Saturday 16 January 2021

Two non-fictions

My non-fiction reading has started well this year with two really good books.

First up, Into the Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver by Jill Heinerth.

Canadian, Jill Heinerth's fascination with water began at a really young age when she nearly drowned... twice. It was obvious she was a born explorer and so it turned out to be as she became a canoeist and hiker in her teenage years. A stable, prosperous life in Toronto called though and she became a successful Graphic Designer until, at the age of 27, she reached a cross-roads. A middle of the night violent break-in caused her to re-evaluate her life and she decided to learn how to survive no matter what life threw at her. A diving course showed her the way, she felt as though she had discovered what she had been born to do. I didn't realise when I bought this non-fiction book that I was buying a tale that was more exciting than fiction. That's rare but then it is cave-diving that we're talking about here, one of the most dangerous sports on the planet, I suppose mountaineering would compare but suspect the death rate is higher from cave-diving. Some of Jill's exploits are hair-raising as she goes deeper and further than any woman in history. She has to fight intolerance because of her sex and when the internet became a thing... jealousy and spite on online forums from other divers. Before I read this I was under the impression that The Bends was just a bit of under-water cramp. Er... no. I now know better. I had no idea how many cave divers lost their lives every year and the death toll of her friends as she becomes more experienced does get to the author. I found the whole thing utterly fascinating, not just the danger but the technical stuff about how to survive in incredibly deep caves using rebreathers. I could never do this kind of thing 'ever', but I do love reading about other people doing it and this book was an absolute cracker. 

Finally, Watery Ways by Valerie Poore.

Twitter can be a pretty nasty place sometimes but other times it comes up trumps. I saw author, Valerie Poore, on there talking about her books, went to investigate and ended up grabbing Watery Ways for my Kindle. At the start of this book she has moved from South Africa with her then husband to The Netherlands. They decided to live on a barge in one of the historic harbour areas of Rotterdam but when their marriage broke up Valerie found herself looking for a new home. She ended up renting and doing up another historic old barge and fending for herself when she had very little experience of barge living. One thing she therefore benefitted from was the friendliness and camaraderie of the other inhabitants of the water boats in the harbour. She soon made friends and even found romance, which helps when the owner of the barge you live on decides to sell... 

I absolutely loved this delightful book. Valerie's writing style is so accessible and friendly that you feel as though you're sitting with her enjoying a cup of tea and a cake while she's telling you about her life on a barge in Rotterdam. I'm in awe of her bravery because it's not something I could do on my own though it has to be said that she didn't have a lot of choice in the matter. All power to her elbow for just getting on with it! And what a lovely cast of characters she gets to know, quite eccentric some of them, but joyous to read about. I also loved reading about her excursions with Koos along various canals and waterways, sometimes a bit scary too. I shall be reading more of these 'watery' books by Valerie Poore, can't wait to read about trips to Belgium and France and then I might move on to previous books about South Africa!

Non-fiction seems to be working really well for me this month. I've just started this:

I read Simon Winchester's Atlantic last year and  enjoyed it so much that I checked to see what else he'd written - quite a list - and ended up buying this. So pleased I did as it's every bit as good as Atlantic and I'm absolutely loving it.

I hope everyone's enjoying their January 2021 reading. Any gems to recommend? (Because of course I need more books......)


Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

It's good to start the new year with books you love!

Both books look fascinating, Cath, even though I am not keen on swimming and had a bad experience a few years ago at Center Parcs going down the flume. I went under the water and couldn't get to the surface because of the people coming down after me. I was really struggling, but fortunately my husband realised what had happened and pulled me up. And I'm wary of boats too as I get seasick and I'm not happy in enclosed spaces. But I think I can quite happily read about other people enjoying swimming and canal boating!

May the good books keep coming our way!

Rosemary said...

Very interesting books Cath.

We’ve been on several narrowboat holidays, which my husband loves, but I had mixed feelings about them. Residential boats are no doubt much better, but the hire ones we had were sometimes pretty shabby. I felt it was a constant worry having to think about where to moor, was the boat tied up properly (especially at night), would we run out of water, etc. And although we went outwith school holiday times, some of the canals were just so crowded. I also found that at almost every lock I had to do there seemed to be a retired teacher who knew everything about everything and was particularly keen to tell me what I was doing wrong! However, when we got right out into the countryside we did have sine beautiful days, and saw a lot of wildlife. The author you mention must indeed be very brave to have coped with a boat on her own, though having said that I remember seeing intrepid women living alone on boats in the UK.

That Krakatoa book looks great. I first saw the Krakatoa East of Java film when I was quite young, and still remember it clearly - though I still don’t understand the title, as isn’t Krakatoa west of Java? (Or do I have my easts and wests muddled out? It’s very likely..) More recently I saw a television play about the final days before the eruption, as seen from the viewpoint of the governor’s wife. He would not leave, and in the end she and the children and nanny were all caught up in the terrible disaster. It was both fascinating and moving.

I also find I’ve been reading more non-fiction lately, though I’m still enjoying fiction too.

Lark said...

Barge living sounds like it would be such an interesting and fun way to live for awhile. And I've always been fascinated by caving...though I would NEVER do it I'm glad to hear Into the Planet was such a good read. It's already sitting on my TBR list. I'll have to move it up. Krakatoa looks really good, too. I'm hoping to read more nonfiction this year, too. :)

Jeane said...

I get nervous just going into dry caves on land- and have told my husband I'll never go into a mine with him (he's a mineral collector). Can't imagine diving in a cave underwater, it sounds very nerve-wracking to me. However I think it would be interesting to read about! sounds fascinating if I keep it at a distance.

Nan said...

I was smiling when I read about twitter - "comes up trumps" as opposed to the last word with a capital T. haha.
I like the sound of the barge book. And I am interested in South Africa.

TracyK said...

Both of these books sound like great reads. I am especially interested in the Jill Heinerth book because she is Canadian author. But living on a barge sounds more like the kind of activities I would be interested in reading about. Although I would never be as adventurous as either of those authors.

Cath said...

Margaret: Yes, it is indeed nice to start the new year with books you love and I've been really fortunate with several really good books.

I like being 'on' the water but not 'in' it very much. Like you I had a bad experience. It was actually as a teenager in that 1930s iconic swimming pool in Penzance. I lost my footing, went under and then for some reason couldn't stand up properly and kept going under. I'm still not sure how I managed to save myself but it scared me a lot. One of things I would like to address when this pandemic is over is my fear of swimming, some lessons is the obvious answer as I used to enjoy it a lot.

Rosemary: I've always fancied going on a canal boat holiday but for some reason we never have. Hubby not keen I think. My late sister-in-law went though and reported similar things to those which you experienced but quite a long time ago now so perhaps things have improved. I do love reading about canal journeys though and there are some good books around. And TV series, Prunella Scales and Timothy West for instance and I remember Rick Stein travelling on the Canal Du Midi (I think that was the one) across France and sampling the food as he went.

'That Krakatoa book' *is* great. I can't believe I'm so fascinated by plate techtonics and The Wallace Line. Yes, Krakatoa is indeed 'west' of Java! It's in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra. I gather the film makers just thought it sounded better. *Rolls eyes* Yes, I watched that TV play a few years ago too. Absolutely brilliant. And Bill Bailey's doc. about Alfred Russel Wallace whose theories led to The Wallace Line and the theory of evolution along with Darwin was good too, hoping I might be able to find that on Youtube to rewatch.

Cath said...

Lark: Nope I could 'never' cave dive either. I gather these people that do that kind of thing have a 'risk taking' gene that the rest of us don't have. Krakatoa is very good, I think it could be my non-fiction book of the year but we'll see.

Jeanne: It's because I would never do things like cave diving that I love reading about them so much. I like to find out what makes these people tick. I have been into a mine. I went on a tour of an abandoned lead mine in Derbyshire. It was *quite* the experience! I was a lot younger and would not do it now.

Nan: I think Val Poore's barge books would really appeal to you. Watery Ways was gentle and interesting and had some rather quirky people in it. Great fun.

Tracy: Yes, Jill Heinerth is indeed Canadian. I assume you're doing the Canadian challenge? So that book would be perfect for that. I too am not adventurous in the slightest, but I love reading about people who are.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Cath,

Okay, I am having pretty much the same thoughts as just about everyone else when looking at the Jill Heinerth book. I have never learned to swim, so I am therefore frightened of water anyway, I also get claustrophobia, so it's a lose, lose situation I'm afraid!

When you are the survivor of a violent episode, I guess you can understand Jill re-evaluating her life, but me, I would definitely be going for the safe and secure option. All power to her, she has my admiration!

The Val Poore book looks much more appealing, however, for the same reasons of water and space, I would also not consider living on a barge, or any kind of boat for that matter. We live so close to the canals in Bath, Devizes and Bradford-on-Avon, that we quite often (in the days when we were allowed out!) mosey on down there to watch the bargees negotiating the locks. Nice to watch, but not my kind of holiday!

It sounds as though your 2021 reading has got off to a good start.

Stay safe :)

Yvonne Xx

Sam said...

Watery Ways sounds really good, Cath. I can't imagine that lifestyle - where would I keep all my books. LOL

I was fascinated by those narrow canal boats that are all over England's waterways, and I couldn't even imagine living on one full-time the way some people manage to do. I had a friend who parked one on a canal very near our Uxbridge office and lived there. At first I thought he was crazy...and then unlike me with my 90-minute train ride to the office (and then back) every day, he literally crawled out of bed about 20 minutes before his five-minute walk to work. So who was crazy?

Cath said...

Yvonne: I learnt to swim in my teens and then forgot how because I didn't do it for decades. Peter used to take the girls swimming, not me. Now I'm a non-swimmer who would like to relearn but I'm one of these people who's afraid of going under. So any teacher would have to do something about that little problem. I too would be going for the softer option, maybe get better locks?

I've actually been on the Kennet and Avon canal which I think is the one near you? Just an evening trip 'many' years ago with the staff of the bank where Peter was working. We lived in Keynsham at the time. We started in Bristol and went up the canal to a pub somewhere, lovely evening.

Yes, I feel like my 2021 reading is off to very good start.

You stay safe too. *Hugs*

Sam: Well I've just spoken to Val on Twitter and she apparently has a lot of books too, so it can be done.

Brilliant story. Yes, who was the crazy one I wonder? LOL

Anca said...

Lovely reviews! Cave-diving sounds fascinating, especially as it is so demanding and dangerous. I would love to read the book, because, as you said, it seem more interesting than a fiction book. Watery Ways is just as interesting. I love Rotterdam (been there on my honeymoon) and I like the idea of living on a boat (couldn't do it as I don't like the movement of the boat though).

Kelly said...

I saw on another blog that you're doing a challenge on the US. I see that you've already got True Grit by Charles Portis down as an option for Arkansas, but I thought I'd offer a couple of others: Hot Springs by Stephen Hunter and The Choiring of the Trees by Donald Harington. I wish I could suggest something from the part of the state in which I live (the southern part, near the Louisiana border), but I've yet to find any books set there (unless you want a children's book! The Goat Woman of Smackover by Ramona Wood).

Cath said...

Anca: Cave diving is an interesting thing to read about, I think, but it takes a special kind of person to take it up and do it, although plenty do I gather. (I'm not one of them.) I found it every bit as interesting as a fictional book.

I've never been to The Netherlands but plan to one day. I would love to travel along the North Sea Coast to Denmark. So many places I would like to see.

Kelly: Yes, I read True Grit for Arkansas but am very happy to have more suggestions so will take note of those you suggest in my folder. Thank you so much. I certainly don't mind children's books either. (One of my favourite books of all time is, The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder.) Thanks for stopping by to comment.

CLM said...

Not a book recommendation but, O (as they say in books), if one had $499 lying around, wouldn't this be fun for a group of us! More fun in person but then it would cost even more!