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Holiday book list: 21 great reads

Concordia students, staff and faculty members share their favourites
December 13, 2017
By Tom Peacock

The holiday season is finally here! What’s better than curling up in a cozy chair with a great book as the snow falls gently outside your window (or pellets of freezing rain rattle the panes)?

We asked a selection of Concordia students, staff and faculty to tell us about the best books they read in 2017. From celebrity bios and sci-fi adventures to ruminations on global warming, there’s something for everyone in this edition of our bi-annual book list.

Happy reading, and happy holidays!

Nora Jaffary

Professor, Department of History
Winner of the Wallace K. Ferguson Prize from the Canadian Historical Association

Here I Am
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016
By Jonathan Safran Foer

This is an absorbing, thoughtful, entertaining read. An intergenerational family saga, it may prove a perfect resource for those enmeshed in extended holiday visitations at this time of year. At turns funny and devastating, Foer captures the preoccupations and voices of four generations of one Jewish family as they navigate internal fracture, meaningful responses to tradition, and geo-political crises.

Erin McNally

PhD 17, Biology
Valedictorian, Faculty of Arts and Science

Red Rising
By Pierce Brown
Del Rey Books, 2014

This is the first novel of the Red Rising saga. The author nicely blends science fiction with Roman mythology. It's a fast-paced action novel with unexpected plot twists — perfect for readers who like to immerse themselves in futuristic, dystopian worlds. I also appreciated how the author changed the language and writing style to match the evolution of the main character. 

Peter Behrens

Mordecai Richler writer-in-residence
Award-winning author

By Ron Chernow
Penguin Press, 2017

I'm about two thirds of the way through this biography of the Civil War general and president. It's a doorstopper, but Ulysses S. Grant the man is a fascinating and surprising set of contradictions. In all ways, the opposite of the current POTUS. 

Keroles Riad

PhD candidate, INDI Program (Engineering)
Coordinator of Concordia’s Waste Not, Want Not compost collaboration


By Malcolm Gladwell
Little, Brown and Company, 2008

This book very clearly demonstrates that it takes quite a bit of luck to have the right opportunities to succeed. I found it motivating because it also makes it clear that luck alone is not sufficient, and it takes the development of certain personal attributes to achieve great things. The two concepts that inspired me the most were the "10,000 hours rule" (it takes that many hours of true practice to achieve great things), and avoiding mitigated speech (speak your mind!). My biggest take-away is recognizing how privileged I am to be in the position I am in, and how I can comport myself to accomplish my vision and aspirations.

Faye Corbin

Supervisor, Interlibrary Loans
Concordia Library

Black Betty
By Walter Mosley
W.W. Norton, 1999

Easy Rawlins, private investigator, navigates the life of a Black man, father, and friend as he tries to solve the mystery of a missing woman. He tries to live the American dream, but many obstacles are thrown in his way. Who is Black Betty, where is she, why are people looking for her? Finding the answers and sifting through the lies make Easy Rawlings a complicated character who struggles to be true to himself.   

Kathleen Vaughan

Associate professor
Department of Art Education
Co-Director of the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling

The Ghost Orchard: The Hidden History of the Apple in North America
By Helen Humphreys
Harper Collins, 2017

Beautifully lyric, her book mixes archival research and personal biography with a cultural and natural history of everyone's favourite fruit, gifting the reader with the surprise of under-known First Nations’ and women’s associations with the apple. Specifically, Humphreys shares stories of indigenous orchards across North America and the efforts of Quaker Ann Jessop to bring varieties from England to North America. 

It’s all delicately illustrated with beautiful colour plates, and so brings together art, research, story, and deep personal feeling. A five-star delight to be enjoyed with a russet, Macintosh or other fruity favourite in hand. 

Tranna Wintour

Montreal comedian
Concordia grad (BA 10)

I'll Never Write My Memoirs
By Grace Jones (with Paul Morley)
Gallery Books, 2015 

Without destroying the wonderful air of mystery she's built around herself throughout her groundbreaking career, Grace Jones takes us into her world and personal history. The memoirs of larger-than-life people are my favourite thing to read, and I found Grace's to be candid, over-the-top, vulnerable, funny, exciting and inspiring. It blurs the line between illusion and reality, just as Grace has always done so masterfully through imagery and performance.

Kristopher Woofter

PhD, Film and Moving Image Studies
2017 Valedictorian, Faculty of Fine Arts

Dark Tales
By Shirley Jackson
Penguin Classics, 2016

Any new work by Shirley Jackson is a sinister little gift for readers. Jackson was a bestseller in her time, but this, coupled with the fact that she often wrote in the gothic and horror traditions, seemed to render her work dismissible by scholars. The fact that Jackson was a woman writer in the 50s and early 60s who focused on the terror of domestic and rural environments for women and other minorities was perhaps an additional obstacle.

But Jackson's body of work is as key to understanding the toxic everyday of America as works like Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar (1963) and Anne Sexton's Transformations (1971). Jackson's stories go for the throat, but they do so gradually, building up a reality where women in particular feel the grip of terror from a world that continually turns against them. 

Shannon Hebblethwaite

Associate Professor, Department of Applied Human Sciences
Director of engAGE (Concordia Centre for Research on Aging)

Entry Island
By Peter May
Quercus Books, 2014

If you’re in need of some escape from heavy academic texts and want to read just for fun (which as a leisure scholar, I highly recommend!), check out Peter May’s work. Entry Island is a skillfully woven crime mystery that follows Detective Sime Mackenzie on a journey through time and place. From the Outer Hebrides in Scotland to Montreal and the Magdalen Islands, May deftly leads the reader through the often tragic history of the Scottish immigrants who settled in Quebec in the 1800s. He evokes the power of intergenerational storytelling that made me want to dive into genealogy and pull out my old family trees.

Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Miller

Professor, Diploma Program director
Department of Communication Studies

The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable
By Amitav Ghosh
University of Chicago Press, 2016

Ghosh is one of my favourite novelists who I first discovered through The Hungry Tide (2004), a novel situated in the largest mangrove forest in the world, the Sundarbans. In this non-fiction work, Ghosh ruminates on our inability to think and write about climate change, citing a crisis of both culture and imagination. It’s a perfect book to prepare for some creative New Year’s resolutions.

Jing Fu

BA 17, Linguistics
Governor General’s Silver Award winner

The Three-Body Problem
(Book I of the Three-Body Trilogy)
By Cixin Liu
Tor Books, 2014

Have you ever wondered what would happen if we finally encountered an extra-terrestrial civilization? This sagacious and prophetic sci-fi trilogy will give you a "logical" answer. I hope it won't surprise you too much.

If you like Isaac Asimov, you'll probably also like Liu. I found them much alike in their thorough understanding of human nature, sociology, and most importantly, human history. It's definitely a page-turner, I finished all three books in one week.

Alan Nash

Department of Geography, Planning and Environment

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome
By Mary Beard
Liveright, 2015

An acknowledged authority on the subject, Mary Beard's account of Rome was made the more enjoyable for me because she is also such an accomplished writer. Wearing her scholarship lightly, she effortlessly explains the big picture, deftly clarifies the intricate or obscure, and — while she certainly has her own voice — never speaks down to the reader. Emperors may come and go, but in the "republic of letters," this book's place is secure.

James Gibbons

Office of the President

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
By Yuval Noah Harari
Signal, 2014

This book spans pre-history to thoughts on the future. Harari describes collective fictions — such as money — as central to large-scale cooperation among strangers. I found it illuminating to consider that nations, companies, political systems and the like aren’t natural phenomena. They exist in our collective imagination.

Anne-Marie Turcotte

PhD student, Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Vanier Scholar

Loving to Survive
By Dee L.R. Graham
NYU Press, 1995 

Women scholars face the necessity of rationalizing and overlooking sexist views and statements scattered in the works of classic theorists to constructively focus on the core contributions of these authors. In Loving to Survive, psychology professor Dee Graham directly addresses the anxieties that are rooted in violence within male-female relationships. You might disagree with the author’s perspective on sexual colonization and societal Stockholm Syndrome theory, but the book remains a classic that will lead you on an emotionally challenging intellectual journey.

Arthi Ramachandran

PhD student, Department of Biology
Winner of the 2017 NSERC Science Exposed People's Choice Award

Good Omens
By Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Workman, 1990

The armies of Good and Evil are gathering to battle it out at the end of the world! I think this is a great read and a fun way to escape the stress of the semester. 

Kendra Besanger

Knowledge Mobilization & Communication coordinator, Aging + Communication + Technologies (ACT) Project
Concordia grad (GrDip 11, MA 13)

Rise of the Necrofauna: The Science, Ethics, and Risks of De-Extinction
By Britt Wray
Greystone Books Ltd., 2017

Can we bring species back from the dead? Even if we can, should we? Concordia alumna Britt Wray introduces her readers to the scientists and narratives that are shaping our planet’s future. She urges her readers to evaluate their own snap judgments or gut reactions to things that seem like they’d only show up in freaky sci-fi movies. Wray’s ability to tell her readers a captivating and colourful story about a complex and technical world means that you don’t have to be anything close to a scientist to enjoy this book. So, will flocks of passenger pigeons turn the sky black again someday soon? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Jocelyn Parr

Concordia alum (MA 06, MA 11)
Winner of the 2017 Concordia First Book Prize

Swimming Studies
By Leanne Shapton
Blue Rider Press, 2012

I read Swimming Studies earlier this fall, but it has stayed with me. Shapton was a competitive swimmer when she was young, and has since become an accomplished writer and artist. Swimming Studies brings the artist's gaze to the pool so that instead of this being a memoir of false starts and thrilling wins, it’s about the sensuality of swimming, of a body dedicated to excellence in water, and about the people who populate pools at the break of day: the coaches, swimmers and caffeinated parents. The whole time I was reading it, I felt like I was moving through water.   

Éric Simon

Associate professor, Department of Studio Arts
Faculty of Fine Arts

L'hiver, hier
By Michel Garneau
L'Oie de Cravan, 2015

L'hiver, hier est un livre merveilleux, à découvrir, dans lequel le jeune Michel Garneau passe le temps des fêtes dans la famille de sa blonde dans le village au nom impossible de Saint-Quelquechose-des-Hauteurs en 1958. On parle d'un gros bombardier, de famille nombreuse, de boisson, de fête, de ville et de campagne, d'amour, de feu, d'hiver et de neige! Tout ça empreint d'une poésie surréelle, d'un banal extraordinaire et plus grand que nature.


Uncertain Weights and Measures
Goose Lane Editions, 2017
By Jocelyn Parr (MA 06, MA 11)
Winner of the Concordia First Book Prize from the Quebec Writers’ Federation (QWF)

The great strength of the book is its evocation of the early days of post-Revolutionary Russia as it became the Soviet Union, and the picture it draws of the promotion of ideologically driven ‘science.’

—   The QWF Jury: Marilyn Bowering, Adrian Harewood, Alexia Moyer

Carry Me
House of Anansi, 2016
By Peter Behrens
Mordecai Richler Writer-in-Residence
A 2016 Jewish Book Award Finalist
A 2017 Vine Awards for Canadian Jewish Literature Finalist

Megan O’Grady from Vogue says Carry Me “make[s] the past feel stunningly close at hand.” The story of the young lovers at the novel’s centre is “heartbreaking — and mesmerizing,” writes Robert Collison in the Toronto Star, adding: “It has been a long time since I’ve become tearful at the end of a novel but I must confess to doing so reading the final pages.”

Reproduction and its Discontents in Mexico
University of North Carolina Press, 2016
By Nora Jaffary
Winner of the Wallace K. Ferguson Prize from the Canadian Historical Association

“With grace, sensitivity, and even poetry, Jaffary takes a comprehensive approach to the history of reproduction in Mexico,” writes reviewer Heather McCrea from Kansas State University.

Sonya Lipsett-Rivera from Carleton University calls Jaffary’s work “a significant contribution not only to Mexican and Latin American history but also to medical history and the history of reproduction and female reproductive health.”

Do you have a favourite book you want your fellow Concordians to read? Share it via Twitter or Facebook. Be sure to add @concordia and #CUReads.



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