Even for those who have long since graduated, the beginning of September can trigger romantic memories of crisp notebook pages, freshly sharpened pencils, the smell of rubber erasers, and the click-swish of chalk against a blackboard. Summer may be over, but along with the cooler air comes a heightened sense of potential. Here to help you re-capture that back-to-school magic is Amy Mikel from The Brooklyn Public Library and her list of 10 books that prove you’re never too old to stop learning.

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west elm - 10 Books That Will Take You Back To School, curated by Brooklyn Public Library

Throughout my 20’s, I used to think nonfiction was “not well-written” and “boring.” I don’t remember when or why my perspective switched, but nowadays, I prefer nonfiction to fiction. I read in all formats: graphic novels; books published for children, teens or adults; essays and articles; you name it. Here is a good mix of engaging nonfiction (read: not pedantic, long and/or dull), including some of my favorites. Pick just one or read them all to sharpen up your knowledge and impress your friends. —Amy

Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
by Joshua Foer

What is a science journalist on a quest to improve his memory to do? Enroll in the U.S. Memory Championships, of course. Over the course of a year, Foer trains with practiced “mental athletes” while delving deep into the science of the brain and memory, to fascinating effect.

All the Time in the World: A Book of Hours
by Jessica Kerwin Jenkins

The medieval book of hours, a collection of devotions for times of the day and seasons, is the template for this book about how people through the ages have passed the time. Cleverly divided into 75 vignettes, I found this book to be relaxing, witty and enlightening.

Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio
by Jessica Abel

A behind-the scenes look at how some of the most popular narrative radio shows, like This American Life, Radiolab and Planet Money, are lovingly produced to maximize the power of their stories.

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, 1920-1933
by Daniel Okrent

This book, which systematically lays out the factors leading to the 18th (and 21st) amendments to the Constitution, would be a great gift for any booze lover and fan of U.S. history.

El Deafo
by Cece Bell

Proof that kid lit can pack a mighty punch. The author, who lost her hearing at a young age, gives us her coming-of-age story in graphic novel form. This is a wonderful book for building empathy; give it to a young reader in your life, but not before reading it yourself first.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot

I recommend this book to almost everybody. The story of a poor black woman whose cancerous cells—eventually responsible for countless medical breakthroughs, including polio, cancer and AIDS—were taken from her without her knowledge (not illegal at the time) touches on social justice, medical ethics, cellular research and more. Read it before the Oprah-backed film comes out: it’s a jam-packed and sobering story.

The Works: Anatomy of A City
by Kate Ascher

A coffee table book you will actually want to read. This illustrated guide to urban water, traffic, sewage, electricity, mail and subway systems is packed with facts and anecdotes; perfect for those of us who loved reading the Stephen Biesty “Cross Sections” books as kids.

Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World
by Dan Koeppel

Bananas, such a commonplace fruit for millions worldwide, is what Koeppel calls, “among the most complex crops cultivated by humans.” And if genetic scientists don’t come up with a solution, the Cavendish varietal, backbone of the global banana industry, could suffer a total collapse within a generation. A banana history to read before bananas (as we know them) are history.

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage
by Sydney Padua

An alternate history of Ada Lovelace (the first programmer) and Charles Babbage (the almost-inventor of the computer), that posits what would have happened if the pair had actually built the theoretical first computer, the Difference Engine. The detailed illustrations and diagrams come with comprehensive footnotes that give context for the mayhem that ensues.

The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries
by Marilyn Johnson

This may be the most uplifting book about death you will ever read. In deconstructing the art of the obituary, Johnson celebrates the well-lived life and the obituary writers (and readers) who help make those lives eternal.

Amy Mikel - Brooklyn Public Library

Amy Mikel oversees The Brooklyn Public Library’s school outreach team, and her love of nonfiction runs deep. Pro librarian tip: nonfiction is enjoying its heyday in youth publishing right now – pick up a kids or teen title to learn a lot in a short while. Amy and her husband live in Flatbush, BK and are eagerly expecting twin boys.

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September 17, 2016

Great suggestions! I work for the local library district in Las Vegas Nevada.

Mary o’connor

September 18, 2016

Reading “The Birth of the Pill”……by Jonathan Eig……find it fascinating!!!! How it changed society.

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