Category Archives: Non-Fiction

The Fiddler in the Subway


Title: The Fiddler in the Subway: The true story of what happened when a world-class violinist played for handouts – and other virtuoso performances by America’s foremost feature writer

Author: Gene Weingarten

Publisher: Simon and Schuster, July 2010

Summary: If you take one of the worlds best musicians and place him in the middle of one of the nation’s busiest subway stations and have him play his heart out, will anyone stop and listen? In this collection of sharply observed essays, Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten shows why he is the only person to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing twice. Not only is he a brilliant writer (or, ‘investigative humorist,’ as he calls himself), he chooses to write on a variety of subjects from the ridiculous (trying to incite the French to be rude to him in Paris) to the sublime (witnessing the lengths to which a concerned citizenry will go in order to save a small bird trapped in a shop window.) Along the way, you will discover that the highest paid children’s performer in the D.C. area, “The Great Zucchini,” is a man whose personal demons might be his greatest professional asset, and you will meet the residents of Battle Mountain, NV, who might just live in “The Armpit of America.”

Like any great humorist, Weingarten is not afraid of pointing out his own shortcomings. Like any great journalist, he is willing to get to the root of his subject, even if what he finds there is chilling, disturbing, or deeply tragic. Many people believe Weingarten is the best essayist in America. Readers of this book would have a hard time arguing with that.

Who will like this book?: This is a great book for all general non-fiction readers – the essays cover a wide array of topics. And as Weingarten is a former editor, this book is also full of useful information and inspiration for writers.

If you like this, read this: How Did You Get This Number? by Sloane Crosley. I’ll Mature When I’m Dead by Dave Barry. Don’t Get Too Comfortable by David Rakoff.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

Wishful Drinking


TitleWishful Drinking

Author:  Carrie Fisher

Publisher: Simon & Schuster, December 2008

Summary: Typically, the children of movie stars and celebrities grow up with an unusual lifestyle; one that only you or I could hardly begin to imagine. Carrie Fisher, daughter of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, and perhaps best known for sporting her Princess Leia hair buns, takes unusual to the next level, and tells us all about her life journey and experiences in her hilarious and revealing biography, “Wishful Drinking”.  From playing dressup in her mother’s closet with her brother to getting drug abuse advice from Cary Grant to details of electro-shock therapy, pick up Carrie Fisher’s book today for a quick, entertaining and poignant look into this unique life.

Recommended by: Merry, Municipal Web Librarian

Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food


Title: Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food

Author: Paul Greenberg

Publisher: Penguin Group, July 2010

Summary: The title refers to four types of fish popular for consumption:  salmon, sea bass, cod, and tuna.  I found this  book to be very well-written and researched. The author did not cop a “wholier than thou” attitude about whether you should or should not eat fish and was very much aware that his attitude may not be shared.

He made some very interesting observations about fish and the ocean providing wild food (and fish as wildlife, much as wolves, elephants, dolphins and whales are now considered wildlife), and not just exploitable beings. One of the most thought-provoking themes was the farming of fish, the commercial breeding of fish to bring out specific characteristics for human consumption and production, and the “necessity” of maximizing the protein potential of the sea’s creatures for human nutrition since land-based animals produced for food are rapidly approaching their maximum land-based potential.

The author made very clear statements about the ocean ecology as a whole, not just as it applies to catching and eating fish. He also approaches all of his discussions with the attitude of someone who grew up fishing and enjoys fishing both for sport and the food it can produce.

Who will like this book? Foodies, conservationists and some sports-minded people.

Recommended by: Mark Z., Guest Reviewer

Intimacy After Breast Cancer


TitleIntimacy After Breast Cancer: Dealing with Your Body, Relationships and Sex

Author:  Gina M. Maisano

Publisher: Square One Publishers, May 2010

Summary: This book is misnamed – more appropriately it is about LIFE after breast cancer.  You finish all your surgeries and treatments and then the doctors leave you alone – very alone.  Ms Maisano is a two-time breast cancer survivor who is wonderfully upbeat about telling other survivors to LIVE their lives, not to remain in “cancerland”.  She offers tips on lymphedema, skin care, dealing with side effects of various medications, adjusting to the physical new ‘you’, and how to prepare yourself physically and emotionally for intimacy.

Recommended by: Lauren, Reference Dept.



Author:  Colin Dickey

Publisher: Unbridled Books, September 2009

Summary: What do Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart all have in common besides being great composers? For one thing, they all had their skulls, or at least part of their skulls, stolen from their graves. Cranioklepty relates the intriguing history of Phrenology and the attempts made by phrenologists to validate their beliefs. According to Webster, phrenology is “the study of the conformation of the skull based on the belief that it indicates mental faculties and character traits.” It was developed in 1796 by Franz Gall and was very popular through the 1800’s. There were famous supporters of phrenology, including Walt Whitman who made references to it in some of his writings. There were famous skeptics as well. Mark Twain was openly critical when writing about the skull readings he received. Phrenologists were careful to “not to predict genius from the shape of the skulls but instead to confirm the already established genius in the heads before them.”

Skulls of prisoners and insane asylum patients were easy to acquire, but phrenologists were desperate to study the skulls of famous citizens, especially anyone with creative or intellectual genius. Since no one was offering to donate their skulls to this strange science, practitioners had to resort to grave robbing. The collecting of skulls became a hobby for some, and an obsession for others. Elaborate glass cases were designed to display the skulls in homes and offices. What we think of as morbid today, was thought of very differently in the 19th century. Keeping relics of someone you knew or admired was considered an honor. One collector, Joseph Hyrtl, donated his collection which is now housed in Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum. If you are a fan of the macabre, you should read Cranioklepty. If you are ever in Philadelphia, you should visit the Mutter Museum.

Who will like this book? Fans of  the bizarre and slighly morbid.

Recommended by: Sue, Circulation Coordinator


Title: Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth

Author: Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papademitriou

Publisher: Bloomsbury, September 2009

Summary: Bertrand Russell, mathematician, philosopher, pacifist and lightning rod, was one of the most important thinkers of the twentieth century. This ambitious graphic biography focuses equally on his turbulent personal life and his groundbreaking work in the area of mathematical logic. We follow Russell as he discovers a paradox and works (and reworks) his theories. He teams with and is opposed by heavyweights of early twentieth-century philosophy,  including Wittgenstein and Godel, all the while searching for truth and remaining haunted by the madness he believes is constantly circling him.

Bertrand Russell affected – and was affected by – some of the most dramatic personalities and events of the twentieth century. While a graphic  novel about math and philosophy might not seem like the most enticing subject, in the hands of  these gifted writers and illustrators, Russell’s story comes to life in surprising and compelling ways.

Who will like this book?: People interested in the history of science, technology and math.

If you like this, try this: For another unique take on philosophy, try The Book of Dead Philosophers by Simon Critchley. Professor Stewart’s Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities by Ian Stewart. If you are as clueless about math and science as I am, check out 100 Most Important Science Ideas by Mark Henderson.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

The Kids Are All Right

Title: The Kids are All Right: A Memoir

Authors: Diana, Liz, Dan and Amanda Welch

Publisher: Harmony, September 2009

Summary: In 1983, the four Welch children lose their beloved father in a tragic car accident, and within months their still-grieving, soap opera-star mother is diagnosed with terminal cancer. This gripping saga is emotional, poignant and hard to put down. The family lives in upper crust Bedford, New York. Their father is an investment banker who, unknown to the rest of the family, was in deep financial debt, forcing their mother to support the family. Sadly, the mother succumbs to the illness early in the story, leaving four young children in a state of shock and confusion. This is the story of these lost souls who muddle their way through a dysfunctional childhood and tumultuous teenage years.

The memoir is told in alternate voices of the four Welch children, giving each of them the opportunity to recall their own memories. The combination of despair, hurt, hope and survival makes this memoir a captivating read. I very much look forward to hearing Liz Welch tell her personal story when she visits the Fairfield Woods Branch Library on February 17 at 7:00.

Recommended by: Laurie, Branch circulation and book club leader

Lady Jane Grey

Title: Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery

Author: Eric Ives

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell, October 2009

Summary: Lady Jane Grey, granddaughter of Henry VIII’s younger sister Mary Tudor, is probably the most tragic victim of the Tudor dynasty, ending her life on the scaffold at the age of seventeen. Dr. Eric Ives, in this scholarly and page-turning account of the coup that brought Lady Jane Grey to the throne for a brief reign of nine days, provides the who, what, where, and why of a coup that on paper should have had every chance of succeeding but which ultimately failed. Refusing to rely on long accepted accounts of Lady Jane’s story, Dr. Ives offers a reassessment of this episode in Tudor history to the extent that the reader realizes “Jane, we hardly knew ye.”

Who will like this book?: Those who want to know the true story behind Alison Weir’s Innocent Traitor. For if any traitor was innocent, that traitor was surely Lady Jane Grey.

 If you like this, try this: The Children of Henry VIII by Alison Weir; Lady Jane Grey and the House of Suffolk by Alison Plowden; and look out for The Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda De Lisle.

Recommended by: Mona, Reference Associate and Library Lecturer

The Secret Wife of Louis XIV

Title: The Secret Life of Louis XIV: Francoise d’Aubigne, Madame de Maintenon

Author: Veronica Buckley

Summary: Francoise d’Aubigne was born in a French prison, the youngest child of a minor, rebellious noble. She died over 80 years later as the widow of the King of France. Though her marriage to Louis XIV could never be formally acknowledged due to an extraordinary difference in social rank, Francoise had a profound influence on the Sun King, and reigned as an uncrowned queen during the most glorious era in French history.

This very readable biography immerses the reader in 17th century France, an era of absolute royal power, intense religious conflict and very limited opportunities for women. Author Buckley does a masterful job illuminating the lives of the royal ladies of Versailles and the salons of Paris. That d’Aubigne managed to rise from her humble beginnings to the pinnacle of power is incredible – and that she did so by remaining steadfast, loyal and humble in the dangerous court of the king seems almost miraculous.

Who will like this book?: Readers interested in royal biography and women’s history.

If you like this, try this: Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King by Antonia Fraser. A book about another of Louis’ paramours, Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland. A terrific historical fiction on Marie Antoinette,  Abundanceby Sena Jeter Naslund

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

Bad Mother

Title: Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace

Author: Ayelet Waldman

Publisher: Doubleday, May 2009

Summary: When her essay Motherlove was published, Ayelet Waldman revealed to the world that she loved her husband more than she loves her children. She was promptly vilified by ‘good’ mothers everywhere – even receiving letters stating that her children should be taken from her. After all, how could a woman who would make such a statement be a fit parent?

Are there anything but bad mothers out there nowadays, when the expectations placed on women to succeed both in and out of the home are so extreme…and when there always seems to be a member of the Good Mommy Police out there to bust you when you slip up? Waldman’s passionate responses to this question, as well as her thoughts on the many facets of motherhood, daughterhood and modern wifedom, are included in this bold and passionate collection of essays.

Who will like this book?: Harried moms who feel like they drop the ball more often than they catch it, and anybody who knows and loves them.

If you like this, try this: The collection The Bitch in the House. The forthcoming Manhood for Amateurs by Waldman’s husband, Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian