Nam Kiwanuka's summer reading list

The Agenda in the Summer host chooses books that have left an impression on her this year
By Nam Kiwanuka - Published on Jul 14, 2017
Summer is a great time to read some of the fascinating books featured on The Agenda in the Summer. (baona/iStock)



As an introverted teenager who never went out on a single date or spent a minute at the popular kids’ table, I spent a lot of time on my own reading. I would get lost in the worlds of words and time disappeared. As I got older, reading became less of a priority and more of a luxury. So when I was hosting The Agenda in the Summer, I was thrilled to be introduced to new authors, subjects, and ideas. While I often read more than a book a week, I still try to savour the writing as much as I can.

I’ve always believed that everyone has a story that deserves to be heard, and saying that I favour one book over another is difficult. But of course there are stories that leave me looking at the world in a different way. This is a selection of the books that made an impression on me in 2017. I hope one or two may change you in some way.


This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression by Daphne Merkin

Although Merkin grew up in the world of the one per cent, there were times when there was no food in the refrigerator. Not for lack of money but because her mother spent her time doting on her husband while her children were left under the care of a childminder. Merkin, a renowned American journalist, set out on a path to learn whether her depression was a result of biology or the environment in which she grew up. 

A Brief History of Oversharing: One Ginger’s Anthology of Humiliation by Shawn Hitchins

He’s been called a “one-man flash mob” but Hitchins didn’t know what he was getting himself into when he made a joke about the need for a Ginger Pride Walk. In his book, the comedian describes the challenges of having red hair and what it was like to grow up in Egypt, Ontario. His writing is lively and funny, and when he describes the moment his dad saw him dressed in women’s clothing, all you can do is hold your breath for what comes next.

The Barefoot Bingo Caller: A Memoir by Antanas Sileika

This collection of essays explores what it’s like to be caught between two cultures as a child of Lithuanian immigrants in 1960s Toronto. Sileika’s life reads like a screenplay as he takes readers through a cultured history of the city. This was one of my favourite interviews this summer.

Watch Nam Kiwanuka's interview with Antanas Sileika

How to be a Muslim: An American Story by Haroon Moghul

The opening chapter of Moghul’s memoir is captivating. Moghul writes about how he became a public face for the Muslim-American community following 9/11, and how he struggled in private with being Muslim, and with mental illness.

What Remains: Object Lessons of Love and Loss by Karen von Hahn

As the style columnist for the Toronto Star, von Hahn knows a thing or two about style and objects. She writes beautifully about her late mother and the objects that defined their relationship.


Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

I haven’t read anything as rich as Hamid’s story which takes place in a fictional city filled with refugees. It reduces global distances into portals or doors that transport us to other countries in mere seconds. A love story with the common regrets of loss and longing, it is a simply incredible must-read.

The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron

I knew very little about prehistoric humans but after reading Cameron’s book, I feel like I have a PhD in the subject. The Last Neanderthal is inspired by science and extensive archeological research yet the characters are humanized in the telling of a story of family and belonging.

All the Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

This author is in demand. Not only did his debut novel generate a bidding war among publishers, it also created one for the screen rights. And for good reason. The book explores time travel, consumerism, technology, and who we are as humans once all our creature comforts are met and we’re no longer held hostage to grief.

Watch Nam Kiwanuka's interview with Elan Mastai

Kay's Lucky Coin Variety by Ann Y. K. Choi

Language is important to Choi, who moved to Canada with her family in 1975. As a young Korean-Canadian, she struggled with the duality of identity and even stopped speaking Korean. Now, she is taking lessons to reclaim her lost language. Her book mirrors her own experiences and tells the story of a Korean family that runs a variety store in downtown Toronto. It explores issues of mental health, ambition, and the expectations that parents have for their children.

Watch Nam Kiwanuka's interview with Ann Y. K. Choi


Birth, Sex and Abuse: Women’s Voices Under Nazi Rule by Beverley Chalmers

I first heard Chalmers speak at the Vine Awards for Canadian Jewish Literature where she won a history prize for this book. After reading it, I was mystified about how little I learned in school about the treatment of women during the Holocaust. The details are bone-chilling but Chalmers’ dedication to research and telling these stories will ensure that the lives of those who died will always be remembered.

Life on the Ground Floor: Letters from the Edge of Emergency Medicine by James Maskalyk

A member of Médecins Sans Frontières, Maskalyk is a superhero. He spends his time saving lives in Toronto’s St. Michael’s emergency room, and travelling to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to teach aspiring emergency room surgeons. In Life on the Ground Floor, he examines the value of emergency care, which for many people around the world is the only health care they receive.

The Beauty of Discomfort: How What We Avoid Is What We Need by Amanda Lang

Most of us don’t seek out adversity. Some of us even fret about it, and brace for impact. But just as businesses that don’t change learn their lessons the hard way, people would do much better to face and even embrace tough times. That’s the argument that business journalist Amanda Lang makes in her new book, and there’s a lot to think about within its pages.

Matters of Life and Death: Public Health Issues in Canada by Andre Picard

As the health reporter and columnist for the Globe and Mail, Picard has covered Canada’s publicly-funded health care system for more than 30 years. In this essay collection, Picard analyzes whether our system works and how it can be changed for the better. One of the most poignant issues he covers is how our health care system fails Indigenous communities and why this should matter to all Canadians.

Six Steps to Better Thinking: How to Disagree and Get Along by Christopher di Carlo

In this small but mighty book, di Carlo argues that now more than ever critical thinking is needed in order to counter alternative facts. He looks at how our implicit biases affect the way we see the world and why none of us can claim to be bias free. Di Carlo also argues that while we may not always agree, it’s important to recognize and to accept that facts and critical arguments override emotions.

The Agenda in the Summer airs nightly in July and August at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. Or, watch it streaming on Twitter  @TheAgenda.

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