Book review – Vybarr Cregan-Reid – “Footnotes: How Running Makes us Human” @RunBookshelfFB #amreading

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Oopsadaisy – I’ve been reading a lot but not managing to keep up with my reviews. I’ve been doing an older book, a new book and an e-book in order to make space for Christmas incomings and then not have too many of them to fit on the shelf when it’s time. Of course, I also just had my birthday, with MORE lovely books (hooray! Dean Street Press and Persephone plus other wish list delights for the win – a post on those coming soon as I think there may be one more to come). And, um, I may have come by a couple of others in the meantime.

Anyway, this was at LAST the last book from that huge Foyles book token haul I had in May 2018. So behind on my reading, but that’s the fault of doing the one old one, one new one, which does also have its advantages.

Vybarr Cregan-Reid – “Footnotes: How Running Makes us Human”

(22 May 2018)

Quite a dense running book which looks at different aspects of why running is good for us, taking in neuroscience, physiology and psychology and visiting researchers and labs, sometimes offering himself up as the subject of the research. You get bits of his life as he goes out on runs and contemplates various aspects – he’s a literature professor so there’s more literary stuff than you might perhaps expect, including some stuff about the Lake District poets and Thomas Hardy. He’s partly a barefoot runner (but not full-time and experiences some issues with that) and spends time on that topic, and it’s always interesting to read his descriptions when the shoes come off on his runs. He has some quite funny experiences getting more weather than he bargained for in the Lake District when trying to emulate the walking feats of the poets, and some frustrating times but also fun doing some mild trespassing.

He seems honest about his personality and failings, for example how he’s good at doing things but not so good at not doing things. He also explores matters that are outside his comfort zone, which is admirable, spending time and effort finding out why some people enjoy going to the gym, even if it’s not for him. I also enjoyed his narrative of his slightly accidental marathon (on the roads, while he obviously prefers running in wilder places) and this rang a bell:

‘Pain is temporary, failure lasts forever’, the wankers will tell you. No! Pain is not necessary for success, a  healthy relationship with failure is. (p. 270)

So quite a dense book which looks in depth at how running can enhance our humanity, with some interesting runs and recognisable features. An interesting read.


Two incomings that are not birthday or Christmas related. Diana Pullein-Thompson’s “I Wanted a Pony” was her first solo effort, and Jane Badger Books has reissued it with the original illustrations. When Jane shared this on Facebook, I just had to order it.

My friend Mary Ellen (of running posts fame) has just finished Lara Maiklem’s “Mudlarking” which is all about the things the author has found on the muddy banks of the Thames at low tide. She thought I would like to borrow it and indeed I would!

What’s lovely about both of these is the illustration. Here’s the endpapers of “Mudlarking” along with one of the attractive line drawings in “I Wanted a Pony”

I’m currently finishing off Blind Dave Heeley’s “From Light to Dark” which is his very good and entertaining autobiography. Still to review is Jess Phillips’ “Truth to Power” and I have finished the excellent “Learning Languages in Early Modern England” by John Gallagher, which I am reviewing for Shiny New Books. I think next up will be “Fresh from the Country” by Miss Read, one of Dean Street Press’s new Furrowed Middlebrow books which they sent me in e-format to review but my best friend Emma sent me in print format for my birthday (hooray!). What a great start to the year this month has been so far!

 

Book review – Abi Daré – “The Girl with the Louding Voice” @abidare_author #LoudingVoice #NetGalley @HodderBooks

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This book has a lot of buzz around it and has already won awards from Red Magazine, the BBC and Stylist Magazine – for a first novel, that’s quite astounding. I came across it in my NetGalley emails and the author was also mentioned by my old university friend Julia Bell as one of her Birkbeck students, so even though I don’t read many books set in Africa, I just had to pick it up. And I’m very glad I did.

This is an exceptional and important novel that’s also unputdownable, the traumatic events it portrays in gritty detail balanced out by the delightful, resourceful and resilient heroine/narrator. Nigerian Adunni is the same age as the century, 14, when she’s sold in marriage by her father for what is effectively some goats, money and a telly. She has to get used to being a third wife, but draws comfort from her ability to make supportive friends. When tragedy hits, she’s forced to go on the run, only to be sold into domestic slavery. She only realises that’s what happens through her reading in the library of the house she works at – the gradual dawning of comprehension is so deftly handled.

Adunni’s late mother instilled in her a love and craving for education, and she wants so badly to be a teacher, but it seems impossible that she will ever get to return to her studies, the gulf between rich and poor, whether in a village or the capital, being too great to be able to raise yourself up even a little. She does have a sort of role model in the form of her employer, who started a fabric brand from scratch, and there are great and funny examples of her ruthless selling techniques, however she’s an unhappy and uneducated woman who is a role model in no other way.

It takes a disparate group of people who are different from Adunni and indeed ‘othered’ in Nigeria – this point is made subtly – a Ghanaian man who has a daughter her age, a woman who has lived in the UK and is having trouble fitting back into the wealthy society back in Nigeria and a Muslim driver – to help her raise herself up, little by little. Everything is plausible and difference is punished by society while being praised by the book – although when Tia goes through a barbaric local custom, her mother-in-law is forced to consider if her traditional ways are the best.

The book is written in an under-educated pidgin English which takes very little time to get into (like Girl, Woman, Other being in “poetry” it’s something you might worry about but the worry goes in an instant when you start reading): it’s easier to read than James Kelman, for example. A heart-breaking example comes when she considers her societal role to have children:

But I don’t want to born anything now. How will a girl like me born childrens? Why will I fill up the world with sad childrens that are not having a chance to go to school? Why make the world to be one big, sad, silent place because all the childrens are not having a voice?

I have seen one single criticism (on NetGalley) that the language used is not typical of Nigerian English with Yoruba as a first language; not something I feel qualified to have an opinion on, even though I have edited quite a few works by people with African Language 1s. The author is Nigerian, and the writing is inventive, appealing and gives an extra dimension to the novel, so I trust her on that, although I would like to know more about how she formed it, just out of interest. The language Adunni uses, trying to express herself (and there are some beautiful descriptions) adds to the heart-breaking nature of the story, but with bright flashes of hope. I found myself straining towards the end, hoping that against all the odds, something positive would happen in Adunni’s life.

I saw some clever parallels with “The Handmaid’s Tale” in Adunni’s search for what happened to her predecessor, Rebecca (another moment of intertextuality?) – using the same room, she finds tiny clues to Rebecca’s existence and seeks more information from the driver. I’m bursting to know whether that was intentional – but it must have been.

Adunni is such a great character, with her own agency where she can carve it out, proving to be a fearless haggler in the market and working hard to educate herself as well as accepting help from others. It’s a magnificent achievement of a book and is likely to be one of my books of the year.

Thank you to Hodder & Stoughton for selecting me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “The Girl with the Louding Voice” is published on 05 March 2020 and I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy.

Book review – Robert Inman – “Captain Saturday” plus a #bookconfession when there really shouldn’t be one!

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Because, as we now know, I was unable to shoehorn my new Christmas acquisitions onto my TBR shelf, and also because I was horrified to see I haven’t really read any of my Christmas 2018 books, I decided to continue my sort-of policy of reading one of the oldest books then one of the newest ones, then a Kindle one. So I then picked the fattest one on the pile, because less to file away, and it was a really good one. Hooray! Have you read any of your Christmas books yet?

I continue with a book confession. I try not to buy books during the Christmas/birthday season, in case there’s a Terrible Clash (I came close one year when I was looking gleefully at a Mitford Sisters book in Waterstones, didn’t buy it just in case, then met up with my friends and unwrapped a copy). But there were extenuating circumstances, I promise!

Robert Inman – “Captain Saturday”

(25 December 2019, from Gill)

I loved his “Dairy Queen Days” (which I actually read in 2005 and reviewed on my LiveJournal, which I migrated to here: don’t go looking for a big review!) and put this one on my BookCrossing wishlist. I did actually have a go at my messy wishlists before Christmas and they’re now definitely combined and just on here. I was so pleased to unwrap it on Christmas Day and it was all I hoped for.

So we’re in small-city America – Raleigh, North Carolina – and Will (Wilbur) is the town’s most popular weatherman, secure in this job, with a stable marriage, even though he’s been flummoxed in the last few years by his wife’s sudden ambition and achievement in the world of real estate, and a good enough relationship with his son (a preppy student who never gets into a mess). Well, he’s secure until it all suddenly falls apart quite dramatically, and he learns that small actions can grow and have consequences. When his cousin comes to fetch him back to the old house, a Deep South decaying mansion complete with his other cousin who took her own responsibilities too seriously when she came into them plus an immense set of family archives, he finds he needs to work out who he is and how to repair those relationships. We then go back to see his past, and work over his marriage, too, sensitively done but also funny. I loved the modern-day parts where he had to reinvent his life and pretty well start from scratch again, and his lawyer is absolutely hilarious, changing his look and habits with every big new client, from tweedy anglophile to hard hat and checked shirt. A proper big, absorbing novel.

I also loved that it’s an ex-library copy, but not your standard one, weeded from the American Library in Angers, France!


And that book confession? I first read a Chetan Bhagat book when I came across “One Night @ the Call Centre” in 2006 (my review here and Matthew’s here) and really loved it. A while ago, I found lots of his novels in Kindle versions for not much money and treated myself. So this was not on my wishlist, and I came across it when picking up some books for my best friend Emma the week before last (all my posts since then have been review books) in Oxfam books and snapped it up. It’s the story of a cross-continents love affair and looks great. One off the Kindle TBR, too (right?).

I’m currently reading Abi Daré’s “The Girl With the Louding Voice”, a NetGalley win which is quite astounding. It’s the story of a young Nigerian woman sold as a wife to a much older man, escaping from him and making it to the capital. It’s a pretty grim story, but obviously an important one, and it’s written in a captivating slightly broken English (although I’ll have to read up about that as at least one reviewer has commented on it not sounding authentically Nigerian). Has anyone else read this? It’s not one for the breakfast table as quite grim, as I said, but fascinating and engaging. I’m also reading John Gallagher’s “Learning Languages in Early Modern England” to review for Shiny, and it’s fascinating. Lucky me!

Book review – Nir Eyal with Julie Li – “Indistractable” #Indistractable #NetGalley

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Subtitled “How to control your attention and choose your life”, it follows on from the author’s previous book, “Hooked” which was apparently taken up and followed by all the social media and gaming companies to get users to continue using their products, and teaches us basically how to get unhooked.

It’s clear that although there have always been distractions, both internal and external, and people worrying about how to concentrate on what they need to concentrate on (whether that’s work, their children or their partners), modern technology and especially our always-connected lives have made this worse and harder to deal with. Eyal aims to help us not to let our “attention and lives be controlled and coerced by others” and he has plenty of good, practical tips, once he’s established and convinced us that mind-set is always stronger than physical addiction (e.g. if we think we’re weak and have no self-control, we’ll make that true).

Tips include turning of push notifications, gamifying work and unexciting life admin, telling people in open-plan offices not to disturb you, bringing devices out of the bedroom and creating identity pacts (I am a vegetarian therefore I do not eat meat, as opposed to can’t). These are all key and are also all useful, however there’s nothing that radical here that you couldn’t think of for yourself. I’m aware here that that’s been said about my own self-help book, so I will say it’s useful to have all this stuff in one place, and I’m already the kind of person who plans her day out, so didn’t need the useful help with that aspect particularly. I did however ask not to be distracted the other day, so …

There was some slightly amusing stuff about helping his child to decide for themselves not to have their phone by them after 9pm – this seemed a little too perfect but maybe that’s really how they operate!

Useful if you need some help with distractions: maybe the book telling you precisely what to do will help you do it.


Thank you to Bloomsbury Publishing for making this available via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Book review – D.E. Stevenson – “Vittoria Cottage” @DeanStPress #FurrowedMiddlebrow

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I was very lucky to have this and two other novels kindly sent to me by Dean Street Press from their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint for review. It’s part of the January issue from Dean Street Press – you can read about them all here. It’s published today! along with seven other titles, two of which I hope to review soon.

This is the first book in a trilogy (the other two are “Music in the Hills” and “Winter and Rough Weather”) and I can tell you right now that the other two are on my wishlist and will hopefully make their way to me very soon, because I can’t wait to read them.

Also see below the review for exciting Christmas Furrowed Middlebrow incomings.

D. E. Stevenson – “Vittoria Cottage”

(04 Nov 2019)

Vittoria Cottage is a medium sized house in a village where everyone knows each other’s business, which isn’t great if you’re having your engagement broken off, but is handy if you’re poorly and need some help. Caroline, a widow, lives there with her two daughters, Leda and Bobbie, yearning for her son, who is in Malaya doing post-war frightening things to do with bandits. She’s an integral part of the village and gets on very well with everyone except for her amusing arch-enemy. I love this quote, which sums up the lovely (but human) Caroline and so many of the quieter heroines in the books I love republished by Dean Street Press, Virago and Persephone:

It was important to Caroline to do things right, to do whatever she did to the best of her ability. She saw beauty in ordinary little things and took pleasure in it (and this was just as well because she had had very little pleasure in her life). She took pleasure in a well-made cake, a smoothly-ironed napkin, a pretty blouse, laundered and pressed; she liked to see the garden well dug, the rich soil brown and gravid; she loved her flowers.

Her daughters of course don’t think of her as a person, and she’s a role rather than a person in most of her activities, so it’s genuinely lovely for her when Robert Shepperton moves in at the pub and befriends her. He has a secret loss and is a decent person, too – shown by his attitude when he returns to an unsafe site in London that means a lot to him:

“You didn’t go in?” “No, I didn’t (not because I cared what happened to me but because I realised it would be a bother for the policeman; he seemed a nice young fellow).”

So of course we start to hope that they will bond and become more than friends, especially as Caroline really deserves some happiness after her misery with her very well-observed grump of a husband. Her sister Harriet, a successful actor, comes to stay after Caroline’s been to her first night in London, and as well as telling her nieces a few home truths, gets together some high jinks. There’s more to the novel than just fun and frivolity though. I found Rhoda’s claim for her art rather than love quite moving, and a scene with a young woman and her baby.

It’s a lovely satisfying book with characters to love and some twists and turns, and as I said above, I can’t wait to get hold of and read the two sequels!


And talking Furrowed Middlebrow as we are, I was in London at the weekend myself for a meetup and gift exchange with my best friend, Emma. I had requested any out of a long list of FM titles for my Christmas present, and she did me proud with the third and fourth Mrs Tim novels – hooray!

DE Stevenson Mrs Tim novels

Book review- Paul Magrs – “Aisles” plus new books in for the challenge and a giveaway #magrsathon #bookgiveaway @paulmagrs

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The first book read this year, and indeed this was the photo I sent into the first book of the year blog. I chose this reread as my first book because Iris Murdoch, whose 26 novels I’ve just finished rereading, is a character in the book!

Paul Magrs – “Aisles”

(26 September 2019)

We’re introduced to an Internet chatroom in Norwich, where middle aged lecturers can pose as cheeky monkeys, and Robin spends much time in the spare room doing just that, and the women who surround him could be just anybody, too, including people he might know through six degrees of separation – and suddenly someone calling herself Iris Murdoch is dialling in from a boat on the North Sea full of other dead writers…

The focus pulls out: there’s a car crash (a bit detailed but not too much) which involves most of the characters in one way or another, from a young straight man smitten (sometimes) with his gay best friend to a 77 year old mature student with two secrets. Parents and children, lovers and flirters, the spotlight shines on each, but in a natural way, not like a writing exercise (I’m thinking of other books that do this kind of thing that I haven’t liked so much: it’s more like “The Lido” than “If Nobody Speaks of Remarkbable Things”, and that’s a Good Thing in my book!

Warm and wry, celebrating ordinary and different people with a dash of magical realism … and who’s that on the tills at the end …?

New books in!

These books have arrived for me to read later in the year. I will admit to being a tiny bit nervous about these, as I’m not a big reader of other-planetary sci fi, however I’m going to trust Paul and give the “Mars Trilogy” (“Lost on Mars”, “The Martian Girl” and “The Heart of Mars”) a good go.

Giveaway time!

Paul Magrs’ “Exchange” is s lovely novel, which I first read a good while ago. It’s the story of a boy and a bookshop and about growing up, and, most excitingly, has a mention of Bookcrossing, a hobby I still engage in today. That fact compelled me to write only my third ever fan letter to an author!

To win this second hand but pretty pristine copy of “Exchange”, comment below saying you’d like to go in the draw, and have a go at guessing who my other fan letters were to (your answer won’t affect the draw, but might be fun!).


Are you joining me in the Magrsathon? Some of the books are sadly out of print but second hand copies can be got hold of and the Mars trilogy in particular is available new.

 

State of the TBR January 2020 and reading stats / best books of 2019

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Oh, goodness me. Oops, even. So I acquired a beautiful stack of books for Christmas (see them all here) as well as a book token and the exciting promise of a trip up the high street for charity shop book shopping and a cuppa after my birthday, and even with all the reading I did in December, there was NO WAY all those books were fitting on the shelf. So here’s the top shelf, double-stacked, with two pony book reprints and four Jane Linfoots, the Christmas volumes of which I didn’t get to this year, with the previous incomings and my BookCrossing secret santa books tucked in on the back shelf. Colonising one of Matthew’s shelves are my Christmas books in a pile (left) and my upcoming Paul Magrs books plus a trilogy I haven’t got round to and some random books in series where I need to either get the missing books in the series or basically get over myself. Ah well. Worse problems to have, etc.

I other people’s challenges (while I’m here). I have happily found that I have an Irish book (“Too Many Ponies”) for Reading Ireland Month in May and “The Three Miss Kings” for Australia Reading Month in November, plus two Du Mauriers for Ali’s week, enough Viragoes and Persephones for more than All August, and will be doing Non-Fiction November and 20 Books of Summer again.

My first book of the year was Paul Magrs’ “Aisles” and I took a somewhat alarming photo of myself with it for the First Book of the Year blog – it didn’t make it onto there, probably because I committed some terrible transgression, but here you go:

That’s “Aisles” in the middle, with the four Phoenix Court books which are the next four months’ reads, around me. See more on my Paul Magrsathon here.

Up next on the physical TBR are these lovelies. We’re going back to May 2018 here so I’m going to make a concerted effort to get some of these read and get the Christmas books fitted on before I revert back to my one from the oldest, one from the youngest, one on Kindle routine.

So “Footnotes” by Vybar Cregan-Reid (why we run), Dave Heeley’s “From Light to Dark” (his story as a blind runner), Harold Nicolson’s travel memoir “Journey to Java”, Sarah Henshaw’s self-explanatory, “The Bookshop that Floated Away”, Simon Garfield’s “On the Map”, Carter and Barker’s “ABC for Book Collectors”, George Eggleston’s mysterious “Tahiti” and Thor Gotaas’ history of “Running” – I’m hoping to read all of these this month.

2019 stats

For the first time, I’ve kept breakdowns of various book stats. So here they are with little to compare them with apart from the totals and genders!

I have got 2018 (in parentheses) figures for this first bit. So in 2019 I read 116 (115) books, of which 62 (56) were fiction and 54 (59) non-fiction. 79 (75) were by women, 35 (39) by men, 1 (1) by both (multiple authors) and 1 by a non-gender binary person (a new category this year, as it was for a few people whose blogs I read).

Where did my books come from:

gift 20
netgalley 17
bookshop online 16
publisher 14
bookshop physical 14
charity shop 10
bookcrossing 7
bookshop online second hand 7
own 3
bought from publisher 2
bookshop second hand 1
passed on 1
bought from author 1
loan 1
unbound subscription copy 1
author 1

How lovely that so many of my books were gifts!

Most books by far were set in the UK (74) with the US second (17) and then 14 other countries plus one set in a fantasy world.

I read books by 53 different publishers, the most common being Vintage (12) (Iris Murdochs in the main), Penguin (9), Virago (9), Avon (8), HarperCollins (6) and Thames & Hudson (5).

I read most books published in 2019 (30), which surprised me, although I reviewed a lot of books for Shiny and NetGalley. Eight of my top ten years were in the 2010s with only 1941 represented there from a much older decade. However, I did read books from 39 different years, from 1910 to 2020, although no books from the 1930s.

Onto diversity of authors and themes. 88% of the authors I read were white (as far as I could tell), with 12% People of Colour (I put everyone who was non-white in this category after a lot of fretting). The UK is apparently 87% / 13% so I’m  not far off that, but I want to increase the diversity. I might record nationality next year as well. Out of the 116 books I read, I assigned a diversity theme to 39 of them (feels like this should be higher), so 12 books specifically talking about women’s issues, 8 about race (plus one about indigenous peoples’ experience which I counted separately and one about women of colour), 6 LGBTQI+ issues, 4 mental health, 2 about gender in general, 1 about disability, 1 about class, 1 about race and class, 1 about non-neurotypical people and 1 about people with prosopagnosia. This doesn’t meant such themes didn’t come up in other books, just that they weren’t the main theme. It’s good to keep an eye on my intersectional reading and I’ll see if this changes with some of the books I bought towards the end of the year.

Top 11 books of 2019

And finally, my top eleven! Well, that represents just under 10% of my reading, so I think that’s OK. Links to reviews. 7 women and 4 men (about right), 7 non-fiction and 4 fiction (I did read a lot of nice light series set in Cornwall). Not mentioned as they’re somehow a given: the 12 works by Iris Murdoch I re-read this year.

Tirzah Garwood – “Long Live Great Bardfield” (my first book of the year!)

Jennifer Niven – “Holding up the Universe

Stephen Rutt – “The Seafarers

Harriet Harman – “A Woman’s Work

Margaret Atwood – “The Testaments” (because it was such an event and because I HAD wanted a sequel)

Richard Grant – “Dispatches from Pluto

Bernadine Evaristo – “Girl, Woman, Other” (this was probably my book of the year)

Clair Wills – “Lovers and Strangers

Tayari Jones – “An American Marriage” tied with Kiley Reid – “Such a Fun Age” – both important books about modern black lives in America (so OK that’s 12 then)

Joe Harkness – “Bird Therapy

Mark Mason – “Walk the Lines” (see, I was right not to compile this list until today)

Have you read and rated any of these? Are you taking part in any reading challenges? Are you joining me in the Paul Magrsathon (there might be a giveaway tomorrow …)?

 

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