Book review – Nick Hayes – “The Book of Trespass” @shinynewbooks @BloomsburyBooks #bookbloggers

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I recently read Nick Hayes’ “The Book of Trespass” which Bloomsbury Books kindly sent me in return for an honest review. It was a good read, full of information and fire and passion, with a bit of drug-taking past the usual fences thrown in. I received a review copy but was pleased to find the lovely woodcuts in the final version were there – see the link to Shiny below for a picture of one of them.

This excerpt from my review perhaps is the bit that chimes most with my recent thoughts and themes and with current considerations:

The chapter on slave-owners and how their nefarious activities allowed them to claim, own and fence off large tracts of land is well-timed and makes this book even more up to date and timely. As well as information about the land in England, he goes into the divisions created between black and white slaves and indentured servants, the way the Establishment seek to divide and conquer (this comes up again in the section on migrants) and gives a shout-out to the Legacies of Britain’s Slave Ownership project. He’s scathing about one politician in particular, who claims to “ignore” the fact his wealth comes from slave-owning but still owns his family’s original sugar plantation in Barbados, and rightly so, of course, and also digs out statistics on the number of people from ethnic minorities who live in or visit the countryside. This is only one side of the many issues Hayes discusses, but perhaps one that will chime strongly with current readerships. I could write hundreds more words about all the points he goes into – the vilification of migrants, the shutting off of land that would feed people, the loss of the third space, the commons.

Read the full review here.

And in one bit that didn’t make the review cut (I really could have gone on for pages and had to be careful with my words!), I was very amused to read him describing wood pigeons saying “My toes hurt, Betty; my toes HURT, Betty” which is a running joke in my photo-a-day group and, one read, never able to be shaken. You’re welcome!

State of the TBR September 2020 and only a tiny #Bookconfession #20BooksOfSummer20 #paulmagrsathon

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I’m very pleased with the state of my TBR at the moment – yes, there’s a Pile and some Loose Matter, but that’s not major and there were two Piles last time. As I reported in my round up of my 20 Books of Summer project (here), as well as completing my 20 Books of Summer reading with days to spare, I achieved my aim of getting a load of books acquired in 2018 off the shelf and read. Let’s not mention how many books I’ve acquired in lockdown – they might just fill the whole back shelf! In total I read 13 books in August (or finished, as one of them I’d been reading in sections since May) and nine of those were from the physical TBR.

September 01 2020 TBR

Currently reading

I’m currently reading “Horse Crazy” by Sarah Maslin Nir, which the publisher kindly made available to me on NetGalley. It combines a social history of horse-lovers in the US with a memoir of the author’s own obsession with horses. Each chapter is named after a horse she’s loved so I hope it’s not too heart-rending!

I’m also going to be continuing with my reading of Angela Thirkell’s wartime novels, which she wrote and published as the war was going on – so there’s an immediacy there which will be fascinating. I want to have them all read by the end of the year, or earlier if I can, now that I finally have them all! I’ve already discovered the resolution to the cliffhanger from “Cheerfulness Breaks In” in “Northbridge Rectory” (review to come) – phew!

Coming up next …

I need to be reading Kevin Maxwell’s “Forced Out” soon, not least because my friend Gill has loaned it to me and needs to lend it to a police officer next! It’s about the experiences of a Black, gay man who had always wanted to be a police officer but ended up having terrible experiences of homophobia and racism. And my re-read of Paul Magrs’ “Exchange” will be my Magrsathon book for this month (did you read my interview with him yesterday?).

On top of “Horse Crazy,” I want to pick up some other NetGalley reads. I will then make a start on the beginning of the TBR and I’ll be starting “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge, which is the new book my best friend and I will be reading together over the next few weeks (watch out tomorrow for a review of the one we read in May-August).

Then, further in the future, apart from continuing with my reading of Angela Thirkell’s wartime novels, this is the start of my TBR – the oldest books on it. Not hugely diverse, I have to say, apart from “A Brown Man in Russia” and “The Good Immigrant” but that aspect should be covered in my NetGalley reading. I was quite clearly in a nature phase during this part of 2019!

Book confession!

I was delighted to receive a copy of Elizabeth von Armin’s “Father” in the post from the lovely folk at the British Library Women Writers publishers. It’s out on September 03 and I won’t have it read and reviewed by then but I will get to it asap! What a pretty copy, too!

Shiny new books and a Shiny New Book @shinynewbooks @OUPAcademic #bookbloggers #bookconfessions

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Oxford illustrated history of the bookEarlier this month I finished reading “The Oxford Illustrated History of the Book”, edited by James Raven, and what a smashing read it was. This is, I think, apart from the amazing illustrations (even in the PDF copy I got to read pre-publication), what I liked the best about it:

The book itself takes a thoroughly global perspective, with major chapters on South and East Asia, China, Japan and Korea and the Islamic world and one late one on the globalisation of the book trade, including a lot of detail on censorship and copyright, and areas such as South America are also included, especially in discussions of the oldest forms of books, which were suppressed by colonialists. Colonialists also sought later to drag countries that were happily using wood block (xylography) and other non-moveable-type technologies such as lithography, both of which suited their writing systems better, quite happily into what they considered their modern ways, and the interplay between the two streams is fascinating. Other tensions, such as the change from paganism to Christianity in the Western world being echoed by a transition from roll to codex, or the sacred nature of the Islamic manuscript and calligraphic arts and the lack of a need for print techniques in a Mughal Empire set up with a network of scribes are also brought out.

Read my full review here.

New books in

I had a bumper crop of books pop through the letterbox today!

Three Thirkell novelsFirst off, the latest three Angela Thirkells to be reprinted by Virago. I pre-ordered these about a million years ago but I had checked the date of publication recently as I was considering some 20BooksofSummer swapping, so I did know they were due. Weirdly, they had already republished the ones that come between these, so I already had those. Even more weirdly, they’ve suddenly decided to print these with dark green VMC-style spines, where all the other ones had wraparound spines with the images/colours of the fronts. And confusingly, I appear to have read a couple of the intervening ones out of sequence. So this is the order of the next few including what I have sitting on the TBR shelf now and what I’ve already read – I’m not going to re-read those, given the state of the TBR at the moment!

  • Cheerfulness Breaks In (1940) – just arrived
  • Northbridge Rectory (1941) – read in September 2019
  • Marling Hall (1942) – on the TBR
  • Growing Up (1943) – just arrived
  • The Headmistress (1944) – read in November 2017
  • Miss Bunting (1945) – on the TBR
  • Peace Breaks Out (1946) – just arrived

I am going to pick “Cheerfulness Breaks In” as my next #20BooksOfSummer read as the two Virago books I had selected for it were published in 1922 and 1923 and one is about women not toeing the line, and I’ve just finished “The Call”, published in 1924 about an unconventional woman, which seemed like too much of a good thing, frankly!

two BLM books

Following my sort of policy of buying some serious, hard-hitting books full of statistics and info and some lighter ones … I followed a bit of a rabbit hole from a post in a Facebook group I’m in and found “White Privilege: The Myth of a Post-Racial Society” by Kalwant Bhopal, which does actually look at systemic racism in the UK as well as the US. Published by Policy Press, so all the trappings of an academic work with the right referencing. Then I discovered Huda Fahmy’s cartoons about living as a hijabi woman in the US, “Yes, I’m Hot in This” through a fellow editor on Facebook, followed her page, loved her cartoons and found there was a book, so ordered that from Hive, too! Edited to add her Facebook page and Twitter.

I just want to note that I will be reading more of my BLM themed books soon – I was committed to doing my Virago and Persephone reading this month, which, after all, is reclaiming lost women writers, and with a couple of larger non-fiction reads for Shiny there hasn’t been a huge lot of room for reading outside those two areas. But as soon as I’ve finished Book 20 I’m going to start popping some diverse reading back in there and am looking forward to that. I think “The Good Immigrant” will be up next, and that reminds me that I need to see if the US version is out yet.

Have you had a Thirkell delivery, too? Any cartoonists you can recommend (I know about XKCD and Nathan Pyle already)?

Book review – Jacky Klein – “Grayson Perry” and #bookconfessions @shinynewbooks @thamesandhudson

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Last month I finished the sumptuous and beautiful “Grayson Perry” by Jacky Klein which the lovely folk at Thames & Hudson sent me to review for Shiny New Books. I could literally look at a page of this book every day for the rest of my life and never tire of it, always finding something new.

Coming right up to date in the final chapter with Perry’s Brexit and identity politics pieces, and his pair of prints, “Sponsored by You” and “Selfie with Political Causes” which take two views of humanity, basically, this is a wonderful, generous and colourful journey through Perry’s life and art which can be enjoyed on a detailed or surface level. Naturally, it’s a beautifully produced large-format paperback with French flaps, notes, a chronology, a list of public collections holding Perry’s work, his exhibitions, including the ones he’s curated, a bibliography and an index. A great gift that would be appreciated by anyone with more than a passing interest in Perry and his work.

Read my full review here.

Books in

I have been buying many fewer books on Amazon recently, however I happened to notice that Stormzy’s book (co-written with Jude Yawson), “Rise Up”, which is the story of his company Merky, was on sale for £2. I already had “Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible” by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené in my shopping trolley, as I have just won “Loud Black Girls”, which builds on its foundations, through NetGalley: it felt important to read these narratives of successful Black women’s lives first, so I will.

I’ve been enjoying interspersing my on-going reading with the books on other people’s lives than my own demographic’s (although a discussion of “The Girl with the Louding Voice” reminded me that I have indeed been reading such books all my reading life). I hope I get as many views and comments as I do on my other books; I was a bit disappointed to see so little engagement with my review of “Our City” although maybe people thought it was one of those “Old Birmingham in Pictures” type books rather than the excellent work of social history and 21st century discussion on immigration that it actually was. I’m not reading such books to be worthy or performative; I picked a load off my wishlist so I could read them at the same time as others and discuss them, starting with books detailing people’s lived experiences and going on to those approaching racism and activism, so I hope my blog readers will come along with me in this project, too, as I know you have all sorts of interests and experiences to bring to the table yourselves, and I’m sure you’ve seen a good scattering of such books here in the past so you know it’s not some sort of bandwagon-jumping!

State of the TBR August 2020 plus one more #Bookconfession #20BooksOfSummer20

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Although some might say that this TBR shelf has gone a bit extreme again, with its not just one but TWO piles of horizontally stacked books to fit them all in, I’m actually really chuffed with this.

TBR shelf August

What I’m chuffed with is the beginning of it. And yes, I’ve acquired a lot (see all posts with book confessions here), but thanks to my 20BooksOfSummer project, I have finally shifted a load of the books that were sitting at the beginning/oldest point of the shelf.

This was my June TBR right at the start of the project, and books from 2018 stretch to pretty well half-way along the shelf. Those have pretty well all gone, just the Angela Thirkells waiting for the reissue of the books that come before and between them, and a good chunk of early 2019 also gone.

June TBR

But also, those books at the start had been stuck there for aaaaages! This was April 2020:

and this was January 2020, with that Tahiti book still prominent quite near the beginning and not much leaving the shelf between Jan and March.

So on the whole I’m very pleased, I’ve acquired some smashing books and I’m reading more than I have for months, so should be able to maintain the momentum.

I read (or should say finished, as one of them was the Grayson Perry book I’ve been reading for ages) 17 books in July (18 if you count the Spanish children’s book with about 100 words), nine of which were from the physical TBR (the others were review books that sit separately so I get to them in time or e-books).

Currently reading

Oxford illustrated history of the bookI’m currently reading “The Oxford Illustrated History of the Book”, edited by James Raven, which is as sumptuous as you can imagine. Although I’ve got a pdf review copy (I’m reading it to review for Shiny New Books), the illustrations have come out beautifully in that and it’s still a good reading experience. I’ve just finished reading about the first iterations of books across the world and am about to dive into Byzantium, and I will spend quite a lot of this weekend on it as I have three review books to read by the middle of the month. How lucky I am – and how diverse they are (one on trespass and one a republished woman writer, see below …)

Coming up next …

Three books coming up, described in textSo coming up very soon will be Nick Hayes’ “The Book of Trespass” which is the story of trespass in the UK and how that was instrumental in setting up and maintaining rights of way, plus information about land ownership. That’s a review copy from Bloomsbury (thanks, again!) and then I also have “Dangerous Ages” by Rose Macaulay, which is one of the new British Library Women Writers publications.

My Paul Magrs for the month I THINK is going to be “Exchange”, a lovely re-read, however I need to check that Bill in Australia, who won the copy in my competition at the start of the year, is able to access his copy to read! Otherwise I’ll be sharing a great interview I’ve done with Paul, and I’m considering which of his books on writing to pick up for a later month.

Vriagoes and PersephonesAfter/among these will be the last 7 books in my 20BooksofSummer project. I’ve been doing so well, got up to Book 13 yesterday (a low viewing and commenting rate on that review, though, so far, really not sure why!) so on track. This section has changed slightly in that “The Three Miss Kings” is going to wait for AusLitMonth in November, and I’ve swapped in “There’s a Good Girl” by Marianne Grabrucker (which is a lot shorter, and also covers Women In Translation month!). You can see one Dean Street Press book on there and once I’ve read this pile for 20Books and All Virago (etc.) / All August, I will be picking off some more of those (I also have one more ebook of their new set to read and review) plus some Virago Angela Thirkell reprints to round off that challenge.

On the Red HillAnd one book confession to round things off, and sorry it’s a picture of me (with my long lockdown locks, which I quite like and am keeping, even though my hairdresser is being terribly safe and careful), but I had shelved the book behind that right-hand pile before I realised I didn’t have a flat pic of it) – my friend Liz shared that she was reading this book about two gay couples who live sequentially in a house in Wales, and how moved she was by it, and I had to get a copy!

Shiny loveliness and new acquisitions @ShinyNewBooks #BookConfessions @eandtbooks #BLwomenwriters

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Time to round up some Shiny New Books reviews I’ve had published recently and also highlight the new additions that have come into my life.

I was very lucky to be sent “Into the Tangled Bank” by Lev Parikian by the lovely folk at Elliot & Thompson after I’d retweeted my Shiny review of their “The Seafarers” when it came out in paperback.

Lev Parikian is a conductor and, more recently, a birdwatcher, and you might have seen or read his book on birds, Why do Birds Suddenly Disappear? which was published on Unbound, so it’s nice to see he’s found a traditional publisher for this one. This is a very pretty and enticing book with a lovely cover which includes birds, butterflies, insects, plants and a … crisp packet, because it’s essentially a book about British people’s relationship with nature.

Read my full review here.

I was also asked to revisit my review of Candice Carty-Williams’ “Queenie” to celebrate its paperback edition, so I rewrote it to be a bit less personal and a bit more universal.

This Sunday Times bestseller, which was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, has been touted as being “The Black Bridget Jones”. While it might also be the iconic book that defines a generation of women of a particular time, I think it goes much further than Helen Fielding’s novel, and is more shocking and perhaps more valuable for that. Certainly it’s a must-read for the person staring at a Black Lives Matter reading list (and let’s face it, lots of us have been poring over those) and offers a great complement to the theoretical books helping us thing differently. Here, we’re right in the action, right in someone’s life, finding out what the Black London community thinks of mental health issues, or about just how diverse that diverse, welcoming workplace really might be. And if you want to understand what a micro-aggression is, go directly to this novel.

Read my full review here.

Carty-Williams became the first Black author to win book of the year at the British Book Awards.


Right, a varied set of incomings now.

First of all, a while ago I spent the book tokens I’d accumulated on a lovely pile of books from Foyles’ website and six of them arrived while the last one didn’t (and I had to eventually buy it from Amazon, because they were the only people who I could it from, and I needed it). Anyway, this all meant that part of one of my book tokens and some Foyalty points were refunded to me, so I had BOOK MONEY hanging around. Reading the gal-dem book the other day gave me some ideas for some books I wanted to read (the Windrush one and a different trans history one) so I went a clicking and only had to spend £15 of my own money by using the refund and the rest of the Foyalty points I’d accumulated …

In my usual way I tried to leaven the more ‘worthy’ thought-provoking books with a lighter one, but of course Nadiya Hussain is known for her frank discussions of mental health issues so her book “Finding my Voice,” is not necessary going to be that fly-away and non-profound. “Trans Britain: Our Journey from the Shadows” ed. Christine Burns is a collection of essays by trans people about their own experiences and their relation to the slow changes in society which have afforded some more positive visibility and freedoms, but have also allowed a lot of phobia and bigotry to remain. While I am committed to supporting trans rights, I felt I didn’t know enough of the history, so this should be ideal.

Afrua Hirsch’s “Brit(ish)” is another seminal BLM book that went out of stock and has only just come back in, though it’s been on my wishlist for a good while. This memoir unpacks systemic racism, prejudice and disadvantage and how the impact of historical issues plays out on lives today. “Mother Country: Real Stories of the Windrush Children” edited by Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff tells 22 real-life stories of people who came to Britain on the Windrush ship, their children and grandchildren. So four lots of direct voices telling their lived experience in this batch.

Here’s a funny thing I noticed when I was shelving these – they’re all lovely and bright in purples, yellows and red, and the spines the same …

… yet when I went to shelve them (and yes, they DO fit on my TBR shelves!) (just), I noticed that the whole front row is grey, green, blue and white. How odd! I know I do have a load of Persephones and Viragoes waiting to be read next month but that’s by no means all of them!

On to the next one, and the people at the British Library Women Writers series have kindly sent me a lovely paperback to review of “Dangerous Ages” by Rose Macaulay, which looks at three women of varying ‘dangerous ages’ and what life throws at them. This is a gorgeous object of a book, with a lovely patterned and textured cover, a silhouette of the author and French flaps. It’s out next month in their new batch and I hope to have it reviewed on publication date. Thank you to the lovely British Library Publishing folks for sending it to me!

And finally, we’ve obviously been in lockdown here in the UK and all non-essential shops were shut, which was a Good Thing. Then they’ve been gradually opening up, but I’ve been feeling very timid and risk-averse and sticking to my usual two-supermarkets-plus-savers routine. Then I was running with a friend on Sunday who mentioned that the local charity shops are being very good, controlling entrance to the shop, having someone on the door with hand sanitiser, and generally feeling OK. So as I had to go to Holland & Barrett (also safe and well-organised; you scan your own items and the staff are behind plastic screens), I girded my loins and went across the road to Oxfam Books (I was thinking that there are only books there, so less backing into racks of clothing, etc.). It was absolutely fine, there was hand sanitiser at the door and a note of how many people could be in the shop at any one time, everyone who came in after me used the sanitiser as did I. I was careful not to pick up and put down books, although this meant I took one down to browse, couldn’t work out how to put it back (do I tell the staff I’ve touched it? there’s no trolley to put them on as apparently Waterstone’s has) and bought it anyway, although I do think I did really want it! I paid by card using contactless and the volunteer was behind a screen. I did quarantine the bag of books in the spare room for 72 hours, so feel pretty safe.

So what did I pick up?

A lovely hardback of Armistead Maupin’s “Logical Family: A Memoir” – I’ve had this on my radar for a while and can’t wait to get to it. Damian Le Bas published “The Stopping Places: A Journey Through Gypsy Britain” a while back and it has been on the back burner of my wish list. I did think that if I’m doing all this reading around Black and Asian British lives I should devote some time to the very criticised and abused Traveller and Gypsy communities so it’s good I found this. Tristan Gooley’s “How to Read Water” is about the patterns in water from a puddle right up to the sea, and looks fascinating – I think this will also appeal to the wild swimmers I know.

What a lovely haul, and exactly the kinds of finds I was envisaging when thinking of all those lockdown clearouts and donations that have been going on. I can’t say I’ll be trawling the charity shops all in one go like I used to, but this felt like a new return to something normal.


Have you read any of my new acquisitions?

Book review – John Sutherland (ed.) – “Literary Landscapes” #20BooksOfSummer20 + #bookconfessions

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A step back into 2018 for the last time until the Viragoes and Persephones – I was reading this at the same time as “Murder Runs in the Family” but this was a larger format hardback book so stayed upstairs or on the sofa. I’m very pleased to be at 20 Books of Summer book 10 with this one, so half-way through around half-way through the month (I’ve had a reviewing lag so I actually finished this one a good few days ago now).

See below for some exciting incomings, too!

John Sutherland (ed.) – “Literary Landscapes”

(25 December 2018 – from Ali)

When Ali read this back in October 2018, I alighted on it with excitement (and may have become a little bratty and demanding in the comments to her post), and it duly arrived for Christmas that year!

I will admit to having become a little confused, as I thought this book included created maps for each of the books it describes. That’s not quite the case, although maps are certainly features: instead this lavishly illustrated hardback “charting the real-life settings of the world’s favourite fiction”, as the subtitle lays out, takes contemporary illustrations and sometimes maps for the areas in which very location-specific books are set. The choice of books is global, with lots and lots of authors I’d not even heard of (which is fine and often intriguing, of course). It runs from Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” to Miguel Bonnefoy’s “Black Sugar” and for each book you get a little bit about the author (with a picture, except in the case of Elena Ferrante!) and the book, including its translator and date of first publication in English if it was translated. Then for example we see an illustration from Punch showing cholera in all its evils in the article for Charles Dickens’ “Bleak House”.

It’s careful to be fair and even-minded: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s troublesome division into us and them as regards Native Americans (although she is somewhat sympathetic to them at times) is addressed in the piece on “Little House on the Prairie” and the resder is directed to the article on Louise Erdrich’s series of novels with their switched perspective on the same timeframe.

I learned a lot about world writers as well as discovering lots of little juicy facts, for example about Daphne du Maurier only being able to afford to live in Menabilly thanks to the success of the book and film of “Rebecca”! Written by many contributors (they’re not attributed in each article but there’s a list of potted biographies at the end including which articles they wrote) but manages to have a pretty consistent tone. A good read and I’m glad I finally got to it!

This was Book 10 in my 20 Books Of Summer project.


I’m currently reading Book 11 in the project, “Girl in a Band”, having finished a light NetGalley read, and I’m not entirely sure what’s next (exciting!).


New acquisitions …

Remember that lovely big order I did from Foyles which arrived the other week? I had ordered “Sagaland” by Richard Fidler and Kari Gislason as part of that order, but they eventually admitted it was out of print and they couldn’t get it. I reluctantly went to Amazon (I am trying not to these days) and they DID have it and now I have it. It’s a lovely fat tome which re-tells some of the Icelandic sagas, and then they also travel to saga sites (this is not something that is offered on commercial tours in Iceland at the moment, which makes me sad – I have been to Egil’s grave on one trip that gave some highlights, and also had a pizza at a petrol station/shop at Hliðarendi, location of Gunnar’s house in Njal’s Saga, but only by accident) and there is a connection between Gislason’s family and one of the sagas, too. I bet this doesn’t live for too long on my shelf before being consumed. Anyway, imagine it with the others, leavening out the (of course very) worthwhile modern reads on race and gender with a good dollop of Iceland stuff.

It’s Spanish Lit Month and I noticed this on Ali’s blog, too – this reading month is run by blogger Winston’s Dad and you can find the post about it here. As I’ve been learning Spanish on an app for the past 470-odd days, and not being up to their special past historic tense used in chapter books onwards (plus stsill slightly reeling from that time I attempted to read a Mr Men book in Icelandic), I decided to keep my horizons limited to what I knew I could do and searched for a children’s book in Spanish. “Amo a mis mamas” (by Elias Zapple, translated by Camila Ayala Teran) “I Love My Mums” is actually a tiny bit more basic than I was looking for, but I’m going to work my way through it (there are some words I need to look up still) and see if that counts. It looks lovely and sweet, anyway.

In Shiny New Books news (and I’m very aware I need to share with you my latest two reviews on there, coming soon!), I have received a digital copy of James Raven (ed.) “The Oxford Illustrated History of the Book” – an absolute perfect fit for me, of course, and featuring wonderful looking essays by many experts in the field. This one is out on 13 August so I will be fitting it into my reading schedule very soon (on my tablet, so I can see the colour illustrations properly) and reviewing it in Shiny and sharing that.

And finally, in NetGalley news, hot off the press (or not even off the press yet) is “Loud Black Girls” ed. Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené, which is an anthology of pieces by twenty Black British writers, exploring what it means to live in these current turbulent times and what comes next. This is published on 01 October but I am so looking forward to reading it (although these authors also wrote “Slay in Your Lane” and I’m thinking I should get hold of that first …


Any new incomings for you? Read or about to read any of these?

 

Book review – Jeanette Winterson “Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere” #20BooksOfSummer20 plus one more #BookConfession

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Can you see this book sitting tiny and neat above “Literary Landscapes” in the pile? A pretty purple, green, white and gold hardback from Canongate running to 72 pages, consisting of a printed lecture and a reprinted talk, this just about counts as a full book, right?

Jeanette Winterson – “Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere”

(25 December 2018, from Meg)

A lecture by the redoubtable Winterson (I loved “Oranges are not the Only Fruit” but have found I admire her as a person more than I love her other books) on the suffragettes, a great justification for violent action and a brisk run-down of the inequalities women still face today, turned into a readable and entertaining essay, along with a reprint of Emmeline Pankhurst’s “Freedom or Death” speech of 1913, introduced by Winterson.

I loved her witty asides and footnotes and her careful enunciation of the facts while celebrating those campaigners from the North and the working classes who she particularly admires. In her plea for boardroom equality she cuts through the statistics with the brilliantly argued claim that women can bring into the boardroom the traits that they have been raised to have of listening, caring, etc, (“I am not talking biological essentialism here” (p. 31). Very intelligent and a lovely morning read.

This was Book 8 in my 20 Books Of Summer project.

Book confession!

I was working on editing a brochure for an Eastern European client when I noticed the group of representative people in a graphic was somewhat monocultural. I started to write a note to please make it more multicultural, then thought I’d better look up said country and see what the ethnic mix actually was. Oh. And that reminded me that I don’t know much about the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic populations in Europe (I know a bit about France having been in the south and encountered people from former colonial North Africa there and having read about the Paris banlieus, and lived in South London when it welcomed a wave of Francophone African people, and I have encountered and read up on West African traders in the Canary Islands, but that’s about it) and I had Johny Pitts’ “Afropean: Notes from Black Europe” on my wishlist. So I ordered it from Hive and it arrived this week. And of course it doesn’t talk about Eastern Europe, but it still looks fascinating!

Book review – Ammon Shea – “The Phone Book” #20BooksOfSummer20 plus #BookConfessions

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On briskly to another book of my 20BooksOfSummer and this is the one that should have been Book 8 and starting July, were it not for the DNF on Book 7.

Ammon Shea – “The Phone Book”

(25 December 2018, from Gill)

I will admit that after having read this author’s “Reading the OED” (take a moment to view that review and marvel over the empty wastes on the front shelf of June 2013’s TBR!) I thought this was going to be more of the same and a book about reading the phone book. But even Ammon Shea stops short of that excess, although he does have an interesting time reading part of the white and yellow pages from his youth, reminiscing about the people and places of which he’s reminded. This is mainly a history of the (US) phone book and yellow pages, well done and informative but lightly written as usual. I liked the pieces about collectors and artists best.

A bit oddly arranged with some strange repetition or re-mentions, maybe because the book was re-ordered at the last minute or something. And I couldn’t work out why he went all coy when mentioning other people’s reading quests without mentioning his own OED read. But it was entertaining and I’m glad I was given it and read it.

This was Book 7 in my 20 Books Of Summer project.

Book confessions!

I had fun times spending a load of book tokens from lovely friends on the Foyle’s website (while I would have loved to buy some of these books from Black-owned independent bookstores online I could not find any that had stock and took book tokens at the time I wanted to spend them. You can find a great list of Black-owned independent bookshops in the UK here. It’s great that books around anti-racism and helping the world heal and grow are selling out at the moment; I do hope people are reading them.

I didn’t want this to be a performative post about my great anti-racist book-buying antics, because a) I’ve always bought a range of books b) there’s no need to virtue-signal, so I did order a decent wider range of titles, then I’ve been waiting and waiting for my other book on Iceland to arrive and I just gave up, photographed what I had so far and put it on the TBR. So imagine there are four books on Black history, race, class and Empire and dismantling racism, one on gender and TWO on Iceland …

Six books from Foyles, all titles and authors in the textI’m going to read “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo after I’ve read “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” which I bought a month or so ago, and then I’ll read Layla Saad’s “Me and White Supremacy” and work through the workbook questions. I might not read these one after another but that’s the order as I think it will help to work through any knots I get into with the workbook. We watched David Olusoga’s TV series “Black and British” and I can’t wait to read the much more detail there looks to be in this lovely large tome. Akala’s “Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire” has been recommended to me by several very different people, which is always a bonus.

Moving on to gender and transgender, I picked up Juno Dawson’s “Gender Games” idly as it sat on the dining table after coming out of quarantine and before it got upstairs, and then could not put it down. It reads very accessibly and makes difficult topics clear with personal experience and input from experts.

Finally (for now), Tory Bilski’s “Wild Horses of the Summer Sun” is about Icelandic horses and the author’s relationship with them and her horse-loving friends. I have been fortunate enough to go riding on an Icelandic horse once, the fulfilment of a long-held dream, and yes, it felt like I was in a saga. So this looks very enticing.

Amazingly, with only one pile remaining on the back shelf, I have managed to fit all these and my other new acquisitions onto the TBR shelf, thanks to a lot of movement at the older end of things. You’ll be amazed at my photo of my TBR tomorrow (if you follow such things).


Have you read any of these books? How has your first month of 20BooksOfSummer/Winter gone?

Book review – Philip Marsden – “Rising Ground” plus some #BookConfessions #20BooksofSummer20

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The fourth book in my 20 Books of Summer challenge and I bought this in the Edge of the World Bookshop in Penzance (website here and a lovely shop it is, too) on our holiday to Penzance and the Isles of Scilly in October 2018 (here‘s the post I wrote about the books I bought there, now all read, hooray!) as a very appropriate local read set in the West Country from Somerset westwards. And appropriately enough, there will be some book confessions after the review!

Philip Marsden – “Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place”

(12 October 2018)

A wonderful book going West from Somerset via Glastonbury and Tingagel into Cornwall, with lots of time spent on Bodmin Moor and a trip on the King Harry Ferry, and then getting into well-known and beloved places like West Penwith and the Morrab Gardens and Library, then on to the Isles of Scilly themselves.

Interspersed with the restoration of his own dream house and his parents selling theirs and moving on, he walks, camps and trespasses, spending time alone, in present-day company and with literary figures (the chapters on these last, while interesting, were the least engaging for me, reminding me of my struggles through Iain Sinclair’s “Edge of the Orison” about John Clare, although they came more alive when meeting people now who knew of them). His walks along the Fal reminded me of a fellow-blogger Tredynas Days‘ nature walks in lockdown.

I found it fascinating when Marsden explained the new idea of the ‘sacred landscape’ that is coming into play in archaeology and pre-historical studies, tracking the changes from seeing ridges as ramparts to seeing them as places of ritual. The standing stones, figures and landscape alterations now lead to a

focusing on the monuments’ position, what would have been visible from them, how they relate to nearby rivers and ridges and prominent hills. (p. 33)

and he walks some of these sight-paths with notable outcomes and effects.

He treasures incursions, whether that’s of foliage inside his house, by humankind into their environment or himself when dropping down to rivers through china clay workings both operational and abandoned, and I love that about the book, which is tightly structured in one way, loosely wandering in another. His comments on West Penwith, having described the area through a few different people’s eyes with its agglomeration of ritual landscapes and mysterious stone circles, seem very apt to this outsider but lover of the area:

All the ages are rolled into one, a post-modernist bundle of residual beliefs, re-interpreted customs, hazy site-myths, ancient stones, recollections and folk tales. (p. 230)

How I wish I’d been able to read this book sitting on my favourite bench on Penzance prom, by the bandstand in the Morrab Gardens or in the cosy cottage we’ve stayed at a few times. But it was a lovely evocation of this land even read in the very middle of England.

This was Book 4 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.


I’m currently reading “Tolkien and the Critics” and “The Last Landlady” for 20Books, plus Camryn Garrett’s “Full Disclosure” from NetGalley because I was eating a pizza last night and needed a book I could read on Kindle and didn’t have to hold (true reason!). And I need to report on some books in, although this isn’t all of them!

I went to visit my dear friend Ali (of the Heaven-Ali blog) the other weekend – it was so exciting to see her and our friend Meg, even though it was an 8.5 mile round trip of a walk for me and I caught the sun a little. I had taken a book gift over to Meg and was delighted to have these two thrust into my bag (from a safe distance, naturally). Francesca Wade’s “Square Haunting” about Meckelburgh Square and five overlapping residents is a hefty hardback that she was having trouble with, wanting to justify picking up an easier-to-handle Kindle copy, and she knew I was keen on reading it, and she’d somehow ended up with two copies of “My Husband Simon” by Mollie Panter-Downes in that very enticing new British Library Women Writers series which Simon/Stuck-in-a-Book is curating so kindly passed one to me (everyone seems to have been reading this one!).

Then Bloomsbury have been supplying us Shiny New Books reviewers with some temptations and the first of the three I’ve bagged arrived recently. Nick Hayes’ “The Book of Trespass” chimes nicely with the book I’ve just been reviewing, as it’s about the efforts folk have made to open up some of the 98% of the UK that is privately owned and not accessible to the general public. This looks like a lovely big satisfying read.

And THEN you might remember that the lovely Dean Street Press sent me a review copy of Ruth Adam’s “A House in the Country” which is one of the lovely set they’re bringing out in August, and that they had offered me “Miss Mole” which I had already read. Well they have very kindly sent me two more from this batch to read and review – Dorothy Evelyn Smith’s “Miss Plum and Miss Penny” and Celia Buckmaster’s “Village Story”. You can read about all these new ones on the Furrowed Middlebrow blog post about the August reprints.

Finally, I have had half of a lovely Foyles delivery, entirely paid for by book tokens I’d gathered over Christmas and birthday and a few Foyalty Points; however I was very careful about not being “performative” and only buying and sharing books with a Black Lives Matter theme and had made sure to buy some in that area, one on transgender matters and then two on Iceland. And of course I’m now waiting for the two on Iceland to arrive so I can share the whole lot with you!

How are your 20Books or other projects going? Have you bought anything recently?

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