TBR list

Sample Sunday: Non Fiction Selection

I have a terrible habit of collecting non fiction books, which then lie unread in my bookcase for years. This week I’m trying to decide whether to keep a memoir, a biography and a book about the power of reading.

Educated by Tara Westover

This is probably the best known of the trio. Published in 2018 it was a New York Times bestseller and was a finalist for a number of awards. Westover’s memoir is a startling account of her upbringing within a fundamentalist  Mormon family and her decision to break away from that life.

Despite a complete lack of any formal education she managed to self-study her way to Brigham Young University, and then onto a PhD programme in history at Cambridge University.

It sounds a remarkable story.

The Verdict: Keep

The Prison Book Club by Ann Walmsley

Journalist Ann Walmsley was invited by a friend to get involved in running a book club venture in a men’s medium security prison just outside Toronto. Over the next eighteen months she joined in and led discussions about books with drug traffickers, murderers and heavily tattooed Hell’s Angels. 

The discussions about the chosen books led to frank conversations about loss, anger, redemption, and loneliness. The books helped Walmsley overcome the fear and anxiety she’d suffered since a mugging in London and helped the men, some of whom started their own book clubs on their release, or joined other book clubs in their communities and local libraries.

I read 42 pages of this book last year but clearly it didn’t grab me because I never got much further. It should have been interesting to learn of the men’s reactions to the different texts. Early on they questioned Greg Mortensen’s account in Three Cups of Tea of how he built schools in Afghanistan. Six weeks later their reactions were echoed in a television documentary and a book that cast doubts about Mortensen’s narrative.

But the text is too dull and clunky. My bookmark shows I gave up at the point which describes a Q&A session with an author.

Juan, an inmate about his writing ambitions, wanted to talk about the writing process for such a long book. He was wearing a yellow White Sox cap, sunglasses, and hanging on his chest, a huge wooden cross. He asked his question in a staccato delivery, at high volume.

Doesn’t that read like an official report of the encounter? Even with the description of his apparel I don’t get much of a sense of the scene or the dynamics. Flicking through some later pages it was to find more of the same. Reading it I fear would be a slog not a pleasure.

The Verdict: Abandon

Wally Funk’s Race For Space by Sue Nelson

I have no idea how this book came into my possession since I’ve never heard of Wally Funk.

A quick read of the blurb tells me that she is an American aviator who smashed through the glass ceiling with a series of firsts. She was the first female air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, the first female civilian flight instructor at Fort Sill army station in Oklahoma, and the first female Federal Aviation Agency inspector.

She was also part of Mercury 13, the first group of American pilots to pass the `Woman in Space’ programme. In a series of rigorous physical and mental tests, one of her scores was higher than all the male Mercury 7 astronauts achieved, including John Glenn, the first American in orbit. Unfortunately she never made it into space because the programme was cancelled just a week before the final phase of training.

No doubt she’s an interesting woman but I’m not entirely sure I want to know much more that I’ve already gleaned about her life.

The Verdict: Probably one to let go

That’s one = possibly two – fewer books in my TBR . My objective isn’t to get rid of books, simply to make sure my shelves are full only with books I do want to read. What do you think of the decisions I’ve reached – if you’ve read any of these books I’d love to hear from you.


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

9 thoughts on “Sample Sunday: Non Fiction Selection

  • I had a slightly mixed reaction to the Prison Book Club. There were parts I thought were very interesting with regards to the men’s responses to the books they read. I was less interested in the authors tangents

    • Well done for persevering to the end, I’m afraid my patience didn’t last that long

  • Sheree @ Keeping Up With The Penguins

    I’m glad Educated made the cut! I probably would’ve held on to the prison book club one too – I’ve not heard of it before, but your blurb has me intrigued, and with all the renewed advocacy for abolition policy…

  • I loved Educated. Well written and incredibly inspiring. I couldn’t finish the Prison book club. She really got on my nerves. Poorly written and very self indulgent. A few good
    parts about the books but not enough. She was so irritating ( in my humble opinion) The blurb was the best part.

    • I’m glad, having read your comment about the Prison book club, that I didn’t invest any more time in it. It sounds like the things that were annoying me at the beginning would have continued to be an irritant

  • Sounds like good decisions. I transcribed a long interview with Westover so decided I didn’t need to read the book but do admire her. I do my re-reading sometimes with this aim, see if I need to keep an author’s books on my shelves or not!

  • I think Educated is a good keep. It reminded me in parts of Glass Castle and Hillbilly Elegy. Equal parts compelling and heartbreaking. I heard her mother is now trying to self publish her own book called Uneducated.

    • Thanks for the insight Carol. I heard that Tara became estranged from some members of her family and they reject her accounts so I guess her mother is one of those

      • Yes…a few family members posted reviews on amazon! (In the one star category!) It struck me in reading how difficult it is to leave a toxic family. So sad.


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