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Friday, July 31, 2015

Truth as interesting as fiction

by Beth Cronk, Litchfield head librarian

While novels are always popular, many people like a fascinating true story.  Some nonfiction books can be read cover to cover just like a novel.  They could be true crime, memoir, history, or a host of other things.  Following are a few of our new books that you could lose yourself in this summer.

The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal by David E. Hoffman tells the story of a Soviet engineer who handed over technological secrets to the U.S. in the late ‘70s.  Adolf Tolkachev was considered one of the most valuable spies to work for the U.S.  The Washington Post calls the book “one of the best spy stories to come out of the Cold War and all the more riveting…for being true.”

Smokejumper: A Memoir by One of America’s Most Select Airborne Firefighters by Jason A. Ramos and Julian Smith gives a glimpse into the work of wilderness firefighters who parachute into fire zones.  Ramos is an active-duty jumper with 26 years of experience.  He tells the history of smokejumping, explains why it needs to be done, and shares his personal adventures on the job.

Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat? True Stories and Confessions is a collection of humorous essays by novelist Lisa Scottoline and her daughter Francesca Serritella.  The stories and reflections are all very short, so you don’t have to have a long stretch of time to get into this book.  Scottoline and Serritella have written several books like these, which have been compared to Erma Bombeck’s work (though not as good).

Primates of Park Avenue: A Memoir by Wednesday Martin is an outsider’s perspective on upper class mothers in New York City.  Martin is a writer and social researcher with a background in anthropology. She struggled to fit in with the women in her new neighborhood and turned to primatology to make sense of the hierarchy and behavior.  The book has funny observations on how humans are like baboons in establishing dominance, engaging in display rituals, and mating.  It also has some surprisingly touching reflections on motherhood and female friendship. 

If you’d like some armchair travel, Peaks on the Horizon: Two Journeys in Tibet by Charlie Carroll could fit the bill.  Carroll became obsessed with Tibet in grade school when he checked out Seven Years in Tibet from the library.  He got to visit as an adult on sabbatical from his teaching job, and on the border between China and Tibet he met Lobsang, a Tibetan exile who’d had to flee through the Himalayas at the age of five.  The book tells Lobsang’s story, as well as Carroll’s story of visiting the country.  Reviewers say it’s suspenseful and enlightening.

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck is also a travelogue, but a very different one.  Buck traveled the 2000-mile Oregon Trail in a covered wagon with a team of mules, along with his brother and his dog.  It took them four months to go from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Baker City, Oregon, contending with thunderstorms, runaway mules, vanished sections of the trail, the Rocky Mountains, and many broken wheels and axels.  Besides telling the story of their own journey, the book also tells the history of the trail and the 400,000 people who went west on it.  Being compared to Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods and sounding somewhat similar to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, this one has gotten fantastic reviews.


Truth can be stranger than fiction, and just as entertaining.  Consider adding some nonfiction to your summer reading list.