Book review – Allison Pearson – “How Hard Can it Be?” #netgalley #books #amreading

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I must have read Pearson’s having-it-all novel, “I Don’t Know How She Does It” before I started this blog (originally on LiveJournal) as I can’t find a review of it on here. I remembered it as being light reading and mis-remembered it as including an actual affair, but I was intrigued enough to request this sequel from NetGalley when it came to my attention. In this novel, we meet Kate and her family a few years on, and it features all sorts of up-to-the-minute issues around social media, the sandwich generation and coping with ageing, just as of-its-time as the original.

We pick up with Kate Reddy as she’s 49, her husband has become one of those annoying cycling-obsessives who cares more about his bike and lycra than he does about his family, her son communicates more with his mates across the ether than with them, her daughter takes a ‘belfie’ and regrets it, and both sets of parents are ageing dramatically and heart-breakingly: she is thus part of the ‘sandwich generation’ caught between the needs of those above and below her in the family.

Quite a lot of the set pieces on not being able to cope with new technologies (I am a few years younger than the heroine and not so flummoxed, so this read a bit oddly to me), elderly parents and kids today felt a little  bit cliched, kind of making her the Tony Parsons / Angry Old Woman of commercial fiction. This might be a bit harsh, but I expected a little more subtlety. However, there are some brave and shocking parts to the book (the scene involving a sudden period is not for the faint-hearted but is unique as far as I know and probably entirely necessary [note: you can get a lovely mini-pill from the doctor that sorts out this kind of thing and she does discuss HRT, legal and shady]) and there are some really lovely turns of phrase, for example, when at a university reunion, they discover one old friend has had cancer: “Deb and I both reach out to her as if she, or we, were falling, and put our hands on her arms”. She is good in general on the nuances of female friendship.

There’s a cheeky nod to her first title at one point and fans will cheer when Kate appears to finally get what she’s wanted for some time, or gets one over on her very silly boss. And there’s a real crusading feeling about a) helping younger women not make the same mistakes and b) reflecting women’s experience of peri/menopause back to them in a work of commercial fiction for which real credit is due (she worked with a menopause expert and campaigner to get these details just right). The reader is one step ahead of the narrator at quite a few points in the book and this gives a satisfying read. Essential if you want to know what happened to the family from “I Don’t Know How She Does It”. And the animals are OK.

Thank you to HarperFiction for providing a review copy electronically for an honest review.

Book haul #amreading #books #bookconfessions #AusReadingMonth #IMReadalong

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Yesterday I wasn’t happy with my book review and didn’t want to tag on fun-packed book haul stuff. So here’s what has arrived in Dexter Towers over the last week or so.

So, first off, we have Colleen McCullough’s “The Ladies of Missalonghi”. Look at its cute bookmark! I ordered this one second-hand because the lovely Brona’s Books is having an Australian Reading Month in November – I never seem to manage to join in with this, and Brona is going to take part in my Iris Murdoch challenge, so it seemed only fair to take part! It’s a slim volume and looks like a good read – I think a few of us will be reading it in the first week of the month.

Talking book challenges, I’ve ordered brand new copies of the first five books for my Iris Murdoch Readalong. I was a tiny bit disappointed to see that they’ve all been made out of the original text blocks, so they don’t match and some of the text is pretty small. But they do have lovely new cover illustrations (and, let’s face it, some over the years have been seriously odd: I’m going to want participants to share their cover art as we do each book!) and each has a new Introduction, something that’s missing from all of my original paperbacks.

Now for two that took a while to come.

I feel like I ordered this AGES ago. “What Editors Do: The Art, Craft and Business of Book Editing” edited by Peter Ginna would be an interesting read anyway. But there’s a chapter by my edibuddy Katharine O’Moore-Klopf, so how could I not buy? Except it’s published in the US, they’ve all had their copies forever, and Amazon kept sending me upset little emails saying it was having trouble ordering it until they all of a sudden produced it and gave it to my next-door neighbour while I was otherwise engaged running a marathon!

I won “Running the Smoke: 26 First-Hand Accounts of Tackling the London Marathon” by Michael McEwan in a Runners’ Bookshelf Facebook group I’m in, quite a while ago. Now, I’m not one to complain about competitions being run slowly, because it took me an age to sort out the one I ran recently, not to mention some BookRings for BookCrossing. It could have been bad timing that it arrived two days after my own (second) marathon, but I’m all enthused and ready for the next one (Manchester, in April) so it’ll be a nice inter-marathon read. And the author signed it, which is nice.

A few naughties crept onto my Kindle via NetGalley when I was away, too. It’s when they send you those emails!

Debbie Macomber – “An Engagement in Seattle” – I can’t resist her, basically. Published 26 Dec 2017.

P.Z Reizin – “Happiness for Humans” – a woman with an AI assistant find it’s giving her tips on finding a man. I’m always interested in how novels absorb new world events and technologies: is this the first “Alexa” novel? Published 04 Jan 2018 and there’s a reviewing embargo until 2 weeks before the publishing date.

A.J. Pearce – “Dear Mrs Bird” – set in 1940, Emmy answers an advert to become assistant to an agony aunt as bombs rain down in London and kindness is needed. Looked cute. Published 05 Apr 2018.

Georgette Heyer – “Snowdrift and other Stories” – short stories by Heyer? I  had no idea until I read about it on She Reads Novels‘ blog, and I just had to seek out and request it. Published 03 Oct 2017 and next to read, I just can’t wait!


Fortunately, because of my great swathe of reading done while resting up before the marathon, my TBR shelf is looking pretty much the same as it was at the start of the month. Oh, and the Murdochs and MacCullough haven’t gone on the actual shelf as they will be read out of order.

Have you read or acquired any of these? How is YOUR TBR looking?

Book review – Lynsey Hanley – “Respectable” and many book confessions

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I’m not sure how, but books have been flooding into the house. Well, some of them are for Reasons, one is for a challenge and two are slight blasts from the past. A book review first, though, which I’ve kind of been putting off because I’ve found it quite hard to review. You know when a book is quite challenging, and then also you’re part of the problem it’s writing about, and you feel like in writing about it, you’ll display all your privileges and be even more part of the problem? That. I’ll give it a go, though.

Lynsey Hanley – “Respectable: The Experience of Class”

(21 January 2017, from Sian)

I have to say, Sian does choose a good book from my (extensive) wish list!

Like her writing and sociology hero, Richard Hoggart, Lynsey Hanley mines both her own lived experience and research by others to investigate the class system in the UK, and specifically social mobility from the working class to the middle class, the path she herself has taken.

As a solidly middle-class person, it opened my eyes to my own privileges: that however poor I’ve been, and I’ve been pretty poor, working in a low-status job on a zero-hours contract, I have always still felt confident to access – or reject – both high and low culture, to use my library, to go to art galleries and listen to classical CDs as well as going to gigs, to read the Guardian and understand its talking to me, with few complications. As she says, you can’t really fall down out of the middle-class, however much you either think or fear you can. She does also make the point that middle-class people are as stuck as others and have disadvantages too, and I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve tried to maintain the class system, certainly not to promote the leadership of the country by the aristocracy, but I probably have been well-meaning, blundering and patronising, and if I’ve done that to any working class-identifying people, I’m sorry.

The author lays out how the working class – often now referred to at least in part as the underclass in order to keep them down and despised – is trapped by poor investment and a lack of larger-picture thinking, so that there’s a mismatch between god social housing and jobs, for example. Her discussions with an old middle-class friend, met at sixth form college, are poignant, and her explanations of why and how people get trapped and seem not to care or to want to free themselves compelling and upsetting.

The only problem really here is that I can’t see what can be done about this, so it’s a dispiriting read: in “bettering” herself, Hanley has left herself poised in a terrible balance, never able to go back home, but also feeling like an imposter in her new class. It seems so eternal and damning, and that’s fine, maybe it is. Maybe I got so depressed reading it that I missed the solutions, however I am now more aware of what is being manipulated in the media, and why some people act the way I do. I hope I always had compassion, and I’m not one of the patronising throng!

An interesting read that I’m glad I tackled, and I don’t feel I’ve done it justice here unfortunately.


I feel like this isn’t a good review and I might even delete it, so I’m going to save the pretty books for tomorrow, as it seems trite to display my conspicuous consumption here, as well. I’ve read Allison Pearson’s new novel now, too: backlog time!

Race Report – Birmingham International Marathon 15 October 2017

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I thought I’d better get this written down before I forgot it – I will forget to add some people’s names, and I’m sorry about that.

Yesterday, I completed the inaugural Birmingham International Marathon (there was a Birmingham marathon in the 1980s – more on that later). I had signed up for it a year in advance, then my training hit a bit of a rock in the road when I had to have some medical treatment this May. I knew that I hadn’t had enough time to get strength and conditioning training in as well as endurance running training in, and right up until the day, I wasn’t sure I had the physical resilience to complete it reasonably comfortably. I was prepared to take walk breaks and do what I needed to in order to get myself round in one piece.

Thanks here to all the people who kindly trained with me even though they don’t run so far (some of them) or so slowly (some of the same, and others). I did quite a few long runs with my friend Trudie and was thrilled to see her and so many others achieve their first marathons.

Before the race

I travelled to the race with my clubmate and neighbour Claire – I think I surprised her partner, who I’d never met before, by announcing “I’ve been to the loo enough times”. Runners are like this. We picked up Karen from nearby and drove to Alexander Stadium in Perry Barr – this was not as bad as at the start of the first Birmingham Half but needed some expert local knowledge. Thanks to Sam for the lift and pre-race photo: Karen, me and Claire. The halo effect is my hair – I had it dyed in orange stripes for the occasion as our running club colours are orange and black.

Claire’s amazing ability to find a nice loo worked really well, we found some good ones in the stadium and then hung out there, gathering other Lions as we went, and saying hello to friends from other clubs.

The start

The start was on the running track at the stadium – where amazing people like Mo Farah have run, what a privilege. We saw the Red start (fastest people, starting an hour earlier than us) go off as we arrived. When we went down to the start there were pens for your predicted finish; although this couldn’t be regulated it worked pretty well and I slotted into the 5:30-6:00 with some friends.

Trudie, Sam, me, Helen Claire at the start (Trudie’s photo)

View as we queued to start (Trudie’s photo)

We shuffled forward in that way that always reminds me of the digestive system, sets of us moving then stopping, we saw 106-year-old Fauja Singh BEM who was starting us off (the world’s oldest marathon runner) and we were off! The bit on the track led to a narrow part that was fine, then a weird side-sloping path down to the main road which was a bit tricky to navigate. 

Into town and out of town.

The first section undulated over a dual carriageway which made it really hard to judge pace. At one point I thought I’d gone too fast here but I think I judged it OK as you always slow in the second half and I had energy for a sprint finish. I was overtaken by Scott Lucas, who I’ve known for around 25 years (who’d have thought, 25 years ago etc) who must have got there late as should have started in front of me. I was thrilled to see my friend Gill at the Barton’s Arms pub in Newtown, waving my orange and black bobble hat and cheering us all on – the support was low along here so that was very welcome, as was seeing parkrun mate Feargal walking along the side of the road. I enjoy a weird road section so this was all OK. I also saw my friend Lesley, who’d done the Loch Ness Marathon a few weeks ago! She was running with a 100 Marathons Club person and had a whale of a time. We kept encountering each other for a few miles.

Mile 1 12:16

Mile 2 13:01

Mile 3 12:24

Once in town, we went through Aston University Campus; the cameras from the Made in Birmingham channel were there and I shamelessly showboated and shouted the club’s name. I met a nice couple of runners from the Shropshire Shufflers and ran with them for a bit; I’d lost Trudie and Sam slightly behind me but they caught up with me here and we ran together until Highgate.

Mile 4 12:47 (this had a horrible out and back to make up the distance but I saw Trudie and Sam)

Mile 5 12:25 (down under the bridge into Digbeth)

Digbeth and Highgate

This was not very International Marathon. There was little support, such that we got thrilled when a man gave us a thumbs-up. We ran round where the skips live – hooray! The course was very wiggly and it had been hard to work out it in training, so that was easier. There was no line marked on the road to follow, which was a bit weird.

Mile 6 12:14 (what? This was UP Digbeth High Street, but a drop in elevation in total!)

Mile 7 12:54

After Digbeth it was into Highgate / Balsall Heath – quite a lot more support especially on this first loop, with clubmates out in force on Willows Road. At this point, Duncan from club overtook us. I thought he had started late then realised he was lapping us! He got an under 3 hour marathon, so this was to be expected.

There was a water station before Willows Road – a lady shouting instructions called my by name (I had Elizabeth on my bib) and it was my old friend from the gym, Zippy! Lisa from running club was also at the water station, which I had expected, and it was lovely to see her, too.

Mile 8 12:48 (keeping nice and consistent to my 13:00 mm plan)

Cannon Hill Park and out past the cricket ground (1)

Coming into CHP I had lost touch with Trudie and Sam but could still see them. I knew the cheering station for KHRC was there, and also YES spotted my friends Ali and Meg outside the tea rooms! Fabulous and Ali took a lovely photo of me running through this park I seem to be always in. Then the cheer station – wonderful – a sea of faces so that I got anxious looking for Jenny and missed some people. Jenny had my fuel bag and got me gels and a bottle of lucozade sport out and took my salomon squash bottle off me.

Fuelling: I took a gel or food once every 45 minutes as planned. Around 400ml of squash in the first 8 miles then a 500ml bottle of lucozade sport that I topped up at water stations, and I also had a gulp of water at any water stations where I’d just had a gel. I didn’t use the loo or get dehydrated or thirsty, and, like last time, only hit mental, not physical walls.

Across the bridge and through the car park and then round the cricket ground car park … in last year’s half it was full of support and sound systems, this year, nothing. I tried to encourage someone from the red wave on who was suffering.

Mile 9 12:15 (Downhill and cheering station excitment!)

Coming out of the cricket ground, I was expecting more friends, I’d been chatting to a bloke running for John Taylor Hospice and telling him I was watching out for a daffodil, and just after a charity support bus there were Lis and Andy Yu, Welsh Lis resplendent in her daffodil hat. Andy took a great couple of pics of me here – thank you!

Mile 10 12:40

Now we were onto the Pershore Road and the real chance to see loads and loads of running friends, from club, other clubs and parkrun. This was wonderful and really gave me something to concentrate on. However, my bum and inner thighs were starting to pain me here. I did some extra hip stretches at yoga on Friday (entirely my decision) and I think this was a mistake. I started to drop speed from now.

Pershore Road Loop (1)

This was a hard part of the course. You ran all the way to Bournville down the Pershore Road (seeing other runners going back up the other side, until the zig-zag they took away from the road) then UP Mary Vale Road, down Linden Road, and down Bournville Lane, rejoining Pershore Road then going up the hill of Selly Park Road and down Kensington Road, rejoining Pershore Road (seeing fellow runners on their second loop) ALL THE WAY UP to nearly the ring road, then down through Highgate again.

But, I did see people I knew every half-mile or more. There were individuals outside houses, there were stray Bournville Harriers and Kings Heath Running Club folks, there were people from Run and Talk and parkrun, and this made it much more fun.

Mile 11 13:01

It got quite hard when there was no one going up the other side of the road. Still Up the hill towards Mary Vale then up Mary Vale. I told myself if I ran it this time, I could walk it next time. Fine. Made much better by seeing running club friend Sam yelling my name and encouraging me, then zipping back to Bournville Lane to cheer me again!maintaining my pace.

Mile 12 13:31 ()

Down Linden Road and Bournville Lane. This is where I saw a bevy of Kings Heath folks and Alan from Run and Talk which really spurred me on. It was much better supported here than other years, I felt. That was my last under 13:00 minute mile until Mile 22. I got to the 14 point (on my watch, which was out from the signs) in exactly 3 hours, so realised I had 3 hours to do 12 miles (15 minute miles) to get in under my PB. This seemed doable and it was easy to judge in 15-minute intervals how well I was doing against that.

Mile 13 12:33

There was a water table outside Masala Merchant along here. I asked the man serving people to pop some water in my lucozade bot

tle. All the while, my friend Louise was hopping up and down trying to get my attention. I turned, saw her: hooray!

Mile 14 13:31 (A mile of ups and downs, up Selly Park Road and down Kensington Road. See Mary Vale for my bargain with my future walking self. However, Bournville Harriers’ cheer station was at the top and my goodness they put on a good wall of sound, with cowbells and calling me by name – wonderful!)

Mile 15 13:19 (Picking it up again when I realised I was losing my pace, back onto Pershore and seeing others on their second loop.)

Mile 16 13:50 (Round again – we saw the sign, Marathon Loop or Finish, and obviously chose loop. Argh! A slightly dark moment.)

Cannon Hill Park and out by the cricket ground (2)

It was hard going round again. Although some families and kids were still out in Highgate, I saw Zippy and Lisa again at the water station and the lovely blokes from the fruiterers on Willows Road were there, the club supporters had gone into town to see people to the end (fair enough!) and when I got into Cannon Hill Park, it looked like Ali and Meg had also gone (they hadn’t, they had missed me by believing when I said I’d be coming through again. Finding out they did try to see me was a big boost, weirdly, afterwards). But I did see the Boldmere Bullets and Swifts cheering stations and had a sweet from Richard Swifts which helped get me to the KHRC cheering station.

At the cheering station, it was just as amazing, lots of people had gone to run the half marathon, others into town to catch people finishing, but one fast marathon man had come back to the park to cheer others on – how wonderful! Jenny leapt out at me as I shouted “Banana and hot cross bun!” She’d got the banana peeled by the time I reached her and although I had a horrible feeling I’d chomped it out of her hand, I did in fact break it off politely. Emma rushed up to check I was OK, I wailed, “I’ve lost my pace!” and pressed on.

Through the MAC car park, past people singing Crazy In Love which had to be joined in with, along by the abandoned ghostbusters car and I encountered my Shropshire Stumblers friends again. In the wastes of the cricket ground I came up behind an older chap in a “People’s Marathon 1982” vest – yes, he’d run the original Birmingham Marathon, how wonderful.

Mile 17 13:54 (Uphill, a bit lonely.)

Mile 18 13:39 (Downhill, a pause by the cheer station, then willed on by them.)

Pershore Road (2) and the half-marathon catches us

Onto the Pershore Road and bloody well along it again, however there was a couple singing an Erasure song which really cheered me. still seeing friends on the other side which was the lift I needed. Far fewer spectators now but as we were so spread out, a lot calling my name. This helps so much! I saw lovely Allie Livesley and husband Tim, who I’d cheered through the red start, which was a huge bonus.

Mile 19 13:55

I’d told myself I wasn’t allowed to walk until after I’d walked in the Reykjavik Marathon, which I thought was mile 14 and was actually Mile 12. Things were hurting now – bum, inner thighs, hams, calves – and when I got to the 19 mile marker I collapsed briefly into huge, racking sobs. I walked and two lovely ladies from Bromsgrove talked me through it. They were amazing and I am very grateful to them. I got going again, but that was hard as every single person in front of and behind me seemed to be walking. I tried to get people to run with me, to no avail, but set off again, slightly grimly.

Mile 20 15:12 (slowest mile. Slowest mile in Iceland was 15:38 and I had two over 15:00 minute miles.)

Then, two motorbikes zoomed past on almost the narrowest part of Pershore Road, flanking what looked like Will who often comes first at parkrun, the front runner in the half-marathon which started at 1.30. Then a bicycle with a rider shouting Keep Left. I immediately moved to the left and tried to tell other walkers / runners to do so, unfortunately many of them had headphones on. I was in marshal mode then I was all do your own race, Liz, so thought, but somehow shouted, “Not my circus: not my monkeys” and just carried on.

As we went round the Bournville Loop, the half-marathoners came thicker and faster. It was quite scary, and got more so as they rushed down Bournville Lane and onto Pershore Road. I want to emphasise here that it was not good for us OR them, and I felt for them as they had to negotiate people who were often right across the road, going slowly. Even people like me keeping well left could present an obstacle. But for me, I was running my race, trying hard and had people zooming past, almost running into me, and I was very scared at this point. Thank goodness, the lovely Becks from running club raced across the road, resplendent in her orange hoody, and ran beside me to keep me safe – she’d done this for a few of us who all came through one after the other. Amazingly timed and hugely appreciated.

Mile 21 14:31 (Up Mary Vale Road. But hooray, my friend (and fellow-runner) Daisy was on the corner with a cheerful shout!)

Mile 22 12:57 (Not bad for Mile 22! Down Bournville Lane. I was with a chap running for Macmillan who had a stress fracture: hope he did OK.)

Along Pershore again and Louise again – slightly less energetic this time:

Also, not many spectators!

Then it was up Selly Park Road – and BVH again, thank goodness. Stacey and Emma cheered me through and I ran up their bit of hill after walking up the main bit. Down again and more Pershore Road. But soon enough though we reached the split off point! I was however running in the left-hand gutter all the way, stepping into drains regularly, to keep out of the way of half-marathon runners. This took a real toll on my left knee and ankle. I did encourage (boss) half-marathoners who had stopped with a cheery, “I’ve run shedloads further than you and I’m old enough to be your MOTHER, come ON!” I was playing tag with a fellow KHRCer here (Ken?) who was working hard, too.

Mile 23 13:49 (Up and down, so not bad. At this point I knew I had my PB if nothing bad happened.)

Mile 24 13:33 (Last time, too, I felt stronger in the last miles, and enjoyed them. Apart from running in the gutter.)

Splitting off and the end game

Having seen the sweeper van going down Pershore Road (not on the same side as me), we pushed on to the gantry and this time took the Finish direction – straight on into town. This was a slower mile as I did tire a bit and was aching and still in the gutter. I kept saying it was OK to walk but I didn’t, I just kept trotting slowly on.

Mile 25 14:08 (This was slightly downhill so hm.)

Then it was time to finish! Well, I knew by now that my watch was coming up with the mile marker about 0.3-0.4 of a mile before each physical mile marker, so I’d be doing over 26.2 miles all told, so I kept pushing. Town came up fast, up through Digbeth and then eeeech up a tight slope by Selfridges onto Moor Street. I was gritting my teeth but enjoying it, big crowds, lots of shouts and I RAN up that bit, amazingly. Then there was a downhill and I was cry-laughing and got lots of shouts for being that kind of cry-laughing person finishing a marathon.

Except it didn’t finish. It went up again. My watch registered 26 miles. 26 miles showed up, still we went and went. I shouted “Where’s the effing finish?” sorry, I did. I think it might have moved on the map when they changed the route slightly at Balsall Heath Road. It went up. I checked my watch – coming up for 5:50:00 so all OK (previous PB was 6:01:12}. Push push, don’t cry, look for Matthew. I felt like I was flying and my last half-mile was a very good speed for me so I think I judged it OK in the end, even though I slowed for the second half. I saw Matthew, hooray, and didn’t shout any weird requests at him (last time, I asked him to take a photo of a random Alaskan … ). Couldn’t see the end, then there’s the end, showboat for cameras, look up as you come through the finish for the video, press the button on the watch, done!

Mile 26 13:47 (But a GAP of 12:50, a pace that allows for hills. Yo.)

Mile 26.4 11:57 (26.48 miles on the Garmin. Pleased I did have a kick at the end.)

You might be able to view a video replay of the route here.

Finish

The finish was quite well-organised. We were corralled into Marathon on the left, Half-Marathon on the right and I got my goody bag (plastic bag with water, Randoms sweets, a Trek bar, the usual leaflets and some seed cereal topping, a foil cape and a medal and tshirt). I then found Trudie, Dave, Sam and Helen, Trudie, Sam and Helen had come through together a few minutes before me. I went off to find Matthew and inhaled my banana and banana milk then we picked our way round the crowds (very tall man: “Did you do the full? Congratulations!”) and got the bus home.

There was a curry that night that we hobbled up to – lots of chat and “Did you see” and well dones. Everyone did so well and it was a privilege to see so many people achieve their first marathon. I have raised over £500 so far for the Birmingham Women’s Hospital charity which I’m very pleased about, too.

Result and thoughts

My time was 05:52:23 so an almost 9-minute Personal Best. I came in position 4769 out of 5203 marathon runners, which put me at the 91.65% of finishers (up from 1279 out of 1306 or 97.93% last time).

I had little chafing, thanks to the amazing product, Body Glide, and no blisters. My ankle and knee are a little sore, but not swollen or damaged as far as I can tell. I have inexplicable bicep and elbow pain in the arm that was not holding my drink.

Would I do another marathon? Yes. Would I do this one again? Not with this route or organisation between marathon and half-marathon.

It was MUCH easier doing my second marathon. I had my fuelling and hydration sorted out already and knew I could do it. I ran up more hills and did more yoga this time, and ran more in general, and all this served me well.

It was less scenic than Iceland of course, but the local support was aMAZing. Thanks to all who sponsored and supported me in whatever way. And sorry to anyone I’ve left out of this account!

 

 

Book reviews – Phil Hewitt – “Keep on Running”, Joel H. Cohen – “How to Lose a Marathon” and Lisa Jackson – “Your Pace or Mine?” #amreading #amrunning

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A little bit of a themed read and post today, and by the time this is published, I’ll have run and completed my second marathon, the Birmingham International Marathon [edited to add, I did it!]. This is the first time we’ve had a marathon in my home city since the 80s (some of my running friends ran those ones!) so it’s pretty special and exciting, and as a result of this, lots of my running pals have been inspired to run their first marathon, and someone’s worked out that over 1% of the whole field will be made up of our running club! I’ve been reading or re-reading a few marathon-themed books in the run-up (ha) to the event, so here’s a little cluster of reviews (two full, one re-read and a little mention, so hopefully not too much of a reading marathon (groan)).

Phil Hewitt – “Keep on Running”

(22 March 2017)

Subtitled “The Highs and Lows of a Marathon Addict”, this is the story of one man taking up (only) marathon running (I think he does one half), with a chapter each on some of the major and smaller races he’s taken part in. It does read like a series of race reports once he’s got the basic training in – because that’s what it essentially is – but they are interesting.

I loved the mentions of how the mass runners are racing with the elites, giving a real contrast as well with the fact that he usually trained alone. He talks of the anoraky way that you need to add up your timings in a race, and it was interesting to read about the usefulness but also joy-sapping nature of the Garmin GPS watch, which came in part way through his running career. I’ve gone from stopwatch to Garmin but I try to use the Garmin to keep a record and make sure I’m not overdoing it, but he becomes a bit addicted to watching his pace, one that’s very much faster than mine, I admit!

His notes on big city runs needing good quality routes hit home a bit when I thought of the somewhat “our industrial heritage gone to seed” and “here is this same stretch of road four times” nature of the Birmingham International Marathon: he definitely wouldn’t like our one! But I loved his different reactions to routes depending on his mood and the conditions going in – it’s very much a true and warts and all story.

Most of all, although he usually runs sub-4 hour marathons, I loved his sincere admiration for his father in law, Michael, and all the other runners who are out on the course for many more hours than he is (although he does talk about older or compromised runners which undermines that a little) and his description of Michael’s wonderfully supportive running club. His best race experience and the most heart-warming part of the book is when he witnesses Michael coming through the end of the Berlin marathon being interviewed by the press and to huge cheers from the crowd.

A bit blokey in parts and honest, but a decent read with a lot of recognisable stuff.

Joel H. Cohen – “How to Lose a Marathon”

(23 August 2017)

A book about another unfit man’s running journey and path to the New York Marathon, with the end of the book being devoted to the race report. The author is so self-deprecating about his “terrible” running and writing that it all gets a bit laboured, but there are genuinely funny moments, too. He says it’s the book he wanted to read when he started running and didn’t know what to do, and has useful explanations of terminology and some good points about training, although not set out in a way that would particularly help someone else (he records his own marathon training mileage with funny comments, but not really a standard one for someone to follow, for example, which is fine). I think basically he wanted a book that told him a real person could run, and this certainly does this (although his so slow he’s almost going backwards speed is actually the highest end of my speed spectrum with a fair wind and not for 26 miles). I do love that his main aim is to beat Oprah’s marathon time.

I liked his espousal of other running books, and the startling discovery, reading “Born to Run” (which I bought just the other week), that people actually enjoy running! And I loved his practice of popping some small mints into his pocket and bringing them out as “Hill Pills” that will magically help him up hills, something I might well try out. His nuggets of wisdom are great, too (you can’t run 5 miles until you’ve run 4, bad runs happen to good people, etc.) and he’s genuinely emotional and celebratory about the achievements of the people who come in behind him in the marathon: he’s at his best when he ditches the very silly stuff.

Lisa Jackson – “Your Pace or Mine?”

(25 July 2016)

A re-read of this excellent, wonderful book, which allayed my fears as a slow runner before my Reykjavik Marathon last year (with a much smaller field, I really could have come last; I didn’t) and was very helpful for calming any nerves this time round, too. I would recommend this to anyone who likes a running book. Sections on what running has taught Lisa about, for example, not giving up, lifesaving (but who saves whom?) and dreaming big are capped with other people’s real life stories, and there are laughs, tears and smiles of recognition throughout. I can’t think of a better book to re-read in the run-up to the big race.

A longer and more detailed review from last year’s first read can be found here.

The Dorling Kindersley Complete Running & Marathon

(some time earlier in the year)

Matthew picked this up for me from the Book People table at his work and I will admit to not having read all of it, but the section on marathon day was excellent, full of good, calm and sensible advice. I will go through all the stretching and other sections another time, but I do recommend this for newbie and experienced runners.

The Great Iris Murdoch Readalong Project November 2017 – December 2019 @IrisMurdoch #IMreadalong

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It’s here! I can’t wait! I just can’t! Attending the Iris Murdoch Society Conference in September reminded me that I haven’t re-read her novels for ages. So I decided to do so, starting in January 2018. And then I couldn’t wait. So I’m going to start in November 2017 (there are 26 novels, so that will take us nicely to December 2019. Whoo hoo! Christmas fun with … ah).

I’ve created a hashtag for use on Twitter which didn’t already exist! Use #IMreadalong when you share your blog posts.

And please comment here if you’re taking part.

How will it work?

I’ll post about the book at the start of each month then do a round-up of reviews at the end of the month, so comment on the starter post or, if you blog yourself, post a link to your review on the starter post each time and I’ll pull them all together at the end of each month. Feel free to add comments and reviews after the month in question if you get a bit behind, and no one has to read them all. There are no rules!

I am NOT doing any kind of academic study on this. I’ve promised myself that this is ONLY FOR FUN. But I am doing this as a re-read and so I’m particularly interested if you’re re-reading one or all of the books in your thoughts on it being a re-read, what has changed in your reading of the book over the years, etc. Do bring that out in your comment or blog post!

November 2017 Under the Net (1954)

December 2017 The Flight from the Enchanter (1956)

January 2018 The Sandcastle (1957)

February 2018 The Bell (1958)

March 2018 A Severed Head (1961)

April 2018 An Unofficial Rose (1962)

May 2018 The Unicorn (1963)

June 2018 The Italian Girl (1964)

July 2018 The Red and the Green (1965)

August 2018 The Time of the Angels (1966)

September 2018 The Nice and the Good (1968)

October 2018 Bruno’s Dream (1969)

November 2018 A Fairly Honourable Defeat (1970)

December 2018 An Accidental Man (1971)

January 2019 The Black Prince (1973)

February 2019 The Sacred and Profane Love Machine (1974)

March 2019 A Word Child (1975)

April 2019 Henry and Cato (1976)

May 2019 The Sea, the Sea (1978)

June 2019 Nuns and Soldiers (1980)

July 2019 The Philosopher’s Pupil (1983)

August 2019 The Good Apprentice (1985)

September 2019 The Book and the Brotherhood (1987)

October 2019 The Message to the Planet (1989)

November 2019 The Green Knight (1993)

December 2019 Jackson’s Dilemma (1995)

So, how it works again:

Start of the month: I’ll publish a reminder to start reading and then you read the book. Comment on the starter post with your thoughts or a link to your review if you’ve blogged it elsewhere.

End of the month: I’ll publish my review and a round-up of everyone else’s thoughts on it, with links.

All clear! I hope so! Comment below if you’re considering joining in. I’d love to have some company!

PS I can’t find my copy of The Flight From the Enchanter. This obviously means I have to buy a whole new set of the recently republished ones, right?

PPS Does someone want to design a lovely logo for the readalong?

Book review – Simon Armitage – “Walking Away” plus as it’s about Cornwall … #books #amreading

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I took this book on holiday specifically to read in or coming out of Cornwall, as it’s set in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, and in fact read it on the train home, going through those exact counties! A triumph of themed reading. And as he visits Godrevy, St Ives, Newlyn and Penzance in the book, I’ll share a few photos from our holiday after the book review.  There’s no sign of the reading / reviewing slacking off, by the way – it’s marathon time on Sunday and so I’m resting up as much as I can, and will have a v quiet Saturday, then I’ll be recovering from the big effort (I forgot to do that for a bit last time: big mistake), so I hope you all don’t mind almost-daily single-book posts as opposed to the doubles I used to do.

Simon Armitage – “Walking Away”

(21 January 2017 from Sian)

The follow-up to his wonderful “Walking Home“, but this time he walks the same distance around the South West Coast Path, starting in Minehead and doing the northern coast, giving poetry readings for whatever people feel they should pay as he goes along.

Full again of his laconic observations, people-avoiding and random poetry happenings, and with a new suitcase and old friends, this is a real joy to read – easy to read but not facile or shallow. I loved when the radar dishes he passes turn from menacing, sinister structures to white cereal bowls on the drainer after the washing up as he sees them from a different angle and in different weather conditions, and chuckled at his issues when presented with a special apple by an expert (he doesn’t like apples but when he goes to give it to a horse, remembers he doesn’t like horses much, either).

A few poems occur in the text (I think ones he wrote inspired by the journey) and more are mentioned – he does some Gawain and the Green Knight for some children at breakfast one morning, which was fun. Finding fewer birds inhabiting the cliffs than he’d expected, he treats us to a wonderful description of Bempton Cliffs, north of Bridlington, which we’ve visited a few years ago; it’s always lovely to find places you’ve been and things you know in a book, isn’t it (more of that later). He bemoans the up and down-ness of the endless river valleys working their way to the sea and longs for the moors, feeling ungrateful all the way – I love how he includes the bad as well as the good, or maybe I just like a moany traveller (cf. Paul Theroux).

The views of St Ives from Godrevy and visit to the seal beaches, with their charming signs asking people not to talk too loudly directly mirrored my experiences only that Wednesday, and it’s rounded off with a visit to the Scilly Isles, where I haven’t been yet (he doesn’t encourage me with his description of the boat over, although it’s lovely that he previously visited the shipyard where the Scillonian was built). A lovely and appropriate read.


A few photos that are appropriate for this post …

Mousehole in the sunshine, the furthest point from home on my 10-mile run on Tuesday. I banked lots of good memories and feelings for the marathon on this relaxed run which ended with a local friend joining me on her bike.

The Scillonian coming in to harbour:

Towards St Ives from Godrevy:

Godrevy Lighthouse (that’s Virginia Woolf’s lighthouse and I took the photo for Ali):

Godrevy seals. I heard them calling, too! A lovely friend took me there and it was magical.

Birds in Penzance, I love the fuzzy Ringed Plover in particular:

Reading on the prom: my happy place:

Sunrise from our holiday cottage:

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