My Life with Bob, by Pamela Paul (2017)

Nonfiction
Adult
My Life with Bob, by Pamela PaulThe title is a pun, it’s a book about reading books, and my spouse is nicknamed Bob. How could I resist??! And what a great premise. Our reading choices say so much about us. Imagine how well a stranger would understand you if she could only browse through all the books you’d read. Well, Paul has essentially opened herself up to us in just this way. Currently the editor of The New York Times Book Review, Paul is also the author of three other works of nonfiction, The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony; Pornified: How Pornography Is Damaging Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families ; and Parenting, Inc.: How the Billion-Dollar Baby Business Has Changed the Way We Raise Our Children. By those titles alone I think she’d make a fascinating dinner guest. But wait, there’s more! Read more of this post

Advertisements

Strange Fruit: Billie Holliday and the Power of a Protest Song, by Gary Golio (2017)

Nonfiction
6-12
Strange Fruit: Billie Holliday and the Power of a Protest Song, by Gary GolioMy undergraduate degree is in history. That’s big, so my focus was on the modernist “movement” which swept across Europe and then North America, roughly 1880-1939, impacting everything from politics to literature and art. Protest songs were key to our studies of American civil rights history, of course, and one of the pieces of music we used was Strange Fruit, recorded by the incredible jazz singer Billie Holliday. I didn’t know the song, and so it was a shock to me to learn that the strange “fruit” are in fact the dead bodies of lynching victims. It is a powerful song, a lament and a call to action in its time. It became known as Billie’s signature song, and this picture book for older children introduces readers to the song and its origins, in a way that is age appropriate. Read more of this post

Quilting Is My Therapy, by Angela Walters (2016)

Nonfiction
Adult
Quilting Is My Therapy, by Angela WaltersAs I embark on a new phase of my life, the prospect of quilting is both appealing and incredibly daunting. I love the idea of quilting – the time, patience, and frankly love that it takes to piece leftover scraps of fabric into a creation that is both beautiful and useful. The daunting part is that I’m worried I’ll never finish, or that it will look quite amateurish. So now you’ll understand why I picked up Walters’ book; in her introduction, she expresses a hope that the pictures will inspire rather than intimidate, and more to my point, she advises “don’t strive for perfection; strive for completion, remembering that a finished quilt is always better than a perfectly quilted [unfinished] one” (p.9, addition mine). Read more of this post

Conversations with Maurice Sendak, edited by Peter C. Kunze (2016)

Nonfiction
Adult
Conversations with Maurice Sendak, edited by Peter KunzeHow does one capture the man who gave us Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, and the joyful illustrations for A Hole Is to Dig? Who created stunning backdrops to modern productions of The Nutcracker and Hansel and Gretel? Who brought to life the beautiful play Brundibar and revealed its own tragic, heartbreaking story of creation? Author and illustrator Maurice Sendak ignored the conventions of the day when he emerged as an inventive illustrator whose work truly captured the capricious, joyful and rage-filled minds of children. Kunze, a doctoral student at the University of Texas, drew on an extensive set of source material in choosing the final 12 interviews that comprise this entry in the Literary Conversations series. Read more of this post

The House by the Lake, by Thomas Harding (2015, 2016)

Nonfiction
Adult
The House by the Lake In 1993, Thomas Harding and his grandmother travelled to Germany to visit the family’s former lakeside home, a cottage by the lake built in the 1920s by his grandfather, a successful Jewish doctor. The house was a haven for the family, an idyllic place to relax and play away from their busy lives in Berlin some 20 kilometres away. The Alexander family lost the property when they fled to England during the Nazi era, and it was subsequently bought for a song by the German music publisher Will Meisel. Meisel lost the property when officials scrutinised his purchase during a “denazification” effort by the post-war leaders in East Germany, and it became the property of local government, which issued permits for tenant residency. Read more of this post

Ebert’s Bests, by Roger Ebert

Nonfiction
Adult
Ebert's BestsThere are an awful lot of movies out there, and the older I get, the more picky I’ve become. Over the years, I’ve relied on the guidance of film reviewers whose opinions I trust. Eli Glastner on the CBC, Katherine Monk in The Vancouver Sun (until she was laid off last year), and of course, Siskel & Ebert, the thumbs up/thumbs down squabblers whose views only occasionally coincided. They were on PBS, if I recall, but film posters and ads would always indicate a thumbs up from one or both. Gene Siskel died in 1999 of complications from surgery on a brain tumour and though Ebert’s sadness was palpable, he stayed active as a reviewer of his beloved films for years, passing away in 2013. Read more of this post

The Emerald Mile, by Kevin Fedarko (2013)

Nonfiction
Adult
The Emerald MileIn 1983, a strong El Nino event set up the conditions for a massive spring runoff that swelled western North American rivers and tributaries to record levels. One of these was the Colorado River, which cuts through the heart of the Grand Canyon. In the middle of the nights, a group of daring river rafters launched a wooden dory just below the Glen Canyon Dam, intent on riding the surge of floodwater in order to set a new speed record for a river run through the Grand Canyon. Fedarko’s book, subtitled “The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon,” is ostensibly the story of this thrilling adventure. But it’s so much more than that, as Fedarko draws on meticulous research Read more of this post

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science – and the World, by Rachel Swaby (2014)

Biography
Age 13 to Adult
Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science - and the WorldSure, we`ve all heard of Marie Curie, but in truth she is only one of dozens of women who have made Nobel-worthy contributions to science over the past three and a half centuries. Some of them earned a Nobel nod; but many others have been snubbed the honour. Rachel Swaby seeks to change all that, bringing their stories to the fore in this collection of 52 brief biographies (an average of 5 pages each). And they are inspiring stories indeed. She details the nasty post-mortem treatment of geneticist Rosalind Franklin by Nobel winner James Watson (half of DNA’s Watson & Crick), and she also examines the evidence of intellectual theft of Franklin’s work that led the two men to their discovery (p. 113). Read more of this post

At Least You’re in Tuscany, by Jennifer Criswell (2012)

Genre: Nonfiction
Interest Level: Adult
At Least You're in TuscanyThe subtitle to this book tells it all: “A Somewhat Disastrous Quest for the Sweet Life.” In the vein of Peter Mayle’s delightful A Year in Provence, or Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun, Criswell recounts her move from New York City to Italy at the age of 38, the culmination of an idea that took seed a decade before. It unfolds just as you’d expect – a chronological series of anecdotes chronicling a growing realization that this wasn’t going to be as easy as she’d expected. I wondered at first if it was self-published as it needs much tighter editing; Criswell relies a bit too much on the tropes of expat memoirs, spending too much time for my tastes on imagery, language slipups, and cultural puzzles. Read more of this post

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, by Chris Hadfield (2013)

Genre: Nonfiction
Appeal: 12-Adult
An Astronaut's Guide to Life on EarthMy colleagues at work were really surprised when I referred to this book as an excellent management resource. Hadfield is the Canadian astronaut who revitalized public interest in the space program by using social media, tweeting images and thoughts from space, and creating a video of himself playing David Bowie’s Space Oddity while in the International Space Station, which he commanded for five months in 2013. It’s a memoir of his journey as an astronaut, from wide-eyed nine-year-old watching the Apollo moon landing to his return to Earth in the Soyuz capsule, unable to walk after months in weightlessness. Read more of this post

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Succeed, by Sheryl Sandberg (2013)

Genre: Nonfiction
Interest Level: Adult
Lean InAnother self-help business book that I picked up on the recommendation of a colleague at a conference. This one is by the CEO of Facebook, or rather co-written by her, along with Nell Scovell. Sandberg is also a former Google leader, and launched her career with the U.S. Treasury. She has the chops for this one – for her entire career, she is one of a handful of women at the table. That’s her point. Despite the many strides women have made in the workforce, we are still underrepresented in the power circles of business, and in many ways we have only ourselves to blame. You might be surprised to learn I don’t disagree. One of my former bosses (a woman) referred to this as the limits we set on ourselves, Read more of this post

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed (2012)

Genre: Nonfiction
Interest Level: Adult
WildHikers will immediately get the appeal of the Pacific Crest Trail – nearly 4300 kms of walking in the mountains and high deserts of the west. One foot in front of the other, mile after mile, day after day. It’s what I love about hiking – it’s simple, and it leaves your mind free to wander, to take in the sights, to think about the problems of the world, whatever. It’s also what is the hardest thing about backpacking. It’s hard work. The story begins when Cheryl’s mother dies at age 45 (!!), when Cheryl is just 22. She tries to keep it together, but it was so sudden, just weeks after the cancer diagnosis, that the family literally disintegrates, and so does Cheryl. Read more of this post

Paris in Love: A Memoir, by Eloise James (2012)

Genre: Nonfiction
Interest Level: Adult
Paris in LoveSelling the house, taking a leave from work, packing up your stuff and moving the whole family to Paris for a year. Who hasn’t had this dream, or a version of it? Eloisa James, a romance author and professor of Shakespeare, does exactly that after surviving breast cancer, the same disease that took her mother’s life. It’s time to live every moment, and so Eloisa and her Italian husband Alessandro (also a professor) and their two children opt for a year in a fourth-floor apartment in the city of love. While on sabbatical, Eloisa intends to write several novels, journal articles, do a couple of presentations and finish an academic tome as well. How did she have time to write this? Well, she didn’t. Read more of this post

Cockeyed, by Ryan Knighton (2006)

Genre: Biography
Interest level: 16 & up
CockeyedRyan Knighton began losing his eyesight in his early to mid-teens. No one knew it though, so it didn’t stop him from learning to drive and getting a driver’s licence, with nearly disastrous results. Eventually, at 18, he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa – a kind of progressively degenerative tunnel vision that over time has cost him his sight. But not his wicked sense of humour, resulting in a hilarious, touching and revealing memoir of his journey so far. He grew up in Langley BC, and collected BA and MA degrees at Simon Fraser University, finding sex and falling in love, occasionally travelling, and all the while living in Vancouver and Burnaby. (It’s great fun reading a biography when you know the places so well.) Read more of this post