I do like to dabble in Non Fiction myself and there is no clear winning subject or theme when it comes to my interests and that is just one thing that I love about the genre!
This blog post is going to be a combination of books I have found in the BorrowBox Non Fiction collection that I think sound intriguing and recommendations from my colleagues who have been busily reading all year. Fair warning, this post will be a lengthy yet eclectic read! I stated above that there is no clear theme when it comes to my NF interests, this is true but I must confess that if a book has Chernobyl in the title it will probably make it onto my list. In my defence, this is a lifelong interest and not one merely peaked by the TV series.
This leads me on nicely to the first book I saw that I wanted to read on the BorrowBox catalogue – Chernobyl Prayer, A Chronicle of the Future by Nobel Prize-Winning Author 2015 Svetlana Alexievich.
On 26 April 1986, at 1.23am, a series of explosions shook the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Flames lit up the sky and radiation escaped to contaminate the land and poison the people for years to come. While officials tried to hush up the accident, Svetlana Alexievich spent years collecting testimonies from survivors – clean-up workers, residents, firefighters, resettlers, widows, orphans – crafting their voices into a haunting oral history of fear, anger and uncertainty, but also dark humour and love. A chronicle of the past and a warning for our nuclear future, Chernobyl Prayer shows what it is like to bear witness, and remember in a world that wants you to forget.
Translated by Anna Gunin and Arch Tait.
And now for something completely different! I wanted to read this book at the beginning of the year but events overtook me and it made it further and further down my TBR pile which currently consists entirely of comfort reading (and we’re talking Paddington Bear, just to be clear!)
Difficult Women A History of Feminism in 11 Fights by Helen Lewis
‘All the history you need to understand why you’re so furious, angry and still hopeful about being a woman now’ Caitlin Moran
Feminism’s success is down to complicated, contradictory, imperfect women, who fought each other as well as fighting for equal rights. Helen Lewis argues that too many of these pioneers have been whitewashed or forgotten in our modern search for feel-good, inspirational heroines. It’s time to reclaim the history of feminism as a history of difficult women.
In this book, you’ll meet the working-class suffragettes who advocated bombings and arson; the princess who discovered why so many women were having bad sex; the ‘striker in a sari’ who terrified Margaret Thatcher; and the lesbian politician who outraged the country. Taking the story up to the present with the twenty-first-century campaign for abortion services, Helen Lewis reveals the unvarnished – and unfinished – history of women’s rights.
Drawing on archival research and interviews, Difficult Women is a funny, fearless and sometimes shocking narrative history, which shows why the feminist movement has succeeded – and what it should do next. The battle is difficult, and we must be difficult too.
Where to go from here? How about something from my esteemed colleagues. Here’s a good one and it is on my TBR pile as well:
The Missing – Michael Rosen
By turns charming, shocking and heart-breaking, this is the true story of Michael Rosen’s search for his relatives who “went missing” during the Second World War – told through prose, poetry, maps and pictures. When Michael was growing up, stories often hung in the air about his great-uncles: one was a clock-mender and the other a dentist. They were there before the war, his dad would say, and weren’t after. Over many years, Michael tried to find out exactly what happened: he interviewed family members, scoured the internet, pored over books and traveled to America and France. The story he uncovered was one of terrible persecution – and it has inspired his poetry for years since. Here, poems old and new are balanced against an immensely readable narrative; both an extraordinary account and a powerful tool for talking to children about the Holocaust.
Another from the Top 10 from the same colleague – It’s Not About The Burqua edited by Mariam Khan.
In 2016, Mariam Khan read that David Cameron had linked the radicalization of Muslim men to the ‘traditional submissiveness’ of Muslim women. Mariam felt pretty sure she didn’t know a single Muslim woman who would describe herself that way. Why was she hearing about Muslim women from people who were neither Muslim, nor female?
Years later the state of the national discourse has deteriorated even further, and Muslim women’s voices are still pushed to the fringes – the figures leading the discussion are white and male.
Taking one of the most politicized and misused words associated with Muslim women and Islamophobia, It’s Not About the Burqa is poised to change all that. Here are voices you won’t see represented in the national news headlines: seventeen Muslim women speaking frankly about the hijab and wavering faith, about love and divorce, about feminism, queer identity, sex, and the twin threats of a disapproving community and a racist country. With a mix of British and international women writers, from activist Mona Eltahawy’s definition of a revolution to journalist and broadcaster Saima Mir telling the story of her experience of arranged marriage, from author Sufiya Ahmed on her Islamic feminist icon to playwright Afshan D’souza-Lodhi’s moving piece about her relationship with her hijab, these essays are funny, warm, sometimes sad, and often angry, and each of them is a passionate declaration calling time on the oppression, the lazy stereotyping, the misogyny and the Islamophobia.
What does it mean, exactly, to be a Muslim woman in the West today? According to the media, it’s all about the burqa.
Here’s what it’s really about.
Here is a recommendation from my good self (and many colleagues) I am being nice and linking to the audio version of this as it is perfectly acceptable to listen sometimes rather than read off the page! This one really gets you thinking and I have had so many conversations with friends who have also read this and been influenced by it. It really is fascinating and I really recommend it!
Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
Homo sapiens rules the world because it is the only animal that can believe in things that exist purely in its own imagination, such as gods, states, money and human rights.
Starting from this provocative idea, Sapiens goes on to retell the history of our species from a completely fresh perspective. It explains that money is the most pluralistic system of mutual trust ever devised; that capitalism is the most successful religion ever invented; that the treatment of animals in modern agriculture is probably the worst crime in history; and that even though we are far more powerful than our ancient ancestors, we aren’t much happier.
Another colleague just sent me her submissions and I have to put this one in immediately – I’ve not heard of it but I know immediately what it is about! Intrigued?
I Carried a Watermelon by Katy Brand
It explores the legacy of the film, from pushing women’s stories to the forefront of commercial cinema, to its ‘Gold Standard’ depiction of abortion according to leading pro-choice campaigners, and its fresh and powerful take on the classic ‘coming of age’ story told from a naïve but idealistic 17-year-old girl’s point of view.
Part memoir based on a personal obsession, part homage to a monster hit and a work of genius, Katy will explore her own memories and experiences, and talk to other fans of the film, to examine its legacy as a piece of filmmaking with a social agenda that many miss on first viewing. One of the most celebrated and viewed films ever made is about to have the time of its life.
Another colleague recommendation – a book which is close to our heart as it is all about the joy of reading!
Dear Reader The Comfort and Joy of Books Cathy Rentzenbrink
Dear Reader is a love letter to stories and reading from one of our very best memoirists . . . a book to cherish’ – Nina Stibbe, author of Love, Nina
For as long as she can remember, Cathy Rentzenbrink has lost and found herself in stories. Growing up she was rarely seen without her nose in a book and read in secret long after lights out. When tragedy struck, books kept her afloat. Eventually they lit the way to a new path, first as a bookseller and then as a writer. No matter what the future holds, reading will always help.
Dear Reader is a moving, funny and joyous exploration of how books can change the course of your life, packed with recommendations from one reader to another.
The same colleague also suggested It Is Not Okay to Feel Blue (And Other Lies) Inspirational People Open up About Their Mental Health curated by Scarlett Curtis.
It’s OK if everything might feel a bit overwhelming.
It’s OK to talk about it.
It’s OK to not want to talk about it.
It’s OK to find it funny.
It’s OK to be human.
Over 70 people have shared their powerful, funny and moving stories exploring their own mental health, including Sam Smith, Emilia Clarke, Candice Carty-Williams and Adam Kay.
One in four of us will experience a mental health issue. This book is here to tell you, or someone you care about, it’s OK.
Lost Dog A Love Story by Kate Spicer
Kate is a middle aged woman trying to steer some order into a life that is going off the rails. When she adopts a lurcher called Wolfy, the shabby rescue dog saves her from herself. But when the dog disappears, it is up to Kate to hit the streets of London and find him. Will she save him, as he has saved her – or will she lose everything?
As she trudges endlessly calling his name in the hopeless hope she may find him, she runs into other people’s landscapes and lives, finding allies amongst psychics, bloggers and mysterious midnight joggers. Trying to find her dog tests her relationship, and her sanity, to its limits – and gets her thinking about her life, and why things have turned out as they have for her. A brilliant, life-affirming memoir, Lost Dog is a book like no other about both about the myth of modern womanhood, and the enduring mystery of the relationship between human and canine.
Now, I did promise eclectic but this suggestion from my colleague certainly ticks the ‘niche’ box! What a strange book and what a joy Libraries are that they can deliver such strangeness… This recommendation came with a note that said “Features Car Parks in Warwick.” I have so many questions, How? Why? And yet, I am intrigued enough to consider it.
Car Park Life: a portrait of Britain’s last urban wilderness by Gareth Rees
A psychogeographic exploration of the UK’s retail chain store car parks. These commonplace urban landscapes are little-explored, rarely featured in art and music, yet they shape the aesthetics of our towns and cities. They are hotspots for crime, rage and sexual deviancy; a blind spot in which activities go unnoticed. Skateboarding, car stunts, drug dealing, dogging, murder. In this darkly satirical work of non-fiction, Gareth E. Rees presents a troubling vision of Brexit Britain through a common space we know less about than we think.
We’ll stick with the zany; this is certainly an insight into the reading habits of my lovely colleagues! A question that I think we have all asked ourselves at some point – Will the Cat Eat My Eyeballs? by Caitlin Doughty.
Every day, funeral director Caitlin Doughty receives dozens of questions about death. What would happen to an astronaut’s body if it were pushed out of a space shuttle? Do people poo when they die? Can Grandma have a Viking funeral? In the tradition of Randall Munroe’s ‘WHAT IF?’, Doughty’s new book blends her scientific understanding of the body and the intriguing history behind common misconceptions about corpses to offer factual, hilarious and candid answers to more than 50 urgent questions posed by her youngest fans. Readers will learn what happens if you die on an aeroplane, the best soil for mummifying your dog and whether or not you can preserve your friend’s skull as a keepsake.
An about turn with the next selection, I am undecided whether I want to add this to my TBR pile but it was recommended by someone who’s judgment hasn’t lead me astray thus far!
Wintering by Katherine May
Wintering is a season in the cold. It is a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress, or cast into the role of an outsider. However it arrives, wintering is usually involuntary, lonely and deeply painful.
In Wintering, Katherine May recounts her own year-long journey through winter, sparked by a sudden illness in her family that plunged her into a time of uncertainty and seclusion. When life felt at is most frozen, she managed to find strength and inspiration from the incredible wintering experiences of others as well as from the remarkable transformations that nature makes to survive the cold.
I have one colleague who has an abiding fascination with American History and especially the Kennedy era so I told her I was relying on her for at least one Kennedy conspiracy theory book and she suggested – The Kennedy Curse by James Patterson (yes, that one!) and Cynthia Fagen, which is at least on theme!
Those who dwell in the House of Kennedy work hard, live hard, and win at all costs. But just how much has it cost them? The Kennedy name is synonymous with American royalty. The family commitment to public service is legendary and enduring. But all their wild charisma has been dashed by disgrace and tragedy: Assassinations. Murder. Plane crashes. Fatal accidents. Mental illness. Drug overdoses. Alcohol abuse, and plenty of sex scandals. This family of widows and fatherless children has been cursed with nearly unimaginable losses – yet, even today, there remains a glamorous aura around the indomitable Kennedys.
Well done for reading this far. I hope you, like me, have discovered some interesting new reads. If you have read some interesting Non-Fiction this year and want to recommend it, leave a note in the comments for me!
Happy Reading Everyone.