“An Unofficial Rose” round-up and “The Unicorn” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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Hello and welcome to another #IMReadalong update, with a round-up of responses to “An Unofficial Rose” (and some great additional covers) and a preview of “The Unicorn”

“An Unofficial Rose”

I managed to get this one read and reviewed really early in the month and you can read my review and all the lovely comments here. There are just a few, but some lovely long thoughts on it. Only a few reviews sent to me from other people’s blogs or Goodreads, though, so far, which is a shame – are people lagging or giving up (lagging is fine, well, giving up is, too, of course, but I would love to take people right through them all!) or did I put you off with my lacklustre feelings about the book?

Jo has put another excellent review on Goodreads, I love the way she compares the book to the others we’ve read so far. Liz has also reviewed the book on Goodreads and makes an interesting point about how all of the characters imagine they know what’s going on, but …

I had three copies and Peter Rivenburg and Maria Peacock sent me even more editions – how fun!

This is the American Vintage first edition, which I think is nicer than the UK one and reminds me of The Bell:

and then the 1973 Warner paperback, which is something of a spoiler, I think. I do like a lurid and unsuitable Murdoch cover, though!

Maria has the Triad Granada, an edition in which I have about half of my IM paperbacks, but who is it supposed to be depicting? I can’t work it out and it looks more like an Anita Brookner to me!

 

 

If you have comments to make or links to blog posts or Goodreads reviews to post, you can put them here or (better still) on the review.

“The Unicorn”

Moving along, it’s time for us to get all gothic and move over to a castle on a rocky shore for “The Unicorn”. I have very fond memories of this one from all the times I’ve read it (the first time in my teens), especially dear old Effingham and his revelation in … well, I won’t spoil it.

Now I’ve been busily collecting first editions as I’ve been going along, I have three copies of this one. From left to right, my Chatto and Windus first edition (love the cover image), my original Triad Granada paperback, reprinted in 1984 and acquired in around 1986, and the lovely cover of the Vintage edition, bought to read this time around:

Let’s see if those blurbs entice you. From the first edition …

 

I like this one, as it gets across the feel of the book and the lovely dual-house theme that we’ve just had in “An Unofficial Rose” and will return again and again. And it is a bit frightening.

It’s interesting that the 1980s version plays more heavily on feminine archetypes – wife, abandoned wife, with a husband and an admirer, and she might be a witch, eh?

Finally, we get quite minimalist with the Vintage copy:

As we’ve seen before, the blurb writer has gone for a mix of the two older copies but there’s no so much to go on there, is there.

 

Are you going to be reading or re-reading “The Unicorn” along with me? Are you playing catch-up with the others (which is ABSOLUTELY FINE)? What’s your favourite so far?


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

Book review – Deena Kastor – “Let Your Mind Run” #amreading

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I know, I know, another running book, AND one I only received the other day (see the story here). But it’s signed to me! And the lovely Wendy from the Taking the Long Way Home blog has a book club, and this was her April read, so it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. Anyway, you had some fantasy and romance to read about yesterday, right, and it’s Iris Murdoch Readalong time later today (packing ’em in!) so it’s not all running, running, running.

Deena Kastor – “Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking my Way to Victory”

(April 2018)

Kastor is an Olympic marathon medallist and has held American records in every running distance from the 5k to the marathon. But, as runners tend to be, she’s very down to earth and very keen to share what got and kept her to those dizzy heights. It’s worth mentioning that she’s also generous in her thanks to her co-writer, Michelle Hamilon, and we know by now that I always like that, working with ghostwriters myself.

Deana was a very promising runner at school but she never really learned about running and especially training, always going out at full tilt and pushing and pushing herself. Unsurprisingly, this led to and injuries, and she didn’t seem to understand why, although she’s got a clear-headed view on it now. It was only when she started working with coach Joe Vigil in Colorado, having taken a big chance, that she started to understand the power of planned training and also embraced the power of really what is down to positive thinking, and that’s when she made huge improvements and stayed pretty well injury-free.

I will have to admit now that some of the almost relentless positivity did make me a bit uncomfortable. She reads a lot of books I would consider to be on the “woo” side of things. However, she does make a very powerful point about turning I can’ts into I cans, and you can use these techniques to try to work against ingrained negative thinking. She’s also good on joining up mind and body and on visualisation, which I use in a slightly less aggressive way (but hooray for aggressive running in women!) and she is a relentless cheerleader of other runners, something I identify with very fully.

Woo aside, she’s a very down-to-earth woman and writer, as I mentioned above. My favourite sentences in the whole book were these:

The food was intended for the volunteers, since the elites had already eaten and moved on to obsessing about pooping before the gun.

and

On the way out of the hotel, I stopped in the lobby bathroom before loading the bus. It was an unsuccessful stop. There’s still time.

What runner hasn’t known this? There’s also a description of an ENTIRE MARATHON where she needs the loo and has to make a pretty horrendous choice (again, we’ve all been there to one extent or another). She also tries lots of fuelling options when training for her first marathon, with some reminding her of recovering from flu and others making her sick. She gets scared each time she has to run a longer distance when training for the 26.2 and again that’s something anyone who’s done that has experienced. Did she need to mention this? Probably not – but I loved it. I loved all these very clear and earthy descriptions that make this a real runners’ book.

I also found a real personal connection with Deana when she’s forced to pull out of the Bejiing Olympics marathon very early on. She then gets really antsy and can’t run, and her doctor tells her “You had all this fitness built up and never released it” and mentions how in the taper she’d built up all this kinetic energy and potential she was unable to use. This was nice to read as I wondered what made me do my DIY marathon a few weeks ago – and it was also very good for me to read about her taking A MONTH OFF RUNNING after marathons.

It’s also lovely to see lots of the star runners of her time appear, with our own Paula Radcliffe popping up and beating her (and she’s gracious about not noticing Paula drop out of the Athens Olympics marathon). She also takes the time to mention how the officials are the only ones out at a freezing cross-country event, checking the course for downed branches etc. and the volunteers at the big city marathons – it’s always lovely to see that work acknowledged – and mentions how it’s great to start with the masses in those city marathons where the women aren’t set to run on their own.

So on balance an excellent read with a lot to love and a lot of great lessons. Sorry this is yet another obsessive running read, and hope I haven’t bored the non-runners too much. I’m currently reading a book about a Syrian refugee swimmer and another Debbie Macomber, with a light Irish novel to come …

Read the book club review and other people’s comments and links here.

Dewey’s Readathon update and book reviews Paul Magrs – “Fellowship of Ink”, Debbie Macomber – “A Little Bit Country” @readathon

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So I posted a little teaser about this yesterday and here’s my report. I was going to do an update post that I updated as I went along, but then I hadn’t actually finished a whole book by the time I went to bed and left it to round up today.

I wasn’t entirely successful in this. There were more distractors than I’d hoped for and, while I can’t stay up late or do without sleep, I slept more than I usually do! Here goes with the report, and I’ll do brief reviews of the two books I finished.

1.00-2.00 pm – in a course for Run Leaders put on by England Athletics – it would have seemed a little rude to whip out a book.

2.00-3.00 – After eating my sandwiches, I managed 6 pages of “Fellowship of Ink” on the bus back into town.

3.00-5.00 – At the BookCrossing meetup. Pictured above are me and Heaven-Ali, a good booky friend of mine who was also doing the challenge (read her report here). Although we did get everyone around the table reading a few pages, I’m not sure I actually got any proper reading done. Then got the bus home with lovely friends and wanted to talk to them rather than read!

5.00-6.00 – Sat on the sofa with the cat for the whole hour and read 100 pages of “Fellowship of Ink”

6.00-7.00 – I had to do some work which took out an hour and a bit of reading time.

7.00-8.00 – Part of the hour spent reading 20 more pages of “Fellowship of Ink”

8.00-9.00 – Eating my dinner and reading – 47 more pages

9.00-10.00 – Husband phoned for a chat and so 6 pages read. And then I fell asleep at 10.00 pm which has not happened for aaaages! Oh dear!

10.00-07.00 am – Asleep for longer than usual. Didn’t wake in the night awake enough to have a little read as planned.

07.00-08.00 – Breakfast with “Fellowship of Ink!, 50 pages down and not many to go.

08.00-09.00 – Finished “Fellowship of Ink” 82 pages done. Phew! But it was good (review below).

09.00-10.00 – Picked up Debbie Macomber’s “Summertime Dreams” which is made up of two books. Read 90 pages of “A Little Bit Country” through most of the hour.

10.00-11.00 – Finished “A Little Bit Country” – 111 pages and my most pagey hour. Very easy reading but a good one (review below).

11.00-1.00 – Took my Kindle to the gym and did post-marathon non-impact cross trainer and static bike while reading “Butterfly” by Yusra Mardini. I ended up reading 65%, the equivalent of 187 pages.

So in total a nice round 700 pages (I did not plan that). The experience was OK – the amount of info on the website, Goodreads group and Facebook page was a bit overwhelming but if you asked a question, someone was right on it answering kindly and patiently. I didn’t take part in hourly competitions etc as was just reading, and I know Ali tweeted a bit and got more interaction out of that. Because I can’t stay up late and because of the time zones, I felt a bit distanced, but that was my fault, not the fault of the group or organisers.

Paul Magrs – “Fellowship of Ink”

(17 June 2017)

A glorious romp of a book, with nasty creatures, fusty professors and heroic young men abounding. When Professor Henry Cleavis and his friend John arrive in Darkholmes, a university town in the north of England, they start encountering odd things right away. Will they be able to do their usual trick of investigating oddities or was Henry actually invited for his intellect and books? Alongside Evelyn Tyler, a downtrodden professor’s wife and, well, a certain fairly scarred lady called Brenda … they slip through holes in time and have a whale of a time.

Paul Magr’s trademark style is all over the book; he has a way of writing that instantly identifies itself and I love that he’s retained that over his career. Who else would write, “He went berserk in a very fastidious fashion, wreaking havoc in a quite localized area”? I loved the tying together of imagination and reality – when John enters a particular world, he almost recognises the worlds of magical animals that he used to draw as a child. How lovely!

There are loads of nods to other writers, from the worlds between worlds of Narnia and the endless winter there, and the Inklings themselves to Diana Wynne Jones’ Derkholm and Evelyn’s maiden name, Fisk. But the rest is of course highly original, funny, diverse and fascinating.

The book ended a little abruptly and looked as if it was heading for a sequel. Will there be one?

Debbie Macomber – “A Little bit Country”

(18 June 2017)

Rorie breaks down in the middle of Oregon and is rescued by a hunky horsebreeder and his sweet brother. Will she fall for their rural charms or head back for her city boyfriend? Well, we know the answer but it’s really nicely done as ever, with the addition of a friend/rival and a nice library background. A good read, fun and reliable.

Dewey’s 24-hour readathon is here and I’m taking part for the first time! #readathon

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Well, this is exciting! I’ve decided to take part in Dewey’s 24-hour Readathon (read more here) because at the time I thought I’d have time to just READ from 1pm on Saturday to 1pm on Sunday (not for 24 hours. though). Well, it looks like I’ll have to do some work and I’ll be travelling back from a course on the Saturday when I start reading on the bus, but I’ve put this pile together (arrgh, NOT just the beginning of my TBR, how am I going to manage that? I do admit to having made the pile and then put them back on the shelf in their right places, just in case).

I’ve chosen a pile to read from (I don’t imagine I’ll finish them all) which is fairly representative of my reading as a whole.

The running book: “Run the World” by Becky Wade – one woman, many running cultures.

The children’s book: “The Tree that Sat Down” by Beverley Nichols – a tree with a SHOP INSIDE. Blame Ali and Karen for this one.

The editing/words book: “What Editors Do” edited by Peter Ginna – with a chapter by one of my edibuddies!

The classic: George Eliot “Tales of Clerical Life” – lovely stories I know I will enjoy. Also stories. Shorter.

The reliable easy read: “Summertime Dreams” by Debbie Macomber – I know I will like it and read it in a few hours.

The bit of fantasy: “Fellowship of Ink” by Paul Magrs – so I can give him a boost and because who can resist the Bride of Frankenstein doing for some Oxford writers?

The NetGalley ooh this looks good oh no have to read it by THIS date books: “Butterfly” by Yusra Mardini (the Syrian woman who swam part of the Mediterranean and then swam in the Rio Olympics) and “Oh, my God, what a Complete Aisling” by Emer McLysaght; Sarah Breen (a light novel).

Are you doing the Readathon? Do feel free to link to your starter post!

I will do one update post that I start this afternoon and will update it regularly rather than posting and posting. I THINK that will work OK … wish me luck!

Book review – Michael McEwan – “Running the Smoke” @RunBookshelfFB #amreading

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Last weekend, I popped down to London to support the London Marathon. I hadn’t watched it live since I worked in London in the 90s but my friend Bernice was running her first marathon and a few clubmates were running, too, so it seemed like a good opportunity to have a weekend catching up with my best friend Emma and her family and watching a few tens of thousands of runners zip by. It proved remarkably hard to spot people and quite hard work whizzing around Docklands (although it was such a hot day that I didn’t actually wish I’d run a marathon instead; also I had run a marathon the previous weekend!). I saw fellow-blogger and Midlands runner Shaun The Centurion, our lad Adrian, TP from local running club The Swifts, several Bournville Harriers including the lovely Suz, and a fellow endurance official, and, of course, dear Bernice, who did superbly well and sensibly and had a very good run (I nagged her at Mile 14.75 and gave her a gel at Mile 20.25 and also caught up with her at the end). What could have been better reading on the trains to and from London than this collection of 26 tales of running the London Marathon, which I won in a competition on the Facebook Runner’s Bookshelf group a while back?

Michael McEwan – “Running the Smoke”

(prize, 17 Oct 2017)

As it says on the front, this is 26 first-hand accounts of tackling the London Marathon. Presumably because it is sold in support of Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity*, McEwan managed to get a brilliant range of people to take part, from Dick Beardsley, the co-first winner of London, through other top athletes, keen runners like Nell McAndrew, people from other sports like Sir Steve Redgrave to ordinary people who have either suffered personal trauma to come through and do the run or were raising money in memory of or on behalf of someone close to them (and there are some tear-jerkers here, of course). The last story in the book is by a woman who was caught up in the 7/7 bombings and has some fairly graphic detail of that day, and I’m glad I read that one when I was safely back in Birmingham, although to be fair it is heavily signposted and is not gratuitous in the context.

Of course, just like in the marathon itself, you look out for people you know, so I was really chuffed to read Dale Lyons’ chapter – he’s a brilliant local runner in his 80s who is an Ever Present (someone who’s run every London Marathon) and who I met when he was filming a piece about doing London last year, his 100th marathon and his retirement, apparently (he went and did it again this year!). He also does our parkrun and I always give him a shout-out. Blind Dave Heeley is also in the book, explaining how he runs and trains with a guide runner. He’s another local hero of mine, I’ve seen him in races I’ve done and I rather embarrassingly decided I knew him well enough to give him a cheery “Orright, Dave?” when I was officiating at our regional road relays a few weeks ago. I don’t really!

Anyway, all the stories are inspiring and fascinating, with different details of the run coming out. I found it odd and sad when McEwan said that like many people, he doesn’t really enjoy running as such, just the races, because it would be a sorry thing if you didn’t have fun training, but then a lot of people get themselves through one marathon – especially London, I imagine – then don’t run again, so it’s a valid point. The variety was great and the stories short enough but with enough detail. It really did make me want to run London one day!

As well as the stories, there’s a visceral introduction by McEwan, starting with some serious pain, which I’m glad I didn’t show Bernice before the race, a history of the marathon, and, at the back, hints and tips for training, the race and fundraising, which make it a great all-round package for the marathon runner in your life.

Oh, my lovely / terribly book-enabling friend Cari read this book at the same time as me but got her review in earlier! Read it here for a US take on the book.

*I have made a donation to the GOSH charity as I didn’t pay for this book.


I’m currently reading Deana Kastor’s “Let Your Mind Run” because it’s April’s book in another blogger/runner’s book club (she’s already reviewed it here but I’m saving the review until I’ve read it) and Halldor Laxness’ “The Fish Can Sing” because it was next on my TBR (it’s a bit weird, but OK). I gave up on “The Seven Basic Plots” as it was too Jungian and dense and overwhelming.

There will be a few posts over the weekend (it’s all feast or famine with me at the moment, isn’t it – sorry!) because I’ve signed up to take part in Dewey’s Readathon – a 24 hour readathon starting at 1pm on Saturday for me. I’m just going to do a start post and then an update one which I will update during the day, rather than bombarding you, so don’t worry! But it is Iris Murdoch Readalong Update time on Sunday, too.

Book review – Libby Page – “The Lido” #NetGalley #LoveTheLido

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I have loved being a member of NetGalley so far for the sheer number of excellent books I’ve been lucky enough to read, including some great ones recently. This was a real smasher – so much so that I couldn’t stop reading it – I mean, could not stop, work on hiatus, tears splashing onto the kitchen table as I worked my way through to the end. It’s lovely, and so good for a debut novel, too.

Libby Page – “The Lido”

(12 March 2018 – NetGalley)

Now, there have been a fair few feel-good books out recently, with uplifting topics and lovely communities, and I’m a bit of an old cynic and think some of them are either a bit sugary or a bit airy-fairy. This is neither. Yes, it’s a lovely positive book with diverse characters working to help each other, but nothing is actually unbelievable and it’s all just lovely, but with a tang and depth to it, as all lovely books should have.

I’m also a bit wary of things that smack of writing exercises. Here, the portrayals of the inhabitants of estates in South London or the people who swim at the Lido, some of them a few sentences, little sketches, could be like that. But they’re not. They’re warm, they’re well-observed, and they’re threaded carefully and cleverly through the book, too. The descriptions of swimming are lovely, too, and very well-observed, and make me wish I was more of a swimmer myself. But I also loved the description of the healing power of exercise, which I understand very well.

I’ll admit to a bias here. This book is about Brixton, a place I know reasonably well, and the Lido in question is Brockwell Lido, and I almost rented a flat overlooking Brockwell Park back in the 90s. Of course, this could go both ways – but I think the portrait of the two places is beautifully and faithfully done. Phew! It’s not in-your-face inclusive and po-faced and box-ticking, but fun and diverse and joyful. Really joyful.

Of course, it’s not all joy and fun. If you’ve seen anything about this book (and how can you have not? It seems to be everywhere – but that’s OK!), you will know that the two central characters are an elderly Lido user who has lost her husband and possibly her purpose, and a young journalist who’s terribly alone in London and really just skimming along the surface with The Panic waiting to catch her at every turn. When the Lido is threatened by cuts, they end up teaming up and forming an unlikely but lovely friendship. And all sorts of people from the local community join in, but each has got their secret worry, from the bookshop owners who aren’t making quite enough money to the lad revising for his exams and hoping he’s reversed the turmoil he’d slipped into. And it’s not at all clear that the Lido can be saved.

The local newspaper office is beautifully done and I loved all the different locations in Brixton and Rosemary’s musings on the many identities the shop fronts have taken on over the years (there’s a lovely moment when she visits an achingly trendy cocktail bar, just because …). Intertwined with the modern-day story is the story of Rosemary and her George, whose whole lives can be tracked through their times spent at the Lido.

A special novel about a special and real place. I loved it – and it had me weeping twice, not because of anything terrible, but it was just terribly moving. I hope the author goes on to write many more lovely and life-affirming books like this.

Thank you to the publishers, Orion, for making this available via NetGalley and choosing me to receive it in return for an honest review. This book was published yesterday, in print, Kindle and audio versions, and I urge you to read it.

Book reviews – Georgette Heyer – “April Lady” and Diana Wynne Jones – “Charmed Life”, a #1977club fail and a confession

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Gosh, that’s a long title isn’t it! Two old favourites and multiple re-reads to review today, one of which was for Kaggsy and Simon‘s 1977 club and the other of which is an appropriate title for the month it’s read in, quite by accident (they’re small books, so shorter reviews), an epic fail on a re-read (I was warned! Kaggsy in fact warned me!) and a super acquisition from a lovely friend.

Let’s get going, then …

Georgette Heyer – “April Lady”

(03 June 2017 – Oxfam books)

From 1957, this is slightly later period Heyer, which surprised me when I read it, as there’s such a slew of cant and argot and jargon that slightly obfuscated the plot that I thought it was a less mature one.

It’s also interesting in that I think it might be the only (if not, it’s one of a very few) of her novels where the hero and heroine are already married at the start of the action. However, although they both married for love, Lady Nell Cardross believes her Earl married her for convenience, and still has Another, and the Earl believes she married him for his money. All very sortable-outable were it not for their respective brother and half-sister, both pretty silly, who get Nell involved in all sorts of plots and businesses, so there’s not time or bandwith to manage it. A very short but enjoyable read with all the London atmosphere and detail you’d want and an interesting ending. Although she’s slight, she writes well and I always recommend a Heyer for a comfort read.

Diana Wynne Jones – “Charmed Life”

(1980s – soon to be replaced. An Unfortunate Incident with a long-gone cat in the 1990s which I thought had been cleaned up has left a lasting stain (no odour) on a few of my children’s books, which I’m going to have to spend vast amounts of time and money tracking down and rebuying. So be it!)

This book was published in 1977 and represents my contribution to the 1977 Club (unfortunately, Bruce Chatwin’s “In Patagonia”, which I also have, was too substantial to fit into a very busy reading week, and see below for the other candidate).

A boy who is an orphan and doesn’t think very much of himself, overshadowed by his remaining family and domineering ward, finds out he has something to do with magic. There’s a powerful enchanter whose name must NOT be mentioned, a turrety castle with magical shape-shifting grounds and all sorts of spells designed to annoy other youngsters. Hmm … yet written in 1977, you say?

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to persuade Harry Potter fans to embrace the (in my eyes) superior Diana Wynne Jones books. Her Chronicles of Chrestomanci are well written, funny, engaging and short! This one was a re-read and I hadn’t read it for ages. I remembered some details, like the magic book of matches that has something to do with our hero, Eric “Cat” Chant and the violin that’s turned into a cat, but had completely forgotten the brilliant Janet Chant, brought in effectively from our world as a rapid replacement at a pivotal moment, more used to wearing trousers than Cat’s original sister’s fancy Edwardian style clothes and very down to earth. Love her!

One interesting feature I had forgotten is the magic garden which allows people to slip through into different worlds – this contains things from “the dawn of all the words” and includes a magic doorway which is like a rough stone lintel – reminding anyone of bits from C.S. Lewis’s “The Magician’s Nephew” and “The Last Battle”?

A DNF

I had originally picked Angela Carter’s “The Passion of New Eve” to re-read for the 1977 Club. I loved it (I thought). I’d read it a few times in my younger, brand-new-feminist years and loved the themes of gender identity and gender reassignment. Then I saw Kaggsy hadn’t been keen and asked why. “The unremitting rapes”. Oh, right. Well, I didn’t even get to the unremitting rapes; I gave up in the sado-masochistic manky rat-infested flat in post-apocalyptic New York. I hated the way black people were portrayed, I wasn’t keen on the wish-fulfilment acts of violent Women roaming the streets, and it was just pretty horrible. Sorry, Angela Carter, I’m going to leave you there.

A lovely book confession

I’m still not entirely sure how this happened, but my lovely friend Cari got hold of a print and e copy of this book by the amazing runner, Deena Kastor, and then happened upon her at a race expo in Washington DC and a book event in New York, and somehow she has ended up with a copy she’s read and a signed bookplate to keep and I’ve ended up with the hard copy book signed to me by Deena! Thank you so much Cari! I’ve just discovered Wendy from Taking the Long Way Home’s Book Club and this is her April book, so I’m hoping to fit it in after this weekend (I do have that Readathon I’m doing the last weekend in the month but I fear that’s going to be a Tardis of books shoehorned into not enough time!) and I’ve also requested her May book via NetGalley.


Phew, that’s a lot of stuff, hope you’re still with me! I’m currently reading Christopher Booker’s “The Seven Basic Plots” (which is going to take me some time) and “The Lido” by Libby Page, which comes out today and has had a lot of chatter and which is ABSOLUTELY LOVELY so far (I sat down to read it at breakfast and tore myself away at 33%) – it’s the story of two women who have got a bit lost in life battling to save a Lido, and is set in Brixton and Brockwell, beautifully realised). I really hope it lives up to this first third. I also need to start “Running the Smoke” which is 26 tales of running the London Marathon, a must-read as I go down to spectate for the first time in years, and support my lovely friend Bernice, running her first marathon.

What are you reading? Have you had a booky pinch point this year yet where there are just TOO MANY BOOKS to read in one week?

Book review – Scott Douglas – “Running is my Therapy” #RunningIsMyTherapy #NetGalley #amreading

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Scott Douglas Running is my TherapyI know this blog is all about running at the moment – I promise I’m now reading a Georgette Heyer then an Angela Carter so all will be back to normal soon! This is also about mental health, something I’m interested in, particularly its intersection with exercise, so when I spotted this on NetGalley thanks to a friend, I just had to request it.

Scott Douglas – “Running is my Therapy”

(19 January 2018 – from NetGalley)

I think this might be that elusive thing, a helpful book about the mental health effects of running that includes both personal experience and carefully checked research. Having said that, it is quite reliant on just running being the thing to do, and also goes into more detail of various experiments than a lot of people will be happy to read. However, for me, used to reading popular psychology and sociology books, it came across well and had a good balance.

Douglas starts off discussing how he was looking for this kind of book himself and not finding one, claiming that mental health issues remain unexplored in running culture. This was true but I think is becoming less so, but there was definitely a gap in the market.  He is clear that he’s used running to help his own clinical depression, finding it helps him to “be my best” and that it’s a powerful medicine whose effects he wants to share with other runners. He also makes the point that while running tends to make anybody who does it feel x degrees better, if you’re a depressive person, you can go “from being miserable to content”.

He asks the questions people want to know: how much running, what type of running and for how long is best for lifting your mood long-term. Really, he comes to the conclusion that ANY running is better than none, although there are some degrees of effort and achievement which have been proven to help lift us.

He starts the book off describing what depression and anxiety are and what treatments are available for them. He then goes on to describe the interaction of running and some of those treatments, so we get something about how running intersects with Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, for example, here proving helpful because apparently runners are good at talking themselves out of negative thought patterns, so have an “in” to CBT already. I actually thought this particular point was a bit one-sided, as we’re also very good at talking ourselves into negative thought patterns, allowing our brains to halt our bodies. He also talks about how runners are already good at talking therapy, down to the side-by-side deep conversations we already have, and I can understand that – although he’s also clear on when it’s time to stop relying on your friends and go and see a therapist. He then interviews a therapist who walks and runs with her clients in order to access that level of honesty and intimacy.

The chapter on mindfulness is shorter than the book on mindfulness and running I read a while ago and more useful, just concentrating on thinking about what’s around you rather than engaging in terrifyingly deep, life-changing conversations. Throughout the book, the author relates things to the feeling when you’ve just pushed yourself in some speed work or whatever which link the text back tightly into the reader’s running experience.

As he looks at the research, Douglas is rigorous in applying scientific method to it, explaining what review articles are and specifying when the exercise they put people through is just done for men who ride bicycles and don’t already need a prescription for anti-depressants, etc. This does make you more likely to trust what he says and is the mark of a well put-together and edited book.

The book talks about community and social running and also dips deep into the author’s life, detailing his addiction and how he came back from that. This makes it a curious mix of the very scientific and detached and the intensely personal. The useful appendix summarises his main findings and this section can very well be used to help someone move forward and stay well.

A book that requires some concentration but is useful.

Thank you to the publisher, The Experiment, and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this e-book in return for an honest review. The book is published today, 17 April 2018.

(not the) Manchester Marathon report #running

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I signed up for the 2017 Manchester Marathon at the same time as I signed up for the Birmingham Marathon for that year, in a frenzy of excitement after completing my first marathon in Reykjavik in August 2016, as soon as Birmingham was announced. Unfortunately, the operation I had to have last year coincided (in its original date) with Manchester and having decided going into surgery three days after running a marathon was not the best prep for recovery, I deferred the place.

I ran Birmingham in October 2017 (report here) and was hoping to start in on my training almost immediately, keeping things nice and long on the long runs and fit on the rest of things in the six months between the two.

Training

I picked up a slight injury running Birmingham (not my fault but the organisation meaning I had to run in the gutter for the last 7 or so miles, avoiding the poor half-marathon runners who were coming through) but some physio from the wonderful Fotios later and I was ready to go. My friend Bernice is doing London next weekend but had a holiday to contend with, so we had a similar schedule. As before, other friends joined us for parts of our long runs, which was really motivational and helpful.

The training went really well. I started from a base of 10 miles on 31 December and was ready to build up from there. I was soon doing 20 – 25 – 30 mile weeks with a lower week every four as I try to do. It’s SO much easier doing a subsequent marathon than your first, as you have learned lessons and also you’ve already done all the distances and know how to do your fuelling on long runs so there’s less to worry about. I was able to concentrate on keeping strong and also not coming out of a cracked rib or an operation meant I was starting strong which made a big difference. I was able to do many more tempo runs in the week, where I’d push myself to run faster than normal for longer than normal, got in all my yoga classes and felt so much stronger. Doing a 25-35 mile week most weeks seems optimal for my immune system as Mr Liz got three colds October-February and I had one day of sniffles all that time.

I had some lovely runs in Penzance when we were down for a holiday in January, including a 15 miler around Mount’s Bay and a 7 miler where I ran across the causeway to St Michael’s Mount! (picture)

We had some super runs, really fun, I felt strong, the pace was decent for even my long runs and I was heading for a PB in Manchester. It wasn’t easy – a lot of snow and ice made me have to move runs or do very tentative slippy runs, and some quite hard officiating duties at cross-country races etc (I’m training to be an Endurance Official) meant I had some quite hard runs tired – although that’s good practice of course and good for the old resilience.

The last long run was a case in point illustrating why I don’t want to do any more spring marathons. It was supposed to be on Sunday 18 March – 23 miles. All good. I was at the Midlands Road Relays in the snow on the Saturday, please stay just like this, no more … woke up on Sunday to thick snow. So instead of doing the long run on Sunday I had to move it to the Tuesday afternoon. Long story short, I didn’t digest my lunch, it didn’t help fuel me, nor did my gels and drink, I had awful stomach pains that only wore off after 19 miles … at which point leg cramps happily arose! Argh! So that was not fun and was 21 miles only. I then did a recovery run the Thursday and a 15 mile first run of taper on Sunday 25 March as planned. However, that gave me a 40 mile week and it turns out …

The taper

I went into the taper feeling so well, much more energetic than the last two marathons. But I’d felt a scratchy throat on the Saturday, enjoyed my 15 miles as part of Bernice’s last long run, and then on the Monday came down with a cold. OK, fine, race day is 8 April, I’m not going to do much running, just one more taper run, I shrug off colds quickly, I’ll be fine.

I was not fine.

The cold dragged on. It never went to my chest but stuck in my throat – I had laryngitis for a few days with no voice at all. I was so tired and couldn’t run without coughing. I took vitamins, flu pills, fruit juice, ate well, stayed in and warm and it would not shift. The week before race day I could not decide what to do. The Saturday, when we were due to go up to Manchester I realised I had a good chance of not finishing if I started. I would hate to do that when I could have made an informed decision. And being a marshal and official I would hate to use up their time when there might be someone with a sudden problem to look after (I am only considering my own decision here, I don’t have anything to say about people who might have run feeling like this, that’s up to them).

Race day

So I pulled out of the race and race day saw me sat sadly on the sofa watching my friends run round on the tracker app. Oh dear! However, I had a nosebleed (turns out you shouldn’t use those nasal sprays TOOO much) at the exact time I would have started, and there’s no way I could have run a marathon that day, even though I was feeling well enough for normal life, so I had made the right decision.

Forming in the back of my mind, though, as I looked for other marathons and discovered they were on days I couldn’t do or had cut-offs I couldn’t manage, was to not waste the training. Could I do an unofficial marathon the next weekend, around the local area, with a few friends to accompany me?

The “race”

My friend Sam was also unable to run Manchester with the same cold. So I asked her along …

Dave, Jenny, Liz, Sam, Erdington Six Ways

So Sam and I started at 8am in Kings Heath. Dave Johnson was first to join us at Acocks Green bus garage and we were quite fresh then. Stechford Baths saw Jenny Louise Boylan Drew join us thanks to finding us in the car, and we set off again. I used the loo in a tile place because needs must when marathoning, I had some stomach pains first half of the run but nothing too bad. We ran to Erdington along the 11 bus route, including my favourite under the M6 bit. Jenny left us after the second M6 bit, massive thanks to the Boy for the cheering on.

Trudie, Dave, Sam, Liz, Grace and No 11 bus, Acocks Green Bus Garage (photo by Trudie)

We slogged on through, we got lost at one point somehow but spotted Dave across a car park. Tracie Clive beeped us several times and leapt out of a hedge to say hello! Yay! Another break at Stechford then Trudie Marie and Grace Garner were at Tesco Swan, hooray! Grace did Manchester the weekend before and ended up doing 16.6 miles, however many of them a lot slower than her normal pace. Getting slower and more painful but we pushed on up the hills. Goodbye to Dave at Acocks Green, a wonderful 13.3 with us and we were very grateful. He also helped us to “collect” sightings of furniture which was our inadvertent theme of the day. We carried on, ooooh it hurt. A break at my house to collect drinks, have a bite of a banana and a fresh hanky then loop and loop around Kings Heath, just following Trudie and Grace who both saw us to the end, epically, even though they had to run further than they’d intended.

Trudie, Grace, Liz and Sam with MEDALS

We went into the local park for the last 1.4 miles, my watch had failed at mile 19.47 but we’d done a SUM (wrong) and we knew how much we had to do on Trudie’s watch. A bit of Jeffing (walking and running) but not too much, some sobs here and there – after all both Sam and I missed Manchester with a cold virus so we weren’t completely better, and had not run much. Round the park, through the pond area, Trudie cheering us on, Grace sweeping us up, and we were DONE and Trudie had medals for us. her husband Dave kindly gave me a lift home. Training NOT wasted. I had to add Trudie’s file to mine but we definitely did 26.3 miles. WHEEE! A real team effort.

Lessons learned

Next marathons are easier than the first one.

It’s easier to go into marathon training having some miles in the legs and fitness.

Long-distance runners are bloomin’ resilient.

I need to carry on doing marathons. I’m not done with them yet.

Book review – Katarina Bivald – “The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend” plus book confessions and challenges #readathon @readathon #amreading

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Look at me getting through the books on the shelf with another paperback taken off … and I’ve picked up that HUGE one to start, too. However, there are three confessions under this review. To be fair on me, two of them (with I think two more to come) I ordered on a pre-order thing (a bit like the old subscription model for publishing books) in September 2016, so I can hardly be castigated for clicky-clicky sins committed that long ago … can I?

Katarina Bivald – “The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend”

(03 June 2017)

This was bought as a random purchase in Oxfam and I’m very pleased with it. I do love a small-town America story and so does the Swedish author, and this has the added deliciousness of being seen from an outsider’s perspective. It opens very notably with shy Sara standing on the main street of Hope, Iowa, nose in a book, waiting for a lift to an epistolatory friend’s house in Broken Wheel. But something seems to have gone wrong.

Now, this is a romance to an extent, but a very quirky one, and it fulfils the criteria of two women talking about something other than a man very nicely. Because Sara’s a bookaholic and the one thing she wants to do for the residents of Broken Wheel before her visa runs out is get them reading. She sets up a bookshop, adds brilliant labels to the shelves, and waits to see what she can do. And whether it’s a pillar of the church sniffing out the gay erotica or a broken and pitied man getting a taste for chick lit, it starts to work.

There are the usual quirky small-town characters – I loved Grace from the diner and her outcast tales, and there’s an ex-teenage mum and the owner of the general store, but all seen, as I said, by an outsider. I loved the way it very subtly pushes an integration and diversity agenda into the reader’s mind and the town’s habits. There are some very pertinent points here – the book was published in 2013 but written earlier, and at one point in the action, the gay couple in the book consider a plan for a marriage:

Andy and Carl looked at one another, amazed by how simple it was for heterosexual people to say those words. “She has to get married,” they said to each other quietly.

It’s also blisteringly honest on the microscope of small-town life and the price that’s paid if you go against the norms, whether as a teenage mum or a single woman who had one embarrassing moment early on and has steered clear of men forever more. I liked how the men in the book were caring and vulnerable as much as the women, very balanced but not in a lectury way.

The links and musings on books are lovely, from a random list of first lines that everyone will get something out of to mentions of books you might love, too – I was particularly pleased to see mention of Fannie Flagg’s “A Redbird Christmas” and there’s praise from Flagg on the back, too. Oh, and Iris Murdoch’s “The Sea, The Sea” is inserted into the text on the shelf of books that gives this novel its title – hooray! This isn’t all spoon-fed to the readers – some books and characters are inserted very subtly into the narrative.

Only one shocker – and this made me laugh, after reading this post on Hard Book Habit a few days ago – when I got to the end it turned out to be a Richard & Judy book club choice!


On to the CONFESSIONS. First off, I went to a new hairdresser on Tuesday, having been with my previous one for about eight years. Closer at hand and run by someone from my running club, but it’s still nerve-wracking changing hairdresser, amiright? Anyway, all went very well, I have my hair back to how I like it and it was SO QUICK getting there and back compared to the old one that I somehow fell into the Oxfam Books shop and spotted this one. A book about music by favourite poet and travel writer Simon Armitage? Had to be done.

Then just LOOK at these lovelies. Back in September 2016, I found out that Lethe Press were reprinting author and friend Paul Magrs’ earliest novels, the Phoenix Court series. Think magical realism set around North-Eastern tower blocks and precincts. I loved these and realised a while ago that I’d read them when they were new, getting them out of Lewisham Library when I lived in New Cross Gate. I have such happy memories of reading them and finding a great, new – different, very different – writer, and then a few years later got in touch with Paul after reading his book “Exchange” in 2006 (here’s my 2012 review) and have met him and count him as a friend. ANYWAY, Lethe Press were doing a pre-order thing, kind of like the subscription model that publishing used to use, and what is hopefully the first two of a series have now arrived – what fabulous covers! They have additional material, too, short stories and the like. What a treat!

Finally (sorry for the long post) some challenges. Yes, I know I’m not doing challenges this year.

It’s nearly time for Simon and Karen’s [year] club and this time round it’s the 1977 Club. As I’ve wanted to re-read Angela Carter’s “The Passion of New Eve” forever, I have earmarked that to read on Monday. Hooray!

I’m also going to be reading as much as I can in the 24 hours from 1pm on 28 April to 1pm on 29 April as I’ve realised I’ve got space in my schedule to do Dewey’s Readathon, which I know a few bloggers I follow do. All very exciting. FAQs here and do join in if you fancy it.

Oh, and actually finally, I’ve started reading Christopher Booker’s “The Seven Basic Plots” which is that basically humongous book you can see in my TBR pic at the top. It’s impossible to read apart from in bed, so I’ve also started Georgette Heyer’s “April Lady” (topical!), having finished another NetGalley book which I’ll review over the weekend.

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