Nonfiction November: Week 5 New To My TBR

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I’ve been taking part in Nonfiction November 2019 again this year. It has now come to the end and this is the final topic!

The host this week is Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction who says ‘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’.

It certainly has been an amazing week in which I’ve read other book bloggers’ posts about many nonfiction books, most of them books that were completely new to me. These are just a few of the many that caught my imagination.

From Helen @She Reads Novels

  • The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale  – Victorian true crime
  • Decoding the Bayeux Tapestry by Arthur C. Wright – looks at the often-ignored images in the margins of the Tapestry and discusses what they add to our knowledge of the period.

From RennieWhat’s Nonfiction

From Kate @ Books Are My Favourite and Best

From Hopewell’s Library of Life

1947: Where Now Begins by Elizabeth Asbrink – a year that defined the modern world, intertwining historical events around the globe with key moments from the author’s personal history. I already have 1946: the Making of the Modern World by Victor Sebestyen, so it’ll be interesting to compare these books.

Many thanks to all the hosts of this year’s Nonfiction in November

Nonfiction November Week 4 Nonfiction Favourites

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I’m taking part in Nonfiction November 2019 again this year. It runs 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: 

Nonfiction Favourites hosted by Leann  @ ThereThereReadThis. 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.

The subject of a book is what attracts me in the first place. To be a favourite for me it has to be readable, informative, and based on verifiable facts. It goes without saying really, but I like a nonfiction book to have an index, footnotes or end notes and at least a list of sources, if not a bibliography.

One the other hand I also really enjoy reading nonfiction books that are full of opinions, thoughts and reflections. Examples are books about books – Susan Hill’s two books – Howards End is on the Landing and Jacob’s Room is Full of Booksand personal memoirs, such as Karen Armstrong’s The Spiral Staircase, about her early life as a nun and her subsequent life after she left the convent, embarked on a spiritual journey and began her writing career.

Above all, I like books that make me think, whether they are nonfiction or fiction.

My favourite nonfiction book this year so far is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

Immortal life of HL

This is 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. It is also a history of the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and considers the ethical issues around ownership of her cells and the distress, anger and confusion this caused her family.

Looking back to previous years these are just some of my favourites:

Quiet Cain

Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. This is well researched, clearly written and full of fascinating information. I knew before I read it that I’m an introvert and this book confirmed it. Of course there are varying degrees of introversion, just as there are of extroversion and Susan Cain goes into this in some detail. She includes personal details, case studies, and anecdotes from people she interviewed which means that this is more than a factual account. It’s a well balanced examination of the differences between introversion and extroversion.

Wild Swans

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (first published in 1991), Jung Chang’s book about her grandmother, her mother and herself, telling of their lives in China up to and during the years of the violent Cultural Revolution. Her family suffered atrociously, her father and grandmother both dying painful deaths and both her mother and father were imprisoned and tortured. It’s a personal story, reflecting the twentieth century history of China. A remarkable book, full of courage and spirit.

Nagasaki

Nagasaki: Life after Nuclear War by Susan Southard is an amazing, heart-wrenching book. This must be one of the most devastatingly sad and depressing books I’ve read and yet also one of the most uplifting, detailing the dropping of the bomb, which killed 74,000 people and injured another 75,000. As the subtitle indicates this book is not just about the events of 9 August 1945 but it follows the lives of five of the survivors from then to the present day.

And finally, although there are plenty of other books I could have selected, a book about trees:

The Man who climbs Trees

The Man Who Climbs Trees by James Aldred, a professional tree climber, wildlife cameraman, and adventurer. He explains how he discovered that trees are places of refuge as well as providing unique vantage points to view the world. It is not only full of information but also beautifully written and absolutely fascinating. If you have ever wondered how wildlife/nature documentaries are filmed this book has the answers. His travels brought him into contact with dozens of different religions and philosophies all containing ‘profound elements of truth’ that he respects very much, concluding that ‘spirituality is where you find it’ and he finds it ‘most easily when up in the trees’.

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?

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 – an 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.

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 A Gentleman in Moscow 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.

A Gentleman in Moscow

This month the chain begins with A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – a book I haven’t read, or even heard of before. It looks interesting from the description on Amazon:

On 21 June 1922, Count Alexander Rostov – recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt – is escorted out of the Kremlin, across Red Square and through the elegant revolving doors of the Hotel Metropol.

Deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the Count has been sentenced to house arrest indefinitely. But instead of his usual suite, he must now live in an attic room while Russia undergoes decades of tumultuous upheaval.

Can a life without luxury be the richest of all?

My first link is to another book set in Moscow Mrs Harris goes to Moscow by Paul Gallico This is a lovely little book. Mrs Harris is a London char lady who wins a trip to Moscow, where she wants to find her employer’s long-lost love. Mayhem ensues when she is thought to be Lady Char (the Russians not understanding what a ‘char lady’ is had converted it to ‘Lady Char’) and also a spy.

My second link is to a book about another visitor to Moscow: Archangel by Robert Harris. Set in present day Russia, it tells the story of Fluke Kelso, a former Oxford historian who is in Moscow for a conference on the newly opened Soviet archives. He learns of the existence of a secret notebook belonging to Josef Stalin and his search takes him to the vast forests near the White Sea port of Archangel.

Moving away from Moscow, but still in Russia my third link is Midnight in St Petersburg by Vanora Bennett. It begins in 1911 in pre-revolutionary Russia with Inna Feldman travelling by train to St Petersburg to escape the pogroms in Kiev. I liked the way Inna’s personal story is intermingled with the historical characters of the time, including Father Grigory (Rasputin), Prince Youssoupoff and Lenin.

The next book that came into my mind is another book set in St Petersburg and featuring Rasputin – Sashenka by Simon Sebag Montefiore. It begins in 1916 in St Petersburg. Sashenka’s mother parties with Rasputin whilst Sashenka is involved with conspiracy. It then moves forward to 1939 in Moscow under Stalin and ends in the 1990s when a young historian researches her life and discovers her fate. I haven’t read this book yet, even though I’ve had it for a long time.

My fifth link is a book I did read a long time ago, also set in Russia during the Russian Revolution – Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. At this distance in time my memories of it are a bit vague, but I remember more about the film of the book starring Julie Christie and Omar Sharif amongst others. I’d love to read it again sometime …

And so to the last link. It really should be to another book set in Russia to complete the chain with just one common theme. I wondered about a few – Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, or War and Peace, but eventually settled on a non fiction book, A People’s Tragedy: the Russian Revolution by Orlando Figes,  Unlike the other books in my chain I haven’t read this book, and it is not one of my TBRs – but it is now. It’s been described as the most vivid, moving and comprehensive history of the Russian Revolution available today. It’s long – 960 pages – and has won several awards.

 

My chain has one link throughout – Russia – passing from Moscow to St Petersburg and covering the modern day and the Russian Revolutionary period. Apart from the last book they are all fiction, beginning with the rather twee novel about Mrs Harris in Moscow. And for once I haven’t included any crime fiction!

Next month (October 5, 2019), we’ll begin with Three Women by Lisa Taddeo.