Léna is also a Regional Manager for Writopia Lab whose mission is to foster joy, literacy, and critical thinking in kids and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.

"Well, the question is, what do you want to believe? Do you want to live in a world where things are possible, or in one where they aren't?" Cin, Edges.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Charles and Emma vs. the death of Non-Fiction

My lit.life has been occupied in the past few days with reading Deborah Heiligman's Charles and Emma, an extremely beautiful book about Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution, tested both against and with the faith of the wife he adored. It was not only a belief in God that lay at the crux of their personal differences, but religion and belief was much less nuanced, depending on the individual, than it can be today. Indeed, Creationism was the reigning unchallenged theory in the Victorian era. Heiligman clearly loves both Charles and Emma, as she leads us through their marriage, and how their love and independent thinking helps to shape Darwin's theory of Evolution. She portrays them both as heroes and I have fallen in-love with them through making parallels in my own marriage, and how spiritual differences challenge us to grow and develop a common language.

This is not a book that demands a frenzied reader, rather, it demands the reader pace herself and savor the words, the relationships, the time period. I have been thoroughly enchanted!

Charles and Emma won the YALSA award for excellence in non-fiction, and it is that term, "non-fiction" that I have been pondering as I read my friend's book.

I have also been reading my emails and the news and evidently, e-books are taking over, and "non-fiction is dead". How can non-fiction be dead? I read that there has been a small movement growing in some schools to eschew their books for electronic devices, resulting in some to prophesy that people will turn more and more to the internet for their research, and then people have been extrapolating research to mean non-fiction. Huh?

Yes, I'm confused and bewildered. How can you replace somebody else's meticulous research; how can somebody have an "anybody can do it" attitude? Children's book author's have been catching that kind of grief forever, but I fail to see how non-fiction requires any less craft than fiction. (Guess what - fiction writers have to do research too!) And why do we have to define it with a negative anyway? I am a fiction writer, but I love autobiographies. My boys love "how-to" books and history books (as well as fantasy/science fiction.) My husband reads the dictionary, but that is another issue!

And then there's the Macmillan stare down with Amazon! Yay Macmillan! (Macmillan is the big umbrella corporation for Deborah's publisher, Henry Holt, and my publisher, FSG.) Amazon has stopped selling any Macmillan book since Sunday night. It's a money thing . . . (check out the Author's Guild take on it: http://tiny.cc/Oxglk) I'm not against e-books at all, but I am FOR authors being able to make a living! (I've been thinking about some of the POSITIVE sides of an e-book take-over - there could never be banned books anymore! Books would be accessible to everyone!)

Call me old-fashioned, but nothing holds a candle to a book, and to SUM UP (as I have digressed) my hands have been happy to hold a book, my aesthetic sense has been pleased by looking at the font and feeling the actual pages, my brain has been stimulated by the philosophical questions and by Heiligman's references to Jane Austen, (FUN, huh?) and my heart has been soothed reading Charles and Emma where Heiligman's craft is evident: meticulous research matched with seamless storytelling makes for an award winning book!


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