Serendipity in the Stacks Great Non-Fiction Finds

Celebrate the Book Reader’s Advisory Workshop | Topeka | Christina Callison and Julie Nelson


  • 703: How I lost a quarter ton and gained a life by Nancy Makin (in NExpress) –
    • Obesity lead to a downward spiral.  Her son wrote the forward to her book – he feared he would find her dead.  How would I present her body with dignity to the paramedics?  Internet saved her by expanding her world.  Then she started to lose weight and became an inspiration!
  • In the sanctuary of outcasts by Neil White (in NExpress)
    • Transformation – Goes to prison for bank fraud, but Neil sees it as an opportunity to make plans…but given an opportunity to make true change after he meets Hanson’s disease patience (lepers) at Carville.
  • Clara’s war: One girl’s story of survival by Clara Kramer (in NExpress)
    • Hiding in a house with her family during WWII. Clara’s mother asked her to keep a diary. This book is based on her diary.  Unforgettable images.
  • Where’s my wand? One boy’s magical triumph over alienation and shag carpeting by Eric Poole (in NExpress)
    • Eric’s job to rake the shag.  Crazy cleaning mother. Misfit kid.  Took inspiration from his favorite show, Bewitched.  Charming memoir…
  • Rhinestone sisterhood: A journey through small-town America, one tiara at a time by David Valdes Greenwood (NOT in NExpress)
    • Little Girl’s in Louisiana dream of being Frog Queen or Tamale Queen.  Not to be confused with glitz pageants…the judges look for passionate, intelligent girls.  Promote the town or industry!  Frog, Fur, Cotton and Cattle queens followed throughout the process.
  • Fannie’s last supper: Re-creating one amazing meal from Fannie Farmer’s 1896 cookbook by Christopher Kimball (NOT in NExpress)
    • 12 course Christmas meal from 1896 in obsessive detail.  Even cook on a restored wood stove.  Mock-turtle soup with stock made out of calf’s head…but no idea how to do it!
  • Triumvirate: Mckim, Mead & White: Art, architecture, scandal and class in America’s gilded age by Mosette Broderick (NOT in NExpress)
    • Big book.  New wealth – built homes for Asters, Boston Public Library, and built the first Roman arch in this country.  White was a murder victim = trial of the century.  This story included, along with the architects and the clients.  Buildings are built for and by people, so infused with these stories.
  • The sugar king of Havana: The rise and fall of Julio Lobo, Cuba’s last tycoon by John Paul Rathbone (NOT in NExpress)
    • Julio richest man in Cubo when Castro came to power. Given a choice -stay and join the revolution or leave with one suitcase in hand.  Tells the story of both Cuba and Lobo.  Author’s mother was friends with Lobo’s daughter, adding an expatriate’s perspective.
  • The unbreakable child: A story about forgiving the unforgivable by Kim Richardson (NOT in NExpress)
    • Read-alike for A Child Called It.  Tortured by the Catholic Sister’s of Charity – the wicked Nuns.  Orphanage of hell.  New dormatories = a new circle of hell.  When Kim got older, she was part of a suit against the Sister’s of Charity.  Testament from a survivor.
  • Devil’s rooming house: The true story of America’s deadliest female serial killer by M. William Phelps (in NExpress)
    • 1910-1916 series of murders at a rooming house for older, dying folks.  Arsenic.  Amy gave cause of death…and it was never poisoning.  Reported noted the abnormally high death rate and investigated.  Took until 1916 to charge her.  64 suspicious deaths, but sure she murdered no fewer than 4, including 2 husbands.
  • Zero at the bone: The playboy, the prostitute, and the murder of Bobby Greenlease by John Heidenry (in NExpress)
    • True-crime from KC in 1953.  Little boy kidnapped and murdered.  Carl Austin Hall, washed up playboy.  Bonny, alcoholic and prostitute who likes expensive clothes.  Kidnap Bobby and murder him…asked for $600,000 ($10 million today).  Huge case, but it’s a sad comedy of errors – adds to the disturbing tone.
  • The tin ticket: The heroic journey of Australia’s convict women by Deborah Swiss (NOT in NExpress)
    • Women could work in the mills, become prostitutes, or thieves.  The women exiled to Australia for stealing a few spoons or petty theft.  New Gate prison to the ships to the prison in Australia.  They were needed in Australia, so treated a bit better but still victimized.  Story of the founding mothers of a country.
  • Breath: A lifetime in the rhythm of an iron lunch by Martha Mason (NOT in NExpress)
    • 1948 – 11 years old and surrounded by polio – struck her older brother and killed him and struck the girl.  Confined to an 800 lb iron lung for the rest of her life.  “Make the most of every day and try to find some good in it.”  Martha with her mother’s help graduated from both HS and college and became a writer.  “Life is an adventure worth getting up for every morning.”
Narrative works – they are gripping, they have thrills and excitement of fiction but are all true.

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