NonFictionNovember

READ THE WORLD: Norway – One of Us: The Story of a Massacre and its Aftermath by Åsne Seierstad

On 22 July 2011, Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 of his fellow Norwegians in a terrorist attack that shocked the world. Many of his victims were teenagers. Following this atrocity, questions began to appear; how and why could this happen? And who was Anders Breivik? One of Us does it’s best to answer these questions and more with extensive witness testimonies and interviews.

One of Us is a very tough read, but it’s a compelling and emotional one too. The book follows Breivik’s life, from growing up with his single mother and half-sister, to being an adult where his grand plans don’t always work out for him. This way you get an insight into his mind. It is often unsettling as you begin to almost understand why he is the way he is, but it’s still difficult to comprehend how someone can have such a hatred for those with differing political views, religion, and social ideals.

Something that I wasn’t expecting was the book to follow a few of Breivik’s young victims; Bano Rashid, Simon Sæbø, Anders Kristiansen and Viljar Hanssen. By following these teenagers from childhood, Rashid and Sæbø especially, you get to see how their lives and beliefs are the complete opposite to Breivik’s, it makes some uncomfortable and upsetting reading sometimes as all these young people had bright futures in front of them.

One of Us is made from Breivik’s own accounts that he published online, as well as interviews from friends, family and any officials that came into contact with Breivik at any point in his life. This gives you a comprehensive picture of Breivik’s mind when he set out to attack the government quarter of Oslo and the AUF-run summer camp on the island of Utøya.

There’s a sense of foreboding as time passes and the account gets closer to the day of the attack. The way the attack is described is both distressing and gripping. It’s a proper page-turner and you need a breather afterwards because of the tension and how graphic the violence is, though there’s an air of distance that allows you some breathing space, however small. There’s also a feeling of frustration as you learn about how the emergency and security services reacted on the day and the failings they had, you get the sense that there could have been less casualties if there’d been better communication between the various services.

One of Us not only covers the lead up to the attacks and that day, but the subsequent trial and how families of those who died and the survivors are, or aren’t, coping with what happened. It allows for a feeling of closure, even if those grieving may never get it themselves. One of Us is an emotional rollercoaster that offers an insight to an event and all those involved that I knew very little about. It’s a tough read but I feel it’s an important one.

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READ THE WORLD – Bulgaria: Street Without a Name by Kapka Kassabova

Kapka Kassabova grew up on the outskirts of Sofia during the last years of Cold War Communism in the 1980s until she left as soon as she could. As Bulgaria gets ready to join the EU (the country joined 1 January 2007) Kapka Kassabova returns to her home country, to retrace her childhood steps and discover what’s become of the country, and discovers how much both it – and she – has changed.

Street Without a Name is a mixture of a personal memoir and a study of country’s history. As Kassabova states with a disclaimer at the start of the book, while it is a work of non-fiction and depicts real historic and political events, they are her take on them and how events affected her and her family. The book is split into two parts, the first is Kassabova’s childhood growing up in Sofia, and the second half is when she returns after 15 years away from Bulgaria, living in various countries including New Zealand, exploring both places from her childhood and parts of the country she’d never been to before.

I really enjoyed Street Without a Name. The way Kassabova writes about the effects of growing up in Eastern Europe with Communism being such an overbearing force in their lives is sometimes both uncomfortable and farcical. It is honest in the difficulties her parents faced, the lack of food and clothes available, and the tough examinations she had to go through in school and the dilemma of being so good you get noticed and not doing well enough.

I knew nothing about Bulgaria before I read this book. It was a country I knew the name of, probably because of the Eurovision Song Contest to be honest, but that was it. Street Without a Name is a really great insight into Bulgaria’s history, not only is time as a Cold War Communist country but it’s history in the First and Second World War and conflicts with countries in the region spanning hundreds of years. It’s interesting to see what nationalities and religions make up Bulgaria, the way different people see others and how being way from a country for so long can – or cannot – change your perception of it.

I feel I have learnt a lot from Street Without a Name. It’s an interesting insight into the complexities of nationality, belonging and understanding. Kassabova is a good storyteller, weaving mini history lessons into the places she’s visiting whether that’s a town or a church or any place of historical significance so well that they seldom feel out of place or jarring. I really enjoy this type of non-fiction book, it offers a personal take on a country and its history that makes it more engaging than perhaps reading a proper history book on the same subject.

If you know very little about Bulgaria and the effects of Cold War Communism that are still prevalent today but want to know more, I’d definitely recommend Street Without a Name.

REVIEW: Nasty Women

Nasty Women is a collection of essays and accounts on what it is to be a woman in the twenty-first century, that was originally funded on Kickstarter (I was one of the many backers).

Nasty Women is a really interesting collection of writing. While they could be called essays, the way a lot of them are written feel more like an insight into someone’s like and how their experiences relate to society as a whole. Naturally there is a focus on feminism here, but there’s also writing about racism, sexuality, class, disability and how all those things and more intersect with feminism and what it means to be a woman today.

Naturally there were some essays I related to more due to shared experiences, but it was great to have my eyes opened to things I wouldn’t normally notice as an able-bodied white woman. The thing I really liked though, was each essay managed to make me empathise with the writer as it was clear they were writing from the heart, often sharing personal fears and tragedies. that being said, some of them were quite funny and some were like hearing a friend talk rather than it being a “proper” essay.

I liked that there were essays I didn’t really expect. A few of them talked about the Punk scene, whether that was being a part of a band or just enjoying the music and atmosphere, and there was one essay, Foraging and Feminism: Hedge-witchcraft in the 21st Century by Alice Tarbuck, that talked about wise women and witches from the past to modern day – it was something I’d never really thought about before.

One line from The Dark Girl’s Enlightenment by Joelle A. Owusu, the final essay in the collection, that stuck with me was the following: ““Not everything is about race.” “Not everything is sexist.” Perhaps not. But enough of it is for it to be an ongoing problem that we simply cannot sweep under the carpet anymore.” It encapsulates that there is so much still to be done for women in this world, even in the West where sometimes the narrative is “women in X country have got it worse than you” Women around the world suffer in different ways, some may seem small to outsiders looking in, but it all hurts.

Nasty Women is a great collection of writing from twenty-two different women. Those essays that talked about Trump’s election or living in a post-Brexit Britain were often the ones that hit home for me, but there are so many touching and interesting essays in here and they are accessible too. 5/5.

Non-Fiction November TBR

November begins next week and that means Non-Fiction November is back! It’s a readathon/challenge hosted by ABookOlive and NonFicBooks on YouTube. As the title suggests, the aim of the challenge is to read more non-fiction than you normally would in a month.

There are four challenges for this readathon. They are four words that can relate to the books you read and they are Scholarship, Substance, Love, and Home. You can apply these words to non-fiction books however you like but the challenges are a choice, you don’t have to use them.

I’ve got a few unread non-fiction books sitting on my shelves but I’ve just chosen just three for my TBR as I like to vary what I read. None of them really fit the challenges as I picked the books before the challenge words were revealed, but I’m not too fussed about that.

One of Us by Asne Seierstad
One of Us is about the terrorist attack in a Norwegian summer camp in July 2011. I got it for my Read the World project and it’s a bit longer than I thought it’s be (it’s a bit over 500 pages) so Non-Fiction November definitely gives me an extra push to read it sooner rather than later. I can imagine it being a tough read, especially as it has testimonies and interviews with those involved with the attack and the subsequent trial.

Nasty Women
This is a collection of writing from various British female writers that I backed on KickStarter. It was put together as a response to Trump’s election and the general attitudes women are facing in in the twenty-first century. I’m really into feminist writings and just generally learning more about what different women go through in day to day life.

Know Your Place
This is another essay collection I backed on KickStarter (I love backing books on KickStarter) this one is essays on the working class, by people who are a part of the working class. I suppose you could say I’m a part of the lower middle class, so I haven’t had it as difficult as many people, so I’m keen to learn more about what life in the UK is like for such a big proportion of the population.

I’m looking forward to reading these books, as I always say with readathon challenges, if I read one book from my TBR I’ll be happy. Are you going to be taking part in Non-Fiction November? The hashtag to use on all social media channels is #NonfictionNovember2017 and there’s a Goodreads group as well.

REVIEW: #GirlBoss by Sophia Amoruso

girlboosThe first thing Sophia Amoruso sold online was a stolen book. Most of her teenage years she spent dumpster diving and hitchhiking. When she needed medical insurance she found a stable but easy job where she would mess around on the internet and found the world of eBay where she decided to sell vintage clothes. Eight years later she is the founder, CEO, and Creative Director of Nasty Gal, a $100 million plus online fashion retailer with more than 350 employees. #GirlBoss is not only about Sophia’s story and how she started and ran a successful business, but it’s about what it means to be successful and how anyone can succeed if they just take a look at themselves and work out what they want.

#GirlBoss was a really interesting book, mainly because Sophia’s teenage years were definitely unusual and she’s very honest about it. She did some reckless and illegal things that she doesn’t necessarily apologise for but she also doesn’t celebrate them either – it’s just what she did. It’s interesting to see how a business like Nasty Gal can grow from eBay to its own independent entity. Seeing how Sophia figures things out as she went along but always keeping the same core values and aims was encouraging.

While I have never studied business, nor been interested in attempting to start my own business, I could still follow the smatterings of technical jargon throughout the book. It also helped that while #GirlBoss is about a very successful business woman, it is also mainly about how to become a successful person in any career path you might choose, or in life in general. There’s interview tips and what not to include in a cover letter but there’s also tips on how to save money and how to feel more confident in yourself through your clothes. So, things to help in the world of work and in day to day life.

#GirlBoss is a funny and informative read that really makes you want to try hard in all you do. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla

the-good-immigrantWhat’s it like to live in a country that doesn’t trust you and doesn’t want you unless you win an Olympic gold medal or a national baking competition? It’s this question that The Good Immigrant goes about trying to answer. This collection of essays from twenty-one black, Asian and minority ethnic voices in Britain today, explores what it means to be an immigrant or a child of an immigrant in the UK.

The Good Immigrant is an important book. Each essay is only around ten pages long and they are all very different in how they talk about race in Britain. Some essays are anecdotal while some are more fact-based, some are humorous as the authors attitude and voice shines through while others are more distant and to the point. Naturally I enjoyed some essays more than others, some pulled me in quicker and shared the same humour as myself, but they were all interesting and enlightening in different ways.

The writers in The Good Immigrant are from a range of backgrounds and careers, there’s actors like Riz Ahmed, whose essay “Airports and Auditions” can actually be read on The Guardian’s website and I really would recommend it, and there’s comedians and journalists and writers and teachers and poets and they all have something to say.

The writing in The Good Immigrant is honest and heartfelt. It shines a light what it’s like being a person of colour in Britain today, especially when you don’t fit into societies neat categories and have to tick “Other” on application forms more often than not. The Good Immigrant can be a tough read if you don’t want to see societies differences – it’s quite easy for us Brits to say “oh we’re not as bad as America” but we really do have our own set of problems that we should face up to.

My favourite essays were Ahmed’s “Airports and Auditions”, Bim Adewunmi’s essay “What We Talk About When We Talk About Tokenism” which is about representation in popular culture, Inua Ellams’ essay “Cutting Through (On Black Barbershops and Masculinity” whose title speaks for itself but it is a really interesting look at barbershops in Britain and in various countries in Africa, and “Is Nish Kumar a Confused Muslim?” by Nish Kumar who talked about how his image got turned into a meme.

The Good Immigrant is an important and timely book. It doesn’t necessarily have all the answers but that’s not what it set out to do. It’s an honest look at people of colour in Britain today and how their thoughts and views are just as contradictory as anyone else’s, and they should be listened to and valued, not just when they’ve done something extraordinary to impress the nation. 5/5.

Non Fiction November TBR

Non-Fiction November is a readathon/challenge hosted by NonFicBooks and ABookOlive over on YouTube. The point of the challenge (as the name of it suggests) is to read more nonfiction books during November than you would normally read in a month. So if you normally read a couple of nonfiction books a month, try reading three, and if you never read nonfiction just try and make the time to read at least one nonfiction book.

I go through phases of reading nonfiction; I suppose I usually end up reading a couple of nonfiction books a year and it depends what books have grabbed my attention.

There are four challenges for this readathon, they are basically four words and you can interpret them however you wish. The words are; New, Controversial, Important and Fascinating. They are broad categories and they can be combined so you don’t have to read one book per challenge word.

When I looked at my bookshelves I actually only have a few non-fiction books that are unread – well I have like four autobiographies but besides from that I don’t have a lot of non-fiction. I could have easily made up my TBR with autobiographies of actors and comedians but I decided to try and keep it a bit eclectic. So the books I have on my TBR for Nonfiction November are:

nonfiction-november-tbr

The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla which is a collection of essays from British people of colour about what living in modern in Britain is like. I already started this book when I got it at the end of September but I’ve only read a few of the essays and would really like to finish as I’ve found it very interesting. As it’s a new release it fits the New challenge and I’d also say it is an Important book, especially for someone like me who is a young white person in Britain so I can learn more about my country and how it treats people of colour.

#Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso. This book has been on my shelves for over a year and it’s from the Founder, CEO, and Creative Director of Nasty Gal, an online retailer that draws A-List publicity. It’s all about women in business and how to channel your passion and hard work while keeping your insecurities from getting in your way. This would fill the Fascinating category as while I’m not really a business-minded person I do find it interesting reading about women in traditionally male-dominated areas and how they succeed.

The Life and Loves of a He Devil by Graham Norton. This is a memoir from Graham Norton who is an Irish television and radio presenter and host of the hugely popular and amazing The Graham Norton Show. I love his humour and his show, I’ve actually been to the recordings of his show twice, so I think his memoir should be equally hilarious. I don’t think this fits any of the challenge words but that’s OK.

So those are the three books I’d like to read for NonFiction November 2016. Really as long as I read one nonfiction book in November I’ll be happy, especially as I spent most of this month in a reading slump. Also in the latter half of November is the TomeTopple readathon which’ll hopefully be taking part in soon – my TBR post for that will be up in the next couple of weeks.

Are you going to be taking part in Nonfiction November? The hashtag to use on all social media channels is #NonfictionNovember2016 and there’s a Goodreads group as well.