Holiday Reads: Nonfiction Edition
This year’s nonfiction mix has been a bit of a mixed bag. While last year was chocablock full of blockbuster choices (including Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson), this year I chose to mix things up a little by looking at different kinds of nonfiction, and actually just challenging what a ‘nonfiction’ book is. Unlike fiction, a really cool thing about nonfiction titles is you can find things that really align with someone’s interest – whether it’s sports or cooking or photography or celebrities, there’s a book for what they love. Including, well…books.
For The History Buff: Imagining Canada – $45 list / $27 online
Take a look at that cover for a moment kids. It’s a book about Canada…by The New York Times? Well, sort of. This coffee table compendium has been lovingly curated by the folks-in-charge over at TORO magazine, after purchasing a collection of photos from what is arguably known as the world’s most prestigious journalism outlet. Essentially it’s Canadiana spanning multiple decades, through an American lens. For one, it’s surprising to see us so thoroughly on the radar of our Southern and oft-thought oblivious neighbours. For another, it’s a beautiful and breathtaking celebration of what makes us, us. With thoughtful essays and introductions throughout, this is a must-have book to have your friends ooh and ahh over whenever they stop by.
For The Chef: Edible Selby – $40 list / $26 online
New York photographer Todd Selby went on a gastronomic tour around the globe – from a pizza maker in Japan to an innkeeper in a tiny Italian town called Valdobbiadene, the book revels in the kitchens and culinary concoctions crafted within them. Each chef’s profile is accompanied by an illustration, questionnaire, and recipe to make this one part coffee table extravaganza, the other part totally practical (if gourmet cooking is your thing anyway).
For The Magazine Maven: Grace: A Memoir by Grace Coddington – $45 list / $29 online
When you’ve spent 20 years creative directing the world’s most prestigious fashion magazine alongside the likes of Anna Wintour, what’s left to do but write a memoir about your marvelous life? That’s exactly what Grace Coddington does in this insidery fashion book – which in itself is a response to the suddenly very public recognition as how much power she wields in the fashion world, after her appearance in the Vogue documentary The September Issue. The book isn’t necessarily about fashion or style or anything like that – it’s moreso a glimpse into a woman’s life that happens to offer a rare peek behind the curtain into the world of high fashion.
For The Football Fan: The Dallas Cowboys by Joe Nick Patoski – $32.99 list / $21.77 online
Fair warning. If you buy this brick – I mean, book – it’s a whopping 800+ pages that detail every little bit of history you can possibly imagine for ‘America’s Team’, as it were known. The book is absolutely filled with anecdotes from people that have touched (and are currently involved with) the Texas football team’s legendary brand of braggadocio, and the writing is simple enough that you can actually sink your teeth into it during those breaks in play while watching your favourite team (Cowboys or otherwise) take the field. The neat thing about the Cowboys is love ‘em or despise ‘em, you’ve at least got an opinion and an awareness of ‘em – this book rounds up all those little factoids you’ve ever heard into one neat little (okay, big little) package.
For The Reader:The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe – $29.95 list / $19.76 online
At about a third of the way through this heartwarming book, author (and former book editor) Will Schwalbe makes a rather insightful observation: while it’s one thing to know you could die any time in the next two years, it’s quite another to know you most certainly will. In the fading last days of his mother Mary Anne’s life after a terminal cancer diagnosis, Schwalbe formed an informal book club with his mother, the two of them recommending titles to one another and sharing their thoughts while she goes through chemo, but also carries on with her life as best as possible. Each chapter hones in on a particular book and the debates it stirred between them, as well as linking the themes of the book to his mother’s overall journey. What was most striking to me about this one wasn’t even the books or Mary Anne Schwalbe’s quite extraordinary life – it was the everyday advice and insight that Will’s mother dispensed, the kind that felt like she was speaking right to me. The result is a book rich in emotion – but more tender than tragic – and bursting with literary inspiration. In fact, many book clubs have adopted Schwalbe’s story as a resource to start their own book clubs (A full appendix of referenced titles is in the back). Gift this to a friend in your own book club, or use it to start one with your sister or mom. And hey, it’s got straight cred – everyone’s favourite newscaster Anderson Cooper just tweeted the other week about how much he loved it.
For The Gossip: Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story by Arnold Schwarzenegger – $36.99 list / $24.41 online
Say what you will about him, but Arnold Schwarzenegger has had a pretty fascinating life. From peasant roots in rural Austria to becoming a bodybuilding king and fitness icon to a box office-topping career in schlocky action flicks and surprisingly silly comedic films alike to a high-profile political career to a jaw-dropping paternity scandal…guy’s got a lot to write about. And it’s all captured in this brick of an autobiography, written in a simple, conversational style and chockful of insight and anecdotes for the Arnold fan and celebrity gossiper alike. I won’t say it’s quite no-holds-barred – you can tell a few things are slightly glossed over – but given that Schwarzenegger has publicly said he wrote the book as an open letter to win his wife, Maria Shriver, back, you can bet there’s a lot of dirt laundry and juicy tidbits to share with your friends over Christmas dinner.
For The Hostess: Celebrate by Pippa Middleton – $40 list / $26.40 online
This was my reaction upon coming across this book: “Pippa Middleton has a book? Pippa Middleton has a book!!!” Before you balk at the most famous sister-to-royalty on the planet’s party-planning offering, remember this: the Middleton family actually ran a party rentals company for years and years, meaning these gals grew up in a house that knew how to throw elegant affairs…a skill I imagine has only been further refined by rubbing shoulders with the likes of the Queen. A quick note of fair warning – the book is utterly British. It’s actually posited as a book to help you entertain throughout ‘the British year’. So if some of the ideas seem a tiny bit foreign, just think of them as an opportunity to infuse your next fete with some international flavour. Because trust me, there is no shortage of photographs, recipes, crafts, and decor ideas to get your party hostess juices flowing.
For The True Crime Junkie: Life After Death by Damien Echols – $28.50 list / $18 online
Just about everyone has heard about the West Memphis Three – a trio of teenage boys unfairly put behind bars as the alleged murderers of three young boys. Their case has been extensively covered in documentaries, public campaigns, and journalism outlets, and yet it still took nearly two decades to set these men free from the shackles that took their youth and futures away from them. The most unfair part of the entire story? That while free, the courts refused to admit they made a mistake – meaning each of the three victims still has a criminal record. Damien Echols is probably the most recognizable and well-spoken of the threesome; becoming something of an unwitting poster boy for unlawful imprisonment. This is the in-depth, gritty tale of both the trial and the abuse he suffered in prison – it’s a must-read for your uncle that lives for procedurals like CSI or Cold Case Files.
For The Humorist: I’ll Seize The Day Tomorrow by Jonathan Goldstein – $24 list / $18 online
If you’ve tuned into Jonathan Goldstein’s CBC radio show WireTap, you’ll get a quick sense of his wry and dry humour that populates these pages of fun essays about approaching your 40th birthday. That’s not to say he’s strictly a broadcast guy – his literary accolades include having his work published in The Walrus, The New York Times, and GQ to name but a few places, so you know you’re gonna get some good-quality writing. Each essay makes for a snack-sized read, perfect while sitting in a waiting room or tucking into bed – just be prepared to laugh out loud a whole lot. Part Chuck Klosterman, part Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs, part quintessentially Canadian, this is a great pick for your comedy festival fan cousin or boyfriend.
For The Fashionista: The Truth About Style by Stacy London – $35 list / $23 online
If you’re like me, you’ve probably watched TLC’s What Not To Wear and lamented at least once or twice that you wish Stacy and Clinton, stylists extraordinaire, were your BFF’s. The way they not only transform the sartorial sense of the women on their show, but their entire lives, is truly breathtaking and admirable – fashion ain’t skin deep people. London often plays more of the counsellor on the show, and her honesty and insight comes from a true place; one which is explored in this book for the first time ever. Instead of mere style advice, London documents her own lifelong struggles with a childhood skin condition, anorexia, binge eating, and a tangled sense of self-confidence. The book marries London’s stories with a guide to using style to overcome emotional issues, including real-life examples with eight lucky contributors. Best of all, the book doesn’t lose any of London’s trademark razor-sharp wit – whether gifting it to a diehard WNTW fan or someone in need of a style refresher, this tome might just be the perfect fit.
For The Pop Culture Curious: Both Flesh and Not by David Foster Wallace – $29.99 list / $19.79 online
The late, great, David Foster Wallace may have been known for his groundbreaking novels like Infinite Jest, but he also turned out a pretty good nonfiction essay when he needed to as well. For the first time ever, fifteen of his nonfiction essays have been compiled into one volume. Despite the fact Wallace passed away in 2008, the essays’ subject matters still have relevance in today’s pop culture – from a look at Roger Federer to several insightful musings on the life of a fiction writer and the annoyance of seeing words misused, this is a great tome for fans of Wallace himself, or someone simply looking for a ‘smart’ read.
For The Music Lover: Waging Heavy Peace by Neil Young – $31.50 list / $17.32 online
For the notoriously press-shy and legendary musician Neil Young to have released a personal autobiography is kind of a big deal. The thing is, Young has had the kind of life that’s actually worth writing about – from a brush with death and barely scraping by as a young ‘un in Canada to a ramshackle existence in California when trying to break it big to the stories behind his biggest hits…it’s all in there, in pretty clear detail. Whether you’re buying it for a diehard Neil Young fan or simply for someone that grew up during his era (and his music), this is a psychedelic read with a whole lotta soul.
For The Foodie: My Canada Includes Foie Gras by Jacob Richler – $32 list / $21 online
I LOVE a good culinary memoir – from Julie & Julia to The Omnivore’s Dilemma to A Homemade Life – some of my favourite nonfiction reads over the last few years have been about getting busy in the kitchen (not in that way). The amazing part about this one is that it’s decidedly Canadian. Jacob Richler has 20+ years of experience writing about food, tasting gourmand dishes and hole-in-the-wall grub alike, and dreaming up recipes for his own cookbooks. This book is like a love story on what makes Canadian cuisine decidedly ours – from the immensely talented chefs that brought fine dining to a new level here, to the mouthwatering descriptions of some of our ‘nation’s dishes’ as they’re prepared – it’s a book that feel as much about our nation and our culture as it does about what we eat (although savvy foodies already know the two go hand-in-hand). Best of all, if the dishes he describes have your tummy rumbling, the book actually includes all the recipes as well!
For The Book Lover: My Ideal Bookshelf – $27.99 list / $18.47 online
This book actually works on three levels – for people that simply appreciate good books and are possibly writers themselves, for readers looking for their next great story, and for designer-y types looking for a chi chi coffee table book that may also lend inspiration to their bookshelves (organizing books by style is all the rage with interior designers right now – although maddening when hunting for a title of choice). Each hand-illustrated page features the books that have been most important to the varied cast of contributors. Whether inspiring Judd Apatow to produce his adult-humour films to blessing Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon with the self-empowerment to write to the surprising tomes that line mass market author James Patterson’s own shelf, this is a nifty collection to not only sift through, but find inspiration in for yourself.
For The World Visionary: Behind The Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo – $32 list / $21 online
Truth be told I haven’t read this one yet, but it tops the list of my must-reads at the moment. The book has been described as a story so vividly written, you’ll be hard-pressed to even believe you’re reading nonfiction. Essentially it’s a portrait of a potentially upstart village near the Mumbai airport in India, called Annawadi. The author documents the lives, hopes, dreams, and tragedies of several residents and families – from the woman who wants to see her daughter be the first female college graduate to the teenage scrap metal thief just scraping by, there’s plenty of memorable, relatable, beautiful storytelling within these pages…as well as some eye-opening truths about this booming part of the world.
So if you’re out shopping or still looking for that perfect present, hopefully some titles on this list have given you some hope (and added to that stack of books by your own bed, naturally). With that in mind, I’ve got a few books to giveaway. If you’re interested in winning 1 of 2 prize packages including a copy of The End Of Your Life Book Club (SIGNED!) or Imagining Canada, here’s how to enter:
1) Leave a comment by December 30th with your favourite title from this list.
2) Entries are limited to one per person / per email address / per household (or more if you score bonus entries). A random draw will be conducted on or around December 31st to select the winner, who will have 48 hours to respond before another winner is chosen in their place.
3) Entries are limited to Canadians that have reached the age of majority in their province. Quebec is not eligible to participate in this promotion.
4) Bonus Entry: Add as many of these books as you’d like to your GoodReads account and send me the link to your ‘to-read’ page to earn up to 15 bonus entries!