Emirates Literature Foundation Blog (ELF)

Reading To Forget: How Non-Fiction Helps Me Escape 

When fiction doesn't quite cut it... 

I was asked how books help me with my work and I couldn’t, for the life of me, think how they did. In my day job (waffling between the songs on Dubai 92) books aren’t the biggest of requirements. 

This was going to be a short blog entry.

What I do read for is to get lost. To disappear. To forget the DEWA bills, the school fees, the expanding waistline and the apparent apocalypse we’re living through this year. I read to ward-off these demons as well as my own. Inside my head is a brain working overtime but, sadly, not always on the healthiest of trajectories. I’ve tried yoga and I’ve tried meditation but those nagging itches of depression and worry are always there, refusing to be silenced. Determined to fill my head.

The only way to avoid these thoughts is to drown them out. That’s where books come in. And these days the books that do it for me are non-
fiction
. My gateway to non-fiction was Bill Bryson. We’ve enjoyed a twenty-five year relationship and rarely has he let me down. Funny,
knowledgeable, clumsy and honest, with a knack of hitting you right in the tear ducts with a dose of nostalgia. Mr. Bryson has expanded my mind
and filled my heart and I will be forever grateful.

I love diaries and journals. In the nineties it was Kenneth Williams, followed by my hero, Michael Palin (whom I was fortunate enough to meet and interview for the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature a few years ago). When I reach the end of a Michael Palin diary, it is heartbreaking to have to wait for the next. Earlier this year Michael released Erebus, an adventure on a theme I would normally have no interest in whatsoever but now cannot recommend highly enough. I must also confess to having a massive lit-crush on David Sedaris. Everything he commits to paper is amazing. Theft & Finding, his diaries, is engrossing and hilarious.

Over the last few years I’ve read as much Jon Ronson as possible. I love his style of investigative journalism, choice of subject matter and interview technique. The same goes for Louis Theroux, whose book Gotta Get Theroux This was a great read. Louis’s school friend, Adam Buxton is another of my addictions, normally via podcast but his recent Ramble Book was right up my street.

I have also read books this year that have moved me profoundly. I was with Raynor Winn every step of the way on The Salt Path. Tara Westover’s Educated is a mind-blowing account of growing up off-grid in America and a battle for survival where the predators were her own family. Joe Hammond’s A Short History of Falling broke my heart over and over again. And The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris is an epic story so remarkable, it’s all I talked about for weeks.

Finally I’d like to mention Laura Cumming’s On Chapel Sands. I bought it on a whim, knowing nothing about it. The book is a masterpiece, telling the story of her mother’s kidnapping as a small child. However, what I’ll never forget about this book is Laura’s skill in describing art and using it as a metaphor for her own story. As a result of this one-of-a-kind work, I have spent countless hours staring at Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. Read the book and you will, too.

I’d better stop. I have a feeling I’ve more than ran-over my allotted word count. Typical of a Radio Presenter to talk too much, right? 

Has your life been changed by a book you've read? Then try entering the Montegrappa Letter Writing Competition, or even the the Emirates LitFest Writing Prize. For more on the power of non-fiction, check out our interview with historian Bettany Hughes below!

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Simon, AKA Catboy, is probably more familiar to you in audio format, as the host of Dubai 92 with Catboy. He has a quirky sense of humour and outlook on life and how to get the most out of it. To find out more about his reading habits, you can find him on Twitter (@catboy92) where he is always up for a chat or a recommendation.