Stella Leventoyannis Harvey


2016 Summer Book Recommendations – Part 2

“Wisdom begins in wonder.” Socrates

Last week, I listed and provided a brief summary of the fiction titles I recommended for summer reading. I know, none sounded like light reads, but they are all well worth the investment of your time, energy and in particular, your heart.

I have begun to read more non-fiction of late and here are some recommendations I’d like to share. Some of these books use humour to tackle tough topics, so it’s not all doom and gloom. Promise.

My Impaired Moral Compass by Jonathan Baum. I’ve written a short review of Jonathan’s memoir in an earlier blog. Here is a summary in case you missed the original. Right off the bat the stories portray an ordinary guy trying to find his place on his terms. He wants a dream job and a reasonably priced place to live (in Whistler, no less) so he can pursue his passion, comedy. Throw in his need to find a dream girl and Jonathan’s ability to laugh at himself and you’ve got the ingredients of a smart, very well written and outrageously funny memoir. Despite the odds, he never gives up his pursuits so as a reader you find yourself cheering him on.

The Horrors, An A to Z of Funny Thoughts on Awful Things by Charlie Demers. I have previously blogged about this set of essays. As the title denotes the book is a series of Charlie’s thoughts about a number of different issues sorted by the letters of the alphabet. These deeply personal, skilfully written and incredibly funny essays are varied in scope and subject matter. From his mother’s death to politics, Charlie leaves no stone unturned.

This Is Happy by Camilla Gibb. After becoming pregnant with their first child; Camilla’s partner leaves her. And so starts the journey back to her life and to writing. Here is part of the note I sent her after completing her memoir: Wow, are you brave and so open and honest. Great read. Totally agree with your conclusion. I loved the fact that you built your own family in the end. It might not look like anyone else’s, but it’s yours. So hopeful and inspiring. 

The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham. This book reads like a novel, but it is part biography part history lesson about the censorship of Ulysses. It’s hard to imagine a time when governments defined what constituted obscenity and burned books. This continues in some parts of the world today. As a writer and a reader I’m grateful I live where I live.

The Violet Hour: Stories of Writers at the End of Their Lives by Katie Roiphe. These essays explore the last days of six great writers and their views and approaches to death. I know, I know it doesn’t sound like fun reading, but it is sober and honest and left me wondering about my own attitudes to my eventual demise. If a book makes you think and question and think some more, than it’s a great book. I loved the line by author, Jim Slater, “we make our own comfort.” Yes we do.

Startle and Illuminate by Ann Giardini and Nicolas Giardini. I’ve written about this one previously in my blogs as well, but here’s a bit of a summary. This book is a collection of essays and letters author Carol Shields penned about writing. Anne is Carol's daughter. Startle and Illuminate makes for wonderful reading for both emerging and established writers. It's a reminder of the lessons of our craft: "I honestly believe that writing succeeds or fails at the sentence level." Or "I can see it. This must happen or the manuscript is dead." Or "Some narratives move very slowly. Let them move at their pace." Or "Every writer is troubled with getting what's in the head onto paper." Or "Learn to rely on your own voice and to have faith in the value of your own experiences. There is an empty space on the bookshelf that only your voice and story can fill." Isn’t that last line lovely? Encouraging too.

I Wasn't Always Like This by Shelley A. Leedahl. This is a collection of essarys on various topics from running to parenting, from writing to traveling and everything in between. Here is an excerpt of a note I wrote Shelley after I finished her book. It will give you a sense of how I felt about it. "I just finished your book of essays. I wanted to tell you that it was a wonderful read. You are brave on so many fronts. I could relate to the running, as I've been a runner for most of my adult life. I loved your descriptions, I loved how the essays gave snippets of a life lived, the good, bad and the ugly. And finally I loved the reference to gardening, which is what I do here too. Very well done! Thanks for writing these essays. Loved reading them and discovering again, as though for the first time, we are all more similar than we think we are and we're all in this game together."

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