How to Survive Anything. Even Nonfiction.

A battle of wills is going on in my daughter’s fourth-grade classroom.

On one side: The teacher. Her goal: Getting students to immerse themselves in nonfiction reading.

On the other side: My daughter. Her goal: To read as little nonfiction as possible.

I’ve said before, my girl loves to read. She often is shocked when we arrive at destinations because her nose is buried in a fantasy book the entire drive. Just about every night, I remove her glasses and the book folded over her sleeping face before turning out her bedroom light.  

This love for reading is fantastic, but it’s also selective. If she loves a book, she’ll read it six or seven times. She’ll seek out everything that author ever has written. She’ll write short stories inspired by the plot or the characters.

If she doesn’t love a book, it’s put down and promptly forgotten.

So telling her she has to read a certain genre or—shudder inducing—put down a beloved book to read something else and you’re sure to see my normally sweet tempered girl turn steely.

While her teacher and the librarian have suggested dozens of books, ranging from birds to volcanoes, my girl relentlessly pushes the boundaries of what they consider to be nonfiction.

Among the titles my girl has argued for and been denied: “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “A History of Greek Myths” and “Joan of Arc.” Her teacher finally relented to “How to Survive Anything, Anywhere.”

So when I mentioned to my husband that I had to go through a shady neighborhood, my girl recited the following: “Avoid dark alleys and raucous-making crowds. Walk with purpose and make eye contact. Be ready to defend yourself and don’t be afraid to yell ‘Stop!’ loudly if you feel threatened.”

And while the other students write words like “nocturnal” and “Jurassic” on the poster of “Words I Learned Today” in the classroom, she adds words such as “submissive,” “jury-rigged” and “fight-or-flight response.”

Why can’t she just pick up a nice book about dolphins, as her librarian suggested?

Because to her—and everyone who loves to read—being told what to read is the ultimate injustice. Reading is a passion, and just as I cannot feel passionate about socks, she cannot feel passionate about dolphins.

As a writer, it’s similar. Journalists are assigned stories, and some of them, frankly, are duds. Finishing those interviews and structuring the articles feels like running though waist-high mud. But when there is a profile or article on something I feel strongly about, the writing sprints.

In creative writing, I’ll admit: I’ve tried to write manuscripts I thought would be commercially successful. Those mss rarely make it to chapter two before I sigh and hit control-A, delete. The ones that snag my mind—even if the plot is a long shot—keep me writing way past bedtime and compulsively hitting the save button.

So, while it would certainly be easier at times to have a daughter who just read whatever she was told to read, I have to say, I get that she doesn’t.