The author reading from Highlights in her parent's bedroom.
I recently discarded an entire library. While there are still books in every other room in my house, those in the basement had been there since the early 2000s when I started a collection of non-fiction for my kids after my local library did a massive shelf cleaning. Maternal instinct found dangerous companionship with my inability to walk away from a free book and the basement shelves were soon filled with a treasury of vintage books about animals, historical figures, science projects, art history, and jokes.
They were never read. My kids have never been fans of non-fiction which I’ve always found puzzling. Although I grew up on the Oz series, Dr. Seuss, Babar, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Aslan & the Pevensies, I was also a voracious consumer of non-fiction. I believe my lasting interest in the genre was born on a long Sunday afternoon during an encounter with a biographical series I discovered in the room of my older brother. The Clara Barton story in the collection might have been fictionalized, now that I think about it, but reading a book about an actual person was, for me, a revelation.
My thirst for knowledge of the real never altered so I suppose it makes perfect sense that when time came for me to write my own book, it was non-fiction, the first in the Chicago Review Press’s women’s history series, “Women of Action.” I’ve written five books for the series and was recently down in the basement, cleaning, because I’d just turned in my final contribution; I always crave physical, organization work after meeting a book deadline and, ironically, I turned from one non-fiction project to another.
As I sorted through the basement library, I found it a little sad to think that these books, while read by some children at some point in time, were never read by my own. But as they are all avid bibliophiles (and some aspiring writers), I have no cause for complaint. I’ve thrown away the moldier-smelling titles, donated others to my local little libraries (someone will surely value them!), and will use the rest in book-related crafts—I still have a long way to go before my brain feels balanced and I stop craving physical work.
I’m not sure what my next contract will look like but surely there are other books about the real world to be written, histories and biographies that will inspire younger readers. Perhaps these books will one day find themselves in a neglected basement library, but I hope not before being responsible for causing a few readers, at least, to understand that non-fiction can sometimes be stranger—or at least just as fascinating—as fiction.