Tuesday, November 29, 2022

My Year in Nonfiction

Nonfiction November is an opportunity to look back at the nonfiction read in the past year, and out of the 168 books I have read this year just eleven were nonfiction, about 15%. Unless the topic really interests me, the pace is usually too slow. However, when I find one I really like, everyone hears about it. I recommended Dead Wake to everyone I encountered while I was listening to the audio, especially Elswyth Thane fans. Earlier this month, I encountered the author’s editor at a JV soccer game and told her everything I especially appreciated about the book (her son is also a promising goalkeeper). Books about books seems to be the genre I read most, along with history and sports. 

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (2015). This book about the 1915 voyage of the Lusitania from New York on its way to Liverpool was my favorite nonfiction of the year. Olson brings those on the ship to life, including Charles Lauriat, a Boston native from the bookselling family, who was traveling with an incredibly valuable book annotated in Dickens’ handwriting. This will be one of my Best of 2022 books. My review.
The Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay (2012). I have always been fascinated by the work done on the homefront during WWII and particularly by those working at Bletchley Park trying to decode German messages. I was excited to visit Bletchley Park myself in June. My review.

Literary Criticism
Literary Trails, British Writers in Their Landscapes by Christina Hardyment (2000). Written in collaboration with Britain’s National Trust, Hardyment takes the reader on a literary pilgrimage with particularly appealing sojourns in Cornwall and the Lake District. This is a book for armchair travelers who may not make it to Britain but know exactly what they’d like to see if they were there. My review.

The Art of Alice and Martin Provensen edited by Gloria Fowler (2022). I was considering the art of this talented husband and wife team for a thesis topic when I came across this gorgeous coffee-table book. Although I wound up writing about Tana Hoban instead, I was delighted by the beautiful folk art style of the Provensens and cursed myself for accidentally giving one of their books away. My review.
From Spare Oom to War Drobe: Travels in Narnia with my Nine-Year-Old Self by Katherine Langrish (2021).  I enjoyed this retrospective on the series written by the most enthusiastic Narnia fan known to humankind. I thought I knew these books well. My review.

Re-Enchanted: The Rise of Children’s Fantasy Literature in the Twentieth Century by Maria Sachiko Cecire (2019).  I don’t remember who recommended this to me but it is interesting because she discusses the lack of diversity in fantasy. Overall, her premise is that Oxford and medievalism are the biggest influences on children’s fantasy literature, including not just Tolkien and C.S. Lewis but also Susan Cooper, Philip Pullman, Diana Wynne Jones, and one I haven’t read, Kevin Crossley-Holland. This ignores Nesbit (not even indexed), Elizabeth Goudge, Alison Uttley, and several other British fantasy authors I consider important, however. The author was a professor at Bard but now works at the Mellon Foundation.


Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas (2003). This warm and witty memoir tells the story of an Iranian family and its enthusiastic misadventures with life in America, embracing Thanksgiving and game shows on television, learning English with bafflement, and the author’s eventual marriage to a Frenchman she met at Cal Berkeley, which resulted in even more of a melting pot experience. My review.
The Secret Life of Dorothy Soames by Justine Cowan (2021). A melancholy but interesting look at the experience of the author’s mother, who was brought up in the famous Foundling Hospital in London which I, coincidentally, visited in June. My review.


It’s Better to be Feared: The New England Patriots Dynasty and the Pursuit of Greatness by Seth Wickersham (2021). Loved this book documenting the Patriots’ success over two decades – until Tom Brady left. This is most suitable for New England fans, although others might read it just to revel in the fact that the good times are likely over for us. My review.

Rise of the Black Quarterback by Jason Reid (2022). This was an interesting look at the history of black athletes in football, particularly at quarterback. The early 20th history of the game was well depicted as well as coverage of current stars like Patrick Mahomes. My review.

Heroes are Human: Lessons in Resilience, Courage, and Wisdom from the COVID Front Lines by Bob Delaney.  This book examines how medical professionals managed to cope with stress and hardship in order to provide care to patients during the pandemic. Delaney’s goal was to hear from these individuals in their own words, to understand their motivation, and to obtain inspiration from their dedication. My review.

Nonfiction to Come, perhaps by the end of 2022

Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan (2019). Mangan writes about how books opened up different worlds to her, taking her to Narnia, and Kirrin Island, and Wonderland. She ventured down rabbit holes and womble burrows into midnight gardens and chocolate factories. I bought this during the pandemic but just started it.
Agatha Christie: An Elusive Woman by Lucy Worsley (2022). I tried reading The Christie Affair, which got great reviews, but I disliked it. Then I read a review of this book which said: Christie “was born in 1890 into a world that had its own rules about what women could and couldn’t do. Lucy Worsley’s biography is not just of a massively, internationally successful writer. It's also the story of a person who, despite the obstacles of class and gender, became an astonishingly successful working woman” so quickly purchased it.


Lex @ Lexlingua said...

I have just started re-watching Miss Marple TV series, so looks like it would be a good idea to match it up with the Elusive Woman. And I remember your lovely review of The Art of Alice and Martin Provensen -- have been wanting to get my hands on it ever since. Let's see if I can make this a New Year present for myself :)

Nan said...

I was stopped at 168 books!! I am so impressed. Makes me wonder what I do with my time. Haha.
I am a big nonfiction fan, but as you say, I am very interested in the subjects that I read.

Lory said...

Okay, I HAVE to read Funny in Farsi this year. If nothing else, I need to read something funny to cheer me up.

I don't like Agatha Christie's books, but I'm interested in her as a cultural phenomenon, so the bio looks intriguing. Let us know how it turns out.

Marianne said...

Such a nice way to wrap up your non-fiction month. Some good suggestions, thanks.

My last list is with books that are New to my TBR.

Cath said...

Lucy Worsley has turned her book into a BBC doc. series of which I've recorded the first so far but not watched it yet. Looks good. As you know I'm a bit of a fan of non-fiction but it has to be the right subjects. Books such as celebrity memoirs do not interest me much. That said, one I read recently by Pam Ayres was 'so' good, so even that is not written in tablets of stone.

CLM said...

Nonfiction takes a lot longer to read, Nan! And I also read a lot of children's books which are often quite short.

I haven't watched any of Lucy Worsley's shows but caught one glimpse of her and thought she looked very demure; not what I was expecting.

Lory, do you not like mysteries or just not Christie?