OK, I’m well aware Stuff Happened this past week. Justin Trudeau had his knuckles rapped for accepting an all-expenses paid trip on a private island, courtesy the Aga Khan some sort of religious leader/zillionaire. Trudeau claimed that the Aga Khan was a “close family friend”, when in fact the last time he saw him was at daddy Pierre’s funeral. The mini-scandal makes Trudeau look like a spoiled little rich boy, which is pretty close to the truth. Meanwhile, Donald Trump got his tax reform plan passed despite the almost universal opinion that it greatly benefits the rich at the expense of everyone else. Did we expect anything else?
I’m sure other stuff happened, but I don’t really care. I’m weaning myself off of news in anticipation of my Year of Not Caring Anymore. So this week I’m offering something different … my list of favourite books of the year.
First, The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit is one of the best of the year (again, by that, I mean MY year). The amazing true story of a guy who just up and quits civilization, and what happens after, is absolutely gripping. I also highly recommend Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI a true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history, the systematic murder of an entire tribe in the 1920s. Another slice of American history can be found in The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek, the story of the founding of one of the great food companies in the world, Kelloggs, and the two brothers behind it. You will never look at Corn Flakes the same way again.
The best biography I’ve read in a long, long time is Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig. In this meticulously researched but never boring warts-and-all biography, Eig shows that Ali was one of the genuine giants of the 20th century.
On the political side, if you haven’t had enough of Donald Trump and the U.S. election, I recommendInsane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus by Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi. Not for all tastes perhaps (if you like your political commentary with a frown, this won’t work for you), but if you want something flippant and thoughtful at the same time, this is your book. I also thoroughly enjoyed Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches by peculiar comic/writer John Hodgman, a frequent contributor to The Daily Show back when it was good. Genuinely laugh out loud funny. Fans of David Letterman will want to read Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night, more warts-and-all stuff.
Lest you believe, based on the above-mentioned books, that I read exclusively American, let me assure you that I am as Canadian as the next guy. The trouble is that nothing from our home and native land that I read this year was as good as the American stuff. In honour of our 150th, I read Charlotte Gray’s so-so The Promise of Canada: 150 Years–Building a Great Country One Idea at a Time, Mike Myer’s elementary school introduction to Canada, called, imaginatively, Canada.
A Number of Things: Stories of Canada Told Through Fifty Objects by Jane Urquart is pretty academic. Much more entertaining was Puckstruck: Distracted, Delighted and Distressed by Canada’s Hockey Obsession.
If I had to pick a top book of 2017, I’d have to choose Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat by Giles Milton, an almost too crazy to be true, hugely entertaining account of the British men who created and led guerilla attacks on the Nazis. The stories are absolutely fantastic, and Milton is a splendid writer. When non-fiction is this good, I see no need to read fiction. If I had it in my power, I would turn this book into a multi-part Netflix series.
If you’re really bored, you can find a list of every book I read this year at my Goodreads page. It wasn’t all good, believe me, but why dwell on the lousy when you can celebrate the good?
And finally, if you’re sitting around with nothing much to do during the Christmas break, check out this photo collection from the New York Times. It will seem impossible that Donald Trump was only inaugurated THIS YEAR (seems like at least five), but the photos don’t lie.
Dick Enberg, 82, famed American sports broadcaster … Terry Cavanagh, 91, former mayor of Edmonton … Keely Smith, 89, American singer (That Old Black Magic)