Short of listening to a podcast, or reading a long article start-to-finish, reading nonfiction literature remains the best way of feeling like an intelligent, contemporary being. As finals season begins to rear its ugly head, and long days turn into longer nights spent in McLennan, pleasure reading can feel like a distant memory; a luxury reserved for parents, graduates, and retirees. In memoriam of this long forgotten hobby, and because we are chained to the law of alliteration, The McGill Tribune asked writers and editors to compile their favourite nonfiction tomes for our final November issue.
Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood – Trevor Noah
Avleen K Mokha
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show, is a bittersweet but important read. Born to a white father and a black mother under the South African apartheid regime, Noah was a criminal at birth. The autobiography is not chronological—yet each chapter, based around one key event in Noah’s life, flows seamlessly. Noah’s voice is incredible; he brings profound insight into seemingly mundane anecdotes. His mischievous charisma and mature outlook on politics and society complement each other in this page-turning read.
Paris to the Moon – Adam Gopnik
Adam Gopnik left his long-time job at The New Yorker in 1995 to move to Paris, bringing his wife Martha, and their infant son Luke along. Paris to the Moon collects his five years in the City of Light, and frames them as a moment of transition: Between comfort and adventure, security and risk—all teetering on the edge of the new millennium. This collection of essays paints an honest and beautiful depiction of a city from the unique perspective of an outsider.
Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991 – Michael Azzerad
Michael Azzerad’s tour through the dwindling days of American indie rock concludes with the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind (1991). Over the course of 13 narratives detailing the histories of 13 indie bands—from Beat Happening to Black Flag—Azzerad positions Nevermind not as the beginning of grunge, but as the tombstone of truly independent rock music. With vivid, descriptive intimacy, Azzerod dusts off decades-old anecdotes about basement recording studios, filthy tour vans, and backstage brawls. A perfect read for any baby boomer dad who thinks rock died when Led Zeppelin broke up, Our Band Could Be Your Life showcases a thriving DIY post-punk scene existing outside capitalist structures of music distribution.
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies – Jared Diamond
In his 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning history of human development, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, UCLA geography professor Jared Diamond takes readers on a tour of the past 13,000 years of our species on Earth. Diamond uncovers and convincingly explains the underlying causes and influences that led societies on certain continents to develop at different rates than those on others. His inquiry ranges from geographical and environmental factors to the effects of religion, disease, and weapons of war on an evolving society. Diamond’s writing is thoroughly-researched and detail-rich, and he successfully presents a plethora of information without making his work feel like a textbook.
Columbine – Dave Cullen
As one of the first reporters on the scene of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, Dave Cullen presents the most detailed study of the shooting to date. Combining interviews with students, families, and locals and detailed research into case files and evidence, Cullen focuses little on the hour of the shooting itself, and more on the lead-up and aftermath. Exploring the backgrounds of the shooters and victims, the months of grief and controversy after the event, and the critical roles of local law enforcement and the media, Cullen eschews a reductive portrait of the killers, and examines multiple perspectives on the shooting and its repercussion.
Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011 – Lizzy Goodman
The turn of the millennium should have been a bleak time for rock ‘n roll in New York City, with then Mayor Rudy Giuliani cracking down on sex and drugs. Instead, during this era, the city became a backdrop for a revolution that would change the music industry forever. Over the course of a decade, author Lizzy Goodman compiled over 2,000 interviews detailing the Strokes-era New York music scene in all of its debauchery. Bartenders, fans, industry tycoons, and, of course, rockstars recount in depraved detail their favorite shows, parties, and music from this hay-day, proving once and for all that rock ‘n roll did change the world.
The Secret History of Wonder Woman – Jill Lepore
William Marston was a Harvard psychologist who invented the lie detector in the 1920s. He also created Wonder Woman, the first female superhero. The bizarre and fascinating life story of Wonder Woman’s creator takes centre stage in The Secret History of Wonder Woman—a dense 400-page epic that covers enormous ground in its telling of the struggle for women's rights over the course of the 20th century. Lepore’s extensive research pays off, and her sleuthing connects a treasure trove of rough drafts and private documents to reveal one of the most intricate and intriguing backstories behind a comic book character.
Read The Tribune’s review of Angela Robinson’s 2017 film adaptation
Sick in the Head: Conversations about Life and Comedy – Judd Apatow
In Sick in the Head, Judd Apatow, the talent behind modern-day classics like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, interviewed his favourite funny people about their upbringings and creative processes. Martin Short, Chris Rock, Seth Rogen, Spike Jonze, Stephen Colbert, Sarah Silverman, and Jim Carrey are only a few of the countless comedy icons who appear in the book. Raw, funny, and enlightening, Sick in the Head is an essential read for comedy nerds.