The best game in the world: truth-telling edition

I am supposed to be working today. But then, you know, baby colds are no respecter of persons, or work days. Since Henry has given up sleep in favour of dribbling and crossness, I have embraced not showering and The Count of Monte Cristo. Sometimes you have to cut your losses.

So let’s talk about books, shall we? Last week we went to the library and something odd happened: I didn’t want to read a thing in there. I know, it felt like I suddenly didn’t like gravy or Colin Firth. What I wanted was non-fiction. No elaborations. No flights of fancy. No cheffing vampires.

In case you’re also feeling anti-vampire, here are the non-fiction books I love best on my shelves – or, in other words, here’s what I’ve previously got from the bookshop, and why:


1. Diana Athill: Somewhere Towards the End

A memoir about the advantages and indignities of ageing might not seem like a snappy read, but this little book is wonderful: clever, clear-sighted and funny. This is what I’m aiming for at eighty, and if I get anywhere near it, I’ll be pleased.

2. Nigel Slater: Toast

Part autobiography, part love letter to food, discovery and childhood memory. Don’t read it when you’re hungry. He writes so vividly I had to close my eyes to taste it better. Warning: this is also a very frank story of a boy in the dreadful extremities of puberty. Which may put you off.

3. Rick Gekoski: Tolkien’s Gown 

Gekoski is a rare book dealer, and has enough stories about his dealings with authors and their first editions that you’d pay him to sit next to you at dinner. There are chapters on his entanglements with The Picture of Dorian Gray, Animal Farm, Peter Rabbit, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and, of course, The Hobbit. An absolute delight for a bibliophile.

4. Alison Weir: The Six Wives of Henry VIII

Oh, joy. I’m a tiny bit obsessed with this book. Detailed and fascinating and vividly coloured. (All the others in her Tudor series are good, but this is my favourite.)

5. Vera Brittain: Testament of Youth

The story of the First World War and its aftermath, from the lost generation who lived it. Highly personal and affecting. And long (but it’s worth spending the time).

6. Bill Bryson: The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid

Any old Bryson will pick you up from the floor if you need it, but this is my favourite. I made the mistake of reading it for the first time on an aeroplane, and laughed so loudly and so often that Tim threatened to throw me out of the window.

7. Kate Fox: Watching the English

I’ve extolled this before, but suffice to say I now know all sorts about my instinct for queueing, apologising and saying goodbye a dozen times – and the chapters about class indicators were fascinating.

And now that Henry’s snoring precariously on my lap and work is still off the agenda, the only question is which one to re-read first…

Any non-fiction recommendations you love? Tell me!

12 thoughts on “The best game in the world: truth-telling edition

  1. The Bradford central library has been closed for 20 weeks or more due to renovations. So my free source of reading material as been cut off. However i have 17 books on my book shelf/kindle and plenty to be going on with. Enjoy your reading i await the reviews.

  2. I think I need to borrow ‘Watching the English’ from you. I just finished that Christopher Hitchens, and might start Gretchen Rubin’s ‘Happier at Home’ (which V left at ours again), but she’s read that one and it sounds fun. Mind if I steal it off you this weekend, perchance?

      • Thanks! The Hitchens was really fun and definitely has some good points and exercises in thought. I’m still working on Happier At Home! The last time I got a good chunk of it polished off was in the lulls of car shopping the other day. 🙂

  3. One of my favourites would have to be “The Strangest Man: The Hidden Tale of Paul Dirac”. Although it’s about Britain’s most famous quantum physics, you can skip over the maths if you need to and you’re left with a tale of an unusual man with an unusual mind, friendships between highly competitive physicists on the brink of WWII (there’s an apple-poisoning incident) and how loyal, brilliant people react when their ostensibly Communist colleagues are deported. I loved it! I’ve also had “The Worst Journey in the World” highly recommended, so that’s next on my list! (After Parade’s End, which, incidently have you read? Not non-fiction, but oof it’s good.)

    • Haven’t read Parade’s End yet, but intended to after I watched the BBC adaptation. I read some reviews of the books and thought they sounded brill.

      I will definitely look up the Dirac book. The maths will definitely go over my head, unfortunately, but the rest sounds fascinating!

  4. Thanks for a great list of recommendations! If you like Alison Weir, I can recommend Philippa Gregory. My dad just lent me The Women of the Cousins’ War – he says it’s really good. And I’d love to read the Paul Dirac – sounds brilliant!

  5. i am ALWAYS feeling anti-vampire. we love bill bryson at this house — will jot the title down for future reference. in the ficiton arena, i am loving The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley — the perfect read for winter days.

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