Archive for ‘Non fiction’

September 17, 2017

Darling Days by iO Tillett Wright

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Virago, £9.99, out now

Darling DaysA cracker of a memoir this, Darling Days tell the story of author and activist iO Tillett Wright’s distinctly off-the-wall upbringing in the squalor of downtown New York.

With its depiction of an exhilarating if hand-to-mouth existence in the East Village of the 1980s, the punk and new wave subcultures spawned there and the drugs that desolated its communities, Darling Days follows in the footsteps of autobiographies like Patti Smith’s Just Kids or Richard Hell’s I dreamed I was a Very Clean Tramp – both by poets and novelists who share not just glittery New York-based life stories but also a way with strong, beautiful prose. Tough acts to follow, but Tillett Wright more than holds his own on both counts.

He’s certainly had an interesting life straight out of the gate, born to a mother who was equal parts Amazonian warrior and Playboy centrefold, a model, hard drinker, addict and widow (her former husband having been shot by police in dubious circumstances). The pair’s adventures, clashes and anecdotes make for compelling, bewildering and sobering reading; there are several sections in the book, after the young iO has done something like rush to find a cop to protect her mother from an abusive boyfriend, when you find yourself saying, he’s how ­young at this point?

But all these wild experiences can make for sub-par reading at best if the author can’t bring them to life on the page. Thankfully, Tillett Wright’s writing is frankly brilliant; he has a fantastic way with imagery, razor-sharp descriptions of locales and characters bursting fully-formed into your mind’s eye. Angular faces, voluptuous bodies, mean streets and crumbling blocks are drawn in brilliant chiaroscuro style… and, as with Smith and Hell, there is something intangibly New York about it. At times his keen eye for this slum of a city and its crooked inhabitants is almost Dickensian.

The vivacity of Tillett Wright’s storytelling and style really can’t be emphasised enough, and his tale is a captivating one. For a living, breathing slice of a fascinating period of American life, look no further.

Review by Tom

 

 

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August 14, 2017

In the Days of Rain by Rebecca Stott

by Team Riverside

Hardback, HarperCollins, £16.99, out nowRebecca Stott IN THE DAYS OF RAIN

In the Days of Rain is an engrossing and deeply personal account of a childhood in a fundamentalist Christian sect.  What happens after you leave?  How do you get answers about your own life when silence prevails and some of the people you might ask are dying or dead?  This complex and moving book is a daughter’s story of being brought up within the Exclusive Brethren, in which her father and grandfather were preachers.

The sect ordered followers to retreat from the world, and many commonplace things were banned.  Stott’s nuclear family left when author was six but the break was never really discussed afterwards, and much of her extended family are still members of the Brethren.

The book opens with the adult children gathering in East Anglia as their father is dying.  He asks his daughter to help write his memoir of life in the sect, including the parts he has previously found impossible to discuss, about the sect’s turbulent period in the 1960s.  What results is Stott’s own account, including not only chunks of social religious history but also reflections on how it affects family relationships.  This includes Stott’s own children, born well after her relationship with the sect ended.  Best known as a writer on Darwin, Stott’s explanation of how she both discovered Darwin’s work and then wrote about it is particularly effective.  An engaging story, well told and strangely hopeful.

Review by Bethan                                

July 23, 2017

The Adversary by Emmanuel Carrère

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Penguin Random House, £8.99, Out now

A bona-fide stranger-than-fiction story, the twists and turns of re-released true crime sensation The Adversary will have you exclaiming “I don’t believe it!” to no one in particular as you read.Adversary

Beginning with an account of the 1993 murder of a wife and two children by their husband and father, Jean Claude Romand, the narrative then spirals rapidly out of control as the killer – a respected French doctor and member of the World Health Organisation – is revealed to have been living a double life of colossal proportions.

As a tale it’s utterly astonishing; but it’s the moments where author Emmanuel Carrère pauses to reflect on the proceedings – whether he’s tracing Romand’s footsteps while trying to get into his headspace or drawing comparisons between the murderer’s deceased family and his own – that truly affected me. Unexpectedly lyrical and philosophical, his interjections are just as engrossing as the plot, and make sure that the book never feels ghoulish or lurid despite its fixation on a horrific crime. This isn’t writing to titillate – it is measured, respectful and questioning, and all the more powerful for it.

In short, Carrère has crafted nothing less than a modern In Cold Blood. Genuinely unputdownable.

Review by Tom

July 17, 2017

Dr James Barry: a Woman Ahead of Her Time by Michael du Preez and Jeremy Dronfield

by Team Riverside

This excellent new biography charts the rollercoaster life of Margaret Anne Bulkeley, Du Preez DR JAMES BARRYborn in Cork into genteel chaotic poverty, who became Dr James Barry – leading and innovative army surgeon in the nineteenth century.

An almost unbelievable yarn, Margaret’s remarkable life takes in Edinburgh, Cape Town, Canada, and many other places en route.   A believably flawed character, several times I found myself gasping at the audacity of her behaviour.  Some serious new archival research has been undertaken for this book, but the learning is worn lightly and the book zips along with much action, adventure, and drama.  No wonder it was BBC Radio 2’s Fact not Fiction book choice.

This is a great addition to the literature of the history of medicine and surgery, but is equally important as women’s history.  Advice: if you don’t already know the story of this life, don’t read a summary beforehand – let the book unfold and you’ll be treated to a truly vivid narrative.

The authors are very good at identifying the current names of locations so the reader can place the action.  Some of it happens in London, and in particular Southwark, and so this is another great read for Riverside Bookshop locals.  This was a perfect holiday read for me.

Review by Bethan

June 14, 2017

Calm by Tim Parks

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Vintage, £3.50, out nowvintage-minis-window-170614.jpg

“Don’t think, Tim.  Do not think!  Do not give yourself commands not to think!  Silence!”

In this short delicious extract from his book Teach us to Sit Still, Parks is a very funny and very honest guide to the world of meditation.  In response to serious health issues including chronic pain, he decides to learn to meditate, in a relatively extreme way, by attending a silent Vipassana retreat for multiple days.

He struggles with many things that will be familiar to meditators.  His legs feel like they are on fire from the unfamiliar poses.  He is enraged by catering trollies outside the meditation room.  He is suspicious of some of the ideas promulgated and often tries, unsuccessfully, to suspend critical judgement: “I remembered something I had translated once from a book on pre-Vedic philosophy: ‘so as not to be hurt, before coming near the fire, the wise man wraps himself in the meters’. The arcane instruction had impressed, I remembered it, and I had a vague idea it might now be appropriate in some way, but it also sounded like something from Indiana Jones”.

Alongside the funnies there is a serious endeavour to learn something new and take a different approach to suffering, which makes for engaging reading.  If you fancy giving mindfulness and meditation a go yourself, you can always try London teacher Tessa Watt’s excellent Mindfulness book.

This is part of a brand new series of extracts called Vintage Minis, out now for only £3.50 a pop.  Read Nigella Lawson on Eating, Joseph Heller on Work and Roger Deakin on Swimming.  Full list here, or see how many you can spot in the attached photo of our lovely shop window! (https://www.penguin.co.uk/vintage/vintageminis/)

Review by Bethan

May 31, 2017

Rural London – Discover the City’s Country Side, by Kate Hodges

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Michael O’Mara Books Ltd, £9.99, out nowKate Hodges RURAL LONDON

This beautiful gift book is small enough to be shoved in your backpack as you head off to get your nature fix in London.  Enticing photos and good directions make this one of those guides that is as good to fall into on the tube as it is to work out where to find a wildlife friendly pond to picnic next to (Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park).

Some of the places listed I can vouch for myself.  I like the crazy little triangular castle at Severndroog which has amazing views over London; Spitalfields City Farm, home of the Oxford v Cambridge Goat race; and Bunhill Fields, the city oasis that’s also the burial place of William Blake.  But I was really impressed with how many of the places listed I’d never heard of – what about seeing herons at the Greenwich Peninsula Ecology park, or learning woodworking at the Green Wood Guild in Stepney?

There are useful suggestions of relaxing pubs and outdoor activities, and also a list of festivals such as the Marylebone Summer Fayre and the Cultivate Festival in Waltham Forest.  Many of the things listed are free, and also easily accessed by public transport.  If you’re hot in the city just now, this book will help you get a bit of country escapism without having to go too far.

A great local tip for next time you’re in the bookshop – it’s not too far to the fabulous Red Cross Garden, free and friendly for Bankside.  http://www.bost.org.uk/open-places/red-cross-garden/

Review by Bethan

May 22, 2017

Night Trains – the Rise and Fall of the Sleeper, by Andrew Martin

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Profile Books, £14.99, out nowAndrew Martin NIGHT TRAINS

This entertaining new book from railway expert Andrew Martin might be entitled ‘beyond the Orient Express’.  Martin rides the remaining night (or sleeper) trains of Western Europe at a time of great change for the railways, with several of the historic night routes and trains going out of commission.  He is partly doing the journey in memory of his railwayman father, who took him and his sister on holidays organised by the British Railwaymen’s Touring Club.

Martin is an amusing guide, and the book is stuffed with good anecdotes and facts.  There are mentions of books, films and paintings involving sleeper trains that make you want to chase down the references immediately.  Discussing a painting by Caillebotte called Le Pont d’Europe, he notes: “It shows a man looking down on the station from the bridge.  There is a strolling flâneur, perhaps a depiction of Caillebotte himself.  He is possibly eyeing up the man looking down on the station.  The woman walking alongside the flâneur has been interpreted as a prostitute.  It’s unlikely that both interpretations could be true.  A dog is heading purposefully over the bridge in the opposite direction, and doubtless it, too, is going off to have sex” (p. 29).

He finds that night trains are not always glamorous and are sometimes exciting in the wrong way (he gets robbed and also wakes to find a stranger in his cabin).  His journeys are sometimes interrupted by the refugee crisis as borders are closed, and lines disrupted.  He touches briefly on this, but it’s not a primary theme of the book.

This would make a good original gift for train fans, and for anyone who (like me) loves travelling overnight on trains.  I had never heard of the Nordland Railway but this made me want to go next winter: “the Nordland begins by skirting a fjord.  There is the same thrilling proximity of rail and sea that you get on the Cornish main line at Dawlish, but that’s over after five minutes, whereas this lasts for a hundred miles”.

Review by Bethan                

January 22, 2017

City of Lions by Józef Wittlin and Philippe Sands

by Team Riverside

josef-wittlin-and-philippe-sands-city-of-lions

Paperback, £12, Pushkin Press, out now

This beautifully made small book is an excellent companion read to Philippe Sands’ award winning East West Street: on the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity (see my review here, https://theriversideway.wordpress.com/2016/05/31/east-west-street-on-the-origins-of-genocide-and-crimes-against-humanity-by-philippe-sands/).  It comprises two essays on what is now known as the city of Lviv, in Ukraine.  Exile Józef Wittlin, writing in 1946, recalls the city when he knew it before the Second World War.  Human rights lawyer Philippe Sands, whose mother’s family were from Lviv and whose story is told in East West Street, gives his account of the city in 2016.

The book’s striking cover shows the many names the city has had over the last 100 years – Lviv, Lwów, Lvov, Lemberg.  Europe’s sometimes brutal twentieth century history has overrun this place over and over again.  Evocative black and white photographs and maps add a ghostly and sometimes melancholy note throughout.  Small publisher Pushkin Press can be proud of this book – read it, then read their republished The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig from 1942 (http://www.pushkinpress.com/book/the-world-of-yesterday/).

Both Wittlin and Sands’ accounts show their great attachment to the city, while dealing with the terrible things that happened there. They speak to each other, providing a vivid addition to the literature on exile and belonging.  Wittlin writes: “Balabans, Korniakts, Mohylas, Boims, Kampians – what sort of a motley crew is this?  That’s Lwów for you.  Diversified, variegated, as dazzling as an oriental carpet.  Greeks, Armenians, Italians, Saracens and Germans are all Lvovians, alongside the Polish, Ruthenian and Jewish natives, and they are Lvovians ‘through and through’” (p. 49).  Visiting the local museum 70 years later, and thinking about Wittlin’s quote, Sands asks: “… where were the spaces devoted to the former residents of the city, the Greeks, Armenians, Italians, Saracens and Germans?… What of the legacy of the Polish and Jewish inhabitants whose presence had been eclipsed?” (p. 130).

These memories of and reflections on the City of Lions, where many of Wittlin’s streets and buildings remain though their names and occupants have changed, help us to process and acknowledge the past. In our troubled present, inhumanity and change continue.  But there is also hope, as Sands concludes: “We too can play at games, as the world erupts once more.  We too can close our eyes, and imagine that beyond the dark clouds that settled over this unhappy city, a ray of light broke through, and that it still offers hope today” (p. 130).

Review by Bethan

December 14, 2016

New signed copies now in!

by Team Riverside

Going fast, here they are:Philippe Sands EAST WEST STREET

Philippe Sands – East West Street

Alexandra Shulman – Inside Vogue

Alan Johnson – The Long and Winding Road

Sebastian Barry – Days Without End

Yuval Noah Hariri – Homo Deus

Thomas Hocknell – Life Assistance Agency

November 7, 2016

Cats, by Jane Bown

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Guardian/Faber and Faber, £14.99, out nowjane-bown-cats

In this beautiful photography book, all of portrait photographer Jane Bown’s trademark skills are on display.  The cats she has photographed over five decades, mainly in black and white but sometimes in colour, stand out as a series of complex individuals.

Bown, who died in 2014, worked for the Guardian/Observer for decades, and many of her works now hang in the National Portrait Gallery (see http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/person/mp07814/jane-bown?role=art).  Her photographs of Samuel Beckett and Mick Jagger, as well as others, are regarded as classics.  Why should a great artist not turn her attention to cats?  Her own cats feature prominently, but there are also market cats and kittens, show cats and stragglers.  You can get a taste of what’s inside here:  https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2016/oct/01/cat-snaps-jane-bowns-feline-photographs-cats

In a handy medium sized format, this would be the perfect gift for someone who loves excellent photography, or cats – but ideally both!

Review by Bethan

November 1, 2016

New signed copies in!

by Team Riverside

New in – catch them before they go:

Susan Hill, The Travelling Bag

Eimear McBride, The Bohemians

Sebastian Barry, Days without End

Yuval Noah Hariri, Homo Deus

Paddy Ashdown, Game of Spies

Alan Johnson, The Long and Winding Road

Johnny Marr, Set the Boy Free

Jeff Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down

October 16, 2016

The Return – Fathers, Sons and the Land In Between, by Hisham Matar

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Penguin:Viking, £14.99, out nowhisham-matar-the-return

Hisham Matar’s father Jaballa Matar, an active opponent of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, was kidnapped in Cairo in 1990 and imprisoned in Tripoli’s notorious Abu Salim jail.  After 1996, there was no word of what happened to him.  This beautifully written memoir concerns not only Matar’s memories of family life before his disappearance, but also the desperation of those left not knowing their loved one’s fate.  Read on Radio 4, the book has received remarkable reviews from (among others) Colm Tóibín and Hilary Mantel.

The book is particularly moving on the effect of the disappearance on everyday life.  Matar’s mother continued videoing football matches for her missing husband for years after he disappeared.  In their exile, Matar and his family do everything they can think of to find out what has happened to Jaballa.  At the same time, Matar develops as a novelist, publishing among other things the well-reviewed Anatomy of a Disappearance.   After Tony Blair’s rapprochement with Qaddafi in 2004, Matar, who was living in London, notes: “none of us felt safe.  Officials from the Libyan embassy attended the first reading I gave from my first novel.  A report was sent to Tripoli and I became a watched man.  It was deemed no longer safe for me to visit my family in Egypt, which caused a second exile” (p. 174).  While the book concerns Matar’s relationship with his father, his mother also stands out as a remarkable woman in her own right.

I learnt a lot about Libya’s history from this remarkable book, and its impacts on those who live through it.  While The Return gives some truly horrendous accounts of human rights violations, it is also a book about deep resilience and love.

Review by Bethan

July 11, 2016

Skyfaring – A Journey with a Pilot, by Mark Vanhoenacker

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Vintage, £8.99, out nowMark Vanhoenacker SKYFARING

The cover of this book makes me want to jump on a plane and fly off somewhere.  As someone who likes flying, despite serious concerns about climate change, I thought I might like this book.  I was wrong.  I love it.

If I’m looking for escape in a book, I’m most likely to find it in one concerning a subject completely new to me which is explained with style and generosity.  Skyfaring meets these criteria effortlessly.  Vanhoenacker is a deeply enthusiastic, knowledgeable and thoughtful guide to the several worlds of aviation.  The book is stuffed with excellent facts and anecdotes (I was delighted to learn that when friends or relatives of airplane crew are passengers on a flight with them, they are often fondly referred to as ‘Klingons’).  For a taster of his prose and some lovely pictures, see http://www.vox.com/2016/5/2/11520288/pilot-airplane-photos and http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/25-incredible-views-from-plane-passengers-windows-collected-by-an-airline-pilot.

Sometimes the book feels very personal, as when the author talks about why he became a pilot, or when he provides a personal gloss on a feature of flight that might seem at first sight mundane or technical.  He is not afraid of bringing art, philosophy or emotion into a scientific subject, or of relating all of these to real life: “Georgia O’Keeffe was afraid of flying but obsessed with the clouds she saw from aeroplanes, which she painted with an all but religious devotion…  I try to remember, when I haven’t flown for some time, and the handles of the bags of food shopping which I’m carrying though a cold and rainy November dusk are about to break, that such a lake of light may be over the clouds that rest above the street”.

For me he has brought a sense of wonder back to commercial flight, something that can seem tedious and constrained.  I feel transported, refreshed, and ready to pay attention.  A lovely book.

Review by Bethan

June 19, 2016

Gratitude, by Oliver Sacks

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Picador, £9.99, out nowOliver Sacks GRATITUDE

Gratitude is a final gift from the excellent neurologist and writer of popular science, Oliver Sacks, who died in 2015.  These short but beautiful pieces encapsulate all that is best about his writing.  Humane, kind, interesting and funny, they offer his reflections on a life well lived from one who knew its end would come shortly.  Shortly after finding out his cancer was back and inoperable, he wrote: “Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts.  This does not mean I am finished with life.  On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight”.

Probably best known for his books Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Sacks’ own life has not been without bumps, as his two volumes of autobiography show.  Here, we learn more about his deeply personal love of science.  How excellent that as an 11 year old fan of the periodic table, he was delighted to be able to say “I am Sodium” and remained equally pleased at 79 to say “I am gold”.  His reflections on his different experiences of Jewish family life, in London and beyond, are intriguing.  A book to read, and read over.

Review by Bethan

May 31, 2016

East West Street – On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, by Philippe Sands

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Orion Books, £20, out nowPhilippe Sands EAST WEST STREET

International human rights barrister Philippe Sands opens his remarkable new book with a quote from Nicolas Abraham: “What haunts are not the dead, but the gaps left within us by the secrets of others”.  Sands tries to fill some of these gaps in the stories of both his family and two lawyers who developed the legal concepts of genocide and crimes against humanity that featured for the first time in the Nuremberg tribunal – Hersch Lauerpacht and Rafael Lemkin.  Remarkably, there turn out to be connections between all of these people and the (now Ukrainian) city of Lviv, a site of mass murder of Jewish residents during the Second World War.

The best thing I’ve read this year, East West Street is both personal and international in scope.  Sands undertakes remarkable archival and other research and succeeds in uncovering surprising and illuminating stories, which help to explain both how international law developed as it did and why it was important that it did so.  In this he echoes the approach of Hartley Shawcross, British prosecutor at Nuremberg, who in his closing trial address used a single devastating case study to force home the inhumanity of Nazi war crimes (Sands recounts this at p. 346-7).  It takes a skilful and confident writer to manage the risks involved in bringing the huge themes of history back, over and over again, to real individuals.  He does so seamlessly, creating a book that reads as compulsively as a detective story.  The photos of people and original documents scattered throughout the text make it even more engaging.  The related film, My Nazi Legacy: What our Fathers Did, is also well worth watching (http://www.wildgazefilms.co.uk/my-nazi-legacy-2015/) .

Sands’ perspective as a lawyer involved with the International Criminal Court and war crimes tribunals from Rwanda to the former Yugoslavia makes the work highly relevant when thinking about human rights now.  70 years after Nuremberg, how do we deal with crimes against humanity?  Do we have the courage required to remember that real individuals are caught up in these huge convulsions, and the greater courage not to look away?

Review by Bethan

April 1, 2016

Being a Beast, Charles Foster

by Team Riverside

BeingaBeastcover

Hardback, Profile Books, £14.99, out now

If the belated but welcome Spring sunshine has you feeling newly mindful of our wildlife and hankering for all things natural then I couldn’t recommend anything better than Charles Foster’s latest book, Being a Beast ( – short of actually departing for the country and taking up residence in a badger set, that is; which Foster has helpfully done for us), which is a breath of fresh, heady – and slightly crazed – air. Foster, amongst many other things (he is a vet, philosopher, anthropologist, acupuncturist, academic, Oxford Fellow…the list apparently continues), is an ardent natural historian; he used to hunt animals for sport, he confesses, but is now intent on hunting them in an entirely different way: placing himself, as much as a human being can, in their skins in an attempt to know what it is like to ‘be’ them. To that end, and for prolonged periods, he lived in their physical environments, deprived of human comforts, reporting his intimate and thought-provoking experiences back to us. In Being a Beast he takes on the challenge of finding out what it is like to be a badger, an otter, a city fox, red deer and swift, combining neuroscience, psychology, natural history and memoir in a quest which takes him the length, breadth and depth of the British Isles.

As well as being a dauntless explorer (could you lie in a freezing highland stream for hours or sit in a river in Namibia watching leeches looping up your ankles en route to your groin?) Foster is also an erudite, witty, humble and entertaining writer. Take this passage, for instance, in which he reminisces about the days when shamanic ritual could transport performers into other states of consciousness:

‘You had to dance to the drum around a fire until you were so dehydrated that blood spouted out of your ruptured nasal capillaries, or stand in an icy river and chant until you could feel your soul rising like vomit into your mouth, or eat fly agaric mushrooms and watch yourself floating into the forest canopy. Then you could pass through the thin membrane that separates this world from others, and your species from other species. As you pushed through, in an epiphanic labour, the membrane enveloped you, like the amniotic sac in which you issued from your mother.’

Foster’s attempts to experience animals’ consciousness by immersing himself in their phenomenal worlds stem from a similarly impassioned desire to ‘be’ a beast (apparently he has been obsessed with birds and animals since he was a child), involves a similarly intense ‘labour’, as well as the odd moment or two that really could be described as epiphanic.

Even for those usually uninterested in nature writing Being a Beast is a winner: who can resist discovering what earthworms taste like, for instance (the terroir varies, apparently, according to region, like wine)? This is vital, dynamic, exhilarating writing that uncovers deadened senses, invokes empathy, fosters compassion and the all-important feeling of oneness. In delving into the ‘being’ of various ‘beasts’, Foster does something else too: he allows us to see ourselves more clearly – human or otherwise.

Review by Emily

February 10, 2016

London Fog: the Biography, by Christine L. Corton

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Harvard University Press, £22.95, out nowChristine L Corton LONDON FOG

This very readable history of London fog was a surprise hit this winter. Beautifully illustrated, with colour pictures well integrated into the text, Corton provides not only a good summary of why fogs happened and why they stopped but also gives an erudite account of how they affected people’s lives (and deaths).

Cultural responses to the phenomenon are explored in detail. It’s no surprise to find Whistler, Turner and Dickens here, but I was delighted to be introduced to Rose Maynard Barton and Yoshio Markino.

The book is stuffed with good London anecdotes and unusual images, which make it an excellent London gift. One of my favourites is the photo of a goalie struggling to see the pitch – let alone the ball – at a Spurs match in 1945, when opponents Moscow Dynamo were accused of fielding 12 men while the visibility was poor. They had also chosen the referee, apparently, and he refused to stop the match…

If you are already thinking about climate change, and how human behaviour can influence weather for the good or bad, this is a useful and not too heavy addition to your reading list. It is one of the several excellent new books on weather and nature this year (for more examples, come and see our display table on the top floor – we particularly like Thunder and Lightning too).

Review by Bethan

February 5, 2016

The Outrun, by Amy Liptrot

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Canongate, £14.99, out now

The Outrun

The Outrun

A young woman flies back into Orkney with her newborn baby – pausing at the airport to introduce the baby to her husband, who is being flown out, in a straitjacket, to a psychiatric hospital. Amy Liptrot, the author of this engaging addition to the nature/memoir selection, was the baby in question.

The rest of the book is as candid and compelling as the opening. Liptrot is open and graphic about her alcoholism, which becomes particularly brutal while she is working in London in her twenties. Her account of her recovery, from several failed attempts at rehab to a successful intense course and a return to Orkney, is illuminating. This isn’t a ‘nature as healer’ book, and it is resolutely unsentimental about island life. It interleaves the events of Liptrot’s life with beautiful passages of nature writing.

Her account of searching for the rare corncrake at 3am in the ‘simmer dim’ half light of an Orkney summer night is vivid, and I found I picked up lots of unexpected information about the life and wildlife of the islands. It is pleasing to learn that an Orkney wild swimming club is called the ‘Polar Bears’, and that until 1977 sheep were individually winched on and off a particular rock on one of the islands. Her unexpected joy in the natural world is well expressed: “There are moments that thrill and glow: the few seconds a silver male hen harrier flies beside my car one afternoon; the porpoise surfacing around our small boat; the wonderful sight of a herd of cattle let out on grass after a winter indoors, skipping and jumping, tails straight up to the sky with joy”. This was a pleasure to read, despite its sometimes bleak subject matter, and I recommend it.

Review by Bethan

November 18, 2015

A Notable Woman: The Romantic Journals of Jean Lucey Pratt, edited by Simon Garfield

by Team Riverside

Hardback £20, Canongate, out now

“There is so much in this world to make me happy. Small things such as cats, a good meal, one’s garden, trees in spring and autumn, clouds, colours, fabrics, clothes, companionship, books and music and films, a driSimon Garfield A NOTABLE WOMANnk in the friendly atmosphere of an English pub, a ride in a bus, a letter from a friend, staying in bed when one is tired, firelight, starlight, waves breaking against rocks, evening sunlight on a flight of bombers”.

Jean Lucey Pratt writes this in 1944, aged 34, a woman living alone and working in Slough as the bombs fall around her. She takes much joy in life, as this extract shows, and is not afraid of giving her own views on the remarkable times she’s living through. In these edited journals, started when she was 16 and continuing into old age, she is painfully honest about her romantic life (I was absolutely willing her to find someone half decent to get off with). Like all the best published diaries, we feel that we are getting a view into someone’s secret inner life, but she also illuminates the uncertainties of living through a time of great international and domestic turbulance.

Jean is anything but fluffy, despite the excellent cats that march through these pages. Her diary is a real page turner, and well edited by Simon Garfield (who has previously published some of her contributions to the Mass Observation study). I enjoyed spending time with her enormously, and only wish she could have seen this delicious volume published during her lifetime.

Review by Bethan

November 15, 2015

The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning: a Polar Journey, by Wendy Trusler and Carol Devine

by Team Riverside

Hardback £25, HarperCollins, out now

Wendy Trusler and Carol Devine have created a beautiful visual and written record of a 1995-96 volunteer expedition to clean up rubbish on the South Shetland Islands in Antarctica. The book is illustrated with photographs both from the trip and fWendy Trusler ANTARCTIC BOOK OF COOKING AND CLEANINGrom previous historic outings by Scott and Shackleton, among others. It also features delicious and achievable international recipes used by Wendy to feed large groups of volunteers and friends during the tour – tasty looking White Bean and Roast Garlic Pate, Honey Oatmeal Bread, Frozen Chocolate Cream…

Contemporary journal entries from both authors candidly show the delights and strains of being ‘alone and together’ in Antarctica. Relationships within the camp and with those back home, as well as colleagues from other national research camps, become of prime importance.

For anyone whose imagination and interest strays towards Antarctica, or who likes unusual cookbooks or tales from women travellers, this is a must. One of the most unusual and beautiful books we have in the shop.

Review by Bethan

November 10, 2015

Carl Cattermole, H.M. Prison: A Survival Guide

by Team Riverside

Carl Cattermole HM PRISON A SURVIVAL GUIDECarl Cattermole’s short, sharp, shockingly good guide to life on the inside is without a doubt one of the best books I’ve read all year. Unlike so many of the squillions of things that get ushered into print each month, H.M. Prison: A Survival Guide is a book that feels like it urgently needed to be written, and equally urgently; needs to be read. It’s the upshot of a truly generous impulse; to demystify the prison experience and to offer pragmatic help to a huge amount of people who are often vulnerable, confused and scared. It should also, of course, be required reading for anyone and everyone on the outside.

Eschewing the lurid tales and grim machismo that characterize so many prison memoirs, 20-something Londoner Cattermole’s nifty book is a straight-talking, utterly no-nonsense account of what life is like if you get sent down. It’s beautifully and wittily written, and indeed beautifully and wittily illustrated; by Private Eye’s very own ‘Banx.’

The ‘Survival Guide is eye-opening, at times eye-watering, and thoroughly educational in every sense. Like all the best books; it works as a kind of empathy generator. It’s also dirt-cheap (£4!). And it’s not-for-profit. And it looks and feels great. What more could you want? This is that rare kind of book that actually helps to make the world a better place.

Review by Stuart

November 3, 2015

Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and How to Think Smarter about People Who Think Differently, by Steve Silberman

by Team Riverside

Allen and Unwin, £16.99, paperback out now

A worthy winner of the Samuel Johnson non-fiction book prize, this is a fascinating and highly readable history of autism. We alsSteve Silberman NEUROTRIBESo get to meet several interesting people affected by autism, and an invitation to reconsider what we think we know about it.

Silberman, a journalist for Wired magazine, became interested in autism in 2001 when he heard of an ‘epidemic’ of autism among the children of Silicon Valley employees – parents who tended to be computer programmers and engineers. The book opens with The Wizard of Clapham Common Henry Cavendish, genius 19th century scientist and inventor, who Silberman retrospectively diagnoses as autistic.  Silberman is an informative guide through geek culture, disability in Nazi Germany, faulty diagnoses of toxic parenting, Rain Man and more.

Critically, the author is respectful of autistic people. Oliver Sacks in his foreword notes that Silberman particularly sought out autistic people for his research.  A further mark of quality is that it is dedicated to Lorna Wing, a psychiatrist and doctor who transformed thinking about autism for the better first in the UK and then internationally both through her work and her involvement in the establishment of the National Autistic Society. He concludes: “Designing appropriate forms of support and accommodation is not beyond our capabilities as a society, as the history of the disability movement proves. But first we have to learn to think more intelligently about people who think differently”.   This is an excellent, accessible book, and a worthwhile call to consider the riches that can come from diversity.

Review by Bethan

October 19, 2015

Jeremy Hutchinson’s Case Histories, by Thomas Grant

by Team Riverside

John Murray, out now, £25

A child of the Bloomsbury group, Jeremy Hutchinson became a leading QC at the criminal bar in postwar Britain. Fellow lawyer Thomas Grant has written Hutchinson’s life in an unusual style – a shortish biographical sketch, followed by in depth accounts of Hutchinson’s most famous cases. This approach successfully illuminates not only a well-spent life, but alsThomas Grant JEREMY HUTCHINSON'S CASE HISTORIESo the contribution of an exceptional advocate at pivotal moments of change in British social and cultural history.

As a lawyer who often defended the unpopular or those in conflict with the establishment, much of his work concerned freedom of expression. Obscenity trials feature – he represented Penguin Books in the Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial as well as the National Theatre concerning their production of The Romans in Britain. He also defended the rights of journalists Duncan Campbell and Jonathan Aitken when they were prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act, and also represented the notorious cold war spy George Blake. The movement towards a more open and freer society is traced through Grant’s well drawn studies.

Hutchinson emerges not only as a great advocate, but as a genial and thoughtful man. Now 100, his postscript to the book shows him to be as committed to the principle of access to justice as ever: “When at long last in 1950 the Legal Aid Act was passed, the idea was that everyone should be able to obtain legal advice if unable to pay for it because, after health, the most important element in a civilised society is the ability of every citizen to assert and protect these rights: in other words a ‘national legal service’.” He notes that “real prison reform calls for imagination, courage and determination; the dismantling of legal aid a mere stroke of the pen”. Recommended.

Review by Bethan

September 26, 2015

This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan War, by Samanth Subramanian

by Team Riverside

Samanth Subramanian THIS DIVIDED ISLANDAtlantic Books, out now

Just longlisted for the Samuel Johnson prize, this well written account of the Sri Lankan civil war does not take sides. Indian Tamil journalist Subramanian approaches a notoriously tangled and controversial subject through the stories of diverse individuals. These include former combatants from the Tamil Tigers and the army, refugees and other members of the diaspora, journalists, medics and other civilians. We learn some of the human cost of this awful conflict.

He finds that Sri Lanka lends itself to this style: “It never required much to begin a conversation in Sri Lanka. The very air was primed for it. In a country so full of uncertainty, all life, and all death, was rehearsed through conversation. It was a form of art, well honed and practiced with skill.”

No previous knowledge of Sri Lankan history is necessary and so it is a useful primer, but also very revealing for those who know more. The problems facing Sri Lankans at home and abroad now are shown. No easy answers present themselves. The author documents his own, sometimes conflicting, reactions to the stories he is told. This makes the book feel honest, current and engaging.

This Divided Island is a must-read for anyone thinking of visiting this beautiful but troubled place, as well as for those who want to know more about the civil war and its aftermath. In places his reporting is the best kind of travel writing, immediate and vivid in his descriptions of transport, food, and places. Despite the grimness of some of the content, the clarity of the writing and the writer’s affection for the place make this an engaging and swift read.

Review by Bethan

August 19, 2015

Gods of Metal, Eric Schlosser

by Team Riverside

Penguin, paperback out now £1.99Eric Schlosser GODS OF METAL

Somehow I had stopped really thinking about the piles of nuclear weapons placed all over the world: owned, operated and sought by fallible humans. In this substantial and important new piece of reportage, Eric Schlosser (author of Fast Food Nation, Executive Producer of There Will be Blood) updates us on the threats posed by nuclear weapons today.

He describes repeated security breaches at US nuclear bases, spending time with anti-nuclear weapons campaigners imprisoned for breaking in. He reflects on their pacifist and radical forerunners.

Looking to the future, he details attempts made by non-state actors to gain access to nuclear weapons and weapons-manufacturing materials: “In October 2009, ten militants entered the central headquarters of the Pakistan Army in broad daylight, wearing military uniforms and carrying fake IDs. They took dozens of hostages, killed high-ranking officers, and maintained control of a building there for eighteen hours. The two leading commanders of Pakistan’s nuclear forces were stationed at the base.” (p. 73).

Published by Penguin 70 years after the first atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this thoughtful and thorough work is a must read. Get ready to have your consciousness raised: as the author writes when thanking experts for their help, “I’m not sure how they sleep at night”.

Review by Bethan

August 9, 2015

Top 10 Fiction and Non-Fiction: August 2015

by Team Riverside

Harper Lee GO SET A WATCHMANLena Dunham NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL

No surprise this month – Harper Lee is back, back, back. The holiday reading season has also revived several titles including The Girl on the Train, which benefited from a Radio 4 adaptation. Incidentally, Go Set a Watchman is not the only literary sequel in town: The Meursalt Investigation is an Algerian writer’s companion novel to The Outsider, set 70 years after the Camus classic.

Top 10 Fiction

1 Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee
2 The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
3 How to Be Both – Ali Smith
4 Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The First Bad Man – Miranda July
7 The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell
8 The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters
9 Curtain Call – Anthony Quinn
10 The Meursalt Investigation – Kamel Daoud

Bubbling under: Wake Up, Sir! – Jonathan Ames

Top 10 Non-Fiction

1 Not That Kind of Girl – Lena Dunham
2 Gut: The Inside Story of our Body’s Most Underrated Organ – Giulia Enders
3 The Churchill Factor – Boris Johnson
4 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari
5 Think Like an Artist – Will Gompertz
6 Yes Please – Amy Poehler
7 London: A Travel Guide Through Time – Matthew Green
8 The Opposite of Loneliness – Marina Keegan
9 Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own – Kate Bolick
10 London Thames Path – David Fathers

Bubbling under: How We Are – Vincent Deary

August 1, 2015

The Fish Ladder – Katharine Norbury

by Team Riverside

Bloomsbury Circus, out now

Katharine Norbury was abandoned as a baby in a Liverpool convent, raised by caring adoptive parents, and then had a family of her own. The book opens as she starts a series of British nature journeys with her young daughter, prompted by bereavement following a miscarriage.

In this nature memoir, Norbury describes her life and her relationship with nature with candour and flair. She is compelled to trace her biological mother, and takes us to the end of this difficult journey.

She heads off alone to remote spots: as a woman who often walks out alone, it pleased me to have another woman walker describe her own experiences so effectively. “The more space I put between myself and the wakeful inhabitants of the mainland, the better I felt. The sea shone pearl-grey, opaque, and the sky lightened above it with a bloom as soft as a plum”.

Mixed in are stories from Celtic mythology, andKatharine Norbury THE FISH LADDER thoughts about adoptive families (and non-adoptive ones). The theme of those who are grieving finding some solace, distraction or balm from the natural world has been covered in much recent writing, perhaps most famously in H for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. If you liked that, this will appeal. But it is also very readable for anyone thinking about what family means, how marriages can work, and how nature can be a part of our everyday lives.

July 4, 2015

The Last Act of Love – Cathy Rentzenbrink

by Team Riverside

Growing up in Yorkshire, brother and sister Matty and Cathy are ordinary teenagers living in a pub with their parents. Their family is close, loving, and funny. Everything changes when Matty is knocked down in a hit and run, and suffers devastating brain injuries. Matty’s life is saved, but he enters what turns out to be a Persistent Vegitative State (PVS).

In Cathy Rentzenbrink’s courageous and illuminating memoir, she charts what happens to Matty but also to herself and her parents as they deal with the consequences of one life changing moment. A very readable narrative, it Cathy Rentzenbrink THE LAST ACT OF LOVE is also a personal and thoughtful account of a complex and difficult situation. She shows that what may be right is not always evident and may change over time, and details the pervasive effects of grief, guilt and trauma. Using press cuttings and legal reports as well as family memories, we get a useful and unflinching analysis of the very human difficulties that can arise in cases of PVS. While the subject is bleak, the strength, love and commitment that sustain the family run throughout. Highly recommended.

Review by Bethan

May 24, 2015

Top 10 Fiction and Non-Fiction: May 2015

by Team Riverside

HOW TO USE YOUR ENEMIES David Nicholls US
The Penguin Little Black Classics series is still going gangbusters here at the Riverside, although it’s the non-fiction titles that are the big sellers. The most popular of the 80 books is How to Use Your Enemies (no 12 in the series), a 17th century Spanish priest’s guide to exploiting your foes (and friends too). If you’re not minded to be Machiavellian, there’s plenty more literary inspiration among our bestsellers this spring…

Top 10 Fiction

1 Us – David Nicholls
2 The Bees – Laline Paull
3 The Children Act – Ian McEwan
4 How to Build a Girl – Caitlin Moran
5 A God in Ruins – Kate Atkinson
6 The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair – Joel Dicker
7 Outline – Rachel Cusk
8 The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
9 Family Life – Akhil Sharma
10 The Ballad of a Small Player – Lawrence Osborne

Bubbling under: Wake Up, Sir! – Jonathan Ames

Top 10 Non-Fiction

1 Penguin Little Black Classics (80th anniversary)
2 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari
3 H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald
4 Keeping an Eye Open: Essays on Art – Julian Barnes
5 Ardennes 1944: Hitler’s Last Gamble – Antony Beevor
6 On Palestine – Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe
7 Flash Boys – Michael Lewis
8 The Year of Reading Dangerously – Andy Miller
9 A Buzz in the Meadow – Dave Goulson
10 The Establishment – Owen Jones

Bubbling under: On the Move: A Life – Oliver Sacks

April 23, 2015

The Internet is Not the Answer

by Andre

Andrew Keen THE INTERNET IS NOT THE ANSWERSocial media satire The Circle made you scared about the screens that have enslaved us. Now Andrew Keen’s polemic against the winner-takes-all Web 2.0 will make you angry. It’s a smart, concise exploration of the impact of new technology, but also a howl of rage at the digital disruptors relishing the havoc they have caused. “Failure is success” is the bizarre, Orwellian mantra of the Silicon Valley innovators – and big failure followed by bigger success is the story of Travis Kalanick. He likes to boast that he was sued for a quarter of a trillion dollars by the world’s entertainment companies over his peer-to-peer service Scour. Ultimately, it may have failed but – along with Napster – not before laying waste to the music industry. Now he’s unleashed Uber, a taxi app that’s prompted protests from traditional taxi drivers around the world.

Perhaps that’s just progress. But consider Instagram, which sold to Facebook for a billion dollars when it had 13-full time employees. Around the same time, Kodak was closing 13 factories and 130 photo labs and laying off 47,000 workers. Last year Facebook forked out $19 billion for WhatsApp, which had 55 employees. These are the frightening numbers behind the job-killing digital economy. And those internet giants that do recruit an army of coders to their cults pay hardly any tax and contribute little to the local economy. Keen’s particularly scathing on the segregation in San Francisco (and he’s found an ally in Rebecca Solnit), where the digital overlords travel to work in private buses and never have to leave their plush office complexes. There are plenty more villains – and a few heroes – in this history of the internet. He compares Google with the Stasi, rails against the oddball libertarians who became billionaires and rubbishes the long tail theory, which claims that any creative person can make a living thanks to the reach of the Web (mid-list authors are actually disappearing). As William Gibson said: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”