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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Change Partners and Dance

Fred Astaire sings this lyric to Ginger Rogers in the 1938 film “Carefree,” so my quick search of Youtube tells me. I’m borrowing the irving Berlin lyric to announce my own change — and ongoing dance. This will be my second to last post in Nonfiction Matters. Starting in June I’ll be writing a column two or so a month for the SLJ site, as well as articles for the site and the magazine. If something really big happens that needs a quick response, I will be able to get that up to the site right away. But the main shift is that I have a bit more time to writer longer, say more, and add a depth of research and planning to what I say. I may continue to blog in these short takes, but that would be on my own website I’ll announce that for sure later this week.

The column will deal with some familiar subjects — Common Core, more generally education, nonfiction, the connection between issues of the day and our books, and our challenges in working with young people. And I hope to explore some new territory.

Here’s one avenue I am considering: In the Hemingway biography I mentioned the other day, the author included excerpts from two very different reviews of the Sun Also Rises — Conrad Aiken’s approving review, Alan Tate’s critical reception. This was not one of those “see how they got it wrong” gotcha segments. Instead both reviews were slow, considerate, deeply engaged. Both critics read carefully and attempted to understand what Hemingway was doing, and whether or not he achieved it. Instead of seeing whether he met a set of checkoffs, they tried to meet him in his ambition, to understand how he was trying to use art to change the nature of the novel. It is precisely that depth of response that our nonfiction never gets — the first notices, star or no star, summarize, approve, disapprove as a guide to the librarian. In effect the real review takes place after she buys the book — as it sits on the shelf and young readers, teachers, parents do or do not come to it. I have hesitated to review books, in part because I am a writer and feel a sense of collegial bond with other writers, in part because I never want to be in the position of judging a book that might be in competition with one of mine. But there is a value in exemplars — in examining books that have ambition, and in that process definining what we do, how it can improve, and where it is breaking ground. Is that something you would like to see? Perhaps I might then invite the author or another reader to give a differing view.

I am not quite sure what the column will be called — any ideas? — nor everything I will discuss. But it all starts in June. So see you all back here one last time Wednesday, and I’ll give you the switch over info for the first column which will follow very soon thereafter.


  1. Sue Bartle says:

    There are so many topics that desire a bit more depth that this gives you that opportunity to provide the level of reflection they desire. I have enjoyed knowing that on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to find something interesting and thought provoking to read. I will have withdrawal for a while but look forward to the next dance.

    I like alliteration in names and giving you ideas is hard without a theme but here goes. Column name ideas: “Aronson’s Angle”, “Marc’s Moments”, “Aronson’s Approach”, “Logical Leaps” because your postings have always made sense and make me think! My favorite – using pandemonium from your Feb. 24th post because it might sum things up well – “Pandemonium Ponderings”