I have been reading more non-fiction than ever recently, moving away from the science and medical themed books I covered for the Wellcome Book Prize shortlist to memoirs about all things literary, specifically writing, libraries and children’s literature. Here are three titles I recommend to bookworms everywhere:
Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World by Nell Stevens is an account of her attempt to write a novel by living in the Falkland Islands for three months using funding from her Global Fellowship at the end of her creative writing course at Boston University. After arriving in Stanley where many of the 2,500 residents are based, she lived in self-imposed isolation on the uninhabited Bleaker Island for several weeks, believing that a total lack of distraction would be beneficial for her levels of creativity and productivity. For her stint on Bleaker Island, she had to pack all of her food supplies, restricting herself to just over 1,000 calories a day living mostly on instant porridge and Ferrero Rocher with just a copy of the film ‘Eat Pray Love’ on her laptop for company. Despite the unusual setting, Stevens’ experience of writing procrastination will resonate with anyone who has ever had an essay deadline to meet, even if her expectations and lack of preparation for some aspects of her trip are a tad infuriating in places. Extracts of her fiction are interspersed throughout and while these chapters are variable in quality and pad out what would otherwise be a very slim book, I think they are worth reading to get a sense of her creative output at the time. Overall, this is an interesting and often very funny account of a unique travel experience which proved to be inspiring for Stevens in the end, even if it wasn’t quite in the way she had initially bargained for. Continue reading
Today I’m very pleased to host a Q&A with Richard Lloyd Parry who has been shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize for his brilliant book Ghosts of the Tsunami – one of the best books I read in 2017. It is a narrative non-fiction account about the aftermath of the tsunami which devastated the east coast of Japan on 11th March 2011 and how it impacted a small community where many people lost their lives. I’m very pleased that this riveting book has recently been shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize – a relatively new literary award in which 60 fiction and non-fiction books are nominated by members of the Folio Academy and then whittled down to a shortlist of eight. This year’s list also includes two novels I have read and enjoyed very much: Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney and Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor.
Q&A with Richard Lloyd Parry
1. At what age did you know you wanted to become a writer?
Eighteen. I thought that wanted to direct plays, but brief experience at university made me realise how dependent theatre is on the temperamental peculiarities of other people. I prefer to work alone, or in a small team. Continue reading
My final Wellcome Book Prize shortlist post is also part of the final day of the blog tour showcasing each book before the winner is announced tomorrow. ‘The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine’ by Lindsey Fitzharris is one of the titles I was particularly interested in reading when the longlist was announced in February. Although Lister is the main biographical subject of the book, ‘The Butchering Art’ also works as a more general narrative non-fiction account of the history of surgery in the mid 19th century. Continue reading
‘With the End in Mind: Dying, Death and Wisdom in an Age of Denial’ by Dr Kathryn Mannix is a collection of anonymised patient case studies (or “stories” as Mannix calls them) drawn from her thirty years of experience as a palliative care clinician and consultant. It has been shortlisted for this year’s Wellcome Book Prize which I am shadowing with fellow book bloggers Rebecca, Laura, Annabel and Paul and is notably similar to one of the previous winners It’s All In Your Head by Suzanne O’Sullivan in that it seeks to demystify one of the most misunderstood aspects of medicine. In this case, it is death – the event that we will all one day meet (unless the transhumanists Mark O’Connell wrote about in To Be a Machine have their way…).
Shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize, ‘Mayhem’ is Sigrid Rausing’s family memoir about drug addiction. Her younger brother and heir to the Tetra Pak fortune, Hans Kristian, met American businesswoman, Eva Kemeny, when they were in rehab together in the late 1980s. They later married and became well-known philanthropists based in London. However, they relapsed and in 2007, Sigrid was granted custody of Hans and Eva’s four children. In July 2012, Hans was stopped by the police after driving erratically through London and was found with drugs in his possession. When the police searched his Belgravia mansion, they discovered Eva’s remains hidden under a mattress. She had been dead for approximately two months. Continue reading
Over the next few weeks, I will be shadowing the Wellcome Book Prize shortlist with fellow book bloggers Rebecca, Laura, Annabel and Paul. The £30,000 prize is awarded to a book about any aspect of health, medicine or illness and this year’s six shortlisted titles are:
I read and reviewed the only fiction title Stay With Me last year which leaves the five non-fiction titles to read over the next few weeks. First up is ‘To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death’ by Mark O’Connell which was also shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction last year. While most of the books on the Wellcome Book Prize shortlist deal with illness, ‘To Be a Machine’ is more about what it is to be human or “post-human” in which O’Connell, a freelance journalist, explores the transhumanist movement which is “predicated on the conviction that we can and should use technology to control the future evolution of our species” (p.2) and advocates “nothing less than a total emancipation from biology itself” (p.6). In other words, transhumanists want to eliminate ageing as a cause of death. Continue reading
It’s almost impossible to avoid hearing about Donald Trump’s latest exploits via rolling news headlines every day, but until now, I hadn’t read any books detailing the whole sorry saga of the Trump administration to date. However, ‘Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House’ is very much the book of the moment and seeing its author Michael Wolff in conversation with Armando Iannucci (creator of some of the best TV political satires including ‘The Thick of It’ and ‘Veep’) at the Friends House near Euston in London on Friday night was simply too good an opportunity to miss. Continue reading