My 10 Favourite Books of 2013

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2013 has not been a great year for reading. I blame it on an unusual year with more travel and more work than normal. Still it’s a rare day that I don’t read something and it’s always how I like to end a day. I’ve finally embraced a Kindle – so far only for traveling – and find it makes a great dinner companion when I dine alone. It also saved me on a two week backpacking trip in Nunavut.

Since 2006 I have kept a list of all books I’ve read. I find it interesting how few actually jump out at me every year.

Of the 41 books I’ve read this year, here are my top 10 favourite books for 2013 – all of which I think would make excellent choices for the book lover on your Christmas list. 

This is a non-fiction book about one of the most successful hideouts of World War II – The Warsaw Zoo. It draws from the unpublished diary of Antonina Żabińska, the zookeeper’s wife. It’s the incredible story of one family’s subversive acts of compassion to save the lives of 300 Jews imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto.

"book jacket of The Zookeeper's Wife"

The chimp sanctuary, started by Gloria Chow in 1997, is located on a farm outside of Montreal. Thirteen chimps retired from biomedical research are provided with what’s been called a Zen sanctuary, an old folk’s home and a maximum security prison all rolled into one. Andrew Westoll, the author, spends months as a volunteer at the sanctuary and then tells his story. Heartbreaking, heartwarming, funny and sad – this is a very well written book that will play with your emotions – and make you think about animal research in a very different light.

"The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary"

This book sat on my husband’s nightstand for months and although he enjoyed the book he didn’t tell me to drop everything and read it. He should have. The book has changed the way I listen to sound. It has made me less tolerant of noise and more sensitive to the sounds that animals hear. The author has recorded more than 15,000 animal species and the sounds he describes are like no others. For example, shrimp make snapping sounds, viruses pop and humpback whales have voices, if unimpeded, could circle the earth in hours.

This is a highly readable, thought provoking and perhaps even a life changing book. Don’t miss it.

"The Great Animal Orchestra book cover"

The author takes one year and volunteers at twelve different charities, mostly in Canada but also in the US and Africa. They include a hospice, a prisoner rehab agency, Habitat for Humanity, a waterways environment watchdog agency and a radio station in Senegal. He provides great insight into what it means to make a contribution. It’s a thought provoking read about embracing volunteerism.

"A Year of Living Generously - book cover"

  • The Tent Dwellers by Albert Bigelow Paine. First published in 1908, this is a spectacularly well written and very humorous account of a canoe/camping/trout fishing trip in what is now Kejimkujik National Park in Nova Scotia. Even if you aren’t a fisherman it’s a delightful read that you can polish off in an evening.

"The Tent Dwellers"

If you read anything about Africa more often than not the continent is portrayed in a very negative light. In this book, Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and founder of the Green Belt Movement, offers a unique perspective on these challenges and suggests ways to improve the lives of Africans even as she calls for a moral revolution among Africans themselves.

"The Challenge for Africa"

This book was recommended to me by an American running bike tours in Colombia after we got into a discussion on drugs in Colombia on our visit there last February. It’s the true story of what life looks like in San Pedro prison in La Paz, Bolivia. The author befriends Thomas McFadden, a convicted English drug trafficker, who for a long time runs tours inside the prison. One of the most unique places to be incarcerated on the planet, it’s a page turner that will leave you pondering the state of the Bolivian penal system.

"Marching Powder"

Mende Nazar, a Muslim child from a remote village in Sudan, was sold into slavery at the age of 12. This is the exceptionally well written account and a page turner of a book that throws some light on present day slavery. Mende spend eight years working as a domestic for a wealthy family in Kartoum, Sudan. Then she was sent to work for a relative in London, England where she eventually got the courage to escape via help from the Sudanese community and Damien Lewis. He spends months interviewing her and capturing the details. This account puts a human face on present day slavery.

"Slave - My true Story"

From Winnipeg to a Palestinian refugee camp in Amman, Jordan and seven long years later back to Winnipeg, Nahlah, tells her story and gives her perspective on the Arab spring. Fluent in Arabic, Nahlah ends up as a TV journalist and presently works for CBC. Not only do you gain great insight on what life really looks like in a refugee camp, you get a look at some of the conflicts she has personally witnessed. It’s an intellectually honest account and a must read for anyone interested in the age old problems of the Middle East.

"1000 Farewells"

This is another book that sat on my shelf for a few years. Although my first impression after a couple of chapters wasn’t great I persevered with the book and I’m so glad I did. Auden provides a dose of reality when you try to go green – and then goes on to make worthwhile and concrete suggestions on exactly what we can do. He uses stories to illustrate his points – both successful and not so successful.

"Getting Green Done"

I have a number of books on my bedside table including Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides and Dear Life by Alice Munro but I’m always looking for great reads of any genre. Please leave your suggestions in the comments.

Have you read any of the books on my 2013 list?

Leigh McAdam

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