Nonfiction November 2022: New to my TBR

Week 5 on Nonfiction (November 28-Dec 2) is all about what’s New to My TBR, and is hosted by Jaymi (The OC Bookgirl). To be honest, I wasn’t going to play along for this week in which we are supposed to list the books that have made it onto our TBRs from those bloggers have been shared over the month. This is because Last year, for example, I listed EIGHT books in my “New to my TBR” post, and have so far read just one, Gabrielle Carey’s Only happiness here (my review). I rest my case …. However …

Newly found on my TBR

In Week 1, two books were recommended to me on my post, that I knew I would want to read. Indeed, they sounded a bit familiar, one in particular. Funny that, because when I returned home from Melbourne in the middle of the month, and looked at the TBR next to my bed – you know, those books that you hope you’ll read soon – there these two were.

The one I was fairly confident I had was recommended by Australian novelist and feminist Sara Dowse, who has herself appeared several times on my blog. The book she recommended was Susan Varga’s Hard joy: Life and writing. I have reviewed a couple of Susan Varga’s books too – her memoir Heddy and me, and her poetry collection, Rupture – so I am confident that with Sara Dowse’s recommendation and my past enjoyment of Varga’s work, that I will also like this.

The other I was less sure about, but had started to suspect I might have it too. It was recommended by another Australian writer who has appeared several times on my blog, Carmel Bird. She recommended an author I’d never read before, but the topic of his book sounded right up my alley, as Carmel Bird knew – books, nature and words. The book is Gregory Day’s Words are eagles: Selected writings on the nature & language of place. Nature, language and place … this book of essays looks perfect for me.

The reason I have both books is that I advanced ordered them from the relatively new publishing company Upswell. Their inventory is so appealing and I’ve ordered/subscribed to several over the two years of their existence, but have not managed to read them because of the backlog of review copies I have. So, here I’m going to say that I’ve decided that I am going to find a better balance in my reading between the review pile – albeit there are many there I want to read – and those books I have bought because I have specifically chosen them. My next twelve months is going to be very busy as I prepare to downsize and sell our family home of the last 25 or so years and move into something smaller, but, after that, I am very hopeful of having MORE time to read. Yay that!

Eyes bigger than …

Otherwise, I must admit that I’ve jotted down very few other bloggers’ nonfiction reads – not because I wasn’t interested but because I knew I could not justify adding them to my list. However …

Melanie (Grab the Lapels) made these recommendations, with comments, on my Stranger than fiction post:

  • Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman’sSounds like Titanic: this one is a hoot
  • Lee Israel’s Can you ever forgive me?: this one made me hang my mouth open
  • Bruce Goldfarb’s 18 tiny deaths: The untold story of Frances Glessner Lee and the invention of modern forensics: this one surprising because I thought there were more forensic pathologists
  • Janice Erlbaum’s Have you found her?: this one I would love to tell you about but do not want to spoil it.

There were several books in the Worldchangers week, in particular, that also grabbed my reluctant attention, but I’ll just bring a couple to your attention:

Symeon Brown’s Get rich or lie trying, which Liz Dexter described as “an exposé of the world of internet influencers, or rather those who try desperately to monetise their lives for various reasons, including hauling themselves out of poverty, and who are used and abused by companies who know their desperation”.

Alone in the kitchen with an eggplant: Confessions of cooking for one and dining alone, a collection of essays edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler, which Lou said “helped me to see cooking and eating alone as a privilege and a mark of independence, not a lonely activity”. Many of us either live alone or could very well one day find ourselves alone … this is a great thing to appreciate.

If you are doing Nonfiction November, I‘ll probably see your recommendations. But, if you’re not, do share if any books recommended by bloggers have grabbed your attention this month.

Nonfiction November 2022: Worldview changers

Week 4 of Nonfiction November(November 21-25) is themed Worldview Changers, which is a new one I think for the month. I like this, as it is always good to have a new challenge. It is hosted by Rebekah @ She Seeks Nonfiction and is described as follows:

One of the greatest things about reading nonfiction is learning all kinds of things about our world which you never would have known without it. There’s the intriguing, the beautiful, the appalling, and the profound. What nonfiction book or books has impacted the way you see the world in a powerful way? Do you think there is one book that everyone needs to read for a better understanding of the world we live in?

Jess Hill See What You Made Me Do

Second question, first. The book I think that everyone should read for a better understanding of the world we live in is …

Jess Hill’s See what you made me do: Power, control and sexual abuse (my review). This was a powerful read that I took many, many months to read, after it won the 2020 Stella Prize. It wasn’t so much a worldview changer, for me, because I knew (who doesn’t?) that domestic abuse was going on, but it was certainly eye-opening. While I knew, for example, a lot of it in theory, and had seen many news reports of abuse and violence, the actual stories were gut-wrenching – particularly in the discussion of coercive control, in the levels of abuse of First Nations women, and in the way children are used. The most eye-opening thing was the court system and how the courts too often focus more on the parents’s needs than the children’s and on how men (mostly) can manipulate the system to make it look like the already-controlled wife is incapable of being parenting. This book needs to be read – I thought I knew all this but I didn’t appreciate just how deeply into our systems the problem goes.

As for books that had a strong impact on me, I’m going to name three. They didn’t necessarily change how I view the world, but they certainly enhanced my understanding of it and/or of myself. They are, in the order I read them:

  • Mark McKenna’s Return to Uluru (my review) for its no-holds-barred investigation into some challenging and hidden stories of Australia’s past. Every new correction to Australia’s history, as we learnt it, has value.
  • Carmel Bird’s Telltale (my review) for its intelligent and revealing insights into how her reading affected her, which in turn contributed to my thinking about my own reading and its impact on my intellectual, emotional and social development.
  • Biff Ward’s The third chopstick (my review) for its portrayal of an activist who fearlessly confronted those most affected by that activism and/or the war they were protesting.

While all these books made an impact on me, I also need to say that, overall, the books that most impact me are, really, fiction. That is where the real punches mostly are!

For those of you doing Nonfiction November, I’ll see your Worldview Changers I’m sure, but, if you’re not, would you like to share any or some of yours?

Nonfiction November 2022: Stranger than fiction

Week 3 of Nonfiction November (November 14-18) focuses on “all the great nonfiction books that almost don’t seem real. A sports biography involving overcoming massive obstacles, a profile on a bizarre scam, a look into the natural wonders in our world—basically, if it makes your jaw drop, you can highlight it for this week’s topic” and is hosted by Christopher (Plucked from the Stacks).

Last year, introducing my post on this week, I wrote that what the idea of “stranger than fiction” brings to my mind are those coincidences (and the like) that happen in real life that a fiction writer could never get away with. This week’s topic host, Christopher, though, takes a broader view, including things like “overcoming massive obstacles”, “scams” and “natural wonders”. My interpretation is a bit different again.

I’m starting with an essay I read via the Library of America’s Story of the Week program, James Weldon Johnson’s “Stranger than fiction” (my review). Johnson wrote one of those trickily titled novels, The autobiography of an ex-colored man (1912). It was inspired by his own experiences, and has been described as the first fictional memoir by a black person. Its protagonist is a young unnamed biracial man, who, because of such experiences as witnessing a lynching, decides to “pass” as white for safety and advancement reasons. The novel chronicles his experiences and ambivalent feelings about his decision.

In 1915, Johnson wrote his essay “Stranger than fiction” about his novel’s reception. To summarise what I wrote in my post, he basically found that for many Northern reviewers, the work was so “real” they could barely believe it was fiction, whereas Southern critics asserted that the work was unbelievable because, Johnson wrote, they didn’t believe African Americans could “pass” as “the slightest tinge of African blood is discernible, if not in the complexion, then in some trait or characteristic betraying inferiority.” For Johnson, this was “laughable”, as most people, he said, know of people who are “passing.”

There are so many “stranger than fiction” layers to this essay and situation but I will leave it here. This essay would, of course, have been another great Week 2 pairing for me with Nella Larsen’s Passing.

What can be stranger than families?

Families, of course, are the stuff of fiction, particularly unhappy ones (as Tolstoy famously shared), but they can also be found in non-fiction, particularly in memoirs, so here I’m going to share three families which were/are strange for one reason or another:

  • Alison Croggon’s Monsters: A reckoning (my review) chronicles a sister-relationship that went badly sour. It’s always sad – and yes, a bit strange to me – when families fall apart. The collapse of siblings relationships is particularly devastating I think.
  • Jane Sinclair’s Shy love smiles and acid drops (my review) chronicles the author’s parents’ difficult relationship. There is much that is “strange” here for most of us, starting with the family’s bohemian lifestyle.
  • Cindy Solonec’s Debesa: The story of Frank and Katie Rodriguez (my review) is strange in a different way. The relationship here is a positive and productive one, but the press release for the book makes its “strangeness” clear when it says the book is about “the unlikely partnership of Cindy’s parents: Frank Rodriguez, once a Benedictine novice monk from Spain, and Katie Fraser, who had been a novitiate in a very different sort of abbey – a convent for ‘black’ women at Beagle Bay Mission” (near Broome). Debesa is also a little strange in form as it is one of those hybrid biography-memoirs in which the writer is part of the family she’s focusing on.

None of these families are probably stranger than anything you’d find in fiction, but they do prove that the strange families you find in fiction can indeed be realistic!

For those of you doing Nonfiction November, I’ll see your strange offerings I’m sure, but, if you’re not, I’d love to see what strange nonfiction you’ve read.

Nonfiction November 2022: Book pairings

Week 2 of Nonfiction November and hanging in. This meme/blog event/reading month/challenge (what do we call it?) is hosted by several bloggers, with Week 2: (November 7-11) – Book Pairing, being hosted by Rennie (of What’s Nonfiction). The challenge is to pair a nonfiction book with something else – a fiction title, another nonfiction work, or even a podcast, film, documentary, TV show, etc. There just has to be some link in terms of subject matter or topic. I really enjoy this week of the challenge, because it’s such fun to do and is also fun to see what other bloggers come up with.

The no-brainer

Since much of my nonfiction involves literary topics – literary biographies or memoirs, for example – this pairing challenge is really very easy. Take, for example, Carmel Bird’s bibliomoir Telltale (my review). There are so pairing possibilities, because in it she discusses books she’s read and written. So, for this year’s no-brainer – I did one last year too – I will pair her bibliomemoir with… Hmm, with what? Because here’s the challenge: she mentions so many books. However, if I limit it to those I’ve reviewed, which is my preference, that narrows the field. And, if I narrow it even more to those books by her that I’ve reviewed, I’m getting to something quite manageable.

Book cover

So, after a little consideration, the one I’ve chosen for my pairing is her Field of poppies (my review), because, as I wrote in my post, it has many of the hallmarks of her writing, including “all manner of allusions and digressions, underpinned by a clearly-focused intelligence”. This, of course, we also find in Telltale. Unfortunately, though, I am away from home, so I don ‘t have my copy of Telltale with me to share some of Bird’s comments about this novel. However, I do remember her discussing mining, and how she had referenced it in her work, including in Field of poppies.

This year I have also read several literary essays, and each of these could be paired with their source novel or story, such as Ellen van Neerven’s essay (my post) on Tara June Winch’s Swallow the air (my review).

But, rather than list all those, I’d like, as I also did last year, to give myself something that’s more of a pairing challenge, so here is …

Another pairing

My most recent nonfiction read was Biff Ward’s part memoir, part social history, The third chopstick: Tracks through the Vietnam War (my review). This book covers both her experience as an antiwar protestor and her later decision to meet and understand the men who went to war – the Vietnam Vets. In those meetings, she comes face-to-face with the traumas (the PTSD) many of them suffered on their return and, with their permission, she shares some of this experience with us.

Josephine Rowe, A loving faithful animal

Not a lot of fiction, comparatively speaking anyhow, has been written about this War, as I discussed in my recent Monday Musings – and I’ve read only a little of that. However, I have read a little, and one of those is Josephine Rowe’s A loving, faithful animal (my review), which deals very specifically with PTSD from this war and its intergenerational impact. It’s a strong, and unforgettable novel and worthy of pairing with Biff Ward’s book.

For those of you doing Nonfiction November, I’ll see your pairings I’m sure, but, if you’re not, I’d love to see what you would pair – if you’d like to play along.

Nonfiction November 2022: Your year in nonfiction

My participation in Nonfiction November is usually a bit catch-as-catch-can – that is, I often don’t manage to complete every week’s topic – but I do like to start off as though I might, so here I am.

Nonfiction November, as most of you know, is hosted by several bloggers. This year, Week 1 – Your Year in Nonfiction, is hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, with the same questions posed for us to consider as last year.

I’m not sure why, but for this nonfiction-November year (that is, from last December to now), I’ve read about 25% more nonfiction than I read in each of the previous few years that I’ve participated. 45% of this reading has been life-writing, 45% essays, and the rest has been “other” non-fiction.

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

Favourites are always hard to identify, because I tend to get something out of most of what I read. However, if pushed, I’d say Carmel Bird’s Telltale (my review), because bibliomemoirs are always going to appeal to me, and when such a book is written by a favourite writer as Carmel Bird is, then it’s a no-brainer. I loved so much about this book, as my review and follow-up post make obvious.

Honourable mentions are many, but let me just name three, Gabrielle Carey’s Only happiness here (my review), because I am a fan of its subject, Elizabeth von Arnim; Mark McKenna’s Return to Uluru (my review) because it increased my knowledge of Australia’s history and relationship with our First Nations people; and Jess Hill’s See what you made me do (my review) about domestic abuse, with particular exploration of coercive control, because I learnt a lot about something I thought I already knew quite a bit about.

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

Last year, I wrote in answer to this question that when it comes to nonfiction, my main interests are literary biographies, nature writing, and works about social justice/social history. Nothing has changed in terms of my preferences, but I should add something I didn’t say last time, which is that in terms of nonfiction forms, I do like essays, and there are always a few in my reading diet.

This year, the greatest proportion of my nonfiction has related to literature in some way. Besides the books by Carmel Bird and Gabrielle Carey mentioned above, I have read several fascinating essays from the anthology edited by Belinda Castles, Reading like an Australian writer. One of my posts from that book was about Emily McGuire’s essay on epiphany in an Elizabeth Harrower short story. It has proved very popular on my blog this year. I’m not sure why but I wonder whether the word “epiphany” has attracted search engine hits?

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

Again, as I wrote last year, this is hard, because with nonfiction, even more than fiction, what you recommend depends greatly on people’s interests. I have, though, recommended all those books I named under my favourite nonfiction book of the year.

I have also talked much about my most recent read – which is also, really, a “favourite” contender – Biff Ward’s The third chopstick (my post). Given it is about a time my peers and I lived through when we were young, and given it is written with such humanity and heart, it’s natural that I expect to be talking about and recommending it often in the months to come.

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

What I am not specifically looking for is more recommendations – not because I am not interested but because I have too many books to read already without adding to the pile (physical and virtual). However, what I always get out of participating in blog events like this is book talk on topics that particularly interest me and, sometimes, meeting new bloggers whose interests are similar to mine (albeit, as with my book piles, I don’t really need more bloggers to follow. I hope that doesn’t sound unkind, but I think many of you understand the quandary! We love the book talk, but it also takes away from the book reading!)

Besides this, I’m always interested discussing wider issues regarding nonfiction and nonfiction reading: Why do we read nonfiction? What do we look for? What makes a good nonfiction read?

This year, with us all having come through a pretty tough few years, there’s the question about whether trying times see us seeking more nonfiction that might help us understand what we are going through or less because we want to escape into an imaginative world. What do you think?

Nonfiction November 2021: New additions to my TBR

Week 5 of Nonfiction November … whew, made it to the end, and it wasn’t so hard!

Nonfiction November, as of course you know, is hosted by several bloggers, with week 5 hosted by Jaymi at The OCBookGirl:

It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto YOUR TBR? Do we have any of the same ones?

Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

I wrote in my first Nonfiction November post that I wasn’t looking to add to my TBR, but of course it can’t help but happen. Over the month I’ve seen many, many books that appealed to me and that I’d love to read, but I really can’t add increase my TBR. However, I couldn’t call myself a keen reader if I didn’t add just a couple, so here are a few that REALLY tempted me:

Book cover
  • Graphic nonfiction: I commented on Words and Peace Emma’s post that I am not much of a graphic fiction reader, let alone graphic nonfiction, but some of the books she listed did grab my attention, like Grant Snider’s I will judge you by your bookshelf. What reader doesn’t sneakily do this from time to time?
  • Literary biography: I do love literary biography, and a few came up this month. Mallika (Literary Potpourri) gave me Paula Byrne’s The adventures of Barbara Pym; Brona (This Reading Life) gave me one I already had in my sights, Gabrielle Carey’s Only happiness here (on Elizabeth von Arnim); and didn’t someone share Bernadette Brennan’s Leaping into waterfalls about Gillian Mears? If not, they should have, because I want to read it, so I’m including it here.
  • Nature writing – Trees: With a name like Whispering Gums I have to be a bit of a sucker for trees, so I did love Readerbuzz Deb’s Be the expert post on trees. Every book in her list appealed, from forest bathing to books discussing famous trees.
  • More nature writing: Brona also gave me (in the previously-linked post) a book that deviates somewhat from my usual reading, but that I thought might capture my reading group’s attention for our schedule next year. It didn’t, but I’ll keep it on my list: Raynor Winn’s The salt path. And, Kate (booksaremyfavouriteandbest) reminded me that I still want to read Rebecca Giggs’ Fathoms (about whales).
  • Social issues/Race: Liz (Adventures in reading, running and working from home) shared two books that provoked much thought for her (and for others whom I know have read them): Robin DiAngelo’s White fragility and Layla F. Saad’s Me and white supremacy.

A small list, I know, but more than I intended, to which I owe a big thanks (I think) to the 5 hosts of Nonfiction November 2021 – and all the bloggers who took part and shared your reading. It’s been fun, and edifying!

And now, I’d love to hear whether you added any books to your TBR pile from our blogosphere Nonfiction November month?

Nonfiction November 2021: Stranger than fiction

Week 4 of Nonfiction November … rolling right along …

Nonfiction November, as you surely know by now, is hosted by several bloggers, with week 4 hosted by Christopher at Plucked from the Stacks:

This week we’re focusing on all the great nonfiction books that *almost* don’t seem real. A sports biography involving overcoming massive obstacles, a profile on a bizarre scam, a look into the natural wonders in our world—basically, if it makes your jaw drop, you can highlight it for this week’s topic.

This is a new addition to the Nonfiction November weekly prompts, which is exciting, even for me who hasn’t done this month assiduously in the past. But, how to respond?

What comes to my mind when I think “stranger than fiction” are those coincidences (and the like) that happen in real life that a fiction writer could never get away with. Christopher, though, has taken a broader view, including things like “overcoming massive obstacles”. My problem is that although I’ve read the same amount of nonfiction this year, as last, none of it really seems to fit his description, but I’ll see what I can do about fitting my reading to the theme.

Stranger than fiction: 1, Overcoming massive obstacles

Wendy and Allan Scarfe had to overcome many political, personal and cultural obstacles in supporting a poor Indian village,particualrly in terms of improving educational opportunities, in their memoir, A mouthful of petals (my review).

But, when I think about overcoming obstacles in my reading this year, I have to go to Marie Younan, and her memoir A different kind of seeing (my review).

The story of how she lost her eyesight – the coincidences and lack of knowledge, among other things, that resulted in her losing her eyesight when a young child, and then the ongoing ramifications of this which meant that she did not get the right treatment, later, which may have restored some of her eyesight – is a tragic story.

The story of how she finally managed to migrate to Australia to join her family, having been rejected more than once because of her blindness, is a disgraceful indictment on Australia’s immigration system.

The story of how she, as an adult, found a person (or, he found her), who recognised her needs and who nurtured and gently pushed her into becoming literate – to learn Braille, mix with people, learn English – so that she eventually found employment and became independent, is an inspirational story.

So, yes, Marie Younan had to overcome massive obstacles to get to where she is today. It’s a story that would be hard to make believable in fiction.

Stranger than fiction: 2, Diary as therapy?

Thinking about this topic, though, I realised that Garner’s diaries are perfect, besides the irony of reading her actual diaries when her novels, her fiction, have been criticised as “just” her diaries. Does this make the point moot?

If I soldier on, though, I am a little anxious about what I’m going to say next, because I am presuming to criticise another person’s life choice, in this case Garner’s “strange” relationship with “V”. He is the man who becomes her husband during the second volume of her diaries, One day I’ll remember this (my review). I feel anxious, but I also feel it’s ok because Garner wrote about it, and because we know the outcome, so I’m not exactly saying anything new.

The point is that the relationship turned out disastrously for Garner, and anyone reading the diary could surely see that coming. If this were fiction – besides Garner’s of course, her diaries being the stuff of her fiction, says she cheekily – I would have been hard-pressed to believe the relationship. There just seemed to be too much angst, too much difference between them, for it to work.

However, here’s the thing. What do we write in diaries? Mostly our angst? Of course, diarists will occasionally write the really happy stuff, and, those diarists who are writers, will also often jot down ideas, observations and inspirations. Mostly, though, we write out our angst. We get it out of our hearts and onto the page, which makes us feel better. Diary as therapy, in other words. Taking Garner’s diaries in this context, and knowing too that she’s edited them, we cannot presume to know the whole of her relationship with “V”. However, looking at it purely on the basis of what we read, the fact that they ever married does seem “stranger than fiction”. I think that’s fair enough for me to write.

And now, I’d love to hear how YOU would answer this question. Sock it to me! I’ll believe you!

Nonfiction November 2021: Be the expert, etc

Week 3 of Nonfiction November … a record, for me!

Nonfiction November, as you know, is hosted by several bloggers, with Week 3: (November 15-19) – Be the expert/Ask the expert/Become the expert hosted by Veronica at The Thousand Book Project: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert). 

I’ve done this particular Nonfiction November theme three times before: in 2020 I focused on ageing; in 2019 it was Indigenous Australian rights and lives; and in 2017 it was memoirs on the experience of racism. What to do this year? Hybrid memoir/biographies? Literary biography? Both these interest me, and I have some expertise in them, but I think I’ll go a bit left-field and do Climate Change. While I try to keep informed about climate change, I am certainly NOT an expert.

Become the expert

If I had to choose three books to read, these three seem like good places to start:

Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac’s The future we choose: The stubborn optimist’s guide to the climate crisis (2020): The authors led negotiations for the United Nations during the 2015 Paris Agreement of 2015. I like the idea of a book that’s stubbornly optimistic, because that’s me too. (I know, I know, what am I thinking in the face of too much evidence to the contrary!) 

Tim Flannery’s The climate cure: Solving the climate emergency in the era of COVID-19 (2020): It’s on my TBR for a start. It’s by an Australian scientist who has been writing and acting on this topic for decades. Not only is this his latest, but it encompasses discussion of how the pandemic has affected the climate debate and climate action.

Jane Rawson and James Whitmore’s Surviving and living with climate change (2015): This is an older book now, but it’s Australian and I know from Lisa (her review) that it is packed full of practical strategies which, I’m presuming, will still be valid even if there are now newer strategies for us to also consider. That’s the thing with climate change, isn’t it – things keep changing!

Ask the expert

However, I’m not an expert on what is around on this subject matter, but I do know a blogger who is, Stefanie of A Stone in the River. Some of you may know her from the So Many Books blog, but a few years ago Stefanie switched to focusing on “the Climate Emergency, transitioning to post-fossil fuel zero carbon life, bicycling, gardening, books, community, interbeing, wonder and joy”. As well as sharing her own knowledge and practice about living as green and clean as she can, she also shares books, articles and links to a wide range of relevant information. She’s my go-to blogging expert on the topic.

However, there’s also Marcie, at Buried in Print. She reads broadly but one of her reading projects is Read the Change which encompasses her reading on a range of current issues, including human rights and eco-literature. Marcie also wrote an excellent article, “Rewriting the climate apocalypse” for Herizons, a Canadian feminist magazine. It explores recent non-fiction and fiction writings by women on the environmental crisis. It’s an excellent read and, while I know this is a #nonfictionnovember post, I did like this from Kai Minosh Pyle:

I could try to write a nonfiction piece explaining those things, but sometimes a story lets you get at tangled-up issues in a more nuanced way.

Yes! It sometimes can … but, still, I do like nonfiction too!

Also, I’d love to see what expertise you have or would like to develop – if you’d like to play along.

Nonfiction November 2021: Book pairings

Week 2 of Nonfiction November and I’m still here, playing along.

Nonfiction November, as you know, is hosted by several bloggers, with Week 2: (November 8-12) – Book pairings, hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey. This week we need to “pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story”. 

The no-brainer

If I were just going to do one pairing, it would be a no-brainer, but it’s not really “if you loved this, read this”. Nor is it just two titles that I think would go together, and it’s definitely not pairing historical fiction with the history of the same topic. Nope, my pair comprises a book in which an author talks about her writing another one. If you’ve been reading my blog recently you’ll guess what I’m talking about, as I’m pairing volume 2 of Helen Garner’s diaries, One day I’ll remember this (my review), which I read this year, with one of the books she discusses in these diaries, Cosmo cosmolino. I have written two posts on this novel, a less than thorough review, years ago, and, recently, a consideration inspired by the diaries. I enjoyed the insights Garner provided into writing this, her most challenging novel (in terms of form) and most different (in terms of subject matter).

Helen Garner, Cosmo cosmolino

The unusual thing is that I could make several somewhat similar pairings from this year, as I’ve read other books discussing specific works. So, I could also pair Erik Jensen’s On Kate Jennings (my review) with the novel he talks about, Snake (my review), or Stan Grant’s On Thomas Keneally (my review) with the Keneally’s novel that he discusses, The chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (read before blogging). I could also pair Chrystopher Spicer’s Cyclone country: The language of place and disaster in Australian literature (my review) with one of a few books he discusses that I’ve read. But I won’t!

Instead, in the spirit of this meme, I feel I should challenge myself at least a little before ending this post, so here is …

Another pairing

I read a couple of memoirs this year that could be paired with novels, but I’ll just choose one, Marie Younan’s A different kind of seeing (my review). This tells the story of her life as a blind, illiterate Assyrian migrant to Melbourne, Australia, and how, with the help of various migrant services, she met other people, learnt English, obtained satisfying and meaningful employment, and ended up writing her memoir with the help of her English teacher, Jill Sanguinetti.

Book cover

I’m pairing this with an English-set novel, Balli Kaur Jaswal’s Erotic stories for Punjabi widows (my review), which, on the surface, sounds very different from Younan’s story. It’s about a young English-born Punjabi woman who obtains a job teaching writing to immigrant Punjabi widows in Southall, the heart of London’s Punjabi community. It’s a romcom but it also confronts some very real, very dangerous, difficulties that migrant women face in that culture. While these Punjabi women’s challenges were very different to those faced by Younan, both books provide insight into how hard it can be for immigrants, particularly immigrant women, to find their place in a new country.

For those of you doing Nonfiction November, I’ll see your pairings I’m sure, but, if you’re not, I’d love to see what you would pair – if you’d like to play along.

Nonfiction November 2021: Your year in nonfiction

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?