Fun with facts: nonfiction for the summer

Here in the library, it seems as though nonfiction titles are easily overlooked in favor of the latest fiction releases. Many of us fear the dry and dreary tomes of our earlier years, but you might be pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable a nonfiction book can be. As a fan of the more factual reads, I have compiled a short list of entertaining and provocative newer nonfiction titles that will lead you gently into the fold. 

The Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase” by Mark Forsyth

As a high school student, I took Latin with a teacher who had quite a fondness for literary devices. I knew the names, but never quite understood the actual forms. Finally, that has changed! Forsyth has a wit and humor that makes his book keep your attention unexpectedly well. Many of you might not have read every poem, play or novel that he refers to, but most are familiar enough to be effective. Think alliteration is as good as it gets? Try zeugma or litotes!

The Wilderness of Ruin: a Tale of Madness, Fire, and the Hunt for America’s Youngest Serial Killer” by Roseanne Montillo 

Sentenced in the 1870s to execution, later commuted to life imprisonment, the 14-year-old Jesse Pomeroy would nowadays be labeled a psychopath. But at the time, the boy was considered only an aberration for his torture, and later, murder of multiple younger children. This book weaves together multiple areas of interest in late-19th-century Boston, examining the changing ideas of mental illness and violence, along with the historical context which properly frames the narrative. The author’s description of Pomeroy walks along the line between sympathy and condemnation as we can see not only his mistreatment by the justice system but also his true lack of conscience and remorse.

God’ll Cut You Down: The Tangled Tale of A White Supremacist, A Black Hustler, A Murder, and How I Lost A Year in Mississippi” by John Safran

I’ll admit that I picked up this book because I thought the author was Jonathan Safran Foer, but I was not at all disappointed. Safran is an Australian comic and documentarist, who investigates the death of an American white supremacist whom he’d met some time before. He brings an outsider’s view to small-town Mississippi culture and race relations as he tries to puzzle out the motivations and intrigue surrounding the convicted murderer, a young black man living nearby. 

Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in all its Moods” by Michael Wex

Sometimes we just want to complain, don’t we? And often enough, we kvetch, complaining without any desire for someone to alleviate our suffering. Wex describes the creep of Yiddish phrases and humor into modern American slang, from schmear to schlep. There’s an extremely enjoyable section of the origins and techniques of the Yiddish curse, as well, wherein the less is said, the worse is meant. 

There Was and There Was Not: a Journey Through Hate and Possibility in Turkey, Armenia, and Beyond” by Meline Toumanian

This year is the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, and, as Toumanian believes, there is no simple response to either side of the debate. Her book is an awfully telling story of the effects that our upbringing and experiences have on our reality. The trials of both staying true to her beliefs but also keeping an open mind to the conflicting beliefs of others, especially while she is living abroad, are issues we can all sympathize with. This book does not present a solution to current problems in Armenian-Turkish relations, but brings light to some often-forgotten problems that keep dialogues from advancing.

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