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It’s been a long while since writing a previous blog, Reading Nonfiction Books. Many books later, it’s time to share more favorites books that have provided hours of reading pleasure and meaningful conversations during monthly book club meetings.

Take a look. You might enjoy reading these books and learning from them as I have.

10 favorite nonfiction books continued

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell. Virginia Hall, an American, a spy for the British, and an amputee with only one leg, performed heroic deeds during the French resistance.

Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson. With the setting for this book just an hour or so away, the events of this prison uprising were familiar from news accounts at the time. What was not familiar was the story of the devastation that occurred to real human beings and their families with lasting effects. What an eye opener.

The Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II by Vicki Constantine Croke. Set in World War II Burma, elephant wallah Billy Williams put elephants to work with compassion, tenderness, and love. What the elephants accomplished building bridges and leading an escape on a mountain stairway was nothing short of miraculous.  

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. This thriller is a wake-up call of what occurs when those in power stop others who they deem unworthy from rising, succeeding, and living the good life.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean. The Los Angeles Public Library burned to the ground in 1986.  Library lover Susan Orlean explores why, who, and how this happened. From the devastation through the rebuilding and beyond, the library’s role as a magnet for people from all walks of life comes alive. There are many people to thank for making the public library a special place. I, for one, couldn’t live without it.

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe. Understanding the opposing parties during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, where violence ruled, is no easy matter. Patrick Radden Keefe gives an up close and personal account of a 1972 murder and exposes the personalities and motivations of the time.

Seven Million: A Cop, a Priest, a Soldier for the IRA, and the Still-Unsolved Rochester Brink’s Heist by Gary Craig. A local reporter and local crime story, the names and places were very familiar to book club members. With $7 million yet unfound and a tie to The Troubles in Northern Ireland, this book was a winner for our book club.

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild. For me, the highlight of this book was how Arlie Russell Hochschild synthesized what she learned about one side of America into one Deep Story and what she knew about her side into another Deep Story. Different narratives. Different worldviews. The challenge is how to cross the divide.

These Truths:  A History of the United States by Jill LePore. What I loved about this dense book that starts in 1492 and goes to just a few years’ short of the present day is the message I received: knowing our history is critical to understanding and confronting current, unsettling events.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. Isabel Wilkerson tells the stories of real families who migrated from the South to the North and West in search of a better life. For many and likely most, better was far from perfect. Captivated by the beautiful writing and rich, thoroughly-researched content, our book club is now reading Wilkerson’s second book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Even in the opening pages, it’s clear that Caste is another must-read book.

What are some of your favorite nonfiction books?

bookclub

Are you a member of a book club? If so, you may wonder if your book club is representative of the many, many book clubs that thrive in so many venues and so many communities throughout the U.S. and the world. If you are not yet fortunate enough to be part of a book club, you might have wondered what exactly occurs.

To book club members who are curious about other clubs, to book club wannabes, and, especially, to members of the Nonfiction Book Club I’m attending tomorrow, here’s a sneak preview of what to expect.

Our book club protocol

In our book club, members arrive promptly, since the room typically is full with 20 or so serious readers gathered around a large conference table in our town’s library. Club membership is exclusive, only in the sense that we are serious readers. We each attend voluntarily and welcome whoever walks in the door. Often first-timers become regulars.

We select our books for the coming year in December, and, at each month’s meeting, the library provides copies of the book for the following month, which we check out and begin to read. Club members take turns leading the discussion and do so willingly (or with a gentle nudge). Each month’s leader brings a unique, personal style to the table. What all share is a commitment to creating an atmosphere that is respectful. We talk and we listen. We explore many facets of a book and we learn.

Our book for this month is The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan. It will be my pleasure (truly!) to lead tomorrow’s discussion, since I loved, loved, loved this book.

Here’s what I have in mind:

Greet everyone who walks in the door—the regulars and the newbies. Be sure that everyone has a nametag, a copy of the year’s schedule, and “Talking About Nonfiction Books”—a discussion sheet that club members assembled over time.

Kick off the discussion with a brief introduction (my name, length of time with the book club, interests, and so forth) and ask others to do the same. As part of their introductions, ask them to share a few aspects of the book that they want to discuss.

With pencil (yes, always a pencil with an eraser) in hand, I circle items on the discussion sheet that we should cover during our time together and scribble notes. For me, this sheet, with everyone’s input noted, guides the give-and-take that ensues.

I then let people talk. Let them ask. Let them discuss. Let them argue (amicably). The task is to simply herd the cats.

My two cents

Every now and then, I throw in my two cents. Read More

Photo is courtesy of Creative Commons,  https://www.flickr.com/photos/zanzibar123/186131987/sizes/s/

Photo is courtesy of Creative Commons, https://www.flickr.com/photos/zanzibar123/186131987/sizes/s/.

This long weekend is a good time for me to delve into The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870 – 1914, this month’s selection for our nonfiction book club. The book looks daunting, all 700 or so pages. Yet, what motivates me to get started is the trust I have in club members who have recommended noteworthy books by authors who can craft memorable, literary works of art.

Our method of selecting books is fairly arbitrary. If a club member likes a book and wants the club to read it, we do so as long as the roster for the year covers a variety of nonfiction genres and topics. Of the 50 plus books we have read and discussed, some have been gems.

On a long, hot, summer day, grab a drink, stretch out on a hammock, become immersed in someone else’s world, and enjoy reading a great book. Ten books that I might not have selected on my own but found to be more than worthwhile might just suit you. Take a look.

10 favorite nonfiction books

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. There’s so much to learn about a remarkable individual who held the moral high ground, at great cost, during World War II Germany.

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard. This is a wonderful record of President Garfield’s life and long, painful, mistreated illness and eventual death.

The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care by T.S. Reid. While searching for a remedy to his own medical problem, the author uncovers how the approaches to treatment and healing vary from country to country. Read More

Check out the book clubs at your local library

Creating tools has been a part of my makeup for as long as I can remember. I’m not talking about those made from metal, but I am talking about job aids that guide us through a process. As a student, I converted long passages of text into outlines, charts, and other visual aids that stripped away the excess, leaving the headings, key points, and relationships. That was really all that was necessary to help me recall the whole story. As a teacher, I developed similar tools to help organize content for my students. As owner of a technical communication business, I developed tools for talking with clients to scope out jobs; identifying the qualifications that workers needed in order to complete jobs; working through the process of researching, designing, and delivering manuals; and more. Long ago, I labeled these tools Afformations—forms that say Yes. Yes, I can learn this. Yes, I can do this. Yes, I can succeed! Sure, off-the-shelf tools were available, but they never quite worked for me as well as my homegrown tools.

And today, I find myself applying this aspect of who I am to a volunteer endeavor. For several years, I have been a member of a nonfiction book club that meets monthly at our town library. About 10–15 adults take turns leading the discussion of books that we have selected. Often the discussion revolves around the subject of the book—healthcare systems, economics of the middle class, religions and faith, neighborhoods and community, genomes and stem cells, and more. Recently, a club member asked, “How else can we talk about a book?” When some of us met recently to finalize our book selections for 2012, we started to answer that question. Here’s what we did. Read More