Tag Archives: Adult Non-Fiction

Overdue: Reckoning with the Public Library

If you use the library- which you probably do, as you’re reading this post- please read this book. There is so much the general public doesn’t see or understand about the working of public libraries and Amanda Oliver lays it bare here.

Overdue: Reckoning with the Public Library, Amanda Oliver. Chicago Review Press, 2022, 210 pages

Part memoir, part expository nonfiction, Overdue: Reckoning with the Public Library illustrates just how much libraries do with what usually amounts to very little money and resources. The author begins by describing a key incident at the branch where she works, immediately clueing the reader in that this portrait will not align with the idealized version of the library the public still holds dear. She leaves much of library history to the first third of the book, even noting how Thomas Fountain Blue, born to formerly enslaved parents, led the first public library branch run entirely by a Black staff here in Louisville. Oliver deliberately acknowledges how exclusionary libraries have been and continue to be –to minorities, poor patrons, unhoused patrons and, those with disabilities, among others. She grapples with how to answer the question “so, what do you do?” when the answer is difficult to explain and how so many public libraries have become de facto homeless shelters. As a library worker, most of the information Oliver relays is not new to me. The value is more that she is arguably the first to gather all these (what for many will be) revelations together in one book accessible to the reading public.

The sort of people drawn to library work are those who give freely of themselves, which is great for the patrons, but for staff it quickly leads to major burnout. Amanda Oliver relates her experience with burnout, first as a school librarian and then as a children’s librarian at one of Washington D.C.’s most beleaguered library branches. She left library work for an MFA program after nearly a year at that branch. That MFA program, in a way, led to this book. And so while Oliver is no longer working in a library, she continues to advocate for libraries. I sent the author a message when I finished reading Overdue, where I told her I felt seen. She captures so well the mixed feelings library workers have about their profession–passion and love combined with stress and fatigue, along with everything in between.

Overdue: Reckoning with the Public Library by Amanda Oliver is available in print format as well as ebook and e-audiobook on both Libby and Hoopla.  

Review by Erin, Middletown

Five Sparks for Reading and Writing

I had reached a dead end reading long novels and bios about writers. I was going to take a break from reading, but browsed our shelves on a Friday afternoon hoping to find a new book that was fairly short and I found it right in the section that I shepherd: Biographies. It was new and by a poet that I never heard of. But the title drew me in, Studying with Miss Bishop by Dana Gioia with a picture of Elizabeth Bishop on the cover. I devoured it over the weekend. It was pure gold.

It contains 6 vignettes about his learning. Four were famous writers, one was a dead uncle, and the last was a long forgotten poet that he never met. Two of the writers were also his professors at Harvard – Bishop and Robert Fitzgerald, famous for his translations of the Iliad and Odyssey. It is like taking the juiciest parts of a full load of college classes.

The most famous writer he met was James Dickey, his book Deliverance and then the movie made him extremely well known. He had been a great poet up until his fame took over. Meeting Dickey should have been a great thing except Gioia met him at the wrong time. And he learns that telling the truth is sometimes the hardest decision to make and live up to.

The writer that I was least familiar with was John Cheever. Although, he don’t interest me, I went back and reread his daughter Susan’s bio on one of my favorite poets, E.E. Cummings: A Life.

Gioia is a poet also, and definitely a poet I wish to explore more.

So this also led me back to reading poetry. And I found my way back to one of my favorite poets who is a much overlooked poet, Jim Carroll. I decided to reread his memoirs, The Basketball Diaries, because the last line of the book, “I just want to be pure,” kept floating in my head repeatedly.

I read it about 30 years ago and loved it. At 58, I read it with much different eyes. I was more distanced to it because of mucho personal experience. In my 20’s, he sounded like a punk and smart aleck. Today, it sounds like the purest writing that I have ever read. No wasted words or pretense.

Carroll was 13 when the Diary begins and 16 at the end. In between he discovers drugs and sex, and a lot of both. He experiments with everything and becomes a heroin junkie. He is a star basketball player and good looking, and that is enough to get him through many struggles and into a lot of potential trouble.

There were probably many boring days in the life of a junkie but this doesn’t include any of them. Along the way, I went back and read a bit of The Catcher in the Rye (a must read). Teenage Carroll can be seen as the Vietnam Era’s version of the postwar Holden Caulfield, in proportion to the way America has progressed with the uglier things in life.

Also, I finally got around to reading a book on my TBR shelf, The Adding Machine by William S. Burroughs (who – among other things) taught Creative Writing at the Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado). It is a collection of essays roughly about the art of writing. Basically, what works for him, and what works or doesn’t work for other writers. Also, his thoughts on Hemingway, The Great Gatsby, and Jaws.

Jack Kerouac called Burroughs the smartest man in America. I believe this to be true. Kerouac was my first favorite writer and probably still is. It has been almost 30 years since I read some of his books, so onward to explore them as an old man.

– Reviewed by Tom, Main Library

Let’s Get Physical: How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World by Danielle Friedman

Let’s Get Physical: How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World
by Danielle Friedman
G.P Putnam and Sons (2022)
328 pages
Link to Let’s Get Physical in LFPL’s collection
Link to titles by Danielle Friedman in LFPL’s collection

In Let’s Get Physical: How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World, Danielle Friedman sets out to do something ambitious. Friedman chronicles the rise of women’s exercise in the 20th century, the pioneers and the programs that rose to prominence and became cultural obsessions, as well as the overall trend towards health and fitness. Friedman argues that women came to exercise for aesthetic rewards, the goal being to look good, but that women stuck with exercise because it made them feel good. 

Freidman begins her story in the 1950’s when the first calisthenics style exercises for women became popular. Bonnie Pruden was one of the first to become nationally known for encouraging women to “keep fit”. Her work on fitness for women and children would lead her to be on the team that later created the President’s Physical Fitness Test (yes, you have Bonnie to blame for that rope climb). After Bonnie, Freidman takes us through a tour of fitness trends from barre to jogging, yoga to Jane Fonda. This is the part that Freidman does well. We’re given lots of interesting facts and tidbits about the history of fitness. Before “athleisure” was an everyday word we had the women who invented the sports bra. (One of those women would go on to win several Emmy’s for her work costuming the Muppets on Sesame Street.) It’s fun to see how trends emerged and how fitness influencers like Jane Fonda reflect bigger societal and cultural patterns.

Friedman tries to explain that these fitness fads, and indeed all personal fitness, is largely aimed at middle class women who have the leisure time and money to devote to fitness essentials. However, other than asserting this fact time and time again Friedman doesn’t offer a lot of context or definitive proof. She does feature a few Black influencers and talks to them to uncover their struggles to “make it” in a world where no one looked like them. I would have liked to hear more from these women and other women who don’t fit the traditional mold of what an influencer typically looks like.  Freidman also states repeatedly that women often come to exercise for physical transformation, but stick with it because it transforms their mental.

– Review by Jenny, Middletown

Afternoon Book Discussions at Crescent Hill for March and April 2022

Wednesday, March 30, 2022 – 1:30 PM – 2:30 PM

Code Name Lise : The True Story of The Woman Who Became World War II’s Most Highly Decorated Spy, by Larry Loftis

The extraordinary true story of Odette Sansom, the British spy who operated in occupied France and fell in love with her commanding officer during World War II–perfect for fans of Unbroken, The Boys in the Boat, and Code Girls

Wednesday, April 27, 2022 – 1:30 PM – 2:30 PM

The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich

It is 1953. Thomas Wazhushk is the night watchman at the first factory to open near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota. He is also a prominent Chippewa Council member, trying to understand a new bill that is soon to be put before Congress. The US Government calls it an ’emancipation’ bill; but it isn’t about freedom – it threatens the rights of Native Americans to their land, their very identity. How can he fight this betrayal? Unlike most of the girls on the reservation, Pixie – ‘Patrice’ – Paranteau has no desire to wear herself down on a husband and kids. She works at the factory, earning barely enough to support her mother and brother, let alone her alcoholic father who sometimes returns home to bully her for money. But Patrice needs every penny to get if she’s ever going to get to Minnesota to find her missing sister Vera. In The Night Watchman multi-award winning author Louise Erdrich weaves together a story of past and future generations, of preservation and progress. She grapples with the worst and best impulses of human nature, illuminating the loves and lives, desires and ambitions of her characters with compassion, wit and intelligence.

Location: Crescent Hill Branch

Address: 2762 Frankfort Avenue, Louisville, KY 

Phone: 502-574-1793

Katherine’s Bookshelf – Tomorrow’s Homemaker

The bright red cover of Tomorrow's Homemaker, 1968. You're not ready.
The Homemaker… of TOMORROW. That’s you, by the way.

Welcome to Katherine’s bookshelf, and another deep dive into home economics. Steel yourself. Stuffed vegetables, casual sexism, and some very surprising surprises lurk within. It’s exactly what it looks like from the cover: a home economics textbook from 1960.

I’ve got more pictures from the inside of this one, because the production values are quite high, quite 1960s, and quite informative, actually. Let’s start at the beginning, the table of contents:

Table of contents for Tomorrow's Homemaker.
Absolutely not a joke. This is a real book, and was taught by a real school to real children.

This book gets bonus postmodern-ironic appreciation points for using the word “attractive” three times in the table of contents alone. The entirety of Unit I can be summarized as “any problems you have in life are because you haven’t tried to fit in with other people hard enough, and you better be able to deal with babies, because that’s your job, now and forever” – which is a sentiment that I find to be really messed up. Unit II continues the concentration on diet and health found in the Boston Cooking School Cook Book and ads some instruction for not giving everybody food poisoning, as well as some updated (1960) advice on a balanced diet: eat a vegetable or fruit once in a while. They’re good for you. Don’t be deceived by the title of Unit III, Part 4 – they mean your budget allotted to you for groceries, basically, although the home decorating advice is hilarious, and there are some neat tips about house cleaning. Then there’s Unit IV: Making Yourself Attractive, which certainly sounds – and is – awful and condescending. Yet… this is the most useful and relevant part of the book. I’m not even kidding. Parts 3 – 6 are actually indispensable for clothes shopping. As it happens, if you take care of and repair your things, you have to buy replacements less often, which means you can afford better quality things, and replace them even less often, resulting in a virtuous cycle of saving money in the long run. That’s why I definitely do darn my socks.

In this vein of pragmatism, and the ultimate point of home economics education, here’s a nifty Google Ngram that tracks the frequency of the phrase “home economics” against the names of a few vitamin deficiency diseases. (I didn’t include scurvy, because it was well-known and discussed in the age of sail, as well as a cure found – fruit – even if they didn’t know why it worked. If I’d kept scurvy in, it would have flooded the results, but there is a bump in the early 1900s, right as vitamins are discovered.) I did, however, include rickets, pellagra, and beriberi, and there is, indeed, a nice boost in frequency right at the same time. In large part, the purpose of home economics was to provide a formal education with the sophistication and authority of logic and science in how to be a housewife, in the hopes that this information – especially about nutrition – would improve public health.

A whole assortment of stuffed veggies in the truest mid-century fashion.
Every single vegetable. Stuffed. In 1960, advanced and “difficult” vegetable cookery = crammed full of cream cheese. Good to know.

Double stuffed squashes.

Recipes for what this book calls foreign cookery. Hilarity ensues.
Watch out! Any more chili powder than a whole half teaspoon might knock people’s socks right off!

One thing I really have taken away from my old cookbooks is that American palates have gotten MUCH more used to spicy foods, even in just the last forty years. Very interesting.

— Article by Katherine, Shawnee

Books That Will Build You Up!

If you want to start your morning on the right foot read, Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me and for You by Lin-Manuel Miranda. You won’t want to read this book in one setting. You are going to want this book on your bedside table, readily available to incorporate into your morning and night time routines.


The Comfort Book: Haig, Matt: 9780143136668: Amazon.com: Books

If you have anxiety or depression or just want a little extra comfort in your life, read The Comfort Book by Matt Haig. This book does not need to be read in order. This book is full of stand alone affirmations to lift you up. Haig includes a list of music that brings him comfort among essays and personal antidotes of his mental health journey.


It’s impossible not to smile while reading Little Moments of Love by Catana Chetwynd. Chetwynd has perfected a collection of comics about the sweet moments in relationships. If you want to read about the snuggly parts of romance than this book is for you. You might just want to find your coziest spot and settle in before you begin.


A young boy meets three friends in this short graphic novel, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy. In this quiet and thoughtful book the four friends traverse through the wilderness all the while sharing their hopes and disappointments. Hopefully when you finish this short story you will feel loved and encouraged and optimistic about the world.


Amazon.com: For Every One: 9781481486248: Reynolds, Jason: Books

When your dreams seem impossible and you are feeling tired and beaten down, pick up For Every One by Jason Reynolds. In this short poem, Reynolds will encourage you to continue on through all the adversary. In this short poem we are reminded of our own strength and the power to persevere.

– Reviews by Catherine, Main Library

Both/And: A Life In Many Worlds by Huma Abedin

Huma Abedin is one of those people you’ve seen in the public eye for years, but know next to nothing about. She is best known for two things, being Hillary Clinton’s long-term personal assistant, and for being married to the scandal plagued Anthony Weiner. Her autobiography goes in depth about both of these, but also about her childhood and faith.

Abedin is a Muslim, and her faith has deep meaning for her. Abedin tells how the women of her family sought education beyond what was expected of girls — starting with her grandmother. Abedin also paints a vivid picture of her warm and charming father, who died far too young, and how the family struggled silently with the emotional pain of that loss.

We see how Abedin began to work for Hillary Clinton in what staffers called “Hillaryland,” a supportive workplace where staffers were encouraged to become leaders themselves.

Abedin also writes of how she met Anthony Weiner, and how his charm and humor swept her off her feet. She then relates how her marriage went wrong, and her pain at his deeply personal betrayals and the public humiliation from that.

I highly recommend this book.

– Review by Keri, Main Library

In Praise of Solitude

BUKOWSKI: A LIFE by Neeli Cherkovski

This is the book that I had been waiting for. This biography came out last year in time for Charles Bukowski’s 100th Birthday, August 16, 2020. It is a rewrite of Cherkovski’s 1990 book Hank: The Life of Charles Bukowski. It is updated as Hank (Charles Bukowski’s nickname) died in 1994.

Most people have heard of Bukowski and form polarizing opinions of him. He is either seen as a drunken, womanizing, slob and bum. Or as the King of the Streets and the working underclass. Especially the drinking kind. Like all of us, he was mostly somewhere in between the extremes that the world can see us as.

Cherkovski, a fine poet himself, was a friend of Hank’s and knew him well from the 1960’s until Hank’s death in 1994. He humanizes Hank and sees the wild man, but also sees the sensitive poet within. Hank was probably the most prolific poet ever. He lived to write. He often starved to write. The rest was just a rebellion against a phony society and abusive parents. His father beat him often with a razor strap and his mother offered no help. He also had really bad acne and was a total outcast in school. All of this oppression made one great poet with no pretensions except the one he created as himself, but he winks to let you in on it.

He began writing short stories, with very few getting published. Later he wrote poems that often were like short stories. He worked at the Post Office for about a decade. He was freed from that mental slavery and physical pain at age 50 by a publisher who paid him to just write. Since poetry doesn’t make a lot of money, Hank finished a novel in three weeks called Post Office. It is short and funny. He wrote five other novels and countless books of poetry. He endured the loneliness and solitude it takes to be a prolific writer. He starved for his art like few others.

So, read this book. Read his poems and novels. You will find he was a true philosopher of human nature, much like fellow Californian Eric Hoffer, but with poems.


AT THE CENTER OF ALL BEAUTY by Fenton Johnson

This is a book that I found by accident, and being a person who writes and craves solitude, this was a must read. The author’s name sort of rang a bell, but I couldn’t place him. Later I found out that Johnson grew up in Kentucky and he teaches half of the year right down the street from where I work at Spaulding University.

Much to my surprise, I had much in common with the author. His great grandfather and I have the same name. His family was close to the monks at Gethsemani. I have visited and know two friends of Thomas Merton, their most famous monk. And I got to meet Merton’s secretary. Although I’m not Catholic, I have an affinity for the monks. Johnson and I both have spent long periods of our lives living alone. Fate had a hand in this for both of us. We both crave SILENCE!  And Thoreau’s simplicity, too, as a direct rebellion against consumerism as happiness.

He quotes many of my favorite people, such as Van Gogh, Eudora Welty, Henry David Thoreau, Colin Wilson, Nietzsche, James Baldwin, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Virginia Woolf. Johnson is gay, and I am not, but that doesn’t really matter. We are both outsiders by nature and circumstance. Toward the end he goes into personal Queer experiences which I have no understanding of. But, I am truly grateful that they are getting the human rights and freedoms they deserve.

The French philosopher Blaise Pascal said it best, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone. So, go sit in a room alone and read At the Center of All Beauty. You’ll be glad you did.

Reviewed by Tom, Main Library

In Vino Duplicitas by Peter Hellman

For whatever reason I’ve spent most of my life thinking of the true crime genre as play-by-play retellings of gruesome murders and unsolved disappearances, and have only dipped into that section when in the mood for something really spooky. Recently however an account of the Isabella Gardner Museum heist came across my desk, and now to my great delight I have a backlog of thirty-something books on great art and jewel heists, solved and unsolved, ancient and modern. Likely for the same reason Robin Hood movies keep getting made, there’s just something addictive about stories of fabulous thefts, especially ones where the wealthy get a comeuppance (and nobody is really hurt once the insurance companies pay out anyway) that captivates the imagination…if told with that sense of adventure in mind. In Vino Duplicitas, a summation of the greatest wine fraud event in this century, doesn’t disappoint when it comes to a criminally twisted tale or imaginative telling.

As a wine journalist and appreciator himself, author Peter Hellman’s talent in explaining a fairly blue-blooded hobby to the everyday reader is evident from page one. He doesn’t just toss names and dates around and expect the reader to understand his context like elite wine collectors: Hellman leverages his experience describing wines and what makes them special to draw the reader in from the preface, before even diving into the story of infamous wine forger Rudy Kurniawan. An immigrant to the United States with an expired student visa and alleged access to a family fortune abroad, Kurniawan began infiltrating the world of wine in the early 2000’s. Armed with easy charm, a naturally talented palate, and enough real rare wines to generously uncork for his friends at every opportunity, he was accepted as a comrade and expert by elite names in predominately older, wealthy, white circles. They saw the passionate young man with a formidable collection of his own who hosted large parties at expensive restaurants (with a notable habit of always having the empty bottles and corks shipped back to his home as “mementos”) as a breath of fresh air, and once accepted by the wine connoisseur boy’s club, Kurniawan exploited their trust in his taste to mix counterfeit rare wines and unload them at auctions in the U.S. and internationally for untold millions of dollars.

Had his reach of his scheme not exceeded its grasp, he might have gone on counterfeiting wines for years longer than he successfully did: his marks found it unthinkable that another hobbyist would be so blasphemous as to violate the integrity of the hobby they loved, but after a point it was also unthinkable that so many bottles of wines thought lost or extinct could suddenly be procured by one person. Once the proprietors of the French wineries Kurniawan specialized in replicating started talking to each other and investigating the source of the “Frankenstein wines,” Kurniawan’s days were numbered and the FBI agents who had been dogging his tracks closed in. The book then recounts how the situation devolved into several millionaire wine collectors suing each other alongside Kurniawan in a legal flurry of betrayal and wounded pride, desperate to make an example out of anyone they could. Even a member of the politically recognizable Koch family was swindled by Kurniawan.

Despite his admissions of the lasting damage Kurniawan dealt the rare wine world and many testimonies from angry hobbyists, Hellman even still seems to hold a note of respect for something about him – perhaps his undeniable palate, perhaps the sheer amount of chaos he sowed, or perhaps like many of us who will read this book, the understanding that sometimes it’s fun to see the underdog triumph over the decadently wealthy, even if that underdog is just a shady little criminal. As the author himself supposes, “…do these folks not bear some responsibility for not doing their due diligence before throwing silly quantities of money at Kurniawan wine? Absent the guile of a consummate con man, they would have held tight to their money and their common sense.” Hellman, who includes his own conversations with Kurniawan during the time he was active among the scores of referenced others who once counted him as friend and confidante, clearly researched his book extensively as a labor of love for years during and after the fallout from Rudy Kurniawan. Using his professional profile as a wine writer the way Kurniawan used his gifted palate, Hellman was able to conduct incredibly candid interviews with almost everyone touched by Kurniawan’s schemes, from legacy winemakers to federal agents to lifelong connoisseurs, everyone who contributed to the book seemingly eager to spill the beans on the fraud that had walked among them.

In Vino Duplicitas is juicy enough as a crime story to stand on its own, but what really made the ride enjoyable for me was Hellman’s passion for the art of wine, a subject I’m generally ignorant of as a fancy hobby for the rich with little impact on me, personally. But Hellman takes us on a leisurely tour through his narrative, pausing at useful intervals to explain the story behind the 1945 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, harvested just after the Germans were driven from France and its label emblazoned with a “V” for “victory”, and to recount the raptures of one of Kurniawan’s mentors after the con man shared with him a 140-year-old Volnay Santenots the man described as, among other things, a “mythical creature”. If a wine is rare or special, Hellman will describe for you in lush detail exactly what it is that makes that wine unforgettable. Hellman takes the reader by the hand and invites them to the lavish dinners at which Kurniawan wooed his marks, gatherings of supposed friends dining in the kind of decadence most of us can only dream of, and as a wine journalist given a glimpse of this world as an outsider himself (a working professional, not there for pleasure), Hellman seems to relate to the reader in that regard. He certainly taught me several things about wine over the course of the story I would otherwise never have picked up. Other writers without a personal interest in the world Hellman crafts for us could not have told the story of Rudy Kurniawan with half as much charm or intrigue.

I would heartily recommend In Vino Duplicitas to any fans of crime or heist television such as Catch Me If You Can or Leverage; to anyone who enjoys the schadenfreude of witnessing extremely bamboozled billionaires; and to anyone who’s always wanted to know more about the exclusive art of wine, perhaps from a helpful friend willing to share with us just what makes wine special enough for some to risk everything for.

– Review by Sarah, Middletown

Two Tales about Northern Ireland

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and fiction shines a light on real events so well it seems true. That’s the case with Northern Spy by Flynn Berry a mystery/thriller set in Northern Ireland in present day, and Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe the true story of a murder and mayhem in Northern Ireland during the height of The Troubles.

In Northern Spy, Tessa – a producer for the BBC – claims to be largely non-political. Like everyone living and working in Northern Ireland she is impacted by conflict between Irish republicans and British loyalists, but she herself has never been involved. Then one day she looks up to see news footage of her sister Marian pulling a ski mask over her head and participating in an armed robbery. Tessa insists her sister must have been kidnapped or coerced into participating in the heist, but eventually comes to realize the sister she thought she knew so well has been secretly working for the IRA for years. When Marian tells her she may have a path for peace Tessa has to decide where her loyalties lie and how far she will go protect everything that is dear to her. This book is a fast read. The chapters are short and the plot moves quickly. This is a great read for anyone who likes mysteries and political thrillers.

Say Nothing is also about two sisters, Dolours and Marian Price. While the fictional Tessa and Marian in Berry’s book were not raised to be political, the real Price sisters were raised in a well-known republican family. Marian and Dolours were participants in several high profile bombings in the UK in the 1970’s. Both sisters spent time in jail, both were subjected to force feedings when they tried to go on hunger strikes, and both received widespread press coverage. Keefe’s investigation also turned up audio recordings, interviews Dolours Price gave to oral historians at Boston College that seem to implicate one or both sisters in the murder of Jean McConville, a single mother of ten children in 1974. Keefe’s book is wonderful at examining 400 years of conflict through the lens of a handful of IRA members and one murder. There’s a surprise twist at the end that is guaranteed to leave you with goosebumps. Say Nothing is perfect for fans of Erik Larson who want a fast-paced, well researched look at the ongoing struggle in Northern Ireland.

– Review by Jenny, Middletown Branch