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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters


Many of You Know "Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys

I’ve been thinking about it again recently, for two unrelated reasons. The fun bit is that I got an email from an author who was struggling with writing a YA until he read a piece in which I mentioned the book. Seems he has now written a ms. in which, as part of the plot, kids do in fact learn to work on cars. Apparently his agent loves it. So on the most literal level, maybe reading will fix some Chevys — and, who knows, Chevy parts may be hard to come by, so we’ll need mechanics who have that knowledge.

One of the key points in the book is about flow — that experience of moving beyond yourself, being caught up in an activity. Reading seems the opposite of that to many boys, while action — sports, building, competing — offers just that experience. I’d like to add another term, one which gets to the heart of what nonfiction offers: leap. Here’s what I mean: if you think of NF as a plod through information, it doubtless seems as daunting and unpleasant as, say, a novel might for some boys. But, to me, one of the main reasons for acquiring information is so that you can jump, leap — think about it. Some people love envisioning what it would be like to live in a time and place. I love speculating about how and why — and that leap past the known into the region where you feel alive, creative, smart, alert, open is the great pleasure of nonfiction.

My fear is that we too often evaluate books on their command of fact, and that we spend too much of our attention on how students assimilate and record those facts. I would like to see us do more to stimulate kids to experience the pleasure of leaping, then make sure they have the facts to support, or falsify, their leaps. 

Did you all see this latest NEA survey on reading? Burried at the end is the news that library readership is up, doubtless related to the economy. There is an apparent decline in NF reading, but the statistics on that are so dubious I am not sure what that tracks. 

What are you seeing in your libaries — and changes in reading patterns?