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Reading Recommendations: Adult Nonfiction

We've partnered with Rochester Public Library to curate a list of the best nonfiction on themes of culture, race, immigration, refugees, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and poverty. Most of these titles are memoirs, which have a particular power to move you and create empathy as they take you on a journey in someone else's shoes. But we have also included a sprinkling of photojournalism, comic strip journalism, intimate diaries, highly readable research, gripping reporting, and ancient holy books. Bon appetit!

Note: The Diversity Council does not endorse the views presented in these books. However, we believe that understanding and empathy for those you disagree with are vital pillars of a pluralistic society.



Afghan

In My Father's Country: An Afghan Woman Defies Her Fate, by Saima Wahab. Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, at age three Saima Wahab watched while her father was arrested and taken from their home by the KGB. She would never see him again. When she was fifteen an uncle who lived in Portland, Oregon brought her to America. In 2004 she signed on with a defense contractor to work as an interpreter in Afghanistan, never realizing that she would blaze the trail for a new kind of diplomacy, earning the trust of both high-ranking U.S. army officials and Afghan warlords alike in spite of her gender – and the ever-present danger. Place on hold at the library

Forbidden Lessons in a Kabul Guesthouse: The True Story of a Woman Who Risked Everything to Bring Hope to Afghanistan, by Suraya Sadeed. From her first humanitarian visit to Afghanistan in 1994, Suraya Sadeed has been personally delivering relief and hope to Afghan orphans and refugees in inhuman situations deemed too dangerous for other aid workers or for journalists. Her memoir of these missions is as unconventional as the woman who has lived it. This is no humanitarian missive; it is an adventure story with heart. Place on hold at the library

The Bookseller of Kabul, by Åsne Seierstad. With The Bookseller of Kabul, award-winning journalist Asne Seierstad has given readers a first-hand look at Afghani life as few outsiders have seen it. Invited to live with Sultan Khan, a bookseller in Kabul, and his family for months, this account of her experience allows the Khans to speak for themselves, giving us a genuinely gripping and moving portrait of a family, and of a country of great cultural riches and extreme contradictions. This is the intimate portrait of a man of principle and of his family--two wives, five children, and many relatives sharing a small four-room house in this war ravaged city. Place on hold at the library


Bosnian

The Bosnia List: A Memory of War, Exile and Return, by Kenan Trebincevic. At age eleven, Kenan Trebincevic was a happy, karate-loving kid living with his family in the quiet town of Brcko. Then, in the spring of 1992, war broke out and his friends, neighbors and teammates all turned on him. Pero, Kenan's beloved karate coach, showed up at his door with an AK-47, screaming: "You have one hour to leave or be killed!" This poignant, searing memoir chronicles Kenan's miraculous escape from the brutal ethnic cleansing campaign that swept the former Yugoslavia. After two decades in the United States, Kenan honors his father's wish to visit their homeland, making a to-do list that he thinks will satisfy his need for justice and vengeance. But back in the land of his birth, Kenan finds something more powerful than revenge. Place on hold at the library

The Book of My Lives, by Aleksandar Hemon. Aleksandar Hemon's lives begin in Sarajevo, a small, blissful city where a young boy's life is consumed with street soccer, resentment of his younger sister, and trips abroad with his engineer-cum-beekeeper father; a young man's life is about poking at elder pretensions with American music, bad poetry, and slightly better journalism. And then, his life in Chicago: watching from afar as war breaks out and the city comes under siege; his parents and sister fleeing Sarajevo, leaving behind all they had ever known; and Hemon himself starting a new life in this new city. And yet this is not really a memoir--Hemon's first book of nonfiction defies convention and expectation. It is a love song to two different cities; it is a paean to the bonds of family; it is an exhortation to go out and play soccer--and not for the exercise. It is a book driven by passions but built on fierce intelligence, devastating experience, and sharp insight. And like the best narratives, it is a book that will leave you a different person, with a new way of looking at the world. Place on hold at the library

The Stone Fields: An Epitaph for the Living, by Courtney Angela Brkic. When she was twenty-three years old, Courtney Angela Brkic joined a UN-contracted forensic team in eastern Bosnia. Unlike many aid workers, Brkic was drawn there by her family history, and although fluent in the language, she was advised to avoid letting local workers discover her ethnicity. Brkic helped set up a morgue in Tuzla, assisting pathologists with autopsies and laying out personal effects for photographing. Later, she helped excavate graves at Srebenica, where many thousands had been indiscriminately slaughtered. This was not the only excavating she was doing. As she describes the gruesome work of recovering remains and transcribing the memories of survivors, she also explores her family's history in Yugoslavia, telling of her grandmother's childhood in Herzegovina, early widowhood, and imprisonment during World War II for hiding her Jewish lover. The Stone Fields, deeply personal and wise, asks what it takes to prevent the violent loss of life, and what we are willing to risk in the process. Place on hold at the library

Safe Area: Goražde, by Joe Sacco. Sacco has created a unique art form with his comic strip journalism. Safe Area is based on interviews with the survivors of a Muslim enclave after a siege by Serbian armed forces. Place on hold at the library


Cambodian

The Years of Zero: Coming of Age Under the Khmer Rouge, by Seng Ty. The Years of Zero: Coming of Age Under the Khmer Rouge is a survivor's account of the Cambodian genocide carried out by Pol Pot's sadistic and terrifying Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s. It follows the author, Seng Ty, from the age of seven as he is plucked from his comfortable, middle-class home in a Phnom Penh suburb, marched along a blistering, black strip of highway into the jungle, and thrust headlong into the unspeakable barbarities of an agricultural labor camp. Seng's mother was worked to death while his siblings succumbed to starvation. His oldest brother was brought back from France and tortured in the secret prison of Tuol Sleng. His family's only survivor and a mere child, Seng was forced to fend for himself, navigating the brainwashing campaigns and random depravities of the Khmer Rouge, determined to survive so he could bear witness to what happened in the camp. Place on hold at the library

Golden Bones: An Extraordinary Journey from Hell in Cambodia to a New Life in America, Sichan Siv. In the 60’s and 70’s, the Khmer Rouge imprisoned, enslaved, and murdered the educated and intellectual members of the population, resulting in the infamous "killing fields" where the harvest yielded nothing but millions of skulls. Young Sichan Siv was captured and put to work in a slave labor camp. With a daring escape through the jungle, Siv finally crossed the border into Thailand. He spent months teaching English in a refugee camp in Thailand while regaining his strength and was eventually approved for resettlement in the United States where he rose to become the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Place on hold at the library  

 First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, by Loung Ung. Until the age of five, Loung Ung lived in Phnom Penh, one of seven children of a high-ranking government official. When Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge army stormed into Phnom Penh in April 1975, Ung's family was forced to flee their home and hide their previous life of privilege. Eventually, they dispersed in order to survive. Loung was trained as a child soldier in a work camp for orphans while her other siblings were sent to labor camps. Only after the Vietnamese destroyed the Khmer Rouge were Loung and her surviving siblings slowly reunited. Bolstered by the shocking bravery of one brother and sustained by her sister's gentle kindness amid brutality, Loung forged ahead to create a courageous new life. Harrowing yet hopeful, insightful and compelling, this family's story is truly unforgettable. Place on hold at the library

 

 

Hispanic

When I was Puerto Rican, by Esmerelda Santiago. Magic, high comedy, and intense drama move through an enchanted yet harsh life chronicle, as a young girl leaves rural Puerto Rico for New York's tenements and a chance for success. Place on hold at the library

A Journey Around Our America: A Memoir on Cycling, Immigration, and the Latinoization of the U.S., by Luis Gerard Mendoza. In the summer of 2007, Louis Mendoza set out from Santa Cruz, California and bicycled 8,500 miles around the entire perimeter of the country, talking to people in large cities and small towns about their experiences either as immigrants or as residents who have welcomed--or not--Latino immigrants into their communities. Mendoza offers his own account of the visceral, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual dimensions of traveling the country in search of an understanding of what it means to be Latino in the United States in the twenty-first century. With a blend of first- and second-person narratives, blog entries, poetry, and excerpts from conversations with people from all walks of life, Mendoza presents his own thoughts alongside the stories of others. Place on hold at the library

Undocumented: a Dominican Boy's Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League, by Dan-el Padilla Peralta. 
As a boy, Dan-el came here legally with his family. Together they left Santo Domingo behind, but life in New York City was harder than they imagined. Their visas lapsed, and Dan-el's father returned home, but Dan-el's mother was determined to make a better life for her bright sons. Without papers, they faced tremendous obstacles, but in a triumph of the American Dream, Dan-el eventually rose to graduate as salutatorian of his Princeton class. Place on hold at the library


Hmong

The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, by Kao Kalia Yang. Beginning in the 1970s, as the Hmong were being massacred for their collaboration with the United States during the Vietnam War, Yang recounts the harrowing story of her family's captivity, the daring rescue undertaken by her father and uncles, and their narrow escape into Thailand where Yang was born in the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp. When she was six years old, Yang's family immigrated to America, and she evocatively captures the challenges of adapting to a new place and a new language. Through her words, the dreams, wisdom, and traditions passed down from her grandmother and shared by an entire community have finally found a voice. Place on hold at the library

The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father, by Kao Kalia Yang. From the author of The Latehomecomer, a powerful memoir of her father, a Hmong song poet who sacrificed his gift for his children's future in Minnesota. In the Hmong tradition, the song poet recounts the story of his people, their history and tragedies, joys and losses; extemporizing or drawing on folk tales, he keeps the past alive, invokes the spirits and the homeland, and records courtships, births, weddings, and wishes. Written with the exquisite beauty for which Kao Kalia Yang is renowned, The Song Poet is a love story--of a daughter for her father, a father for his children, a people for their land, their traditions, and all that they have lost. Place on hold at the library

Soul Calling: A Photographic Journey Through the Hmong Diaspora, Joel Pickford. Most Americans know little of the story of the Hmong people who came from the mountain villages of Northern Laos. This book presents a capsule view in word and text of the transplanting of an ancient culture to a land unlike anything these people knew.A moving visual portrait of the Hmong people who escaped their homeland after the Vietnam War and settled in America in places like Central California. Place on hold at the library

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman. In Merced, CA, Lia Lee was born, the 13th child in a Hmong immigrant family coping with their plunge into a modern way of life. The book describes the violent clash of cultures that occurred when Lia developed a severe case of epilepsy. The report of the family's attempts to cure Lia through shamanistic intervention and the home sacrifices of pigs and chickens is balanced by the intervention of the medical community that insisted upon the removal of the child from deeply loving parents with disastrous results. Fadiman’s compassionate account tells both sides of the story and yields valuable insights into Hmong culture and the challenges of the immigrant transition. Place on hold at the library

 
Iraqi    

Waiting for an Ordinary Day: The Unraveling of Life in Iraq, by Farnaz Fassihi. The Wall Street Journal's senior Middle East correspondent chronicles the experience of the disenfranchised as they come to terms with the realities of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. In an unforgettable portrait of Iraqis whose voices have remained eerily silent--from art gallery owners to clairvoyants, taxi drivers to radicalized teenagers--Fassihi brings to life the very people whose goodwill the U.S. depended upon for a successful occupation. Haunting and lyrical, Waiting for An Ordinary Day tells the long-awaited story of post-occupation Iraq through native eyes. Place on hold at the library

Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny: Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam, by Zainab Salbi. Zainab Salbi was 11 years old when her father was chosen to serve as Saddam Hussein's personal pilot. As a palace insider, she offers a glimpse of life under a dictator and provides an intimate portrait of the man she was taught to call 'uncle'. Place on hold at the library

Nabeel's Song: A Family Story of Survival in Iraq, Jo Tatchell. In the winter of 1979 Nabeel Yasin, Iraq's most famous young poet, gathered together a handful of belongings and fled Iraq with his wife and son. Silenced by a series of brutal beatings at the hands of the Ba'ath Party's Secret Police and declared an enemy of the state, he faced certain death if he stayed. Nabeel's Song is the gripping story of a family and its fateful encounter with history. From a warm, lighthearted look at the Yasin family before the Saddam dictatorship, to the tale of Nabeel's persecution and daring flight, and the suspense-filled account of his family's rebellion against Saddam's regime, Nabeel's Song is an intimate, illuminating, deeply human chronicle of a country and a culture devastated by political repression and war. Place on hold at the library

 

Somali

City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World's Largest Refugee Camp, by Ben Rawlence. Situated hundreds of miles from any other settlement, deep within the inhospitable desert of northern Kenya where only thorn bushes grow, Dadaab is a city like no other. Its buildings are made from mud, sticks or plastic, its entire economy is grey, and its citizens survive on rations and luck. Over the course of four years, Ben Rawlence became a first-hand witness to a strange and desperate limbo-land, getting to know many of those who have come there seeking sanctuary. In City of Thorns, Rawlence interweaves the stories of nine individuals to show what life is like in the camp and to sketch the wider political forces that keep the refugees trapped there. Place on hold at the library
     

Keeping Hope Alive: One Woman, 90,000 Lives Changed, by Hawa Abdi. Dr. Hawa Abdi, "the Mother Teresa of Somalia" and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, is the founder of a massive camp for internally displaced people located a few miles from war-torn Mogadishu, Somalia. Since 1991, when the Somali government collapsed, famine struck, and aid groups fled, she has dedicated herself to providing help for people whose lives have been shattered by violence and poverty. She turned her 1300 acres of farmland into a camp that has numbered up to 90,000 displaced people, ignoring the clan lines that have often served to divide the country. She inspired her daughters, Deqo and Amina, to become doctors. Together, they have saved tens of thousands of lives in her hospital, while providing an education to hundreds of displaced children. Place on hold at the library

The Somali Diaspora: A Journey Away, by Abdi Roble. Since 2003, Abdi Roble - who came to the US from Somalia in 1989 - and Doug Rutledge have been documenting the lives of Somalis who have fled to camps in Kenya and to the US. This book follows the story of a family as they struggle to survive in Kenya and then in America. Roble is a resident of Rochester. Place on hold at the library

Conquering the Odds: Journey of a Shepherd Girl, by Habibo A. Haji. The amazing story of a young girl who grew up in Somalia. Her life is one of extreme hardship and survival, yet, because of unyielding determination, she has succeeded in life. Haji is a resident of Rochester. Place on hold at the library

 

Sudanese    

Escape from Slavery: The True Story of My Ten Years in Captivity--and My Journey to Freedom in America, by Francis Bok. May 1986: Seven-year-old Francis Bok was selling his mother's eggs and peanuts near his village in southern Sudan when Arab raiders on horseback burst into the quiet marketplace, murdering men and gathering the women and young children into a group. Strapped to horses and donkeys, Francis and others were taken north into lives of slavery under wealthy farmers.
For ten years, Francis lived in a shed near the goats and cattle that were his responsibility. After two failed attempts to flee--each bringing severe beatings and death threats--Francis finally escaped at age seventeen. Now an activist, Francis Bok has made it his life’s mission to combat world slavery. Place on hold at the library

The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur, by Daoud Hari. The translator who escorted journalists into the dangers of Darfur now takes you along on a journey to his homeland. A suspenseful, harrowing, and deeply moving memoir of one person who made a difference in the world. Place on hold at the library
 
Courageous Journey: Walking the Lost Boys' Path from the Sudan to America, by Ayuel Leek Deng. This compelling, human story is coupled with timely issues facing the world: the crisis in Darfur, control of limited oil reserves, terrorism by radical Islamic groups. Told through the experiences of two boys, Ayuel Leek and Beny Ngor Chad, the book traces the journey of thousands of displaced children who walked for months across barren land, menaced by starvation, disease, wild animals, and gunfire. Author Barbara Youree, in collaboration with Leek and Chad, follows them through their years in refugee camps and their journey to the United States, where the author mentors them in college as they follow the American dream and pursue their goal of helping other Sudanese. Place on hold at the library

 

 

Syrian

The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria, Janine Di Giovanni. Drawing from years of experience covering Syria for Vanity Fair, Newsweek, and the front pages of the New York Times, award-winning journalist Janine di Giovanni gives us a tour de force of war reportage, all told through the perspective of ordinary people--among them a doctor, a nun, a musician, and a student. What emerges is an extraordinary picture of the devastating human consequences of armed conflict, one that charts an apocalyptic but at times tender story of life in a jihadist war zone. Place on hold at the library


A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution, Samar Yazbek. A devastating and personal account of the ongoing uprising in Syria from a prominent Syrian journalist now in hiding. Place on hold at the library

 


Vietnamese

I Love Yous are for White People: A Memoir, by Lac Su. As a young child, Lac Su made a harrowing escape from the Communists in Vietnam. With a price on his father's head, Lac, with his family, was forced to immigrate in 1979 to seedy West Los Angeles where squalid living conditions and a cultural fabric that refused to thread them in effectively squashed their American Dream. Lac's search for love and acceptance amid poverty--not to mention the psychological turmoil created by a harsh and unrelenting father--turned his young life into a comedy of errors and led him to a dangerous gang experience that threatened to tear his life apart. Heart-wrenching, irreverent, and ultimately uplifting, I Love Yous Are for White People is memoir at its most affecting, depicting the struggles that countless individuals have faced in their quest to belong and that even more have endured in pursuit of a father's fleeting affection. Place on hold at the library

The Eaves of Heaven: A Life in Three Wars, by Andrew X. Pham. From award-winning author Andrew X. Pham comes a son's memoir of his Vietnamese father's experiences over the course of three wars. Once wealthy landowners, Thong Van Pham's family was shattered by the tumultuous events of the twentieth century: the festering French occupation of Indochina, the Japanese invasion during World War II, and the Vietnam War. Place on hold at the library


Race

Makes Me Wanna Holler, by Nathan McCall. Nathan McCall was a smart kid growing up in a close, protective family in a black working-class neighborhood. Yet by the age of fifteen, he was packing a gun and embarking on a criminal career that would land him in prison for armed robbery. In this searing memoir, McCall chronicles his journey from the streets to the prison yard to the newsrooms of the Washington Post, where he became a respected journalist. A compelling and eye-opening story of African-American experience in our times. Also try McCall’s novel Them, which tells a story of white gentrification in a traditional black Atlanta neighborhood. Buy on Amazon


Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Winner of the 2015 National Book Award, journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates has written a searing meditation on what it means to be black in America today in the form of a letter to his 14-year-old son. Brutally honest, this is not intended to be a balanced academic treatise, but a visceral personal account of fear and anger and resentment against a system that has minimized the worth of black lives. Place on hold at the library

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. More African Americans are in prison today than were enslaved in 1850. Legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” Engaging and provocative, Alexander covers the racial history of America, the racial skewing of the war on drugs, and the debilitating effects of mass incarceration on black society. Place on hold at the library

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson. In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities in search of a better life. Place on hold at the library

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. Henrietta Lacks, a poor black Southern tobacco farmer, was buried in an unmarked grave sixty years ago. Yet her cells -- taken without her knowledge -- became one of the most important tools in medical research. Known to science as HeLa, the first immortal human cells grown in culture are still alive today, and have been bought and sold by the millions. Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey from the colored ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to East Baltimore today, where Henrietta's family struggles with her legacy. A compelling read that raises important issues around race and class. Place on hold at the library

 
Immigrants    

Stealing Buddha's Dinner: A Memoir, by Bich Minh Nguyen. A vivid, funny, and viscerally powerful memoir about childhood, assimilation, food, and growing up in the 1980s. As a Vietnamese girl coming of age in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bich Nguyen is filled with a rapacious hunger for American identity. In the pre-PC era Midwest, where the devoutly Christian blond-haired, blue-eyed Jennifers and Tiffanys reign supreme, Nguyen’s barely conscious desire to belong transmutes into a passion for American food. And in this remarkable book, the glossy branded allure of such American foods as Pringles, Kit Kats, and Toll House cookies become an ingenious metaphor for her struggle to fit in, to become a real American. Place on hold at the library

The Weight of Shadows: A Memoir of Immigration and Displacement, by Jose Orduna. Tracing his story of becoming a US citizen, José Orduña's memoir is a trenchant exploration of race, class, and identity. Place on hold at the library  

A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story, by Tom Gjelten. The dramatic and compelling story of the transformation of America during the last fifty years, told through a handful of families in one suburban county in Virginia that has been utterly changed by recent immigration. Place on hold at the library


Refugees

The Lightless Sky: A Twelve-Year-Old Refugee's Harrowing Escape from Afghanistan and His Extraordinary Journey Across Half the World, by Gulwali Passarlay. Over fifty percent of refugees are children. This gripping, inspiring, and eye-opening memoir of fortitude and survival, of a boy's traumatic flight from Afghanistan to the West, puts a face to one of the most devastating humanitarian crises of our time. Place on hold at the library

The Middle of Everywhere: The World's Refugees Come to Our Town, by Mary Pipher. Over the past decade, Mary Pipher has helped us understand our family members. Reviving Ophelia did for our teenage daughters what Another Country did for our aging parents. Now, Pipher connects us with our greater family--the human family. In cities and towns all over the country, refugees arrive daily. Lost Boys from Sudan, survivors from Kosovo, families fleeing Afghanistan and Vietnam: they come with nothing but the desire to experience the American dream. Their endurance in the face of tragedy and their ability to hold on to the essential virtues of family, love, and joy are a tonic for Americans who are now facing crises at home. Their stories will make you laugh and weep--and give you a deeper understanding of the wider world in which we live. Place on hold at the library

Asylum Denied: A Refugee's Struggle for Safety in America, by David Kenney. Asylum Denied is the gripping story of political refugee David Ngaruri Kenney's harrowing odyssey through the world of immigration processing in the United States. Kenney, while living in his native Kenya, led a boycott to protest his government's treatment of his fellow farmers. He was subsequently arrested and taken into the forest to be executed. This book, told by Kenney and his lawyer Philip G. Schrag from Kenney's own perspective, tells of his near-murder, imprisonment, and torture in Kenya; his remarkable escape to the United States; and the obstacle course of ordeals and proceedings he faced as U.S. government agencies sought to deport him to Kenya. A story of courage, love, perseverance, and legal strategy, Asylum Denied brings to life the human costs associated with our immigration laws and suggests reforms that are desperately needed to help other victims of human rights violations. Place on hold at the library

City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp, by Ben Rawlence. Situated hundreds of miles from any other settlement, deep within the inhospitable desert of northern Kenya where only thorn bushes grow, Dadaab is a city like no other. Its buildings are made from mud, sticks or plastic, its entire economy is grey, and its citizens survive on rations and luck. Over the course of four years, Ben Rawlence became a first-hand witness to a strange and desperate limbo-land, getting to know many of those who have come there seeking sanctuary. In City of Thorns, Rawlence interweaves the stories of nine individuals to show what life is like in the camp and to sketch the wider political forces that keep the refugees trapped there. Place on hold at the library

 

 

Sexual Orientation

                
Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel. A fresh and brilliantly told memoir from a cult favorite comic artist. Meet Alison's father, a historic preservation expert and obsessive restorer of the family's Victorian home, a third-generation funeral home director, a high school English teacher, an icily distant parent, and a closeted homosexual. Through narrative that is alternately heartbreaking and fiercely funny, we are drawn into a daughter's complex yearning for her father. When Alison comes out as a lesbian herself in late adolescence, the denouement is swift, graphic, and redemptive. This breakout book is a darkly funny family tale, pitch-perfectly illustrated with Bechdel's sweetly gothic drawings. Place on hold at the library


The Naked Civil Servant, by Quentin Crisp. In 1931, gay liberation was not a movement--it was simply unthinkable. But in that year, Quentin Crisp made the courageous decision to "come out" as a homosexual. This exhibitionist with the henna-dyed hair was harassed, ridiculed and beaten. Nevertheless, he claimed his right to be himself--whatever the consequences. The Naked Civil Servant is both a comic masterpiece and a unique testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Place on hold at the library

A Cup of Water Under My Bed: A Memoir, by Daisy Hernández. It's 1980. Ronald Reagan has been elected president, John Lennon has been shot, and a little girl in New Jersey has been hauled off to English classes. Her teachers and parents are expecting her to become white--like the Italians. This is the opening to the memoir of one Colombian-Cuban daughter's rebellions and negotiations with the women who raised her and the world that wanted to fit her into a cubbyhole. From language acquisition to coming out as bisexual to arriving as a reporting intern at the New York Times as the paper is rocked by its biggest plagiarism scandal, Daisy Hernandez chronicles what the women in her community taught her about race, sex, money, and love. Place on hold at the library

My Own Country, by Abraham Verghese. When an Indian doctor raised in Ethiopia settles in Eastern Tennessee, his work as an infectious disease specialist leads him into the hidden world of Bible-belt AIDS just as the epidemic arrives. Hiding their disease and often much of their true selves from the world, the doctor was one of the few people that AIDS patients could open up to. Verghese tells the heart-breaking stories of those he came to know as more than patients, but as friends whose sorrows and joys he shared. Place on hold at the library


Gender Identity

 
Between XX and XY: Intersexuality and the Myth of Two Sexes, by Gerald N. Callahan. Every year in the United States, more than two thousand children are born with an intersex condition or disorder of sex development. What makes someone a boy or a girl? Is it external genitalia, chromosomes, DNA, environment, or some combination of these factors? Not even doctors or scientists are entirely clear. What is clear is that sex is not an either-or proposition. Between XX and XY provides a fascinating look at the science of sex and what makes people male or female. Place on hold at the library

As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl, by John Colapinto. In 1967, after a baby boy suffered a botched circumcision, his family agreed to a radical treatment. On the advice of a renowned expert in gender identity and sexual reassignment at Johns Hopkins Hospital, the boy was surgically altered to live as a girl. This landmark case, initially reported to be a complete success, seemed all the more remarkable since the child had been born an identical twin: his uninjured brother, raised as a boy, provided to the experiment the perfect matched control. But from the start the famous twin had, in fact, struggled against his imposed girlhood. Since age fourteen, when finally informed of his medical history, he made the decision to live as a male. A story of human drama, medical arrogance, and the nature vs. nurture rivalry. Place on hold at the library

Redefining Realness, by Janet Mock. With unflinching honesty, Janet Mock relays her experiences of growing up young, multiracial, poor, and trans in America, describing her experiences with sexual assault, bullying, abuse, and sex work on the streets of Honolulu. Her authenticity and the understanding her story provides for the transgender experience overcome the lack of polish in the writing. Place on hold at the library

Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers, by Cris Beam. When Cris Beam first moved to Los Angeles, she thought she might put in just a few hours volunteering at a school for transgender kids while she got settled. Instead she found herself drawn deeply into the pained and powerful group of trans girls she discovered. In Transparent she introduces four of them--Christina, Domineque, Foxxjazell, and Ariel--and shows us their world, a dizzying mix of familiar teenage cliques and crushes with far less familiar challenges like how to morph your body on a few dollars a day. Funny, heartbreaking, defiant, and sometimes defeated, the girls form a singular community. But they struggle valiantly to resolve the gap between the way they feel inside and the way the world sees them--a struggle we can all identify with. Beam's careful reporting, sensitive writing, and intimate relationship with her characters place Transparent in the ranks of the best narrative nonfiction. Place on hold at the library
                

 

Disability    

Joni: An Unforgettable Story, by Joni Eareckson Tada. The With millions of copies in print in more than 40 languages, this beloved classic from 1976 is still relevant today. When Joni Eareckson broke her neck in a diving accident as a teenager, she thought her life was over. In her moving autobiography, she recounts her struggle to accept her disability and her journey toward hope and a new life. She went on to become a writer, painter, speaker, wife, and founder of an organization that advocates for people with disabilities. Place on hold at the library  

           
Not Fade Away, by Rebecca Alexander. When Rebecca was twelve, her parents were told that she would be completely blind before she turned thirty. At eighteen, she fell through a window, shattering her body. In college, she found out that due to a rare genetic disorder she was losing her hearing as well. Since then, she has earned two Master's degrees from Columbia University, ridden a six-hundred-mile bike race, hiked the Inca Trail, and established a thriving career-all while maintaining a vibrant social life. In Not Fade Away, Rebecca charts her journey from a teenager who tried to hide her disabilities to a woman who is able to face the world exactly as she is. Place on hold at the library

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by Jean Dominique Bauby. In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby was the editor-in-chief of French Elle, the father of two young children, a 44-year-old man known and loved for his wit, his style, and his impassioned approach to life. By the end of the year he was also the victim of a rare kind of stroke to the brainstem.  After 20 days in a coma, Bauby awoke into a body which had all but stopped working: only his left eye functioned, allowing him to see and, by blinking it, to make clear that his mind was unimpaired. Almost miraculously, he was soon able to express himself in the richest detail: dictating a word at a time, blinking to select each letter as the alphabet was recited to him slowly, over and over again. In the same way, he was able eventually to compose this extraordinary book. By turns wistful, mischievous, angry, and witty, Bauby bears witness to his determination to live as fully in his mind as he had been able to do in his body. Place on hold at the library

The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family, by Josh Hanagarne. Diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome when he was a high school freshman, Josh Hanagarne tried every remedy until an autistic strongman taught him to "throttle" his symptoms. Illuminating the mysteries of this little-understood disorder as well as his very different roles as strongman and librarian with humor and candor, this unlikely hero traces his journey to overcome his disability -- and navigate his wavering Mormon faith -- to find love and create a life worth living. Place on hold at the library

Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s, by John Elder Robison. The brother of Augusten Burroughs, author of Running With Scissors, tells his own story of growing up surrounded by alcoholism and mental illness, all the while dealing with his personal struggle with undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome.  Robison is a vocal advocate for Asperger's, which he insists is not a disease but a different--and sometimes better--neurology. Asperger's gave Robison a single-minded ability to focus on his love of electronics, giving him a place in the world as the wizard behind Kiss's smoking and flaming guitars or, later in life, a gift for diagnosing and fixing high-end imported cars. As he matures, he gradually learns to temper his mental brilliance with social skills. A moving and entertaining memoir from a gifted storyteller. Place on hold at the library

 

Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism, by Ron Suskind. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist turns his pen to the intensely personal story of raising a son with autism. Unable to speak for years, Owen watches animated Disney films over and over and slowly learns to communicate with his family in a language of memorized movie dialogue. Place on hold at the library

 

 

Religion 


Children of Dust: A Memoir of Pakistan, by Ali Eteraz. From his schooling in a madrassa in Pakistan to his teenage years as a Muslim American in the Bible Belt, and back to Pakistan to find a pious Muslim wife, this lyrical, penetrating saga from a brilliant new literary voice captures the heart of our universal quest for identity. Astonishingly honest, darkly comic, and beautifully told, Children of Dust is an extraordinary adventure that reveals the diversity of Islamic beliefs, the vastness of the Pakistani diaspora, and the very human search for home. Place on hold at the library

Acts of Faith: The story of an American Muslim, the struggle for the soul of a generation, by Eboo Patel. An Indian Muslim who grew up outside of Chicago, Patel tells his powerful story of the racist taunts he suffered from fellow youth and how he responded by alternately rebelling against and turning back to Islam—but in his own way. He gradually came to reject his anger at being excluded from mainstream society in order to promote interfaith understanding, founding the Interfaith Youth Core, which unites young people of different religions to perform community service and explore their common values. Place on hold at the library

The Holy Qur’an: Text, Translation and Commentary, by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. What is Islam all about? Separate fact from fiction, rumor, and misunderstanding by going straight to the source. Place on hold at the library

Cave in the Snow: A Western Woman’s Quest for Enlightenment, by Vicki Mackenzie. At the age of 20, Diane Perry, looking to fill a void in her life, entered a Buddhist monastery in India--the only woman amongst hundreds of monks---and began her battle against the prejudice that had excluded women from enlightenment for thousands of years. Thirteen years later, she secluded herself in a remote cave 13,000 feet up in the Himalayas, where she stayed for twelve years. In her mountain retreat, she face unimaginable cold, wild animals, floods, snow and rockfalls, grew her own food and slept in a traditional wooden meditation box, three feet square. She never lay down. Tenzin emerged from the cave with a determination to build a convent in northern India to revive the Togdenma lineage, a long-forgotten female spiritual elite. Place on hold at the library

Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, by Mahatma Gandhi. "My purpose," Mahatma Gandhi writes of this book, "is to describe experiments in the science of Satyagraha, not to say how good I am." The life of Gandhi has given fire and fiber to freedom fighters and to the untouchables of the world: hagiographers and patriots have capitalized on Mahatma myths. Yet Gandhi writes: "Often the title [Mahatma, Great Soul] has deeply pained me. . . . But I should certainly like to narrate my experiments in the spiritual field which are known only to myself, and from which I have derived such power as I possess for working in the political field." His simply narrated account of boyhood in Gujarat, marriage at age 13, legal studies in England, and growing desire for purity and reform has the force of a man extreme in all things. He details his gradual conversion to vegetarianism and ahimsa (non-violence) and the state of celibacy (brahmacharya, self-restraint) that became one of his more arduous spiritual trials. Place on hold at the library

Bhagavad Gita: Annotated and Explained, by Swami Purohit. One of the key Hindu holy books, addressing the concepts of dharma, karma, and moksha (liberation). Place on hold at the library

Turbulent Souls: A Catholic Son’s Return to his Jewish Family, by Stephen Dubner. Turbulent Souls is an intimate memoir of a man in search of a Jewish heritage he never knew he had. Stephen Dubner's family was as Catholic as they come. His devout parents attended mass at every opportunity and named their eight children after saints. Stephen, the youngest child, became an altar boy, studied the catechism, and learned the traditional rituals of the Church -- never suspecting that the religion he embraced was not his by blood. Turbulent Souls is Dubner's personal account of his family’s tumultuous journey from Judaism to Catholicism -- and in his own case, back to Judaism -- and the effects, some tragic, some comic, of those spiritual transformations. Stephen Dubner's is a story about discovery: of relatives he never knew existed, of family history he'd never learned, and of a faith he'd never thought of as his own and, in fact, knew nothing about. Place on hold at the library

Surprised by Joy, by C. S. Lewis. "A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere . . . God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous." One of the greatest Christian writers and philosophers of the twentieth century details his surprising journey from atheism to faith in this intimate and beautifully written memoir. Place on hold at the library

 

The Holy Bible. The best-selling book in the history of the world has profoundly influenced history, politics, social justice, and literature. Story, poetry, polemic, apocalyptic vision, and pithy wisdom, this holy book holds something for everyone. Place on hold at the library


Poverty

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond. This meticulously researched work is an unexpected page turner. In order to write this book, Desmond lived among the poorest of the poor in Milwaukee and chronicled the lives of eight families as they struggled to keep a roof over their heads, painting sympathetic portraits of single mothers, heroin addicts, and slumlords. This is a book that will break your heart and stir up a passion for those in extreme poverty. Place on hold at the library

The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls. A memoir of resilience and redemption, and a look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette's brilliant father captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who hated anything to do with domesticity. The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered. Place on hold at the library

Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance. From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate comes a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America's white working class (or perhaps more accurately, the non-working class). Vance’s family makes a valiant attempt at upward mobility and are dragged under by their legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty and trauma. Deeply moving and urgently current, Hillbilly Elegy was called the most important book about America in 2016 by The Economist. Place on hold at the library

 

Same Kind of Different as Me, by Ron Hall.  A dangerous, homeless drifter who grew up picking cotton in virtual slavery. An upscale art dealer accustomed to the world of Armani and Chanel. A gutsy woman with a stubborn dream. To please his wife, wealthy Ron Hall befriends homeless Denver Moore, who does his best to avoid all contact. What begins as an act of charity becomes a life-changing friendship for both men. An incredible true story that peels off the layers of class and race as shared pain strips two people down to the essence of their shared humanity. Much better than the movie! Place on hold at the library