Non-Fiction November: favourite reads
I’ve taken the plunge and joined Nonfiction November which is an annual challenge to read, critique and discuss non-fiction books for a month. There are five hosts who will take turns to post a topic for discussion each week.
This week’s topic comes from Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness is all about reflecting on the year so far via four questions.
What was your favourite nonfiction read of the year?
This is a toss up between two books with vastly different styles and topics. Do No Harm by Henry Marsh is the no-holds-barred memoir of a neurological surgeon in which he discusses some of the challenges of working with one of the most complex systems in the body. The Wicked Boyby Kate Summerscale is a hybrid of biography/real life crime that focuses on the case in 1895 of a young boy who killed his mother and was sentenced to spend an indefinite period in Broadmoor high security psychiatric hospital. On balance I’m going to settle for Do No Harm, largely because it was so different from anything I have read previously.
Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, the end of World War 1. The Royal British Legion in the UK has been marking that event by asking people to remember people who were killed while serving in the conflict. I’m trying to do my bit by researching the 22 men from the Commonwealth who share my maiden name and posting information about them on line. It’s meant I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading the war diaries; a day by day account; completed by commanding officers of battalions in the field. They can be uncomfortable reading at times – today for example I discovered one battalion lost more than 400 men in one attack in the final year of the war. I’ve also been dipping into a number of books which deal with different aspects of the war..
What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?
Do No Harm is the book I’ve talked most about this year. But my recommendation always comes with a caveat that this book does go into a lot of detail about surgical procedures. So if you are at all squeamish then this book is not for you.
What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?
The number of books of fiction I read each year far outweighs the number for non fiction. So I’m hoping that Nonfiction November will give me a bit of a nudge to get reading with the many books I have on the shelves. A lot of them are history related but I also have some about literature and culture.
26 thoughts on “Non-Fiction November: favourite reads”
Re TBR dd 27.11.2018
I choose your 2 favorite non-ficton books on your blog. I have been reading in The Best Australian Science Writing 2018 (see review) about the complex body and how people react to the actual surgery and others react to ‘sham surgeries’. It is fascinating. You mentioned The Wicked Boy is a hybrid: biography/real crime. I am curious how this will play out.
Thanks for your comments….and remember a TBR is never too large!
Thanks for telling me about that Australian book Nancy – I had no idea what sham surgeries are
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‘All that remains: A life in death’ by Professor Sue Black.
Professor Black is a forensic anthropologist who writes with great candour and insight into the aspects of death that are rarely discussed. The book is honest, not as grisly as you might expect, and endlessly fascinating. Sue Black evidently loves her work and is good at it.
She shares her unusual professional experiences – in the UK as well and Kosovo and other foreign assignments – in the context of a personal and family life that is recognisable to her readers. No pretensions, just an acute understanding of her work and its value.
I’ve read other non-fiction this year, mainly biographies. ‘Citizen Clem’, a biography of Attlee by John Bew stands out. But Sue Black’s book is different and very special.
The experience in Kosovo must have been traumatic even for a professional. Thanks for highlighting this Jenny
Oh yay! I’m glad you decided to join us! I love medical nonfiction and I think I can deal with detailed descriptions, so I’ll be adding Do No Harm to my TBR 🙂
And if you enjoy that one , he has written a follow up
The way in which you’re approaching the 100th anniversary of the Armistice is amazing and such a wonderful thing to do… I imagine quite fascinating also.
Good luck with nonfiction November, and happy reading!
It is indeed fascinating Jade. Every story I uncover is a humbling experience. Sadly there is one seaman who I cannot find anything about at all, not even his name, just his initial. I keep thinking that he was somebody’s son, somebody’s brother and what they went through waiting for news about him
Do No Harm sounds excellent! I like books like that, though, and don’t usually get too squeamish. The Wicked Boy sounds pretty fun too. Thanks for joining us this month!
Oh well if you are not squeamish then Do No Harm is well worth reading
I’m with you on the preponderance of fiction, but this is my second year taking part in this event and it has raised my awareness regarding reading at least SOME non-fiction through the rest of the year with the event in mind. Sometimes just having a plan helps!
Not sure who came up with this saying but it has been one I used a lot when I was working: a good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow
I haven’t read these, the first does sound fascinating. Here is my post: https://wordsandpeace.com/2018/10/29/nonfiction-november-my-year-2018-in-nonfiction/
Do No Harm sounds like one I need to find for sure. I’m in a memoir mood and I definitely enjoy patient studies.
Then this sounds like a perfect read for you Amanda….
I am up and down with my nonfiction reading. Some years I just keep reading memoirs and autobiographies and books of essays, and then all of a sudden I just go right back to fiction. I think I get worried that if I keep doing nonfiction then no one will want to read my blog. I’m trying to work out a balance.
I’ve also found that non fiction posts tend not to get as much interest. But I’ve never been a great reader of non fiction unlike my husband. I find I lose attention if I try to read one in bed……
Do No Harm sounds unique and made me think of Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal, which follows everyone connected with a young heart due for transplant, from when it was still safe within the body of a young 19 year old surfer. It goes into that clinical environment but brings all the emotion and lives that are touched, and those who have various work roles to fulfill with it, quite fascinating.
What an incredible project for the 100 year anniversary of the armistice, are some of those 22 men relatives? And how do you access the war diaries, is that online? I can imagine that must really enter your psyche to be reading all that material, you’re really doing nonfiction for more than just November.
I’m not good at challenges, but I love that they remind to find books waiting to be read on the shelves, and so I’m reminded I still have two of Rachel Carson’s Sea Trilogy books to read, after her brilliant debut Under the Sea-Wind. As autumn settles in, I might just have to dust one of those off, I do love a good nature writing, creative nonfiction book.
You reminded me that I have Mend the Living on the shelves somewhere…..
The war diaries can be downloaded from the National Archives site in the UK (they cost £3.50 per copy) or if you have a subscription to Ancestry then you can read them there free. None of these men are relatives fortunately – most of my ancestors who were of the right age were coal miners so they were in a protected occupation. my great grandfather did serve in the War but he was one of the very lucky ones and having been to France, Salonika and Egypt, came home safely to his wife and children.
Do No Harm sounds like my kind of nonfiction!
It made a huge impression on me….
It’s a good initiative and a very interesting post – I have been considering joining in with this. However, I just looked back over the list of books I’ve read for the last few months and I’ve actually read a ridiculous amount of non-fiction – so I guess I’m doing ok!
You certainly do much better than I do so we will let you off this one
I am a bit squeamish, especially when it comes to blood, so I’ll give Do No Harm a pass.
I am fascinated by your reading and research for the armistice. It was odd to me that in the year that marked the end of the Great War, everyone’s interest has seemed to shift to WII.
I haven’t seen any signs of that shift myself Debbie. There are many documentaries airing at the moment about the 1st World War – one last night was a fascinating story about the creation of the commonwealth war graves.