Best Sellers Club July Nonfiction picks

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

True Crime pick

What Happened to Paula by Katherine Dykstra

In July 1970, eighteen-year-old Paula Oberbroeckling left her house in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and never returned. A cold case for fifty years, Paula’s story had been largely forgotten when Katherine Dykstra began looking for answers. A woman was dead. Why had no one been held responsible? How could a community give up and move on? Could there ever be justice for Paula?

Tracing the knowns and unknowns, Dykstra discovers a girl who was hemmed in by the culture of the late 1960s, when women’s rights had been brought to the fore but had little practical bearing on actual lives. The more she learns about Paula, the more parallels Dykstra finds in the lives of the women who knew Paula, the lives of the women in her own family, and even in her own life.

Captivating and expertly crafted, What Happened to Paula is a timely, powerful look at gender, autonomy, and the cost of being a woman.

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

‘ This brand-new book investigates the 1970 murder of Paula Oberbroeckling, an eighteen-year-old woman who left her home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and never returned. Four months later, her remains were discovered near the Cedar River, but the case was never solved and quickly forgotten by the police and local media. Fifty years later, author and journalist Katherine Dykstra began searching for answers, weaving together the loose threads of this cold case to determine why the crime had been abandoned so quickly. Through police reports and case files, interviews with Paula’s family and friends, and further investigation on the scene, Dykstra discovered the complex circumstances of Paula’s story. As a young white woman in the 1960s, Paula defied many social norms that may have impacted the reception of and actions taken for the case; from having a Black ex-boyfriend to a rumored pregnancy and abortion, Dykstra considers how this particular case was deeply entangled with the social expectations of the time, as well as the overarching question of how much agency women have over their own bodies in our society.

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 was due to its somewhat local connection – this happened less than two hours away from Davenport! Lastly, I chose this book due to its melding of true crime story, memoir, and social history; one review likened this book to our previous selection of We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper due to its consideration of larger social themes at work in true crime stories.’

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Social Justice pick

On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed

Weaving together American history, dramatic family chronicle, and searing episodes of memoir, Annette Gordon-Reed’s On Juneteenth provides a historian’s view of the country’s long road to Juneteenth, recounting both its origins in Texas and the enormous hardships that African-Americans have endured in the century since, from Reconstruction through Jim Crow and beyond. All too aware of the stories of cowboys, ranchers, and oilmen that have long dominated the lore of the Lone Star State, Gordon-Reed—herself a Texas native and the descendant of enslaved people brought to Texas as early as the 1820s—forges a new and profoundly truthful narrative of her home state, with implications for us all.

Combining personal anecdotes with poignant facts gleaned from the annals of American history, Gordon-Reed shows how, from the earliest presence of Black people in Texas to the day in Galveston on June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger announced the end of legalized slavery in the state, African-Americans played an integral role in the Texas story.

Reworking the traditional “Alamo” framework, she powerfully demonstrates, among other things, that the slave- and race-based economy not only defined the fractious era of Texas independence but precipitated the Mexican-American War and, indeed, the Civil War itself.

In its concision, eloquence, and clear presentation of history, On Juneteenth vitally revises conventional renderings of Texas and national history. Especially now that the U.S. recognizes Juneteenth (June 19) as a national holiday, On Juneteenth is both an essential account and a stark reminder that the fight for equality is exigent and ongoing.

Librarian Anna has the following to say about this pick:

‘Published in May, this title delves into the Texan history of Juneteenth, as well as the lived experiences of the author and her family as Texas natives. A Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian and professor at Harvard University, Gordon-Reed presents an elucidating history lesson, while also piecing together her family history, to call attention to the legacy of slavery, her personal experiences of racial injustice, and how we can move forward. Described by Kirkus Reviews as a “concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths,” this book is made up of several short, accessible essays to draw in any and all readers.

I primarily selected this title for the BSC due to several positive reviews it received from acclaimed journals and reader communities upon publication, but also because of the possibility of Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday this year (which it officially has – hooray!). I also had the privilege of watching a webinar in which Gordon-Reed talked about this publication. It was absolutely inspiring to not only hear about what it took to write her family’s history, but also how she hopes readers will realize that the past is a part of who we are today and that we need to truly consider both the human experience and the reality of racism’s past, present, and future impacts to achieve true social justice and freedom for everyone.’

This book is also available in the following format:

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Biography pick

Brat: an ’80s Story  by Andrew McCarthy

Most people know Andrew McCarthy from his movie roles in Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire, Weekend at Bernie’s, and Less than Zero, and as a charter member of Hollywood’s Brat Pack. That iconic group of ingenues and heartthrobs included Rob Lowe, Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, and Demi Moore, and has come to represent both a genre of film and an era of pop culture.

In his memoir Brat: An ’80s Story, McCarthy focuses his gaze on that singular moment in time. The result is a revealing look at coming of age in a maelstrom, reckoning with conflicted ambition, innocence, addiction, and masculinity. New York City of the 1980s is brought to vivid life in these pages, from scoring loose joints in Washington Square Park to skipping school in favor of the dark revival houses of the Village where he fell in love with the movies that would change his life. Filled with personal revelations of innocence lost to heady days in Hollywood with John Hughes and an iconic cast of characters, Brat is a surprising and intimate story of an outsider caught up in a most unwitting success.

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Cookbook Pick

Zoe Bakes Cakes by Zoe Francois

Cake is the ultimate symbol of celebration, used to mark birthdays, weddings, or even just a Tuesday night. Yet too many people use chemical-laden mixes even though a cake is so easy to make from scratch and infinitely more fun to share. In Zoë Bakes Cakes, bestselling author Zoë François demystifies the craft of cakes with more than 100 easy-to-use recipes, showing how to get gorgeous confections on the table to mark any occasion, big or small.

Librarian Ann says the following about her newest pick:

‘Initially I choose this cookbook for the cover: an exquisite chocolate cake topped with cubes of marbled goodness. Inside are more pictures of beautiful, drool-worthy cakes. But this is more than a picture book – recipes are concise and clear, ingredients are easily found (mostly in your pantry) and the presentation of each cake is fun and innovative. In addition, the opening chapters offer a virtual master class in baking techniques allowing even a beginner baker to master these delicious creations. Finally, I love Zoe’s philosophy, that any day can be made better with cake, even a Tuesday!

Zoe Francois also hosts the television series “Zoe Bakes” which can be seen on the Magnolia Network.’

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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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