Nonfiction November Week 5 – New to my TBR

I hope everyone who took part in Nonfiction November got something out of it – principally some fantastic reading and tons of new ideas about possible areas to read up on.

It  has been a great experience for me personally.  I’ve loved helping to host and I’ve found some amazing books which are going to keep me busy for the longest time. I’ve also found some great new bloggers to follow.

Week 5 is our final week of the challenge and we are hosted by Lisa at Hopewell’s Public Library of Life.

The prompt for this final week is:

Description: (New to My TBR: It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!


So without further ado here’s my list.

Ada’s Ideas: The Story of ADA Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) was the daughter of Lord Byron, a poet, and Anna Isabella Milbanke, a mathematician. Her parents separated when she was young, and her mother insisted on a logic-focused education, rejecting Byron’s “mad” love of poetry. But Ada remained fascinated with her father and considered mathematics “poetical science.” Via her friendship with inventor Charles Babbage, she became involved in “programming” his Analytical Engine, a precursor to the computer, thus becoming the world’s first computer programmer. This picture book biography of Ada Lovelace is a compelling portrait of a woman who saw the potential for numbers to make art.

I found this book on Literary Potpourri


The Woman They Could Not Silence: The Timeless Story of an Outspoken Woman and the Men Who Tried to Make Her Disappear by Kate Moore

1860: As the clash between the states rolls slowly to a boil, Elizabeth Packard, housewife and mother of six, is facing her own battle. The enemy sits across the table and sleeps in the next room. Her husband of twenty-one years is plotting against her because he feels increasingly threatened–by Elizabeth’s intellect, independence, and unwillingness to stifle her own thoughts. So Theophilus makes a plan to put his wife back in her place. One summer morning, he has her committed to an insane asylum.

This Wilkie Collins-esque saga seems to belong in the deeps of history but no.  The actor Cary  Grant’s horrific childhood saga – currently on our screens –  was set in the 20th century, 50 years later than the events recounted in Moore’s book, yet a time when men could still confine their wives to an insane asylum with impunity.

I found The Woman they Could Not Silence on Silver Button Books.


Bibliomaniac by Robin Ince

Why play to 12,000 people when you can play to 12? In Autumn 2021, Robin Ince’s stadium tour with Professor Brian Cox was postponed due to the pandemic. Rather than do nothing, he decided he would instead go on a tour of over a hundred bookshops, from Wigtown to Penzance; from Swansea to Margate.

Packed with anecdotes and tall tales, Bibliomaniac follows Robin up and down the country in his quest to discover just why he can never have enough books. It is the story of an addiction and a romance, and also of an occasional points failure just outside Oxenholme.

I found Bibliomaniac on Bookish Beck.


Landbridge: Life in Fragments by Y-Dang Troeung

Born in, and named after, Thailand’s Khao-I-Dang refugee camp, Y-Dang Troeung was – aged one – the last of 60,000 Cambodian refugees admitted to Canada, fleeing her homeland in the aftermath of Pol Pot’s brutal Khmer Rouge regime. In Canada, Y-Dang became a literal poster child for the benevolence of the Canadian refugee project – and, implicitly, the unknowable horrors of the place she had escaped.

In Landbridge, a family and personal memoir of astonishing power, Y-Dang grapples with a life lived in the shadow of pre-constructed narratives. She considers the transactional relationship between a host country and its refugees; she delves into the contradictions between ethnic, regional and national identities; and she writes to her young son Kai with the promise that this family legacy is passed down with love at its core.
Written in fragmentary chapters, each with the vivid light of a single candle in a pitch-black room, Landbridge is a courageous piece of life writing, the story of a family, and a bold, ground-breaking intervention in the way trauma and migration are told.

I found Landbridge on Shoe’s Seeds and Stories


The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas


Commonly seen as the legendary Norwegian writer’s masterpiece, this story tells the tale of Siss and Unn, two friends who have only spent one evening in each other’s company. But so profound is this evening between them that when Unn inexplicably disappears, Siss’s world is shattered. The Ice Palace is written in prose of a lyrical economy that ranks among the most memorable achievements of modern literature.

I found this on Cathy@746 Books


Avid Reader: A Life by Robert Gottleib

After editing The Columbia Review, staging plays at Cambridge, and a stint in the greeting-card department of Macy’s, Robert Gottlieb stumbled into a job at Simon and Schuster. By the time he left to run Alfred A. Knopf a dozen years later, he was the editor in chief, having discovered and edited Catch-22 and The American Way of Death, among other bestsellers. At Knopf, Gottlieb edited an astonishing list of authors, including Toni Morrison, John Cheever, Doris Lessing, John le Carre, Michael Crichton, Lauren Bacall, Katharine Graham, Robert Caro, Nora Ephron, and Bill Clinton–not to mention Bruno Bettelheim and Miss Piggy. In Avid Reader, Gottlieb writes with wit and candor about succeeding William Shawn as the editor of The New Yorker, and the challenges and satisfactions of running America’s preeminent magazine. Sixty years after joining Simon and Schuster, Gottlieb is still at it–editing, anthologizing, and, to his surprise, writing.

I found this book on The Intrepid Angeleno


Brave the Wild River: The Untold Story of Two Women Who Mapped the Botany of the Grand Canyon by Melissa L. Sevigny

In the summer of 1938, botanists Elzada Clover and Lois Jotter set off down the Colorado River, accompanied by an ambitious expedition leader and three amateur boatmen. With its churning rapids, sheer cliffs, and boat-shattering boulders, the Colorado was famed as the most dangerous river in the world. But for Clover and Jotter, it held a tantalizing appeal: no one had surveyed the Grand Canyon’s plants, and they were determined to be the first.

I found this book on Hopewell’s Public Library of Life.


Well I’ve got a lot of books to read.  Thank you again to everyone who has taken part in this challenge.

From 1st December Liz at Adventures in Reading is running a new challenge,  Dean Street December, which celebrates an indie press dedicated to finding and republishing good fiction and nonfiction,  so I’m off to find out what I need to read for that.

Nonfiction November Week 4 – Worldview Shapers

Rebekah (She Seeks Nonfiction) invites you to celebrate Nonfiction November.  In Week 4, the prompt is:

  • Dates: 11/20-11/24
  • Title: Worldview Shapers
  • Description: One of the greatest things about reading nonfiction is learning all kinds of things about our world which you never would have known without it. There’s the intriguing, the beautiful, the appalling, and the profound. What nonfiction book or books have impacted the way you see the world in a powerful way? Is there one book that made you rethink everything? Do you think there is a book that should be required reading for everyone?

My Worldview Shaper this week is a book which firmly comes under the ‘appalling’ category. Not the book of course, but the thing that it reveals.  I make no apology for banging on about this work because I firmly believe that everyone should read it, while at the same time not being convinced that enough people have.  Google says over half a million copies sold.  Well that’s great but not enough.

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

Caroline Criado Perez

I have reviewed this book before.

The epigram Perez chose for this book is a quote from Simone de Beauvoir:

Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with the absolute truth.

I always knew that as a women – especially one born in the 1950s –  I was a second class citizen but I had vague notions that, hey it was the 60s, you know, Beatles, Stones etc.,  with better educational and job opportunities, the pill, Germaine Greer, feminisim. Everything would be cool.   But it wasn’t.  It still isn’t.   I have to keep reminding myself that this book was written as recently as 2019!

Perez states:

Most of recorded human history is one big data gap.  Starting with the theory of Man the Hunter, chroniclers of the past have left little space for women’s role in the evolution of humanity, whether cultural or biological.  Instead the lives of men have been taken to represent those overall.

Thus we have ‘mankind’.  The idea that humanity is male unless otherwise stated.  It’s not just a matter of language although language doesn’t help.  The conditioning starts from day one, and has done for centuries.

This is a book full of statistics which need to be known – by everyone.

  • ‘draw-a-scientist’ data shows that the drawings are invariably male.
  • In London women are three times more likely to take a child to school than a man.   This is 2019.
  • Women still have less toilet provision in cinemas, theatres and public buildings than men.  Yes folks – this is 2019!  And no ‘gender neutral’ doesn’t work for anyone – except men – because women er.. cannot use urinals so just changing the signage might be cheap but its cheap in all senses of the word and doesn’t work!
  • Unfortunately there is evidence, Perez tells us, that using gender neutral language does nothing to alleviate the problems which are so deeply embedded in our psyche by centuries of conditioning.
  • For example, a study from human-computer interaction papers published in 2014 found much use of gender neutral terms like researcher, designer, participant, person, etc.  Great! But the catch was that human beings, when asked to consider who or what was depicted by these terms, were most likely to interpret a male as depicted
  • Research published in 2018 by Boston Consulting Group says Female business owners receive less than half the level of investment their male counterparts get, but produce more than twice the revenue.

There’s a lot more of this scary, depressing stuff.  But the worst and scariest aspect of all this – for women – is health and pharmaceuticals testing.

When I reviewed Invisible Women I quoted:

Accurate data is vital for research and appropriate solutions.  Yet accurate data is not available if half the human race is excluded from its gathering simply because no-one has thought to consider whether one size really does fit all.   If you base your research on skewed data, you get a skewed result.   This is obvious, perhaps, when it is baldly stated but not at all obvious in the accepted course of knowledge production which has been going on for millennia.

This term ‘gender data gap’ is something I barely understood before reading Perez;  now I understand it, it is frighteningly omniscient, and it is costing female lives.

As we move into goodness knows what sort of AI dominated future, the prejudices we have seen replicated time and time again  will be perpetuated because that is how. ‘mankind’ thinks.  There are already complaints about police facial recognition software not being sufficiently colour blind and no doubt women as servants will be right there in the mix.


Next week is the final week of Nonfiction November when we will be talking about the books that we have added to our TBR as a result of this month’s challenge.



Nonfiction November #nonficnov23 – Week Three. Book Pairings.

  • We’re already into week 3 of nonfiction November.

    • Dates: 11/13-11/17
    • Host:  Liz (Adventures in reading, running and working from home)
    • Title: Book pairings
    • Description: This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. Maybe it’s a historical novel and the real history in a nonfiction version, or a memoir and a novel, or a fiction book you’ve read and you would like recommendations for background reading. You can be as creative as you like.

I have just been listening to Yo-yo Ma playing the cello on Instagram.    I think the music he was playing was an extract from the Bach cello suites.  In any event it was a piece in a minor key to reflect the horrendous things going on in the world just now.  I note from his appearance that the maestro has aged.  Haven’t we all.  Even in the last few weeks.

What is it about the sound of the cello that responds to the grimness of war?  Not just the cello of course, it is the music that speaks to us.   But music requires an instrument and an interpreter, an intermediary, another soul between the listener and the notes on the page.

The Catalan cellist Pablo Casals writes most movingly of his life torn between music and love for his country which was almost continually engaged in some sort of military struggle.  I have blogged before about Casals’ memoire Joys and Sorrows: Reflections by Pablo Casals Albert E Kahn (Macdonald, London) 1970 which is sadly in no longer in print, but if you can get hold of a second hand copy anywhere I highly recommend it.  The book was published just three years before Casals’ death in 1973.

It is a book I turn to again and again.  In particular when times are so difficult –  because of his philosophy, his values, his courage and determination.

Casals was famous for playing the cello but he was also a composer and conductor.  He was born in 1876, living through both the first and second world wars as well as the Spanish Civil War.  It was the time of this last conflict that he was forced out of his beloved home in San Salvador – his life endangered by Franco’s thugs as a known and vocal republican.  He went into exile, living first in France and later in Puerto Rico.

The only weapons I have ever had  are my cello and my conductor’s baton.  And during the Civil War I used them as best I could to support the cause in which I believed – the cause of freedom and democracy.

Casals continued working always and under the most bizarre and dangerous circumstances, not only performing but organising his own orchestra from local musicians and conducting.

He writes:

Great areas of Barcelona were in ruins…once in the middle of a rehearsal I was conducting at the Liceu, bombs started falling nearby.  The whole building shook, and the musicians scattered in the hall – as was not unnatural.  I picked up a cello on the stage and began to play a Bach suite.  The musicians returned to their places, and we continued the rehearsal.

And on getting older (he is 93 at the time the book is written):

“Work and interest and worthwhile things are the best remedy for age.  Each day I am reborn, each day I must begin again.”


I am pairing this life affirming biography with a work of fiction, The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway.  This is set in war in Bosnia in the 1990s.

And so today, like every other day in recent memory, the cellist sits beside the window of his second floor apartment and plays until he feels his hope return.  He rarely plays the Adagio.  Most days he’s able to feel the music rejuvenate him as simply as if he were filling a car with gasoline.  But some days this isn’t the case.  If after several hours, this hope doesn’t return, he will pause to gather himself, and then he and his cello will coax Albinoni’s Adagio out of the firebombed husk of Dresden and into the mortar-pocked, sniper-infested streets of Sarajevo.

There is not a single narrator of this story but several, including Arrow, a young woman for whom war time life bears no resemblance to her prewar existence, which is why she never now uses her real name.  As a talented sniper, it is Arrow’s job to protect the cellist from “the men on the hills”. Crouched in burned out offices and apartment buildings, she lies with her rifle aimed at another sniper who’s job is to stop the cellist achieving his aims.

The cellist is determined to sit in the wrecked streets and play Albinoni’s adagio every day for 22 days in remembrance of 22 of his friends and neighbours killed in a bomb attack on a bakery queue – a queue he had almost joined himself.

Although a work of fiction, the cellist’s single act of musical refusal put me in mind of Casals picking up his cello in the midst of the ruins of Barcelona.  I have no idea whether Galloway had read Casals, but whether he had or not, the scene contains a universal truth.

Against a background of the useless misery, horror and waste of war, all the characters have to find ways to cling to their humanity.  This is a beautiful and tragic book which sadly resonates as much today as when it was written.


A Review of The Instant by Amy Liptrot

Amy Liptrot is an author who burst onto the literary scene in 2016 with a remarkable debut called The Outrun, a narrative nonfiction work on surviving addiction, childhood and loneliness mostly set on the bleakly beautiful Scottish island of Orkney where the writer grew up.  I loved it.

Wiki says of The Outrun:

Liptrot’s prize-winning book has been translated into more than a dozen languages, hit The Sunday Times’ top ten bestsellers list and sold over 110,000 copies in the U.K. It has been added to publisher Canongate’s “modern classics” list.

Not bad for a first book.  Also there is a film being made with Saoirse Ronan playing the author.

Liptrot has this marvellous descriptive, unselfpitying style of writing which hits with the immediacy of poetry.    She also spends a huge amount of time on the internet – especially on the NASA website moonwatching –  but manages to combine the digital worlds and the natural worlds in a way that makes the two seem not quite so incompatible as they often seem to me.

Maybe it was in some way inevitable that after such a galactic debut, the sequel would be a bit of a disappointment.

The Instant was published in 2022 and covers the period in Liptrot’s life after the first book, when she spent a year in Berlin seeking work, friendship, relationships, direction.  We’ve all been there.  But not everyone observes as closely as this.  Even in the middle of the busy city of  Berlin, nature is at the forefront of the author’s awareness. And the moon.

“I run a bath, consult my digital charts, then wait for the moon.  My bath is next to the window and I open it wide to the cool air.  I hear stray cats mewing in the stairwell, magpies rattling in the bare trees and the indistinct rumble of the city that reminds me of the wind back home”

I did enjoy The Instant which is structured as a series of essays rather than as a single narrative but somehow for me it lacked the emotional truth of the first book.    And some of the writing felt earlier, as if it had been retrieved from earlier essays and articles, because of the need to produce a sequel.


I will be back on Monday taking part in Week 3 of Nonfiction November which is hosted by

Thanks to everyone who has taken part in the challenge so far.

Nonfiction November #NonFicNov23 – Week Two, Choosing Nonfiction

I am excited to be hosting Week 2 of Nonfiction November this week.  The other hosts for Nonfiction November are fellow bloggers Liz (Adventures in reading, running and working from home), , Heather (Based on a True Story), and Lisa (Hopewell’s Public Library of Life), and Rebekah (She Seeks Nonfiction).

  • Week 2Dates: 11/6-11/10
    • Host: That would be me, Frances
    • Title: Choosing Nonfiction
    • Description: What are you looking for when you pick up a nonfiction book? Do you have a particular topic you’re attracted to? Do you have a particular writing style that works best? When you look at a nonfiction book, does the title or cover influence you? If so, share a title or cover which you find striking.

Do you find yourself wandering around bookshops – that is if  you are lucky enough to have access to a real bookshop these days – thinking that you fancy reading something ‘different’ but you’ve no idea what it is?  I used to often feel this way.

We are peddled a relentless diet of best-sellers and known names, books which may or may not answer a need, and nowhere is that feeling stronger than in a high street bookstore.  Where is the opportunity for that quirky discovery with the battered binding?

Since I have discovered the blogosphere and all my bookish friends online, I don’t really have a problem in finding books to read any more, quite the opposite.  But I do miss just wandering around the shelves and picking up a book here or there just to see.

When browsing, I avoid footballers, celebrities and disgruntled royals.   I look for good biography, memoir, art, art history.  I mentioned in my post last week the occasional guilt complex at not reading more widely in other categories.  Probably in 2024 I will try and address that.

In terms of a favoured cover I’m pretty sold on this one which is from my current read, Jackie Wullschlager’s Biography, Monet: The Restless Vision:


I love colour.

I think human beings are attracted to bright colours.  Maybe Monet thought so too.  Here is some colour courtesy of the net.

Geordanna Cordero on Unsplash

I’m also a fan of the new nature writing, usually a blend of authoritative essay style writing on the natural world, combined with autobiographical details from the life of the author

Little Toller Books have an excellent if a somewhat pricey array of these books. Here are three that have caught my eye.

.  My

An allotment is a utopia. It is a green place where anyone can occupy a piece of land, and grow with freedom of expression.

I don’t know whether people that use allotments would agree with that idea, or how you grow with freedom of expression – or without freedom of expression unless you’re entering for Chelsea.  I’m not really a gardener in any way shape or form but my brother in law has worked an allotment plus a garden for decades.  I never quite understood how anyone manages all that work!  I suspect he may not wish to read about the history of them though, so passing swiftly on.

Richard Mabey was maybe one of the first writers to write about mental health and natural world issues combined in his book Nature Cure which I have read.  In my review I wrote:

Mabey’s book is an enlightening read, erudite without being dry, honest to the point of bleakness in parts, without being depressing. It was one of the first in the style which came to be known as the new nature writing, along with naturalist and friend Mark Cocker. These are books which entwine stories of the natural world with the writer’s own biographical tales.

Taking far longer than usual to move out of the house in which he grew up, and aided and abetted by a severe bout of depression, Mabey makes his belated escape to the Norfolk fens where he writes about sheets of water, the Wailing Wood, owls, birds, fens, the yellow star-of-bethlehem and orchids in an ‘ethereal shade of rose’. But his particular interest, like the poet John Clare

Mabey has written many, many books including a biography of the naturalist and author Gilbert White whom wiki credits with ‘shaping the modern attitude of respect for nature’ which seems a rather extraordinary claim.  I didn’t realise there was a modern attitude of respect for nature judging by the ecology crisis we have on our hands.  But I think I will put this one on my TBR.


Does anyone else find themselves drawn to a particular theme or topic?  Style of writing? Titles? Covers? They say you can’t tell a book by one, but hey, a good cover certainly helps.

If you are taking part in Nonfiction November Week 2,  don’t forget to add your link below.  I’ve been so happy to help host this challenge but the only thing I’ve been panicking about is the link party.  Despite the kindness of Rebekah at (She Seeks Nonfiction) and others showing me what to do, my link party looks worryingly unlike anyone else’s.  Therefore please if you have any problems, just leave the link to your post in the comments below.



You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter





Nonfiction November 2023 is here

Autumn is here, which means it’s almost time for Nonfiction November!

Throughout the month of November, bloggers Liz, Frances, Heather, Rebekah, and Lisa invite you to celebrate Nonfiction November with us.

Fellow bloggers Liz (Adventures in reading, running and working from home), Frances (Volatile Rune), Heather (Based on a True Story), and Lisa (Hopewell’s Public Library of Life), and Rebekah (She Seeks Nonfiction) invite you to celebrate Nonfiction November.

Meet your hosts!

Liz, who blogs at Adventures in reading, running and working from home, is an editor, transcriber, reader, reviewer, writer and runner. She likes reading literary fiction and nonfiction, travel and biography.

Frances blogs about the books she has read at Volatile Rune and is a published poet, reviewer, sometime storyteller and novelist.

Heather of Based on a True Story lives in Ohio with her husband, surrounded by lots and lots of critters!

Rebekah reads and writes about social justice, atheism, religion, science history, and more on She Seeks Nonfiction.

Last but not least, Lisa blogs at Hopewell’s Public Library of Life.

How it works

Each Monday, our weekly host will post our topic prompt and include a linkup where you can link your posts, connect with other bloggers, and dive deeper by reading and sharing nonfiction book reviews. Feel free to use our official Nonfiction November graphics, too! 

Here are the topic prompts for each week:

Hosts in order of weeks are:

And here are the topics by week:

  • Week 1
    • Dates: 10/30-11/3
    • Host: Heather
    • Title: Your Year in Nonfiction
    • Description: Celebrate your year of nonfiction. What books have you read? What were your favorites? Have you had a favorite topic? Is there a topic you want to read about more?  What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?
  • Week 2
    • Dates: 11/6-11/10
    • Host: Frances
    • Title: Choosing Nonfiction
    • Description: What are you looking for when you pick up a nonfiction book? Do you have a particular topic you’re attracted to? Do you have a particular writing style that works best? When you look at a nonfiction book, does the title or cover influence you? If so, share a title or cover which you find striking.
  • Week 3
    • Dates: 11/13-11/17
    • Host: Liz
    • Title: Book pairings
    • Description: This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. Maybe it’s a historical novel and the real history in a nonfiction version, or a memoir and a novel, or a fiction book you’ve read and you would like recommendations for background reading. You can be as creative as you like!
  • Week 4
    • Dates: 11/20-11/24
    • Host: Rebekah
    • Title: Worldview Shapers
    • Description: One of the greatest things about reading nonfiction is learning all kinds of things about our world which you never would have known without it. There’s the intriguing, the beautiful, the appalling, and the profound. What nonfiction book or books have impacted the way you see the world in a powerful way? Is there one book that made you rethink everything? Do you think there is a book that should be required reading for everyone?
  • Week 5
    • Dates: 11/27-12/1
    • Host: Lisa
    • Title: New to my TBR
  • Description: (New to My TBR: It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!





Nonfiction November Week 4: Worldview Changers: #NonficNov

Week 4 has arrived. Here’s our prompt from Rebekah @ She Seeks Nonfiction:



Worldview Changers: One of the greatest things about reading nonfiction is learning all kinds of things about our world which you never would have known without it. There’s the intriguing, the beautiful, the appalling, and the profound. What nonfiction book (or books) has impacted the way you see the world in a powerful way? Do you think there is one book that everyone needs to read for a better understanding of the world we live in?


Short post from me this week.  Not as I originally thought because this was going to be a difficult prompt, but in fact because it was easy.   There is only one way for me to answer this question.  The book (or two volumes to be precise) that changed my life were written by in the thirteenth century by a Japanese monk called Nichiren Daishonin.  They are called – not unreasonably – The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, and they detail his teachings of Buddhism based on the Lotus Sutra and the original teachings of Shakyamuni buddha.  Taking the form of letters to his disciples, these prophetic and profound teachings are still studied by millions of people around the globe.

Some schools of Buddhism taught that countless eons of austerities must be undergone before enlightenment could be achieved, and then only in some far distant time or land.  Nichiren, however, held that every human being has the potential to manifest Buddhahood in this present lifetime.

This was considered an outrageous claim by the powers-that-were in medieval Japan since all the entrenched beliefs of the time were based on Pure Land and other schools of thought.  Nichiren nearly got himself executed, but never gave up his compassion for and belief in the infinite power of a human life.  The central tenet of this teaching is that everything starts with us.

“You must never think that any of the eighty thousand sacred teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha’s lifetime or any of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the ten directions and three existences are outside yourself.”

Although Nichiren’s teachings became lost, in the 1930s they were rediscovered and are now propagated around the world by SGI which organised the translation of Nichiren’s writings into many different languages including English, which was why I am able to study them.







The Paths We Walk: ‘Landlines’ by Raynor Winn – Stranger than Fiction, #NonFicNov Week 3

This week as part of Nonfiction November, the prompt is Stranger Than Fiction.  For this prompt I have chosen to look at Raynor Winn’s third book Landlines.

“These paths that cross our land take human energy and imprint it on the earth, connecting us to it, leaving both the land and the human changed by that connection.    Thousands of feet over thousands of years have trodden many of the same trails we have, tracing their passage onto the landscape, imprinting their memories onto the soil.  What remains are not just paths, they’re precious landlines that connect us to the earth, to our past, and to each other.”

Week 3 of Nonfiction November is Hosted by Christopher at Plucked from the Stacks it is a look at those nonfiction books that almost don’t seem real!


Landlines by Raynor Winn


Moth has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.  The most the doctors seem to be able to say to him is don’t tire yourself and be careful on the stairs.  They don’t mention anything about taking a 1000 mile walk.   Despite great improvements in his health during their last trail walk – 600 miles of the South West Coast path – which Winn wrote about in her first book The Salt Path –   a more sedentary lifestyle upon their return has led to a deterioration in her husband’s health .

Moth takes a fall in the orchard and is obviously very ill.   They discuss whether he is well enough to walk to the local Church and back, a distance of a couple of miles.  It is tempting to think that under these circumstances,  wisdom would not be to suddenly decide to walk from one end of the country to the other, especially at a time when the country was only just beginning to emerge from covid lockdowns and many facilities were still closed.  Most people would stay home.  Perhaps most people would be wrong.  There is only one way to find out.

In some respects of course life has changed for Raynor and Moth. She does have three best selling books under her belt and people recognise her on the walk.  She even gets her own book recommended to her by other walkers!  ‘Have you read The Salt Path?  That’s the only reason we’re here.’   But in some respects nothing has changed.  The illness has not gone away.  In her heart she knows she is faced with a long, lonely future unless this one last gamble pays off.

Winn is still scarred by the experience of homelessness:

From a mysterious dark haired woman that appears near a ruined homestead in a deserted highland glen,

“I know only too well the aching sense of loss and fear that family might have felt as they left their home for the last time, probably to head into an unknown future…”

to a pizza restaurant in Manchester that refuses them entry on account of their scruffy appearance and rucksacks, a frosty reception they became accustomed to during their homelessness time.


The walking continues because although it seems an overwhelming crazy thing to do, there is an outside chance that  it worked once before, it might work again.  This is what I find so respectworthy  – the refusal to be beaten.  At the same time what they did is so unlikely that if this were fiction I would have put it aside as completely unlikely.  That’s the great thing about the power of the human soul though.

I don’t know what genre Winn’s books fall into.  They are not strictly travelogues, nor one hundred percent biographical (is anything?) although with elements of both those things. Into the mix goes environmental campaigning and a deep love of landscape.     She is not perhaps a naturalist in the strict sense like Robert Macfarlane or Helen Macdonald, but it doesn’t matter.  Winn is clearly passionate about the land through which they pass and which is vanishing before our eyes, together with most of its inhabitants, except the human ones.  There is an immediacy to her writing coupled with a deep common sense, and I mean that in the original way.  A sense of commonality, of connection.

On visiting Flodden Fields, the site of a 16th century battle between the Scots and English which left thousands dead and which still has an uncanny atmosphere, the author writes:

“Since the sixteenth century humans have changed the world beyond recognition. We’ve revolutionised the way we live; made breathtaking and miraculous discoveries and yet we seem totally incapable of changing ourselves.  We haven’t evolved a step beyond that day in 1513 which saw so many people die.”


This is an idea deeply resonant with mahayana buddhism and the teachings of Daisaku Ikeda on the human revolution.  We can change individually, but we haven’t yet.

There are some parts of the story that don’t quite add up.  For example a couple of bicycles appear around Shropshire and then vanish off on a truck somewhere.  Sometimes they find places to stay, sometimes they camp.  But outside of Scotland wild camping is illegal so perhaps they busk it.  What is beyond doubt is that Winn is becoming a very influential writer and trail walks will probably resound with thousands of extra pairs of boots next year..

I have no idea if anyone has measured The Salt Path effect but I wouldn’t be surprised if thousands of people  will be taking to the country’s national trails who might not normally choose to do this.   Even Mr. Rune and I are thinking of taking to the hills next Spring.  We have done sections of paths before but not…er… 1000 miles.  The prospect of a walk like that – especially when you’re ill – leaves my jaw thoroughly dropping on the floor.

I am perhaps a little underwhelmed by the title Winn has chosen.  Landlines sound more like something that might have been written by BT Openreach.  I would gave preferred ‘Leylines’ or something a bit more romantic.  After all if you are prepared to walk thousands of miles in ill fitting boots, at the same time as being worried sick about your husband, at the same time as having the pressure  to produce manuscripts of the whole thing to a publisher,  then that is a fairly romantic thing to do.

These ideas of walking, landscape, memory and connections are not new . Poets and writers and artists have been treading that path time out of mind.   Robert Macfarlane writes in The Old Ways (Hamish Hamilton, 2012)

“The literature of wayfaring is long, existing as poems, songs, stories, treatises and route guides, maps, novels and essays.  The compact between writing and walking is almost as old as literature.”

Almost as old as love.



A Painting, A Poem, a Predator: Nonfiction November Week 2 #NonficNov

Here is this week’s challenge:

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. ( Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction)


I’m not sure if this counts for Nonfiction November since Rennie doesn’t mention paintings or poetry but I’m hoping it does!  I’m pairing a fictional account of the life of Lucrezia di Cosimo de Medici (1545 to 1561 who was married at the age of 13 to  Alfonso II d’Este (1533-1597) Duke of Ferrara,  as written in The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell (reviewed here) with the only known portrait of the Duchess, and the poem based on the painting  Robert Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’.   The painting was made shortly before she died, at the age of just 16.

Browning’s response to Bronzino’s work of art is empathetic with the permanently silenced woman who stares out from the frame.  It is hard to believe, looking at this image of a girl so solemn and regally attired that she is only 16 years of age.

North Carolina Museum of Art

My Last Duchess


That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek; perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps
Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat.” Such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?— too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech—which I have not—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse—
E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretense
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!


The only voice we hear in Browning’s poem is that of the Duke.  He is showing some visitors a portrait of his late wife.  He does not use the word ‘late’ though, he says ‘last’ as if there will be a string of them.  As in fact there were two more wives after Lucrezia.  By the end of the poem, we become aware that the visitor the Duke is showing round is there to negotiate a dowry for the next poor soul of a bride!

This is a poem riven by sexual jealousy which even the death of the woman in the portrait does not seem to allay.  The Duke starts off calmly enough then gets angrier as he speaks :

She had a heart/How shall I say? Too soon made glad/Too easily impressed. 

He is still maintaining ownership of the dead woman

(Since none puts by/The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)

even as he negotiates with his visitor for a dowry from the family of the next wife!  So much for ‘my gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name’.  Though of course, he says at the end it’s the ‘fair daughter’s self’ he wants, not the money, as he carts the poor visitor out past a bust of Neptune.

Loathesome man the Duke but extraordinary and very famous poem.  There is a full analysis of Robert Browning’s My Last Duchess on the excellent Poetry Foundation website here.

O’Farrell’s bookThe Marriage Portrait  is about two portraits.  The one is the physical portrait which we know of today and the second is the actual lived experience of Lucrezia’s short and miserable marriage to Alfonso. O’Farrell gives this young girl back the voice and the story that history has denied her.

I hope and trust that The Marriage Portrait will win all the plaudits and prizes that unjustifiably eluded O’Farrell’s previous book Hamnet.  For my money she is one of our finest writers.

Volatile Rune Nonfiction Book of the Year Awards. My Year in Nonfiction 2022 #NonficNov #NonfictionBookParty

This week and for all of November I shall be taking part in Nonfiction NovemberWeek 1: (Oct 31-Nov 4) – Your Year in Nonfiction: Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite 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? (Katie @ Doing Dewey)

Konstantin Paustovsky’s The Story of a Life is the volume which wins the Volatile Rune Book of the Year Award. Written originally in six volumes, the first three volumes have just been translated by Douglas Smith and republished by Vintage in 2022.  I have already reviewed this remarkable book here and heartily recommend it to anyone interested in Russian history, from the collapse of the Romanov dynasty to the end of the First World War.  This is not a history book as such though, it is a memoire of the things the author personally witnessed.   In that it shares ground with my co-awardee, detailed later in this post.

Paustovsky  was born in Moscow in 1892 although he grew up and was educted in Kiev.  He survived the Russian Civil War, the Bolshevik seizure of power (during which he was almost executed by an over-excited mob which is basically what the Bolsheviks were) and life as a paramedic on the frontlines of  the First World War.

In 1909,  after his father deserted the family, Paustovsky’s mother found herself unable to care for him and packed him off to live with an uncle.   After that he wandered from place to place never settling anywhere for long. Although this inauspicious start in life did not stop him from becoming one of the greatest writers Russia has produced. Before he died he was nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature.



So the Volatile Rune Nonfiction Book of the Year award goes to Paustovsky.  But much as I’m sure the great man would value this award, I do not think he would object to sharing.  Therefore my award also goes to Readme.txt by Chelsea Manning, former US military intelligence analyst and whistle blower extraordinaire.  What do they share in common?  Humanity.


README.txt: A Memoir by Chelsea Manning


The title comes from the name of the file she uploaded to wikileaks which contained a 39 minute video of US soldiers killing civilians during the Iraq war.  This video later was named Collateral Murder.

A bit of background.  Chelsea’s father was in the US Navy stationed in the UK as an analyst at the time he met her mother, Susan Mary Fox,  in a pub in Haverfordwest ‘at the tiny pub on Castle Square’.  The two later married and moved to live in the states.   Two children were born (Casey,  and Bradley born a boy who later became Chelsea).  Sadly the marriage did not work out and when the mother, an alcoholic, returned to Wales,  Chelsea briefly went with her, before returning to live with her father in the US.  After her father threw her out, there was a period of her life when she was homeless and living out of a truck.

Sadly it seemed that even at this stage of her life (she’s 17 here at this homeless stage) she is still trying to gain her father’s approbation. That’s one of the reasons Manning joined the army which was probably just about the worst place she could have ended up.

Athough academically brilliant and quickly snapped up for military intelligence work,  Chelsea was emotionally and psychologically torn by her difficult childhood and by gender dysphoria – the feeling of being a woman trapped in a man’s body.  At the beginning of the 21st century there was not the conversation around transitioning that there might be now and certainly not within the US army,  with its policy ‘don’t ask: don’t tell’ regarding sexual orientation.

If as a trans woman Chelsea could have chosen anywhere worse to be than the army, it would have been prison.  She ended up there too.

The book begins with Chelsea trying to upload a cache of stolen files on DVD from a computer in a Barnes & Noble store using their wi-fi.  Tens of thousands of files were uploaded detailing significant activities during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Later, these revelations would set Hillary Clinton off weeping about those who endangered other people – which might have been a justified concern –  if it were not for the fact that the leaks were never shown to have endangered anyone nor hindered US relations with any country.  Manning writes that privately Clinton “spent hours on the phone with diplomats all over the world telling them, in fact, that no-one was in danger because of the disclosures…”

That didn’t prevent the judge at her Court martial in 2013 sentencing her to 35 years in prison, despite the fact that she had already served years in gaol without trial, including in solitary confinement in an iron cage under conditions that a UN report would later characterise as  ”cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of article 16 of the convention against torture.”

I admit to being an admirer of Chelsea and other whistleblowers like Ed Snowden (who told the world about the US Gov mass collection of phone data to use against its own citizens).  I am an admirer of anyone who is willing to stand up to speak truth to power at great personal risk to themselves.  There are always a few good men – and women –  with extraordinary courage, resilience and sheer dogged capacity for surviving things which seem to me unsurvivable.

If I have any complaints about Manning’s book it is that it is too short.      I would have liked a little more on her current life.  There is only a couple of pages devoted to what happens after she leaves prison.   Her sentence was commuted by Barack Obama in 2017,  as one of his last acts as outgoing president.

But she says that she is still in therapy for the things she witnessed in Iraq.

README.txt is more than just a book detailing disclosures.  It is a manifesto on freedom and the price of fighting for it.   This is not a price than can be paid by any one individual alone.   A society which bases itself on the torment of individuals can never be free.

“What I did during my enlistment was an act of rebellion, of resistance, and of civil disobedience.  These form a deep and important tradition in our history, of forcing progress – a tradition we drew on to oppose an increasingly sinister Trump administration.  The documents I made public expose how little we knew about what was being done in our name for so many years.  Now we are all left grappling with the past.”



This has been quite a long post and I still haven’t answered all of the questions for week one of Nonfiction November.  I’ve read and reviewed 12 nonfiction titles so far this year nearly all of them memoire or biographical accounts of artists and musicians, including:  Tchaikovsky, Celia Paul,  Charlotte Mew, T.S. Eliot and Giaccomo Leopardi.  My one political book was Andrei Kurkov’s Ukraine Diaries.

Finally, what do I hope to get out of nonfiction November?  Just keep reading more wonderful nonfiction books like these. Currently reading Dorothy Hodgkin, A Life by Georgina Ferry.  Thank you to Sister Rune for the heads up on this one.

 Dorothy Hodgkin: A Life by Georgina Ferry