I am always amazed when I talk to people who develop strong emotional connections to the characters in The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America. I did not expect the book to be a tearjerker. The title is long and technical. It is published by a university press. Most bookstores do not carry it. When my first royalty check arrived, I spent it all on Christmas presents. When the second royalty check arrived, I spent it all on a nice dinner for my family. Today I can still splurge for dinner with the annual check, assuming that the meal is eaten at Arby’s.
But since the book first appeared in 2008, a few dozen people have told me that they cried at the end. This week at the Princeton Seminar, five teachers mentioned that the final chapter brought them to tears.
— Ms. Kathy (@snoopie62) July 19, 2017
Philip Vickers Fithian’s story does have an emotional ending, but I am still surprised that a book about the Enlightenment in America resonates with readers in this way.
Last week several K-8 history teachers (and at least one school librarian) attending the Princeton Seminar strongly encouraged me to write a biography of Philip for the young adult nonfiction market. I am taking their advice seriously. I don’t know very much about this market, but I want to learn more. After listening to these teachers, and thinking about this a bit more myself, I think that teenagers might find Philip’s story interesting for what it teaches us about everyday life in colonial America, the early years of the American Revolution, love and courtship, education, self-improvement, and life on the frontier.
Stay tuned. And if you have any advice I would love to hear it.