Nonfiction November Week 4

Week 4: New to My TBR, hosted by Katie @ Doing Dewey: It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

So many books to choose from! Here are a few that appealed to me:

Plus the books recommended to me on my Ask the Experts post on World War Two:

From Shelleyrae – Poland 1939: The Outbreak of World War II by Roger Moorhouse

From Deb Nance:

  • The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz
  • Lost in Shangri-la: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II
  • Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption
  • Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of “The Children’s Ship

From The Paperback Princess

  • A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead, Hitler and the Habsburgs by James Longo
  • Sons and Soldiers by Bruce Henderson
  • When Books Went to War by Mollie Guptill Manning
  • In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

From Gilt and Dust -No Woman’s World: From D-day to Berlin by Iris Carpenter

From What’s Nonfiction

  • A Woman in Berlin, an anonymous diary of a woman who lived through the Russian occupation of the city
  • Primo Levi’s memoirs like Survival in Auschwitz and The Reawakening,
  • Underground in Berlin.
  • Svetlana Alexievich’s The Unwomanly Face of War is an oral history of the women in the Red Army by Marie Jalowicz Simon

Thanks so much to our hosts, Katie at Doing Dewey, Julie at Julz Reads, Leann at Shelf Aware, and Rennie at  What’s Nonfiction! And thanks to everyone who stopped by with comments and recommendations as well!

The Classics Club Spin Result

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin is number …

which for me is Orlando by Virginia Woolf. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by 30 January, 2021.

Orlando tells the tale of an extraordinary individual who lives through centuries of English history, first as a man, then as a woman; of his/her encounters with queens, kings, novelists, playwrights, and poets, and of his/her struggle to find fame and immortality not through actions, but through the written word. At its heart are the life and works of Woolf’s friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West, and Knole, the historic home of the Sackvilles. But as well as being a love letter to Vita, Orlando mocks the conventions of biography and history, teases the pretensions of contemporary men of letters, and wryly examines sexual double standards.

I hope I get on better with this book than I did with my last Classics Club Spin book, which was Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. I did start reading it, but didn’t get very far – it wasn’t appealing to me at all!

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

Novellas in November: Short Classics

It’s the final week of Novellas in November and the focus is on classic literature.

Animal Farm by George Orwell, first published in 1945, is an allegorical novella, of the Russian Revolution and the rise of the Soviet Union. It tells the story of a farm where the animals rebel against the farmer, Mr Jones, and throw him off the land. They hope to create a society where they are all equal, free and happy. Ultimately, the farm ends up in a state that is as bad, if not worse than it was before, under the dictatorship of a pig named Napoleon. It begins as the old boar Major tells the animals about his dream of overthrowing the human race when the produce of their labour would then be their own and he incites them to rebel. In the story that follows the Major is based on Marx, Farmer Jones on the Tsar, the pigs Napoleon and Snowball are based on Stalin and Trotsky respectively. Their revolution began by declaring that all animals are equal and ended with the added phrase but some animals are more equal than others.

This is one of those classics that I knew the story roughly, but had not read the book, until this month. I was surprised, although I shouldn’t have been, at the violence of the deaths in it and the pathos of Boxer’s story. Boxer, a cart horse is described as an enormous beast. He is hardworking, but naive and ignorant, struggling to learn the alphabet, representing the Russian working class who helped oust the Tsar. He is shown as the farm’s most dedicated and loyal worker – convinced that ‘Napoleon is always right‘, but eventually he is betrayed by him.

It is a deceptively easy read that can be read on two levels either as a simple fairy tale style story – initially Animal Farm had a subtitle, A Fairy Story – or as a satire against Stalin. It is thought provoking and moving.

~~~

I’ve read several short classics since I began writing this blog. These are some of my favourites:

Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon by Jane Austen. Lady Susan is a finished novella, whereas The Watsons and Sanditon are two unfinished fragments. I loved these stories. Told in a series of letters, Lady Susan is the  story of an unscrupulous widow who plans to force her daughter into a marriage against her wishes. Lady Susan is an attractive and entertaining and totally wicked character, who nevertheless almost manages to fool people for some of the time at least. She is also trying to captivate her sister-in-law’s brother, whilst still holding on to the affections of a previous lover.

The Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan, a fast moving action-story, beginning with an international conspiracy, involving anarchists, financiers and German spies. Richard Hannay, having found Scudder, murdered in his London flat, fears for his life and goes on the run, chased by villains in a series of exciting episodes, culminating in the discovery of the location of the ‘thirty-nine steps’. Hannay is a remarkable character, resourceful, and a master of disguise. As well as fleeing for his life he is searching for Scudder’s notebook, which contains clues to the international conspiracy.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote, a quick read and very entertaining. The narrator is not named, although Holly Golightly calls him ‘Fred’ after her brother. He’s a writer and at the beginning of the book he is reminiscing about Holly with Joe Bell, who ran a bar around the corner on Lexington Avenue. They hadn’t seen or heard from Holly  for over two years. She used to live in the apartment below Fred’s in a brownstone in the East Seventies in New York. Her past is almost as unknown as her present whereabouts. She’s a free spirit, charming and carefree, but craves attention.

Ethan Frome

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. Even though Ethan Frome is a tragedy there is light to contrast the darkness, and there is love and hope set against repression and misery. It’s a book where I hoped the ending would be a happy one, although I knew it couldn’t be. Trapped in an unhappy marriage, Ethan’s life had changed when his father died and he had had to give up his studies to work on the farm. His wife Zeena had always been ill and needing help in the house, which was why her cousin Mattie came to live with them. At first it worked out quite well, but Ethan couldn’t shrug off a sense of dread.

Classics Club Spin

It’s time for another Classics Club Spin You create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list. This is your Spin List. You have to read one of these twenty books by the end of the spin period. On Sunday 22 November, the Classics Club will post a number from 1 through 20. I’ve just made it as the result hasn’t been posted yet! The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that numb er on your Spin List by 30th January, 2021.

I have just 7 books left on my list, so I’ve repeated the list twice (minus the 7th book for second repeat).

  1. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
  2. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  3. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  4. The Big Sleep by Raymond Challoner
  5. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  6. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
  7. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  8. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
  9. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  10. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  11. The Big Sleep by Raymond Challoner
  12. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  13. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
  14. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  15. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
  16. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  17. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  18. The Big Sleep by Raymond Challoner
  19. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  20. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollop

Maigret and the Reluctant Witnesses by Georges Simenon

This week the theme for Novellas in November is Literature in Translation and I’ve chosen Maigret and the Reluctant Visitors by Georges Simenon translated from the French by William Hobson, a novella of 172 pages.

This is the 53rd Inspector Maigret book, originally published in 1955.

It is November and Maigret, nearing retirement, is in a melancholy, nostalgic mood. He has been called out to the home of the Lauchaume family where Léonard, the eldest son has been shot dead. The name Lachaume brings back memories of his childhood in the countryside where the village grocer sold Lachaume Biscuits. But the family is now in dire straits, living in a large house on the Quai de la Gare, Ivry and their biscuit factory is failing. Their house was once an impressive three storey building but is now in a state of decay, cold and damp. The rest of the Lachaume family, his younger brother Armand, Paulette Armand’s wife and his elderly parents, are not only reluctant to talk to the police, they don’t appear to be grieving.

It looks initially that the murder may have been part of a burglary, although only a wallet is missing, but Maigret is suspicious right from the start. His attempts to question the family are held up by their lawyer and also by the Examining Magistrate, Angelot who insists on taking charge of the case. But he makes headway when he visits Véronique Lachaume, Léonard’s estranged sister and eventually Paulette reluctantly talks to him.

The book as a whole has a nostalgic feel, the sense that the world is changing – the Lachaume family has been left behind. Their business has only been kept afloat by the money from the sons’ wives, but they are still proud and reluctant to face the true facts of their situation. Maigret, too, is beginning to realise that his world is changing. for one thing he is getting older, the new magistrates are the younger generation bringing in new methods and he is aware that he only has two years left before his retirement. However, he solves the case mainly through his own intuition, and so he casts off his melancholy.

I’ve now read several of the Maigret books totally out of order, so now I’ve decided it’s time I read the first book, Pietr the Latvian first published in 1931.

Nonfiction November Week 3: Ask the Expert

We’re now in Week 3: (Nov. 12 to 16) of Nonfiction November. The topic is – Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert (RennieWhat’s Nonfiction)

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I’ve read a few books on World War 2 and would love to find out more. I have read several novels set during the War, the most recent is V2 by Robert Harris, which has made realise how little I know about it. It is a vast subject and I know there are very many books both fiction and nonfiction about it. My difficulty is where to start!

These are some of the nonfiction books I’ve read/have waiting to be read:

  • Our Longest Days: a People’s History of the Second World War by the Writers of Mass Observation, which is fascinating.
  • Wartime Britain 1939 – 1945 by Juliet Gardiner – I’ve only read some of this book.
  • The Ration Book Diet by Mike Brown, Carol Harris and C J Jackson – social history.
  • Winston Churchill’s six volume History of the Second World War – these look particularly daunting in the amount of detail involved! I’ve start the first volume.
  • Band of Brothers by Stephen E Ambrose – I watched the entire HBO series called Band of Brothers. I started to read the book and stalled!
  • Great Escape Stories by Eric Williams – TBR
  • How the Girl Guides Won the War by Janie Hampton – TBR

There are so many aspects to the war, so many countries involved, so many battles, people, places, politics, so many events that led up to the war, so many technological details and developments, etc, etc. Any suggestions of where to start will be much appreciated.

Top Ten Tuesday: Cats in Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

The topic this week is Characters I’d Name a Pet After (These could be your own pets (present or future), you could pick 10 different animals and tell us the name and animal type, or you could choose 10 names that would make fun cat names, etc. Put your own spin on this one!)

I struggled to come up with any ideas for this topic. But as I am a cat lover this is my spin – it is Cats in Books.

The Guest Cat (my review) is a Japanese Cat called Chibi, who made herself at home with a couple in their thirties who lived in a small rented house in a quiet part of Tokyo. She belonged to their next door neighbour but spent a lot of time with the couple coming and going as she pleased. I was disappointed to discover that the cat on the cover does not look like Chibi, who was a pure white cat whose fur was mottled with several lampblack blotches containing just a bit of light brown.

The cat in The Girl with a Cat Tattoo is called Max, a black and white cat with a ‘kitler’ – a cat with a moustache. He lives with Melody, a young widow. Two years after her husband died Max is fed up with the strange men she brings home and decides to do a bit of matchmaking on her behalf. He is a cat of action, but finds it’s more difficult than he expected. It is an entertaining, romantic tale with some dark moments, told from Max’s point of view. I’ve read this but didn’t write a review.

Koko is The Cat Who Could Read Backwards (my review), a beautiful Siamese cat. The cover disappointingly shows a black cat, not the beautiful Siamese with a “voice like an ambulance siren”. The book is about Joe Qwilleran, a newspaper reporter assigned to be an art writer, who together with Koko, investigates the murder of the owner of an art gallery.

Paw Tracks in the Moonlight (my review) tells the story of how Denis O’Connor rescued a kitten during a snowstorm and how kitten survived, despite the vet’s prediction that he wouldn’t. O’Connor lived at Owl Cottage and as he was out at work all day he put the kitten in a jug to keep him safe and named him Toby Jug. This memoir covers the first year of Toby Jug’s life and it’s a remarkable story because this is no ordinary cat (if such a creature exists, that is). He is a Maine Coon cross. 

I must have watched all of the programmes in the TV series All Creatures Great and Small about ‘James Herriot’s’ vet practice in Yorkshire.  There are many James Herriot books and I’ve read a few of them in the past. James Herriot’s Cat Stories ( my review) is a collection of ten stories clearly demonstrating his love of cats. In the introduction James writes that cats were one of the main reasons he chose a career as a vet. They have always played a large part in his life and and when he retired they were still there ‘lightening’ his days.

I love watching Simon’s Cat on YouTube. It is brilliant – so funny and just like our cat, Heidi, so I was delighted to find there are several books by Simon Tofield. The first one is Simon’s Cat in His Very Own Words.

I’ve read but not reviewed The Wild Road and The Golden Cat by Gabriel King. I loved these magical novels, which I read years ago. When a runaway kitten named Tag meets a mysterious black cat named Majicou in his dreams, he learns he is destined for bigger things. Called by Majicou, Tag enters the Wild Road, a magical highway known only to the animals, and learns that he is needed to find the King and Queen of Cats and bring them safely to Tintagel.

The story continues in The Golden Cat. An ancient prophecy speaks of a golden cat whose coming will heal the troubled world. But the Queen of Cats has three golden kittens—and when two are stolen away, the distraught parents turn to Tag, the brave young cat who is the protector of the magical Wild Road.

And finally two cats in children’s books. Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories for Little Children are stories he told to his daughter, Effie (Josephine) as bedtime stories – fantastic accounts of how various features of animals came to be. Kipling explained: ‘in the evening there were stories meant to put Effie to sleep, and you were not allowed to alter those by one single little word. They had to be told just so; or Effie would wake up and put back the missing sentence.’

One of the stories is The Cat That Walked by Himself about when the tame animals were all wild. The wildest of all was the Cat and this is Kipling’s explanation of how the cat came to use humans for its own comfort but remained independent, walking in the Wet Wild Woods, ‘waving his tail and walking by his wild lone.’ Kipling’s illustrations in this book are perfect.

And last of all is the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, one of my favourite children’s books. I no longer have the copy I had as a child, so a few years ago I bought The Complete Stories and Poems of Lewis Carroll. The Cheshire Cat sits in a tree and grins. He appears and disappears at will and at one point he vanished slowly beginning with his tail until there was just a grin left which remained for some time after the rest of him had gone.

The Man Behind Narnia by A N Wilson

This week the theme for Novellas in November is nonfiction novellas and I read The Man behind Narnia by A N Wilson, about C S Lewis.

A N Wilson is the author of over forty books – 20 novels, biographies, a three-part history of the last 100 years, and stories for children.

I’ve read a few of his biographies, the latest one I read was about Queen Victoria. At 656 pages it took me 3 months to read and I learned so much and enjoyed it immensely. In 1990 he wrote a full length biography of C S Lewis (which I haven’t read) and in 2013 he made a BBC 4 documentary about Lewis and his work. I didn’t watch the programme, but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of The Man Behind Narnia. In only 72 pages he writes briefly about Lewis’s life, his own reflections on Lewis’s works, and describes the making of the documentary.

Clive Staples Lewis (1898–1963) was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954, when he was elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement. He wrote more than thirty books, including Mere Christianity, Out of the Silent PlanetThe Great DivorceThe Screwtape Letters, and The Chronicles of Narnia books.

I first came across Lewis’s books when I was a teenager and a friend lent me The Screwtape Letters and then I read his autobiography, Surprised by Joy – in which he tells the story of his conversion to Christianity and about his childhood in Ireland, his school years and his adolescence – then his time at Oxford University and in 1917 he enlisted and was sent to the front line in France. Since then I’ve read quite a lot of his theological books, including Mere Christianity, as well as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (the first of his Narnia books) which I read about 15 years ago. I think I’d have enjoyed it more if I’d read it as a child.

I enjoyed Wilson’s book very much, but it really is as much about himself and the effects that Lewis’s writing has had on him as it it is about Lewis. He writes about the places where Lewis lived, Belfast where he was born, Dunluce Castle on the coast where he used to visit with his mother (the castle in the Narnia stories), the places he went to school in England, and Oxford University. I’ve realised in writing this post that Wilson’s book jumps around a lot from place to place whilst covering Lewis’s life at different periods of time, so that it might seem a disjointed book, but it isn’t. As I was reading it, it seemed to flow naturally.

He also writes about Lewis’s relationships with, amongst others his father, and Mrs Moore, his friend’s mother and later his lover (allegedly) and their life together at The Kilns in Headington. He only writes briefly about his marriage to Joy Davidman. Several years ago I remember being enthralled watching Anthony Hopkins, Debra Winger, and Julian Fellowes in Shadowlands (not a dry eye in the cinema). Shadowlands is  about Lewis’s meeting with Helen Joy Davidman and about the events that led to their marriage. And earlier this year I read Becoming Mrs Lewis, a novel by Patti Callahan about Joy Davidman and her meeting and subsequent marriage to Lewis, so I was interested to read what Wilson’s view of their relationship was. He too ‘dissolved into tears‘ whilst watching the film, ‘even though [he] knew the circumstances of Lewis’s marriage to Joy Davidman [bore] only the haziest relationship to the story of ‘Shadowlands’. Interesting, I wondered what he based this on. My impression of Joy from reading Becoming Mrs Lewis was that she was stalking Lewis and I couldn’t warm to her.

In Chapter three he writes about the Narnia stories. Like me Wilson didn’t read the Narnia stories as a child. He hadn’t wanted to spoil his admiration for Lewis’s academic books by dipping into Narnia and found Lewis ’embarrassing’ when he got onto the subject of religion. He finally read them when he was on holiday in the Hebrides with his family and as it was raining he read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe aloud to his daughters. The children were enraptured but he found it disturbing and shocking, with the Atonement theology of the story. But even so he found the story absolutely absorbing.

There is so much packed into this novella that I could probably go on writing about it. But this post is too long already, so I’m going to stop. If you’re interested in knowing more I can recommend reading it. I was fascinated and it has made me want to read more of Lewis’s books. I have little pile of them and haven’t read all of them yet.

The only one I’ve written about on this blog is Letters to Malcolm, a book about prayer. I’m also wondering whether to read Wilson’s biography of Lewis, or maybe Alister McGrath’s more recent biography, written in honour of the 50th anniversary of C. S. Lewis’s death, C S Lewis: A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet.

Nonfiction November: Week 2 Book Pairing

I’m taking part in Nonfiction November again this year. It runs from Nov2 to Nov 30. Each Monday a link-up for the week’s topic will be posted at the host’s blog for you to link your posts throughout the week. 28 to Nov 30.

Week 2: (November 9-13) – Book Pairing (Julie @ Julz Reads): This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

I’ve recently read Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, historical fiction inspired by Hamnet, Shakespeare’s son. It is a story of the bond between him and his twin sister, Judith.  Shakespeare isn’t the main character and he is never named in this novel, which really focuses on Ann Hathaway and her children. Little is actually known about her and she comes across to me in this book as a rather wayward, wild young woman when Shakespeare first met her, flouting convention and set on getting her own way, manipulating the people around her.

So, I’d like to know more about Ann Hathaway. Germaine Greer’s book, Shakespeare’s Wife explores what is known but I haven’t read it, so I don’t know how much is supposition and padding. I think it sounds interesting from the description on Goodreads:

Until now, there has been no serious critical scholarship devoted to the life and career of the farmer’s daughter who married England’s greatest poet. Part biography, part history, Shakespeare’s Wife is a fascinating reconstruction of Ann’s life, and an illuminating look at the daily lives of Elizabethan women, from their working routines to the rituals of courtship and the minutiae of married life. In this thoroughly researched and controversial book, Greer steps off the well-trodden paths of orthodoxy, asks new questions, and begins to right the wrongs done to Ann Shakespeare.

If you have read Shakespeare’s Wife I’d love to know what you think about it.

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Titles that Would Make Great Song Titles

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

The topic this week is Book Titles that Would Make Great Song Titles. These are all books I’ve read, so the links take you to my reviews. I have no idea who would sing these fictional songs, but they are all rather mournful. In my head I can hear them as slow, soulful songs.

  1. Awakening by Sharon Bolton
  2. Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben
  3. Dreamwalker: the Ballad of Sir Benfro by J D Oswald (James Oswald)
  4. Endless Night by Agatha Christie
  5. Like This, For Ever by Sharon Bolton
  6. Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski
  7. Losing You by Nicci French
  8. On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill
  9. Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney
  10. Watching You by Lisa Jewell