By November 10, 2010 2 Comments Read More →

Nonfiction Roundup, Part 2

This is the second entry about a meeting of the Williamsburg Regional Library’s Staff Book Group that highlighted so many good nonfiction book club choices that I couldn’t fit them in one post:

making-toastBarbara’s stack included Making Toast, a slim but potent memoir by Roger Rosenblatt about what happened when their treasured daughter Amy died from an undiagnosed heart problem. Rosenblatt and his wife Ginny moved in with their son-in-law to help care for three small grandchildren, reacclimating themselves to the world of raising small children while trying to cope with their loss. Rosenblatt relates the story with a tender heart and warm wit, gracefully blending the happy and sad.girls-of-murder-city

Cheryl is a dedicated nonfiction reader, so we knew she would have good choices for this meeting. One of her highlights was The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired Chicago by Douglas Perry. The author takes us back to 1924 Chicago, when the Jazz Age was roaring at full volume. It tells the story of Maureen Watkins, a young reporter from Indiana who focused on the media scandal surrounding the trials of several female murderers. In some cases, these women were acquitted after flirting shamelessly or making emotional ploys with reporters and juries. Later, Watkins would quit journalism, go east and write a stage play “Chicago” that became the inspiration for the hit musical. Perry captures the time and place well in a book that should appeal to many different interest groups.

to-conquer-hellEdward G. Lengel’s To Conquer Hell: The Meuse-Argonne 1918 was also in Cheryl’s stack. This is one of the great WWI tales: the story of the bloody title battle, held late in the war, September 1918. The battle was the primary proving ground for the Americans under General Pershing. Pershing promised to open the road to Berlin, and he did so, but at the cost of 26,000 American lives and over 120,000 casualties. Lengel details the battle expertly, and profiles a variety of participants–young Harry Truman, George Patton, Alvin York, George C. Marshall, and the novelist James M. Cain among others.rock-and-roll-will-save-your-life

One of my contributions was Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life by Steve Almond. In it, Almond chronicles the life of what he calls the Drooling Fanatic–the fan so committed to music that he or she has a hard time functioning in normal life. Almond is crass, but he can be very funny, as when chronicles the history of different music formats, admits to his many guilty music pleasures, or analyzes the lyrics of drippy songs like Toto’s “Africa” or Air Supply’s “All Out of Love.” I wasn’t quite so charmed by his references to his personal life, but you could browse through the lists in the book alone (“Ten Things You Can Say to Piss Off a Music Critic,” “Rock’s Biggest ***holes,” “The Many Silly Names of Rock Star Spawn,” etc.) and get several belly laughs. You certainly won’t agree with all of Almond’s judgements, but if you’re a rock or pop fan, you’ll enjoy the argument.

Other books in our stacks:

Sarah’s Gold by Barbara Rockwell

Faith and Betrayal: A Pioneer Woman’s Passage in the American West by Sally Denton

Valentina by Kohle Yohannon

Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone by Martin Dugard

The Temptress by Paul Spicer

Neverland: J.M. Barrie, the Du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan by Piers Dudgeon

Free for All: Joe Papp, The Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Ever Told by Kenneth Turan

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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).

2 Comments on "Nonfiction Roundup, Part 2"

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  1. atodd@phpl.info' Alex says:

    My book club enjoys non-fiction title, so much so that we now do 4-5 a year.

    We’ve had a remarkable string of luck where the books we’ve read coincided with current events. For example, we read Murder in Greenwich right as the Michael Skakel trial was beginning.

    The one that stands out to me most, though, is Stephen Hawking’s The Universe in a Nutshell. The ladies in my group all went in convinced they were going to hate it and to a one, loved it. They were surprised at how much they understood and how much they learned. A great discussion.

  2. shavers@crc.losrios.edu' Shelley says:

    I write about fictional women on the plains of a later generation than the pioneers, but even so, the toughness of women on the prairie is mind-boggling.

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