“Jackson’s Dilemma” and project round-up #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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Well, it’s the last day of my 26-month Iris Murdoch Readalong and time to summarise our discussion of Jackson’s Dilemma and indeed the whole re-read. Which feels impossible right now.

We had a good discussion of Jackson and his dilemma over on my review of the book, and I think it’s so lovely that Peter, Jo and Maria were there to talk about the book, as they have for EVERY SINGLE ONE all the way through. Jo was even reading them for the first time, and that’s amazing, to do the whole lot like that, isn’t it? Even I didn’t read all the ones that were available immediately upon discovering IM!

Jo has done her usual excellent Goodreads review and as ever, if you are coming to this outside the original project in 2017-2019, please do add comments or links to your reviews, I always love seeing them!

Peter has been amazing at sharing cover images of his copies of the book – mainly US first editions but also some excellent paperbacks. Here’s his first edition of Jackson, very like my paperback but with a nice filigree effect on the background to the title.

Project round-up

What have I learned this time around – which was at least my fourth read of each novel apart from Jackson’s Dilemma, which was my third?

There is more feminism than I ever thought was in there

I am now older than most of the main characters in the book. As I’ve read them again and again, I’ve become more understanding of the older characters, more impatient with the younger ones

Some books have slightly dropped in my estimation – I was rather horrified at the violence in “A Word Child”, for example. I was more reconciled than ever to “An Unofficial Rose”, which I have always thought one of my less favourites, and got a lot more out of “The Message to the Planet” than on other occasions, so that I won’t actively dread reading it another time.

I think that “The Philosopher’s Pupil”, “A Severed Head”, “The Book and The Brotherhood” and “The Green Knight” remain my favourites. The others have evened out more, though. Jenkin Riderhood is probably still my favourite character, along with N from “Philosopher’s Pupil” (still).

Having read them all the way through in my 20s, 30s and 40s, I can’t wait to read them all again in my next decade – so in 2022 at the earliest. IM is still my favourite author and I will still press her upon people – and now I have this great wellspring of discussion to point people towards.

I have loved doing the project “live” on my blog this time around and thank everyone who has contributed in whatever way, but especially my three stalwarts. If you have found this blog via IM, I hope you stay around to talk about other books here.

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.

Book reviews – Mark Mason – “Walk the Lines” and Simon Jenkins – “Britain’s 100 Best Railway Stations” #amreading @WalkTheLinesLDN

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Two final reads of the year done and dusted today (and forgive me, I have one last Iris Murdoch Readalong post to put up in a minute, too!). I pulled the first one off the shelf because I received it for my birthday this year and was a bit horrified I hadn’t read any of those books yet (or the Christmas ones, which I thought that was until I looked properly), and the second one because it is large and protruded from the back of the shelf through to the front row, either creating a gap or dangerously displacing a book on that part of the shelf. You’ve seen my new acquisitions and tomorrow I will share whatever I get this TBR looking like once they’re on.

Mark Mason – “Walk the Lines: The London Underground, OVERGROUND”

(21 January 2019 – from Meg)

In which he walks overground all the Tube lines (unfortunately not the East London Line, my old line, as that had already gone by the time he did his project). Full of fun facts about the lines, their stations and surroundings – I particularly enjoyed finding out about the ‘long eggs’ that go inside meat pies and were made in the Oxo Tower building and the fact that the corner of the Royal Geographical Society that has statues of Livingstone and Shackleton is known by cabbies as “Hot and Cold Corner”.

Now, a question. Mason admits that he didn’t realise the Jubilee Line is named after the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and that’s why the line is silver in colour. I was surprised by this admission, as I was aware of this, but then Matthew said he hadn’t known, either. So is this common knowledge or not?

Anyway, I enjoyed his accompanied walks, particularly the Circle Line pub crawl (which led me to recommend Iris Murdoch’s “A Word Child” to the author) and his miles with Bill Drummond talking about map-based conceptual art. Really, there’s something for everyone in this book!

I loved the idea of one’s personal Tube line, linking places of import to one’s own self in London. My one would go from New Cross Gate to Covent Garden via Brixton and London Bridge, through Camden and Angel and up to Highgate and High Barnet. And yours?

Simon Jenkins – “Britain’s 100 Best Railway Stations”

(09 October 2019 – from Matthew, was supposed to be for Christmas but he presented it to me there and then)

His own favourites, given stars from 1-5 but all good in general, including some that are now part of preserved heritage lines and some underground stations. There’s a history of their architects and styles at the beginning, then lovely photographs give you a proper feel for the stations, arranged by region. The variety is stunning and it’s nice to see new ones and ones I know well.

The author played a major role in getting many stations saved and restored, and his passion for them shines through. He says he considers them among the most enjoyable buildings in the land, and I both agree and will look at the ones I encounter more carefully in the future.


Well, that’s it, 116 books read and 114 of them reviewed here (I have one Shiny Review to submit and share later and one NetGalley book I had to hold a review back for until the end of Jan 2020). Books of the year to come tomorrow …

Christmas acquisitions and beforehand incomings I don’t think I mentioned … #bookconfessions

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So I said I was going to share my incomings on 1 Jan, but I’ve already got a load of stats, planned books and books of the year to share then, and I have two books on the go at the moment I MIGHT finish and review tomorrow, so why not have a poke around in my acquisitions now, I thought!

Pre-Christmas, these made it into the house and have been sitting around on my desk waiting … for what, I’m not sure.

Well, I know that I should NOT have bought Ada Cambridge’s “The Three Miss Kings” dangerously close to the Christmas’n’birthday season in case someone had already purchased it for me, but it’s a beautifully pristine Virago Green and I could NOT leave it in Oxfam books when I was rooting around looking for gifts for my BookCrossing not so secret Santee. Also, handily, it will work for Australia Reading Month in 2020. Kaggsy from The Ramblings very kindly sent me Joe Moran’s “On Roads” which was on my wishlist but I kept back for similar reasons (I know my friend Caroline will be eying this one for after me). The band Madness’ “Before We Was We: Madness by Madness” and Danny MacAskill’s “At The Edge” were both sent to me by clients for whom I worked as an assistant on the books – I’m very excited to read how they came out (have a look at McAskill’s cycling videos on YouTube – amazing stuff!).

Now on to Christmas. Here’s the whole pile, in approximate order of arrival:

Going from the top, Rebecca Front’s “Curious” is her sort-of memoir and Pamela Brown’s “Maddy Again” is one more of the Blue Door Theatre Adventures reprints, both given to me (along with chocolates and a lovely notebook) by Meg, who was my BookCrossing secret santa, received on 16 December. I’ve popped “The Twelve Birds of Christmas” by Stephen Moss, which takes twelve birds that might have been in the song and tells us about them, into the pile because although our friend Linda gave it to Matthew, I know I’ll be reading it, too. Then Gill did her usual trawl through the books that have been on my wishlist the longest and found me Robert Inman’s “Captain Saturday”, a novel set in the Deep South – I enjoyed his “Dairy Queen Days” very much a long time ago – and “The Kindness of Strangers”, a Lonely Planet title edited by Don George which features stories of kindness when travelling and should be a lovely positive read.  Meg did brilliantly again,  not only buying me a copy of Jess Phillips MP’S “Truth to Power”, which includes ways to challenge power and stories of people who have, but getting Jess to sign it to me (she’s Meg’s MP in the next-door constituency).

Ali very kindly gave me two lovely Persephones – Elisabeth de Waal’s “Milton Place”, a previously unpublished novel set in a big house in the 1950s, and “The Second Persephone Book of Short Stories” which I’m sure will be as wonderful as the first one (reviewed here). Then my LibraryThing Virago Group secret santa gift, as well as including local soap and chocolate and the lovely Milton postcard pictured with a run-down of why she chose the books for me, had Daphne du Maurier’s “Jamaica Inn” (in the same edition as the copy of “Rebecca” I won from Ali during her Du Maurier reading week last week and allowing me to take part even more fully in 2020 than I was going to, and because I said I liked books from where the sender is from, and it was from Cornishgirl!), a copy of Willa Cather’s “My Antonia” which I’ve read but wished I owned, Rosamond Lehmann’s classic novel, “The Ballad and the Source” which I read YEARS ago and don’t own, and Margaret Kennedy’s “The Ladies of Lyndon”, the last in pre-loved Virago Green form and how I love adding my name to the names already written on the flyleaves.

I think the postcard’s message, “Solitude sometimes is best society” might have to be my 2020 motto if I’m not going to have TBR shelf overhand throughout the next year. But what a lovely pile and a lovely problem to have!

I’ve probably seen everyone else’s new book piles by now. Have you read any of these? Any bets as to when I’ll get to them?!

Sedate lady running 23-29 Dec 2019 #amrunning #running

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A better week once I’d ditched the antibiotics (tooth is OK – hooray!) and some good mileage including a record!

Before I start on the week, I’d love some feedback from regular marathoners on my adjusted long-run plan (assume there will be 2-3 other runs per week plus strength training plus yoga). Coming into this from a crappy last 4 months of the year, some medication, a tooth infection and antibiotics, I am a bit tired and was worried that I was going to push the long runs too far (I am fine to train for and do a marathon; I love running long). I have taken down the very long ones for more medium ones (the right-hand column) – does this look more sustainable and sensible? Thank you!

Monday – A recovery run with Mary Ellen and Jen – I meant to do three miles but we went round the usual loop and did a bit more.

Mary Ellen in Christmas kitties top

Mary Ellen wore her amazing Christmas Kitties In Space top

3.8 miles 13:03 mins per mile. 11,878 steps

Tuesday – I wasn’t running on Christmas Day and wanted to get some miles in and see if the boats in the canal boatyard were decorated, so went out for a 4-mile canal route with Claire (who was completing her Advent Challenge – well done!), Tara and Trudie.

Four runners

Tara, Trudie, me, Claire. Was I the only one who got the “dress Christmas” memo?

I tried to do a crouching photo a la Kim to show off my amazing Christmas leggings, but feel I may be doing it wrong …

Anyway, there they are, and they were straight in the wash so I could wear them to parkrun the next day. Oh, and those decorated boats?

Sparsely decorated canal boat

Oh.

Also, the path was flooded, down from where that tree was, but not runnable-through. We took a detour which was fine but need to bear this in mind!

Flooded path

4.4 miles, 13:13 mins per mile. 13,732 steps.

Wednesday – Christmas Day started brilliantly with a walk down to Cannon Hill Park to support parkrun by volunteering. We had over 540 runners, many of them dressed up, all in good and kind spirits, which was handy as we didn’t have quite enough volunteers. A lovely occasion full of joy and I saw loads of my “parkrun family” and friends.

runners and volunteers

Dave, Liz, Rich and Chris

Walked back home and had a lovely turkey dinner, just the two of us, then we saw Matthew’s (extended) family on Boxing Day.

11,006 steps.

Thursday – Time to beat Last Year’s Liz – I was already on 1036 miles for the year so just needed three to equalise and one to beat! Mary Ellen and I took a straight two miles south down the main road to see where it took us, then turned back around. This was also my first four miles in my twelvedaymarathon challenge, which is a lovely virtual race organised by Bernice’s running friend Carly, with proceeds going to charity. I believe she managed to fill all the places, which is excellent, such a good cause and she’s a lovely woman, too.

Two runners

Mary Ellen and me at the point where I equalled Last Year Me.

4 miles, 12:00 mins per mile. 11,431 steps

Friday – Made it to Claire Yoga which was another combined class like last week, so a few more challenging things in there for people who wanted them. It was good to get out and stretch! We met up with our friend Linda and her dogs for gift exchange and then in the afternoon went up to the pet shop to buy Percy a larger carrier so we can pass one of our small ones to Linda, I then marched around the neighbourhood to get my steps in (I was aiming to get over 10,000 every day in preparation for RED January where that’s the plan all month).

10,067 steps

Saturday – Second parkrun volunteering stint of the week – I went down to Oaklands Park to help out at our newest parkrun locally (I ran to it the other weekend) which has Dave from the parkrun pic above on the core team. I had a lovely time marshalling at the southernmost point of the course – as it’s three laps, I had a constant stream of runners once the first person came through. Lots of friends amojng the runners, including Meg, who’s second parkrun back it was after a longish hiatus. She was struggling a bit so I encouraged her and was so proud that she pushed through and finished. Can we have a Well done, Meg?

Meg and Liz

Meg and Liz and a giant bobble (pic by Meg, with permission)

I think my step counter in my watch went wrong here unless I was pacing back and forth as I marshalled – a bit annoying, but I knew I would have a high total on Sunday.

11,440 steps (maybe!)

Sunday – Long run day and I ran with Tracie, who I haven’t run with for ages (I honestly did but the photo I took of us was TERRIBLE). She lives 3 miles away so I duly ran 3 miles to her, 6 miles round Olton with her then 4 home again (I wiggled up side roads to make up the mile before I was too near home). Memo to self: a veg-based takeaway with white rice is not sufficient to get you round 13+ miles the next day. Weirdly, although it felt hard, I didn’t realise that I basically ran quite hard there, trotted around conversationally and enjoyed a new-to-me park, then belted home again – it all felt the same amount of hard. So I was a bit relieved to find that my average pace was faster than I normally do my long runs (in fact faster than two of my shorter runs this week!). Tracie is well aware that I do a photo-a-day challenge (six years and counting) and found me a new sculpture to photograph!

Horse sculpture at Olton Station

running route

I feel like my route drew something like a santa with a verrrrry long beard?

13.1 miles, 12:46 mins per mile. 27,859 steps (as of 19:00)

weekly-run-down-final-300x300Weekly total 25.3 miles. Total this year 1,053.1 miles (I did 1,039 in total last year and I beat that!!) Total weekly steps 97,413.

The 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 – Dave Randall – “Sound System: The Political Power of Music” @davidrrandall

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I went back to the oldest book on my TBR and thought I’d finished but searching for my picture shows me I’ve still got one to go before I’ve read through all the books I bought in my Foyles / book token extravaganza of May 2018 (memo to self: catch up with the older books for a bit, as this is going all wrong).

I had a fair few music books from this haul, so have read them interspersed with others, but this one was different again and a very good read. It was discounted and I’ve not seen anything about it, but it certainly deserves a read, and I’d urge you to pick up a copy if you spot one.

Dave Randall – “Sound System: The Political Power of Music”

(22 May 2018, Foyles)

An intelligent, interesting and passionate Left Book Club publication by Pluto Press about the political power of music, taking a worldwide and historical perspective, while also explaining the author’s personal motives for looking into the subject while he was touring as the guitarist for various bands, and his own political actions and manifesto for positive change.

The first part takes us through theories of music and politics from Adorno’s pronouncements through to the low-audience inclusivity of The Scratch Orchestra. The theme of the book is laid out here:

All forms of music can be used as part of a system of oppression, but they can also be part of the story of our liberation – the social meaning isn’t fixed. (p. 14)

The book ranges impressively from the control of musical harmonies by the mediaeval Church through the suppression of carnival and inventiveness of those being suppressed in creating new forms of instrument, through initiatives by the CIA’s psychological warfare experts to the role of music and musicians in the Arab Spring, always bearing in mind that these issues can be more complex than they initially appear. The interplay of musical influence between West Africa and the US is fascinating.

There’s some good stuff on the use of celebrity to distract the masses and then a look at what happens when celebrities (e.g. Beyoncé) get political and the fault lines in the reaction to them. The Rebel Music Manifesto at the end celebrates non-hierarchical community music and equity of access to music, citing events from hip hop parties to community choirs. Whether these will be a gateway to more communal organisation remains to be seen, but it’s a great positive end to a masterful and well-done book.


I’ve taken a leaf from Ali’s book and am currently reading Mark Mason’s “Walk the Lines” about walking the London Underground, overground, which Meg gave me for Christmas last year. I can state now that I will not have room for all the books I’ve been lucky enough to receive for Christmas on my TBR shelf, even though I’ve been reading up a storm – I also have a Virago I picked up while Not So Secret Shopping (a mint condition Virago Green I couldn’t leave behind) and a couple of books I’ve worked on from clients which need to get on there. Oh well: as I’ve said before, it’s a nice problem to have!

Book review – Joe Harkness – “Bird Therapy” @Unbounders

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I received this book from Unbound, the excellent subscription publishing service where, like in the first days of publishing or with crowd-funders in general, you pledge an amount of money, then when enough people have pledged, the book is published and you get your copy (with your name in the list of subscribers at the back!). This is the first project I’ve pledged which has made it into book form – I had one failed one for a book about John Cowper Powys where I got a credit returned to me, and am waiting to see how two more do, “100 Voices” which shares 100 women’s voices 100 years (ish) after getting the vote, and “Ending the Pursuit” which I just pledged for as part of my aim to read more diverse voices/experiences. Funnily enough, I have a couple of other Unbound books on my TBR which I picked up locally, too! I picked this one right out of the middle of the TBR to read because I gave it to my best friend Emma for her birthday and she was reading it at the time, too.

Joe Harkness – “Bird Therapy”

(04 May 2019 – from the publisher)

Starting with a powerful foreword by Chris Packham (trigger warning: there is talk of taking one’s own life including some information on planning: it is by no means suicide-positive of course) this book pulls no punches in its descriptions of the effects of poor mental health, but is ultimately a positive read and experience.

After explaining the origins of his hobby in childhood experiences, and giving us many excellent descriptions of birds, Harkness adapts the five ways to well-being to birdwatching and explains eloquently how it has helped him in particular and can help others in general. He did a survey via his blog when planning the book, and surveyed the literature on birdwatching (there is some!) and more general works on the value of getting outside in nature, so his claims are nicely backed up.

I find it interesting that of the kinds of approaches to birdwatching he lists, he found twitching/ticking too stressful and competitive, but preferred the quietness of getting to know a local patch in all its seasons. I really hate rushing to see a particular bird for the sake of it (the most I’ve ever done of that was walking the almost negligible distance from Penzance to Newlyn to look at an Iceland Gull on a harbour wall, and we still spent quite a while watching it and its behaviour!). I don’t necessarily agree that bird photography moves the proponent too far away from the basics, as I find it relaxing lining up my bird shots, but I can understand why he thinks that.

Running has its moment when talking about the benefits of exercising outdoors, and as a running birdwatcher, I certainly recognise the process of having to hold a sighting in your mind until you get home! One of my running friends asked me a while back to help her learn the British birds and we and other friends have had great fun watching herons and little white egrets on the canals and rivers. I also managed to see some interesting wagtails during my first marathon, remember where I saw them and return there the next day during my recovery walk!

Harkness speaks from a position of being able to tell when he’s in danger of crisis and being able to head it off, which is reassuring and positive. I was saddened to read of his early (and all-too-familiar) run-ins with established birdwatchers in hides and online, who can be sneery, but was glad to see he has now found his tribe as well as an enjoyment of the hobby solo. He also clearly continues to try to inspire young people, both those he teaches and those who enter hides he’s in, and newbies in general.

There’s a good section where he highlights what initiatives are being done to make hides and reserves more accessible to wheelchair users and the like, and there are great descriptions of exactly what it’s like to visit a bird reserve. Handy hints at the end of each chapter appeal to the birdwatcher or starter alike. A great and inspiring read.

Joe Harkness doesn’t appear to be on social media any more, but has a website here, and he also has a great-looking teaching pack (info here) which I think would appeal to lots of people.

 

Book reviews – Paul Magrs – “Stardust and Snow” and “Noel Streatfeild’s Christmas Stories” @paulmagrs @viragobooks #magrsathon

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Two lovely books in review today which I had planned to – and then did! – read on Christmas Day afternoon. I love it when a plan comes together! These are both Christmas-themed and easy reads, but pack an emotional punch, and both are by favourite authors. Dear Verity sent me the Noel Streatfeild, fellow Ballet Shoes etc fans that we are, and it’s going to be a little hard but I’m going to pass it on to someone who deserves an extra Christmas treat. In addition. Paul Magrs’ “Stardust and Snow” is serving as a pre-read for my Paul Magrsathon, my 2020 reading project which I’ve outlined here. I’ll admit that the back end of the year was a bit full of stuff to have reached out to publishers and done fancy stuff but I have the first five months’ worth of books ready to go and TWO giveaways to start things off with!

Paul Magrs – “Stardust and Snow”

(December 2019)

An absolutely beautiful and charming Christmas story. Daniel remembers the days when he was a shy kid, and they didn’t call it autistic in those days, just shy. He wins a competition to go to London and meet David Bowie. But when he gets to the big city, his Grandma is grumpy, they’re nearly late, no one knows that Grandpa ‘wrote in’ and Daniel can hardly see Bowie or the puppets from Labyrinth over the heads of the crowd. What happens next is so adorable and magical, and Paul’s way of writing abut ordinary people doing extraordinary things, which is what hooked me into his writing in 1990s Lewisham in the first place, makes it breath-taking.

Matthew read this on Christmas afternoon, too, while I started my next read, and pronounced it “so sweet” with a tear in his eye (I’ll admit to a matching one).

“Noel Streatfeild’s Christmas Stories”

(November 2019, from Verity)

A new collection of stories for children (but perfectly readable by adults!) originally written in the 1940s-1960s for annuals, magazines and the radio, and never before collected and published. We have a mixture of theatre children and ordinary children, with poorly siblings, parents fighting to make ends meet and sparkling dreams in the mix.

I particularly liked “The Chain”, where a boy imagines the classic characters from children’s literature helping his sick sister, and “Christmas at Collers”, where some town children learn to embrace the delights of a country Christmas. Lovely illustrations by Peter Bailey make this a gorgeous gift for yourself or someone you love.


I’ve already finished “Bird Therapy” and am pushing forward with my plan to empty enough of my TBR shelves to seamlessly fit all my new books on it. Yeah, right! And the ones I have acquired recently that somehow haven’t made it on there already … Oh, and I’ll share the Lovely Pile soon, but probably in my end-of-year round-up post as there will be a few more reviews to fit in before then!

Happy Christmas and a happy and healthy new year to all my readers!

Book review – Ellen Wilkinson – “Clash” @ViragoBooks #amreading

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I actually read this as the second book I finshed in December, however I had picked it off the shelf to read because a friend had it on a wishlist and I’d drawn her as my Secret Santa in one of the three we’re both in (it’s a wonder we’ve never drawn each other in all three, although I bought for her in this one last year, too). Anyway, I’ve delayed publication of this post until I’m pretty sure she’ll have opened it and known it was from me!

Ellen Wilkinson – “Clash”

(30 November 2018, from Kaggsy)

Well, who would have thought that a novel about the 1926 General Strike would be a page-turner with a lot to say about women’s roles and choices at that time? I do normally steer clear of books including real-life characters, but the politicians are in the background and the main character is autobiographical, but I knew little about Wilkinson’s life (until I read the Introduction) and the other characters are disguised and combined portraits at most, apparently. Bloomsbury also encroaches on the story, but in the form of a wealthy woman on the edges of literary circles, funding plays and publications rather than producing them herself.

As well as the story of the general strike and fundraising for coal miners’ families after it ends, we also see what the other struggles were at the time. Do you accept the support of the moneyed rich, knowing they will never understand the working class or poverty and always at risk of sinking too far into luxury? And what happens when the man you love wants to keep you in a gilded cage of a flat and not allow you to work because women are just for love and families, really? Well, in the latter case, you make a hard decision and stick to it, and in the former, you live and learn.

Joan is slightly hero-worshipped, but I wonder if she’s the woman Wilkinson wanted to be, and makes the decisions she wanted to make (I may be reading too much into the introduction). Anyway, it’s a good and interesting read with many facets and great supporting characters.

Book review – “Anything for a T-Shirt: Fred Lebow and the New York City Marathon” @RunBookshelfFB

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My running-n-reading friend Cari very kindly sent me a copy of this book as she wanted to read it together (then my copy arrived waaayy earlier than hers AND I’ve lost track of where she is in it).  My copy arrived on 18 November and it was so interesting to read about this running hero of Cari’s who has a statue and a race named after him in New York.

Lebow was clearly an impressive and complex characters, who single-handedly changed how big-city marathons work – in terms of arrangements, sponsorship and inclusivity in particular – through a mixture of charm, pig-headedness and chutzpah, all of which were honed in his journey from refugee fleeing the Holocaust through garment factory worker and manager and then business owner to race director. As the author says early on, his was

… a story that embodied almost of all of life’s – and history’s – most important themes: surviving adversity, rising above challenges, overcoming humanity’s worst nightmares and reaching for our individual dreams, working hard to achieve our goals or volunteering to help others accomplish theirs … (xiii-xiv)

It’s very detailed where it can be, on the marathon, its winners, sponsors and Lebow’s relationship with the press and the running establishment, while remaining less detailed on his early life escaping from Eastern Europe. There’s a moving chapter taking us almost step by step through his own running of his race when in remission from cancer, with the crowds calling out his name over and over, and the whole description of the spectacle of the run makes it even more one I want to do myself one day (Cari ran it this year).

It was fascinating to read about amputee Dick Traum running in the first five-boroughs iteration of the race and going on to found the Achilles Track Club for runners with disabilities, which I believe is still going today. The detail of how the marathon developed and needed to attract world-class runners as well as ordinary people was very interesting, too, including some controversial stuff about payments, and I was pleased to see a decent section on all the different groups of volunteers who make it all work.

I would say that the book is a little clunky in the writing and a little bit repetitive. It’s clearly written by an academic who wants to be sure to make links between Lebow’s early experiences, his character and his race directing, rather than a sports writer, and I get that, although he could probably trust his audience to know who Traum etc. are after their first introduction and not repeat the details. Some of the language around disability is a little bit dated now, but the book was published in 2004 so that’s par for the course. The book does have all the detail of Lebow’s life and legacy and so much interesting information about how he did what he did.

 

Book review – Phillipa Ashley – “Spring on the Little Cornish Isles” and “Summer on the Little Cornish Isles” @PhillipaAshley

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Having read the “Christmas” volume in this series, and spotting the characters who would feature in the next two (the business names are subtitles for each book), I couldn’t resist picking up these two to read and finish the set (meaning that Jane Linfoot with her 2/4 Christmas titles in her series will have to wait until next Christmas – there’s only a certain amount of reading a girl can do!). I’m really glad I collected the set as they’re lovely reads which are obviously well-researched, with loads of nuggets of information and detail about life on the Isles of Scilly, even if, as Ashley makes clear in both these volumes, the actual islands she sets the three books on aren’t actual Scilly Isles.

Phillipa Ashley – “Spring on the Little Cornish Isles: The Flower Farm”

(February 2019)

In this second volume we follow Maisie’s best friend Jess, who, in the first section which overlaps with the action in “Christmas”, finds her life falls apart when her boyfriend Adam goes AWOL from her life and then the islands. We catch up with her a few months later, trying to hold things together for the sake of the family flower farm, and there’s her twin brother, Will, too, who is trying to ignore the fact that he’s falling for the flower farm’s new seasonal worker, Gaby. Gaby meanwhile has arrived at the ends of he earth to run away from painful memories, and to indulge her love of poetry and flowers – though she’s a great character, strong and resourceful and a hard worker. Lots of detail about how the flower farm works makes this a nice satisfying read.

Phillipa Ashley – “Summer on the Little Cornish Isles: The Starfish Studio”

(February 2019)

This one is set slightly apart from the characters of the other two, although they do pop up from time to time. We join Poppy, who comes to take over the Starfish Studio, originally planning to come with her boyfriend, but now alone. The studio is in a far worse state than she remembered, and owner Archie is on the mainland after a fall, so it falls to his grandson Jake and ‘friend’ (or more) Fen to help her sort things out. Jake’s distracted by his own loss a few years ago but warms to the island again, Fen and the other artists are great characters and they’re all aided/impeded by an excellent cat (there is mild peril at one point but he’s OK). A nice round-up to the series, with even unruly dog Basil meeting his match, and lovely detail of how community life in the islands works.

You can find my reviews of Phillipa Ashley’s “Christmas on the Little Cornish Isles” here and of her other Cornwall books here. I enjoyed seeing her thank her blogging readers for sharing about her books in the Acknowledgements to this one.

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