Nonfiction

The Best American Essays 2013

ISBN: 
9780544103887

The Best American Series may seem like a boring reading choice, but whenever I choose a volume from it, I am rewarded to discover new and unfamiliar authors. Plus, reading this series helps me to nudge my book selections in fresh directions. Wilderness writer Cheryl Strayed edited The Best American Essays 2013 and her intriguing selections offered lots of surprises.

Here are examples of a few of the titles: “Free Rent at the Totalitarian Hotel,” “Highway of Lost Girls,” “My Father’s Women,” “I’m Jumping off the Bridge,” and “Confessions of an Ex-Mormon.”  In “I’m Jumping off the Bridge” Kevin Sampsell, a bookseller at Portland’s Powell Books—my favorite bookstore in the world, described dealing with a suicidal patron and how artfully he handled it. But as the essay continues, you realize that the bookseller had considered suicide himself.

In the chilling “Highway of Lost Girls” Vanessa Veselka decided to investigate the murder of some female hitchhikers in the 1980s. During that time period, she had a terrifying experience while hitchhiking.  A truck driver had exited the highway and transported her down a back road. He stopped and pulled out a knife demanding that she climb in the Read more »

Knocking on Heaven's Door

ISBN: 
9781451641974

If you are taking care of a very sick parent or other close relative, this is the book for you. Katy Butler, a journalist, tells the end-stories of both her parents. She lived on the left coast; they, in Connecticut when one day her father, Jeffrey, suffered a severe stroke.  Shortly after the stroke, his cardiologist recommended a pacemaker, and her mother and Katy agreed. This was without talking about any of the ramifications while he was well and could understand the consequences. His GP was against it; he had seen too many patients with hearts “outliving” the rest of their bodies.

Jeffrey recovered somewhat but by this time his type A wife has made him surrender both his belt and his wallet.  The former Wesleyan history professor was bored silly. During a week visit, Katy arranged for her dad to be picked up by a special van and brought to the pool where he used to swim.  Katy made the journey with him two days to show him the ropes, and bought him a new watch that thrilled him. His wife had also hidden his nice silver watch.  Katy’s dad loved the cheap watch and the sense of independence it gave him. After Katy left, he continued the van/swimming trips for a long time.

The book also covers Katy’s extremely difficult relationship with her mother. Did you guess that there were issues?  Katy’s two brothers took little part in caretaking their Dad because they did not get along with their mother either.  She was very controlling about their diet as adults, their haircuts, their clothes, and especially their failures in life. Read more »

Would You Kill the Fat Man?

ISBN: 
9780691154022

Here’s the scenario. Walking across a bridge over a railroad one day, you notice that five people are tied to the tracks below. Worse, you also spot a speeding train approaching, with no sign of slowing down—it’s sure to plow through the five people, killing them. Suddenly you see the only possible way to save them: an exceptionally large man—large enough to derail an oncoming train, it just so happens—is leaning on the bridge’s railing above the tracks, resting. Now’s your chance: do you push the man over the railing, killing him, but saving the five people tied to the tracks? Or do you refrain from pushing him, thereby sparing his life but effectively allowing the five below to die? Read more »

No-Fuss, No-Hassle Audiobooks from AudioBookCloud

AudioBookCloud logoPick. Click. Listen. With AudioBookCloud, it’s that simple (honest!) to listen to great audiobooks FREE on any internet-connected computer or mobile device. All titles are always available--no software, no downloads, no checkouts, no headaches! Just go to the AudioBookCloud link on the library’s website, browse the 1000+ titles on the easy-to-navigate interface, and click to listen to your streaming audiobook. THAT’S IT!

An optional free personal login allows you to create a My Favorites list (accessible from anywhere!) and bookmark your place for listening later. Choose from fiction, nonfiction, classics, children’s, and Spanish-language. Audiobooks have never sounded this easy!

AudioBookCloud uses streaming audio, which requires a continuous internet connection. AudioBookCloud must be accessed via the library’s website.

An Enlarged Heart

ISBN: 
9781400042715

Summer--a great time for reading novels--is also a good time to catch up on more episodic reading. This memoir is perfect for a short period listening to the cicada orchestra from the porch swing, or a quick read before bed.

In twelve varied segments, poet and former New Yorker/Talk of the Town writer Zarin shares important milestones in her life as well as a passion for several material objects that she has become attached to over the years.

The strongest and most emotionally-charged piece is the title one in which Zarin describes a typical day on the Cape with her and her husband’s assorted brood of kids, when the youngest gets ill. “It began with a cough. Her brother had a cough. And, after all, what was a cough?”  By this time, Zarin had treated countless upset tummies and sore throats. But two emergency visits later, she found herself kneeling next to her daughter while the ambulance raced to Children’s Hospital in Boston.

The diagnosis: the rare Kawasaki Disease, which is the leading cause of heart damage in children. This segment shows how quickly our ordinary lives can turn frightening and possibly tragic. Read more »

Detroit: An American Autopsy

DetroitLeading the news today is the announcement that Detroit filed for bankruptcy. They aren’t the first municipality to file, but they are the largest. What this means for residents, city workers, retirees and the state of Michigan remains to be seen. 20 billion dollars is hard to wrap my mind around, and is a figure without names and faces.

Hoping to personalize this story is native son Charlie LeDuff. His recent nonfiction work is called Detroit: An American Autopsy. LeDuff is a journalist who left Detroit at an early age and traveled the world covering international conflicts and won a Pulitzer for his contributions at the New York Times. He returns to Detroit to work for The Detroit News.

This book covers a variety of stories, including the fall of ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, city council corruption, the crumbling auto industry implications, and the struggles of a local fire station. You also meet LeDuff’s family and follow them while they are coping (or not) with living in and near Detroit. Read more »

America's First Tornado Scientists and What They Taught Us

ISBN: 
9780307378521

I was afraid this would be another macho book about reckless men roaming the plains chasing tornadoes during storm season. Instead it turned out to be a wonderful compendium of tornado lore through the centuries. Also included are biographies of some of our most  important weather scientists.    

Storm Kings begins with a description of how during the 1600s New England settlers called any phenomenon that happened in the sky meteors including: meteors (of course), lightning, thunder, rainbows, comets, clouds in the shape of hands and faces, etc.  Although the science behind tornadoes was not understood and barely documented then, many colonists recognized that the weather in America was much more violent than in their home countries.

When a tornado swooped down near Cambridge, MA in 1680, two farming families were shocked when one lost a servant and another a barn during the storm.  They were so frightened by this event that one wrote to Increase Mather (the father of Cotton) asking about it. Increase, who was a self-educated weather expert, had no answers so he wrote to a scientific association in Europe. No one replied to his inquiry, but Benjamin Franklin found this letter seventy years later when he became interested in the study of weather and electricity. Read more »

The Kingdom of Rarities

ISBN: 
9781610911955

In another life, I would love to become a wildlife biologist; it combines things I loves such as working with animals, walking, observing deeply, and travel. This book does all of the above plus makes you more curious about the flora and fauna around us. Why are robins common and not Kirtland’s warblers? Why are deer abundant and not jaguars? Eric Dinerstein, the author, started his scientific career studying tigers and later rhinoceroses. He is now Chief Scientist at the World Wildlife Fund. In The Kingdom of Rarities, he travels to many continents to explore the rare creatures and plants living there.

One of the places he and his scientific team visit is Irian Jaya, a remote island on the Indonesian archipelago. It combines two aspects of places that often give homes to rare creatures: remoteness, and being situated on an island. Another factor that makes Irian Jaya home to rarities is its geology—its steep mountains and gorges serve as barriers to invasive species which have become common on many other islands. The description of Dinerstein’s flight to this research spot is compelling; it was incredibly risky just to land a plane there. But well worth it because the scientists found many rare creatures quite close to them and not shy at all with humans. The scientists were amazed by how many species divided their habitats vertically. Read more »

Photographing Loss

ISBN: 
9788857215570

Some books break your heart with their beauty; others break your heart with their sadness. Mighty Silence: Images of Destruction does the latter. In these days immediately following the highly destructive Oklahoma tornadoes of 2013, ripped homes, buildings, and schools are on our minds. This beautifully-produced book showcases many striking photographs of the Tohoku region of Japan where the massive tsunami struck two years ago.

The photos are large, some even opening into more than a two page spread. But the main thing that struck me about them is how seldom they include any people. I noticed only one person in the whole collection, a solitary utility repairman high in a crane over demolished houses and smashed cars. Animals are mostly missing also, except for one murder of crows crisscrossing the wires of one empty city, and a strange cat with radioactive-mutated whiskers near Fukushima. Read more »

Garbage! Water! Or Why I Love Non-fiction

GarbologyI read a lot of narrative non-fiction - historical, microhistory, natural sciences, travel, and environmental. I read these to be better informed, but also for pleasure so my ultimate test for a narrative non-fiction book is whether it would have made a better magazine article. I hate finishing something that I think was interesting, but could have been boiled down into a 20 page magazine article with the same impact. I've recently read two non-fiction books passed the magazine article test and then some. 

The Big Thirst: The Marvels, Mysteries & Madness Shaping the New Era of Water by Charles Fishman isn't about how to make changes in your lifestyle with regards to water conservation. It isn't a how-to book for urban or rural planners. It is a book that will challenge what you think you know about water from the big picture including where it comes from and what do we really mean by "clean". This book will also identify our emotional connection with water and will put those assumptions to the test. Near the end of the book, an economist presents a model for future water use that makes sense for both dry places like Las Vegas and Australia should also be considered for wetter places like Atlanta and even Bloomington. There are pages and pages of research, calculations and notes at the end, but the book was captivating, accessible and provides much food for thought. Read more »

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