Posts filed under ‘Non Fiction (Adult)’

The Orchard by Adele Crockett Robertston

the orchard book cover

Pub Date: October 1995

 Non-Fiction (Adult)


 234 pgs.

The Orchard is our 2015 A Book Grows in Topsfield title.  A Book Grows in Topsfield is the name of the Topsfield Town Library’s Community Read, in which we encourage the entire community to read the same book at the same time, hosting book discussions and events related to the book along the way. A Book Grows in Topsfield kicked off on Friday, March 13th with a wonderful cabaret concert featuring music of the 30’s at the Gould Barn.  

Tomorrow, March 26th is our first book discussion of The Orchard.  Everyone is welcome!

A patron compared reading Robertson’s The Orchard to “running your hands over smooth velvet.”  That was her assessment of Robertson’s writing style, and I thought that was beautifully put.  Adele “Kitty” Crockett Robertson’s memoir about running her family’s apple orchard during the Great Depression is filled with straightforward but poetic prose, descriptions of hardship, monetary and otherwise, and anecdotes of the colorful characters she met along the way.  Robertson is a natural storyteller and you get the sense that she lived a full life and must have been even more entertaining in person.  Indeed, the Foreword and Epilogue–written by Kitty’s daughter, Betty Robertson Cramer, the one who discovered and published her mother’s manuscript posthumously–are just as interesting as the memoir itself.  I wanted to know more about Kitty’s life, even after The Orchard.

The best part of choosing The Orchard as a Community Read title is that it truly is about our community, or at least, a very nearby community. Several patrons who have already finished this book have come in and remarked that they are familiar with the farm portrayed between the pages.  Robertson, an Ipswich native, penned this memoir between 1932 and 1934, a couple of the worst years of the Depression.  Not only do the themes of sacrifice, hard work, and general bleakness certainly resonate today, but being able to visit and look at the same landscapes as Kitty make this a special Community Read.

We hope you will be able to join in a book discussion or another event for A Book Grows in Topsfield!



March 25, 2015 at 8:51 pm Leave a comment

The Journal of Best Practices by David Finch

Pub Date: January 2012

Non-Fiction (Adult)


240 pgs.

David Finch is in a mixed marriage. Not a marriage religiously mixed or racially mixed, but one that is neurologically mixed.   In 2008, he learns that he has Asperger’s Syndrome, a disorder on the very-high-functioning end of the autism spectrum.  And suddenly, a beam of clarity:  he is Aspergian, while his wife is NT (neurotypical).  Their brains don’t match.

David and Kristen Finch became friends in high school and had been married for five years and were parents of two small children at the time of David’s diagnosis.  Although they shared much love, the Finches could feel their marriage breaking apart beyond their control.  Kristen couldn’t understand why her husband thought it was perfectly OK to walk away in the middle of conversations at parties, or root around in their dryer for only the clothes he needed, leaving everything else to sit for days.  Or why he was incapable of disrupting his rigid schedule to give his wife a hand with the kids in the morning.  David couldn’t understand why Kristen didn’t do these things herself, when they made so much sense to him.   Five years of building frustrations left their marriage teetering on dangerous ground.  David’s disregard for his wife’s and family’s needs struck some as being “typically male,” but the Finches came to suspect it was more than that.  Then came the diagnosis, along with a significant sense of relief–and, for David, a renewed sense of purpose.

His Asperger’s diagnosis inspired David to formulate a plan to become a better husband and father.  And that, through his “journal of best practices” –its earliest incarnation a drawerful of scribbled notes such as “give Kristen time to shower without crowding her”–is exactly what he achieves.  However, it doesn’t come easily, or quickly–and the reader is treated to David’s singular observations of marriage and fatherhood.

Immensely readable, and funny (David was also a contributor to Second City, the Chicago sketch comedy group), this was a book I tore through in a couple of days.  Though it appealed to me particularly because of personal significance, this is a thought-provoking memoir with a light, humorous touch that promises very broad appeal.   Those interested in neurological issues especially, but anyone looking for an encouraging answer to the problems of family life should pick up this book.   Or anyone looking for a good book, period.


March 23, 2012 at 7:19 pm Leave a comment

Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chang

Pub Date: Aug. 2009

Non-Fiction (Current/World Affairs)

448 pgs.

This book was recommended to me by a patron, and consuming a steady fiction diet lately left me wanting a good, solid informational read.  I was not disappointed by this book, in which journalist Chang pursues the stories of Chinese “factory girls,” young girls who leave their families and traditional culture for a chance to make money in China’s urban sweatshops, producing high-end clothing, handbags, and cellphones, among many other things.

Chang’s journalistic style flows along nicely, reading much like a novel at times as she delves into the girls’ lives and relationships.  She tells the stories of two girls, Min and Chunming, with the most detail, sprinkling their emails and text messages throughout the narrative.  To me, the girls of the factory seem to have a very “American” attitude–that is, one of pure individualism and upward mobility, of personal ambition, drive and success, that may have clashed with the traditional Chinese values of their rural villages.   The feminist in me was glad, however, that Chang’s clear-eyed presentation did not present the girls as total victims; theirs was a choice that they wielded with surprising control.  Along the way, readers learn personal bits about Chang herself, such as why she decided to live in China and the disconnect she feels among the residents there.  But the book belongs to Chang’s subjects, who are, as they prove in her pages, clearly a force to be reckoned with.  A thought-provoking, eye-opening book.

July 3, 2010 at 6:23 pm Leave a comment

Two love stories

Whiling away the last relaxing long weekend curled up with these two very different books, I suddenly realized the books were in fact related–they are both love stories, albeit extremely different ones. Two love stories. For Valentine’s Day. How appropriate!

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Pub Date: January 2010

304 pgs.

After having such a good experience with the rock and roll/feminism memoir Girls Like Us, I got quite excited when I heard about this new memoir by Patti Smith, especially after being riveted by an early excerpt in Rolling Stone. Just Kids is Smith’s tribute to the late Robert Mapplethorpe, legendary provocative photographer and Smith’s close friend and former lover. In it, she details their first chance meeting in New York City.  Smith had moved to the big city at the age of twenty with dreams of stardom, after some personal trauma. Like a great scene from a movie, Smith and Mapplethorpe “meet cute” on a street corner when he saves her from an unsavory date.

From there, Smith narrates in her poetic style their ensuing relationship and their struggles toward fame.  Smith and Mapplethorpe move from Brooklyn to the Chelsea Hotel, an artists’ haven, and float in and out of rooms filled with impossibly famous and creative people of the era, from Hendrix to Joplin to Burroughs to Ginsberg. She covers about 10 years in their lives, from their meeting in 1967 until the mid-1970s, when fame had begun to touch both of them.

A true fan of Smith would fare better here–although I respect Patti Smith, I’m not a fan, exactly, and am just not very familiar with her work in general. Also, Smith’s excessive references to French writers Rimbaud and Genet got tiring at times.  Her writing style may be an acquired taste, but Smith’s moving account does strike a chord, especially her tear-jerking ending. And while the 1960s/1970s period of love and art in New York City might be well-tred territory, I don’t think it’s worn out its welcome just yet.

Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage by Edith Gelles

Pub Date: April 2009

352 pgs.

Gelles’ book is the first full-length biography of not just John Adams, not just Abigail Adams, but of their marriage and partnership.  During the Adams’ long (over a half-century) and productive marriage they spent huge chunks of time apart, mostly while John was serving as foreign ambassador to France.

Reading the story of their marriage through their letters, it’s clear that Abigail and John value each other very much. They are complements in temperament, equals in intelligence, and complete partners in life despite great distances from each other.  There are also some surprises in Gelles’ text–for example, Abigail’s frequent and surprisingly flirty communications with James Lovell, John’s contemporary and, to Abigail, a “dangerous man.” But never fear, the Adamses were not some twenty-first-century scandal-mongers; they remain true to each other in every sense of the word. As one Amazon reviewer notes, “It’s good to know such marriages can exist.”

Thorough and well-researched without being overly long and dense, Gelles’ book is a good choice for both romantics and those of a more practical nature;  for both history buffs and those interested in relationships in general.

Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage is our TTL Book Club pick for the month of February. Our meeting, originally scheduled for the 16th, was canceled due to weather, and we have rescheduled the meeting for this coming Tuesday, February 23rd. Also, we are co-hosting an event with the Topsfield Historical Society ( ) on Sunday, February 28th, featuring John and Abigail impersonators. Hope to see you there!

February 20, 2010 at 4:54 pm Leave a comment

Personal Favorites of the 2000s

Last week I promised I would compile a list of my own personal favorite books of this past decade. Without further ado…

1. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, 2005

I could not stop thinking about this book for weeks after I read it. It is one of the few books I couldn’t wait to re-read, and in Sittenfeld I found a new favorite author.  I thoroughly enjoyed her next two, Man of My Dreams and American Wife, also, but I always find myself going back to this, her debut.  In Lee Fiora, Sittenfeld has crafted a startlingly honest portrayal of a misfit Indiana girl in a wealthy New England prep school, and the thing I like most about Sittenfeld as an author is that she is not afraid to allow her characters to have major flaws and be quite unlikeable at times.  Don’t let the sweet chick-lit cover fool you.

2. The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver, 2007

I had a difficult time choosing between this, Shriver’s latest, and her excellent We Need To Talk About Kevin, but this is the book that turned me on to Shriver as an author so I thought it deserved its due. Irina  is a children’s book illustrator living in London with her partner, “think tank wonk” Lawrence.  A happily unmarried American ex-pat couple, Irina and Lawrence have no reason to think their union is in danger. Until one day when Lawrence is away on business, Irina has dinner with an old friend and fights a powerful urge to kiss him. Does she or doesn’t she?  From that point, through parallel story lines (think the movie Sliding Doors), Shriver lets us have it both ways.

3. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, 2005  

With this book, Ishiguro manages to be chilling and provocative, measured and subtle, all at once. Kathy, in her early 30’s,  is an alumna of an elite boarding school in Britain’s countryside. But the school has a special purpose and the students are of…unexpected origin. The students themselves are “told but not told” what is really going on, and it is the same for the reader as Ishiguro subtly and masterfully reveals meaning. Go into it blind, but with an open mind.

4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, 2005

In Oskar Schell, nine-year-old hero of this funny and poignant book, Foer has created one of the most memorable characters in recent memory.  Oskar distributes business cards boasting his  long list of titles and accomplishments: inventor, jeweler, and Francophile being just a few.  But Oskar is also a confused but determined boy wandering through New York City after 9/11, searching for a lock that fits the key belonging to Oskar’s father, who died in the World Trade Center attacks.  One of the few books that grabbed me from the very first line: “What about a teakettle?”

5. Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres, 2005    

Fans of Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle would definitely appreciate this lesser-read story of familial abuse and racial tension in 1970’s small-town America.  Scheeres narrates this gripping story in the present tense from the point of view of her as a child, when she was growing up in a cold, abusive home in rural Indiana with two adopted black brothers.  Julia and her brother David grow extremely close, while she has the opposite relationship with her brother Jerome.  It is a story of troubling contradictions–the children sit at home and eat a soup literally made of garbage while their father drives a Porsche; the Scheeres parents–devout Christians–abuse their children even when flaunting their supposed “tolerance.”  The first half of the book takes place in Indiana, the second half takes place in a bizarre Christian “reprogramming” camp in the Dominican Republic where Julia and David end up being sent. Its appeal lies not only in the mind-boggling story, but also in its honest and unsentimental telling.

6. Girls Like Us by Sheila Weller, 2008

What can I say? I really, really love this book! See my full review here:

7. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, 2009 

One of this year’s gems. See my full review here:…argaret-atwood/

8. Little Children by Tom Perrotta, 2004  

An excellent tale of suburban ennui.  Sarah is an over-educated one-time feminist who finds herself trapped in an unwanted life as a housewife and mother to a young daughter.   While her husband spends nights surfing the Web for porn, Sarah lets herself fall into an affair with a similarly frustrated stay-at-home dad, Todd. Meanwhile, a recently released sex offender, now living on Sarah’s street with his mother, threatens the town’s feelings of security and superiority.  Perrotta is a sharp, funny social satirist and a great character writer.

9. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, 2000  

The book that changed the eating habits of a nation. For the entire decade, it seemed whenever the name of a well-known fast-food restaurant was mentioned, I was invariably asked, “Have you read Fast Food Nation?” Now it seems like every other day an expose of the food industry is published, but we really have Schlosser to thank for getting Americans to start to think about where their food comes from.

10. On Beauty by Zadie Smith, 2005

If you are one of those people (like me) who picked up Zadie Smith’s much-lauded debut, White Teeth, and found it difficult to get through, try this funny, intelligent yet more accessible story about a mixed-race, academically inclined New England family.  Smith does a great job of capturing both teenage and adult insecurity and confusion with great wit.  A perfect book to get lost in on a breezy September day in Harvard Square.

December 30, 2009 at 4:11 pm Leave a comment

The Top 10s

I might be just a little obsessed with lists, and also with markers of time.  That’s why I’m so excited that we are at the end of a decade, and get to enjoy all of the inevitable “Top 10” lists that go with such a milestone.  I sat down to make my own list of books that I think are the top 10 “greatest” of the decade, based on my experience working in the retail book industry for the second half of this decade – these are the books that people have asked for over and over again, the ones that generated the most discussion, and the ones that, in my humble personal opinion, have made the greatest cultural impact.  However I found it’s extremely difficult to limit a list to 10 books, only 10, covering the entire decade! Hence the split into Fiction titles and Non-Fiction titles.

Top 10 Fiction Books of the 2000s

1. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, 2003

2. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, 2003

3. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, 2003

4. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, 2002

5. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, 2002

6. Atonement by Ian McEwan, 2001

7. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, 2002

8. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult, 2004

9. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, 2003

10. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, 2005

Looking over this list, I notice a couple of things. First, 2003 was apparently a really good year for fiction books. Second, all of these titles have been made into major motion pictures in the last few years, save two–Middlesex and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.  Might we be seeing those also on the big screen soon?

The Top 10 Non-Fiction Books of the 2000s

1. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, 2001  

2. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, 2003

3. Nickel & Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, 2001

4. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, 2000

5. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, 2006

6. Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, 2006

7. Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, 2002

8. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, 2006  

9. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollen, 2006

10. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, 2003

Looking at this list, it seems that 2006 was the good year for non-fiction titles.
What are your picks for best books of the decade? Was there anything I missed? Anything you disagree with? Comment on this post and let me know! Up next: my personal favorite books of the 2000s.

Happy holidays everyone!


December 23, 2009 at 2:28 pm 2 comments

It’s beginning to look a lot like…

…if not feel like, Christmas. At least here at the Library, it is. First a bit of Library news. If you haven’t already, please come by and check out the fabulous Raffle Baskets put together by the Friends of the Topsfield Library.  All baskets and services would make great gifts! Raffle tickets are only $1 or 6 for $5, and the drawing will be December 15th.

However if you’re not lucky enough to win a basket, never fear.  There are plenty of bookish gift suggestions out there.  We’ve compiled several top-10 (and in one case, a top-13) best-books lists of 2009.

The New York Times Best Books of 2009


  • Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy
  • Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem
  • A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
  • Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Jeannette Walls
  • A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert


  • The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes
  • The Good Soldiers by David Finkel
  • Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr
  • Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed
  • Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life by Carol Sklenicka

Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2009

  • Cheever: A Life by Blake Bailey
  • Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon
  • A Fiery Peace in a Cold War by Neil Sheehan
  • In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin
  • Big Machine by Victor LaValle
  • The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes
  • Stitches by David Small
  • Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford
  • Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer
  • Lost City of Z by David Grann Best Books of 2009

  • Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
  • Everything Matters by Ron Currie Jr.
  • Everyman Dies Alone by Hans Fallada
  • Tinkers by Paul Harding
  • The Vagrants by Yiyun Li
  • Border Songs by Jim Lynch
  • Miles From Nowhere by Nami Mun
  • Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower
  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
  • Low Boy by John Wray

The Christian Science Monitor Best Books of 2009

  • Lark & Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  • The Weight of Heaven by Thirty Umrigar
  • Woodsburner by John Pipkin
  • The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi
  • Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
  • The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker
  • Love and Summer by William Trevor
  • A Gate at the End of the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
  • Mathilda Savitch by Victor Lodato
  • The Children’s Book by A.S Byatt
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
  • Too Much Happiness: Stories by Alice Munro

Also, from, check out this list of recommendations from independent booksellers across the country:

Finally, comment on this post to tell us YOUR picks for the best book(s) of 2009!

December 3, 2009 at 11:12 pm Leave a comment

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