Non-Fiction

AUDACITY by Melanie Crowder

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Clara always loved learning. But in her small Jewish community, women were not meant to be scholars. And her father was determined that not even his sons would ever learn Russian, the language of their oppressors.  Still Clara dreamed of being a doctor, and taught herself in secret how to read and how to speak Russian. When a violent pogrom destroyed their community, Clara and her family moved to America, and the opportunity for her to pursue her studies seemed more real than ever. But when the need to support her family forced Clara to work in a sweatshop, she discovered the horrible plight of the working immigrant woman – and child – and her dreams of becoming a surgeon began to conflict with her desire to pursue justice for the oppressed women around her.  Still a teenager, Clara formed a union, and endured terrible hardships as she pursued her new dream.

Inspired by Clara’s real life love of poetry, Crowder tells the true story of Clara Lemlich as she imagines Clara would have experienced it in beautiful poetic verse. The story is exciting, informative, and inspiring. Teen readers may see parallels between Clara’s struggle for justice and many injustice is in our world today. The book concludes with a detailed description of what is true and what is fictionalized in the novel, as well as interviews with Clara’s surviving relatives. I highly recommend this book to teen readers who enjoy historical fiction.

TAKING FLIGHT: FROM WAR ORPHAN TO STAR BALLERINA by Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince

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As a child, Michaela DePrince witnessed terrible violence in war-torn Sierra Leone. She survived the death of both of her parents, and escaped as a refugee to Ghana, where she was adopted by an American family.  What kept Michaela’s hope alive through her years in Sierra Leone was a torn magazine cover with a photograph of a ballerina on it. It was the most incredible thing she had ever seen, and she hoped that one day she could become a ballerina too. Her adoptive parents supported her dreams, and Michaela overcame racial discrimination to become one of the world’s few black classical ballerinas. 

Young as she is, Michaela’s memoir only covers her first 17 years of life. But her story is inspiring and very well-written. I read it in one sitting. Although marketed as a young adult book, her story will be of interest to teens and adults. I highly recommend it!

THE GREAT COURSES: THE EARLY MIDDLE AGES taught by Professor Philip Daileader (2004)

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Nerds that we are, my husband and I enjoy watching educational television programs in the evenings. We have found this one to be particularly exceptional. Taught by one of my favorite college professors from William and Mary, this course includes 24 lectures about the early Middle Ages, or the Dark Ages. Professor Daileader has a dry sense of humor and inserts amusing historical tidbits, jokes, and anecdotes throughout his lectures, such as Diocletian’s penchant for cabbage growing or Justinian’s wife’s rumored association with geese. We have found these lectures both informative and entertaining and would highly recommend them to anyone interested in learning a little more about this period in history.

Planning Your Wedding at Your Public Library

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I’m getting married this weekend!  So I figured I’d share some of the resources you might be able to find for free at your local public library if you, too, are in the throes of wedding planning.

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1. A Practical Wedding by Meg Keene
Whether you are planning  a traditional big wedding or an elopement, this book has lots of practical things–including lists of things that are important to do, lists of things that are not important to do, advice for tackling logistical projects and new in-law relationships, and helpful exercises for you to figure out your priorities–and to keep them firmly in mind when the craziness starts!

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2.  Bridal Magazines
Personally, I hate them.  But they do have lots of ideas and some of them have helpful how-tos and things.  Your library may not let you check out the current issues, but they may let you check out back issues.  Many libraries also “weed” out old magazines after a certain period of time (1 year or 2 years).  If you’re interested, ask what happens to these old magazines.  If they are going to be recycled anyway, your librarians may be happy to let you have the weeded magazines to keep.

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3. DIY Everything
Your local library probably has tons of craft books!  If you are making your own cake (or other dessert), find recipes and decorating tips under the call number 641.8.*  You will likely find paper crafts and drawing tips under the call number 745, and other arts and crafts, like flower arranging, nearby.  If you are venturing into woodwork, check back at 684.  Planning to make your dress or your bridesmaids’ dresses?  Sewing books will be around 646.

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4. Music
Your library may have music CDs that you can check out.  They may subscribe to a vendor like Freegal Music that allows you to download MP3s for free (to keep).  They also may have piano and guitar books of wedding music for a musician!

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5. Inspirational Movies
And for those nights when you just need to chill and laugh, they may have DVDs like Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridesmaids, or My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  In my mind, these are essential wedding planning supplies…

Happy planning!

*If your library uses the Dewey Decimal System, of course!

 

LONE SURVIVOR: THE EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT OF OPERATION REDWING AND THE LOST HEROES OF SEAL TEAM 10 by Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson

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In 2005, Marcus Luttrell and three other members of SEAL Team 10 began tracking a Taliban leader in the mountains of Afghanistan, a mission called Operation Redwing.  But when several Afghan goat herders stumbled upon the SEALs, Marcus and his teammates made a decision that would cost them their lives.  Unsure of whether the goat herders had allegiance to the Taliban, and unwilling to execute them for fear of being prosecuted for war crimes upon their return to the States, the SEALs released them.  The goat herders immediately reported the SEALs to the Taliban, who had them surrounded within hours.  In the bloodbath that followed, Marcus’ three teammates on the ground—as well as every SEAL in the rescue copter that came to help them—were killed.  Marcus survived (barely) and struggled to evade the Taliban warriors who were tracking him through the wilderness, hoping for a rescue he wasn’t sure would ever come.  But ironically given the source of the SEALs’ betrayal, Marcus’ salvation would also come in the form of Afghan goat herders.

Lone Survivor is part biography, part military history, and part survival narrative.  As far as the writing/storytelling goes, it took me a really long time to get into the book.  The first half was a bit scattered and confusing as it jumped back and forth in time and in and out of story and political commentary; it took me a really long time to get into it, and I almost gave up.  But about halfway through, beginning with Luttrell’s description of SEAL BUD/S training, the narrative got more straightforward, and it became very engaging.  The account of the battle is gruesome, horrifying, and heartbreaking.  I have not seen the movie yet, but my brother, who is in the Navy, has this to say, “The movie was better, even though I know the book was more accurate.  The movie was more believable, because it was simplified, and when you hear everything those SEALs went through it is so crazy it’s hard to believe.”  He also says the storytelling in the movie flows better, which does not surprise me now that I have read the book.  I do hope to see the film someday, but it will have to be at a time when it doesn’t matter if I have a few sleepless nights.  A horrifying and thought-provoking account of the reality of war, and a heartfelt tribute to the friends Marcus lost.

OVERDRESSED: THE SHOCKINGLY HIGH COST OF CHEAP FASHION by Elizabeth L. Cline

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Have you noticed a change in American clothing stores?  I didn’t until I read this book by Elizabeth Cline.  In the past several decades, clothing in mainstream “department” stores has gotten cheaper and more uniform.  But to drive down costs, manufacturers also sacrifice quality, creating a sustainability nightmare and a culture of overstuffed, homogeneous wardrobes.  Overdressed traces the history of clothing and shopping habits in America and predicts where our bargain-driven clothing culture will ultimately lead.

This book was interesting, but didn’t keep me engaged the whole way through.  I think a more concise article on the topic would have better fit my attention span.  But if you are really interested in clothing and social history, it is definitely an intriguing topic.

BRAIN ON FIRE: MY MONTH OF MADNESS by Susannah Cahalan

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Susannah Cahalan’s illness came out of nowhere.  One day she was living a perfectly normal life as a New York Post journalist; weeks later she was strapped to a hospital bed, experiencing seizures, paranoid hallucinations, and catatonia.   The doctors were ready to send her to a psychiatric ward, but her family insisted that there must be a medical cause.  Something was wrong with Susannah, and it wasn’t mental illness.  After a month of tests, procedures, and turmoil, doctors finally found a diagnosis just in time to save Susannah’s life.  Although Susannah has nearly no memories of her “month of madness,” she has reconstructed her path through illness and recovery based on family recollections, journals, and hospital records.  Her memoir is intense and fascinating, forcing readers to reexamine their perception of mental illness and reminding us how little we know about the remarkable human brain.  I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in memoirs or medicine!