Thoughts on nonfiction


A little while back I did a post for The Hub in which I put together a list of notable nonfiction titles from 2012 so far, culled mostly from starred lists and books by authors who have previously won awards.  One of the things that I noticed while I was putting together the list was that I almost reflexively ignored a whole category of books which we might call “curriculum support.”  For example, Booklist gave a very enthusiastic star to a book called Money in Sports by Nick Hunter, which is parts of a series called Ethics of Sports, and gives all sorts of fascinating statistics and information about money in sports but is essentially fodder for a school report.  In contrast, the books I listed all fall into what we might call “narrative nonfiction”: books that tell a compelling story.  Obviously, these narrative NF books can be used (and often aspire to be used) in school reports and research, but many of them are of such a limited focus that it seems unlikely that they would be. But even granting that there is some overlap, the whole experience got me thinking about this possible dichotomy between narrative and curriculum books.  (Also, as an aside, the concept of narrative vs. strictly information NF is clearly not solely a YA or Children’s issue – it exists for adult books as well, but it seems to be particularly relevent to teens because of the every present school assignment issue.)

1) Since you are the author of a few books that might fall into curriculum support, I wonder if you have any specific thoughts from the perspective of the authors and publishers of these books.  Do (or did) you expect your books to be read as wholes, or to be mined for research papers?

2) As a book selector for my library, I purchase both types of nonfiction, and they both end up in the same location (in my library’s case, in the Adult Nonfiction section — in other libraries, in a separate YA NF section).  Are we doing a disservice to teens by mashing these books together?  How will they ever find something as wonderful as Rubalcaba’s Every Bone Tells a Story if it is hidden by all the dusty books on archaeology?

3) I reflexively excluded curriculum NF from my list for The Hub for two interrelated reasons: a) narrative NF is what I find myself actually reading in real life, and b) narrative NF is the kind that wins awards like the YALSA Nonfiction Award, and even a few Printz Honors.  Is this a disservice to excellently written curriculum books?  Again, Booklist was quite effusive about a number of curriculum books – is there any reason why we shouldn’t be honoring those books as well?

So those are my all-over-the-board thoughts on nonfiction right now.  What do you think?

– Mark


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