Book review Chetan Bhagat – “Two States: The Story of my Marriage” @chetan_bhagat

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Here I’m picking off a more recent acquisition from the TBR (although I’ve realised this is outside my “get my TBR read” challenge as I bought it this year, oops) as I couldn’t wait to read it. I read Bhagat’s “One Night @ The Call Centre” back in 2006 (Matthew read it, too) and absolutely loved it, but hadn’t seen his books here in the UK – I did manage to buy a load of them in a Kindle sale a year or two ago but I was thrilled to find this copy in a local charity shop, published in India and somehow arriving in South Birmingham.

Chetan Bhagat – “Two States: The Story of my Marriage”

(03 January 2020, Oxfam charity shop)

I like a culture clash novel very much, usually the clash arising from some sort of expatriatism, or at very least inter-religion issue, but here we have a protagonist and his girlfriend who are both from what is supposed to be a uniform culture in India – but he’s from the Punjab via Delhi and she’s from South India, with her family in Chennai, and these cultures are VERY different and mutually suspicious, with stressful and sometimes hilarious issues ensuing when they try to keep their university love match going as they grow up and move away from education.

It was absolutely fascinating to read about student and working life in modern India – not something I’ve read a huge amount about although I’ve read many novels set there over the years. But the book is certainly not just a dry learning experience – there is much to cheer on and admire, and giggle at, in the machinations that Krish and Ananya engate in in order to bring their highly suspicious family members together after working hard to win them over themselves (poor Krish comes off very badly in this, leaving his “chummery” lodgings at goodness knows what time in the morning to tutor Ananya’s younger brother).

No one is demonised – Bhagat’s express aim is to bring about unity in modern India rather than discord – and we’re shown how both sides make assumptions and conform to stereotypes (South Indians are considered to be cold and obsessed with money; Punjabis always shouting and obessed with food, and indeed both families do this, hilariously, at each other). There are great set-pieces – the graduation where Krish’s mum mutters a list of South Indian actresses who are only out to snag a Punjabi boy, or the wedding where the Delhi faction are scandalised at having to get up so early. But there’s heart and emotion too, and some very sweet bits.

I keep seeming to pull a summarising quotation out of my reads this year and this is the one for this book:

In an Indian love marriage, by the time everyone gets on board, one wonders if there is any love left. (p. 224)

Ananya is a great, strong character, bolshy and able to get stuff done herself at yet another wedding. It’s a fun, instructional and ultimately positive read and I’m REALLY excited to have seen on Bhagat’s Twitter feed that he’s just finished writing his next new novel (and I have a few to read on my Kindle still).


I’ve also finished “Mudlarking” which I borrowed from lovely Mary Ellen, but have run out of days to review January reads. I’m currently getting on nicely with “On the Map” by Simon Garfield and “ABC for Book Collectors” and am course excited about starting my next Paul Magrs tomorrow (did you want to take part in my competition to win one of his lovely out of print novels? Info here).

 

Book review – Marian Keyes – “Grown Ups” #amreading

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Well I might be reviewing this now, a week before publication, but I read it back in October 2019! I’ve used my October TBR image here as I had it to hand – who knows, maybe the TBR is smaller by now!! [edited to add HA in my DREAMS]

Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin for providing this book in return for an honest review.

Marian Keyes – “Grown Ups”

(20 September 2019)

A long novel in which you need to get to grips with a huge cast of characters as you encounter the busy, attractive Casey family, revolving around the three brothers, Johnny, Ed and Liam, each with their wife and children, plus extra cousins and friends. and a family tree would have come in handy.

Gradually it unwinds to reveal Johnny is second husband to Jessie and they have a blended family, a business, and so much money that they literally pay for the rest of the family to go on several holidays and weekend trips a year. This is handy for the plot but doesn’t seem believable. Ed and Cara are dealing with Cara’s eating disorder, badly, but it’s Cara’s sudden truthfulness after a bang on the head that opens the novel and which we go back and wind up to through the rest of the novel. Feckless Liam and his kind wife Nell are quite newly married, she is his second wife and does she have more in common with the younger members of the family?

So we follow these people through six months of complicated trips and holidays and messaging and learn what who knows about whom, although it’s so long and the characters are well drawn but somehow not really people I wanted to invest in. Nell is the most interesting, while Cara’s story is well done and useful to explain to people how eating disorders work but so detailed it might be triggering. There are funny side characters, especially the youngsters, but it overall feels pretty sad, with the gloss coming off relationships, marriages and friendships.


I’m still reading up a storm this month and hoping I can maintain the momentum. My plan this year is to get to the books I acquired up to just before last Christmas by the end of the year. 71 print TBR books plus 11 more Magrsathon challenge books. Think I can do it?

Book reviews – Harold Nicolson – “Journey to Java” and Sarah Henshaw – “The Bookshop that Floated Away” #amreading

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I have actually read half of the books in this picture now!

Well I really #amreading at the moment, due to a combination of having a cold and not having too much work on (it’s OK!) and not much doing at the weekends. So here’s a double review, which I used to do all the time and don’t really do now, but it gets more January books reviewed in January and they are linked by both being about voyages on water!

As to the dates, oh dear, I am soooo behind in terms of the lag between buying and reading. However I am reading a lot, and I don’t usually have so many books come in as I do in December-January, I’m confident I will get all my Christmas books on the shelf by the end of the month (sort of confident) and I’m saving up my lovely book tokens for a summer splurge.

In other news, before the reviews, my review of “Impressionism” by Ralph Skea is up on Shiny New Books today – read it here. Another book in the Art Essentials series, it’s beautifully illustrated and gave me some new insights. Do pop over and see the lovely folk at Shiny and read what I thought about it!

Harold Nicholson – “Journey to Java”

(17 July 2018, Oxfam Books, Kings Heath)

The diary of his and Vita Sackville-West’s cruise to Java via South Africa, week in the country and journey back, all paid for by an “enormous cheque” which his friends clubbed together to give him on his 70th birthday. It is mixed in with accounts of his academic pursuits while on board, on the nature of melancholy. I have to say that I preferred his rather shaky encounters with bingo and his “bunk reading” and, as he admits that he skimmed Burton’s “Anatomy of Melancholy”, so I also skimmed his musings on Rousseau and the Ancients.

There’s plenty of other stuff, however, and I loved the terribly endearing glimpses of the elderly couple of their separate cabins, he being a little irritated by Vita’s propensity to believe the theories of a stranger over the knowledge of loved ones, fond of her habit of sitting bolt upright on a hard teak bench rather than reclining in a deckchair, and positively glowing about her odd leaps of logic:

What I like about V. is that she is always having odd ideas. (p. 187)

He also admits – see, the endearing nature of it all – that

V. is inclined to distrust my scientific knowledge and even my classical illustrations which, I admit, are too often based upon vague memories. (p. 175)

There are some very funny descriptions of both the workings of the boat (they are most discomfited by the noises of a working ship, and also shocked at finding a nice man from Kew in the Second Class area) and his interactions with its passengers. For a book by a member, however transgressional, of the establishment in the 1950s there is only a little casual racism around the “jabbering” of the Indonesian staff and a few colonial digs at people not being able to run their own countries; he mostly likes and even admires the staff and you have to take this as it is, and less bad than other books of the period.

The shadow of the Second World War and the atrocities that occurred in the Far East are often lurking at the corners, with people often praised for having got over various things and being absolutely fine now (but were they?) but in the main this is a gentle, competently written and engaging read which I very much enjoyed. Maybe suggesting to one’s husband that we try Gran Canaria on the basis of Harold and Vita liking the place in 1957 is a little over-hopeful, however …

Sarah Henshaw – “The Bookshop that Floated Away”

(23 August 2018, Blue Cross charity shop, Stratford-upon-Avon)

I bought this when my lovely friend Cari (books AND running link us – hooray) was over visiting and we had a day out in Stratford where I pressed books upon her and came home with a pile (picture half-way down this post and I note I’ve read all but three of them now).

A rather odd little book, Henshaw runs the Book Barge, a bookshop on a narrowboat, and documents a six-month journey around the UK (including a bit in Birmingham that mentions a canal boat race I’m sure is in another book I’ve read, possibly “Hidden Nature“) promoting the shop and independent bookshops, without and yet strangely with her long-suffering boyfriend. She sets off not knowing how to operate the boat or what she’s going to do about going to the loo and I’m sorry, but I do get a bit impatient with people who just set off without proper planning, even though I know that’s my problem more than theirs.* She therefore has various mishaps. There is a whole section written “by” the boat itself in the style of “Black Beauty”, and quite a weirdly disconnected and floaty (ha ha) feel to it. The best moment is when my lovely client Erica Wagner is mentioned, and you can’t help but root for Sarah and the barge/business, but it’s all bit too slapdash and whimsical for me (why did I not mind that in that Mongolian horse race book, though?).

* I berated my poor husband for not ‘knowing his knots’ before I realised that most people DON’T actually know their knots …

There’s a very small amount of info about the Book Barge here.


I’ve just finished Chetan Bhagat’s excellent “2 States” which I will review on the 31st, as tomorrow I will be publishing my review of Marian Keyes’ “Grown Ups” which I read via NetGalley in October and then realised to my horror had a reviewing embargo until the week before it was published!

Book review – Dave Heeley and Sophie Parkes – “From Light to Dark: The Story of Blind Dave Heeley” @blinddaveheeley @RunBookshelfFB

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June 2018 2I went to see Blind Dave Heeley give a talk in Bournville, hosted by the lovely Bournville Harriers running club (but with plenty of room for friends) back in June 2018. I already knew about him, the famous West Bromwich based blind runner, always running for charity with a guide runner, and I’d shouted out to him during races as he passed me or gone the other way on an out and back. His talk was a riot, down-to-earth and funny, and complete with guide dog to pat, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to buy his book. I’m a bit ashamed it’s taken me so long to read it, with my reading down a bit last year and my policy of reading some off the newer bit of the TBR and some off the older, but it didn’t disappoint when I did get to it.

Dave Heeley and Sophie Parkes – “From Light to Dark”

(10 June 2018 – signed copy)

A really good autobiography, very able co-written by Sophie Parkes, which felt authentically in his voice while also being well-written and well-structured (the two sides don’t automatically come together!). There’s lots of satisfying detail about his challenges but also humility about the mistakes he’s made and honesty about what being blind is like, as he is so often asked:

After all, the truth is that being blind is bloody awful. (p. 31)

But it’s a generally and genuinely optimistic book, full of community spirit and charitable enterprise and appreciation for what he can do and achieve (including woodwork – fair play to him!). He is always first to laugh at himself and funny situations he’s found himself in, and there were some genuine laughs there; what about when the Guide Dogs didn’t want him to have “Blind Dave” on his t-shirt because it was a bit negative! I of course loved reading about how he started out running (later than I’d thought) and also welled up a few times reading about his first London Marathon and a couple of his seven marathons in seven days in seven continents runs, for example when he was run in by a load of squaddies on the Falkland Islands leg.

As well as the human interest there’s lots of training and detail on the recovery and energy expenditure in the seven marathons challenge and details of the tent and logistics of the Marathon Des Sables (yes, he’s done that, too). It was lovely to see a mention of blind football Olympian Darren Harris, who I have also met, and I so look forward to encountering Dave, however distantly and fleetingly, at other events in the future.

Let’s all be inspired by one of his closing statements:

Don’t worry about what you can’t do; concentrate your efforts on what you can do and you will find you can achieve those goals and ambitions. (p. 287)

Book review – Jess Phillips – “Truth to Power: 7 Ways to Call time on B.S.” #amreading

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I couldn’t resist picking up this (signed! Thank you again, Meg!) Christmas acquisition to read as I merrily push my way through the TBR from both ends. Quite a slight but important book: if you want more biographical stuff, I suggest reading “Everywoman” but if you want bolstering up and reminding that you CAN make a different, then this is the one to go for.

Jess Phillips – “Truth to Power: 7 Ways to Call Time on B.S.”

(25 December 2019)

This is a guide to community and social action, a call to arms and a reassurance that anyone and everyone can make a difference and a reminder that we have a social and civic duty to speak out in whatever way we can when we witness or experience injustice.

Told in her inimitable voice, and very down to earth and plain-speaking, as you’d imagine, Phillips uses examples of women who have stood up to power and done their best, but also gives smaller examples of how we can all make a difference. She makes the point that when she speaks out in Parliament, as well as talking to those in power, she’s talking to regular people, letting them know she’s giving them a voice and representing them, and she’s very big on the power of banding together with people; she also notes that it’s often easier to speak up for others than for ourselves.

The book is full of sensible and practical advice, for example on how social media can get out of hand, and how sometimes it’s better to make your point more quietly and privately at first rather than unleashing the full power of online community (I consider myself quite good at speaking truth to power myself, but I wish I’d thought of that when I made a mistake in making a complaint visible publicly and having it work against instead of for the person I was trying to protect!) and also on making sure to minimise personal risk.

Her closing statement is a powerful one:

You have more power than you think; don’t give it away to people who don’t deserve it. LET’S USE IT! (p. 221)

Sedate lady running 20-26 Jan 2020 #amrunning #running

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A short one this week as I’ve come down with a damned cold, thus missing the lovely Bernice’s 50th parkrun, a trip to the Running Show and a run in the Malvern Hills. Grr.

Monday – A recovery run with Claire, feeling very creaky after my 15 miles yesterday! We just ran to Swanshurst Park and back … but the park was looking lovely.

Although this looks limpid and lovely it was really cold and also icy underfoot: we had to cross from side to side of the roads and hop up onto a grassy verge to run safely at one point there and back!

3.5 miles, 12:53 mins per mile. 11,585 steps.

Tuesday – My birthday! I had a lovely long walk with Louise in the daytime, just wandering in the park, saying hello to all the dogs, etc. Went out with Matthew in the evening to a new Lebanese place for dinner.

EDITED TO ADD: My goodness, I can’t believe I left this bit out. Got home from the meal to find something odd on the floor. I do have a habit of leaving my damp trainers under the radiator in the hall. Which ones did Mizz Willa Kitten choose to sever the lace of? Would it be the bashed-up walking trainers, the end-of-life pair with over 400 miles in or the pretty well brand-new ones??

2020_21

12,983 steps

Wednesday – My friend who has RA has also had a bad spell with sciatica, and has been pretty well housebound. She had a physio appointment at the hospital nearish to me today, and they were less than forthcoming about the arrangements available for her to get from the hospital entrance to the dept. Although a phone call offered more hope, I decided I wanted to be around in case she needed help either walking or being pushed in a wheelchair. The bus there is a bit unreliable, so I decided to run (except I ran into our late neighbour’s son and got some info about the buyers of his house, then had to hop on a bus there anyway). Ran onto the university campus (next door to the hospital and as an alumna and ex-staff (twice) I feel I am entitled to go there! to use the loo  and got a message that a chair and a man to push it had been provided (hooray) so had a quick look round the renovated campus (my old workplace knocked down) and was pleased to see a favourite statue was still there.

Barbara Hepworth's Ancestor II in front of the new libraryI then ran home, which is pretty well all uphill, as hard as I could, as I’ve been trying to work harder runs into my schedule once a week. Quite a hard push but with some walking up the worst hills so was pleased with my average time. I was also quite tired; I’d been feeling like I was coming down with something a couple of times this week. That’s because I WAS!

0.58 mi, 11:11 mins per mile / 4 mi, 12:00 mins per mile. 11,275 miles

Thursday – Went for a lovely dog walk with Claire and Kaci in the morning, then went out with the girls to make up the miles I missed not running all the way down to the hospital yesterday. We met up on the corner and there were six of us, which is a large group of Sedate Ladies these days. Some of us peeled off to just get a lower total, some did 5 miles. Photos by Trudie, shared with permission.

Runners in the dark

Mary Ellen, Liz, Caroline, Tracie, Tara, Trudie

Reflective leggings

Trudie has on the dot leggings a few of us have; Tracie and I are modelling one leg each of our new Decathlon Kalenji ones, very bright!

4 miles, 13:30 mins per mile. 16,244 miles.

And that was it – cold came on Thursday night. I am careful not to run when sick and I am not up to running. Did some squats Fri and squats and lunges Sat and will try to do the same today. At least I have room to miss a long or hard run (the Malverns run was going to be 9 or 10) as long as I can get better soon. I’ve just asked for cover for my club volunteering duties for Tuesday and hope I’ll be OK to support our 5k and Beyonders (the new batch!) on Thursday. Yes, am keeping hydrated and taking extra zinc. Pretty sure I helped this come to me by skimping on sleep and fruit and veg groups, though: a lesson there!

However …

Saturday – I need to give a shout out to two brave and strong ladies. Bernice (who I did Race to the Stones with, while she had a herniated disc!!) has seen all sorts of professionals, been given the all-clear to start running again, and did her 50th parkrun at Cannon Hill with some of her friends from where she lives now and a good few of our Sedate Ladies. And Tracie, who was also there, went way outside of her comfort zone on her long run and managed beautifully. Well done, both!

weekly-run-down-final-300x300Weekly total 12.1 miles. Total this year 77 miles (at this point I am saying goodbye to my 2020 km plan for the year!). Total weekly steps unclear.

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 – Vybarr Cregan-Reid – “Footnotes: How Running Makes us Human” @RunBookshelfFB #amreading

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Oopsadaisy – I’ve been reading a lot but not managing to keep up with my reviews. I’ve been doing an older book, a new book and an e-book in order to make space for Christmas incomings and then not have too many of them to fit on the shelf when it’s time. Of course, I also just had my birthday, with MORE lovely books (hooray! Dean Street Press and Persephone plus other wish list delights for the win – a post on those coming soon as I think there may be one more to come). And, um, I may have come by a couple of others in the meantime.

Anyway, this was at LAST the last book from that huge Foyles book token haul I had in May 2018. So behind on my reading, but that’s the fault of doing the one old one, one new one, which does also have its advantages.

Vybarr Cregan-Reid – “Footnotes: How Running Makes us Human”

(22 May 2018)

Quite a dense running book which looks at different aspects of why running is good for us, taking in neuroscience, physiology and psychology and visiting researchers and labs, sometimes offering himself up as the subject of the research. You get bits of his life as he goes out on runs and contemplates various aspects – he’s a literature professor so there’s more literary stuff than you might perhaps expect, including some stuff about the Lake District poets and Thomas Hardy. He’s partly a barefoot runner (but not full-time and experiences some issues with that) and spends time on that topic, and it’s always interesting to read his descriptions when the shoes come off on his runs. He has some quite funny experiences getting more weather than he bargained for in the Lake District when trying to emulate the walking feats of the poets, and some frustrating times but also fun doing some mild trespassing.

He seems honest about his personality and failings, for example how he’s good at doing things but not so good at not doing things. He also explores matters that are outside his comfort zone, which is admirable, spending time and effort finding out why some people enjoy going to the gym, even if it’s not for him. I also enjoyed his narrative of his slightly accidental marathon (on the roads, while he obviously prefers running in wilder places) and this rang a bell:

‘Pain is temporary, failure lasts forever’, the wankers will tell you. No! Pain is not necessary for success, a  healthy relationship with failure is. (p. 270)

So quite a dense book which looks in depth at how running can enhance our humanity, with some interesting runs and recognisable features. An interesting read.


Two incomings that are not birthday or Christmas related. Diana Pullein-Thompson’s “I Wanted a Pony” was her first solo effort, and Jane Badger Books has reissued it with the original illustrations. When Jane shared this on Facebook, I just had to order it.

My friend Mary Ellen (of running posts fame) has just finished Lara Maiklem’s “Mudlarking” which is all about the things the author has found on the muddy banks of the Thames at low tide. She thought I would like to borrow it and indeed I would!

What’s lovely about both of these is the illustration. Here’s the endpapers of “Mudlarking” along with one of the attractive line drawings in “I Wanted a Pony”

I’m currently finishing off Blind Dave Heeley’s “From Light to Dark” which is his very good and entertaining autobiography. Still to review is Jess Phillips’ “Truth to Power” and I have finished the excellent “Learning Languages in Early Modern England” by John Gallagher, which I am reviewing for Shiny New Books. I think next up will be “Fresh from the Country” by Miss Read, one of Dean Street Press’s new Furrowed Middlebrow books which they sent me in e-format to review but my best friend Emma sent me in print format for my birthday (hooray!). What a great start to the year this month has been so far!

 

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