Take Courage by Samantha Ellis
By jove, Biggles by Peter Berresford Ellis & Piers Williams (Jennifer Schofield)
Non fiction always makes up a large part of my reading year and this year has started both strongly and interestingly with two very different biographies read for two very different reasons.
I picked up Take Courage by Samantha Ellis mainly because of how much I loved her book How to be a Heroine which I read back in 2014 and which ultimately made my best of the year list.
This book is a biography of the 'forgotten' Bronte - Anne and again I found it to be a book I couldn't put down - despite the only Bronte book I've every read being Jane Eyre!
The lack of knowledge of the books didn't matter as Ellis deftly wove enough of their plots into the biography to inform and pique curiosity but without giving away their entire plots. I also liked how we learned about the whole family, but from Anne's point of view, in this volume - again a brilliantly rounded picture appeared. For me the winning formula was how Ellis herself kept appearing in the book, it made it feel a wonderfully personal story and I think that before 2017 is out I will read at least Anne's books if not more by Charlotte. I'm afraid that Emily's Wuthering Heights still holds no appeal whatsoever.
The second biography I picked up recently was that of W E Johns, creator of Biggles. I expected this to be slightly more of a chore to read and indeed it is only because of work that I started it. The library service's World War One online project this year is going to have a slight aviation theme and I knew that Johns had trained pilots here in Norfolk during WW1.
My eyes were opened during this read, Johns' links to Norfolk were deeper than I thought (although I will write about that for work not here) and his biographers make a compelling case that he was far more liberal in outlook than he is given credit for.
I've just started my first Biggles book, set in WW1, and I can see already how much his own war is retold in the stories but I will have to report back later on the case of sexism etc., however as during WW2 he wrote a whole series of books about a female flying officer who did fly I think that perhaps he was more liberal than later critics say. The problem with the books is that they were updated/edited and republished in the 1960s and 1970s and so I wonder if this is where these ideas come from. I of course am on the lookout for the three different editions of at least one book so I can draw my own conclusions!
So there we have it not yet the end of January and two books reviewed here and also proof that you can enjoy biographies of authors you've not really encountered before - even if it becomes bad for your to-be-read piles and bank balance!