As expected, April’s reading challenge was cruel; i completed fewer books than I expected and only dipped into a fraction of what i had hoped for. Of course, non-fiction isn’t really a category or genre. It’s limitless in scope; many people never read fiction and never run out of interesting books. To be honest, it made as much sense to choose ‘non-fiction’ this month as it might have done to read only ‘fiction’ one month without specifying author, style, theme, content, etc.
Although this was intended to be a challenge outside my comfort zone, I gravitated towards areas I’ve already studied: history (British, English, monarchs, Tutors and Victorians mainly), theology (Christian, usually contemporary, Anglican, liberal), autobiography or memoir, with a sprinkling of contemporary poetry.
As I found last year, I read less during this ‘no fiction’ month. Perhaps the lure of a story well told is the most compelling choice; a book full of information about ‘stuff’, no matter how well and entertainingly written doesn’t leap into my hand alongside my cup of tea. I know it should. I know there is a plethora of well-written, gripping reads which happen to be ‘not made up’. Many such books adorn my shelves (in the non-fiction section of my ‘library’, arranged by subject rather than alphabetically; I’m not that obsessed with order.). I simply ran out of the time (and some days, the inclination) to dive in head first.
As I reflect on what I read (or didn’t read) in April, I realise that non-fiction is easier to ‘dip into’; to dabble with a bit of this, a dash of that, not desperate to follow the plot to the end. Although many historical books read like fiction (the soap opera of the Tudor dynasty for example), there isn’t the same sense of loss when you reshelve a book unfinished. I can always pick it up again, refresh, then continue where I left off. I usually know the end result if it’s historical; memoirs can often be delightfully gossipy or impressionistic; theology can be life-adjusting, knowledge without time limit.
Some months seem to be time for ‘dipping’; more time spent living than reading. Times to choose to watch a film together rather than trying to read while he screen-surfs; going to reading group, meet-the-author events and a quiz on World Book Night rather than staying in, reading. (We won the satisfyingly challenging quiz though; found some use for all that information at last); checking out piles of library books only to return them a few weeks later, having moved them around the house, to be reshelved unread, until the next borrower.
So, what did I dip into?
As I type, I am faced with a small pile of general theology/Christian life titles: The Life and Work of a Priest (Pritchard), Praying the Jesus Prayer Together (Ramon & Barrington-Ward), The Wounded Healer (Nouwen) alongside a couple of books on Islam and the Qu’ran.
I am also about to start (breaking my rules on changing topic each month: live dangerously!): Unapologetic by Francis Spufford. I’ve heard great things about this apologetic of ‘why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense’. I’m looking forward this reading this one.
I‘ve also been reading about writing: Reading Like a Writer (Prose (the author not the style of reading: great name, I know!)), Who’s Afraid of Jane Austen? (Hitchings), How to Read a Book (Adler & van Doren) and the wonderfully glossy re-vamped The New Writer Magazine. I’m hoping these will inspire me to continue to find time to write alongside my reading.
Historical books have included: Crown & Country (David Starkey; one to return to as I only made it as far as the 7th C), Winter King (Thomas Penn, the reign of Henry VII), Behind Palace Doors (Michael Farquhar). Alongside this English monarchy-obsessed dip I’ve enjoyed watching Lucy Worsley’s new BBC series Fit to Rule which explored the lives of English monarchs through their physical and mental illnesses. I realise I know very little about the Hanovarians; I though Queen Anne was only a style of chair – I should have known better.
I am glad I gave myself chance to start Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. I’ve been too busy being a forcibly extrovert Mummy recently to continue much further than the first chapter but I hope to find more ‘quiet’ to read and reflect further on the characteristics and power of introverts.
The memoirs I have read, in varying degrees of completion, include: In the Blood (Andrew Motion), It’s Not Me, It’s You (Jon Richardson), With the Kisses of His Mouth (Monique Roffey), The Book of Silence (Sara Maitland), Out of Me (Fiona Shaw; an author I met this month), Wife in the North (Judith O’Reilly), Call the Midwife (Jennifer Worth), A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English (Shappi Khorsandi).
Still untouched on my shelves are a few books I had every intention of enjoying: Wedlock: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match (Wendy Moore), Shelf Life (Simon Parke), She-Wolves (Helen Castor; admittedly, I read up to page 57 last year), Delusions of Gender (Cornelia Fine), Elizabeth (David Starkey), Watching the English (Kate Fox) – and that’s just one shelf.
A month of trying to not read fiction has whetted my appetite for more stories. However, I shall try to temper my joy of stories with at least one non-fiction choice. A little learning can go a long way…
This month’s main tea of choice: Fortnum & Mason’s Yunnan loose leaf tea (!)
Postscript: This month’s reading group fiction choice was: The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne. An emotionally involving court-room thriller set in the North-East. Worth giving up non-fiction reading time for.