After saying last month that I hardly read non-fiction, I read three non-fiction titles in November. Having said that, the label non-fiction is so broad as to be meaningless; trying to describe a book by saying it’s non-fiction is like trying to describe a dog by saying it’s non-human. The non-fction titles I read were as different from each other as they might have been from any fiction book.
The first was Mr Snack and the Lady Water by Brendan Shanahan. It is a humorous travel book, a genre that would not usually interest me in the slightest, but I heard Brendan read from it at a session we took part in at Melbourne Writers Festival earlier this year. The reading was outrageous and when he finished, MJ Hyland, who until that moment had seemed extremely stand-offish and unapproachable, punched Brendan in the leg and said ‘that was hilarious!’ It did make me laugh but it also made me uncomfortable because I felt that it was trading in stereotypes of people less-privileged than rich white travellers, so though I enjoyed it, it felt like a guilty pleasure.
I also read Joan Didion‘s Blue Nights, her meditation on the life and death of her adopted daughter Quintana. It is, I suppose, a kind of sequel to The Year of Magical Thinking and written in much the same style which is both journalistic and intensely personal and poetic. I found it beautiful and moving, and as always, admired the quality of the writing and the way she grasps a handful of ideas and weaves them into a narrative.
After a couple of years of vegetarianism, I had lately found myself sliding into eating meat again, so I read Jonathan Safran Foer‘s Eating Animals to remind myself of the issues around meat-eating. Eating Animals is a kind of documentary essay, full of horrific information about the factory farming industry; it is also a personal and philosophical meditation on the ethical aspects of eating animals. It deserves a post of its own, so I won’t say any more here, except to say there’ll be no turkey on our table this Christmas!
I also read three wonderful novels this month. I began with Barbara Kingsolver‘s Flight Behaviour, a wonderful involving story, funny and sad, and beautifully written. It is ‘about’ climate change but it is about so much more than that – poverty and privilege, marriage and parenting, and the desire to ‘improve’ ourselves. I’m now on a mission to read everything by Kingsolver!
Joyce Carol Oates’ We Were the Mulvaneys was also a fantastic read and I have written already about my thoughts on this book.
My favourite book of the month, and indeed, of the entire year, was Michael Cunningham‘s Specimen Days. I don’t think it would appeal to everyone but to me it is a masterpiece of contemporary writing. If you want to know exactly why I’m frothing at the mouth about it, you can read my review on Goodreads.
Your turn: Have you read any of these books? Would you like to? What great (or not-so-great) books did you read last month?