Top Ten Tuesday: Book Club Picks

This week’s theme is a lot of fun – top ten book club picks! One of my favourite genres, and one that I think is woefully under-appreciated, is nonfiction. And so, here are ten nonfiction titles to try out with your book club. I’ve tried to pick titles with broad appeal that will encourage discussion and conversation.

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Science, race, family, ethics, economics and politics collide in the fascinating story of Henrietta Lacks and her incredible cells.

The Devil in the White City – The stories of two men, one a sinister murderer and the other the architect behind the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, collide in this gripping true tale of crime and commerce.

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Into Thin Air – A thrilling account of the disastrous 1996 Everest season, in which 11 climbers lost their lives.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat – Neurologist Oliver Sacks beautifully and sympathetically recounts some of the strangest and most fascinating cases he encountered during his long career.

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In a Sunburned Country – Pretty much any books by Brill Bryson is a good choice for a book club, but this exploration of Australia is one of Bryson’s laugh out loud funniest.

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void – Mary Roach always manages to make hard science accessible and often hilarious. This look at space exploration is fascinating, cheeky and highly informative.

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Working in the Shadows – A journalist spends a year undercover working the jobs “most Americans won’t do”, revealing the plight of undocumented migrants and poor Americans in this fascinating, at times heartbreaking account of life in the shadows.

52 Loaves – This hilarious account follows one man’s obsession to bake the perfect loaf of bread.

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The Omnivore’s Dilemma – Explore the natural history of cooking and food and take a hard look at the modern Western diet and what it means for the future of our society as a whole.

Orange is the New Black – When a successful young woman is sent to prison for a crime she committed years before, she discovers an entirely new world behind bars. An eye-opening, compassionate look at prison life.

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Top Ten Tuesday – Book-to-film adaptations I’m curious about….

Top Ten Tuesday is an original meme from the awesome team at The Broke and The Bookish. 

toptentuesdayOK, here they are, a handful of book-to-film adaptations that have caught my eye. Some of my favourite books are getting the big screen treatment or have recently made their Hollywood debut, and while I am hopeful that the directors and writers will do justice to these stories, I find myself waiting with baited breath….

In no particular order….

1. In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

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One of my favourite nonfiction titles,  In the Heart of the Sea recounts the story of the whaling ship Essex, which was sunk by a whale, leaving the crew stranded in the middle of the ocean for several months. A harrowing tale, wonderfully written and carefully researched, I fear that this will be yet another “inspired by actual events” kind of film that sacrifices history for entertainment. Still, it’s directed by Ron Howard, so I am cautiously optimistic.

2. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

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I love Bill Bryson. He’s a fiercely intelligent comedic writer, with a sometimes acerbic sense of humour.  I’m really hopeful that this adaptation won’t just devolve into a generic buddy/road trip comedy. Still, Robert Redford as Bill Bryson?! Not sure I can picture that one.

3. Left For Dead by Beck Weathers

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Renamed Everest and featuring the all-star cast of Jake Gyllenhall, Keira Knightley, Josh Brolin, and Sam Worthington, this adapted account of an ill-fated mountain expedition looks promising.  I didn’t find the book as gripping as the classic Into Thin Air, but I still think it would make for an exciting film.

4. The Lost City of Z by David Grann

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I’m always delighted to see nonfiction titles adapted for the big screen, but all too often the film becomes but a shadow of the original true story. Still, this is a gripping tale of exploration and madness in the mysterious jungle, so I think it would make for a pretty exciting film even with a bit of Hollywood fact-fudging.

5. The BFG by Roald Dahl

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This is one for my inner child – I loved this story growing up. Steven Spielberg will hopefully do my childhood memories justice.

6. Console Wars: SEGA, Nintendo and the Battle that Defined a Generation by Blake J. Harris

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This book pretty much sums up my childhood. Growing up, the battle between Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog was EPIC, with kids divided between the console camps. I’m really hoping this is made into a documentary, rather than a feature film, as there are a lot of personalities I would love to see interviewed.

7. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

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I’m really looking forward to seeing Liam Neeson in a film that doesn’t have the word “Taken” in it. I highly respect and admire Patrick Ness, and I’m hopeful that the adaptation of this powerful story will be done with care.

So, have you seen any of these adaptations, or read any of the books I’ve mentioned? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Top Ten Tuesday – Nonfiction for People Who (Think They) Don’t Enjoy Nonfiction

Top Ten Tuesday is an original meme from the awesome team at The Broke and The Bookish. 

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love nonfiction. As a former history student I know that truth is all too often stranger than fiction. Unfortunately the genre is sometimes seen as boring and dry. This is a real shame, because in the hands of a skilled writer, nonfiction can be as thrilling, exciting and rewarding as any novel.

Here are my picks for 10 nonfiction titles that are perfect entries into this fascinating genre. I’ve tried to include a variety of different styles and subject matters – there truly is a nonfiction title out there for everyone.

1. In the Heart of the Sea / Nathaniel Philbrick : Rampaging whales hellbent on revenge, shipwrecks, cannibalism, madness, survival, and adventure – this gripping account of the event that inspired Moby Dick is history at its most intense. It’s about to be released as a movie, too, so make sure to read the book before heading to the theaters.

2. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks / Rebecca Skloot : A skillful, sensitive study of the complicated intersections between science, ethics, race, economics, family relationships, and politics in recent American history, focusing on the story of Henrietta Lacks and her unique cells.

3. 52 Loaves / William Alexander : The humorous, eye-opening and at times quite touching account of one man’s obsessive quest to bake the perfect loaf of bread.

4. Into Thin Air / Jon Krakauer: This personal account of an ill-fated Everest expedition is nonfiction at its most gripping. Hold on, because things are about to get intense.

5. Thunderstruck / Erik Larson: Larson is one of the true masters of narrative nonfiction, creating thrilling, awe-inspiring works that skillfully weave multiple story lines together that build to a satisfying conclusion. Any of his recent works would be fine choices, but Thunderstruck is particularly engaging – a cops-and-robbers story of detectives, scientists and murderers caught up in a desperate race to the finish.

6. One Summer / Bill Bryson: Bryson is another established nonfiction master who likely needs little introduction, and whose signature style blends quality research, witty writing and wry humour. Selecting just one of Bryson’s many excellent titles is a challenge, but I have to recommend this brilliant account of a pivotal year in American history. This is history as it should be written – engaging, inspiring, thought-provoking, and absolutely fascinating.

7. The Disappearing Spoon / Sam Kean : Passion, obsession, betrayal, adventure, murder and madness abound in this study of the history behind the development of the periodic table. Think science is boring? Think again.

8. Still Life / Melissa Milgrom : Ready for something a bit off the beaten track? Take a peak inside the weird, wacky and wonderful world of taxidermy.

9. Packing for Mars / Mary Roach : So….how does one use the toilet in space? The wonderfully irreverent Mary Roach tackles this and other fascinating, if not entirely polite, questions about space travel in this hilarious yet informative account. Definitely not for the faint of heart.

10.What If? / Randall Munroe : Brought to you by the mind behind the nerd-favourite web comic XKCD, this collection of short essays uses hard science and a bit of imagination to tackle outlandish theoretical questions, like : what would happen if every human on Earth jumped at the same time? Real science, real humour, real entertainment.

And there you have it – ten nonfiction titles that prove that this genre is anything but boring. Let me know what you think! Did I miss any of your favourites?

What I’ve Been Reading Lately

Still sick but slowly on the mend…this has been one doozy of a month, complete with missing a heart-breaking amount of work. No story times = very unhappy Jane. But at this point there’s nothing I can do but rest, take my medicine, and focus on getting better.

While I love Netflix as much as the next housebound invalid, reading has been what’s truly kept me from losing my mind these past few weeks. Here’s another short list of a few of the books I’ve been devouring on the couch.

52 Loaves / William Alexander

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I have a soft spot for people who dedicate themselves whole-heartedly to inconsequential quests, particularly when those quests are just a little bit ridiculous. In 52 Loaves, William Alexander commits himself to the task of baking the perfect loaf of bread. Much to the bemusement of his family, he decides to bake a loaf of peasant bread every week for an entire yea, hence the 52 loaves. In between baking experiments, Alexander travels to Morocco to bake his dough in a traditional communal oven, makes his own starter using wild yeast, teaches the monks of a French monastery how to bake peasant bread, attends cooking school in Paris, builds his own backyard brick oven, and more, all in the pursuit of perfection. Madcap, hilarious and more than a little bit zany, this light-hearted romp really picked me up when I was feeling pretty sorry for myself sitting in a hospital bed.

The King of Vodka / Linda Himelstein

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Worthy of a film adaptation, this sweeping saga tells the larger-than-life story of Piotr Smirnov, founder of the Smirnov vodka dynasty. Rising from the humblest of origins as a serf in the Russian countryside, Smirnov built an empire in a true rags-to-riches epic. Interspersed with some of the most famous names in Russian history, from Lenin to Tolstoy to Chekhov, and ranging in period from the 1860s to the 20th century, The King of Vodka reveals the incredible story behind this household name.

A Walk in the Woods / Bill Bryson

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There are times, when you’re wallowing in self-pity and blankets, when all you want to do is escape. Somewhere. Anywhere. And ideally have a good laugh while you’re at it. At those times, few authors will serve you better than Bill Bryson. Not only will you get to vicariously travel somewhere new, you’ll have a hilarious time doing so, and you’ll learn a thing or too as well, and feel smarter for having had the experience. In this madcap yet thoughtful memoir, Bryson decides to tackle the 2,000+ mile (estimates vary, as you’ll see in the book) Appalachian Trail, running from Georgia to Maine. Out of shape, middle-aged and neurotic (in the best possible way), Bryson isn’t exactly hiking material, which makes him just the sort of guide most of us can readily relate to. Bryson’s feelings about bears in particular made me laugh out loud, having had a similar close encounter of my own in Yellowstone National Park. Escapist literature at its very best.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately

Since I’ve been sick for the past few weeks, I’ve had a lot of time to sit on the couch and read. Here are a couple of the books I’ve burned through during my convalescence.

One Summer :  America 1927 / Bill Bryson

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Babe Ruth, Mount Rushmore, Prohibition, Jazz, Charles Lindbergh, Al Capone, the beginnings of the Great Depression, and more – Bill Bryson brings all these colourful characters and facts and more together in a book that’s as entertaining as it is educational. I love, love, love narrative nonfiction – nonfiction books that read like novels. Bill Bryson is a master of the genre, and I absolutely could not put this book down.

Divergent / Veronica Roth

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Well, the books was better than the movie, I’ll give it that. I have to say, I hated the movie. Hated, hated, hated it. In contrast, I only hated, hated the book. The lead character Tris was far less annoying in the book than she was in the film – I actually cared somewhat what happened to her in the novel, which is something. But it certainly didn’t inspire me to want to pick up another YA novel any time soon….

Eden’s Outcast / John Matteson

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A fascinating account of the relationship between “Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott and her father, complicated educator, writer and thinker Branson Alcott. This one was recommended to me by my mother, who has long been a voracious reader of biographies. Fascinating historical figures with intense personalities and a complex, tempestuous but ultimately loving father-daughter bond.

Racing With Death / Beau Riffenburgh

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I’ve always been fascinated by Antarctic exploration, and I’ve read different accounts of Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen over the years. Racing with Death is the story of Douglas Mawson, an Australian explorer who’s largely forgotten today. Pretty exciting stuff, but not for the faint of heart (frostbite is not pretty…)