Thursday, September 19, 2013
INK's Theme This Month is Life-Changing Nonfiction
I might have been born reading. I was that kid struggling to walk while carrying a tower of books out of the library like so much firewood, stacked in my outstretched arms so high I had to peer around the side to see where I was going. The kid under the blanket with the flashlight, thinking I was putting one over on my parents who were, in actuality, too smart to stop a kid from reading past her bedtime. The kid under a tree, bike propped against its trunk, book bag on the ground with well-worn titles tumbling out, waiting to be re-read. The girl who spent many after-school hours with her mother in the library, as she happened to be the elementary school librarian.
Images of book covers are fixed in my mind’s eye, a slide show of exciting childhood companions. If I was living inside M.T. Anderson’s FEED, perhaps I could output a retinal scan of those cover memories and attach them here to show you, but alas, I cannot, nor did a World Cat search produce satisfying results. A lot of those books were fiction. But more of them were not. Not fiction. Otherwise known as nonfiction, even though that label never made intuitive sense to me as a kid, and still doesn’t.
They were books about the Jamestown flood, the Donner party, elephant hunting in Africa, and the chemistry of a lemon. Some of those books—such as THE LAST FREE BIRD—were written by my father, an education professor who also authored a bunch of children’s science books in the 60s and 70s. I don’t recall that as being something I was particularly impressed with; rather it was a matter of fact. One of the things he did. And by extension, something that was simply possible for a person to do.
When you grow up around books and by extension, discussions of books, you become a literary person. When you are asked to bring a new word to the dinner table, or a topic to the breakfast table—and both of those meals are had together with conversation, you become a literary person. I didn’t conceptualize any of that as life changing. But it most certainly was.