Book review – K.J. Findlay (ed.) – “The Icelandic Adventures of Pike Ward” #amreading #iceland

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I have promoted this up the TBR because I couldn’t wait until next October to read it. I’ve been excited about this book ever since Katherine Findlay, who I’m lucky enough to count as a friend and who I’ve had a coffee with in Iceland but never met up with in the UK (yet) started talking about the manuscript she’d come across detailing the adventures of a Devonian fish trader in Iceland.  And then, in October, here it was, and I rushed to buy it but then a few other reading things got in the way (sorry!). I really loved it, as I knew I would.

K.J. Findlay (ed.) – “The Icelandic Adventures of Pike Ward”

(02 October 2018)

The edited 1906 diaries of a Devon fish merchant who instigated such trade with Iceland that he ended up being awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of the Icelandic Falcon. It’s a fascinating look at the country in its very much less developed days, something I imagine like the Iceland of Halldor Laxness’ novels.

The first and most important thing to say about the book is how beautifully it’s edited. Katherine provides an excellent introduction to both the background of Ward’s work and a potted history of Iceland that has just enough detail to let the reader understand what’s going on and what led up to the events described in the book. There’s a great epilogue which details what happened next to both Ward (a house in Teignmouth called Valhalla and full of Icelandic artefacts!!) and the Icelanders he writes about, as well as some intriguing mysteries. There’s also a good map, reproductions of the actual photographs Ward mentions taking (and on proper plates, not just printed on the paper) and useful but not intrusive footnotes, making this an excellent example of an edited manuscript. And this wasn’t an easy job, as the note on the text explains. The references are extensive and there’s a thank you to my friend Chris in the acknowledgements which weaves the Icelandophiles of my circle neatly together.

Having mentioned how the stories of Iceland and Britain were intertwined in the early Middle Ages, we see how the two countries are drawn closer through Ward’s endeavours and those of other pioneers. He comes across quite a few British folk, some managing in the country more successfully than others. I love how his fish are called Wardsfiskur and his bay and farm Wardsvik; it’s also very endearing when he compares the majestic scenery of Iceland to the somewhat quieter views around his native Devon.

As someone who knows Iceland a bit, it was lovely to read about it a century or so ago. Some things are very different, for example the small bay where the quiet village of Keflavik is found (now the site of the international airport), and reactions to a sculpture by a now-revered artist. In the middle is the beginnings of the city of Reykjavik as we know it, as well as details of towns that are all still here today, but very different. And some things remain the same: there’s still a famous lighthouse at Reykjanes, Icelandic horses have a sturdy will of their own and surprise you by when exactly they want to speed up, and Icelanders have a somewhat eccentric and relaxed attitude to playing by the rules (this meant I wasn’t too worried about missing the cut-off in the Reykjavik marathon by a minute or so …).

A really lovely book and a great and entertaining read for anyone who loves Iceland or a good travel narrative (or both).


I’m currently reading the very lovely “Spring Magic” by D.E. Stevenson, very kindly sent to me by Dean Street Press as one of their new Furrowed Middlebrow titles coming out in January. Gentle but absorbing, the story of a woman finding herself after a live of servitude to her aunt in a Scottish village in WW2 is unputdownable. A review soon!

Sedate lady running 03-09 December 2018 #amrunning #running

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A decent week although I’m pretty tired after doing a lot of work! I got my yoga, *some* strength and conditioning, all my miles and an officiating job done, plus helped some runners to learn how to jeff! Not many pics as my phone has gone wonky.

Edited to add: jeffing, mentioned a bit below, or Jeff Galloway Method, is a run-walk strategy which is suitable for all from learners to experienced, fast athletes, as an alternative to continuous running. You use various ratios from 30 seconds running / 3 seconds walking onwards.

Tuesday – Had an early evening run with Jenny and Tracie. Because of pressures of work, I needed to just spend the time that 5 miles would take up. I planned a route that had me meeting Jenny and Tracie at the usual place, and it worked brilliantly, we had a lovely run along quieter roads (it was rush hour so wanted to avoid pollution), I turned back at a certain point and YAY the maths worked out and I ended up at my house at the required number of miles. Jenny got her first 4 miler in for ages, hooray!

5 miles, 12:15 mins per mile

Wednesday – I’m self-employed and have been for ages, but sometimes work projects come out to have deadlines at the same time. I knew I didn’t have time to go to Dave yoga but thought I had time for my Paul circuits. Alas, I did not. So as a compromise, I did at least do lunges x 20 on each side, squats x 40 and sit-ups x 20. It’s something at least, right?

Thursday – My lovely friend Ruth (she of the half-marathon a month and jeffing) had asked Club if we could put on a Jeffing Taster session at our club session on a Thursday and it was time. Lovely Trudie and Mary Ellen from our close friendship group came along for support but we had two other ladies (hooray for Fay and Karen!) who had not jeffed in a structured way before. I had to dash up to club as my new phone had only just arrived (argh!) and then we took them round a nice 1.6 mile loop, getting a total of 4.8 miles of jeffing. I do love the pattern on strava:

Fay and Karen loved it, felt empowered to do the third loop and went further than they thought they wood. They even expressed disappointment that we weren’t offering it every week! Result! I then ran home with Ruth and Mary Ellen. I was proud that we managed to put this on and had such good reactions. I also got a nice total mileage for me for a Thursday!

0.7 mi, 11:24 mins per mile / 4.8 mi, 13:19 mins per mile / 0.7 mi, 11:53 mins per mile – 6.2 miles total

Friday – Just about carved out the time to go to Claire yoga – some great hip flexor stretching, much needed

Saturday – I planned a long run around parkrun. This week it’s been Mary Ellen’s turn to do everything with me. Right, are you concentrating? Mary Ellen and I ran to parkrun, 4 miles, and she then went home to get her hair done. I then met up with Jenny and did parkrun partly with her and partly with a young lady from the University of Birmingham couch to 5k graduating group who was struggling with her breathing (she was an experienced athlete on a come-back so I trusted her judgement after evaluating the situation, but stuck with her just in case. A much faster runner than me normally, she then upped the pace, leaving me pushing a little harder than normal then walking up the hill just before the finish (shouting cheerily, “can’t be arsed, I’m in the middle of a long run and tired!” to the people trying to cheer me up the hill!)). Then it was run and talk time, so I waited for that, then ran one loop of the lakes with Alan from r & t, who is coming back from illness, so I (of course) taught him about jeffing. THEN Caroline met me and ran me around the lake once more and back home, and got very much the short straw in this “Liz relay” as I was pretty tired and more than a little whiny by then. I got to my road at 11 so went for the extra to make up a round total for the week.

Tired lady in club colours (actually our and Bournville’s club colours due to only my teal underlayer being found in time!)

I was really pleased with my speed as I did do some bits slowly, the end felt like an effort and involved some walk breaks. I also forgot to pause my watch as I ambled down the parkrun funnel, taking my time about it!

11.3 mi, 12:32 mins per mile

Saturday night was club awards night. Ruth won a Committee Award for her epic fund-raising in memory of her dad and I was so proud. We all got certificates for marshalling etc. at the cross-country league match in January that club ran, and I was blown away to come third in the Runner’s Choice awards, nominated by 6 of my clubmates, and behind two of our popular coaches. How lovely! The messages on the nominations were lovely and I will treasure them. Mary Ellen and I walked there and back, making up my run and walk miles to 16 for the day!

Sunday – off bright and early to Perry Park, behind Alexander Stadium, to help officiate at the Young Athletes League cross-country event. Because I’m going for my Endurance Level 2 licence, Noel, assistant referee, had offered me my choice of jobs, and I was funnel/finish manager, which involved setting up the funnel (physically, with stakes, netting and tape, mainly because I got there early), briefing the officials who were provided by three clubs in the league as part of their league membership requirements (one of whom was my boss at the cross-country last week and all but one of whom had previous experience) on what we were doing, safeguarding (women must look after female  competitors who need help if possible, etc.) and then managing the team, having responsibility for runners keeping the finish line clear and getting through the funnel safely. A few unwellnesses went on and some rolling around on the floor, but everyone was OK and it went smoothly, and feedback was that I’d done a good job. I knew I could do it, but it’s still a bit stressful of course. We had under-11s, -13s, -15s and -17s males and females and all fine. Phew! I enjoyed myself, the weather held; I didn’t get a picture of the funnel but here’s a view of English parkland with the city centre skyline in the distance.

Miles this week: 22.5

Progress towards 1,000 miles in the year: 995 (ooh!)

Weekly wrapI take part in the Weekly Wrap run by two wonderful running women and joined by lots of other inspirational women. Wendy’s weekly wrap is here and Holly’s is here. (to add)

Book review – Samantha Ellis – “How to be a Heroine” #amreading #booksaboutbooks

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Well we’re very much into Christmas last year now (although I’ve skipped right ahead for my current read) and here’s a great one from Meg off my wishlist. How was I almost the last person to read this excellent book – “books about books” being a favourite category of mine?

Samantha Ellis – “How to be a Heroine”

(25 December 2017)

A super memoir and book-about-books tracing Samantha’s reading from childhood on and relating it to her progress through education and finally into her career as a  playwright, working with and against her Iraqi Jewish heritage and with a clear eye on this and her relationship to it. She re-reads her old favourites and discusses her changed attitudes to them, always a favourite theme of mine. She also has a long-term reading buddy, Emma, who she gets into all sorts of arguments with – great stuff!

She’s a great, feisty heroine herself, and it’s apt that she ends up writing heroines for others, too. She discovers the Marriage Plot early on but simultaneously rewrites Oliver Twist “so that girls come out top” (p. 71). I love that amidst serious discussions about feminism and sisterhood, re-reading Gone with the Wind makes her use hand cream more regularly. She’s ashamed in retrospect that she saw her illness at university in comparison to Esther in The Bell Jar’s ECT and her family’s persecution and exile, but she also forgives her younger self.

Of course we always like the bits that chime with our own experience, as well as reading to find out about other lives. Emma tells her off for relating details of Salinger’s slightly manky life when it shouldn’t affect her reading of his novels, and she says at one point,

I’m beginning to think all readings are provisional, and that maybe we read heroines for what the need from them at the time. (p. 141)

After her English degree at Cambridge, she’s stuffed full of literary theory and “I was almost convinced that literature was all coded messages about Marxism and the death of the self” (p. 163) and she turns to Valley of the Dolls for light relief and at least something written by a woman. I read a few books by women in my English degree, but had to turn to Arthur Ransome’s full Swallows and Amazons series before I could read adult novels again”

Ellis’ reading of Lace being instructions on how to WORK is genius, and the final chapter marvellously features an imaginary party for her heroines, thought up after making Aphra Behn’s milk punch: a wonderful finale to a great read.


I’m very much enjoying “The Icelandic Adventures of Pike Ward” and should have a review for you on Monday of that one. What a great read and brilliantly edited. How’s your December reading going?

Sedate lady running 26 November – 02 December 2018 #amrunning #running

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I had a good week this week with a mixture of running and volunteering / officiating, day time and dark runs.

Monday – As I hadn’t run at the weekend due to having my Track and Field officials course, I could run on Monday, however I was still pretty tired from the course and a lot of hard work. I met up with Jenny and we ran down to Cannon Hill Park, where we met this amazing dog.

An amazing dog we met in Cannon Hill Park

Back up to where I meet Jenny and a brisk trot home again as I’d left it a bit late for lunch!

6.5 miles, 12:27 mins per mile

Wednesday – Hard version of Dave’s yoga class with Jenny. Oof. I managed to do ALL the vinyasas between positions but my, my pecs and back knew about it the next day.

Thursday – Our lovely friend Bernice, who moved away to Worcestershire (and who I’m running my ultra with next year) was in Birmingham for a course so we got a bevy of Sedate Ladies together for an early evening run. Bernice, Trudie and Mary Ellen came to my house and we ran up to where I usually meet Jenny.

Trudie, Bernice, Mary Ellen, Jenny, Liz (thank you Trudie for the photo)

We did a loop the opposite way from where I usually go with Jenny and Trudie said goodbye and went to visit her mom. We dropped Jenny back off at the end of the road she lives down and carried on, getting 7.5 miles in for me, Mary Ellen and Bernice. Full view of my lit-up, flouro and reflective self from the back (thanks, Bernice!).

All lit up like a Christmas tree!

And here’s me and Bernice at the end – I’m rocking another buff with my cap, what a brill idea.

Liz and Bernice, run done

7.5 miles, 12:38 mins per mile

Friday – Managed to fit in Claire’s easier class after cleaning the house and amidst much work.

Saturday – I was supposed to run in the morning but I woke up So.Tired and I didn’t want to: when I don’t want to run there’s usually a good reason, so I decided I could live with “only” getting to 21 miles again this week and rested up. Put on my other running hat and was one of our club’s official officials at the cross-country league (men’s) in Clopton, near Stratford. We have to submit x number of officials to help with tasks as part of being in the league.

Official in rustly waterproof trousers

I was working with a chap from Tamworth who was injured – we were judge recorders, writing down the numbers of the male runners as they came over the finish line and through the funnel. All fine as the rugged terrain and three-lap course kept them reasonably spaced out, and I managed to capture this nice rural view.

I walked 2.6 miles as part of this, as we had to part in Stratford town centre and walk up, plus all the wandering around.

Sunday – A busy day. My husband went off on his bird watching trip (all the way to Essex) so I got up with him at 5 and was ready to run at 7.30 am. I did 2 miles quite briskly as got worried I was going to miss Ruth, and met her at 8 at my house (I took the opportunity to post my gloves (too warm!) and tabard/lights (the sun had risen) then we set off on 4.6 miles of jeffing (walk run strategy). She was doing a virtual half-marathon (very posh, with a number sent out in the post) you could do any time in December, I think, called Santa’s Little Helper – so I couldn’t resist snapping a photo of her outside the first heavily Christmas decorated house we’ve seen.

Ruth and the first lit-up house we’ve seen

We got back to mine for 9 reading to hand the Ruth Baton on to Trudie for the end of her run.

Trudie, Ruth and Liz

I carried on for the 0.4 miles to round up my run to 7, having a bit of a sprint for the last bit (mainly because I had a very tight turnaround coming up!).

I got showered and changed and into my Christmas running leggings (bought at great expense last year and dragged out for runs, Christmas meals, and volunteering to get the value – I did add a dress so I wasn’t displaying my bum to the world) and walked the mile or so down to the Rugby Club for the Jingle Bell Jog in aid of St Mary’s Hospice. Our running club traditionally supplies the marshals for the course every year. Thank goodness I ran into Sushma walking down – I was feeling decidedly hungry after forgetting to grab a banana on my way to the venue, but she, being a super-mom, had some Belvita biscuits in her bag, hooray! Paul (congratulations on getting your Level 1 Endurance Licence!) got some pics of me without the Grinch and then …

Christmas leggings get an outing

(muted hooray – he was VERY lively) with the Grinch. All well: Christmas fun and all that …

Fake smiles for the Grinch

Then we supported however many Santas it was to get round the 2.5k or 5 k course – I was near the end this time. It was good fun cheering people on and I saw a few familiar faces.

7 miles at 12:08 mins per mile.

I was a bit upset to just get to 21 again this week as it feels I can’t get past that. But I’ve been so busy and I did get in my yoga and those miles, and 30 squats 5/7 days and stretching 5/7 days so I’ll call that a win.

Miles this week: 21

Progress towards 1,000 miles in the year: 972

Weekly wrapI take part in the Weekly Wrap run by two wonderful running women and joined by lots of other inspirational women. Wendy’s weekly wrap is here and Holly’s is here.

State of the TBR – December 2018 (and a small confession)

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Well I’d been doing very well with my reading, having read all my paper books for review that were previously reclining on top of the TBR shelf and eight books in total (and took one off that I didn’t want to read). And actually the problem I  have of more TBR is a lovely problem, because dear Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings has just sent me a Lovely Parcel (see below).

So here’s the current state of the TBR.

I mean, I’ve still got room for the pile, right, so it can’t be that bad.

This is the reason for it all moving around a bit:

So we have Margery Sharp’s “The Eye of Love,” Ellen Wilkinson’s (her of the Jarrow March) “Clash”, and two Henry Handel Richardsons: “Maurice Guest” and “The Getting of Wisdom”. All lovely Viragoes, too!

Reading at the moment and coming up shortly, I’m very much enjoying Samantha Ellis’ “How to be a Heroine” and would have finished it already were it not for my strange hobby of standing in muddy fields pointing the way or writing down numbers. Next up is “The Icelandic Adventures of Pike Ward,” edited by the lovely Katherine Findlay, and then it will be the next Iris Murdoch Readalong read, “An Accidental Man” (14th out of 26 of her books, so I feel we’re already sliding towards the end!).

I’m aware I haven’t addressed the horrendousness of the Kindle TBR recently and I know there are some books on there I won from NetGalley and need to work on. I’m also behind on reading everyone’s blog posts (sorreeee!) and as I’ve got heaps and heaps of work on at the moment, I think I’m just going to have to give up on watching TV in December or something to get everything read!

Then the next books on the shelf, which still include some from Christmas last year, include “The Little Bookshop of Big Stone Gap”, “The book for Forgotten Authors” and “Long Live Great Bardfield (the great big Persephone) as well as Stella Gibbons; “Westwood”, kindly sent to me by Verity. Then we have two I picked up between Christmas and my birthday before we start on the birthday books.

What are you reading this month? Do you have any special December reading rituals?

“A Fairly Honourable Defeat” roundup and “An Accidental Man” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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It’s time to round up our reading of “A Fairly Honourable Defeat” and look forward to “An Accidental Man” There’s been a great discussion on my review again and I’m so appreciating the same people joining in each time, but if you’re coming along to this not in the month we read the book, please don’t be shy and do add your comments.

This one actually went down slightly in my list – not hugely and I didn’t dislike it but the characters were a bit more annoying than I remembered, and I’ve certainly gone off Morgan. But we have good old manky Tallis and his saintliness at last, seeing as I’ve been banging on about that for the last however many months.

Do post in the review comments if you’ve reviewed the book on your own website, blog or Goodreads page. Jo has done another great Goodreads review, even though this was her least favourite one so far. I’ll add more links as you let me know about them.

Just one reader-submitted cover this month. Peter Rivenberg has done stalwart work sending me the Viking US firsts and here’s the very odd but at least applicable one for this book:

 

An Accidental Man

Moving on to the next book (and we’re over half way through them now!) and I get the openings to this one and “The Philosopher’s Pupil” mixed up for some reason (anyone else?).

I have three copies as usual: a first edition found and sent to me by the lovely Kaggsysbookishramblings, a weird Penguin and the newer Vintage Classic (back to the red-spined ones). What odd covers they’ve all chosen! The Penguin is a representation for a hermaphrodite, for no good reason.

The firs edition goes onto the back and yes, I’m sure they are both scenes from the book, but aren’t there some more attractive ones to choose?

There was an original clipping and review tucked into the book: I do love the caption to the rather dashing photo of IM:

So there’s the blurb from the first edition:

I like the way the Penguin blurb uses “appalling” which always seems to be a very Murdochian word to me.

and the blurb writer for Vintage has as usual read the above.

Are you going to be reading or re-reading “An Accidental Man” along with me? Are you catching up with the others or have you given up)? What’s your favourite so far? Your least favourite?


You will find a page listing all of these blog posts here, updated as I go along.

Book review – Karen Joy Fowler – “We are all Completely Beside Ourselves” #amreading

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I was given this book for my LibraryThing Virago Group Secret Santa last year and have to admit I’d not fancied reading it, though I appreciated being sent it in a lovely and thoughtful box of books. And I did change my mind, even though I knew the big plot twist. And now, because of the big plot twist, which makes it really hard to review, and because I also don’t really want to think that much about it because of the horrible cat bits in it (why did no one warn me when they saw I was going to read it?) so this is going to be a short review.

Karen Joy Fowler – “We are all Completely Beside Ourselves”

(25 December 2017)

I think this must have been Fowler’s break-out book, mustn’t it, when she suddenly upped her game. I’d enjoyed at least one of her novels, “The Jane Austen Book Club” but this really is a masterpiece of research and weaving together of fact and fiction. She makes it clear in the notes at the back of this edition that this book came from a conversation with her daughter and a “what if” question, and it’s equally clear that she approached the topic with humility and respect and did her best by the subject.

It’s an engaging book with an engaging central character / narrator and a good supporting cast. Everything is believable and the shifting time line easy to follow. It’s not all spelled out for you and she nips back and forth, and I have to admit that, distressing as the Unpleasant Incident is, it is essential to the plot, although distressing.

So that’s it, really – I gave it a go, I enjoyed it up to a point I had to do a little skimming and I don’t want to think about the horrible bit (if you’re going to mention that in a comment, no details, please!)


The book next to it was Francis Spufford’s “Golden Hill” which I gave a go at, but I’m really not great with historical fiction and I couldn’t get a foothold on it. So I’ve started reading “How to be a Heroine” by Samantha Ellis (OK, I started this on Friday because it was small enough to slip into the bag I was taking to town) which Meg gave me for Christmas and which is amazing so far, and I’ve also promoted “The Icelandic Adventures of Pike Ward” edited by my friend Katherine Findlay to the next read because I can’t wait, basically.

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