Stocking The Non Fiction Shelves

It’s the final week of Nonfiction November. The week where we confess how much we’ve been tempted by the books showcased by all the other blogger participants.

 I did add a few titles to my wishlist though haven’t yet bought any since I’m still hoping to get my list of ‘owned but unread’ books down to the level they were at end of 2018.

Here’s what I’ve added

Memorable Memoirs

My request in Week 3 for your recommendations of stellar memoirs, resulted in several suggestions which look promising. The are two I am definitely adding to my list .

The first is In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park . OrangUtanLibrarian who recommended it commented that it was “One of the best books I’ve read this year. It was so informative and moving!”

I’m looking forward to learning from this book how far we can trust the snippets of info we get in the west about life in North Korea. It sounds awful and such a contrast to life in the South.

The other recommendation that resonated with me was from CurlyGeek from TheBookStop who proposed Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas, It documents the experience of the Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist as an undocumented immigrant in the USA. I hadn’t heard of Vargas but his story does sound engrossing.

A Dose of Medicine

I’ve become all too familiar with hospitals and doctors in the last few years. That may lie behind a recent interest in books written by medical practitioners. Thanks to Non Fiction November I’m going to end up with quite a collection of these books.

One book now on my radar is When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi., as recommended by Frank Parker. Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon who, on the point of becoming head of his department was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. This book is his account of how he confronted his own mortality after years of helping others cope with theirs. Frank;’s review is here

Kate at BooksAreMyFavourite persuaded me to add Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig has also gone onto my wishlist. It’s another book about a health crisis but in this case it was mental rather than physical. Matt uses his own experience to look at the bleakness of depression and the means of dealing with it, an inch at a time, and to feel alive again.

And finally in this category we have the cleverly titled All That Remains: A Life in Death, by Sue Black as recommended by this week’s host What’s Nonfiction?

Sue Black is a forensic anthropologist who was the lead specialist for the British Forensic Team’s work in the war crimes investigations in Kosovo. She was one of the first forensic scientists to travel to Thailand following the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 to provide assistance in identifying the dead.

Courage In War And Conflict

My interest was captured by a several books mentioned by bloggers that relate to different theatres of political conflict and war during the twentieth century. I’ve limited myself to just two books however.

From neverenoughnovels I heard of Madame Fourcade’s Secret War by Lynn Olson which relates the story of a 31-year-old French woman born to a life of privilege, who became the became the leader of a vast intelligence organization during World War 2. .Her network was the longest lasting and considered the most effective across France.

Coming more up to date from Sarah’sBookshelves I added Forty Autumns by Nina Willner. Willner was the first female US Army intelligence officer to lead sensitive operations in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War. When the Berlin Wall came down members of her family who had lived in Communist East Germany. were re-united with those who lived on the Western side. This sounds like an extraordinary story of courage and resilience.

I think I was exceptionally reserved by adding just seven books. I could easily have doubled that number. What would your recommendations be in these categories – any books you consider very special that you think I shouldn’t miss? Do leave me a comment with your suggestions.

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on November 29, 2019, in Non Fiction November and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. When I still had Twitter, I used to follow Matt Haig. He talks honestly about depression and his suicide attempts. I think you’ll enjoy his work, based on my impression of him on social media. If you’re interested in learning more about life North Korea, there’s a book by journalist Barbara Demick called Nothing to Envy. It’s wonderfully informative, and she does good work as a journalist (informative, unbiased, gets a variety of sources). Here is my review:

  2. I’d love to read Dear America. I’m going to see if my library has it right now!

    I did read When Breath Becomes Air and can highly recommend it. So good, but also very sad. I love your collection here of nonfiction books!

  3. I really need to look for Notes for an Undocumented Citizen.

  4. I think you showed amazing reserve all the while managing to also bookmark a lot of great stories. I hope you enjoy them all.

  5. I’ve been wanting to read In Order to Live too. I’ve read a couple of North Korean refugee memoirs and each of them always has something different and insightful to impart.

    Glad I could give you a recommendation too! I can also second the one for Forty Autumns, it’s an incredible book.

    • What other North Korean books would you recommend??

      • Nothing to Envy is the best book I’ve read on North Korea. A journalist recorded the life stories of a group of people, some are family members or interconnected, from the city of Chongjin who eventually defected. It’s so detailed and has a compelling narrative structure. I learned so much from it, I actually read it before reading any memoirs and I think I might not have understood everything in the memoirs without the foundation I got from that book.

        An incredible biography of Kim Jong Un came out earlier this year – The Great Successor by Anna Fifield. It’s deeply insightful and was way more entertaining than it should’ve been. I’m not even joking that it was a page turner! The author is highly specialized in the region’s geopolitics (she’s the bureau chief for the Washington Post in China) and analyzes a lot of what’s known around Kim Jong Un’s behavior and what information trickles out about the regime. I’ve thought of it every time North Korea has been in the news since reading it. It makes you a much more informed news consumer.

        My favorite among the refugee memoirs is A River in Darkness. The author’s family lived in Japan for years and were tricked back to North Korea under propaganda. It was harrowing but excellent.

        • Bless you for responding so comprehensively. You’ve certainly given me lots to choose from. I vaguely remember hearing about Nothing to Envy but as so often happens I forget to make a note of the book when I see it mentioned…

        • You’re more than welcome! I know what you mean, if I don’t add it to a list right away it disappears. Nothing to Envy is exceptional for learning something about North Korea and gorgeously written.

  6. And now, Karen, I look forward to seeing your reviews!!

    Seriously though, an interesting list.

    I have read a couple of medical memoirs, one memorable one is Making the cut by Mohamad Khadra, but unfortunately before I started my blog. It’s a fascinating book about his becoming a neurosurgeon and then his philosophy of teaching neurosurgery. (At least, as I recollect it from over 1 years ago.)

    • Making the cut would make a good companion to When Breath Becomes Air and the memoir I read last year from a neurosurgeon – it was called Do No Harm. Some of the info was a bit too technical but I was astonished to learn that to do the surgery the surgeons sit in a special kind of chair and look through a powerful magnifier to do the business.

  7. Some interesting looking books. I was thinking of reading at least one of the narratives about folks escaping from North Korea that have come out in the last few years, The Yeonmi Park book looks good.

    • If you look at the other comments you’ll see that WhatsNonFiction has given some additional recommendations on the topic Brian. Lots of goodies to choose from

  8. When Breath Becomes Air is extraordinary.

  9. Nice harvest. I like that you call these temptations, lol!!

  10. I did my buying this month not because of NFN but because I went as usual to the Non Fiction festival in Geelong, here in Victoria. It is the only NF festival in the country, and it’s wonderful. I did well to come home with only five books…

    • I’ve not heard of a festival focused only on non fiction. I’m surprised it is popular enough to be sustained since non fiction books don’t get anything like the number of readers that fiction attracts

      • You’re right, NF isn’t reviewed in the blogosphere anywhere near as much as fiction, though one of our major newspapers devotes quite a bit of its review space to NF, though too often, alas, on themes that suit Mr Murdoch…
        I think the festival succeeds because it has broad remit: it includes biography, history (including popular history), politics, Indigenous issues and memoir, (all the way from the current fad for misery memoirs to the ‘inspirational’ variety) and it focusses on issues that are in the zeitgeist. For people who ‘don’t have time to read’ attending the festival means that they can be up-to-speed on the issues of the day without necessarily having to read the book. For others of us, it brings topics that would otherwise have passed us by. (This year, for example, I went to something on neo-liberalism, something that I wouldn’t normally read about.)
        (Plus they also have workshops for wannabe authors and a schools program, but I don’t go to those).
        Perhaps it also acts as a kind of gatekeeper opening the gate, in the sense that people want to be informed, are anxious about fake news, and need some kind of guidance about what’s worthwhile to be reading from among the year’s NF offerings.
        Whatever, I like it. It costs me a bit to go (two nights accommodation plus meals plus transport & parking, not to mention the books that I inevitably buy) but I budget for it now, adding a bit extra to my Christmas Club savings, which I can access from Dec 1st to pay the credit card bill when it comes!

        • Well they clearly have hit on a winning formula.
          Interesting g comment re the coverage you get in that newspaper. Apart from The Guardian which does an excellent job of covering books both fiction and non fiction, the mass media here pay it lip service. Two of the, have culture sections at the weekend but the books element is predominantly non fiction.

        • Yes, The Guardian is quite good for books, though being UK in origin, they don’t often review Australian ones.

        • They very rarely go beyond UK or USA

  11. I met Yeonmi Park about 5 years ago at the Sydney Writer’s festival. She launched her book there and we listened to her story for an hour. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. An incredible tale and such a wonderful, very humble young woman. I’ve read When Breath Becomes Air and that is also a moving tale in a different way. Such a waste to lose such a brilliant doctor to such a relentless disease. There were a lot of interesting books that popped up during non fiction November this year.

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