Category Archives: Non-Fiction

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

Columbine

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

Gang Leader for a Day

Title: Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets

Author: Sudhir Venkatesh

Publisher: Penguin Press, January 2008

Summary:Beginning his graduate work at the University of Chicago, Sudhir Venkatesh wished to study the urban poor. When he went to the projects to survey residents (First question: “How does it feel to be black and poor?”) he is held hostage by the Black Kings, a drug dealing gang, for several hours. Undeterred, Venkatesh returned to the projects and formed a remarkable friendship with J.T., the charismatic leader of the gang.

For seven years, this alliance allowed Venkatesh access into the inner workings of gang life, the drug trade, and what it takes to survive in the projects. He meets college graduates who return to the projects because dealing is more lucrative than legitimate work, tenant leaders who run their buildings like kingdoms, and squatters working the angles to survive in an environment where you can’t count on the police or social services to protect you, and constant hustling is the name of the game.

Who will like this book?: People interested in sociology, particularly stories about inner city life.

If you like this, try this: Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. Life on the Outside by Jennifer Gonnerman.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

The Lindbergh Child

Title: A Treasury of XXth Century Murder: The Lindbergh Child

Author/Illustrator:Rick Geary

Publisher: Comics Lit, February 2009

Summary: After his transatlantic flight, Charles Lindbergh became an international hero, icon, and to his chagrin, celebrity. In the early ’30s, he and his wife moved to a new home in New Jersey in an attempt to live a private life. Little did they know that the tragic events that followed would thrust them even futher into the spotlight. Rick Geary begins his Tales of XXth Century Murder series with the story of the kidnapping (and murder) that led to ‘The Trial of the Century.’

We follow the events of the kidnapping, meet the various players in the investigation, and witness the trial and execution of Bruno Hauptman, who maintains his innocence throughout. Geary also discusses several of the alternate theories of the crime that persist to this day. Like his previous true crime graphic novels, this book is concise, informative, even-handed, and impossible to put down.

Who will like this book?: Fans of true crime and non-fiction graphic novels. Anyone interested in this famous crime, or the exploits of Charles Lindbergh.

If you like this, try this: Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Books in Geary’s A Treasury of Victorian Murder, including Jack the Ripper and The Borden Tragedy. The Plot Against America by Philp Roth.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

A Pearl in the Storm

Title:   A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean

Author:   Tori Murden McClure

Publisher: Harper Collins, April 2009

Summary:  Sometimes when you start a book by a new author it is important to give the story a chance to win you over. This is one of those books.   I picked up this book because I had done some rowing in a former life. I also am fascinated by the idea of people doing extraordinary physical things that most armchair  “explorers”  can only dream of.

And true to form there are plenty of exciting moments where the reader holds their breath and cheers Tori on through some horrible storms including a hurricane. However, the most appealing quality of this book is the realistic way Tori reveals her story while she reflects upon the pivotal moments and people of her life as she rows across the Atlantic Ocean.  Each life is unique and Tori’s tale does not disappoint.  Her physical prowess is impressive to be sure however her humanity is even more so. She invites the reader to share her zig-zag road to contentment, or maybe even happiness.

Who will like this book:   Anyone who enjoys an adventure, a tale of extreme physical challenge or perhaps someone who is at a crossroads in their life.

If you like this, try this:  Books by Bruce Chatwin and Paul Theroux.

Recommended by:  Karen, Deputy Town Librarian