Category Archives: nonfiction

A little narrative nonfiction fangirling

the-library-book-9781476740188_lgOh, Susan Orlean!  You have managed to combine two of my very favorite things–  really great narrative nonfiction and libraries!

There is tragedy – a horrible library fire!  There are awesome and quirky librarians – past and present!  There is a mystery man – arsonist or overly chatty attention-seeker?!  There is history and books and social activism and wonder!

It’s hard for me to look at this book objectively, really, which is why I might overdo it a bit on the exclamation points here and there or all over the place.  I have loved libraries my whole life, since spending Saturday mornings checking out the maximum of ten allowed at my hometown library.  I worked in the high school library and loved my college libraries for their classic quiet reading rooms and quirky corners and amazing research help.  For many years, I was a regular public library patron and also took the kids I worked with to its programs.  I was lucky enough to find my way to working at one after a whole career in social services and still help out in a school library several years after my son moved on to middle and high school.  I sometimes visit libraries on my vacations.  So I have no perspective – ZERO – on libraries.

And knowing all of that about me, you can know that if I love this book, there is much to be loved in it.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

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The particular sadness of the news cycle

unwantedNot long ago, our government announced that it would again cut refugee admissions, following the whole ridiculous farce last year about needing to make an already multi-year process more difficult.  Do I have strong feelings about this?  Yes, yes, I do.

As this book notes in the postscript, “There are about 5.7 million Syrian refugees.  In the first three months of 2018, the United States has accepted eleven for resettlement.”   Eleven!  When I wrote the White House about the issue, the reply I got back was a full page of what a wonderful job ICE agents are doing on the border.  I wasn’t at all surprised, but it was a little depressing.

I look at all that refugees I have personally known have done to make this country, state, and city a better place, and I am appalled that our government feels like it’s ok to do so little in the face of unspeakable horror and tragedy.   But that’s the news cycle for you.  It’s as if it isn’t even happening anymore.

Do yourself a favor and read this book.  It’s probably not ideal for younger kids –there are some visuals suggesting executions, bombings and other violence – but it would be eye-opening for teens (and adults).

The Unwanted: stories of the Syrian refugees by Don Brown

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Have we learned anything? Do we ever learn?

1947It’s easy to feel like the world is in chaos, but hasn’t it always been a little that way?

1947: where now begins  is a reminder, not just of how much can happen in one year – a lot – but that some fights we think we’ve won really just putter on, hiding out or growing or morphing into some new awful thing over weeks, months, years.  People in power make dumb decisions that hurt people all the time and frequently lose little sleep over it.  Justice can be more about keeping people in their places than fairness or democracy.

I wouldn’t call it a fun read, but it is a powerful one.

1947: where now begins by Elisabeth Åsbrink

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Book girl. Supreme Court Justice.

turning pagesReading was like lighting candles, each book a flame that lit up the world around me.

No library worker  or lifelong reader could come across this book and not like it.  Really.

Sonia Sotomayor’s story is one any immigrant can relate to – the power of becoming a part of your new home, the pull of what you loved in your previous home, the power of knowledge and working hard and overcoming – whether an illness or a new language or poverty or whatever.

What holds this book together is her inspirational story of reading, how it added to her young life, and then supported her life as a judge, too.

The art draws you in and adds to the story’s arc.  Wonderful.

Turning Pages: My Life Story by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Lulu Delacre

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What to read while planning your personal resistance

Need tips on what to read, where to begin, what you need to know to resist, change, or protest?  These (very different) books will open your mind to any number of issues and actions you might not have thought about, especially if you are privileged in some way.

Do not miss Tony Medina’s “One Day Papí Drove Me to School” or Margarita Engle’s “All Nations are Neighbors.”  Dip into essays on climate change, racial justice, intersectionality, LGBTQIA issues, women’s rights, and how to be an ally.  Think about Patrice Khan-Cullors’ “Black Ancestry and Artistry Wielded Against the Police State.” Educate yourself.  Share with friends and family.   Make your voice heard.  And vote if you can.  Please vote.

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson

Steal This Country by Alexandra Styron

Nevertheless We Persisted: 48 Voices of Defiance, Strength, and Courage, foreword by Amy Klobuchar

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Meet my new BFF

youre on an airplaneYou have to like someone who subtitles their book a “self-mythologizing memoir.”  Or maybe you don’t, but I do.  Especially if it’s Parker Posey.  She’d probably have a hoot talking with me and Dolly and all my other imaginary friends.

Such a memoir is probably not for everyone, because it really is like sitting next to someone chatty on an airplane.  Someone who launches into slightly snarky stories about family members and celebrities.  Someone who makes their own mistakes part of the whole ridiculous parade.  Someone you tell your friend picking you up from the airport about and then fondly recall several years later when you’re trapped in an airport with a toddler and your ex-boyfriend’s new wife and a three-hour delay.  Well, something like that anyway.

When I mull it over at length (and I have), imaginary Parker has been there for any number of important life moments – wandering around New York, cackling through Party Girl, in the hospital after my son’s birth (Best in Show), musicals of all kinds (Waiting for Guffman).

It’s really not for everyone, but I loved it, the whole crazy, disjointed flow, the break from a turbulent world with a little drama thrown in.  Maybe a lot of drama.  But also excellent yoga tips, a few recipes, and a perimenopausal puppet troupe.

You’re on an Airplane by Parker Posey

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Borders and who we are

northlandWe spend a lot of time looking at the southern border of the United States these days, but there is much to learn looking in the other direction as well.  Northland does this, following the U.S.- Canada border from the east to the west, traveling by boat, car and foot, and meeting folks of all kinds of backgrounds and opinions along the way.  The history of the border is also fascinating, full of twists and turns and war and quirky personalities.

It’s a fascinating trip to follow, and well worth the 4,000 miles.

 Interested in some other great travel literature? Try one of these:

In Patagonia  by Bruce Chatwin

Journeys  by Jan Morris

West with the Night by Beryl Markham

Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon

Great Plains by Ian Frazier

Notes from a Small Island  by Bill Bryson

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes


Northland by Porter Fox




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Love and curiosity meet nature – Rachel Carson

SAS_JCKT_03a.inddIt’s got to be hard to simplify any person’s life into a picture book.  There are ups and downs and whole years you’d have to leave out.  But adding extra information in author notes helps a lot, and if a reader wants to find out more, they can always use a life story to launch into chapter book level biographies and go on from there.

Spring after Spring brings you right into the life of Rachel Carson, her lifelong love of nature, and the early movement to care for the environment.  It’s colorful and informative and has you thinking about the questions scientists ask and how “regular” people can ask those same questions.  Super.

Spring After Spring: How Rachel Carson Inspired the Environmental Movement by Stephanie Roth Sisson

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Come for the cursing. Stay for the grief.

calypsoDavid Sedaris is the prince of dysfunctional families, or maybe, like Prince, he is more of an unpronounceable symbol.  One you enjoy.  (Also like Prince.)

If anyone can make death humorous, he’s your guy.  Dysfunctional families?  He’s on it.  Tumors on turtles?  Got that covered, too.  Need to know how to curse bad drivers in other languages?  It might take a few minutes, but it’ll be worth the wait.

Is he the perfect person?  Clearly not.  He’s kind of awful, but also kind of wonderful.  And he’s got that niece who’s kind of vicious at Sorry.  Is she sorry?  Is he?

I don’t know if you’ll laugh out loud, but I did.

Calypso by David Sedaris

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Sweetness, light, Audrey Hepburn

for-audrey-with-love-9780735843141_lgThis probably never entered the mind of Philip Hopman, but this is a picture book that Frank from Julia Claiborne Johnson’s Be Frank with Me would love.  (And if you’ve missed that novel, please find it and put it in your stack for summer reading immediately.)

I have no idea how creating a picture book like this seemed like an excellent financial decision to a publisher.  Maybe it could sneak into Common Core nonfiction stuff for younger kids?  It’s a wonderful story of friendship and growing up into the person you most want to be.  It’s really only that Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy’s relationship was so long ago and part of a time and place very unfamiliar to children today that made me wonder who its target audience was.  Maybe fashion-loving kids?  Maybe Frank?  Maybe me?

Who knows?  Who cares?  Just read and enjoy.

For Audrey with Love by Philip Hopman

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