Book review – Robert Ferguson – “Scandinavians” #amreading


I couldn’t wait to pull this one off the shelf as a bit of a different non-fiction read, passed to me by my friend Sian. She usually likes harder or more experimental books than me but I think we basically agree on this one.

Robert Ferguson – “Scandinavians: In Search of the Soul of the North”

(24 March 2018, via BookCrossing)

This entertaining and long book starts off with an ill-planned trip to Copenhagen as a young man. We hear all about the various trials and tribulations but it doesn’t put him off and he moves to Norway, I think married to a Norwegian.

Ferguson’s plan for the book is:

… what isn’t, strictly speaking, a history so much as a journey, a discursive and digressive stroll through the last thousand years of Scandinavian culture in search of the soul of the north.

And from ill-fated explorers to a group of intellectuals who might have invented nordic gloom to a multiple killer, we meet the people who made Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with small excursions into Iceland, and also the people Ferguson has met (Sian is correct: he does have a remarkable facility for remembering conversations). He’s interested on the shifting fortunes of the three countries and the relationships between them, too.

It’s generally entertaining and informative: I liked the memoir parts more than some of the history and will admit to having skipped the play that pops up part way through and some of the detailed film discussions. But the parts on the wars, women’s roles in society, etc. were very interesting. I also realised that I’d never known what the 30 Years’ War was all about and now I (probably temporarily) understand that a bit better, so there we go!

I’m reading a very light novel set in an outdoor theatre not unlike the Minack in Cornwall, another easy win plucked from the shelves. Should have it finished tomorrow, although tomorrow is running post day, of course! And I’ve finished my Iris Murdoch for the month, so look out for that review soon …

Book review – Corinne Hofmann – “Reunion in Barsaloi” #amreading


I’m going to admit to having picked a couple of “easy wins” off the bookshelf to try to get the TBR down a bit. I’m also aware I haven’t done the competition winners for the Lethe Press books yet – please bear with, as they say. Things have been a bit hectic recently. At least I’m actually updating this blog: my work one has fallen behind, but as that’s due to having a full work roster, I’m kind of OK with that …

Corinne Hofmann – “Reunion in Barsaloi”

(21 January 2018, from Gill)

Gill had kindly gone through the more elderly parts of my book wish list and picked this one off and I’m so glad I found out what happened next.

18 years before the events in this book, German Corinne was on a ferry in Kenya when she turned and looked into the eyes of a Masai warrior. Her two previous books detailed her affair with, marriage to and flight from this enigmatic man, and dealt in depth with her life in his very rural village an interactions with her mother. This book explores what happens when she goes back, their daughter 14 (and not with her, to save her from possible early marriage and worse) to make contact with her old family again.

Essentially, it’s the story of two weeks in a whole book, so there’s some recapitulation and a lot of detailed emotions and visits. But it’s fascinating to see the two meet again and see their relationship now. I love a book about life in a new country, and those detailing inter-cultural relationships are so interesting. In Corinne’s case, she was – and still is – interwoven with the whole village community.

In addition to this personal homecoming, she visits the film set where the film of her first book is being made, and meets the people playing her and her husband. She seems deeply emotional about this, but almost ashamed of being so.

A fascinating book with sometimes infuriating main protagonists which I was nevertheless very interested and glad to read.

I’m currently finishing Robert Ferguson’s “Scandinavians” which was great until it went into a weird play which I have to admit I skipped. More on that later in the week.

Sedate lady running 01-07 October 2018 #amrunning #running


A kind of standard week with not much of interest to report. Oh, except I signed up for Race to the Stones (2nd day only, NO  CAMPING). I’ve bought a book (of course I’ve bought a book) which suggests developing a 25-mile-a-week running habit before starting the 24-week training plan, so I’m quite reassured that I only need to ramp it up a few miles a week till the end of the year. All ultra tips gladly received!

Tuesday – Our other four-mile club run, which takes an alternative route but still has an impressive hill, this time in the last mile. It’s properly dark from half way through now, so I got out the head torch and went dressed inadvertently as a character from a well loved film series. No one actually mentioned I looked like a Minion, thank goodness.

Accidental minion outfit!

I ran with Ruth, my lovely friend who’s doing a half every month in memory of her dad, and Ursula, who is a seasoned marathon and ultrarunner and gave me some good tips along the way. This route goes through a slightly sketchy junction and there were some kids around hurling insults and some throwing eggs from a car. I’m not entirely sure I’m happy doing this route again but I trust our club leadership to work out what should be done.

I’d had what I thought was a terrible dash up to club, after getting caught up talking to a neighbour, but actually dashed home more quickly, these giving me a higher pace per mile on average.

5.5 miles, 12:12 mins per mile

Wednesday – circuits. The only way I was going to get these done today was starting when we get up, before breakfast. Here I am demonstrating how dark it was, although of course I did it perfectly normally with the lights on in the sitting room!

Early circuits!

I’d had a chat with Paul the coach about my progress and what to do to change things up, so I took out the step-ups, which are just fiddly and are replicated by my warm-up up and down the stairs, and moved the one-legged-bridges to 45s each side (aiming for a minute). I should see it in my running soon, but I don’t do much that I measure. We’re going to have a running form session soon, too, to check I’m not wasting too much energy. We’re so lucky the chaps got trained up as coaches for the club; it’s such a good resource even if you only dip in and out, like I do.

I meant to do yoga mid-morning but I was wobbly of limb so didn’t! Oops! One day …

Thursday – I had a pre-breakfast solo run around the usual morning route and added a run down a side road to bring my mileage up. I slightly pushed it on this one as I wanted to keep under 12 minute miles, so I was pleased to see the GAP, which is your pace adjusted for the elevation change, went upwards through my miles even though my actual pace didn’t, once it was loaded into Strava:

I’d gone out a little later than usual so was feeling quite hungry by the time I got home – I can’t do a very long run before breakfast but it’s nice to sit down to your Shreddies having had a good push round. Oh, and here’s Highbury Hall, Joseph Chamberlain’s residence. You’ve seen Highbury Park, which is a public park made of the grounds of the house, in last week’s report.

Highbury Hall

4.7 miles, 11:40 mins per mile

Sunday – A lovely solo 10-miler today. It’s not often that I run that far on my own, but I had varied surfaces and a good number of dog walkers to keep my interest. For some reason I can’t get my photos up on here so I’ll add them to next week’s round-up.

10.1 miles, 12:11 mins per mile

Miles this week: 20.3

Progress towards 1,000 miles in the year:  811 miles (ahead of target. In fact, I’ve now run further than I’ve ever run in a year before! I’ve also apparently spent a full week of 24-hour days running this year!!)

The big question

Thank you for helping me decide to sign up for my first ultramarathon last week (eee! Yes, I’ve bought a book already, but tell me other ones – I’ve already read Jurek and Karnazes). It’s the 31-mile Race to the Stones Day 2, on chalky, stoney but not apparently horribly technical surfaces. So …

If you’ve run an ultra (or more than one!), what’s the one thing you wish someone had told you beforehand? What did you wish you’d done differently?

Thank you!

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.

Book review – Dean Karnazes – “Run! 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss” #amreading


Dean Karnazes and I are the most opposite kinds of runners you could hope to meet. Man/woman, competitor/participant, front of the pack/back of the pack, pushes to the limits/doesn’t like pushing themselves, likes pain/dislikes pain, runs terrifying ultras in Death Valley and Antarctica/prefers a road race and is pushing the envelope to run on the Ridgeway for a day. But a lot of runners like running books and, like the fact that I will never climb a mountain or sail across the ocean single-handed, I like reading about what other runners do. I’m not sure I’m the ideal audience for this book (as we shall see) but there we go!

Dean Karnazes – “Run!”

(04 November 2017 BookCrossing via Cari)

Cari and I have a decade-and-a-half long transatlantic book swapping habit that has now become a running book swapping habit. Parcels make their way across the sea, and sometimes we enjoy the difference of the alternative editions (in this, the US edition of the book, Karnazes is shirtless on the front cover; in the UK edition, he’s firmly t-shirted).

To that audience, first. Dean seems to think his readers can be defined thus:

My suspicion is that, like me, most of you reading these pages are drawn to extremes. Moderation bores you. You seek challenges and adventures that dwell on the outer edges. The path of least resistance is not a route often traveled. (p. 161)

My edges are obviously not that far out there: as mentioned above, I’m a determined non-risk-taker, careful and conservative in my running. Oh …

He also describes a running buddy’s journey into ultras as:

His running had become obsessive, fanatical and reckless. In other words … perfect. (p. 80)

Oh, again. But only perfect in one way, right. And we are talking those kind of races in this book that push you right to the limits – ultramarathons in Death Valley and the like. My limits happen to be 26 (maybe 31) miles on a nice firm surface with water stations and perhaps cakes liberally sprinkled along the way. We’re all different, and Karnazes does inspire people: such runners are contrasted in other books, but there is much mention of runners helping each other out in the field, and that’s the running I really do recognise.

He also talks about how people find their real selves in a marathon or ultra, and I can relate to that: even if finding your true self means finding you don’t like to push yourself too hard and are very conservative with your energy! I really did find out about myself in my last marathon that I value self-preservation over competition, even to the extent of risking missing a cut-off in order not to be flat on my back on the floor at the end. I mean, I also found grit and determination and all that, but that was the biggest learning point.

Anyway, the book, in 26.2 chapters, is broken up into some loosely linked and some separate stories about his adventures in ultrarunning (though his most emotional is a 10k with his daughter, which is a very sweet read). It’s good to read in little chunks because of the format, and he does cover all areas of his life so you get an idea of the person as well as the runner.

He covers all sorts of races including ones he suffers in (I liked the one where he’s found wandering clutching a bouquet of wild flowers he’s apparently picked). I really enjoyed his story of carrying the torch in the Beijing Olympic relay in San Francisco.

I enjoyed the chapters interviewing his wife and kids and the one written by Topher, his ex-support crew and runner in own right. He enjoys Topher blowing up in his first race (“A sympathetic man would have offered his condolences. However, I am not a sympathetic man” (p. 74). In fact, Topher gets his own back at the end of the book doing some kind of event around Mount Blanc and knowing what to do with his running poles:

He was a running machine. I, on the other hand, was a stumbling buffoon. (p. 251)

reminding us that Karnazes is never afraid to show his own weaknesses: it’s quite sweet that he’s so proud of his protegé, who is now the one waiting for him on the finish line.

An interesting book for those who like reading about extreme running, even if you’re not an extreme runner (and that’s of course fine).

Book Review – Charles Thomas – “Exploration of a Drowned Landscape” plus #bookconfessions plus @ShinyNewBooks news


A bit of a complicated post today as I’ve been beavering away at the editing and transcription face all week and haven’t had time to update my reviews. So we have a review (and what lovely stamps the book I’m reviewing came with on its parcel, seen in the picture to the side!), some book confessions I promised last Sunday, and this nice Shiny news: my less-personal-more-professional review of “Viking Britain: A History” by Thomas Williams was published this week. Read the full review here with a different slant to the one on this blog.

Charles Thomas – “Exploration of a Drowned Landscape”

(23 August 2018)

I’d asked my Cornish friends what the best book on the history and archaeology of the Isles of Scilly was, as we’re going there later in the year. The reply from my friend Liz was this one, and I managed to pick up a reasonable copy on ABE Books (the ones on Amazon Marketplace were very dear, I didn’t want anyone thinking I’d got into trouble with book prices!).  Pleasingly, it has both a pasted in author signature and the name and address of a previous owner: more on that a little later.

It’s not the kind of book the casual reader might pick up, as it’s a serious tome on all sorts of aspects of the Isles of Scilly. It starts with a very scientific exploration of the probable cause of the “drowned” field and house wall features that become displayed when the tide is very low, below the normal sea level, and then goes on to explore why there are so many cairns and cists and how the settlement of the islands might have gone. I found this fascinating.

We get on to recorded history soon enough, and lots of meaty detail from rolls and records. Actually, here, having read the Vikings book helped, as I was more aware of the early rulers of the region. We then look at some details of different islands, for example the abandonment of Samson and the religious buildings. I loved hearing a few details about the pioneering Augustus Smith, who did the gardens at Tresco and apparently had some ostriches there at some point! There is a final chapter that I will admit didn’t interest me quite so much on Tennyson’s use of the Scillies and West Penwith for his Arthurian poems.

There are flashes of humour and polemic in the book – at one point, the author would have completed a wade on almost dry land because his trousers, wife and money had been left behind on Tresco, and he does rail against unstructured and unrecorded picking over of sites, justifiably.

The illustrations are great: proper hand-drawn maps and diagrams of pots and finds, and some great old photographs from a variety of sources. The comparisons of maps through time are particularly enjoyable.

And then at the end of the book, when it opens flat more easily, we find pencil annotations and some highlighter pen when he talks about the Woodcock family from St Martin – and the name with that address in the front of the book? A Mr Woodcock!

A good read and taught me a lot about the landscape and history that I hope I will put to good use. I’d like to know how things have developed since it was written in the 1980s.

Some confessions now …

So, thanks to my (lovely) friend Bernice, I appear to have signed up for an ultramarathon, to be run in July next year (it’s a safe and reasonably flat one, the Race to the Stones, the second day only, no camping and the shortest extra distance there really is, so 31 miles). What did I do upon signing up? Buy a book (of course). This is by Krissy Moehl, who is a renowned runner and rated by people like Scott Jurek. I like the fact that she has plain and simple rather than gung-ho advice, and a special chapter for women, too. It looks like it will be a good companion on the journey to those stones (not literally: I don’t think you’re expected to pack a book).

Nancy Marie Brown’s “The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman” was sitting in my shopping basket and it seemed a good overlap between going far and being interested in Viking stuff: I’ve read two of her other books and she’s a good and competent scholar.

Then the book my friend Katherine Findlay edited, “The Icelandic Adventures of Pike Ward” was published: it’s the 1906 diary of a Devon man who became an Icelandic knight …

And finally, lovely Bookish Beck had decided not to keep her “lurid series” [my phrase] edition of Iris Murdoch’s “The Italian Girl” (read her review here) and decided to send it to me. How lovely! Thank you!!

Lucky me, right?!

State of the TBR – October 2018 #amreading


Apologies for posting twice in one day – I know it’s all feast or famine with me at the moment. I got behind with my Iris Murdoch post but I don’t like this one not to be on the first of the month! I’ll not keep you long …

Well, I don’t think the TBR is that bad at the moment, although I’m not sure how that’s happened (OK, I moved two Paul Magrs novels to the Pile so I have the set together) as I only read SIX BOOKS last month. Shocking! I have almost finished another two, and one of those and one of the six was quite a hefty non-fiction read, but still. I will have to remedy that.

I’m currently reading Dean Karnazes’ “Run” (I will just say here that he is the complete polar opposite of me as a runner in every way there can be – not a bad thing, but sometimes an uncomfortable reading experience, however … I might be becoming more similar to him in one way quite soon (no that doesn’t involve running with few clothes on!), watch this space for my next Book Confessions. The other read is Charles Thomas’ excellent and learned book on the archaeology and history of the Isles of Scilly, homework for our trip later this year, and I’m almost finished with that one, too. Very good, with some interesting annotations, too!

Up next we have a couple of November purchases (I’m slightly pushing back against “Run Fast” as that’s not my schtick, but maybe there are some hints for running strong, which I do like to do) and then Christmas books, with some lovely and surprising not so secret Santa books and the last one from dear Verity’s parcel. Plus, early on, “Bruno’s Dream” as I felt terrible reviewing my last Iris Murdoch so late!

How was your September reading? What have you got planned for October? Have you somehow booked yourself to run an ultramarathon next summer? No, only me and Bernice …?

“The Nice and the Good” roundup and “Bruno’s Dream” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch


It’s time (in fact it’s over time, as I’m a day late, again) to catch up on what went on with our reading of “The Nice and the Good” and to look forward to “Bruno’s Dream”.

I reviewed the book here and we’ve had a good discussion already, even though I posted quite late in the month (I struggled with putting together my review somehow). You can also read Jo’s Goodreads review here and I will add more as I’m sent them.

I had lots of contributions of alternative covers for “The Nice and the Good”. Lucky I’m not collecting them myself, right?

The first American edition from Viking (submitted by Elaine Brix and David Mahon) has a lovely author photo.









The blurb

and David added this excellent character list from his copy:

(interesting point: Fivey is named as “Ewan” in Judy’s letter in the UK version. Is he Gavin in the US one?)

Bookish Beck has another of the very odd 70s Penguin covers. Who is this even supposed to be?

and Peter Rivenberg contributed his later Penguin, of which he comments, “Rather conventional and artistic. But as an added bonus, this second-hand book came with a used parking disc from the Cork City Council as a bookmark.”

Bruno’s Dream

Moving on to Bruno’s Dream, I have three copies: my first edition, my Triad Granada 1980 reprint, bought in the mid-80s, and the Vintage Classic. Don’t get me started on why they left this one out of the new red spined editions. But they did. At least it still has an introduction.

Here are the blurbs from the original …

which seems to sum it all up very well (I’ve completely forgotten Lisa, however: will I remember her as I re-read this for the third or fourth time?). Triad Granada went for:

and Vintage are more brief:

Are you going to be reading or re-reading “Bruno’s Dream” 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.

Newer Entries