Last year in books: non-fiction

Thanks to a late-December bout of strep, I made it to 79 books last year. When I scanned back over the list, many of the titles that jumped out at me were non-fiction. So, in case you’d like to start 2017 with some brain fodder, here are a few of my top picks:

1. Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? by Timothy Caulfield

The title alone is enough reason to read this. But, should you need more, it’s a book about celebrity culture and how it influences our views on science. And it’s funny. Strangely, even as I was reading the debunking of Gwyneth Paltrow’s juice fasts, I was simultaneously thinking, “ooh… that sounds good” and even as I was learning about the zero research done on anti-aging creams, I was making a mental note to buy some. But Timothy Caulfield doesn’t judge. He simply warns that anyone promising to cleanse your adrenals is selling something.

2. Grunt by Mary Roach

Mary Roach is one of my favourite non-fiction writers and I happily read anything she writes, even if she happens to be writing about war and soldiers and technology. Who knew I would find myself interested in penis replacement surgery? This is the magic of Mary Roach.

3. The Empathy Exams, by Leslie Jamison

This is a beautifully written, thoughtful, wise collection of essays, and I could happily read the title essay again and again. The book is like that gem of a story collection you can’t wait to pass along to your friends, except these stories happen to be true.

4. North of Normal, by Cea Sunrise Person

I wrote about North of Normal when I read it last summer, and I’m still in love. You should read it no matter where you live, but if you happen to have spent any part of your childhood in the woods, you should read it today.

5. Symphony for the City of the Dead, by M.T. Anderson

This is supposed to be a young adult book and it’s really, really not. It’s a massive tome of Russian history and biography. But it is fascinating. As someone who admires obsession, I couldn’t help but marvel at composer Dmitri Shostakovich, who wrote and created throughout the Seige of Leningrad in 1943-44. The book itself must have been a work of obsession for the author. Who writes 464 pages about Russian history, for kids? I say definitely read this one… unless you’re 14 and want any hope of maintaining a normal social life.

Happy reading!

Summer reads

I’ve been reading the most wonderful books lately. Everything I pick up turns out to be enthralling. Which is bad for my work ethic and my sleep, but good for my soul!

If you need some summer reads, here are my recommendations:

North of Normal, by Cea Sunrise Person
I met Cea when I was in Ladner for an Authors for Indies event a few weeks ago. She’s this tall, blonde, gorgeous ex-model… who spent her childhood in the backwoods. And when I say backwoods, I don’t mean the backwoods of Crawford Bay, where I spent a few years. I mean the woods behind those sorts of backwoods. The places without roads and without groceries, let alone preschools or libraries or hospitals.

Cea’s in the middle of this picture. I’m on the right, and the lovely Ashley Spires (of Binky the Space Cat fame) is on the left:

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Cea’s grandparents were all about living off the land and, while they failed their granddaughter in many ways, they certainly passed along their resourcefulness. If you grew up in BC or Alberta, and especially if your mother went through that phase where she sewed your clothes from corduroy and grew her own alfalfa sprouts (which I can’t eat to this day), you must read North of Normal.

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The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson
This is 100% a beach read. You need the book, a towel, a sunshade, a snack, and maybe a package of tissues. That’s it. You’re set for a whole week of your summer. It’s a beautiful story about a young Latin teacher thrown into the societal pitfalls of an English town in the months leading up to World War I. There is romance and friendship, with some great twists woven between. It’s sort of like Downton Abbey in book form. What could be better?

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Pleased to Meet You, by Caroline Adderson
I keep saying I don’t like short stories. Then I read a book of short stories and I love them. Maybe I only like them once they’re bound into book form? Or maybe (gasp!) my tastes are changing? This is a collection of Caroline Adderson stories published a decade ago, but I picked it up at a workshop on the weekend and now I can’t put it down. She’s so adept at wiggling into the heads of quirky characters, from an actuary-turned-poet to a hospice volunteer on the cusp of love. Love — and the yearning for it — is what all these stories are about. So for this one, you’ll need a glass of wine, a chair on the back deck, and a bright summer evening. Enjoy!

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