge. Instead he is writing from an African-American point of view. I think it is that stance, that narrative point of view, which makes the wonderful voice of the book possible. This is a perfect example of what I’ve been calling for here — nonfiction that is personal, that speaks from someplace, from an author’s vantage, and that is, thus, completely different from a web search.

I am equally infatuated with Uri Shulevitz’s How I Learned Geography — which has already been heralded by Amy and Elizabeth in their blogs, as well as the New York Times in the justly glowing review I linked to above. They all notice just what I want to praise as well — the I in the title. Much as I agree with Roger Sutton that cool objective maps have a great appeal to men and boys, this is a book about geography that is entirely personal. We see what URi found in maps, in his imagination, in his own life story.

We, I — the passage into history, into maps, comes from someone, a person, with his or own particular past, and dreams. These two books for younger readers are showing precisely what nonfiction for all younger readers can and should be: personal.