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Book Club Favorites: 6 True Stories Primed for Meaningful Discussions

September 10 2021
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While I love to dive into conversations surrounding imaginative stories and dreamed-up conflicts, nonfiction books often add a deeper element to my clubs’ meetings. True stories—whether a heartfelt memoir or a captivating biography—prompt meaningful and often complex discussions among group members. Just knowing that the words behind a story were all written out of truth brings a flood of questions to mind. If your book club also enjoys a captivating nonfiction read from time to time, these inspiring true stories are packed with character growth, complex themes, and rich writing. Prepare to pour out a second glass at your next book club discussion, because these titles will have you chitchatting long into the night!

This Will All Be Over Soon
by Cecily Strong

Cecily Strong, of Saturday Night Live, pours her heart out in this new and powerful memoir. While grieving the death of her beloved cousin, Cecily was plunged into yet another tragedy: the coronavirus pandemic. This raw memoir surrounding love and loss reminds all readers to walk through life with positivity and hope. Because, after all, one day this will all be over, as the title says. The lessons Cecily writes about are certainly important teachings to discuss with your own club—and may inspire a few deep discussions about life, death, and everything in between.

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This Will All Be Over Soon
Cecily Strong

A powerful memoir from the Saturday Night Live cast member Cecily Strong about grieving the death of her cousin—and embracing the life-affirming lessons he taught her—amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Cecily Strong had a special bond with her cousin Owen. And so she was devastated when, in early 2020, he passed away at age thirty from the brain cancer glioblastoma. Before Strong could attempt to process her grief, another tragedy struck: the coronavirus pandemic. Following a few harrowing weeks in the virus epicenter of New York City, Strong relocated to an isolated house in the woods upstate. Here, trying to make sense of Owen’s death and the upended world, she spent much of the ensuing months writing. The result is This Will All Be Over Soon—a raw, unflinching memoir about loss, love, laughter, and hope.

Befitting the time-warped year of 2020, the diary-like approach deftly weaves together the present and the past. Strong chronicles the challenges of beginning a relationship during the pandemic and the fear when her new boyfriend contracts COVID. She describes the pain of losing her friend and longtime Saturday Night Live staff member Hal Willner to the virus. She reflects on formative events from her life, including how her high school expulsion led to her pursuing a career in theater and, years later, landing at SNL.

Yet the heart of the book is Owen. Strong offers a poignant account of her cousin’s life, both before and after his diagnosis. Inspired by his unshakable positivity and the valuable lessons he taught her, she has written a book that—as indicated by its title—serves as a moving reminder: whatever challenges life might throw one’s way, they will be over soon. And so will life. So make sure to appreciate every day and don’t take a second of it for granted.

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Book Club Favorites: 6 True Stories Primed for Meaningful Discussions

By Holly Claytor | September 10, 2021

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Three Girls from Bronzeville
by Dawn Turner

Dawn Turner’s THREE GIRLS FROM BRONZEVILLE offers a compelling exploration of race, opportunity, and friendship. Set in the Bronzeville section of Chicago, Dawn, her sister Kim, and their friend Debra bonded together among their neighborhood streets. Growing up, they were promised more opportunity than any other generation of Black Americans in history. Despite this, the girls’ lives diverge in dramatic ways, leading to heartbreak, loss, and shock. In this memoir, Dawn attempts to answer the profound question of why? Why were some opportunities available while others were not? This is a celebration of sisterhood and friendship and a testimony to the strength of Black women.

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Three Girls from Bronzeville
Dawn Turner

A “beautiful, tragic, and inspiring” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) memoir about three Black girls from the storied Bronzeville section of Chicago that offers a penetrating exploration of race, opportunity, friendship, sisterhood, and the powerful forces at work that allow some to flourish…and others to falter.

They were three Black girls. Dawn, tall and studious; her sister, Kim, younger by three years and headstrong as they come; and her best friend, Debra, already prom-queen pretty by third grade. They bonded—fervently and intensely in that unique way of little girls—as they roamed the concrete landscape of Bronzeville, a historic neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, the destination of hundreds of thousands of Black folks who fled the ravages of the Jim Crow South.

These third-generation daughters of the Great Migration come of age in the 1970s, in the warm glow of the recent civil rights movement. It has offered them a promise, albeit nascent and fragile, that they will have more opportunities, rights, and freedoms than any generation of Black Americans in history. Their working-class, striving parents are eager for them to realize this hard-fought potential. But the girls have much more immediate concerns: hiding under the dining room table and eavesdropping on grown folks’ business; collecting secret treasures; and daydreaming about their futures—Dawn and Debra, doctors, Kim a teacher. For a brief, wondrous moment the girls are all giggles and dreams and promises of “friends forever.” And then fate intervenes, first slowly and then dramatically, sending them careening in wildly different directions. There’s heartbreak, loss, displacement, and even murder. Dawn struggles to make sense of the shocking turns that consume her sister and her best friend, all the while asking herself a simple but profound question: Why?

In the vein of The Other Wes Moore and The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, Three Girls from Bronzeville is a piercing memoir that chronicles Dawn’s attempt to find answers. It’s at once a celebration of sisterhood and friendship, a testimony to the unique struggles of Black women, and a tour-de-force about the complex interplay of race, class, and opportunity, and how those forces shape our lives and our capacity for resilience and redemption.

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There She Was
by Amy Argetsinger

As the Miss America pageant approaches its centennial, Amy Argetsinger, a Washington Post style editor, takes a look back at its legacy. Amid the glitz and glamour, Miss America has also taught brutal lessons of living beneath fame. From scandals to financial turmoil, Argetsinger dissects the decades of social and cultural change surrounding the pageant. If your club is intrigued by history and drama, THERE SHE WAS will certainly have you talking.

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There She Was
Amy Argetsinger

A Washington Post Style editor’s fascinating and irresistible look back on the Miss America pageant as it approaches its 100th anniversary.

The sash. The tears. The glittering crown. And of course, that soaring song. For all of its pomp and kitsch, the Miss America pageant is indelibly written into the American story of the past century. From its giddy origins as a summer’s-end tourist draw in Prohibition-era Atlantic City, it blossomed into a televised extravaganza that drew tens of millions of viewers in its heyday and was once considered the highest honor that a young woman could achieve.

For two years, Washington Post reporter and editor Amy Argetsinger visited pageants and interviewed former winners and contestants to unveil the hidden world of this iconic institution. There She Was spotlights how the pageant survived decades of social and cultural change, collided with a women’s liberation movement that sought to abolish it, and redefined itself alongside evolving ideas about feminism.

For its superstars—Phyllis George, Vanessa Williams, Gretchen Carlson—and for those who never became household names, Miss America was a platform for women to exercise their ambitions and learn brutal lessons about the culture of fame. Spirited and revelatory, There She Was charts the evolution of the American woman, from the Miss America catapulted into advocacy after she was exposed as a survivor of domestic violence to the one who used her crown to launch a congressional campaign; from a 1930s winner who ran away on the night of her crowning to a present-day rock guitarist carving out her place in this world. Argetsinger dissects the scandals and financial turmoil that have repeatedly threatened to kill the pageant—and highlights the unexpected sisterhood of Miss Americas fighting to keep it alive.

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Book Club Favorites: 6 True Stories Primed for Meaningful Discussions

By Holly Claytor | September 10, 2021

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Please Enjoy Your Happiness
by Paul Brinkley-Rogers

Paul Brinkley-Rogers tells the story of his haunting love affair in this beautiful and evocative memoir. Paul was a sailor aboard the USS Shangri-La when he met Kaji Yukiko, a mysterious older Japanese woman in 1959. But things take a dramatic turn when a member of Japan’s brutal crime syndicate attempted to kidnap Yukiko. Readers are given a glimpse into history through Yukiko’s letters and Paul’s vivid recollection of World War II. For romance, beauty, and an unforgettable journey, PLEASE ENJOY YOUR HAPPINESS is the perfect book club pick.

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Please Enjoy Your Happiness
Paul Brinkley-Rogers

A beautiful and evocative memoir based on the author’s summer-long love affair with a remarkable older Japanese woman in the wake of World War II—“the most romantic memoir you’re likely to read in a lifetime” (New York Times bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand).

Pulitzer Prize–winning war correspondent Paul Brinkley‑Rogers has lived an adventurous life all over the world. But there is one story he cannot forget: that of his haunting love affair with a mysterious older Japanese woman in 1959. Paul was a sailor aboard the USS Shangri‑La that long‑ago summer when he met Kaji Yukiko in the seaport of Yokosuka. A fierce intellectual, Yukiko shared her astonishing knowledge of literature, film, and poetry with Paul and encouraged, even demanded, that he use his gifts to become the writer he is today.

But theirs was not a quiet love story. When a member of the yakuza, Japan’s brutal crime syndicate, attempted to kidnap Yukiko, Paul realized that there was much more to her—and to Japan in the devastating wake of World War II—than he saw at first glance. Through the searing letters that Yukiko wrote to him and Paul’s vivid telling of a history made all the more powerful and poignant by the weight of time, Please Enjoy Your Happiness reaches across decades and continents, inviting us all to revisit those loves of our lives that never truly end.

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Filthy Beasts
by Kirkland Hamill

FILTHY BEASTS is a riveting rags-to-riches tale of one wealthy family who lost it all. Kirk spent his early years growing up in New York’s upper-class society, but after a messy divorce, he, his mother, Wendy, and his two brothers are exiled from their elite east coast circle. After relocating to Bermuda, Wendy spirals down a slippery slope of alcoholism and spends her time chasing wealth and suitors. Kirk and his brothers are left to fend for themselves, plunging into a drastically different life than they grew accustomed to. It wasn’t until after Kirk left his dysfunctional mother to attend college that he realized how strange his family upbringing was. FILTHY BEASTS is a fascinating window into two starkly different socioeconomic classes and a powerful story of self-acceptance.

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Filthy Beasts
Kirkland Hamill

Running with Scissors meets Grey Gardens in this “vivid tragicomedy” (People), a riveting riches-to-rags tale of a wealthy family who lost it all and the unforgettable journey of a man coming to terms with his family’s deep flaws and his own hidden secrets.

“Wake up, you filthy beasts!” Wendy Hamill would shout to her children in the mornings before school. Startled from their dreams, Kirk and his two brothers couldn’t help but wonder—would they find enough food in the house for breakfast?

Following a hostile exit from New York’s upper-class society, newly divorced Wendy and her three sons are exiled from the East Coast elite circle. Wendy’s middle son, Kirk, is eight when she moves the family to her native Bermuda, leaving the three young boys to fend for themselves as she chases after the highs of her old life: alcohol, a wealthy new suitor, and other indulgences.

After eventually leaving his mother’s dysfunctional orbit for college in New Orleans, Kirk begins to realize how different his family and upbringing is from that of his friends and peers. Split between rich privilege—early years living in luxury on his family’s private compound—and bare survival—rationing food and water during the height of his mother’s alcoholism—Kirk is used to keeping up appearances and burying his inconvenient truths from the world, until he’s eighteen and falls in love for the first time.

A keenly observed, fascinating window into the life of extreme privilege and a powerful story of self-acceptance, Filthy Beasts is “a stunning, deeply satisfying story about how we outlive our upbringings” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).

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Book Club Favorites: 6 True Stories Primed for Meaningful Discussions

By Holly Claytor | September 10, 2021

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Group
by Christie Tate

Christie Tate is on the top of her game. She’s excelling in law school, just landed the perfect job, and has finally gotten ahold of her eating disorder. Yet, beneath it all, she is still unhappy. In a desperate attempt to transform her life and finally attain comfortability and happiness, Christie enlists the help of Dr. Rosen, who places Christie in one of his psychotherapy groups. In front of six complete strangers, Christie gets real about her own issues, in turn discovering her true self. Selected as a Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick, GROUP has already stolen the hearts of so many clubs across the nation.

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Group
Christie Tate

A REESE’S BOOK CLUB PICK * NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

The refreshingly original and “startlingly hopeful” (Lisa Taddeo) debut memoir of an over-achieving young lawyer who reluctantly agrees to group therapy and gets psychologically and emotionally naked in a room of six complete strangers—and finds human connection, and herself.

Christie Tate had just been named the top student in her law school class and finally had her eating disorder under control. Why then was she driving through Chicago fantasizing about her own death? Why was she envisioning putting an end to the isolation and sadness that still plagued her despite her achievements?

Enter Dr. Rosen, a therapist who calmly assures her that if she joins one of his psychotherapy groups, he can transform her life. All she has to do is show up and be honest. About everything—her eating habits, childhood, sexual history, etc. Christie is skeptical, insisting that that she is defective, beyond cure. But Dr. Rosen issues a nine-word prescription that will change everything: “You don’t need a cure. You need a witness.”

So begins her entry into the strange, terrifying, and ultimately life-changing world of group therapy. Christie is initially put off by Dr. Rosen’s outlandish directives, but as her defenses break down and she comes to trust Dr. Rosen and to depend on the sessions and the prescribed nightly phone calls with various group members, she begins to understand what it means to connect.

“Often hilarious, and ultimately very touching” (People), Group is “a wild ride” (The Boston Globe), and with Christie as our guide, we are given a front row seat to the daring, exhilarating, painful, and hilarious journey that is group therapy—an under-explored process that breaks you down, and then reassembles you so that all the pieces finally fit.

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