Monday 14 June 2021

Three non-fiction titles

A bout of sciatica has kept me off the internet for a few days, so I'm very behind with commenting on the blogs I normally visit. Apologies for that, hopefully I can catch up at some stage. But I'm busy reading away for the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge and all of the following non-fiction books are on my list for that. 

First up, The End of the Road by Jack Cooke.

I like this quote from the book:

'Most of us live in denial of death. We practise unconscious alchemy, loath to accept our own mortality and searching for ways to prolong life in an age of modern medicine. Those already dead and buried are to be skirted around, side-stepped, wherever possible put to the back of our minds. The 'respect' we accord them is also a way of establishing distance between them and us. In spite of our common fate we dissociate ourselves.'

Author, Jack Cooke, intrigued by how divorced we are from death in our culture, decides to become a taphophile, a tomb tourist, and embarks on a journey around the UK looking at famous or unusual burial stories and graveyards. It sounds very maudlin or macabre but in actual fact it's not, it was all really rather fun and interesting. He buys a knackered old hearse and starts in Suffolk, on the east coast of England, at the drowned village of Dunwich. Cooke describes how heavy rain fell in Whitby, in Yorkshire, causing bones to fall from a clifftop graveyard, onto the houses below. (Goodness me...) Barrows are explored and then on to London and Highgate (he trespasses at night there) and Golder's Green crematorium, the oldest one in the country where Sigmund Freud, Bram Stoker and Marc Bolan have memorials. From London he moves on to Surrey, and then to Portsmouth where they have a 'tomb of the unknown sailor' from the Mary Rose wreck. He searches out Thomas Hardy's burial in Dorset and then on to Dartmoor in Devon. The plague village of Eyam in Derbyshire is covered, Alfred Wainwright in The Lake District, and then on to Scotland, finishing on Orkney. Sharing the author's journey is a spider called 'Enfield' because that's where he first noticed it in the corner of the windscreen. There's a lot more to this book of course, it's very well written and chock 'full' of interest and fascinating titbits and thus of interest to history buffs I would have thought. I really enjoyed dipping in and out and also enjoyed this quote on the back of the book:

'Perhaps the greatest single advantage of driving a hearse (and there are many) is that people are desperate to get out of your way. On open roads traffic will hang back, keeping its distance. In built-up areas, drivers disappear down side-streets to avoid any contact with my vehicle of ill omen. I drive through Hertfordshire much as Moses walked through the Red Sea, the way parting before and behind me.'


Next: People Missing in the Woods by Steph Young.

I bought this one after enjoying The Cold Vanish by  Jon Billman in April, the notion of people disappearing in the forests and mountains of such a huge country as the USA intriguing me greatly. The Cold Vanish was a much more personal book as it involved the search for a specific young man and the heartbreak involved. People Missing in the Woods had much more of a clinical approach as it charted numerous instances of unexplained disappearances. Curious for me was why so many people wander off and leave their phones in their cars. And why the rescuers so often find that the dogs can find no scent at all after about a hundred yards. And how these people sometimes turn up in already thoroughly searched areas or pretty much in the exact spot where they disappeared. About halfway through, the book turns into The X-Files, speculating about alien abductions and alternate dimensions. How come there are so many accounts of lost people who can see the people who are searching for them but the searchers can neither see or hear the lost? Wierd. And there are hot-spots: Crater Lake in Oregon, Mount Shasta, Superstition Mountain near Phoenix, all apparently centres of oddness. Do I believe all of this? Well. I'm expremely open minded about it all but I  do take it with a small pinch of salt. There is no doubt though that some things that happen have no rational explanation... and I am a reader of science-fiction and ghost stories after all. That said, this was not a great read for me. It was interesting as I love these kinds of weird books, but I felt led by the author to think one way when there might have been other, more rational explanations.

Lastly: A House in Sicily by Daphne Phelps.

The author inherits a beautiful old villa in the town of Taormina, which is at the foot of Mount Etna on Sicily, from her uncle. After an attempt to sell falls through she decides to take it on and live there. This was in the late 1940s, early 1950s. Sicily at that time was still recovering from WW2 and had also not really come into the 20th. century. Attitudes towards unmarried women working or owning property were archaic and Italian men saw foreign women like Daphne, with property, regardless of the fact that she had no money at all, as a meal-ticket to a life of wealth and riches. She fought them all off and turned Casa Cuseni into a kind of refuge for famous writers and painters to come and stay and the book is a series of vignettes about those famous people. Daphne knew authors such as Tennessee Williams, Bertrand Russell, Roald Dahl and Ernest Hemingway. But just as interesting for me were the stories about the Sicilian staff she employed and their quirks and foibles and strange attitudes. I was completely charmed by this library book, so much so that I'll probably buy my own copy.


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

The last two seem like books I'd enjoy. I love when readers like yourself point me to something I hadn't heard of. I found The Cold Vanish on your blog as well - so double thanks.

Lark said...

I think I'd like The End of the Road, but then I do visit cemeteries a lot, even when I'm on vacation. There's just something fascinating about the old ones especially. And all the alien speculation in People Missing in the Woods would probably make me roll my eyes, but there is something strange about all those missing people.

TracyK said...

When you wrote about End of the Road earlier in the year, I told my husband about the book and it is on his wish list. I love the cover and I am sure I would enjoy reading it too.

A House in Sicily sounds very good, glad you enjoyed it. People Missing in the Woods is not so appealing to me. I am perfectly willing to believe that there can be supernatural explanations for disappearances but I don't want to read such theories. The Cold Vanish did sound appealing, from your review. I wish I could read twice as many books in a year.

Sam said...

I hope you are feeling a little better, Cath. That kind of thing can really nag at you.

I'm intrigued most by the first book you mention. I've always been a "fan" of old cemeteries because of what you can learn from the headstones about the history of the area. I started visiting them decades ago in search of Civil War veterans, and I'm still keen to do it. This one sounds perfect for I just have to see if it's available in this country.

Feel better...

CLM said...

Sorry you have not been feeling well! Were you following the coverage of the G7 in Cornwall? I thought it was interesting that Johnson's staff selected a Daphne du Maurier book for Jill Biden but didn't pick one of the better books! I assume she is a reader but I have never heard of any particular books she likes, unlike President Obama who loved going to bookstores and often shared his favorites.

I think my mother would like the Sicily book so I will see if our library has it.

Cath said...

Diane: It's one of the brilliant advantages of blogging and reading other blogs isn't it? You really *do* get to hear about books that would never cross your path otherwise. So 'thank you' back in return.

Lark: Yes, I like cemetaries too, particularly small village ones where the atmosphere is always so quiet and timeless somehow. I agree, there is something very odd about all the missing people and I do wonder about it.

Tracy: I wish they'd hurry up and invent a Star Trek transporter so that books (not 'me', I would not volunteer, LOL) could be beamed across the Atlantic without costing a fortune. I would be so happy to lend this one to Glen as it will only sit on my shelf gathering dust now.

I think People Missing in the Woods is not for everyone and if someone did want to read about that subject I'm not sure that would be the book I would recommend anyway.

Cath said...

Sam: Yes thanks, my back is better now but still a bit fragile. It's left me feeling very achey but at least I'm not in agony as I was on the first and second days.

I hope The End of the Road is available in the US as it was endlessly fascinating. Plus, having lived over here you'll know some of the places he visits I suspect.

Thank you.

Constance: Thank you. Yes, I have been watching the G7 coverage, found it very interesting, plus I'm from that area... well... 10 or 15 miles away anyway. So it was wonderful to see St. Ives on the TV every night. I had no idea that Jill Biden was given a Daphne Du Maurier book, which one was it? I would have given her Frenchman's Creek.

Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

Hi, Cath, sorry about the sciatica, I know how painful that can be! the end of the Toad looks fascinating and the quote about death seems so apposite right now. Driving around in an old hearse sounds so macabre. I must check to see if our library has a copy.

Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

Oh no - I've just read my comment - not the End of the Toad! My finger missed the R!!!

Susan said...

The PEOPLE MISSING IN THE WOODS book does sound like a great follow-up to THE COLD VANISH. I'll have to look that one up. I'm a little concerned, though - I live at the base of the Superstition Mountains!!

Vallypee said...

Ooff, poor you, Cath! Sciatica is so painful. I hope all the aches are better soon, though. These three books all look interesting, so I must look them up.

Nan said...

So sorry you have been in pain.
A while back, I actually came upon a site about missing persons. I found I couldn't stop reading all those names and situations. It must be so horrible for their relatives and friends.
Our first trip (not that far, though) is going to be to visit Hadley Richardson Mowrer"s grave. Ever since I read A Moveable Feast decades ago, I have been intrigued by her, and when I found out she was buried here, I wanted to go. Then the virus came.

Cath said...

Margaret: thank you. Yes, it's a nasty thing. In fact my daughter had it so badly about 10 years ago she had to have her back operated on. Thankfully she's been fine since.

I laughed at 'The End of the Toad'. Sounds like a sequel to The Wind in the Willows... It's funny but The End of the Road is not at all morbid or macabre, just really, really interesting.

Susan: Oh gosh! I had no idea that you lived near the Superstition Mountains! That's a crazy coincidence.

Val: Yes thanks, I'm completely better now... until the next time. I get a dose about twice a year.

Nan: Thank you.

Yes, it's a bit compulsive reading all of the case histories of missing persons. Shocking thing for all those families to have to go through the horror of it all.

The virus has ruined so many plans. We haven't been to Cornwall since March 2020 and now with a third wave starting here I'm not sure we'll get down there this year. I also would absolutely love to have a holiday in Italy. One day hopefully.