Thursday 13 November 2014

My Year in Non-Fiction

Non-Fiction November is a fabulous meme hosted by Sophisticated Dorkiness et al.

The initial join up post asked about our favourite non-fiction reads for the year so far.

I felt that I hadn't read much NF this year, so I planned to skip this question in favour of focusing on AusReading Month.

However, thanks to a huge storm this afternoon, I've had more inside time than I decided to see what NF I actually had read in 2014.

I was pleasantly surprised to find 13 adult titles and 8 children's books under my non-fiction/biography tags.
7 were written by men; 14 by women. 14 were written by Australians; 7 by International authors.

I had several favourites this year.



memoir/true crime 



All of these favourites are Australian titles except for Le Road Trip, What I Talk About & All Joy and No Fun.


My most recommended non-fiction book (written by an Australian) of all time is True Pleasures by Lucinda Holdforth.

Meet the dazzling women of Paris: from Colette to Nancy Mitford; Marie Antoinette to Coco Chanel;

Madame de Stael to Pamela Harriman; Napoleon’s Josephine to Edith Wharton. Rule-breakers and style-setters, demimondes and diplomats, these women were utterly diverse,
yet all shared one common passion — Paris, the world’s headquarters of femininity.
At a turning point in her life, Lucinda Holdforth journeys to Paris and takes a very personal tour through the lives, loves, and losses of its celebrated women.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Lucinda a few years ago. We shared a memorable night discussing France and literature - happy times.

My most recommended International non-fiction titles of all time are The Hare With the Amber Eyes & The Paper Garden.

The Paper Garden is unlike anything else you have ever read.

At once a biography of an extraordinary 18th century gentlewoman and a meditation on late-life creativity, it is a beautifully written tour de force from an acclaimed poet.

Delicately, Peacock has woven parallels in her own life around the story of Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700-1788) and, in doing so, has made this biography into a profound and beautiful examination of the nature of creativity and art

In the future?

For balance, I would like to read more non-fiction from & about other countries again. I would also like to add more science & psychology to the mix to round out my preference for history & memoir titles.

I'm hoping that between Non-fiction November & AusReading Month I will finally finish The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka and The Biggest Estate.

I also have 3 other Aussie non-fiction titles to peruse this month (time willing) - Adam Spencer's Big Book of Numbers, Sydney by Delia Falconer and The Best Australian Science Writing 2014 edited by Ashley Hay.


Ooops! Another 5 days have gone by & I haven't finished this post.

So I will merge the 2 weeks and apologise profusely for posting such a big fat non-fiction rant.
I thank you and applaud you if you have made it this far!

Week 2 of Non-Fiction Novemberr is being hosted by Lu at Regular Ruminations.
This weeks question is about experts - being an expert or asking an expert.

Firstly, let me say how wonderful it is reading and exploring all these new non-fiction titles & authors. The extra special added bonus of course, is finding a whole stack of new-to-me blogs to explore as well.

I'm not sure that I am an expert in any one field of non-ficiton as my interests take me into so many areas, but....

During one of my many Holocaust phases I discovered Gitta Sereny.
Her most riveting & telling bio is called Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth. I cannot recommend this one highly enough. Sereny established a trust relationship with Speer from which to probe and push him to finally face the truth about what happened. It's an extraordinary account of how the people involved were able to ignore what was going on; how they deluded themselves & shifted responsibility.

Sereny's bio won the James Tate Black Memorial Award for Biography in 1995.

If like me, you're constantly trying to understand this atrocious time in history in an attempt to come to terms with man's inhumanity to man, then try Australian writer Inga Clendinnen's Reading the Holocaust. Some of her essays are very confronting, but she challenges you to think for yourself and to really see and feel what happened in the hope we will never let it happen again.

For an insider's account of the Holocaust, you can't go past Primo Levi. All his work is insightful & gracious, but If This is a Man is truly one man's search for his own humanity.

To move to a completely different, but slightly related topic - Coco Chanel.

I've read, enjoyed & highly recommend Chanel by Edmonde Charles-Roux & Chanel: The Legend and Her Life by  Justine Picardie. 

These two books not only reveal Coco Chanel warts and all, they also show us about life in France from the 1880's through to the 1970's. For anyone with Francophile tendencies, Chanel's bio's embrace a fascinating period of French history and culture.

On my TBR is the latest bio by Rhonda Garelick called Mademoiselle; Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History as well as Sleeping With the Enemy: Coco Chanel, Nazi Agent by Hal Vaughan.

I will stop here at the risk of overwhelming us all!
Please let me know of your favourite Chanel bio or your most enlightening Holocaust read. 

But for now, let me wish you all a very merry non-fiction goodnight.


  1. Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth caught my eye. From what I know about Speer he really was the epitome of an intelligent man who should have know better who allowed himself to be seduced by evil.

    1. Exactly!
      And Sereny peeled back the layers of his personality and his knowing like an onion.
      It was a beautiful exercise in psychology, intelligence & determination.
      It's a huge chunkster of a read, but so worth the investment in time & intellectual energy.

  2. Isn't this a great event? So many wonderful recommendations. I love the variety of "expert" topics.

  3. I really must get to reading True Pleasures sometime- I'm sure it would be right up my alley. Good luck with your NF reading.

  4. Anonymous13/11/14

    Thanks for all the great recommendations. I've actually read a few of these. Of those I haven't, the Speer book looks most interesting. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. :-)

  5. Anonymous14/11/14

    I am in non-fiction heaven at the moment! :) And now I will check out The Paper Garden and the Albert Speer book. Thanks for the recommendations.

  6. Anonymous14/11/14

    I'm very intrigued by Albert Speer and True Pleasures. I will have to come back and read your review on the parenting books. Do you have any other parenting books on the go? I haven't read any for awhile, but think it's pick-up a few.

    1. Check out my parenting tab on the left hand side. There are 2 more reviews - both for teenagers though - which is the stage we're right in the middle of !

  7. So many new-to-me titles! Thank you!

  8. I also loved the Paper Garden. A really interesting unusual book. I have Hare with the Amber Eyes on the TBR. Need to get with it and read it. Thanks for this post. You could have written more and I'd have stuck with it. haha. It has motivated me to pull down some of my NF from the shelves. I've been reading "too easy" lately I think and need to focus on some NF. Enjoyed this post immensely. (the Travellin' Penguin)

    1. Thanks for reading all the way through Pam - I appreciate your fortitude :-)

  9. I feel like the "how did they let it happen" question is one area of the Holocaust that hasn't been well covered and I'm fascinated with it! In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larson deals with it a little bit. So, that one sounds interesting!
    Thanks for stopping by my blog!

    1. I hadn't heard of In the Garden of Beasts, but a quick google search reveals a fascinating premise. I wasn't aware of Ambassador Dodd, but it sounds like he and his family had an interesting insight into German society at that time.

  10. Thanks for the non-fiction recommendations. "The Paper Garden" sounds especially intriguing! Late life creativity - France - sounds like a must-read for me. This year have read several good non-fiction titles, two of which really impacted me: "The Guns of August" by Barbara Tuchman and "The Invisible Woman" by Claire Tomalin, a fascinating history centering on the secret mistress of Charles Dickens, a woman named Nelly Ternan. I just realized they made a movie based on that book and really need to see it.

    1. I've enjoyed some of Tomalin's other bio's so I should check this one out too - thanks for the heads up :-)

  11. I read The Paper Garden awhile back and really liked it. I thought it was a lovely story on a person and practice I'd never really hard of before.


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