Wednesday 24 January 2018

A couple of non-fiction titles

This year I'd like to read as much non-fiction as fiction. Yeah, right... I doubt it'll happen as well but we all need goals in life. Yes. So, today I have my first two non-fiction books of 2018 to review.

First up, Summer in the Islands: An Italian Odyssey by Matthew Fort.

Matthew Fort is an English food writer, most famous in the UK for his role as a judge on the BBC programme, The Great British Menu, whereby chefs from various regions of the country compete to cook for some prestigious event or other. He first went to Italy aged 11, then as a young man spent many holidays there and has been in love with the country ever since. He'd long held an ambition to do a tour of all its islands and as, like a lot of us, he's knockin' on a bit, he decided it was about time he got on with it. He does this tour on a Vespa which he names Nicoletta. He does the obvious large islands such as Sardinia and Sicily, the famous ones such as Capri, Elba and Stromboli, various Venetian islands, but also many that I'd never heard of such as Pianosa (famous for being where Mafia bosses were imprisoned I gather), Ponza, Ventolene and many more. Along the way he relates a lot of history about famous people - Napoleon Bonaparte, Garibaldi, Maxim Gorky and so on. There's a lot about food, naturally, as Fort is primarily a food writer. I wasn't always clear what he was eating as he gives the Italian names and sometimes you get a translation and sometimes you don't. All in all this was a thoroughly charming foodie's travelogue. The writing is gorgeous, beautiful descriptions of island scenery, reflections on life, the universe and everything, thoughts about all things food... I liked it very much indeed. This is my first book for The European Reading Challenge which is being hosted by Rose City Reader, and covering the country of Italy.

Next, Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell:

Wigtown is a small town near the sea in Galloway in south west Scotland. It's a Scottish version of Hay-on-Wye, a booktown, with many bookshops covering a wide variety of subjects. The Book Shop, which is featured in this book, is apparently the biggest secondhand bookshop in Scotland and is owned and run by Shaun Bythell. He decides to keep a diary for a year of the daily happenings of the shop, the customers, friends who visit, the annual town book festival (held September to October), preparations for it and so on. We meet Nicky, his rather eccentric and only permanent member of staff at that time (possibly 2014, not sure) who rarely follows orders and just does what she fancies. The main interest for me was the customers. Bythell recounts religiously how bizarre people are in bookshops. Wandering in to ask if a certain book is in stock for instance, and when told 'Yes'... they turn around and march out again leaving the owner standing there open-mouthed I assume. And these days because Amazon is so cheap people ask for heavy discounts off the marked price, or take note of the book and go and order it from Amazon. I found it all very interesting indeed. Rather sad that the author says that becoming a dealer in books made him less of a reader and less in love with them, because now they're a business, a commodity. Perhaps it's not the dream job us readers tend to think it would be. A fun, very readable and enjoyable book.



Kay said...

I bet I don't surprise you by saying the bookshop book sounds lovely to me. And I wouldn't be surprised at anything people would ask or demand or walk away from...I've worked in a library, you know. The things I could tell. LOL

Jeane said...

I think I would like reading the bookshop one... some years ago I acquired large lots of used books cheap, and tried reselling on amzn. It didn't work for me. Lucky it didn't spoil my love of reading, either. But I admit I am one of those who often peruses titles in bookshops, only to write them down and look for them at a library later.... I just can't spend so much on new books, sadly.

Nan said...

Two wonderful reports! I can't imagine that most booksellers feel as he does. If they do, that's pretty sad. The Italy book sounds like a fun trip to make. I just love it that people do such things. And I'm a big fan of nonfiction. Not - what do they call them in England? misery memoirs? - memoirs, but biographies, food books, on and on. I have like a million in my house. haha

Cath said...

Kay: No, I'm not surprised to hear that. LOL! Keep an eye out for this book as I think you would enjoy it.

Jeane: The bookshop book was a quick, very enjoyable read, but left me wondering about the behaviour of quite a lot of people. Yes, I admit that I do that too... look for books I've seen elsewhere, at the library. Exactly, we can't buy everything. Apart from the expense we'd need a mansion to keep them all in!

Nan: Thank you. It is sad and I hope not true too... in all honesty this author is a trifle on the grumpy side so perhaps he might be expected to come out with a statement like that.

Yes, I think I knew that you like non-fiction too... I like that you like all sorts like me. I'll pretty much read anything that sounds interesting or has a travel connection. I was astonished at the direction some of my reading took me last year... The French Resistance in WW2? Not something I would have predicted. This year could be my French Revolution year. LOL!

Jeane said...

Love the new puzzle featured in your header, btw.

Cath said...

Thanks, Jeane. The artist is Colin Thompson and his artwork is always quirky and fun.

Robin said...

The bookseller book sounds like something I’d enjoy. I loved my time as a bookseller and enjoyed the quirkiness of the many different customers. It made me love books and reading even more so I’m sorry to hear that it had the opposite effect on him.

Cath said...

Robin: I think most readers would enjoy Diary of a Bookseller. It's quite an easy, quick read, or perhaps I devoured it quickly because the subject matter appealed so strongly. I thought the comment that book selling had put him off books was really quite sad and did wonder if it applied to other book sellers. I'm really pleased to hear it's not so.