April’s Best Sellers Club Nonfiction Picks

Have you joined the Best Sellers Club? If not, you’re missing out! Four times a year, our librarians choose four nonfiction titles for our Best Sellers Club to read: a biography, a cookbook, a social justice, and a true crime title. Below you will find information provided by the publishers on the four titles our selectors have picked for January.

Social Justice pick

An Abolitionist’s Handbook: 12 Steps to Changing Yourself and the World by Patrisse Cullors

In An Abolitionist’s Handbook, Cullors charts a framework for how everyday activists can effectively fight for an abolitionist present and future. Filled with relatable pedagogy on the history of abolition, a reimagining of what reparations look like for Black lives and real-life anecdotes from Cullors.

An Abolitionist’s Handbook offers a bold, innovative, and humanistic approach to how to be a modern-day abolitionist. Cullors asks us to lead with love, fierce compassion, and precision.

In An Abolitionist’s Handbook readers will learn how to:

– have courageous conversations
– move away from reaction and towards response
– take care of oneself while fighting for others
– turn inter-community conflict into a transformative action
– expand one’s imagination, think creatively, and find the courage to experiment
– make justice joyful
– practice active forgiveness
– make space for difficult feelings and honor mental health
– practice non-harm and cultivate compassion
– organize local and national governments to work towards abolition
– move away from cancel culture

An Abolitionist’s Handbook is for those who are looking to reimagine a world where communities are treated with dignity, care and respect. It gives us permission to move away from cancel culture and into visioning change and healing.

Librarian Anna has the following to say about her Social Justice pick:

‘Published in January, this handbook outlines twelve essential steps for readers to follow in order to be an abolitionist in the 21st century. Cullors, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and author of the bestselling memoir When They Call You a Terrorist, guides readers through the ways in which they can engage in activism to make real, impactful social change and work to heal communities; she not only offers tips and example scenarios, but also shares personal stories and experiences to help readers make connections they may not have otherwise made before. While she primarily focuses on issues of policing and mass incarceration, the steps featured in this book are applicable to several forms of activism, some of which include the following: having courageous conversations, moving away from reactions and toward response, turning inter-community conflict into a transformative action, practicing active forgiveness, and taking care of oneself to fight for others. Written as a ready-reference book and not a textbook “to live on a bookshelf,” Cullors has created a practical and thoughtful tool catered to current or aspiring activists who wish to engage in and perpetuate positive and necessary societal change.

I primarily selected this title for the BSC due to several positive reviews it received from acclaimed journals and reader communities upon publication. I also selected this title due to the popularity and interest of readers who want to know where to start when it comes to engaging in activism; the format and intentional creation of this title as a handbook with specific steps, tips, and examples is very intuitive to use and fits this trending interest. Finally, I chose this title due to a powerful, yet vulnerable quote I read in the preface, in which she addresses the question “why this book?” ‘

“These 12 principles or steps are about goal setting. They are about understanding who you are and how to bring the idea of abolition to the forefront in your life and in the lives of others. I can’t say I always live up to every principle that we need to dismantle white supremacy, but these are the ingredients. My version of the recipe is not always perfect. I get up and try every day.”

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True Crime pick

The Three Death Sentences of Clarence Henderson: A Battle for Racial Justice at the Dawn of the Civil Rights Era by Chris Joyner

The story of Clarence Henderson, a Black sharecropper convicted and sentenced to death three times for a murder he didn’t commit

The Three Death Sentences of Clarence Henderson is the story of Clarence Henderson, a wrongfully accused Black sharecropper who was sentenced to die three different times for a murder he didn’t commit, and the prosecution desperate to pin the crime on him despite scant evidence. His first trial lasted only a day and featured a lackluster public defense. The book also tells the story of Homer Chase, a former World War II paratrooper and New England radical who was sent to the South by the Communist Party to recruit African Americans to the cause while offering them a chance at increased freedom. And it’s the story of Thurgood Marshall’s NAACP and their battle against not only entrenched racism but a Communist Party—despite facing nearly as much prejudice as those they were trying to help—intent on winning the hearts and minds of Black voters. The bitter battle between the two groups played out as the sides sparred over who would take the lead on Henderson’s defense, a period in which he spent years in prison away from a daughter he had never seen.

Through it all, The Three Death Sentences of Clarence Henderson is a portrait of a community, and a country, at a crossroads, trying to choose between the path it knows is right and the path of least resistance. The case pitted powerful forces—often those steering legal and journalistic institutions—attempting to use racism and Red-Scare tactics against a populace that by and large believed the case against Henderson was suspect at best. But ultimately, it’s a hopeful story about how even when things look dark, some small measure of justice can be achieved against all the odds, and actual progress is possible. It’s the rare book that is a timely read, yet still manages to shed an informative light on America’s past and future, as well as its present.

Librarian Anna has the following to say about this True Crime pick:

‘Published in January, this title explores the intersection of true crime and race through the story of Clarence Henderson, a Black man who stood trial on three separate occasions for a crime he didn’t commit. With a death sentence on the line each time, Henderson was repeatedly tried and convicted for the 1948 murder of Carl “Buddy” Stevens Jr. based on minimal evidence and the decisions of all-white juries. This book also details the involvement of both the NAACP and the Communist Party in the trial, as both forces vied against one another to represent Henderson’s defense. Planned and researched for years, this book has documented a vital story at the dawn of the Civil Rights Era that may have otherwise been lost to history.

I primarily selected this title for the BSC due to its highly anticipated demand, as well as due to the positive reviews it received from acclaimed journals and reader communities upon publication. Another major reason I selected this title is due to Joyner delving into the deep and complex historical context surrounding the case, as the tensions reverberating through this particular trial were representative and reflective of some of the largest tensions present in postwar America. Finally, I chose this title because of its timeliness and applicability for America’s past, present, and future; circumstances of this case are sure to resonate with the racial prejudices and tensions existing today, and there is nothing more important than taking the time and opportunity to learn from our past to create a better future.’

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Biography pick

Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality by Tomiko Brown-Nagin

With the US Supreme Court nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson, “it makes sense to revisit the life and work of another Black woman who profoundly shaped the law: Constance Baker Motley” (CNN). The first major biography of one of our most influential judges—an activist lawyer who became the first Black woman appointed to the federal judiciary—that provides an eye-opening account of the twin struggles for gender equality and civil rights in the 20th Century.

“A must-read for anyone who dares to believe that equal justice under the law is possible and is in search of a model for how to make it a reality.” —Anita Hill

Born to an aspirational blue-collar family during the Great Depression, Constance Baker Motley was expected to find herself a good career as a hair dresser. Instead, she became the first black woman to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court, the first of ten she would eventually argue. The only black woman member in the legal team at the NAACP’s Inc. Fund at the time, she defended Martin Luther King in Birmingham, helped to argue in Brown vs. The Board of Education, and played a critical role in vanquishing Jim Crow laws throughout the South. She was the first black woman elected to the state Senate in New York, the first woman elected Manhattan Borough President, and the first black woman appointed to the federal judiciary.

Civil Rights Queen captures the story of a remarkable American life, a figure who remade law and inspired the imaginations of African Americans across the country. Burnished with an extraordinary wealth of research, award-winning, esteemed Civil Rights and legal historian and dean of the Harvard Radcliffe Institute, Tomiko Brown-Nagin brings Motley to life in these pages. Brown-Nagin compels us to ponder some of our most timeless and urgent questions–how do the historically marginalized access the corridors of power? What is the price of the ticket? How does access to power shape individuals committed to social justice? In Civil Rights Queen, she dramatically fills out the picture of some of the most profound judicial and societal change made in twentieth-century America.

Librarian Rachel has the following to say about her pick:

‘Constance Baker Motley was the first black woman to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court, the first of ten appearances. She defended Martin Luther King, Jr in Birmingham.  Motley also argued in the case of Brown vs the Board of Education and she played a role in vanquishing the Jim Crow laws in the South. She was the first black woman elected to the State Senate in New York and the first black woman on the federal judiciary. Constance Baker Motley is an incredible woman that through her legal work as a lawyer and a judge has made judicial and societal changes in twentieth century America. ‘

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Cookbook Pick

Good Enough: A Cookbook: Embracing the Joys of Imperfection & Practicing Self-Care in the Kitchen by Leanne Brown

You’ve got this!

Good enough is a cookbook, but it’s as much about the healing process of cooking as it is about delicious recipes. It’s about acknowledging the fears and anxieties many of us have when we get in the kitchen, then learning to let them go in the sensory experience of working with food. It’s about slowing down, honoring the beautiful act of feeding yourself and your loved ones, and releasing the worries about whether what you’ve made is good enough. It is.

A generous mix of essays, stories, and nearly 100 dazzling recipes, Good Enough is a deeply personal cookbook. It’s subject is more than Smoky Honey Shrimp Tacos with Spicy Fennel Slaw or Sticky Toffee Cookies; ultimately it’s about learning to love and accept yourself, in and out of the kitchen.

Librarian Ann says this about her April pick:

“My intention for this book is to be a gentle hug and a whisper in your ear that you are stronger than you know, and you deserve love and care, wherever you are, whoever you are, and not matter what anyone else might have told you.”

After the past two years of upheaval and the ongoing global crisis’ that we face, this may be the perfect time to pick up a cookbook that brings equal measures of encouragement and simple, delicious recipes than Good Enough by Leanne Brown. The emphasis is not on Instagram-worthy dishes (although there are many beautiful photos), but on food that brings comfort to prepare, to eat and to share. There is a nice balance of familiar favorites (hamburgers, salads, pasta) with simple flavor twists to more ambitious (but still do-able) treats.

Best of all are the insightful essays interspersed throughout. Many tackle difficult topics (loneliness, anxiety, the curse of perfection) that are thoughtful and helpful while other essays take a lighthearted look at getting through each day. This is an easy choice for comfort, entertainment and great recipes!

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Join the Best Sellers Club to have the new nonfiction picks automatically put on hold for you four times a year.

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