Shiny New Books review and incoming for review (lucky me!) @ShinyNewBooks #amreading @OUPAcademic @ThamesandHudson


In January I very much enjoyed reading John Gallagher’s “Learning Languages in Early Modern England”. As I’m currently trying to learn Spanish from an app, but have also obviously experienced language learning in school and guidebooks and phrasebooks, I had several ways in to this book and found it fascinating. Although it’s an academic tome published by OUP, I found it accessible in its writing (more so than some of the other works it quoted) and it’s also enticingly full of lovely illustrations of old language learning materials, both printed and written by the learners. I found out lots that I hadn’t realised before, and I was also pleased to see an emphasis on the work of women and the “invisible” servants, etc. who aided language learning (and some people who were both).

Examining the period 1480-1720, the book, “offers a history of linguistic competences in a polyglot context, investigating the methods by which they were acquired, used, tested and judged”. The concept of ‘communicative competence’ is important in the book: the way in which a language speaker could adjust what linguists call their register, just as we have a different phone voice to the one we use in a conversation with our friends, and could use the variants of a language that were considered high-status (the French of the Loire, but later Paris, for example). This means that there’s a fair bit of fascinating stuff on how language teaching materials encompassed ways to behave, often shown through the dialogues that constituted the practical examples.

Read my full review at Shiny New Books here.

And just as I knew my review for that one was going up, my next read for Shiny arrived – one from Thames & Hudson’s lovely Spring 2020 catalogue (and I’m so very lucky that Thames & Hudson indulge my requests from their amazing catalogues, and hope I do them proud in my reviews). This one is “A History of Pictures” by none other than David Hockney and Martin Gayford. Of course I’ve already read one of Gayford’s books, the excellent book of pieces on life as a writer about art, “The Pursuit of Art”, which I discussed here in September and reviewed on Shiny here (and I’m not sure why it wasn’t one of my books of the year, to be honest).

This is a new edition, with more works by Hockney featured, and the blurb from the first edition makes it sound unmissable:

They privilege no medium, or period, or style, but instead, in 16 chapters, discuss how and why pictures have been made, and insistently link ‘art’ to human skills and human needs. Each chapter addresses an important question: What happens when we try to express reality in two dimensions? Why is the ‘Mona Lisa’ beautiful and why are shadows so rarely found in Chinese, Japanese and Persian painting? Why are optical projections always going to be more beautiful than HD television can ever be? How have the makers of images depicted movement? What makes marks on a flat surface interesting? Energized by two lifetimes of looking at pictures, combined with a great artist’s 70-year experience of experimentation as he makes them, this profoundly moving and enlightening volume will be the art book of the decade.

It’s published on 20 February and I really cannot wait to get stuck into this one and to review it and share it with you, here and on Shiny!

What brand new books are you coveting or reading?

Book review – Lara Maiklem – “Mudlarking” plus birthday acquisitions in a lovely neat pile #bookconfessions @PersephoneBooks @ViragoBooks @DeanStPress


I get worried when I borrow books about keeping them for too long, so I dived into this one, loaned to me by Mary Ellen, almost as soon as it was in the house.  It’s a very pretty book with lovely endpapers (more about them later). The same day that Mary Ellen passed me this, I had a small pre-birthday tea with friends, and received some enticing rectangular parcels, and lovely post came on the day itself. I’ve just had my Christmas present from my friend Sian (a mooch around the local charity shops, clutching a “charity shop token” I was allowed to spend on books) and she gave me my birthday present then, so now I have a Lovely Pile of those to share with you, plus the three books I managed to find to buy (isn’t that always the way: I was allowed to splurge and couldn’t find that many books I wanted; last time Sian and I were searching these shops, for Christmas not so secret santa gifts, I bought myself a good few!). Review first, though …

Lara Maiklem – “Mudlarking”

(21 Jan 2020, loaned by Mary Ellen)

A very entertaining book on the treasures to be found in the mud of the River Thames, taking a themed journey chapter-by-chapter from the highest tidal point of the river to the estuary, and looking within each chapter at both general matters and aspects of that particular area. The sense of companionship, both with other mudlarkers and with the people of the past who owned the items she finds is palpable. Indeed, she sensibly won’t go out on the mud of the estuary without someone to guide her and keep watch.

There’s enough of her own history and life to provide a framework, but it doesn’t intrude. She is obviously obsessed with the river and its mud and writes convincingly about how, “It comes knocking at all hours”, and it’s also clear that it’s an escape for her and an opportunity to experience ‘flow’, as she can get lost in staring at the mud or sand for hours. And although she does admit to lying and cajoling and almost abandoning her family for her hobby, she does say of her wife, “[She] likes running marathons, which is an obsession in its own right so she understands” (p. 233).

There’s the obligatory and expected section on human bones and bodies, clearly signposted so not a problem, although I did skip forward to the estuary to get that bit read when I wasn’t reading it over my mealtimes

My one criticism is that, although there’s an image of a historical mudlarker and two maps, and the author does have a presence on Instagram and Facebook, there are no illustrations of her finds, save for a few things on the front cover which might be, the title itself being made up of an Easter Egg that’s created for the book. Those lovely endpapers whose illustrations I shared when I acquired the book turn out not to be her own notes and drawings but those of a colleague, duly mentioned, thanked in the text and acknowledgements and referenced, but still nothing to do with the text and her own finds. She does describe objects well but I think it’s a real missed opportunity not to have any of her own images on at least the endpapers.

An entertaining and interesting read nonetheless.

PIle of birthday books

My lovely birthday books, in order of receipt. I also received some book tokens (hooray, Foyles splurge in around May) and a Pizza Express token I’m going to use for a meal with my best friend soon.

Those two Persephones first – “Expiation” by Elizabeth von Arnim is a ‘lost’ novel of hers about adultery in the suburbs which takes married life and cleverly and ironically unpicks it. Stella Martin Currey’s “One Woman’s Year” is a charming looking book with quotes, diary entries and woodcuts taking us through a 1950s woman’s life. You won’t be surprised to find that these were given to me by the redoutable Heaven-Ali, who also has both of them.

Adharanand Finn’s “The Rise of the Ultra Runners” has been a must-read among the booky runners I know – given to me by a non-running friend, I can’t wait to read about runners familiar and unknown.

Then we have two lovely Furrowed Middlebrow at Dean Street Press books from Emma – Susan Alice Kerby’s tale of magic in WW2, “MIss Carter and the Ifrit” and the new Miss Read, “Fresh from the Country” which is a standalone novel but still about a village teacher. Completing the set of Persephone – Furrowed Middlebrow – Virago, the lovely Verity sent me “The Serial Garden” which collects together all of Joan Aiken’s Armitage Family stories.

And yesterday Sian gave me “Because Internet” by Gretchen McCulloch which was a massive favourite of hers and is all about how the Internet has changed/is changing language.

You want more?

So the books I bought with my Christmas charity shop token (so far: I still have some left!) are Sathnam Sanghera’s “Marriage Material” – a novel set in a shop in the West Midlands, Thurston Clarke’s “Islomania” which looks at our obsession with islands over the ages, and Mark Beaumont’s massive tome, “The Man who Cycled the World” – I’ve watched a documentary about him and recall him having to eat many, many calories to fuel his endeavour and can’t wait to read about the whole thing.

Lucky me!

And my reading up a storm in January and bringing some books from the front and middle of the TBR to read this month have allowed the Christmas books to pop onto the end of the TBR itself (OK, in a pile), and these have all found a nesting place in a pile on the shelf below.

Usual question: have you read any of these? Any recommendations? Or Mudlarking, left all the way up the top of this long post?!

Sedate lady running 27 Jan – 02 Feb 2020 #amrunning #running


A week that started with a cold and ended with a recovery run after getting my not-doing-a-marathon training plan back on track.

Monday – Wednesday – I didn’t feel too good with the cold but I did model myself on Kim and do in-house work – especially a day where I did 50 double-stair climbs without holding on (equivalent to nice lunges) plus lunges and squats and single-legged squats. I was supposed to support beginners at club run on Tuesday but wasn’t well enough. On Wednesday I went for a walk to photograph my best friend Emma’s old house and got over 5,000 steps in so pleased with that.

Mon – steps not recorded. Tue – 1,419 steps. Wed, 5,486 steps

Thursday – I was down to support our 5k and Beyonders and didn’t want to let them down (esp as leader Lee covered my Tuesday volunteering) so as I felt reasonably OK went up and did it. I supported a lovely woman at the back who achieved more than she thought she would and thanked me effusively – this is why I always say you get more out of volunteering than you put into it! Felt OK and the cold definitely hasn’t gone to my chest (phew). Hadn’t really seen anyone all week so had a nice chat with a few friends and it was great to see Kate out running (gently) after her bunion operation.

0.7 miles, 12:18 mins per mile / 1.5 miles, 14:50 mins per mile / 0.7 miles, 11:00 mins per mile. 8,863 steps

Friday – Went for a walk to meet Tara in the park and do some shopping. Last day of RED January and I have been active every day, so I sponsored myself with a £31 donation to Mind. I did enjoy making myself get out every day but 10,000 steps is sometimes too much (time-wise, mainly!) so I’m going to aim for a baseline of 5,000 at least every day and a weekly total of 70,000 or more. I think that’s fair enough!

5,874 steps

Saturday – Long run day. As I missed last weekend due to my cold, I swapped this rest weekend and headed out for 16 miles (in fact if I look at my schedule it was my second 15 I missed, but never mind, I can take another rest week soonish as I’m slightly ahead now). I was still a bit sniffly though nothing on the chest, so planned a route around the safety of the No 11 bus route (the one I’ll be hopefully running around in early May to use my mara training when I don’t do London because neither club mate has dropped out).

I started out with Mary Ellen and Claire, who both wanted 10 miles. We ran to Acocks Green and met Tracie. I’d already removed my gloves and second buff by then as it was warmer than expected – and with blue skies! We got to Oaklands Park, where I’ve run and volunteered at parkrun, and as expected, parkrun was still going on. I’d half-expected to see Kate in her usual marshalling position at the point on the course nearest the road, but it was our friend Dave so of course we had to have a picture with him!

Runners and volunteer

Dave, Tracie, Mary Ellen, Liz, Claire

Mary Ellen and Claire turned back at that point and got their 10 milers in, taking a little detour into Moseley Bog for some forest bathing as our route had been pretty urban (being along a bus route and all of that!). Tracie and I carried on until I got to 8 miles. Just for those people who talk about the pretty views I have on my runs, here’s a standard sort of view from this one …

Bromford Lane, Hodge HIll

Turning point, Bromford Lane, Hodge Hill, with the motorway in the distance (by the pylon).

Nice blue sky, though.

So we could get a shadow selfie …

Shadow runners

Liz and Tracie as shadows

We ran back to Acocks Green with Tracie making her 11 miles. Hooray! She’d been poorly with a stomach upset in the week so really good going. I then pressed on back home – I was tired and also TIRED of blowing my blasted nose and did message husband and the running ladies at 13.25 miles to say argghhh. I also took this sad pic of myself which I posted on Instagram as a sort of #nofilter reality of running/mara training …

Liz looking sad

Liz looking sad, somewhere in Hall Green (I bet Facebook chooses to share this picture when I post it).

But I pressed on and picked up a bit of pace, too, because I wanted it over with! It was really windy for the last bit, too – urgh! I got home just on the 16 miles – not feeling brilliant and maybe I shouldn’t have pushed it but I did go fairly sedately in the middle bit and although tired, I am OK.

16 miles, 13:34 mins per mile. 34,992 steps.

Sunday – I knew I should do a recovery run as it would help, and lovely Caroline said she’d come with me. We did a 3.6 mile (I was on 18.9 for the week; we all do this, right?). We did the canal route but came off it a bit early and did a different corner of the bottom woods, then took a diversion through the nature reserve at the bottom of Billesley Common (where I walked with Matthew the other weekend) and were privileged to see the heron again. So a nice nature pic to finish things off. And I did feel better for it.

Heron in nature reserve

Heron in nature reserve

I had a walk round the shops on the high street to get some supplies after I’d got home and showered – mainly for snacks, as I was low on stuff to have after long runs. It’s hard for me to find snacks that stick to my cholesterol-lowering regime of low saturated fat but I found some muesli bars and belvita breakfast biscuits that will help (once I’m running over 14 miles, I really don’t fancy a large lunch afterwards, so tend to have a second breakfast, snack through the afternoon then a proper dinner. But I have to be careful to make sure I take in enough recovery calories).

3.6 miles, 13:10 mins per mile. 12,851 steps

weekly-run-down-final-300x300Weekly total 22.5 miles. Total this year 99.6 miles (I have said goodbye to my 2020 km plan for the year and accepted that). Total weekly steps 69,485 as of 19.15pm so I will have hit my 70,000 for the week!).

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.


State of the TBR February 2020


Well, I’m pleased to say that I finished 13 books in January, of which six were ebooks (I have one left to review), so I feel I’m doing well with the print TBR. Some of those books were from my Christmas acquisition pile but you will see a change in the start / oldest part of the TBR which is cheering after some stasis there.

So here’s the TBR as it stands. The Christmas books are on it (and could have been piled higher!) – you might be able to just see them behind the Magrs Mars books to the right. I am going to leave them stacked horizontally, as (well, hm, see below) they mark the point on the shelf I want to get up to by the end of the year.

Currently reading

I’m currently reading two books from the oldest part of the TBR (I really wanted to read them and couldn’t face shoehorning books from the front row off to get at pre-Christmas ones!). Simon Garfield’s “On the Map” is a really super exploration of the history of maps, from the very earliest ones to modern stuff around Google Maps, etc. It’s got nice illustrations (though printed on the page so a bit fuzzy sometimes) and is very engaging and fun to read. John Carter and Nicholas Barker’s “ABC for Book Collectors” is a newish edition of a firm favourite which I first encountered when I worked in Special Collections at the university library in 1992 – it goes through all the parts of a book and how books are made and described, but is far from dry, as it has all these funny and wry little notes scattered through it. Fun to dip into and perfect for reading at the dinner table.

Up next

Well first off of course it’s my Paul Magrs book for the month – going back to the Phoenix Court novels which were his first, and “Marked for Life” (which I think he wrote second but published first) so a lovely bit of magical realism set in North-East England estates and precincts. There are two bonus short stories in this Lethe Press edition, plus an intro by Paul. “Mr Loverman” is by Bernadine Evaristo and I’ve picked it off the October 2019 bit of the TBR (bought from a charity shop in Penzance when I thought I didn’t want to read “Girl, Woman, Other” because it was “written in poetry” – rather ironically, alternate chapters are in the same experimental style) because a) my friend Laura has just read it, b) Bookish Beck has just read it and I want to not have to keep her review for another 9 months before I can read it, and c) it sort of ties in with Valentine’s Day, right? It’s the story of what happens when a pillar of the West Indian community in London is discovered to be secretly gay and looks so well done and interesting. Finally, Hiromi Kawakami’s “The Nakano Thrift Shop” which I also bought in October will mean I can take part in The Japanese Literature Challenge 13 – I’m only taking part in challenges I can do from my TBR so was pleased to remember I did have a Japanese book!

Oldest on the TBR

The Oldest book on my TRB picture has changed quite a lot from January, as I’ve read four of the books that were on there and am currently reading another two. As I mentioned above, this really pleases me as it feels like I am actually reading the books I’ve pounced on with such glee in various places. So I have books on travel in Tahiti, running (a history and a memoir about blade-running), a book about the Great Storm of 1997 and the renewal of those fallen trees (how is that long enough ago to have a book about it, mind??), a book about where artefacts belong, one about Icelandic women travellers and one about birdwatchers.

I do have some novels on NetGalley that I will be getting to, as well, and those three works of fiction above, so a good mix, I think. Will I delve further into the back shelf? Not sure!



New in!

As people who read my running posts (not sure how much overlap there is!) will know, I have a reserve place in the London Marathon with my running club. This means I hopefully won’t have to run it, as the two people who got the places will be all fine and able to do it, but I do need to train up and be ready to do it just in case. So training to not do a marathon. While I intend to do a DIY marathon the week after London, taking a fun trip around a long bus route in Birmingham, it’s sometimes a bit hard to motivate myself, and having had a cold for the last week I wasn’t really adoring my 16-mile training run today. HOWEVER, all was made infinitely better by finding a rectangular parcel when I got home – a gift from the very lovely Verity of Joan Aiken’s “The Serial Garden”, which is all of the brilliant Armitage Family stories in one volume. Hooray!

How was your reading in January and what do you plan to read in February? Have you read any of these books?