This morning, I had a wonderful opportunity to hear about four fantastic new works of nonfiction. I am so excited for each of these books, and their wonderful authors, that I couldn’t wait to share these recommendations with you!
Now…on to the BOOKS!
From January through March of 2011, a crew of 16 rowers made their way from Morocco to Barbados. The journey was scheduled to take 33 days. It took 53 days. They ran out of food on day 43. No humans were cannibalized during this adventure. But, desperate for food, Wilkins did consume a vacuum packed piece of chicken, whose packaging had torn, and upon which was clearly written: “If package is ripped or torn, do not consume.” But hunger can do funny things to people. The issue, to Wilkins, wasn’t ‘What if this chicken is bad?”, but, rather, “What if this chicken is GOOD?” He had to try. He was fine. For two hours.
Since taking on this project, Wilkins noted that so many people have two big questions for him: 1) Why did you do this? and 2) Why would you do this at your age? (Wilkins was 61 at the time of the rowing.) The short answer: “I felt like it.” Fair enough. In chatting with Charlie after the event, I noted that whatever this “thing” is…this thing that makes people want to row across oceans, climb Mount Everest, trek to the South Pole…I just don’t have that “thing” in my DNA. But I have an absolute respect and fascination with people who do. Along with this latest adventure, Wilkins has also walked from Thunder Bay to New York City. He has travelled with the circus, and soaked up the life of the famous Wallenda family. He has worked as a gravedigger. (Wilkins has written books about each of these times in his life.)
Wilkins is a really lovely man! He is curious and interested in our world and often contemplates the importance of our connection to this place we call home. Along with that thinking, comes further wondering: what happens when we become disconnected, fracturing ourselves from the planet? When everything we think about ourselves is stripped away, what happens to us? These are some weighty and important questions. But Wilkins is not a sombre or morose man. Rather, his “compulsion to go”, his inquisitiveness and examining nature have helped him become a wonderful storyteller and excellent human being. I hope you will check out his book!
2) Next at the podium was GQ magazine contributor and eight-time National Magazine Award nominee, Mike Paterniti. His newest book, The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese has been getting all sorts of positive attention since its summer release, and it’s a book I have been very keen to acquire.
While working on his MFA in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Paterniti worked at a well-known deli, Zingerman’s. While Paterniti felt his MFA in fiction was “qualifying him for nothing”, he could make a sandwich. While working at the delicatessen, he was asked for input on the shop’s newsletter. (See, MFA’s can be useful!) Zingerman’s owner was quite particular in choosing excellent food and loved sourcing high quality artisanal products. One item, featured in the newsletter, caught Paterniti’s eye – a small mention of a type of cheese from Guzmán, Spain, that had been made in a cave by the same family for hundreds of years. For nine years, Paterniti carried this newsletter clipping with him until, finally, he ended up in Spain for a work assignment. With one day off, he decided to visit Guzmán, to try and learn more about the cheese and the man behind the cheese, Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras.
During the 8-hours Paterniti spent with Ambrosio, they sat in the “telling room” – a space within the family cave where everyone would “gather to drink and eat, share stories and histories and dreams.” Paterniti heard the most incredible tale during his visit, and became wholly intrigued with Ambrosio, the cheese and this funny little village which very much resembles a “Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel – full of magical realism.” (They have a resident, named ‘Emmanuel,’ who is ‘the man that flew that one time’.)
Paterniti says this book is about keeping stories alive and reminding ourselves that we are making and writing our own stories every day.
3) The inimitable Charlotte Gray was our next author. Her new book will, with hope, attract fiction readers who love a good crime tale. Gray joked about her genre-jumping from serious biographies to CRIME WRITER (!!), with her newest book, The Massey Murder. Gray loves bringing Canada’s “rich and detailed history to life” and is on a “self-appointed mission to share the love of Canadian history.”
Gray was in a bookstore when she noticed all of the real estate taken up by crime fiction. “A-HA!”, she thought. And decided, in that moment, her next book would be a work that would bring the story of a crime in Canada’s past to life for readers. She began asking around her friends (judges and lawyers) for interesting crime cases she could research – “the more sex and blood, the better!’ – and was amused to discover that Canada, known for being a polite and dignified country, actually has “quite a lot of sleaze” in its past. Gray “had such fun writing this book” and in the end, she really didn’t know who was the victim in this story. Colour me intrigued!
The Massey murder took place at a crucial moment in Canada’s history and gave Gray the chance to explore three big ideas:
* In 1915, Canada had just sent its second contingency of men to WWI and families were beginning to receive notices about their husbands and sons being killed in action.
* Toronto was in a state of turmoil. During the ten years leading up to this crime, the population had doubled and extraordinary social dislocations were taking place. Many people coming into the city were not all from the U.K, and not all were protestant. Immigrant communities were growing and the pains being experienced were impacting the city.
* The Massey murder occurs during a backdrop of the changing role of women in Canadian society. At this time, “a woman either worked as a servant or had a servant.”
4) Our final author for the morning was Adam Leith Gollner. His new book is called: The Book of Immortality: The Science, Belief and Magic Behind Living Forever.
Do you ever have dreams that sit with you for days and days, preoccupying your thoughts? Gollner had such a dream, about a fountain. While thinking and thinking about this dream…he realized it was the fountain of youth, and with this understanding, he had discovered his next book’s topic – immortality. He then spent five years thinking “about this thing that doesn’t really exist, that has no end. Or does it?”
Divided into three sections, belief, science and magic – Gollner spent time with spiritual leaders, people of faith, scientists…and magician David Copperfield. Oh, yes he did. Copperfield, apparently, discovered ‘magic water’ on the island of his vacation home. Dead bugs dipped in this water would spring to life and fly away. Browned, dead leaves would return to green life when put in this water. This is, clearly, some very special water. Gollner was eventually given permission to visit Copperfield on his island. Though Gollner would not be allowed to see the ‘magic water’, Copperfield agreed to talk to him “with great verbal aplomb”, about the water. So…magic water, you guys!!
I hope you are all very intrigued by each of these books!! This group of authors was truly fabulous and while their books are very different, it was wonderful to hear about overlapping themes and ideas. Many people avoid reading nonfiction because they feel as though the genre might be dull or the narrative flow not captivating enough. With these four books, I think lovers of fiction and nonfiction alike will be thrilled.
Please do seek out these books, whether at your local library or independent bookseller. Each of these authors are great – engaging, smart, interesting and positive. They are helping bring our histories and social relationships to life and giving voice to people, times, places and ideas we may not ever otherwise know about.