Last night I heard (and more than heard) the two best NC speeches I have ever witnessed, and I’ve listening to them on and off since the 80s. If you were not there, you owe it to yourself to get the next issue of the Horn Book which, as you know, reprints the talks. I strongly suggest you do that, read the Horn Book, rather than listening to the Weston Woods recording. Nothing against WW — but this is one NC where seeing is believing. I am being coy, and probably there is no reason to, but you have a great treat in store if you read the issue.
Brian Selznik knocked his speech so far out of the park, out of this world, that everyone felt sorry for Laura Amy Schlitz, especially when she did not go up to the podium. Poor woman, we all felt, she is too daunted to even speak. But no, experienced storyteller that she is, she wanted to speak from her own spot, standing, with no mike. Using no notes, she gave a note perfect set of stories and tales that fully matched the power of his — with one unfortunate gaffe.
At one point she said that, perhaps like others in the room, she had a secret preference for fiction over nonfiction, because story makes meaning — as opposed to mere facts. The night had been, and continued after that, to be wonderful — but in every way that was a horrible thing to say. Nonfiction is not facts. Nonfiction is about thinking — which, just as much as story (actually much more so) creates meaning. And, worst of all, was that sense of a shared secret in the lean to fiction (which got several appreciative claps and laughs from the crowd). Of course we all know that many librarians feel that way, but to raise a confession of prejudice, of, I would say, disability, to a kind of badge of honor, a shared view, was precisely what I think is wrong in the library world. I did not mind her saying it, but she said it with no shame, no hesitation, no self-questioning — and with the sure knowledge that many others would feel the same way. You often hear a different version of the same view when librarians say "I hate math.’ As if that were not a limitation, but an obvious view most people would share.
She is clearly a great storyteller, a true professional. But that one aside, that one unfortunate phrase, shows wha we are up against: an industry in which a distaste for, and misunderstanding of, nonfiction goes entirely unquestioned — as if it were normal. Imagine if an author on that same stage had said that nonfiction is better than fiction, because ideas make meaning, and fiction is mere imagination. The audience would be insulted. Well all of the nonfiction fans in the audience felt exactly that last night.