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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

A Marriage Made in Heaven

Did You All Catch the Essay in the Sunday Times on The Two Kinds of Reading?

If not, here it is, The piece nicely mapped two camps — those who consider what kids do online a form of reading, and those who think that while it involves decoding text, it is fundamentally different from book reading. And even if this online reading is quite different from book reading, is that good, bad, or indifferent? Are online readers developing skills that they will need in their adult jobs, or distracting themselves with another adolescent addiction? As Motoko Rich points our in the article, these debates are beginning to have educational consequences: while some countries are beginning to text teenagers on their digital literacy, we are not.

I believe there is a middle ground in the clash of reading styles, and we — the nonfiction authors, editors, reviewers, librarians, teachers, parents who deal with younger readers — are it. Our books present an argument with a beginning, middle, and end. But our books are in school libraries where kids are constantly on the net. There, as the article mentioned, "accomplished book readers like Zachary Sims, 18, of Old Greenwich, Conn., crave the ability to quickly find different points of view on a subject and converse with others online." In other words we authors give our take to readers who, we must assume, can easily cruise around and find others. This, friends, is heaven.

We have the theater of a book — the platform of the page, the scenery of art, the costume of design — we get to strut upon that stage. But we do so for readers who, we know, have many other POVs and sources of information available to them. In a way this is like Shakespeare’s audience at the Globe — if they were bored they could chat, wander away, yell at the stage. That set a high bar for him — he had to hold the attention of viewers who had no reason to be polite. Our wandering readers challenge us. But they also give us, and you teachers, librarians, parents, the most wonderful opportunity. Instead of mute, passive, obedient readers, we have readers who can be encouraged to, like Zachary, seek out other viewpoints, chat with other kids to get their ideas — to embed our lonely books in their active internet lives.  

The clash of reading styles is — especially in nonfiction — like the early dating scenes in a romantic comedy — they grate on each other precisesly because they will make a great match. Books show kids how to think and how to express themselves. The net gives them material to think about and the opportunity to exchange ideas: a marriage made in, as I said, in heaven.