My top 3 non-fiction reads

Non-fiction isn’t a realm I delve into enough. But I do aim to read more non-fiction this year. But I thought I would share with you my current top 3 non-fiction reads.

The Shepherd’s Life: A People’s History of the Lake District, James Rebanks, 2015

I read this book in 2019, as the Lake District is one of my favourite places to explore. This book was so interesting for the alternative insight it offered – one that was not through the eyes of tourists, but through the farmers that tend the land we so love and admire.

James Rebanks offers a personal insight into his life and the history of his family on a small farm in the Lake District. He talks about the impact of tourism and the dying art of farming in the UK. He structures the book through the changing farming seasons and often offers an insight into the everyday beauties he witnesses on his doorstep.

He also talks about his personal battles with wanting to branch out into the world of academia as a young student, who is expected to take over the farm for the next generation. This ongoing, generational expectation is one many farmers and landowners still have to battle with.

It made me rethink our relationship to this popular landscape and not only appreciate it for its beauty, but for the hard work and commitments that go on behind the communities that make it. I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone. (5/5)

This is London: Life and Death in the World City, Ben Judah, 2016

This is the book that made me want to consider branching into investigate journalism. As a regular London tourist/day tripper, I often gave little thought to the people who live in London with constant struggle. This book gives a voice to those who are often forgotten amidst the central tourist hot spots that we all go and see.

In an incredible, exploratory work of investigate journalism, Ben Judah speaks to those who have felt marginalized, kicked out of, and not respected in the city. He goes beyond Leicester Square, Regent Street and tourist London. He speaks to ordinary people, hears what they have to say, and pays homage to the variety of experience of living in the big city.

Judah gives a voice to the immigrants who have often been forgotten and marginalised, to the sex workers trying to make a living and to those who are living on the streets. It serves as a brutal reminder of the many problems the city faces, which are often invisible in day to day, and tourist life. (5/5)

The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank, 1947

This is something that everyone should read. I have read it countless times, but it is an account I always turn back to.

Everyone knows Anne Frank and her story. Many go to visit the house in Amsterdam on tourist weekends to the city, but many may not have actually spent the time to read her diary in full.

Written as a thirteen year old in hiding, during the Nazi occupation of Holland, Anne writes about the struggles of family life in isolation, the fears of no return and more often than not, ordinary teenage struggles. It is eye opening and serves as a reminder to the horrors of that time in history, but also, a testament to staying positive in times of desperation. Despite living through a horrific experience, Anne always tried to remain positive and see the beauty in life,

“I’ve found that there is always some beauty left — in nature, sunshine, freedom, in yourself; these can all help you.”

Her account offers something that the history books cannot rival. An honest, down to earth account of life as it was lived during the Holocaust and Nazi occupation of Holland. One that despite its countless tragedies, acts as a homeage to the spirit of humanity and togetherness in times of need.

It was also a book that inspired me to keep my own diary, which I have done for many years. Anne’s voice and the way she writes and sees things, makes you realise that she would have gone on to be a brilliant writer. It also makes you feel like you’re connected to that sliver of history which she describes and documents so well. An essential read.

October in Books

Image: The Lake District, Pixabay

I didn’t get round to reading much this month, but the two books I did read, I very much devoured and loved.

Imaginary Friend, Stephen Chbosky (2019) Thriller/Horror Fiction

I initially piked up this book as I was attracted to its beautiful, reflective cover. Having devoured Perks of Being a Wallflower during my teens, I had high hopes for this book, the first Chbosky has written in twenty years. However, I was disappointed and actually abandoned it after 200 pages. I just couldn’t get myself invested or hooked on the story. Working in a bookshop has made me realise that life is far too short to plough through books which I am not enjoying.

I started off intrigued, as the book gave me Stranger Things vibes right from the beginning. I enjoyed getting to know the characters in the brief period I was reading the book, however, I felt the book got progressively silly. The story is narrated primarily through Christopher, a seven year old boy. One night, after him and his Mother have moved house, Christopher goes missing in a nearby woods.

Christopher eventually returns, but mysterious voices remain stuck in his head and he is instructed to build a tree house in the woods to ensure his loved ones are safe. As I said, I didn’t get far and soon abandoned it. The narration through the eyes of a child kind of annoyed me. But some might like it.

Beartown, Fredrik Backman (2018) Swedish Contemporary/’Sports’ Fiction. See my in depth review here.

Although being branded as ‘Sports Fiction,’ this book is far more complex. It is a critique of the bonds of community in the face of injustice and a tale of youth culture. But above all, it is a book of remarkable strength and one where the central message remains long after finishing the final page.

The story is narrated through different residents of Beartown in alternating sections – some of which can sometimes be just a few lines. This gives the impression of the interconnectedness of the small community. The beauty of the rural community is constantly critiqued by the featuring of rape culture, alcoholism, toxic masculinity, adolescence, loneliness and drug abuse which engulfs various inhabitants.

Hockey is the central force which binds the community together – but it is also the reason for its downfall. An awful crime is committed by one of the town’s leading hockey players which divides the community in ways not experienced before. It offers an insight into how communities can be so tightly bound that justice is ignored in the face of their own preservation. It is far more than a tale of a sporting team in a small town, but a critique of contemporary society and exposure of the social problems rural communities across the world can face.

5/5

The Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District (2015) James Rebanks Non-Fiction/Nature writing

With its endless, glorious greenery and mountainous views under a constant gaze of misty fog, it can be easy to forget that the landscape of the Lake District is one maintained by committed farmers who spend their lives working this landscape. However, this well written memoir is an ode to the lives of those who do just that.

“The farms and the flocks endure, bigger than the life of a single person. We are born, live our working lives and die, passing like the oak leaves that blow across our land in the winter.”

This book is written by farmer, James Rebanks, whose family has been farming the same area for nearly six hundred years. Rebanks narrates farming life through the seasons, as well as adding his own personal insights and thoughts about the changing landscape. Rebanks, although born and bred in the Lake District, made the difficult decision in his early twenties to attend Oxford University, in an attempt to widen his skill set and employability, in a period where farming was beginning to decline. He explains the difficulties and strains of this period of his life – especially when revealing these plans to his farming family.

“It felt like the whole modern world wanted to rob me of the life I wanted to lead.”

The book acts as a memoir, rather than a history of the Lake District as such, but dicusses some imperative points. Rebanks gives attention to the impact of tourism, decline of rural farming in the modern world and the historic legacy of romanticizing the landscape – from writers like William Wordsworth. Despite his many criticisms of the fleeting tourists, whom may pay little attention towards the hard work which goes into maintaining the landscape, Rebanks does acknowledge that everyone should be allowed to appreciate the beauty of the landscape.

However, his central argument which he draws upon is that visitors should appreciate the centuries of hard labour which has gone into making the Lake District the beautiful place it is today. It is not just a fleeting, glamorous visit for inhabitants, but a lifelong commitment. Above all, it gives central attention to the financial hardships which current farmers are facing, and the ins and outs of daily farming tasks in an environment which is just as harsh as it is beautiful.

This book is beautifully and coherently written, and one which I would recommend to anyone. I am very much looking forward to James Rebanks second book, due to be published in 2020.

5/5