If you’re a regular reader of the blog (*waves*) you’ll have noticed that I don’t read a lot of non-fiction. But as a proud history graduate (I’m not so proud of my French grammar) and a bit of a history geek, a lot of the non fiction that I do read is history based. After reading lots of Heavy Duty history books for the degree (in English and in French) I tend to steer clear of weighty, serious tomes in favour of the more readable popular end of the market. This is mostly because with so many things on the to-read pile I know the serious stuff will get ignored*. And I think they’re the sort of books that will appeal to people who don’t have the interest in history that I do. I also like biographies and autobiographies that tell me something more about the world and things that I don’t know much about. So with that in mind, here are a few of my recent reads:
I cannot speak highly enough of this book. Honestly. This jumped out at me because of the insight into a period I know very little about (the 1970s and punk) – Viv Albertine really lived in and through that scene – she was in a band with Sid Vicious before she was a member of The Slits – a revolutionary girl punk band. This is possibly the most raw and honest autobiography I’ve ever read. You never get the sense that Albertine is holding anything back, or leaving stuff out to make other people happy or make herself look better. The first part of the book – Side A – covers her early life and her career in music inside the small punk scene in late 1970s London where everyone knew everyone as they tried to change the world, and the second – Side B – addresses her post-punk life, her fight against cancer and her struggle to find herself and her place in life. I could not put it down – especially during Side B, which I had expected to be the less interesting part of the book. Albertine blazed a trail in her music career – doing things that girls didn’t do, and refusing to let men tell them what to do. I’m fairly sure that she’d hate me for not having strong enough opinions, but I’m equally sure that it’s women like her who have made it possible for me to live the life that I do. It’s had fabulous reviews – the pull quotes about it are raves and I totally agree. I really seriously recommend this.
I’ve got a bit of a fascination going on with the inter-war period – I’ve read a lot of fiction set in that era (both stuff actually written then like Nancy Mitford and stuff written now and set then) and the Bright Young Things fascinate me (if you haven’t seen the BBC’s three-part documentary on the era called Glamour’s Golden Age, watch out for it being repeated), so this was right up my street. Flappers tells the stories of five notable women of the 1920s – focusing on their lives during that period. It’s a big old book – it lasted me three days of commuting – but it’s worth a read. Each of the women have interesting stories – and even if they aren’t that likeable always, you don’t spend long enough in their company to start to get irritated with them. I think if the book had been solely focused on anyone of them I’d have given up on it – because I would have wanted to punch some sense into them, but as a six-some it really works. I passed it on to my mum – who’s currently reading it too!
Now this had been sitting on the shelf for an age – and I finally got around to reading it after I was lucky enough to win tickets to go and see the fabulous Mr Fry talk about the third part of his autobiography and thought I ought to get up to speed with where we’ve got to. And what a decade he had – this covers university through early successes (and failures) on stage and screen and writing behind the scenes. I really liked his writing style (it’s just like having him in the room with you) and the stuff he gets up to is so interesting that I raced through the 400 plus pages of what could be a very irritating book about a man being very self-deprecating about his success. We leave the QI star and polymath after he’s just tried cocaine for the first time. I’ll let you know what I make of volume three…
And if you read this blog regularly, you’ll notice I’ve read these books spread over a fair period of time. This has been sitting in draft for ages, but having finished Viv Albertine’s book today, I had to write about it – and this seemed the perfect place, as Albertine’s book is not the usual sort of book I post about – it’s real, it happened – it’s not romance or remotely cosy. But I had to tell you about it. I could not put it down this morning – I even took the Kindle into the bath with me so that I could finish my copy (which came via NetGalley) so desperate was I to find out what happened to her next. Honestly, even if punk isn’t your thing, go and find it in the book shop and read a few pages or borrow it from the library. Don’t just dismiss it. It’s an important story, but it’s also tremendously engaging and her writing style – like her musical one – is completely different.
*I have a copy of Adam Zamoyski’s Rites of Peace sitting on my shelf that has been there for about five years – and I’m really interested in the Congress of Vienna. As in A-Level special project essays interested.