Book review – Scott Jurek – “Eat and Run” #20BooksOfSummer #amreading #books

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Another book in my #20BooksOfSummer project and the final non-fiction one, joining quite a few books about running I’ve read recently. It’s coming up to the anniversary of me running my first marathon and although I’m in the middle of training for my next one, I do feel a bit nostalgic remembering the fun I had in Iceland last year (I was very chuffed to have my race report featured on an Icelandic running blog along with a few other people’s!).

Scott Jurek – “Eat & Run”

(05 December 2016 from Jen for Christmas)

This autobiography of a famous ultrarunner and vegan has inspired me … never to run a dangerous and scary ultra where you could fall off the edge of a mountain or even have to scramble up anything (an ultra is anything over the 26.2 miles of the marathon and there are nice road-based ones which I probably will eventually tackle. This guy does serious, terrifying stuff).

However, we can all enjoy reading about things we will never do, and this is a well-written and affecting read which is honest but never manipulative, even though there’s some pretty heavy stuff in here. It takes us through Jurek’s early life, when he used the woods to escape from his domineering father and his mother’s serious illness (he credits both with teaching him lessons in strength and endurance) and then takes us through his running career to date, emphasising his grit and determination and also willingness to learn and share over merely being first and fast. He shares the hallucinations Dean Karnazes had during the Spartathlon, interestingly, and highlights lots of other runners and their strengths and achievements, too, which makes it a generous book.

The most important relationship in the book is Jurek’s with his running mate and race pacemaker / supporter, Dusty. He freely admits that Dusty could have been the better runner, had he not been more concerned with chilling out, epic sessions and women, and there’s a feeling of real grief when the relationship between them threatens to go awry. It’s rare to see men writing about their friendships and this gives both laughs and a feeling of worry.

Jurek includes a running tip and a recipe at the end of each chapter, but makes it clear, especially with the recipes, that these are only suggestions, and he doesn’t try to force his opinions on the reader (I actually thought he would  be more forceful than he was, but of course, like the other runners whose books I’ve read recently, he’s a pretty humble and self-effacing chap). He explains how moving to a vegan diet made him feel and how it affected his running, but there are plenty of doubts at the beginning and it’s more a case of showing than telling.

Being of the opinion that it’s not worth saving up advice and learning points for yourself when you can share them and help others, he usefully lists his four points for dealing with issues that crop up – and these are valid for life issues as well as on-the-run ones: 1. Let the feeling go; 2. Take stock; 3. Ask yourself what you can do to remedy the situation; and 4. Separate your negative feelings from the issue at hand. This is really useful and something I will try to remember.

Jurek wins even more points in my estimation by encouraging people to try volunteering, and he also not only credits his co-author, Steve Friedman, on the cover and title page, but shares the author bio page with him and thanks him AND his assistant in the acknowledgements – as someone who works with ghostwriters and co-authors, this is something I’m always very happy to see.

A great read, whether or not you’re planning to do an ultramarathon and/or become a vegan.

This was Book 16 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.

 

Book reviews – Mollie Panter-Downes – “One Fine Day” and Zora Neale Hurston – “Their Eyes were Watching God” (Virago Books) #20BooksOfSummer #amreading #books #Virago

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A double review today or I’m never going to get caught up, basically! However, they do go well together. For a start, they’re both published by Virago. I was given both by the same person for Christmas (thank you, Belva!). They are both part of – get this – my #20BooksofSummer challenge (books 15 and 17) and my All Virago / All August reading month AND my Reading a Century project (covering 1947 and 1937). That brings me up to 68 books covered in my Reading a Century project – no more coming up in my TBR so I might have to start doing some judicious book-picking soon. And they both evoke a very intense sense of time and place, which gives them a link that otherwise a book about the black experience in 1930s Florida and a village in post-WW2 England might not have. Both also have sudden amazing lyrical passages but a real sense of what being in that situation would actually be like.

Mollie Panter-Downes – “One Fine Day”

(25 December 2016, from Belva in my Virago Group Not so Secret Santa)

Set on one day in 1946, this perfect short novel examines what it feels like when war and danger are over and people have to settle down into a peacetime life that is both familiar and horribly new. Like many Virago and Persephone heroines, Laura has had to get used to mucking in and doing for herself when her servants went into war service; now husband Stephen is back, his job in London a mystery but his anger at the state of his once-perfect garden palpable. Daughter Victoria is alternately clingy and coolly observing and has her own complicated life at school and with friends.

There is some absolutely beautiful lyrical descriptive writing, often describing the landscape but also often, in the manner of poetic writing, inserting a clever reminder of death and destruction woven through it, so we find “sandbags pouring out sudden guts” which are contrasted with the timelessness and relative unconcern of the countryside itself.

The book reminded me of “Mrs Dalloway” – yes, the writing was just this side of that good – with Laura considering an impending visit from her mother and ruminating on her house and its demands and us inhabiting her head, so the subject-matter and the style are reminiscent. Meanwhile, social commentary comes in with the fact that the manor house is being vacated for a boys’ school, the old guard moving cheerfully to smaller quarters.

Will Laura dare to carve out a few moments to live her own life? A trip to the local gypsy’s camp to retriever her naughty dog (there is also a very neat and disdainful cat) gives her an opportunity which might also give a jolt to their carefully polite family world.

This was Book 15 in my 20BooksOfSummer project and completed 1947 in Reading A Century.

Zora Neale Hurston – “Their Eyes were Watching God”

(25 December 2016, from Belva in my Virago Group Not so Secret Santa)

An amazing and absorbing novel: don’t be put off by the dialect as it’s a very good story and a wonderful portrait of a particular place at a particular time. The dialect is fairly internally consistent, so you get the hang of it quite quickly, and there are sections of narrative which are smoother reads. Oh, but it’s worth it anyway, so worth it.

Must of the novel is set in Eatonville, Florida’s first incorporated black town, and this provides a fascinating portrait of the birth of a town, as Janie, the central character, and her husband arrive just as it’s being set up and he takes charge … as he always takes charge.

We follow Janie from girl to woman, age 16 to 40, through a series of husbands, the first two of whom crush her spirit and the third of whom, however unsuitable he seems, lets her spirit fly. We know from her return – watched and commented on by the chorus of the town’s gossips, head held high – that something has gone wrong in her life, but the book then takes us chronologically through her life to that point, with Janie’s history stretching right back to the time of slavery, through her grandmother’s stories, and also giving her the genetic heritage that leads to some fascinating discussions with other women about race and wealth. This, more than her relationships – or this and her sexual and self-awakening – will be what looks like a story of a woman progressing through marriages an important text for black American writers and feminists.

Janie is a fabulous, rounded and flawed character and the narrative moves briskly through her outer life while at the same time building her inner life. Some parts near the end might seem a little melodramatic but are still believable – it will take me a long time to forget the vivid description of the storm and flood and there are also some strikingly lyrical passages of nature description which seem to echo Janie’s sexual awakening.

I loved this and highly recommend it.

This was Book 17 in my 20BooksOfSummer project and completed 1937 in Reading A Century.


I have read Scott Jurek’s “Eat and Run” which was Book 16 in 20BooksOfSummer, in case you were wondering where that had got to, and am now reading Amber Reeves’ “A Lady and Her Husband”, a Persephone, which is excellent so far. This lady has no work to do today and is about to dive back into it!

 

Book review – Stuart Maconie – “Long Road from Jarrow” #20booksofsummer @ShinyNewBooks #amreading

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I was sent this book by the publisher via NetGalley and reviewed it for the lovely Shiny New Books online book review magazine, so just a quick note about it here.

The book is both a state-of-the-nation review of attitudes and happenings post-Brexit vote and a history of the Jarrow march told through a re-walking of the march route on its 80th anniversary. So it attempts to do two things in one book – but fortunately Maconie is a good and accomplished writer and he handles his material beautifully. There’s a lot about commemoration and memory, about fake news and false memories, about the multi-culturalism of our country, but it’s told with Maconie’s trademark warmth and wit, so it never gets worthy.

My full review for Shiny can be found here, and I do encourage you to pop through and read it and maybe have a browse around the categories.

This was Book 9 in my #20BooksOfSummer project, reviewed here a little out of sequence as I’m currently reading Book 16!

Book review – Susie Dent – “How to Talk Like a Local” plus #20BooksOfSummer update and one confession #amreading

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So here’s Book 14 in my #20BooksOfSummer campaign, and just under two-thirds of the way through the time period we have to read our 20 books so I’m OK with being at 14/20, although I’m not reading any 20Books books right now. It’s been a diverse range so far, with six novels and eight works of non-fiction, six by women and eight by men (not the same six and eight) – this will even out with the remaining six, with four by women and two by men, and just the one non-fiction to come.

Susie Dent – “How to Talk Like a Local”

(03 December – from Sian for my BookCrossing Birmingham Not So Secret Santa)

I think this is the last NSS book chosen beautifully from my wishlist, although there are still a fair few Christmas then birthday books to get through. Not such a small book at it appears, with really quite small print, this is a fun look at British dialect words, with separate sections by Simon Elmes about particular regional accents and dialects. I liked the emphasis on new words being formed and older ones spreading and changing meaning and recognised a few from places I’ve lived or people I’ve known from various regions. I was pleased to see “coopy down” for squat, from the South-West, as this is a word I remember my Gran using.

The book does lean a little heavily on Simon Elmes’ “Talking for Britain” and also mentions Carl Chinn’s “Proper Brummie”, both books I’ve read, so not a lot seemed hugely new but it was entertaining.

This was Book 14 in my #20BooksOfSummer challenge.


I popped out to buy some picture frames and came home with some headache pills, a drinking straw dispenser and David Weir, the wheelchair athlete’s biography, as you do … I’ve already shelved it so no pics for a fairly long time, although you’ll get to see my TBR tomorrow.

I’m currently reading, as I mentioned, two non-20Books books. Arriving at the same time, “Run for your Life” is not what I expected, being a whole scheme you have to follow in order to run mindfully and solve all your problems – probably not the right thing to do in the middle of marathon training – and “The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts” opens on the street I used to live off and has an intelligent knowledge of literature and an engaging story so far. Then it’s on to “Eat and Run” before plunging into Virago and Persephone land for a bit. And you?

Book review – Adam Nicolson – “When God Spoke English” and some book confessions #20booksofsummer #amreading

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I’m rattling through those 20BooksOfSummer books although I’m not sure I’ll get all the non-Viragoes done by the end of Monday. I have got a bus journey and post-long-run lolling to do tomorrow, though, so you never know. I popped to the local town centre of Solihull today to buy (oh, the thrills) my special cheese (I found a low-fat, high-protein alternative, should really write about that one day) and Lakeland’s bathroom mould remover (which promised so much and delivered … so much!) but unfortunately the bus stop is by an Oxfam Books and it would have been rude not to, wouldn’t it? Anyway, first a review of an excellent book …

Adam Nicolson – “When God Spoke English”

(01 December 2016 – charity shop)

I bought this when I was supposed to be buying Christmas presents – oopsie. But as I’ve often said, if Nicolson rewrote the phone book, I’d read it – he’s a real go-to author. I must get his latest one about sea birds, although it’s elegaic, apparently.

Anyway, this is a carefully done, impeccably researched and beautifully written history of the creation of the King James Bible. Starting with a vivid account of the accession of James to the throne (how much did you know about him? Me, not so much), we meet the various characters who get involved with the translation, some of whom initially took part in complex negotiations over the direction the church was going to take which motivated this new work. We then get as much detail as is available on the rules of how it was to be done (this was a fascinating chapter), who did it and how it was done, going into detail on some passages and comparing them with the sources and even modern translations. Lastly, there’s some information about the printing (rather haphazard) and selling of the bible and its subsequent revisions.

It’s very big on how different Jacobean thought and society was to ours, with humility sitting next to grandeur and florid decoration exposed by huge plain windows, all steeped in religion like you couldn’t imagine now. He touches on trade, nonconformists and the complex world which all led to rich translations with multiple layers of meaning, most of which are lost now, particularly in modern biblical translations: “The flattening of language is a flattening of meaning”. There’s a lovely sense of the compactness of Jacobean high society, with everyone seemingly linked and busily using those links to gain preferment.

A celebration of a word-obsessed king and a major achievement which has left few records. There are good illustrations of the main characters and a close reading that should satisfy most people.

Note that this has, weirdly, also been published under the titles “Power and Glory. Jacobean England and the Making of the King James Bible” and “God’s Secretaries. The Making of the King James Bible”.

This was Book 13 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.


Now onto those confessions.

I didn’t realise until I was taking them to the counter that I’d picked up two books with “Accidental” in the title! However, I have made a bit of a blunder! Lucy Hawking’s “The Accidental Marathon Runner” did seem a little familiar, and yes, I read it in 2009 (review here). So I’m going to have to offer that to fellow reading runners now! One less on the TBR. Vikas Swarup’s “The Accidental Apprentice” is the book he published after what I read as “Q & A” but became “Slumdog Millionaire” so he obviously has a thing about adapting TV shows for books, as this one has a woman plucked from obscurity by a businessman, except she has to clear some hurdles first. It looked like the kind of book Mr Liz might be interested in, and we haven’t done a readalong/listenalong for a while, so …

And here is what I think is the last George Eliot I haven’t yet read! I was (not exactly) famous for only having read “Middlemarch” for years and years – but that over and over again, three or four times. Then a friend gave me a copy of “Daniel Deronda” and it was one of my top ten reads of the year (review here) and then I’ve gradually acquired all of her books and read them – but not forcing the issue (so that I spaced them out) but as I found them. I’ve, of course, loved them all (apart from “The Lifted Veil” but that’s notoriously odd), and you can see all my reviews on this search result here. So, when I spotted this, I couldn’t resist.

Only two added to the TBR, then: all good. Have you acquired recently, or diminished your TBR?

Book review – Farahad Zama – “Mrs Ali’s Road to Happiness” #20BooksOfSummer #amreading #books

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Another book from my 20 Books of Summer project so I’m getting through them nicely and should reach the target some time in August. I’m deep into marathon training at the moment, which, although it does involve lots of running and yoga, also involves making time to rest and recover properly. This means staying in bed in the early mornings if I don’t HAVE to run upstairs to do work and getting nice early nights with a read first. Good at any time, of course, but necessary, as I learned last time round, for a decent experience in training. Anyway, here’s Book 12 of 20BooksOfSummer, which only has one very short bit of running in it!

Farahad Zama – “Mrs Ali’s Road to Happiness”

(05 December 2016 – BookCrossing Birmingham Not So Secret Santa from Sian)

In the fourth book in the Marriage Bureau for Rich People series, we start off with lots of uncomfortable new things – a new imam in the local mosque who seems to be influencing young men to become more devout (where the usual pattern is to  mess around in youth and become more religious in old age), a new pharmacist, a new, devious electricity meter inspector and then, later in the book, news of a road-widening scheme that will affect Mr and Mrs Ali’s house. So far, so unsettling, but stronger powers are at work and things get significantly darker.

An election seems to be stirring up religious arguments in the sleepy and tolerant town in which the book is set, and both extremist Hindus (who fortunately Rehman Ali has infiltrated on behalf of his ex-girlfriend) and militant Muslims at the mosque (including relatives and old friends) get steamed up and agitated about the Alis’ niece, Pari, bringing up her Hindu adopted son, Vasu, even though she wants to keep his connection to his own religion but he also understands Urdu and goes to Muslim festivals. Both want the boy removed and “protected” and things get quite nasty and threatening.

However, all this aggressive and worrying stuff is leavened by the kindness of the Alis’ village relatives and the lovely story of a carefully chosen present among many (Mrs Ali makes very sure that none of her niece Faiz’s sisters-in-law are given saris of the same “absolute or relative worth”: “as much thought had gone into selecting the saris as into any military campaign by Alexander the Great”), which quite literally backfires.

There is hope that all will be resolved through the cleverness of Mrs Ali and the other ladies, playing the protagonists, men of religion and politicians off against each other in a complicated plan that might just work, but you’ll have to read the book to find out (actually, really you need to read all the other books in the series before this one – it would just about work as a standalone but is much richer seen as part of its series). It’s a warm and charming, but deeper than it appears, novel of modern India which doesn’t shy away from issues but doesn’t describe anything horrible.

This Book 12 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.


I have finished Book 13, as well – Adam Nicolson’s “When God Spoke English” – so look out for that review on Sunday. I have two more I want to fit in this month: Scott Jurek’s “Eat and Run” and Susie Dent’s “How to Talk Like a Local”, before I have a clear run of Persephones and Viragoes next month. I’m reading “Run for your Life” at the moment, but it’s more of a specified mindfulness programme and less a book about general mindfulness and running, so I’m not sure and might put it aside. What are you up to this rainy July?

Book review – Miriam Toews – “A Boy of Good Breeding” #20BooksOfSummer #amreading

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Well I have got on track with 2o Books of Summer again but appear to be reading or reviewing three books for it at the same time – this one won, and I’m also reading “When God Spoke English”, which is quite involved but very good, and “Mrs Ali’s Road to Happiness” which goes deeper than you might expect and is unputdownable, so will probably beat the Adam Nicolson book to completion, too. I am enjoying the breadth of books I’m reading for the challenge and hope to complete all the non-Virago and Persephone ones this month so I can concentrate on those next – they are quite varied so I won’t get bored reading from the same publisher. See my 20 Books of Summer list here.

Miriam Toews – “A Boy of Good Breeding”

(05 December 2016 – from Sian for my BookCrossing Birmingham Not So Secret Santa)

Yay – I’m on to books from December so only 8 months behind … but December and January always take up a disproportionate amount of my TBR, what with Christmas, birthday and the odd book-buying expedition.

In this engaging novel, Hosea Funk is the mayor of Algren, a town with around 1,500 inhabitants. This number is important, because it makes it a candidate for being the smallest town in Canada, and thus attracting a visit from the Prime Minster. Not only that, but Hosea, a man with a mysterious background, believes he has a link to the PM and daydreams about him appearing in the town. So Hosea won’t let his girlfriend move in, hovers around the hospital, annoying the only doctor and panicking about triplets, not actively wanting people to die but … And he gets stressed when his old friend Tom’s daughter Knute moves back to town with her daughter, Summer Feelin’.

Knute’s trying to deal with her anxious mother, poorly father and oddly behaving daughter (she flaps and tics; she’s quite plainly on the autistic spectrum but is accepted and encouraged to accept herself for who she is, which is a nice touch) and the reappearance of Summer Feelin’s dad [there should be two apostrophes there but I can’t do it!], maybe a deadbeat, maybe not.

I loved the portrait of small-town life, where everyone knows everyone else, of peripheral characters like the man who wants to be fire chief but is always having his farm moved out of the town’s borders (but is very much not a comic character, with his own dark back-story) and Tom and Hosea’s long and taken-for-granted friendship. Although there are some slightly icky sections which I had to skim, this is a warm-hearted and endearing read.

This was Book 11 in my #20BooksOfSummer project


What are you reading? What’s the best book you’ve read this summer so far?

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