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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters


One of the joys of being honored at the LA Times Book Festival is that you speak on a panel, and then, as a panelist, you are sure to be able to get in to every other event. So Marina and I had two days of literary fun. She went off to hear Patty Smith (who was so gracious and personable when we met her) and I heard to two wonderful panels — one a discussion among 3 USC historians (more on that in a moment) and another about the traps and hazzards of the internet. Before you think you know what that was — the advice about teenagers and chat rooms and random dates, or identity theft, or time wasting — think again. In a sense the panel pointed to the heart of issues we have raised here.
Tom Rosensteil talked about his co-authored new book, Blur: In it he makes the fascinating point that we used to consume news by brand — open up your NY Times, Washington Post, WS Journal and the reputation of the organization validated what you were about to read. And the journalists and editors there had long training and apprenticeship in how to gather, evaluate, and report the news. Now, we get news from everywhere not by brand but by story — how many of you got information last night about Bin Laden from 5, 10 different sources as the story developed? That means that we, as consumers of news, need to learn the skills of reporters and editors. We are, in Tobin Anderson’s terms, right up against the feed. This is especially true for teenagers. And so — to return to NF book, Common Core, and the other issues we talk about here — we need students to read history as detectives, ad skeptics, as evaluators, so that they sharpen those skills to apply to the present.
On the same panel was Evegeny Morosoff, whose fascinating book Net Delusion we are reading in my men’s reading group. He shows the utopian delusion behind the idea that if we give enough people enough twitter accounts democracy follows. Instead he uncovers how skilled both dictatorships and corporate marketing arms are at using our need for social networking to track and potentially control us. A sobering, dark, fascinating counter to the stories of the “twitter revolution” in the middle east.
All around us people are showing how crucial it is for us to teach young people to be critical users of media, news, social networking. We need to have a sense of mission in showing how the best NF books can serve that cause.