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





Alas for Those Blue Remembered Hills

What do you feel about getting rid of books?

Despite endless fashions for de-cluttering and Marie Kondo style advice of the joys thereof,  books are always difficult to part with, bookshelves  harder than wardrobes to clear out.  Fashion disposed of holds a few memories of expensive mistakes or squeezing into dresses for long forgotten parties.  Yet, books taken away seem to take part of us with them. They are friends that are comforting as that old coat but much less shabby.

Why do we find it so hard to part with our tomes?  An essay written by Julian Baggini appeared in the FT weekend on this very topic.  Books are too bound up with our sense of self, he says. Also some of us  (moi?) have unrealistic ideas about the length of our ‘to read’ lists.  As if.

In a statement which I find worrying relatable, he says:

“…I am sure that despite the evidence to date, I will read my 25 year old copy of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography one day.  But the truth is, the time it would take to get through my “to read” list is longer than the rest of my life.”

I must point out to you, Mr. Baggini, that my own (unread) copy of “Long Walk to Freedom” is nothing like 25 years old.  It is a mere 8 or 10!  President Mandela was certainly still alive when I bought it. It sits on a shelf in the kitchen making me feel guilty every time I walk past.  I hang onto it in the expectation that I will read it – one fine day.

So much for the books I haven’t read.  What about the one’s I have read and still find it hard to part with?


Baggini says,

“We use books to underline our identities when more often than not they undermine them.  Most old books are momento mori for distant selves, since the person who read them no longer exists.”

Aka there is a book for the person you are at a certain point in your life. You can never again revisit it because you can never be that person again.  What was it A.E. Housman said about happy highways where we went and can never come again?

I would like to not believe a single word this writer tells me, yet I am surrounded by the truth of it.  Take for instance Tolkein’s LOTR trilogy which I read and re-read and loved.  I don’t think that it can ever seem the same post Peter Jackson. But hold!  My copy is a Folio edition and it was quite expensive at the time.    Also Tolkein was my mother’s favourite author! I tell myself this even as I know I will not read it again, and Mum really doesn’t mind.

We justify our possessive natures around books with little fables.  Our children or grandchildren will enjoy this book, we say –  but they won’t because they’re watching YouTube and have vastly different tastes.  Or, we can’t get rid of that particular book because great-granny inscribed the frontispiece when she was 6 years old and it is therefore an irreplaceable part of our family history!

And don’t get me started on cookbooks.  I don’t have a large number of cookbooks; I’m not a cook.  Mr. Rune and I have been eating chicken and vegetables for centuries.   Not of course the same chicken and vegetables I hasten to add. Those cookbooks that I do own are left over from similar centuries ago (Step by Step Cookery, Marguerite Patten).  Could I get rid of these? Absolutely not. A handwritten version of my mother’s cheesecake recipe which originated I’m not sure where – Claudia Roden perhaps – lives tucked inside the covers.  I will never part with it, but no doubt it will be carted off somewhere when I am gone.

I’m not the only one who feels this way.  Deborah Ross writes: (The Times, September 16th)

“I have shelves of cookbooks that I barely open including one that I inherited from my grandmother (Florence Greenberg’s Jewish Cookery Book, 1947, which I never go near for fear it’ll fall open on her favourite recipe (tongue).  Or my father’s favourite recipe that she would cook for him (ox heart).”

There are of course great libraries, vast storehouses of knowledge, long may they survive and thrive.  But most individual collections don’t come into that bracket.    Then again antiquarian books are intrinsically valuable – leatherbound with exquisite gold tooling – but hands up anyone who owns books like that?  For myself I just have endless paperbacks and some hardbacks. I have books that I used in research for essays written years ago and will never refer to again. Why?

Baggini reckons we keep books because they look good, not just in an aesthetic way but because they represent us to others as being of a certain studious or intellectual kind.  (I have previously written of services which curate libraries for appearances on zoom calls!)  I suppose this is not rocket science but what is a room with no books I ask myself, and answer comes there none.

In fairness to the writer he is not suggesting we dispense with every vestige of the written word from our homes, but that we stop hoarding and be prepared to whittle down to the indispensable few. Books, he says, demonstrate nothing so much as our inability to move on.

Alas for those blue remembered hills.  I fear that despite my heinous lack of ability to move on I shall keep my books, and remain mired in my half-read intellectual past, grieving for the person I once was and shall ne’er be again.