4 Nonfiction Books that Might Just Save The World (or At Least America)

Have you ever read a book and just thought “everyone needs to read this?” I’m typically a fiction reader and often find it hard to get into nonfiction books. Lately, however, I’ve become obsessed with reading about issues inherent in the American political system. Thankfully, there are tons of incredible writers out there who aren’t content to just sit back and do nothing. They are conducting research to get to the bottom of some of our issues and present real solutions. Here are my top four books that you (and everyone else) needs to read right now.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of ColorblindnessThe New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

The New Jim Crow presents a very compelling case for the way in which racism has been systematically incorporated into the United States government. It traces a line from slavery to the Jim Crow Laws right up through the modern prison industrial complex. It shows how, into the present day, we have found a way to oppress minorities through completely legal means.

This book blew my mind wide open. I was aware that our criminal justice system had issues, but I didn’t quite realize the extent of it. What really amazed me was just how calculated the inequality inherent in the system was. This book will call into question everything you thought you knew about criminality in this country. It really forced me to take a second look at the language our politicians use and the way that racism has been embedded in our culture.

The Nordic Theory of Everything by Anu Partanen

I have always been struck by how much the European governments provide for their citizens during my travels. It seemed too good to be true. Surely the narrative that Americans tell you about Europe must be true—they are just “socialist nanny states” that coddle their people into complacency and hinder innovation.

This book, written by a Finnish woman who immigrated to America in 2010, will help you to reimagine this story. Partanen explains how, because Nordic countries provide free healthcare, education, and childcare to all their people, they actually facilitate a more free, content, and prosperous people. Contrary to the claim that these countries are socialistic, they are adamantly capitalistic. They help facilitate the growth of their economies by ensuring their people have the necessary resources to be productive members of society. This provides freedom from many economic worries. Even better, she provides insight on policy shifts that could help bring America into a more modern way of thinking about government.

evicted by matthew desmondEvicted: Poverty and the American City by Matthew Desmond

Evicted paints a stark picture of poverty in America. Matthew Desmond is a sociologist who immersed himself in two communities in Milwaukee, Wisconsin: a predominantly white trailer park and a black south side neighborhood. He follows a few families through the cycle of eviction and attempting to find housing for themselves and their families. They are working to get back on their feet but consistently struggling to overcome their eviction records. The book is utterly heartbreaking because the system seems completely stacked against these people.

Desmond details the challenges that the landlords face as well, to show how both sides fare poorly in the current system. He shows that the problem can’t be blamed on any one person or any single system or law, but is made up of a tapestry of issues that have been compounded over time. In addition to the evidence he presents, he offers real solutions to the problem. By explaining why previous efforts to address it have failed, he makes a compelling argument for policy changes that could actually create a real difference in the lives of Americans all across this country.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This book is a bit different than the other ones on the list, which present an issue, provide evidence of the issue in the United States, and then offer up solutions for ways to fix the problems. Coates wrote the book as a letter to his son. In this letter, he goes into great depth about the struggle of being a black man in this country. He talks about how the rules are different for them. How his son will have to conduct himself differently in order to not only succeed but simply survive. The book is beautifully written and heartbreaking, while offering an opportunity to really see the world from a different perspective. This, to me, is the real beauty of reading.

While these selections are just a few of the books that have recently come out in a wave to rethink and reimagine the way that America functions on a very large scale, they are all extremely important. I think that many Americans have started to feel that something in our system is broken, but feel at a loss of how to begin to make any change. These books provide a blueprint as to how to begin this fight and bring America into a new era.

8 of the Best Cold Case Stories For Your TBR

This list of cold case stories is sponsored by Atlantic Monthly Press.

From “master of narrative journalism” (New York Times) and #1 bestselling author Mark Bowden, comes a gripping true crime story about the disappearance of the two Lyon sisters in 1975, and the extraordinary effort—40 years later—to bring their kidnapper to justice. “A riveting, serpentine story about the dogged pursuit of truth.” –NPR “A stirring, suspenseful, thoughtful story that, miraculously, neither oversimplifies the details nor gets lost in the thicket of a four-decade case file.” –New York Times

If you are a fan of Serial Podcast, these riveting books on cold cases will keep you hooked till the very end!

Death on the Devil’s Teeth by Jesse P. Pollack and Mark Moran

The barbaric 1972 slaying of 16-year-old Jeannette DePalma remains one of New Jersey’s most notorious cold cases. Plagued by rumors of witchcraft—DePalma’s body was found on a cliff called the Devil’s Teeth and allegedly surrounded by strange objects—the murder shocked the suburban Springfield community. Including extensive interviews with DePalma’s friends and family, new evidence, and theories about who could have committed this horrible crime, Death on the Devil’s Teeth provides the definitive account of this shocking cold case that remains a mystery more than four decades later.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

A complex and wickedly humorous literary detective story. Jackson Brodie, former police inspector turned private investigator, attempts to unravel three disparate case histories and begins to realise that in spite of apparent diversity, everything is connected.

Black Dahlia, Red Rose: The Crime, Corruption, and Cover-Up of America’s Greatest Unsolved Murder by Piu Eatwell 

The gruesome 1947 murder of hopeful starlet Elizabeth Short holds a permanent place in American lore as one of our most inscrutable true crime mysteries. Drawing on recently redacted FBI and LAPD files and exclusive interviews, Black Dahlia, Red Rose is a gripping panorama of noir-tinged 1940s Hollywood and a definitive account of one of the biggest unsolved murders of American legal history.

The Shadow of Death by Philip E. Ginsburg

A riveting account of the search for a “latter-day Jack the Ripper” in New England. In the mid-1980s, someone stabbed six women to death in the Connecticut River Valley on the border between New Hampshire and Vermont. The murderer remains at large and the total number of his victims is unknown. In this brilliant work of true crime reportage, New York Times bestselling author Philip E. Ginsburg provides fascinating insights into the groundbreaking forensic methods used to track the killer and paints indelible portraits of the lives he cut so tragically short.

Adnan’s Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial by Rabia Chaudry

In early 2000, Adnan Syed was convicted and sentenced to life plus 30 years for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, a high school senior in Baltimore, Maryland. This story was turned into the phenomenal podcast Serial. But Serial did not tell the whole story. In this compelling narrative, Rabia Chaudry presents new key evidence that she maintains dismantles the State’s case: a potential new suspect, forensics indicating Hae was killed and kept somewhere for almost half a day, and documentation withheld by the State that destroys the cell phone evidence – among many other points – and she shows how fans of Serial joined a crowd-sourced investigation into a case riddled with errors and strange twists. Adnan’s Story also shares Adnan’s life in prison, and weaves in his personal reflections, including never-before-seen letters.

Lost Girls by Robert Kolker

Award-winning investigative reporter Robert Kolker delivers a humanizing account of the true-life search for a serial killer still at large on Long Island, and presents the first detailed look at the shadow world of online escorts, where making a living is easier than ever and the dangers remain all too real. This story of unsolved murders offers sharp critique of our society and gives a nuanced glimpse in the victims’ life.

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale

In June of 1860, 3-year-old Saville Kent was found at the bottom of an outdoor privy with his throat slit. The crime horrified all of England and led to a national obsession with detection,in the process ironically destroying the career of perhaps the greatest detective in the land. This is an exhaustively researched, utterly compelling work of nonfiction which reads like a Victorian thriller.

The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi

The Monster of Florence chronicles the story of 16 murders that took place in Italy between 1968 and 1985. Though four different men have been arrested for and convicted of the crimes at different times, critics believe that the real killer has never been caught. This is the true story of their search for – and identification of – the man they believe committed the crimes, and their chilling interview with him. And then, in a strange twist of fate, Preston and Spezi themselves become targets of the police investigation. This is a harrowing and nail biting story involving murder, mutilation, and suicide – and at the center of it, Preston and Spezi, caught in a bizarre prosecutorial vendetta.

Essay Collections Keep Saving Me

Between October 2001 and November 2002, a drought befell New Jersey, my home state. The summer of 2002 was a big reading season for me, as we were unable to fill the backyard pool. I read Harry Potter for the first time, and so began my adolescent infatuation with all things fantasy, my bookshelves prominently featuring the spines of J.K. Rowling, Garth Nix, and Brian Jacques.

Not coincidentally, around this time I wrote my first story. Shortly thereafter, I wrote my second, and my third. They were all simple, and as half-realized as you might expect the writing of a 10-year-old to be, but they were mine. I loved those stories of dragons and wizards that I scrawled out in spiral-bound notebooks. When I wrote them, in conjunction with devouring The Seventh Tower and Redwall, it occurred to me, for the first time, that I wanted to be a writer.

For all of middle school, my consumption of YA fantasy kept up at a steady clip. It took me through all the landmarks of a young reader of my time: Artemis Fowl, Eragon, and even the earliest folly of an attempt at reading Lord of the Rings.

By high school, though, I was exhausted. I did not want to read another book about magic, dragons, or grand adventure, and because this was the vast majority of the reading material available to me at the time, I stopped reading as a hobby. I became involved in other things, like high school theatre, the first awkward milestones of high school dating, and a burning desire to distance myself from all things that marked my prepubescent life.

For the next few years, a drought of a different kind overtook my life: I no longer enjoyed reading. Reading slumps are exceedingly common, but mine was epic. For six years, I did not have any intense or thoughtful connection to anything I read, most of which was course material that I either skimmed or never finished.

Magic Hours by Tom Bissell coverThis changed when I first encountered Tom Bissell’s Magic Hours. Like when you first meet a person who later indelibly changes your life, I remember the first moment I saw Magic Hours perfectly. It was at the Wexner Center bookstore in Columbus, Ohio. Spring break of sophomore year. I was there seeing an exhibit with my then-partner and her mom, and my knees hurt from walking. A brief respite in the bookstore allowed me to sit for a while, in a comfortable blue chair that happened to put me at eye level with this essay collection.

In these essays, Bissell examines the creative processes of artists as disparate as Chuck Lorrie, Emily Dickinson, and Tommy Wiseau; he describes the minutia of media as different as video games, film shoots, and how-to-write books. His voice is sharp, direct, and unfailing in its commitment to small details.

The collection contains “essays on creators and creation.” I did not know it at the time I first picked it up, but this was the exact sort of reading material I needed when I was 19 years old, partway through my sophomore year of getting a BFA in theatre. I needed perspective on what the hell exactly I and my peers were striving toward.

And then, without my noticing, I suddenly loved to read again. Beyond actually reading most of my course materials in full, I found time to read for pleasure. Suddenly, the fantasy novels of my youth had soul again. I became deeply enamored of Paula Vogel, August Wilson, and Sam Shepard. I read David Sedaris for the first time, whose When You Are Engulfed in Flames and Me Talk Pretty One Day tore my soul into shreds through episodes of laughter and sobbing. Though I’ve still yet to do a full read of Lord of the Rings, I crawled my way into first attempts at other older, denser material, like the works of Dostoevsky and Virginia Woolf.

This phase of my reading life was nothing short of revelatory. Although Bissell’s writing covers the exact subject matter I needed to read at the time, there was something beyond the power of his individual book at work. Ever since this first encounter with creative nonfiction, essay collections have continued to be reliable ways for me to break my reading slumps.

This is Running for Your Life by Michelle OrangeA few years later, I had a similar experience with Michelle Orange’s This Is Running for Your Life. Like Bissell, Orange’s writing is concerned with media, but less with those who create it and more with those who consume it. She examines the ways in which images, celebrity culture, and popular psychology influence our interpersonal relationships, with a voice that expertly rides the line between critical and personal.

It was around the time I read This Is Running for Your Life that my perspective about the kind of writer I wanted to be also shifted. My writing for much of my late teens and early 20s was entirely concerned with being Good Fiction. I am grateful now to see the fallacy of the idea that fiction, particularly literary fiction, is somehow inherently better than other types of writing, especially nonfiction, for which I have developed such a passion. I began writing my own essays, mostly about music and other pop culture, and building my muscle for analyzing my media and culture experiences in a way that writing fiction had not allowed me to do. (Funnily enough, it was only when I shed some of the snobbery around other genres that I began noticing my fiction writing getting better.)

They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib coverFinally, and most recently, I have fallen in love with They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us. Hanif Abdurraqib writes with such singularity and precision that each of his essays is like a magic trick. I absorb his vivid, yet conversational descriptions of times and places, and within small spans, sometimes as short as only two or three pages, am transported by the insights—on race, on poverty, on drugs, on creativity, on loneliness—he draws from seemingly frivolous topics like metalcore bands, famous moments in basketball, and long drives through the Midwest to see hip-hop concerts. To read Abdurraqib’s writing is to learn new ways in which to see.

I could write a thousand more words about the other essay collections that have saved my life as a reader and a writer. Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. The list is long, and I endeavor to keep lengthening it so long as I read.

In the author’s note of Magic Hours, Tom Bissell describes an episode early in his career in which he doubts his ability to write a magazine assignment:

Shortly before the trip … I had second thoughts and called the editor. “You’re aware,” I said, “that I’m not actually a journalist?” … The editor was undeterred. “Look,” he said, “just go up there and write about what you see.”

To engage with an essay collection is to agree to listen to someone describe what they’ve seen, what they’ve thought, what they’ve felt. It is a genre of book that can surprise you with its depth and diversity, and allow you permission to see the world in different ways, often when you need it most.

Do Crime Like a Victorian: 11 Nonfiction Recommendations

Is there anything better than a Victorian crime story? From Poe and Collins to Doyle and Hornung, some of the 19th century’s most enduring tales revolve around Victorians behaving very badly indeed. This was the era that saw the rise of both the detective novel and serious media interest in crime—the more gruesome, the better.

This list highlights 11 nonfiction books about Victorian crime and the legendary criminals who were among the era’s most infamous celebrities. Read a few of these, grab a time machine, and then you, too, can do crime like a Victorian.

(Writer’s Note: Nonfiction about the Victorian era is dominated by white authors, and so is this list. Hopefully this will change soon. It would be great to read about this wide-ranging topic from a non-white perspective!)

The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders

Boy, did Victorians love crime. Every high-profile murder was followed by a media frenzy, and every book, song, and play about crime—no matter how tacky or trashy—was almost guaranteed to turn a profit. The Invention of Murder explores how Victorians became the morbid, crime-obsessed weirdos that still intrigue us today.

The Napoleon of CrimeThe Napoleon of Crime cover by Ben MacIntyre

This is a fascinating look into the life of art thief Adam Worth, who stole an enormously valuable painting but could never bring himself to sell it, instead hanging onto it for over twenty years. Worth’s criminal empire was so successful that it provided the inspiration for a certain desperately overused Sherlock Holmes villain.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher coverThe Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale

Jonathan Whicher was one of Victorian England’s best detectives. But the murder of a little boy proves his professional undoing. Classism prevents Whicher from proving that the boy’s wealthy family committed the crime—until a belated confession thrusts the case back into the spotlight.

The Giant and How He Humbugged America coverThe Giant and How He Humbugged America by Jim Murphy

In 1869, as America struggled to rebuild after its civil war, a farmer in Cardiff, New York, announced that he had dug up the petrified corpse of a giant. Dubbed the Cardiff Giant, this discovery electrified the nation. Everyone, professional or otherwise, had an opinion on it. Was it an ancient statue? Was it proof of the Bible’s veracity? Or maybe—just maybe—it was all one giant lie?

The Inheritor's PowderThe Inheritor’s Powder: A Tale of of Arsenic, Murder, and the New Forensic Science by Sandra Hempel

The events of this book start just before the Victorian era, but is there a murder weapon more quintessentially Victorian than poison? This book puts the spotlight on arsenic, the cheap availability of which made it popular with anyone wanting to bump off an inconvenient relative or two. It also follows the footsteps of the chemist who finally figured out how to detect arsenic in autopsies.

The Murder of the Century coverThe Murder of the Century by Paul Collins

The discovery of a man’s dismembered body scattered around Long Island sparks a tabloid war unlike any seen before (but which will likely sound familiar to modern readers). The murder itself is no less interesting: it involves a love triangle, conflicting testimonies, and a method of body identification so scandalous that even the tabloids couldn’t print it.

Murder in the First-Class Carriage coverMurder in the First-Class Carriage: The First Victorian Railway Killing by Kate Colquhoun

A London man mysteriously vanishes from a first-class train car, leaving no trace but a few personal belongings and a pool of blood. Who killed him, and how, and why? The ensuing rush to answer these questions captivated newspaper readers on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Apparitionists coverThe Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln’s Ghost by Peter Manseau

Whenever someone invents something new, someone else will find a way to make a scam out of it. Such was the case with William Mumler’s “spirit photography,” which allegedly showed the ghosts of a person’s loved ones in an otherwise ordinary photograph. But was Mumler cheating people on purpose, or did he genuinely believe his own hype?

The Wicked Boy coverThe Wicked Boy: An Infamous Murder in Victorian London by Kate Summerscale

In 1895, two boys are accused of murdering their mother. The younger one, 12-year-old Nathaniel, turns on his brother Robert, and Robert is condemned to an asylum. But why did he commit this horrible crime? Victorian audiences were spellbound by news of Robert Coombes’s trial, and thanks to Summerscale’s engrossing page-turner, you can be too.

The London Underworld coverThe London Underworld in the Victorian Period: Authentic First-Person Accounts by Beggars, Thieves and Prostitutes by Henry Mayhew

If you want to hear the story of Victorian crime straight from the horses’ mouths, look no further than this book. Henry Mayhew, co-creator of the Victorian satirical magazine Punch, spent years interviewing London’s poorest and cataloged their statements in this four-volume opus—although it should be noted that some of his interview subjects were not happy with the final product.

Victorian Convicts coverVictorian Convicts: 100 Criminal Lives by Helen Johnston, Barry Godfrey & David J. Cox

This book doesn’t have a narrative per se. Rather, the authors have combed through historical records to compile the life stories of one hundred people arrested for various reasons. It gives readers a broad look at the true face(s) of Victorian crime.

7 Astrophysics Books For Ordinary People

We live in heady times. Hushed families gather around the glowing screen for news of the Higgs Boson—no? Just mine? Oh well. In that case, trust me when I say that we’re lucky to be alive right now. Take a gander at this first-ever, super exciting photograph of a black hole. Look at that and be excited! That’s one of the great mysteries of our universe and we now have it on film. We already have a great list of astronomy books on Book Riot, but it’s time that the world knew more about the why and wherefore of black holes so that it can properly appreciate how insanely baller it is that we’ve finally got a profile pic. Here are a few of the best astrophysics books for ordinary people to start you off.

Asteroid Hunters by Carrie Nugent

You probably know asteroids from the big one that left its autograph on the Yucatan Peninsula. You know, the one that killed the dinosaurs? Since that catastrophic impact with fate, Earthlings have gotten more careful about the rocks in the sky. Follow Nugent into our solar neighborhood as she seeks—and maybe destroys—the cosmic objects that could threaten life on our planet.

Black Holes, Wormholes and Time Machines by Jim Al-Khalili

When I first read this in 1999, it hooked me into space science for years. Since then, there have been several significant developments, so in 2016, Al-Khalili updated it. Don’t let yourself be scared off by the fact that it comes from the heavy science CRC press. Khalili is a fun, engaging writer who matches his astrophysics chops with literary style.

Catching Stardust: Comets, Asteroids and the Birth of the Solar System by Natalie Starkey

Asteroids aren’t always our deadly enemies. In fact, space objects might have seeded life on Earth by bringing water to our newly-formed planet eons ago! Despite the tragic loss of the dinosaurs (RIP), asteroids may have done way more good than harm for our little blue dot.

Hyperspace by Michio KakuHyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the Tenth Dimension By Michio Kaku

This book is a little dated, but way too much fun not to include here. Kaku takes you on a truly wild ride through the craziest corners of physics, including the tenth dimension. This is one to make you fall in love with the wackiest possible theories about how space works.

The Planet Factory: Exoplanets and the Search for a Second Earth by Elizabeth Tasker

Exoplanets orbit stars other than our own, and boy howdy are they weird. How they form, spin, and behave with one another influences whether or not life can survive on them. Is Earth unique? Or are there other candidates for living habitats out there? You’ll be packing your bags for the stars before you’re done with this book. Even when an exoplanet isn’t an ideal habitat, it’s always an adventure.

The Zoomable Universe: An Epic Tour Through Cosmic Scale, from Almost Everything to Nearly Nothing by Caleb Scharf and Ron Miller

Brace yourself: this one has visuals. The idea is to show you the scale of things. There is no faster way to feel small than to see the size of the Earth relative to the size of the sun, and then to see how tiny the sun is in comparison to a moderate-to-average largish star. Not even the biggest star, you guys. This book will actually expand your mind.

Exoplanets: Diamond Worlds, Super Earths, Pulsar Planets, and the New Search for Life Beyond Our Solar System by Michael Summers and James Trefil

More exoplanets? Don’t mind if we do! Alternate Earths are a never-ending source of fascination for Trekkies and Elon Musk alike. Armed with the knowledge in this book, you’ll be able to wax scientific about the true possibilities of Proxima Centauri, what kinds of radiation life can handle, and how you might or might not live on a waterless world.


12 Essential Southern Cookbooks

Straight talk, y’all: I lived 20+ years in the South, but they were some internally contentious periods. There were aspects of the South that I never could adjust to—including the heat, but mostly related to the racism. But there are also things about the South that I begrudgingly came to love and consider part of my own heritage: the few wisteria days of spring. Coca-Cola and the word “y’all.” Southern literature, especially from Flannery O’Connor and Harper Lee. And, inevitably, Southern food and, because of that, Southern cookbooks.

You can’t NOT love Southern food. I don’t care where you’re from or what you grew up eating; if you pretend you can resist the butter- and meat-decked beans and greens, the fried vegetables of every variety, the Cajun spices and meaty, rich soups, the BBQed bits dripping with sauces and love: I’m calling nonsense.

When I crave my occasional home now (far away, where no one seems to appreciate okra properly), it’s for the friendships I maintain in the South, my distant spiritual community, and, yes, dishes like fried green tomatoes. (That is not a proportional list.) Even sometimes-Southerners develop strong opinions about the best way to eat grits, what constitutes BBQ, and whether it’s biscuits and gravy or chicken and waffles that truly make a brunch experience shine.

If you, too, find yourself wistful for Southern tastes with sides of charm, these Southern cookbooks are a quick way back. Enjoy—and do come back, y’all, again and again.

Soul Food Cookbook Classics

Princess Pamela’s Soul Food Cookbook by Pamela Strobel (Rizzoli edition)

I love this soul food cookbook. In addition to straightforward recipes for fried chicken, every cut of pork, grits, and other Southern staples, it’s filled with Strobel’s own poetry and musings, tales of her restaurateuring (the story about her kicking Ruth Reichl’s table out because one of the guests got mouthy is just beautiful—seems Reichl thought so, too!), and just…style. Strobel’s food has style and endless appeal. Don’t put it down without giving the green tomato mincemeat recipe a try!

The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis (30th Anniversary Edition)

A season-by-season celebration of Virginia cooking, Edna Lewis’s book is a classic for a reason. Lewis brought Southern cooking into the mainstream, pulling it from the country into the realm of general comfort and refinement. If you see Southern food in fine dining now: credit to her.
This cookbook takes you down to basics from the Freetown farms of Lewis’s youth—down to making butter in a butter churn. It’s about memory as much as instruction, if not more so. Meal planning guides—for example, a spring breakfast bounty includes bacon and eggs, but also honey from woodland bees and dandelion blossom wine—are intoxicating.

Sweet Home Café Cookbook from the National Museum of African American History

You cannot talk about Southern food without acknowledging how much of it is rooted in African American traditions and experiences, and I would not try. This 2019 James Beard nominee for the Best American Cookbook goes to the roots of Southern cooking, drawing on the eponymous Café’s locally-sourced dishes and its modern adaptations. Move from Pea Tendril Salad into Shrimp & Grits, from Maryland Crab Cakes and Fried Green Tomatoes toward Chow Chow and Banana Pudding. If it sounds like I’m reading from your neighborhood Southern restaurant’s central menu: there’s a reason for that. This is an essential book for any Southern kitchen.

Contemporary Soul Food Cookbooks

Soul by Todd Richards

His brick-and-mortar is Richards’ Southern Fried in Atlanta’s Krog Street Market, serving dishes like Chicken & Waffle Wings (I’m salivating) with sides of Collard Green Pho (oh, god, I’m so hungry) and Cobbler that’ve garnered him considerable attention. In this absolutely gorgeous cookbook, you’ll be tempted by recipes for Shrimp and Grits with Grits Crust and Shrimp Butter; Okra, Andouille, and Crab Fritters; and Grilled Peach Toast with Pimento Cheese. I’d offer to let you borrow my copy, but: drool marks on the pages. Get your own.

Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration by Carla Hall with Genevieve Ko

Beyond my mom’s food, I credit two things with my own appreciation for all things culinary: my time in the South and Top Chef. Carla Hall, a fan favorite on the show, has a cookbook that celebrates both—and I do mean celebrates, because every bit of her work is exuberant. Go for the Shortcut Deviled Eggs with Bread and Butter Pickles for a party staple, or switch on over to her Spoonbread Dressing for a celebration that doesn’t require more than one participant. You’ll be salivating for the tasty, playful, and fun twists on soul food classics that run throughout this book, and you’ll want to undertake about twelve—let’s call them “quickfire challenges,” and not “days of going overboard and cooking everything because it all sounds so good that narrowing it down is impossible”—recipes in one go.

Tradition-Oriented Southern Cookbooks

Heritage By Sean Brock

This James Beard Award–winning title (Best American Cookbook) comes from a chef whose food is all about preserving the culinary traditions of the South. He’s the chef behind the Husk restaurants (start with slow smoked pork ribs in a Sorghum BBQ sauce and preserved peach, move into cornmeal dusted catfish with greens—you get the idea!), and soon he’ll be opening a much-anticipated restaurant in Nashville centered around Appalachian cuisine. Before its doors open, get a taste of his style here, from his Hoppin’ John recipe down to his “manifesto,” which includes good advice like “buy the best you can afford” and “cook in the moment.” P.S. the photographs are beautiful.

Southern from Scratch by Ashley English

English’s cookbook is all about preparing meals from what’s at hand—which also means ensuring that your pantry is replete with the essentials and embellishments that make it possible to produce a great Southern dish on the fly. Focused on canning, preservation, and the home pantry, she’ll teach you how to make pickles, jams, and essential sauces first, and then how to wind them into your seasonal dishes. She’ll prompt you toward Grit Cakes with Country Ham and Applesauce, Pecan Coins and Pimento Cheese, Ambrosia, and Southern Greens with Chow Chow. Down-home, bright photographs make the experience of English’s book all the more comforting.

Appalachian Cooking by John Tullock

It’s the Southern cuisine you know with a twist—because the high hills of Appalachia make cooking a different kind of challenge than it is in the low country. Ingredients are different; availability is more strained. Tullock’s book reminds its audience that hunting and gathering is a key component of Appalachian cuisine; berries and nuts run throughout, as does a particular concentration on roots, tubers, and mushrooms. This might not SOUND Southern to you, but rest assured: everything you’re craving is still here, from cornbread to BBQ, from Fried Green Tomatoes to cobblers, but there’re also Pickled Ramps, Oven-Dried Apples, Heirloom Tomato Chutney, and Shuck Beans with Bacon, all with a nice dose of history to go alongside it.  (Also, there’re Pickled Hot Dogs. Yes, you read that right.)

New Southern Cookbooks

The Peached Tortilla by Eric Silverstein

Southern, Asian, comfort, Texan: all of these modifiers can be applied to Silverstein’s dishes, and often multiple at once. The Tokyo-born son of a Chinese American–meets–Jewish American family, he brought his style to Texas but left nothing behind. His food truck (The Peached Tortilla—and there’s a sit-down restaurant, too) is an Austin, Texas, favorite because of dishes like Charred Brussels Sprouts in Bacon Jam and Brisket Eggs Benedict, and his fusions are not to be missed. The cookbook itself is bright with bursts of color and temptations like Bacon and Shrimp Okonomiyaki and Kung Pao Brisket.

Smoke and Pickles by Edward Lee (of Top Chef fame)

Lee’s food, like Silverstein’s, is more new South than old—all about the fusion of cultures that makes cities like Atlanta so irresistible to visit and/or live in.  His recipes include Southern staples like grits, greens, chicken, and gravy, but all with twists that honor his Korean heritage as much as his Kentucky life. Alongside delectable recipes for oxtail stew with lima beans and braised brisket with a bourbon-peach glaze, you’ll get fascinating stories about how Lee brought his unique tastes—favoring umami and the marriage of food traditions—into the popular imagination.

Southern Drinks and Desserts

black-girl-baking-cookbook-cover Black Girl Baking by Jerrelle Guy

Raised in a Florida town where racism “wisped westward,” where the flavors were informed by Jamaican, Haitian, and Cuban cultures, and where her childhood kitchen experiences were more about the necessity of cooking than the joy of it, Guy is positioned to discuss the “romance” of food with nuance—and she does so, in her desire-awakening cookbook, which centers on baking. Go for Saffron Soymilk Pie, Pepper Jelly Thumbprint Cookies, or Cajun-Rubbed Flatbread to pep up your meal; or trend homier with Blueberry Drop Biscuits and Pecan Pie Rugelach. Organized by sensory experience (Guy doesn’t forget that mouthfeel and aroma are as much a part of enjoying food as taste), this is a book that you’ll want to indulge in.

The Southern Foodways Alliance Guide to Cocktails by Sara Camp Milam and Jerry Slater

While dry counties still pepper the South and, until recently, it was insanely frustrating to crave both brunch and a Bloody Mary on an Atlanta Sunday morning, cocktails are still a part of Southern heritage—and they’re certainly a part of fine dining experiences there today. This guide trips through Southern laws and regions, capturing the cocktails we associate with the South where they grew, from Mint Juleps to the Sazerac, and pairing them with light eats to go along with. (I’m saying “light,” but I mean in size: you’ll be snacking on deviled eggs and sweet potato biscuits with pepper jam.)  This is the South of countering hot summer nights with ice-shaken drinks; of long, drawling conversations with friends; of the experience, not its circumscription.

Hit the comments to share your favorite Southern cookbooks!

50 Must-Read Literary Biographies

I live vicariously through the lives and stories of the writers I love and admire. Sometimes I read biographies of authors whose lives parallel aspects of my own; small lives that eventually produce great art. Lives like Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson, or Penelope Fitzgerald who didn’t write her first book until she was 58.

I like to read biographies that share a commonality with my own life, but like the best fiction, I’d rather be transported to worlds with characters that are larger than life. Lives that are tumultuous, scandal-ridden, and full of perils. Lives that are exciting and rich and full of conflict. Lives that produce stories like Native Son, The Bell Jar, Lolita, A Rage in Harlem, or Frankenstein.

I also like to read about the lives of the authors of some of my favorite books—Iris Murdoch and The Sea, The Sea, Philip K. Dick and A Scanner Darkly, Mary Shelley and Frankenstein, Penelope Fitzgerald and The Blue Flower—but this can be a perilous exercise. Some authors were pretty terrible people, which can ruin your perception of their writing. But like most of us, artists and writers lived lives rife with nuance, and through even-handed, well-researched biographies, readers can take a peek into the minds that have created some of the stories we love.

50 Must-Read Literary Biographies

cover-of-the-peabody-sistersThe Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism by Megan Marshall

The supposed “American Brontës,” the three Peabody sisters influenced the thinking of writers like Thoreau and Hawthorne. The youngest sister, Sophia, married Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall

After you finish the story of the Peabody sisters and are searching for more stories about American Romanticism and the role women played in the literary scene at the time, pick up Megan Marshall’s other book, about Margaret Fuller.

The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes by Janet Malcolm

This is a biography of the biographies that have been written about Sylvia Plath. It tries to correct the myth surrounding Plath and Ted Hughes.

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon

Mary Wollstonecraft died a week after giving birth to Mary Shelley, but in many ways, despite not knowing each other, their lives were very alike. A wonderful book about the mother who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women and the daughter who wrote Frankenstein.

Neruda: The Poet’s Calling by Mark Eisner

A Biography of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda:

“In this part of the story I am the one who
Dies, the only one, and I will die of love because I love you,
Because I love you, Love, in fire and blood.
—from Pablo Neruda’s “I Do Not Love You Except Because I Love You”

cover-of-frederick-douglassFrederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight

This is the most recent biography of Frederick Douglass. It’s a wonderfully rendered story of a complex and brilliant man who greatly influenced American history.

Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father by John Matteson

I’m not a huge fan of Little WomenI find Louisa May Alcott’s life much more interesting than her writing.

Genet: A Biography of Janet Flanner by Brenda Wineapple

Genet is the pen name for Janet Flanner, a woman who fled her home in Indianapolis at 30 to live with her girlfriend in Paris in the 1920s. While in Paris, she became a correspondent for the New Yorker.

Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde by Alexis De Veaux

Audre Lorde did not live a quiet life, and this biography relishes in the myth and power of Lorde as an early black lesbian feminist.

cover-of-vera-mrs-vladimir-nabokov-stacy-schiffVera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) by Stacy Schiff

What was it like to be married to the author of Lolita? The story of Vera and Vladimir Nabokov was a love story that spanned 52 years. Stacy Schiff, if you’ve never read any of her other biographies, is a master.

Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow: The Tragic Courtship and Marriage of Paul Laurence Dunbar and Alice Ruth Moore by Eleanor Alexander

This has all the bad: racism, sexism, abuse, sexual assault—so I warned you! It’s a hard story. I hesitate to call it a romance—maybe there was love, but the relationship between Dunbar and Moore was definitely not stable. This is a relatively short biography, but it certainly packs a punch!

The Blue Hour: A Life of Jean Rhys by Lilian Pizzichini

I’ve always been hesitant to read Jean Rhys’s most famous book, Wide Sargasso Sea, because I’ve always loved Jane Eyre. But recently I picked up Jane Eyre for a reread and I thought, God, Rochester is an ass. Maybe it’s time for Wide Sargasso Sea.

cover-of-chester-himesChester B. Himes: A Biography by Lawrence P. Jackson

Chester B. Himes is probably most famous for his crime noir series the Harlem Cycle, which starts with A Rage in Harlem. Himes was arrested for armed robbery and spent almost ten years in prison, but while in prison his articles were featured in publications like Esquire. Plagued by racism in America, Himes moved to Paris where he became famous for his Harlem series.

Mary Shelley by Miranda Seymour

Mary Shelley was the daughter of the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, and wife to the poet Percy Shelley, who drowned when she was only 24. The idea for Frankenstein was born on a stormy night as a group of writers were telling scary stories.

James Baldwin: A Biography by David A. Leeming

David Leeming was friends with Baldwin for 25 years before writing his biography. This is a wonderful glimpse into the life of one of the preeminent voices of African American literature in the world.

born to be posthumousBorn to be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey by Mark Dery

A man who created creepy comics and lived with a horde of cats and thousands of books automatically sounds sounds like the kind of person whose biography I want to read.

Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy by Carolyn Burke

Both a poet and visual artist, Mina Loy moved in the most influential circles of her time. She bumped shoulders with Gertrude Stein, Man Ray, and Marcel Duchamp—to name a few.

Rebecca West: A Life by Victoria Glendinning

A great selling point for a biography is when the subject is described as a sexual rebel. I’m also a sucker for a story about a dysfunctional English family, which Rebecca West famously wrote with The Fountain Overflows.

The Brontë Myth by Lucasta Miller

Okay, I’d rather read about the Wollstonecrafts/Shelleys, or the Peabodys, because I think the Brontës are a bit overrated…but like the Plath biography, which was a biography of her biographies, this book tries to demystify the myth that surrounds the Brontës.

Anaïs Nin: A Biography by Deirdre Bair

Best known for her sexual exploits, diaries, and relationships with leading intellectuals of her time, Anaïs Nin was more than the sum total of her famous idiosyncrasies.

Simone de Beauvoir: A Biography by Deirdre Bair

A biography collected from conversations with de Beauvoir, who’s best known for her philosophical writing on existentialism and her relationship with Jean Paul Sartre.

Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee

A well balanced biography about a woman whose life is as well known as her books; still, you’ll find some tidbits in this biography that you’ve probably never known, and might come to see Woolf in a new light—for better or worse. Hermione Lee is a master biographer.

Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector

A writer whose work has seen a resurgence in recent years—Clarice Lispector was born in post–War World I Ukraine, and emigrated to Brazil in her early years. Her writing and life is steeped in mysticism.

Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray by Rosalind Rosenberg

It’s hard to find biographies about black female writers. Especially writers from the 20th and 19th centuries. Jane Crow was a lawyer, writer, and civil rights crusader. She’s an example of a woman we should know more about.

Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor by Brad Gooch

I wish there were more biographies about Flannery O’Connor, the master of the short story. This is a good biography, but I want more.

How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at An Answer by Sarah Bakewell

Four hundred years ago Montaigne wrote The Essays, where he tried to answer the universal question: How to live? This biography explores his questions and answers in a historical context.

cover-of-ralph-ellisonRalph Ellison: A Biography by Arnold Rampersand

A wonderfully in-depth story of Ralph Ellison’s life. He was born in 1913 in the south and moved to New York City in 1936. He had a grandiose personality that was sometimes at odds with other writers and politically active intellectuals of his time.

A Life of Langston Hughes: Volume I: 1902–1941, I, Too, Sing America by Arnold Rampersad

Langston Hughes’s life is told in three volumes. The first relates Hughes’s early years as he traveled the world.

Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee

I own this book. It’s HUGE. I bought it after reading Edna St. Vincent Millay’s biography in which it is mentioned that Edith Wharton was in Paris at the same time as Millay. But while Millay struggled at times with finances, Wharton was born to privilege.

Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Valerie Boyd

In high school we had to choose a book from a list of 100 American classics to read every month. Their Eyes Were Watching God was the best book I read from that list. Zora Neale Hurston’s life was fascinating.

cover-ofi-am-alive-and-you-are-dead-emmanuel-carrereI Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K. Dick by Emmanuel Carrère

A Scanner Darkly is a favorite book. A life as strange as the stories he wrote: “It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.”

Richard Wright: The Life and Times by Hazel Rowley

This powerful story about the author of Native Son weaves Wright’s own writing and quotations into the biography.

The Life of Emily Dickinson by Richard B. Sewall

There are a lot of biographies of Emily Dickinson, but this is my choice.

Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life by Hermione Lee

Penelope Fitzgerald was nearly 60 before publishing her first book, which makes me love her. She’s best known for writing The Blue Flower, The Bookshop, and Offshore.

Katherine Anne Porter: The Life of an Artist by Darlene Harbour Unrue

“Pale Horse, Pale Rider” is one of my favorite short stories. A woman is in bed with a fever during the influenza epidemic, and in her fever she remembers her childhood, and worries about her fiancé who is a soldier fighting in the first world war. The author, Katherine Anne Porter, lived a life that was no less compelling.

Zelda by Nancy Milford

A woman driven mad by her husband’s lecherous appropriation of her personality and writing. Confession: I’m not a huge fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald, so it doesn’t pain me to discover he was a jerk.

cover-of-iris-murdochIris Murdoch: A Life by Peter J. Conradi

The Sea, The Sea is one of my favorite books. Charles Arrowby is absurd, frustrating, and totally realized as a man coming to the end of his life, but fighting like hell to delay the breakdown into old age. Iris Murdoch at first imagined herself to be the next George Eliot, but ended up embracing Dostoevsky’s influence.


Poet of the Appetites: The Lives and Loves of M.F.K. Fisher by Joan Reardon

Fisher wrote extensively about her own life in memoirs like The Gastronomical Me and How to Cook a Wolf, in which she writes about food and its relationship with life and love.

Alice Walker: A Life by Evelyn C. White

Alice Walker was the first black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Color Purple. This might be the only biography on the list whose subject is still alive, which brings a new dynamic to the biography.

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin

Your life can’t be all rainbows and unicorns if you’re writing stories like The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.  This is a biography about the woman, the books, and the times in which they existed.

The Banished Immortal: A Life of Li Bai by Ha Jin

Li Bai was a Chinese poet who lived a long, long time ago, but whose work and legacy is still greatly revered today in China.

Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford

My favorite literary biography. Edna St. Vincent Millay was fashioned as a modern Sappho, and a holdover of Victorian era poets like Elizabeth Barrett Browning. But despite her writing style, her personal life was very modern.

Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life by Caroline Moorehead

The life of the illustrious war correspondent Martha Gellhorn who reported from the frontlines of most of the biggest wars of the 20th century. A fascinating figure.

Looking for Lorraine coverLooking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry by Imani Perry

Best known for her play A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry counted James Baldwin and Nina Simone as friends. She was a prominent voice in the civil rights movement, she joined one of the first lesbian organizations, and challenged JFK to take a wider stance on civil rights. Why don’t we hear more about Lorraine Hansberry more? She died at 34.

Borges: A Life by Edwin Williamson

To read his books and short stories, it would be easy to imagine that Borges’s life could be stranger than fiction. But this biography focuses on the human side of Borges and brings new light to his work and thinking.

cover-of-ida-a-sword-among-lions-paula-giddingsIda: A Sword Among Lions by Paula Giddings

Ida B. Wells was an African American reporter who investigated and fought to end lynching in the south. This is the story of a brilliant and fearless reporter, and an indictment against the United States.

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

I’ve never read Little House on the Prairie. I prefer reading about the rocky life story of the author behind the books.

The Collected Autobiographies of Maya Angelou by Maya Angelou

Yes, an autobiography. I included it because I don’t think anyone should try to retell Maya Angelou’s story. Her telling, and poetry, should be the last word.

The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography by Edmund Gordon

A biography about the author of the morbid and gothic fairytales like The Bloody Chamber and gothic novels like The Magic Toyshop.

my soul looks backMy Soul Looks Back by Jessica B. Harris

Jessica B. Harris writes about her early life in New York City when she moved in social circles that included James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Maya Angelou. A vibrant city, full of vibrant people.

Harriet Jacobs: A Life by Jean Fagan Yellin

Harriet Jacobs wrote the memoir Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, which became the most well-read slave narrative written by a woman. Jean Fagan Yellin expands on Harriet Jacobs life, and the world into which she escaped.

Need more? Check out these articles too:

7 Great New Literary Biographies for Your TBR

50 Must- Read Biographies


The More You Know: 21 Best Nonfiction Books for Kindergarten

There are currently a lot of brilliant nonfiction books for kindergarten aged kids. Most of the time, they should balance information with a narrative; the art should be enthralling while the book’s writing dispenses easy-to-digest knowledge. These 21 nonfiction books for kindergarten have done this very well and can be read over and over as either a story or information book. Over the last two years, working mostly in the children’s library, I’ve actually begun to default to younger children’s nonfiction for my own knowledge-seeking needs. The art! The accessibility! The get-to-the-point-and-get-out!

Here are some choices split by topics: STEM, animals, sharks, bugs, dinosaurs, history, and toys/books. For rad nonfiction about fearless females, see this list. If you are interested in some nonfiction books for older kids, there’s a Must Reads right here.

STEM Books For Kindergarten

Power UpPower Up by Seth Fishman and Isabel Greenberg

This book is doubly awesome, with its interesting science facts plus a self-esteem boosting message: “Look at your pinkie. That little finger has enough energy to light up one of the biggest cities in the world for an entire day”. A perfect mix of science concepts and exciting illustrations, the book is a follow up to A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars.

Hey, Water! By Antoinette Portis

Award-winning author and illustrator Portis’s latest features a young girl’s growing realization that water is everywhere and can take many forms (tears and snowmen, for instance). The book also contains information about water cycles and conservation.

Charlotte the Scientist Finds a CureCharlotte the Scientist Finds a Cure by Camille Andros and Brianne Farley

A cute STEM-focused picture book about a bunny named Charlotte. The forest animals have fallen sick, and Charlotte wants to help her friends get better. She sets about deducing the mysterious illness plaguing the forest, but no one seems to be taking her very seriously. Will Charlotte let that stop her? (Spoiler alert: no.)

Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years by Stacy McAnulty and David Litchfield

Easy-to-follow facts meet adorable space art. In Earth!, the facts told by the Earth itself are informative and witty, with jokes that will make the book a fun read for families to discuss together.

Animals Nonfiction Books for Kindergarten

Hello Hello_Brendan WenzelHello, Hello by Brendan Wenzel

First of all: the cuteness. Such adorable illustrations! Animals are grouped together by common traits: colors, stripes, etc. The end is filled with animals names and includes information about extinction levels. A good way to explain to children about the importance of animal conservation!

Can An Aardvark Bark? By Melissa Stewart and Steve Jenkins

Can a porcupine whine (and other noise-related animal questions)? It’s true that animals make plenty of weird sounds, and this book encourages loud, silly times as it describes the various grunts and barks of familiar and strange animals.

History Books For Kindergarten

Dreamers_Yuyi MoralesDreamers by Yuyi Morales

An immigrant mother and child struggle to fit in to their new home of San Francisco until they discover the local library and all its benefits. The art is gorgeous, a collage of styles and images, and the writing is poetic while still grounded in information. Also, the incorporation of Spanish phrases was nicely worked in.

Langston’s Train Ride by Robert Burleigh and Leonard Jenkins

Jenkins’s incredible paintings bring to life the story of 18-year-old Langston Hughes dreaming up his famous poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” This is a poetic, first-person exploration of creativity.

Someday is NowSomeday Is Now: Clara Luper and the 1958 Oklahoma City Sit-ins by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Jade Johnson

A primer to the Civil Rights Movement and to activism in general; here is the story of Clara Luper, the Oklahoma City teacher who inspired her students to use nonviolent protest as they battled segregation.

Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill and Bryan Collier

This one is an award-winning nonfiction book that will send readers looking for more info. Living as a slave, Dave formed incredible clay pottery and inscribed each piece with a short poem. It’s a very moving account of a man mostly lost to history; he is known as Dave the Potter because, as a slave, his last name was taken away from him.

Sharks & Other Watery Creatures

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist  by Jess Keating

Eugenie Clark has never been afraid of sharks; in fact, her love led to studying them. In Shark Lady, written by zoologist Jess Keating, shark facts combine with the story of a woman pursuing science despite people’s biases against women in the field.

If Sharks DisappearedIf Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams

Sharks shouldn’t be seen as scary, and Williams uses a family boat trip to teach readers about the essential role that sharks fill in the ocean ecosystem.

Inky’s Amazing Escape by Sy Montgomery and Amy Schimler-Safford

Originally recommended to me by a marine biologist, readers won’t soon forget clever Inky. Montgomery’s book has vibrant illustrations, interesting facts and an exciting story about an adventurous, squiggly octopus who escaped from an aquarium.

Dinosaurs Books For Kindergarten

How Big Were the Dinosaurs? by Lita Judge

Sure to delight dino fans of all ages, the information is simple — Microraptors were smaller than the average chicken — and the illustrations are cute and slightly silly.

How the Dinosaur Got to the MuseumHow the Dinosaur Got to the Museum by Jessie Hartland

Based on the true story of a dinosaur fossil’s (Diplodocus longus) journey from Utah to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Bones, Bones, Dinosaur Bones by Byron Barton

How are dinosaur fossils found and assembled? Barton’s book is about six paleontologists, and describes their job accessibly.


A Beetle Is Shy by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long

From the font to the colourful art, Aston and Long’s work will catch the eye of future entomologists. Beetle facts are surprisingly fascinating. Along with this title, the author/illustrator duo has a series of similar science books (An Egg is Quiet, A Rock is Lively, etc).

The-HoneybeeThe Honeybee by Kirsten Hall and Isabelle Arsenault

Isabelle Arsenault’s whimsical illustrations accompany Kirsten Hall’s minimalist text in this informative book. The Honeybee has a poetic flow, but will still give science fans some interesting bug knowledge.


Toys and Books

The Marvelous Thing That Came from a Spring by Gilbert Ford

Everyone loves a slinky! Here we have the story of Richard James, an engineer who created the slinky with the help of his wife Betty. Ford’s art is unusual – a mix of paper doll figures, two-dimensional drawings, and three-dimensional objects – and contains a buoyancy that is well-matched to the story.

Planting StoriesPlanting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Aldamuy Denise and Paola Escobar

Pura Belpré, New York City’s first Puerto Rican librarian, championed bilingual literature. This inspiring, beautifully illustrated biography comes in a Spanish-language edition as well — Sembrando historias: Pura Belpré: bibliotecaria y narradora de cuentos.

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet

An award-winning children’s biography about Peter Mark Roget, creator of the thesaurus. Roget was shy and awkward when he was younger, seeking comfort in books and lists. He continued making them for many years, his indexes of related words becoming larger and more in-depth. In this story of Roget’s Thesaurus, big and small language lovers will find an enthralling story brought to life by illustrator Sweet’s multimedia artwork.

What do you think are the best nonfiction books for kindergarten libraries? Hit the comments to share your favorites!

16 New Age Books To Inspire Your Life

Sometimes, that old-time religion is just…old. If you’re ready to seek a different way, these New Age books will get you started on that elusive path to higher consciousness. After that, learn to meditate with our list of excellent meditation guides and meet some new spiritual leaders who can show you the light.

16 New Age Books To Inspire Your Life

Ask and It Is Given: Learning to Manifest Your Desires by Esther Hicks, Jerry Hicks

Get life advice from “Abraham,” the collective entity that Esther channels, in this book. It features a simple and positive message.

Building a Noble World by Shiv R. Jhawar

If it ever seems like life has gotten overwhelming, then you may need to find some inner peace! Jhawar suggests that it’s not possible to live a satisfying life without this critical component of happiness.

E-Squared: Nine Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments That Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality by Pam Grout

Consciousness has power over matter in this popular book on mental manifestation. Included practical thought experiments promote the idea of an essentially accommodating universe.

Frequency by Penney PierceFrequency: The Power of Personal Vibration by Penney Peirce

Get some good vibes from this exploration of personal intuition and quantum physics! Peirce is an educator and the author of several other books on personal intuition and empathy.

Hidden Messages in Water by Masaru Emoto, translated by David A. Thayne

Emoto uses high-speed photography to propose that water molecules physically respond to directed interaction, such as spoken words and music.

Light Is the New Black: A Guide to Answering Your Soul’s Callings and Working Your Light by Rebecca Campbell

A highly accessible and visually attractive book, this title strives to empower and inspire. There’s also some advice on sharing your inner light with the people around you.

Mastery of Self: A Toltec Guide To Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz Jr.

Ruiz draws from the Toltec idea of the Dream of the Planet to help you wake up. His major theme, living life with authenticity, stresses positive self-esteem.

A New Earth by Eckhart TolleA New Earth: Awakening To Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

Following up on his bestselling book, The Power Of Now, Tolle advocates abandoning the ego in favor of higher goals. It’s heavy on anecdotes and includes lots of examples of achievement beyond ego.


Sacred Contracts: Awakening Your Divine Potential by Caroline Myss

According to this title by the popular Caroline Myss, depression and other related conditions could have spiritual roots.

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

This title has been a particularly influential presence on the New Age literary scene since it came out in 2006. It suggests that mental images, positive or negative, control the events that happen in the visualizer’s life.

The Seven Spiritual Laws Of Success: A Practical Guide To The Fulfillment Of Your Dreams by Deepak Chopra

Chopra advises meditation, gift-giving, and acceptance in this classic bestseller.

The Soul Searcher's Handbook by Emma MildonThe Soul Searcher’s Handbook: A Modern Girl’s Guide to the New Age World by Emma Mildon

This book functions as an all-around guide to New Age spirituality. From astrology to gemstones, it’ll kick off your spiritual journey and function as an ongoing reference.

Soul Talk: The New Spirituality of African American Women by Akasha Gloria Hull

Although it draws heavily from Indian and Native American beliefs, a lot of New Age thought is very white. This book seeks to change that by incorporating African-derived ancestor devotion and a spiritual system that supports social justice.

Spiritual Partnership: The Journey to Authentic Power by Gary Zukav

This particular book might appeal to partnered couples, but the eponymous partnership can apply to a number of different interpersonal situations.

The Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear to Faith by Gabrielle Bernstein

Bernstein, a New Age guru popular with younger people, advocates fostering a sense of love and well-being through meditation and prayer. Her spirituality has strong roots in Christianity.

What The Bleep Do We Know by William Arntz Betsy Chasse and Mark VicenteWhat the Bleep Do We Know!?: Discovering the Endless Possibilities for Altering Your Everyday Reality by William Arntz, Betsy Chasse, Mark Vicente

Like the movie, this popular book attempts to reconcile religion with science by referencing recent advances in physics.



What are your favorite New Age books? Hit the comments to share your favorites.

Meet the People Who “Drank the Kool-Aid” (And Why We Should Stop Saying That)

With a toddler around, it takes me longer these days to finish books than it used to. But I blew through Julia Scheeres’s 2011 nonfiction book, A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown in two days. It was that harrowing. That gripping. That empathetic toward the people who lost their lives to the Peoples Temple in November of 1978. And it convinced me to erase the phrase “Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid” and any of its iterations from my vocabulary.

A Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres Book Cover

Even though I was born in the ’90s, I’d heard plenty of people talk about Jonestown before I read the book. Something about a charismatic leader, a huge cult, and poisoned Kool-Aid.

But in her book, Julia Scheeres focuses not on the sensationalism of the act—widely called the largest act of “mass suicide” or, at best, “murder-suicide” in modern history—but on the people that Jim Jones groomed for years before forcing them to drink poisoned Flavor-Aid.

There’s Hyacinth Thrash, an Alabama-born descendant of enslaved people who found Jones’s early message of social inclusivity encouraging. She and her sister Zipporah followed Jones, not without careful consideration and even hesitation, to northern California and then Guyana.

The Onliest One Alive by Catherine Hyacinth Thrash Book Cover

There Zipporah died on November 18 with over 900 others. Hyacinth, an elderly woman by then, survived. She published a book about her experience, The Onliest One Alive: Surviving Jonestown, Guyana.

The sisters had believed in Jones’s progressive message for over 20 years.

There’s Stanley Clayton, a young Black teenager whose broken home life drove him to search for community. He found it in the Peoples Temple. He hoped Jones could cure him of his various addictions, but Jones only brought him to Guyana and put him to work.

Stanley fell in love with another teenager named Janice, and in the end he held her in his arms as Jones’s poison shut down her body. He escaped by running into the jungle and hiding until the dying ended.

At the time of the book’s writing, Stanley said that he missed his Peoples Temple family. His words make me ache: “‘There were a lot of people in the church who believed in me and supported me,’ he says. ‘I don’t have that no more'” (248).

There’s Edith Roller, a progressive, educated woman who found that the Peoples Temple’s ideals aligned with her own. With much pressure from Jones, she reluctantly gave up a comfortable life on her own to live communally.

And she hated it.

Like every other Jonestown resident, she got tricked into thinking Jonestown was a lush utopia. (Jones spruced up select cabins and carefully filmed scenes of harmony, cleanliness, and plenty to convince people that Jonestown, Guyana was THE place to go).

Upon arriving, Edith learned the hard and terrible truth. Still, she tried to make her corner of her communal cabin a cozy place to sleep. She kept steady daily notes on the goings-on of Jonestown until she died that day with everyone else.

And don’t even get me started on the babies. So many babies and young children were forcefully fed the Flavor Aid (that’s what it was, not Kool-Aid) that day. It’s hard to even think about.

Were their parents evil for doing this? No. They were depressed, hungry, exhausted, and manipulated into doing something terrible. And I hope that in their situation, I would have attempted escape, as some mothers did.

But Jim Jones constructed a community so large, so all-encompassing, that it was its members’ entire lives. I grew up in a church community that felt the same way—my days ran by its clock, and the members of its community were my family.

The only difference is that I did not have an unhinged leader slowly and deliberately pushing me, my whole family, and our entire friend circle toward an unthinkable and agonizing death.

And when I say push, I mean hard. Jones manipulated, fear-mongered, cajoled, punished. He publicly whipped adults and children. He assigned teenagers to brutal, guard-flanked work units. He held “suicide votes” night after night in the months before the murders, and if you didn’t raise your hand, he called you out. He would not let you go to bed until you agreed to it.

He intercepted all forms of media and set up fake attack scenarios to make it seem that outside forces were creeping in, ready to obliterate every last person.

Without his bullying and his punishments, there would’ve been no mass death.

A lot of people call the Peoples Temple a cult. But Julia Scheeres doesn’t: “The word cult only discourages intellectual curiosity and empathy,” she says. “As one survivor told me, nobody joins a cult” (xii).

The Jonestown tragedy wasn’t a bunch of cult members “Drinking the Kool-Aid.” It was hundreds of people, many of them Black, who’d found a community with a message they could support.

It was hundreds of people who believed they were headed in a direction of peace, equity, and inclusivity and instead were carefully and subtly led down another path altogether.

Get to know their faces. These are victims. And they’re people whose memory I won’t ever disrespect again by offhandedly using a saying like “don’t drink the Kool-Aid.”