Today, I beg your indulgence.
I am going to combine two sign up/week one reading challenge posts into one. There has been quite a bit of overlap in my non-fiction and novella choices this past year, so it seemed an obvious solution to my current time-poor situation.
Week 1: (November 1-5) – Your Year in Nonfiction with Rennie at What’s Nonfiction: Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favourite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?
Here we are again – Non-Fiction November! Thank you to our wonderful hosts for their continuing enthusiasm and dedication to all things factual and informative.
I had a clear favourite this year – Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom and London Between the Wars by Francesca Wade.
It is also the non-fiction book that I have recommended most to others.
Not only was it a fabulous read in its own right, but it has since led me off in other directions – reading the poetry of some of the five women involved as well as reading further biographies, essays and stories about and by the women concerned, especially Virginia Woolf.
A close second goes to Delphine de Vigan and her incredibly moving and heart-felt biography/memoir about her mother and herself in Nothing Holds Back the Night. A HUGE thank you to N@ncy for first alerting me to this wonderful story.
Honourable mentions to Vesper Flights, The Salt Path and Midnight Chicken for being utterly engaging, illuminating and ultimately uplifting reads.
Toxic was the most worthy, yet horrifying read of the year and not to be undertaken if you ever want to eat salmon with a clear conscious again.
Biographies and memoirs continue to lead the way (and I have three more Australian biographies I hope to review during November). Literary biographies about authors was the common theme.
The general essay section was a surprise inclusion at the top this year, but given that half of them also have biographical/memoir elements to them, maybe not as surprising as first thought.
However literary companions is a brand new inclusion in this year’s non-fiction topics list. And I have another one half-read, hopefully to be reviewed this month.
Essays: a healthy mix of politics, memoir, self-help, observation and Covid-19.
- Committed Writings | Albert Camus (160 pgs)
- The Clear Voice Suddenly Singing | Amanda Lohrey [Australian author]
- The London Scene | Virginia Woolf (74 pgs)
- Old Seems to be Other People | Lily Brett (160 pgs) [Australian author now living in New York]
- Phosphorescence | Julia Baird (probably doesn’t really count as I didn’t finish it) [Australian author]
- How We Live Now: Scenes from the Pandemic | Bill Hayes (160 pgs)
Biography/Memoirs: Four of the six this year are biographies about women writers.
- Virginia Woolf | Nigel Nicholson (176 pgs)
- Nothing Holds back the Night | Delphine de Vigan
- Into the Loneliness | Eleanor Hogan [Australian author and subject]
- Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom and London Between the Wars | Francesca Wade
- Only Happiness Here: In Search of Elizabeth von Armin | Gabrielle Carey [Australian author and subject – see below for more on this slightly contentious claim]
- Marie Curie and Her Daughters | Imogen & Isobel Greenberg (64 pgs)
Literary Companions: a new sub-genre for me this year.
- Émile Zola: A Very Short Introduction | Brian Nelson (160 pgs)
- On Shirley Hazzard | Michelle de Kretser (112 pgs) [Australian author and subject]
- Wolf Hall Companion | Lauren Mackay (176 pgs) [Australian author]
- On Beverley Farmer | Josephine Rowe (108 pgs) [Australian author and subject]
Cookbooks: I love cookbooks, but rarely reviewed them. The discussion that followed after I wrote about Med was enlightening and helpful for anyone considering cookbook reviews on a book blog.
Nature Writing: Normally this would be one of my most-read sub-genres, however the three I did read were very worthwhile and highly recommended books.
- Toxic: The Rotting Underbelly of the Tasmanian Salmon Industry | Richard Flanagan [Australian author]
- Vesper Flights | Helen Macdonald
- The Salt Path | Raynor Winn
Health: As per usual, this sub-genre reflects my own current health concerns.
- The M Word: How to
SurviveThrive in Menopause | Dr Ginni Mansberg [Australian author]
Travel: Pretty obvious why I haven’t been inspired to read much in this area lately!
- The Passenger: Japan | Various (192 pgs)
- Meditations | Marcus Aurelius (194 pgs)
Hopes & Plans:
This year I am combining multiple challenges.
You may have also noticed the page numbers next to some of the titles above. These books also count (thanks to their page count) as NON-FICTION NOVELLAS. This is where the discussion gets interesting.
How do we define NON-FICTION NOVELLAS?
- Is it simply about word count and page numbers?
- Should the non-fiction lean towards the narrative style to reflect the ‘novel’ in novella?
- A novella usually contains one central conflict – should non-fiction novellas also only deal with ONE main idea? (i.e. not a collection of essays on various topics?)
- What do you think?
As well as the 12 non-fiction titles above, I have read a further TWELVE fiction novellas in the past year.
Putting this post together has made me realise, that going forward, I will include page count information in my book bio’s at the bottom of each post. It was only thanks to Goodreads that I realised how many of my books were actually novellas (by page count).
- Women | Mihail Sebastian (176 pgs)
- The Wingmaker | Mette Jakobsen (176 pgs) [Australian author]
- Maigret and the Tramp | Georges Simenon (160 pgs)
- Whereabouts | Jhumpa Lahiri (157 pgs)
- Laura | George Sand (128 pgs)
- Gratitude | Delphine de Vigan (160 pgs)
- People in My Neighbourhood | Hiromi Kawakami (121 pgs)
- The Wild Oats of Han | Katharine Susannah Prichard (184 pgs) [Australian author]
- Christmas at High Rising | Angela Thirkell (146 pgs)
- The Penelopiad | Margaret Atwood (199 pgs)
- Elizabeth and Her German Garden | Elizabeth von Arnim (104 pgs) [Australian author by dint of her birth and her first three years of life living in Sydney. EvA, however, lived most of her life in Europe and died in the US]
- The Spare Room | Helen Garner (187 pgs) [Australian author]
One more discussion point.
Four of my novellas are probably more like a collection of interconnected short stories. Women, Whereabouts, People in My Neighbourhood and Christmas at High Rising all contain short stories, that are set within the same world, with the same set of characters that move between the stories, usually with a connecting theme or idea (i.e. Christmas).
Are these still novellas or are they a short story collection?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
- This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.