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Favourite Nonfiction of 2017

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Here are some of our favourites from the many books that we have read so far in 2017 - we loved them, and hope that you will too! Keep checking back for additions to this newest list of "must reads". All guaranteed to get you thinking.

Thompson, Derek
Hit makers

Fans of Malcolm Gladwell and Adam Grant will love this book! Hit Makers looks at the phenomenon of popularity. How do some things take off and become hits, while others languish undiscovered in some remote corner of the pop culture landscape? Is it luck? Talent? A combination of both? Well-researched and told with examples you’ll recognize, from Star Wars to Facebook, each interesting story illustrates a broader point about the “why” of popularity. A fascinating read! Jessica (Queen's Square)

Villamere, J. C.
Is Canada even real?

This is a delightful, humourous ode to the uniqueness of Canada. Think of it as quirky Canadian history and pop culture with a twist written by a hilarious hipster. For example do you know that Stephen Harper was the first prime minister to have a stylist? Yes that hair was because of a stylist! Do you recall Sol the French-Canadian hobo clown who taught English-speaking children the value of such useful French phrases as "I'd like to order the meat paste" and "Where do I get my passport?". Seances with prime ministers, The Littlest Hobo dog TV show, Electric Circus, Snow the Canadian rapper, crazy mascots, it's all here folks! So fun! I read pertinent parts to my boyfriend (who is not a reader and is hard to impress) during a road trip and he loved it! Leah (Queen's Square)

Koul, Scaachi
One day we'll all be dead and none of this will matter

In her debut essay collection, Scaachi Koul weaves anecdotes of her experiences with sexism and racism. Despite the serious tone of the subject matter, each sentence is filled with humour and hope. Each essay touches on different aspects of Scaachi's experiences growing up as a child of Indian immigrants. In addition to a brilliant title, I truly enjoyed that each chapter opened with a humorous string of email correspondence between Scaachi and her father. This engaging and inspirational collection of progressive essays is exactly what the world needs right now. (Stephanie, Queen's Square)

Manson, Mark.
The subtle art of not giving a f*ck

Entertaining and informative. In this self-help guide, Mark Manson strings together useful tips on how to create balance in life. Through amusing anecdotes and candid stories, the author shares and reflects on his experiences and how he manages to enjoy life without a care. In an attempt to cure daily stresses, Manson prescribes a generous serving of laughter and self-reflection. If you enjoyed Sarah Knight's parody, The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck, you will find the same wit and wisdom in this book. Enjoy! (Stephanie, Queen's Square)

Wohlleben, Peter
The hidden life of trees

The Hidden Life of Trees is by far the best non-fiction book that I have read this year. Peter Wohlleben's passion for trees is infectious and his knowledge of forestry is vast. Each chapter is filled with volumes of information about trees that is presented in a captivating way. After reading The Hidden Life of Trees, I found myself constantly yearning to be in nature. A must-read for nature lovers! (Stephanie, Queen's Square)

Miller, Scott
Agent 110

Miller tread slightly on the meaning of Allen Dulles (future CIA director)e in the greater context of 20th Century espionage. Agent 110 is about the rise of Allen Dulles, as an American agent based in Switzerland prior to and during WWII. Nicely paced, Miller highlights the successes and occasional misses that Dulles faced in the field. Reads quickly like the latest thriller novel. (Phil, Queen's Square)

 

Graham, Lauren
Talking as fast as I can

I LOVE Gilmore Girls. It gets top ranking as my favourite show. I sometimes wish I lived in Stars Hollow, that Lane Kim was my best friend and that my town had a General Store run by Taylor Doose. I may even have a Gilmore Girls t-shirt that I wear with reckless abandon. When I heard that Lauren Graham was writing a memoir, I felt compelled to read it. After all, I invited her into my living room every week for 7 years. And to say I liked Talking as Fast as I Can would be an understatement. This book was fabulous. Graham doesn’t disappoint as a story-teller - despite her fame she isn’t a typical Hollywood starlet; her experiences are extremely relatable, and her relationships with her family (both on-screen and off) are charming. If you are in the mood for a funny, feel-good memoir, look no further. Talking as Fast as I Can is just what you need. Very highly recommended. (Carroll, Queen’s Square)

Moore, Kate
The radium girls

It was the dawning of the Great Depression in small-town Illinois. A newspaper ad caught the eye of many women in their 20s and 30s promising regular work and high pay in a studio setting where they would be working with radium, painting watch dials. Oblivious to the health dangers of their new jobs, the women churned out thousands of glowing watch dials every year, using the “lip-pointing technique”. This involved twirling camel-haired paint brushes to a fine point using their mouths. Before too long, the women began to lose their teeth, and as the radium made its way through their bodies, entire portions of their jaws.

This meticulously researched book describes the gruesome effect of the radium on the women, and the harrowing emotional toll on their families and friends who supported them through invasive medical treatment and lengthy court battles as the women tried to fight the US Radium Dial Company for compensation, and ultimately, justice. This book is sad, yet compelling as it details how the plight of the seventeen young women gave rise to Consumer Leagues, worker’s rights movements and industrial hygiene standards all over the United States. Highly Recommended. (Carroll, Queen's Square)

Finkel, Michael.
The stranger in the woods

Imagine living alone in the wilds for 27 years, with no possessions, no creature comforts and zero contact with anyone else. This is the true story of a man who did just that. One day in 1986, Chris Knight simply abandoned his life and walked out into the Maine woods to become a hermit.

What’s so compelling about this account is the mystery that lies at its heart. Why did Knight drop out of civilization? What kept him alive? And how could he cope for so long without speaking even one word to another human? With skill and passion, the author tackles these questions and sets them within a larger discussion about social obligation, loneliness and personal freedom. True solitude and silence are difficult to come by these days. Like Into the Wild and Finding Everett Ruess, Stranger offers a fascinating glimpse at a very different way to find this kind of peace and be in the world. (**Review previously published in the Waterloo Region Record, June 3/17.) (Laura, Queen's Square)

Young, Laura L.
Pumpkin

I'm telling you right now, I don't know if you can handle this much pure cuteness at once! Pumpkin is an adorable raccoon who was abandoned by her parents after she fell out of a tree. Luckily a family with two dogs took her in and she soon came to think of the dogs ("Toffee" and "Oreo") as parents. Mostly pictures and anecdotes about Pumpkin's new life, this book won't take you long to read but will brighten your day. (Leah, Queen's Square)

Levy, Ariel
The rules do not apply

In the autumn of 2012, reporter Ariel Levy flew to the windswept steppes of Mongolia to cover a story for her magazine, The New Yorker  - until tragedy overtook her. Losing both her child and her marriage, she struggled to make sense of her devastating new reality, so different from the illusion she'd once maintained of "having it all". Despite the heartbreak, what emerges from Levy's story is a sense of joy, humour, resilience and hard-earned, uncompromising truthfulness - she doesn't sugarcoat her words and she's skilled at conveying all the complex emotions associated with grief, loss and re-building. Once you pick this one up, you may find it exceedingly hard to put down. (Meghan, Queen's Square)
 

Youssef, Bassem.
Revolution for dummies

How does a heart surgeon become the most influential man in Egypt? In this hilarious and informative book Bassem Youssef lays out his unbelievable journey. After seeing his country in turmoil, Youssef turned away from his medical life and started his own political satire show. Youssef poked fun at the Egyptian government and his show quickly became the most watched program in Egypt. All this came with a price though. Youssef faced death threats and his commentary eventually led to his arrest. Youssef’s writing style is instantly engaging and his story shows the power of humour and satire yet never shies away from the struggles of speaking out in such an environment. Youssef writes like he’s talking to a friend and the humour that made him famous is evident throughout the book. If you don’t understand Egyptian politics, he gives you enough information to make sense of events without getting bogged down in detail. If you've never heard of Bassem Youssef, now is the perfect time to find out all about him. My favourite non-fiction book of 2017! (Jessica, Queen's Square)

Sax, David.
The revenge of analog

A great read for technophobes and technophiles alike. As technology permeates more and more of our everyday lives, many people believed that analog things would simply disappear. David Sax chronicles that the opposite is true. Instead of fleeing analog, people are seeking real connections and real things, either to offset, or even augment their digital experience. The book is divided into several sections, each tracking the revenge of an analog thing or idea. Stand out chapters include, “revenge of vinyl” which looks at the re-emergence of the vinyl record industry; “revenge of board games” which takes a look at board game cafés and the need for community; and “revenge of paper” which marks the popularity of pen and paper notebooks, even among executives in the top tech companies. (Jessica, Queen's Square)

Gaiman, Neil.
Norse mythology

Author Neil Gaiman's love of mythology is well-documented in his popular books such as American Gods and the Sandman graphic novel series. In Norse Mythology, Gaiman retells the stories of the squabbling deities of Asgard and their battles with frost giants and world-devouring serpents- engaging, challenging and often, hilarious tales that are perfect for reading around a campfire. The characters of Thor and Loki have become popular from Marvel comics and movies, so any fan of those works will likely enjoy this fun and accessible adaptation of the original myths that spawned their pop culture personas. (Meghan, Queen's Square)

Quinones, Sam
Dreamland

A look at the tragic intersection of pain killer over-prescription, cheap heroin from Mexico, and the power of greed. Quinones details it all in this tightly woven tale. Lest you think this is only an American problem, twenty people have died from opioid overdoses in Waterloo Region in the past three months (as of April 2017) and that number is expected to go up as even more powerful opioids appear on the streets. (Phil, Queen's Square)

Brennan, Jason
Against democracy

Brennan makes a bold claim in this book: democracy doesn't work. Brennan argues that citizens have a right to a competent government and democracy, as it stands, fails to provide that. The most surprising element is that his arguments are all perfectly well-reasoned that you’ll find yourself nodding along and agreeing that perhaps it’s time to try something new. The second section of Brennan’s book looks at a possible replacement for democracy based on the rule of the knowledgeable (epistocracy). While this part of the book isn’t as strong as his scathing indictment of democracy, Brennan still makes an interesting case for trying epistocracy. Written in an accessible style, this book will have you looking at democracy in a whole new way! A fascinating read political junkies will enjoy. (Jessica, Queen's Square)

Mukherjee, Siddhartha.
The gene

Siddhartha Mukherjee won the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction in 2011 with "The Emperor of All Maladies", a work that combined a sensitive and intriguing medical history of cancer with a finely wrought memoir of his experiences as an oncologist. "The Gene" takes all the masterful elements of that first book and applies them to the story of genetics and DNA. Here, you'll find descriptive prose that brings out the inherent beauty in biology, as well as well-researched anecdotes about fascinating scientific minds such as Gregor Mendel, Rosalind Franklin or James Watson. Mukherjee also engages with many of the ethical debates arising from genetic research, such as the creation of GMOs and the potential for patenting genes, genetic discrimination and eugenics. This work is a wonderfully humane and readable introduction to a complicated field and having experienced it, you'll come away knowing more about the hereditary building blocks that made you the person you are today. (Meghan, Queen's Square)

Vance, J. D.
Hillbilly elegy

This book has been a best seller for lots of reasons. It's a fascinating personal look at what it takes to survive as a poor white in Appalachia, written by someone who marvels at his own survival. It's an anomaly: it's a wonderfully readable book from an author in Trump supporter country who graduated from Yale Law School. And it's not often that an insider opens a door to such a private society. Once you start reading it, you'll have a hard time putting it down.