Favourite non-fiction for 2011. Includes how to escape from a Butlins holiday camp…

We’ve rounded up our favourite fiction for 2011 – now it’s time for our non-fiction picks. These are a bit different from our fiction picks in that many are 2011 ‘discoveries’, as opposed to new titles published this year. We hope you enjoy them – it’s always interesting to look back over the year and review what we’ve been reading!

In the end, we wound up with so many recommendations from our librarians that we’ve decided to put half this post below a cut – just click the ‘more’ link to keep reading. It’s an occupational hazard – we love books and love reviewing them. On another note – we’d also love to hear what you’ve been enjoying this year. Comment and let us know!

Syndetics book coverBoomerang : travels in the new Third World / Michael Lewis.
A new title from the author of The Big Short. In this book, Michael Lewis (financial journalist and serial author of plain-speaking bestsellers that unravel the human element of financial disaster), explains the ins and outs of what some countries did when – as he puts it, “a big pile of money was left in a dark room and [they] were left to do whatever they wanted with it. Everyone faced the same temptation. The banks were willing to lend to anyone. But what [countries] wanted to do was so different from place to place”. From Icelandic fishermen who swapped careers and became investment bankers trading in billions, to the housing boom and bust in Ireland and its underpinnings, this book will astonish (and horrify) you. Michael Lewis creates a narrative that builds and builds the story – don’t start this one on a worknight, you’ll find yourself still reading long after you meant be asleep. This title was only published in October 2011, so it’s as up to date with the Eurozone crisis as you’re likely to get in book form. (Beth, Celeste)

Syndetics book coverHow to land an A330 Airbus : and other vital skills for the modern man / James May.
In this book, James May, (of Top Gear fame) has compiled the most important ‘practical’ skills for the modern male. The chapters on how to land an Airbus are particularly enlightening, and the reasoning on why the modern male must know how to deliver twins makes complete sense (!). By far and away the best part for me were the chapters on ‘How to escape from a Butlins holiday camp, should it be turned into a POW camp’, and then ‘How to successfully invade the Isle of Wight once you have escaped from the aformentioned camp’. (Jamie)

Syndetics book coverRetromania : pop culture’s addiction to its own past / Simon Reynolds.
‘Retromania’ is a fascinating look at how popular culture seems trapped in a loop of endlessly recycling itself. If music, fashion & culture are continually looking backward to other era’s for inspiration then where is the originality of the next decade going to come from? Reynolds is a well known English music writer so this book is focused mostly on music, though it does take in a larger cultural perspective also. Recommended. (Mark)

Syndetics book coverA bigger message : conversations with David Hockney / Martin Gayford.
Over a decade or more art critic Martin Gayford has recorded his conversations with artist David Hockney, and here they are now in this lovely book, accompanied by many illustrations. Hockney’s enthusiasm – for English trees, for painting, for other painters’ work, for new technologies, for life itself – is contagious. Some of his latest works, done on his iPhone and iPad, are delightful. This book will enhance your life. (Pauline)

Syndetics book coverSpaces / by Frankie Magazine ; [editor, Louise Bannister].
I really enjoyed ‘Spaces’ this year – an interior design book by the creators of Frankie magazine. It’s full of creative and retro-inspired designs for the home and office with beautiful, big photographs. If you’re a fan of all things quirky, cute and vintage with a modern twist then you’ll thoroughly love this book! (Theresa)
(Side note from Editor: And if you enjoy this book, try one of Frankie magazine’s other published books)

Syndetics book coverWhen I am playing with my cat, how do I know she is not playing with me? : Montaigne and being in touch with life / Saul Frampton.
A very entertaining biography of Montaigne, French philosopher and author who got up to all sorts of mischief in his later life. Quite inspiring and thought-provoking. (Nancy)
A Booklist reviewer had this to say:
“Everyone looks in front of himself; wrote Montaigne. As for me… I consider myself continuously: I taste myself. […] For decades devoted to a Christian stoicism that prepares the devout for death, Montaigne reacted to a series of deaths in his immediate circle by rediscovering life. Thereafter the writer immersed himself in all the immediate sense impressions that his unpredictable curiosity opened to him. Recorded in his famous essays, this renascent joy in life endows rather simple experiences like playing with a cat and walking through an orchard, with unexpected emotional resonance.” (Christensen, Bryce Copyright 2010 Booklist)

Syndetics book coverThe happiness project : or why I spent a year trying to sing in the morning, clean my closets, fight right, read Aristotle, and generally have more fun / Gretchen Rubin.
Wanting to change your life, re-focus your thinking and increase your happiness? Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany and set off on a journey that could help you too. Here’s a review from Amazon.com:
“Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. ‘The days are long, but the years are short,’ she realized. ‘Time is passing, and I’m not focusing enough on the things that really matter.’ In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project. In this lively and compelling account of that year, Rubin carves out her place alongside the authors of bestselling memoirs such as Julie and Julia, The Year of Living Biblically, and Eat, Pray, Love. With humor and insight, she chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier.” (Fleur’s pick)

Syndetics book coverTana Ramsay’s Family kitchen : simple and delicious recipes for every family.
Forget the foul mouth and hissy fits of Gordon and turn to Tana instead. This calm, English mother of four has devised delicious, workable no-fuss meals which you can whip up with ease and without the need to throw anything around the kitchen (à la Gordon). It is lavishly illustrated and the pictures of the food, Tana and the Ramsay children are a delight. (The library holds two other cookbooks by Tana Ramsay) (Sue)

Syndetics book coverAn exacting heart : the story of Hephzibah Menuhin / Jacqueline Kent.
You don’t have to know anything about music to enjoy this wonderfully well-written biography of a fascinating woman. The sister of the famous Yehudi was equally gifted – she played the piano, he played the violin – but his talent was nurtured at the expense of hers. The extraordinary story of her marriage to a wealthy and cultivated Australian pastoralist, the birth of her two sons, her abandonment of them and subsequent defection into the arms of a suspect Viennese social worker makes for riveting reading. One of the book’s big questions – why did Hephzibah abandon her promising career as a musician? – remains unanswered, but various hypotheses are advanced… (Sue)

Syndetics book coverArguably / Christopher Hitchens.
A mammoth collection of essays by the late writer and commentator, ranging in subject matter from literary criticism to politics to entertainment to petty annoyances. This book is a poignant reminder of how much Christopher Hitchens and his forthright and incisive opinions will be missed. (Neil)

Syndetics book coverI, Partridge : we need to talk about Alan / Alan Partridge ; with Rob Gibbons, Neil Gibbons, Armando Iannucci and Steve Coogan.
A fictitious autobiography of the long-running television and radio presenter, Alan Partridge, this is a painful and hilarious book that has you cringing and laughing at the same time. (Neil)

Syndetics book coverShockaholic / Carrie Fisher.
Another memoir from the funny and talented actress, this covers her electric shock therapy, her relationship with her father, and her intimate encounters with various celebrities, from Elizabeth Taylor to Michael Jackson and Teddy Kennedy. (Neil)

Syndetics book coverGifted hands : the Ben Carson story / Ben Carson, M.D., with Cecil Murphey.
Over the last three weeks I’ve been reading one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever read. It’s by Benjamin Carson, it’s called ‘Gifted Hands’, and it’s about the author and his path to success. An amazing true story that I would recommend to anyone and everyone. Ben was born in an inner-city neighbourhood to a single mum who believed in her boys, worked three jobs to support them, and only had a 3rd grade education. At the bottom of his class in school, Ben’s mother encouraged him to believe in his own potential and to strive to become what he wanted to be – a doctor. Ben Carson is a neurosurgeon, and Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins teaching hospital in the United States – and this is his story. A risk-taker in his profession – he successfully separated a pair of conjoined twins when most other doctors said it could not be done – he now hopes to help other young people realise their dreams like he did his. (Taitu)

Syndetics book coverThe unlikely disciple : a sinner’s semester at America’s holiest university / Kevin Roose.
This is the story of Kevin Roose, a Brown University journalism student who decided to take a semester out, enrol at Liberty University (a school founded by evangelist Larry Falwell in 1971 and currently the largest Evangelical Christian university in the world), and explore the God Divide in America. Liberty is an ultra-conservative college whose students agree to abide by a code of conduct – The Liberty Way – that includes strictures on dress, interaction between the sexes, and personal conduct. This is not a Michael Moore style “exposé”: it is in fact a real effort from one side of the religious (and political) spectrum in America to understand the other. Roose makes friends, struggles with the ethics of concealing his motives for being at Liberty, and ultimately, struggles with his own idea of faith as much as he watches his classmates struggle with theirs. Well-written and compelling. (Celeste)

Syndetics book coverThe Territorials : the history of the territorial and volunteer forces of New Zealand / Peter Cooke & John Crawford.
Many New Zealanders have taken pride in serving with the Territorials. This very handsome book is the official commemoration of the centenary of the founding of that citizen army and charts its history from its formation in 1910 to the present day. It has been sponsored by the NZ Defence Force and was written by two military historians. One former Territorial serviceman describes it as ‘a reference book readily dipped into and difficult to put down.’ (Sue)

Syndetics book coverDay of honey : a memoir of food, love, and war / Annia Ciezadlo.
This is a fascinating account of life in Baghdad and Beirut by two war correspondents. Anna escapes from the reality of the war around her by forging a cooking bond with her mother-in-law who doesn’t speak English. (Sylvia)
Booklist has this to say:
“‘I cook to comprehend the place I’ve landed in,’ muses Ciezadlo early in her first book, a vividly written memoir of her adventures in travel and taste in the Middle East. Like any successful travelogue writer, she fills her pages with luminous, funny, and stirring portraits of the places and people she came across in her time abroad. But there is also, always, her passion for food, and through it, she parses the many conundrums she faced in her wanderings, such as the struggle to define identity, ethnic and personal, and the challenge of maintaining social continuity in wartime.” (Lagodzinski, Taina. Copyright 2010 Booklist)

Syndetics book coverThe FSG book of twentieth-century Latin American poetry : an anthology / edited by Ilan Stavans.
Heavy-hitting selection of the best of Latin American poetry from the last century. Included are great poets such as Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda and Octavio Paz but also anthologised are less known but no less able poets from Cuba, Brazil and Portugal. Convincingly, lyrically translated by Ursula Le Guin, Robert Bly, Elizabeth Bishop and many other writers, this is a fantastic collection and introduction to what is a passionate and uncompromisingly intellectual poetic tradition. (Monty)

Syndetics book coverColors of New York / [author: Donna Dailey].
PIck up this book and you can visit New York without actually makng the trip – all the colour, vibrancy and excitement of this great city is celebrated in this book, from dawn to dusk and then to nightfall. The beautiful full-page plates sing with life. (The library also has AA colors of Mexico) (Sue)

Syndetics book coverHome made : stories and recipes from New Zealand stove tops / compiled by Kim Knight.
There is much social history tied up in this lovely little book. New Zealanders – some very well-known such as Rosemary McLeod, but many others not known at all – share the stories behind their favourite family recipes. These are stories of making do, eking out, coming through a Depression, coping with a war, coming to a new country – and celebrating life’s special moments. All the stories in this book are compelling and all the food – photographed in sumptious colour – looks glorious! (Sue)

Syndetics book coverShop class as soulcraft : an inquiry into the value of work / Matthew B. Crawford.
This is not the easiest book to describe (or maybe it is – see below!), but I like this description of it:
“A philosopher/mechanic […] makes an irresistible case for working with one’s hands. Shop Class as Soulcraft brings alive an experience that was once quite common, but now seems to be receding from society: making and fixing things. Those of us who sit in an office often feel a lack of connection to the material world and find it difficult to say exactly what we do all day. For anyone who felt hustled off to college, then to the cubicle, against their own inclinations and natural bents, Shop Class as Soulcraft seeks to restore the honor of the manual trades as a life worth choosing.” (Author’s website) (Celeste’s pick)

Syndetics book coverFresh quilting : fearless color, design, & inspiration / Malka Dubrawsky.
I’ve had this book out four times now, and have made three items so far from it. I love this book so much, today I even bought my own copy. Really simple but stunning projects – and dare I say it, fresh and inspiring too. A beginner might struggle with some of her instructions, but these are beautiful quilts! (Pru)

Syndetics book coverEmpty cradles / Margaret Humphreys.
This is a chilling account of the British Government sanctioned migration of “orphans” to populate the colonies from the 1940s to the 1960s. (Sylvia) (Also published with the title ‘Oranges and Sunshine’ in 2011)
Here’s an annotation from our catalogue:
“In 1986 Margaret Humphreys, a Nottingham social worker, investigated a woman’s claim that, aged four, she had been put on a boat to Australia by the British government. At first incredulous, Margaret discovered that this was just the tip of an enormous iceberg. Up to 150,000 children had been deported from children’s homes in Britain and shipped off to a ‘new life’ in distant parts of the Empire – the last as recently as 1967. Many were told that their parents were dead, and parents often believed that their children had been adopted in Britain…”

Syndetics book coverThe elephant whisperer : learning about life, loyalty and freedom from a remarkable herd of elephants / Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence.
An amazing story of one man’s courage and perseverance in saving a herd of wild elephants. These incredible animals will touch your heart. A must-read for any animal lover. (Debbie)

Syndetics book coverDear Prudence : new and selected poems / David Trinidad.
David Trinidad’s Californian poems are always approachable and often funny and remind me, at their best, of Frank O’Hara’s autobiographical ‘lunch’ poems. They’re sometimes confessional and conversational, sometimes passionate and punk rock, sometimes intimate and x-rated – occasionally, they’re all these things at once. Here are some of my favourite Haiku from ‘Peyton Place: a Soap Opera,’ a brilliant slow building list of 31 haiku gathered from 31 episodes of the revered melodrama:

Who’s she quoting now?
Something about leaves and snow.
No hits on google.

Every episode
that same couple keeps crossing
the street, hand in hand.

First she can’t tell him
that she’s knocked up, now she can’t
tell him that she’s not.

Watched this episode
twice and still can’t come up with
idea for haiku.

(Reviewed by Monty)