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 theĀ  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.

 

Sedate lady running 31 December 2018 – 06 January 2019 #amrunning #running

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Happy new year and welcome to 2019 everyone! I’ve so enjoyed taking part in Holly and Wendy’s weekly wrap and have “met” so many lovely women runners via their blogs, so I’m really pleased to be continuing with the link-up this year.

This January I’m doing RED January, which is a Mind (UK mental health charity) initiative to get people exercising and feeling well. RED stands for Run Every Day but I thought, as a Mental Health Champion in our running club, I’d try to model moderation and looking after oneself – actually all of us are doing that really well in our little group. It does mean I’ve done something every day, but my runs have not been epic due to my having this cold still, so not toooooo much to wade through, I hope.

Tuesday – I travelled to Brueton parkrun with Claire from up the road (she of the off-roading), her sister, and Mary Ellen from round the corner. But I was going to meet up with a lovely lady called Joan who I met through her cakes and two of her friends. Much nervousness (especially as Joan’s little Facebook group is called Tag a Pair of Trainers, to stop competitiveness or angst over appearance or kit, so we had to hastily share pictures of ourselves and our outfits!) but we met up OK and set off with a walk-run technique (jeffing) which was new to the others, but appreciated. Neither Tracy nor Ermine had run parkrun before, and Ermine had a cold, too, so we took it gently and I was SO proud of them for getting round and enjoying themselves – there were some damp eyes at the end!

Liz Tracey Ermine Joan

What a superb way to start the running year – I was honoured to accompany these ladies on their parkrun journey. I also liked the Brueton route, nice and flat and with out and backs and laps so you can cheer people on. Lovely volunteers, of course.

3.18 miles, 14:00 mins per mile

Wednesday – I incorporated a set of static and dynamic stretches into my morning routine, e.g. doing heel drops on the step in the hall just before you reach the bathroom, calf raises while brushing my teeth, hamstring stretches and squats while drying my hair. Ten different activities with at least 20 repeats of each or 30 seconds holding.

Running down that hill (thank you Sara for the photo)

Thursday – Met Jenny at my house and we ran up to Kings Heath Park where we met Sara and Caroline – Caroline had to go home but we continued looping the park with Sara then ran back to mine. A few bits of walking on uphill sections and still coughing (I promise it has NOT gone to my chest and I’m being careful). It was really chilly today so I wrapped up warm – a long-sleeved thin top under a long-sleeved fuzzy-inside top, winter leggings, a buff round my neck and a hat! Today I also studied the first module in the Learning I have to do for my Level 2 licence, on Judging and Recording, and wrote down the answers to the questions at the end. Two more of those two do, one mandatory and one optional.

4 miles / 12:32 mins per mile

Friday – I did a set of 20 x situps (I will admit not all of these were with my arms folded across my chest), 20 x squats and 20 x heel drops / calf raises on the step, three times at various points during the day, making a total of 30 minutes and 60 of each exercise. I would not have done this without the RED January so it was good to get this kind of training in (I’m still coughing too much when lying down to do yoga – bah!)

Saturday – Exercise of a different kind. My friend Dave picked me up early and we drove to Daventry, where he ran parkrun and I found a toilet then sat in his car with my book (I didn’t want to do parkrun and he could do it quickly enough to get round and finish in time for the next bit). We then drove to Newbold Revel Prison Training College to officiate at the County Cross-Country Championships (Warwickshire and Worcestershire). My running club were competing in the seniors matches but there were four juniors to look after first, so we arrived at 10 for the briefing. I was doing timekeeping, a role I’ve not taken on before. I was a bit apprehensive but as usual had a great team leader and team around me who taught me what to do (two roles taken on in pairs, starting the watch and calling out times as runners crossed the line / writing down times and also spot checks of numbers next to times – it’s all quite labour-intensive and analogue). We swapped between who was doing which role and working with whom, and it all went pretty smoothly, although high concentration and fast writing down was required!

Club and officials’ tents on the left, funnel on the right (I’m standing near the finish)

I was pleased one of my clubmates got a photo of me in action, waiting for Graham to fire the gun to send a load of runners off, at which point I had to simultaneously start my stopwatch.

Liz timing, weather writer with recording sheet tucked under one arm (thank you Claire/Mark for the photo)

As you can see, I was well wrapped up: it’s cold business, standing concentrating. I wore woolly tights, warm running socks, thermal footless tights, fuzzy inside tracksuit bottoms and waterproof overtrousers with walking boots on my bottom half, long-sleeved running top, long-sleeved fuzzy inside running top, running fleece that’s two warm to run in, and a coat, a buff and a scarf and a woolly hat, and leather gloves with fleece-lined wool mitts over them (just seen clutched in my left hand). A good day and number 4 out of my 6 experiences needed to gain my Level 2 Endurance Official licence.

By the way, only I, with my twin running and reading obsessions, would manage to acquire a book while officiating at a cross-country championships. Kate from running club (to whom I passed “Run Like Duck” at Awards Night) had offered Chrissie Wellington’s “A Life Without Limits” and I’d heard very good things about it, so I asked if I could have it. After missing each other at Christmas Day parkrun etc., she worked out that I’d be officiating and she’d be running today, so she caught me as I waited between gun time and first senior man appearing after running 10k and passed it over to me!

I walked 2.2 miles in total and was out in the fresh air from 10.00-15.30 so that counted for my RED January.

Sunday – I wasn’t sure how I would be today and considered bailing when I was woken by the alarm at 6:00! But I womanned up and got my breakfast and a read in, then met Mary Ellen, Claire and Trudie at the corner of the road. We took a fairly rural route, a bit of canal and some foresty trails (including the notorious half-mile with that plastic matrix stuff on the ground to stop it getting slippy that I like to trip over). It was a lovely day and Trudie kindly kept me company as I had to take it gently.

Path through the woods (The Dingle)

We went through the Shire County Park for some of the run, and I loved this signpost – very Tolkien-y, as it is indeed his Shire!

Here we are ready for our close-up and I’m concentrating hard …

Mary Ellen, Liz, Trudie, Claire

Trudie’s in her RED January top as she was organised to sign up before the last day of December (mine’s in the post). And not only is she organised, she’s worked out how to do a timer selfie and wedged her phone in a small tree so we could capture ourselves in the woods, full-length!

Mary Ellen, Liz, Claire, Trudie (thanks Trudie for the photo)

Such pretty places to run in urban Birmingham. And I thought this would please my American readers (Mary Ellen had never seen one of these; she’s from Chicago. Do you have fords in the US?) – an actual ford, with a car going through it. These are designated stream / small river crossings: they do have warnings if the river is in flood or particularly high and cars do get stuck.

A ford!

Trudie and I separated from the others here and ran home, they got their 10 miles in. I managed 6.5 in total which I was surprised and pleased by given how unwell I’ve been. There was walking on hills and that is fine.

6.5 miles / 13.01 mins per mile

Miles this week: 13.7

Miles this year: 13.7

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 – 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!

 

 

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