Non-Fiction Reviews


The Story of Charlotte's Web: E. B. White's Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780802778161
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Published: Walker & Company - May 22nd, 2012

While composing what would become his most enduring and popular book, E. B. White obeyed that oft-repeated maxim: "Write what you know." Helpless pigs, silly geese, clever spiders, greedy rats-White knew all of these characters in the barns and stables where he spent his favorite hours as a child and adult.

MARRIAGE RULES by Harriet Lerner (Publication date January 2012)

Whether you’re married or in a committed partnership, MARRIAGE RULES by nationally renowned psychologist and Lawrence resident Harriet Lerner is an invaluable guide to helping you over the rough patches. We all know that negotiating the intricacies of a relationship takes humor and wisdom, both of which readers will find plenty of in this easy-to-read book. It’s a gem! Recommended by Kelly.
Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up Cover Image
ISBN: 9781592407453
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Published: Avery Publishing Group - December 31st, 2012

Coupling up is complicated--Dr. Harriet Lerner's marriage rules are not.

This marriage book provides couple's therapy in a unique format perfect for today's world. The renowned author of The Dance of Anger gives readers more than one hundred rules that cover all the hot spots in long-term relationships.

JOURNEY OF THE UNIVERSE by Brian Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker

This book answers the need of those for whom traditional Christianity alone is no longer adequate to encompass their sense of the cosmos and the meaning of the human within in. In lucid prose, the authors help readers locate themselves within the larger family of things throughout "deep" geologic time. They tell a big, sacred story for those who find themselves without one. Recommended by Kelly
Journey of the Universe Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780300171907
Availability: Backordered
Published: Yale University Press - June 28th, 2011

Today we know what no previous generation knew: the history of the universe and of the unfolding of life on Earth. Through the astonishing combined achievements of natural scientists worldwide, we now have a detailed account of how galaxies and stars, planets and living organisms, human beings and human consciousness came to be. And yet . . .


Professor emeritus of religion at the University of Kansas, Minor has written a sane, soothing guide for people confused by the occasionally frantic press of the destructive ideas and abuse of the ultra religious around them. Just as people must learn how to negotiate family members with any kind of addiction, those with friends and family for whom religion functions as a very real addiction will find great advice and solace in this thin book. Recommended by Kelly.
When Religion Is an Addiction Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780970958129
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Published: Humanity Works - August 1st, 2007

Eye-opening and hard-hitting, Dr. Minor puts the political activities of the right-wing in a new perspective and explains how liberal responses can enable religious addiction. He applies contemporary understandings of addiction to the extreme Christian right-wing in the U.S., concluding that religion functions as a process addiction for them.

INSECTOPEDIA by Hugh Raffles

This isn’t dry science. In a series of essays, Raffles sheds light on the intricate wonders and, occasionally, horrors of our smaller comrades’ lives. An anthropologist by trade, he takes his own intense interest and folds it into an exploration of the intersection of worlds. A fascinating read. Recommended by Kelly.
Insectopedia Cover Image
ISBN: 9781400096961
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Published: Vintage - March 22nd, 2011

A New York Times Notable Book

A stunningly original exploration of the ties that bind us to the beautiful, ancient, astoundingly accomplished, largely unknown, and unfathomably different species with whom we share the world.


Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s short memoir The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is remarkable. Confined to her bed by a long-undiagnosed illness, she finds she has energy for little but observing a woodland snail a friend brings her in a pot of wild violets.
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781565126060
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill - August 24th, 2010

In a work that beautifully demonstrates the rewards of closely observing nature, Elisabeth Bailey shares an inspiring and intimate story of her uncommon encounter with a Neohelix albolabris--a common woodland snail.


THE MENDACITY OF HOPE by Roger D. Hodge with a sub title of "Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism" confirms the disappointment many of us have experienced for the last two years.
The Mendacity of Hope: Presidential Power, Corporate Money, and the Politics of Corrupt Influence Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780062011275
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Published: Harper Perennial - October 4th, 2011

The Mendacity of Hope should help wake up all those Obama-voters who've been napping while the wars escalate, the recession deepens, and the environment goes straight to hell.” —Barbara Ehrenreich


Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World Cover Image
ISBN: 9780446407427
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Published: Grand Central Publishing - October 7th, 2010

How much of an impact can an animal have? How many lives can one cat touch? How is it possible for an abandoned kitten to transform a small library, save a classic American town, and eventually become famous around the world? You can't even begin to answer those questions until you hear the charming story of Dewey Readmore Books, the beloved library cat of Spencer, Iowa.

Pat’s Favorite Books of 2010

A list of my ten favorite books from the past year, pretty much in order of preference within the two categories: Fiction and Non-Fiction. The only common threads in these picks are that very few have American settings and fewer still are sweet or funny, however, not all are dark and dour either.


Hilary Mantel’s WOLF HALL is subtle, insightful, fascinating. She has completely integrated the historical details into a living portrait of a man, Thomas Cromwell and his development in a very difficult time and place, Henry VIII’s court between 1500 and 1535. Way more than a “historical novel” it’s a study of religious fanaticism, power politics and human compassion. The book won both the Man Booker Award and the National Book Award.

Pearl S. Buck’s THE GOOD EARTH is a classic that I re-read early in the year. And I am still thinking about it almost a year later. The complete arc of a man’s life set in the very violent and devastating era of China in the first quarter of the 20th century. Buck dared to write a colorful, detailed and realistic setting, but it is the character of Wang Lung that really makes this book stay alive.

SCHOOL FOR LOVE by Olivia Manning is a small, quiet, dry and fascinating novel. Manning is too little known probably because she’s such a quiet writer, but nothing I read all year created a sense of place and a sense of loneliness quite like this story of an orphaned teenage boy marooned in Jerusalem right before the end of World War II, at the mercy of a hypocritical and domineering “aunt”.

Jhumpa Lahiri is a super talented writer, especially of short stories. Her first book of stories INTERPRETER OF MALADIES won the Pulitzer Prize, and I loved that one. Her second book of stories, UNACCUSTOMED EARTH, is the one I read this year. It is brilliant. I know lots of people don’t like short stories, but try Lahiri, because these stories allow you to enter a complete world just like a good novel does, and she develops many faceted characters and plot just like a novel too, only with graceful brevity.

Julie Orringer’s first novel THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE is a big, sweeping novel set in Paris in the 1930s then in Hungary during WWII. Her characters are a family of Jewish Hungarians with three smart, talented sons, one of whom is an architecture student on scholarship in Paris. Throughout the first half of the book, the dread of what you know will probably happen to these fascinating characters creates a tension in the reader, and when the violence begins to touch their lives you cannot put this book down. She explores characters, families, and a little known twist on the German government’s inhumane treatment of occupied peoples.

THE CELLIST OF SARAJEVO by Steven Galloway will make you think about the Balkan War of the early 1990s in a different way. The story of four citizens caught in the death trap of the city over a period of two weeks brings the time and place to life. The outrageous behavior of the Serbs bombing and killing citizens of Sarajevo, trying to kill as many Croatians and Bosnians as possible for over two years, without a single international agency or other country stopping the siege is heartbreaking.


WAIT TIL NEXT YEAR by Doris Kearns Goodwin is about as American as baseball, which is a major part of this fine memoir. I put off reading this book because I was afraid it would be too sentimental. But much to my delight, she has written a very unglamorous account of her growing up right outside of New York City in the 1940s up to the mid 50s. Baseball, especially the Brooklyn Dodgers, were a passion for her and her father and mother. Indeed, up and down the streets of this close-knit community were baseball fans, rooting for the Yankees or the New York Giants or for the Dodgers. The illness of her mother, the role of race both in baseball and her community, and the struggle for equal opportunity by some of the girls she knew add depth to this lovely recounting of her growing up.

MOUNTAINS BEYOND MOUNTAINS by Tracy Kidder introduces the reader to Dr. Paul Farmer and his medical mission in Haiti, but it is way more than a biography of do-gooder. Farmer is a force of nature who since 1980s has pioneered medical outreach to rural Haitians and at the same time trained Haitians to do the medical work themselves. Even before the earthquake of 2009, Haiti had few roads, little clean water, desiccated lands because American interventions to dam up rivers, corrupt government aided and abetted by foreign powers. Farmer’s Partners in Health has set itself a huge, unending task. But as if that weren’t enough, Farmer has introduced new protocols for treating tuberculosis throughout the world that the UN’s World Health Organization resisted but finally accepted because it saved so many more lives. Kidder’s writing is clear and detailed, personal and affectionate, but also frustrated and impatient. He strikes a fine balance in introducing you to Farmer’s almost saint-like efforts and the help and frustration of those around him.

A.J. Liebling’s THE ROAD BACK TO PARIS is a volume of the journalist’s work that is now out of print. Other volumes of his New Yorker pieces are available however, and I highly recommend any of them. Every piece he wrote for the New Yorker is full of life, odd and telling details, compassion and sometimes righteous anger at the corruption of people, even the ones on “our side”. He loved boxing, food, France and the men who fought Second World War for the Allies, sometimes mixing up all his passions in one essay. Few journalist write pieces like these any more.

THE BROTHER GARDENERS by Andrea Wulf recounts the way in which the avid gardeners and naturalists of Europe (especially England) in the 1700s changed the course of gardening. By traveling around the globe some naturalist like Joseph Banks brought back species from all over the world and the plants and trees growing today in Kew Garden show you much of what he did. But a man named Collinson and others in England cultivated species of plants and trees mostly provided to them by the intrepid American collector John Bartram, who sent seeds and roots across the ocean many times a year for over 40 years. The cultivation of these specimens and incorporation into cultivated gardens changed what we grow in our own gardens today. It’s a fascinating story and gives new meaning to the concept of “invasive species”.


The world isn’t short on apocalyptic books right now, but Christopher Steiner’s $20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better has a happy ending. He predicts that as oil prices rise, we will all live healthier, more fulfilling lives with far less ballast. Though admittedly, Steiner knows he can’t predict all changes with certainty, the Forbes magazine writer and former civil engineer has a following of economists and historians who say his predictions definitely aren’t the stuff of science fiction. (Paperback, $15.99) Recommended by Kelly
$20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780446549554
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Published: Grand Central Publishing - July 1st, 2010

Imagine an everyday world in which the price of gasoline (and oil) continues to go up, and up, and up. Think about the immediate impact that would have on our lives.