Reading Recently//Nonfiction




I have been reading a lot of nonfiction lately. All too often, people think of nonfiction as difficult to read or demanding but much of it is engaging and engrossing. One of my favorite books of the year so far (I know it is only the beginning of February. But still. A Favorite.) is Dear Mr. Bigelow by Frances Woodsford. I absolutely loved it and think all of you should read it. It is a collection of some of the weekly letters Frances Woodsford wrote from 1949-1961 to the father of one of her friends. He was a wealthy American whom she never met and yet their friendship became an essential part of her life.

Frances Woodsford wrote about everything; her work at the Public Baths in Bournemouth, her travels around the country, her sometimes annoying brother, her friends, her car, redecorating her bedroom, the clothes she made. Her letters are a perfect picture of her life in post-war England. The letters are funny and touching and guaranteed to make you wish you had a friend like her. Mr. Bigelow's letters to her were not preserved which is a great pity. It would be such fun to read both parts of the correspondence. I love reading volumes of letters and diaries because they give such a wonderful window into a life. Dear Mr. Bigelow was a joy. I have no quotes to highlight because I gulped it down with no consideration for a future review. I enjoyed it that much. You will too.

I bought Robert Macfarlane's Landmarks at Barnes & Noble a while ago. I was surprised to find it since I have read mentions of him on various British book blogs but I have never encountered his books in the U.S. before. Here is a description of the purpose of the book from the first chapter.

Books, like landscapes, leave their marks on us. Sometimes these traces are so faint as to be imperceptible--tiny shifts in the weather of the spirit that do not register on the usual instruments. Mostly, these marks are temporary:  we close a book, and for the nest hour or two the world seems oddly brighter at its edges; or we are moved to a kindness or a meanness that would otherwise have gone unexpressed. Certain books, though, like certain landscapes, stay with us even when we have left them, changing not just our weathers but our climates. The word landmark is from the Old English landmearc, meaning 'an object in the landscape which, by its conspicuousness, serves as a guide in the direction of one's course. John Smith, writing in his 1627 Sea Grammar, gives us this definition: "A Land-marke is any Mountaine, Rocke, Church, Wind-mill or the like that the Pilot can now by comparing one by another see how they beare by the compasse.' Stong books and strong words can be landmarks in Smith's sense--offering us a means both of establishing our location and of knowing how we 'beare by the compasse'. Taken in sum, the chapters of Landmarks explore how reading can change minds, revise behaviour and shape perceptions.

Macfarlane examines various nature writers and their works.  He also includes a glossary of nature words used in the U.K. Some of them are gloriously wonderful words. If you enjoy nature, language, and wonderful writing then this is the book for you.

On my coffee table right now I have The Outermost House:  A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod by Henry Beston. I haven't started it yet but I have high hopes. I love the Cape and it is described as a classic of American nature writing. I'll get back to you after I read it.

What nonfiction books do you recommend?


7 comments

  1. I do so agree with you on Dear Mr Bigelow. I got the impression that Frances Woodsford was a very capable and probably career-frustrated woman - I think in this day and age she would probably be running Bournemouth Council, not just the swimming baths!

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    1. I think you are probably right! I felt like her family responsibilities kept her from pursuing things that interested her like moving to London.

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  2. I love books of letters and it's sad that letter writing is such a lost art now. Have you seen the book Letters of Note? I highly recommend it!

    As for nonfiction recommendations, I have only really gotten into nonfiction since I started blogging 6 years ago. Some of my favorites in that time are: In the Kingdom of Ice, The Age of Wonder, The Book of Joy, Just Mercy, Being Mortal, Is That a Fish in Your Ear, Awakenings, and I Don't Want To Talk About It. (An interesting assortment of titles there!)

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    1. Thank you for all the recommendations! I will look into all of them. I have heard of Letters of Note. It sounds like just the type of thing I would enjoy.

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    2. Oh, wow! I just looked them up and what great recommendations. I want to read most of them, especially I Don't Want to Talk About it and Is That a Fish in Your Ear.

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  3. I've been meaning to read that Landmarks book for ages. I recommend The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. It's amazing what's going on within trees and their surroundings.

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    1. I'll look for it. I think I might have read a review of it at some point and then promptly forgotten about it. Hopefully, I can remember it long enough to look for it at the library!

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