What I Read Last Year: Non-Fiction

As I mentioned in my previous post, I read so much in 2016 that I'm breaking up my annual roundup of books into four separate posts so as not to overwhelm everyone (although perhaps the fact that there are four posts is overwhelming in a whole different way).

Non-fiction was the next most prolific of my reading categories. Most of the non-fiction I read in 2016 was by women, and I've already written about a lot of it for my Year of Reading Women. But I'll give quick summaries of everything nevertheless.


A History of Celibacy by Elizabeth Abbott, 484 pages

As part of my official entry into the ranks of spinsters in 2016 (i.e. I turned 30), I read this and two self-helpy types of books to reassure myself that's ok. I previously read Abbott's book A History of Marriage back in 2012, and that book blew my mind only slightly less than this one did. This history of celibacy covers the topic for basically all of recorded history across the globe, which I imagine was a rather daunting undertaking. The development of today's society versus all that massing of history is pretty amazing, let me tell you. As with any history, this is alternately shocking, appalling, and enlightening. I didn't realize until I got to the end of the book that it was published in 1999, which explains why it doesn't deal with certain aspects of the issue that have sprung up in the last decade and a half. This is what I wanted but didn't get from The Purity Myth.

Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford, 210 pages

This book was supposedly about the intellectual and emotional value of working with your hands, and it kind of was, but it was also not what I wanted. If I'm being honest, what really happened is that the author lost me with his comments about why it's ok for manual labourers to make off-colour jokes. It's not.

It's Not You by Sara Eckel, 176 pages

The second of the two self-help books re: spinsterhood. The other one (which I'll get to in a moment) was better, but this book was very helpful as well. Eckel dissects all the different things that people say to single people (or that we say to ourselves) about why they're single and points out how ridiculous these statements generally are.

Vindication by Lyndall Gordon, 452 pages

See also this post. A loving, extremely comprehensive biography of Mary Wollstonecraft, who is one of my personal heroes, a total badass, and has been something of a controversial figure at various points in history. Also she is the mother of modern feminism. There were parts of this biography that were a bit too detailed and didn't seem to propel the "story" forward, but overall I really enjoyed it.

Live Alone and Like It by Marjorie Hillis, 154 pages

See also this post. The first of the self-help books I read to celebrate my spinsterhood. I was shocked by how good and relevant it was, considering that it's eighty years old. As soon as I can get my hands on a copy of this thing for my personal collection, I will probably reread it every six months. Basically it just talks about how you can and should make a wonderful life alone, whether you'd rather be partnered or not, except it's 100% sassier than that sentence I just wrote.

Venturing into the prairies by Therese Jelinski, 504 pages

Mind-boggling local history about the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary, who arrived in Saskatchewan in 1903 (to teach in a residential school), had a hand in shaping many small communities in the province, and are now fading away just like so many other religious communities.

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein, 466 pages

See also this post. This book is subtitled Capitalism vs. the Climate, and that's what it is. I don't entirely agree with everything Klein says in this book about how to address climate change, but it's a sobering examination of how little time we have left to get serious about taking action before it's "too late." The planet, of course, will survive us, but depending on what we do, we may not survive the planet.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, 206 pages

This book is the latest fad in home improvement self help, and yeah, I read it too. I will never be able to implement Kondo's methods to the degree she insists I do, but there are a lot of really good principles here that I'm currently using to do a purge of all the stuff that I've accumulated over the years. My favourite technique is to get all the similar objects into one place before going through them. So bring all of your pens together before you sort them. Because you probably have a dozen pens in every room and you don't need all of those pens.

Indian Ernie by Ernie Louttit, 190 pages

This is a local police officer's memoir, about being one of the first aboriginal members of the city's police force. It was a really interesting window into local violent crime from a police officer's perspective, particularly a non-white officer, and I enjoyed it a lot.

We Band of Angels by Elizabeth M. Norman, 272 pages

See also this post. An excellent portrait of the US Army nurses who became POWs in the Philippines during the Second World War. While we get endless rehashings of the Western Front from the perspective of the American soldier on tv and movies, I've been more and more eager lately to get more information on women at war, the home front, Canadians at war, etc etc, and this book was an excellent start to that mission. Norman uses the nurses' journals and interviews with those who were surviving at the time when she was writing the book to put together the story of these women, who worked in a prison camp jail throughout their captivity despite horrible conditions. A celebration of the strength of women and especially of nurses.

A Natural History of the Romance Novel by Pamela Regis, 207 pages

See also this post. I continued my ongoing exploration of the romance genre from an outsider's perspective with this book about the development of the genre beginning with Pamela and on to modern titans like Nora Roberts. Regis is trying to draw parallels between the classic romances and the contemporary ones, and although she provides ample backup for her thesis in this book, I still say that few contemporary romance novels will ever match the stakes of those that were written back then, because the stakes have changed so much. Nevertheless, I got some ideas of books that I might try to read for the blog.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau, 362 pages

Thoreau is deliciously, hilariously preachy in this book about his time living at Walden Pond. It took me forever to read because it was all about how deep the pond was and how the sand was really nice all the time or something, but Thoreau wraps things up with the conclusion to end all conclusions, which is to say it blew my mind. He's not right all the time (no, a young child should not be fed a diet consisting entirely of beans), but he's right where it counts (the cheaper your lifestyle, the more room there will be in it for life).

Skywalkers by David Weitzman, 112 pages

I first learned about the Mohawk ironworkers from my dad, who probably learned about them when they rose to prominence in pop culture in the 70s. Ironworkers are fascinating no matter what race they are, so I wanted to learn more about the guys who worked on the really high steel and found this book. It's more of a juvenile non-fiction book, but it was still really interesting. It hits the high points really well, anyway: the Quebec Bridge Disaster and the Empire State Building, the construction of which is almost unbelievable if you've spent any time in the construction industry at all. Here's an article with some more current information.

Beyond Heaving Bosoms by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan, 284 pages

See also this post. Wendell and Tan are undoubtedly fans of the romance genre, so this was a loving, funny exploration of the genre's cliches and strengths. I learned a lot about the romance fan's perspective: they like plots and settings, like someone might particularly like secret baby stories set in the Old West or whatever, and beyond that the author or other concerns aren't that important. Also they know the difference between fantasy and reality, contrary to handwringing I and others have engaged in over the years about the content of these novels. There is a blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment