Wednesday 17 July 2013

Three non-fiction books

Of the four books I've read so far this month three have been non-fiction. I'm so pleased about this as one of the things I wanted to do this year was read more factual books. I started out well at the beginning of the year, tailed off a bit, but am now firmly back on track. Exactly a quarter of the books I've read this year have been non-fiction. I'd like to up that to a third really, but we'll see how it goes. Anyway, I'm going to do quickie reviews of said three books from this month. First up, Out of the Woods but not Over the Hill by Gervase Phinn.

I took this back to library and it's faded from my memory a bit, so I'm going to use Amazon's synopsis to describe it.

For Gervase Phinn growing old is not about a leisurely walk to the pub for a game of dominoes or snoozing in his favourite armchair. As this sparkling collection of his very best humorous writing shows, he may be 'out of the woods' but he is certainly not 'over the hill'.

Looking back over more than sixty years of family life, teaching, inspecting schools, writing and public speaking, Gervase never fails to unearth humour, character, warmth and wisdom from the most diverse of experiences, whether they be growing up in Rotherham with the most un-Yorkshirelike of names or describing why loud mobile phone users get his goat.

Brimming with nostalgia, gently mocking life's absurdities, never shy of an opinion, this is Gervase Phinn at his wittiest, twinkly-eyed best.

I couldn't have put it better myself. *g* At some stage I ought to start another one of my lists and it should be entitled, 'Books that will make you laugh when you need cheering up'. They would include books by Bill Bryson and Clive James but also this author, Gervase Phinn. He's written quite a number of books up to now, charting his life from childhood to old age in the Yorkshire Dales. He was a teacher who became a school's inspector and then turned his hand to writing autobiogrpahical books and poetry, very, very successfully; I think his books are probably well known world-wide as well as in the UK. This particular book is mostly an anthology of bits taken from his previous books. I've only read a couple of those so can't judge how much this is the case but judging from a few Amazon comments there isn't a lot of new stuff in it. That didn't matter to me - I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing and laughed happily all the way through. There were stories of hardship that brought a lump to my throat, I hate to hear of abused or neglected children, it's my 'thing' and I find it hard to cope with. But that's life and it's not all beer and skittles and no-one knows that better than Gervase Phinn. I thought this was a gem of a book and heartily recommend it if you've not already read all of his previous books.

Next, A Cook's Year in a Welsh Farmhouse by Elizabeth Luard.

Elizabeth Luard is apparently quite a well known food writer. Shamefully, I had not heard of her, I just happened to spot this book one evening when I was browsing the book boards on Pinterest and thought it looked rather interesting. Again from Amazon:

In an old farmhouse on the slopes of a mountain lying between Tregaron and Aberystwyth, Elisabeth Luard brings the produce of the land into her kitchen and turns it into delicious food. This book is her response to the changes she sees in her garden and the surrounding countryside throughout the seasons, with distinctive recipes at the end of each month's chapter. It is the story of a year spent planting and picking in the garden, roaming the countryside with her grandchildren and introducing them to the pleasures of rural living.

I got this from the library but am thinking seriously of getting my own copy as it was a delightful book. It includes not just some excellent recipes but also a monthly narrative on seasonal food, what's available from her garden and also in the hedgerows. We hear about her neighbours, life in an isolated Welsh farmhouse, and also her grandchildren who come to stay a lot. It must be idyllic for them to run wild around the area but also to have such a lovely grandmother who cooks with them and takes them on foraging trips. It helped that I know Wales a bit and could picture the author's wonderful descriptions of the landscape around the house, it's a beautiful country and not far from us so we go quite a lot.

Elizabeth Luard has a number of books available including autobiographical titles and other cookery books that mainly concentrate on European cuisine... French, Spanish, Italian and so forth. I may see if the library has any of those as, by the sound of it, she's led a very interesting, if not always easy, life.

Lastly, Travels with Macy by Bruce Fogle.

Well, last month I read the second of Bruce Fogle's travlogues, A Dog Abroad, about his travels around Europe, and here I am just finishing the first. I hadn't been aware when I read A Dog Abroad, that a few years earlier he'd taken his lovely golden retriever, Macy, around the USA and parts of Canada. When I discovered that fact I was delighted as I had loved the European book so much and wanted to read more of the author's work.

Travels with Macy is so named because of John Steinback's book, Travels with Charley. Part of the reason for this trip was because Fogle wanted to retrace Steinbeck's steps around the USA in the 1960s. But also, him being a Canadian, albeit one who has livedin the UK for 30 years, he wanted to find out if he was completely Anglicised or whether he was still a North American at heart.

The trip is undertaken in a GMC, a vintage camper van to us in the UK, and this becomes the author's home, with Macy, for the next ten weeks as he heads from Maine into Ontario, around The Lakes and across the northern states of the USA to Washington State, Oregon and so on.

I have to confess here that I've not read Travels with Charley, so it's hard for me to compare the two books, but I gather Steinbeck was disappointed with much that he saw and discovered. The same could definitely not be said of Mr. Fogle. His taste for adventure and for meeting new people shines out of this book. The dog, Macy, is completely adorbale and was admired and petted all around America. America itself is the America that my husband and I came across on our travels. By that I mean the wonderful landscapes and warm and welcoming people. People who were interested in us and where we came from, what we thought of the USA, and to help us make the most of our holidays. The author thought he was going to find an insular people but found completely the reverse - an openess and kindness in strangers that he'd not expected. I could say I was surprised too, but it would be a lie. We didn't have quite his experiences over there but time and again we struck up conversations with complete strangers and enjoyed them so much we remember them to this day. What he did appeals to me, I must say, but I don't think I could be away from my daughters and grandkids for months on end like that. Apparently around 3 million Americans have sold their houses and live permanently in what they call RVs and we call camper vans. While I couldn't be without a permanent home to go to, I do understand completely why they've done it, especially in the USA and Canada where I would imagine you never run out of places to go and things to see. Wonderful, wonderful book, I plan on buying my own copy of both the author's travelogues and am hoping there will be more from him.


DesLily said...

Wow.. 4 books already?!! I've not finished my second book! lol this won't go down as one of my better reading months lol.. but you are doing great! ...AND you sound like you are totally enjoying your choices of books! I love when I get on a roll like that!! Way to go sis!

Jeane said...

The Welsh Farmhouse book looks like just the kind of thing I would love to read. And I've had Travels with Charley on my list forever, so now I'm going to add this one too, to read right after it! (fingers crossed I get that far).

Val said...

You have found Elizabeth Luard ..I have her very moving "Family Life - birth, death and the whole damn thing" also European Peasant Cookery.. Brilliant

Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

You are doing so much better than I am, Cath - I've read 5 non-fiction books this year!

I think I'll have to check out Gervase Phinn. I have heard of him but never read any of his books. Also Elizabeth Luard is another author who is new-to-me, but sounds very interesting. Travelling around America is now something I will never do, so Travels with Macy sounds like a good substitute!

Peggy Ann said...

I haven't read non fiction in such a long time! They all sound good especially the Phinn book!

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Cath,

I am almost ashamed to say, that I am with Peggy, in not having read a non-fiction book for I don't know how long!

I do flick through one from time to time, especially things like poetry and it's not that I have anything against non fiction, in fact I would love to 'improve' my knowledge base, it's just that there aren't enough hours in the day!

I have read some of Gervase Phinn's work and did thoroughly enjoy it and although it does say in the synopsis that this book is a "collection", it's a bit naughty not to make it perfectly clear that this is, what amounts to, a compilation book of his previous work!

I hate it when a fiction author republishes a title with a completely new cover, I have been caught out so many times by that, when you can't quite remember the synopsis, but know you haven't come across the cover before!

I see the latest thing is to completely rename the book, then in the very smal print on the back cover say "formerly published under the title ....". In the charity shop where I volunteer, I have noticed one such book title come through as a donation several times in the last couple of weeks and always in near perfect condition, so other people are obiously getting caught out by the same thing!!

I admire your tenacity in deciding to allocate more of your time to works of non fiction.


Cath said...

Pat: Yep, I am really enjoying the books I'm choosing at the moment. Just coming to the end of Crooked Letter Crooked Letter... yet another fantastic book!

Jeane: I've had Travels with Charley on my tbr pile for years too. Bruce Fogle says he actually prefers Steinbeck's fiction to Travels with Charley. He thinks you find out more about America from reading the fiction. Shamefully the only Steinbeck I've read is The Pearl. Need to put that right.

Val: Elizabeth Luard is completely new to me, no idea why. Odd. Yes, her Family Life book is the one I'm interested in reading.

Margaret: It's just one of those things I feel I ought to do more of - read more non-fiction. For some odd reason I thought this would be a good year to make more of an effort. Still a bit behind with my goal though.

Gervase Phinn's book are quite gentle and a great deal of fun.

I think quite a lot of people are attracted to the idea of travelling around America. We've been lucky in that we've seen some of it, more than many, but whether we'll get to see any more I don't know. I'm hopeful but not sure if it will happen.

Cath said...

Peggy: I think you would absolutely *love* Gervase Phinn's books, I really do.

Yvonne: It's OK, it's not compulsory to read non-fiction. LOL. Truthfully, I'm well aware you can learn just as much when reading fiction and also fiction broadens the mind every bit as much as non-fiction... in fact possibly more so.

I agree that is should have been made more clear what this book is. The description on the inside cover's a bit vague. It didn't matter to me as I'd only read one or two of his books and those *years* ago and I didn't remember much of them. But judging by a few comments on Amazon a few people have been caught out.

I've also been caught out a couple times by the other thing you mention, authors (or publishers) republishing books and renaming them. I'm wise to it now and always check on Fantastic Fiction and in Amazon comments, but I do think it's a bit of a crafty thing to do.

DesLily said...

I had to check my list.. I've only read 34 books so far this year but 14 were non fiction! That's a first for me! (I can blame Eleanor Roosevelt I guess huh? lol)

Susan said...

The Welsh Farmbook - another good review, and I do think I need this book now :-) I'd love to live like she does in it, wouldn't you? I suppose you have something a little similar with where you live, and what you grow, and your grandkids coming so often....I think the challenge is living more closely seasonally, something that does interest me. We're about to grow our first carrots and cucumber because my youngest enjoyed growing his first cucumber while at his grandparents in Grays, in June!!

You have been doing so much good reading, I don't think I've read more than 2 non-fiction in each of the last three or four years - not something I am proud of! though I do enjoy fiction so very much....

Cath said...

14, Pat! That's fantastic! I've read 12 but out of 50 rather than 34... so mines not such a good percentage. Yep, blame ER, I'm guessing she would have loved the idea of inspiring you like that.

Susan: Yes, you definitely need the Welsh farmhouse book. (I know, I'm terrible encouraging you to buy more books...)

Um... yes, I suppose we live a similar kind of lifestyle but we're no way isolated like she is. We have neighbours all around. Not sure I would want to be out in the sticks really. I need to be able to walk to the library. LOL!!!

Your own carrots taste so different to shop ones. You will be amazed - truly. We're now eating our own veggies and it's wonderful. Now waiting for the tomatoes to start ripening. The cool spring means they're very late.

I enjoy fiction too which is why I automatically gravitate towards it. And really you can learn just as much. But sometimes a really good non-fiction will give you such a thrill, you know? I especially love armchair travelling to places I know I will never go. And often wouldn't want to judging by the discomfort some of these people encounter. LOL!