Nonfiction by women writers

Tonight my friend Maureen over at BySingingLight asked for recommendations for excellent non-fiction by female authors, with a focus on history and biography.

Well, you can’t ask for book suggestions within earshot of a librarian without getting a detailed list back, so without further ado:

A Royal Experiment: the private life of King George III, by Janice Hadlow. I just finished this and I learned so much.

How To Be a Victorian, by Ruth Goodman. Detailed and incredibly well-researched – everything you need to know about daily life in Victorian times.

The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickons’ London, by Judith Flanders. Are you seeing a theme here? I’ve read a lot of books about England/English history in the last six months. A lot.

A Journey Through Tudor England: Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London to Stratford-Upon-Avon and Thornbury Castle, by Suzannah Lipscomb. Here’s another.

And now for a few that aren’t about English history:

Twelve Little Cakes, by Dominika Dery. I absolutely loved this one, but it seems like it’s slipped under everyone else’s radar. Dominika Dery has a charming way of writing and even though life was very difficult growing up in communist Czechoslovakia – especially if your parents were dissidents – each tale of her childhood is presented with such love and humor that it really is a “feel good” book.

And Then There Were Nuns, by Jane Christmas. I’m never entire sure how II feel about Jane Christmas, but this is by turns funny, deep, and thought-provoking.

A Homemade Life: stories and recipes from my kitchen table, by Molly Wizenberg. Yes, it’s recipes … but it’s a lot more than that.

Consider the Fork, by Bee Wilson. You don’t have to be food-obsessed to enjoy this, but it probably helps.

As Always, Julia, edited by Joan Reardon. This is a collection of letters between Julia Child and her good friend Avis. Both women are so intelligent and funny, and their personalities shine through their correspondence.

I could go on … and on … and on, but I’ll leave it at this for now. Basically, if you like food or British history, you’ll probably find something on this list to love.

Books for August

What I read this month:

1. Voyager, Diana Gabaldon

This was the book I think I remembered least, so it was especially fun to rediscover it. It’s lovely (and a little heartbreaking) to see Clare and Jamie rediscover each other as middle-aged people, brings back a character long-thought dead, and and includes some exotic people and places. Honestly, I’m a little sad to see them head off to America in the next book.

2. Wool, Hugh Howey

An underground silo that contains an entire world of people: people who have lived in this contained space so long that they’ve forgotten what the larger world outside was ever like. Their silo is their entire world.

Usually when library patrons recommend a book, I’m vague in my promises to seek it out. I have way too much on my own to-read list to start adding the favorites of other people! But there are a handful of folks whose recommendations I trust implicitly, and this came from one such person.

I like sci-fi in theory, but I don’t actually read much of it. Most modern sci-fi leaves me cold and I find it difficult to connect with emotionally. Wool is not the best-written stuff you’ll ever find, and I was initially really put off by the jumping from character to character, but it sure packs an emotional punch. I did really wish for more details about certain things: how many people live in the silo? How big is each floor (all we know there are hundreds of floors and it takes days to take the stairs from top to bottom). Speaking of stairs, how did they lose the technology for things like, yanno, elevators?

3. Running Blind, Lee Child

I don’t particularly like murder mysteries/thrillers that seem to try to include the most grisly/horrific/unusual manners of death possible (I remember one – a Kellerman book, maybe? – that I flipped open randomly only to find a description of a death by means of super gluing the person’s eyes, mouth, and nose shut. Srsly??) This book veered just a little too close to that line for me to be totally comfortable with it, and I also had some serious questions as far as believability, but both the cause of death and the killer managed to catch me totally off guard, so.

4. The Winter Prince, Elizabeth Wein

I just wanted to sob over this book – I ended up reading this series completely backwards, which was possibly a mistake, but oh, what a beautiful and tragic figure Medraut makes. I really appreciate Wein’s reshaping of the Arthurian landscape – this is probably the most sensitive and well-rounded treatment of these characters that I’ve come across.

5. Suite Scarlett, Maureen Johnson
6. Scarlett Fever, Maureen Johnson

New York City, old hotel, crazy family, crazier neighbors, even crazier hotel guests. I loved that the love interest isn’t neatly wrapped up in either book and isn’t the whole focus,  Also, bonus points for not making the “kid who beat cancer” into a perfect child. I appreciate some of Mrs Amberson’s wit but good grief am I the only person that sees what a rude and demanding person she is?! I feel like we’re all supposed to love her, and instead I was always ticked off her lack of respect for other human being’s schedules and lives and wishes.

Incidentally, I really identified with Lola – although obviously I neither have a rich boyfriend named Chip nor a perfect makeup routine.

And I’m pretty sure I liked these better than the Shades of London books.

7. Give It Up!, Mary Carlomagno

So basically, the author is an immature New Yorker who can’t figure out how to socialize with her friends without drinking, has never used the subway because it’s “confusing” and has basically lived such a privileged that life that she doesn’t even realize how privileged she is.

She gave up one thing a month for a year – coffee, chocolate, elevators, taxis (which meant – gasp – walking and using the subway) – and wrote a book about it, as one does. I’ve enjoyed many other such books, but this one was remarkably shallow and uninspiring.

8. Present Shock, Douglas Rushkoff

Modern technology is ruining everything … sort of.

I’m not nearly so pessimistic, but he has some good points, and it’s certainly interesting reading.

A particularly important reminder that things are probably not nearly as bad as they seem on the news:  “information overload might not have increased the rate at which disasters occur, but it has exponentially increased the rate at which they’re witnessed.”

And then there’s this food for thought: “…the more forcefully we attempt to stop the passage of time, the less available we are to the very moment we seek to preserve.” I struggle with this, especially when traveling: how much do I record/write about/photograph the moments, and when do I sit back and just enjoy them? I forget the details so very quickly if I don’t preserve them, and yet by the act of preserving, I take myself out of the moment and may never fully get to live them.

(hint: I lean towards the preserving end. I can’t help it. DOCUMENT ALL THE THINGS.)

And I loved this idea that mental stress is the result of unresolved loops – “every individual thing we haven’t figured out sits on our awareness like a live, ticking clock. Every unanswered question and every task we haven’t yet scheduled stays in the most active part of our brain, waiting for an answer.”
So the trick to reducing stress is to close as many of these loops as possible – not necessarily do them all, but make a plan for getting them done. His example was that if you know you need to go buy milk, but do nothing further about it, that’s an open loop. But by deciding when you will go to the store, and which store you will go to, you are closing the loop. You now have a plan, and not just an open-ended “I need to buy milk.”

9. Echo Burning, Lee Child

Another great book (and the writing just keeps getting better, which is good, although there are still too many sentence fragments), but it rang just a bit false to me – possibly because Child is an Englishman, and this book is set in Texas. Some small details are spot-on in a way I wouldn’t expect someone who hasn’t live there to get, but others seem a little … stereotyped?

10. Sorcery & Cecelia: or, the enchanted chocolate pot, Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

I know a lot of you really really love this book, so let me preface this by saying: I think if I had discovered it at a different time (younger, perhaps, or during a regency kick) I would have liked it a lot better. I found nothing wrong with it, I just didn’t love it the way that you did. It’s me, not the book.

May I say though, how absolutely delighted I was to discover after the fact that the authors actually wrote it in letters, without knowing ahead of time what the other would write? So clever!