Nonfiction November Week 3: Be/Ask/ Become the Expert

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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 (Julie @ JulzReads)

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 1, but I am nowhere near an expert. I’ve looked on Amazon and Wikipedia and am struggling to know  where to start, there are so many books.  So I would like some suggestions of books, specifically about the causes of the war and its progression, but not military history detailing the specific battles blow by blow! Also any personal memoirs that you can recommend.

I’ve just started to read Jeremy Paxman’s history of the First World War – Great Britain’s Great War. 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.’

These are some of the books I’ve read:

  • Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain – based on her diaries, telling of her life up to 1925, concentrating on the World War One years.
  • Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man by Siegfried Sassoon – part of his fictionalised autobiography
  •  The Monocled Mutineer by John Fairley and William Allison – the main sources of information in this book are personal accounts from the veterans as they remembered them many years later.

I also have a copy of Chronicle of Youth: Great War Diary 1813 – 1917 by Vera Brittain, her war diary on which she based Testament of Youth. I’ve read parts of this book.

chronicle of youth

 

 

Nonfiction November: Week 2 Fiction/ NonfictionPairing

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Week 2: (Nov. 5 to 9) – Fiction / Nonfiction Book Pairing (Sarah’s Book Shelves): 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 couldn’t stick to just pairs of books because I read more fiction than nonfiction, so my pairings are trios.

The first three I’ve chosen are about Richard III – what is the truth about him, was he deformed, with a withered arm, a hunch back and a limp as Shakespeare portrayed him, was he a cold-blooded, evil villain? Or has he been maligned and been turned into a  monster who killed his brother’s sons in order to take the Crown?

The Princes in the TowerThe Daughter of Time (Inspector Alan Grant #5)The Sunne In Splendour

Many years ago I read The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir, which examined the available evidence of the disappearance of the princes in 1483 at the time her book was first published in 1992. It has an extensive bibliography, her sources mainly supporting the view that Richard was guilty of their deaths. Alison Weir has since revised this book and published it as Richard III and the Princes in the Tower, published in 2014. I haven’t read this revised edition, but looking at Alison Weir’s website I see that she still holds the same views on Richard’s guilt.

Years later I came across The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, a novel in which Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, recuperating from a broken leg, becomes fascinated with a contemporary portrait of Richard III and investigates Richard’s role in the death of his nephews and his own death at the Battle of Bosworth. He concluded that Richard hadn’t murdered his nephews.

And two years ago I read The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman, probably the best historical novel that I’ve read. Penman portrays a very likeable Richard. From his childhood onwards he comes across as a kind, generous and brave man, a skilled leader on the battlefield, a loving husband to his wife, Anne, and devoted and loyal to his brother, Edward IV. I’m not going to reveal her solution to who killed the princes, but I was convinced by her version of events.

The discovery of Richard’s skeleton buried beneath a car park in Leicester in 2012 revealed that although ‘the curved spine on the skeleton does show he had Scoliosis, he did not have a withered arm or other details attributed to him in some characterisations’ (see the Incredible Discovery at the King Richard III Visitor Centre).

There are many books about Richard III, especially following the discovery of his remains, and in time I hope to explore more of them.

The next three books are about Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, Baron Cromwell of Okeham. He was born c.1485, Putney, near London and was executed on July 28, 1540.

Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII's Most Faithful Servant

Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies PBS Masterpiece E-Book Bundle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tracy Borman’s biography of Thomas Cromwell and Hilary Mantel’s novels, Wolf Hall/Bring Up the Bodies all cover the life of Cromwell, the son of a blacksmith, who rose to become Henry VIII’s Chief Minister and was executed for heresy and treason.

Hilary Mantel’s books bring the Tudor world to life for me. They are beautifully written, full of colour and detail so that there is no doubt that this is 16th century England, with vivid descriptions of the people, buildings, fabrics, and landscapes of both town and countryside. Her Thomas Cromwell is not the saint I thought he was from watching ‘A Man for All Seasons’, and neither is he the hard-hearted, cold and stern character I’d read about before, but he is humane, kind and considerate, hardworking, generous and cultured. But tough and ruthless too. I haven’t read Tracy Borman’s biography yet, so I have yet to see how it compares to the novels (and the TV adaptation), which I loved.

My third trio of books are about Robert Scott’s 1912 Antarctic expedition, comparing Beryl Bainbridge’s novel with two nonfiction books.

South with ScottThe Birthday BoysRace to the End: Scott, Amundsen and the South Pole

Ever since I bought South with Scott by Edward Evans, Lord Mountevans when I was at school I’ve been fascinated by the race to reach the South Pole. Evans was the Second-in-Command of the British Antarctic Expedition under Captain Scott. He nearly lost his life on the return journey from the Pole, falling ill with scurvy and was rescued. Years later I was delighted to find that Beryl Bainbridge’s novel, The Birthday Boys is about the expedition. It’s narrated by Captain Robert Falcon Scott and the other four men who died in the Antarctic having reached the South Pole. It gets inside each man’s mind, vividly describing the events as they progressed to the South Pole and the terrible conditions they had to endure.

I enjoyed it so much I wanted to find out more – which I did in Race to the End: Scott, Amundsen and the South Pole by Ross D E MacPhee, a beautifully illustrated account of each team’s trek to Antarctica and the Pole. Comparing the books I think Beryl Bainbridge’s fictionalised version is remarkable accurate, bringing the terrible hardships vividly to life.

I’ve enjoyed comparing these books – what books would you choose to compare?

My Friday Post: I Am, I Am, I Am

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Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week I’m featuring I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell, one of the books I’m currently reading.

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death

I chose this book because I love Maggie O’Farrell’s books and as soon as I read the description I knew I had to read it:

About the Book

I AM, I AM, I AM is Maggie O’Farrell’s electric and shocking memoir of the near-death experiences that have punctuated her life. The childhood illness she was not expected to survive. A teenage yearning to escape that nearly ended in disaster. A terrifying encounter on a remote path. A mismanaged labour in an understaffed hospital.

This is a memoir with a difference: seventeen encounters with Maggie at different ages, in different locations, reveal to us a whole life in a series of tense, visceral snapshots. Spare, elegant and utterly candid, it is a book to make you question yourself. What would you do if your life was in danger? How would you react? And what would you stand to lose?

It begins:

Neck 1990

On the path ahead, stepping out from behind a boulder, a man appears.

This opening sentence drew me in immediately, knowing from the title and book description that this was not going to be a happy encounter – this is the ‘terrifying encounter on a remote path.’

~~~

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Pages 55-56:

Suddenly the plane is falling, dropping, plummeting, like a rock fallen from a cliff. The downward velocity is astonishing, the drag, the speed of it. It feels like the world’s most unpleasant fairground ride, like a dive into nothing, like being pulled by the ankles into the endless maw of the underworld. My ears and face bloom like petals of pain, the seatbelt cutting into my thighs as I am thrown upwards.

~~~

The title is taken from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar:

I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.

What about you? Does it tempt you or would you stop reading? 

Nonfiction November: Week 1 – Your Year in Nonfiction

This year I’m taking part in Nonfiction November, hosted by Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness, Rennie of What’s Nonfiction, Katie of Doing Dewey, Julz of JulzReads and Sarah of Sarah’s Bookshelves.  Each week, we’ll have a different prompt and a different host looking at different ideas about reading and loving nonfiction.

This week’s topic is: Your Year in Nonfiction

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’ve not been reading much nonfiction this year – just 7 books up to now. I’ve read two biographies – Victoria: A Life by A N Wilson, a long and fascinating book that portrays her both as a woman, a wife and mother as well as a queen set against the backdrop of the political scene in Britain and Europe, and Wedlock:  How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match by Wendy Moore, about Mary Eleanor Bowes, who was one of the richest young heiresses in 18th century Britain. I also read Jeremy Paxman’s A Life in Questions mainly about his career with little about his personal life.

The other books I read are on reading – Bookworm: A memoir of childhood reading by Lucy Mangan, on painting – Painting as a Pastime by Winston S. Churchill, on time – Timekeepers by Simon Garfield and on sleep – Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker.

Wedlock: How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match

They are all so different that it’s hard to choose a favourite, but the one that sticks in my mind most is Wedlock, a biography of Mary Eleanor Bowes, who was one of the richest young heiresses in 18th century Britain. She fell under the spell of a handsome Irish soldier, Andrew Robinson Stoney. Her marriage to Andrew Robinson Stoney was an absolute disaster. He was brutally cruel and treated her with such violence, humiliation, deception and kidnap, that she lived in fear for her life.

The topics I’m attracted to are mainly memoirs, biographies and history, although I do like a variety of subjects. I think Bookworm is a must read for bookworms, it’s full of the joy of books – it’s not just what Lucy Mangan read, it’s also a history of children’s books, details of their authors and a memoir of Lucy’s childhood.

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.

WWW Wednesday: 24 October 2018

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading: three books, one historical fiction in hardback, one crime fiction on my Kindle and one non-fiction that I’ve borrowed from the library.

Tombland by C J Sansom, the 7th book in his Shardlake series, set in 1549 two years after the death of Henry VIII.

Tombland (Matthew Shardlake, #7)

I’m just settling into this book – Edward VI, is eleven years old and his uncle Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford, rules England as Protector. Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer in the employ of Lady Elizabeth, the old King’s younger daughter, is once more called on to investigate a murder, that of Elizabeth’s distant relative, Edith Boleyn. 1549 is the year of Kett’s Rebellion, which began when a group of rebels destroyed fences that wealthy landowners had erected to enclose their land.

I’m also reading The Darkest Place by Jo Spain, the Kindle edition was published on 20 September 2018. It’s the fourth Inspector Tom Holland mystery. I’ve read nearly 70% and am really enjoying it.

The Darkest Place (Inspector Tom Reynolds, #4)

Synopsis:

Christmas day, and DCI Tom Reynolds receives an alarming call. A mass grave has been discovered on Oileán na Caillte, the island which housed the controversial psychiatric institution St. Christina’s. The hospital has been closed for decades and onsite graves were tragically common. Reynolds thinks his adversarial boss is handing him a cold case to sideline him.

But then it transpires another body has been discovered amongst the dead – one of the doctors who went missing from the hospital in mysterious circumstances forty years ago. He appears to have been brutally murdered.

As events take a sudden turn, nothing can prepare Reynolds and his team for what they are about to discover once they arrive on the island . . .

And I’ve also started to read Jacob’s Room is Full of Books, by Susan Hill in which she writes about the books she has read, reread or returned to the shelf during one year.

Jacob's Room is Full of Books: A Year of Reading

It’s a mix of reflections on the books, on writing and of observations about a variety of topics, month by month.

I’ve recently finished:  
The Ghost

The Ghost by Robert Harris. I quoted the opening paragraph and synopsis in this post. It’s a political thriller with an anonymous narrator who is the ‘ghost’ or rather a ghostwriter employed to write the autobiography of Adam Peter Benet Lang, recently retired prime minister of Great Britain. I’m writing my review and will post it in the next few days.

My next book could be:

I am torn, as usual, wanting to read several books at once. I so want to start Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton – I wrote a bit about this book in this post.  It’s crime fiction about a convicted murderer, Hamish Wolfe who tries to convince, defence barrister Maggie Rose that he is innocent.

Daisy in Chains

But there are many more books also crying out to be read, so when the time comes to start another book, it could be something completely different.

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

Timekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed with Time by Simon Garfield

Timekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed With Time

3*

Synopsis:

Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana. The Beatles learn to be brilliant in an hour and a half. An Englishman arrives back from Calcutta but refuses to adjust his watch. Beethoven has his symphonic wishes ignored. A US Senator begins a speech that will last for 25 hours. The horrors of war are frozen at the click of a camera. A woman designs a ten-hour clock and reinvents the calendar. Roger Bannister lives out the same four minutes over a lifetime. And a prince attempts to stop time in its tracks.

Timekeepers is a book about our obsession with time and our desire to measure it, control it, sell it, film it, perform it, immortalise it and make it meaningful. It has two simple intentions: to tell some illuminating stories, and to ask whether we have all gone completely nuts.

My thoughts:

Timekeepers fulfils Simon Garfield’s intentions – to tell some illuminating stories, and to ask whether we have all gone completely nuts. It covers a wide variety of topics, all in one way or another about time – how it’s been recorded, the development of the calendar, the standardisation of time to aid with railway timetables, and aspects of time management, for example.

The chapters vary in length and some are more interesting than others. The one that interested me most was Movie Time, with an account of how the silent film, Safety Last! was made in 1923.

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Harold Lloyd dangling from the clock in Safety Last! (1923)

Harold Lloyd climbs the outside of a department store, obstacles falling on him as he does so, until he reaches the giant clock at the top, grabs hold of it, and dangles above the street below. Garfield recalls that for the first audiences time just froze, some went into hysterics and others fainted. Garfield’s focus is on the concept of time that the movies portrayed and goes on to explain how films were originally produced and shown when the timing depended on the cranking skills of the cameraman during filming and the projectionist during showing.

I was also interested in the chapter on performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a long and complex piece of music involving a large orchestra, solo singers and a chorus, where Garfield’s focus is on the tempo of the music and the differences made by different composers’ interpretations; and also in the chapter on Nic Ut’s photograph of children fleeing after a napalm bomb had been dropped on a village in Trảng Bàng, Vietnam. Garfield’s focus here is on the fraction of a second when the photograph was captured that brought the story home to its viewers.

Several other chapters also interested me but I wasn’t taken with those on the technicalities of time measurement, time management,or the production of clocks and watches, that Garfield describes in great detail. The book jumps about from topic to topic with, as far as I can make out, no chronological order. But it is full of facts, and going off the Further Reading and Acknowledgement section it is well researched. A book to dip into rather than read straight through.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 4503 KB
  • Print Length: 369 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books; Main edition (29 Sept. 2016)
  • Source: Canongate Books via NetGalley
  • My Rating: 3 stars

Thanks to Canongate Books and NetGalley for my copy of this book for review.

WWW Wednesday: 17 October 2018

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading:

The GhostTimekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed With Time

The Ghost by Robert Harris. I quoted the opening paragraph and synopsis in yesterday’s post. It’s a political thriller with an anonymous narrator who is the ‘ghost’ or rather a ghostwriter employed to write the autobiography of Adam Peter Benet Lang, recently retired prime minister of Great Britain. And he has a month to do it, or rather complete the manuscript started by his predecessor McAra, Lang’s assistant who was found dead, drowned, after falling overboard on the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard.

The film, The Ghost (in the UK)/ The Ghost Writer (in the US) is an adaptation of this book, with Ewan McGregor playing the part of the unnamed ghostwriter.

I’m also reading Timekeepers by Simon Garfield, a book of short essays on different aspects of time. It’s full of facts, but still easy reading written in an entertaining style. But so far I’m finding it ‘interesting’ rather than ‘fascinating’.

I’ve recently finished:  

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by andrew Miller. See this post for my review – historical fiction set in 1809 Captain John Lacroix, home from Britain’s disastrous campaign against Napoleon’s forces in Spain.

My next book could be:

Tombland (Matthew Shardlake, #7)

Although I have several books in mind to read next, it will most probably be Tombland by C J Sansom, which is to be published tomorrow. It’s the 7th book in his Shardlake series.

Synopsis:

Spring, 1549.

Two years after the death of Henry VIII, England is sliding into chaos…

The nominal king, Edward VI, is eleven years old. His uncle Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford, rules as Protector, presiding over a collapsing economy, a draining, prolonged war with Scotland and growing discontent amongst the populace as the old religion is systematically wiped out by radical Protestants.

Matthew Shardlake, meanwhile, is a lawyer in the employ of Lady Elizabeth, the old King’s younger daughter. The gruesome murder of Elizabeth’s distant relative Edith Boleyn soon takes him and his assistant Nicholas Overton to Norwich where he is reunited with Overton’s predecessor Jack Barak. As another murder drags the trio into ever-more dangerous waters, Shardlake finds his loyalties tested as Barak throws in his lot with the exploding peasant rebellion and Overton finds himself prisoner in Norwich castle.

Simultaneously, Shardlake discovers that the murder of Boleyn may have connections reaching into both the heart of the rebel camp and of the Norfolk gentry…

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you?