Category Archives: Non-Fiction

‘Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat’ by Bee Wilson

“The food we cook is not only an assemblage of ingredients. It is the product of technologies, past and present.”

Food writer Bee Wilson does a really great job of looking at the history of how we cook and eat; it’s a look at kitchen utensils and cooking methods that we now take for granted. The modern kitchen and its contents evolved over time around the cooking practices of their day and were dependent on a number of factors that we are most likely unaware of. With artful sketches by Annabel Lee gracing each chapter, Wilson looks into things like pots and pans, knives, fire, measurement, refrigeration, and things as simple as the humble wooden spoon, the indispensable chopping knife, and the clever vegetable peeler. The history is fascinating and Wilson’s writing style is engaging. She has done her homework and relays the information in an entertaining manner.

This is a great book for anyone who enjoys cooking and is interested in how we as humans have evolved in our domesticity (also makes me think of Bill Bryson’s book At Home). Even though it contains not a single recipe, it does provide inspiration and a new respect for being in the kitchen and cooking even a simple meal.

‘Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life around the Table with Recipes’ by Shauna Niequist

“The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. It’s about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment.”

You don’t have to be a great cook of fancy food in order to have people over for a meal…trust me, I’ve been doing it for years! Even though I don’t love cooking like some people do, I have always been committed to the family dinner because it works like glue in our lives. There’s something about breaking bread and sipping wine and enjoying conversation with family, friends, or colleagues that is more than the sum total of its various parts. Whatever age your children are, whatever your home looks like, whatever you can or can’t cook (Uber eats?), being committed to at least one meal together everyday as a household and having guests often, will bring tremendous blessing to your life. Hospitality in my mind has always been about being welcoming and real and being ‘present over perfect’ which also happens to be the title of Niequist’s next book (Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living). I think I will read it but the title is almost enough already.

Shauna Niequist brings a down-to-earth perspective in her book Bread and Wine. She makes herself vulnerable with the funny and honest stories she tells about her own life with themes of hospitality, spirituality, community, food, friends, family, infertility, love, and shame, AND there is a recipe included at the end of every chapter! I loved this book and read it slowly, trying out her comforting and easy recipes along the way, many of which have already become favourites and are simple enough to memorize and/or tweak to your own tastes.

Pull up a chair, pour yourself a glass of wine, and enjoy the conversation at Niequist’s table!

‘The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit’ by Michael Finkel

If voluntary withdrawal from all human contact were an extreme sport, Christopher Knight could be the best in the world. On a whim he disappeared one day and lived alone in the woods in all seasons for 27 years. In all that time he interacted with another person only once–he said ‘Hi’ to someone on a trail. He never built a fire, not even in winter, for fear of being sighted, using a cookstove instead. Although he felt guilty about it, part of his ability to survive depended on breaking into nearby unoccupied camps and cabins to steal food, books, batteries, and other supplies. Because he never stole much of great value, the regular thefts were something that puzzled and terrorized the cottage dwellers and local law enforcement officers. His decades long sojourn came to an end when he was finally caught and charged for more than 1000 break-ins. When he was captured he was clean shaven and nicely dressed.

Michael Finkel, a journalist for the New York Times was the only personal Knight would tell his extraordinary story to and even that took some doing. His ability to get the details from Knight is as amazing as the account itself. It took Finkel three years of full time work to write these 191 pages. He was dedicated to getting it right and making it as accurate and compelling as possible.

I couldn’t put this remarkable book down and found it haunting and thought provoking. I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.

‘Where the Wind Leads: A Refugee Family’s Miraculous Story of Loss, Rescue, and Redemption’ by Vinh Chung with Tim Downs

“I am a refugee. My family went to sleep in one world and woke up in another, and more than anyone in my family I was trapped between those worlds. I was born in Vietnam, but I was not Vietnamese; I was raised in America. I grew up Asian in character but American in culture, a citizen but always a refugee. I had no lessons from the past to guide me, no right way to do things in the present, and no path to follow to the future.”

This is the incredible personal account of a refugee who fled from certain death and found flourishing life. It is a real-life rescue story, a poignant family drama, and a telling of recent world history. Many North Americans will remember the “boat people” who became thankful recipients of resettlement to a new life in a new land through resilience, determination, and many helping hands along the way. But what was it like for a young boy in a large family, suddenly separated from all he’d ever known, thrust into a different culture? Why was his Dad, who used to be a wealthy manager, now working a menial job? How would he be affected by this survival and redemption? How does a refugee see himself differently from an immigrant who chooses to leave?

Vinh Chung, originally from China, was born in South Vietnam, just eight months after it fell to the communists in 1975. His family was wealthy, controlling a rice-milling empire worth millions; but within months of the communist takeover, the Chungs lost everything and were reduced to abject poverty and forced to leave. They had no choice but to take their chances in a boat on the pirate infested waters of the South China Sea.

Rescued by a World Vision mercy ship, Chung went on to become a Fulbright Scholar, Harvard graduate, successful surgeon, and philanthropist. Chung is now a WV US board member.  The book includes some history of the early days of that organization under Stan Mooneyham and operation Seasweep. There’s a wonderful collection of photos included in the back of the book.

‘The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life’ by Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher is a columnist for The American Conservative, author of several books, and blogger about topics like religion, politics, film, and culture. He was brought to his knees by the death of his little sister Ruthie. When she was diagnosed at the age of forty with a hugely aggressive cancer, Rod returned to the small town where he grew up but had left behind in his youth. When he returned, he was surprised and humbled by the great love he witnessed in the community. His relationship with this town was fraught and his ties to family sometimes misunderstood and thin. Through a hard won lesson, Dreher learned that living in a small town did not mean living a small life. Rod wrote this memoir as a tribute to his sister, being brutally honest about loss and love, faith and family, struggle and sacrifice. He tells this true story well and honestly, discovering even things about himself along the way that he did not know. What he did know in the end, was that his sister’s death taught him how to live.

I once heard American writer Rhoda Janzen speak about memoir at a writer’s conference. She said memoir should be more than the story of a life, it should point to something beyond, some further resolve or purpose. She did this beautifully in Mennonite in a Little Black Dress as does Dreher in this book.  The books are very different stories but come to very similar conclusions. Both authors, in an unsentimental and thought provoking manner, rediscover their roots and humbly realize the warmth and joy of coming home.

NPR Interview with the author:
A Grieving Brother Finds Solace in his Sister’s ‘Small Town’

‘Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work’ by Liz Wiseman

rookie-smartsstarstarstarstarBe a perpetual rookie, always ready to learn and take on new challenges with a rookie mindset–curious, humble, and fun loving.

Can old dogs be taught new tricks? Is it still possible, even after decades of experience, to recapture the enthusiasm, curiosity, and fearlessness of youth and take on new challenges? It might take remembering the agility and resilience of a puppy!

Leaders will enjoy this book as they think about encouraging and challenging their employees to stay fresh and innovative. While experience provides a distinct advantage in a stable field—bridge building, ballet, concert piano performance—it can actually impede progress in an unstable to rapidly evolving arena. Studies have shown that novices can, in certain circumstances, outdo veterans. Expertise can blind us to new ideas. Like a rookie, people are often at their best when they are new to an undertaking and doing something for the first time because they are on a steep learning curve. Constant learning is sometimes more valuable than mastery. Even seasoned veterans can make their work feel fresh again. The key is being willing to learn. People who are willing to leave their veteran’s comfort zone and rediscover what it was like to be the new kid on the block, will find a renewed and engaging creative energy for their work!

‘Grunt’ by Mary Roach

gruntstarstarstar“Heroism doesn’t always happen in a burst of glory. Sometimes small triumphs and large hearts change the course of history. Sometimes a chicken can save a man’s life.”

Mary Roach writes the most interesting and entertaining non-fiction. She’s my favourite science gal geek. When our son was in medical school, I gave him her book called Stiff, subtitled “The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.” She has other fascinating, funny, and informative titles like: Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, Bonk: The Curious Couple of Science and Sex, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, and Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal (that’s the digestive system, I had to look it up). Her books are well researched, never boring, short and to the point, and will have you chuckling no matter how grim or grimy or gruesome the content.

Grunt is about the battles that soldiers face, but not the usual kind of battles you may immediately imagine. There is nothing about military strategy, history of war, or weaponry in this book. Instead Roach deals with the least considered but equally critical adversaries such as heat exhaustion, cataclysmic noise, panic, bacteria, shock, clothing construction, tank and submarine design, and ill-timed gastrointestinal urgency. After reading this book I will look upon the entire military venture with fresh eyes. I have gained an appreciation for all of the hard work that goes into keeping soldiers safe, comfortable and alive. There is a lot of science that goes into this topic and it covers much more than a well proportioned flak jacket! Like hearing loss, the less visible injuries of war can be the hardest kind to have and Roach does an important job of communicating the everyday sorts of challenges that the military faces.