I thought I couldn’t take part in Novellas in November as, well, I didn’t have any novellas to hand, but Bookish Beck and 746 Books include non-fiction in their challenge and I did have some short non-fiction! Of course this also acts as another post for Nonfiction November, too! So two very different books here, but I can tie them together by saying that both are crying out to be bought for other people – “Follies” as a Christmas gift and “The Power of Privilege” to help people be the change they want (or need) to be.

Rory Fraser – “Follies”

(5 October2020 – from the publisher)

Coming in at 111 pages, Rory Fraser’s debut book, “Follies”, newly published by the fairly new publisher Zuleika Publishing, fits the nonfiction novella bill perfectly.

If you’re interested in architecture, history or architectural history, you’ll enjoy this small, attractive book, with 25 watercolour illustrations, on follies.

What is a folly? Officially, it’s “an elaborate building set in a beautiful landscape that serves no purpose other than to improve the view” (p. x) but there prove to not be very many true follies like that, and indeed the first one he visits, at Walsingham, as well as a shell of a Wren church in London later, is actually part of a ruined building left to stand incongruously in its surroundings. There are also mounds, caves and that famous fibreglass shark embedded in a suburban roof, as well as the more expected classical temples or gothic frills in lovely parks.

Fraser hops enthusiastically through history, kings, landowners and peers, sharing what he learns with glee. We’re looking at folklore one moment and Empire the next, always with something new to read about. It’s also something of a garden history on the grand scale, looking at the development of the landscapes in which follies often exist, framing huge swathes of land, as at Stowe, or a view of a city, as in Bath.

A great gift idea coming out at just the right time. Thank you to Tom at Zuleika for providing me with a copy in return for an honest review. A full review will appear in Shiny New Books next week and I’ll share that here then.

June Sarpong – “The Power of Privilege: How White People can Challenge Racism”

(1 October 2020)

I’ve always read pretty diversely but I’ve been buying, reading and reviewing some more of the non-fiction that’s come out as part of the upswelling of interest and activism after the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum across populations. I’m reading “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” alongside my best friend at the moment, for example. But what I was looking for was some direct ways that I could be an ally and help combat racism, and this book (and also Sophie Williams’ “Anti-Racist Ally” which I have but haven’t read in time for this review) offers that.

Sarpong is a journalist who has a senior diversity position at the BBC and is able to draw from both this and her experiences as the child of Ghanaian immigrants growing up on a council estate in London to put this useful book together. She’s recently published a longer work called “Diversity” which demonstrates the power of diversity to benefit companies and society economically as well as socially. I would imagine that talks to those in high power, as this one does: there’s an emphasis on including elite (not just privileged) white people in the conversation and a lot of the action points are for those who have power in companies and society. She also includes white people with less privilege, e.g. people of the working class and/or on a low income, people living with disabilities, people with an LGBTQ+ identity and makes it clear she understands privilege is a continuum, with well-off white male captains of industry and politicians at the most privileged end.

We get a good explanation of basic terms – racism, othering – then we’re taken through some statistics and reports about the position of Black, Asian and other Minority Ethnic people in the UK. This does have a lot of US information which I found a bit distracting from the main text. It’s also bang up to date, talking about how the disparities highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic are impossible to ignore and how it’s time to change things.

As with my attempts to join in with general inclusivity and “better together” campaigns before, I’m a bit hamstrung in my pro-cohesiveness and anti-racism work by the fact that I’m not part of any formal groups – I’m self-employed and work alone and I’m not a member of a faith group or large volunteer organisation (apart from parkrun, and I will be taking steps to look at that). It’s not the place to list what I I I am going to do: suffice it to say that in the ten clear points Sarpong offers, from educating yourself about Black lives now and in history to standing up against racist incidents to helping your white friends think about race there is something that everyone can use to help improve society and challenge racism. Action 10: Act Now has some particularly useful summary lists of things we can all do.

Oh and one for Bookish Beck’s serendipity – like “Work” which I review in Shiny on Thursday, this book talks about moving from a “scarcity” mind-set where we’re all fighting for small pieces of a pie to broadening out to build something that’s more than the sum of its parts.