January’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

Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman’s Fight to End Ableism by Elsa Sjunneson

A Deafblind writer and professor explores how the misrepresentation of disability in books, movies, and TV harms both the disabled community and everyone else.

As a Deafblind woman with partial vision in one eye and bilateral hearing aids, Elsa Sjunneson lives at the crossroads of blindness and sight, hearing and deafness—much to the confusion of the world around her. While she cannot see well enough to operate without a guide dog or cane, she can see enough to know when someone is reacting to the visible signs of her blindness and can hear when they’re whispering behind her back. And she certainly knows how wrong our one-size-fits-all definitions of disability can be.

As a media studies professor, she’s also seen the full range of blind and deaf portrayals on film, and here she deconstructs their impact, following common tropes through horror, romance, and everything in between. Part memoir, part cultural criticism, part history of the Deafblind experience, Being Seen explores how our cultural concept of disability is more myth than fact, and the damage it does to us all.

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

‘Published in October, this title considers the ways in which ableism is embedded within our culture and how it manifests in our society, especially through books, movies, and TV. As a deafblind woman with partial vision in one eye and bilateral hearing aids, author Elsa Sjunneson asserts the consistent misrepresentation of disability coursing through these prominent modes of media is ultimately harmful to society as a whole, not just the disabled community, and that things need to change. Serving as both a memoir and cultural critique, she reflects on her experience living in a world that is not “built” for her, while also exploring the harm of false representation through her expertise as a media studies professor.

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 aforementioned intersection of memoir and cultural critique, as Sjunneson’s experience living with a disability in an ableist world, paired with her expertise in the ways in which this ableism is perpetuated through tropes in media, lends such a powerful and insightful voice in the fight for social justice for this community. Finally, I had the privilege of watching a couple of short interviews with Sjunneson, and it was truly eye-opening and moving to hear her experience and passion for just representation. While I found it inspiring, she emphasizes in the book that she herself does not wish to be viewed as an inspiration; rather, she hopes readers will be inspired to start doing the hard work of “dismantling the ableist system we live in.” ‘

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True Crime pick

Boys Enter the House: The Victims of John Wayne Gacy and the Lives They Left Behind by David Nelson

As investigators brought out the bagged remains of several dozen young men from a small Chicago ranch home and paraded them in front of a crowd of TV reporters and spectators, attention quickly turned to the owner of the house. John Gacy was an upstanding citizen, active in local politics and charities, famous for his themed parties and appearances as Pogo the Clown.

But in the winter of 1978–79, he became known as one of many so-called “sex murderers” who had begun gaining notoriety in the random brutality of the 1970s. As public interest grew rapidly, victims became footnotes and statistics, lives lost not just to violence, but to history.

Through the testimony of siblings, parents, friends, lovers, and other witnesses close to the case, Boys Enter the House retraces the footsteps of these victims as they make their way to the doorstep of the Gacy house itself.

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

‘Published in October, this book explores and documents the lives of the victims of John Wayne Gacy, the notorious “Killer Clown” who is recorded to have heinously taken the lives of at least 33 young men in Cook County, Illinois, throughout the 1960s and ‘70s. Rather than delve into details about the killer himself, however, this title reverses the typical true crime framework and puts the victims first, shining a light on the lives almost lost to history as “footnotes” and “statistics” and who have too often simply been “dismissed as runaways, throwaways, hustlers, [and] homosexuals.” Incorporating testimony from interviews with family, friends, lovers, and other individuals associated with the known victims, Nelson pieces together the lives of several of these young men all the way up until their final moments in Gacy’s clutches.

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 because of the acute and unique focus on the victims. While many of the previous selections have revolved around the lives and actions of the killers themselves, this title allows Timothy McCoy, Billy Kindred, and Rob Piest, among many others, to have a voice and live on in memory, rather than be overshadowed as “one of Gacy’s victims.” Finally, I selected this title due to the fact that, at the end of October, Francis Wayne Alexander (another victim of Gacy’s) was identified using DNA samples; I find it absolutely fascinating that the forensic knowledge and tools we have today can be used to solve mysteries such as this and bring families closure, even so many years later.’

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Biography pick

The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of King George III by Andrew Roberts

The last king of America, George III, has been ridiculed as a complete disaster who frittered away the colonies and went mad in his old age. The truth is much more nuanced and fascinating–and will completely change the way readers and historians view his reign and legacy.

Most Americans dismiss George III as a buffoon–a heartless and terrible monarch with few, if any, redeeming qualities. The best-known modern interpretation of him is Jonathan Groff’s preening, spitting, and pompous take in Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway masterpiece. But this deeply unflattering characterization is rooted in the prejudiced and brilliantly persuasive opinions of eighteenth-century revolutionaries like Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, who needed to make the king appear evil in order to achieve their own political aims. After combing through hundreds of thousands of pages of never-before-published correspondence, award-winning historian Andrew Roberts has uncovered the truth: George III was in fact a wise, humane, and even enlightened monarch who was beset by talented enemies, debilitating mental illness, incompetent ministers, and disastrous luck.

In The Last King of America, Roberts paints a deft and nuanced portrait of the much-maligned monarch and outlines his accomplishments, which have been almost universally forgotten. Two hundred and forty-five years after the end of George III’s American rule, it is time for Americans to look back on their last king with greater understanding: to see him as he was and to come to terms with the last time they were ruled by a monarch.

Librarian Rachel has the following to say about her pick:

‘King George III of England is often portrayed as dim-witted, tyrannical and evil. However, after extensive research, Andrew Roberts has found that the king was wise and humane and battled a mental illness, incompetent ministers, and enemies. This book sheds light on the real King George III and lays the rumors to rest.’

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Cookbook Pick

The Sweet Side of Sourdough: 50 Irresistible Recipes for Pastries, Buns, Cakes, Cookies and More by Caroline Schiff

Sourdough isn’t just for savory baking! The robust tanginess of sourdough adds that little bit of something extra to your favorite cakes, bars, tarts, sweet breads and more that you didn’t know you were looking for, and pastry chef Caroline Schiff couldn’t make it easier to do. Set yourself up for sourdough success with her best tips for building and maintaining a starter and then bake your way to sweet sourdough bliss.

Add a new layer of flavor to pie and tart crusts in mouthwatering recipes like Spiced Pear, Crème Fraiche and Almond Galette, Apple Maple Crumble Pie and Malted Milk Chocolate Ganache Tart. Make breakfast the most delicious meal of the day with pastries like Orange Ricotta Drop Biscuits and Dark Chocolate Chunk Scones that are the things of your wildest sourdough dreams. And every special occasion is made even more special with cakes that perfectly balance the sweet and sour, like Grapefruit Brown Sugar Brulée Cake, Raspberry Coconut Cake with Lime Glaze and Apple Sour Cream Crumb Cake.

Caroline’s reliable recipes take your favorite sweet treats up to the next level AND give you exciting, innovative ways to use your trusty sourdough starter.

Librarian Ann says this about her January pick:

‘Did you try your hand at sourdough bread baking during the COVID shutdown? Did you get tired of maintaining the starter, or just tired of the same flavors? Then The Sweet Side of Sourdough by Caroline Schiff is for you! The tanginess of the sourdough is a great compliment to sweet treats such as cakes, cookies, pies and sweet breads. Recipes cover everything from breakfast pastries to desserts for after dinner. Expand (or begin!) your sourdough knowledge with these fun and innovative 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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