With a new year swift upon us, rather than spend our long midwinter nights brooding on the uncanny speed with which the months seem to flee, or stewing over unchecked items on the past year’s to-do lists, wouldn’t it be altogether more pleasant to reminisce about the best nonfiction offerings from 2023? Yes, let’s do that instead. Below Aurora presents her own personal favorites, in no particular order.
Wolfish: Wolf, Self, and the Stories We Tell About Fear by Erica Berry
Taking as her central thread one lone wolf’s 1000-mile trek through the mountains from Oregon to California, Erica Berry deftly weaves cultural criticism, philosophy, natural history, mythology and memoir through Wolfish to craft an intricate, illuminating study of the real wolf and the symbolic one, wolves as they are and as we have feared them to be. For local interest points, the author is a Bowdoin graduate.
Standing in the Forest of Being Alive by Katie Farris
Katie Farris documents her treatment for breast cancer at the age of 36 during the pandemic era’s mass reckoning with disease and mortality; and while there is grief in her words, and fear, frank and aching, Standing in the Forest of Being Alive is more than anything a collection of love poems. To remain in love with living, to love her body even as its vulnerabilities are painfully exposed, Farris cultivates the discipline to find, as she writes, “in the midst of hell, what isn’t hell.”
Wifedom: Mrs. Orwell’s Invisible Life by Anna Funder
George Orwell is required reading for high schoolers everywhere, revered as a champion of progressive politics and the eerie prescience of his most famous book, 1984. Far less known is the woman written out of his story: Eileen O’Shaughnessy, Orwell’s first wife, who abandoned her own work and talents to bolster her husband––a man whose revolutionary idealism, as Anna Funder reveals, failed to extend into his relationships with women. In Wifedom, Funder melds what scant biographical details she can unearth with her own fictional reconstructions of O’Shaughnessy’s life, imaginatively resurrecting a woman too long blurred out of focus by the haze of her husband’s shadow.
One day I will have both the gumption and the time for a proper go at sourdough bread––in my daydreams I am baking dense, dark sourdough Danish rye and eating it smeared with elderberry jam, preferably by candlelight, whilst pretending it’s the twelfth century. And when that long-awaited day finally arrives, this comprehensive guide to all things vegan sourdough will be the book to join me in my faux-medieval kitchen.