NORAH VINCENT – Self-Made Man

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Bought 27 Jul 2007 – Bookends in Birmingham

A marvellous book that every woman and man should read. Norah “passes” for a man for eighteen months, in a variety of settings, from the workplace to a bowling league, via a monastery, Iron John weekends and many more. Far from being a sensational or prurient book, even though she visits some pretty seedy places, this is a lucid and careful account of what it might feel like to be close to being a man. She gains respect for the opposite sex and a certain amount of dislike for her own, and ponders the idea of going from being a “masculine” woman to an “effeminate” man. Ultimately, the journey leads her to examine her own psyche and to admit herself to a hospital. One psych doctor comments that he’d be more surprised if she hadn’t had to do this.

A thought-provoking and beautifully written book that really engages the reader. I will look out for a second copy to share via BookCrossing. One of my books of the year!

CINDI KATZ et al. (ed) – Full Circles: Geographies of Women over the Life Course

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Bought 11 Jul 2007 – book sale at work

I am really enjoying these academic texts, bought from the discarded books/ unwanted donations charity book sale at work. Although this wasn’t quite so uniformly engaging as the last of these reads, there were many very interesting articles, including those looking at comparisons between the travelling area of Sudanese and American teenagers, and of the powerful older women in West Indian “houseyards”. The threads were pulled together nicely at the end by the editors, and I felt this was a useful and enjoyable introduction to feminist geography.

IAN STEPHEN – Varying States of Grace

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Acquired via BookCrossing 25 Oct 2007 – bookring

Excitingly, this is the poet upon whose work Calum’s poetry is based, in Emotional Geology by Linda Gillard. Linda sent two collections of his poetry to PeaMartin after an exchange of emails, and PeaMartin has kindly offered them to all the EG readers as a bookring.

I read this one first because it’s the one without the pictures… if that makes sense, saving the best till last. I very much liked the spare, sparse language, and especially those poems descriptive of landscape, whether rural or industrial. Some of the descriptions read like descriptions of the kinds of photos I love – details of bits of machinery, the edges of a tree, etc.

Two quotations that really summed up the collection for me…

From “Undercurrents”, a hint at the wry humour lurking beneath many of the pieces:

“But you must have seen my first twitches for
the spiral notepad – or the need itself –
to find the phrases which will organise
the signals a bit. Your question is
whether I can sit and be alert
without making something of it.”

I love the duality of that last line – both the idea of having to make something out of every small experience – the frustration of his companion, and the idea of crafting.

From “Circumambulation (Scarp Island)”, an example of the spareness of the writing:

“I dare not walk on this sand.
Tide ruts its own sound
between Scarp and Kearstay”

An excellent collection, and I look forward to the other one – with photos!

J. CALIFORNIA COOPER – A Piece of Mine

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July 2007 – gift from a friend, from the Library booksale

A friend of mine at work said I must read this, and got it for me from the library booksale. Fast forward to October, when it reaches the top of the pile… A collection of short stories about Black women in the Southern states of America, these are written in the vernacular, and with the liveliness, irreverance and closeness to women’s experience that this would imply. The preface, by Alice Walker, draws out the fact that most of the stories are written by an observer – a sister, a friend, strengthening bonds between the women and giving alternative and sometimes shifting viewpoints.

I don’t think I’ll be rereading, so I’ll register it on BC and might well include it in the next slew of bookrings, as it’s an unusual book that I don’t think many people will come across.

KATE JACOBS – The Friday Night Knitting Club

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Acquired via BookCrossing 30 Jun 2007 – loan from Anglersrest

To be honest, the central idea of this novel, the knitting club, seemed more like a trendy peg to hang the plot off than a compelling idea like the crafts in Knitting – I could see it having been a book group when they were the big thing a few years ago.

That being said, and the slightly over-romancey feel of the book, as far I was concerned, put to one side, the author does make a brave move quite near to the end, which I wasn’t expecting and which put a whole different cast on the work. I’m not going to say more so as not to spoil the plot. A pleasant read with some interesting points, and some unconventional characters. I’m glad to have had a go with it!

BENJAMIN ZEPHANIAH – Face

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Acquired via BookCrossing 28 Jul 2007 – RABCK from veganbob

The story of a young lad and a bad choice, which leads to hospital and some decisions to be made by both the protagonist, his friends and his family, this is well-written and the engaging characters and storyline balance the didactic purpose. Like Bali Rai, another YA favourite, Zephaniah creates believable characters and shows readers how it might be an idea to behave in various situations, without labouring the point.

I have passed this to Matt to read.

CLARE MORRALL – Natural Flights of the Human Mind (DNF)

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Bought 24 May 2007 – at author event

Oh dear. I really wanted to love this. I very much enjoyed the author event at which I bought it and liked the excerpt. But I am just failing to engage with it. Morrall gets into the heads of people who think and behave differently to the norm very well, but I can only appreciate the skill and not enjoy it. Once I realised there are descriptions of people on the train we know (fairly early on so not a spoiler) is going to crash, it all got too much and I have closed it.

I will keep it, as it’s a signed copy, but available for loan.

Only the 5th DNF this year…

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