Nonfiction that’s not for everyone

Every quarter I recommend nonfiction books that a substantial number of high school and first-year college students would find intriguing enough to pick up and informative enough to read. In the process of selecting those books,  I end up with a stack of books I’ve bought  that aren’t a good fit for the majority students, but which are nonetheless good reading.

Here’s are three books I read this academic year that are not on-target for most students, but which some teachers and/or their students may find compelling reading.

3 literary nonfiction books

In My Hands

In My Hands: Compelling Stories from a Surgeon and His Patients Fighting Cancer by Stephen A. Curley, MD, FACS. Center Street, ©2018. 285 p.

In My Hands might be a good choice for student eying medical careers. Dr. Curley comes across as a personable, caring individual. He makes his patients real, too. Curley writes well but his subject matter involves many long and unfamiliar medical terms. Some chapters appear to have been edited to reduce the number of such terms; others bristle with them. Chapters  run about 10 pages.

Go Back Where You Came From

Go Back Where You Came From: The Backlash Against Immigration and the Fate of Western Democracy. Sasha Polakow-Suransky. Nation Books, ©2017. 358 p.

In Go Back Where You Came From, Sasha Polakow-Suransky traces how America, whose history is the history of immigrant groups, has become anti-immigrant. Polakow-Suransky is a very good writer, but his subject is both complicated and emotionally charged. This isn’t a book for people who get their news in sound-bites or Tweets. A few students—particularly those who are either immigrants or children of immigrants of the last quarter century—will find this book insightful.

Mill Town

Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains. Kerri Arsenault. St. Martin’s Press. ©2020. 354 p.

Mill Town is a book that should have sold better than Unsafe at Any Speed, but which few readers will even wade through. It’s a prime example of why reporters are trained to lead with their most significant information.

Author Kerri Arsenault grew up in Mexico, Maine, a town dominated by a paper mill that provided jobs for most people in the area for over a century. Arsenault discovers in chapter 16—long after readers have been bore by irrelevant information—that the Environmental Protection Agency shelved cancer risk reports that showed the dioxin produced by paper mills and washed downstream appears in meat, fish, butter, and milk at levels that so far exceed government standards “even one simple hamburger could do a person harm.”

I still have a stack of books that some teachers and students will find good reading. Those can wait for another day.

©2022 Linda Gorton Aragoni