Why is it when we were at school we only ever seem to read fiction? I don’t think I ever had to pick up a non-fiction book during 7 years in Senior School. Of course we were told to read around the subject, to read numerous articles written about our latest ‘class reader’ but not once did we study a biography, an autobiography or a book of fact!
I don’t know why that was but it is something that I would like to see changed in the UK school system. I think it is so important for children and young adults to be well read and to read a variety of materials so that they can become informed, are able to make their own opinions and to understand other cultures. Yes we can learn all of this from fiction but I think that there is something humbling, shocking and rewarding from reading real life stories that are centered around real people, real events and real experiences. I know that I would have welcomed this opportunity if ever it was presented.
So I am going to use this post to recommend some of the best works of non-fiction that I have read and to share with you some that I am excited to read.
Ones that I have read:
1. Just Kids by Patti Smith. (I have already written a post about this book so I will simply insert here one of my favourite quotes from the book. If you have not read this book and are interested in New York, the 70’s, Warhol, music, art, love….you must read this book. I could not recommend it more!)
I spoke the line ‘Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.’ I had written the line some years before as a declaration of existence, as a vow to take responsibility for my actions. Christ was a man worthy to rebel against, for he was rebellion himself.
2. A book to prove that not all non-fiction books have to be boring and serious:
The Travel Diaries of Karl Pilkington.
What happens when a reluctant traveller is forced to visit the seven wonders of the world?
I’ve never had to have an injection to go on holiday before. I don’t tend to go to extreme places normally. I like my holidays to be the same as being at home, but in a different area. The time we were in the Cotswolds and could only get whole milk rather than semi-skimmed was almost enough to make me turn around and go back home. So this is going to be a challenge.’
A very quick read (I think I read it in a day) and it had me laughing out loud pretty much the whole way through. I am someone who loves to travel so I was baffled by Pilkington’s view on travelling the world!!!
I studied Drama and Film at university and I have included two books that played a big part of my three years at Kent.
3. The Last Great American Picture Show. New Hollywood Cinema in the 1970s. Edited by Thomas Elsaesser, Alexander Horwath and Noel King.
For many lovers of film, American cinema of the late 1960s and early 1970s – dubbed the New Hollywood- has remained a Golden Age. As the old studio system gave way to a new generation of American auteurs, directors such as Bob Rafelson, Martin Scorsese, Monte Hellman, Peter Bogdanovich, but also Robert Altman, James Toback, Terence Malick and Barbara Loden helped create an independant cinema that gave America a different voice in the world and a different vision to itself. The protests against the Vietnam war, the Civil Rights movement and feminism saw the emergence of an entirely different political culture, reflected in movies that may not have been successful with the mass public, but were soon recognised as audacious, creative and off-beat by the critics. Many of the films have subsequently become classics.
The Last Great Picture Show brings together essyas by scholars and writers who chart the changing evaluations of this American cinema of the 1970, some times referred to as the decade of the lost generations, but now more and more also reconised as the first of several ‘New Hollywoods’ without which the cinema of Francis Coppol, Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, Tim Burton or Quentin Tarantino could not have come into being.
If you enjoy films such as Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn), The Dirty Dozen (Robert Aldrich), Shampoo (Hal Ashby), Badlands (Terrence Malick), Fat City (John Hutson), Wanda (Barbara Loden), Easy Rider, (Dennis Hopper), Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson) Two Lane Blacktop (one of my favourites) Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola), Chinatwown (Roman Polanski) and Targets (Peter Bogdanovich) check this book out!
4. Utopia and Other Places. A Memoir of a Young Director. Richard Eyre.
In this captivating autobiography Richard Eyre, who was Director of the Royal National Theatre for a decade, gives his views on acting and politics alongside striking portraits of friends and colleagues such as Ian Charleson, Laurence Olivier, Ian McKellen, Peter Brook and Judi Dench. Wittty and poignant, this is a remarkable work of honesty from one of our most celebrated creative talents.
And so now for the non-fiction books that I have sat waiting to read:
5. The Fear. The Last days of Robert Mugabe by Peter Godwin.
“This a book by a brave man about people who are braver still. Peter Godwin brings us closer to the filth of the Mugabe tyranny than is bearable and portrays with subtlety, authority, and respect those who, against all odds and at the cost of unimaginable suffering, continue the resistance against it. Their courage is the stuff of myth, and in Godwin they have found their chronicler.”
— David Rieff, author of Swimming in a Sea of Death and A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis
“At last, a chronicle of the mess that is Zimbabwe. The Fear is an important book detailing the violent realities, the grotesque injustices, the hunger, the sadness, and a portrait of Mugabe, the tyrant who is the cause of it all. It is especially valuable because Godwin, born in Zimbabwe, is passionate and personal, as well as bold in his travel and scrupulous in his documentation.”
— Paul Theroux, author of Ghost Train to the Eastern Star
…an equally gripping, gut-wrenching report from this nation in terrible decline
6. Geldolf in Africa.
Bob Geldof first visited Africa in 1984. The following year, Live Aid inspired a generation to raise millions for the starving in Africa. Over twenty years on, passion undiminished, Geldof returns to what he calls the Luminous Continent. This is his personal diary. Unflinchingly honest, and stunningly illustrated with his own photographs, “Geldof in Africa” paints a unique picture of this extraordinary and beautiful land.
7. Offical and Confidential: The Secret Life of J Edgar Hoover by Anthony Summers.
For nearly fifty years, J. Edgar Hoover held great power in the United States. The creator of the FBI and its Director until his death, he played a role in nearly every major tragedy and scandal in America during the twentieth century. Hoover was lauded when he died as an American hero. Anthony Summers’ controversial bestseller, “Official & Confidential, The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover”, draws on more than 800 interviews to explode the myths, exposing the dark secrets that remained hidden throughout Hoover’s lifetime. Hoover used his intimate knowledge of the John F. Kennedy’s sex life to ensure that Lyndon B. Johnson became Vice President, and suppressed evidence about J.F.K’s assassination. Hoover himself, meanwhile, was a closet homosexual, which allegedly led to him being blackmailed by the Mafia. This fascinating book reveals that even Hoover’s death, on the eve of Watergate, was clouded with mystery. Witnesses have indicated that, in the panic over the secrets he was holding over President Nixon, an operation was mounted to break into his house – possibly even to murder him.
If you have any recomendations do let me know!!