Books of the Year – Letters, Diaries, Biography & History

My favourite Non Fiction books of the year fall into one of these four categories. I often find that history & biography are hard to seperate as I read very little contemporary biography so the biographies I do read tend to be of historical figures. Letters & diaries are either from a historical period I’m interested in or written by an author whose work I enjoy.

Decca, the letters of Jessica Mitford, was one of the many books by the Mitford sisters I read this year. Jessica is the most likeable & sympathetic of the sisters to me & I loved reading her letters.

Nella Last is now one of the best-known diarists of WWII. She wrote her diaries for Mass Observation & kept writing after the War almost until her death. I read her WWII diaries a few years ago & this year read two more volumes, Nella Last’s Peace & Nella Last in the 1950s.

Alice Dudeney was one of my discoveries this year. A browse through an anthology of diarists led me to A Lewes Diary by Mrs Henry Dudeney. A famous novelist in her day, Alice is now completely forgotten. Her diary was rescued from the archives of a local Archaeological Society. I was completely absorbed in her life & tortured marriage.

I’ll list my favourite history & biography chronologically. Eleanor Butler is one of those shadowy medieval women who often slip through the cracks except when their story impinges on great events like the accession of Richard III. John Ashdown-Hill’s biography, Eleanor, the Secret Queen, rescues her from that obscurity.

The Days of Duchess Anne by Rosalind K Marshall was a book I’d had on the tbr shelves for years. I loved reading about the household of the Duchess of Hamilton & life in Scotland in the late 17th century.

Effie : A Victorian Scandal by Merryn Williams is the story of a marriage that went spectacularly wrong.

Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey is the story of the Fitzwilliam family of Wentworth House & the coal mines that created their fortune. A wonderful example of social history taking in the Fitzwilliams & their workers.

Well, there’s my list of best books of the year. I can’t wait to read your comments & visit my favourite blogs & read about everyone else’s favourites. Here’s to another great year of reading in 2011.

7 thoughts on “Books of the Year – Letters, Diaries, Biography & History

  1. Simon picked one of Nella Last's books for a favorite, too. I am not familiar with her, but now I am going to have to see if I can find her books over here! I also have Black Diamonds–it looks good as well! I'm going to post my favorites tomorrow. Have a great New Year, Lyn!

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  2. What an excellent category! Decca is probably my least favourite Mitford sister so I haven't really read that much by or about her. Not sure if I'll every remedy that but if I do I'll be sure to start with this volume! I read and enjoyed Black Diamonds a few years ago and am really looking forward to the Nella Last books!

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  3. Happy New year to you too, Dani! I don't know how easy Nella is to find in the US but there's always the Book Depository! Black Diamonds was a recommend from a couple of people in our online group so I could hardly go wrong, could I? Claire, I read a lot of Mitfordiana this year. I've just started Debo's Wait for me! after reading Simon's enthusiastic review so it looks like I'll be ending the year with the Mitfords. Have you read Jessica's Hons & Rebels? It might be a good place to start. A different slant on their childhood than Nancy's novels.

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  4. I am envious of the wide range of books you have read. I read very little historical, non fiction type books this year. Perhaps in 2011. And I definitely want to read Nella Last as well, after seeing it on the TV.

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  5. Brilliant picks! I have the Decca letters sitting back on my shelf in England and never got the chance to pick them up before I moved. I look forward to reading them now! I also am desperate to read the Nella diaries and I have Black Diamonds on my shelf at home too – long have I been meaning to read that! What an excellent list – very inspiring! You're making me long for my abandoned bookshelves!

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  6. Jo, I hope you enjoy Nella. I feel quite sad that there's no more to come but the three vols we do have are riches indeed. Thanks for dropping in Verity. Happy New Year & good luck with the Virago project & the wedding project next year. Booksnob, I hope you get back to your bookshelves some time this year. When my books were in boxes for a year or so waiting for bookshelves, the book I desperately needed to read was always in the last box I opened. At least all my books were in the house & not another country!

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