May 23, 2007

Fiction and nonfiction daddery.

Cameron Stracher has a new book called "Dinner With Dad." Here's some discussion of it:
[H]e chronicles his path from a corporate workaholic to a dad who’s at home, cooking dinner for his wife and kids five nights a week.

Even though his schedule changed, Mr. Stracher writes that he still found his Type A personality hard to reign [sic] in. He scaled back at work, but Mr. Stracher’s energies went elsewhere — into making ambitious dinners, airing strong opinions about where the carrot peeler and spatulas should be kept, harping on his son’s messy homework and lecturing his daughter about not putting the caps on her markers. He writes that over the years, “my natural tendency to control things has become more pronounced . . . the only saving grace, from [my wife’s] perspective, has been my absence.”
I got a copy in the mail, and I'm actually going to read it. It's of special interest to me, because -- as you may know -- I was married to a writer back when my sons were young, and he not only stayed home with them, but he wrote a novel about the experience. Since it was a novel... and I know you're thinking so this is the reason for Althouse's anti-fiction program... since it was a novel, there had to be all sorts of personal conflicts, and I don't mean arguments about making dinner. I mean what's the first thing you think of happening, if you're thinking like a novelist, if the man stays home with a small child, let's say, in Park Slope, in Brooklyn. He takes the child to the playground, and all the other parents are women, and then.... Come on, it's Novel World! What happens? You know what happens. (And, no, that's not the reason we're divorced.)

I was trying to use Technorati to get a page of all the discussion of my recent posts about having young kids learn reading from nonfiction books and look what I got, which made me laugh. Let me approach this more scientifically: here.

And here's Cameron's blog, Dinner With Dad. I note that the blog like the book is nonfiction. Nonfiction, I tell you. WOOOOOO!

Sorry, just trying to scare the English majors again.

22 comments:

George said...

With the possible exceptions of Bob Greene and Bill Cosby, books by dads about daddying tank...

Mommies buy tons of mommy books, but dad-type people don't read daddy books, cutesypie, fictiony, or otherwise.

But maybe he'll get lucky....best thing he's got going for him is that he's in New York City with the 'in' crowd that will give him a huge PR push.

Beth said...

Ann, just so's you know: English majors read, write, and teach fiction and non-fiction. Scary!

George said...

...a huge PR push....of which you, dear professor, have been targeted.

The question is whether or not readers of this blog are potential buyers of the book. My guess is that while they're affluent and upscale, probably not, but coverage here does make the book look 'cool,' and that may be what's most important now.

Ann Althouse said...

Beth: "nn, just so's you know: English majors read, write, and teach fiction and non-fiction. Scary!"

Yes, English majors read, write, and teach fiction and non-fiction and freak out at the mere mention of the idea that nonfiction might be better for teaching young children reading. Talk about that.

Ann Althouse said...

George: I know it's PR, but I also personally know Stracher and like him and I'm interested in the topic. I get books in the mail all the time. How often do you see me blogging about that here?

Beth said...

I don't freak out at using non-fiction in reading classes. I scoff at the idea of eliminating fiction from schools. And then I move on, 'cause it's never gonna happen.

Ann Althouse said...

Right. You don't. But what was up with that bizarre overreaction to my off-hand thought experiment. I mean, think about it, argue against it, but why go nuts like that? Fear! Absurd fear, for the reason you say. It's not going to happen. I'm making fun of them.

George said...

Professor--

Respectfully, I'm not sure you mentioned your personal acquaintance with the author in the original posting.

The absence or presence of that information influences my perception of your perception of the product's worth.

I'm a very jaded consumer of information, most of which increasingly seems to be about selling me hand-push lawnmowers, summer-proof makeup, Robert Kennedy Jr., Istanbul, Pirates of the Caribbean III, and environmentally correct wall paint.

Beth said...

I can't really speak to the over-reaction since my reaction was to briefly engage, then decide it was a strange flight of fancy on your part and not something worth the effort to try to understand. The over-reaction, perhaps, is fueled by the futility of responding to something so absolutely absurd. Those that put a lot of energy into responding would have done better to let your thought experiment die on the vine.

But come on, you enjoy over reaction, don't you? You like tweaking people then backing up a little and asking "What are you so tweaked about?"

paul a'barge said...

Men who are house-husbands ... read Lileks.

Beth said...

So your house husband wrote a book about daddy at the playground...it sounds familiar. I think someone ripped him off.

If your ex was Patrick Wilson, and you were Jennifer Connelly, who was Kate Winslet? Just kidding, because as you said, it was a novel. All contrived conflict and such.

Meade said...

Beth said...

But come on, you enjoy over reaction, don't you? You like tweaking people then backing up a little and asking "What are you so tweaked about?"

She's her own best troll. A, you know, vortex of cute, adorable troublemakery.

blake said...

Althouse is not the first to suggest eliminating fiction from the curriculum.

My contention has long been that the parade of teachers promoting this and that book as books one "ought" to read does everyone (author, student, teacher) a disservice.

It also smacks a little bit of pop-psych books where the guy who's an alcoholic wife-beater realizes that if he stops drinking and hitting his wife, his life gets so much better.

That's great, dude, but I don't drink or beat my wife, so it's not such a revolutionary thing to me.

"I'm glad Catcher in the Rye had such a positive influence on you: I thought it was juvenille."

Richard Dolan said...

This fiction/non-fiction thing has gotten pretty vortexy. When everything is swirling around like that, it's hard to tell which end is up.

Ann says she wants to talk about whether "nonfiction might be better for teaching young children reading." OK. But in my experience, there's not much to be said for the idea that nonfiction might be "better" for that purpose. Instead, it mostly depends on the child and what holds his or her interest. When they were little and just learning to read, my two girls liked anything with a strong story element, and particularly liked stories in which girls were the central characters. Not much in the way of nonfiction fit that bill.

In the May 16 post, Ann suggested (if I remember it correctly) that nonfiction may offer more of a challenge in terms of processing and retaining information, and in general in developing reading and comprehension skills. But the categories here -- fiction v. non-fiction -- are too gross to permit judgments like that. Lots of nonfiction is deadly dull and badly written.ust as lots of fiction is not worth reading. It's really no answer to say, as Ann does, find better nonfiction. For young readers, "processing and retaining information, and developing reading and comprehension skills" is a fancy way of talking about keeping them engaged and paying attention. For that, you go with what works depending on the kid's interests. I could easily imagine that for young boys, stories about adventure and sports would hold their attention better than other topics.

Now that they are a little older (11 and 8), my girls still prefer stories. They're both reading and enjoying history and science, too, but I've noticed that the books they choose to read on their own are still mostly imaginative works. Fine with me either way. Becoming a good reader is mostly a function of just reading a lot; it's a learning-by-doing exercise. Other than saying that, I don't think there are any useful generalizations one can offer about whether fiction or nonfiction is "better" to develop reading skills in young readers.

Scott Eric Kaufman said...

Ann,

I love how you take the high ground here without linking to the posts you so wittily mock. I mean, I'm fairly certain that mockery, not over-reaction, was my intent. I believe I even say as much:

If "the Althouse Vortex" is a place where a pleasurable half-hour can be spent mocking those in possession of an undeserved sense of superioty, not only am I there, I'm thinking about buying some land and settling down.

However, if you want to see your point argued with, I recommend re-reading Joseph Kugelmass's elegantly argued post. I know you find criticism "nasty" -- as opposed to, say, "warranted" -- but it really is quite an intelligent rebuttal of your "thought experiment."

Ann Althouse said...

I read JK's thing. I thought it was laughably imperious, windy, and obtuse.

Joseph Kugelmass said...

I read JK's thing. I thought it was laughably imperious, windy, and obtuse.

Your reaction at my blog was quite different, but no matter; what it has in common with this is the belief that throwing down a series of random negative adjectives is the same as offering a counter-argument.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks for coming over here and showing what a fusty old fart you are. Why should I spend my time writing out arguments responding to you? Who are you? Not a good writer. Not someone with ideas that impress me. Why should I spend my time like that?

Alex said...

And that is your counter "argument", that he is a insignificant unworthy, unlike the gapingly plebian TV hi-jinks of American Idol, of your attention. If I recall correctly from Kugelmass' blog your response there was akin to wahhh wahhhh you are being nasty - stompy feet - I won't write a response now. I won't I won't I won't. Rather than engaging with him (or anyone) at an level approaching intelligability.

Joseph Kugelmass said...

In all seriousness, Ann, what is going on here? Now I'm a "fusty old fart"? Go ahead, call me a doofus too, and a stupidhead. I'm not too proud to shed tears. You're completely terrified of responding substantively to my post, and your image of yourself as some sort of host for "America's Next Top Intellectual" is a joke that just keeps getting funnier.

Ann Althouse said...

You're just boring me.

Alex said...

Ha! You really, really are an intellectual weakling Ann. Are all right wingers as stupid as you or do you speak only for your own inanity.