Literary Nonfiction

The Facemaker: A Visionary Surgeon's Battle to Mend the Disfigured Soldiers of World War I book cover

The Facemaker: A Visionary Surgeon's Battle to Mend the Disfigured Soldiers of World War I

Lindsey Fitzharris

OverDrive Audiobook
Literary Nonfiction, History, Biographies

From the moment the first machine gun rang out over the Western Front, one thing was clear: mankind's military technology had wildly surpassed its medical capabilities. Bodies were battered, gouged, hacked, and gassed. The First World War claimed millions of lives and left millions more wounded and disfigured. In the midst of this brutality, however, there were also those who strove to alleviate suffering. The Facemaker tells the extraordinary story of such an individual: the pioneering plastic surgeon Harold Gillies, who dedicated himself to reconstructing the burned and broken faces of the injured soldiers under his care. Gillies, a Cambridge-educated New Zealander, became interested in the nascent field of plastic surgery after encountering the human wreckage on the front. Returning to Britain, he established one of the world's first hospitals dedicated entirely to facial reconstruction. There, Gillies assembled a unique group of practitioners whose task was to rebuild what had been torn apart, to re-create what had been destroyed. At a time when losing a limb made a soldier a hero, but losing a face made him a monster to a society largely intolerant of disfigurement, Gillies restored not just the faces of the wounded but also their spirits. .

Anne M's picture

This book is devastating and hopeful at the same time. It is a story that starts out harrowing, but after hard work and ingenuity by a few individuals, things change for the better. The Facemaker, a history of World War I facial reconstruction, sets the scene: how World War I was fought in new and horrific ways. It was industrial. There were a lot of advancements in weapons of war. (And of course, for what?) Lindsey Fitzharris describes this moment in time very well. Then there are the people put in the trenches and at sea and in the air, not to mention the civilians, facing this new weaponry. Fitzharris makes these stories personal and individual, the pain experienced both inside and out. She picks a number of individuals that came home with significant facial injuries and how they viewed their lives as over. Enter Harold Gillies, an ears, nose, and throat doctor, who is about to become the leading expert in facial reconstruction. If you love compelling histories of war or medicine, I recommend this book. As an aside, the audio version was excellently narrated. -Anne M

Hell's half-acre : the untold story of the Benders, a serial killer family on the American frontier book cover

Hell's half-acre : the untold story of the Benders, a serial killer family on the American frontier

Susan Jonusas

364.1523 /Jonusas
Nonfiction, True Crime, History, Literary Nonfiction

"In 1873 the people of Labette County in Kansas made a grisly discovery. Buried on a homestead seven miles south of the town of Cherryvale, in a bloodied cellar and under frost-covered soil, were countless bodies in varying states of decay. The discovery sent the local community and national newspapers into a frenzy that continued for over two decades, and the land on which the crimes took place became known as 'Hells Half-Acre.' When it emerged that a family of four known as the Benders had been accused of the slayings, the case was catapulted to infamy."

Candice's picture

Sometimes, when summer comes, you just want a good, historical true crime book to get lost in. This book does the trick. The author does a good job of telling the eerie story of the Benders and their crimes, while giving context through the descriptions of burgeoning frontier towns, the hardworking people who populated them, the political schemes of the day, and the lawlessness that pervaded an environment that was created by taking the land from one people and giving it to another. A great mix of crime and solid history. -Candice

Plunder : a memoir of family property and Nazi treasure book cover

Plunder : a memoir of family property and Nazi treasure

Menachem Kaiser

940.5318 /Kaiser
Nonfiction, Literary Nonfiction, History, Religion, Political

When Kaiser takes up his Holocaust-survivor grandfather's former battle to reclaim the family's apartment building in Sosnowiec, Poland, he finds himself on a circuitous path to encounters with the long-time residents of the building, and with a Polish lawyer known as "The Killer." A surprise discovery-- that his grandfather's cousin not only survived the war, but wrote a secret memoir while a slave laborer in a vast, secret Nazi tunnel complex-- leads to Kaiser being adopted as a virtual celebrity by a band of Silesian treasure seekers who revere the memoir as the indispensable guidebook to Nazi plunder. Here Kaiser questions: What does it mean to seize your own legacy? Can reclaimed property repair rifts among the living? -- adapted from jacket

Candice's picture

First, this book is beautifully written. Menachem Kaiser's grasp of language to tell a story, illustrate situations, and convey thoughts and emotions is so fluid and engaging. Second, this book is important in many ways, but also very interesting--a real nonfiction win-win. It's a slightly winding story, starting out with particular goals and desired outcomes, but as so often happens when researching and interacting history, the modern world and reality intervene, and make things a lot harder to get hold of and follow. Menachem goes where the story leads him, and the results are so strange, interesting, and profound that you couldn't have imagined some of it. This story is also full of love and learning and respect--for self, for others, for history, and for the stories that survive. -Candice

Sea state : a memoir book cover

Sea state : a memoir

Tabitha Lasley

BIOGRAPHY Lasley, Tabitha
Literary Nonfiction, Nonfiction, Memoir, Adventure

"A stunning and brutally honest memoir that shines a light on what happens when female desire conflicts with a culture of masculinity in crisis In her midthirties and newly free from a terrible relationship, Tabitha Lasley quit her job at a London magazine, packed her bags, and poured her savings into a six-month lease on an apartment in Aberdeen, Scotland. She decided to make good on a long-deferred idea for a book about oil rigs and the men who work on them. Why oil rigs? She wanted to see what men were like with no women around. In Aberdeen, Tabitha became deeply entrenched in the world of roughnecks, a teeming subculture rich with brawls, hard labor, competition, and the deepest friendships imaginable. The longer she stayed, the more she found her presence had a destabilizing effect on the men--and her. Sea State is on the one hand a portrait of an overlooked industry: "offshore" is a way of life for generations of primarily working-class men and also a potent metaphor for those parts of life we keep at bay--class, masculinity, the transactions of desire, and the awful slipperiness of a ladder that could, if we tried hard enough, lead us to security. Sea State is on the other hand the story of a journalist whose professional distance from her subject becomes perilously thin. In Aberdeen, Tabitha gets high and dances with abandon, reliving her youth, when the music was good and the boys were bad. Twenty years on, there is Caden: a married rig worker who spends three weeks on and three weeks off. Alone and in an increasingly precarious state, Tabitha dives into their growing attraction. The relationship, reckless and explosive, will lay them both bare"--

Melody's picture

This book is in my selection area, and I found my interest piqued each time I came across a review for it. It's one of those "under the radar" reads--worthy of "best of" rankings but not explosively viral like Educated or Atomic Habits. The author's narrative writing style allows a reader to (sea) breeze through the book. Read it if you're in the mood for a true story about living a life in search of something more. -Melody

Smalltime : a story of my family and the mob book cover

Smalltime : a story of my family and the mob

Russell Shorto

364.1092 /Shorto
Nonfiction, Literary Nonfiction, True Crime, Biographies

"Family secrets emerge as a best-selling author dives into the history of the mob in small-town America. Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a city "in its brawny postwar prime," is where "Little Joe" Regino and Russ Shorto build a local gambling empire on the earnings of factory workers for whom placing a bet--on a horse or pool game, pinball or "tip seal"--is their best shot at the American dream. Decades later, Russell Shorto grew up knowing that his grandfather was a small-town mobster, but never thought to write about him, in keeping with an unspoken family vow of silence. Then a distant cousin prodded him: You gotta write about it. Smalltime, the story of Shorto's search for his namesake, delves into the world of the small-town mob, an intricate web that spanned midcentury America, stitching together cities from Yonkers to Fresno. A riveting immigrant story, Smalltime is also deeply personal, as the author's ailing father, Tony, becomes his partner in piecing together their patriarch's troubled past. Moving, wryly funny, and richly detailed, Smalltime is an irresistible memoir by a masterful writer of historical narrative"--

Anne M's picture

Shorto takes a deep dive into his own family history, uncovering its origins in Sicily, why Pennsylvania attracted his own great-grandfather to sail across the Atlantic, and why the mob? He unearths family secret after family secret and paints a picture of an American experience. -Anne M

Brown girl dreaming book cover

Brown girl dreaming

Jacqueline Woodson

jBIOGRAPHY Woodson, Jacqueline
Black Lives Matter, Read Woke, Biographies, Poetry, Literary Nonfiction, Memoir

"The author shares her childhood memories and reveals the first sparks that ignited her writing career in free-verse poems about growing up in the North and South"--

Casey's picture

Pick this one up, especially now, even if you've read it before. Woodson's story resonates with quiet truth, resiliency, and hope. -Casey

Between the world and me book cover

Between the world and me

Ta-Nehisi Coates

eBOOK
Nonfiction, Literary Nonfiction, History, Memoir, Black Lives Matter, Black History

"For Ta-Nehisi Coates, history has always been personal. At every stage of his life, he's sought in his explorations of history answers to the mysteries that surrounded him -- most urgently, why he, and other black people he knew, seemed to live in fear. What were they afraid of? In Tremble for My Country, Coates takes readers along on his journey through America's history of race and its contemporary resonances through a series of awakenings -- moments when he discovered some new truth about our long, tangled history of race, whether through his myth-busting professors at Howard University, a trip to a Civil War battlefield with a rogue historian, a journey to Chicago's South Side to visit aging survivors of 20th century America's 'long war on black people,' or a visit with the mother of a beloved friend who was shot down by the police. In his trademark style -- a mix of lyrical personal narrative, reimagined history, essayistic argument, and reportage -- Coates provides readers a thrillingly illuminating new framework for understanding race: its history, our contemporary dilemma, and where we go from here"--

Melody's picture

Added by Melody

How we fight for our lives : a memoir book cover

How we fight for our lives : a memoir

Saeed Jones

eBOOK
Memoir, LGBTQ+, Literary Nonfiction, Nonfiction

"Written from the crossroads of sex, race, and power in America, How We Fight for Our Lives is a stunning coming-of-age memoir and a haunting reflection of the nation as a whole"--

Melody's picture

Added by Melody

In the dream house : a memoir book cover

In the dream house : a memoir

Carmen Maria Machado

eBOOK
Nonfiction, Memoir, LGBTQ+, Literary Nonfiction

The author's engrossing and wildly innovative account of a relationship gone bad, and a bold dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse. Tracing the full arc of a harrowing relationship with a charismatic but volatile woman, Machado struggles to make sense of how what happened to her shaped the person she was becoming.

Melody's picture

Iowa Writers Workshop graduate -Melody

Theft by finding : diaries 1977-2002 book cover

Theft by finding : diaries 1977-2002

David Sedaris

eAUDIO
Humor, Memoir, Literary Nonfiction, LGBTQ+

Shares the author's favorite diary entries, providing a look into the mind of a comic genius.

Heidi K's picture

Nobody really needs me to suggest David Sedaris. But having read all his other books which blend essay, humor, autobiography, and scathing social critique, I thought this compilation of writing pulled from his diaries would seem a little old hat - sort of a "for fans only" affair. Well, I am a fan, but Theft by Finding has passages so biting and original and weird that I gasped several times while listening to the eAudio on walks during quarantine. Trademark humor is still there, but there are also parts of Theft by Finding that grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and shook me. -Heidi K