Book review – Alex Hutchinson – “Endure”

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Slowly, slowly creeping through, it feels like at the moment, I’ve ticked another one off my 20 Books of Summer books list (intro post here) and my last May 2021 acquisition (I bought this in May 2021 from the local Oxfam Books along with “The Pants of Perspective“, and I can report that I have now read all five of the “books in” I listed in mid May (here).

This is the tenth book I’ve completed from the 20 Books project and of course also comes off my TBR 2021-2022 challenge pile. I got a bit bogged down in my massive Larry McMurtry and then finished this one but didn’t have time to write up the review, so I am part-way through Angie Thomas’ “On the Come Up” but I feel I’m not going to manage my 20 Books of Summer this time (again). Having said that, I only have three NetGalley books published in August plus one to finish, rather than the nine I read this month, so who really knows?

Alex Hutchinson – “Endure: Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance”

(09 May 2021 – Oxfam Books)

Part of the challenge is that endurance is a conceptual Swiss Army knife. It’s what you need to finish a marathon; it’s also what enables you to keep your sanity during a cross-country flight crammed into the economy cabin with a flock of angry toddlers. The use of the word endurance in the latter case may seem metaphorical, but the distinction between physical and psychological endurance is actually less clear-cut than it appears. (p. 9)

As a long-distance runner of a very amateur and slow kind and big book-reader, I do like a sports book, and I enjoy reading about psychology, sociology and sports science. So I was attracted to this book about what exactly affects endurance sportspeople and I was not disappointed.

While it takes a deep dive into both physiological and psychological aspects of endurance sports (and other ones, sprinting and middle-distance stuff coming into it, too), with chapters on fuel, hydration, heat and then brain training and belief, Hutchinson wears his learning and research lightly, as probably befits someone who writes for popular but niche publications like Runner’s World. It’s well-referenced, with the authors of studies noted in the text and references listed by page number and a text extract, although there isn’t a separate bibliography.

Two even more attractive points about the book: he’s woven through it short chapters on the first iteration of the Nike project to produce an under-two-hour marathon run, and as a decent runner himself, he uses himself as both an example and a guinea pig in some experiments (while being clear on how he doesn’t tend to review or write about his own experiences with tech in his journalistic work). This makes it approachable and immediate. He writes with humanity about researchers and their subjects.

What is the outcome of the book? Well, I suppose you should read it to find out, but it’s part physical, part mental, effort and its perception plays a huge part in endurance (but you can’t trick that perception too often) and there’s much to learn on the topic.


This was book number 10 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 4/28 – 24 to go!

Book review – Larry McMurtry – “Moving On”

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For the second half of my Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project, I’m tackling the Houston series, six books set in the Texas city. I bought this one in November 2004 and read it some time between January and August 2005, as it appears in my “Best Books of 2005” post but I started my (original LiveJournal) blog in the August. I find I have a gap in my reading journal record between 2003 and 2011, so it’s not covered in that at the moment, either (must dig out my paper journals for those years and finish that project!). So I can’t easily check what I thought of it, apart from it was one of my top ten reads for that year.

Another small issue is that I found on reading this one and remembering others in the series that the order they were written and published in is not necessarily the internal chronological order, so someone is mentioned in this one in the past who features strongly in one of the other ones. I’ve told myself, since I’ve read this 800-pager now, that I’m experiencing the series as someone would have who read them all as they came out.

Larry McMurtry – “Moving On”

(26 November 2004)

The fact that most women didn’t much like Patsy was a profound shock to me. I liked her a lot – enough to devote much of an eight-hundred-page novel to her – and I fully expected women to like her as much as I did. (Preface, p. 5)

A long, in-depth study of a few years in the lives of Jim and Patsy Carpenter, in the preface, McMurtry wonders why he decided to pin it around the twin themes of rodeos and graduate school, but the two areas make for a wide portrayal of the people of Texas and I think it works. We start off with Jim having taken up an interest in photography and deciding to photograph rodeos – another of his dilettante interests (he and Patsy are both independently wealthy, him more so, but he likes to pretend to be poor and hops from interest to interest like an Anne Tyler hero) and meet various characters from the rodeo, notably the sweet clown, Pete, and his fiancée, Boots, Sonny, charismatic rodeo hero, and PeeWee, failed kid at the bottom of the heap. Then when Jim decides to do a literature PhD, we meet a host of doctoral students and tutors; this bit reminded me of hanging out with the postgrads in 1992, when I was just graduated, and the mid-2000s when Matthew worked in a pyschology lab at the university, and not much really changes in terms of the types.

There are other family characters, too – rackety aunts, naughty sisters and a rancher uncle who offers Patsy a different way of being. The action moves around Texas (including Thalia) and briefly to California, and as usual McMurtry’s sense of place is always there in the background. There isn’t a huge amount of plot, some affairs, a marriage unravelling, friends supporting each other, a baby or three, but what there is is detail.

It was when reading all this detail that it struck me why I often quote Iris Murdoch (mentioned here the once, as I described in my review of “Girls They Write Songs About“) and Larry McMurtry as two favourite authors (George Eliot and Thomas Hardy fit in here, too) even though superficially they seem very different. Both have a web of interlinked characters who happen upon each other in different combinations; more importantly, both are realist writers, who will set down every thought and sensation of their characters as they fall in and out of love and go about their day. Here are Patsy and young son Davey, walking home after Davey has grasped a temporarily unused basketball and hugged it, thinking he was playing with the big boys, only to have it summarily removed for play by those boys, ignoring him:

Patsy carried Davey as far as the sidewalk and then set him down and offered him a finger, thinking they might walk along together. But Davey had not forgotten the humiliation of the the basketball court. He was not pleased with his mother and didn’t want to walk with her. He slapped at her finger and looked petulant. Then he sat down. He did not intend to walk at all, and especially not with Patsy. He seemed to feel that what had happened on the basketball court was entirely her fault. He was not about to forgive her for the fact that he was small. His look showed clearly enough that he considered her responsible for the whole business. (p. 791)

It did take me a long time to read, but it was so absorbing and almost like reportage in its realism. Patsy’s every thought is shown and it’s a fascinating portrait, and seems to me like McMurtry has created another character, like Harmony in the Las Vegas novels, who is realistic and believable, even if, as he mentions in the preface, she’s living just before feminism hit and spends much of the novel in tears. And did I dislike her, as McMurtry says in his preface most women did? No, I liked her. I liked Joe Percy, Emma Horton and Pete the clown just as much, though, the side characters making the novel, as often happens.

Are you doing the project with me? Are you planning to read this one / this series? If you’re doing “Lonesome Dove” or any of the others, how are you getting along?

Book review – Sharma Taylor – “What a Mother’s Love Don’t Teach You”

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My seventh NetGalley read out of the ten I had lined up – and I have to admit that two of them didn’t really work for me, all tell and no show, and I didn’t finish them, have given feedback to NetGalley and won’t be reviewing them here. So now I only have “Femina” left to read. This one wasn’t quite what I expected, but when I looked again at the blurb, I saw I concentrated more on the “At eighteen years old, Dinah gave away her baby son to the rich couple she worked for before they left Jamaica. They never returned. She never forgot him. Eighteen years later, a young man comes from the US to Kingston. From the moment she sees him, Dinah never doubts – this is her son. What happens next will make everyone question what they know and where they belong. A powerful story of belonging, identity and inheritance, What a Mother’s Love Don’t Teach You brings together a blazing chorus of voices” bit and less at the “to evoke Jamaica’s ghetto, dance halls, criminal underworld and corrupt politics, at the beating heart of which is a mother’s unshakeable love for her son.” bit!

Sharma Taylor – “What a Mother’s Love Don’t Teach You”

(21 June 2022, NetGalley)

Regina couldn’t figure out why Apollo didn’t understand that ‘OK’ and ‘alright’ was as much excitement as ghetto people like her could muster. She didn’t know how to explain that they didn’t deal in exaggeration, not because they didn’t appreciate good things but because life had proved you shouldn’t express too much excitement, in case the goodness got taken away. Saying words like ‘awesome’ was only looking for trouble.

Told in short chapters from different characters’ point of view, varying for some characters between direct first-person speech in patois (not hard to understand once you get into it) and third-person reporting, this fast-paced and unputdownable novel gives us a blistering view into 1980s Jamaican socio-politics. Areas are controlled by “Dons” who work on behalf of a political party to make sure the people of the area vote for that party; by care and paying medical bills; by intimidation; by coercion; by rape and murder. So the interesting story of Dinah and is-he-her-son? Apollo plays out to this background, the other people in the yard in which Dinah and her mother live just as implicated in that background as the big men who control things.

Apollo is a rich and privileged boy with a Black mother and White stepfather, doing an internship at a law firm while the family stays in Jamaica, tracking down Dinah in Lazarus Gardens after she claims him as her son and is sacked as a result, then near-fatally drawn by her young neighbours, budding musician Damian and the attractive Regina, who he sees as honest and authentic where, because of their own circumstances, they are very much not so. They are all drawn beautifully; we also get the police chief, the MP of the area and a random resident of the high-end community Apollo’s family is living in. People know their history and have their pride:

[Dinah] tried to tell him history was important or people would vanish. Just like the bammy she cooked for him, a cassava cake that was one of the only things left behind of the Taino people, the original Jamaicans.

although as she tries to educate him, Apollo’s no good with a drum beat or a dance and is nonplussed by the cow horn she gives him that belonged to her great-grandmother: “This used to be yuh ancestor dem tongue! Dem use it to carry new of rebellion.” Apollo is clumsy and book-educated but not street-smart, telling Dinah not to eat her “slave diet” (that is all she can afford) and telling her about activists when her life there is about the struggle to survive at all.

There’s violence in the book – quite a lot of it – although in all but one passage where British, the psychopath Don of the area mulls on exactly how he will kill Apollo it is not gratuitous (and that pushes the plot forward and shows his character). The blurb DOES warn of this but it’s easy to pass over in favour of what looks like the main plot. It’s such a well-done book, though, I found, that I accepted the violence as part of the story: compulsive reading and with memorable characters. Even if someone behaves poorly, you can completely see why they are compelled to do that. The author is not afraid to put them through the wringer, and while lessons are learned and people grow, there is a sort of hard black humour to the traps the characters still find themselves in, little redemption available and the ending left open in many ways. This is a debut novel and, as other reviewers have said, formidable. I will definitely read what Taylor does next.

Thank you to Virago (hooray!) for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “What a Mother’s Love Don’t Teach You” was published on 7 July 2022.


Book review – Sabeena Akhtar (ed.) – “Cut from the Same Cloth: Muslim Women on Life in Britain”

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This is an Unbound book that I subscribed to back in May 2020 and which arrived with me in May 2021. I’m very proud to see the variety of names in the back, testament to the wide variety of people from different backgrounds who supported the book. I’ve got really bad at reading my Unbound books as soon as they arrive, however hopefully that will change soon, plus this is one of my Emma and Liz Reads books, so necessarily took a while to get through (if you want to find them all, click on the link there or click on the category in the category cloud). We finished “The Wild Silence” near the end of April, so this one has taken us about 10 weeks. We read one or two essays per week, usually on a Thursday evening.

Sabeena Akhtar (ed.) – “Cut from the Same Cloth: Muslim Women on Life in Britain”

(24 May 2021)

As a Muslim, writing and making art isn’t separate to the act of living, and living cannot be separated from the act of worship; the intention is the same. (p. 292, Sumaya Kassim, “Riot, Write, Rest: On Writing as a Muslimah)

This is a collection that was put together in order to give “visibly Muslim” (i.e. hijab-wearing) women a space where they could speak freely about their lives and interests. It ranges widely, from the purely political to the more purely personal, from angry to funny (often in the same piece), from theoretical to practical, from knotty and tangled to clear and easy to read. Each piece had its value and we had lots to talk about when we were reading.

It was a bit challenging to find a fairly sociological-sounding and tough piece at the beginning to start off with, and we both felt a bit disheartened that we were going to have to think hard all the way through and read and re-read, unpick and check we’d got it (we have no need for easy books but we do this to relax and enjoy and the first one was HARD). However, there were fewer of this kind of essay and more of the approachable kind as we went through, and of course each style has its place and the lack was in us!

We learned a lot. Emma was very careful to look stuff up, terms and names (some writers explained more than others; there is also a useful glossary at the back as there were quite a lot of religious terms here), I tended to coast a little more, getting a general understanding (this is how we tend to do our Reading!). We both enjoyed the deep dive into the life of spiritual, religious Muslim women like those we see daily in our neighbourhoods. We were shocked, but not surprised (worn down, maybe) by the daily toxic environment all the women live in but some chose to write about, and were both previously unaware of the anti-Black sentiments among the Muslim community, certainly in the UK, that many of them wrote about, with Nigerian, Somali and mixed heritages women speaking about colourism and prejudice from the communities they should feel safe in.

The pieces that detailed women’s daily lives were fascinating to us and a good learning opportunity. Khadijah Elshayyal’s “Covid-19 and Recalibrating my Ramadhan Reality” was a good example of what happens when men run the show and don’t think about what women might have to deal with, and showed resourceful women sorting things out but also being honest about their struggles, and a few pieces looked at life at school or work. There’s a theme around whether things have really changed since writers’ mothers came to the UK a couple of decades ago which is interesting and sad. The religious theme strung through the whole book was often beautiful and sometimes jagged and challenging, especially when women’s writing came up against the patriarchy, as in the last piece quoted at the beginning of this review.

Emma and I agreed we were glad we read this book, even if some pieces were challenging intellectually or emotionally (the Grenfell chapter was hard to read, but necessary). It was good to see the women included able to share and be honest about their experiences and their experiences of being asked to relive or suppress those experiences. I’m glad it got to Unbound and was published, and I recommend it: there really is something for everyone here.

Book review – Carlene Bauer – “Girls They Write Songs About”

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My sixth NetGalley read out of the ten I have lined up – that’s what the first two days of a week off will do for you, even if you’ve not gone anywhere (having a true “staycation” in my house).

I had seen this novel around and on NetGalley but it took a mention on A Life in Books’s “Books to Look out for” themed posts (here) to propel me into requesting it. And I’m glad I did!

Carlene Bauer – “Girls They Write Songs About”

(08 June 2022, NetGalley)

She was the person with whom I’d changed my life into something like myth. Someone who I thought needed to remain in my life until death. So I swallowed words and banished thoughts because we still had miles to go.

Rose must have been the only person I’ve ever truly loved, because she was the only person I’ve ever made excuses for when she failed to live up to the image I had or wanted to have of her.

Rose and Charlotte arrive in New York from almost identical backgrounds of near-poverty in New Jersey, being the only girl like them, needing to get out, and almost identical plans to become a hot writer on a music magazine then write books and get their names known. In fact they go for the same job: Rose gets it, Charlotte’s her editor, and so begins half a lifetime of vying with each other but also being (eventually) the very best of friends, second daughters to each other’s mothers, competing over the same man in different ways, but going to see bands (music is so important in this book, which I loved), having hysterics over nothing, wearing weird thrift-store outfits, editing each other’s work, typing articles in the middle of the night and saving each other from dodgy situations.

We see them grow up and one of them gets what the other doesn’t think either of them want or need, a well-off husband and a family, the other continuing to lead that rackety sort of life, working their way through men’s beds and writing. When it comes down to it, is it better to have two published books or two houses? Two published books or two children? The book came alive in the early stages and again when one woman has children the other is very close to. At times, the bitter marriages got a bit John Updike-y, but what this book probably really is is Marilyn French’s “Women’s Room” for this generation of young feminists; well, young women.

I say this because we are shown the range of lives a woman can have, single, married, faithful, having affairs, having children, having abortions, having a career, having a marriage, being a home-maker, being a home-wrecker, taking from other women, giving to other women. Set-pieces have both women on stage at various points discussing aspects of love and womanhood. Our narrator mulls over the choices she’s made and the undeniable superior importance of friendship. The most “political” thing she says she does is help her friend have an abortion, by lending her the money; I can see how this happens as they are almost exact contemporaries of mine, and if they hadn’t hit certain books aged 17-21, and absorbed certain ideas, they’d have been caught between second wave feminism that was about to run its course and the Riot Grrl movements of third wave feminism which were a bit confusing and I think inform this book. On sexual politics and creativity, she updates Woof’s Room of One’s Own:

It takes real work for a woman to sustain the creation of something outside herself that is not a child. Real will, because we are always going to be tempted in a way men aren’t to wander off the road and find some place to get knocked up so we can relieve ourselves of the burden of trying to figure out what everything in life is really worth, and then, as a reward for this abdication of responsibility, get ourselves worshipped as if we’d climbed Mount Everest when all we’d done was let nature take its course. Men don’t walk around with a door inside them that they’ll constantly have to worry about – should I open it, should I keep it shut, does it lock, well, wait, if I lock it, can I call a locksmith to get it back open, how long does it stay open, what’s the data on what happens if you’ve left it open for a really long time, can anything get through? Should I shut it or keep it open?

As well as all this detail and thought and interrogation of feminism, this book is beautifully written, long looping sentences that go into stream of consciousness but can also be followed. From a description of being on the phone in two apartments that are situated like positions on a clock face around a central corporate tower to the Moon and its relationship to New York inhabitants to the above discussion of the balance between producing art and producing children, it’s just stunningly laid out. An example:

We’d been taken there for drinks by men in the twilight of their prime and agents at the dawn of their ascent, and whenever we sat at the bar we felt as if we’d been asked to sit for a portrait that would one day prove legendarily bewitching.

There’s one thing I have to mention and which I have fed back in the publisher feedback section on NetGalley. Twice the book uses an ablist slur (to clarify, after a comment: a term that used to be used to refer to people living with a certain disability, now not used but not pejorative in itself is used to refer in a pejorative sense to two people who are not living with a disability but to show a negative opinion about them), related to the one the singer Lizzo was almost cancelled for and rescinded in a recent song. Once it’s in the narrative, once in reported direct speech; both times another word could have easily done and this author has a beautiful, considered, poetic writing style which implies to me that she could and should have replaced it (maybe she has in the published version; maybe someone can let me know!). It’s a minor point but it can’t be waved aside as being “of the book’s time” etc. as it’s perfectly easy not to use it, and other words used then aren’t.

Thank you to Oneworld for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “Girls They Write Songs About” was published on 7 July 2022.


In a Bookish Beck Book Serendipity moment, both this and the book I was reading in paperback at the same time, “Moving On” by Larry McMurtry have mentions of Iris Murdoch, and while you would imagine I see my favourite author everywhere, it’s not hugely common to see her mentioned, and certainly not in two very different books published in 1970 and 2022! In the McMurtry (and there might be more; I haven’t finished it yet) we get a conversation between a nice but worldly man and a young wife in out of her depth:

‘Maybe you’ve been reading too much Iris Murdoch,’ he said. ‘Your coming out here like this reminds me a little of her stuff. People are always getting ont bed with one another out of the blue.’

‘No I haven’t,’ she said, beginning to feel a little less wretched. ‘I don’t read very good books, really. I read a lot of magazines.’ (p. 134)

whereas in this novel, a character reads another character’s copy of “The Bell”, and they end up discussing

… how Murdoch’s thoughts about fiction might have been more valuable than the fiction she coud not stop writing. Whereas with Virginia Woolf, said [name redacted; spoiler], and from coffee to the motel we finished that sentence together.

I don’t agree with that comment, but it’s lovely to see Murdoch being discussed!

Book review – Ibram X. Kendi – “How to Raise an Antiracist”

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Back to NetGalley reads today and at this point I’m half-way through my 10 books to read for July, having actually finished 6 as I had one that came in suddenly and was published in June. And at the time of writing this review, I was already part-way through “Girls They Write Songs About”. I haven’t read any of Kendi’s other well-known and best-selling books, just really because they concentrated on the US experience of racism and antiracism and I was trying to catch up with the books published in/about the UK first. Then this one popped up on NetGalley and I just had to go for it.

Ibram X. Kendi – “How to Raise an Antiracist”

(23 May 2022, NetGalley)

We raise a critical thinker in much the same way as we raised an antiracist. Asking, not telling. Modeling, not lecturing. Radically changing the environment and ourselves.

As I say above, I haven’t read any of Dr Kendi’s other books, but going on this one, I will do so. I don’t know if the personal and almost confiding nature of the narrative, with personal experience woven in with academic research and calls for action, is a feature of all of his work, but it made it an attractive read, making me feel we were all in it together if we want equity for all peoples and an end to systematic as well as personal racism, and understanding that antiracism is a journey and we can exhibit aspects of both antiracism and racism (especially given that racism includes seeing racism yourself and doing nothing about it, the kind of “default” “neutral” status people try to claim as “I’m not racist”) as we move along that journey.

Although Kendi was working on his “How to be an Antiracist” when his daughter Imani was born, but he admits it didn’t strike him till much later that alongside he and his partner Sadiqa child-proofing the house against accidental injury, they should have been child-proofing her against racism. Then he admits he finds it uncomfortable to have to do that, to introduce the idea of racism to his small, innocent daughter.

He then takes the background of first Sadiqa’s treatment when she was pregnant (she is a paediatrician and knew something was wrong anyway but was naysaid and disbelieved until it was suddenly clear that something was very wrong; this is set against figures showing that the maternal mortality rate for Black women in the US is more than three times that for White women); their first moments with their baby; Imani’s daycare (where only White dolls were available; this is compared to the famous sociological Doll Test); and her first school – as she’s only five by the end of the book, we then follow Ibram and his brother’s journey through their own school lives (encountering racism from caregivers and teachers; compared with research on racist and ablist perceptions and actions of teachers, underfunding of schools, overdiagnosis and underdiagnosis of learning disabilities, etc.). So all through the book, he takes personal experience expressed clearly and honestly, then compares it to the research that has been done on all types of children and families, and then offers points to work on, learning points and action points.

One small issue I have with the book is of course that it’s a US-based book, so the stats and experiences include Latinx and Native (as he calls them) American people, with South Asians being lumped together, where the UK experience obviously has a smaller proportion of GMP populations but more people from South and East Asia as a proportion. But obviously the issues are very similar, and the statistics here will be similar based on our populations. I still have a bit of trouble getting my head around the levels of school grades in the US, and while he talks about class-based issues and poverty, I’m not sure the class issues are the same in both countries. This is obviously not a criticism, just an aspect of reading this book from here, and there are plenty of books that show the UK stats and issues (for example, “Brit(ish)“, “Slay in Your Lane“, “Natives” and some upcoming ones here, too).

Anyway, the powerful options he suggests are useful anywhere: teaching critical thinking, discussing what has happened in the news or what the child has seen. He extends this nicely to cover other issues such as gender, people with disabilities and the accommodations they might need, class and poverty issues, showing how we can influence the children in our lives to see and notice inequity and protest against it. There’s a call for both changing ourselves AND society at the end:

We must stop problematizing children and start problematizing power and policy – and ourselves. We can parent better. We can teach better. We can care for the child better. But there are limits to what we can do as caregivers, especially when resources are lacking, when kids are irritable from hunger, when parents and teachers keep getting evicted from homes or buildings, or because the state, through its policies, is imposing a racist curriculum onto parents and teachers.

The afterword builds a picture of the backlash in the US after George Floyd’s death and the growth of the BLM movement – I hadn’t realised about all the curriculum changes made since then by White supremacist activists trying to remove “critical race theory” from schools to as they claim protect their children from hating their own race (research shows White children don’t end up hating their race from being educated about racism; there’s a chance Black children will stop self-hatred when that education is there). I don’t think that’s a thing in the UK, where curriculum reform is adding GMP history into schools, though I’m not entirely sure on this.

A great book with lots of really powerful and useful, practical points. The referencing is done well, with authors’ names being given in the text but with no footnotes or endnote numbers to break the concentration and a reference list done by chapter and page at the back – suitable for a book like this, I think. I loved that he acknowledged his wife as “The real Dr Kendi” and thanked his editors in detail at the end. If you are raising, teaching or around babies to teenagers and want to explore introducing antiracism in their lives, I recommend this book.

Thank you to Bodley Head Publishers/Vintage Books for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “How to Raise an Antiracist” was published on 7 July 2022.

Book review – Anna McNuff – “The Pants of Perspective”

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Another one ticked off the 20 Books of Summer books list (intro post here) and I’m excited to be ticking off the first of two books acquired in May 2021 before returning to my June Book Token Splurge – that’s a shorter acquisition-to-read time than I’ve had for a while, nearly only a year! I bought this in May 2021 from the local Oxfam Books along with “Endure”, another sports book, by Alex Hutchinson, which is next in my pile in the picture but might not be the next one to read. I can report that out of the “books in” I listed in mid May (here) I have read four with one to go.

This is the ninth book I’ve completed from the 20 Books project and of course also comes off my TBR 2021-2022 challenge pile. I am going to have a slight pause now while I get through the 700+ pages of Larry McMurtry’s “Moving On”, but that’s my “heatwave read” so I should be back with the 20 Books soon.

Anna McNuff – “The Pants of Perspective: One Woman’s 3,000 Kilometre Running Adventure Through the Wilds of New Zealand”

(09 May 2021 – Oxfam Books)

After an hour or so the pathway opened out and through a blustery, tussock-covered hillside was a faint trail winding its way into the mountains in the distance. I could run freely, and it felt incredible. At one point I felt so overwhelmed with happiness that I moved myself to tears. This is what it was all about, moments like these. I felt like a child, free and unshackled, with no concern beyond the immediate moments, beyond each footstep on the trail. (p. 245)

McNuff spent just under 150 days making her way from the southern tip to the northern tip of New Zealand, and this fairly long book, 400-plus pages, details that trip and the trials and tribulations, new friends and old, met along the way. There are nice maps but no pictures, probably because she originally self-published the book and those are hard to get in, but that was a shame. I did enjoy it but it was quite a lengthy read.

The author and I have very different approaches to preparing for any trip (I’ve obviously never done one that big). She reminded me a bit of Lara Prior-Palmer in her book about Mongolian horse-racing, “Rough Magic” in that she’s a bit scatter-brained, untrained and unprepared and sort of wings it as she goes – this is just a different way of being, I appreciate, but it led to some anxious moments in the read and worried me that other people might do the same with less positive results. I was impressed by her strength and gung-ho attitude, staying in huts with random strangers or wild camping and seeing off wild teens (she only seems to have been seriously unnerved about twice, but then New Zealand is a relatively safe and benign place). She’s also resilient around injury and, while they’re different from mine, has mental and emotional strategies in place for when it gets tough.

It’s also of course very nice to read of a female adventurer – there are so many books about men doing epic journeys out there, though I have read other women’s tales of running, notably Rosie Swale-Pope’s “Just a Little Run Around the World“, and it fits into my women traveller reads nicely. It was also a bit reminiscent of Mark Beaumont’s book, which is not hugely surprising, as he’s a hero of hers. I also very much liked the tales of meeting up with people repeatedly on the trail, being taken in by friends of friends of friends – or even complete strangers – and inspiring other people to get out on the trail with her. I think that was my favourite aspect, although it was interesting to read about the challenges and the different places she got to stay. I have to mention her habit of carrying thank you cards around with her just in case – that was very sweet and stuck with me.

An arc through the book is formed by her conversations with friend – or more? – Jamie, who challenges her to show the gnarly and sad bits on her social media feeds as well as the good and glossy times. These points add a sort of anchor to the narrative. The narrative itself is honest, down to earth and competent, not the most lyrical descriptive writing in the world, but that wasn’t what it was about. Oh, and the pants? Some brightly patterned running leggings that boosted her mood when needed. We all need some of those, right?

I’m glad I read this and also glad I’ve never felt compelled to do a journey like this, however much I like reading about them!


This was book number 9 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 3/28 – 25 to go!

Book review – Tasneem Abdur-Rashid – “Finding Mr Perfectly Fine”

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A Muslim romcom novel centred on a North London woman working for her local council and trying to find The One before her mum does? That appealed to me on the NetGalley site and I was happy to receive it. I’ve got a little ahead of myself with my reviewing as this one isn’t out for a few days yet, but you’ll be able to get hold of it soon.

A good read although there were maybe some issues with the editors wanting the author to add details that distracted slightly.

Tasneem Abdur-Rashid – “Finding Mr Perfectly Fine”

(6 May 2022, NetGalley)

Zara’s 29 and she decides to put all her energies into finding a husband before she turns 30, fearful her mum will select one for her. Mum’s on the case already, enlisting the world of the scary aunties we know so well from so many other novels, and sharing biodata sheets, while Zara embarks upon the world of apps and matchmaking events disguised as networking events and the like. Or maybe she’ll just meet someone in the run of her ordinary life …

Zara soon meets Hamza, a kind and jolly Egyptian man who shares many of her values, the poor man being questioned several times on all sorts of details. There’s just one problem: there’s not that spark. He’s also a bit controlling, although this seems to be put in to give more reason to not like him than as a real red flag, which I found a bit confusing. Then there’s an annoying man who rubs her up the wrong way – there IS a spark, but he’s totally unsuitable. As an undertone to all of this we have the horrible way her last relationship went, and a lot of unpleasant misogyny from various prospective suitors, ranging from insult to assault.

Zara’s from a Bengali background and from this comes something I don’t think I’ve seen in other books about young Muslim women: she doesn’t date or hang out with non-Muslim or White guys, but she does interact with an Egyptian and a Turkish Muslim and in both cases encounters the differences in their cultures and how they practise their mutual religion: this is really interesting and the best part of the book for me where they negotiate their differences and similarities (there’s a very sweet bit where an Arabic family choose a Pakistani restaurant for the Bangladeshi family and can’t cope with the spices).

Something I found a bit tricky, and it looks like Muslim / Bengali reviewers on NetGalley have found this, too, is the over-explaining, which makes it feel like the book’s written – or has been tweaked – for a White/non-Muslim readership. Yet the author explains in her Afterword that she wanted to write the book giving her representation that she wasn’t able to find herself in her extensive novel-reading. Bengali words are passed over without comment or loosely translated, the names of the five prayers are parsed, which is kind of understandable, but then at one point we have an explanation of what Ramadan is, which surely I would be expected to know or at least look up. I know this is probably in an aim of being accessible and getting a wider readership, but from reading blogs by Black and South Asian readers I’m aware that over-explanation can alienate them, and as a White, non-Muslim reader who does read quite diversely, I’ll admit, it distracts me out of the story, too.

[Edited to add: after discussion with my friend Leila, who I very much respect and who knows more about GMP publishing in the UK than I do, I retract some of this. Personally I do find it a bit jarring, but as she pointed out, maybe not all readers are in a very multicultural city and have read a lot of different books like I have and maybe a reader in a less-diverse area might not know about these concepts. There is an interplay between audiences here, too, given that publishers want to sell books and so books in this category do need to appeal to the larger White audience to get the sales – apparently 78.4% of the British population identify as White British so that’s a large audience not to get. I suspect the solution is our friend the glossary, so people can choose to look things up or not. But I’ll be more accepting of explaining in future.]

This was an attractive and well-done novel. I liked Zara’s sisters and friends and her feisty mum, and where others have disliked the ending, I thought it was believable and loved Zara’s growth in confidence and self-worth. I’ll definitely look out for more by this author.

Thank you to Zaffre / Bonnier Books for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “Finding Mr Perfectly Fine” is published on 21 July 2022.


In a Bookish Beck Book Serendipity moment, both this and “Harish Hope” feature a home backer whose cakes are so good they should feature in a cafe – and might end up doing so!

Book review – Josie Lloyd – “Lifesaving for Beginners”

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On to another good NetGalley read; Josie Lloyd has a penchant for writing ensemble cast novels about women, and she does a good job for this one set in Brighton. The lockdowns feature but not too heavily, giving a believable background. I won this one back in April but I’ve been making an effort to read and review books in the month they’re published, to avoid that issue I’ve had in the past where readers see something they want to buy but then can’t for a bit!

Josie Lloyd – “Lifesaving for Beginners”

(14 April 2022, NetGalley)

It’s comforting to know that her tiny gang on the beach is part of a vast movement of swimmers. When everyone else is moaning half the time, the fact that there are people enjoying the benefits of cold water feels like a massive force for good. She likes o think of the veritably army around the coastline of Britain as hardy, can-do types who get things done. Because that’s the gist of the [blog] post. That swimming in cold water invokes one’s inner superhero.

First of all what I really loved about this book was the age of its protagonists. Tor, dealing with a chronic health issue, is in her 30s and is the youngest of the heroines. Almost-defeated mum Claire is facing the menopause and not coping well as far as she can see, Dominica, bereaved and struggling, is in her 50s, as is Maddie, picture-perfect Instagram and regular upkeep notwithstanding, falling to pieces with an unfaithful husband and lost son, and Helga is in her 70s and being nagged by her niece to move into a retirement community. What do they all (eventually) have in common? Sea swimming (something which apparently the author took up in lockdown: the descriptions of the actual swimming seem very visceral and believable and add a lovely aspect to the realism of the book).

The diversity representation is good – as well as age and menopause, there’s a couple of LGBTQIA characters, someone dealing with potential disability, as well as a woman of colour (though this is incidental – good – but not mentioned as giving her different experiences to the others’ apart from one mention of having to work twice as hard to get to the same place – maybe not so good these days). I have read a couple of other novels set in Covid times, but this is the first one where a character’s partner has died of Covid, so you get stuff about hospitals and the long slog of bereavement.

Sounds like a book full of issues and pain? Well it’s also funny in parts and full of strength, cakes, birdwatching, art, intergenerational friendships, supportive male side characters, swimming and female friendship and support. Characters learn and change and do fearless things; they also support their community through direct and fundraising actions, which is lovely. So ultimately a positive and life-affirming read that would appeal to many different people.

Thank you to HQ for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “Lifesaving for Beginners” was published on 7 July 2022.


In a Bookish Beck Book Serendipity moment, both this and “Harish Hope” feature a home backer whose cakes are so good they should feature in a cafe – and might end up doing so!

Book review – Martin Yelling and Anji Andrews – “Running in the Midpack”

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Another 20 Books of Summer book (intro post here) and my seventh of the project; I’m reviewing this slightly out of order as I wanted to post my review on the same day as Wendy from Taking the Long Way Home published hers; we realised we both had a copy and wanted to do a little readalong. Here’s Wendy’s post!

This book arrived on 24 June 2021 as part of my Christmas and Book Token splurge (results pictured on 1 July 2021) although I found out about it a while before via a session by the authors through the Runners’ Bookshelf Facebook page.

Martin Yelling and Anji Andrews – “Running in the Midpack: How to be a Strong, Successful and Happy Runner”

(24 June 2021 – book tokens)

It doesn’t have to be right all the time for your running to be going right. One poor or below par run doesn’t make you a crap runner. It’s not true that ‘you’re only as good as your last race’. It takes many different runs to understand you as a runner – great, good and epic fail. (p. 28)

This is very specifically stated to be a running book for people who already know how to run, filling a gap between the multiple how-to books for new runners, books for those at the sharp end, the elites, narratives of various challenges and achievements and supportive books for those at the very back of the pack. Although I’m near the back of the pack, I do manage to come in the first 80% or so of runners and I’ve been running for decades and know a lot of the terminology and theory (whether I apply it is a different matter, of course), so counted myself among the book’s audience.

Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a book if there wasn’t a good amount about racing, getting personal records, achieving more (longer, faster or, to be fair on the authors, more comfortably, mentally and/or physically) and training. So that aspect wasn’t particularly applicable to me as I don’t like racing and tend not to do it (also I don’t need a race to keep me running). I was amused to see my kind of running without a particular goal (well, my goal might be to visit a Lego giraffe or photograph an old mill) described as “aimless wafting” (it does acknowledge there is a place for the odd bit of aimless wafting) – I suppose some more substantial mention might have been made about those of us who run because we want to keep fit and well into older age, but one book can’t be everything to all people and there are books that cover that.

So we get useful chapters on psychology, including anxiety, motivation and stress, whole body health, including strength and conditioning, resting and stretching, training, nutrition, including useful information on when the relationship with food and running becomes unhealthy, and finally race day. And I might have said I don’t like racing, but the sections on different kinds of races, from 5k to marathon, and the pre-race-day and recovery planning sheets are massively useful and the best I’ve seen! Women’s cycles are covered (though not menopause stuff) and volunteering is mentioned several times as a good way to give back to the hobby rather than a ‘sacrifice’. Oh, and Ben Smith, the 401 Marathons man is mentioned – hooray!

A good book that covers all the bases with lots of other experts consulted and quoted. You will find something new and challenging here, whatever your running and training experience – I was certainly reminded of the uncomfortable truth that I just don’t like pushing myself or going out of my comfort zone, although realistically I’m not sure that’s going to change. Maybe I can push it now and then!


This was book number 7 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 1/28 – 27 to go!

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