I performed the Readers’ Advisory Matrix on the most recent non-fiction book I’ve read, The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter:
- Where is the book on the narrative continuum? A mix (combines highly narrative moments with periods of fact-based prose).
- What is the subject of the book? How the concept of the white “race” has been historically and culturally constructed, particularly in the United States of America but beginning in the ancient Western world.
- What type of book is it? A mix of cultural criticism and kind of “popular ethnography.”
- Articulate appeal
- What is the pacing of the book? Thorough, detailed, steady.
- Describe the characters of the book? Painter focuses on many characters forgotten by history; often offbeat, sometimes foolish or downright misguided folks. Characters are written of in a humanizing but not uncritical manner.
- How does the story feel? Critical, amusing, investigative, quirky.
- What is the intent of the author? To deconstruct and analyze the concept of whiteness and to demonstrate that “the white race” should be subject to analysis just as surely as any other “race.”
- What is the focus of the story? The evolution of one idea (i.e. “whiteness”) throughout history.
- Does the language matter? Yes! Painter not only writes humorously, in a style rich with word-play and puns, but also uses carefully chosen language to dissect the concepts around race without replicating the historical racist attitudes she investigates.
- Is the setting important and well described? Setting (both geographical and temporal) is important as background information contextualizing the concepts which Painter describes, but is not described in depth.
- Are there details and, if so, of what? The book is filled with details. Painter takes pleasure in sharing the odd anecdotal facts and figures encountered during the course of her research.
- Are there sufficient charts and other graphic materials? Are they useful and clear? Yes. Well-placed figures punctuate the work and are both fascinating and informative.
- Does the book stress moments of learning, understanding, or experience? Moments of learning and understanding are at the center of this book. Moments of learning are stressed as Painter shares little-known historical information, and moments of understanding are provided as she breaks down the complicated concept of race.
5. Why would a reader enjoy this book (rank appeal)?Learning/understanding 2. Writing Style 3. Detail