Skip to main content

Holiday book list: 28 great reads

Concordia students, staff, faculty members and alumni share their top picks of the year
December 15, 2020
By Ashley Fortier

A collection of book covers.

We’re reaching the end of a tremendously challenging year. This holiday season, immerse yourself in the alternate universe of a great book.

A selection of Concordia students, staff, faculty and alumni have shared their top reads of 2020. From eerily relevant speculative fiction to a picture book written in Anishinaabemowin, there’s something for everyone in this edition of our holiday book list.

Happy reading and here’s to a calmer and brighter 2021!

Carly Ziter

Assistant Professor
Department of Biology 

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

Milkweed Editions, 2013
By Robin Wall Kimmerer

Kimmerer is a remarkable storyteller, seamlessly weaving together her perspectives as a botanist, educator, mother and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Braiding Sweetgrass is a truly lovely read for anybody with an interest in nature. It imparts a renewed appreciation for the plants that surround and sustain us all, and as an ecologist and educator it is a book I return to often. I also highly recommend the audiobook version, narrated by the author. 

William Bukowski

Department of Psychology

The Old Man Who Read Love Stories

Mariner Books, 1995
By Luis Sepúlveda

I had never heard of this exiled Chilean writer until earlier this year when I learned that he was one of the first people in Spain to die of COVID-19. His best known novel integrates themes of personal persistence, diversity and sustainability in the life of an aging hunter who lives in the Ecuadoran jungle.

Kari Zacharias

Assistant professor
Centre for Engineering in Society

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Del Rey, 2014
By Karen Lord

I've had trouble finding the mental energy for non-work-related reading this year, but this novel is a favourite comfort read that I returned to. The narrative feels surprisingly low key, considering the richness of Lord's sci-fi worldbuilding and the overall premise of the story.

It makes for an odd book, but this is also what I love about it: no space battles or dramatic showdowns, just an absorbing travelogue and thoughtful character study set in a world that I enjoyed inhabiting for a while.

Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux

Strength and conditioning trainer
Concordia Stingers

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

Amber-Allen Publishing, 2011
By Don Miguel Ruiz

I loved the book because it gave me life tricks, or systems of thought, that help me with all my relationships. These are four simple rules that you can apply in your life right away.

Arun Dayanandan

Graduate student
Department of Biology

Walden Warming

University of Chicago Press, 2014
By Richard B. Primack

The book connects naturalist Henry David Thoreau’s meticulous notes on 19th-century New England flora with scientific observations of present-day Walden. Renowned conservation biologist Primack highlights the oft-hidden local ecological changes and consequences wrought by global climate change while sharing his own lifelong experiences studying the region.

Part-memoir, part-exhortation, Walden Warming demonstrates the value of revisiting historical literature in tackling modern conservation issues through the lens of one of the most prominent leaders of the American environmental movement.

Guy Barbeau

Manager, Student Life and Special Projects
John Molson School of Business

Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk

John Wiley & Sons, 1996
By Peter L. Bernstein

A very readable history of how mathematics, and in particular risk analysis, changed the way humankind looks at our world, and how society moved from the tenets of superstition and fate to the understanding of probability.

Who by Fire

Doubleday Canada, 2014
By Fred Stenson

This is a novel, set in Alberta, that deals with how progress in the energy sector affects family, personal relationships and the environment. An enjoyable read that helps put some perspective on the effects of the commercialization of our natural resources.

Jamilah Dei-Sharpe

PhD student
Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Mhudi: An Epic of South African Native Life a Hundred Years Ago

Lovedale Press, 1930
By Solomon Plaatje

This is the first novel by a Black African to be published in English and one of the first published African novels. Mhudi is a political-historic romance that re-envisions and disrupts Eurocentric narratives from the South African Apartheid. It is a masterful way to use the real, the imagination, fantasy and the hyperreal to develop a decolonial resistance to the current reality of South African social upheaval.

Annie Gérin

Faculty of Fine Arts

Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas

University of California Press, 2013
By Rebecca Solnit

The vivid texts and imaginary cartography of New Orleans that make up this idiosyncratic book delineate in space and time Houma migration, Mardi Gras culture, the development of the sugar industry, coastal erosion and sea level rise, oil extraction and spills, crime and corruption and many other matters. Since I’m not going anywhere this year, I’ve turned to this kind of travel.

Quentin VerCetty

Graduate student
Department of Art Education


Wattpad Books, 2020
By Nandi Taylor 

This is the debut book by a very promising African-Canadian novelist who tells a fantasy tale that is captivating and filled with suspense. The book makes for a good read for those who are interested in Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter as it has more than enough layers to appeal to different generations and levels of interest in different fictional worlds.

Ryan Aberback

Undergraduate student
Faculty of Arts and Science

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

Vintage, 2012
By Jonathan Haidt

Haidt combines elements of Eastern wisdom, Western philosophy and moral psychology in this poignant, non-partisan analysis of society's woes. If you are looking for an accessible, compassionate and nuanced overview of today's political climate, look no further.

Pascale Sicotte

Faculty of Arts and Science

Meennunyakaa / Blueberry Patch

Theytus Books, 2019
By Jennifer Leason and Norman Chartrand

This book is written and illustrated by my friend and colleague in collaboration with her great uncle. This is a lovely story in English and Anishinaabemowin. The original paintings by Leason are vibrant with life and colours. It will make you happy.

King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa

Mariner, 1998
By Adam Hochschild

I read this book a few years ago and it still haunts me. It’s a work of massive proportion, using multiple sources, that exposes the system put in place by King Leopold of Belgium and his colonial regime to exploit the resources of the Congo at the turn of the 20th century. It led to massive deaths, impacted the social fabric of the population and still resonates today.

Andrea Clarke

Senior director
Community Engagement and Social Impact


Tor, 2019
By Cory Doctorow

This four-novella collection of techno-realist speculative fiction published in early 2019 examines themes that have only grown in relevance throughout 2020. From the illusion of choice in the face of toxic stratification to the rationalization of asymmetric violence, Radicalized is a love letter to resistance in the face of an indifferent and deliberately maintained status quo.

Shaan Baig

Undergraduate student
Department of Health, Kinesiology and Applied Physiology

To Shake the Sleeping Self: A Journey from Oregon to Patagonia, and a Quest for a Life with No Regret

Convergent Books, 2018
By Jedidiah Jenkins

I left a rejuvenating conversation with Jenkins in awe of his deep connection to his personal truth. His book is a necessary read for the wanderer in each of us. Much more than his bike ride across two continents, it’s an incredible reflection on identity and a life lived without regret in this strange, new world.

Faisal Shennib

Environmental specialist
Facilities Management

Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread-the Lessons from a New Science

Penguin Books, 2015
By Alex Pentland

Did you know that you can increase energy savings by 17 per cent by comparing homeowners' energy use to that of their neighbours rather than to the average of their whole country?

Empowered by the nascent field of big data, Pentland and the team of researchers at MIT's Media Lab conducted groundbreaking research on the social connections that influence our actions. Social Physics is the easily digestible summary of this seminal work, which I recommend to all those who work to spread good ideas and behaviours or prevent not-so-good ones.

Jason Edward Lewis

Department of Design and Computation Arts


Tor, 2006
By Peter Watts

Imagine a future that takes neurodiversity so seriously that humans surgically sculpt their brains in order to emphasize certain cognitive capabilities over others. Then an alien visitor that doesn't even need consciousness to build craft capable of interstellar travel shows up. Throw in genetically revived vampires and sociopathic AIs, and you get a kaleidoscopic examination of what “intelligence” means and why it may not be all it's cracked up to be.

Azure Robertson

Student support assistant
Aboriginal Student Resource Centre

Heart Berries: A Memoir

Counterpoint, 2018
Terese Marie Mailhot

This book follows a woman through her troubled childhood, young motherhood and issues with her Indigenous identity. It is written in a unique way. I really enjoyed it.

Mutsumi Takahashi

Canadian journalist and Concordia alumna
BA 79, MBA 95, LLD 13

Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know

Scribner, 2010
By Alexandra Horowitz 

After spending an entire fall reading about democratic institutions, international relations and pandemics, I decided I needed something completely different. Dogs are the more wonderful creatures and we do them a disservice by not knowing more about them. The book dispels many misconceptions we have about dogs and warns against our tendency to anthropomorphize. Must read, for the love of dogs.

Suthakhar Ponnambalam

Graduate student
Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering


Knopf, 2015
By Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

This is Book 1 of the Illuminae Files sci-fi trilogy. I found it to be a really interesting and compelling story. There are many good space operas out there but this had all the elements including alien life forms, astrophysics, killer AI machines, a quirky romance and lots of sarcasm. This is definitely a page-turner and definitely a good place to start your sci-fi journey. 


Simon and Schuster, 2020
Bob Woodward

I read this book as part of a non-fiction November book reads. Woodward is one of the most acclaimed journalists in United States history. He was instrumental in exposing the Watergate scandal. I found his book was a sneak peek into the POTUS inner circle. It is really interesting for those who are into non-fiction and politics in general.

Ann Mclaughlin

Student Success Resource Centre

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland

Doubleday, 2019
By Patrick Radden Keefe  

Keefe gives a compelling account of Northern Ireland during "The Troubles." We get to know the characters with a sometimes-frightening intimacy. The author manages to tell both sides of the story with amazing clarity and suspense. I couldn't put it down!

Juliana Rueda Castillo

Undergraduate student
Faculty of Arts and Science

Flowers for Algernon 

Harcourt, Brace & World, 1959
By Daniel Keyes 

The fictitious novel features Charlie Gordon, a 32-year-old man born with an unusually low IQ. He and Algernon, a laboratory mouse with the same condition, undergo surgery to increase their IQ. The experiment is a scientific breakthrough as Charlie progresses, yet hardships arise in his life.

This classic coming-of-age story has the unshakeable message that our humanity is measured by our kindness rather than our intelligence. The protagonist's relatability stems from our fear to confront our own emotional, social and ethical issues.  

Judith Appleby

Concordia alumna
BA 68

Moonflower Murders

HarperCollins, 2020
By Anthony Horowitz

This is a book within a book by an acclaimed writer — it’s clever, fun and a good mystery.

Carole Lavallee

Senior clerk
Special billing and delinquent accounts

The Book Thief

Knopf, 2007
By Markus Zusak

This is a different view of the effects of the Second World War from the German side and Death’s profound commentary of human beings. As well it is about the protagonist’s love of books!

Natalie Phillips

Department of Psychology

On Beauty

Hamish Hamilton, 2005
By Zadie Smith

The news coverage over the Black Lives Matter movement made me realize how few novels by Black authors I had read. I had had this book on my shelf for some time. It has reflections on race, family, love, relationships and generational differences, and managed to be a witty satire of academic life at the same time. It was good to visit a world where there was no pandemic to help balance out the news events in a difficult year.

Bonus pick!

The Dead Season

Berkley, 2020
By Tessa Wegert (BA 98)

Full of twists, turns and buried secrets, alumna Tessa Wegert's second psychological thriller continues former NYPD detective Shana Merchant’s narrative and the complex past she has spent years running from. Murder mystery, missing person’s case and more, the story packs action and thrill.

Bonus pick 2!

Cosmic Underground Northside: An Incantation of Black Canadian Speculative Discourse and Innerstandings

Cedar Groove Publishing, 2020
Edited by Quentin VerCetty and Audrey Hudson

This book is Canada's first on Canadian Afrofuturism. Edited by art education graduate student Quentin VerCetty and Audrey Hudson, it features a wide range of styles and flamboyant imagery of different expressions of Black representation and ideas about progressive, inclusive futures. The book can be read for enjoyment or for inspiration and research purposes, making it an ideal gift for oneself or others.

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.


Back to top

© Concordia University