Thanks to the wonderfully talented Jennifer Soo for the beautiful photos.
This is my post on 10 More Great Non-Fiction Books.
‘The Bookshop Book’ by Jen Campbell (Constable & Robinson) Yes, I worked in a book department during my university years and I loved reading this book. Basically it’s about great bookshops around the world – what makes them unique and what clever services they offer. For those of us who have spent COUNTLESS hours (not to mention money) in bookshops, this is mandatory reading. Ranging from a bookshop that has Harry Potter areas under the stairs where children can go to listen to audiobooks and Borrowers homes under floorboards for customers to see, a bookshop that has an ice-cream shop attached and each time they host an author a new ice-cream flavor is named after them, a sci-fi bookshop that get their customers to vote for an out-of-print sci-fi book each month and the brings it back to print, a bookshop that gets outside experts in each field to chose the best books in that topic (love this idea!), displays of all rabbit-related books for children in one section with a live rabbit in a hutch, a bookshop where you can order your meal from any recipe in the cookbook section, lectures and book quests based on books, a mobile bookshop that visits to your door and my favourite – where bookshops invite their customers to have a one-to-one sit down over tea or coffee and they create a bespoke reading list – BLISS! Who knew that part of the M6 road in UK is made out of pulped Mills and Boon novels or that Joanne Harris, author of ‘Chocolat’, was born in a sweet shop? The great former Library of Alexandria was enhanced by confiscating all books on every ship coming into the port, the books were taken to the library to be copied, the originals kept and the copies returned to the ships! The WWII ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster found at the bottom of a box of books bought in 2000 setting off a craze and how Wendy was a boy’s name until J.M. Barrie made it popular for girls in ‘Peter Pan’ in 1904. Read this book – you won’t be sorry!
Read my interview with Jen Campbell here.
’52 Suburbs; A Search for Beauty in the ‘Burbs’ by Louise Hawson (New South) I loved the whole concept and result of this book – hard not to, really. Sydney mother, Hawson, visited one suburb each week for 52 weeks and photographed the delights that caught her eye. She then cleverly uploaded her images and information on her blog, which culminated in this book. So we get a bit of the history of each suburb, some of Hawson’s thoughts and gorgeous images. Each of the 52 chapters is devoted to a suburb. She starts with the fabulous Rose Seidler House in Wahroonga, then CarriageWorks at Eveleigh, the Walter Burley Griffin buildings of Castlecrag and Sculptures by the Sea at Bondi. Little gems of information are sprinkled throughout the appropriate suburb including Bankstown and Botany being named after Sir Joseph Banks, Powder Works Road in Ingleside being named after a baron who lived and ran a gunpowder and explosives factory nearby, Granny Smith apples being first grown in Eastwood, the Japanese Gardens and Teahouse in Campbelltown, Waterloo being named after the Battle of Waterloo (!), Ballast Point in Balmain where they cut sandstone to use for ballasts for the ships, the floodplains of Windsor where turf is produced, the Quarantine station at Manly and the brickworks at Alexandria (named after Princess Alexandria; King Edward VII’s wife – who knew?). Hawson juxtaposes her beautiful images with graphics stars, red heads, stripes, colours, lines, spots and makes them works of art. Are you a local, visitor or lover of culture, history, photography and design? You will love this book. I recommend it. This book inspired me to take a walk and discover some gems in the suburbs; I’m up to my third suburb so far! Looking good.
‘Nellie’s Vow’ by Leonie Binge (Arbon Publishing) A friend of mine brought this book to my attention – thanks, Suzanne. What an incredibly sad, but inspiring true story of four Australian sisters. Written by one of the sister’s daughters, I kept reading it in awe, indignation and horror. In the years after the Great Depression, the girls were left at an orphanage where the youngest sister was 4 years old. The sisters remained there for 8 – 12 years and didn’t see their mother for the first 2 years! Just because. They were given daily doses of cod-liver oil and were dismissed from the orphanage soon after their 16th birthday because their child support stopped. In the 8 – 12 years they were not allowed to leave the property and only one excursion was arranged during that time – to the river that bordered the property! How terribly sad. The writer’s mum only received one gift whilst in all the years she lived in the orphanage – a depressing, uninspiring book. When I heard Binge’s book being compared to A.B. Facey’s ‘A Fortunate Life’, I thought ‘Really?’, but having read both books I can see the power of this book. A testament of the human spirit with ultimate victory over extraordinary adversity. This is a book to read.
Read my interview with Leonie Binge here.
‘A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey’ by Jessica Fellowes (Headline Publishing) I read this gorgeous book whilst on holidays. Reading it was just like being snuggled up on a comfy bed under tons of blankets. With no housework to do. With room service. With a great view. You get the message – I loved it. Beautifully produced, it is the latest book from the team at Downton Abbey, based on Series 5. If you haven’t seen the series, hop to it and start watching! A cast list at the front is followed by chapters divided up into months of the year and what would be happening at the Abbey and its surrounds throughout the seasons. Stills from the show are made even more gorgeous by explanations and lots of information. Photos of behind the scenes, recipes from the kitchen (Mrs Patmore’s Seville Orange Marmalade or Carson’s Pimm’s Cup, anyone?) and social history of the time are fun to read. Spotlights on locations, writer, producer, actors, music, props, hair and make-up, costumes – oh, the costumes! – were all wonderful and evocative of the era and the challenges faced to reproduce them now. Do the Downton Abbey team’s talents know no bounds? So clever. Makes me want to host a very Downton Abbey event…
‘1,411 QI Facts To Knock You Sideways’ compiled by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson and James Harkin (Faber & Faber) We know that I am infatuated with the previous two QI books, so it will come as no surprise that I loved their latest offering as well. Mad, intriguing, mind-boggling facts from that crazy QI team include that in WWII the Allies had a plan to drop boxes of poisonous snakes on enemy troops, that there is only one stop sign in the whole of Paris, Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born on the same day in 1809, the more rivers an area has the more languages will evolve there, reindeer have golden eyes in the summer and blue eyes in winter, when having their photos taken Victorians said ‘prunes’ instead of ‘cheese’ to make themselves look more serious, in 1910 the average Briton sent 116 items by post, Charlotte Brontë was the first person to use the terms ‘raised eyebrows’, ‘cottage-garden’ and ‘kitchen chair’, more than 50,000 people in Japan are over 100 years old, in Washington DC the Slovakian and Slovenian embassies meet once a month to exchange wrongly addressed mail, the scientific name for a llama is Llama glama, the Japanese word tsundoku means buying books and not getting around to reading them and if everyone washed their hands properly with soap it would save 600,000 lives a year! Just a few of the gems on offer in this book. I know. So clever.
Read my interview with James Harkin here.
Visit the QI podcast page here.
‘The Melbourne Book; A History of Now’ by Maree Coote (Melbournestyle Books) Written by dynamic Melburnian, Coote, this sparkling celebration of Melbourne is written in an engaging, thought-provoking style. I recently spent a week in Melbourne and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know more about this wonderful city; home of garden designer Edna Walling and tennis champion Rod Laver. Coote warms us up with wonderful anecdotes such as how the Gold Rush in the 1850s really put Melbourne on the map when it produced 20 million ounces of gold in 9 years – that’s one third of the world’s total (two months after Melbourne’s independence, Victoria had produced more gold than any other place on earth) which in turn created a flurry of beautiful buildings, population growth and influx of cultures and cuisines. We go on to read that the city was then laid out on the grid of straight lines next to a relatively straight stretch of the Yarra River and wide streets. I loved reading about William Buckley (where we get the saying ‘Buckley’s chance’ and ‘Buckley’s and none’), how Melbourne-born Dame Nellie Melba who was the highest paid performer of her time and the French chef Escoffier created the dessert Pêche Melba in her honour, Julia Zemiro, fabulous host of Rockwiz and the Eurovision heralds from Melbourne, how this city was the inspiration for Helena Rubenstein’s skincare products, how Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes) announced Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens ‘absolutely the most beautiful place I have ever seen’, the antics of the Heidelberg School, the hallowed Melbourne Cricket Ground (my paternal grandfather would be proud!), the home of Grant Featherston and his fabulous plywood-based chairs, the birthplace of Vegemite and to top it all off, a helpful listing of Melbourne’s festivals and months they are celebrated. Boy, those Melbournians know how to celebrate! Coote uses her considerable advertising and graphics talents to great effect with gorgeous photos, design and layout. So beautiful. I will miss the rumble and ding of the trams, but look forward to my next visit.
Read my interview with Maree Coote here.
‘The Shop Girls; A True Story of Hard Work, Friendship and Fashion in an Exclusive Department Store’ by Ellee Seymour (Sphere; Little, Brown Book Group) This book was fun to read – the true story of four women working at Heyworth’s department store in Cambridge, UK from the end of WWII until the 1960s. I loved reading about their friendships, their training and work, how customers were treated one at a time and at busy times being handed a ticket where they would be called by an assistant when ready and the fascinating in-house milliner who worked in the attic of the store. What fun! It brought to mind memories of working at a department store during my university and holidays when, even at incredibly quiet times, we were not allowed to sit down (let alone read!), of various demanding and bizarre customers, of wonderfully outrageous bosses and of being thrown in at the deep end measuring men for exclusive Ermenegildo Zegna suits without any training. It was fun to read about each of the fours girls’ lives, their camaraderie and the fun, hustle and bustle of the store they worked in. I think you’ll love it. Enjoy.
Read my interview with Ellee Seymour here.
‘Life in Half A Second; How to Achieve Success Before It’s Too Late’ by Matthew Michalewicz (Hybrid Publishers) Michalewicz was one of the guest speakers at a conference I was at. After his inspiring talk, trolleys rolled down the aisle and copies of his book were given to each member of the conference – va voom! One way to get our attention – very impressive! Michalewicz works on the basis that if planet Earth was a year old, then our entire life would amount to half a second, therefore – if we are in a position of choice – we should all do want we want and need to do and not keep putting it off. Right? What are we waiting for? Michalewicz tells us to live each year like it’s your last, bucket list and all. I love facts like Frank Lloyd Wright designed the iconic Guggenheim Museum when he was 76 and that artist Goya was his most creative during his late 70s (and readers of this blog will know about Julia Child becoming a TV star in her 60s). Be clear about what you want and what motivates you says Michalewicz. He writes about Reticular Activation – when you have the ability to filter out irrelevant information (you know when you are looking to buy a car and you suddenly see an exponential number of that car on the road), to focus and the power of visualizing your goals. Desire is our fuel. This is not the type of book I usually read, but I was hooked. Michalewicz peppers the book with personal stories (read about his bodybuilding history – you’ll be intrigued!) and suggests breaking your goals into milestones or stepping stones to achieve the end result. It’s good. You’re going to like this one.
Read my interview with Matthew Michalewicz here.
‘Improve Your Mah Jong’ by Patricia A.Thompson and Betty Maloney (Kangaroo Press; Simon & Schuster) As a young girl I was lucky enough to be taught Mah Jong over the long summer holidays by my friends’ very patient, enthusiastic, (did I say and wonderfully glamorous?) grandmother who visited from Perth. Each holiday I would look forward to her visit, lessons and Mah Jong games. We would ‘twitter the sparrows’ (shuffle the tiles), ‘keep the dragon’s tail warm’ (the way of laying out the tiles) and chow, pung and kong (groupings of tiles) until we reached Mah Jong. She patiently explained all the rules and traditions to us kids as we sat around in wet swimming costumes and dripping towels. What a wonderful game to play! It was decades later that I rediscovered the game and now make sure I play more regularly. Pure joy! This book is the reference book my Mah Jong gals and I use. The history, setting up and rules are explained clearly and the hands are described both verbally and visually which caters for all ways we learn. Just love a game of Mah Jong – card tables, finger food, laughter and lots of clattering tiles. What’s not to love?
‘The Little Book of Kids’ Talk’ by Nanette Newman (Ebury Press; Random House) I first came upon this tiny book at the counter when I was buying other books. Glad I did – what a little gem! It’s a book of all those fabulous things that children say; out of the mouth of babes. Seven year old Paolo says ‘All my clothes have had other people in them’. Emma, 4, says ‘I’ve been growing up all day’. Paul, 7, says ‘You have a hart (sic) attak (sic) if you fall in love to (sic) kwickly (sic)’. Peter, 9, says ‘My sister only wants to get married because she’s a rotten show off’ and Rosalie, 7, says ‘A baby dusent (sic) know how to be norty (sic). It has to be tort (sic).’ This book reminds me of the countless comments my younger brother and my children have made and that a friend of mine is canny enough to keep an exercise book on the top of her fridge where she writes down classic comments that her children make. Laugh? This book will bring back memories of gems your kids or others have said and see things from young kids’ perspectives. Buy it. Read it. Love it.
Thanks to the wonderfully talented Jennifer Soo for the beautiful photos.