Saturday, December 22, 2012

My Ten Top Non-Fiction Books of 2012

1. Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie The book details the saga of Rushdie’s thirteen years of hiding after the Iranian government issued a fatwa calling for his death because of his novel, The Satanic Verses. It describes his struggles and hardships as well as the weaseling of the British government and the brutality of the tabloid newspapers, fellow writers and publishers who blamed him for the situation. This is a shocking book which shows how religious fanaticism can devastate a life. The name Joseph Anton is a pseudonym chosen by Rushdie to help him hide from those who intended to murder him.  Here is a man who watches on television as thousands march in various British cities chanting for his death. Even tiny children carry signs advocating his murder. It made my blood run cold.

 2. What is America? by Ronald Wright Outlines the predatory nature of American society from the beginning adding plenty of insight into the present US situation. When you consider yourself the greatest, meddling comes easy.

 3. Trudeau Transformed: The Shaping of a Stateman by Max and Monique Nemni. Wonderful overview of Trudeau’s rise to power.  The man was a thinker, no doubt about it, as well as a philosopher, writer and activist. Step by step, he moves from the dead end of extreme Quebec nationalism to a more universal view. A sub title could be: As the Brain Turns.


4. Jerusalem by Guy Delise A graphic book and one of the best I have read. Delise moves to the city with his young child and his wife who works for Medecins sans Frontieres. Daily living in Jerusalem is no walk in the park.  Delise is at his best showing the daily round: finding a sitter, teaching cartooning to a class of Palestinian women, meeting the rather brutish settlers, dealing with the ubiquitous checkpoints. The book gives a lot of info about both sides of the main conflict but the Holy City is rent into so many factions it could be called the holey city.

5. Pyongyang by Guy Delisle.  This is Delise’s North Korea graphic book and, as usual with Delisle, very well drawn. The sterility and absolute nothingness of the place is captured in frame after frame.  I whistled through the book in a couple of hours. For more on the absolute horror that is North Korea, I recommend the novel, The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson which reveals a world of slaves, terror and torture.

6. Into the Blue by Jan Wong.  You learn who your friends are when you receive death threats and they blame it on you.  Jan Wong wrote a column for the Globe and Mail which angered some Quebecois.  She claims The Globe hung her out to dry and even her publisher chickened out and refused to publish her book about the experience. Feisty lady, she published the book herself and saw it become a best seller. The tough core of this book describes the debilitating depression Wong suffered because of her experiences.

 7. Democracy by Michael Frayne.  This is a play, a drama of great merit, a complex historical look at West Germany starting with the election of Willy Brandt in 1969.  I saw the play at the Old Vic in London and had to buy the book.

8. 60 is the new 20 by Margie Taylor. A book of humerous essays on the subject of aging.  Very light and pleasant

9. Steve Jobs by Walter Iaasacson.  So well written, with a folksy style and very short chapters, each with a title.  Jobs comes across as a mish-mash: brilliant, self absorbed, counter-culturish, decisive, ruthless. 

10. Leaves and Fishes by Margaret R. Neill.  A charming book of vignettes about growing up in Thunder Bay.  Two themes dominate: her love of nature including her almost mystical connection to the Lake Superior and the loving spirit of her father.  The book tells the tale of her grandparent’s flight from Ireland to Scotland and her father’s immigration to Canada with his brothers.  Her mother is prickly and difficult but her childhood is leavened by her father’s great compassion and love.

Jan Wong author of Into the Blue


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