I talked the other day about the 'Cornflower recommends' logo (a pipe dream), and of course my 'Blues', my books of the year, would be the first to feature it. We had novels yesterday, today it's the turn of non-fiction, and there are fewer books here simply because that category is less well-represented in my reading. As with yesterday's list, not all the books here have been published this year, but I have read them in the last twelve months.
I'll begin with The Music Room by William Fiennes, a memoir of family and home which I wrote about here. " ... Fiennes is such an observant, sensitive narrator. He is the custodian of so many memories, and it is the texture of those remembered times, the layered details which shape and colour a moment, which his gift for language brings out. Lucid, restrained, accepting, tender - that's the mood of the piece, and it gives much to savour. If you're drawn to contemplative writing and to understated poignancy, then this essentially sad but ultimately uplifting book should touch and impress you, and will undoubtedly make you think."
Four Hedges: A Gardener's Chronicle by Clare Leighton featured several times over on the other blog as I quoted passages which struck me as particularly well-observed. This account of the creation of a garden in the Chiltern Hills was first published in 1935, and the current edition - illustrated with the author's beautiful engravings - has an introduction by gardening writer and broadcaster Carol Klein. You'll find extracts here, here and here.
Mrs Robinson's Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady by Kate Summerscale is the story of a real-life Madame Bovary and her scandalous divorce. It's meticulously researched and is a textbook example of the management of material. Read more about it here and see pictures of some of the book's Edinburgh locations here, and if you've read the book already and are looking forward to more from Kate Summerscale, her next work is to be The Electrical Boy, "a portrait of the murder of a Victorian woman by her son"; taking in working class life in London's East End, the Old Bailey, Holloway Prison and Broadmoor and the battlefields of World War One and Australia, it "illuminates changing attitudes towards criminal responsibility, mental illness, and the possibilities for a murderer of redemption."
The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert MacFarlane (who is to chair the judging panel of next year's Man Booker Prize, by the way) is perhaps best summed up in one of the book's own lines: "Stories, like paths, relate in two senses: they recount and they connect." A book about walking, thinking, observing, perceiving, going out in order to 'go in'. Precise and evocative writing complement scholarship and a poet's eye for the natural world. You'll find short extracts here, here and here.The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe is another very moving but equally uplifting memoir, and a book about "the importance of books as manuals for life, of reading as comfort and joy, as a means of understanding others and sharing experiences." Read all about it and about my conversation with Will here, then read the book itself - you will not keep a dry eye, but that's just as it should be.