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!

What I read on my summer vacation

My reading list for the past week looks like the product of multiple personality disorder. But all the voices in my head say I should share the list anyway. Overall, these books were too good to keep to myself!

True (…Sort of)
One of the top five books of my year, and I can’t think of four better. I read this at the insistence of my daughter, and she was right. It’s fantastic. The book deals with many tough issues, from discipline problems and self-esteem to abandonment and abuse, but it does it in an immensely gentle way, with a good does of a magical sort of humour. I’m definitely going in search of Katherine Hannigan’s other books.

true

Packing for Mars
This book combines two things I love: Mars, and Mary Roach. One of my top five favourite non-fiction writers, and I can’t think of four better. She’s just so darned funny, in a dry and quirky kind of way. The entire book reads as if you went out for beer and she decided to tell you every strange space story she’d ever heard. Monkeys, fruit leather stew inside space helmets, astronaut origami… you get the idea.

mars

Middlemarch
Yes, I’ve been reading a tome. And yes, I’ve been reading it on my iPhone. It’s quite convenient, you see, to sneak the phone onto the bed and tuck it under a corner of the blanket and read happily while various family members snore around me. Sometimes, on a road trip, these are the only moments of silence I can find!

If there’s one thing I find satisfactory in looking over this list, it’s that I must thoroughly confuse any recommended-reads engine. At least I’m unpredictable!