Books·Reading List

12 works of nonfiction you need to read this summer

From memoirs to researched deep dives into a particular subject, check out these nonfiction books you need to read this summer.

From fascinating memoirs to absorbing essay collections, add these Canadian and international nonfiction books to your reading list this summer.

On Account of Darkness by Ian Kennedy

On Account of Darkness is a book by Ian Kennedy. (Kelsey Vermeersch, Tidewater Press)

In the nonfiction book On Account of Darkness, Ian Kennedy collected over 100 years of stories about athletes who triumphed despite systemic racism. Focusing on Ontario's Chatham-Kent region, the book explores how the history of sport in the region is a microcosm for the successes and challenges non-white athletes have faced for generations across Canada. Combining individual stories of athletes and social commentary, Kennedy examines systemic racism and Canadian multiculturalism against the backdrop of sports history. 

Based in Erie Beach, Ont., Kennedy is a sports journalist and secondary school teacher. In 2011, he founded the Chatham-Kent Sports Network, an online news outlet covering both amateur and professional athletes. 

Rehearsals for Living by Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

Rehearsals for Living is a book by Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. (Knopf Canada)

The concept behind the book Rehearsals for Living formed during the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020. Authors Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson began writing each other letters — a gesture sparked by a desire for kinship and connection during a trying time. Rooted in Black and Indigenous perspectives on race, gender and class, Rehearsals for Living is an epistolary dialogue about the world we live in and a need for change.

Maynard is a Montreal-based Black feminist writer, activist and educator. Maynard's writing and work focus on documenting racist and gender-based state violence. Her debut book, Policing Black Lives, traced the underreported modern and historical realities of anti-Blackness within a Canadian context.

​Betasamosake Simpson is a Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, activist, musician, artist, author and member of Alderville First Nation. Her work often centres on the experiences of Indigenous Canadians. Her books include Islands of Decolonial Love, This Accident of Being Lost, As We Have Always Done and Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies.

Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson talk to Shelagh Rogers about their book, Rehearsals for Living.

The Naked Don't Fear the Water by Matthieu Aikins

The Naked Don't Fear the Water is a book by Matthieu Aikins. (Kiana Hayeri, HarperCollins Canada)

Journalist Matthieu Aikins leaves behind his passport and identity to follow a young Afghan named Omar as he leaves his war-torn country. Omar and Aikins journey across land and sea from Afghanistan to Europe, coming face-to-face with smugglers, cops, activists and other refugees. 

The Naked Don't Fear the Water is a story about friendship across borders, as it shines a light on the heart of the migration crisis. 

Aikins is a Canadian journalist living in Kabul reporting on the war. He is also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a contributing editor at Rolling Stone. The Naked Don't Fear the Water is his first book.

Tanqueray by Brandon Stanton and Stephanie Johnson

Tanqueray is a memoir written by Stephanie Johnson and Brandon Stanton. (Macmillan)

The online world met Stephanie Johnson, better known as Tanqueray, in 2019 through a photograph shared across social media. Millions followed her story, photograph by photograph, as she shared snippets from her brutal childhood to trying to make it in a world of go-go dancers and hustlers, dirty cops and gangsters. Now, in collaboration with photographer and co-author Brandon Stanton, Johnson shares the full story in her book, Tanqueray

Johnson is best known as "Tanqueray," the American burlesque dancer who took New York City by storm in the '70s and then became an online media sensation in 2020 when photographed for Humans of New York. She lives in Manhattan. Tanqueray is her first book. 

Stanton is a photographer, writer and the creator of the viral social media project Humans of New York. He is also the creator of the bestselling books Humans, Humans of New York, and Humans of New York: Stories as well as the children's book Little Humans. 

The Power of Teamwork by Dr. Brian Goldman

The Power of Teamwork is a book by Dr. Brian Goldman. (HarperCollins, CBC)

The Power of Teamwork shows how a team approach to medicine can improve more than our healthcare systems. This new model can lead to better customer service, solidify the provision of social services to troubled youth, make professional sports teams perform better, and even help women break the glass ceiling. 

Dr. Brian Goldman is an ER doctor and a bestselling author. He is the host of CBC Radio's White Coat, Black Art, and the CBC podcast The Dose, which is about the latest in health news. Goldman lives in Toronto.

Some of My Best Friends by Tajja Isen

Some of My Best Friends is an essay collection by Tajja Isen. (Karen Isen, Doubleday Canada )

Some of My Best Friends is an essay collection that examines race, social justice and the limits of good intentions. The timely book explores issues such the animation industry's pivot away from colourblind casting, the pursuit of diverse representation in the literary world, the law's refusal to see inequality, the cozy illusions of nationalism and more.

Born in Toronto, Tajja Isen is a writer, editor and voice actor. Currently based in New York, Isen is the editor-in-chief of Catapult magazine. Some of My Best Friends is her debut book. She also co-edited the essay collections The World as We Knew It and The Walrus Book of True Crime.

Son of Elsewhere by Elamin Abdelmahmoud

Elamin Abdelmahmoud is the author of Son of Elsewhere. (CBC, McClelland & Stewart)

In his memoir, Elamin Abdelmahmoud recounts his experience leaving his native Sudan and moving to Kingston, Ont. Like all teens, he spent his adolescence trying to figure out who he was, but he had to do it while learning to balance a new racial identity and all the assumptions that came with being Black and Muslim. 

Son of Elsewhere explores how our experiences and environments can define our identity and who we truly are. 

Abdelmahmoud is the host of CBC's weekly pop culture podcast Pop Chat, co-host of CBC's political podcast Party Lines and a frequent culture commentator for CBC News. He's a culture writer for BuzzFeed News, where he also writes their daily morning newsletter, Incoming.

Good Mom on Paper, edited by Stacey May Fowles & Jen Sookfong Lee

Good Mom on Paper is a book edited by by Stacey May Fowles, middle, and Jen Sookfong Lee, right. (Book*Hug Press, N. Maxwell, Kyrani Kanavaro)

Good Mom on Paper is a collection of 20 essays from writers including Heather O'Neill, Lee Maracle, Jael Richardson, Alison Pick and more. The collection is an honest and intimate exploration of the complicated relationship between motherhood and creativity. These essays examine the often-invisible challenges of literary life as a parent and celebrate the systems that nurture writers who are mothers.

Stacey May Fowles is an award-winning journalist, essayist and author of four books. Her writing has appeared in the Globe and Mail, National Post, Elle Canada, The Walrus and elsewhere. Fowles lives in Toronto, where she is working on her fourth novel and a children's book.

Jen Sookfong Lee is a writer from Vancouver. Her books include The Conjoined, which was nominated for the International Dublin Literary Award and was a finalist for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize; The Better Mother, which was a finalist for the City of Vancouver Book Award; The End of East; and Finding Home.

Jen Sookfong Lee talks to Shelagh Rogers about her collection of poems, The Shadow List.

How the World Really Works by Vaclav Smil

How the World Really Works by Vaclav Smil. (Viking,

How the World Really Works is a nonfiction work that looks at the lasting impact of modern science and technology. This book is a researched "reality check" as it uses data to explain seven of the most fundamental realities governing our survival and prosperity — including our dependency on fossil fuels and the legacy of globalization.

Vaclav Smil is a Canadian author and academic. He is the author of over 40 books with topics including energy, environmental and population change, food production and nutrition, technical innovation, risk assessment and public policy. 

Lost in the Valley of Death by Harley Rustad

Lost in the Valley of Death is a book by Harley Rustad. (Michelle Proctor, Knopf Canada)

Justin Alexander Shetler was an American who was trained in wilderness survival. He travelled across America by motorcycle and then made his way to the Philippines, Thailand and Nepal, in search of authentic and meaningful experiences. After several weeks of training, Justin embarked on a journey through the Parvati Valley, a remote and rugged corner of the Indian Himalayas, never to return.

Lost in the Valley of Death is about Shetler's disappearance and presumed death — and the many ways we seek fulfilment in life.

Harley Rustad is a writer, journalist and editor from Salt Spring Island, B.C. He is the author of Big Lonely Doug, which was shortlisted for the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. Lost in the Valley of Death is his second book. 

U.S. musician and traveller Justin Shetler went to the Parvati Valley in India seeking enlightenment — but never returned. He’s one of dozens who have disappeared in the area. Canadian author Harley Rustad explores what happened and his own journey to that part of the world in his book Lost in the Valley of Death: A Story of Obsession and Danger in the Himalayas.

Stories I Might Regret Telling You by Martha Wainwright

Stories I Might Regret Telling You is a book by Martha Wainwright. (Flatiron Books, Cathy Irving/CBC)

In her memoir, Martha Wainwright reflects on her tumultuous public life, her competitive relationship with her brother and the loss of her mother. She writes about finding her voice as an artist, becoming a mother herself and making peace with the past.

Stories I Might Regret Telling You offers a thoughtful and deeply personal look into the life of one of the most talented singer-songwriters in music today.

Wainwright is a Canadian musician and artist. She is the daughter of folk legends Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III and sister of singer Rufus Wainwright. She lives in Montreal.

Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris 

In his new collection of essays, Happy-Go-Lucky, author and humourist David Sedaris delves into some darker topics, including his relationship with his late father. (Ingrid Christie)

American writer and humorist David Sedaris is back to chronicle both the inner workings of his life and the recent upheavals in America and the world. Processing, among other things, the death of his father, the Trump era and life in lockdown, he captures what is most unexpected, hilarious, and poignant about love, life, tragedy and our desire for connection. If we must live in interesting times, there is no one better to chronicle them than Sedaris.

Sedaris is the bestselling author of several books, including CalypsoTheft by FindingMe Talk Pretty One Day and Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls.

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