Special announcement: it’s my new reading challenge for 2020! @paulmagrs #magrsathon

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Liz with almost all her Paul Magrs books

Me with almost all my Paul Magrs books

Well, given that Paul Magrs is a writer of the spooky and gothic, it seemed a good idea to announce my new reading challenge for 2020 on Halloween (even if I am still too feeble to read “To the Devil a Diva”.

To those who don’t know Paul, he’s a fiction and non-fiction writer who made the brave and bold decision to write magic realism novels set on a council estate in the North-East of England – the Phoenix Court series, which I read from Lewisham Library when I moved to London in the 1990s. Then he branched out into stories of the Bride of Frankenstein living and running a B&B in Whitby and solving mysteries, and continued his work in the Doctor Who world. He’s written books for children, teens and adults, and has written how-to books on writing and cat stories. I love his characters and the diversity in the books, and he even mentioned my hobby of BookCrossing in “Exchange”, which led to me finding his work email address when he worked in academia and dropping him a line, forging a friendship which has been a lovely thing in my life for years now.

You can find a list of Paul’s novels on his Wikipedia page and he has a lovely website, too.

What am I going to read?

I haven’t planned the whole year yet but here goes with the beginning …

I’m reading “Aisles” first because it features Iris Murdoch as a character and I’m just finishing off my Iris Murdoch readalong at the moment.

Then I’ll read the Phoenix Court novels – including the one that wasn’t originally published.

After that – and I haven’t got them yet – I’ll be tackling the Mars trilogy, set in a human colony with a female protagonist.

And then, I will still have four spaces left (one per month) – what will I include?

How can you get involved?

During my Iris Murdoch readalong, people have commented here on the blog when I’ve posted my review of the book of the month, and we’ve had a good discussion. I’d love that to happen this time, too.

I’ll be reading one book a month. I’ll share a post at the end of the month with what’s coming up and will have a page on this website with the schedule. Do join in with reading along or come back to posts and comment afterwards, I really don’t mind!

I’ll also be doing some giveaways …

… I found an as-new copy of “Exchange” the other day so that will be up for grabs.

If you’d like to read a book I’m NOT including, and you blog about it in some way, or do a Goodreads review, submit your link to me via my Contact Form and I’ll link up to it on the project page.

I also hope to have some exclusive interviews with Paul himself to post up. Exciting times!


Who’s in?

Anyone fancy reading some or all of the novels along with me? I do hope so! See you in January!

“The Message to the Planet” round-up and “The Green Knight” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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It’s the last day of the month, so time to round up our reading of “The Message to the Planet” and turn our attention to “The Green Knight”.

Some of our usual lovely suspects have posted comments on my review, and I am expecting (hoping for) a few more. People are generally happy that I enjoyed it more than I thought I would! Your comments on any of the posts are  of course gladly welcomed at anytime! Jo has also done her usual great review on Goodreads and I will add other reviews as they come in.

If you have any fun paperbacks or alternative covers, do send me covers to include as I love seeing all the different ways the books are interpreted.

“The Green Knight”

Well, I’m sad to say that from now on there are only two books to share per novel, as Vintage don’t seem to have reissued this or “Jackson’s Dilemma” at all. So here are the two, my first edition and my paperback, bought when it came out:

Iris Murdoch's The Green Knight

The blurbs are quite similar, as you’d kind of expect. Here’s the first edition one:

And you know what, I think it IS triumphant: I’ve read this one just the three times but it definitely went high up in a favourite slot last time round. Here’s the Penguin:

Jilly Cooper, indeed! Well, I’m looking forward to re-reading this one. Although I’m sad we’re drawing to a close.

Oh, a PS: I bought a new CD/bookshelf (well, new to me, from a charity shop locally) and look, I’ve got all my Murdochs together!

Are you going to be reading or re-reading “The Green Knight” along with me? Are you catching up with the others? What’s your favourite so far? Your least favourite? Do you have a photo to share of you reading one of the books, or where you read it?


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

Book review – Bernadine Evaristo – “Girl, Woman, Other” #amreading

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I had seen mention of this Booker longlisted then shortlisted then, of course, (joint) winner several times, and while the theme of following twelve, mainly black, women’s lives in 21st century Britain had appealed massively, I kept hearing that it was “in poetry” which did put me off. Then I bought one of her previous novels, “Mr Loverman” in Cornwall. THEN she won the split Booker and even though I was all poised to borrow Ali’s copy (Ali having started and put it aside in the summer but restarted and enjoyed it recently), but then I felt like I should somehow “encourage” Evaristo by buying the book. Even though she was clearly selling (in Foyles, there was a split table of the two winners, with equal space for both but more books gone on Evaristo’s side). It just felt right. So I did. By this time, I’d transcribed an interview with her and knew it read out loud well. But it was in poetry, would I be able to cope … However, spoiler alert: it’s not in poetry! It’s written in a sort of experimental, informal form, with sentences starting wherever on the page, but it’s perfectly readable, not too experimental and a very, very good read.

Bernadine Evaristo – “Girl, Woman, Other”

(19 October 2019)

This is just a marvellous book. We meet twelve women, loosely grouped into four sets of three who are related in some way, but throughout the book there are meetings or passings, and Chapter Five, “The After-party” and the Epilogue tie more strings together. It’s so beautifully done, and while I don’t want to give away any plot points that aren’t immediately discernible, I will share that at one point in my reading I gasped out loud and shouted, “Well played, Bernadine Evaristo, well played!” And messaged Ali, because she was the only person I knew who had read it and was immediately messageable.

The wonderful thing about this book is the insights into black British history it gives us – insights which white cisgender straight women like me can appreciate, insights in which black and othered women can surely see themselves reflected – a rare thing the more intersectional you get. I love the way it starts off tight inside London in one level of a cultured milieu and then spreads tentacles out far away, to America, and, more fascinating to me, the north of England, and a part-Ethiopian farmer in her 90s.

This book covers, variously and not exhaustively, straight and gay relationships, women and non-gender-binary people, race, class, pretension, domestic violence within same-sex relationships, parents, children, teachers, students, adoption, identity, education, conforming, rebelling, melding with the mainstream, having an embarrassing mum and dad, finding your feet at university, intersectionality, veiling, contraception, work, rape. But you know what it’s not: po-faced about Issues. In fact, the other thing I love about the book is its puncturing of bubbles of self-importance. This is done throughout the book, by characters to each other. Evaristo’s very much into showing the characters showing each other and themselves up rather than pointing it out for us, and it’s done very effectively and – crucially – amusingly. Yazz, the daughter of the once sidelined, now mainstream playwright and director Amma, has her own pretensions shown up by her university mates, for example.  Nzinga the activist who comes into Dominique and Amma’s lives is the most skewered, perhaps, with her exhortations to never wear black socks “(why would you step on your own people?)” or pants, which has Amma robustly turning on her. Similarly, Megan/Morgan learns a lot about gender and sex from Bibi but catches her out correcting them before they’ve learned everything and turns that mirror to face her.

I loved all the stories, but particularly those of Bummi, LaTisha, Megan/Morgan and Hattie. Bummi is a marvellous character, caught between her own Nigerian heritage and her daughter Carole’s need to cast off all her culture, or so it seems. She’s irresistable:

what is more, if you address me as Mother ever again I will beat you until you are dripping wet with blood and then I will hang you upside down over the balcony with the washing to dry

I be your mama

now and forver

never forget that, abi?

I learned a lot from this book. How there could come to be a part-Ethiopian Geordie of the generation above mine. How you can move from the sidelines to the mainstream but is it you or the mainstream that’s moved? How different families can look and behave. How business has to be done when there aren’t traditional ways to get funding or get ahead. How a transwoman can know she’s a woman even when “reject[ing] conformist gender bullshit as above, I still feel female, I’ve known it since like forever, for me it’s not about wanting to play with dolls, it goes much deeper than that” (p. 321). That’s the clearest explanation I’ve seen on how a cultural production like gender interplays with deeper identities of biological sex. This part of the book even bravely sets out the idea that “others might adopt a trans position as a political statement … it’s why women became political lesbians years ago” (p. 338), which is not something I’ve seen written down or really heard said before. From these very modern discussions we can move in an instant to banker Carole, not sure what kind of play she’s going to see:

the thought crossed her mind it might be the black lesbian sisterhood nod, she scrutinized them more closely, guessed many of them could be lesbians, even the ones wearing head-ties were wearing very practical shoes (p. 419)

There’s the othering, but there’s also a laugh in there. and that’s typical of this highly readable novel.

So from traditional storytelling of sometimes age-old stories to a very high standard with twists and turns that are expertly done to discussion of the very cutting edge – the bleeding edge – of gender politics, this book gives a snapshot of modern black women in all their guises, teachers to students, farmers to bankers, liberal arts-makers and transgressors to conservatives and Leave voters.

There are tantalising glimpses of the women Evaristo could have written about: transgender Bibi, Linda the film and TV props business owner. I’ve read that she considered including even more – perhaps a thousand – women, and I’d read that book, too.


Also read recently: “No Need to Ask” which is a history of the early maps of London’s Underground, the ones before the iconic diagrammatic map, written by David Leboff and Tim Demuth and acquired from Lorraine for my BookCrossing Secret Santa last year. Great maps which get more and more confusing as the lines proliferate, and thank goodness someone sorted it out! It’s the end of the month and I have too many posts left to write!

Book review – Garth Cartwright – “Going for a Song” #amreading @garthcart1

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You’ll have to wait for my review of “Girl, Woman, Other” (which I fairly ploughed through over the weekend) (spoiler alert: I loved it) as I’ve managed not to get round to writing up a review of this excellent read from the other end of my TBR. Why I read half the books I bought from Foyles with a gathering of book tokens in May 2018 almost immediately and am only now tackling the other half is just one of those mysteries. They’ll be going pretty quickly now, though, as I can’t access the up-to-date end of things behind a Terrible Pile. Anyway …

Garth Cartwright – “Going for a Song: A Chronicle of the UK Record Shop”

(22 May 2018, Foyles)

A good if exhaustive (not one for a fickle read but a book you need to sit down properly to) examination of UK record shops from their first inception to their last guttering out, or plucky survival in a few cases. It bobs around the years a bit as it takes themes for chapters from types of music as they arise and sees those genres through: I can’t really see how else it could have been done, but there is a little bit of repetition and cross-reference.

I learned a lot. It was interesting to find out that 78s were originally available in hardware and other shops, and I didn’t know that the album got its name from the practice of selling series of linked records (all a composer’s symphonies, for example) in a bound folder. Supercilious record shop staff have apparently been with us right from the start, and that’s recorded, however much of the history Cartwright documents is almost invisible in the public record – including the existence of a whole record shop, distribution and label-owning family, the Alis, and many of the shops features here, so he does an important job of making them known and saving what details there are. Lots of oral history and interviews flesh things out and nice connections are made between the known locations of musicians and the known or possible shops they frequented.

I was particularly interested in the Birmingham side of things and also the shops of Berwick Street, which I used to haunt in my London days. I was sad to learn of the demise of Cheapo, Cheapo, where I picked up many peculiar low-priced favourites, although I was never on any level of intimacy with its staff or owner as Cartwright clearly was. A massive labour of love, written from the inside and the outside, also filled with wonderful images of the shops in question and their ephemera.


I’m still reading Clair Wills’ “Lovers and Strangers” and have also been reorganising my bookshelves a bit, as I managed to score two tall “CD Rack” bookcases from a local charity shop in the week, which have fitted in the remaining 20cm-wide gaps in the house where a book storage item can fit. I now have all my Iris Murdochs, hardback and paperback, together, and a new collection of Sport and Nature upstairs. Iris Murdoch is on the landing, indeed!

 

Sedate lady running 21-27 Oct 2019 #amrunning #running

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A week of variable weather and a decent amount of running, plus all my steps. I wasn’t very good at taking photos so a short and boring post, sorry!

Monday – I ran the long way round to meet up with Tara and the dogs she was walking in the park.

4.1 miles, 11:52 mins per mile / 1 mile, 11:58 mins per mile. 13,036 steps.

Tuesday – I went for a walk in the day but ran into a friend, chatted too long and couldn’t walk as long a way round to the supermarket as I’d hoped. I then went for a walk in the evening, Matthew was going to the cinema so I walked him to where he was meeting his friend then carried on in the dark. Really should have walked where club were running, but didn’t – I ended up walking fast in the dark, having scared myself by being alone in the dark. Won’t do that in a hurry. As my best friend Emma said, go early to get the steps in!

10,101 steps

Wednesday – An evening run meeting Ruth for a couple of miles in the middle. Weirdly, I was only an hour earlier than on Tuesday and still in the dark, but I didn’t mind so much! Weird. I walked-ran with Ruth and ran continuously the rest of it, which was all fine. I don’t mind what I do as long as I’m moving. I hadn’t got as many steps in as I do walking so marched around the house a bit.

5 miles, 12:26 mins per mile. 12,003 steps

Thursday – Had a day out and went to meet my friend Laura in Alderley Edge. We had a super walk in the woods on the Edge and I did actually take some photos. The trees were beautiful and the views very misty.

Alderley Edge view

A misty view off Alderley Edge

We went to my friend Kerry’s for a lovely lunch and then popped into one charity shop (where I got one book, see my post from Thursday) before I got the train home. A good way to get my steps in!

11,040 steps

Friday – Got my first walk of the day in early, between breakfast and starting work. This worked well as I had my phone with me and was close enough to pop home if I got an urgent job in. I saw parakeets in Highbury Park (no photo as I only had my phone camera with me). I had another walk later to run some errands and had a fuss with Kaci the dog on the high street.

10,726 steps

Saturday – I was down to lead the running club’s beginners’ session but it was pelting down with rain so I did wonder if anyone would turn up. I left a bit late because I was waiting for the rain to ease off (it didn’t) and had to belt up there – I hit 9 and under 9 minute mile pace for a minute or two! Two people turned up for the 4 mile run we offer, and Ruth came to shadow me as she’s joining the volunteer rota. No beginners so Ruth and I did a couple of soggy laps of the park while I shared my knowledge of what to do, then she went off home and I continued home the long way round to get the value out of having to wash my clothes and because I couldn’t have got any wetter! I did get some sprinting done on the home straight as I just wanted to get home.

Not actually physically possible to be more wet than this.

0.6 miles, 10:34 mins per mile / 3.4 miles, 12:33 mins per mile. 11,279 steps

Sunday – In a huge contrast to Saturday’s weather, it was so bright and clear, although cold – my first run with gloves on of the autumn and they only came off at mile 8. Started with Mary Ellen and Trudie, picked up Ruth on the way and met Jenny in Moseley, then ran her round a circuit to get her back to her yoga session in time. We dropped Ruth off on the way back down towards her house. Unfortunately I could not make my phone camera work (so Ruth had to take the group photo) and then wasn’t able to understand what route we were taking (a side-effect of the medication I’m taking is enough of a loss of cognitive sharpness for me to notice it) so I got a  bit distressed and felt a bit rubbish.

Runners

Trudie, Ruth, Jenny, Mary Ellen, Liz, by Ruth, posted with permission

Pushed on with encouragement (I keep taking, taking, taking recently and am aware I need to redress this, though I have been having some tough times) and said goodbye to Jenny by the park where she does her yoga (in a studio in the park) then parted from Mary Ellen as she needed to go and buy a sofa, then Trudie and I pressed on, surprised ourselves slightly by coming out on the greenway going the other way and knowing where we were and then pushed up the hill, round the park via the supermarket for Trudie to buy limited-edition orange Cadbury’s Twirls (as you do) and then to our respective homes. The sun stayed out the whole way round.

autumn tree

Beautiful foliage in Cannon Hill Park, Runner is not us.

I got home to news my delivery was on its way. I’d better keep up with this endurance running lark as that is a LOT of Tailwind powdered fuel!

Large pack of tailwind

Large pack of Tailwind

10 miles, 13:24 mins per mile. 23,203 steps (as of 7.20 pm)

Weekly total 24.1 miles. Total this year 848.2 (I need 833.33 at the end of this month to be on track for my 1,000 miles in a year total, and I’m now down 13 miles on this time last year).

weekly-run-down-final-300x300The Weekly Run Down is run by two wonderful running women and joined by lots of other inspirational women. Kim’s weekly wrap is here and Deborah’s is here.

 

Book review – Ian Jeffrey – “How to Read a Photograph” @Thamesandhudson @Shinynewbooks plus incomings

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The last of my reviews from the lovely Thames & Hudson’s Autumn catalogue came out on Shiny New Books this week.  Ian Jeffrey’s “How to Read a Photograph” takes the subjective matter of what is a good photograph and aims to answer it by showing us great photographs from a range of photographers from Fox Talbot to contemporary photography artists. For each we have a potted history and then a detailed examination of some seminal photos. There are old favourites and new artists to discover: this helped to cement my understanding of what I really like in a photograph. Reading it is a great learning experience and it’s an interesting read as well as a great reference book.

Read my full review here. Thank you to Thames & Hudson for sending me lovely books in return for an honest review.


When you find yourself downloading a photo and calling it October 2019 7 and it’s got more than one book in it, you know you’re in trouble.

I had to buy myself a new copy of Marianne Grabrucker’s “There’s a Good Girl”, about raising her daughter in the 1980s and noting all the examples of gendered behaviour and speech around her, after I read and reviewed “The Gender Agenda” (my review here), which riffs off this book, and then discovering I couldn’t find my own copy. I must have loaned it to a harrassed parent one day! I managed to score the exact Women’s Press copy I used to have (well the edition, not my actual copy; that would have been weird) from Abe Books and I am tempted to read it again now!

Taking a day out to Alderley Edge to meet one friend and accompany her to another friend’s house for lunch, a lovely forest walk and a long chatty lunch (thanks, Kerry!) didn’t stop Laura and me from darting into one charity shop on the rather well-groomed high street before I caught my train home. I grabbed Bill Jone’s “The Ghost Runner”, which is about the endurance runner, John Tarrant, who accidentally lost his amateur status but joined in races anyway. I’d heard about him from other books so had to get this for just £1 in the Age UK shop. I put Jo Brand’s proper autobiography (vol 2) back on the shelf and now I wish I’d picked it up, so I sense a return visit on the cards!

I have started reading “Girl, Woman, Other” and my goodness, I’m enjoying it, however it was too large a hardback to fit in my handbag for the journey, so I got on with Clair Wills’ “Lovers and Strangers” which is a history of post-war immigration into the UK, and very good it is, too, covering all kinds of people, from Irish people and Displaced Persons to the more familiar Windrush travellers.

 

 

Book review – Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay – “The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die” #NetGalley

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Knowing I was still teetering on the edge of 80% reviewed status on NetGalley, I took my Kindle downstairs and opened this book to start reading over breakfast. Imagine my surprise as the percentage at the bottom of the page racked up – it only took me a little over an hour to read this very short novel. I know I read fast, but that makes it short even for me. This was one of a number of books I won back in June – I’m safely back at my decent percentage reviewed now and looking forward to winning my 100 books read badge when I’ve completed everything else on my bookshelf.

Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay – “The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die”

(NetGalley, 25 June 2019)

A most peculiar novella, written in alternating chapters highlighting a woman and her daughter, which was pretty confusing as the daughter started her first chapter without having been introduced in her mother’s part of the book.

We see how things change for generations of women in a small North Bengal town. From a poor family herself, Somlata lives with her husband with his family, once rich, now fallen on hard times and living off selling their gold and land. Haunted by the ghost of her aunt-in-law, who whispers poison into her ears, and was a child bride, widowed at 12, Somlata is able to open a shop with her husband and use it to restore the family’s fortunes – the running of the shop and manipulation of her male relatives is fun to read. Her daughter rides a bicycle in the street and goes on a picnic with her schoolfriends and teachers.

The ghost is fun and the whole family set-up would be interesting but it just comes to a sudden screeching halt. Others have criticised the plain language; to me, that’s the language of R.K.Narayan and the like, but this would have so much more to give if it was just filled out a bit more and given more flesh on its bones.

I received this book via NetGalley from John Murray in return for an honest review.

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