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Non-Fiction November: Non-Fiction Favourites

Week 4 of Non-Fiction November is upon us! This month long celebration of all things non-fiction is hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Julie at JulzReads, Sarah of Sarah’s Book Shelves, Lory of Emerald City Book Review, and Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness.

This week, Kate at Doing Dewey is hosting a discussion on what makes your favourite non-fiction titles your favourite:

We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites.

I’ve had to have a bit of a think about this one. It’s tough to nail down what I loved about my favourite non-fiction titles.

I love stories and really, that’s just as true about my fiction reading as my non-fiction reading. I love non-fiction about women, especially women who were ahead of their time in some capacity. I love biographies of Princesses or Queens, Duchesses, Countesses, actresses who didn’t take any sh*t, women who fought fascists and Nazis and lived to tell the tale.

I love non-fiction where you can tell that the author totally geeked out while writing it. Those non-fiction titles tend to have a really strong author voice running through them. Erik Larson, Malcom Gladnwell, Gretchen Rubin all come to mind. Even Sheryl Sandberg. I recently read a joint biography of Marguerite de Valois and her mother, Catheine de’ Medici, where the author’s footnotes were pure gold. One of them even referenced a preferred sexual position with the note that the reader should “look it up.”

Ultimately I love gossip. And I know I say that I a lot. But I love non-fiction books that make me feel like I’m getting the inside scoop. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish either – especially not for more academic authors. When it’s done well, it can make reading a 500 page book about people long dead so exciting and fun.

And now, here’s a list of some of my very favourite non-fiction titles for you:

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Non-Fiction November: Be the Expert

It’s already Week 3 of Non-Fiction November! This month long celebration of all things non-fiction is hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Julie at JulzReads, Sarah of Sarah’s Book Shelves, Lory of Emerald City Book Review, and Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness.

And this week it’s Kim @ Sophisticated Dorkiness hosting Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert:

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I’ve elected to Be the Expert again this year. Because this year I wanted my non-fiction reading to be more frivolous than it’s been recently, I’ve decided to focus on Hollywood this week. And while there is tons of interesting non-fiction on modern aspects of Hollywood (I do really need to get my hands on some of those Scientology books one of these days…), I’m looking at old Hollywood Stars.

My love of Hollywood Stars started on Sunday  afternoon movie marathons with my grandmother. Which led to reading biographies of Shirley Temple and Audrey Hepburn when I was a tween. Before I became obsessed with Royal Women, Hollywood Movie Stars were my jam.

So if you’ve  been looking for some delicious, gossipy books, read on!

marilyn

If you’re going to read biographies about Hollywood you cannot go wrong with anything written by J. Randy Taraborrelli. He is one of my absolute go-to biographers. His portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor really stand out for his ability to actually get to the person at the centre of their myths. The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth are really worth your time. (I also wholeheartedly recommend his biography of the Hilton family – the Zsa Zsa time alone is worth it).

 

 

avaAva Gardner: Love is Nothing by Lee Server. Oh this one was full of scandal! Frank Sinatra, Mickey Rooney, Howard Hughes – Ava Gardner bewitched them and then some. Ava was a firecracker who was ahead of her time in many ways. I had an idea of Ava going into this book and finished it feeling like she’d been misrepresented for years and years.

 

 

 

natashaIf tragedy is more your thing, might I suggest Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood by Suzanne Finstead? A child star whose mother was ultra protective after being told her daughter would die in dark waters, burdened with being the bread winner in her family, and ever after seen as a precocious child star, Natalie Wood’s life was ably and sensitively covered in this book. I’ll never forget the detail that Christopher Walken was on the boat the night she died.

 

 

me and my shadowsSpeaking of family tragedy, Me and My Shadows: A Family Memoir by Lorna Luft was one of the early celebrity memoirs I bought for myself. Lorna Luft is Judy Garland’s daughter and her telling of growing up with her beautiful, talented, but ultimately damaged mother is one that will stick with you for years.

 

 

 

joan

This summer, thanks to Feud: Bette and Joan, I became obsessed with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. I cannot recommend The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine enough as it was the inspiration for the show and contains the most delicious gossip I’ve ever read in a biography. I haven’t yet read a book about Bette, but the one I read about Joan, Possessed: The Life of Joan Crawford by Donald Spoto made me see Ms Crawford in a completely different light. Incidentally, Spoto has also written a biography of Audrey Hepburn that I read years ago.

 

In keeping with my brand, there are no male movie star biographies listed here. It’s just not as interesting to read about the white men who had the world at their feet. It was like reading about Grace Kelly – so beautiful, so boring. She did everything she was supposed to her whole life.

So there you have it: an old Hollywood biography starter pack. Are there any you’ve read that you think I should give a spin? I’m always looking for more.

And don’t forget to check out Kim @ Sophisticated Dorkiness to see what other Non-Fiction Novemberites are reading about!

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Non-Fiction November: Fiction/Non-Fiction Book Pairings

Annnnnnd it’s Week 2 of Non-Fiction November!

Non-Fiction November is an annual appreciation of all things non-fiction hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Julie at JulzReads, Sarah of Sarah’s Book Shelves, Lory of Emerald City Book Review, and Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness.

This week Sarah is hosting fiction/non-fiction pairings. That is:

It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

This year I tried to think about this BEFORE the week started. Read on to see what I’ve come up with.

Guns in America

Early this year I broke my heart over Gary Younge’s Another Day in the Death of America. He picks a random day and looks at all the deaths of children on that day – there were 10 on the day he chose, but on average, there are seven.

This summer, everyone was talking about Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give. And for good reason. This book about the aftermath of the shooting death of a teenage girl’s friend is wonderful. I was so invested in this book right away – I loved Starr and her family and Thomas does an incredible job writing about something very difficult in a way that’s totally accessible.

Indigenous Peoples

I’ve already told you all about Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga. It’s one of the most important and eye-opening books I’ve read this year. It really made me think long and hard about the things my country has done to these communities.

Earlier this year, thanks to Canada Reads, I’d read Katherena Vermette’s The Break. The book did not fare well on the show thanks to super closed-minded male readers but it really made an impact on me. A woman is raped in Manitoba in the ice and snow. Another woman hears something and calls the police. The Break is about that rape’s aftermath, rippling out through an entire family. It touches on family and community and culture and also how forgotten and ignored Indigenous Peoples, especially Indigenous women are.

Bodies

I will always read everything that Roxane Gay writes and even I was blown away by the force of Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. In it she lays bare her life and her struggles with her own body and the way the world reacts to it. She talks about being gang raped at 12 and how ever after she made her body big so that it would be safe. About how humiliating it can be on planes, at events, at the grocery store when people take food out of her cart. I read this with my book club and it was one of the best discussions we’d ever had.

Last year I read and loved Dietland by Sarai Walker. Plum, our heroine, is biding her time, getting through her days, until she gets her weight loss surgery. Soon she notices that she’s being followed by a girl in striped tights and eventually gets pulled into a feminist group intent on disrupting the world with their actions. This group wants to show the world that their definitions of beauty, of womanhood, are dangerous and outdated. It’s the story of a girl learning to be comfortable in her own skin, no matter the size and kicking ass along the way. A delight.

Ballet

I’m flipping the order here – I’ve actually read The Chosen Maiden but I have not yet read Bolshoi Confidential. I am hoping to this month!

The Chosen Maiden by Eva Stachniak is the fictionalized account of the lives of the Nijinski siblings, Bronia and Vaslav. It charts their lives through the Twentieth Century alongside their accomplishments in dance. It’s a story of dance but also family and the costs that can come from working with those closest to us.

Bolshoi Confidential: Secrets of the Russian Ballet from the Rule of the Tsars to Today by Simon Morrison promises to be a gossipy read about ballet. And if you know anything about ballet, you know that it can be a brutal world. Remember that director who was attacked with acid? Morrison talks about that. Prima ballerinas, professional audience members, faked credentials; I’m getting excited to read this just thinking about it.

Alright, now I’m going to hop around and add more titles to my list thanks to everyone else’s recommendations! If you’re interested in participating, or just lurking in the wings, head on over to Sarah’s Bookshelves to find out more.

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Uncommon Type

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

When I first heard about this book, my reaction went something like this: “Tom Hanks?! Tom Hanks the actor? He wrote a book?! Tom Hanks? Really?!”

Write a book he did, kids.

uncommon type

Uncommon Type is a collection of short stories. Their only connection is that in each story there is a typewriter in some capacity. Sometimes it’s the impetus for the whole story, sometimes it’s just a background actor, but there’s one in each story.

The first three stories I really felt like I was reading stories told by Tom Hanks. The first story is one where best friends dabble in something more and it had a kind of You’ve Got Mail/When Harry Met Sally vibe (I know Tom Hanks isn’t in When Harry Met Sally). The second story, one of my favourites in the whole book, is set on Christmas Eve 1953, and sees a man enjoying the warmth of Christmas traditions with his young family while waiting for a phone call at midnight from a guy he served in the army with ten years earlier. The third story is one where an up and coming actor is on a press junket in Europe right when a huge scandal is uncovered that has to do with his co-star.

In all three of them, you can feel the influence of Hanks’ film career: romantic comedies, Band of Brothers, promoting movies.

That’s not criticism, by the way. I really enjoyed those stories! It was just interesting to me because we don’t often ‘know’ the authors so well.

Tom Hanks the author can write. His stories have a depth to them that I found surprising for short stories. I think that short stories have to be among the most challenging to write and he does so with aplomb. He manages to convey a lot in a short amount of space.

I didn’t know what to expect from this collection but I ended up being totally charmed very quickly. The stories he writes are so varied. There’s the one about the single mom in her new neighbourhood, deciding if she wants to have anything romantic to do with the man next door; the story about the bowling strikes that no one believes until they see it happen with their own eyes; the one about the mom coming to spend the weekend with her youngest son after the implosion of the marriage, of trying to impress him with a fast car and an airplane ride; and the one that revolves completely around a typewriter as a young woman in a period of transition spends $5 on a toy typewriter and ends up buying the real thing with visions of writing anything and everything down the road.

Given the chance to read more of Hanks’ work, I’d take it.

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She’s back: The Break

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

The last time I read a book by Marian Keyes, it did not go well. And that was a shame because she’s one of my favourites. An author I can count on to make me laugh, probably make me cry and definitely reset my mojo.

But that didn’t happen with the last one.

So I was apprehensive about reading her new book, The Break.

the-break

Amy and Hugh have been mostly happily married for years. But the last 18 months or so have been difficult. Hugh’s father passed away and now Hugh is thinking about the finiteness of time. When his best friend dies suddenly not long after, Hugh goes to a dark place where Amy can’t reach him. She engages in a bit of a harmless work flirtation to help her deal with what’s going on at home.

And then Hugh announces that he’s taking a break from their marriage for six months and traveling, doing the things that he always wanted to and didn’t. He’s leaving Amy and their girls, Neeve, Amy’s daughter from a previous marriage who is in the early stages of a YouTube empire, Kiara, Amy and Hugh’s sweet daughter who always knows the right thing to say and do, and sensitive, ethereal Sophie, who is actually Amy’s niece but they adopted and now lives with them.

Without Hugh, Amy wants to feel sorry for herself and lie in bed and cry. But her friends and family tell her she has to live her own life. If Hugh’s on a break from their marriage, doesn’t it also mean that Amy is?

The Break is classic Marian Keyes. Classic Walsh sisters Marian Keyes! I was delighted to read this book. It was the exact mix of hilarity and seriousness that I have come to expect from Keyes. In The Break, Keyes explores fidelity and the crises that come from the deaths of those close to us. She’s also come up with an incredible cast of characters that I really hope we see more of! I can absolutely see Amy’s family members starring in their own books a la the Walshes.

It’s a bit of a doorstopper at 568 pages but it’s such a delight I’m not sure you’ll notice. The Break is an excellent book to tuck in your bag for a long flight or a weekend away. It’ll also do nicely on a rainy weekend with a cup of tea.

If you read The Woman Who Stole My Life and swore off Marian Keyes, you need to change your mind. The Break is a classic.

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Non-Fiction November: My year in Non-Fiction

Last year I tentatively decided to participate in Non-Fiction November for the first time. This year, I’ve been looking forward to it all year long.

Non-Fiction November is an annual appreciation of all things non-fiction hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Julie at JulzReads, Sarah of Sarah’s Book Shelves, Lory of Emerald City Book Review, and Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness,

Let’s get to it!

The first week, hosted by Julie @ JulzReads, asks us to reflect on our non-fiction reading so far this year!

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

We all know that it’s impossible to choose one favourite book at any time. This is no exception. I’ve read some really great non-fiction this year. These definitely stand out:

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

I read Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud early in the year and I’ve recommended that one to a lot of people. At the very least to read the essay on Kim Kardashian and pregnancy which is a real stand out. More recently, I’ve been preaching about Seven Fallen Feathers. The story of these Indigenous youths that we all turned our backs on is one that needs to be known more widely. We can’t keep pretending that these problems don’t exist in Indigenous communities and that we didn’t have a hand in creating them through racist policies.

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?

This year I’ve read more socially conscious non-fiction. Which is great because that’s something that I wanted to do more of this time last year. BUT. Reading those kinds of books on top of the state of the world can be quite draining. I think this month I would love to read more ‘frivolous’ non-fiction. I want to read more about royals (my fave!), biographies, about women in the past. I think I need a bit of a break from the social commentary that feels a bit like little glass slivers cutting me.

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

I want to clear some of my non-fiction TBR! So far this year, 30% of my reading has been non-fiction (which sounds great until you realize that my reading numbers overall are just lower so a greater amount of them are non-fiction) but I still have so many books sitting on my shelves. I have books about royal parents, Leni Riefenstahl and Marlene Dietrich, housewives in the 1950s, ballet at the Bolshoi, a few biographies of Queen Victoria and books about women and families fighting fascists in the 1940s.

I’m also really looking forward to interacting with other non-fiction readers. And for every book that I clear from my TBR, I look forward to adding three in their place from recommendations by other participants!

Does this sound like something you want to get in on? There’s still time? Check out the schedule here. There’s also a book swap if you sign up this week!

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Seven Fallen Feathers

I’ve struggled with how to write about Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga.

Not only is the subject matter difficult, but what more could I say that Talaga hasn’t already said better?

But shying away from talking about this book, about what happened, is part of the problem. So here we go.

seven fallen feathers

Seven Fallen Feathers tells the stories of Jethro, Curran, Robyn, Paul, Reggie, Kyle and Jordan. Forty years after recommendations were made to keep Indigenous children safe when they were sent away from home for school, these seven Indigenous youth were left to their own devices and lost their lives. None of the recommendations had ever been put in place. None of their deaths were ever properly investigated.

The choice that Indigenous youth in remote communities face is a difficult one: stay at home and receive nothing more than a Grade 8 education, or leave home and move to a city and attend a secondary school in a strange place without your relatives to keep you safe.

Jethro, Curran, Robyn, Paul, Reggie, Kyle and Jordan all moved to Thunder Bay, Ontario to attend secondary school. None of them had ever been to a “big” city and things that we take for granted, strip malls and fast food, were all completely new to them. They moved into boarding houses, sometimes with cousins or distant relatives. They made new friends, and experimented with alcohol – like all kids at their age do.

Five of them were found dead in the rivers surrounding Lake Superior, despite their families claiming they were good swimmers and would never be in the water in the middle of the winter, one died in the hall of her boarding house, and one inexplicably collapsed in his kitchen. Seven years after Jethro, the first boy, was found, an inquest was finally held after the death of Reggie.

Seven Fallen Feathers takes a hard look at Canada’s relationship with Indigenous communities. Talaga, a journalist, digs deeply into the families and histories of these forgotten children. A lot of them have family histories with residential schools, a legacy whose pain and suffering is a burden still being carried by new generations.

This book is brutal in that it looks at the completely unnecessary deaths of promising young people. They left the security of their communities for a place that was totally unknown to them, a place that was not welcoming, teeming with racist overtures.

But this book is also completely necessary. It opened my eyes to something that I didn’t want to see. I think Seven Fallen Feathers is a book that all Canadians should read. It’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the wrongs Canada has committed against Indigenous Peoples but it’s a very important start.