Get to know the Top 40: Trauma


Today we look at the books on our Canada Reads: True Stories Top 40 list that contain stories of some of life's worst moments, stories by authors who suffered through difficulties and traumatic events and lived to  literally  tell the tale. 

There's Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall's year among derelicts in Tent City, Shannon Moroney's newlywed nightmare, Russell Wangersky's firefighting memoir, Marina Nemat's imprisonment in Iran and James FitzGerald's look into his family's dark medical history.

The Book: Burning Down the House by Russell Wangersky


What's it about? Fighting fire. Wangersky's memoir is about the traumatic challenges he faced in his eight years as a volunteer firefighter, and how that experience transformed his life and how he looks at the world.

Did the critics like it? Yes. The Globe and Mail called it "visceral" and chose it as a Top 100 Book in 2009.

What else do I need to know? Wangersky's memoir is not for the faint of heart  he developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of his experiences rescuing strangers from fires, and the book details his horrors and nightmares as well as his heroics.

The Book: Down to This by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall


What's it about? Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall moves in to Tent City, a squatters' settlement on the Toronto waterfront, just months before it was bulldozed in 2002. He chronicles the lives and day-to-day struggles of the folks who make their home in Toronto's own shanty town.

Did the critics like it? Yes. Bishop Stall was praised for his "poetic" writing and "bitter honesty."

What else do I need to know? Down to This was nominated for a slew of awards, including the City of Toronto Book Award when it was first published in 2005. Bishop-Stall has since moved on to fiction: his first novel, Ghosting, was published last year.

The Book: Prisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat


What's it about? As a teenager, Marina Nemat was arrested and spent two years in a political prison in Iran after the Islamic revolution. This book is her memoir of those horrifying years in jail, where she was tortured and almost executed.

Did the critics like it? Oh yes. Maclean's called it no less than "the finest memoir ever written by a Canadian."

What else do I need to know? Nemat won several awards for her memoir, including the first even Human Dignity Prize from the European Parliament in 2007. She recently wrote a follow-up memoir called After Tehran.


The Book: Through the Glass by Shannon Moroney


What's it about? One month into their marriage, Shannon Moroney's husband was arrested for the abduction and violent assault of two women. He pled guilty, and Moroney's world fell apart. Through the Glass chronicles her journey through the justice system, and trying to piece her life back together.

Did the critics like it? Yes. Maclean's and the National Post both praised the book for its compelling documentation of a flawed penal system and powerful capacity for forgiveness.

What else do I need to know? You can listen to Moroney talk about her book and her experience on CBC's The Current a couple of weeks ago. She has become an advocate for restorative justice, working with organizations such as The Forgiveness Project.

The Book: What Disturbs Our Blood by James FitzGerald


What's it about? James FitzGerald's grandfather was an eminent Canadian medical scientist, working with Frederick Banting and Charles Best to mass-produce insulin and wipe out diphtheria. But FitzGerald never knew his grandfather, who died young, for reasons the family refused to speak of. As an teen, FitzGerald saw his own father, also an eminent doctor, suffer a mental breakdown and commit suicide. In order to save himself from the same fate, FitzGerald delves into his family's history of mental illness in order to break the cycle.

Did the critics like it? Yes. What Disturbs Our Blood garnered rave reviews from most of Canada's major papers for its combination of personal memoir and history of Canadian medicine.

What else do I need to know? FitzGerald first drew notice with his book Old Boys, a critical history of Upper Canada College. What Disturbs Our Blood won the Writer's Trust Award for non-fiction (now the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize) in 2010.

You can vote for these titles (or any of the other 35 books) in our Canada Reads: True Stories vote for the Top 10 contest! To cast your vote, head over to the poll. You can vote for up to five titles. Doing so will help these books move one step closer to being officially entered in this year's battle of the books.

The Canada Reads: True Stories Top 10 will be revealed on Tuesday, November 1, on Q and right here on CBC Books.

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