Out of Five Cats – October

Out of Five Cats: October

Welcome to Out of Five Cats!

Here at The Book Shelf, we love reading, publishing, and cats. So, let’s combine all three—at the end of each month, we will post a roundup of our nonfiction reads for you to sample.

This October we read some extraordinary nonfiction books, some being new releases and others long overdue.

The Ruin of All Witches: Life and Death in the New World by Malcolm Gaskill

Malcolm Gaskill – The Ruin of All Witches

The first read of October is Malcolm Gaskill’s October 2021 release, which was shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize and was a BBC History, Sunday Times, and Times Book of the Year. I had high hopes, having read his book Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy, and was not disappointed.

Gaskill writes history with the highest class, research, and imaginative language, which transports you into a profoundly atmospheric narrative in which you learn about, experience, and empathise with the past.

In the style of microhistory of a young woman in the marginalised new-world community of Springfield, Gaskill illustrates how Puritan panic soured the religious freedom of 17th-century settlers. Crop failure, disease, freezing winters, and Native American strife—all agents of Satan to the Puritan fearmongers who ultimately failed the lives of Mary, Hugh, and William.

I rate this book 4/5 cats.

– Shelby

The Black Period: On Personhood, Race, and Origin by Hafizah Augustus Geter

Having read Hafizah Geter’s debut poetry collection Un-American and found her writer’s voice unique and imaginative, unbound by form or genre, I had to read her origin story. This book is groundbreaking and haunting, with beautiful prose that makes you empathise with her life’s journey. Geter celebrates her personhood as layers of queerness, disability, Islam and Blackness, mainly due to Americanisation erasing aspects of her identity. I read this book in two days and feel changed for doing so.

I rate this book 5/5 cats.

– Shelby

Hafizah Geter – The Black Period

This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay

Adam Kay – This Is Going to Hurt

I must admit, I wasn’t keen to read this book when my book club selected it. It didn’t seem like my cup of tea, and I planned to skim-read to get the gist. But just a few pages in, I was laughing out loud and completely agreeing with Dr Adam Kay. It turned out that I liked the book more than anyone else at book club, which was a turn-up for the…er…well…books.

I enjoyed everything about this book—from the quick diary format to his dark humour and complete honesty. He conveys each story without identifying his patients. And how he describes his experiences. Some bits are gory and gross (unsurprisingly, considering his job). So yes, some bits are repetitive. But this book is essential because it shows what life in the NHS is like.

Adam shines an authentic light on the under-pressure NHS, revealing things that only some people want to see about their health service. His story shows that the NHS is running on the goodwill of overworked and often exhausted staff, yet nobody is doing anything about it. The book was published in response to the government trying to scapegoat junior doctors for the NHS’s failings, and it’s certainly a good argument against their notion.

If nothing else, this book is an education for the government and the public. Hopefully, it will be a lesson that comes early enough.

I rate this book 4/5 cats.

– Ameesha

How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division by Elif Shafak

Elif Shafak’s How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division is an engaging, meaningful, and easily accessible manifesto that pulls you into an essential yet overlooked conversation about how we live.

Weaving together her talent for storytelling with scientific, political, and historical observations, Shafak meditates on how contemporary anxieties create tension within our communities. An accomplished Turkish novelist, political theorist, and activist, she looks out at the world around us—our different identities, experiences, and opinions—and asks: how can we move forward collectively in a positive direction despite all of the divisions that exist between us?

Elif Shafak – How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division

The personal anecdotes Shafak shares in the manifesto provide a concrete frame of reference for the many arguments in the tiny book. She explores the nature and concept of belonging, how our identities are shaped and reshaped throughout our lives, the idea of collective responsibility and loneliness, and the value of storytelling—specifically, the role storytelling plays in bringing society closer towards understanding.

At only 90 pages, How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division can be read (and re-read) in less than a day, but the considerations Shafak places with the reader transcend what can be contained in those few pages. So, whether you’re already a nonfiction fan or looking for a way to get into it, this is a rewarding read.

I rate this book 5/5 cats.

– Peri

That’s it for this month! What nonfiction have you read recently? Let us know on Twitter or Instagram. Here are some books we’re excited for and hoping to read in November:

Stay tuned for the next blog and make sure to follow us on social media for a reminder in case you forget!