See what I mean? Easy.
But every now and then a nonfiction book comes along that could easily be categorized into three or more interest categories or genres or subjects or whatever you want to call them. And invariably these turn out to be thoughtful, well-writen, very interesting nonfiction books. Kelly McMasters's Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir from an Atomic Town. Let's break it down:
Memoir. Well, that's an easy one. McMasters put that in the title. It's true. This is a personal story, told by McMasters, and based on her youth spent in the Long Shore community of Shirley, including how its prevalence of young families provided her with lots of great friends of the same age, how it felt like home, and how many of she and her contemporaries went away for college or work but a lot of them came drifting back in, seeking the sense of community they'd felt there as kids. As memoir, it's extremely well done.
Relationships, Community Life. This is a nonfiction category that doesn't really exist anywhere except in my fevered imagination. And, maybe because it feels so personal, it's a category I'm very fond of. A lot of Relationships books do happen to be memoirs and biographies, because those are the nonfiction books that deal primarily with people as characters, but sometimes "memoir" just doesn't give the whole flavor. A book like Michael Perry's Population: 485, about his return to his small hometown in Wisconsin? That's Community Life to me. Same here. McMasters's love and appreciation for the community she and her parents found in Shirley, among their neighbors and friends, appears on nearly every page. As a Community Life book, it's extremely well done.
Environmental Writing. Unofortunately, Shirley also happens to be a town sitting smack dab on tons of chemical and nuclear waste, emitted for years by the Brookhaven National Laboratory just up the road. This is a town with unbelievably high cancer rates, and McMasters spends part of her research time on this book taking tours of the facility and asking questions of its scientists. Perhaps my favorite line from the book, about the fact that Brookhaven, as a federal facility, mixed its sloppy work with hubris: a federal investigator actually asked the parent of a child who had cancer, "'Didn't you ever think that you'd have to live with additional risks because of the good this lab has done for the community?'" (p. 221.) As Environmental Writing, it's extremely well done.
It's a phenomenal book. Sad as hell of course, but also weirdly uplifiting (and not in that horrible "just have a better attitude and everything will get better" way). This book is roughly 100 times the book that Randy Pausch's horrible The Last Lecture was. Of course, it won't sell nearly as many copies.
Also? The cover is perfect. Idyllic at the bottom, ominous on top, the town caught in the middle. Kudos to Pete Garceau on jacket design.