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2018 Books of the Year: Nonfiction

Our celebration of 2018 books continues with this nonfiction spotlight, which includes stories from home and abroad, books about the past, the present, and the future, and something for every kind of reader going. We're so pleased to have featured these titles on 49th Shelf this year. 


Homes: A Refugee Story, by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah and Winnie Yeung

Homes is the remarkable true story of how a young boy emerged from a war zone—and found safety in Canada—with a passion for sharing his story and telling the world what is truly happening in Syria. As told to her by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah, writer Winnie Yeung has crafted a heartbreaking, hopeful, and urgently necessary book that provides a window into understanding Syria.” 

Read 11 Life Stories to Read This Spring


Midnight Light, by Dave Bidini

“This is an absolute joy to read as his writing just flows, inspired, unencumbered, passionate, his joy at being there, his thrill of living loud, leaps off the page. He consumes it all, the edge of the world and the caravan of characters who populate it.“

Read Will McGuirk’s recommendation in the October edition of Shelf Talkers.


The Cowkeeper’s Wish: A Genealogical Journey, by Kristen den Hartog and Tracey Kasaboski

“A story that covers so much ground requires an exhausting amount of research. It took us nine years to complete, with a few breaks here and there to rejuvenate with other projects, and while at times it seemed we would never finish, the work never felt boring. Learning about all these periods, and our family’s place in a larger history, was fascinating. We read widely to understand everything from workhouse life to the suffragette movement to social reform.” 

Read den Hartog and Kasaboski's list "On Writing History." 


Nobody Cares, by Anne T. Donohue

“I did try to be inclusive. And to be aware that while these are personal stories, they need to be more than just journal entries. So I also wrote them hoping they'd resonate or maybe make someone reading feel less alone—or be the thing someone needs to hear the way I needed to hear something once. But I don't think that constitutes self-help. Mainly because a lot of these ‘lessons’ are delivered via experiences I wouldn't recommend.”

Read our Q&A with Donahue. 


Boys: What It Means To Be a Man, by Rachel Giese

“In her book, Giese unpacks ‘the man box,’ the narrow confines of masculinity in which boys are permitted to express their true selves, and shows that expanding these limits is good for everybody.”

Read "A #MeToo Reading List."


The Emperor’s Orphans, by Sally Ito

"When I sat down to write this book, I initially thought I was writing about my family but it turned out my family was writing about (or to) me—either through the story-telling voice of my Nisei great Aunty Kay or the fastidious pen-wielding scribe of my Japanese grandfather, Toshiro Saito. These 'ancestors' from the past shaped the writer-me into existence, leading me to discover who I am as a Japanese Canadian woman.”

Read Ito’s list of books about family history.


Dear Current Occupant, by Chelene Knight

"These books open the doors to a history that unfortunately was so easily erased and now—inaccessible. These books are conversations schools don’t seem to want to have with their students about race, violence, poverty, tough life decisions, political strife, and identity."

Read Knight’s list, “8 Books That Need to be in Every Classroom in Canada.”


The Suitcase and the Jar, by Becky Livingston

“In 2011, 18 months after Rachel died, I quit my teaching job and headed off overseas. For 26 months I traveled—untethered and alone—to Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Australia, India, England, Ireland and North America, coast to coast. In my suitcase were Rachel’s ashes, heavy but compact. You can only take her if you’re willing to let her go.“ 

Read Livingston’s list, “On Endings, Courage, Uncertainty, and Surrender.”


Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age, by Darrel J. McLeod

“I felt a burden of responsibility because my mother told me stories about her life and about our family, over and over—likely in the hope, albeit an unconscious hope, that I in turn tell her stories and mine, not only to our family, but to the world. And it’s clearly time that we, as Indigenous people, tell our own stories with an authentic Indigenous voice.” 

Read McLeod’s conversation with Trevor Corkum.


Rooster Town: The History of an Urban Métis  Community, 1901-1961, by Evelyn Peters, Adrian Werner and Matthew Stock

“Poverty and unstable employment meant that squatting or buying inexpensive land on the city fringe, and self-building, was a resilient strategy for accessing urban employment and services and providing housing for families.”

Read Peters’ list of books about Indigenous urban communities. 


Shrewed, by Elizabeth Renzetti

“Those were dark days at the end of 2016. A poisonously misogynistic man had been elected to the most powerful position in the world, over a woman who had vastly more experience and intellectual ability, but who didn’t smile enough, apparently. Or possibly she smiled too much—I’ve lost track. As I wrote the essays, I realized that making myself laugh also lifted my spirits.”

Read our Q&A with Renzetti. 


The Real Lolita, by Sarah Weinman

“The story of Sally Horner echoes the stories of countless girls and women who never had the chance to speak for themselves. By diving deeper in the publication history of Lolita and restoring Sally to her rightful place in the lore of the novel's creation, The Real Lolita casts a new light on the dark inspiration for a modern classic.”

Read "True Crime: At the Intersection of Law and Literature."


Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography, by Andrea Warner

“I wouldn’t have done this without Buffy’s consent and support. Her voice is essential and so powerful. This is her life story and she doesn’t really need me to do tell it. She’s Buffy Sainte-Marie, she’s an amazing storyteller. But what I can do as a writer and as a feminist music critic who has spent years writing about Buffy’s music and the music business is provide a framework for her story and contextualize her journey so far. “ 

Read our Q&A with Warner.


The Woo Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family, by Lindsay Wong

“In this jaw-dropping, darkly comedic memoir, a young woman comes of age in a dysfunctional Asian family who blame their woes on ghosts and demons when they should really be on anti-psychotic meds.” 

Read our Editors’ Picks for November 26-December 1.

December 6, 2018

Books mentioned in this post



A Refugee Story

by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah & Winnie Yeung
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook (CD)

Finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction and the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Politcal Writing. Audience choice winner of Canada Reads

In 2010, the al Rabeeah family left their home in Iraq in hope of a safer life. They moved to Homs, in Syria — just before the Syrian civil war broke out.

Abu Bakr, one of eight children, was te …


Midnight Light

A Personal Journey to the North

by Dave Bidini
edition: Paperback
tagged: cultural heritage, territories & nunavut, editors, journalists, publishers

Bestselling and beloved author of On A Cold Road, Dave Bidini uses his stint as guest columnist at the Yellowknifer newspaper to explore the "Gateway to the North," the meaning of community, and the issues facing residents and their daily lives.

As a journalist, author and founding member of the trail-blazing band Rheostatics, Dave Bidini has had t …


Cowkeeper's Wish

A Genealogical Journey

by Tracy Kasaboski & Kristen den Hartog
edition: Hardcover
tagged: historical, personal memoirs, great britain

In the 1840s, a young cowkeeper and his wife arrive in London, England, having walked from coastal Wales with their cattle. They hope to escape poverty, but instead they plunge deeper into it, and the family, ensconced in one of London’s “black holes,” remains mired there for generations. The Cowkeeper’s Wish follows the couple’s descenda …


Nobody Cares


by Anne T. Donahue
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook
tagged: essays, personal memoirs, women


“The internet’s best friend.” — Flare

From the author of the popular newsletter That’s What She Said, Nobody Cares is a frank, funny personal essay collection about work, failure, friendship, and the messy business of being alive in your twenties and thirties.

As she shares her hard-won insights from screwing up, growing up, and trying to …



What It Means to Become a Man

by Rachel Giese
edition: Hardcover
also available: eBook Paperback
tagged: gender studies, children's studies

The successes of feminism have led to greater opportunities for girls, by challenging stifling stereotypes about femininity and broadening the understanding of what it means to be female. While boys have travelled alongside this transformation, narrow definitions of masculinity and manliness haven’t faced the same degree of scrutiny. Whether they …


Emperor's Orphans, The

by Sally Ito
edition: Paperback
tagged: personal memoirs, world war ii

During the Second World War, approximately 4,000 Japanese-Canadians were "repatriated" to Japan. Among those Canadians sent back to were members of author and poet, Sally Ito's family. As a Japanese Canadian child growing up in the suburbs of Edmonton, Alberta, Ito's early life was a lone island of steamed tofu and vegetables amidst a sea of pot ro …


Dear Current Occupant

A Memoir

by Chelene Knight
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook
tagged: women, cultural heritage, personal memoirs

Winner of the 2018 City of Vancouver Book Award

From Vancouver-based writer Chelene Knight, Dear Current Occupant is a creative non-fiction memoir about home and belonging set in the 80s and 90s of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Using a variety of forms, Knight reflects on her childhood through a series of letters addressed to all of the current occu …


The Suitcase and the Jar

Travels with a Daughter's Ashes

by Becky Livingston
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged: personal memoirs

When a brain tumour takes the life of Becky Livingston's twenty-three-year-old daughter Rachel, her life makes an unconventional turn. Rachel, an avid traveller, had one wish: to keep exploring the world.

So, for twenty-six months Livingston travels -- untethered and alone -- to Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Australia, India, England, Ireland and Nort …



A Cree Coming of Age

by Darrel J. McLeod
edition: Hardcover
tagged: native americans, personal memoirs, lgbt

Growing up in the tiny village of Smith, Alberta, Darrel J. McLeod was surrounded by his Cree family’s history. In shifting and unpredictable stories, his mother, Bertha, shared narratives of their culture, their family and the cruelty that she and her sisters endured in residential school. McLeod was comforted by her presence and that of his man …


Rooster Town

The History of an Urban Métis Community, 1901–1961

by Evelyn Peters; Matthew Stock & Adrian Werner
edition: eBook
also available: Paperback Hardcover
tagged: historical geography, urban, native american

Melonville. Smokey Hollow. Bannock Town. Fort Tuyau. Little Chicago. Mud Flats. Pumpville. Tintown. La Coule. These were some of the names given to Métis communities at the edges of urban areas in Manitoba. Rooster Town, which was on the outskirts of southwest Winnipeg endured from 1901 to 1961.

Those years in Winnipeg were characterized by the twi …



A Wry and Closely Observed Look at the Lives of Women and Girls

by Elizabeth Renzetti
edition: eBook
also available: Paperback Audiobook Audiobook
tagged: essays, feminism & feminist theory, women's studies

Why are there so few women in politics? Why is public space, whether it’s the street or social media, still so inhospitable to women? What does Carrie Fisher have to do with Mary Wollstonecraft? And why is a wedding ceremony Satan’s playground?

These are some of the questions that bestselling author and acclaimed journalist Elizabeth Renzetti ex …


The Real Lolita

The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World

by Sarah Weinman
edition: Hardcover
also available: Paperback
tagged: women, literary, 20th century

A gripping true-crime investigation of the 1948 abduction of Sally Horner and how it inspired Vladimir Nabokov's classic novel Lolita.

Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita is one of the most beloved and notorious novels of all time, selling over sixty million copies worldwide to date. Yet very few of its readers know that the subject of the novel was derived …


Buffy Sainte-Marie

The Authorized Biography

by Andrea Warner
edition: eBook
also available: Hardcover Audiobook Paperback
tagged: composers & musicians, individual composer & musician, native americans

"Buffy Sainte-Marie is an icon and inspiration. This book is necessary—an authorized insight into the making of a legend." —Terese Marie Mailhot, author of Heart Berries

A powerful, intimate look at the life of a beloved folk icon and activist.

Folk hero. Songwriter icon. Living legend. Buffy Sainte-Marie is all of these things and more. In this, …


The Woo-Woo

How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family

by Lindsay Wong
edition: Paperback
tagged: cultural heritage, asian american studies, women


Shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust of Canada Prize for Nonfiction; Winner, Hubert Evans Nonfiction Prize; Longlisted for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour


In this jaw-dropping, darkly comedic memoir, a young woman comes of age in a dysfunctional Asian family who blame their woes on ghosts and demons when t …

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