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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Branding and the Jetstream

Our very nice neighbors gave us tickets to company seats at the Yankee game yesterday — my first trip to the new Yankee Stadium. It was fascinating — I grew up going to old Yankee Stadium — where some views were obstructed by pillars, I even saw some Mets games at the Polo Grounds — sitting way out in the bleachers (you could see the 475 sign up the stairs at the visiting clubhouse, at least that is how I remember it) with the cigar-chomping old guys who’d been there with their beer and peanuts back to days of the Giants back in the 40s — and then we went to basketball games at the old Madison Square Garden -cramped seats, filthy floor gummy with generations of you-wouldn’t-want-to-know-what geological layers — games far, far away. Sports events were the preserve of men — on a spectrum with prize fights and the track. Everything was tight, dirty, a bit rough and ready — we all would steal down to the good seats and play dodge-the-usher until the later innings, when they didn’t care. Going to a game was fun for kids, but it was also a hint of a path to a grown up guy world.

Not anymore. The Yankee Stadium we went to yesterday was huge, clean, friendly, — with people of all sorts spread through the stadium to offer helpful advice. Our seats came with a little party hosted by a corporation complete with balloons, free cracker jacks, and a caricaturist there to capture the smiling faces of kids in pencil. We had arrived quite early, which gave me a chance to glance at the waiting crowd — almost everyone was wearing some form of Yankee clothing — shirt, hat, jacket (Sasha had all of the above). We were living the Yankee brand — in which the game was almost irrelevant. The game was only a chance for the team to win, so that the brand would be meaningful, so that we would all want to share in it by experiencing this trip to Yankee-land — where we would get more Yankee merchandise, eat food in Yankee collectable cups, and visit the Yankee Museum where we would have the chance to “take home a piece of Yankee history.”

The Yankees are part of the mall, as is every team. When I grew up, teams were a reflection of the city — for better or worse. Now they are part of the branding jetstream — for better or worse. I think Sasha had a much sweeter, more protected, “nicer” experience than I did going to games at his age. But when I think of books, poor little books — those that are not part of series, that do not come with extensive advertising campaigns which make them brands of their own — those single, solitary experiences built through the artisanal labor of authors and publishers — I feel like a rowboat in the ocean. I feel that giant swells are rushing past me and there is just no way to catch up. It is so hard to make a good book, and then equally hard to get the world to notice. Sometimes I just wish there were a history jetstream — a way to make the brand of knowledge, of thinking, of insight, matter. Or isn’t that what “school” is supposed to be — the knowledge brand. Maybe what our educational reformers need is not new lesson plans — but rather better merchandise — I saw half-kidding.


  1. Myra Zarnowski says:

    Ah! Once again, a reality check. Just because an author has taken care to craft a book on a topic he/she is intensely interested in doesn’t mean it will be welcomed with open arms in schools. There’s a disconnect here. Schools are constantly responding to public pressure to do this and that. And, the “this-and-that” keeps changing. So I think if authors want their books to be included in schools, they need to contribute to the mission of schooling. They need to be fluent in what schools are being asked to do and what they are striving to do.

    So…how to connect? I am particularly partial to your stated goal of modeling the process of inquiry for your readers. Now that is something that speaks to the entire process of schooling. It cuts across all subjects and grade levels. It answers the enduring question, How does a person learn? It connects with the current push towards “disciplinary literacy.”

    There are many ways children can learn from authors: (1) They can consider and evaluate an author’s ideas. (2) They can try to use the same writing techniques as authors. (3) They can experience the process of learning with an author who visibly discusses the process of learning. In my opinion, this last role–author as inquirer–is one of the most promising ways to connect with the role of schools in promoting lifelong enthusiasm for learning. And it doesn’t hurt that thoughtful reading of nonfiction is currently a big goal of schooling.

  2. Marc Aronson says:

    yes, authors in schools as models — by Skype, in person, yes, yes, yes, and yes — that is what needs to happen