Nonfiction November: Week 1

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Nonfiction November begins this week. 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.

Week 1: (Oct. 28 to Nov. 1) The topic is Your Year in Nonfiction, hosted by Julie @ Julz Reads :

Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions:

What was your favourite nonfiction read of the year?
Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?
What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?
What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

I love reading non-fiction, but it takes me much longer to read than fiction, so it’s only been about 10% percentage of my total reading so far this year. Up to now I have read seven books but I’ve not been very good at writing about them, so I’ve only reviewed three of them, although I have started to write about a fourth book – The Marches by Rory Stewart.

I like to vary my reading but tend to lean towards reading memoirs, biographies and history.

First the books I have not written about:

  1. Great Britain’s Great War by Jeremy Paxman – The back cover describes it: ‘He tells the story of the war through the experience of those who lived it – nurses, soldiers, politicians, factory workers, journalists and children.’ I began reading this book last year and didn’t finish it until January this year! I borrowed this from the library and had to renew it to finish it.
  2. Bitter Lemons of Cyprus by Lawrence Durrell  – his account of his time in Cyprus, during the 1950s Enosis movement for freedom of the island from British colonial rule. I’ve visited Cyprus several times, but not the area Durrell wrote about in this book – Kyrenia in Northern Cyprus, where he bought a house in the Greek village of Bellapaix.  His writing is richly descriptive and made me wish I could have seen Bellapaix in the 1950s.
  3. A Life of My Own by Claire Tomalin – a book that Marina @ Finding Time To Write kindly sent to me. Claire Tomalin writes excellent biographies, so I wondered what she had to say about her own life. She began by saying that writing about herself had not been easy and querying the reliability of memory, which maybe why I found it in places rather impersonal as she related a number of tragedies she had had to cope with.
  4. The Marches: Border Walks with my Father by Rory Stewart – review to follow. I enjoyed this account of walks along part of Hadrian’s Wall, the Debatable Lands, the Cheviot Border and in the area Stewart calls the ‘Middleland’. The last part of the book is about his father, Brian, who died four days before his 93rd birthday.

The links on the titles below take you to my reviews on the books:

  1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot – a fascinating, but harrowing biography of Henrietta’s life and death.She died of cervical cancer in 1951. Her cancer cells  became known as HeLa cells and have formed the basis for much medical research and drug development ever since.
  2. The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective by Susannah Stapleton, subtitled ‘Secrets and Lies in the Golden Age of Crime‘. Maud West was a private investigator with her own detective agency, based in London in the early part of the twentieth century, from 1905 onwards. It is also about the changing society in which Maud lived.
  3. The Riviera Set1920 – 1960: The Golden Years of Glamour and Excess by Mary S Lovell about Maxine Elliott and Chateau de l’Horizon, the house she had built on a promontory between Cannes and Juan-les-Pins and those who peopled it between the years 1930 and 1960.

I’m also reading – very slowly – a biography of D H Lawrence by John Worthen. I began this in April and hope to finish it this year.

I enjoyed all these books for different reasons, but the book that fascinated – and surprised me the most – is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

By participating in Nonfiction November I’m hoping this will encourage me to read more nonfiction rather than picking up the next novel to read and I’m looking forward to seeing what others recommend.

25 thoughts on “Nonfiction November: Week 1

  1. What an interesting and varied group of books, Margaret! I’m glad you’ve enjoyed most of them, and found a lot to like. You make an interesting point, too, about the length of time it takes to read a fiction vs a nonfiction book. As I reflect on it, I think that’s probably true of me, too. For me, anyway, I think I use different processes to make sense of fiction and nonfiction.

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    1. That’s a good question – and a hard one for me to answer. The quick answer is I don’t know. All I can say is that a lot of the content was new to me, as My knowledge of WW1 is very basic, but it seemed to me as though he approached the subject from a different angle focusing on what the war was like for the British at home rather than on the military campaigns.


  2. I’ve managed 17 non-fiction books this year, just reading the 18th. Not bad, I’d like it to be more but as you say, they take longer to read and digest. Bitter Lemons of Cyprus is a book I’ve had on my radar for a while now, will see if the library has it (I’m sure it will) for next year perhaps.

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    1. Cath, you put me to shame – I always want to read more nonfiction, but am lured away by fiction! I think you’d like Bitter Lemons of Cyprus.


  3. I loved The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks too, and like you I was surprised by it – both the content and at how much I ended up liking it. Bitter Lemons of Cyprus sounds amazing.


  4. One thing I’m liking to see with this Nonfiction November is that not everyone is as much into nonfiction as others. I count myself among those who want to read more each year, but rarely do. This year, though, I am up to 11 and next year, probably thanks to this event, I’ll be up to even more. The one I’ll be adding from your list is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, because it sounds like something everyone should read.


  5. I loved Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. My grandma died from breast cancer around that same time period and she had 5 daughters (one of them my mom) and 2 of them have had breast cancer. So they have been part of the Sister Study at Mayo Clinic. It’s just so fascinating to me. Oprah also did a movie for HBO on this book that was well done.

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  6. Maud West is a fascinating individual, I’ve really found myself drawn to biographies of female historical figures, I think as an adult I’ve finally come to realize how skewed and one-sided so much of my education was, and how little we learned about the many interesting women who challenged conventions and cultural norms and made names for themselves.

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  7. I’m tempted by The Riviera Set on the strength of the cover alone! Sounds glorious.

    I have Henrietta Lacks on my TBR list (possibly via one of your past #6degrees chains??).


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