As I’ve been promising all month, this week’s Nonfiction November post will be full of reader recommendations. Some of the titles are available in the Kirkwood library and some are not. If they are, the title is a link to our catalog for more information.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan, Call Number: 616.8 C132b      Sarah Y. says: It’s part medical mystery, part illness memoir, and one of the most riveting stories – fiction or non-fiction – that I’ve ever read.

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson, Call Number: 943.086 L334i  Jan L. says: This is a first hand account of the rise of Hitler about 1933. It is first a story of hope and rebuilding Germany after WWI and then it slides into the true story of atrocities and horror. William Dodd was the new Ambassador to Germany and as he began to see what was really happening around him he tried to tell the U.S. government but no one really believed him nor cared. This is well written as only Erik Larson can do and what could have been laborious was riveting and very thought provoking. 

Julie P. says: I thought back over the last few years to books I couldn’t stop talking about. I came up with about 4, but I will limit myself to two. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou, Call Number: 338.7 C315b I love books like this where you get to see the true rottenness of people. I wish it weren’t so, but as long as it is, we need to be reminded of it every so often. Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos planned to revolutionize the medical industry with a device that would make blood tests faster and easier. I have to assume she started with good intentions, but they quickly went bad and she blatantly lied and misled people, and cared so little for actual patient care, that you can’t really give her credit for anything.

Another book I couldn’t stop talking about a few years ago was The Boys in the Bunkhouse: Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland by Dan Barry, Call Number: 362.3 B279b This is the story of exploitation and abuse of several developmentally disabled men right here in Iowa (Atalissa). They were made to live in an old schoolhouse and they were forced to work in a turkey processing plant from 1974 to 2009 when they were finally freed with the help of social workers, journalists and a government lawyer.

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe by Chris Taylor, Call Number: 791.43 T239h  Sarah U. says: Taylor goes deep into the history of science fiction searching out the Space Fantasy and how it differs from regular science fiction. Then he goes through how both George Lucas and Star Wars were shaped by his life. But it goes beyond George Lucas and shows how fans have made the Star Wars part of every part of life. Doubt it? You try to find someone who even if they’ve never seen the movies doesn’t know “May the Force Be With You” or R2D2 and 3CPO or Jedi Knights or “Luke, I AM your father!”

Ordinarily Sacred by Lynda Sexson (not available in the Kirkwood Library) Kate S. says: a slim collection of essays published in 1982. The essays are connected by a common theme of things and experiences in our everyday lives which have a forgotten connection to the spiritual or religious. Each essay is beautiful and evocative, with an intimate style that feels like your own thoughts whispering in your head. 

The Emerald Horizon: The History of Nature in Iowa by Cornelia Fleischer Mutel, Call Number: 508.777 M992e  Kate S. says: published in 2008, delivers just what its title promises. Mutel, a science writer with the University of Iowa College of Engineering, manages to imbue her precise and thorough treatment of the natural history of Iowa (going back to prehistoric times and up to the present day) with lyricism and care. This is one of my favorite kinds of nonfiction books – one that surprised me with both undreamed of information and an engaging delivery.

The Curse of Oak Island: The Story of the World’s Longest Treasure Hunt by Randall Sullivan (not available in the Kirkwood Library)  Sarah U. says: Have you fallen under the Curse?  There is an island in the north Atlantic where people have been hunting for treasure for over 200 years. Some searched for a windfall, but the current treasure hunters are searching for information (no way they’re going to find anything physical to pay back what they’ve already spent). What the heck went on there? This book takes you through the history of Oak Island back to when they first found the money pit. It ends a couple of years back (it takes awhile to put out a book!) so some of the most impressive discoveries aren’t included, but if you’ve ever wanted to know the background of the search this book is a treat. 

Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art by Gene Wilder (not available in the Kirkwood Library)  Kate S. says: this is the well-loved actor’s autobiography, published in 2005. The book is not an exhaustive life story, but more a collection of individual recollections from Wilder’s life. He goes back to his childhood, touches on his time in Iowa City at the University of Iowa, and goes into his years married to Gilda Radner. There are of course lots of stories from his life in the movies too, working with Mel Brooks, Richard Pryor, and many other notable names. This book is hilarious and heartbreaking in turn, but you walk away feeling heartened, and very glad that this lovely human being walked the earth for a time and shared his talents with 

Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon, Call Number: 305.896 L427h SassyKat W. says: This is a memoir written from the perspective of a black academic speaking to his mother.  (Given the style and subject matter, those who liked Between the World and Me might especially enjoy this book.)  Laymon’s life is interesting and full of challenges, and two of the most prevalent themes are his mother’s insistence that he read and write constantly and his fluctuating perspectives on food and his body.  The writing is also very poetic if you’re into that kind of thing.

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink, Available as ebook to people with a Kirkwood K#. SassyKat W. says: Five Daysthis is about the use of euthanasia during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina at a New Orleans hospital.  Despite that tragedy being fairly recent, many people can barely recall this bonkers aspect of the story.  This book also engages in the related issues of medical ethics around end-of-life decisions and to some extent the impact of race and class on Katrina responses at medical facilities.  One of the best books I’ve read this year.  Be warned: dogs die in this book.

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby (not available in the Kirkwood Library) SassyKat W. says: This book is laugh out loud funny, especially the audiobook read by the author.  Samantha Irby is a queer humorist with numerous health issues and a hilarious critic of how terrible all people are.  This is a great pick for people who are past the partying phase and just want to hang out in sweat pants and be left alone.

Marcy P. recommends: Three Women by Lisa Taddeo (not available in the Kirkwood Library) It was fascinating to learn about these women throughout the very complex relationships they were in.  Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover, Call Number 270.092 W536e. It was very inspiring to read about her difficult upbringing and how she became the person she wanted to be and saved herself.  She is also currently reading Mortuary Confidential: Undertakers Spill the Dirt by Todd Harra (not available in the Kirkwood Library) It’s a humorous telling of experiences they have had working in the funeral industry. So far, nothing has been gory or in poor taste.