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Nonfiction Roundup, Part One

The staff book group at Williamsburg Regional Library met last week for a discussion open to any and all nonfiction titles. The number of books we brought along was a clear demonstration that nonfiction reading for pleasure is alive and well. We saw so many interesting books in this meeting that I’ll divide them into two posts, focusing my attention on some of the less publicized titles. almost-astronauts

Laurie started us off with Tanya Lee Stone’s Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream. Shelved in the junior nonfiction section, this marvelous book tells the story of the thirteen women who tested as well or better than the men competing for spots in the Mercury program, but who were denied the chance to go into space by sexist politicans and space scientists. It’s well illustrated and should instruct and inspire young females, but the text is intelligent and of worth the time of readers of all ages and genders.

bad-scienceCela introduced us to Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science, a somewhat angry, somewhat cheeky look at the abusive misapplication of pseudoscience and dodgy statistics that plagues the world, particularly in regards to health and wellness. It’s the kind of book that both educates and entertains. Some of it is specific to the UK, but it isn’t hard to find connections to similar advertising claims and bad government policy in the U.S. on-hallowed-ground

Anne brought Robert M. Poole’s On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery, which describes the details of a place that we Virginians know well. It began as a plantation, the home place of Robert E. Lee and family, but became a headquarters for the Union forces during the Civil War, then after the war, a site in the national cemetery system. Poole describes the ways in which various conflicts have brought changes to Arlington, and revisits the stories of various soldiers, politicians, and other dignitaries who are interred there. This isn’t a bland guidebook, but a book that really evokes the way that this special place distills American history.

man-in-the-white-sharkskin-suitMorag introduced us to The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit by Lucette Lagnado. It’s a vivid memoir that recreates the life of Jews in Egypt during the years in which King Farouk led the country (with plenty of British influence). When Nasser took power in the years after WWII, Lagnado’s family, led by her strong but somewhat autocratic father, had to flee from their life of comfort, packing 26 suitcases and emigrating to France, and then the United States, finding increasing poverty and hardship along the way. strength-in-what-remains

Tracy Kidder’s wonderful career has introduced us to all kinds of people and places, but lately his attention is occupied by those who devote themselves to providing health care to the world’s impoverished. Connie shared Strength in What Remains, his latest, which focuses on Deo, an immigrant who faces the horrifying genocide in Burundi and Rwanda, escapes to the United States, finds help from Paul Farmer (the subject of Kidder’s previous book Mountains Beyond Mountains) in regaining his doctor status, and returns to his home country to open a clinic. This is a harrowing and inspiring book by one of our nonfiction masters.

Other books shared by Laurie, Cela, Anne, Morag, and Connie:

Bill Bryson     At Home: A Short History of Private Life

Jeanette Walls     The Glass Castle

Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner     Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance



About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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