Nonfiction November

I thought I’d try a bit of an old school book blog post today, so here I am to talk about Nonfiction November! And I know it’s now December… sorry!

I’d like to do a little recap of the nonfiction which I’ve been reading during the month. I was keen to take part in this month-long reading challenge, as I’ve got a lot of unread nonfiction on my shelves. Okay, so I’ve got a lot of unread everything on my shelves, but still. Nonfiction is something I generally struggle to get into, and often most of my Goodreads ‘Currently Reading’ shelf is nonfiction which I’ve started in the past and not finished. And sometimes we’re talking waaaaaay in the past. Like years.

Something I’ve discovered over the past month is that I really like memoirs, especially where there’s something unusual about how the author grew up. I started with Educated, by Tara Westover, which I completely flew through. Her upbringing and the effect this and her family have had and continue to have upon her is fascinating, despite this being largely negative and many of the events quite scary. This memoir was also excellently written, and I though Adrienne Brodeur’s memoir Wild Game was as well. Brodeur describes her teenage years and early adulthood as a confidante to her mother with regards to her mother’s illicit affair with a close family friend, and once again explores the impact this has had on her, both at the time and in the aftermath. Another memoir, which I bought immediately after I’d read Educated, was J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. I know I’m very behind with this one, but I also really enjoyed it, and appreciated how Vance wrote both of his personal experiences and mixed in elements of social and cultural political thought.

I then read A Manual for Heartache, by Cathy Rentzenbrink. Her memoir of her brother and how he survived being hit by a car, only to live the remainder of his life in a vegetative state, had a real impact on me earlier in the year. Although very well-written and with some excellent advice, I felt that this small self-help volume would not be overly helpful. The issue is that, if you’re not grieving then this isn’t applicable to you, and if you are grieving or feeling loss then you probably won’t want to read something like this, or be able to take it in. Then again, I suppose I could think similarly about the majority of self-help books…

I also managed to read two very different essay collections. Well, one of them I actually didn’t finish, which was Camille Paglia’s Free Women, Free Men. I bought this on a whim in an independent bookshop in London probably over a year ago, and I thought this was the perfect time to give it a go. Unfortunately, Paglia’s feminism is simply not for me. There is a lot of victim blaming in her essays – although she’d brand me a left-wing sissy for saying so I’m sure – and much of what she says is either contradictory or actually doesn’t make any sense. On the other hand, I just finished reading Greta Thunberg’s mini essay collection, entitled No One is Too Small to Make a Difference, which brings together many of her speeches from the last year or so on climate change and the environment. Although fairly repetitive (due to the very nature of making multiple speeches to different audiences), she gets across her simple message in clear, concise language, bringing an understanding to a complex issue which many people have either not grasped or chosen to ignore.

I managed to squeeze in a few more before the month ended. Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit, is an old essay collection from c. 2004. which was a really interesting read – a bit like a look back into ‘history’. I finished Kate Clanchy’s Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me, which is both self-explanatory, and really moving and eye-opening. Lastly, I finally, finally finished Plato at the Googleplex by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. I’ve been trying to read this for over year, and I ended up loving it. Interspersed with more philosophical essays are Goldstein’s reimagining of how Plato would speak and act if transported into our modern world, and honestly it’s absolutely brilliant.

So overall, I don’t think I did too badly! This is definitely the most nonfiction I’ve ever read in a month, and this has probably massively boosted my nonfiction reading for this year. I’ll definitely be picking up some more memoirs and trying to keep up with my nonfiction reading more in the future.

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