The best Canadian nonfiction of 2018
2018 was a great year for books. Here are CBC Books's top 18 Canadian works of nonfiction that came out this year.
In I've Been Meaning to Tell You, David Chariandy contemplates how to talk to his young daughter about the politics and history of race by sharing their family's story and his personal experience as the son of Black and South Asian immigrants from Trinidad. Chariandy navigates sensitive and complex issues, acknowledging a painful past while also describing a hopeful future.
This Hour has 22 Minutes star Mark Critch says being from Newfoundland and Labrador has greatly informed his life and work — an influence he explores in his new memoir, Son of a Critch. The book touches on Critch's 1980's childhood in Newfoundland, including an unfortunate moment when he got locked out of school on a fourth-floor window ledge... or that other time, when he faked an asthma attack to avoid being arrested by military police.
In The Wife's Tale, Aida Edemariam records her grandmother Yetemegnu's long and storied life in Ethiopia. Yetemegnu was born in Gondar, married to an ambitious man before the age of 10 and grew into a spiritual and resilient woman. Over the stretch of her 97 years, Yetemegnu raised a family through violent fascist regimes, civil war and revolution.
Lands of Lost Borders is Kate Harris's travelogue and memoir about her 10,000 km cycling trip along the ancient Silk Road. As a kid in small town Ontario, Harris was fascinated by the stories of ancient explorers like Marco Polo and dreamed of following in their footsteps. Later in life, Harris ends up on a 10-month trip with her friend Mel Yule, following the Silk Road through 10 nations. As she cycles into countries like Turkey, Kyrgyzstan and Tibet, Harris examines the history, politics and natural wonders of each place and recounts some of the struggles and triumphs of their citizens.
In All Things Consoled, award-winning novelist Elizabeth Hay turns to nonfiction. Her mother was a financially prudent artist and her father was a schoolteacher with an short fuse, and Hay had a challenging relationship with both growing up. As Hay shifts from eldest daughter to primary caregiver, old resentments rise to the surface, eventually giving way to greater understanding.
In Clifford, Governor General's Literary Award-nominated writer Harold R. Johnson recounts the life of his beloved brother, who is deceased. The two brothers were raised in northern Saskatchewan by their father, a quiet man of Swedish descent, and mother, a formidable Cree trapper. This memoir imagines Clifford following his curiosity for the universe into science.
Through a series of letters, Chelene Knight recalls growing up as the only mixed East Indian/Black child in her family during the 1980s and 1990s in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Her family lived in 20 different residences and Knight revisits each one, trying to deconstruct and understand her past.
When a photo of the body of Tima Kurdi's nephew, Alan, washed ashore, Kurdi became a spokesperson for the refugee crisis in Syria. From sharing her own story, growing up in Damascus and emigrating to Canada at 22, Kurdi provides the human side of a story that has dominated the news cycle.
Terese Marie Mailhot traces her life story from a dysfunctional upbringing on Seabird Island in B.C., with an activist mother and abusive father, to an acceptance into the Masters of Fine Art program at the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico. This slim poetic volume packs a powerful punch in just 140 pages.
Heart Berries was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction and the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.
Glynnis MacNicol is a business owner, writer, New Yorker (by way of Toronto), daughter, sister and friend. But when she turned 40, it seemed that the two roles MacNicol didn't fill — wife and mother — were what people cared most about. No One Tells You This is the story of the year she turned 40, a period she spends rewriting what it means to be a single woman, while also coping with the decline of her mother's health.
Darrel J. McLeod's Mamaskatch is a memoir of his upbringing in Smith, Alta., raised by his fierce Cree mother, Bertha. McLeod describes vivid memories of moose stew and wild peppermint tea, surrounded by siblings and cousins. From his mother, McLeod learned to be proud of his heritage and also shares her fractured stories from surviving the residential school system.
You know that feeling when you've travelled to the past, but then your time machine breaks down and suddenly you're stranded in place where bread and penicillin and farming hasn't been invented? Ryan North has just the thing. How to Invent Everything is a guide for lost time travellers so they can bring the present's modern comforts to them. From steam engines to tea to birth control, North covers a range of inventions to satiate thirst and hunger, cure minor medical conditions and make cool stuff
Big Lonely Doug is about an ancient Douglas fir tree that stands at roughly the height of a 20-storey building on Vancouver Island. Saved by a logger named Dennis Cronin, the tree stands alone in the forest near Port Renfrew, as its neighbouring cedar, hemlock and great fir trees were clear cut and hauled away. Big Lonely Doug was originally a magazine article, which won silver at the National Magazine Awards.
Multidisciplinary artist Vivek Shraya recounts a lifetime of resilience in her new nonfiction book, I'm Afraid of Men. From childhood to adulthood, Shraya maintains a constant survival act, combating misogyny, homophobia and transphobia, and candidly shares the ways she's been shaped by trauma.
Journalist and writer Tanya Talaga investigates the alarming rise in youth suicides in Indigenous communities. All Our Relations — part of the 2018 Massey Lectures and based on Talaga's Atkinson Fellowship in Public Policy series — is a call for action and justice for Indigenous communities and youth.
Homes by Abu Bakr Al Rabeeah with Winnie Yeung
Homes is a memoir of Abu Bakr al Rabeeah's childhood in Iraq and Syria. Just before civil war broke out, the al Rabeeah family left Iraq for safety in Homs, Syria. al Rabeeah was 10 years old when the violence began in his new home. He remembers attacks on his mosque and school, car bombings and firebombs. Now a high school student in Edmonton, Alta., al Rabeeah shares his story with writer Winnie Yeung in hopes it will bring greater understanding of Syria.
Homes was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction.
Vladimir Nabokov's 1955 book Lolita, the controversial novel of a professor who falls obsessively in love with his 12-year-old stepdaughter, has sold over 60 million copies worldwide. The novel was based on the real abduction of an 11-year-old American girl named Sally Horner. Writer Sarah Weinman pores over news articles and conducts interviews with Horner's living relatives to chronicle the young girl's life, including her kidnapping and rescue, in mid-century America. She also investigates how much Nabokov knew about Horner's case and the ways he hid it when publishing what is considered both an infamous and classic novel.
This dark, witty and touching memoir by Vancouver-based writer Lindsay Wong takes a look at the impact of mental illness on families. Wong delivers an honest and emotional look at whispered secrets, dysfunctional relationships — and how her grandmother, mother, aunt and even herself initially blamed the mythical "woo-woo," Chinese spirits that plague the living, for their mental health issues. The memoir is equal parts blunt, honest and hilarious.