Non-fiction November 2017, Weeks 4 and 5

Nonfiction November 2017 bannerIn my last My Literary Week post, I took part (sort of) in the Non-Fiction November meme, giving my responses for the first three weeks. Because the last two weeks ask some questions, I’d like to answer, I’ve decided to combine them is a second post. It’s probably cheating, but …

Week 4, Nov. 20 to 24: Nonfiction Favorites

For this week the question is to discuss our favourites and what makes them so. Is it to do with the topic? Or the style, or tone? Or what?

Helen Garner, This house of grief book cover

Courtesy: Text Publishing

I can name some non-fiction books that I remember years after I finished them, but can I find some common threads in them? Well, perhaps, and it’s not the topic. For example, a non-fiction work that stands out for me is one I read before blogging, so that’s more than 10 years ago. It’s Erik Larson’s Isaac’s storm about the lead up to and aftermath of the damaging 1900 hurricane in Galveston. It’s told through the eyes of meteorologist Isaac Cline, and is in that style loosely called creative non-fiction, which means it uses many of the techniques of fiction to tell its story. I discovered long ago that creative or narrative non-fiction is the non-fiction style that most appeals to me. If that makes me shallow, then so be it!

Other books using this style that I’ve read in the last decade include Chloe Hooper’s Tall man, Ann Krien’s Into the woods (my review), Richard Lloyd Parry’s People who eat darkness (my review), and Helen Garner’s First stone, Joe Cinque’s consolation and The house of grief (my review). The topics vary in these books – there’s a natural disaster, an environmental investigation, a sexual harassment case, and four very different true crime stories (including an Aboriginal death in custody, a serial killer and two focusing largely on court cases) – but they all use a narrative approach.

Book cover, The forgotten rebels of Eureka

However, there are two topics that are likely to attract me, regardless of style – Australian history and literary biographies/memoirs. Of the former, books like Inga Clendinnen’s Dancing with strangers and Clare Wright’s The forgotten rebels of Eureka (my review) appeal, partly because they explore history from different angles, from angles that question existing paradigms (if I dare use that word), and partly because both historians share the process of their research with the reader as they write. I like this direct engagement with me. Not only do I find it more readable, but importantly this more personal approach reminds me that this is one historian’s view of the past – a well-supported valid view (hopefully, and in these two cases, absolutely) but their view nonetheless.

My favourite recent literary biography has to be Karen Lamb’s Thea Astley: Inventing her own weather (my review) because I love Thea Astley and because Lamb’s book, though clearly positive about Astley, provides a “real” picture of an intelligent, passionate and sometimes prickly woman, of the woman, in other words, that I imagined Astley to be.

Week 5, Nov. 27 to Dec. 1: New to My TBR

Bernadette Brennan, A writing life Helen Garner and her workI think here we are supposed to mention books that we’ve read in other posts on this meme – and link back to the blog which inspired us. However, I’m afraid I’ve been a bit remiss in keeping up with all the posts, and with noting the books that have appealed when I have read the posts, so I’m going to start with a book that I’ve recently added to my TBR because it’s a must for me to read. It’s a literary biography, Bernadette Brennan’s A writing life: Helen Garner and her work. I will read this in the next two months!

And, just to show I did read some Non-fiction November posts, I was attracted to a book posted by Buried in PrintTanya Talaga’s Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death and Hard Truths in a Northern CityBuried described it as “a gripping story, bound to appeal to readers who appreciate elements of true crime, history, memoir, social justice and narrative-driven journalism.” If you’ve read my Week 4 above, you’ll know exactly why this book appealed to me! It’s about the deaths of students who were attending an Indigenous-run high school in Thunder Bay, Ontario (a fairly remote place which daughter Gums visited three or four years ago). Buried explains that “to understand the importance of this educational opportunity (even with the challenges of students’ adjustments to city life and the embedded racism in the community), it’s useful to have some understanding of the residential school system, which was wielded like a weapon against Indigenous communities from the later nineteenth-century until 1996.” With our own problematical treatment of indigenous people, and my ongoing interest in racism, this book sounds particularly interesting to me.

POSTSCRIPT: Oops, I clicked the Publish button before writing my conclusion! I wanted to say that I’ve read a lot of great non-fiction in the last few years, so it’s been hard to name just a few in this post and the previous one. Different Non-fiction November questions could very well have resulted in my naming different books.

15 thoughts on “Non-fiction November 2017, Weeks 4 and 5

  1. When I was planning for my two-month visit to the US, and when I asked bloggers for some book recommendations on Texas, a lot of them asked me to read ‘Isaac’s Storm’. I didn’t read then because I wasn’t prepared to read about a disaster, WG. I think I should hunt the book now. 🙂 Thank you for this post!

    I love two non-fiction so much. Cheryl Strayed’s ‘Wild’ and ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’.

    • Thanks Deepika. I may have been one of those who recommended it – I know I have recommended it in the past. I have his book The devil in white city on my Kindle too. It might be better in terms of subject matter while still keeping to the style. BUT Isaac’s storm is good!

      And I understand your love of non-fiction. I love reading it too. Wild sounds like a great read.

  2. I really need to get around to reading some Helen Garner. I feel like “Joe Cinque’s Consolation” is the right place to start because it is at heart at Canberra story. I think my favourite non-fiction style is the microhistory. I really loved Kate Grenville’s “The Case Against Fragrance” and everything I’ve read of Edmund de Waal. I’m keen to read more Jon Ronson as well after finishing his book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”.

    • Thanks Angharad. Yes Joe Cinque is probably an excellent place to start arnerGarner, particularly , as you say, given the setting. I’m tempted by micro history but haven’t read much of it for some reason. I haven’t read Jon Ronson at all so need to check him out.

  3. I read nonfiction on a regular basis. Loved Clendinnen’s Dancing With Strangers and read others by her. Read Robert Hughes’ history of Australia – a hefty tome – Fatal Shores. I’ve read other smaller histories of Australia, too. Mostly mine is US though and world history

  4. Please don’t forget Tom Griffith’s The Art of Time Travel, Kim Manhood’s Position Doubtful, Grace Karskens’ The Colony, Bill Gammage’s The Biggest Estate on Earth. And I’ve just finished reading A Million Wild Acres by Eric Rolls, which though hard reading is amazing.

  5. You’ve got me thinking, now, about which topics are actually guaranteed to pull me in, regardless of narrative style. I think I mentioned a couple in my post (thanks, BTW, for linking to that – very kind!) but I know there are some truly pet projects for which I’ll read any number of footnotes to footnotes just to read on the subject! I had already added the Helen Garner bio to my TBR and am still very keen to read it. Although, then, I do begin to think about reading more of her fiction first. Hmmm…

    • Yes, you did Buried. Re Garner, my reading group has just decided to do something different in our schedule next year and make one night a Garner night for which we can read any Garner we like, because we feel that a lot of similar themes and concerns cross over her work, fiction and non-fiction. A friend has just read the biography and did comment that she kept wishing she read more of the books – or had read them more recently! Still, you can’t do everthing, can you?

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