“The Black Prince” roundup and “The Sacred and Profane Love Machine” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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Oh dear, it’s only a couple of days since I posted my review of “The Black Prince” – I promise I’ll be starting the next read tomorrow! Fortunately, my lovely fellow Readalongers held onto their thoughts and shared them as soon as it was up, so there’s already a discussion going on on the review – do add your thoughts to that post, even if you’re coming to the book after January 2019, as I always love to hear what people think.

As well as the discussion on the review, Jo has done another of her excellent Goodreads reviews so do pop and read that here. I particularly enjoyed the quotes she shared at the end of the review.

Peter Rivenberg has come up proper trumps with his covers for this one – he has the Penguin edition after mine, a great US paperback (the very one that was thrown across a room, not by him!) and a collected edition (but when was that published and when did it go up to? Here we go …

The Warner Paperback Library first – who is the chap, and why is Julian meditating with a funny vase? Is it the vase that Bradley breaks bringing back from Bristol? But then how …

As Peter says, the back of the book shows what an event this was:

I have to say I have never seen footnotes on a blurb before – marvellous!

Here’s the Penguin Modern Classic

… and the promises of sex and violence on the back. OK, there is sex and violence, but this is a bit odd, isn’t it?

In fact there’s rather too much violence for my liking!

And the lovely colours of that collected edition

and it’s own blurb:

“The Sacred and Profane Love Machine”

I’m not sure what it is about this book, but although I’ve read it at least three times, and probably one more as I have a 1980s copy, I can only ever remember an awful lot of standing on lawns, looking into windows (which hardly distinguishes it from all the other novels) and the shocking thing near the end. So I’m interested to see what I make of it this time round. I did draw a relationship diagram in my notebook last time round which I will try to remember to share.

I have three copies of this: the first edition by Chatto and Windus, a Penguin reprinted in 1984 (so probably bought in about 1986 in my first rush of Murdoch reading) and the Vintage before last, as this is one they didn’t reprint with the red spines (it does at least have an introduction).

I find it interesting that they all have very similar looking and rather fussy cover images – I wonder what other people’s editions show.

A bit of blurb recycling going on as ever, too. Here’s the first edition’s flap:

Then the Penguin:

and then Vintage have read the first edition, I feel …

Are you going to be reading or re-reading “The Sacred and Profane Love Machine” 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 – Iris Murdoch – “The Black Prince” #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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I’m so sorry this is so late – life and work have got in the way, I only finished this yesterday morning and here I am, trying to get the review in by the end of the month. I am enjoying the project and I massively welcome and appreciate everyone’s input: sorry if you’ve been waiting, poised with your amazing comments and reviews!

I’m going to start the next one on Friday, and that’s a promise!

Iris Murdoch – “The Black Prince”

(October 2018)

This is really one of those books that changes as you re-read it, I think – and I’ll be interested to hear other people’s experiences if they’re doing a re-read. I must have read it first in 1995, as that’s when my oldest copy is dated, although maybe I’d read my friend Mary’s copy before then. I remember then, at age 23, identifying with Julian and thinking she was great, and feeling it was all a bit Lolita-y. Now of course I’m nearer Bradley’s age than Julian’s and I see that actually it’s a book about menopausal women and the horrors of marriage!

I can see this in the context of a phase of IM’s experimenting with form. This story of eccentric loner retired tax man failed author Bradley and his violent falling in love with his rival, Arnold Baffin’s, daughter, alongside a backdrop of his sister’s arrival fresh from her failed marriage and his ex-wife’s return to London as a widow, with her weird brother. Although the scene moves from London to the coast, it’s quite one of her “closed” novels in that there’s a small group of characters and not much of the outside world – apart from Bradley’s colleague, who himself is pulled into the fold rather amusingly by the end. Where “An Accidental Man” worked through party chatter and chapters of letters, this narrative is nested within layers of editorial and commentary, something IM didn’t return to in the other novels as far as I can think. I will find it interesting to read “The Sacred and Profane Love Machine” in light of these experiments.

I had forgotten about what is pretty much a rape scene, when Bradley falls upon Julian having seen her dressed as a schoolgirl Hamlet. I really don’t understand how I’ve missed this stuff in two books now: I’ve always been a feminist, a domestic violence campaigner, alive to the assaults women experience day in, day out. It’s not like I was awakened by #MeToo and can suddenly see this stuff. I’m not saying IM condones it (although she talks here and there about people wanting to be forced, etc.) but it’s pretty horrible. I’m also not saying Bradley is a nice or attractive character, so he’s even more rapey than almost-forgiveably horrified by himself Garth in the last novel.

This novel is unusual in my mind in not really having a saint or an enchanter. Bradley is obsessed with Arnold and in love with Julian in some way, and induces a slavish secretarial following in Francis Marloe, but not really in an enchanter way. He’s also “a failed person” but “a trouble maker” (p. 43) – although he’s messy and weepy and contingent, being seen as an active stirrer makes him unsaintly, plus he’s into psychoanalysis, not something that’s often a positive in the novels. Bradley achieves some kind of unselfing when he becomes a void on loving Julian (p. 232) but this is soon lost in control and ego. Maybe Shakespeare is Bradley’s enchanter. Various men are described as demonic, but in a sort of more general way, somehow.

It’s really a musing on art, isn’t it – or a musing on musings on art, maybe, which follows the metafictional form of the novel. I had to both smile at this and wonder if it’s IM’s description of her own work in Arnold’s:

“he lives in a sort of rosy haze with Jesus and Mary and Buddha and Shiva and the Fisher King all chasing round and round dressed up as people in Chelsea. (p. 137)

I also liked the aside about critics, which would have been a nice epigraph for my book on IM and the Common Reader:

‘So the critics are just stupid?’

‘It needs no theory to ell us this! One should simply try to like as much as one can.’ (p. 240)

We do have our usual themes. The Civil Service is there, with Bradley’s ex-job as a tax inspector. Thinking of siblings, we only have Bradley and Priscilla and Christian and Francis. There’s plenty of hair: Rachel’s is gingery and wiry, while Julian has a weird crest which turns into those familiar flat metallic locks we’ve had before. There’s a heck of a lot of water – lots and lots of women’s ugly crying for a start, and then the sea in the Patara sequence, bringing calm but emphasising Julian and Bradley’s differences, she cavorting in the waves, he unable to swim. And a mist comes over the sea and over them as they try to live in their little bubble of love for a few days. Christian has a face like “a grotesque ancient mask” (p. 93), another small theme we notice again and again. Bradley stares in the windows of the Baffin house and happily we are back chasing a pale thing through the night, except this time it’s a balloon!

Doubling: we have two locations, two ended marriages bring people into Bradley’s life, and scenes at the Baffin household of mayhem and violence at both ends of the novel, even before P. Loxias’ intro and outro. Rachel and Priscilla both cry, half-dressed, in bed. Roger and Bradley both have relationships with very much younger women, Roger being successful with his. There are stones on the beach which are brought back to the bungalow and arranged. The buffalo woman is a strange symbol, usually accompanying someone of great wisdom, but broken until Francis mends it …

There is humour – Bradley failing to catch his train over and over again, his identification with the Post Office Tower and his horror at using the simile of a red-hot needle through the liver which he has picked up from Priscilla. Much of the novel is too horrific, though, for a smile to be raised.

Links with the other novels do abound. I’ve always felt this had a lot in common with “The Sea, The Sea” in terms of the unreliable and egocentric narrator, but this time round he also reminded me of Hilary in “A Word Child”, possibly because of the brother-sister relationship and back story. As in “An Accidental Man”, at least Rachel and also to an extent Priscilla are shown to have been diminished by their marriages in what could be brought round to a feminist tone. There’s also a lot about “women of a certain age” becoming hysterical and basically menopausal, which is not something I associated IM for writing about until I remembered all those faded and drying women, from “A Severed Head” through “The Nice and the Good” and onwards. Bradley not wanting to be “a nebulous bit of ectoplasm swaying around in other people’s lives” (p. 49) reminds us of is it Willy Kost who uses the same metaphor? Broken china features, as in “An Accidental Man” and a set of books are torn up, as Rupert’s book is in “A Fairly Honourable Defeat”. Rachel, suddenly naked to the waist, recalls Annette in “Flight from the Enchanter” and “The Italian Girl”. Julian climbs over a suburban fence (and her mother fails to), recalling so many fence climbers, from “Bruno’s Dream” maybe particularly. At the end Julian goes off to Italy in a car with her father – “The Flight from the Enchanter” springs to mind there, and another one? The theme of an ordeal which Bradley mentions he has in relation to Julian is going to come up in “The Green Night” and “A Good Apprentice”.

One last point: I was thrilled to notice a quotation from Njal’s Saga, one of my favourite Icelandic sagas:

There was even a sort of perfection about it. She had taken such a perfect revenge upon the two men in her life. Some women never forgive. ‘I would not give him my hair for a bowstring at the end. I would not raise a finger to save him dying’ (p. 382)

Those last two sentences are said by Gunnar’s wife as she fails to help him survive an attack on their homestead. How lovely to find that cropping up in an IM novel!

So a magnificent work that’s uncomfortable to read. Do we ALL know someone who threw it across a room and refused to finish it?


Please either place your review in the comments, discuss mine or others’, or post a link to your review if you’ve posted it on your own blog, Goodreads, etc. I’d love to know how you’ve got on with this book and if you read it having read others of Murdoch’s novels or this was a reread, I’d love to hear your specific thoughts on those aspects, as well as if it’s your first one!

If you’re catching up or looking at the project as a whole, do take a look at the project page, where I list all the blog posts so far.

Book review – Chrissie Wellington – “A Life Without Limits” plus some unseasonal confessions

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Having committed to a slightly unusual way of reading my TBR, I picked off the NEWEST book that had come in at the time to read next.* This was one given to me at the county cross-country championships by my friend Kate from the running club, after I’d asked to read the copy she was offering to people.

I also had a walk up the high street in the week which ended up with me somehow buying three Christmas books. But they’re set somewhere lovely, so that’s fine, right? Read on to find out about those …

Chrissie Wellington – “A Life Without Limits”

(05 January 2019, from Kate)

Several people have touted this as the best running/sport book they’ve read (it’s actually a triathlon book, and she came to the sport from the swimming side, but there’s plenty about running in it). Unfortunately, I can’t quite agree – I really didn’t find her relatable, although there’s a huge amount about her to admire of course, and I had difficulty reading about some of the issues she faced.

It’s clear that Wellington has always been incredibly driven, and this is why she managed to excel in a sport she only took up relatively late.  She’s stubborn and she admits she rushes into things, leading her to injure herself often and not get on well with her teammates in her first professional set-up. More importantly for me, in the early part of the book she details falling into two different eating disorders, with rather too much information about how this happened: I find it difficult to read about such things and although she does explain how she climbed out of them and acknowledges the help she had, it does feel rather that she swapped one compulsion for another, having previously enjoyed sport for the social side and then become driven to the point of, for example, swimming with a broken wrist inadequately waterproofed and getting an infection.

The book does open well with a description of her first Ironman World Championships with some visceral writing. A good word there: runners are usually very open about their toileting issues, etc., among themselves, and I’ve certainly read some other very “open” accounts, but she takes the discussion of GI issues and antics to a whole new level, which shocked even me (and I’ve been to the (staff) toilet in a tile shop during a DIY marathon, so very little shocks me!). This sentence, although a bit different from her other experiences, sums up the book for me:

The big day dawned, and I was encouraged by an unusual steadiness in my bowels. (p. 253)

Okaaaaay! I liked her race reports and enjoyment of racing with amateurs (she even has a chapter dealing with various charity fundraising, adversity overcoming and brave amateurs she admires). She mentions her mum taking an exam in swimming timekeeping and judging, which is the first mention of this kind of thing I’ve seen in a book (though she fires a gun to start a race in the book so must have done some exams herself!).

An unusual and late-developing talent is still torn down then built up again by a first coach who is very harsh indeed, and while this was interesting to read about, it was so alien to my experience or anything I’d want to experience that it was very hard to read (I know people have different ways and we can’t all be the same, but it was just alienating to read it).

So a decent and interesting book but not the best book on sport I’ve ever read. I was glad to have the chance to read it, though!


Those naughty books – so we have “Confetti at the Cornish Cafe” by Phillipa Ashley, about a cafe holding a wedding (no, you don’t say); “Christmas at the Little Wedding Shop” by Jane Linfoot, and “Christmas on the Little Cornish Isles” by Phillipa Ashley again – this one set on the Isles of Scilly! I rather suspect these are all some way through series, as they were all out on The Works’ Christmas themed shelves (and now reduced to £1 each) so I might be forced to look for the others or might save them for my next trip to Cornwall or Christmas and read them all then. Anyone familiar with the series?

And how do you read YOUR books?

Next up, Iris Murdoch’s “The Black Prince”. I’m a bit late starting it already …

* Because Grab the Lapels does something similar but not exactly the same, she has asked me to share her link about her way of doing it, which I share gladly here.

Book review – D.E. Stevenson – “Mrs Tim Carries On” @DeanStPress #amreading

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As regular readers know by now, I’ve been very fortunate to have been sent some lovely books published by Dean Street Press in their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint: I’ve already reviewed “Spring Magic” and “Alice” and here’s the third one, and what a treat it was. This is the follow-up to “Mrs Tim of the Regiment” which was republished by Bloomsbury and which I read last year (just after I’d had an operation: no wonder I didn’t remember much about it when I was reading Heaven-Ali’s review of the same book!). This was published in e-book and print form on Monday and I feel bad for not getting my review out more promptly, but the lovely people at Dean Street Press are very forgiving so I hope they don’t mind.

D. E. Stevenson – “Mrs Tim Carries On”

(12 November 2018)

The lovely first sequel to “Mrs Tim of the Regiment”, detailing the life and surroundings of a British Army wife from the 1930s onwards, this one is both written and set during the Second World War, a circumstance I always find very moving and poignant.

Although the upbeat and funny “Provincial Lady” tone prevails, Mrs Tim is careful to explain to her friend Grace exactly how it is she carries on and doesn’t become unnerved or hysterical, in a passage which describes so accurately SO MANY books and diaries from the period:

None of us could bear the war if we allowed ourselves to brood upon the wickedness of it and the misery it has entailed, so the only thing to do is not to allow oneself to think about it seriously, but just to skitter about on the surface of life like a water beetle. In this way one can carry on and do one’s bit and remain moderately cheerful.

Faced with crises on the home front, including an exciting interlude while out in the countryside and a lack of gloves to send the men at the front, but also a more serious concern about Tim himself, she passes the test with flying colours, smoothing over skittish servants and dealing with her two precocious and amusing children,  plus her statuesque house guest, Pinkie (I do love the portrayal of female friendships in the book) and her complex affairs, friends far and near and characters from the first novel and even an influx of Polish airmen with whom she has to communicate in her schoolgirl French.

A trip to London to see her brother before he goes to war and then on to Essex to visit Tim’s uncle and aunt (brother and sister) contrasts with the fairly quiet time they have been having at the army base in Scotland, with the London blackout and a bomb crater being converted into a rockery respectively. Uncle Joe’s speech about his reaction to the threat of invasion is very moving and the book captures very well the spirit of carrying on and not complaining, but with many funny scenes and set pieces.

Although this book itself seems to come to an interesting and settled idea for a conclusion to their vagabond lifestyle, there are two more books to come in the series, and I’ve already put a paper copy of this one and the two sequels on my birthday list!

Thank you to Dean Street Press for sending me an e-copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Book review – Anne Tyler – “Vinegar Girl” #amreading

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I pulled this off the TBR a little out of order because it was the first smaller book on the shelf which would bear rattling around in my rucksack for a day out officiating at cross-country: I knew I’d have a bit of reading time while my friend Dave zipped round parkrun on the way. My lovely friend Laura bought this for me when we met up last year as a birthday present – how lovely to march round the charity shops of Stafford demanding books!

I have a new plan for reading my TBR which might happen and might not: the oldest, the newest and one from the Kindle, in rotation (apart from my Murdoch a month and any review books that are in). Might work, and will let me get to my latest acquisition sooner (see more on that below).

Anne Tyler – “Vinegar Girl”

(15 February 2018 – from Laura)

Not a standard Anne Tyler (and I thought it would be her last when I got it, as she’d announced that she would stop writing: I will be getting the paperback of her new one as soon as it comes out …) as it’s a retelling of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”. Now, while I remember the main characters and their characteristics, and the vague outline of the story, I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow comparison. I love Tyler and I found myself just reading it for that aspect, as a novel by a favourite author. The retelling is in there, though, and cleverly done, although her characters are always quirky and you can’t think that just any woman would behave as Kate does.

So it worked as a novel on its own and was entertaining and a good read. Kate was believably mardy, as she is supposed to be, but her home set-up with her dad and his systems and her very different sister was completely Tylerian. The family and their relationships, including with aunts and uncles, are as beautifully done as you would expect, and the overseas characters are drawn carefully and their accents got across through their grammar, which we’re however reminded is not the only thing about them, but is used to show Kate’s thinking and noticing (I’ve just been reading a blog post from Louise Harnby about how to express accents in fiction (here) which is why this struck me, I think). A good read.


I did mention this on my running round-up post on Sunday, but for anyone who skips those, a new acquisition. I have to mention that only I could be officiating at a county cross-country match and STILL manage to acquire a book – my friend Kate from running club had offered to pass it to me but we’d not coincided until now, so she managed to get it to me in a gap between a race starting and me timing it through at the finish, after her own race. Good work! “A Life Without Limits” is meant to be one of the best sporting autobiographies ever and I can’t wait to dive into it: I know I really enjoyed her book on how to do triathlons even though I have absolutely zero interest in doing a triathlon!

 

Book review – Tirzah Garwood – “Long Live Great Bardfield” @PersephoneBooks #amreading #Persephone

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The last of my lovely Christmas 2017 books and a fabulous Persephone given to me by Ali (we have a great tradition of exchanging Persephone books and I love going to the shop in the late autumn to do the book-buy). Although I know Eric Ravilious’ work I wasn’t that familiar with all the other artists mentioned, or indeed, with Tirzah’s work, but that doesn’t matter as what does matter is the lovely engaging tone that makes the pages fly by.

Tirzah Garwood – “Long Live Great Bardfield”

The autobiography of the wood engraver and painter Tirzah Garwood, wife of Eric Ravilious, who lived in a succession of challenging houses around Essex for the most productive and family orientated parts of their lives, both sadly dying young. It’s told in a rather flat, naive and artless style with many non-sequitors which reminds me a bit of Dodie Smith, Barbara Comyns and new favourite Elizabeth Eliot, it’s a charming and absorbing read, even though it’s quite a long book. Lovely examples include the way in which she uses her netball skills in later life – “I can nearly always get things in [the bin] from right across the kitchen” (p. 67), but the most wonderful sentence, wholly encapsulating her attitude to life, animals and people, and which wouldn’t be out of place in a Comyns novel, comes in the middle of the book:

I had bought the tortoises from Woolworth’s to save them from death in the same spirit that we [later] offered our home to German refugees. (p. 315; brackets, editor’s)

Tirzah maintains this matter-of-fact tone throughout the book, from descriptions of early family rows and odd neighbours through domestic disasters to upsetting love affairs conducted by both her and Eric, but it’s curiously sweet and intimate. Her openness leads her to discuss her lovers and the complicated affairs of the  group of friends but also her struggles with her periods, something not often discussed so openly. She’s relatively breezy and lighthearted on most subjects and is aware of this and not being “put out by misfortunes as much as most people” (p. 280): she puts this down to her ability to be absorbed in her art. She states late on that she wants to write her autobiography while she’s happy because that’s the kind of book she prefers to read.

A lot of artists and other characters come in and out of the narrative and are seen by Tirzah’s beady eye: she’s great at seeing the continuity in someone’s behaviour through the years and I loved her portrait of Edith Sitwell in particular.

She wrote the main body of the book in hospital in 1942, recovering from a mastectomy; the rest of her story and a missing part caused by lost notebooks is deftly told by her editor (her daughter), who interweaves letters and notes from other characters in the story, including letters from Eric, to complete the picture. Lovely illustrations by Eric and Tirzah complement the text in this Persephone edition.

A lovely book which would merit a re-read, and a great addition to my Persephone shelf. You can read Ali’s own review here.

 

Book review – Elizabeth Eliot – “Alice” @DeanStPress

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The last of my reviews from 2018 – I just could NOT shoehorn another post onto the blog, could I! This was an ebook kindly sent to me by Dean Street Press in their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint, and in fact there’s a brilliant review on Scott’s own Furrowed Middlebrow blog which pulls out a few quotations I loved, so here’s a link to that, too. The covers are so pretty aren’t they – reproductions of the original, and who hasn’t felt a bit faint and green on a sofa over the holidays, right? and with the lovely framing and font. This one’s out on January 09 in Kindle and paperback so not long to wait – they’ve also done all the Mrs Tim ones and I was lucky enough to receive one of those, too – review to come soon.

Elizabeth Eliot – “Alice”

One of the things I really like in a book is a particular almost flat, artless tone: think Barbara Comyns (though this is not quite so gruesome as she can be), Margery Sharp a lot of the time, or Dodie Smith’s books for adult readers or, I always maintain, Victoria Clayton’s modern novels. Stevie Smith, too, if you move away from the massive whimsy and get a little less poetic, and definitely Rachel Ferguson’s “The Brontes Went to Woolworths”. So if you like those, you will like Eliot, and I can’t wait to get my hands on more of her books.

This charming, sometimes slightly bleak, always readable (it kept me up until midnight on New Year’s Eve, something I positively pride myself on not seeing in) novel takes us through the lives of the narrator, Margaret, with her glam mum and life living at her grandmother’s various houses, and her best friend Alice, who she always somehow fears for, from their school days (in a great odd school, again something I love in a book) through finishing school, courtship, a bit of marriage here and there and what we will delicately call relationships. We even go onto the stage and meet a whole cast of supporting characters who sway Alice’s opinions and morals here and there until she hardly knows whether she’s coming or going. Things are a bit mannered but never arch, and there are some glorious set pieces, but there’s always a string of angst beneath the hilarity (you know you’re reading a novel that’s a bit different when a character worries that the ship she’s travelling on is going to sink, not because of an accident or incident but because the laws of physics have suddenly changed).

There are so many wonderful turns of phrase, from mothers flapping out to greet one like a hen to mullings over the exciting lives servants lead compared to the people (well, women) they serve. A quirky and fun novel which you won’t be able to put down, and you hardly know which character to root for. Thank you to DSP for a great final read of the year!

Christmas acquisitions, state of the TBR January 2019 AND books of the year 2018

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Sorry, not sorry, you were either going to get two posts close together or one ginormous one … so here’s the ginormous one. We need to cover Christmas acquisitions, the current state of the TBR caused by these, and my books of the year or I’ll never get them done. Ready?

First of all, I want to share the brilliant state my TBR got into before the influx. Look at it! That’s what having a cold does for your reading …

At least this meant the acquisitions could fit in …

And here they are. Arriving on 20 December were three lovely books from my BookCrossing Birmingham Not so Secret Santa (Lorraine):

David Leboff and Tim Dermuth – “No Need to Ask!” about London Underground maps before the famous one.

Simon Winchester – “Outposts” – about the last pieces of the British Empire.

Stella Gibbons – “Conference at Cold Comfort Farm” – a sequel to “Cold Comfort Farm”!

Then from the lovely Cate for my LibraryThing Virago Group not so Secret Santa (along with a great Virago mug):

Angela Thirkell – “Miss Bunting”, “Northbridge Rectory”, “Marling Hall” and “Before Lunch” – all lovely Virago reissues.

From lovely friends:

Pamela Brown – “Golden Pavements” in the lovely Blue Door Theatre Company reissues.

Diana Wynne Jones – “Howl’s Moving Castle”

Sheila Wilkinson – “Too Many Ponies” – novel set at a horse rescue

Annon Shea – “The Phone Book” – I do love a ‘quest’ book and here he reads and discusses, yes, you guessed it …

Jeannette Winterson – “Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere” – her and original suffragette essays

Tony Wilson – “24 Hour Party People” because there has to be a music book in there somewhere

John Sutherland (ed.) – “Literary Landscapes” – about the landscapes novels and novelists inhabit

Dorothy Whipple – “Young Anne” (Persephone) – how did I not have this already?

Lucky me!!

And after they went onto the TBR shelf …

Uh-oh. So a double-stacked shelf NEARLY to the end on both stacks, plus a million Iris Murdochs and the Pile relegated to the lower shelf (large fancy Tolkien book just seen, too). Ulp.

My next two books to read are Tirzah Garwood’s “Long Live Great Bardfield” (the Persephone) and to be fair on me that’s my last Christmas 2017 book to be read, and Iris Murdoch’s “The Black Prince” which I will get read and reviewed earlier than the 26th of January, after December’s failings …

Then I do have some books on the Kindle to read, including one more lovely Dean Street Press book (I have read Elizabeth Eliot’s fabulous “Alice” now as my last book of the year: watch out for the review tomorrow.

Coming up after / amongst those, here’s the beginning of the TBR shelf, so I have a book about swimming (Ian Thorpe’s “This is Me”), a book about kayaking (and nature and personal life changes: Alys Fowler – “Hidden Nature” which was a birthday book), a book about the Riot Grrrl movement in music (Sara Marcus’ “Girls to the Front”), a book about a charlady in New York (Paul Gallico – “Mrs Harris Goes to New York”), a retelling of a Shakespeare play (Anne Tyler’s “Vinegar Girl”) and a book about Greenland (Gretel Erlich’s “This Cold Heaven”) so a representative range of my reading tastes (maybe).

Moving on to …

Reading stats and BEST BOOKS of 2018

Are you still with me? Sorry about this …

OK, so in 2018 I read 115 books, down from 141 in 2017 (however, I wasn’t laid up for a month after an operation this year). I read 59 non-fiction books and 56 fiction, which is the first time I’ve read more non-fiction than fiction for years and years (I wonder if it’s down to my non-fic reviewing for Shiny New Books). I read 39 books by men, 75 books by women and one by one of each and this is slightly more balanced than last year, where I read twice as many books by women as by men.

So here’s my TOP 10 this year, with two highly commended reads and one reader I will be reading more of. I’m not sure why there are more books by men than women here, or why the novels are all by women. Maybe I just read more (good) non-fiction by men. Here they are, in the order in which I read them. No re-reads on there and The Works of Iris Murdoch are a category in themselves of course!

Lucy Mangan – Bookworm – childhood reading experiences that almost matched mine in terms of the books read – magical

Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run – amazing autobiography, open, honest, funny and detailed

Angie Thomas – The Hate U Give – astoundingly good YA fiction on such an important topic

Neil Taylor – Document and Eyewitness – the story of Rough Trade Records, beautifully put together

Dan Hancox – Inner City Pressure – excellent work on the story of grime music

Benjamin Zephaniah – The Life and Rhymes Of – wonderful autobiography

Peter Ginna (ed.) – What Editors Do – essays that were so absorbing and wonderful

Thomas Williams – Viking Britain – undoes all the prejudices, absorbing and fun to read

Barbara Kingsolver – Unsheltered – she’s always in my top 10 and this zeitgeisty novel was brilliant

Kevin Crossley-Holland (and Jeffrey Alan Love) – Norse Myths – because how can a book on this topic, written like that and illustrated like that not be there?

Highly commended:

Katherine Findlay – The Icelandic Adventures of Pike Ward – commended for an amazing job of editing and putting together an excellent book

Ben Smith – 401 – commended for being a brilliant bloke who did a marvellous thing, is lovely, and mentions my running club and has a photo in the book that includes one of my friends

Will read more:

Robert MacFarlane – I read The Old Ways this year and loved it, then was discombobulated by him being younger than me. Why, I don’t know. But I am going to seek out his other works because they’re just magical

So there we go. I read a million running books and none of them makes it into the Top 10 – but then almost all the books I read this year were good, so do go back and have a poke around through the archives!