May’s Reading – how far I am getting with one of this year’s targets

One of my aims for the year was for at least 25% of my reading to be non-fiction. Of the 28 books I read in May only 5 were factual which doesn’t quite reach my target. By the end of the month I had read 146 books this year of which 19 were non-fiction – that equates to 13%. It is not bad but it isn’t where I was aiming.

There are a number of issues I think. Firstly, non-fiction books tend to be longer so that means that I read a number of novels alongside them. Factual books also seem to be in smaller print and more complex prose so when I am tired or wanting to relax they are not the volumes I automatically pick up. My most read genres are romance novels, crime and fantasy/science fiction all of which are shorter and easier reads. I have a few books in progress at any one time including a Kindle and an audio book. One of these will always be non-fiction but the rest are usually novels.

Here are the non-fiction books I read this month just to give you a snapshot into what I like and why :

  1. Five Families by Selwyn Raab. This is a book about the mafia in New York and I listened to it on audio over a few weeks. I thought it was fascinating and included a lot that I really didn’t know including some disturbing modern stuff. I have read a few books about American organised crime so it wasn’t new to me but the scale of the operation and its wide reaching influence was disturbing. I would have liked a bit more about the actual life of gang members and the effect on those outside the operation but I was particularly taken by the way in which the author talked about the legal aspect of the fight against organised crime. Worth a read if this subject interests you.
  2. 1492 by Filipe Fernandez-Armesto. This is one of many history books which concentrate on one particular year and claim that it is a watershed moment in world affairs. The author takes the year 1492 and travels around the world to different cultures to show what happened in or around the year and why it was important. I am not quite sure that he proves his point but I did enjoy how we got a glimpse of a number of different countries and I may follow some of these up with further reading.
  3. The Predator by Wensley Clarkson. This is a true crime novel about the killer of a number of young women and girls across Europe including one of an English schoolgirl killed when staying in a French youth hostel. I have read quite a bit of true crime and this was not one of the best. The author has a very descriptive style and includes the killer’s feelings as he planned and executed his murders. I was continually wondering how he knew the detail but as the book has no references or footnotes and the author states that the killer still denies his crimes and won’t speak about them I have had to come to the conclusion that he made them up to add atmosphere – it doesn’t impress me at all and nor does his continual criticism of the police forces involved with no attempt to put their side of the matter.
  4. Severed by Frances Larson. This is an example of what I would call a micro-history. It deals with a very small subject matter through the ages – in this case, decapitation. It seems impossible that you could write a whole book about severed heads but the author has done this very successfully. This is a highly engaging book, despite the subject matter, and ranges through the years discussing methods of execution, dissection, art, cannibalism, trophy hunting and more. Very well done.
  5. Kick by Paula Byrne is a biography of Kathleen Kennedy, the sister of the better known John F, Bobby and Ted. Kick, as she was known, married into the Devonshire family and became part of British aristocracy until her untimely death. This is a well written (and well referenced) biography full of lots of insight into a very ambitious and difficult family. I was particularly moved by what happened to Kick’s sister Rosemary who had a slight learning disability. If you don’t fancy the non-fiction representation I would also recommend The Importance of Being Kennedy by Laurie Graham which is a fictionalised version of many of the same events although that author has less sympathy for Kick than Paula Byrne.
  6. As I said, I usually have one non-fiction book in progress at any one time and as I write this my current volume is Elizabeth of York by Amy Licence which is a biography of the wife of Henry VII. I’ve read about her before as I have another biography by Alison Weir but she was a remarkable woman who had to navigate deadly politics (her brothers were the so-called Princes in the Tower) and who had what is probably the mother-in-law from hell. I haven’t got far with this yet.

I think that this is a pretty good representation of the sort of non-fiction I read. I do enjoy factual books and really want to read more of them but my attention keeps being drawn to the novels – the real problem is that there just isn’t enough time !

Keep reading !!