Thanks to working in a public library, I've had access to books - oh so many books - this past year. Some were read and quickly forgotten, but some have lingered and will be remembered. Many have been stories about fascinating people, folks who undertake unusual tasks, or have lived unusual lives.
Charley Boorman is a motorcycle nut. He's circumnavigated the globe with his friend Ewan Macgregor, competed in the Dakar motorcycle rally, and challenged himself to travel the world by any means available. His latest adventure was to tackle Canada on his bike. He's funny, anxious, sweet, game for anything and it all comes through in the writing. Part of the fun of this book was to find out how my own country compared to his experiences in Outer Mongolia or Africa. I think we hold up ok.
Another book about crazy motorcyclists, The man who would stop at nothing by Melissa Holbrook, is about extremists - long distance travellers. Really, really long distance. This book is about her entry into the Iron Butt Association, in which people think driving from coast to coast on the seat of a motorcycle without stopping is not only a good idea, but heaps of fun. Fascinating in the way of observing unusual species at the zoo.
Not about motorcycles, but on the same theme of extreme endeavours I read Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Coast Trail. Here, Cheryl Strayed recounts her months of hiking the PCT, the physical and mental challenges, the triumphs, the emotional journey and healing, the people - and animals - she meets along the way. This book is an example of being able to appreciate the story, and admire the undertaking without really liking the person. Strayed didn't go out of her way to make herself a sympathetic character, which perhaps is admirable in itself.
Some people have difficult lives and never seem to overcome the unhappy childhood, while others may turn out rather well, though perhaps a tad quirky. One of the most interesting books I read this year came from the Bloggess, Jenny Lawson, titled Let's pretend this never happened (a mostly true memoir). I couldn't do this book justice because her childhood was so far beyond my own experience, and the events she recounts seem stranger than fiction, and yet she writes with deft humour, inviting the reader to marvel along with her at the sheer unlikelihood of it all. There isn't a moment of self-indulgent pity because she is too matter of fact. Definitely worth putting on your wish list.
Gabrielle Hamilton, of Blood, bones, & butter: the inadvertent education of a reluctant chef is another example of an extreme and unhappy childhood. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to connect with her story, though overall it is interesting considering her beginnings and what she accomplished. I think it is the structure of the storytelling that gets in the way of having any impact on the reader (or at least me). There are gaps in details, and jumps back and forth in chronology that left me confused and wondering what I was missing.
Bill Burford I really did like, and I enjoyed his book a great deal. In fact, I'm eagerly trying to track down another he's written, but that's a whole other story. This one is called Heat: an amateur's adventures as kitchen slave, line cook, pasta-maker, and apprentice to a Dante-quoting butcher in Tuscany. With a title like that, there's really no need for me to say more about it, except that it is such a good read, being interesting, informative, funny, thoughtful, and well written.
Paris in love: a memoir, by Eloisa James is a recounting of the year she lived in Paris with her husband and two children. More vignettes than straight chronology, James paints pictures of Paris that had me yearning to be there myself. She brought the people, the aromas, the food, the seasons, the architecture to life.
Does this church make me look fat by Rhoda Janzen I just wrote about so I won't say more about it here. I did just also read her first book, Mennonite in a little black dress: a memoir of going home, which I didn't like as much and I wouldn't recommend. Oh well, one out of two ain't bad, eh?
Under an Afghan sky: a memoir of captivity by Melissa Fung. Melissa is a Canadian journalist who was captured while working in Afghanistan and kept in a hole in the ground for more than a month. It's a horrifying scenario, and certainly not an easy book to read, yet it is a compelling story. Fung is Catholic and writes frankly about praying the rosary to help her through the odd pairing of fear and tedium.
In all honesty, I didn't read all of, or even most of The Complete journals of L.M. Montgomery: the PEI years but that certainly wasn't because I didn't enjoy it, or it was poorly written. If you loved Anne (with an E) of Green Gables or any other book written by this very gifted lady, you would enjoy reading her thoughts and learning about her life in her own words. I didn't read it all because I am, at times, gluttonous when I bring books home. Sometimes I end up with more than I could hope to read if I had twice the time and four times the attention span. Sadly, this one had to be returned before I could do more than dip into it, sampling here and there. It is definitely on my list to borrow again in future.
And lastly, most recently is The Beekeeper's lament: how one man and half a billion honey bees help feed America by Hannah Nordhaus. Did you know there are virtually no wild honey bees left in America? They are largely domesticated, tended in back gardens by amateurs, or by migrant beekeepers with many thousands of hives they move by truck across the country according to pollination seasons. Fascinating. And a little frightening too, because it turns out we rely on the honey bee to pollinate our crops, and the bee is susceptible to mites and fungus and moths and toads of all things. If you have eaten well today, thank a beekeeper.