This was a very easy category for me to decide as two books immediately came to mind – both have left a lasting impression – their stories poignant and engaging. In no particular order, my favourite non fiction reads/listens of 2018 are:
Dr Richard Shepherd
A gripping memoir by one of the UK’s most prominent and experienced pathologists. His work has turned cases on their heads and put murderers behind bars. But his obsession with trying to learn what the dead are telling us began in medical school during his first autopsy. Holding the heart of the patient in his hands, he thought of his late mother, who’d died young from coronary heart disease. He wanted to help the living by learning about death. And, in the case of his criminal work, he wanted to see justice.
Intelligent, insightful, chilling – sometimes bizarre – and always unputdownable.
Unnatural Causes is the true crime book of the year from an expert who’s opening his records and sharing his casebook for the first time.
For a pathologist this author makes a wonderful wordsmith!
This is an intriguing narrative, a creative memoir that discusses the changes in society and attitudes to policing, medicine and science in an easy to read format that is engaging and illuminating. The discussion around autopsies, mass shootings/acts of terror and suspicious deaths are handled sensitively and considerately, the writer’s humanness shines through these sections of the book.
The author is open, honest and empathetic. This is a sensitively and intelligently written book that will appeal to lovers of memoir, history, true crime and social science.
Notes on a Nervous Planet
Allen & Unwin Australia
ISBN: SBN13: 9781786892676
RRP $ 27.99
The world is messing with our minds.
Rates of stress and anxiety are rising. A fast, nervous planet is creating fast and nervous lives. We are more connected, yet feel more alone. And we are encouraged to worry about everything from world politics to our body mass index.
– How can we stay sane on a planet that makes us mad?
– How do we stay human in a technological world?
– How do we feel happy when we are encouraged to be anxious?
After experiencing years of anxiety and panic attacks, these questions became urgent matters of life and death for Matt Haig. And he began to look for the link between what he felt and the world around him.
Notes on a Nervous Planet is a personal and vital look at how to feel happy, human and whole in the 21st century.
This is a very raw, honest and insightful book and I commend the writer and the publishers for continuing to print narratives that open up discussions regarding mental health.
Haig has successfully distilled the source of a widespread epidemic of stress and nervousness; you may not have thought about it before
(Or maybe you have) how the constant barrage of information and misinformation affects our thinking and increases nervous tension. I will put up my hand and admit that I have been seriously influenced by the information/news of the world that has appeared and made itself so personal in my social media feeds.
Perhaps it is timely that I address this review today, September 11, an anniversary that will affect most people on this planet. Perhaps this is the first “major event” that sent waves of nervous energy around the globe? We (Australia) woke to an atrocity that became very personal; live streaming, “on the ground reporting”, fear and anxiety, despair and grief stared us in the eyes and we responded to a tragedy that felt personal to us. And while we had a right to know about this shocking event, did we need to be so “involved” in someone else’s grief? It is a complex situation but I can’t help but feel, like Matt Haig that we are creating/being exposed to /manipulated into being a very nervous planet; too much information or mis information is almost as bad as too little in these sorts of circumstances. Empathy is one thing…but we do not need to take on board someone else’s grief, fear, anger. You can listen, understand, sympathise with the problems around you but you do not need to “experience” the negative vibes yourself. A little distance can be good for the collective mental health of the globe.
Do as Matt Haig suggests, take a moment, breathe deep, walk in the sun, walk in nature…switch off the phone, the laptop for a while…accept that technology and social media is a part of our life but not the only part. Engage with the real world more often, the benefits will be life changing.
Mr Ordinary Goes to Jail
‘Wil’s honesty really had me gripped and his description of his first night in jail is something I won’t forget.’ – Emily Webb, crime author and podcast host of ‘Australian True Crime’.
Wil Patterson was your everyday working husband and father, trying to keep up with the latest car, house and toys for his family. Always one to make light of things, he nevertheless became increasingly desperate about how he was going to pay his bills. One day while at work at his insurance job, he came across a large cheque that was addressed to someone who shared his name. The temptation was too great and soon enough Wil found himself down at the bank. After swearing to himself, ‘never again’, it wasn’t too long before a similar situation arose and Wil could not resist.
Well, no crime goes unpunished and Wil was eventually caught and charged and, to his horror, sentenced to 3 years’ prison time. Mr Ordinary Goes to Jail is Wil’s account of his time in a contemporary Victorian prison, the unusual characters he met, the often hilarious and terrifying situations he found himself in, and the ways in which he comes to terms with his past and forges a new future.
This is for anybody who has ever wondered, ‘What is it really like inside?’ or ever speculated how they might cope if they were in the same situation. It also details the reactions of Wil’s family and friends and examines the steps Wil had to take to be accepted back into his family and society.
One upon a time, many years and career changes a go, I had a part time job – social worker for visits time at a low security prison. I was filled with the same trepidation that Will experienced for his first night at prison. I knew no-one else at the prison, I didn’t know how any of the prison systems worked (I had assumed I would have a meeting with someone on staff before I started work but that didn’t happen). I was a little concerned. The stereotypes of prisoners in crime fiction and film and TV shows were almost enough to put me off- but I was studying and thought I wanted this experience on my resume.
So Sunday – visits are generally on a Sunday, I made my way to the local prison. I didn’t even know how to enter the place and consequently drove down a road I shouldn’t have and was quickly escorted to the main entrance by a patrol of guards.
My concerns must have been obvious – one of the guards on duty that day took me to one side and said “They (prisoners) are just ordinary people. Think of the street you live in – you don’t know anything about those people, they could have a record…treat inmates like people.” But then suggested a few sensible precautions… and with that piece of worldly advice I started work, mostly I assisted prison visitors to fill out forms and allay their fears (most hadn’t been in a prison before either and shared many of my concerns) – a calm visitor makes for a good visit day.
I didn’t work there very long but that’s another story.
So I understood a little of Wil’s trepidation. It’s about expectations. And hoping most of them don’t come true.
I enjoyed this honest, creative memoir /coming of age/humorous (mostly) reflection on Wil’s time in jail. He highlights some flaws in the judicial system, reflects on his own past, his crime and accepts responsibility for his actions. He doesn’t allow himself to be defined by the actions that landed him in jail. I am pleased he has found a way to reconnect with his family and start a meaningful life.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz
The incredible story of the Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist and the woman he loved.
Lale Sokolov is well-dressed, a charmer, a ladies’ man. He is also a Jew. On the first transport from Slovakia to Auschwitz in 1942, Lale immediately stands out to his fellow prisoners. In the camp, he is looked up to, looked out for, and put to work in the privileged position of Tetovierer – the tattooist – to mark his fellow prisoners, forever. One of them is a young woman, Gita, who steals his heart at first glance.
His life given new purpose, Lale does his best through the struggle and suffering to use his position for good.
This story, full of beauty and hope, is based on years of interviews author Heather Morris conducted with real-life Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz- Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov. It is heart-wrenching, illuminating, and unforgettable.
‘Extraordinary – moving, confronting and uplifting… a story about the extremes of human behaviour: calculated brutality alongside impulsive and selfless acts of love. I recommend it unreservedly’—GRAEME SIMSION
‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz has the quality of a dark fairy-tale. It is both simple and epic, shot through with compassion and love… Everyone should read it’—HUGH RIMINTON
‘An extraordinary story of a single and singular life and its great love’—ASHLEY HAY
How can a book be chilling yet so beautiful simultaneously? Be so horrific yet speak of never ending love on the same page? Be so confronting yet engage and enthral?
A book of some many contrasts, such pain and yet there is so much love on these pages, this is perhaps the best creative memoir you will read. There would not be many people who do not already know of the atrocities committed at Auschwitz, but do you know of the stories of survival, of friendship, of courage, of love, of doing “what I can to survive” (p.33)? This is a remarkable narrative told with brutal tenderness; a view through a lens of love.
This has already garnered a place in my best reads of 2018, I am sure it will soon be on your best read list too.
A busy book receiving week. I have already had a sneak peek at a couple of the titles here; Anatomy Of A Scandal captures the epitome of Entitlement, Maggie’s Recipes For Life is a new favourite, Salt Fat Acid Heat – is a book that will be on my best of list for 2017, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is one I am really looking forward to reading, The Wanted – Robert Crais has been on my want to read list forever, really looking forward to this one. Fallow looks intriguing, I Love You In Five Languages is delightful, The Hangman appeals, The Collector – psychological thrillers are my favourite type of read, The Secret Vineyard – set in our very own Margaret River, The Book of Summer – a dual timeline read. Where to begin? Any of your favourites here?
I Am, I Am, I Am
Seventeen Brushes With Death
A BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week
‘O’Farrell takes up a bow and arrow and aims at the human heart’ The Times
‘A life-enhancing two-fingers to death… mesmerising’ The Sunday Times
I AM, I AM, I AM is a memoir with a difference – the unputdownable story of an extraordinary woman’s life in near-death experiences. Intelligent, insightful, inspirational, it is a book to be read at a sitting, a story you finish newly conscious of life’s fragility, determined to make every heartbeat count.
A childhood illness she was not expected to survive. A teenage yearning to escape that nearly ended in disaster. A terrifying encounter on a remote path. A mismanaged labour in an understaffed hospital. Shocking, electric, unforgettable, this is the extraordinary memoir from Costa Novel-Award winner and Sunday Times bestselling author Maggie O’Farrell.
It is a book to make you question yourself. What would you do if your life was in danger, and what would you stand to lose?
I AM, I AM, I AM will speak to readers who loved Cheryl Strayed’s WILD or Max Porter’s GRIEF IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS.
I was tempted to request this book when I came upon fellow book blogger and reviewer (and book seller) Written By Sime’s review:
https://writtenbysime.com/2017/09/13/i-am-i-am-i-am-seventeen-brushes-with-death-by-maggie-ofarrell/ and I was so glad he enjoyed the read and shared his view.
This is a remarkable read – what an incredible life Maggie O’Farrell has led (and not by choice) and yet…here she is, daughter, wife, mother and successful writer. Remarkable – I think that covers it all! J
As the title informs there are seventeen chapters in this creative memoir, each chapter is heart wrenching and demonstrates the incredible resilience that is Maggie O’Farrell. For me I was profoundly affected by several chapters – the first, titled Neck 1990 – could be the stuff that a ripping work of crime fiction is made from- but it’s not. If you have ever been the source of amusement to a bully, to a lunatic…or if you are female you will get chills down your spine, you will recognise the issue here, you too will know what lies ahead, you may have “the instinct for the onset of violence.” p. 12 I know I have it.
“Lungs” could have so easily been named #MeToo – I am sure so many of you will identify with the 16 year old Maggie O’Farrell in this chapter.
And the chapter that talks about anaphylaxis… so much that is personal to me, perhaps it will strike a chord with you too.
A wonderful read.