Nonfiction is about honoring and reflecting the truth in the world. It asks us to look with fresh eyes at what is around us, at the underpinnings of our lives whether that be in geology, geography, or history. Nonfiction is important and far reaching. Usually, I remember that. But not first thing this morning.
This morning I read an email by a fiction writer friend about an extraordinary fan letter she had received. Moved and amazed by the letter, I thought to myself: I bet those kinds of letters are elicited more often by fiction. Then I experienced the “twinge.” Yes, it was that mosquito-like, momentary, should-I-write-a-novel-instead pinch that plagues nonfiction writers.
This in my mind, I drove to the farmer’s market. A young woman at one of the farm stands stopped me. She had told me, months ago, how much she loved Rah, Rah, Radishes: a Vegetable Chant, and how special it was to her because she picks some of the vegetables that come to market.
Today she told me that her father, after heart attack and stroke, was in the hospital. He had a hard time remembering. But he enjoyed looking through Rah, Rah, Radishes, again and again. I asked if he was a farmer. No, she said, he just likes looking through the book. He doesn’t remember many things. But every time someone comes in the room, he shows them the book photos and he proudly tells them: This is what my daughter does.
I thanked her, teary-eyed, daughter-to-daughter, for sharing her story. Once again, nonfiction surprises. It seems like a good time, near Thanksgiving, to think about how words, photos, art can shine a light on unheralded essentials in our lives.