My Favourite Non-Fiction Books! #NonFictionNovember

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This week as part of Non-Fiction November Shelf Aware has set the prompt for us to talk about what makes a book a favourite. What qualities do you look for in non-fiction?

 

I love reading non-fiction and definitely read more of it in recent years than I ever used to before. I’m one of those readers that always has multiple books on the go at once and at least one of my books is always non-fiction.

When I first starting getting into non-fiction it was mainly through reading memoirs and biographies of people that I was interested in and I’m still drawn to them. They’re generally quite easy reads and the focus is on one person so they’re easy to follow. I find them good when my pain levels are high and I need a book that doesn’t require huge amounts of concentration. Alongside my love of memoirs are the easier non-fiction books that read almost like fiction because they’re so unputdownable!

The first grown-up non-fiction book I remember reading is The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. I read it the summer I was 8 and I can still remember the devastating, eye-opening impact that it had on me. The next biography that made an impact was Still Me by Christopher Reeve. I bought this in hardback the day it was released and I read it in one sitting. I was so moved by his struggle and his openness in the book. I didn’t know when I read it that one day I would be partially paralysed, it doesn’t compare to what happened to him but it does give me even more insight. I’m also recommending The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey. This is a memoir of a woman who whilst ill and confined to bed takes to watching nature, this is such a beautiful book and is one I stumbled across and am so glad it found me. On a lighter note I also included Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm, which is a must-read if you were a child and teenage reader (particularly if you’re in your 40s now). I adore this book! A fun read, also for 40+ year olds is Now We Are 40 which is all about Generation X and I loved it. Finally I recommend The Christmas Chronicles by Nigel Slater – it’s part Christmas memoir and part cookbook and it’s such a gorgeous book to read as the festive season comes around.

 

I also enjoy reading non-fiction to learn and often find myself drawn to factual books when I’ve been reading a novel or watching something on TV and want to know more. I’m more likely to fall down a rabbit-hole of one book leading to another these days and I love it when that happens. It so often ends with a book that is quite a distance subject-wise from where I started which then sends me off on another track.

In this section I’ve included Pain-Free Life by Andrea Hayes and Mindfulness for Health by Vidyamala Burch as both have massively helped me find a way to live with the chronic pain I’m permanently. I recommend them if you’re a pain sufferer. In Plain Sight is about Jimmy Savile and is such a well-written book about how his crimes were discovered. The Emperor of all Maladies and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks are both about cancer. The first is a history of cancer told in such a fascinating way, it’s a brilliant book. The second is about the cells doctors took from Henrietta that are still used today but her family weren’t informed about what was done. It’s such a moving and interesting book. Death at Seaworld is a brilliant book that really opens your eyes to what is happening at Seaworld. This book made me so angry but that’s a good thing and it’s a book more people should read. Hillsborough: The Truth is the full story of what happened and is a must-read. I’ve read it twice and it’s still so shocking for so many reasons. The Looming Tower is an excellent read about the factors that led up to 9/11 and has since been adapted for TV. The Red Parts is a memoir about Nelson’s Aunt’s murder, which happened before she was born and I’ve found this has really stayed with me. Last but not least is Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space, which was such an interesting read. It’s incredible to read her story and find out how she came to be an astronaut but also the extra struggles she had being the first woman, and how things had to be considered that never had before.

 

My concentration for more academic non-fiction isn’t great these days but when I want to read something to learn or to gain much more depth on a subject I will still pick these books up. I loved all the academic books that I read when I was doing my degree many years ago but I struggle now I’m out of the habit and do find these books more daunting.

Here I’m recommending just four books. The first is A Literature of their Own, which I bought in my first week at Uni when I heard Elaine Showalter was going to be giving a guest lecture. I’m such a fan of her writing now and want to re-read this one soon. I’ve also included Aspects of the Novel, which I devoured immediately after buying it and really enjoyed it. The Case of Peter Pan came in really useful for an essay I was writing but I’ve since re-read the book and find it such an interesting read. I want to read more by the author. I’m also including James Baldwin and the 1980s, which I’ve only recently finished but it’s sparked me into wanting to read so many other books so it feels right to include it.

Ultimately, I think my favourite kind of non-fiction is books that are the ones where I’m learning more about something but without the book being too academic. It means I can learn whilst enjoying my reading and it feels less pressured for me when my health isn’t so good.

 

Also, I have to squeeze in a mention that I do have something of an addiction to books about de-cluttering. I love Marie Kondo’s books (The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy as it’s her method that finally clicked with me to sort my whole house out (and it’s stayed tidy ever since! Here is a post about my clutter journey.)  but if I see a book about hoarding or de-cluttering I still have to read them! I also found Banish Clutter Forever, which helped me with re-organising my house after I’d decluttered. It’s based on the idea that we always know where our toothbrush is because we keep it right where we use it so if we apply that principle to everything else we own our homes should be easier to tidy and it should be easier to find things. I’ve reviewed Un*fuck Your Habitat here if you’d like to know more about this one.

 

What are some of your favourite types of non-fiction? What are your favourite non-fiction books? If you have any recommendations for me based on any of the books in this post please let me know, I’m always looking for more books to read! 🙂

My Top Ten Non-Fiction Reads 2016

 

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Yesterday I posted my Top Ten fiction reads of 2016 (which you can read here if you missed it) and today I’m sharing my Top Ten Non-Fiction reads. I’ve always enjoyed reading non-fiction but I tend to lean more towards fiction so this year I’ve made a real effort to read more non-fiction. Out of the 211 books I read in 2016, 67 were non-fiction. I’ve read quite a wide variety of books and these are the ten that have stayed with me.

A Mother's Reckoning- Living in the aftermath of the Columbine tragedy by Sue Klebold

A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold

This book is an honest memoir by the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine shooters. She writes this book in a very open way, it felt like she held nothing back. It really showed the pain she feels at what her son did, but also the pain she feels at not realising what was going on his life leading up to the shooting. She is also a mother grieving the loss of her son, she raised him and has happy memories from when he was younger and you can feel the conflict and confusion and sheer pain radiate from the page. It’s one of the most honest memoirs I’ve ever read, it really felt like a no-holds-barred read and deserves all of the praise it has received.

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Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge

This is a very involving, very moving and shocking account of the deaths of young people in America in the course of one day. All the young people were killed in shootings – some were innocent bystanders, some were caught up in gangs. The bigger picture is examined to a degree as to how and why this is happening. I found this to be a difficult read but it’s an important one and I would highly recommend it.

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In Plain Sight by Dan Davies

This is an examination of the life and the despicable crimes committed by Jimmy Savile. It’s a long and detailed read that looks at what Jimmy Savile did and how he got away with it. It’s not an easy read in terms of subject matter but it’s well-written and really gives an insight into how and why people collude in such terrible crimes.

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Unbecoming by Una

This is a graphic non-fiction book, one of the first I’ve ever read and I found it incredibly moving. It’s one woman’s story of her rape as a young teenager, whilst she was living in Yorkshire at the time the Yorkshire Ripper was still on the loose. The way she tells her story really got to me and there were times I had to take a break from reading before I could carry on. It’s such an important story and one of the best I’ve ever read on the subject of rape and abuse.

 

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Death at Seaworld by David Kirby

I feel very passionately that killer whales should not be kept in captivity anyway but this book opened my eyes to the level of mistreatment that these beautiful creatures are put through purely for the public’s entertainment. I’ve been to Seaworld, when I was a teenager, and it shocked me to see how tiny the pools were that the whales are kept in. Later on the same holiday I was lucky enough to go on a whale watching boat trip to see killer whales in the wild and it was shocking to see the difference between the captive whales and the wild ones. David Kirby’s book looks at these differences and explores what could be done with the captive whales in order to give them a better life given that they probably can’t be put back into the wild.

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On Bowie by Rob Sheffield

This book was a joy to read. It’s not an in-depth biography and it doesn’t pretend to be – it’s basically a love letter to David Bowie from a fan, and reading it as a fan myself it was wonderful. It’s quite a short book, and it didn’t contain anything that I didn’t already know about David Bowie, or his music, but reading it in the aftermath of his death just felt like solace. It’s a moving and heartfelt book that I would highly recommend this book to all Bowie fans.

 

1971 - Never A Dull Moment- Rock's Golden Year by David Hepworth

1971: Never A Dull Moment by David Hepworth

My husband isn’t much of a reader – he collects records like I collect books – so when his mum bought him a copy of this for his birthday last year it was one that we both wanted to read. We ended up getting another copy of it on audible and we listened to it together. It was a lovely way to share the experience of reading a book. The book is set out with one chapter for each month of 1971 and whilst he does widen the narrative beyond each month, he always brings it back to the point nicely. At the end of each chapter is Hepworth’s song picks from that month so my husband made a playlist of all of the songs and it was fun to listen to after we’d finished the book.

 

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Spectacles by Sue Perkins

This was one of my Christmas presents in 2015 and I’d been so looking forward to reading it at the time but got sidetracked with review books. When I finally did pick it up after my reading slump in the summer I found that I couldn’t put it down. It’s a wonderful book and  I think it’s one I may re-read in the future.

 

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Breaking the Silence by Jo Milne

This was a review book that I read a few weeks ago but have somehow forgotten to ever post my review so I will share a full review this month at some point. This is the story of Jo Milne was was deaf her whole life and then began to go blind. It was at this point that she was offered surgery to attempt to give her hearing. The story of Jo’s life up to the point she had the surgery was fascinating, it’s a real insight into what it must be like to be deaf. The story post-surgery had me in tears on more than one occasion. It’s a great read and I highly recommend it.

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Rise by Sian Williams

I was drawn to this book because I’d seen interviews with Sian on TV and was really interested to read her account of trauma. I’ve suffered with cPTSD in the past and whilst I consider myself to be recovered now, I do still have to be mindful of my triggers and probably will always be hyper-alert to certain things. It doesn’t affect my life anymore though. This book was so much more than I thought it would be. It’s a really honest account of what happened to her, but it’s also a very accessible look at various treatments and the different ways trauma affects people. It looks at why some people go on to be diagnosed with PTSD and others don’t. I highlighted so many parts of this book and am sure I’ll re-read it in the future. it’s a really interesting read and I’d definitely recommend it.


 

So, that’s my Top Ten non-fiction reads of 2016! Did you read much non-fiction last year? What were your stand-out books? I’d love some more non-fiction recommendations as I definitely want to carry on reading more in 2017.

If you missed my Top Ten Fiction reads of 2016, you can read it here.