e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the tag “non-fiction”

30 Day Book Challenge – day 5: A non-fiction book I like

13 ways cover artI read a good deal of non-fiction. Currently on the go is 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley. It’s subtitled ‘What to read and how to write’ and I’m not sure I like the prescriptiveness of that. However, she has done a lot of reading of important and literary works and compares them in interesting and useful ways. I do like it, but not hugely.

A lot of my non-fiction reading is technical stuff like The Poet’s Manual by Frances Stillman or How to be a Gardener by Alan Titchmarsh. I suppose cookery books would come under this heading. They are among my favourite non-fiction reads, and I quite often browse the recipes even if I have no intention of actually cooking them.

One of my all time favourites is The Holocene: An Environmental History by Neil the holocene coverRoberts. I’ve had it for a while so it must be a bit out of date by now, but I keep it and dip into it occasionally. It covers the recent history of our world from the end of the last ice age to now (or more accurately 1998 when my edition was published).

I love this stuff: evolution, the changes our planet has been through, ancient history, astronomy. I love the oldness and largeness of the scale they deal with and the perspective they put on our short lived and temporary lives.

Covers from Mostly Fiction Book Reviews and Google books.

Reading backlog

I’ve finally started on a project that has been accumulating on my bookshelves for years – reading at least some of the books I bought and would read ‘some day’.

The most recent one I finished (some of them have turned out to be a waste of space) is Payback by Margaret Atwood, subtitled Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. It’s a current book, published in 2008.

It is not about debt management or economics. It’s about debt as a cultural feature deeply embedded in our society and in our minds. In fact she examines some recent work on other primates, who apparently also have ideas on fair play and balancing the books.

In the chapter on Ancient Balances she looks at mythology and the array of gods and goddesses concerned with what is owed to whom (or to the gods). Justice and her scales get in there along with the likes of Nemesis (whose name means ‘dispenser of dues’).

This chapter is followed by one on Debt and Sin, then Debt as Plot (as you’d expect from someone famous for her fiction). Then there is The Shadow Side, all about the horrible things that befall those who don’t pay their debts.

Finally there’s Payback which looks at both debtors and creditors and imagines how they can all come out of the whole thing smelling of roses – or not, depending on what they do.

As one expects from Ms Atwood it’s beautifully written and very detailed, and I found it riveting. Debt has a whole host of meanings which have trailed it through the ages in many ways unchanged.

I was unaware before that she writes non-fiction and I will definitely read more of it – more additions to my pile of ‘read some day’ books.

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