Thursday, December 31, 2015

Super Nutrition - The Best Nonfiction of 2015

This photograph of Maureen Abood's Pistachio-Crusted Whitefish from the Chicago Tribune embodies the wonders of the nonfiction I was privileged to read in 2015. This year some books taught me new skills, several forced me to reassess what I thought I knew, some challenged and strengthened my faith and my understanding of the world, others took me back to places I loved, and a few allowed me to visit places I'd never seen. Abood's fabulous whitefish and her other recipes brought me pleasure and taught me new techniques while making me feel that I was sharing my kitchen with an unseen friend who cared about what my family ate. My "relationship" with the other nonfiction authors I read was similar. I read their words with them invisibly perched on my shoulder feeling that they were imparting their wisdom directly into me. 

The Best Nonfiction of 2015:

  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates 
  • Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast (2014)
  • The Drummond Girls by Mardi Jo Link
  • H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
  • In a French Kitchen by Susan Herrmann Loomis
  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (2014)
  • Make it Ahead by Ina Garten (2014)
  • Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber (2014)
  • Rose Water & Orange Blossoms by Maureen Abood
  • Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans
  • A Walk in the Animal Kingdom by Jerry Dennis, Glenn Wolff, illustrator
  • When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning
The Best Nonfiction Book(s) of 2015 (It's a tie!):

The Best Nonfiction Book of 2015 (a tie):

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Read the complete review here.)
Between the World and Me is essential reading for everyone. It won the National Book Award and will probably capture the Pulitzer too. Coates is a once-in-a-generation prophet. Written as a letter to his son, Coates uses this slender tome to address our racial inequities in gorgeous prose. People may disagree with some of his conclusions, but his passion and writing can’t be disputed. Reading this book is an often painful exercise as the reader has to set it down to ponder, to recover, and to consider what's happening in our country. I predict that this will be taught to our great-grandchildren and I hope that when it's taught it will be used to explain how our country began to heal. Gourmet/Super Nutrition, Book Club

The Best Nonfiction Book of 2015 (a tie):

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
H is for Hawk lives up to the critics’ accolades. It won Britain's Costa Prize and the Samuel
Johnson Prize for nonfiction. Its fabulous cover should win a few prizes too. It’s a unique blend of nature writing, memoir, and literary contemplation in a perfect package. During the time after her father’s death, Macdonald adopted and trained a goshawk. She'd had experience with hawks and knew the natural world well and Mabel, the goshawk, entered her life just when she needed something alive and unpredictable. Her use of T.H. White’s (author ofThe Once and Future King) book about training his own hawk to mirror her own tale, is brilliant. If you can, listen to at least part of this to hear Macdonald’s poignant, erudite voice. I'd be content to listen to her read a grocery list after this. Whether you read or listen to it, this book is exquisite. Gourmet/Road Trip/Soul Food/Super Nutrition, Book Club

The Best Memoir of 2015:
Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans (Read the complete review here.)
Reading this memoir is like being the honored guest at a banquet where the finest chefs have prepared your favorite foods. Evans’ quest to discover what church means and if there’s a place for her in it will make readers contemplate their own questions. Honest, insightful, humorous, and tender, this book takes you into the heart of a woman who gets that we need to respect and love each other. This year is one in which the "right wing" of the evangelical faith community has been prominent in political discourse. That's led many millenials to leave the church. Others have written on this topic, but none of them offer Evans' magnificent language and thoughtful metaphors for the journey. That she's such a fine writer this early in her career offers hope for us to continue to hear her insights on difficult topics in the future. Grandma's Pot Roast/Soul Food, Book Club

The Best Nonfiction Book You Need to Read that was Published in 2014:
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (Read the complete review here.)
Just Mercy is a book EVERYONE must read. I read it after seeing Stevenson's TED Talk then I immediately made a contribution to Stevenson's Equal Justice Initiative. Desmond Tutu calls Stevenson "America's young Nelson Mandela" and John Grisham compares him to a living Atticus Finch. Yes, he's a crusader, but he's also a fine storyteller and his tales of the lives those his group defends will touch your heart. Grandma's Pot Roast/Soul Food/Super Nutrition, Book Club

The Best Cookbook of 2015:
Rose Water & Orange Blossoms: Fresh & Classic Recipes from My Lebanese Kitchen by Maureen Abood
Rose Water is sheer visual delight AND the recipes are unique.  If you think this isn't for you because you don't eat "Middle Eastern" food, think again. Abood's Lebanese cooking uses the best ingredients and techniques that make it seem like classic French cuisine you can make at home. Every recipe I’ve tried has been delicious and has taught me new tricks to use with other ingredients. The zatar tomatoes are addictive, the simple baked eggs with spinach will make any weeknight soar, the savory pie dough is easy and fabulous,and the pistachio crusted whitefish is the best fish dish I’ve ever made. I love this book! Look at her website: then buy this book. Dessert/Super Nutrition

The Best Cookbook Runner-Up:
Make it Ahead: a Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten (published in 2014) 

Make it Ahead is worth purchasing for the Leek & Artichoke Bread Pudding and Ham Empanada recipes alone. I made a succulent, perfectly medium-rare standing rib roast last year for Christmas Eve and the bread pudding still stole the show.  It tasted just as wonderful when reheated two days later and we now have a new Christmas tradition that my family also chose for Easter. The tasty, original recipes found in this book allow the cook to enjoy the party without being exhausted or stuck in the kitchen while others socialize. Dessert/Super Nutrition

The Best Memoir, Travel, Cookbook Combination of 2015:
In a French Kitchen by Susan Herrmann Loomis (Read the complete review here.)
In a French Kitchen made me smile, taught me several tricks, and had me feeling as if I were sitting at her table or accompanying her on treks to markets in Normandy. Reading this gem is pure joy. It also added Louviers, France, where she lives and cooks, to my bucket list. Even if you don't care one bit about cooking, food, or France, read this book to enter the pure joy that is Loomis' life. Dessert/Super Nutrition

The Best Nature Book that Will Make You Hug Your Pet and Go Outside:
A Walk in the Animal Kingdom by Jerry Dennis, Glenn Wolff, illustrator (Read the complete review here.
A Walk in the Animal Kingdom is a book you savor. You keep it on an end table and read a chapter at a time. If you’ve wondered why we both adore animals (our pets) and fear them (snakes) this book will answer your questions and renew your childhood curiosity, Both the perfect gift for the inquisitive kid and the learned adult, Dennis’s book packed with keen observations and magical, eloquent words that are complemented by Wolff’s intricate drawings form a package you’ll continually unwrap with delight. Gourmet/Grandma's Pot Roast/Super Nutrition

The Best History Book for Bibliophiles:
When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II  (Read the complete review here.)
When Books Went to War tells of the campaign to provide books to American soldiers in combat that led to printing a new kind of paperback book. Not only did this alleviate boredom it also helped prepare a generation of men for higher education under the GI bill as it showed why fighting an enemy that burned books was important. This is a moving and fascinating tale. It will make you want to (re)read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn too. Grandma's Pot Roast/Super Nutrition, Book Club

The Best Theology Book (and yes, it has plenty of profanity):
Pastrix: the Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber (published in 2014): 
“God is there in the messy mascara-streaked middle of it, feeling as shitty as the rest of us.” Try to get your book club to discuss this profane, theologically astute wonder. Anyone pondering faith needs to read it. Buy it NOW! Gourmet/Sushi/Soul Food, Book Club

The Best Hug Your Friends and Enjoy Life Book:
The Drummond Girls by Mardi Jo Link (Read the complete review here.)
The Drummond Girls: A Story of  Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Chance celebrates the long friendship of a group of strong-minded women. Read it and call a friend. Grandma's Pot Roast/Road Trip/Soul Food, Book Club

The Best Graphic Memoir: 
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast (2014)
This graphic/tragi-comic memoir tells of Chast's parents' refusal to discuss their own decline when they were in their 90s. The term gallows humor could have been coined for her intimate, honest look at her parents and at her own reaction to their downward spiral. It was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award. Sushi/Super Nutrition, Book Club

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