I’ve seen Spell the Month in Books appearing on other blogs I follow for a long time now, but have never tried it myself until today. It’s hosted by Jana at Reviews From the Stacks on the second Saturday of each month and the idea is to spell the current month using the first letter of book titles. Sometimes there’s a monthly theme and the theme for November is non-fiction – which is very appropriate as Nonfiction November is one of the many reading/blogging events taking place this month! I thought this would be a good opportunity to join in and highlight some of the non-fiction I’ve read.
National Treasures: Saving the Nation’s Art in World War II by Caroline Shenton – I had hoped to do this using only books that I’ve read and reviewed, but it seems I haven’t reviewed a single non-fiction book beginning with N! Instead, I chose one that caught my eye on this year’s HWA Non-Fiction Crown Award shortlist. It’s a book about the people who moved London’s valuable museum, library and art gallery collections to safety during the war.
The Oaken Heart by Margery Allingham – I loved this book by Golden Age crime author Allingham, describing her life in a small English village (referred to as ‘Auburn’, but really her own village of Tolleshunt D’Arcy in Essex) during the early part of World War II. The book was published in 1941, making it a first-hand account of wartime life – I thought it was fascinating and I’m just sorry that she never wrote a sequel telling us how the people of Auburn coped with the remaining war years.
A Very Short Introduction: The Gothic by Nick Groom – I’ve read more than one book from the Very Short Introduction series but I found The Gothic particularly interesting. These little books are a great way to introduce yourself to a new subject and the series covers a wide range of topics. This one begins by looking at the history of the early Germanic tribes known as the Goths before moving on to explore Gothic architecture, classic Gothic literature and modern Gothic fashions, art and music.
England, Arise by Juliet Barker – This is an account of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 (which Barker refers to as the Great Revolt, due to the fact that it didn’t involve just peasants). The first part of the book puts things into context, explaining the background to the revolt and the living conditions in medieval England, before going on to describe the rebellion itself. I found it interesting, but there was a lot of repetitive detail that I felt I didn’t really need. I would still like to read Juliet Barker’s biography of the Brontës, if only it wasn’t so long!
Myself When Young by Daphne du Maurier – This autobiography, originally published in 1977 as Growing Pains: The Shaping of a Writer, is based on diaries kept by du Maurier throughout her childhood and early adulthood. She describes the homes she lived in as a child, her early life as part of a famous theatrical family, her friendships and romantic relationships and the things that inspired some of her later novels. It was good to learn more about one of my favourite authors!
Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister by Jung Chang – I loved Jung Chang’s Wild Swans and although I found this one slightly disappointing in comparison, it was still an interesting book. It tells the story of the three Soong sisters, Ei-ling, May-ling and Ching-ling, all of whom played important roles in Chinese politics and society in the 20th century. Unlike Wild Swans which is about Jung Chang’s own family, this book lacked a personal connection and that made it a less powerful read.
Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir – There’s also a recent novel by Alison Weir about Elizabeth of York, but this earlier book is a non-fiction account of Elizabeth’s life and world. As the daughter of Edward IV, wife of Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII, who lived through the Wars of the Roses and the founding of the Tudor dynasty, Elizabeth’s story is fascinating. I did enjoy this long and very detailed book, but felt that there were places where it relied too heavily on speculation and Weir’s personal theories.
Rosie: Scenes from a Vanished Life by Rose Tremain – This is a childhood memoir by author Rose Tremain, finishing before she publishes her first book. Despite her wealthy, privileged background, Rose (or Rosie as she was known as a child) doesn’t seem to have received much love or affection from her parents and grandparents or any support in pursuing the education and career she wanted. I found it quite a sad book, but it was nice to get to know the young Rosie and her world.
Could you spell November in nonfiction books? Have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned here?