Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top 10 Books of 2011 - Non Fiction

It's time for my Top 10 lists of the year. First, Non Fiction. I've read some terrific Non Fiction this year with several of my Top 10 read in the last month. Here's the list, in no particular order. Follow the links to my original reviews.

Charles Dickens by Claire Tomalin. A marvellous biography of a complex man. An excellent introduction if you know nothing about Dickens & full of interesting detail for those who have read all the other biographies.

Magnificent Obsession by Helen Rappaport. I knew as I was reading this that it would make my Top 10. Again, there are hundreds of books about Victoria & Albert but Helen Rappaport's deep concentration on the crucial decade from 1861-1871 makes this special.

Memoirs of a Highland Lady by Elizabeth Grant. Along with The Highland Lady in Ireland, these two books provide a memorable portrait of life in Scotland & Ireland in the early 19th century. I was completely absorbed in Eliza's remarkable memories of her childhood & early married life.

Catherine Pope's Victorian Secrets is a wonderful publishing house specialising in reprinting 19th century fiction complete with new Introductions & contemporary reviews. One of the books published by Victorian Secrets this year was Notable Women Authors of the Day by Helen C Black. These interviews with now-forgotten authors are a fascinating insight into the literary life of the 1890s.

Behind Closed Doors by Amanda Vickery was an enlightening & unputdownable journey into the Georgian home. I especially remember the importance of wallpaper - the patterns, the colours were markers of social status. A beautifully illustrated & produced book by Yale University Press. I also loved the TV series of the book, At Home with the Georgians.

The Letters of T S Eliot Vol 2 1923-1825 was a book I'd waited 20 years for. That's how long ago Vol 1 came out. Full of detail about his editing, his struggles to leave the Bank & his worries about the health of his wife, Vivienne, I was fascinated.

An Autobiography by Anthony Trollope. This was one of those serendipitous reading choices that came from reading a review on another blog & taking the book from the tbr shelves where it had sat for far too long. Trollope was such a lovable man & his modesty & surprise at his success are very endearing. If you're interested in how writers write, especially Victorian writers, or in how a man can overcome a desperately unhappy childhood, you need to read this book.

Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence. Again, I picked this from the tbr shelves after reading an obituary of the author in the Jane Austen Society of Australia newsletter. Jon Spence looks at Jane's work through her knowledge of her family history & through her relationships with Tom Lefroy & her cousin, Eliza. A fresh look at a well-known story. This book proves that there are always new angles to explore in any life.

Graven with Diamonds by Nicola Shulman is about Sir Thomas Wyatt & his poetry. Not a conventional biography, Shulman looks at the way Wyatt wrote & how his poetry, with its obscure (to us) allusions, can illuminate the Court of Henry VIII. I love books about the less well-known corners of history & this book taught me about the way poetry was written & read in Tudor times.

Reading Montrose by C V Wedgwood was the result of reading one of Montrose's poems & posting it as a Sunday Poem earlier this month. The comments on the poem inspired me to take this book from the tbr shelves & I discovered a fascinating & ultimately tragic life story.

So, that's the list. If anything, it justifies my overflowing tbr shelves as four of these books had been sitting on the shelves for some years. Tomorrow, my Top 10 Fiction of 2011.


  1. Oh, so much here to tempt me! I really want to read the Vickery one now, especially.

  2. That's the fun of reading Top 10 lists though, isn't it? Adding to the tbr pile & the wishlist. I hope you can get hold of the Vickery, it's wonderful.

  3. Wonderful list! I've already got Magnificent Obsession and Trollope's An Autobiography on my wish list and can't wait to track them down!

  4. I need to read the Dickens bio. I've been in a Drood mood of late. That bothers me so much, its unfinished state.

    By the way, Lyn, you should check out my latest blog post. I usually do Golden Age mystery and more recent items, but I dedicated this one to the Victorians. You have such a great site for Vic Lit.

  5. You've reminded me that I still haven't read Graven with Diamonds!

  6. I'm thrilled to be included in your top ten! Thank you so much.

  7. What a wonderful list of books. I've fallen out of the way of reading non fiction and I really should start reading more. I picked up the Vickery in the library yesterday, and it looks both beautiful and intriguing

  8. A wonderful list. I particularly want to read Behind Closed Doors as the last two books I have read have been about two fascinating women of the period, Mary Eleanor Bowes and Georgiana the Duchess of Devonshire.

  9. Claire, they're both wonderful books, especially if you love the Victorians. Passing Tramp, I've just had a look at your post on Collins, Braddon & Farjeon. Very interesting & I agree with you that the Victorians sometimes anticipated elements of the Golden Age mysteries. Cornflower, Wyatt is such an interesting, melancholy character, I learned a lot from GWD. You're welcome Catherine, I'm looking forward to seeing what you publish next year. Fleurfisher & Bookish Space, Amanda Vickery will make you want to read even more about the 18th century after you've finished her book! I believe she's just done a documentary on Jane Austen, I hope we have a chance to see it here.