Non-Fiction November: To be read

One of the tags that is currently doing the rounds on BookTube is ‘Non-Fiction November’ – a month long readathon encouraging us all to read more non-fiction than we normally would. Having watched a fair few of the videos I’ve been inspired with lots of great recommendations, including Sister Outsider and Walls Come Tumbling Down from Jean at Bookishthoughts, so I thought I’d pull together my own reading list for the month ahead.

In case you were wondering, I’ve stuck to the categories that Non-Fiction November creators – Olive and Gemma – originally picked:

NEW: Another day in the death of America – Gary Younge (Guardian Faber Publishing)

Realistically this book could have fit into any of the four categories, but as it only came out at the end of September I thought it was fitting to pop it under ‘new’. This is a timely – and from what I can tell – a much needed study of gun usage and accessibility in America. Younge picks a single day at random, Saturday 23rd November 2013, on which ten children and teenagers were killed by gunfire and tells their stories – one per chapter. This book offers an inside look at US society as well as a portrait of modern-day America – I genuinely think this will be one of my books of the year, but I’m trying not to hype it up too much!

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IMPORTANT: Girl Up – Laura Bates (Simon & Schuster UK)

Laura Bates is the founder of the #EverydaySexism project, which has been one of the most influential feminism campaigns of recent times. In Girl Up Bates tackles feminism head-on; she dissects prejudice by delving into a number of topics including sex, relationships and false representation in the media. I’ve put this under the important category because as Bates so eloquently put it in a Guardian interview “all feminism means to me is that everyone should be treated equally regardless of their sex.” and until this happens, we should be taking notice.

CONTROVERSIAL: Marching Powder – Rusty Young (Pan)

This has been on my to-read list for longer than I care to divulge – countless friends have recommended this to me, particularly with the current popularity of the Netflix show Narcos. Marching Powder is the story of an English drug mule in Bolivia. When convicted and put into the San Pedro prison, McFadden starts running illegal tours – I’ve lumped this one into the controversial category as it is a murky window into South American drug culture, the violence between other inmates in the prison and McFadden’s struggle for survival.

FASCINATING: In Order to Live – Park Yeonmi (Fig Tree)

I’ve been almost morbidly fascinated by Kim Jong-un’s regime in North Korea for a few years now and whilst I’ve read countless articles about it, I’m still yet to read a full non-fiction account from an insider detailing what life is really like there. Yeon-mi writes about her escape from the dictatorship under which she lived, as well as the mental and physical journey she endured to become a human rights activist; this book is meant to be a real eye-opener to the struggles that many escapees face in their quest for freedom.

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September Reads

The time has come to wrap up my September reads – last month I read seven books as I had a work trip abroad and had time to kill whilst travelling. I’ve tried not to write too much about each book as I’m keen to do in-depth reviews at a later date. If you’ve read any of these books I’d love to hear what you thought of them in the comments below.

Right, here goes:

The girl with the lower back tattoo – Amy Schumer (Gallery Books) – 4/5 

Being a fan of Amy Schumer, I had an inkling I was going to enjoy this and had visions of it been a laugh a minute, but boy was I wrong. Rather than being written as a traditional memoir, it was filled with essays on all different subjects, from real talk on money to abusive relationships. There was so many insightful and tender anecdotes, which in part broke my heart – the moment where she talks about her parents as “sad human people” hit me hard.

Hide & Seek – M.J. Arlidge (Penguin) – 3.5/5 

In January I picked up the first novel in the DI Helen Grace series, Eeeny Meeny, and since then I’ve been hooked reading them all in quick succession. M.J. Arlidge has a knack for writing fast-paced psychological thrillers that draw you in. Out of the six books in the series, this wasn’t one of my favourites, but good old DI Helen Grace still captured me and I raced through it in record time. I won’t say much more about Hide & Seek as I implore you to start from the beginning of the series, but don’t blame me if you can’t put them down!

Eileen – Ottessa Moshfegh (Vintage) – 2/5 

With it being on the Man Booker Shortlist, I had high hopes for this novel. I’d also seen Simon’s, from Savidge Reads, review and was expecting to love this one. It started off well, I was engrossed for the first three-quarters and then it all came crashing down – Moshfegh completely lost me. The end was just too ridiculous and farfetched, it didn’t gel with the rest of the story and it got my back up. Whilst I was disappointed, I’ve got to say that Moshfegh’s characterisation of Eileen was great with her gawky, destitute nature – a true loner. Once I’d finished reading Eileen, I spotted this article on the Guardian, where she states this book started off as a joke as she just wanted to be well-recognised and win prizes – Ottessa Moshfegh interview: ‘Eileen started out as a joke – also I’m broke, also I want to be famous’. Sigh.

Mrs. Hemingway – Naomi Wood (Picador) – 4.5/5 

After seeing Mrs. Hemingway listed as one of ‘February’s best new books’ on Stylist I managed to hunt this down in my local charity shop – it was such a bargain at 70p. A fictionalised account of the four leading ladies in Hemingway’s life – Hadley, Fife, Martha and Mary – it flits from war-torn Paris to Cuba, where Hemingway spent a large portion of his life. The intricacies of female relationships and love have been touched upon so delicately with Wood’s evocative writing. I also loved Wood’s depiction of Hemingway’s dark, creative genius as well as the price that this cost him later on in life. For me, this was one of my September highlights and definitely one I’d recommend to friends – Wood’s narrative draws you in and captures you under a spell.

The North Water – Ian McGuire (Scribner) – 3/5

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This was another one from the Man Booker Prize Longlist. Set in 1859 on a whaling ship bound for the Arctic Circle, The North Water had all the promise of a victorian, noir thriller. I love boats and I love crime-thrillers, so thought this was a sure winner, but sadly it felt a little lacklustre. Whilst McGuire’s writing contrasts the brutal natural world, with haughty businessmen and corruption with vividness, I didn’t feel invested in the characters.

Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Harper Perennial) – 5/5

Half of a Yellow Sun jumps effortlessly between the early 1960s and late 1960s as Adichie throws you into the midst of the civil war between Nigeria and Biafra – something that she holds close to her heart as she lost two Grandfathers in it. This book is a stunning piece of historical fiction, and at its heart delves into the complexities of love, war and colonialism. Before reading this I didn’t know anything about the war, but I found myself fascinated with it and was intrigued to read on – I ended up devouring this book in a couple of evenings whilst I was away with work. In 2007, Adichie won the Orange Prize for Fiction for this novel and I can see why!

Turning Blue – Benjamin Myers (Moth Publishing) – 4.5/5 

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As soon as I finished Turning Blue, I questioned whether I liked it. After all, it was different from any other crime novel I’ve read in the past couple of years, and I read a lot of crime! But almost a month on, I can’t stop thinking about it and have in turn recommended it to a number of friends. Turning Blue’s story centres around a missing girl in a bleak Yorkshire community and Myers has such a beautiful talent for catapulting you into the dark, ragged nature of the isolated hamlet. Sleaze and corruption weave themselves throughout the graphic, gripping novel and there are some moments, with Stephen Rutter the pig farmer, which are so visceral and raw that I had to step away from the page. I’m going to do a full review of Turning Blue because as it stands I have too much to say.

The Wainwright Prize

Thanks to Mercy, the wonderful booktuber behind Mercy’s Bookish Musings, I recently came across the Wainwright Prize. This book prize recognises and rewards the best writing focused on the general outdoors, nature and UK-based travel writing (although guidebooks are not eligible to win). Sponsored by Wainwright Golden Beer and in association with the National Trust, the winner of the prize is awarded £5,000 and a big old pat on the back.

After hearing about the prize I looked up the shortlisted books, they sounded gritty, humorous and full of perseverance – following seasons and emotions through the year. Thanks to Mercy, I was lucky enough to get all six of them, which included the winning novel, The Outrun by Amy Liptrot (Canongate). The other shortlisted books comprised of:

  • Common Ground, Rob Cowen (Windmill)
  • Landmarks, Robert Macfarlane (Penguin)
  • The Fish Ladder, Katharine Norbury (Bloomsbury)
  • The Moth Snowstorm, Michael McCarthy (John Murray)
  • The Shepherd’s Life, James Rebanks (Penguin)
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Photo courtesy of The Wainwright Prize

I’ll be honest, I was absolutely chuffed to find a literary prize that has such a strong focus on the British outdoors, as I absolutely love being in the countryside and am a keen walker – I love exploring national trails, especially if a stop at a tea rooms or stately home is involved. So far this year, I’ve already read a couple of nature-themed books, including H is for Hawk and Walking the Nile. Additionally, I have Walking through Spring, by Graham Hoyland, on my to read pile – when I found out I’d won the competition I was super-excited to add more to my pile.

A couple of friends have already recommend The Outrun, so I’m looking forward to reading that one, but taking a look at the other books, The Fish Ladder and The Moth Snowstorm intrigue me most. Once I’ve got cracking (and made a dent in the pile) I’ll do some reviews. Have you read any of them? If so, I’d love to hear what you thought in the comments.