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Searching For That Next Non-Fiction Read?
Library Lin’s Can Offer an Assist
Picking your next book can feel like a difficult decision. Let’s face it, there are simply so many to choose from.
Like a menu in a fine dining establishment featuring a smorgasbord of culinary delights, what if you could avail yourself of a curated list of book selections making this task far easier.
Here’s the good news, such a resource does exist. Library Lin’s Curated Collection of Superlative Nonfiction written by Linda Maxie is a librarian’s A-list of nonfiction books organized by subject area—just like you’d find in a library. So if you are a die-hard nonfiction book fan and/or philomath, you’ll find it to be a gold mind worth excavating.
This book is a culmination of Maxie’s ( i.e. Library Lin’s) time in the trenches, pursuing the herculean quest of sifting through 65 best book lists dating back a century. She combed through tens of thousands of books, sorting them through the use of the iconic Dewey Decimal Classification system. As a result, you now have an entire library’s worth of non-fiction books for you to browse without ever leaving home.
Library Lin’s delivers a cannon of title summaries within a broad range of subjects and categories. It allows you to break open a vast set of book piñatas to identify titles on everything from the A-bomb to Zen Buddhism. Through the use of this book, you might find yourself immersed in an ocean of esoteric subject areas that you never thought you’d find interest in.
Maxie's efforts at culling through myriad sources to deliver a wonderful guide to some of the best books available are akin to a Super Bowl for readers. Although her list is not definitive, and many prized books failed to make the cut, her exquisitely curated list delivers an excellent guide for any non-fiction book aficionado.
Recently, I had the good pleasure of interviewing Linda Maxie, a retired librarian who’s passionate about matching the right book with the right reader.
First, tell us a little about your life journey as it relates to the world of libraries and non-fiction book collections.
I’ve been obsessed with books for as long as I can remember. The library was my favorite place in school. I became a school librarian immediately after college and went on to earn my Master of Library Science from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I worked in public and school libraries for most of my career.
While I love all books, I’ve always liked reading nonfiction best. I really like to learn about the world. It may sound crazy, but I’ve always been desperate to understand why things are the way they are.
How did Library Lin’s come to fruition?
Once I retired, I found myself fondly looking through book lists of all sorts. I realized that while books and articles often share fiction titles, nonfiction seems to be neglected. So this book is my attempt to fill the gap. My favorite part of being a librarian was connecting readers with books. I’m still doing that, but now it’s with a much larger audience.
So share with us your views about the enduring value of non-fiction books.
Most of us book lovers know that reading changes lives. Studies have shown that, among other things, reading is connected to larger incomes, increases memory, and alleviates stress. And personal experience tells me that reading makes you more empathetic.
If people are going to spend the time reading a book, it should be a good one. So I went through 65 lists of books recommended by publishers, librarians, editors, and subject experts and collected titles of nonfiction books they have selected for outstanding merit. For some of these lists, I went back to 1920 and recorded titles that won or were finalists for awards or made “best books” lists. So all the titles in my book were deemed excellent by experts who had read them.
How has the internet impacted this narrative?
We’ve gotten used to expecting simple answers to questions from the internet. But many vital questions are complicated and take thought. Books can help us delve deeply into facts and contradictions, helping us grapple with issues. Life is complicated, and getting a grasp of topics that matter to us helps us deal with it more effectively.
As a kid, I have memories of the Dewey Decimal Classification System from my trips to the library. For those who may be unfamiliar with it, can you take us back in time?
American librarian Mevil Dewey published the Dewey Decimal Classification system in 1876 to solve a common problem libraries had in keeping up with ever-expanding collections of books. As books became more affordable and many more were published, it was sometimes difficult for libraries to locate specific books they had, especially by subject.
Dewey tweaked several earlier schemes to create a system that made it easy for libraries to shelve books on like subjects together while also elastic enough to incorporate new subjects. The system expands to accommodate books on any topic. Things have changed a lot since it was devised, but because of this flexibility, most public libraries still use it.
How exactly did you use it to create the compendium of books listed in your collection?
I took the titles I had found in the lists I used and, with permission from the Online Cataloging and Library Cataloging service (OCLC), I divided the tens of thousands of titles I found into the proper Dewey subdivisions. There are 1,000 subdivisions so this was quite time-consuming.
Once I had the titles divided up, I focused on trying to balance them as much as possible. I limited each subdivision to ten titles and added subject-appropriate biographies if any were available. In addition, I tried to keep the coverage of topics even. For example, in the sections on music, I tried to have books representing all the major genres if titles were available.
Tell us a little about your process of selecting the books?
I didn’t choose books that fit a predetermined viewpoint, my own or anyone else’s. If a topic is controversial, I included books that present different ideas on the issue if such books were on the lists I consulted.
Of course, not every case had titles covering every viewpoint. But one of the hallmarks of a good book is that the author acknowledges differing views and addresses them with reliable research and intellectual honesty. A good-faith effort to represent the truth accurately is required. Good writers back up their assertions with references to their sources so readers can check behind them to ensure they are right.
Unfortunately, I had to cut some great books. The book would have been too long to publish if I hadn’t. It made me sad to omit these intriguing books, but many of them are on my website’s blog under “The Further Reading Section” at https://librarylin.com
How can a reader make the best use of your book to browse summaries of outstanding titles and identify reading materials specific to their needs and interests?
In the introduction, I explain in detail how the reader can use the book and why certain books are placed in their subdivisions. But it’s not necessary to read the entire introduction first, or even at all. Since the book’s structure forms a portable library, I was hoping to give readers a taste of what they might find while browsing through the shelves of a physical library. So it’s possible to jump in anywhere and find something of interest.
By way of example, if you love history, go straight to Chapter 10: “Geography, Biography, History.” While this chapter includes biographies, libraries commonly place biographies in the subject-appropriate category today. So a book on Albert Einstein would be in the 530s, the physics subdivision.
What about folks who are unfamiliar with how library systems work?
For those folks, I’d suggest turning to the table of contents to see the broad Dewey Division headings and explore from there. Remember that the subjects you are looking for may not always be where you’d think. Environmental conservation is one example. Many people would expect to find that topic in the Natural Sciences chapter, and you can find books on it there. But you can also find books on conservation under “Law” in the Social Sciences chapter.
Another way to find books of interest is to look at the Author and Title Indexes in the back. If there is a writer or title you particularly like, check the indexes, turn to the page indicated, and browse the books on the pages nearby.
Who do you believe your book most appeals to?
Everyone who has an open mind and genuinely wants to learn will benefit from this book. It’s a portable library, and libraries are for everyone. I mean that in libraries, people from all backgrounds are equally valued. Anyone sincerely seeking the truth should be able to find material that meets their needs in a library. This book has the same goal, aiming at the curious, the open-minded, and those who sincerely want to understand reality.
What role do you believe books play in fostering connection and belongingness in today's divided and fractured world?
As humans, we need to be open to learning from one another. It’s not necessary to agree with someone else’s opinion. We learn when we listen to one another with open hearts and minds. Reading a variety of books is a safe way to do this in privacy and on your schedule. And it’s great to discuss the ideas with others as well.
Since the DDC has a place for every topic, there are books on almost everything covered in Library Lin’s Curated Collection of Superlative Nonfiction. It is my belief that by reading about many topics, people will come to understand viewpoints and experiences that are different from their own. That, in and of itself, would alleviate many of the sufferings and misunderstandings plaguing our shared reality today.
Finally, what is your greatest hope in terms of how Library Lin’s will benefit readers?
I hope this book serves as a springboard to further exploring through books. Use it as a starting place to discover new authors who speak to you. Or look for other books on new topics you discover. Employ the subdivision headings as keywords to search for new books. Think of this book as a reader’s “base camp.” Start there, move off to discover new books on your own and then, when you’re ready, come back to regroup for the next adventure. I’m having a great time working my way through many of these titles myself.