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And Now for the Non-Fiction …

This really is cheating the Desert Island Discs system.

Not only have I swapped music for books, now I am insisting on 8 non-fiction as well as 8 novels. Last week’s selection came so easily to mind, whereas this week’s has taken a little more consideration …

It is often said that men tend to read non-fiction more than novels.

And that women tend to be the fiction addicts and set the factual stuff to one side.

I am sure this is an inappropriate and unsubstantiated generalisation, but I have to admit to reading far less non-fiction, possibly because I don’t write it or probably because I am very bad at retaining facts and information – I lack, I know, a logical and organised mind that is capable of storing information and recalling the kind of stuff that non-fiction tends to contain.

But here goes. Here are some of the ideas I have had for books that I will seek to save from the waves in order to gain a little enlightenment on my island to complement the fiction and be fair to the wealth of wonderful books that cannot be categorised under that genre.

And once again, I am taking some tried and tested favourites. For the truth about me and non-fiction is that I don’t absorb very much on my first reading. Or at least I do while I am actually reading a particular paragraph – finding certain facts extraordinary, ‘memorable,’ amazing – but no sooner have I turned the page and onto the next section and my mind inconveniently appears to have indiscriminately sifted and lifted that discovery from it.

So Jeremy Paxman’s THE VICTORIANS – which I have already read with fascination and equally forgotten with exasperation – will stand me in good stead. The sub-title of BRITAIN THROUGH THE PAINTINGS OF THE AGE gives you some idea of what awaits inside, but somehow the book is so much more than that, offering insights and background to what is to me the most fascinating of eras. After all, a lot of us – of a certain age – had grandparents born into its waning stages just before it tipped over into the 20th century – which somehow makes me feel very connected and in need of more knowledge of what shaped them and made them the people they were.

Ruth Adams wonderful book A WOMAN’S PLACE 1910-1975 – is another essential non-fiction text which I have read and consulted constantly since buying from the wonderful PERSPEPHONE bookshop in London’s Lamb’s Conduit Street. I have learnt so much about what happened and why it happened – to women in pursuit of equality, freedom, fairness in the 20th century and since the book finishes in 1975 it also offers an interesting consideration of progress – or not, depending on your point of view – since then.

I have to take with me to my idyllic (hopefully …it has to be snake-free – that’s a given) a book about Shakespeare and since there are so many of them it’s hard to choose.

But I have selected WILL IN THE WORLD by Stephen Greenblatt which I read a long time ago and so consequently have entirely forgotten. But it’s written in a very readable, accessible style and will certainly occupy a substantial amount of time on the sands or under the shading palm trees. (and if I can entirely subvert the morals and high principles of Desert Island Discs I’ll stick in SOUL OF THE AGE by Jonathan Bate as a volume to keep the other company and hope that no-one notices …)

As I am currently obsessed by all things Greek – the language, the ancient culture and civilisation – I have to take one or more books that will help me acquire more knowledge of all these aspects.

So I’m starting with THE ANCIENT GREEKS by Edith Hall which has the sub-title of 10 WAYS THEY SHAPED THE MODERN WORLD. Again, I have read this – once – and absorbed too little and could easily read it at least 6 more times without becoming bored with it. It is again accessibly written and absolutely fascinating – at least to me. If you are totally in to Aztec culture or the Incas absorb you, pass along swiftly and ignore that recommendation.

And then there’s my Modern Greek Language text book – plus a comprehensive dictionary – that will have to count as 2 – in the hope that on my island with little to do other than foraging fruit and desperately drawing SAVE ME! signs in the sand to encourage rescue by a hovering helicopter or low-flying plane I will at last gain a good grounding in the language. No excuse not to learn all the subjunctive forms of every single verb with time on my hands. No lack of space to write in the sand new vocabulary every morning and ensure I have learnt it by nightfall when tides might sweep it away. Yes, an island existence for a while really might help my progress and change it from appallingly sluggish to acceptably on-going.

Biography.  Of course. There has to be a biography.  But which one?

Every weekend in the papers there seems to be a new biography about nearly every writer – but one that I would dearly like to read is THE ROAD TO MIDDLEMARCH: my life with George Eliot by Rebecca Mead. Like the writer, MIDDLEMARCH has obsessed me – as readers of my earlier blogs will know by now and are no doubt utterly bored with me mentioning yet again as if it’s the only novel ever written – but unlike me, Rebecca Mead’s constant re-readings of it have led her into writing what promises to be a fascinating book about how profound engagement with literary works can help us live richer and more fulfilling lives. Whether she deals with a life temporarily spent on a desert island is debateable, of course, but I’ll still stick her book into my waterproof, ocean-proof suitcase.

Well, that’s seven and for my very last non-fiction book – I suppose I will have to be sensible and take something about survival. Something along the lines of WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT NOT BECOMING A VICTIM OF DESERT ISLAND DANGERS. About assessing risks of certain desert island indigenous plants and curious vegetables. About tides and how to climb trees. About safe and lethal insects.

Because I am a very risk-averse, entirely non-practical person who cannot build anything and am terrified by all strange creatures including ones the size of my smallest finger nail. And I am entirely without the sort of general knowledge that other people appear to have acquired simply by having been alive for quite a while. The sort of knowledge I have – the ability to negotiate London effortlessly from one end to the other, tell you the plots of a lot of ballets as well as the names of the steps, differentiate a glass of Muscadet from one of Chablis – are hardly likely to serve me well in my isolation.

But at least if I have my 8 fiction and now my 8 non-fictions tomes, I will have some form of protection.

Either to lose myself in metaphorically – or to physically create boundaries and walls with the volumes when an odd, suspect animal or insect appears on the sand and starts to advance towards me …

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