I’ve been thinking recently that I need to make a bit of an adjustment in my reading. As much as I enjoy fiction, I think it may be time to start exploring non-fiction and expanding my horizons a little, become a bit more of a grown-up and learn more about this world. There is so much out there to choose from; biography, journalism, essays, history, natural history, narrative non-fiction, food writing, travel writing… For some reason, I have it in my head that non-fiction is a bit boring compared to fiction and I want to change that. This is why I’ve decided to challenge myself to read more non-fiction, trying out different genres to properly give it a go. I also don’t have a great track record for reviewing non-fiction so part of my challenge will be to review each and very single non-fiction title I read until the end of 2014.
I’ve been trying to think of non-fiction books I’ve loved and there actually have been quite a few, from classics such as In Cold Blood by Truman Capote which I read many years ago and still resonates, to the wonderful and moving autobiography I listened to recently, Just Kids by Patti Smith. Of the books I read last year, only two were non-fiction – the memoir on locked-in syndrome (complete paralysis) The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly by journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby and The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura. In 2013 so far, I have read three non-fiction books – the first collection of essays I’ve read in full, Katie Roiphe’s In Praise of Messy lives, along with two autobiographies, Stephen Fry’s memoir of his boyhood and youth Moab is My Washpot and Just Kids.
So, onto the next lot. I’ve been making a list of a few titles I would like to read. I’m challenging myself to read one a month, starting in December. Here’s a summary of my proposed list so far:
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Even though I said fairly recently that I struggle with literature dealing with the Holocaust, this is a book that is so central to the canon (and is also fairly well-read by primary school pupils studying the Second World War) that I’m not sure how I’ve gone this long without reading it and I want to rectify this soon.
Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees by Roger Deakin
I bought this a couple of years ago from my local bookshop, I was just so taken with the idea of the book. And yet, I’ve still not picked it up to read. I love trees, something that has been a point of playful ridicule between family and friends for some time now. It’ll be my first foray into natural history and I’m hoping it’ll be the first of many.
The Telling Room by Michael Paterniti
This book is all about a hournalist who moves to Spain after hearing the story of a feud in the village of Gúzman in Spain, over the recipe for supposedly the world’s greatest cheese. I love all things Spanish, and am increasingly starting to feel like a bit of a foodie so this sounds like the perfect book for me.
What Do Women Want? by Daniel Bergner
Recently I have been really enjoying watching Channel 4 series Masters of Sex about the original sex therapists Dr William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the first people to really explore the science of sex and human sexual response. Aside from the period detail akin to one of my favourite shows Mad Men, this has really got me thinking about societal and personal attitudes towards sexuality and gender issues. In this book, Bergner challenges held beliefs on women as mainly monogamous creatures. Should be an interesting read.
The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer
This leads on perfectly to my next choice, a book I have been meaning to read for years. It’s pretty much essential reading for anyone wanting to explore feminist theory and issues of gender in society. I hope my boyfriend is ready for me going on about how women have been (and still are) marginalised in society!
This Is Running for Your Life by Michelle Orange
This book of essays came out earlier this year and was in a list of best non-fiction books of 2013, with essays exploring the culture in a med-dominated world. I thought it would be a good way to read something new and current, as well as broadening my horizons by adding some essays to my non-fiction list.
I don’t want to make this a huuuuge long post some other titles I’m considering are…
Just My Type by Simon Garfield
Artful by Ali Smith
The Gift by Lewis Hyde
Breakfast at the Exit Café by Wayne Grady & Merilyn Simonds
Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe
The Trip to Echo Spring by Olivia Laing
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Point of Departure by James Cameron
Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay
Along with some essays by Joan Didion, David Foster Wallace and Virginia Woolf.
I have quite a few to be getting on with but if anyone has suggestions for favourite non-fiction books I could add to my list then they will be very gratefully received as I feel like a bit of a novice!