Two Mini Book Reviews: Great CNF published in 2013

two great nonfiction books from 2013

Must be something in the air. In the last few days, several people have asked for suggestions for good nonfiction books. Here are my two favourites from 2013.

Everything Rustles (Anvil, 2013), by Jane Silcott 

This book was announced yesterday as a finalist for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize (a BC Book Prize). (Go, Jane!) A beautiful collection of essays about aging and learning and fear. Writing and words and being human. Love and loss and teaching. Nature. Strength and weakness. And it has a gorgeous photograph on the cover that perfectly suits the book.

Conversations with a Dead Man: The Legacy of Duncan Campbell Scott (Douglas & McIntyre, 2013) by Mark Abley

A provocative look at Scott, a talented, obscure Canadian poet who was responsible for much of the suffering of First Nations people in Canada. Disturbing and at times difficult to read. And yet, a delight to read because of Mark’s unusual and ingenious trick of imagining debates with Scott’s ghost in hope of shining a light on the history behind the ongoing difficulties and injustices faced by Canada’s aboriginal people. Mark packs a lot of heavy historical info into this fairly slim volume, but the difficult parts are the things people did and the things other people suffered; this is not a dry info dump. The writing flows and this reader found herself engrossed from start to finish. Since I commented on the cover of Jane’s book, I’ll add here that the brooding photo on the cover of Mark’s book is just right too.

So what about you? What are your recommendations for a great work of creative nonfiction that I should add to my must-read list?

About Chris Galvin

Chris Galvin is a Canadian writer, editor and photographer dividing her time between Canada and Viet Nam. Her essay Flood Season was a finalist for the 2012 Best of the Net prize, and Discovering Hến Rice in Central Việt Nam won third place (shared) and a Readers’ Choice Award in the 2015 I Must Be Off! Travel Essay Contest. Her work has appeared in various anthologies and literary journals, including Descant, Asian Cha, PRISM International, Room, and others. She has written in Vietnamese and English for Vietnam Tourism Review/Kham Pha Du Lich Vietnam Magazine, Travellive, and Du Lich Giai Tri. Chris is currently looking for a home for her recently completed manuscript, Breakfast Under the Bodhi Tree, a book about living, eating, and tour-guiding in Viet Nam.
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12 Responses to Two Mini Book Reviews: Great CNF published in 2013

  1. Rose Hunter says:

    I’ve read a bunch of Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams online. Love what I’ve read, thinking of ordering that one. That’s not out until April though. From 2011, but Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water amazed me, stunned me, inspired me, made me cry, made me forget my life until I finished it. 2013, I don’t know! If anything occurs to me I’l return. Anything by Geoff Dyer also, anytime. Reading Stephen Elliott’s The Adderall Diaries right now….

    • Chris says:

      Hi Rose, thanks for reading and commenting. Judging by all the recent mentions of Yuknavitch’s book, I’d better rush out and get a copy! (Both it and “The Empathy Exams” have such intriguing titles, too.) I don’t usually go for in-your-face style memoirs, but have seen a few reviews that make it sound like Chronology of Water would be worth the read all the same.

  2. Thanks so much for these great suggestions. Am putting Everything Rustles on my book-shopping list. Keeping the second one in mind. @Rose, I LOVED The Chronology of Water. Also loved Denise Chong’s The Concubines Children, Red China Blues by Jan Wong, and Stephen Hawkings’ A Brief History of Time.

    • Chris says:

      Thanks for your comments, Alana. As mentioned in my answer to Rose’s comment, I haven’t yet read Yuknavitch’s book, but I did enjoy the other three you’ve mentioned. Good suggestions.

  3. igallupd says:

    These books all sound very interesting, and well worth reading! I’ve been reading two science titles that I’d recommend: David Kaiser, ‘How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival,’ (Touchstone), and Denise Kiernan, ‘The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II’ (Norton). (I just received, but haven’t really started reading, Lisa-Ann Gershwin’s ‘Stung!: On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean’ [Chicago]).

  4. Chris says:

    Thanks for these great reading ideas, Ignacio. I cannot resist the title of the David Kaiser book. Science and hippies. An intoxicating mix! I’ve been wanting to read Denise Kiernan’s book for a while now, and Stung sounds like required reading (but interesting, too). Adding them all to my list.

  5. Conversations sounds really interesting. Definitely going on my list, thanks. My latest great nonfiction read is The Lost Battles: Leonard, Michelangelo and the Artistic Duel That Defined the Renaissance, by Jonathan Jones. So fascinating and packed with little facts that I didn’t know about either. Another favourite I’d recommend is A Goddess in the Stones: Travels in India, by Norman Lewis. He was an incredible writer and this book is impossible to put down.

  6. So many interesting books to add to my list.

    A few favorites: Turn Right at Machu Picchu (Mark Adams); The Blood Will Out (Walter Kirn); Wild Trees (Richard Preston); Just Kids (Patti Smith). And it’s a few years old, but Oil on the Brain (Lisa Margonelli) is a great book about the economics of gasoline in the real world.

  7. Chris says:

    Hi Wanda, Thanks for adding your books to the list. The first one is a gem; I loved its quirky humour and also learned some interesting history from it. I haven’t read the others, but Margonelli’s book sounds like an important read for our times.

    • I read Oil on the Brain in summer for 2008, when all the magazines ran long articles on the economics of gas and why it was so expensive. Mostly they put me to sleep. Her approach to storytelling and people from Texas to Niger and Iran is what makes it so compelling.

      But Just Kids is the must read from that list. I listened to Wild Trees on a drive to and from Oregon.

  8. Chris says:

    Wild Trees sounds like a quirky book about a passion I never knew existed (climbing the redwoods). I’m more likely to read Just Kids first. I’m always fascinated with the 60s and 70s. I’ve just read this review in The Guardian:
    Thanks again for the ideas.

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