Week 2: (November 7-11) – Book Pairing: This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title (or another nonfiction!). It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story. Or pair a book with a podcast, film or documentary, TV show, etc. on the same topic or stories that pair together. (hosted by Rennie at What’s Nonfiction – her post here.)

I usually find this week quite tricky, because it’s difficult if you don’t read much historical fiction, I think. But I’ve had this post going since March and have added pairings to it as I’ve thought of them – the only way to do it, I think!

SpyCops Scandal

Both of these books look at the SpyCops scandal, where British police officer infiltrated protest groups and instigated relationships with women in those groups, sometimes having children with them, always leading double lives and lying to them. Donna McLean’s “Small Town Girl” is a memoir by a woman who was duped in this way, powerful and empowered as she finds out the truth and rebuilds her life.

Alice O’Keeffe’s “Skylark” was actually the book that got me interested in this topic, and I read it before I read “Small Town Girl”. It’s unlike me to read a book based on true events, however O’Keeffe wove different women’s experiences together skillfully to produce this narrative, and I could see how well she’d done when I read “Small Town Girl”. I was alerted to this one by the publisher offering it to me on NetGalley as I’d read her previous novel.

Welsh Valleys

Brittle with Relics” by Richard King has been one of my stand-out reads of 2022. It’s a history of Wales from 1962 to 1997, covering from an essentially Left perspective the fight for language equality and Welsh independence in a beautifully interwoven narrative made up of oral history from a hundred actors in this history, miners’ wives, Greenham Common marchers, politicians, musicians, actual actors, with context and history interspersed with direct quotation.

When I read Hopewell’s Public Library of Life’s review of Richard Llewellyn’s “How Green Was My Valley”, the talk of miners’ lives, women trying to keep the household running, organising in unions and debates over language rang a big bell for me. I’d like to think I will read this novel myself one day but it’s a big one – maybe for Dewithon next year. For now, here’s Hopewell’s review.

A Deep Dive into Church Architecture and Procedure

I read Nicholas Orme’s “Going to Church in Medieval England” for the Wolfson History Prize blog tour in June; it delineates and explains the development and codification of many aspects of (especially) parish church architecture, internal arrangement and liturgy, and the different types of churches and their relationships to the givers of benefices and funders. Even though the Reformation swept some aspects away, many remained, especially in the “high Anglican” church.

Somewhat amusingly, the fact that I was reading these two books at the same time helped in my understanding of the smaller details of Richard Coles’ “Murder Before Evensong”, which, although a light cosy mystery novel, revolved very much around a church, and a particular kind of church, still with its family benefactors, and a high Anglican canon and congregation. Remembering the division between chancel and nave and the old official prayer times from the non-fiction book enhanced my understanding and enjoyment of the work of fiction!

The Women Who Lived in a Square

I absolutely loved Francesca Wade’s “Square Haunting” and although not all the women featured were fiction writers, it made me want to read Dorothy L. Sayers’ “Gaudy Night” and revisit Virginia Woolf’s “Between the Acts” (last read in 2016 so it is probably time), both mentioned in the book and enticingly so.


Do you think these pairings work?