Category Archives: Non-Fiction


Title: Zeitoun

Author: Dave Eggers

Publisher: McSweeney’s, August 2009

Summary: In his National Book Critic’s Circle-nominated book What is the What, Dave Eggers deftly told the true story of a Sudanese boy-soldier and refugee as a ‘fictional’ narrative. In his latest, Eggers does the same for the city of New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The Zeitouns, Abdulrahman, an immigrant of Syrian descent and his wife Kathy, a native Louisianan, are practicing Muslims who own a successful contracting business. When the storm draws near, Kathy takes their children to higher ground while Zeitoun remains to protect their properties.

Steering his secondhand canoe through the city streets, Zeitoun finds great comfort in assisting where needed while Kathy pleads with him to abandon the city, up until the day he stops calling. The truth behind his disappearance is shocking and life-altering.

Zeitoun manages to feel epic in scope while remaining compulsively readable. In its honest and clear-eyed depiction of the hurricane and its aftermath, it tells a deeply American story about faith, family, the cultural melting pot, devotion to duty, and what it takes to survive when the unthinkable occurs.

When you finish a book as good as this one, you are exhilarated but somehow sad because you can never read it for the first time again. Zeitoun cannot be recommended highly enough.

Who will like this book?: This is a book that deserves a wide readership, but it will particulary appeal to those who like reading stories about ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances.

If you like this, try this: What is the What by Dave Eggers. 1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina by Chris Rose. The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

American On Purpose

Title: American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot

Author: Craig Ferguson

Publisher: HarperCollins, September 2009

Summary: Craig Ferguson is the hilarious host of TV’s Late Late Show. Craig was born in Glasgow Scotland which he describes as “Detroit on acid” when he was growing up. He certainly managed to party his way through his youth until age 29 when he sobered up. His telling of his misadventures as a bouncer, a modern dancer, a drummer in a few bands all while totally inebriated (and more) is self deprecating, funny and sad. He travels to the United States with his father as a youth and his life is changed forever. He returns years later trying to land an acting job in Hollywood and does so by the skin of his teeth.

Now over 2,000,000 people laugh with him most nights as he entertains and shares his lust for the American way of life. His story is another great tale of the American dream coming true for a person who takes risks, perseveres, and appreciates his good fortune in the end.

Recommended by: Karen, Deputy Town Librarian

Home Game

Title: Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood

Author: Michael Lewis

Publisher: W.W. Norton, May 2009

Summary: When Michael Lewis had his first child, he knew exactly how he should feel. You know, in awe of the miracle of life and forever changed and stuff.  But when these feelings were slow to materialize, he realized that many devoted dads are, for lack of a better word, faking it. He began to chronicle the events immediately following the birth of each of his three children, determined to describe the actual sensation of being a father.

These short essays, many originally posted on, are sharp, funny, and utterly truthful. From beaming with pride as his three year-old defends her older sister by cursing out older bullies, to spending the night under-prepared to camp at ‘Fairyland’ (a kiddie amusement park,) to the feelings of utter uselessness that attend fathers during labor and delivery, Home Game is a funny and fast read just in time for Father’s Day.

Who will like this book: This is a great choice for most dads, but for new and first-time dads in particular. Lewis has a following from his excellent sports writing.

If you like this, try this: Alternadad by Neil Pollack. The forthcoming Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon. The Blind Side, a football book by Lewis.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

The Indifferent Stars Above

Title: The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride

Author:  Daniel James Brown

Publisher: William Morrow, April 2009

Summary:    Upon hearing the words “Donner Party,”  it’s likely that most people remember the most sordid and sensational details of this tragedy. This new account of the Donner party tries to bring the reader past the taboo subject of cannibalism that has been associated with this ill-fated journey for so long. Yes, the facts remain the same, but our interpretation and understanding will be changed by reading this book. The author has gone to great lengths to shine a new light on the emigrants and their reasons for making certain decisions. He focuses his attention on one member of the party, Sarah Graves Fosdick, recently married and traveling with her family and new husband.

Using our current knowledge of the physical and psychological effects of trauma, Daniel Brown has set out to answer many of the questions surrounding the Donner Party tragedy. For example, why did the single men in the group fare so much worse than people traveling with their families? Why did the emigrants suffer the effects of starvation so quickly? In our recent past we have seen protesters on hunger strikes that lasted weeks longer without food than did Sarah and her companions. What psychological effects did the survivors suffer as a result of being on the brink of death for so long? Brown helps us to understand why certain choices were made and the impact these choices had on everyone involved. Imagine being on a camping trip without a tent, lantern, flashlight, stove, bug repellent, sleeping bag, toiletries, or any other amenity. Imagine you cannot bathe, brush your teeth, or wash you clothes and bedding for several months. Now imagine you are surrounded by mountains and several feet of snow and are surviving on leather shoe straps and boiled bones as your only source of food. It’s unfathomable to me. It’s no surprise to find that the Donner party’s fate was sealed by a man so greedy he was willing to divert these poor people from their original trail to Oregon to an uncharted (unbeknownst to them) path across a treacherous mountain range to his fledgling town in California. This is not a dry historical account but a moving and informative tale about brave Americans and their search for a better life.

Who will like this book?: Readers who like American history and adventure stories.

Recommended by: Sue, Circulation Coordinator


Title: Columbine

Author: Dave Cullen

Summary: On April 20, 1999, two boys entered their high school and proceeded to unleash the most unforgettable school shooting of the modern era. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were troubled outcasts in black trench coats, picked on by jocks and preps, who, after years of listening to angry music and playing violent video games, finally snapped.

Or were they? Actually, none of these accepted facts about the young killers are true. In this absorbing book, a reporter who was on the scene that day and followed the story long after the tragedy of school shootings became seemingly commonplace, dispels the myths behind the shooting, its perpetrators, and even its victims. Everyone knows what you mean when you say ‘Columbine,’ but not one of us has ever heard the whole story until now.

Who will like this book: True crime readers. Anyone who remembers that day would be benefited by reading this important book.

If you like this, try this: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. A fictional work that deals, in part, with Columbine and it’s aftermath, The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

The Girls from Ames

Title: The Girls from Ames: A story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship

Author:  Jeffrey Zaslow

Publisher: Gotham, April 2009

 Summary: How does a group of ten women manage to stay friends for 40 years?  With a lot of hard work!  After reading their story, it is one of the things that I found I admired most about these women – their conscious decision to keep the group together no matter what life throws at them, and believe me, it’s thrown plenty.  They admit that they are more in touch with each other now than they have been over the years thanks to email.  But even before that, through annual reunions and a determined effort to be present at each other’s milestone events whenever possible, all of them do their best to stay a part of the group because it is that important to them.

Jeffrey Zaslow, a columnist from The Wall Street Journal, spent 4 days with them during one of their recent reunions.   Karla, Kelly, Marilyn, Jane, Jenny, Karen, Cathy, Angela, Sally, and Diana all share stories about what it was like to grow up in Ames, Iowa in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and what it was like to be a member of this tight circle.  The circle is not completely intact because, sadly, the eleventh member of the group, Sheila, died when she was in her early twenties.  But she’s definitely with them in spirit; the group has created a scholarship to Ames High in her memory.  We learn about her death and what it did to the girls individually and as a whole.  There are many sad stories to be shared, but also stories of great joy.  When anything of any importance happens in one of their lives, they go to each other first to share the experience, whether painful or joyful.  It was fascinating to read how they support each other.

Although I can’t help but wonder how the writing of the book would have fared in the hands of a writer with a less “reporter-like” voice, I believe the story of these women carries the book along and makes it a very worthwhile read.

Recommended by: Mary, Branch Reference

The Narcissism Epidemic

Title: The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement

Authors: Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell

Publisher: Free Press, April 2009

Summary: This fascinating (and disturbing) book focuses on what the authors feel is an alarming rise in narcissistic behavior in the United States. They argue that narcissists, long thought to behave in ways to cover up their lack of self-esteem, are in fact overflowing with self-regard, and that the emphasis placed on self-esteem training for young children and in schools has contributed to a culture where entitlement is rampant, and everyone really believes that they are so special that rules do not apply to them.

In describing the consequences this upswing in narcissism has for schools (cheating and grade inflation,) the workplace (young adults taking their parents into the office for performance reviews,) the economy (McMansions, debt, and the mortgage crisis,) culture (celebutants and Web 2.0) and the environment (SUVs and global warming,) Twenge (author of Generation Me) and Campbell paint a very upsetting picture. While some of their arguments might be a little far-fetched, you can pick and choose what chapters interest you.

All in all this is a book that will make you think twice when you see a baby dressed in a t-shirt that says “I’m the Boss.”

Who will like this book: General non-fiction readers and people with an interest in psychology and culture. If the world seems to you a little ruder and more competitive lately, this book is for you.

If you like this, try this: For more on celebrity narcissism, try The Mirror Effect by Drew Pinsky.  For more on Milennials in the workplace, look for The Trophy Kids Grow Up by Ron Alsop. And for the effects of this cultural shift on girls and young women, read Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

Crazy for the Storm

Title: Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival

Author: Norman Ollestad

Publisher: Ecco Press. May 2009

Summary: I did not expect to like this book as much as I did. Granted, I am an extreme adventure reader junkie, but I was not expecting to be fascinated by the reckless yet charismatic parent of the author. The book opens with the 11-year old author “waking up” in a  plane that crashed in a blizzard twenty years ago. The chapters alternate between the how the young boy manages to survive the crash and how he got there – in large part due to his father. The writing is average but the stories of his childhood adventures with his daredevil father are not.

In one passage Ollestad describes his father’s ‘madness/passion’ :

“The cranium shelf rising off his forehead bumpy and uneven, the  cluster of diamonds in the blue of his eyes fragile cracked windows, and I  saw someone younger and full of grand ambitions and I thought about how he had wanted to be a professional basketball player. He looked at me as if into a mirror, studying me, like I was holding something that he admired, even desired.”

I was compelled to sit down for a long afternoon and just finish the tale.

Who will like this book?: If you enjoyed Krakauer’s tales, or are intrigued by the extreme adventures of the likes of Tori Murden McClure [who rowed across the Atlantic Ocean solo (and who is appearing at the Library on Mon. May 18 at 7 pm)] you will enjoy this book.

Recommended by: Karen, Deputy Town Librarian

When Skateboards Will Be Free

Title: When Skateboards Will Be Free: A Memoir of a Political Childhood

Author: Said Sayrafiezadeh

Summary: In his debut memoir, Sayrafiezadeh describes his childhood in the Socialist Workers Party. Even after her husband leaves her to foment revolution in his native Iran, Said’s mom, Martha,  remains steadfast to him, and to the Party. Self-inflicted poverty is not only a constant, it is perceived as a guiding value – a way to identify with the struggle of the workers and a thumb to the eye of the bosses and their materialistic society. Martha tells young Said that he can have a skateboard after the revolution in an episode that supplies the title of the book.

While young Said hurtles through adulthood, attending SWP conferences, fearing for his father’s life in Iran, and taking a trip to Cuba to see the socialist dream in action, his mother’s psyche slowly unravels. This bracingly funny and shocking memoir is a revelation; a unique look into the world of people still waiting for the revolution to come from a powerful and promising new writer.

Who will like this book?: People who enjoy memoirs, particularly by people with interesting (and damaged) childhoods. Readers looking for insight into outsider and fringe politics.

If you like this, try this: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. For more on the politics, try Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism by Joshua Muravchik.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

The Survivor’s Club

Title: The Survivor’s Club: The Secrets and Science That Could Save Your Life

Author: Ben Sherwood

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing, January 2009

Summary: Ben Sherwood, a fiction author (The Man Who Ate the 747) hits a home run with this piece of general non-fiction. He asks a very simple, engrossing question: Who survives when the unthinkable occurs? When you fall off a cruise ship in shark infested waters or your plane crashes and goes on fire? When a jar of acid is dropped on your head or a knitting needle gets lodged in your heart? When a mountain lion attacks or you contract a flesh-eating virus?  Why do some people survive (and thrive) when most others would succumb?

Sherwood spends equal time discussing the science of these scenarios with experts and talking with the unforgettable survivors themselves. It is a fast-paced read suitable for everybody, and is a book you will likely want to own. Or at least, take notes on!

Who will like this book?: It’s hard to think of who wouldn’t like this book – but it is especially good for fans of survival stories and people who like to be really, really prepared for everything.

If you like this, try this: Just in Case: How to be Self-Sufficient When the Unexpected Happens by Kathy Harrison. Brain Rules by John Medina.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian