January’s Simply Held Nonfiction Picks

Have you joined Simply Held? If not, you’re missing out! Ten different nonfiction titles are chosen four times a year by our librarians and automatically placed on hold for you. Those selections come from the following categories: biography, body mind spirit, cookbook, explore your world, poetry, self-help, social justice, strength through struggle, theologies, and true crime. Join Simply Held to have any of the new nonfiction picks automatically put on hold for you four times a year.

Biography pick

Flirting with Danger: the Mysterious Life of Marguerite Harrison, Socialite Spy by Janet Wallach

The true story of socialite Marguerite Harrison, who spied for U.S. military intelligence in Russia and Germany in the fraught period between the world wars

Born a privileged child of America’s Gilded Age, Marguerite Harrison rebelled against her mother’s ambitions, married the man she loved, was widowed at thirty-seven, and set off on a life of adventure. Hired as a society reporter, when America entered World War I she applied to Military Intelligence to work as a spy.

She arrived in Berlin immediately after the Armistice and befriended the enemy, dining with aristocrats and dancing with socialists. Late into the night she wrote prescient reports on the growing power of the German right. Sent to Moscow, she sneaked into Russia to observe the results of the Bolshevik Revolution. Although she carried press credentials she was caught and imprisoned as an American spy. Terrified when told her only way out was to spy for the Cheka, she became a double agent, aiming to convince the Russian rulers she was working for them while striving to stay loyal to her country.

In Germany and Russia, Harrison saw the future—a second war with Germany, a cold war with the Soviets—but her reports were ignored by many back home. Over a decade, Harrison’s mysterious adventures took her to Europe, Baghdad, and the Far East, as a socialite, secret agent, and documentary filmmaker. Janet Wallach captures Harrison’s daring and glamour in this stranger-than-fiction history of a woman drawn to the impossible. – Doubleday

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Body, Mind, Spirit pick

First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Journey Through Anxiety by Sarah Wilson

The Chinese believe that before you can conquer a beast, you must first make it beautiful.

Sarah Wilson first came across this Chinese proverb in psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison’s memoir An Unquiet Mind, and it became the key to understanding her own lifelong struggle with anxiety. Wilson, bestselling author, journalist, and entrepreneur has helped over 1.5 million people worldwide to live better, healthier lives through her I Quit Sugar books and program. And all along, she has been managing chronic anxiety.

In First, We Make the Beast Beautiful, Wilson directs her intense focus and fierce investigating skills onto her lifetime companion, looking at the triggers and treatments, the fashions and fads. She reads widely and interviews fellow sufferers, mental health experts, philosophers, and even the Dalai Lama, processing all she learns through the prism of her own experiences.

Wilson offers readers comfort, humor, companionship, and practical tips for living with the Beast:

  • Cultivate a “gratitude ritual.” You can’t be grateful and anxious at the same time.
  • Eat to curb anxiety. Real food is your best friend.
  • Just breathe. Embrace the healing power of meditation.
  • Make your bed. Every day. Simple outer order creates inner calm.
  • Study fellow fretters to know thyself. Emily Dickinson, Charles Darwin, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. all struggled with anxiety.
  • Actively practice missing out. Forget FOMO, curl up on the couch, and order takeout.

Practical and poetic, wise and funny, First, We Make the Beast Beautiful is a small book with a big heart. It will encourage the myriad souls who dance with this condition to embrace it as a part of who they are, and to explore the possibilities it offers for a richer, fuller life. – Dey Street Books

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Cookbook pick

Midwestern Food: A Chef’s Guide to the Surprising History of a Great American Cuisine, with more than 100 tasty recipes by Paul Fehribach

An acclaimed chef offers a historically informed cookbook that will change how you think about Midwestern cuisine.

Celebrated chef Paul Fehribach has made his name serving up some of the most thoughtful and authentic regional southern cooking—not in the South, but in Chicago at Big Jones. But over the last several years, he has been looking to his Indiana roots in the kitchen, while digging deep into the archives to document and record the history and changing foodways of the Midwest.

Fehribach is as painstaking with his historical research as he is with his culinary execution. In Midwestern Food, he focuses not only on the past and present of Midwestern foodways but on the diverse cultural migrations from the Ohio River Valley north- and westward that have informed them. Drawing on a range of little-explored sources, he traces the influence of several heritages, especially German, and debunks many culinary myths along the way.

The book is also full of Fehribach’s delicious recipes informed by history and family alike, such as his grandfather’s favorite watermelon rind pickles; sorghum-pecan sticky rolls; Detroit-style coney sauce; Duck and manoomin hotdish; pawpaw chiffon pie; strawberry pretzel gelatin salad (!); and he breaks the code to the most famous Midwestern pizza and BBQ styles you can easily reproduce at home. But it is more than just a cookbook, weaving together historical analysis and personal memoir with profiles of the chefs, purveyors, and farmers who make up the food networks of the region.

The result is a mouth-watering and surprising Midwestern feast from farm to plate. Flyover this! – University of Chicago Press

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Explore Your World pick

Most Delicious Poison: The Story of Nature’s Toxins – from Spices to Vices by Noah Whiteman

A deadly secret lurks within our spice racks, medicine cabinets, backyard gardens, and private stashes.

Scratch beneath the surface of a coffee bean, a red pepper flake, a poppy seed, a mold spore, a foxglove leaf, a magic-mushroom cap, a marijuana bud, or an apple seed, and we find a bevy of strange chemicals. We use these to greet our days (caffeine), titillate our tongues (capsaicin), recover from surgery (opioids), cure infections (penicillin), mend our hearts (digoxin), bend our minds (psilocybin), calm our nerves (CBD), and even kill our enemies (cyanide). But why do plants and fungi produce such chemicals? And how did we come to use and abuse some of them?

Based on cutting-edge science in the fields of evolution, chemistry, and neuroscience, Most Delicious Poison reveals:

  • The origins of toxins produced by plants, mushrooms, microbes, and even some animals
  • The mechanisms that animals evolved to overcome them
  • How a co-evolutionary arms race made its way into the human experience
  • And much more

This perpetual chemical war not only drove the diversification of life on Earth, but also is intimately tied to our own successes and failures. You will never look at a houseplant, mushroom, fruit, vegetable, or even the past five hundred years of human history the same way again. – Little Brown Spark

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Poetry pick

The Tiny Journalist: Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye

Internationally beloved poet Naomi Shihab Nye places her Palestinian American identity center stage in her latest full-length poetry collection for adults. The collection is inspired by the story of Janna Jihad Ayyad, the “Youngest Journalist in Palestine,” who at age 7 began capturing videos of anti-occupation protests using her mother’s smartphone. Nye draws upon her own family’s roots in a West Bank village near Janna’s hometown to offer empathy and insight to the young girl’s reporting. Long an advocate for peaceful communication across all boundaries, Nye’s poems in

The Tiny Journalist puts a human face on war and the violence that divides us from each other. – BOA Editions, Ltd.

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Self-Help pick

The Swedish Art of Aging Exuberantly: Life Wisdom from Someone Who Will (Probably) Die Before You by Margareta Magnusson

In her international bestseller The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning Margareta Magnusson introduced the world to the Swedish tradition of döstädning, or “death cleaning”—clearing out your unnecessary belongings so others don’t have to do it for you. Now, unburdened by (literal and emotional) baggage, Magnusson is able to focus on what makes each day worth living. In her new book she reveals her discoveries about aging—some difficult to accept, many rather wondrous. She reflects on her idyllic childhood on the west coast of Sweden, the fullness of her life with her husband and five children, and learning how to live alone. Throughout, she offers advice on how to age gracefully, such as: wear stripes, don’t resist new technology, let go of what doesn’t matter, and more.

As with death cleaning, it’s never too early to begin. The Swedish Art of Aging Exuberantly shows all readers how to prepare for and understand the process of growing older and the joys and sorrows it can bring. While Magnusson still recommends decluttering (your loved ones will thank you!), her ultimate message is that we should not live in fear of death but rather focus on appreciating beauty, connecting with our loved ones, and enjoying our time together.

Wise, funny, and eminently practical, The Swedish Art of Aging Exuberantly is a gentle and welcome reminder that, no matter your age, there are always fresh discoveries ahead, and pleasures both new and familiar to be encountered every day. – Scribner

This title is also available in large print, Libby eBook, and Libby eAudiobook.

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Social Justice pick

Humanizing Immigration: How to Transform Our Racist and Unjust System by Bill Ong Hing

First book to argue that immigrant and refugee rights are part of the fight for racial justice; offers a humanitarian approach to reform and abolition

Representing non-citizens caught up in what he calls the immigration and enforcement “meat grinder”, Bill Ong Hing witnessed their trauma, arriving at this conclusion: migrants should have the right to free movement across borders—and the right to live free of harassment over immigration status.

He cites examples of racial injustices endemic in immigration law and enforcement, from historic courtroom cases to the recent treatment of Haitian migrants. Hing includes histories of Mexican immigration, African migration and the Asian exclusion era, all of which reveal ICE abuse and a history of often forgotten racist immigration laws.

While ultimately arguing for the abolishment of ICE, Hing advocates for change now. With 50 years of law practice and litigation, Hing has represented non-citizens—from gang members to asylum seekers fleeing violence, and from individuals in ICE detention to families at the US southern border seeking refuge.

Hing maps out major reforms to the immigration system, making an urgent call for the adoption of a radical, racial justice lens. Readers will understand the root causes of migration and our country’s culpability in contributing to those causes. – Beacon Press

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Strength Through Struggle pick

Twice as Hard: The Stories of Black Women who Fought to Become Physicians, from the Civil War to the 21st Century by Jasmine Brown

Black women physicians’ stories have gone untold for far too long, leaving gaping holes in American medical history, in women’s history, and in black history. It’s time to set the record straight

No real account of black women physicians in the US exists, and what little mention is made of these women in existing histories is often insubstantial or altogether incorrect. In this work of extensive research, Jasmine Brown offers a rich new perspective, penning the long-erased stories of nine pioneering black women physicians beginning in 1860, when a black woman first entered medical school. Brown champions these black women physicians, including the stories of:

· Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, who graduated from medical school only fourteen months after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed and provided medical care for the newly freed slaves who had been neglected and exploited by the medical system.

· Dr. Edith Irby Jones, the first African American to attend a previously white-only medical school in the Jim Crow South, where she was not allowed to eat lunch with her classmates or use the women’s bathroom. Still, Dr. Irby Jones persisted and graduated from medical school, going on to directly inspire other black women to pursue medicine such as . . .

· Dr. Joycelyn Elders, who, after meeting Dr. Irby Jones, changed her career ambitions from becoming a Dillard’s salesclerk to becoming a doctor. In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Dr. Elders as the US surgeon general, making her the first African American and second woman to hold this position.

Brown tells the stories of these doctors from the perspective of a black woman in medicine. Her journey as a medical student already has parallels to those of black women who entered medicine generations before her. What she uncovers about these women’s struggles, their need to work twice as hard and be twice as good, and their ultimate success serves as instruction and inspiration for new generations considering a career in medicine or science. – Beacon Press

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Theologies pick

In Thought, Word, and Seed: Reckonings from a Midwest Farm by Tiffany Eberle Kriner with foreword by Thomas Gardner

In this brilliantly crafted essay collection, Tiffany Eberle Kriner weaves together literary criticism, nature writing, and memoir to explore what grows when we plant texts in the landscapes of our lives.

The first time Tiffany Eberle Kriner walked the parcel of land that would become Root and Sky Farm its primary crop seemed to be chaos. Industrial agriculture practices had depleted the fields, leaving them littered with the detritus of consumerism and rural poverty—plastic deck chairs, bags of diapers, endless empty cans of Monster Energy Drink. In this landscape, she meets Virgil and Charles W. Chesnutt, where her close readings of their works intersect with her efforts to create “a just and sustainable community farm.”

From her sixty acres in northern Illinois, Kriner reads James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, T. S. Eliot, William Langland, and others. She weaves reflections into the warp and woof of her life: coaxing growth from neglected land, embracing the frustrations and joys of family life, reckoning with racism in a small town. Along the way she cultivates an awareness of interdependence and mercy as they appear in the particulars of her rooted life.

Connecting culture, ecology, faith, and literature, In Thought, Word, and Seed invites readers to cultivate fruitful conversations between literature and the environments in which they live. – Eerdmans

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True Crime pick

Highway of Tears: A True Story of Racism, Indifference, and the Pursuit of Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls by Jessica McDiarmid

For decades, Indigenous women and girls have gone missing or been found murdered along an isolated stretch of highway in northwestern British Columbia. The corridor is known as the Highway of Tears, and it has come to symbolize a national crisis.

Journalist Jessica McDiarmid meticulously investigates the devastating effect these tragedies have had on the families of the victims and their communities, and how systemic racism and indifference have created a climate in which Indigenous women and girls are overpoliced yet underprotected. McDiarmid interviews those closest to the victims—mothers and fathers, siblings and friends—and provides an intimate firsthand account of their loss and unflagging fight for justice. Examining the historically fraught social and cultural tensions between settlers and Indigenous peoples in the region, McDiarmid links these cases to others across Canada—now estimated to number up to four thousand—contextualizing them within a broader examination of the undervaluing of Indigenous lives in the country.

Highway of Tears is a piercing exploration of our ongoing failure to provide justice for the victims and a testament to their families’ and communities’ unwavering determination to find it. – Atria Books

This title is also available in large print.

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Join Simply Held to have any of the new nonfiction picks automatically put on hold for you four times a year.

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