Archive for ‘Non fiction’

May 13, 2022

Bestsellers 6th – 13th May

by Team Riverside

Elizabeth Strout – Oh William!

John Le Carre – Silverview

Elif Shafak – The Island of The Missing Trees

Kazuo Ishiguro – Klara and The Sun

Cecily Gayford – Murder by The Seaside

Elizabeth Day – Magpie

Sally Rooney – Conversations With Friends

Daisy Buchanan – Insatiable

Rutger Bregman – Humankind

Meg Mason – Sorrow and Bliss

Marion Billet – Busy London

bell hooks – All About Love

Colm Toibin – The Magician

Bernadine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

Chris Power – A Lonely Man

May 8, 2022

Bestsellers 1st – 8th May

by Team Riverside

Elizabeth Strout – Oh William!

John Le Carre – Silverview

Emily St. John Mandel – Sea of Tranquility

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

bell hooks – All About Love

Kazuo Ishiguro – Klara and The Sun

Meg Mason – Sorrow and Bliss

Kotaro Isaka – Bullet Train

Oliver Burkeman – Four Thousand Weeks

Caroline Criado Perez – Invisible Women

M.H. Eccleston – The Trust

Min Jin Lee – Pachinko

Clara Vulliamy – Marshmallow Pie: The Cat Superstar

Oliver Jeffers – Here We Are

Elizabeth Day – Magpie

April 30, 2022

Sam Sedgman and Sam Brewster – Epic Adventures

by Team Riverside
Book cover of Epic Adventures

Hardback, Macmillan, £12.99, out now

Epic Adventures is a pleasingly large non-fiction picture book for children about great train journeys.  From the Shinkansen bullet train in Japan to the Trans-Siberian express, this colourfully illustrated book inspires the wish to jump on a train and head off on an adventure.  As we are just opposite London Bridge station, this urge is particularly strong just now!

You can tell this was written by a real train fan, as it has excellent facts and is suffused with enthusiasm.  Sedgman is also author of train-based adventure stories for children including The Highland Falcon Thief, and the accessible prose in Epic Adventures shows that he is used to writing for children.  He addresses the colonial heritage of some of the railways concerned, and the displacement they caused, which is important.  I also appreciated the emphasis on rail as a more environmentally friendly form of travel.

My favourite of the many colourful illustrations is the northern lights overhead as the Arctic Sleeper speeds through to Norway.

As a fan of armchair rail travel (see The World’s Most Scenic Rail Journeys and Mighty Trains, on television) this inspires me to do some actual rail travel as soon as possible.  Good for perhaps age 7 and up, Epic Adventures has history and geography, festivals and food.  A nicely exciting gift for a young would-be traveller.

Review by Bethan

April 26, 2022

New Signed Copies

by Team Riverside
Cover of book None of This is Serious

So excited to have all these new signed copies in the shop…

Jessie Greengrass – The High House

Jeremy Atherton Lin – Gay Bar

Emily St. John Mandel – Sea of Tranquility

Maddie Mortimer – Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies

Catherine Prasifka – None of This is Serious

Laura Price – Single Bald Female

Ali Smith – Companion Piece

Nina Stibbe – One Day I Shall Astonish the World

Douglas Stuart – Young Mungo

Charmaine Wilkerson – Black Cake

April 24, 2022

Bestsellers 17th – 24th April

by Team Riverside

Kotaro Isaka – Bullet Train

Kazuo Ishiguro – Klara and The Sun

Eliot Higgins – We Are Bellingcat

Jeremy Atherton Lin – Gay Bar

Tim Marshall – Prisoners of Geography

Julian Barnes – Elizabeth Finch

Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451

Catherine Belton – Putin’s People

Sarah Winman – Still Life

Bella Mackie – How to Kill Your Family

Emily Danforth – Plain Bad Heroines

Tom Burgis – Kleptopia

Luke Kennard – The Answer to Everything

Albert Camus – The Plague

Sathnam Sanghera – Empireland

April 19, 2022

Jeremy Atherton Lin signed copies

by Team Riverside
photo of Jeremy Atherton Lin with his book Gay Bar

Thank you to Jeremy Atherton Lin for visiting to sign copies of Gay Bar! Nab one before they go.

April 18, 2022

Bestsellers 11th April – 18th April

by Team Riverside

Elif Shafak – The Island of The Missing Trees

Taylor Jenkins Reid – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Stanley Tucci – Taste

Ali Smith – Companion Piece

Douglas Stuart – Young Mungo

Bella Mackie – How To Kill Your Family

Patrick Radden Keefe – Empire of Pain

Michael Lewis – The Premonition

Sathnam Sanghera – Empireland

Caleb Azumah Nelson – Open Water

Frank Tallis – The Act of Living

Adam Hargreaves – Mr. Men in London

Eliot Higgins – We Are Bellingcat

Kotaro Isaka – Bullet Train

Mary Lawson – A Town Solace

April 2, 2022

Bestsellers 26th March – 2nd April

by Team Riverside

Kazuo Ishiguro – Klara and The Sun

Kae Tempest – On Connection

Taylor Jenkins Reid – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Marion Billet – Busy London

Tom Burgis – Kleptopia

Colm Toibin – The Magician

Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half

Matthew Green – Shadowlands

Daisy Buchanan – Careering

Tom Chivers – London Clay

Susanna Clarke – Piranesi

Kotaro Isaka – Bullet Train

Agatha Christie – Miss Marple and Mystery

Michael Lewis – The Premonition

March 20, 2022

Bestsellers 13th – 20th of March

by Team Riverside

Kazuo Ishiguro – Klara and The Sun

Catherine Belton – Putin’s People

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Rutger Bregman – Humankind

Marion Billet – Busy London

Caroline Criado Perez – Invisible Women

Tom Burgis – Kleptopia

John Preston – Fall

Eliot Higgins – We Are Bellingcat

Charlotte Mendelson – The Exhibitionist

Kotaro Isaka – Bullet Train

Tim Marshal – The Power of Geography

Rebecca F. John – Fannie

David Baddiel – Jews Don’t Count

Siobhan Dowd – The London Eye Mystery

March 14, 2022

New signed copies in!

by Team Riverside
book cover Your Story Matters

Margaret Atwood – Burning Questions

Lucy Caldwell – These Days

Marlon James – Moon Witch Spider King

Charlotte Mendelson – The Exhibitionist

Graham Robb – France: an Adventure History

Julia Samuel – Every Family Has a Story

Nikesh Shukla – Your Story Matters

March 4, 2022

Bestsellers 25th February – 3rd March

by Team Riverside

Tim Marshall – The Power of Geography

Caleb Azumah Nelson – Open Water

Frank Tallis – The Act of Living

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Maggie O’Farrell – Hamnet

Patrick Radden Keefe – Empire of Pain

Karen McManus – One Of Us is Lying

David Baddiel – Jews Don’t Count

Gertrude Stein – Food

bell hooks – All About Love

John Preston – Fall

Sathnam Sanghera – Empireland

Natasha Lunn – Conversations On Love

Marian Keyes – Rachel’s Holiday

Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club

February 16, 2022

The Madhouse at the End of the Earth by Julian Sancton

by Team Riverside

Paperback, W H Allen, £9.99, out now

cover of the book The Madhouse at the End of the Earth

The Madhouse at the End of the Earth is an engrossing account of a journey to Antarctica in 1897.  One thing after another goes wrong for the crew of the Belgian whaling ship the Belgica, and they get stranded for the whole of the winter darkness, their ship frozen in a sea of ice.

Among those on board is a doctor, Dr Frederick Cook, who will later be imprisoned in his native USA for fraud.  But as those on the ship suffer the effects of cold, dark, and malnutrition, his innovation and care keeps his colleagues alive.  As things get worse, and the Captain withdraws, Cook seems able to turn his hand to anything.  One part of the story that stayed with me was Cook creating a treatment for crew members suffering from scurvy and depression (among other things) of standing unclothed and in private in front of a fire.  As Sancton notes: “His wild idea to have his ailing shipmates stand naked in front of a blazing fire is the first known application of light therapy, used today to treat sleep disorders and depression, among other things.”

The Madhouse at the End of the Earth works in many different ways.  It’s a story of adventure and survival, failures of leadership, and physical and mental courage.  It contributes to the history of medicine, as Sancton discovers that Cook’s case study is still used by Jack Stuster, a behavioural scientist who works with NASA, among others.  As a study of how people cope, or don’t, under extreme strain, it is fascinating.

Also on the unlucky ship is Roald Amundsen, later famous as an epic Antarctic explorer in his own right.  The insight given here into his early life is intriguing.  He emerges as stoic in himself, and unbending in his attitude to others.

Sancton evokes the harshness of the Antarctic landscape and the claustrophobia of the trapped ship very well.  “Where the water ended, the snow began, as if the ocean had risen half way up the Himalayas”.  The descriptions of sounds of rats eating the crew’s limited food are suitably revolting.  His impressive use of archive materials including the ship’s logs, crew diaries, and accounts published later by those who had been on board lends credibility to his review of the psychological states and emotions of those he is writing about.

He notes the colonial context to this journey, namely Belgium’s grotesque history in Africa at the time of the expedition.  I was troubled by the title, uneasy about the use of ‘madhouse’, but I eventually felt it made sense for the time Sancton was writing about.

I read it over two days while on holiday, and felt lucky to have the chance to race through it.  Because the story was unfamiliar to me, despite my having read a lot about Antarctic exploration, I tensely awaited each new development.  It held me till the last page.

Review by Bethan

February 13, 2022

Bestsellers 6th – 13th February

by Team Riverside

Tim Marshall – The Power of Geography

Patricia Lockwood – No One Is Talking About This

Hafsa Zayyan – We Are All Birds of Uganda

Natasha Lunn – Conversations on Love

Virginia Woolf – Flush

Sathnam Sanghera – Empireland

Stanley Tucci – Taste

Frank Herbert – Dune

Sally Rooney – Conversations With Friends

Abdulrazak Gurnah – Afterlives

Mo Willems – Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus

Lorraine Mariner – Ten Poems on Love

Anna Malaika Tubbs – Three Mothers

Karen McManus – One of Us Is Lying

Peppa Pig – Peppa’s Magical Unicorn

February 5, 2022

Bestsellers 29th January – 5th February

by Team Riverside

Natasha Lunn – Conversations on Love

Frank Tallis – The Act of Living

Susanna Clarke – Piranesi

Tim Marshall – The Power of Geography

Damon Galgut – The Promise

Maurice Sendak – Where The Wild Things Are

Charles Dickens – The Great Winglebury Duel

John Preston – Fall

Caleb Azumah Nelson – Open Water

Claire Fuller – Unsettled Ground

Bernadine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half

Francis Spufford – Light Perpetual

Tom Chivers – London Clay

February 1, 2022

London’s Hidden Walks volume 4 by Stephen Millar

by Team Riverside
cover of London's Hidden Walks vol 4

Paperback, Metro, £11.99, Publisher

The pocket-sized London’s Hidden Walks series is well researched and handy.  The latest addition, subtitled Every Street Has a Story to Tell, is a genial and inspiring guide to some hidden London treasures.

Who knew that the Spanish Civil War memorial was right next to Fulham Palace?  Or that the cabman’s shelter in Pimlico, a small green wooden hut serving refreshments, is one of the sole survivors of more than sixty such?  History, architecture, art, literature and generally bizarre things all feature.

South London is especially well represented here, with Clapham, Peckham and Tooting all featuring.  Even in areas I know very well, I’ve learnt to look for some surviving gems because of this book.

Nicely illustrated with quirky photos and useful maps, this is a pleasure to read before you set out, as well as providing suggestions for good restaurants, pubs, and shops on the routes.  The inclusion of notable ghost signs is especially welcome (I used to like the Barlow and Roberts ghost sign on Southwark Street near here, but it seems to be gone now – https://ghostsigns.co.uk/2021/10/barlow-roberts/). This book encourages us to look up: there is often something interesting up there.

Review by Bethan

January 21, 2022

Bestsellers 14th – 21st January

by Team Riverside

Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club

John Preston – Fall

Hanya Yanagihara – To Paradise

Stephen Millar – Londons Hidden Walks

Sasha Dugdale – Ten Poems About Walking

Stanley Tucci – Taste

Frank Tallis – The Act of Living

Nan Shepherd – The Living Mountain

Taylor Jenkins Reid – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Khaled Hosseini – A Thousand Splendid Suns

Caroline Criado Perez – Invisible Women

Donna Tartt – The Secret History

Joan Aiken – Arabel and Mortimer Stories

Claire Fuller – Unsettled Ground

Kazuo Ishiguro – Never Let Me Go

January 16, 2022

Islands of Abandonment – Life in the Post-Human Landscape by Cal Flyn

by Team Riverside
Islands of Abandonment book cover.  A house on stilts stands in the sea

Paperback, William Collins, £9.99, out now

I read Islands of Abandonment in hardback during one of the lockdowns last year.  I was transported to wildly different newly-wild places around the world, even as I couldn’t stir much from home: a former military base on a Scottish island; an abandoned agricultural institute in the Tanzanian mountains; the drowned homes and fields of the Salton Sea in California.  Flyn explores what the natural world can do when left mostly alone by humans.  She focuses on places that were once hubs of human activity, where decaying buildings and landscape changes are the inheritance of the land. 

The book features evocative colour photos, including a series of four Google Earth shots showing the transformation of a regular suburban home in Detroit into a ruin with trees growing through it alongside disappearing sidewalks.  It made me think of the loss of people’s homes and communities, alongside the resurgence of other kinds of lives.  Flyn’s descriptions are as vivid as the photos.  She visits an abandoned canteen near Chernobyl: “The whole room is dominated by an enormous stained-glass scene that takes up the entire far wall: a moon rising in the west, into a sky of electric blue and crimson; and in the east, a burning sun, haloed in purple and orange and gold.  Around and between, four godlike women rise, in simple robes, cups over each breast: the seasons”.

The attention and respect Flyn gives to non-human life reminds me of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s transformatory book Braiding Sweetgrass (see https://riversidebookshop.co.uk/2020/07/14/braiding-sweetgrass-indigenous-wisdom-scientific-knowledge-and-the-teachings-of-plants-by-robin-wall-kimmerer/).  Flyn’s attempts to see the whole of the life, both non-human and human, in the places she visits echoes Robin Wall Kimmerer’s approach.

Often in these ostensibly abandoned places, some people remain.  They might be caretakers, witnesses, those in search of a different way of being on earth.  For example, former lab technician and current informal caretaker Martin Kimweri attends the former science facility in Tanzania, and looks after the many white and black mice whose ancestors were kept by the scientists.  Flyn also comes across those who have stayed in their homes as other people left and the world changed utterly around them, as well as people who travel out into these spaces looking for something new.  She is sensitive to these stories, which are necessarily those of outsiders.

As a woman who likes exploring places on her own, I appreciate Flyn’s solo venturing.  Islands of Abandonment can be read as nature writing, adventurous travel, conservation literature or reflections on how cultures deal with the end of civilisations.  It’s no wonder that authors including Kathleen Jamie and Adam Nicolson have praised Islands of Abandonment (the hard to classify nature of the work reminded me of both these authors, see https://riversidebookshop.co.uk/2020/08/24/surfacing-by-kathleen-jamie/).  Flyn’s thoughtful responses to what and who she sees make this a thoughtful and strangely positive read. 

Review by Bethan

January 14, 2022

Bestsellers 7th – 14th January

by Team Riverside

Hanya Yanagihara – To Paradise

John Preston – Fall

Rutger Bregman – Humankind

Claire Fuller – Unsettled Ground

Sathnam Sanghera – Empireland

Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club

Lucy Caldwell – Intimacies

Claire Keegan – Small Things Like These

Nan Shepherd – The Living Mountain

Maggie O’Farrell – Hamnet

Douglas Stuart – Shuggie Bain

Raven Leilani – Luster

Matt Haig – The Midnight Library

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Wendy Kendall – My Little Garden

January 4, 2022

London Shop Fronts by Emma J Page and Rachael Smith

by Team Riverside
London Shop Fronts book cover

Hardback, Hoxton Mini Press, £22.95, out now

Did you know that Fortnum and Mason’s was started by one of Queen Anne’s footmen, who had a side business flogging off used candle wax from the queen’s household?  Or that the wooden flooring in Liberty’s department store is from a nineteenth century warship?  These are the kind of excellent nuggets that feature alongside engaging photos in this beautiful coffee table book (see some of the photos here https://www.hoxtonminipress.com/products/pre-order-london-shopfronts).

I was delighted to see good representation of bookshops (shout out to colleagues at Marchpane and John Sandoe) alongside famous London shops such as the old-school art emporium L Cornelisson and the legendary Beigel Bake on Brick Lane.  Many of the entries include an update on how the businesses have managed during the pandemic, reminding us that some are small independent and/or family companies.  SE1 is well represented too, with the famous M Manze pie and mash shop and Terry’s Cafe.

Some of those working in the shops tell us why they love it, including Guido Gessaroli of the Coffee Run in the Seven Sisters Road: “This is the London I came here for… Diverse, multicultural, a friendly neighbourhood.  The area is sometimes considered a bit shabby, but to me it feels real and down to earth”.

Most places included were new to me, and this book made me want to eat and shop my way around London purely to visit them.  I’d love it if the next edition had a map of sites so that you could arrange walking tours between the places. 

The shop fronts and interiors that have been preserved are especially valuable, and are my favourite things in the book.  New designs that are clearly intended to lift the hearts of anyone even walking down the street are delightful too (Saint Aymes and Mira Mikati, I mean you).  Plot your London days out now, and use this jolly book to do it.

Review by Bethan

December 31, 2021

Bestsellers 24th – 31st December

by Team Riverside

Rutger Bregman – Humankind

Yotam Ottolenghi and Noor Murad – Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love

Michaela Coel – Misfits

Frank Herbert – Dune

Bernadine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

Caroline Criado Perez – Invisible Women

Kate Ellis eds. – Brick Lane Bookshop Short Story Prize Longlist

Richard Osman – The Man Who Died Twice

Jessica Harrison eds. – The Penguin Book of Christmas Stories

Sally Rooney – Conversations With Friends

Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club

Maggie Shipstead – Great Circle

Tom Chivers – London Clay

Clare Chambers – Small Pleasures

Roma Agrawal and Katie Hickey – How Was That Built?

December 18, 2021

Bestsellers 11th – 18th December

by Team Riverside

Roma Agrawal and Katie Hickey – How Was That Built?

Yotam Ottolenghi and Noor Murad – Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love

John Le Carre – Silverview

Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club

Claire Keegan – Small Things Like These

Abdulrazak Gurnah – Afterlives

Hannah J. Parkinson – The Joy of Small Things

Colson Whitehead – Harlem Shuffle

Various Authors – The Haunting Season

Susanna Clarke – Piranesi

Michaela Coel – Misfits

Stanley Tucci – Taste

Dave Eggers – The Every

Various Poets – The Liberty Faber Poetry Diary

Amor Towles – The Lincoln Highway

December 5, 2021

Bestsellers 28th November-5th December

by Team Riverside

Roma Agrawal and Katie Hickey – How Was That Built?

Frank Herbert – Dune

Caroline Criado Perez – Invisible Women

Bernadine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club

Susanna Clarke – Piranesi

Damon Galgut – The Promise

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Richard Osman – The Man Who Died Twice

eds. Jessica Harrison – The Penguin Book of Christmas Stories

Taylor Jenkins Reid – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Sosuke Natsukawa – The Cat Who Saved Books

Merlin Sheldrake – Entangled Life

Shirley Jackson – The Missing Girl

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche – Notes on Grief

November 27, 2021

Bestsellers 20th – 27th November

by Team Riverside

Frank Herbert – Dune

Piranesi – Susanna Clarke

Harper Lee – To Kill A Mockingbird

Jessica Harrison eds – The Penguin Book of Christmas Stories

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half

Sosuke Natsukawa – The Cat Who Saved Books

Sarah Moss – The Fell

Noor Murad, Yotam Ottolenghi – Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love

Elena Ferrante – The Lying Life of Adults

John Le Carre – Silverview

Sally Rooney – Beautiful World, Where Are You?

Roma Agrawal and Katie Hickey – How Was That Built?

Merlin Sheldrake – Entangled Life

Amor Towles – The Lincoln Highway

Matt Haig – The Midnight Library

November 21, 2021

Bestsellers 14th November – 21st November

by Team Riverside

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Elizabeth Strout – Oh William!

John Banville – Snow

Taylor Jenkins Reid – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Roma Agrawal and Katie Hickey – How Was That Built?

Noor Murad and Yotam Ottolenghi – Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love

Harper Lee – To Kill A Mockingbird

Stanley Tucci – Taste: My Life Through Food

John Le Carre – Silverview

Frank Herbert – Dune

Nora Ephron – Heartburn

Rutger Bregman – Humankind: A Hopeful History

Susanna Clarke – Piranesi

Charlie Macksey – The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse

Caroline Criado Perez – Invisible Women

November 15, 2021

Owls of the Eastern Ice by Jonathan C. Slaght

by Team Riverside
Owls of the Eastern Ice book cover

Paperback, Penguin, £10.99, out now

Ice, snow, owls: sold.

Naturalist and PhD student Slaght goes to Primorye in remotest Russia in 2006 to research and protect the world’s largest owl, the Blakiston’s fish owl (see excellent pictures in Helen Macdonald’s rave review, here – https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/jul/22/owls-of-the-eastern-ice-by-jonathan-c-slaght-review-an-extraordinary-quest).  Slaght describes it: “Backlit by the hazy gray of a winter sky, it seemed almost too big and too comical to be a real bird, as if someone had hastily glued fistfuls of feathers to a yearling bear, then propped the dazed beast in the tree.” 

This is an account of work at the sharp edge of conservation and research.  Slaght is working at a time when local economies are changing rapidly.  Logging and free market ventures are expanding into areas of remote and limited fish owl habitat, and it becomes imperative that conservationists work out what the threats are, and what opportunities exist to protect the owl.

This is travel writing as much as nature writing.  Slaght conveys how quickly the ancient forest and surrounding environment can change, from conditions that are beautiful and wild to extreme and life-threatening.  There are rivers and pools warmed by radon, Amur tigers hunting, hermits and wilderness.  Endurance is required to get through the hardships he and his colleagues face in finding, tagging and relocating the owls over several years.

Literally toxic masculinity features, as hunters and others working in the area sometimes engage in extreme drinking to forge trust with strangers like Slaght, who not only is an outsider but also an American and an ornithologist.  Several times he’s part of a party that must not break up until the vodka bottle is empty, and sometimes the ‘vodka’ is ethanol.  But he gets to work alongside committed lifelong conservationists and assistants, and finds that people will often help him and his colleagues when they need it most.

The owls are known locally as “the owls who ask for a fur coat”.  In Russian when a pair sing to each other, it sounds like each is saying “I want a fur coat”.  Owls of the Eastern Ice is a truly engrossing and transporting book.

Review by Bethan

October 15, 2021

Bestsellers 9th – 15th October

by Team Riverside

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Yotam Ottolenghi, Noor Murad – Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love

Caroline Criado Perez – Invisible Women

Richard Osman – The Man Who Died Twice

Sally Rooney – Beautiful World, Where Are You?

Bob Mortimer – And Away…

Marion Billet – Busy London

Sosuke Natsukawa – The Cat Who Saved Books

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche – Notes on Greif

Suzanna Clarke – Piranesi

Frank Herbert – Dune

Florence Given – Women Don’t Owe You Pretty

Judith Kerr – Mog the Forgetful Cat

Jeremy Paxman – Black Gold

Jonathon Franzen – Crossroads

October 13, 2021

Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts by Rebecca Hall

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Particular Books, £20, out now

Rebecca Hall Wake

This new graphic novel and memoir charts historian Rebecca Hall’s search for women rebel slave leaders in archives in the UK and US.  It is gripping, moving, and compelling.

Formerly a social justice lawyer, Hall’s work starts in New York in 1999, and Hugo Martínez’s illustrations show the slaving past literally reflected in the city as Hall walks through it.  It’s a brilliant way of showing how the past is inescapable in the present.  The graphic novel format lends itself to this so well, literally illustrating the similarities in some behaviour and surroundings between then and now. A smartly dressed white man barges into Hall without seeing her, and in a window reflection a white man in a tricorn hat pushes past another Black woman.

There are newly found stories of women-led revolts here, showing that her exhaustive work has paid off, and they are told with deep humanity.

As with Saidiya Hartman’s work on transforming and disrupting the archive, Hall does the work of interrogating why archives are as they are (anyone who loved Wayward Lives and Lose Your Mother will find this essential reading – see https://riversidebookshop.co.uk/2020/09/23/wayward-lives-beautiful-experiments-by-saidiya-hartman/).  The realisation that current racism and sexism have some of their roots in slavery is manifest. The historian as human is very present – “This work I’m doing is hard, and it hurts.”

Wake gives a vivid account of the difficulty of finding people in official archives when their voices are not recorded, being considered of no importance, or when their only seeming presence is as property.  She is also explicit about the UK archives which barred her from access, and those which felt they held nothing about slavery.

Hall describes herself as being haunted by slavery.  This really is a haunting book, necessarily violent and painful, showing that hard and committed work by historians can be revolutionary. 

Review by Bethan

October 12, 2021

Index, A History of the by Dennis Duncan

by Team Riverside
Index, A History of the

Hardback, Allen Lane, £20, out now

I did not expect to laugh out loud while reading a proper scholarly history of the index.  But I did, several times. And I now know that the little pointing hand in the margin is a manicule: ☞ (see also https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/manicules).

I did not realise that an index might be more than a handy tool.  In the course of Duncan’s account, we find out than an index can be so many other things.  For example, a means of revenge, a strange addition to fiction, or a way to satirise an author.  We get information on the first things organised by alphabet, the first page numbers, and all kinds of natty anecdotes.  One of my favourite bits is 19th century historian J. Horace Round’s extensive diss-fest index entry on his nemesis Professor Edward Freeman, which includes “his ‘certain’ history”, “misconstrues his Latin”, “his failure” and “his special weakness” (p. 14-15).

I am a fan of a good index.  They can drive you nuts if they are absent or shoddy.  Why would anyone make a travel book without at least a location index?  Am I supposed to memorise the location of every café that makes the best bath buns or Black Forest gateaux?  One of the most enjoyable I’ve seen recently is the one for Rob Halford’s Confess, in which the Judas Priest frontman’s life is summarised under the entry for Halford, Rob.  But this leads to another topic covered in the History, namely the suggestion that students might cheat (gasp) by reading only the index instead of the actual book. Another favourite is in Donald Knuth’s The Art of Computer Programming (volume 3 from 1973). He references “royalties, use of”, and this refers to the purchase of his dream pipe organ (see https://www-cs-faculty.stanford.edu/~knuth/organ.html).

Index, A History of the has been added to my list of relaxing and entertaining non-fiction that I have found helpful during the pandemic.  During the first lockdown, I realised that the most engaging reading I was doing was well written non-fiction on topics about which I knew nothing (lots of scope here, obviously).  Top hits for me were Born to Kvetch, Gathering Moss, and Entangled Life.

Make time to work your way through this book’s own index.  It is enormous fun and had me cackling.  This is what I’ll be getting for my bookish people for Christmas this year.

Review by Bethan

October 9, 2021

Bestsellers 2nd – 9th October

by Team Riverside

Sally Rooney – Beautiful World, Where Are You

Richard Osman – The Man Who Died Twice

Karina Lickorish Quinn – The Dust Never Settles

Sosuke Natsukawa – The Cat Who Saved Books

Caroline Criado Perez – Invisible Women

Shon Faye – The Transgender Issue

Roma Agrawal and Katie Hickey – How Was That Built?

Merlin Sheldrake – Entangled Life

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Pat Barker – The Women of Troy

Stanley Tucci – Taste: My Life Through Food

William Boyd – Trio

Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half

Bob Mortimer – And Away…

October 2, 2021

Bestsellers 25th September to 2nd October

by Team Riverside

Sally Rooney – Beautiful World, Where Are You

Roma Agrawal and Katie Hickey – How Was That Built?

Shon Faye – The Transgender Issue

Caroline Criado Perez – Invisible Women

Richard Osman – The Man Who Died Twice

Tom Chivers – London Clay

Maggie O’Farrell – Hamnet

Suzannah Clarke – Piranesi

Frank Herbert – Dune

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche – Notes on Grief

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half

Colson Whitehead – Harlem Shuffle

Bob Mortimer – And Away…

Marion Billet – Busy London