I’ve enjoyed a particularly rich crop of books this year and given how much I enjoy reading other”Best of 2017″ lists, I will share a version of my own. My full list is available on goodreads.
At the end of last year, I began getting deep enjoyment from audiobooks either purchased from Audible or borrowed from the library. Audio books (which can be put on sleep timers) are a source of great solace to me during chronic periods of insomnia. Audible often has generous offers for new members and I have signed up for the “Audible daily deal” which has delivered me some inexpensive gems this year.
I read very little fiction but a book that will now live near the top of my favourites list for the incredible writing is Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. The story’s focus on a hostage-taking was likely the main turn-off after years of persistent recommendations from friends but I am glad that I finally got around to it. This was an Audible purchase and well worth it for the first rate narration. I also enjoyed Manhattan Beach on audiobook. Set during WWII, I liked the strong female lead – a woman who becomes a diver while exploring the mystery of her father’s disappearance.
In the continuing work to improve my own writing and help others write well, I get deep enjoyment from reading about writing. The top of the list for this year was Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I also found a documentary on Lamott at my library by the same title. Even this clip from the documentary gave me a belly laugh – “I used to be unable to write with dirty dishes in the sink. I have now had a child. I could now write with a cadaver in the sink”. Another book which touches on the writing process is Ann Patchett’s collection of non-fiction writing covering the span of her career called This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. Patchett’s book includes her beloved dog and training for a the LAPD. The latter experience involved learning to go over a six foot wall. She describes that as with most things you are trying to learn, she would have preferred to learn this in private. Unfortunately there are no six foot brick walls in wide open fields. I also stepped into reading about how specialized writers have mastered their craft. Digging into Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy writers was an unexpected delight.
I love memoirs and personal essays and had a banner year in this area. I listened to The Argonauts, read by the author Maggie Nelson. This is an unconventional memoir which dances with philosophy. It is principally about the author’s partner transitioning to a man. Another unconventional but highly enjoyable read was The Art of Travel a book of essays on travel drawn from both the author’s own travel experiences and those of notable writers. I listened to Roxane Gay read her memoir Hunger. It was a moving but brutal read but a good empathy jolt for me. I channelled my early life as a biology student by reading Lab Girl – a great memoir of a female scientist and some lovely meditations on the natural world. Also in the science realm, I listened to The Gene, a comprehensive history of a new science. The Gene is not for the faint of heart – it is a long haul at over 600 pages but it is a fascinating work. In a slightly different vein, I adored reading an anthology of performance pieces by “The Moth” – a group in New York City where people perform monologues of stories of their lives. The Moth presents All These Wonders: True Stories about Facing the Unknown. There is a great variety of material, all well-drawn and very satisfying. This anthology tuned me into the related podcast and it has become one of my favourites. I also really enjoyed listening to Born a Crime on audio-book – brilliantly read by the author Trevor Noah. It chronicles his childhood growing up on South Africa as a bi-racial person. I found When Breath Becomes Air very thoughtful and moving book about a neurosurgeon facing his own imminent death.
I fulfilled a personal commitment by reading the summary report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Reading the work had the desired effect of deepening my understanding of issues touching indigenous peoples. It also gave me nightmares. It also spurred me on to make greater efforts to appreciate indigenous artists. A concert highlight of the year was being introduced to William Prince. William is getting some well deserved awards as an emerging artist. As well, I went to hear an interview at the National Arts Centre with the new Director of Indigenous Theatre. Though we are several months out from hearing the line-up, this new stream will be funded at the same level as the English and French streams. We have lots to look forward to both in Ottawa and in the rest of Canada as there will be community based shows funded via the NAC as well.
I still read a lot of business books out of personal interest and I really enjoyed Radical Candor about being firm and compassionate at the same time. The same authors present a podcast as well. I was fascinated by the concepts introduced in Collaborating with the Enemy. This book challenges the idea that you need shared outcomes to advance a collaborative process.
I continued to wade into graphic novels though there were no huge standouts. I did enjoy Smile, a memoir aimed and younger readers about a girl going through a series of dental surgeries. I also found the memoir of the father’s loss of a child, Roasalie Lightening very moving but wasn’t drawn to the artwork.
To close, books that I enjoyed that don’t fit as cleanly into the categories above but would fall into the general self-help genre: I enjoyed Rising Strong by Brene Brown about resetting after adversity and Happiness by Design which introduces various elements of design thinking to help you adopt good habits.