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?!