Good Moms On Paper – Edited by Stacy May Fowles and Jen Sookfong Lee

Twenty essays about motherhood by (obviously) women authors: struggles with work-life balance, feeling fraudulent as both mother and writer, and creative compulsion – powerful themes with insightful thoughts. Essays cover both biological and adoptive parenting, new mothers, and relationships with the essayist’s mother. Heather O’Neill writes “being a single mother working on a novel is like asking a clairvoyant to book a ticket on the Titanic – it’s a bad idea”! Highly recommended.

Let Me Tell You What I mean – Joan Didion

First, a confession: the only Didion book I have read is The Year Of Magical Thinking. This short book contains 12 essays, written from 1968-2000. The best essays are the early ones, describing Didion’s initial lack of success which is revealing since she became such an iconic and influential writer. Indeed, her writing is a joy to read. Thanks Amy, for giving me this book.

These Precious Days – Ann Patchett

Ms. Patchett is one of my favourite novelists (The Patron Saint of Liars, Bel Canto) but she also writes essays that previously were collected into the wonderful book This is a Story of a Happy Marriage. This is her second book of essays, some published previously in Harpers and the Atlantic. All are insightful glimpses into her life, from childhood to the current time. A favourite for me is the first essay about her three fathers, all different experiences, all with positive and negatives. Her writing is clear, focused, and honest – highly recommended.

(Amy seconds all of this!)

The Code Breaker – Walter Isaacson

This fabulous book makes me think I should read more non-fiction! First, an aside: the best acronyms are pronounceable. This book is about the discovery of CRISPR (clustered regularly interspersed short patronymic repeats, if you are interested), a powerful gene editing tool that may revolutionize biology. The book is meticulously researched with a lot of science, but it is also about scientists – what motivates them to pursue discoveries? The stark differences between collegial collaborations and cut-throat competition for prizes and patents is high-lighted. Finally, the ethics of gene editing is a major focus, specifically the divide between somatic editing to cure or prevent disease and germline (inheritable) editing which could be used to enhance traits like height or intelligence. This is a thoughtful and gripping book – highly recommended. Thanks Linda, for the gift of this book.

Humans of New York City Stories – Brandon Stanton

This is a remarkable book of street photography coupled with brief but insightful narratives from interviews with the subjects. The photos are outstanding but the narratives, the comments, are sometimes astonishingly candid. Comments range from the unbridled optimism of children to introspective insights from adults regarding loneliness and isolation that may include mental illness. This is a riveting book for NY-philes. Thanks Sarah, for giving me this book.

Seven Fallen Feathers – Tanya Talaga

Ms. Talaga has written an impeccably researched and powerful story about the deaths of seven Indigenous youths in Thunder Bay from 2000-2011. This is a modern version of the residential school tragedy. Indigenous youth are forced to leave their remote Anishinaabe northern communities due to lack of educational resources so they take High School in Thunder Bay. They lack a supportive social system and experience racism ranging from indifference to overt hostility with violence. This revealing book should be required reading for all Canadians.

Braiding Sweetgrass – Robin Wall Kimmerer

The author balances science with Indigenous knowledge in this fantastic book. There is much biology and botany together with the wisdom of mother nature and ecology. There are achingly beautiful musings on motherhood which extend to our relationship with mother nature, that mother nature is a wise teacher. The indigenous focus is, in part, on how to retain language with important lessons in sustainability. Plus who doesn’t want to read about migrating salamanders. Overall, a very uplifting book; thanks Joyce, for this recommendation.

Charles Darwin: Voyaging – Janet Browne

This impeccably researched biography of a scientific genius covers Darwin’s early life: his childhood, haphazard University education and then his 5-year voyage on the Beagle. Following his return to Britain, he then spent more than 20 years researching and publishing numerous scientific studies while marshalling his evidence for natural selection that would result in his publication of the Origin of Species. Darwin’s scientific life is impressive because of his breadth of interests and knowledge, from biology to geology, and his transition from observation as a naturalist to an experimentalist. Overall, an insightful description of a genius. Be warned, there is incredible detail, more than 500 pages plus footnotes and references. Browne’s second volume in the Darwin biography, The Power of Place, is equally detailed but less interesting without the Beagle adventures. Thanks, Mike, for this recommendation.

Girls Like Us – Sheila Weller

Girls Like UsA re-read of a biography of Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon. This is a heavily researched book, sometimes with too many asides in parenthesis plus footnotes. But the saving grace is this completeness, commentary on the specific social context; the contrasting lives of these three very different artists are presented brilliantly along with the social history of the times. The best and most detailed part of the book is their ascent to fame in the 1960s. Their personal stories with complicated relationships are presented with insightful commentary. A great read for anyone nostalgic for the ’60s or for anyone who is curious about these revolutionary times (a comments from someone who CAN remember the ‘60s).