I’m usually really bad at following themed months but this year I have happily found that I’ve unknowingly read a fair few non-fiction books this November. Let’s take a closer look!
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The first book I tackled in November (or rather ‘finished’ since I started it way back in September!) was a re-read of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, which I reviewed last week. Although I didn’t love this one, I’m still glad I re-attempted and actually finished it. It feels a little like a feminist rite of passage in a lot of ways I suppose. Like reading one’s first Plath or Atwood? I don’t know.
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It took a sombre turn towards death at that point (a topic I never seem that far from for some reason… I was thinking about doing a post on the books I’ve read and want to read about death, but maybe it’s just me who would be interested in something like that? haha). The second non-fiction book I read this month was Terry Pratchett’s Shaking Hands with Death, which was the transcript of a talk he’d given about assisted death (often called “assisted suicide”) and the right to a good death. This, of course, was inspired by his own battle with a very early diagnosis for a rare and unusual form of Alzheimer’s. It was a sobering read and it made me think about how I feel about those closing chapters and the rights we have in choosing what that end looks like and how I feel about the laws society has in place and whether they are protecting or punishing the vulnerable. Thinking about death isn’t really that depressing to me so much as fascinating. It’s an interesting thought exercise (maybe because I am bothered more by my loved ones dying than by my own death which I’m pretty indifferent about on the whole); so this was an interesting, short read.
Also, being a non-Brit (and mabe because I’m also not deeply into fantasy), I had never really heard of Terry Pratchett until coming to the UK and this is the only book I’ve ever read by him. As I understand it, his books are quite humorous and whimsical and that wry humour was also evident even in this book about such a ‘serious’, ‘dark’ topic. That’s something I appreciated considering how much anger I understand there to have been (at life, at the lack of resources to turn to, etc) when he was first diagnosed and I think that humour probably makes it more palatable for those who might otherwise be a little uncomfortable with picking this one up. It’s only a short book and I (the slowpoke reader that I am) read it one evening in one sitting.
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Next I picked up Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl which was very informative and thought-provoking. Although I didn’t necessarily agree with everything presented, I really appreciated Serano’s well crafted arguments infused (but not overloaded) with her personal experience. She directly or inadvertently raises a lot of interesting questions about what gender is or isn’t or could be, and about how we design it. Different gender privileges are often discussed and there is occasionally some (justifiable) anger present when discussing cis-people’s view of (or ability to be completely ignorant of) gender which I think could be off-putting for many cis-gender folks, but it’s worth getting over the ego and the hurt (and the guilt) to listen to Serano’s point of view. Obviously it would be ridiculous to expect the account and assessments of one (white, middle-class) trans woman to be the definitive book on all trans discussion, so I will certainly be reading more accounts of other people from the less mainstream(?) parts within (and without) the gender spectrum in future. Although I have been aware of many of these gender issues before, it’s been a while since a book hasn’t just informed me of new things, but challenged me too (not just as it relates to gender, but in general).
I actually got this one on audiobook from my library and it took time to adjust to Serano’s strong, awkwardly dramatic American twang so, for that reason and because you’ll probably want to underline, re-read passages and/or make notes, I would probably recommend picking up the print version.
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And lastly, this month I read Maya Angelou’s Mom & Me & Mom (which, I found out later, also happens to be Emma Watson’s book club pick at the moment). I actually found this very lovely and entertaining despite my initial doubts when picking it up. I wasn’t that bothered about Angelou’s more famous work I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and this collection of memories includes or alludes, in part or in whole, to stories told in that book, but I got on with this book better. The focus on stories about her mother, the way she makes her mum out to be such a charismatic and inspiring (but still very human) woman and the lessons learned from her in particular are probably part of my slightly different feelings about the two memoirs. I’m really glad I picked up the audiobook for this one (read by Angelou herself). It felt comfortingly like being told life stories by a grandparent.
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This was a really great month for me in terms of reading books that both interested and challenged me (non-fiction and otherwise). I’m going to really try to make an effort to take part again next year, as well as continuing to incorporate non-fiction into my general reading throughout the year.
Whether you set out to take part in non-fiction November or if, like me, you just happened to have read a lot of non-fiction this month by chance, what’s are some of your favourite non-fiction recommendations?
Do you have any non-fiction reads high on your wishlist? At the moment, (other than the ones I’m currently reading) here are some of mine:
(Can you guess why? …hah…)