We asked Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter, editor and teacher Jacqui Banaszynski to recommend some of her favourite non fiction books.
Here are her top picks:
1. Hiroshima by John Hersey. I consider Hersey’s book a reporting classic. His detail and characters and reconstructed scenes from Hiroshima in the wake of the atomic bomb are a masterful study in how to observe the world.
2. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. O’Brien’s book is a complex blend of fiction and non-fiction, but really a true, and horrific, story of the Vietnam War; the writing is mind-blowing good. I use both of these when I teach.
3. In that category, I would also put David Finkel’s two new books out of his reporting in and after the war in Iraq: The Good Soldiers, which followed a combat unit in Baghdad, and Thank You For Your Service, which focuses on a few veterans of that mission who are suffering PTSD back home. Again, what carries these books is stunning reporting and Finkel transforms to great writing
4. I loved Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, about the slums of India.
5. Tom French’s Zoo Story, which uses the story of one zoo in Florida to explore the tricky questions of whether animals face greater threats in captivity or in the wild.
6. Timothy Egan of the New York Times is doing amazing work by reporting and reconstructing major events in U.S. history. The Worst Hard Time tells the largely untold story of the American Dustbowl; it’s told so well that you find yourself struggling to breathe. The Big Burn takes you into one of the largest forest fires in the Pacific Northwest and makes you feel the heat. Both use the techniques of the best fiction – character, scene, plot, tension – to bring real events to life. Both weave dramatic storytelling with policy and politics to reveal a deeper truth. And both have an appendix about how the reporting was done that shows what it takes to do work this masterful.
7. And, of course, Anne Lamott’s wise and irreverent and hystical book on life and writing: Bird by Bird.