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Staff Picks Category: Non-fiction

God, a guide for the perplexed by Keith Ward []

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No perplexity required. A survey of beliefs about God, primarily in the West, beginning with ancient Greece. From the common folk to philosophers both famous and obscure. Sprinkled with wry humor and anecdotes. Recommended for history buffs, particularly those interested in the evolution of Christian beliefs.

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Being Mortal by Atul Gawande [, , ]

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As the title implies, this book is for everyone, everyone who is mortal. With the subject matter, one might expect a very depressing tome. Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and a staff writer for the New Yorker, is an amazing story-teller. In the end, there is hope for making the world, and the end of life, better. He frankly addresses the failings of a medical system that tries to fix everything, when that might not be the right choice. He takes us through the very personal lives, and deaths, of many people, including the very personal story of his own father, as well as sharing his research into how we got where we are. Yes, it is good to live in a world that no longer has poor houses, but in some cases, we haven’t done much better.

Reading this book will hopefully encourage you to start the difficult but important conversations with your relatives and loved ones. Do you want to spend the end of your life living with parakeets? Will you be happy if you can eat chocolate ice cream and watch football?

[This was also very good on audio, but might make you cry a little while you are driving…]

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The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson []

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Bill Bryson is at his sincerely sardonic best as he roams his adopted country in search of what he loves best: quaint villages, good hiking, exquisite views, mysterious ancient sites, and odd people to make fun of–including himself. It’s just as unputdownable as all his other travel memoirs.

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The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner []

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Eric Weiner is a grump with a mission — trying to discover the happiest places in the world, and what makes them that way. From the World Database of Happiness in Rotterdam, Netherlands, to the Gross National Happiness of Bhutan, from binge drinking and happiness in Iceland to binge drinking and unhappiness in Moldova, Weiner travels the world and discovers some of what makes different people happy, and the many paths one can take to get there.

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A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant; illustrated by Melissa Sweet []

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Horace couldn’t stop drawing. He drew all the time and said, “Pictures just come to my mind…and I tell my heart to go ahead”. Horace never stopped making pictures. Not while working hard every day to provide for his family and not even when he was in the trenches in France during WWI. Of the war, Horace said, it “brought out all the art in me”. He painted war scenes, bible scenes, and what he saw of everyday life. This is an engaging picture book that will introduce children to a great American artist.

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Stuffology 101 by Brenda Avadian, MA, and Eric Riddle []

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I was going to have a photo taken of me reading this in front of a pile of boxes we haven’t unpacked since the last move, but I couldn’t find the camera.
Stuffology is a refreshing contrast to The life-changing magic of tidying up even though it promises similar benefits to getting rid of excess stuff. They’re serious about their subject but light-hearted in their approach. Get rid of the accumulated objects that are weighing your life down and you’ll be better able to focus, function and live fully in the present. Plus they coined the acronyms CHAOS (Can’t Have Anybody Over Syndrome) and POOP (Piles Of Overwhelming Paperwork).

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When I Knew by Robert Trachtenberg []

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These stories of queer moments, crushes, fantasies, and coming out will make you smile, cringe, and maybe even tear up. Trachtenberg arranges the stories to oscillate between the quippy and the emotionally charged and highlights something amusing from each story with a provocative illustration. Although I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I would have loved seeing a broader representation of queerness and more stories from POC. Check out more of our LGBT Teen staff picks!

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Don’t Explain: A Song of Billie Holiday by Alexis De Veaux []

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This book is written as a prose poem that the tells the story of American jazz singer, Billie Holiday’s life. De Veaux writes,

“It was 1935.

American was in between wars.

Harlem was between jobs and riots.

Billie was between 20 and stardom.”

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Chuck Close: Face Book by Chuck Close []

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Chuck Close created this beautiful autobiography complete with pages of mix and match self-portraits and a glossary of art terms. Close realized his love of art when he was very young. As a result of severe dyslexia, Close was labeled “dumb” and he also had a neuromuscular condition which prevented him from being physically active. The talented Close admits dedication to art saved his life. In this book Close talks about his process for creating his massive paintings and prints. To young artists Close says, “ease is the enemy of the artist. Go ahead and get yourself into trouble”

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Show Me the Magic by Paul Mazursky []

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riter/director/producer/actor Paul Mazursky’s autobiography is an anecdotal collection of Hollywood tales, international adventures and reflections on growing up in Brooklyn. A real page turner, too! I ignored those around me and read this cover to cover in two evenings. Mazursky, who directed classics such as Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, Blume in Love, Tempest, Moscow on the Hudson and An Unmarried Woman, has plenty of interesting tales to share.

The author recalls showbiz run-ins with Stanley Kubrick (Mazursky’s first major acting role was in Kubrick’s Fear and Desire), Orson Welles, Peter Sellers, George Segal, John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands, Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood among others. What’s possibly the most fascinating is his relationship with Federico Fellini. It’s a touching friendship and their meeting is something of legend. In addition, Mazursky includes several letters from the great Italian film director in his book.

The title “Show Me the Magic” comes from one of the most exciting pieces of cinema history; a piece of dialog from Mazursky’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Forever imprinted in my mind is the scene where John Cassavetes conjures up a small miracle… in a film that plays it straight up until that point. An unpredictable moment on screen and perfectly fitting coming the mind of a man who lived an exciting and unpredictable life.

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The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America by Timothy Egan []

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What does a fire in the Bitterroots have to do with Teddy Roosevelt and the Forest Service? The Forest Service was started by Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the USFS, in 1905. However, many politicians wanted to sell off the forests to large corporations, and thought conservation was a horrible idea. That might sound familiar, but this was at the beginning of the 20th century. A huge fire in 1910 was the catalyst to prevent this new agency from being blown away. Interesting look at the politics of the time, and an adrenaline-inducing account of the front lines of the fire. This book is a coming-of-age story for the United States Forest Service.

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The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila []

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The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making, written by Great Barrington’s Alana Chernila is a practical guide to becoming more self sufficient in the kitchen. The book is cleverly organized by aisle and features staples that many people buy at the grocery store including pasta sauce, jelly, granola bars, and even a homemade version of the beloved Pop-Tart. Every recipe is accompanied by a personal story so if you don’t have a lot of time for cooking you can still enjoy some light reading.

I recently tried the recipe for whole wheat sandwich bread. Bread is one of those things I always really want to make for myself but usually the product is blatantly inferior to the local bakery or even the grocery store version. The instructions had the bread slowly rise in the fridge for up to three days so after nervously waiting, I finally baked my bread yesterday and was delighted to find that it was a success!
If you just can’t get enough of Alana, she also has a blog, Eating From the Ground Up.

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