The difficulty with writing this post is that almost all the non-fiction books I read this year were excellent, but I suppose that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get a shout-out here as well.
So here are my favourite non-fiction books from this year. (Note that not all of these were published this year, that’s just when I read them.)
These are abridged reviews; where there’s a longer version on the blog, I’ve linked to it. Blurbs are either from the back of the book, or from Amazon.
In The Mood For Colour by Hans Blomquist
In this, his third book, celebrated interior stylist Hans Blomquist reveals his lifelong passion for colour and the way in which it can affect our emotions. Colour can soothe, enchant or excite. And as Hans demonstrates, it has the ability to render rooms cool and calming, dynamic and stimulating or moody and intriguing.
As ever, Hans draws his inspiration from the treasures of the natural world, exploring shades from the dazzling optic white of newly fallen snow to the fiery crimson heart of a newly unfurled poppy and the inky canopy of the midnight sky. Divided into five sections – Dark, Pale, Soft, Natural and Bright – In the Mood for Colour will make you see colour in a completely different light.
In The Mood For Colour by Hans Blomquist is a lovely book that draws inspiration from the world around as us well as the insides of other people’s houses.
A matt book with a nice scratchy fabric cover, it will sit beautifully on your coffee table even if you never actually open it. But if you do, you’ll find a wealth of ideas and inspiration inside. Here are some of the pages I bookmarked for potential house ideas.
Ask Me About My Uterus by Abby Norman
In the fall of 2010, Abby Norman’s strong dancer’s body dropped forty pounds and gray hairs began to sprout from her temples. She was repeatedly hospitalized in excruciating pain, but the doctors insisted it was a urinary tract infection and sent her home with antibiotics. Unable to get out of bed, much less attend class, Norman dropped out of college and embarked on what would become a years-long journey to discover what was wrong with her. It wasn’t until she took matters into her own hands–securing a job in a hospital and educating herself over lunchtime reading in the medical library–that she found an accurate diagnosis of endometriosis.
In Ask Me About My Uterus, Norman describes what it was like to have her pain dismissed, to be told it was all in her head, only to be taken seriously when she was accompanied by a boyfriend who confirmed that her sexual performance was, indeed, compromised. Putting her own trials into a broader historical, sociocultural, and political context, Norman shows that women’s bodies have long been the battleground of a never-ending war for power, control, medical knowledge, and truth. It’s time to refute the belief that being a woman is a preexisting condition.
Though it’s nice to read something relatable and feel less alone in a world of humming machines and dismissive doctors, I’d rather recommend this book to medical professionals than to their patients. Perhaps if Ask Me About My Uterusand the studies it quotes were required reading for everyone in the final stretch of medical school, we would have fewer doctors who dismissed us and more who listened with a view to understanding, and ultimately healing. And perhaps if all the doctors who saw me last year had read it the night before, my surgeon wouldn’t have had to apologise and I wouldn’t have basically spent ten months in the bath.
Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
The book that sparked a national conversation. Exploring everything from eradicated black history to the inextricable link between class and race, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is the essential handbook for anyone who wants to understand race relations in Britain today.
As well as just being a generally well-written book, it was very interesting to read about the history of slavery in Britain, something I knew shamefully little about. I think a lot of British people associate slavery with the USA, but it was prevalent here too. I wish I’d been taught about that in school.
Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race is a very important book and one we all should read. If you read it and don’t learn anything new, I would be very surprised.
Eat Up! by Ruby Tandoh
Think about that first tickle of hunger in your stomach. A moment ago, you could have been thinking about anything, but now it’s thickly buttered marmite toast, a frosty scoop of ice cream straight from the tub, some creamy, cheesy scrambled eggs or a fuzzy, perfectly-ripe peach.
Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Food nourishes our bodies, helps us celebrate our successes (from a wedding cake to a post-night out kebab), cheers us up when we’re down, introduces us to new cultures and – when we cook and eat together – connects us with the people we love.
In Eat Up, Ruby Tandoh celebrates the fun and pleasure of food, taking a look at everything from gluttons and gourmets in the movies, to the symbolism of food and sex. She will arm you against the fad diets, food crazes and bad science that can make eating guilt-laden and expensive, drawing eating inspiration from influences as diverse as Roald Dahl, Nora Ephron and Gemma from TOWIE. Filled with straight-talking, sympathetic advice on everything from mental health to recipe ideas and shopping tips, this is a book that clears away the fog, to help you fall back in love with food.
If you have ever had a problem with food and wondered how in the world people manage to be normal about it, I urge you to read the book. It’s fascinating and disgusting and interesting all at once, particularly if you’re trying to recover from a range of eating disorders.
How to Run Your Home without Help by Kay Smallshaw
Although the author of the book, Kay Smallshaw, was herself a career woman (she was editor first of Good Housekeeping and later of Modern Woman) she knew that she was in the minority and that most women were at home wishing that the new labour-saving machines were indeed more labour-saving and that pre-war standards could adapt to a post-war world. But this was not to happen for another twenty years; meanwhile Kay Smallshaw’s readers continued to keep up appearances and to go on running their homes to the standards of the time when they had both cook, maid and daily help.
Yes, one of my favourite non-fiction books this year was about cleaning. It was fascinating, though: written by a middle-class woman after the end of the second world war, it was aimed at people like her, who previously had always relied on domestic help to do the day-to-day tasks around the house, and suddenly had been thrown into a world where they had to do everything themselves. It also really made me appreciate modern kitchen appliances.
Cut by Hibo Wardere
Imagine for a moment that you are 6 years old and you are woken in the early hours, bathed and then dressed in rags before being led down to an ominous looking tent at the end of your garden. And there, you are subjected to the cruellest cut, ordered by your own mother. Forced down on a bed, her legs held apart, Hibo Warderewas made to undergo female genital cutting, a process so brutal, she nearly died.
As a teenager she moved to London in the shadow of the Somalian Civil War where she quickly learnt the procedure she had undergone in her home country was not ‘normal’ in the west. She embarked on a journey to understand FGM and its roots, whilst raising her own family and dealing with the devastating consequences of the cutting in her own life. Today Hibo finds herself working in London as an FGM campaigner, helping young girls whose families plan to take them abroad for the procedure. She has vowed to devote herself to the campaign against FGM.
Eloquent and searingly honest, this is Hibo’s memoir which promises not only to tell her remarkable story but also to shed light on a medieval practice that’s being carried out in the 21stcentury, right on our doorstep. FGM in the UK has gone undocumented for too long and now that’s going to change. Devastating, empowering and informative, this book brings to life a clash of cultures at the heart of contemporary society and shows how female genital mutilation is a very British problem.
It is way too easy to assume that things like this haven’t happened to the people around you, the people you know. All too often, they have. In her excellent book, Hibo Wardere sheds light on the darkest of subjects and brings hope that one day FGM might be banished for good.