Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Non-Fiction Reads for 2011

I aimed to read more non-fiction in 2011, but I didn't set myself a specific number of books I planned to read in case I disappointed myself. It's not that I tend to steer clear of non-fiction for any particular reason, I just prefer reading fiction a lot more. So I'm pleased to announce that I read a total of eight non-fiction books this year! Some of these I may have reviewed before, but others are entirely new to this blog.

1. The Sixty Minute Marriage by Rob Parsons
See here for my full review. In brief, my mum leant me this book soon after I got engaged on New Year's Eve but I put off reading this book for a month or so as I found the first couple of chapters disheartening. The book contained numerous stories of how not to do marriage, most ending in affairs. I wished there had been stories from couples who had followed his advice and not made mistakes, but most were from people already in broken relationships realising what they could have done to protect their marriage. While there were a lot of encouraging suggestions about how to keep communication flowing and making sure you spend time together as a couple despite holding down busy jobs and looking after children, it initially scared me and made me think "Look at all these problems we might have when we get married!" Still, this book presented a lot of ideas for preventative action that I've taken note of. Only some of the initial sections in this book were more relevant to couples who have been married for a while and are having problems, so a lot could be gleamed from later chapters. I would recommend this to engaged and married couples, but maybe skip the first few sections if you don't want to be disheartened! As for couples who have been having problems, this book will definitely be an encouragement. 

2. Growing Up Amish by Ira Wagler
This is a book that I plan to write a full review of at some point, so I won't say too much right now. I'm not a massive fan of memoirs so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book and how easy it was to become immersed in Ira's story. I felt that this book reflected issues that many closed communities experience, problems that aren't exclusive to the Amish. I will admit that I did find some parts a bit repetitive, and although it doesn't sound right to complain that someone repeats the same actions too often in their life (he can't really help that, can he?!) perhaps some parts could have been summarised more creativity to avoid making the reader lose interest. My only real disappointment with this book was that Ira didn't really dig very far into the spiritual aspect of Amish life until the end of the book. I do wish he'd explored this more throughout the novel, if not with his own personal beliefs than with what his family believed.

3. Rules of Engagement by Richard & Katharine Hill
See here for my full review. This was an engagement present from my parents, and while a lot of the advice in this book wasn't new to me and my fiancé it was encouraging to read through it and realise that we'd already considered a lot of the issues that the authors suggested newly engaged couples should discuss. For us, a lot of the suggestions in this book seemed incredibly self-explanatory but maybe we're just an exceptionally well-prepared couple! So for other couples this book might be an excellent help to their marriage in terms of emotional issues. To be honest, the section of this book that I found most helpful was the part at the end that included suggestions on practical wedding matters, such as places to inform of your change of name and suggestions of hymns to walk into and out of the church to. I'd definitely recommend this book as an introductory guide to weddings and marriage, and although it is British there isn't much that isn't universally applicable. And while this book comes from a Christian publisher it's produced by Care for the Family for the general market and doesn't contain anything particularly spiritual.

4. I Do... Every Day: Words of Wisdom for Newlyweds and Not So Newlyweds by Roger & Cynthia Hopson
Although I didn't find all of the entries in this devotional useful, the majority of them spoke something of wealth to either me or my fiancé. As I read this on my Kindle, I highlighted several passages to share with Simon at a later date, since he's isn't much of a reader. There were only a couple of entries where I couldn't find anything to highlight, which is definitely the sign of a good marriage book. Even if some of the information in this book wasn't entirely new to me, it still made me think over certain issues and reminded me of the important elements to a good marriage. I'd definitely recommend this book to all couples, whether newly engaged or married for several years, if you want to refresh your mind to the important aspects of marriage and gain some handy hints and tips.

5. The Mitford Girls by Mary S. Lovell
This was a fascinating book, and I'm looking forward to reading some of Nancy Mitford's novels as preparation for my exam for my Reading the 1940s course. My only complaint would be that Pamela and Deborah felt a bit neglected, especially towards the end of the book. Maybe there just isn't much information about them, but it felt like they were pushed aside because they didn't lead such exciting lives. This was an incredibly fast read considering the 500+ pages, and although I put it down for a week or so as I was moving house, I jumped right back into it again this week. Very compelling writing, and the author managed to put across a balanced view of the sisters, despite their varying commitments to Fascism and Communism, which could have forced some biographers to pick a side. Mary Lovell presented the girls with all of their flaws and positive attributes, without judging their political allegiances. I just wish we could have heard a bit more about Pam and Debo as I'm sure their lives were interesting, even if they were slightly less scandalous than their sisters.

6. Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy
How wonderful to find a book that so exactly echoed my thoughts on so-called modern "feminism"! While I do wish that the book had been a little more statistical and less based on anecdotes, there were some stories in here that were fascinating, such as the author's experience with Girls Gone Wild. I like to leave this book in strategic places around my flat so that my fiancé's friends pick it up and ask me what it's about. This is a book that any woman needs to read - whether you're appalled at how little respect today's young women have for themselves and their bodies, or whether you yourself think that modern feminism has brought about sexual equality; you never know, this book may change the way you think. I originally started out highlighting my favourite passages in this book but had to stop as I wanted to just read it all the way through. I'll probably read it again, highlighter in hand. I wish there were more women who shared the thoughts of Ariel Levy, but sadly the evidence is all around us to suggest otherwise. 

7. The Last Enemy by Richard Hillary 
This was one of the set texts on my Reading the 1940s course, and I wasn't entirely sure what to expect in reading the auto-biography of a WWII RAF pilot. When I was discussing this course with my family my dad brought out my Grandpa's first edition of this book, which was a nice surprise! My dad loved this book, but me and my dad don't always share the same taste in books, so it was pleased to find that I enjoyed this book a lot more than I had expected. The last chapter didn't completely fit with the rest of the book (although according to the introduction Hillary fabricated part of this section) but the rest of the memoir was fascinating. A great insight into the life of RAF pilots in WWII, which was far from glamorous. It was really interesting observing Hillary as he grew from a lazy, self-centered Oxbridge boy into a man with life experience and understanding of the world. I found myself musing over this book for several days afterwards. 

8. Plain Wisdom: An Invitation into an Amish Home and the Hearts of Two Women by Cindy Woodsmall & Miriam Flaud 
Initially I was really excited to read this book as I'm fascinated by the Amish, but in terms of tit-bits and trivia, there wasn't much included in this book that I didn't already know from word-of-mouth, novels and the occasional documentary. I ended up treating this book as a devotional and reading a chapter each morning, as I found that you couldn't read too much of this book all at once. Some sections provided some interesting reflections on life and God and made me consider how I could apply certain proverbs or snippets of advice to my own life. Others were simply interesting as they provided a bit of added insight into Amish life. But there were also some sections where I would read a little story from Cindy's life than another from Miriam's and not feel like I had gained anything from that morning's reading! But the same can be said from all non-fiction books and devotionals; not every aspect is going to appeal to your life. Some sections seemed disjointed, as if the authors had tried to squish to stories or anecdotes together that didn't really fit, and nearly every single one of Miriam's stories started with the same scene-setting style of writing that got a bit annoying after a while. While I picked up this book to learn more about the Amish way of life, I found myself enjoying Cindy and Miriam's musings on their Christian lives more interesting than the facts and snippets about the Amish. It was encouraging to see that Cindy and Miriam shared so many viewpoints on God, despite the differences in general Christian theology and that of the Amish. So while I was slightly disappointed in this book, it did provide some food for thought and it was generally encouraging. If you're already an avid Amish fan you probably won't learn too much in the way of new facts about their lifestyle but this does work well as a devotional and provides a lot of topics to pray over.

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