I originally just “Wished” for this on NetGalley, having seen it on one of their emails listing generally good books that are in the pipeline so was thrilled to receive an email telling me I’d been randomly selected to read it. And – hooray – it’s published by Virago! Thank you to Virago / Little, Brown for choosing me to read it via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Sandi Toksvig – “Between the Stops: The View of my Life from the Top of the Number 12 Bus”

(14 October 2019)

Toksvig didn’t want to write an ordinary memoir: she doesn’t come across as a showy person at all and she thinks it would be showy to do so. Instead, what she’s done is write this book, and as she says,

This is about some parts of my life, but it is also about travelling through London on the Number 12 bus.

It reminds me a bit of Jo Brand’s “Born Lippy” in that you get facts and other stuff and snippets of memoir in between, but enough to get a good picture of her life. But instead of that much feminist advice, there’s lots of information about the people and places along the bus route. This is a bus I have caught myself from Peckham, although it starts in East Dulwich and continues through Camberwell into central London, but she picks lots of tiny bits of information out and weaves them together, sometimes despairing that she retains all kinds of peculiar information.

In the details of her life that we get there are funny stories but also serious parts about bigotry she’s seen and experienced and the tabloids hounding here, and sometimes wistful, sometimes funny stories about her journalist father. She’s had a very mobile life, which I hadn’t somehow grasped, starting off in Denmark and spending time in the US before being sent to a British boarding school and going on to Cambridge. We learn where she got her accent and how she got her start in telly and the almost accidental career she’s built since.

There’s just enough about her partners and children to explain things, and yes, you get Bake-Off and QI – one great thing about this book, which is over 430 pages in paperback so a good, solid, read, is that she takes us right up to the present day, so there’s no waiting for the sequel to find out what happened in the next half of her career. There is gossip and fun about shows and people, but never gratuitous, and it’s careful and respectful while being read-out-loud funny at times. She does mention people’s (large) size a bit in a way that feels quite uncomfortable, in an otherwise gentle and non-mocking book: it was the only slightly off note in an otherwise excellent and uplifting read.