Nonfiction To Win Over Book Club Readers @MassBook

Looking to add some nonfiction to your book club’s reading list? Try one of these Massachusetts Book Award honorees – narrative nonfiction titles selected for their literary quality and discussablity in libraries and book groups.

They’re all either written by Massachusetts authors and/or have a connection to Massachusetts, but take a look and you’ll see that the subjects of these books are wide-ranging and of broad interest. The first-place winner, The Sixth Extinction, also won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015.

In other words, you don’t have to be from the Bay State to enjoy reading these award-winning nonfiction titles with your book club!

Massachusetts Book Award 2015 Nonfiction
2015_winnerThe Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert  (Holt)cover image of The Sixth Extinction

Over the last half-billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before.  – from the publisher

The Court-Martial of Paul Revere by Michael M. Greenburg (ForeEdge)

cover imageThe single event defining [Paul] Revere to this day is his ride from Charlestown to Lexington on the night of April 18, 1775, made famous by Longfellow’s poem of 1860. Greenburg’s is the first book to give a full account of Revere’s conduct before, during, and after the disastrous Penobscot Expedition, and of his questionable reputation at the time, which only Longfellow’s poem eighty years later could rehabilitate. Thanks to extensive research and a riveting narrative that brings the battles and courtroom drama to life, The Court-Martial of Paul Revere strips away the myths that surround the Sons of Liberty and reveals the humanity beneath. – from the publisher

John Quincy Adams by Fred Kaplan (Harper)

cover imageIn this fresh and lively biography rich in literary analysis and new historical detail, Fred Kaplan brings into focus the dramatic life of John Quincy Adams — the little known and much misunderstood sixth president of the United States and the first son of John and Abigail Adams — and persuasively demonstrates how Adams’s inspiring, progressive vision guided his life and helped shape the course of America. – from the publisher

The Map Thief by Michael Blanding  (Gotham Books)

Once considered a respectable cover imageantiquarian map dealer, E. Forbes Smiley spent years doubling as a map thief — until he was finally arrested slipping maps out of books in the Yale University library. The Map Thief delves into the untold history of this fascinating high-stakes criminal and the inside story of the industry that consumed him. – from the publisher

Other People’s Houses by Jennifer Taub  (Yale)

cover image of Other Peoples HousesIn the wake of the financial meltdown in 2008, many claimed that it had been inevitable, that no one saw it coming, and that subprime borrowers were to blame. This accessible, thoroughly researched book is Jennifer Taub’s response to such unfounded claims…. Taub chronicles how government officials helped bankers inflate the toxic-mortgage-backed housing bubble, then after the bubble burst ignored the plight of millions of homeowners suddenly facing foreclosure. – from the publisher

The Race Underground by Doug Most (St Martin’s)

cover image of The Race UndergroundDoug Most chronicles the science of the subway, looks at the centuries of fears people overcame about traveling underground and tells a story as exciting as any ever ripped from the pages of U.S. history. The Race Underground is a great American saga of two rival American cities, their rich, powerful and sometimes corrupt interests, and an invention that changed the lives of millions. – from the publisher

Bringing writers and readers together in libraries for meaningful conversation about books that matter to our shared lives in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Center for the Book

Massachusetts Book Awards

The Massachusetts Book Awards is a program of Massachusetts Libraries administered by the Massachusetts Center for the Book. Find out more about your state’s Center for the Book here (USA).

Nonfiction Friday badge from doing dewey decimal dot comThis post is linked up to Doing Dewey’s Nonfiction Friday post. Check out other nonfiction-related content from Katie and other book bloggers there.


Count Me In! Another Reluctant Romantic @doingdewey

Badge text reads Fall in Love With a New Genre February 2016Our library genre study group has been reading romance this year, and this week we’ll be talking about the appeal factors of paranormal romances.

I didn’t get to read as many recommended books in this subgenre of romance as I thought I would, so I’m joining Katie (aka “The Reluctant Romantic”) at Doing Dewey in reading more romance (specifically paranormal romance) this month, as it isn’t a genre I normally choose to read.

I’ve already become a lot more open-minded about it, through the readings and discussions our genre study group has been having, but there’s always room for improvement when trying to live up to librarian credos such as “Every reader, his book; every book, its reader” and “Never apologize for your reading tastes“.

Is This a Kissing Book?

Schedule and Discussion Topics

Feb 6 – Genre Speed Dating – What genre are you getting to know this month? Why do you want to give it a chance?

Feb 13 – It’s Complicated – Is there anything that keeps you from reading this genre more?

Feb 20 – Young Love – Have you read the genre you’re trying before? How was your first experience with that genre this month?

Feb 27 – Relationship Status – Where is your relationship with the genre you tried? Will you read more of this genre in the future?


Surreal Comedy of Manners: Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles

cover image of Two Serious LadiesImagine two women of independent means – one unmarried, one married – going through the motions, more or less, of belonging to conventional (bourgeois) society and doing what’s expected of them, until suddenly they stop. The surrealness of Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles (first published in 1943) comes from other people’s continuing to interact with them as if they were the same ladies they were before – a little eccentric, maybe, but basically normal upper-class ladies. Their old friends and the strange new acquaintances they make – separately, and independently of each other – are puzzled and intrigued  by them, but don’t seem able to acknowledge the changes they are going through in the process of trying to become their true selves.

It may be more accurate to say that Miss Goering and Mrs. Copperfield (as they are called throughout the book) are on a quest to behave – and be – the women they actually already are by ceasing to behave like the ladies that most of society (except for a few other odd ducks) is expecting them to be (and insists on seeing them as).

As the book opens, Miss Goering is already considered odd, and weirdly religious; she has few friends other than Mrs. Copperfield, but she does like to get invited to parties and be out among people. She and Mrs. Copperfield talk together at a party given by their mutual friend Anna, and that’s the last they see of each other until the very end of the short book.

Miss Goering is compelled to leave the party early with Arnold, whom she has just met, because he has asked her to come to his home:

“After leaving Anna’s party, Arnold walked awhile with Miss Goering and then hailed a cab. The road to his home led through many dark and deserted streets. Miss Goering was so nervous and hysterical about this that Arnold was alarmed.
‘I always think,’ said Miss Goering, ‘that the driver is only waiting for the passengers to become absorbed in conversation in order to shoot down some street, to an inaccessible and lonely place where he will either torture or murder them. I am certain that most people feel the same way about it that I do, but they have the good taste not to mention it.'”

Mrs. Copperfield, on the other hand, seems conventional and timid at first, not as neurotic and odd as Miss Goering, and doesn’t seem to stand out as being different, right at first. At Anna’s party, she tries to tell Miss Goering how extremely nervous she is about an upcoming trip to the tropics with her husband and then goes off to cry in a room by herself for a while.

We learn later that Miss Goering gives Mrs. Copperfield a gift before the Panama. trip. This gift of a manicure set from Miss Goering seems imbued with some special meaning, for Panama is where Mrs. Copperfield begins to act as she pleases instead of as she is expected to. This passage describes Mrs. Copperfield’s thoughts on her first worried night in the low-rent district of Panama City, before she embraces this new, loud, and colorful world:

“Mrs. Copperfield’s sole object in life was to be happy, although people who had observed her behavior over a period of years would have been surprised to discover that this was all.
She rose from her bed and pulled Miss Goering’s present, a manicuring set, from her grip. “Memory,” she whispered. “Memory of the things I have loved since I was a child. My husband is a man without memory.” She felt intense pain at the thought of this man whom she liked above all other people, this man for whom each thing he had not yet known was a joy. For her, all that which was not already an old dream was an outrage. She got back on her bed and fell sound asleep.”

I marked a lot of passages throughout the book, but since I can’t quote them all here, I will sum up by saying that the characters in the book are strange and puzzling, for the most part, and their behavior seems to exist in a different moral universe. Censure and disapproval are mentioned from random onlookers, but there is none forthcoming from the author, who seems to be observing what everyone does and commenting on it, without forming judgments.

The edition I read has an introduction by Claire Messud which says that the author was the wife of Paul Bowles who started out as a composer before turning to writing and achieving greater success as a writer than she did. This was a marriage of friendship, for both were gay, as (it is strongly implied) the Copperfields were in Two Serious Ladies, which was the author’s only published novel. An alcoholic, the author suffered a stroke at age 40 that left her unable to write and she died in her 50s.

I read Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles for a January Read-Along with Dolce Bellezza and other book bloggers. Visit Dolce Bellezza’s discussion post for more about Two Serious Ladies.

Given the introduction from Claire Messud, Two Serious Ladies might appeal to readers of The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, and also any readers who want to become familiar with female writers from a previous generation, when women were overlooked by literary critics even more than they are today.

Suggestions from a Massachusetts Librarian


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