Nonfiction November: Week 3 – Be The Expert – Agatha Christie

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I’m taking part in Nonfiction November 2019 again this year. It was one of my favourite events last year – this year it will run from Oct 28 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.

This week’s topic is: 

Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert (Katie @ Doing Dewey): Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 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 read more fiction than nonfiction, so I can’t claim to be an expert in any one subject, but I do read quite a lot of autobiographies and biographies and combined with my love of crime fiction I’ve chosen Agatha Christie for the subject of this post. I have read all of her crime fiction novels, her Autobiography and her memoir, Come Tell Me How You Live.

Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie: An Autobiography. It took her fifteen years to write it. She stopped in 1965 when she was 75 because she thought that it was the ‘right moment to stop’. As well as being a record of her life as she remembered it and wanted to relate it, it’s also full of her thoughts on life and writing. I’ve written about her Autobiography in a few posts as I was reading it:

Agatha Christie: Come, Tell Me How You Live: an archaeological memoir – she had visited the Middle East in 1929 travelling on the Orient Express to Istanbul and then on to Damascus and Baghdad. She visited the excavations at Ur and returned there the following spring where she met archaeologist Max Mallowan – by the end of the summer they had decided to marry, which they did on 11 September 1930. She wrote this memoir to answer her friends’ questions about what life was like when she accompanied Max on his excavations in Syria and Iraq in the 1930s.

I can also recommend the following books:

Agatha Christie and the Eleven Missing Days by Jared Cade – a fascinating book. I did feel as though I was intruding into Agatha Christie’s private life that she had not wanted made known but Cade writes sympathetically. In December 1926 Agatha Christie disappeared from her home, Styles, in Berkshire. She was found eleven days later in a hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire apparently suffering from amnesia.   The book is not just about those eleven days but is a biography that reveals how those eleven days and the events that led up to her disappearance influenced the rest of her life.

Agatha Christie: An English Mystery by Laura Thompson – Overall, I think that this book as a biography is unbalanced, concentrating on the events surrounding Agatha’s disappearance and there is much speculation and supposition. I prefer Agatha’s own version of her life: An Autobiography, in which she merely referred to the events of 1926 thus:

The next year of my life is one I hate recalling. As so often in life, when one thing goes wrong, everything goes wrong. (page 356)

Agatha Christie at Home by Hilary Macaskill –  a beautiful book, with many photographs – more than 100 colour photos – illustrating Agatha’s life and homes.

Poirot and Me by David Suchet – For me Suchet was the perfect Poirot and this book really lives up to its title, as the main subject is David Suchet’s role as Poirot. His first performance as Poirot was in 1988. Over the intervening twenty five years he played the part in every one of the seventy Poirot stories that Agatha Christie wrote, with the exception of a tiny short story called The Lemesurier Inheritance (a story in Poirot’s Early Cases and in The Under Dog).

I also dip into two more books about Agatha Christie’s work – Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making by John Curran and The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie by Charles Osborne.

Nonfiction November: Week 2 – Book Pairing

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I’m taking part in Nonfiction November 2019 again this year. It was one of my favourite events last year – this year it will run from Oct 28 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.

This week’s topic is: 

Week 2: (Nov. 4 to 8) – Book Pairing (host: Sarah @ 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’ve recently read a couple of newly published historical novels that I think go well together with nonfiction books about the same subjects:

First, The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis, a novel I loved, pairing it with  Juliet Barker’s biography of the Brontë family, The Brontës

When I first came across The Vanished Bride I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to read it, as I’m never very keen on books about famous authors solving crimes. However, the Brontë sisters books have been amongst my favourites for years and I was curious find out what this book was all about. ‘Bella Ellis’ is the Brontë inspired pen name for the author Rowan Coleman, who has been a Brontë devotee for most of her life.

It is historical fiction set in 1845 about Charlotte, Emily and Anne and their brother, Branwell and how the sisters became ‘detectors’, or amateur sleuths as they investigate the disappearance of a young woman from Chester Grange, just across the moors from the Brontë Parsonage – which is, of course purely fiction. But it is not all pure fiction – in the Author’s Note Bella Ellis explains that it is based on biological facts or inspired by them.

Reading The Vanished Bride has inspired me to get back to reading the new edition of  The Brontës, Juliet Barker’s biography of the family.  I began reading (and never finished) it a few years ago. It is the result of 11 years’ research in archives throughout the world.  It contains a wealth of information, is illustrated and has copious notes and an index.

Juliet Barker is an internationally recognised expert on the Brontës and from 1983 to 1989 she was curator and librarian of the Brontë Parsonage Museum. Her qualifications are impeccable – she was educated at Bradford Girls’ Grammar School and St Anne’s College, Oxford, where she gained her doctorate in medieval history. In 1999 she was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters by the University of Bradford, and in 2001 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. For more information see her website.

Then I thought of these two books –  A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier, a novel published this year and Singled Out by Virginia Nicholson published in 2007.

Both are about ‘Surplus Women‘ – nearly three-quarters of a million soldiers were killed during World War One, many of them unmarried young men, leaving a generation of women who had believed marriage to be their birthright without prospective husbands. 

A Single Thread focuses on one young woman, Violet whose fiancé, Laurence was killed in the First World War. Determined to be independent she leaves her mother and moves to Winchester, where she joins the Winchester Cathedral Broderers, a group of women dedicated to embroidering hassocks and cushions for the seats and benches. The difficulties of being independent are brought home to her as she struggles on her wages as a typist to pay for her lodgings, laundry and coal, let alone feed herself. And then her mother is admitted to hospital and she has to decide whether to return home to look after her.

Tracy Chevalier writes novels on a variety of subjects, carrying out meticulous research for each one. In this book she lists a number of the many resources she used, including details of Louisa Pesel’s embroidery work as well as the history of Winchester Cathedral, bell-ringing, 1930s women and life in Britain in the 1930s .

Singled Out, in contrast, is nonfiction, telling individual stories of how these ‘surplus women‘ coped with enforced spinsterhood. Tracing their fates, Virginia Nicholson shows how the single woman of the inter-war years had to depend on herself and, in doing so, helped change society. These women harboured harrowing secret sadness, yearning for the closeness of marriage and children. Beginning in 1919 the book traces their experiences across the next two decades as they faced life alone, looking at how they survived economically, emotionally and sexually. There is a note on the sources she used and a select bibliography, plus photographs and an index.

Virginia Nicholson’s father was the art historian and writer Quentin Bell, acclaimed for his biography of his aunt Virginia Woolf and her mother Anne Olivier Bell edited the five volumes of Virginia Woolf’s Diaries. In June 2019 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. The citation quoted Carmen Callil: “Virginia Nicholson is the outstanding recorder of British lives in the twentieth century.” For more information about see her website.

I have enjoyed looking at these pairs of books. Which books would you choose to compare?

The Marches by Rory Stewart

Marches

Vintage|September 2017|368 pages|Paperback|4*

I enjoyed reading The Marches: Border Walks With My Father by Rory Stewart. He’s been in the news here recently, having stood for leadership of the Conservative Party, and has now formally stood down from Parliament to run as an independent candidate for Mayor of London.

But none of that has anything to do with why I wanted to read his book. It’s because of the subject – walking in the borderlands between England and Scotland, in the place where I live. And it’s not just about walking – he also muses on history, memory and landscape, all topics that interest me immensely.

Blurb:

His father Brian taught Rory Stewart how to walk, and walked with him on journeys from Iran to Malaysia. Now they have chosen to do their final walk together along ‘the Marches’ – the frontier that divides their two countries, Scotland and England.

On their six-hundred-mile, thirty-day journey – with Rory on foot, and his father ‘ambushing’ him by car – the pair relive Scottish dances, reflect on Burmese honey-bears, and on the loss of human presence in the British landscape.
Travelling across mountain ridges and through housing estates they uncover a forgotten country crushed between England and Scotland: the Middleland. They discover unsettling modern lives, lodged in an ancient place, as their odyssey develops into a history of the British nationhood, a chronicle of contemporary Britain and an exuberant encounter between a father and a son.

And as the journey deepens, and the end approaches, Brian and Rory fight to match, step by step, modern voices, nationalisms and contemporary settlements to the natural beauty of the Marches, and a fierce absorption in tradition in their own unconventional lives.

My thoughts:

This is a book of three parts – Book One: The Wall about Rory Stewart’s walk along Hadrian’s Wall in 2011, with his father, then aged 89 – his father walking for the first hour or so each day. They had intended to walk the full length of the Wall, from east to west, but after they reached the fort at Bewcastle they decided to abandon their plan (his father having reached his limits) and drive back to his father’s house, Broich, near Crieff in Perthshire. He writes about the Wall, the Roman occupation of the area, his father’s career, about nationality and clans, and reminisces about his childhood and his time in Afghanistan.

Book Two: Middleland, in which he describes his walk from coast to coast, a distance of about 400 miles, taking him 26 days, walking alone from his cottage in Cumbria to the Solway Firth, then crossing and re-crossing the modern border (established in the 13th century) to Berwick-upon-Tweed and then back to Broich.

I got a bit lost in his descriptions of the route, not knowing some the places along the way. But there are maps of his route that helped me follow where he went. He describes the landscape, the geology, sheep farming and land use, the people he met, their history  and language and much, much more.

Book Three: The General Danced on the Lawn about his father, who died at the age of 93, before this book was finished. The whole book is permeated with his love and respect for his father, but this last section is all about Brian Stewart.

At the end of the Marches is a Chronology which I found very interesting, defining The Middleland before AD100 up to the present days. The Middleland is a term invented by Brian Stewart:

The geographical centre of the island of Britain. An upland landscape, whose core is the Lake District, the Peninnes, the Cheviots and the Scottish Borders, but whose fringes extend to the Humber in the south and the firths of Forth and Clyde in the north. A land naturally unified by geography and culture for two thousand years, but repeatedly divided by political frontiers. (page 339)

Six Degrees of Separation: from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to Strong Poison

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

Alice Carroll

This month the chain begins with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll– a book I read as a child and loved. 

I was tempted to make my first link to Through the Looking Glass, Carroll’s follow-up book, or another of the books I loved as a child, but instead I chose:

Malice in wonderland

Malice in Wonderland by Nicholas Blake. In this Golden Age mystery Wonderland is a holiday camp, set on a cliff top overlooking the sea and there are several allusions to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The train to Wonderland plunges into a tunnel, just as Alice falls down a rabbit hole and finds herself in Wonderland. And there is a prankster in the camp, the self-styled ‘Mad Hatter’, who is playing nasty and cruel practical jokes on the holiday makers. One of the visitors is Paul Perry, a young man who calls himself a scientist, who is there taking notes for the Mass Observation project.

Our Longest days

Mass Observation is my second link.  In August 1939, with war approaching, the Organisation asked its panel to keep diaries to record their daily lives and selections from fifteen of these diaries are included in Our Longest Days: A People’s History of the Second World War edited by Sandra Koa Wing.  

Testament of youth

Diaries provide the next link – Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain is based on her diaries, telling of her life up to 1925, concentrating on the World War One years. Vera was a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) during the war, nursing casualties both in Britain and France.

AC Autobiography

Agatha Christie was also a VAD member during World War One. In 1917 she worked in a hospital dispensary in Torquay and studied to take her Apothecaries Hall examination so she could dispense for a medical officer or a chemist. In her Autobiography she wrote that it was whilst she was working in the dispensary that she first thought of writing a detective story. Surrounded by poisons she decided it should be about a murder by poisoning.

Mysterious Affair at Styles

So my fifth link is to the first detective story she wrote The Mysterious Affair at Styles. It is set during the First World War I at Styles Court, a country house in Essex, owned by the very wealthy Mrs Inglethorp, who dies from strychnine poisoning. Captain Hastings enlists the help of Poirot, who is living in the village of Styles St Mary with other Belgian refugees, to investigate the matter.

Strong Poison

And my final link is Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers. Lord Peter Wimsey, the aristocratic amateur detective, and Harriet Vane, a crime fiction writer, first met in this murder mystery. Harriet is on trial for the murder of her former lover, Philip Boyes, who died from arsenic poisoning. Wimsey, attending the trial, is convinced she is innocent and sets out to prove it … and falls in love with her. 

My chain is linked by books about Wonderland, the Mass Observation project, diaries VADs and poison. It passes from fantasy land through the World War One years, and back into the world of fiction. It includes crime fiction and non-fiction.

Next month (December 7, 2019), we’ll begin with Jane Austen’s unfinished manuscript, Sanditon.

My Friday Post: Boris by Andrew Gimson

Book Beginnings Button

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.

Boris

I’ve been thinking for a while of reading Boris: the Rise of Boris Johnson by Andrew Gimson, published in 2012. I bought it secondhand several years ago after Boris had been elected as Mayor of London and it is an updated version of his earlier biography to include Boris’s record in power as the Mayor of London.  I see that Gimson has since brought out  another updated edition, subtitled The Adventures of Boris Johnson, after the Brexit Referendum in 2016.  

It begins with an Introduction explaining why Gimson thought of writing a life of Boris Johnson.

In the summer of 2004, Boris’s star shone with amazing brightness. Reputable judges predicted he would be the next Conservative Prime Minister, and that June morning he was all over the newspapers, which were enthralled by a scoop he had gathered while waiting on his bike at a traffic light.

Well, he wasn’t the next Prime Minister – for that he had to wait until this year.

Then Chapter I begins:

Boris was born to British parents in New York City on 19 June 1964. His mother Charlotte, who was only twenty-two years old, relates that at his birth he had the thick yellow hair for which he was later to become so celebrated: ‘We didn’t cut it, so it turned into ringlets.

And in the photos there is one of Boris, aged one with his mother celebrating at the end of her Oxford exams and Boris is determined to have some of her champagne – his hair a mop of curls.

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 57:

At a time when many of us are still in a state of utter confusion, Boris knew where he wanted to go. A close friend said of him: ‘At the age of eighteen he set himself the target that he was going to be in the Cabinet by the age of thirty-five.’

He didn’t make that target until later in his life – and he went on to become Prime Minister in July.  But will he still be PM by the end of this year … ?

Who knows??

Nonfiction November is Coming!

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I’ll be taking part in Nonfiction November 2019 again this year. It was one of my favourite events last year – this year it will run from Oct 28 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.

The hosts and topics are: 

Week 1: (Oct. 28 to Nov. 1) –  Your Year in Nonfiction (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?

Week 2: (Nov. 4 to 8) – Book Pairing (Sarah @ 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. 

Week 3: (Nov. 11 to 15) – Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert (Katie @ Doing Dewey): Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 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).

Week 4: (Nov. 18 to 22) – Nonfiction Favourites (Leann @ Shelf Aware): We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favourites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favourite.

Week 5: (Nov. 25 to 29) –New to My TBR (Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction): 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!

Six Degrees of Separation: from Three Women to …

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

Three Women

 

This month the chain begins with Three Women by Lisa Taddeo – a book I haven’t read, or even heard of before. It’s described on Goodreads as Desire as we’ve never seen it before: a riveting true story about the sex lives of three real American women, based on nearly a decade of reporting. I have no desire to read it.

My first link is to one of the books I’m currently reading – a biography of D H Lawrence, a man who believed himself to be an outsider in angry revolt against his class, culture and country, and who was engaged in a furious commitment to his writing and a passionate struggle to live according to his beliefs. He also struggled all his life with his relationships with women, particularly about those with his mother and his wife, Frieda.

Leading on from Lawrence’s biography my second link is to his book, Women in Love,  a book I first read as a teenager. It’s about the relationships of two sisters, Ursula and Gudrun. Ursula falls in love with Birkin (a self portrait of Lawrence) and Gudrun has an affair with Gerald, the son of the local colliery owner. Later on I watched the film version with Glenda Jackson as Gudrun, Oliver Reed as Gerald, Alan Bates as Birkin and Jennie Linden as Ursula. Lawrence considered this book to be his best and the one that clearly showed his ideas of society at the time (1922).

Moving on from a book about sisters, my third link is to a book about brothers. It’s The Lost Man by Jane Harper, set in an isolated part of Australia hundreds of miles from anywhere and revolving around the death of Cameron Bright. There are three Bright brothers – Nathan the oldest, then Cameron and the youngest brother, Bub. They have a vast cattle ranch in the Queensland outback. The book begins with the discovery of Cameron’s body lying at the the base of the headstone of the stockman’s grave – a headstone standing alone, a metre high, facing west, towards the desert, in a land of mirages.

My fourth link is to another book set in Australia – Sarah Thornhill by Kate Grenville, a love story set in 19th century Australia, where the convicts, transported or ‘sent out‘ are  now called ‘old colonists‘. A story about prejudice – some people, those who had ‘come free‘,  thought being ‘sent out‘ meant you were tainted for all time, but for others having money and land overcame their distaste. And then there is the prejudice about the ‘blacks’. When Sarah, the daughter of William Thornhill, an ‘old colonist’ and now a landowner on the Hawkesbury River, falls in love with Jack Langland, whose mother was a native woman, racial prejudice and hatred rear their ugly heads.

Prejudice and racial tension is also uppermost in The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies, set in Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka) in 1913. It was a time of unrest, with political and racial tension between the Sinhalese and Tamil workers and the British plantation owners. After a whirlwind romance, Gwendolyn Hooper marries a tea planter, Laurence, an older man, and a widower. But this is not the idyllic life she expected – there are secrets, locked doors and a caste system and culture that is alien to her. There is a mystery, too, surrounding the death of Caroline, Laurence’s first wife.

And so to the last link, which is to another book about the death of a wife. It’s The Evidence Against You by Gillian McAllister – Gabe English has been released from prison on parole, having served seventeen years for the murder of his wife, Alexandra. But nobody really knew exactly what had happened the night Alexandra was killed – she simply went missing and then her body was found – she’d been strangled. Gabe’s daughter Izzy thought that her father could never have harmed anybody, let alone her mother. Now, he swears that he is innocent and wants to tell his side of it. He asks her to consider the evidence for herself. But is he really guilty – can she trust her father?

My chain is link by books about women, sisters and brothers, prejudice and racial tension, books set in Australia and about the deaths of wives. It passes from America to Great Britain,  and Sri Lanka, via books of crime fiction, historical fiction and non-fiction.

Next month (November 2, 2019), we’ll begin with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – a book I have read and loved.