Non-fiction November: week three – be the expert / become the expert #NonfictionNovember #NonFicNov


In the next topic in the rather marvellous Non Fiction November, which I am enjoying very much (waves at new blogging connections) we have Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert, which is hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey. The idea is to …

Share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert)

I have chosen the first and last to talk about here. Not that I know everything on everything that interests me, but my main development this last few months has been around reading more books again on experiences of people that don’t reflect my own experiences, but I found I had two books based around disability, three on immigration and three on non-white experience on the TBR, some with bibliographies, so might get swamped if I asked for more reccs (please always feel free to recommend further reading on my reviews, though!)

Be the Expert: Iceland

I’ve been to Iceland four times (including to run the Reykjavik Marathon) and I’ve been fairly obsessed with the place since I was 8. I studied Old Norse as part of my English degree and spent some time trying to learn modern Icelandic. So here are some books from my older and more recent reading which I recommend.

Four books on Iceland

W.H. Auden and Louis MacNeice – “Letters from Iceland” – The two poets took a trip around Iceland in 1936 in order to write a travel book they were commissioned to do, and the result is a mix of reportage, poetry and prose with lots of misery and laughs.

Simon Armitage and Glynn Maxwell – “Moon Country: Further Reports from Iceland” – These two modern poets decided to go in the footsteps of Auden and MacNeice, making these books go well together. This was in 1994, so just before it became trendy to visit. Reportage, play scripts and poetry riff off the older writers.

Edward Hancox – “Iceland Defrosted” – The modern book on Iceland I recommend the most. Hancox spends lots of time in Iceland and has made friends there, so he gives us a partial insider’s view – it’s also very funny. The review linked to here also tells you about a great work of fiction!

Sarah Moss – “Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland” – In 2009, Moss saw an advert for a job in Iceland and shipped her family including two small children over to live there for a year. The financial crisis has hit, and she’s shocked that no one seems to want second-hand items. I have a few reservations about this book but it does give lots of detail of day-to-day living in the country.

Become the Expert

I mentioned in one of my other posts that I appear to have a lot of books on birdwatching on the TBR, given that it’s a fairly minority interest and you wouldn’t expect there to be THAT many books written about it. And this is just the books specifically about birdwatching – I’ve read Stephen Rutt’s “The Seafarers” this year, which has a lot of detail about being a birdwatcher but isn’t entirely about that, and have a few others on my TBR around rewilding which are bound to include it. But here are four books about birdwatching which I fear will make me an expert (I am already a birdwatcher, though not an expert one. We have done ‘twitching’ once, and that involved walking from Penzance to Newlyn to look for an Icelandic gull, a walk of about 15 minutes, so very mildly!

Four books on birdwatching

In order of acquisition, though I bought the bottom two on the same shopping trip, in the same shop:

Alex Horne – “Birdwatchingwatching: One Year, Two Men, Three Rules, Ten Thousand Birds” – Horne goes birdwatching with his dad for a year.  He’s a comedian, so I’m expecting laughs.

Joe Harkness – “Bird Therapy” – The only Unbound campaign I’ve taken part in that’s got published, this is about the therapeutic effect of watching birds. I bought this for my best friend, Emma, for her birthday, so might read it along with her.

Stephen Moss – “A Bird in the Bush: A Social History of Birdwatching” – I don’t think he’s related to Sarah Moss, although I don’t know for sure. This looks to have a historical aspect and I love the cover image – I took a similar picture on the Isles of Scilly the one time we went.

Mark Cocker – “Birders: Tales of a Tribe” – I think more about modern birding. Bill Oddie is mentioned on the front cover.

So there we go! I’m looking forward to reading everyone else’s posts. Have I piqued your interest in Iceland? Do you know yet more books on birdwatching? (I know at least one of the bloggers I follow has read “Bird Therapy” and also did the Unbound thing).

Non-fiction November: week two – pairings #NonfictionNovember


I’m enjoying taking part in Non-fiction November already, and this week I’m going to post within the actual week rather than after it! I had seen this week’s prompt before when I was considering joining in, and thought I had nothing to contribute before realising that I had an easy win for it, in fact! This week is hosted on Sarah’s Book Shelves and involves pairing up non-fiction books with fiction. Some people have posted loads of exciting pairings and I’ve been enjoying reading them, but I think other people have shared just one, as I am doing here.

I have picked two recent reads, because I read them partly in parallel and, while one covers a shorter time period than the other, I feel that they feed off each other and each adds dimensions to the other.

Bernadine Evaristo’s “Girl, Woman, Other” looks at a whole century of Black British Culture, with characters ranging back to the part-Ethiopian mother of the oldest character in the book, a 93 year old Northumberland farmer and forward to a student millennial who’s full of all the latest theories on intersectional issued, gender and race. You can read my review on this blog here, and I have a longer but maybe less personal review up on Shiny New Books, too, here.

Clair Will’s “Lovers and Strangers” covers a wider and at the same time narrower remit. Dealing with just the first generation of immigrants immediately post-Second World War in the UK, she looks at everyone from displaced Central European citizens to the Irish population to immigrants from the Commonwealth. You can read my review from yesterday here.

So many of the themes are made clearer by each book reflecting off the other. “Lovers and Strangers” while a work of non-fiction and history, uses immigrants’ narratives of their journey and settling in the UK, sometimes told in memoir, sometimes in fiction. “Girl, Woman, Other” fleshes out people into round wholes and shows the networks of their relationships within their communities and outside them. I do recommend reading them together and I’d say both are vital reads if you want to understand more about the different people who make up our wonderfully diverse communities in the UK.

Book review – Clair Wills – “Lovers and Strangers: An Immigrant History of Post-War Britain” plus a new @ShinyNewBooks review out now #NonfictionNovember


A review of what I consider an absolutely vital book to read if you live in the UK and care about the history and make-up of your local community, and a quick note of a Shiny review of a book I recently reviewed on here – Bernadine Evaristo’s “Girl, Woman, Other” – on Shiny here in slightly more detail than in my review on here, and also featuring in my next Non-Fiction November post.

Clair Wills – “Lovers and Strangers: An Immigrant History of Post-War Britain”

(22 May 2018, Foyles)

An excellent, powerful, readable book which studies the first wave of post-war immigration to the UK, so the Windrush generation, but also European displaced persons, Irish immigrants, returning soldiers and reunited families, and interrogates their own words, finding these in fiction, interviews, letters to the paper, broadcasts, songs and even an epic poem at all, to give their experience of “us” (I say this from a position of being 63/64 Southern English and 1/64 Spanish) rather than our experience of “them”. It goes behind the headlines and legal proceedings to paint a varied and fascinating picture of how Britain was seen and adapted to (or not) by the people who came here looking for some kind of a better life.

Wills comes from a Irish family in which her parents emigrated to the UK, and this gives her legitimacy to write about these lives and other new lives in Britain, a new kind of history where she traces, after the introduction, quite movingly highlighting the different kinds of journeys people made to get to Britain, themes of the perceived characteristics of the immigrants – sometimes encapsulating all of them, sometimes specific to a particular group – and looks across the period at that aspect and how it changes. It also somehow traces these lives and writings basically chronologically over the period, from those first bachelors to family members and women’s new spending powers, set against the backdrop of how changes in legislation and politics affected these groups of people and their interaction with more indigenous folk (though of course hardly any of us in the UK are truly indigenous if you trace us back far enough).

Wills is very good and thoughtful on the wider themes and psychologies as well as the nitty-gritty of everyday life, and both aspects are fascinating. She talks of the temporal and geographical limbo people fall into when they move somewhere they think temporarily, intending to return home, then trapped by circumstance or even finding themselves not at home in either the old country or the mother country.

The racism and fear, with touches of anger at perceived welfare tourism, not calmed by rather patronising leaflets trying to explain we all have the same motivations and aspirations, is horribly and depressingly familiar and made me think that no one has really changed and society never will (however, there were people who welcomed their new neighbours then, much as there are people like me who value our diversity now, and we probably need to cling to that).

There are some amazing and surprising statistics in the book. Did you know that half of the passengers on the Windrush had been posted in the UK during the Second World War but then returned home, only to come back to seek a better post-war life? Or that in the 1950s, almost a sixth of the entire population of the Republic of Ireland was in the UK, and a far higher proportion of the working population?

Stories of her own family are skilfully woven in, giving another layer to the story, as we meet people from broadcasters to bachelors, lovers to brothers, people who stayed in their own community, worked in their own language and wrote in their own language to activists who took the US as an example and fought for change in the wider community. Some immigrants were less visible and faded from view, and this is most true perhaps of the European displaced persons, tested for infestations and humiliated, but assimilating while trying to hold on to their own cultures. Many voices are featured and differences as well as similarities brought up and examined.

A really vital book to read, but readable as well as informative, I hasten to add, in case I’ve made it look a bit dry!

Non-fiction November: week one #NonfictionNovember


I have seen loads of other bloggers taking part in Non-Fiction November and read their posts with interest, and I thought I wouldn’t have the time, energy or content to do it. But then I thought, well, I DO read a lot of non-fiction, more than most people I know, and it would be fun to find some new blogs to read and to hopefully get some discussion going on the non-fiction I read with a few new people (much as I cherish my regulars!) so here I go.

Week one is hosted by JulzReads and Week 1, which I see I’m slightly late for (oops) has an introductory theme:

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

As I said, I read quite a lot of non-fiction: out of my 89 reads so far this year, 43 have been in this category. So I have a few favourites. One was “Long Live Great Bardfield” by Tirzah Garwood, in Persephone, the diaries of this wonderful artist, my first book of the year, and another Martin Gayford’s “The Pursuit of Art“, which I reviewed for Shiny New Books. Stephen Rutt’s “The Seafarers” was another stand-out.

Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?

Looking at my acquisitions this year (my Book Confessions category will find them if you’re interested), I have been more attracted to books in the Nature area this year. Especially on birdwatching. I appear to have FOUR books on birdwatching, its people and sociology, on my TBR right now.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

I’ve continued to recommend Lisa Jackson’s “Your Pace or Mine” to many runners I’ve encountered – one of the best running books I’ve ever read. I enthused about “The Seafarers” to a lot of people, too.

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?

Given my TBR, probably books about birdwatching! I have also bought and intend to buy more around other people’s experiences in the UK and further afield – so I want to continue reading more widely about the experience of immigrants.

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

I want to share my love of non-fiction and help people know it’s not all science tomes, and also find new bloggers to read and link up with.

Well, that was fun! Hopefully I’ll get my next post in on the right day!

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