While I’ve taken part in Nonfiction November before, I’ve never done it week by week right through the month. I may not this year, either, but I am starting off as if I mean to!
Nonfiction November is hosted by several bloggers, with Week 1: (November 1-5) – Your Year in Nonfiction, hosted by Rennie at What’s Nonfiction. To make it easy for us, Rennie has posed a number of questions, so here goes, starting with a quick overview.
I’ve read the same number of nonfiction works this year as last. However, four of this year’s were individual essays rather than whole books, which means I’ve spent less time reading nonfiction. The biggest difference, though, is that last year over 60% of my nonfiction reading was life-writing of some sort, while this year only a third has been.
What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?
Favourites are always hard to identify, because I like most of what I read. However, if pushed, I’d say volume 2 of Helen Garner’s diaries, One day I’ll remember this (my review), and not because it’s a recent, and therefore fresh, read. I like Helen Garner’s writing, and her her often self-deprecating openness. She engages us in her life’s journey, through her relationships and their ups and downs, her writing life, and her ideas about what she reads and sees. I particularly like that she shares her search for a form that suits what she wants to write, that is, what she wants to explore and express in her writing.
Honourable mentions are many, but I’ll just name Gene Stratton-Porter’s essay “The last Passenger Pigeon” (my review). It’s an early(ish) example of nature/conservation writing, and I loved meeting the author of a childhood favourite, A girl of the Limberlost, again!
Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?
When it comes to non-fiction, my main interests are literary biographies, nature writing, and works about social justice/social history. I read in all these areas this year, but literature-related topics have predominated. Besides the Helen Garner diaries, I’ve read two books in the Writers on writers series, Erik Jensen’s On Kate Jennings (my review) and Stan Grant’s On Thomas Keneally (my review), and George Orwell’s essay on the freedom of expression, “The prevention of literature” (my review). Rather different to all these, but definitely literature related, is Chrystopher Spicer’s Cyclone country: The language of place and disaster in Australian literature (my review).
What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?
This is hard, because with nonfiction, even more than fiction, what you recommend is highly dependent on people’s interests. However, the book I’ve read this year that has the most general appeal is Best Australian science writing 2020 (my review). Its focus is science, but most of the essays explore the implications and applications of science, particularly regarding issues like climate and the environment, and health, with some also raising the role often played by politics.
Besides this, I do recommend Helen Garner’s diaries to those who like Garner and are interested in a writer’s life. Finally, Marie Younan’s memoir, A different kind of seeing (my review), about being blind and a migrant, is both inspirational and eye-opening, as is Wendy and Allan Scarfe’s story of aid work in an Indian village in the 1960s, A mouthful of petals (my review).
What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?
Preferably not more recommendations, but it will happen! Seriously, I’d like to see some interesting discussions about nonfiction and nonfiction reading. Of course, our specific interests vary, but: Why do we read nonfiction? What do we look for? What makes a good nonfiction read?