I’m particular about the nonfiction books I read. While serving as a high school librarian years ago, I read Thomas Foster’s Twenty-five Books That Shaped America. I enjoyed that one, so I bought this one to see what he had to say about nonfiction.
After an introduction on “Why Critical Reading Matters,” he begins by describing the parts of nonfiction books and the types of nonfiction, then provides a more in-depth look at the kinds of nonfiction book available and evaluate them. Knowing how to appraise them is important because, as Foster points out, no one has time to read a bad book. Nonfiction offers many wonderful things we should explore. But we also need to understand, as he says, “It’s just that…
we can’t always trust what nonfiction offers.”
He ends the book by discussing the internet, social media, and the false information peddled since writing was invented. He provides solid advice for ferreting the inaccuracies, whether due to laziness, mischief-making, or deliberate misrepresentation. Use your critical thinking skills, he urges readers, and actively engage with what you are reading. While his advice isn’t new, it’s solid and has stood the test of time. We all need reminding to be vigilant now and again, especially during our current information overload.
Foster was a long-time English professor, and he developed a way of communicating designed to hold the attention of college students, some of whom were forced to take his classes. His communication-style works; at least, it did for me. He’s funny and picks his examples carefully to hold the interest of today’s readers. For instance, he uses books about Donald Trump to illustrate political writing that is good, mediocre, and poor.
If I could, I’d make this required reading for everyone over sixteen in America. I believe it would aid our public discourse. And heaven knows, we could use that right now. I’ve even seen scholars on YouTube who could improve their rhetoric by reading this book. We all need occasional reminders that our words matter.