Fiction attracts a big readership, but nonfiction also has its devoted fans. Nonfiction is embracing a wider range of topics every year and expanding its popularity. Here are some that Kanawha County Public Library staff have enjoyed.
Harper Lee is most famous for one novel, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” but many readers don’t know she was also fascinated with the trial of Robert Burns for the killing of Rev. Willie Maxwell. Casey Cep of the New Yorker magazine explores two aspects, Lee’s notes on the case and the case itself, in “Furious Hours.”
The case itself is open and shut. Burns shot Maxwell in front of a funeral home full of people. However, Maxwell had been involved in a number of suspicious deaths with large insurance policies. Burns’ lawyer, Tom Radney, had even defended Maxwell in earlier cases. This 1978 case had deep roots in the town of Alexander City, Alabama.
Through Lee’s notes of the trial, Cep paints a portrait of Lee as a complicated and compelling woman who was pulled into one last case. Readers will find this a gripping case and hard to put down.
In her new book, “Swift Justice,” Merrilee Fisher Matheny unravels the scandalous 1897 case of the Pfost-Greene murders and a hanging that became such a circus that it became the last public hanging in West Virginia.
The facts of the Pfost-Greene murders are fairly well known in West Virginia. John F. Morgan had been helped by the Pfost-Green family after his mother’s death left him an orphan. He worked for them around their farm until he killed them. Morgan began his murders with James Green in the farm yard. When he was done, three family members were dead. Nancy Alice Pfost ran for help as she bled from the axe wounds in her head.
Matheny is curious in the why. What was at the root of his actions — the money from the horses, insanity? The trial was so fast that many questions weren’t answered. By the time he was hung in December, a crowd of 5,000 people gathered to watch. The festival atmosphere caused a national scandal.
Besides using known sources, Matheny spent time in Jackson County doing fresh research and interviewing descendants, which blows dust off the case, bringing it to life. West Virginia history buffs and crime readers will find a rather compelling story.
With “Downton Abbey” returning as a film, the time seems right to look back to the days of the manor house with “Those Wild Wyndhams” by Claudia Renton. Percy Wyndham, the youngest son of Lord Leconfield, had three beautiful daughters, Mary, Madeline and Pamela, whose beauty and wealth allowed them great social power.
Madeline’s marriage was more conventional than her sisters and perhaps provides a bit less sparkle to the tale. Pamela and Mary, on the other hand, married well, but also had numerous affairs, including Mary’s relationship with Arthur Balfour, the future prime minister. As members of the set known as “the Souls,” they were also active in the world of politics and art. Their lives were touched with sadness as well with the loss of sons during World War I. John Singer Sargent’s famous painting captured the three sisters in their prime, but they were fascinating their whole lives.
Ruth Riechl’s latest is “Save Me the Plums,” which focuses on her time at Gourmet Magazine. Riechl had experience writing about food for newspapers, but had no magazine or management experience, when publisher S.I. Newhouse asked her to shake up the venerable Gourmet Magazine. As editor, Riechl steered the magazine between 1999 and 2009. Riechl expanded the variety of recipes and also the journalistic scope. She dishes about the writers, the kitchens and the mercurial Newhouse.
Then as the internet grew, so did the competition for the attention of cooks and foodies. An award winning author, she recounts the boom and bust years when the recession dried up ad dollars at a time when the sales of issues were doing well. Readers will be caught up in the whirlwind crush of publishing a magazine. Readers who love to read her luxurious descriptions of food need not fear. There is plenty of food to savor in this memoir, with recipes as well. Fans will not be disappointed.
Set in wild-west Oklahoma in the 1920’s, David Grann’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” tells a historical and heartbreaking story of injustice, murder, power and money. Members of the Osage Nation were designated by the federal government to live in a seemingly barren portion of the new state of Oklahoma. However, not long after they are settled there, oil is found to be teeming throughout the land, quickly making members of the Osage Nation some of the wealthiest people in America.
When members of the Osage Nation began dying, by what was first deemed health-related issues, it quickly became clear to many that something more sinister was at work. As whole families became targets, the newly formed FBI is called in to investigate. Filled with mystery and intrigue, Grann transports the reader back to the Old West in a true page-turning story that reads like fiction. Readers may also remember Grann from the 2018 West Virginia Book Festival.
In the book “The Truffle Underground: A Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and Manipulation in the Shadowy Market of the World’s Most Expensive Fungus,” author Ryan Jacobs tells the fascinating true story of the costly truffle. The elusive truffle is considered an expensive delicacy in upscale restaurants throughout the world. Jacobs’ story shows the darker side of the industry surrounding the tiny truffle. Even if you have never seen or eaten a truffle, this book has story elements that rival any mystery novel, full of deception and other nefarious deeds. For the reader who likes real-life mysteries, true crime or investigative journalism, this book might be of interest.
Lori Gottlieb, a well-respected psychotherapist, started going to therapy after a life-changing event. The result is the book, “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed,” a reflection on her life both as a therapist and as someone in therapy.
With their permission, Gottlieb shares stories of her patients honestly discussing the experiences and issues that brought them to therapy. She also shares stories of her own experiences in therapy and with her therapist, Wendell. The book is Gottlieb’s journey to understand what truly led her to therapy. She realizes that her experience is not that different from those she treats. This book is an interesting perspective on therapy, not only as a therapist, but also as a client. Gottlieb shares these stories with heart and humor, making for an interesting read.
Author Thomas E. Douglass examines the life of writer and West Virginia native Breece D’J Pancake in “A Room Forever: The Life, Work, and Letters of Breece D’J Pancake.” His writing was heavily influenced by West Virginia’s land and its people, with lively and rich portrayals of Appalachia. Pancake was lauded by many as a great talent. However at the age 26, he ended his life just as his career was beginning.
Among the letters Douglass includes are those Pancake wrote to his mother, revealing some of the thoughts, feelings and aspirations of the young writer. After time out west and in Virginia, Pancake came back to West Virginia to be closer to family. With stories taking place in Huntington and Charleston, West Virginia, readers will have a sense of familiarity with the landscape and people discussed throughout this biography of Pancake. Douglass helps bring to light the importance of Pancake’s life and work on writers today.