Pulitzer Prize Winning Nonfiction Books in the North Carolina Digital Library

By checking the lists of Pulitzer Prize winning nonfiction books over the past five years, it appears that the North Carolina Digital Library carries most of these titles.  Some are popular, and as such, will have a wait list; others are easily accessible.

With our nonfiction readers in mind, we hope this list will provide you with a book or books of interest.

Amity and Prosperity:  One Family and the Fracturing of America by Eliza Griswold (2019)

Locking Up Our Own:  Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman Jr. (2018)

Evicted:  Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond (2017)

Black Flags:  The Rise of Isis by Joby Warrick (2016)

The Sixth Extinction:  An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert (2015)

The above were the Pulitzer winners for general nonfiction for these years.  In case you are interested in the runners-up, here is a selected list, also available through the North Carolina Digital Library:

Elderhood:  Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life by Louise Aronson (2020)

Notes on a Foreign Country:  An American Abroad in a Post-American World by Suzy Hansen (2018)

The Evolution of Beauty:  How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World – and Us by Richard O. Prum (2018)

In a Different Key:  The Story of Autism by John Donvan and Caren Zucker (2017)

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehishi Coates (2016)

On occasion, you may be searching for a title in the North Carolina Digital Library that is recognized, but not owned by the NCDL.  If you scroll to the bottom of the screen, chances are you will see the book you are looking for there, with an option to recommend it for purchase.

(William Hicks, Information Services)



Sticky Fingers : The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine by Joe Hagan

Rolling Stone has pervaded popular culture since the late 1960s.  Sticky FingersThis magazine has ridden the tides of rock music, politics, and style to the present day, sometimes defining the “in” thing, and occasionally missing the point.  What has been consistent is the magazine’s commitment to at least a modicum of quality, of being something that you wanted to read.

In some ways, Rolling Stone is Jann Wenner, the outspoken, controversial co-founder of the magazine who went from nerdy kid to the head of the influential publication.  Wenner co-founded Rolling Stone in 1967 with the renowned music critic Ralph J. Gleason in San Francisco, the center of psychedelic music and hippiedom at the time.  Wenner started what began as a biweekly newspaper with borrowed money, and over the years, Rolling Stone evolved into a sturdy-looking magazine, outsized for a time, that proclaimed itself as a vanguard for what was real and interesting.

Rolling Stone employed a host of writers and artists to bolster its reputation as a hip publication, and alumni included Hunter S. Thompson, Annie Leibovitz, and Lester Bangs. Excess was the underlying theme, and the constant barrage of drugs and alcohol was the fuel.

Behind it all, though, was Wenner’s constant energy and nerve.  Apparently, very few people operated on Wenner’s wavelength, and while he certainly had the push to drive the magazine forward, Wenner wasn’t above shorting owed money or printing scandalous material to sell an issue, and he made friends and enemies from the beginning; long-standing feuds with rock stars was not unusual.

Sticky Fingers is a rollicking, dishy read that displays Jann Wenner with blemishes and all.  Through it, we experience the never-stopping flurry of pop culture and its junctures with politics and the well-placed, influential set with whom Wenner flirted, wrote about, and outraged, until he was one of them.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

Essay Collections in the North Carolina Digital Library

In my previous entry, the subject was short stories.  For nonfiction readers who still like to read shorter works, it seems that essays might just be the answer.  And essays don’t have to be boring – in the hands of good writers, they’re devourable slices of life from the mundane to fascinating.  In this suggested group of collections, you’ll read from humorists, neurologists, scientists, fiction writers who wax poetic in nonfiction prose, and more.  Read on…

Calypso by David Sedaris – from This American Life to now, Sedaris still retains his eclectic wit.  Here, topics range from his family to recent politics to a beach house called the Sea Section.

Letters from an Astrophysicist by Neil DeGrasse Tyson – A question and answer series of sessions, focusing on letters that Tyson has received from fans all over, asking about the big questions of life and universe.

The Death of Truth by Michiko Kakutani –  A former New Yorks Times critic makes an observation of truth and its gradual erosion from society, as subjectivity and fake news take center stage, a process she determines began decades ago.

The River of Consciousness by Oliver Sacks – the many-faceted Sacks wrote prolifically about the anomalies of human thought.  Here, in some of the last writings before his death in 2015, Sacks examines a wide range of human (and biological) experience.

The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman – Gaiman has written some wonderful, and sometimes disturbing, fantasy fiction.  Here, he’s equally at home in the essay format.  Gaiman extols reading and the institutions that foster it (Hear!  Hear!  libraries and bookstores!) early on in this collection.  Included is “Make Good Art”, his commencement address from 2012.

The Noble Hustle by Colson Whitehead – the author of The Underground Railroad turns his attention to the world of high stakes poker.  Knowing little about the game, Whitehead immersed himself into training for the biggest game of all in Las Vegas.  His essays detail life and its extremities at the poker table.

Things That Matter by Charles Krauthammer – A conservative writer who has his own conventions on practically any subject, Krauthammer takes on more than just politics in this collection of essays spanning the past thirty years.

Steal the Menu by Raymond Sokolov – Another “life in food” memoir in essays.  Sokolov, who has written for both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, praises and roasts in equal measure the restaurants and food encounters that have shaped his perceptions of cuisine.

When I Was a Child, I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson – essays from the author of Gilead that look at the role of faith in society and the myths of individualism.

The Fran Lebowitz Reader – This combines two of Lebowitz’s earlier bestsellers (Metropolitan Life and Social Studies), providing a window to New York City in the 1970s with biting wit.

All of these are in the North Carolina Digital Library collection, brought to you by the Greensboro Public Library.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World By David Epstein

Title details for Range by David Epstein - Wait listRange is a refreshing look into success in a world where specialization is very much emphasized.  I have believed in specialization myself, thinking that focusing practice into something I hold dear and near to my heart would make me an expert and thus make me successful, but this book by David Epstein leans otherwise, and I was happy to read it.

Answers to difficult questions often come from a broad range of experiences, knowledge, and talents.  I have a wide background myself, which started in psychology as an undergrad, then on to photography or more specifically photojournalism, my first love and passion, which went to teaching and then to the library world.  Sometimes I get a question at the library that brings up my previous background and experience.

Epstein’s Range inspired me.  As someone who floundered in my early years, it’s good to know that all those times striving were not wasted.  Reading this book helped me believe that all my work experiences were worthwhile, whether it was working the line during fried chicken Friday at the dining hall at the local university, or serving immigrants teaching English in which only a minimal few seemed to understand. 

Focus is key to success in many things, I believe, but a good amount of exploration is good for the soul and in many different ways, such as bringing it all together for a solution to a problem. The book notes that solutions to problems often came from persons who had a wide background or were outside the field in which the problem was. And Range begins with the notion that those who begin with a wide range of interests and dabble in those things are more likely to succeed in the end. Those who start specialized may have a head start, but the others catch up.

Please take a careful and contemplative read into Range. I believe it helps you develop yourself, or your children, or students. Instead of hyper-specialization, the book emphasizes a wide range of interests and activities.

(Stella Oh, McGirt-Horton Branch Library)



I You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name by Heather Lende

The charm of an isolated small town and its unique inhabitants create the Title details for If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name by Heather Lende - Availableframework for this collection of essays and memories.

Haines, Alaska, is only about ninety miles away from Juneau, and might as well be a thousand.  Transportation between the two can only be done by boat ferry or airplane, with an occasional cruise trip stopping in to port.

The setting of Haines is idyllic – within the Inside Passage, bounded by mountains and sea – but the weather can be harsh and unforgiving, the risks of living off this kind of land sometimes deadly.

And yet, the people of Haines find a life and happiness, and even thrive there, creating their own culture, whether they are Native American, born in the town, or outsiders who just come to visit, and then stay for the next forty years.

For the author and her family, Haines is home, but an acquired one.  Lende was an east coast import, but by the time of this book’s publication (2005), she had lived in Alaska for twenty years, nearly all of them in Haines.

Getting things done in the middle of nowhere takes some ingenuity, whether it’s delivering a baby, dealing with a ruptured appendix, or adopting a child from another country (Bulgaria, to be specific).  The Lende family soon become a part of the town’s support system, learning the intricacies of smoking salmon, building a house, local potlucks, maneuvering the tight network of churches in the area, or surviving, with a smile, the vicissitudes of local politics.

Death is a steady and immediate part of this community, and Lende learns this first hand, as she writes obituaries for the local weekly paper.  She meets some of her most noteworthy acquaintances and friends when meeting them to write about a loved one who has passed.

If You Lived Here is funny and a quick read, the author’s approach that of an easy-going neighbor.  Haines’ unflappable denizens get through every funeral and school social with a wonderful deadpan humor that makes me think of the show Northern Exposure of many years ago.  And while the book is a little bit dated, there is still plenty here with which to laugh at and commiserate.

Find your ebook copy of this book here.

(William Hicks, Information Services)




Suggested Music Biographies

The North Carolina Digital Library, provided through the Greensboro Public Library, has a great collection of biographies, and as a subcategory, a nice selection of music biographies.  Some are autobiographical; others were written posthumously about the musician(s).  Here are some suggestions for future reading.

1. Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz – I never was a fan, Title details for Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond - Wait listbut lots of folks were.  Indulge in this collage of bio, photographs and reminisces, co-told by two members of the band, along with other contributors, that covers the thirty-year plus odyssey of the Beastie Boys.

2. Mozart in the Jungle : Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music by Blair Tindall – The down-and-dirty tale of the reality of a classical musician, written by a veteran of the New York City music scene. 

Title details for Bessie by Chris Albertson - Wait list3. Bessie by Chris Albertson – An updated version of a 1972 biography of Bessie Smith, written by a renowned jazz journalist, that chronicles the tempestuous life of this amazing blues singer, who died much too early in 1937.

4. Texas Flood : The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan by Alan Paul and Andy Aledort – An admiring biography of the blues guitar legend, who died tragically in 1990.

5. Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith – Less of a standard autobiography, this one isTitle details for Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith - Available more of a year-long personal journey throughout the American West and elsewhere as songwriter and poet Smith ruminates about age, tragedy, and the changing political climate.

6. Horror Stories : A Memoir by Liz Phair – Her album Exile in Guyville turned lots of heads when it came out in 1993.  Over the years, Phair has kept on recording music, and here, she turns her unabashed style of writing to the memoir form.

Title details for Serving the Servant by Danny Goldberg - Available7. A Song for You : My Life with Whitney Houston by Robyn Crawford – One of Whitney’s closest friends recounts her long friendship with Houston, and provides a different aspect of the singing star beyond the glitz and controversy. 

8. Serving the Servant : Remembering Kurt Cobain by Danny Goldberg – Nirvana’s manager reflects on Cobain twenty five years after his death, focusing more on his life and musical legacy than the idolatry of Cobain as tortured soul.

(William Hicks, Information Services)







Mindset: A New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck

I was introduced to Mindset by Carol Dweck through a professional development Mindsetprogram, and was curious to read on.  This book talks about the fixed and the growth mindset, that the ones who we consider to be born with certain talents and abilities do not succeed as well as others who believe they can strive to achieve.  Prior to reading this book, I believed that we were all born with certain traits such as intelligence, and aptitude for talents such as music.  According to Dweck, however, even intelligence, along with musical talent, are abilities that can be grown.

Simply put, I wondered if The Little Engine That Could was right after all – that if you believe that you can, you will.  Reality seemed rather different to me at times, however.  For example, as much as I wanted to learn to play the guitar well, it was so difficult for me, and after 10 or more years I still have not gone far.  Perhaps practice was key, since I was easily frustrated and did not practice much at all. 

The author discusses the popular idea that if you give a skill 10,000 hours of practice, you will become a master of it.  I have doubts about this notion personally, but that is only because I cannot imagine devoting 10,000 hours into a skill unless I truly love it and am passionate about it to the core, but I believe I lack the self-discipline to keep at it.  Also, does it have to be focused, continuous practice?  Couldn’t we take a break and breathe for a bit, letting our mind and body absorb that we learned for a bit?

Mindset has helped me see that the fixed and growth mindsets affect leadership as well.  Those with fixed mindsets who believed they were naturally the best did not seem to care much for those they led.  They were often arrogant and demanding, among other negative leadership traits.  Those who worked hard to be where they were as a leader and started humbly seemed to understand those they served better, rather than lead like a bully, and had more compassion and empathy.  I believe these are attributes to great leaders – that they work hard and know the value of working hard to achieve success, and have a healthy dose of the growth mindset.

Dweck’s Mindset also gave me an insight into the world of success.  There is no secret that things are achieved by good old fashioned hard work.  Oftentimes I hear about working smart, not hard, and I wonder if that could be applied in this case, but I happen to believe there are not many good shortcuts in life.  Those who think that a person has a certain, limited amount to talent and abilities will not likely succeed, but those who grow, even in their failures, will one day succeed.  I would personally like to add that life is not always about outward, qualitative success either.  Sometimes success can come in intangible values, such as good personal connection.  Those who lead and serve with compassion and empathy are more likely to have a far more enriching and meaningful lives than those who do not. 

Check out an ebook copy of Mindset through the North Carolina Digital Library. 

(Stella Oh, McGirt-Horton Branch Library)

Environmental Topics : EBooks to Consider

As we get into Earth Day season, here are a few ebook reading suggestions that will hopefully spark your interest in environmental issues. The first two are biographies, and the other four are books written by authors that are known for their stances on the natural world. Some of these are fairly recent; at least one is an oldie-but-goody. All are accessible through the North Carolina Digital Library.

There were two biographies that caught my eye – one about someone you may never have heard about, and then another with a name that should be familiar, particularly for anyone growing up from the 1960s onward.

In The Invention of Nature : Alexander Humboldt’s New World, author AndreaTitle details for The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf - Available Wulf recounts the action-packed life of one of the most renowned scientists of his time. Humboldt was an insatiable traveler, and his trips took him far from his native Berlin. In Wulf’s book, she writes of Humboldt as a catalyst to how we view the natural world; she also cites him as a prime influence on later environmental thinkers such as John Muir and Henry David Thoreau.

In On a Farther Shore The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson,William Souder picks one of the more prominent figures of the environmental movement; indeed, Rachel Carson was the Title details for On a Farther Shore by William Souder - Availableproverbial fuel for the fire. Her book Silent Spring, published in the early 1960s, exposed the dangers of the pesticides then prevalent in use. Stouder chronicles Carson’s all too short life and her muckraking, which got both government and individuals involved.

The North Carolina Digital Library also has two books that Rachel Carson wrote – the aforementioned Silent Spring, which has had an uptick in popularity, and Lost Woods, a collection of her other writings, including early essays and speeches.

A Selected List of Books Written by Environmentalists/Naturalists

What Matters? Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth by Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry has been writing on the natural world for eons.  In What Matters?, a collection of essays spanning twenty-five years, Berry lays out his vision for a renewed economic purpose, one decidedly agrarian, and more importantly, sustainable.

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

This is the oldie-but-goody, covering Abbey’s years in the 1950s as a park ranger in Arches National Monument in Utah.  First published in 1968, Abbey describes the natural worlds of the American Southwest, and expresses his disdain with development.  

The Future : Six Drivers of Global Change by Al Gore

Al Gore hit the environmental bandwagon years ago with An Inconvenient Truth, and The Future continues his vision for how the world should approach change, keeping in mind the effect we all have on our natural resources.

Half-Earth : Our Planet’s Fight for Life by Edward O. Wilson

Wilson puts forth his proposal of preserving what we have left of biodiversity by keeping half of the earth’s area as nature preserve.

I hope that these selections will be of interest to you.  Some things to note – when you are using the North Carolina Digital Library, please remember to sign in with your library card number – you’ll have a better selection.  Also, I noticed that at least a few of these titles were available in audio book format.

(William Hicks, Information Services)




The Adventurer’s Son : A Memoir by Roman Dial

The Adventurer’s Son documents the aftermath of a son’s disappearance in aThe Adventurer's Son Central American rain forest and its repercussions for his family.

The author was, and is, a consummate adventurer.  By his late teens, he was scaling mountains and frozen waterfalls with abandon, and Alaska, with its plethora of natural challenges, became his home state.

As a father and researcher, Dial still loved the trek, the climb, the river run, and gladly took his family along with him.  His wife Peggy, a protected but open-minded youngest child before marriage, quickly embraced the adventurous lifestyle of her husband, and added a good dose of common sense to their collective excursions.

Roman and Peggy raised their two children to be fearless, but to have a healthy regard and curiosity to the natural world.  The son, named after his father, accompanied him on research trips at an early age (a highlight in the book is a chapter on a trip to the remote Aleutian island of Umnak.)  As Roman the younger entered adulthood, he proved as much of a trekker as his dad, and the two still got together for adventures that are best read about.

That their son would venture alone into jungles in Central America was certainly a cause for concern for his parents, but the younger Roman had proved his mettle on hikes in Mexico and Guatemala, and when a chance came to trek the remote Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica, he emailed his parents of his initial whereabouts, and set out for his journey.

They never heard from him again.

Part III, which recounts their search for their son, takes into consideration the sheer frustration and dangers of combing a tropical rain forest for evidence, while holding at bay the press, indifferent and/or hostile government officials in both the United States and Costa Rica, and managing their own sanity.  The Dials also met many empathetic souls including Costa Ricans and expats, and while their journey was a sad and exhausting one, the presence of good souls made it a better experience.

This book has drawn many comparisons to Into the Wild, and that book’s author, Jon Krakauer, touts The Adventurer’s Son as a page-turner.

(William Hicks, Information Services)


The Bells of Old Tokyo : Meditations on Time and a City by Anna Sherman

Tokyo is known for being modern and sprawling, one of the biggest cities in the world.bells of old Tokyo

The author is not interested in the endless skyscrapers and rebuilding.  She wants to experience the older city, specifically the older haunts, the places that still exist despite being walled in by modernity.

As per the title, the author’s focus is on the bells of the city, rung by government officials and Buddhist monks alike, that directed the daily flow of Edo, the old name of Tokyo.

As she searches for the relics of a previous time, Sherman muses on the meaning of time itself and how traditional Japanese culture has perceived it.  Even their perception to clocks and clockmaking is immensely different to Western views (see the chapter “Nezu : Tokugawa Timepieces” for the history of this).

Her journey takes her to coffee shops and family-run museums, through city natives’ memories of old neighborhoods and the horrors of World War II, when large parts of Tokyo were fire bombed.

A re-occurring character is Daibo, owner of a coffee shop who doesn’t so much pour a cup as construct one.  Daibo is an anomaly, a reminder of a slower era, one in which quality wasn’t rushed.

The Bells of Old Tokyo is not a book to race through; rather, it’s best to quietly ponder as you thumb through each chapter.  The keyword “meditations” in the subtitle says it all.

(William Hicks, Information Services)