Best books of 2017, according to Western

As the year winds down and you are preparing for the holiday break, Western News brings you a list of book recommendations from members of our campus community. Below are some favourite reads of 2017, listed in alphabetical order of author names. Enjoy.

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Yiddish for Pirates by Gary Barwin

Recommended by Catherine Steeves, Vice Provost and Chief Librarian

“This wondrous novel was shortlisted for the 2016 Governor General’s and Giller prizes and won the 2017 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. Set in the 15th Century, it is a tale of adventure, tragedy, persecution, love and belonging. That may not sound humorous, but it truly is. Narrated by a talking parrot and with a cast of remarkable characters it is full of satire, tall tales, and witticisms. Enjoy!”


Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

Recommended by Rick Ezekiel, Interim Senior Director (Student Experience)

“The book highlights the importance of being open to vulnerability in order to connect meaningfully with the people and circumstances around us. For me, it underscored how critical it is to be our authentic selves to be effective leaders and educators, particularly when meaningful connection to others is so critical to our individual and community wellbeing.”


Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Recommended by Carolyn Ford, Director, International Undergraduate Recruitment

“This is the 800+ page biography that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to create the Broadway musical Hamilton. Mr. Miranda had a hard copy with him while he was traveling or on holiday. I recommend renting or purchasing a digital copy instead of lugging around the hard copy. A page turner of a read, despite the fact most readers knows the outcome before they pick up the book. One key takeaway for me was the realization that American politics has always been very messy and combative from the very beginning, and these characteristics are by no means a recent invention. Another key recommendation point – reading the book (CAD $20) is a lot cheaper than attempting to purchase tickets to the musical (USD $3,000)!”


What Happened by Hillary Clinton

Recommended by James MacLean, Director, Institutional Data and Analysis

“An interesting read of the most bizarre elections ever.  Nonetheless, the deplorables still won.”



Music at Hand: Instruments Bodies and Cognition by Jonathan De Souza

Recommended by Mark Daly, Associate Vice-President (Research)

“I’m an amateur neuroscientist and an amateur musician with a habit of frequently learning to play new instruments (and mastering none of them). Rather than concluding that I simply have a short attention span, Jonathan’s framework allows me to imagine that my behaviour is, instead, a noble quest to explore the profound relationship between ‘interfaces’ to music production and my approach to music as an abstract entity. In seriousness, though, this is an outstanding piece of scholarship and testament to the power and reach of transdisciplinary research.”


This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz

Recommended by David Huebert, author and PhD Candidate, Department of English and Writing Studies

“(This) is a stunning account of the Dominican immigrant life in New Jersey. The ghettoized and the womanizers, pot-smokers and gym addicts, all of them dreaming of beaches while the snow flutters thick through the “nabe.” It’s a beautiful book – rich and vivid and the characters so compelling, even the ones you loathe and fear and distrust. Díaz is a wizard with slang and vernacular, and his book is a bright sting of language, a vivid wound that will swell and swell and rage.”


What’s the matter with Kansas: How the Conservatives Won the Heart of America by Thomas Frank

Recommended by Helen Connell, Associate Vice-President (Communications and Public Affairs)

Although the book was first published in 2004, author and journalist Thomas Frank helped me understand why the people who have the most to lose from a Trump presidency are his most steadfast supporters.


Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life by Stewart Friedman

Recommended by Elizabeth Krische, Acting Associate Vice-President (Financial Services), Director (Procurement & Parking Services)

“I liked this book because it gives a balanced perspective on leadership. It talks about having a balanced approach to the “four-way view” of leadership. You need to balance Work/Career, Home/Family, Community/Society and Self (mind, body, spirit) to be a great leader. It is refreshing to see this perspective with some great tips on trying to achieve the balance in the four-way view.”


Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Recommended by Ken Cuthbertson, journalist and author, MA’75 (Journalism)

“This is a short book – just 179 pages – but it’s a compelling read that deals with universally asked questions about aging, the need for human contact, and ultimately about our own mortality. Haruf was a master literary craftsman whose writing style was clean, precise, and elegant in its simplicity – reminiscent of Hemingway, but without all of the macho bravado.”


Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

Recommended by Tom Carmichael, Dean, Faculty of Information and Media Studies

“A short novella about life in the American West in the early part of the twentieth century, Train Dreams is one of the most compelling and richly lyrical narratives I have ever encountered.”


When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Recommended by Marlys Koschinsky, Scientific & Executive Director, Robarts Research Institute; Professor, Department of Physiology & Pharmacology, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry

“This work is an autobiography by Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a talented neurosurgeon who receives a terminal diagnosis of Stage IV lung cancer. Moving and beautifully written, the author explores the tension between dealing with death from the perspective of a clinician versus that of a patient. It skillfully weaves the links between artistic and scientific perspectives and underscores the sustaining power of the human spirit.


Incarnations: India in 50 Lives by Sunil Khilnani

Recommended by Amit Chakma, President, Western University

“It takes the reader through time, place and history through the lives of 50 great minds, starting with the great philosopher, The Buddha through Emperor Asoka, poet Rabindranath Tagore, modern India’s Ghandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru to industrialist Mukesh Ambani. Those interested in learning about India will find this book very illuminating. For me, it was a Coles Notes version of Indian history.”


The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis

Recommended by Juan Luis Suarez, Associate Vice-President (Research)

“The story of the friendship between Daniel Kahneman (Nobel Prize Economics) and Amos Tversky, the creators of behavioural economics, is beautifully written. You understand the concepts through the biographies and it gives a very nuanced view on a subject that is not always easy – non-erotic male friendship.”


The Postmortal: A Novel by Drew Magary

Recommended by Mel Goodale, Director, Brain and Mind Institute

“Magary explores the consequences, both biological and social, that arise from the invention of a drug that ensures immortality for those who can afford it. He conjures up a realistic but dystopian future, but tells the tale with a darkly comic sensibility. A great read.”


Queer Progress: From Homophobia to Homonationalism by Tim McCaskell

Recommended by Levi Hord, School for Advanced Studies in Arts & Humanities and Scholar’s Electives student, recipient of the 2018 Rhodes Scholarship

“Winding together personal stories, recollections of activism, political analysis and queer theory, the book traces the history of Toronto’s queer community from the radical margins to the epitome of Canadian cultural inclusion. It is the kind of book I want to be able to write someday, and enlightens the ways in which we compile and share our histories in the contemporary moments when they are needed the most.”


The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Recommended by Michael Milde, Dean, Faculty of Arts & Humanities

“Perry makes excellent use of the Victorian era’s tendency to blend the fantastical and the scientific to create a gripping story. The novel challenges stereotyped assumptions about the repressed and constrained aspects of the period by presenting an array of fully conceived and memorably eccentric characters. A very compelling read.”


The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

Recommended by Victoria Meredith, Professor, Don Wright Faculty of Music

“Set during WWII in an English village where nearly all of the men are away at war, the stories of women in the village are colourfully brought to life. Ranging in age from their teens to their sixties, and coming from all walks of life, they have one thing in common – defying the Vicar’s edict that since there are no men for the choir, it should be closed down. Instead, they determine that if women can take over the jobs left behind by the men, they can certainly continue singing even though the sight of an all-female ensemble might be scandalous to many people.”


I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons

Recommended by Mark Rayner, Coordinator, Master of Media in Journalism and Communication Program

“A detailed and contemplative biography of one of Canada’s literary and musical icons, I’m Your Man was my favourite and most bittersweet read this year. I loved learning more about his early life, his life-long struggle with depression, and the challenges he had creating his art. I was inspired by his disciplined comeback after being wiped out financially. Why bittersweet? I felt like finishing the book really was the last good-bye.”


The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and Other Stories by Vandana Singh

Recommended by Camille Intson, Playwright and student, Department of English and Writing Studies

“Vandana Singh is the first big name Indian female speculative fiction writer who calls her genre a ‘chance to find ourselves part of a larger whole; to step out of the claustrophobia of the exclusively human and discover joy, terror, wonder, and meaning in the greater universe.’ The stories are marvelously perplexing, curious, and fascinating. They challenge limits imposed onto the human body and psyche by displacing us so bewitchingly into the realm of the unfamiliar.”


Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

Recommended by Grace Parraga, Professor, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, CIHR New Investigator, Scientist (Robarts Research Institute)

“Dr. Thaler was the Nobel prize winner in 2017 (Economics). I really enjoy non-fiction and this was a fantastic description about how to steer and maneuver population decision-making towards the greater good, without taking away an individual’s right to decide. For many of us who toil in health-care research and public policy, this book provides a very compelling and positive read.”


The Thessaly Trilogy (The Just City, The Philosopher Kings and Necessity) by Jo Walton

Recommended by Wendy Pearson, Chair, Department of Women’s Studies and Feminist Research

“It’s rather timely at this #metoo moment, because the plot is set in motion when Apollo approaches his sister, Athene, to try and understand why Daphne would rather be turned into a tree than have sex with him. Athene decides to create Plato’s idea of a just city from The Republic. She sets it on an island doomed to be destroyed by a volcanic eruption (to avoid changing history) and populates it with 10,000 10-year olds and their instructors, philosophers and scholars taken from across time and history (including one from the late 21st Century). And then it gets interesting. It’s an amazing exploration of philosophical ideas in a feminist science fictional setting and Walton is a brilliant writer.”


The Sense of Music by Viktor Zuckerkandl

Recommended by Mary Blake Bonn, President, Society of Graduate Students

“As a PhD Candidate in Music Theory, I am frequently asked by my colleagues what music theory is. While by no means an exemplar of the discipline, The Sense of Music provides an engaging introduction to musical thought that does not require an extensive musical background.”