Good Reads - Nonfiction
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The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
One month after being diagnosed with final-stage pancreatic cancer, 47-year-old computer science professor Randy Pausch delivered an insightful and humorous lecture to his students entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” It became an Internet sensation and led to this book, meant to convey Pausch’s seize-the-moment philosophy and define his values as a legacy for his children.
Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life by Kathleen Norris
Once considered an occupational hazard of people leading a monastic life, acedia, Norris explains, is a form of depression with spiritual overtones. The indifference and lethargy she felt after the death of her husband led her to examine “the dark night of the soul.” She explores the wisdom of Christian texts, while also sharing moving personal stories of her search for clarity and meaning.
In Due Season: A Catholic Life by Paul Wilkes
Paul Wilkes’ spiritual biography movingly recounts his journey from a holy life to a hollow life and back again. He has lived as a both a Trappist monk and a hedonist with “my con-science on hold.” Many Christians will identify with his struggle to find his way through seasons of sinfulness and saintliness, and will be engaged by his often-exquisite prose style.
An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor
Though she no longer pastors a church, Episcopal priest Taylor sees reverence all around her. She makes the connection between the secular and the sacred whether she’s walking along a beach or standing in the checkout line. Her talent as a spiritual writer is in making us see “that the whole world is the House of God.”
Escape by Carolyn Jessop
At 18 the author’s family gave her in marriage to a 50-year-old man with three other wives and thirty children. A member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Jessop suffered multiple abuses for seventeen years, until she escaped with her eight children in 2003. Her dramatic first-person account lifts the veil on one of the most secretive religious groups in America.
Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed
The title of Ahamed’s book seems as current as recent headlines and proves to be equally relevant. In the 1920s, a small group of influential bankers attempted to return the world to the gold standard, a decision that eventually led to economic meltdown, the Great Depression and World War II. The account of these events is enlivened by profiles of the quirky and headstrong men at the center of the maelstrom.
Life’s That Way: A Memoir by Jim Beaver
“Announcing your plans is a good way to hear God laugh.” This quote opens character actor Jim Beaver’s poignant reminiscence of the year his daughter was diagnosed with autism and his wife was found to have stage-four lung cancer. Through nightly emails to family and friends, Jim tried to encapsulate the day’s news and share both the alarming terror and intense love that became his family’s journey. Reprinted here, his nightly journal touches hearts and offers healing lessons for overcoming grief.
The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan
Kelly Corrigan describes the middle place as “that sliver of time when parenthood and childhood overlap.” Although she was the mother to two girls, she still defined herself as somebody’s daughter the year both she and her dad were diagnosed with cancer. Corrigan’s memoir shares both touching and light-hearted stories that let you travel with her as she learns to understand both roles in a new light.
Crashing Through: A True Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man Who Dared to See by Robert Kurson
Mike May, blind since age 3, hesitated to accept cutting-edge surgery that might help him to see. Because he was raised to forge ahead fearlessly, he had experienced more than many sighted people. The surgery was fraught with risk, and he was not sure vision would improve the quality of his satisfying life. Kurson deftly tells the eye-opening story of a curious man who made the choice he had always made: to take a chance and begin a new adventure.
Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace – One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson
After a failed attempt to reach the K2 summit, mountain climber Mortenson was lost near Korphe in Pakistan. When local villagers came to his aid, it became a life-changing experience for him and his rescuers. He believed that the way to impact lives was to build schools, especially for girls, to change attitudes and expectations. His inspiring odyssey to repay the people of that village has resulted in an ongoing project to transform rural education in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
My Seven Years in Captivity: Tails and Misadventures in the San Diego Zoo by Bill Seaton
In the mid-1960s, Bill Seaton became the public relations director for the world famous San Diego Zoo. He named Joan Embery zoo ambassador and booked her charming, often humorous, spots with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. Here he shares equally amusing romps with escaped kangaroos, apes in party hats, and wolf-whistling mynahs. His lighthearted “tails” will please zoo lovers of all stripes.
Life List: A Woman’s Quest for the World’s Most Amazing Birds by Olivia Gentile
After spotting a Blackburnian Warbler in her backyard, dissatisfied homemaker Phoebe Snetsinger’s life was transformed. When she was diagnosed with incurable cancer in her 40s, the dedicated birdwatcher threw herself even more passionately into a hobby that had become nearly manic. She lived eighteen more years, traveled the world, and set a record for bird species seen. Her story is one of adventure and obsession.
Against Medical Advice: A True Story by James Patterson
Bestselling suspense author Patterson has teamed with novelist Hal Friedman to tell the story of Friedman’s son Cory. At age 5 he was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety disorder which became the focus of his family’s world. Told from the boy’s point of view, the story provides an unprecedented glimpse at the distress and frustration of his daily life. The triumph of the story is the Friedman family’s loving resolve to help Cory master his world.
Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate: At Work in the Wild and Cultivated World by Wendy Johnson
The author is a passionate gardener and a Zen Master who helped pioneer the concept of organic gardening in the United States in the 1970s. In addition to advice on gardening and stewardship of the land, Johnson offers poetic meditations on the earth’s relationship to body and soul. Richly satisfying for both gardeners and readers who enjoy nature writing.
Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog by Ted Kerasote
Kerasote lived a solitary life in Kelly, Wyoming, until a stray Labrador-mix approached him on a camping trip and all but announced, “Hi, I’m your dog.” Ted’s kinship with his new best friend led him to examine the social behavior of Merle and his ancestors. Are dogs self-aware? Can they lie? If you don’t always insist that your dog be submissive, who will he become? The keen understanding that can develop in human-animal relationships is lovingly depicted in this most intimate of dog stories.
From Baghdad with Love: A Marine, the War, and a Dog Named Lava by Jay Kopelman
Veteran Kopelman tells the heartwarming story of his efforts to rescue a stray puppy he uncovered in the wreckage of Fallujah. His growing attachment to “Lava” emboldened him to break every rule in the book to smuggle the mutt to America. Even after Jay was transferred out of Iraq, a determined group of cohorts helped complete his improbable mission.
Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog by John Grogan
Journalist Grogan displays his considerable storytelling skills in this memorable tale of a family in the making and the badly behaved but lovable dog who steadfastly accompanied them on their journey for thirteen years. The book has captured a lot of hearts and was made into a 2008 feature film starring Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston.
Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron
One bitterly cold winter morning, a librarian in Iowa found a surprise in the book drop: a small, dirty kitten. The winsome kitten became the library’s permanent resident and was christened Dewey Readmore Books. Patrons vied with one another to be the lap Dewey chose. His story is also one of a farm community threatened by big business and dogged by unemployment. See how one small cat made a big difference and rallied the flagging spirits of the author, her staff, and a whole town.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
Kingsolver’s notable grace as a novelist transfers well to this food diary of the year that she and her family sustained themselves only by what they could grow or obtain locally. Her biologist husband contributes enlightening sidebars about the burgeoning politics of consumption, and her daughter Camille offers in-season recipes for each month.
The Sound of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Concert That Awakened America by Raymond Arsenault
On Easter Sunday, 1939, having been barred by the DAR from singing at Constitution Hall because of her race, Marian Anderson thrilled seventy-five thousand people at an open-air concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. How she came to be the right person at the right time to rouse the racial conscience of a nation is captured in this account of a life and an era.
Cabin Pressure: One Man’s Desperate Attempt to Recapture His Youth as a Camp Counselor by Josh Wolk
Before his impending marriage, Wolk decided to revisit his adolescence. He realized that after college “the word ‘summer’ lost all of its verve.” Cabin Pressure is an entertaining, sometimes sweet, account of the eight weeks he plunged back into the world of woodlands and mildew and lake breezes, saying a nostalgic farewell to boyhood and irresponsibility. The author’s keen gift of observation and his laugh-out-loud stories will make his summer camp experiences ring true for many readers.
8 Men and a Duck: An Improbable Voyage by Reed Boat to Easter Island by Nick Thorpe
Travel writer Thorpe became involved by chance in this spirited 44-day, 2500-mile expedition from Chile to Easter Island. Conceived by American Phil Buck, the voyage was meant to replicate Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki travels. Because the amateur crew lacked both sufficient provisions and sailing experience, Thorpe’s travelogue becomes a comedy of errors and a true adventure.
Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman
Fresh out of college, Gilman and her friend Claire decided to forego job hunting and circle the world with little more than backpacks and a goodly reserve of gumption. It was 1986 and the People’s Republic of China, recently re-opened to tourists, seemed like the place to start. They quickly found themselves out of their comfort zone, unnerved by both culture and circumstance. The author is an entertaining storyteller who engages you in their sometimes humorous, but ultimately harrowing adventure.
The Candy Bombers: The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlift and America’s Finest Hour by Andrei Cherny
Berlin became the first great confrontation of the Cold War in 1948 when the Soviets tried to take control of the city by blocking the West’s rail and road access. The U.S. Air Force and England’s Royal Air Force airlifted thousands of tons of food and materials to the city every day for a year until the Soviets halted the blockade in May of 1949. The American and British pilots who gave their all to this operation arrested Communist expansion in Europe and helped rewrite 20th century history.
A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World by Tony Horwitz
Horwitz has retraced the journeys of the early North American explorers, examining an often overlooked part of history. He begins with a visit to the Viking Trail in Newfoundland and ends at Plymouth Rock, in between describing forays into the New World by figures such as Francisco Coronado, Ferdinand DeSoto, and Sir Walter Raleigh. The author combines fascinating historical detail and his own firsthand impressions that shed new light on the beginnings of American history.
Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip by Matthew Algeo
When Harry Truman left the White House, he had no Secret Service protection, no presidential pension, and very few prospects. He did, however, have a shiny new Chrysler and a love for the road. Equal parts history and travelogue, this book retraces Harry and Bess’s 1953 vacation, driving from Missouri to Washington, D.C., and home again. The author revisits diners, gas stations, and inns of small-town America and offers appealing glimpses of the 1950s and of the private and public Truman.
Heart in the Right Place by Carolyn Jourdan
During a family emergency, Jourdan was called from a high-powered life as a U.S. Senate lawyer to help out at her dad’s Tennessee medical practice “for a few days.” She quickly learned to minister to a parade of colorful Southern characters, but yearned to return to the fast track. As days turned into months, Carolyn’s father and their down-home Smoky Mountain neighbors taught her patience, humility, introspection, and the real meaning of making a difference – one person at a time.
At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream: Misadventures in Search of the Simple Life by Wade Rouse
This fish-out-of-water tale humorously chronicles the author’s move to rural Michigan with his partner Gary to write and channel Thoreau. Trading in a life of Starbucks and Dolce & Gabbana for church suppers and hip waders was not an effortless lifestyle change for two men steeped in pop culture. Yet they did what many only talk about – they traded in a stale existence and took a breathless, sometimes side-splitting, plunge into new waters.
Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm during the Great Depression by Mildred Armstrong Kalish
Octogenarian Kalish shares fond remembrances of a time that many her age look back on with angst. Midwestern agrarian life in the throes of the Great Depression involved relentless labor, but the author also recalls kinship, neighborliness, and the simple gifts of a lost way of life. With a novelist’s eye for detail she transports the reader to a 1930s reality that few remember with such clarity.
Biography Bernstein, H.
The Invisible Wall: A Love Story That Broke Barriers by Harry Bernstein
Bernstein’s remarkable memoir, penned at 93, recalls his childhood in pre-World War I England. His working-class street seemingly had an invisible wall running down it, dividing the Jewish and Christian neighbors who lived in different worlds. When Harry discovered that his older sister had fallen in love with a Christian boy from across the street, he defied his upbringing to help keep their secret. In retelling his story, Bernstein tackles universal themes of love and bigotry.
Biography Chenoweth, K.
A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love, and Faith in Stages by Kristin Chenoweth
Fans of Emmy- and Tony-award winning actress Kristin Chenoweth will enjoy her reflections on “how I got where I am so far.” She shares stories of her adoption, her childhood in Oklahoma, her professional training, and her stints on Broadway and in Hollywood. She is also open about her Christian faith and her on/off relationship with writer Aaron Sorkin. Her chatty writing style matches her persona and makes for a lively read.
Biography Newman, P.
Paul Newman: A Life by Shawn Levy
For many years, reflects one reviewer, Paul Newman “was probably the single best reason to go to the movies.” Here Levy examines not just Newman’s life as an actor, but also as a husband, father, entrepreneur, race-car driver, political activist and philanthropist. “He was always, he insisted, a private man whose profession gave him a public face,” Levy tells us. Until his death in 2008 Newman led a charmed, but not perfect, existence that is respectfully treated here.
Biography Perry, M.
Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting by Michael Perry
In two previous memoirs, readers watched Perry return to his small town Wisconsin roots, discover what it is that he loves, and settle down. Coop finds him living on thirty-seven acres with his wife, stepdaughter and an assortment of livestock. Awaiting the birth of his first child he muses on his own upbringing, his learn-as-you-go parenting skills, and his re-dedication to living off the land. He writes with humor and warmth about the mundane and the reverent in everyday life.
Biography Robinson, H.
The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter: A Memoir by Holly Robinson
Robinson’s account of her coming of age with gerbils is also a tribute to her unorthodox father. A military man with a plan to raise gerbils for profit, he soon found himself absorbed in their use as research animals, eventually housing nine thousand of them on their property. Her delightful retelling of lessons learned from her unconventional 1960s family life is both funny and affecting.
Biography Shepard, S.
The Girl from Foreign: A Search for Shipwrecked Ancestors, Forgotten Histories, and a Sense of Home by Sadia Shepard
Filmmaker Shepard is the daughter of a Muslim from Pakistan and a Christian from America. At 13, however, she realized that her maternal grandmother, Rahit, was born Rachel, a Jew from India. As a young woman Sadia embarked on a two-year journey of discovery to unravel her Nana’s roots as a descendent of the Bene Israel, considered one of the lost tribes of Israel. Her search to understand her complex heritage is elegantly told and deeply moving.
Prepared by Lori Sennebogen, March 2010