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.

Straight off the Shelf: Demystifying Disability by Emily Ladau

“If the disability community wants a world that’s accessible to us, then we must make ideas and experiences of disability accessible to the world.”

I hope all of our dedicated readers are well as the days get crisper, the nights grow longer, and the holidays come upon us! I am excited to start a new blog series titled “Straight off the Shelf,” in which I will feature a nonfiction book straight from our new shelves here at the library and pair it up with similar titles in our collection. This first selection comes from our social sciences section and is titled Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to be an Ally  by Emily Ladau.

First, a little bit of background about the author. A disability rights activist, writer, and speaker, Emily Ladau began her activism at just the young age of ten when she starred on Sesame Street to teach children about what it is like to live with a physical disability. She continues her advocacy today by providing consulting and editorial services to several disability-focused organizations, as well as by managing a blog (Rooted in Rights) focused on sharing and amplifying disability experiences and co-hosting a podcast (The Accessible Stall) that considers important issues within the disability community. She has also received several honors, including being named a “10 Under 10 Young Alumni” at her alma matter of Adelphi University and being selected as the recipient of the American Association of People With Disabilities’ Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award in 2018.

In Ladau’s words, “[a]ll of my activism is driven by my belief that it is by sharing our stories and making the disability experience accessible to the world that we will reach a world that is accessible to the disability community.” One of the very first statistics presented in this book is that an estimated 15% of the global population, or more than one billion people, lives with a disability, making up the world’s largest minority. With this in mind, Ladau describes this book as a 101 guide or handbook for anyone and everyone looking to better understand various aspects of disability, as well as how to become a stronger ally and advocate. Broken down into six primary parts, it delves into what a disability actually is, how to understand disability as part of a whole person, an overview of disability history, ableism and accessibility,  disability etiquette, and how disability is portrayed in the media. Ladau also includes several additional resources for further reading, including books, films, online videos, and hashtags to follow on social media; a complete list of resources from this title can also be found here: https://emilyladau.com/demystifying-disability-bibliography/

I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about this new title! If it piqued your interest and/or you would like to continue demystifying disability, here are some similar books housed in our library collection:

About Us: Essays for the Disability Series of the New York Times edited by Peter Catapano

This title compiles several significant and powerful essays and reflections that have been featured in a column entitled “Disability” in the New York Times since its inception in 2016. Here is a brief description from the publisher:

“Boldly claiming a space where people with disabilities tell the stories of their own lives―not other’s stories about them―About Us captures the voices of a community that has for too long been stereotyped and misrepresented. Speaking not only to people with disabilities and their support networks, but to all of us, the authors in About Us offer intimate stories of how they navigate a world not built for them. Echoing the refrain of the disability rights movement, ‘nothing about us without us,’ this collection, with a foreword by Andrew Solomon, is a landmark publication of the disability movement for readers of all backgrounds, communities, and abilities.”

I Live a Life Like Yours: A Memoir by Jan Grue

This memoir provides a searing and insightful look into what it is like to live with a disability and the journey of coming to accept the limitations a disability poses while also loving life. Here is a brief description from the publisher:

“Jan Grue was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at the age of three. Shifting between specific periods of his life—his youth with his parents and sister in Norway; his years of study in Berkeley, St. Petersburg, and Amsterdam; and his current life as a professor, husband, and father—he intersperses these histories with elegant, astonishingly wise reflections on the world, social structures, disability, loss, relationships, and the body: in short, on what it means to be human. Along the way, Grue moves effortlessly between his own story and those of others, incorporating reflections on philosophy, film, art, and the work of writers from Joan Didion to Michael Foucault. He revives the cold, clinical language of his childhood, drawing from a stack of medical records that first forced the boy who thought of himself as “just Jan” to perceive that his body, and therefore his self, was defined by its defects.

I Live a Life Like Yours is a love story. It is rich with loss, sorrow, and joy, and with the details of one life: a girlfriend pushing Grue through the airport and forgetting him next to the baggage claim; schoolmates forming a chain behind his wheelchair on the ice one winter day; his parents writing desperate letters in search of proper treatment for their son; his own young son climbing into his lap as he sits in his wheelchair, only to leap down and run away too quickly to catch. It is a story about accepting one’s own body and limitations, and learning to love life as it is while remaining open to hope and discovery.”

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

This autobiography provides an acute analysis on living with a disability in an ableist world and considers how ableism is deeply embedded in our culture. Here is a brief description from the publisher:

“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.”

All In: An Autobiography by Billie Jean King

“Champions adjust. Champions are masters at being resilient. To succeed, you have to find a way to reconcile everything – chasing goals, believing you will succeed but absorbing failure, and the loneliness of knowing that no one can help you on the court but you.” 

“Two of the unchanging, overarching lessons of my life are that people’s existence is rarely improved by sitting still in the face of injustice, and that the human spirit should never be underestimated. The human spirit can’t be caged.”

As an avid tennis fan and player, I was thrilled when I read that Billie Jean King (BJK) was coming out with an autobiography. While I knew she was a groundbreaking tennis player in her day, especially renowned for her historical “Battle of the Sexes” match in 1973, I honestly didn’t know much else about her. With that said, let’s delve right into All In: An Autobiography. 

Published in August, this memoir gives readers a deep and comprehensive look into BJK’s life story. Born in Long Beach, California, her first encounter with tennis was in the fifth grade when a friend convinced her to attend a lesson with her. After her first few experiences playing, BJK dedicated herself to the sport and quickly set out to win Wimbledon (a Grand Slam tournament played in London) and become the #1-ranked player in the world. After undergoing intense training and an excruciating schedule of play for many years, BJK would come to accomplish much more than that; some of her career highlights include capturing 39 Grand Slam tennis titles and 20 career victories at Wimbledon, as well as winning the famous “Battle of the Sexes” match and holding the world #1 ranking in women’s tennis for six years.

While it was fascinating to read about what it took to become a champion on the court, I was dismayed to learn about all of the barriers she endured on her way to becoming the best in the sport. One incredibly significant barrier was the entrenched sexism present in the sports world at the time, BJK illustrating a vivid picture of just how different it was to be a female athlete in the mid-20th century compared to now. She was first barred from advancing beyond an amateur player (meaning she was not paid for playing) since being a professional athlete was not an acceptable profession for women. After breaking that glass ceiling and turning pro, she found herself in yet another uphill battle in which tournaments refused to pay women the same earnings/winnings as men.

She was also constantly barraged with society’s stereotypical expectations of women, always having to answer to when she would give up her fling with tennis to settle down and start a family, why she thought the world would want to watch female athletes, and how she had the nerve to take away money from the true breadwinners. These expectations didn’t even spare her at the very beginning of her young career; one particularly scarring memory involved being pulled out of a picture at one of the tennis clubs where she practiced because she was wearing shorts instead of a skirt or dress. On top of all of this, BJK also struggled with an eating disorder and her sexuality later on in her professional life, especially having to keep the latter secret in fear of losing everything she had worked so hard to achieve.

Despite all of the aforementioned struggles, BJK not only excelled in tennis, but also used her platform to make huge strides in several social justice issues off the court. She founded several initiatives and organizations to support and advocate for women’s rights, including the Women’s Tennis Association and the Women’s Sports Foundation; established World TeamTennis, a professional tennis league in which men and women compete together on a team; and advocated for the passing of Title IX in 1972. She also set up the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, a nonprofit organization working to achieve diverse and equitable leadership in the workforce. She has and continues to engage in every opportunity she can to pave the way for all of the women who have and will continue to come after her; it is no wonder that she became the first female athlete to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President Barack Obama in 2009.

Overall, this autobiography is one of the most inspiring accounts I have ever read. I led this post with two quotes because expressing just half of BJK’s influence on the world wouldn’t do this book or her legacy justice; she is not only a champion of tennis, but also a champion of social justice and equal rights. She has been a trailblazer for women’s rights, not only throughout the sports world, but also across society and the world at large. She is still fighting for social justice today, especially for women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, and one of the greatest values she abides by is ensuring that tennis, sports, and the world are inclusive and accessible for everyone. I cannot recommend this book highly enough!

This book is also available in the following formats:

Large Print

In addition to this book, I would also check out the 2017 motion picture Battle of the Sexes, featuring Emma Stone as BJK and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs (her opponent). This match was one of the most widely watched sporting events of all time, with an estimated 90 million people having tuned in to watch on primetime television.

Best Sellers Club October 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 October.

Social Justice pick

Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement by Tarana Burke

From the founder and activist behind the largest movement of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Tarana Burke shares her never never before revealed life story of how she first came to say me too and launch one of the largest cultural events in American history.

After a long, difficult day working with young Black girls who had suffered the unimaginable, Tarana tossed in her bed, unable to sleep as a fit of memories intruded into her thoughts. How could she help these girls if she couldn’t even be honest with herself and face her own demons. A fitful night led to pages and pages of scribbled notes with two clear words at the top: Me too.

Tarana Burke is the founder and activist behind the largest social movement of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the me too movement, but first she had to find the strength to say me too herself. Unbound is the story of how she came to those two words, after a childhood growing up in the Bronx with a loving mother that took a terrible turn when she was sexual assaulted. She became withdrawn and her self split, there was the Tarana that was a good student, model kid, and eager to please young girl, and then there was the Tarana that she hid from everyone else, the one she believed to be bad. The one that would take all the love in her life away if she revealed.

Tarana’s debut memoir explores how to piece back together our fractured selves. How to not just bring the me too movement back to empathy, but how to empathize with our past selves, with out bad selves, and how to begin to love ourselves unabashedly. Healing starts with empowerment, and to Tarana empowerment starts with empathy. This is her story of finding that for herself, and then spreading it to an entire world.

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

‘I primarily selected this title for the BSC due to the anticipated high demand, several positive reviews it received from acclaimed journals and reader communities upon publication, and its heightened significance in today’s culture. I also selected this title due to the intersectionality of identity presented in this memoir. While the “Me Too” movement was created to be representative of and empowering for every woman impacted by sexual assault, this was especially born out of an effort to support black women in this struggle. One heart wrenching and powerful quote denoting this reads: “Standing and fighting against the diminishment and destruction of Black bodies had become a proxy for the diminishment and destruction of my own Black body.” The sheer strength of sharing such traumatic experiences, as well as Burke’s liberation of them, is sure to validate, empower, and resonate with those who have experienced similar situations, while also drawing empathy and advocacy from others who share in the fight for social justice.’

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True Crime pick

The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer by Dean Jobb

“When a doctor does go wrong he is the first of criminals,” Sherlock Holmes observed during one of his most baffling investigations. “He has nerve and he has knowledge.”

In the span of fifteen years, Dr. Thomas Neill Cream poisoned at least ten people in the United States, Britain, and Canada, a death toll with almost no precedents. Structured around Cream’s London murder trial in 1892, when he was finally brought to justice, The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream exposes the blind trust given to medical practitioners, as well as the flawed detection methods, bungled investigations, corrupt officials, and stifling morality of Victorian society that allowed Cream to prey on vulnerable and desperate women, many of whom had turned to him for medical help.

Dean Jobb vividly re-creates this largely forgotten historical account against the backdrop of the birth of modern policing and newly adopted forensic methods, though most police departments still scoffed at using science to solve crimes. But then most police departments could hardly imagine that serial killers existed—the term was unknown at the time. As the Chicago Tribune wrote then, Cream’s crimes marked the emergence of a new breed of killer, one who operated without motive or remorse, who “murdered simply for the sake of murder.”

Librarian Anna has the following to say about this pick:

‘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 relatively forgotten status of this killer; while many have heard of Jack the Ripper and H.H. Holmes, this figure who preceded them is often lost to history, despite his equally wicked crimes. Finally, I selected this title due to its interesting historical lens, as several of our previous selections have been focused on contemporary true crime accounts.’

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Biography pick

Tarantino: A Retrospective by Tom Shone

Celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Reservoir Dogs by diving into the brilliant, twisted mind of Quentin Tarantino and discover the artistic process of an Oscar-winning legend.

Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1963, Quentin Tarantino spent many Saturday evenings during his childhood accompanying his mother to the movies, nourishing a love of film that was, over the course of his life, to become all-consuming. The script for his first movie took him four years to complete: My Best Friend’s Birthday, a seventy-minute film in which he both acted and directed. The script for his second film, Reservoir Dogs (1992), took him just under four weeks to complete. When it debuted, he was immediately hailed as one of the most exciting new directors in the industry.

Known for his highly cinematic visual style, out-of-sequence storytelling, and grandiose violence, Tarantino’s films have provoked both praise and criticism over the course of his career. They’ve also won him a host of awards—including Oscars, Golden Globes, and BAFTA awards—usually for his original screenplays. His oeuvre includes the cult classic Pulp Fiction, bloody revenge saga Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, and historical epics Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained, and The Hateful Eight . This stunning retrospective catalogs each of Quentin Tarantino’s movies in detail, from My Best Friend’s Birthday to The Hateful Eight. The book is a tribute to a unique directing and writing talent, celebrating an uncompromising, passionate director’s enthralling career at the heart of cult filmmaking.

Librarian Rachel has the following to say about her selection:

“Quentin Tarantino is one of the most popular directors of the modern era. His film career started thirty years ago and he has been popular ever since. Tarantino has stated that he is only going to direct ten films and so far, he has directed nine. With only one film left, this biography will shed light on the man behind the camera that has directed such films as ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’.”

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Cookbook Pick

Baking for the Holidays: 50+ Treats for a Festive Season by Sarah Kieffer

A charming holiday baking cookbook brimming with delicious, indulgent recipes, cozy winter photography, and lots of holiday cheer from Sarah Kieffer.

Here’s a festive holiday baking book to celebrate this very special time of year. Sarah Kieffer, author of 100 Cookies, beloved baker behind The Vanilla Bean Blog, and creator of the “bang-the-pan” method offers more than 50 delicious recipes for seasonal brunches, cookie swaps, and all those Christmas, Hanukah, and New Year’s Eve parties.

Delight family and friends with edible gifts and whip up some delicious baked goods to treat yourself through the long winter months after the holidays have ended. Recipes include: Triple Chocolate Peppermint Bark, Meyer Lemon–White Chocolate Scones, Pear-Almond Danish Bread, Hot Chocolate Cake, and Pumpkin Pie with Candied Pepita Streusel.

With cozy holiday imagery, a lovely, clean aesthetic, and easy yet innovative recipes, this is a go-to cookbook for baking enthusiasts, anyone who loves the holiday season, and, of course, fans of Sarah Kieffer and her hugely popular cookie book, 100 Cookies.

GREAT GIFT OPPORTUNITY: With happy, festive photography and anyone-can-do-it recipes, this is a perfect holiday gift alongside a cute apron or baking product. It’s sure to please anyone in your life who loves to while away the winter months in their warm and cozy kitchen.

BELOVED, ACCOMPLISHED BLOGGER AND AUTHOR: Sarah Kieffer is the beloved blogger behind The Vanilla Bean Baking Blog, which won the SAVEUR Reader’s Choice Best Baking & Desserts Blog in 2014. Her pan-banging cookie technique went viral on the New York Times website. She has written two cookbooks and been featured by Food52, The Today Show, Mashable, The Kitchn, America’s Test Kitchen, Huffington Post, and more.

Perfect for:

• Bakers of all ages
• Holiday bakers
• Fans of Sarah’s bang-the-pan cookies, 100 Cookies, and The Vanilla Bean Blog
• Holiday gift givers

Librarian Ann says the following about her newest pick:

‘Filled with inspiration for the winter holidays, Baking for the Holidays by Sara Keiffer offers a wide range of delicious treats, from cakes and pies to cookies to breakfast pastries all beautifully presented in this gorgeous cookbook. This book also includes a chapter on gifting home baked goods for friends and family. Recipes range from beginner friendly to more challenging.’

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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.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

“It is white people’s responsibility to be less fragile; people of color don’t need to twist themselves into knots trying to navigate us as painlessly as possible.”

Upon ordering Dr. Robin DiAngelo’s newest publication back in May, entitled Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm, I was inspired to pick up her extremely popular and successful first book. While I plan to write a blog on her newest title in the near future, I firstly want to recognize how exceptional and vital White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism is to our country’s ongoing dialogue about and understanding of race.

Published back in 2018 and a staple of antiracist literature, this book approaches racism from a sociological perspective, considering the ways in which racism is so engrained in our culture, practices, and institutions that we, as participants of this culture, cannot possibly avoid it. When faced with this notion of inevitably being influenced by a racist culture, DiAngelo contends many white people are quick to put up their defenses, responding with anger and shame, as well as feeling attacked or insulted. She explains this common knee-jerk reaction is primarily due to the very narrow definition of racism that our society perpetuates; while many perceive racism as overt and intentional racist acts committed by immoral and unkind individuals, she asks readers to consider a broader context in which everyone engages with and acts upon unconscious biases, which stem from the simple act of partaking in a shared culture that is founded upon white racial frameworks.

Upon presenting this much-needed context, DiAngelo then goes on to identify the common responses and reactions of white people in the face of racial discomfort as “white fragility.” Drawing from her 20+ years of experience as a consultant, educator, and facilitator on issues of racial and social justice, she details how these reactions manifest and how white people often find ways to distance themselves from racial issues, thereby exempting themselves from conversations about race. Furthermore, she argues this fragility essentially inhibits individuals from participating in productive and empathetic conversations in which they recognize and accept their roles and responsibility in perpetuating the systemic racism in the United States today, whether intentionally or not.

One especially powerful passage I’d like to share is DiAngelo’s explanation of a metaphor she cited that describes the “interlocking forces of oppression.” In this analogy, she compares a white person’s worldview of racism to viewing a bird in a birdcage. If a viewer stands close to the cage and views the bird through the bars, they aren’t actually able to see the bars of the cage holding the bird in; consequently, the bird looks as if it can fly away whenever it pleases. As the viewer moves back from the cage, they may start to see one or two bars of the cage and think that, while there are some barriers, the bird could just simply fly around them. Upon backing all the way up, however, the viewer can see all of the bars intersecting one another, ultimately barring the bird from escaping the cage. This metaphor, therefore, affirms that in order to truly understand the pervasive existence and profound impact of racism on our society, we must take multiple steps back to see the whole picture.

All in all, this book is incredibly eye-opening and illuminates how white people unconsciously continue to play a role in perpetuating racism, even when they don’t intend to. DiAngelo calls us all to action, stressing that we can no longer exempt ourselves from our white collective identity and say that this isn’t our problem. Rather, she maintains this is very uniquely our problem and that, whether we like it or not, we must carry our history with us and actively work to improve equitability and social justice in our society by engaging in lifelong acts of antiracism.

*Disclaimer: From the get-go, DiAngelo recognizes her privilege of being a white woman writing this book. While some readers may want to discount her work because of this status, I highly recommend giving her a chance. She has extensive experience and a unique perspective as a diversity educator, while also never pretending to have all the answers.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Book on CD

OverDrive eAudiobook

OverDrive eBook

 

 

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho

“Know that when you say you are an ally, you are saying that you are willing to risk your white privilege in the name of justice and equality for marginalized voices.”

After watching Emmanuel Acho’s popular online video series, I was inspired to read his accompanying book by the same name. Released late last year, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man is an exceptional book tackling some of the hardest questions people have about race. According to Acho, engaging in these conversations is a necessary and pivotal step we must all take on the road to addressing systemic racism and achieving true racial justice for all, despite how uncomfortable they may be.

Structuring each chapter in the same way, Acho presents real questions he has received from viewers of his video series before giving thoughtful and empathetic answers to help readers better understand the ways in which racism impacts the daily lives of people of color (POC), as well as how it has adapted over time to uphold white privilege in our society. A sampling of these questions include the following:

  • “How do you bring race up with minorities? I honestly have so much fear of saying something wrong and being labeled as a ‘racist.’ I’m sure things will come out wrong, or sound unaware because they are. But how will I learn if we can’t discuss?”
  • “Do you believe that, with time, white privilege can be eliminated? Also, when I think about white privilege, I feel guilty and ashamed.”
  • “What systems are racist that need to be changed now? I have heard arguments about things related to housing and schools not being as well funded, which both seem to be more economic issues than race issues. I can see how in the past the now-grandparent generation may have suffered from racism under relining and other practices that are now illegal. I also see how that can have lingering effects. However, I see those racist issues as having been dealt with.”

In response to each question, Acho gives a brief background of the topic at hand, addresses why it may be uncomfortable to bring into conversations, and provides numerous ways for readers to not only talk about it, but also take meaningful actions as a result of these dialogues.

Overall, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Whether you are looking for yourself, or for a friend or family member, this is the perfect title to begin learning more about the roots of systemic racism, the influence it has within our society today, and the steps you can take to become actively anti-racist. Acho not only writes in a very accessible way, but also offers readers grace and patience as they make their way through the pages. Additionally, Acho has compiled an exceptional list of further resources readers can consult in order to learn more; he lists several books, essays, reports, movies, podcasts, and music, as well as websites and additional topics to research.

I also highly recommend watching Acho’s online video series! If you are interested, you can find all of the episodes here.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Overdrive eBook

Large Print

Playaway

This is the Fire: What I Say to My Friends About Racism by Don Lemon

“We can be simultaneously fearless about our future and truthful about our past. We can be equally conscious of our country’s failings and proud of our country’s progress. The very essence of progress is to build a bridge that takes us from here to there, but what good is progress without healing?”

This exceptional quote was one of many that resonated with me upon finishing Don Lemon’s recent publication, This is the Fire: What I Say to My Friends About Racism. As the only Black prime-time anchor in America, Lemon wields his unique position and extensive journalistic experience to provide insightful, moving, and passionate calls for racial justice in this impressive and timely title. Lemon also incorporates his personal experiences and narrative into the text, lending this book a rich and personal dimension to impress the significance and urgency of its content.

Beginning with a letter he wrote for one of his black nephews, Lemon relates the tragic injustice of George Floyd’s murder, the overall injustice of racial inequities in the very roots of America’s foundation, and the fact that silence is no longer an option. He also identifies the cyclical process of America reacting to such instances of racial injustice: Weeping. Rage. Blame. Promises. Complacency. Finally, he expresses to his nephew his deep fear of what will come next if the world grows numb to racial injustice, leaving those oppressed with only a “wax-museum visage of complacency.”

After this striking letter, Lemon delves into his reporting and personal experience to identify several major areas of racial injustice through seven primary chapters. These subjects range from highly-discussed issues, such as police brutality and the removal of monuments, to perhaps lesser-known topics and histories, such as the intentional subjugation of Black Americans throughout this country’s history, the connections between racial injustice and the economy, and how change is actually supposed to happen. One uniquely interesting facet of this book is how Lemon draws parallels between these subjects and the history of racial injustice in and around Baton Rouge, Louisiana, not far from where he grew up. One such instance of this was his explanation of the 1811 German Coast Uprising, the largest slave revolt in American history; I had never heard of this major historical happening before reading this book.

In retrospect, one of the most moving moments in this title is learning alongside Lemon himself that he is the descendant of a white plantation owner and a black-owned slave. Upon further research, evidence suggests his great grandfather tried to sincerely do right by his wife and child. Rather than feel resentment or shame about his heritage, Lemon feels that he embodies “both the struggle for survival and the hope of reconciliation” and that this is what ultimately makes all of us American. After reading several books with a focus on social injustices experienced in this country, I am absolutely inspired and in awe of the hope, optimism, and compassion held by marginalized and oppressed groups of people in the United States, such as Lemon.

In addition to reading this title, I also had the opportunity to watch a recording of the keynote speech Lemon presented at this past year’s Library Journal Winter Summit, in which he discusses how this book was a response to friends, family, acquaintances, and even viewers asking him how they can start and engage in conversations about race. An ode to James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Lemon additionally felt compelled to write this book because of his unique and far-reaching platform, hoping this work could help facilitate these conversations and provide both adults and children with the language needed for these dialogues.

Overall, this book is another key title I would recommend if you are looking to dip your toes in anti-racist literature. In addition to being an accessible length of fewer than 300 pages, Lemon also cites a myriad of additional resources to help readers continue their education and research into topics of racial injustice.

*On this topic of racial justice, I also wanted to share a new resource recently added to the Davenport Public Library website for those interested in finding more books about social justice. Titled “Social Justice Reads,” this guide features new and notable titles in our collection for many types of social justice issues, such as racial equity, LGBTQ+ rights, environmental justice, and women’s rights. This guide will be continually updated to showcase and reflect the newest titles regarding social justice added to our collection. You can access the guide here.*

Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America by Michael Eric Dyson

“Our bodies carry memory – not just our own, but the memory of the group as well. We feel the history in our bones as much as we witness it with our eyes.” 

This is just one of the many profound quotes in Long Time Coming, the latest publication by Michael Eric Dyson, a distinguished scholar of race and religion, as well as a prolific, New York Times bestselling author. In this short, powerful book, Dyson considers how race has shaped our nation from its very founding, tapping into both historical and contemporary insights to guide readers on how we can truly reckon with race in America.

The profundity of this text impacts readers from the very beginning, as each chapter is a letter addressed to a black martyr of racial injustice, including Elijah McClain, Emmett Till, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Hadiya Pendleton, Sandra Bland, and Rev. Clementa Pinckney. In each letter, Dyson considers significant aspects and examples of injustice plaguing Black Americans, relating how the systemic racism inherently planted to enable slavery still permeates today’s society in a myriad of ways. This book  is also extremely timely, as the title itself denotes the momentum of a cultural and social movement, one that has been a long time coming, that spilled over after the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Since then, powerful and reverberating calls for change and reform to achieve true justice for all have been a large part of the history being made today, not unlike the passionate calls for change that occurred in the 1960s.

When reflecting on this book as a whole, one particularly striking moment for me was Dyson’s metaphor of racism illustrated through a tree and its offshoots. When considering the idea of racism as either a seed that is planted or one that merely falls to the ground, thereby growing into both intentional and unintentional forms of racism, he depicts how the change that must occur is bigger than any individual’s thoughts or actions regarding race. Rather, Dyson contends this change must be structural in order to truly combat the cyclical nature of racism and the notions of Anti-Blackness in our country. After drawing this comparison, Dyson ponders whether a reckoning of this scale will occur in today’s world to bring true justice and equity to Black Americans.

All in all, I would highly recommend this book for everyone to read. Not only is it accessible in length and language, but it also delivers an earnest, compelling, and passionate message of racial justice that could not be timelier for the history being made today.

*On this topic of racial justice, I also wanted to share a new resource recently added to the Davenport Public Library website for those interested in finding more books about social justice. Titled “Social Justice Reads,” this guide features new and notable titles in our collection for many types of social justice issues, such as racial equity, LGBTQ+ rights, environmental justice, and women’s rights. This guide will be continually updated to showcase and reflect the newest titles regarding social justice added to our collection. You can access the guide here.*

The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris

“We cannot solve our most intractable problems unless we are honest about what they are, unless we are willing to have difficult conversations and accept what facts make plain.”

Upon the groundbreaking milestone of Kamala Harris becoming the first woman, first Black, and first South Asian American to serve as vice president-elect of the United States, I made it a priority to get my hands on her book The Truths We Hold. In this book, Harris recounts memories of her upbringing, including the monumental role social justice played in her life from a young age; chronicles her career path from prosecutor, to district attorney, to attorney general, to U.S. senator, to vice president-elect; and asserts truths behind key issues affecting our world today.

Throughout the text, Harris stresses how she is motivated by the opportunity to give those without voices fair and just representation in government and, thereby, in the laws and policies governing their everyday lives. Upon finishing, I was inspired by the ways in which Harris has used her various positions of power to be a voice for the people she represented, despite the countless frustrations and setbacks she faced. No matter who may have doubted her or her ideas, she did what she knew needed to be done to serve and truly represent those counting on her.

I also appreciated the humanistic lens applied to this text. Rather than just write about her views on issues on a broad and general scale, Harris illustrated the human beings who she was able to help by listening to their stories and directly responding to their needs. From representing sexual assault victims, to creating initiatives aimed at reforming the criminal justice system, to helping pass legislation at the federal level to ensure the legality and legitimacy of same-sex marriage in the state of California, Harris’ experience and work has not only served as models for other states, but has also demonstrated her true passion for helping those who need help with the power she possesses. Additionally, she has blazed a path for up-and-coming women of all backgrounds and will undoubtedly inspire countless women to participate in U.S. government and politics.

At its conclusion, Harris takes the time to consider some of the truths she herself has learned from her experience in government over the years and one of the most powerful of these is this: “You may be the first. Don’t be the last.” Reading this immediately gave me goose bumps, as she used those very words in her address upon becoming vice president-elect with respect to her becoming the first woman to hold this office. She is truly an inspirational figure and this book was definitely one of the most interesting and motivational titles I have read this year.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Book on CD

Overdrive eAudiobook

Overdrive eBook

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste whose forebears designed it. A caste system uses rigid, often arbitrary boundaries to keep the ranked groupings apart, distinct from one another and in their assigned places.”

In the bestselling book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of the title The Warmth of Other Suns, draws parallels between the often-unspoken caste system in the United States with those of India and Nazi Germany to elucidate the innate, systemic racism that is intentionally rooted and entwined in the history and core foundations of our country. This work combines deep, immersive research and moving narratives, such as Wilkerson’s own experiences, to express and relate how this invisible hierarchy affects the opportunities, safety, and day-to-day life of black Americans today.

Wilkerson first shines a light on current events, painting a disturbing picture. She describes the escalating racial tensions in America as “pathogens” or “toxins” that were never completely eradicated with the end of slavery or the implementation of civil rights legislation, but were rather buried beneath the surface in the “permafrost” until certain circumstances brought them back to the surface. She then considers the arbitrary construction of human divisions across America, as well as in India and Nazi Germany, before exploring eight distinct pillars of caste she believes are the foundations of the caste system in the United States.

After elaborating upon these powerful pillars, ranging from topics of divine will and endogamy to dehumanization and stigma, Wilkerson discusses the “tentacles” and consequences of the caste system lingering in the lives of black Americans today. One of the most telling parts of this book for me was learning about the many forms of backlash that transpired after President Barack Obama’s election and re-election, as many claimed the accomplishment of a black man in the Oval Office was a sign that racism was “dead.” This could not be further from the truth.

Lastly, Wilkerson calls for an awakening and the need for action in order to combat the dangerous, debilitating, and ever-present caste system preserving and prolonging systemic racism in the United States and has a strong response to those who dismiss racism based on the reasoning that it isn’t “their fault,” or the fault of their ancestors:

We are the heirs to whatever is right or wrong with it. We did not erect the uneven pillars or joists, but they are ours to deal with now. And any further deterioration is, in fact, on our hands.”

Overall, this title is extraordinarily written as Wilkerson writes in a compelling, thoughtful, and revealing way about this subject, and if you are looking for a raw, honest, and thought-provoking title to learn more about the origins of systemic racism in America, I would wholeheartedly recommend picking up this book.

This book is also available in the following formats:

OverDrive eAudiobook

OverDrive eBook