I saw this while blog-hopping on Tuesday, and the theme of this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is non-fiction books. So, somewhat late, but without any further ado, here’s my favourite non-fiction titles, in order of preference – well, today, anyway!
1. The Hare With Amber Eyes – Edmund de Waal. I utterly adored this book. It made me wish I lived in Vienna at the turn of the century, and want to visit Odessa. Most of all, it made me want a netsuke collection. It’s the unbelievable, beautifully written story of a family’s history, told via the travels of the netsuke collection owned by the author’s ancestor, which the family, incredibly, managed to keep intact, through wars and international moves.
2. The Missing – Andrew O’Hagan. This book was written in the immediate wake of the discovery of bodies at the home of Fred and Rose West in Gloucester. O’Hagan was particularly disturbed that some of the victims had never even been reported missing. The book investigates the myriad ways people can go missing, both voluntary and – mostly – involuntary. He reflects on a small boy who disappeared where he lived when he was a child just a few years older – it’s still unsolved, with no body, no suspects, nothing. At one point he visits the family of a boy, Lee Boxell, who went missing on his way to a football match. His room is untouched. They’ve had various alleged sightings of him over the years, all well-meaning, but ultimately false. There’s one part where Lee’s father talks of seeing a boy they’d been told looked like he could be Lee. His father went to the market stall in Brixton where the young man worked, “This boy was so like him…I was beginning to think maybe I should ask him to come and live with us; he was so like him. Just come here and be our son.” This part always makes me cry.
3. Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil – John Berendt. This is ostensibly the story of an investigation into a murder in Savennah, Georgia, but it’s so much more. It’s a travelogue, and also a tale of all the bizarre people Berendt meets throughout his investigation. For some reason, I always think of Kevin Spacey’s House Of Cards voice reading the book to me (and for all I know, that’s totally the wrong accent!) Languid as a Southern summer, it’ll have you booking a holiday there and singing Johnny Mercer songs before you know it.
4. The Kid Stays In The Picture – Robert Evans. Film producer, playboy, husband to seven women (including Ali McGraw, who famously left him and their son for Steve McQueen) – one of the last of “Old Hollywood” dishes the gossip in this autobiography. He started of as an actor, picked out because of his good looks (a bad one, he admits!) before going into production, working on The Godfather, Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, and Love Story. He’s a funny and self-deprecating writer, and, now 84, can often be found on Quora, answering film-related questions.
5. Justice: Crime, Trials And Punishment – Dominick Dunne. A notorious high-society gossip, Dunne’s job as columnist for Vanity Fair covering high-profile trials meant he got information from the most widespread sources, from waiters to aristocrats; nurses to lawyers. After the murder of his beloved daughter Dominique by her abusive ex-partner, he was voiciferous in his belief for more support and rights for victims’ families. He was also crucial to the re-opening of the murder of 15-year-old Martha Moxley, who was murdered by her neighbour Michael Skakel, a cousin of the Kennedys, in Greenwich, Connecticut.
6. Courtesans – Katie Hickman. This is a fantastic book, about women who might have been regarded by other women as mere prostitutes. However, they were so much more. They were fashion icons and musicians; well-read and intelligent; and ran their own households, managing their own money, at a time when all women’s possessions became their husbands upon marriage. They held salons, and, yes, they slept with rich and powerful men, who would pay their bills, and buy them the latest dresses and hats, and the best jewellery. It’s a few years since I’ve read this, but it’s definitely time for a re-read. Fascinating stories about five different courtesans.
7. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls – Peter Biskind. An encyclopedic account of the film industry in the 1970s, this is manna for anyone who enjoys gossip about film-making, and top directors and actors. From the hell that the filming of Apocalypse Now descended into, to the havoc that cocaine wrought on Hollywood, this book details the making of all the big films of the 70s – the last time directors called the shots, as opposed to the studio system – and the last time truly original films were made on a regular basis.
8. Black Diamonds – Catherine Bailey. The story of the bizarre, feuding Fitzwilliam family, and their ancestral home, Wentworth House, which has 365 rooms, and is the biggest house in the UK. The family fortune came from coal, and a brief history of the coal industry is interspersed with tales of court cases, accusations of illegitimacy, and the burning of all the family documents in 1972, in an attempt to hide the scandals that Bailey nevertheless uncovered. A corker of a read for those interested in Edwardian history, and the end of the reign of the aristocrats.
9. Joe Cinque’s Consolation – Helen Garner. I’m going to review this soon, but, in short, it is the Australian story of a bright, attractive law student, Anu Singh, and her friend, Madhavi Rao, who bought rohypnol and heroin, and murdered Anu’s boyfriend, Joe Cinque – who took an agonising weekend to die. She had told several of her friends of her intention to murder Joe, and even invited them all to a farewell dinner party. The innocent victim, however, was oblivious to her plans, and, incredibly, no one, despite them all being law students, contacted the authorities.
10. The Invention Of Murder – Judith Flanders. This is a hefty, scholarly tome about how murder first became newsworthy in Victorian times, and also went on to be referred to in popular song, sketches and theatre. It tells the background story of many of the most infamous murders of the times – the most interesting part for me – and then their impact on the popular culture of the time. It demonstrates that our fascination with gruesome crimes is far from a recent development.
I was going to add the titles of the “also-rans” – the ones that almost made it, and probably would have on another day, with me in a different mood…But I decided that could be kept for another post, on another day.
Instead, I’m asking you: what non-fiction reads would you recommend?