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Stocking The Non Fiction Shelves

One of the delights of Non Fiction November is the chance it brings to discover new authors and books. Reading other bloggers posts during this month always brings a host of temptations to buy. This year is no exception.

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?

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.

Be the Expert: An Introduction to 21st Century Feminism

I have spent my entire academic life focusing on gender history: any essay that I could manipulate to have a sex and gender angle, I most definitely would. It’s the area of study in which I’m most well read on, the idea of feminism (and particularly the world of academic feminism), can be intimidating to many people.

I’m not going to try and define modern feminism here (that would require a thesis word count), but the books I’ve detailed below provide an initial way entry point in exploring different aspects of feminism in the twenty-first century

Now, I admit that all of these books are targeted at a younger audience – particularly towards millennials and Gen-Z in the case of Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and Everything I Know About Love. And I know that I am a millennial myself, but I do feel that there is a universality and inclusivity to each work, that hopefully makes them accessible to a wide audience.

Each is flawed in its own way – these are not academic texts, and I’m not claiming that any of these are a bible which provides all of the answers, or is even representative of all types of feminism or all women.

But they’re a good jumping off point.

How to Be a Woman, Caitlin Moran

Caitlin Moran

Ah, old reliable. Caitlin Moran’s memoir seeks to make feminism more approachable for every woman by telling stories from her own life, and this is the book which first ignited the strident feminist in me.

Mr O’Neill, my Government and Politics A Level teacher, declared to his class of nine seventeen-year-old girls that before we could start studying feminism as a political ideology, we all had to read How to Be a Woman.

By the time we reconvened a few days later, all of our outlooks had changed, and none of us have looked back since that point over six years ago. (I do see the irony in being introduced to the topic by a male teacher!)

The entire book has Moran’s signature style, using humour to tackle serious topics, to make issues such as abortion less intimidating. It’s a riot from start to finish, and is still as relevant as it was when published in 2011.

Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (and Other Lies), curated by Scarlett Curtis

Feminists Dont wear Pink

Considering I have just written an MA dissertation with this book as a case study, there are many things I could say (and have said) on the topic of Scarlett Curtis’ curated collection of essays.

Published in 2018 to an enormous amount of fanfare, the collection Feminists Don’t Wear Pink sees contributions from fifty-two different authors, from many walks of life. Some authors give their verdict on 21st century feminism, others muse on the female body, or offer insight into their own journey to feminism.

So we have Keira Knightley discussing the interpretation of women as the weaker sex. Activist Amika George considers the power of the menstrual cycle while academic Claire Horn provides a ‘short history of feminist theory’.

I do have quite a few issues with this publication which could warrant a blog post of their own (or a dissertation!). Overall however, the contents are inclusive and wide-ranging, and thus provide a more varied introduction to feminism than you would normally get in a singular book.

Everything I Know About Love, Dolly Alderton

Potentially a slightly odd choice, as it is not a book explicitly about feminism. Dolly Alderton’s intimate memoir recounts the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of growing up and navigating a multitude of different types of love along the way.

In its entirety, Everything I Know About Love is truly a testament to female friendship, and the power that comes with realising that you alone are enough. Personal stories, satirical observations and even recipes all weave together to strike a note of recognition with women of all ages – whilst genuinely making you laugh.

To be honest, I also had a series of little cries along the way.

This is just a shortlist of books on this vast topic. If anyone wants some further reading suggestions, particularly on the academic side, I would only be too happy to oblige! I have many bibliographies to call on…

Please comment below if you have any additional suggestions for a jumping off point – it’s a topic I will truly never be tired of, and I would encourage some healthy debate!

Non fiction november

This is the second of two posts for week 4 of Non Fiction November 2019. You can find the first post which is a request for recommendations of top notch memoirs here

What Are Your Favourite Memoirs?

The Nonfiction November topic this week is an opportunity to take advantage of the wisdom of the crowd. The host, Katie at Doing Dewey, suggests we can “Be the Expert/Ask the Experts/Become the Expert”). 

I’m going to take the “Ask The Expert” path and ask for help with a newly- acquired reading interest I want to develop further.

Memorable Memoirs

Most of my non fiction reading this year has been in the form of memoirs. I never planned it that way and in fact until this year I wouldn’t have even predicted this genre would be a favourite.

But that’s how it’s turned out.

I’ve read some stunning books, vastly different in scope but every one of them written by a person with insight and the ability to let me into their world.

From Adam Kay’s This Is Going To Hurt, I learned how medical practitioners get burned out to the point they give up the profession despite their passion for healing. Through The Salt Path by Raynor Winn, I appreciated how easily you can lose everything – home, money, career – and yet maintain your dignity and courage. And from Becoming by Michelle Obama I saw how, even when you have a high profile role on the world political stage, you can still have doubts about your abilities.

I know I have barely touched the tip of an enormous iceberg. But my appetite has been whetted and now I want more.

So here’s my request to you all.

Give me your recommendations for killer memoirs.

i’m looking for the memoirs that are breathtaking, spell-binding, unmissable etc etc They could be But – and it’s a very big BUT – you’ll have to avoid those from so-called ‘personalities’ or people in sports, show-business or politics. The reminiscences of a member of a girl-band/boy band have zero appeal to me. Nor am I particularly fond of the ‘misery memoir’ which deals with the abuse someone experienced as a child (I find them too painful to read sorry).

What I’m really looking for are books by people who witnessed or achieved extraordinary things. And they can relate this to me in a way that is memorable, engrossing and thought-provoking.

If you know just the thing to fit my requirements, do leave me a comment and tell me why you think your suggestion is special.

2019 In Non Fiction

The time for vacillation is over. My dilemma whether to join Nonfiction November, was resolved by all the reassurances from bloggers that there’s no expectation to read any more non fiction than normal. So I’m diving in with the first week’s discussion topic.

Julz Reads has given 4 questions all on the theme of Your Year In Non Fiction

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

I’m cheating here by choosing two books. They’re both memoirs which deal with sobering social issues (homelessness and health provision) but do so with a huge dollop of humour.

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn . This is a spectacular book which traces the way Raynor and her husband Moth dealt with the loss of their home and business. Just days after Moth received a devastating medical diagnosis the couple embarked on a 630 mile walk along the South West Coast Path. They experienced the kindness of strangers but also hostility.

This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay . Who would have thought gynaecology could be so funny? Kay reveals some of the bizarre medical emergencies that confronted him as a junior doctor (read this book and you’ll be astonished the things people manage to insert into their bodies). But this book has a serious message – the unbelievable strains imposed on these doctors through lack of funding and indifference.

Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?

I’ve read 6 non fiction books this year and will shortly finish another; Becoming by Michelle Obama. They had nothing in common except that all but one of these books was a memoir.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

The Salt Path .

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

There are loads of novels that feature historical figures or episodes I know little about so I’m hoping to get some ideas for non fiction books to help fill in those gaps. Next week’s topic is in fact ‘book pairings’ where the idea is to match a fiction and non fiction book on the same topic. I suspect my wishlist will grow as a result.

Non Fiction November: Can I? Should I? Will I?

Non Fiction November kicks off tomorrow. A month-long celebration of the art of memoirs; travelogs; essays and historical; scientific; technical; political and economic writing.

I joined in last year for the first time. Now I’m in a quandary whether to repeat that experience.

Part of my brain says NO WAY. I already feel over stretched with fictional reading commitments for the next month. Plus I promised myself after failing with #20booksofsummer that I wouldn’t embark on any more projects that involved making a list of books to read. I’m clearly not cut out for such projects.

But another part of my brain is saying YES. Non Fiction November would be a good way to kick me into reading the books that I often buy but seldom seem to read.

I have plenty of choices. At the last count my TBR includes 27 books in the non fiction category. There’s One Woman Walks Wales by Ursula Martin which I started reading back in about February but haven’t picked up for ages. The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell, owner of Scotland’s second largest second-hand bookshop is another that I started but haven’t finished.

Then there are at least 2 books on Roman history, 3 on Greek and Roman myths, a couple of biographies and a few books on language and reading. Maybe this will be the year I finally get around to The World is Flat, the book on globalisation by Thomas Friedman or Rachel Carson’s landmark work on the environmental impact of chemical pollution, Silent Spring.

I’m really really tempted. Mainly I suppose because Non Fiction November is simply about reading more non fiction, it’s about discussing non fiction. A new topic each week from “your favourite non fiction book of the year” to ” pairing up non fiction with fiction.”

I see a number of bloggers are already making lists of books to read for this themed month. That way madness lies for me so if I do decide to join in, I’ll take the unplanned approach and read whatever takes my fancy.

NonFiction November starts tomorrow so I don’t have too much time to make up my mind. Watch this space as it were.

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