Yet another from my 20BooksOfSummer pile (pictured, although it’s already been read in a different order AND now there’s a change of book due to a Did Not Finish and a substitution for July. Shocking all round!). This is a book that I picked up from the outside shelves of Any Amount of Books on Charing Cross Road when doing a pre-Christmas visit to Emma, and I think the last from that set. I might even make it out of 2018 at some stage!

Laura Thompson – “The Last Landlady: An English Memoir”

(13 December 2018, Any Amount of Books)

An interesting Unbound book (and is it an early Unbound as it’s a proof copy and also explains the concept on a page at the beginning), that’s both a memoir of her pretty amazing, resourceful and strong pub landlady grandmother, Violet, and a potted history of the English pub. The pub is in the middle of the countryside and offered a challenge to an urban woman who had failed to be able to secure the licence for her father’s pub (“the old pub”) when he passed away: she became the first English landlady in her own right.

Thompson’s childhood memories and those of the time when she slid over to the pub side of the sitting room door are vivid but authentic-sounding, and while Violet seems like a typical pub landlady in many ways, she carefully unpicks her from the stereotypes. It’s perceptive on the English being “not at their best with unregulated pleasure” (p. 119) and the usefulness of opening hours and carefully distinct bars within a pub.

A rich and fascinating portrait of a redoubtable woman and an interesting history.

This was Book 6 in my 20 Books Of Summer project.

Simon Winchester – “Outposts” (DNF)

(20 December 2018 – BookCrossing Not So Secret Santa gift)

This was on my wishlist although looking at my spreadsheet of my reading journal pre-blog, I read this from the library in December 1998 (I think I’d forgotten that) and I have also read his “The Map that Changed the World” in 2001. Interestingly, my first read of this would have been the old edition, lacking the updated introduction that sent up red flags this time around.

So it’s a book about his travels around the islands that are still (or were in 1985) part of the British Empire. OK, so far, so neutral. But the introduction to the revised edition of 2003 basically starts lavishly apologising for Empire, stating that we “meant well” and helpfully pointing out that we did some good stuff and helped the colonies to organise themselves. Hm. He also usefully (!) points out that “our” former Empire has done “better” than those of, for example, the French and Dutch.

So far, so problematic.

I started reading and we had Tristan de Cunha, where he apparently got a bit too misty eyed over some Tebbibly British Scout who welcomed him onto the island, then he goes for Gibraltar, has to get a ferry there from Morocco and describes the ferry captain as “a fat and unshaven Moor” (p. 98), at which point I laid the book aside.

I am sure I would have found all this problematic anyway, as I do keep an eye open, certainly in books from earlier times, for jingoism and Empire-praising. But in a book revised in 2003 and read in these times? Unpalatable and grubby and not to be read by me. Ugh.

So that was supposed to be Book 7 in my 20 Books of Summer. Instead, I read Ammon Shea’s “The Phone Book” which was going to be Book 8 starting off July. I will either add “A Brown Man in India” or “Our City” to the list in July – I’ll see how I’ve done through the month and if I’ve already read one of those anyway!