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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Truth as fascinating as fiction

by Beth Cronk, Litchfield head librarian

What is popular around the country for nonfiction books these days?  In my last column, I told you that cookbooks are the most popular kind of nonfiction to check out in libraries.  But when you look at the New York Times bestseller lists, popular nonfiction includes all different sorts of books.  For the week of July 6, the NYT list of print and e-book nonfiction bestsellers isn’t even limited to new releases.  We have many of these popular books at our library.

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s new book is at the top of the list.  Hard Choices is a memoir of Hillary’s years as Secretary of State.  She describes her meetings with world leaders and details her involvements in international affairs.  Reviewers say that there are no secrets revealed here; it’s very carefully written to serve as a potential pre-campaign autobiography, explaining her views on policy and her differences from President Obama.  Very little is personal, so it’s most likely to appeal to people interested in U.S. foreign policy.  Litchfield Library owns a copy, as do a few other libraries in the system.

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison is next on the list in nonfiction.  This book is also a memoir.  It tells the story of Piper Kerman, a young woman who had everything going for her when she was convicted of drug trafficking and money laundering ten years after delivering a suitcase of drug money for a girlfriend.  The memoir tells a fish-out-of-water story of an educated, refined woman with a great support system of family and friends, learning to navigate the unwritten rules of prison.  She also tells moving stories of female friendship in difficult circumstances.  The Netflix series of the same name is based on this book.  We have both the book and season one of the TV series at Litchfield.

The number three book on the combined print and e-book sales is Me by Katharine Hepburn.  This is a peculiar one, since the book came out in 1991.  I’m guessing that people are buying it because it’s inexpensive as an e-book, since there doesn’t seem to be a particular reason for renewed interest in Katharine Hepburn at the moment.  If you want to read this autobiography, you don’t even have to spend the $1.99 it costs as an e-book.  You can borrow a print copy for free.  We don’t own a copy at Litchfield, but Grove City Library does, as do many other libraries in Pioneerland. 

We do have The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown, number four on the list.  This is the true story of a group of working-class young men from the University of Washington who won gold in rowing over the elite teams of the world.  This is one of those nonfiction books that reads like a novel, with suspense and emotion.

Another book that fits that description (and even includes the same Olympic games) is the fifth book on the bestseller list, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Lauren Hillenbrand.  We read this book in the library’s adult book club, and I thought it was exciting and inspiring.  This is the true story of Louis Zamperini, a famous Olympic distance runner whose B-24 crashed into the Pacific on a mission to rescue another crew during World War II.  His survival story is riveting.  He is still alive today.  Angelina Jolie and the Coen brothers’ movie adaptation of the book is coming out this Christmas. 


Truth can be as interesting as fiction.  And libraries offer more than novels.  Whether you like biographies, history, books on health, or self-help, we’ve got many interesting choices available.