Holiday Reads 2015 – Nonfiction
I’ve sang the praises of nonfiction books as gift ideas and I’ll sing them again. I *love* nonfiction because it often aligns with different interests. So whether you love sports, music, celebrities, fashion, or something in between, there’s almost always a hot title or two that’s worthy of a spot on your list. And here’s 10 top picks for you to read up on this season.
Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson – $31.50
No doubt you’ve seen this book’s magnificent cover, featuring an overjoyed taxidermied raccoon and gold metallic glitter flecks. Whether you picked it up or not, you probably wondered what it’s about. Well, it’s written by longtime blogger Jenny Lawson (of The Bloggess), a woman with mental illness that embraces her challenges without letting them define her. If that sounds a little soft, rest assured – this book is as funny as its subtitle suggests. I laughed out loud. A lot.
Told through a series of short essays and random snippets of hilarious arguments between her and her long-suffering husband Victor, this quirky book covers everything from a bizzaro visit to Australia involving a kangaroo costme to the perils of modern day cosmetic intervention to why an airport may be an ideal place to be in the event of a zombie apocalypse and how ‘fake it till you make it’ is a legit strategy. And yes, there are chapters that delve into Lawson’s mental illness, but believe it or not, this is a stunningly funny, witty, clever book that anyone on your list will adore.
Becoming Beyoncé: The Untold Story by J. Randy Taraborelli – $34
There’s a semi-famous saying out there: Beyonce wasn’t built in a day. And as the sheer heft of this incredibly comprehensive about Queen Bey demonstrates, there’s 500+ pages to write about – and who knows how she’ll surprise us next! Celebrity bios are always a hit during the holidays, and this one attempts to peel back the curtain on one of pop music’s most influential yet most enigmatic personas. Starting from her childhood and following Bey’s trajectory to stardom (as well as her father’s infamous influence over her career), this meticulously researched book will make you feel like you know about Beyonce than ever before.
It’s chockful of little insidery interviews and tidbits. Case in point? ‘No no no no no (part 2)’ – aka Destiny’s Child first big hit – was created on a whim after perfectionist Beyonce chewed up studio time getting the original, slow version just right. Asked to rush things as the band’s first album went overbudget, Beyonce joked around by speeding up the lyrics. The producer loved it – and a hit (and star) was born. A must-have for any member of the Bey Hive!
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert – $29.95
Confession time! I wouldn’t call myself a Gilbert devotee. I read Eat, Pray, Love and was mostly unmoved – I found the whole thing pretty self-serving. But then I read Gilbert’s return to fiction, The Signature of All Things, a few years ago, and I realized – hey, girl’s got mad skills when writing. And that’s very much on display here with this latest nonfiction, self-helpy tome, but I liked it so much more because the spotlight isn’t shone on Gilbert per se, as on the reader. Suddenly her writing sparks and leaps off the page and warms your heart and I finally got the woman everyone loved so hard in EPL.
The concept? Gilbert is challenging you to dig deep inside, find what ‘treasures’ you have buried there – the things that move you, the talents you possess – and act on them. Divided into pint-sized ‘chapters’ that are moreso little thoughts and sidebars, it’s an inspiring read no matter what drives you. I gobbled this one up, but I also think it’s a great little book to keep on your bedside table when you just need a jolt of inspiration.
Open Heart, Open Mind by Clara Hughes – $32
There’s even some great new Canadian nonfiction hitting the shelves this season – like this raw memoir from famed Olympian Clara Hughes, the only person ever to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter games. The book opens with Clara’s final run as a speed skater in Vancouver’s Games, where she nabs a Bronze, putting you right in the head of an elite athlete with some insider-y tidbits about the mental and physical challenges…and then abruptly takes a shockingly different tack, which traces Clara’s path from a rough youth in Winnipeg through to the first moment she realized she wanted to be a speed skater, and all of the highs and lows of being a pro athlete that follow.
It’s gripping stuff for athletes of any type to indulge in, but particularly poignant to get inside the head of one of Canada’s most iconic athletes and find out what makes her tick, for better or worse.
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling – $32
Every year there’s one big book that comes out from a famous comedic actress, after Tina Fey led the way with her bestselling Bossypants. Instead of a new face stepping into the book ring, Mindy Kaling – best known for The Mindy Project and The Office – has returned with yet another hilarious collection of essays covering things like the realities of Hollywood’s beauty ‘secrets’ (sample line regarding the industry’s preference for hair extensions and their source: “So I prefer to tell myself vague lies. Like, maybe these are all deeply spiritual women and cutting their hair off is part of some beautiful religious ritual, so they were going to do it anyway, and now they’re just getting paid for it; which is better than the reality that these women are all Fantine and we are monsters stealing their hair).
Other highlights? Skewering the TV industry’s current ‘preferences’ and their total inaneness, and an insightful (yet still funny) peek into her relationship with sometimes-boyfriend (and Office costar) B.J. Novak. It’s a perfect pick for your gal pals or anyone looking for a good, smile-inducing, laugh-out-loud worthy tome.
Stranger Than We Can Imagine: An Alternative History of the 20th Century by John Higgs – $34
There’s no doubt that the last century (however arbitrary a timeline that may be) was certainly one of the more interesting ones – just think of all the things it’s given us. Let me guess…the first things you thought of were the computer or the car right? Well John Higgs encourages you to take a different look at the 20th century, by poking around the slightly more obscure contributions of notable individuals like Einstein to the much more obscure (but notable in their own way) Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.
His rationale / theory for approaching history in this way? We’ve all but lost our ancestors sense of ‘omphalos’, aka our sense of a single center of the world (for example, Rome was the center of the world to the Romans – what is the center of our world today? Exactly.) If it sounds a little complex, it’s surprisingly not – the book is immensely readable, entertaining, and engaging and it sweeps you through time, space, theories, and societal developments to leave you with a fresh new perspective on what’s behind us, and perhaps even what’s ahead.
Unflinching: The Making of a Canadian Sniper by Jody Mitic – $32
Like most people (I’d guess) I first heard of Jody Mitic when he ran The Amazing Race: Canada with his brother during its first season. Mitic was notable for a few reasons – tenacious, he and his brother clawed their way to the final round, which may have surprised some at-home viewers, given Mitic was missing his legs below the knees. As a long-time vet in the Canadian Armed Forces, Mitic documents the path that led him to the military and how it always felt like a part of him – for 20 years in fact, until Mitic stepped on a landmine while on a mission in Afghanistan and lost his legs.
The story very much centers on that particular incident, and how it cost Mitic the only identity he’d ever felt comfortable with, that as a soldier. But fear not folks – there’s a big ol’ bright spot; Mitic also explores how the incident forced him to discover new things about himself (perhaps Elizabeth Gilbert’s book above may have helped him out back then!) and figure out his Act 2 – which ends up being pretty great so far. After the success of similar U.S. military biographies, it’s great to see a Canadian hero get his moment to share his story too.
Wildflower by Drew Barrymore – $34.95
This isn’t actress and producer Drew Barrymore’s first venture into the printed word – her previous memoir was a tell-all into her infamous dark past and childhood. As a mother of two, Drew’s new level of perspective compelled her to write this collection of memories and stories from various points in her life both in terms of timelines and focus. Admittedly the book does jump around a fair bit, but it’s pretty fun to check out the personal snaps she includes as context for the start of each story, before delving into a little slice of her life. In a lot of ways, it feels more honest than a carefully edited and arranged book might. We are our memories, after all.
From her experience skydiving with Cameron Diaz after the two of them became Charlie’s Angels adrenaline junkies to ruining her childhood best friend’s mom’s Mediterranean retiree cruise to even a simple exploration of her memories of her first home and the deep-rooted love of bougainvillea and avocado trees that has persisted ever since, this charming book is written very much in Drew’s voice, to the point that by the time you’re done a chapter, you’ll feel like you just sat down for a cup of herbal tea and swapped some stories while getting your nails done.
The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory by John Seabrook – $34.95
What do The Weeknd’s I Can’t Feel My Face, Britney Spears …Baby One More Time, Jessie J’s Bang Bang, and Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off all have in common? They all come from the same songwriting genius, one Swede named Max Martin. Not going to lie…this was probably my most anticipated nonfiction read this year, and it didn’t disappoint. Author Seabrook decides to investigate the proliferation of pop songs – namely hits – from a range of angles, although a fair bit of his time is (rightfully) spent on the Swedish songwriting teams that are behind a SHOCKING amount of the music you hear on the radio right now.
As I was reading it I kept on spouting off little facts and anecdotes from the book to my husband, like the fact Kelly Clarkson (apparently) fought hard against including ‘Since U Been Gone’ on her second album – only to have that be quite possibly one of her most iconic hits. From studying the art of hit writing in its modern form (where the ‘hook’ is king) to how hits have become ever more important in the digital music age to how they’ve influenced who ascends to the top of the pop heap, it’s a riveting read for any music lover!
Humans of New York: Stories by Brandon Stanton – $34.50
This one…it doesn’t quite follow the nonfiction mold, in that author Stanton isn’t exactly the author, but a collector. For those of you familiar with Stanton’s blog, he began with a mission to take 10,000 photos of the world’s most infamous metropolis’ residents, pinpointing their location on a map. Since then, his reach and purpose has expanded; Stanton now has a loftier goal of snapping every New Yorker there is, and it’s no longer just about the photos, but the stories of the people behind them.
This glossy coffee table-esque book captures hundreds of evocative portraits of New Yorkers just living. But what’s so powerful about Stanton’s project is giving life to the hundreds or thousands of faces we all see every day and realizing we all have a story to tell. From the teenager who resents her father’s concerns that she’ll become her mom (a raging alcoholic) to the old woman who talks about leaving behind a boyfriend when boarding a ship to study in Paris, it’s stunningly moving – and will most certainly cause you to look twice at that next stranger you pass by.
Alright readers! You can win all 10 nonfiction books featured in this post. Lucky you! Here’s how to enter for your shot at nabbing them all:
1) First & foremost: you must be a subscriber to the Canadian Gift Guide to enter this giveaway. It’s as simple as finding ‘The Gift of Gab’ box in the righthand column and dropping in your email or clicking follow. Then leave me a comment below by December 5, 2015 telling me your top two (or more) reads 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 6, 2015 to select the winners, 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 for this promotion.
4) Bonus Entries: If you’re interested in staying in the loop on the publishers that worked with me on this post, all you have to do is sign up for their social media, and while you’re at it, earn bonus entries into this fun giveaway! Just be sure to leave separate comments with links back to earn your bonus entries.
Raincoast Books – Is the publisher of Humans of New York: Stories and Furiously Happy. Follow them on Twitter and Tweet about this giveaway tagging me (@cdngiftguide), them, and linking back to this post.
Penguin Random House of Canada – Is the publisher of Why Not Me?, Big Magic, Wildflower, Stranger Than We Can Imagine, and The Song Machine. Follow both Penguin and Random House on Twitter and Tweet about this giveaway tagging me, them, and linking back to this post. And yes, this counts for two entries!
Hachette Book Group – Is the publisher of Becoming Beyonce. Follow them on Twitter and Tweet about this giveaway tagging me, them, and linking back to this post.
Simon & Schuster – Is the publisher of the Unflinching and Open Heart, Open Mind. Follow them on Twitter and Tweet about this giveaway tagging me, them, and linking back to this post.