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Favourite Nonfiction of 2016


Here are some of our favourites from the many nonfiction books that we have read so far in 2016 - we loved them, and hope that you will too! Keep checking back for additions to this newest list of "must reads".

Haig, Matt
Reasons to stay alive

An accurate, literate, and uplifting description of dealing with depression and anxiety from someone who lives that life.  It also gives useful suggestions for people who live with a depressed person.  The book is short, to the point, and written with a great sense of humor.

Noah, Trevor
Born a crime

Most people hadn’t heard of Trevor Noah, before he took over for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. His new book is a close-up look at the man he is and the experiences that shaped his life. More than a memoir, Noah’s book casts a keen eye on society. This book is filled with memorable stories covering his tumultuous life growing up in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa where his very existence, the child of a white man and a black woman, was a crime. Noah offers unique insights on complex issues such as race, domestic abuse and poverty all while maintaining the humour that defines his career. The stories run the gamut from funny to absurd, depressing to hopeful. Noah proves he’s more than your run of the mill comedian. He actually has something important to say. Jessica (Queen's Square Library)

Springsteen, Bruce.
Born to run

This autobiography has received plenty of attention, and it deserves it!  Partly it's the story (poor New Jersey kid with drive struggles his way to the music big time), partly it's the writing (you'd expect a song writer to have a way with words), partly it's the honesty (the book is a self-exploration), but mostly it's about the exhilaration of making music.

Riley, Bronwen.
The edge of the Empire

Riley takes a well trodden subject (Roman Britain) and infuses it with a new approach. By following the actual travels of several people who came to live at the edge of the Roman empire, she illuminates the complexities of a world long gone but in the style of a pleasurable page turning travelogue. (Phil, Queen's Square)

Kalanithi, Paul.
When breath becomes air

The writer of this book is incredibly talented and gifted with language and insight. With a Masters in English from Stanford University, Paul Kalanithi, decides to follow in the family business. His father, uncle, and brother are doctors. Not only does he become a doctor, he becomes a neurosurgeon so that he can have a better understanding of the mind, the essence of one's personality, and the brain. He writes about his journey through med school, internship, and residency. He writes about his growth as a doctor and human being with honesty and courage. And then he discovers that he has cancer. When Breath Becomes Air is a posthumous memoir I could not put down and feel sad that I know that there will not be another book by this amazing writer. Highly recommended for the beauty of his prose and depth of his insight.
Angela Caretta (Hespeler Library)

Jahren, Hope.
Lab girl

Science writing seems to be having a renaissance lately and this book is one of the best. Hope Jahren was born to be a scientist but she can also write. In chapters that alternate between autobiographical sections and sections on the life of plants, her curiosity and enthusiasm hook you immediately. Hope and her equally determined lab partner, Bill, defy convention, deadlines, and the weather in their scientific quests. This book could make a scientist or a tree worshiper out of anyone.

Wortman, Marc
1941: Fighting the shadow war A divided America in a world at war

Wortman digs deep into the divide between American isolationists and internationalists who debated entering the war in the aid of Britain. By teasing out individual voices, Wortman weaves a very readable story of American struggles to find its place in the world. (Phil, Queen's Square).

Watt-Cloutier, Sheila.
The right to be cold

Canadian activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier was jointly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore in 2007. However, the nomination was split just before the winner was announced. That hasn’t stopped Watt-Cloutier from continuing to fight for both the environment and her people. Part memoir, part insider look into the workings of international agencies like the United Nations, this book gives important insight into the Inuit community of the past, present and future. Watt-Cloutier writes well, showing the average reader that the arctic isn’t just polar bears, but people fighting for their right to be cold. (Amnesty International Book Club Choice Sept. 2016) (Jessica, Queen’s Square).

Brown, Leanne.
Good and cheap

While working on her Master’s degree in Food Policy, Leanne Brown decided to take on an amazing project to help others. She wanted to find a way for people living on the SNAP program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formally known as the food stamp program) in New York City to eat well on $4 per day. She offers great recipes that utilize every part of the ingredients you buy. She advises on things that we should keep in our pantries, and how to stretch our dollar as much as possible. Brown has made this book available free online, and in addition, whenever someone buys a copy of the book, another copy is donated to a person or family in need. There is much to admire about this author, who says that she loves cooking and baking because “they are the closest things we have to magic”.  (Jennifer Booth, Clemens Mill)

Schoemperlen, Diane.
This is not my life

love this author. Ever since I read "Our Lady of the lost and found", I have been a fan. "This is not my life" is a courageous memoir as compelling as any love story and I couldn't put it down. It is about our vulnerable hearts and the way we can build each other up and tear each other down. And it is about the prison system in Canada. Definitely a must read for its honesty. Angela Caretta (Hespeler Branch)

Larson, Kate Clifford.

Subtitled "the hidden Kennedy daughter" this book tells the story of how the influential Kennedy family kept the secret of their intellectually disabled daughter.  When Rosemary became increasingly unmanageable in her early twenties, her father arranged for a lobotomy.  A chilling but fascinating book that ends on a happier note.

Stein, Jean.
West of Eden

A series of oral histories by the "founders" of Hollywood including Stein's own family is a combination of "There Will Be Blood" greed, depravity and more. Very readable, but you may need a shower after to wash off the "slime". (Phil, Queen's Square)


Hammer, Joshua
The bad-ass librarians of Timbuktu

The title is off-putting and slightly inaccurate (achivists and citizens, not librarians) but the saving of ancient manuscripts in the face of barbarian hordes is still an inspiration.  Four years later In 2016, ISIS leader Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi became the first person to plead guilty of committing an offense against a world cultural site.  He had ordered the destruction of 9 sacred shrines and an an ancient doorway.  Events recounted in this book clearly demonstrate why cultural destruction is a war crime, and it is good to have the International Court in the Hague confirm it.

Norris, Mary
Between you & me

The New Yorker is one of the best magazines anywhere, and this book written by one of its proofreaders is no exception -- it's funny, it's surprising, and it's very informative.  Who knew that an autobiography involving grammar usage could be so appealing and so emotional?  Who would've guessed that behind the exterior of a cranky grammarian beat the heart of millionaire benefactor?  Like most items appearing in the New Yorker (and despite the fact that our son-in-law thinks their movie reviews are totally ridiculous), this book slides down as smooth as silk.