Six Degrees of Separation: celebrating #NonfictionNovember

It’s time for another #6degrees post. Usually participants all start with the same book and then add six more titles which link in some way. But this month we are changing things up, beginning with a book which which a previous chain finished.

Given that we have just started Nonfiction November, I thought it would be fun to share a chain filled with non-fiction titles. When I looked through previous Six Degrees posts for a non-fiction title to kick us off, I was delighted to see that the only candidate is The Snow Geese by William Fiennes from my  August 2018 post. This pleases me greatly because, as I frequently say on this blog, this book is one of my most favourite ever titles (I can sense the ‘oh no not again’ eye rolls from regular readers haha!).

Taking geese as my first link leads me to Handiwork by Sara Baume. This is a short but very beautiful meditation on the daily process of making and writing, exploring what it is to create and to live as an artist. Baume weaves through her narrative thoughts about birds, particularly migration habits. It is a fascinating and thought-provoking read.

Baume also talks about the concept of ‘flow’ as a key part of the creative process. So this naturally leads me to my second link: Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. This is a brilliant book about how deep concentration on a particular task can lead to profound contentment and happiness. I read it ages ago and am looking forward to giving it another look in the next couple of weeks.

Csikszentmihalhy’s opening sentence in his preface states that the book is the culmination of decades of research on ‘the positive aspects of human experience’. For my third link, I have chosen a book which is the exact opposite. Lemn Sissay’s memoir, My Name Is Why, is a devastating account of his early life in the British care system. It is profoundly moving and shocking in equal part.

It is sadly not surprising to learn from Sissay that he was the subject of racism as he grew up. There are rightly many other excellent and important non-fiction books which examine racism. From all the various titles I have come across recently, I decided to pick for my fourth link Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. I have watched a couple of online book festival events at which Wilkerson was speaking and I am looking forward to reading more about her analysis of the caste system throughout history and across the world.

The sub-title of Caste is “The lies that divide us”. Thinking about another kind of division, gender, for my fifth link, I have chosen The Five by Hallie Rubenhold, in which she aims to ‘set the record straight’ about the five women murdered by Jack the Ripper. As Rubenhold highlights, their murderer was never identified, but the name created for him by the press has become far more famous than any of these five women.

And talking of five women takes me to my sixth and final link – a book about another five women: Square Haunting by Francesca Wade. Subtitled “Five Women, Freedom and London Between the Wars”, this is a group biography of the modernist poet H. D., detective novelist Dorothy L. Sayers, classicist Jane Harrison, economic historian Eileen Power, and writer and publisher Virginia Woolf, all of whom lived in London’s Mecklenburgh Square. This sounds absolutely brilliant and I can’t wait to read it.

Do you have any non-fiction reading plans this month? I’d love to hear about them. At the very least, reading memes like this provide the perfect excuse to talk all things books (as if we needed one). 🙂

*Featured Image Credit:  Roman Kraft on Unsplash

20 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: celebrating #NonfictionNovember

  1. There is serendipity that “flows” between Edinburgh and Vancouver. Sarah just read “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. We discussed this and will be posting our conversation on Sarah’s podcast, “The Book Dialogue”. Sarah practiced saying his name before she was able to say it – it is a mouthful, isn’t it!!. Her thoughts are the same as yours. She thought “Flow” was an amazing book. Liz – I look forward to your Six Degrees of Separation post. Everyone is a open door to new adventures, insights, and understandings. I just found Square Haunting – this looks like a remarkable read. Thank you for the introduction. Hugs coming your way.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Another fascinating blog, Liz. I am currently reading Wendy Mitchell’s Somebody I Used to Know about her experience of coming to terms with and learning more about her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. I don’t usually read non fiction but following a friend’s diagnosis I wanted to find out more. She has a brave approach to her illness which is enlightening.
    Square Haunting sounds very interesting to me as a future non-fiction read. Thank you for the thoughtful post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’d heard about Square Haunting too, and thought it looked good. Another one for the never ending TBR list! And I really like the sound of The Snow Geese, Flow and Handiwork too. I certainly agree with the idea that deep concentration on something can bring happiness and contentment.

    Most of the non-fiction I read is nature writing. I am currently re-reading Jim Crumley’s The Nature of Summer, which is the final book in his series about the seasons. He is based in Stirling and usually writes mainly about the Cairngorms, but in this one he also discusses the Borders, East Lothian, St Kilda, and even Alaska (though he has decided not to take any more long haul flights now). He’s one of my favourite nature writers, but I also like Esther Woolfson and Bob Gilbert. I’ve also just read a remarkable memoir about life on the Broch in the early part of the 20th century, when the entire area was dominated by the herring industry.

    I very much enjoyed this chain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Rosemary, thanks so much for stopping by, and for taking the trouble to share your recommendations. I love the sound of Crumley’s writing. You may have seen that he has been longlisted for the 2020 Highland Book Prize. I am hoping to read the whole list before the shortlist is announced next spring. Like you, I love nature writing – it has been a particular blessing this year. 💚🌿


  4. Square Haunting really stands out for me. I haven’t done much reading recently and that looks set to continue for another couple of weeks so as ever you have whetted my appetite to dive into new books once again.

    Liked by 1 person

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