Book reviews – This Mum Runs and What I Talk About When I Talk About Running #books

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IMG_20160819_155248128_HDRTwo books on running this time – I’m playing catch-up with reviews as I managed to get a fair few finished while we were on our short break to Iceland (see previous post). I read the Jo Pavey book before we left – as she was in the Olympic 10,000 metres, I wanted to get it read before the Olympics started, and did get it in before the athletics. She’s such a hero of mine, in the Olympics in her 40s! The Murakami was a re-read – I remember it being very inspiring when I read it the first time, back in 2009 (I reviewed it here and said I would definitely re-read it, so that’s nice that I have, seven years later!), and so it was a no-brainer to take and read on the day before I ran my own marathon – and here I am, in the picture, clutching it sitting by a path I was going to run down the next day.

Oh, I promise this will be the last of running for a bit …

Jo Pavey – “This Mum Runs”

(25 July 2016)

I picked this up at the same time as “Your Pace or Mine”, as it was one of those “People who bought that bought this” books that I don’t usually fall for. But she was doing the Rio 10,000m, so it had to be done. It’s a lovely autobiography, which gets off to a good start when she actually has “with Sarah Edworthy” on the title page (I’m a bit sensitive on behalf of ghost-writers now I work with a few of them!) and it was fab thinking she was at her 5th Olympics as I was reading it.

The book opens with an excellent story mid-way through her career which involves her forgetting her club running vest and having to source it in a hurry to wear in a race. That’s something quite a lot of runners have done, and made it feel an intimate and down-to-earth read. I also particularly liked the fact that she said more than once what a privilege it is to be running in road races with the “masses” who are running for clubs and charities – one of the things I like is getting to run in the footsteps of the stars, and it’s lovely that at least a few of them think the same from the other side. She also mentions parkrun (free, 5k organised runs every Saturday morning in parks; I volunteer regularly at our local one) as a good thing to build up to when you start running, in a short section on the subject. Oh, and she thanks all the volunteers throughout athletics at the end of her acknowledgements, too! What a star indeed.

More grim and dark than even her battles through injury are the comments on the effect that others’ doping has had on her career. Written in 2015 after the doping scandals hit, this is the first book I’ve read that really addresses this issue, and it’s heart-breaking to hear of people being given better positions and even medals way after the event as people are re-tested, which is obviously not the same as receiving those positions and medals at the time. She does have hope for the future with this, which I hope is borne out.

Readable, well-written and inspiring. Although she does talk about being a mum and family life, it’s clear that it’s all part of her life, something she’s proud of, but not something she’s twee about.

Haruki Murakami – “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”

(20 April 2009)

A re-read of this excellent book about long-distance running and writing. It’s personal, self-effacing and honest: he claims to have an unlikeable personality, being most keen on both running and writing alone, but is an engaging companion and fits well into the worlds of marathons and triathlons (I’d completely forgotten that he talks about tris and his struggles with biking and swimming as well). Much more of a memoir than a how-to, but he does get the feel of endurance running across brilliantly, and has the great mantras, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional” and “I am a machine”, which can help in tricky situations. A good, worthwhile pre-marathon read.

When I’d finished these two, I was in the middle of reading a novel about an Amish community and had started Edith Wharton’s “The Reef” – watch this space for reviews of those as I try to catch up with myself before the end of the month. Neither of this books filled in any places in challenges, but I’m glad I read them both.

Book reviews – Modernity Britain 1957-1962 and Butterflies in November #books #20booksofsummer #WIT

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20 books of summer 2016

20 books of summer 2016

Two books ticked off my #20BooksofSummer list in this post – that’s numbers 14 and 15. I’m still reading 16 and 20 and the challenge runs until 5 September, so it looks like I have a chance of getting there. Of course, the Kynaston is the one I’ve been reading for aaaaages, and it’s actually two books in one, but as you can see from the picture, it is a massive tome – and it was very enjoyable. There’s no link between the books apart from them being in this slightly wonky pile you can see to the left, but maybe they show important aspects of my reading – novels / non-fiction, sociology, travel, Iceland … The novel also fits into Women in Translation Month or #WIT – I didn’t do that on purpose as had quite enough on the TBR, but was pleased to find one that fitted into the challenge.

David Kynaston – “Modernity Britain”

(6 August 2015 bought on a trip to London with birthday and Christmas book tokens)

This tome is made up of “Opening the Box” and “A Shake of the Dice”; it’s a custom now for me to wait for the two individual volumes to come out then pick up the lovely hardback omnibus that follows – this is the third such volume, with many more to come as he works his way all the way to 1979.

These fine volumes tackle British social, economic and political history through the years, using materials from Mass Observation diaries, biographies and memoirs, letters, newspapers and some official histories. As usual, there are long passages detailing the often weirdly clashing events and opinions, the mundane and world-important mixing in one paragraph, as well as context and longer pieces on topics such as how town planning is going in various cities (one of these surprised me by being in a different layout than usual and some of the lists seemed a little rushed; however, in the acknowledgements, the author makes it clear that he was suffering from a severe health issue while putting together these books, so this is very much forgiven).

People are disenchanted with politics, Labour has split almost irrevocably, there’s a rise in racism and a constant threat of violence and riot in the streets and politicians are starting to deal with having to be on the media more and handling that with the appropriate spin … so not that different from modern times in many ways. But also the nationalised industries are doing well (maybe peaking), the Empire is being dismantled and the rise of consumerism is evident.

I missed an introduction which explains the sources, as I’m sure I found in the first volume – the diarists are introduced as such with an assumption you know what he’s talking about which might seem odd for a reader new to the series and not familiar with MO etc. But I’ll forgive him anything for actually thanking his transcriber by name (and how I would love to be that transcriber!).

This book was Book 14 in my #20BooksofSummer project.

Auður Ava Olafsdottir – “Butterflies in November”

(25 December 2015 – Not So Secret Santa gift from Jane)

A mid-30s woman goes on a rather random road trip with a small Deaf child in a car which accumulates or kills various animals (the mention of killing animals got me nervous and I did a little skimming ahead – basically a goose at the beginning and some goldfish, although several other animals make an appearance), after seeing her marriage disintegrate, apparently because she’s not very organised or well-groomed.

Will our narrator be able to take charge of another human being when she can’t seem to look after herself or her marriage? Does speaking multiple languages really have any use when trying to communicate with someone with apparently little language? The darkest month of the year and the people of Iceland’s new and older cultures will test her to the limits in this whimsical and very Icelandic novel.

This book was Book 15 in my #20BooksofSummer project and was also read for #WIT month.

I’ve scheduled this post in to catch up with reviewing, so I’m not sure what I’m reading at the moment you read this – Edith Wharton’s “The Reef” is on the go as I write this, and I’ve just finished Jo Pavey’s excellent autobiography. How’s your August reading going?

Book reviews – Being Freddie and Your Pace or Mine? #books #20BooksOfSummer

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Aug 2016 TBR

Two sporty books today, one from the TBR and a #20BooksOfSummer read, the other an impulse buy after a recommendation from a running club friend, which I have since recommended on to many others. It’s a little ironic that I have probably read more than 20 books since starting the summer challenge, however it is nice to make a pile of books and keep to it, and I am working my way nicely through that pile.

Andrew Flintoff – “Being Freddie”

(6 October 2015 – from a box of books donated to BookCrossing by a running club friend)

I picked this out of the box because I do like a sporting biography and also like cricket. This did show me that I’ve lost touch with the younger generation of cricketers, but was still enjoyable.

This autobiography (ghost-written but acknowledged as such) takes us up to winning the Ashes in 2005. Thanking his publisher for getting the book out so soon after the Ashes, a lot of the final chapters are devoted to a blow-by-blow account, so it’s in a way more of a memento for that series than it is a book to keep for the illuminating life story. There are the requisite cricketing stats in the back, so it is one for the real fan of the sport.

It does take us through his career, injuries, exercise plans and friends/ colleagues, but the massive gap and the elephant in the room once you know about it is that he does not mention the eating disorder which undermined his life and health during his professional career. He talked about this five-odd years later, and it does make the book come out a bit odd, half a story.

Well-written, though, and full of funny anecdotes as well as play-by-play cricket.

This was Book 13 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.

Lisa Jackson – “Your Pace or Mine?”

(25 July 2016)

One of Jackson’s blog posts for Runner’s World was shared on Facebook by a running club friend and the next thing I knew, I was clicking on the buying link. A perfectly timed read for me, this lovely book chronicles the ups and downs and learning points of Jackson’s marathon and ultra experiences. It’s not a how-to book and there’s little about her training, nutrition, etc., but that’s not what this book is for (she’s written a how to run book, too, which covers all that).

What it is is a joyful celebration of being a SLOW runner and enjoying herself far more (right) at the back than she would further forward (her worst marathon experience was when she got her 4:38 PB and couldn’t talk to anyone). She shares what she’s learned in themed sections, not forgetting about adversity and the death of her close running pals and relatives – the book does literally make you laugh and cry.

She also shares other people’s stories, both family members, people she’s met during races and more elite athletes who even share why they do it in the first place (not, mainly, for the medals or glory). There’s even a place to record your own favourite runs at the back.

I loved this book. It’s so inspiring and one to press onto people and read again and again. The production values are high in a nice-looking and well-made book, the editing is excellent, and it’s a must-read for the slower or novice runner.

I’m a bit behind in my reviewing, so look out for a review of #20BooksofSummer books 14 and 15, coming soon (the Kynaston is finished! and I read a great Icelandic novel, too). I’m now into Edith Wharton’s “The Reef”, as well as about to finish Jo Pavey’s inspiring autobiography. The Wharton is a 20Books book, leaving me with thre and a bit to finish by 5 September – I think I can do it!

Book review – Oberland #books #Virago #AVAA

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Dorothy Richardson - PilgrimageI’ve got myself all behind with reviews and busybusybusy. I’ve got A Big Thing coming up and I’m trying to get sorted out for it, and I seem to have been near the end of David Kynaston’s “Modernity Britain” forEVER. Argh. Plus I’ve read two books that I want to review with a third. And why are all clothes in the shops vile at the moment, by the way?? Aaaaanyway, here’s my review of the next in the “Pilgrimage” series. Aren’t I good to have got it read so early in the month?! Oh, and of course, it counts as my first (and only so far) All Virago / All August read (or Some Virago / Some of August).

Dorothy Richardson – “Oberland”

(28 March 2015)

We’re onto that last big volume at the bottom of the pile now – can you believe it? Five slim books in this tome picked up in Macclesfield which led me to think, “Well, I’ve got 1 and 4 and there are 2 and 3 on offer, so …” Well, they ARE slim books so it won’t be too much of a time-consumer through the rest of the year, and I couldn’t give up now, could I!

This is Book 9 of the series and rather than trudge around London in the rain thinking of comparative religion and Russian philosophy, we accompany Miriam on a two-week holiday to Switzerland.

To be honest, she seems pretty snobby and man-mad in this volume. She’s trying to impress them by being not-like-a-normal-woman, but seemingly trying to impress them all the same, and this gets a bit annoying (sorry, Miriam). I did love the descriptions of the scenery and her attempts at tobogganing and reconnection with skating – she seems at her best when engaging in sports, somehow. But the book was also frustrating. There was talk of well-remembered times in Cambridge that I just do not recall reading about (please, someone, correct me if I’m wrong – we have got through quite a lot of bookage!) and there were some scenes from the Continent from a time I don’t remember with her, too, including a sad animal thing thrown in for seemingly no reason at all!

So a bit patchy, I’m afraid, although perfectly readable in itself. And I still want to know what Miriam gets up to next.

This was the first book for my All Virago / All August mini-challenge.

So, as mentioned, I’m STILL finishing the Kynaston but I really do have only about 20 pages to go. I’ve also read two sports books, Freddie Flintoff’s biography and an excellent book on being a slow but happy runner, Lisa Jackson’s “Your Pace or Mine?” which I recommend to any runner. I’m part-way through Jo Pavey’s autobiography, and you can see why I want to review those three together. But I will be picking up a Virago for my next fiction read, soon, and it’s going to be a Wharton – “The Reef”. Anyone read that?

See - almost there. Copious notes take up a lot of the last lot of pages.

See – almost there. Copious notes take up a lot of the last lot of pages.

Book reviews – The Lighthearted Quest and Moon Country #20booksofsummer #books

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TBR July 2016Oh dear, one book left over from July and, even more horrifically, one book that I read in May, mentioned reading in May in another review, and NEVER REVIEWED! Not in my paper reading journal, not on here. I was only alerted to this fact when I was telling someone about my Reading a Century of Books project, was scanning down the list, noticed the title, thought “I’m sure I’ve read this”, looked for the review to link to it, and there was no review. So a little scrapheap for you here, and two books that are totally unrelated apart from the fact that they’re both set in different countries from the UK.

Ann Bridge – “The Lighthearted Quest”

(11 September 2015 from the lovely Jane at Beyond Eden Rock)

I met up with Jane when we were on holiday; we’d sent each other photos of books we had going spare, and I profited greatly from her passing me the Julia Strachey volume and this one. It’s a lovely elderly hardback with the dust cover just hanging on, and that does add to the reading enjoyment, doesn’t it.

This was a lovely, light (in the main) and fun novel which i have since found out is only the first in a series of eight Julia Probyn novels which I will now have to look out for! The estimable and pretty unflappable Julia (who still manages to be a very attractive and sympathetic character) takes on the task of finding her cousin Colin, who’s needed to take over the family estate in Scotland. Using her dumb-blonde exterior as a disguise, and making full and unashamed use of her many admirers and contacts, she’s soon skipping around Morocco with an assortment of bankers, bar owners, whiskery Belgian archaeologists and elderly ladies with mysterious nephews.

The threads of the story all come together beautifully: some you can guess, some people more accustomed to mysteries would have guessed before me, and some probably can’t be guessed, although it all works out logically. There are some charming characters, too. The only slight issue is there’s a LOT about the socio-political issues of French colonialism, which is interesting given the 1950s time of writing, which is perhaps a little heavy and over-emphasised (however, there is a frighteningly prescient comment about “elites [using] nationalist sentiments to use Islam as a lever to rouse the ignorant multitudes and try to create an independent African Moslem Empire”).

On balance, a charming book, well written and amusing, and I would read more in the series.

This was Book 12 in my #20BooksofSummer project.

Simon Armitage and Glyn Maxwell – “Moon Country” (May read)

(14 April 2015)

I bought this book second hand online after having been alerted to its existence by Karen from Kaggsysbookishramblings, who seems to be a prime enabler at the moment (to be far, she’s only really compelled me to buy two books in over a year …). It follows Auden and MacNieces’s seminal “Letters from Iceland” (which I re-read in August 2012) with these two poets making their own way around the country, like their predecessors, including reportage, poetry, funny Icelandic soubriquets and playscripts in the work they produce. A lot of the Reykjavik and other western areas were familiar to me after having visited the country twice myself (trips 3 and 4 are currently being planned), and it was more jolly and readable than the earlier work.

This book covered 1996 in my Century of Reading project.

There we go, all neat and tidy now. I’ve since read book 13 in #2obooks (“Being Freddie” by Andrew Flintoff) and am making good progress with the Kynaston which might just be book 14. I’m half-way through the month’s Dorothy Richardson volume, and a half-loving it, half frustrated by it; I’ve also read a book about running marathons slowly. How are you all doing?

Review and acquisition round-up – Evelyn Waugh, Philip Sassoon and Virginia Woolf #SNB #books #Woolfalong

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Shiny New Books logoJust a tiny round-up today to cover almost the last two books I read in July (one Ann Bridge review to come!) plus a naughty but nice acquisition.

First off, I was lucky enough to get two fab mid-20th-century biographies to review for Shiny New Books. I love being part of the non-fiction gang, and these two really fitted in well with my interests. Snippets here, but do pop through to the full reviews.

And then I might have bought something to read for #Woolfalong. Oops.

Philip Eade – “Evelyn Waugh: A Life Revisited”

When approaching a biography of Evelyn Waugh, one can’t help but assume it’s going to be a portrait of quite a nasty man who was mean to his friends and savaged friends and enemies alike in his novels. There have of course been quite a few biographical works on Waugh over the years, with his own autobiography being a major source, and there was Selina Hastings’ major work in 1994. But this is indeed a ‘Life Revisited’, as Philip Eade had access to quite a few sources that no one else has seen. He also seems to have a mission to save Waugh from this reputation of nastiness, and does indeed go some way towards doing this. Read more

Damian Collins – “Charmed Life: The Phenomenal World of Philip Sassoon”

Damian Collins, MP for the same constituency that Sassoon held almost uncontested (literally, sometimes) for three and a half decades, only came across his predecessor when he visited the estate of Port Lympne, which Sassoon created from nothing and fitted out lavishly. He posits that Sassoon always felt something of an outsider due to his ‘oriental’ and Jewish heritage, and there’s an implicit suggestion that this is the reason that this the first biography of the man to emerge. However, there may be other reasons for this. Read more

Virginia WoolfNow, this acquisition is entirely Not My Fault, and probably actually Doesn’t Count. Heaven-Ali’s #Woolfalong project is up to Phase 4: Biographies. I was entirely prepared to re-read the lovely “Orlando”, which counts. Then Karen from Kaggsysbookishramblings wickedly posted a blog post about working on this phase, mentioning a Woolf bio that I had never come across before: “Recollections of Virginia Woolf”. I have a lot of bios of VW, but I’d never seen this. Then I had. A bit of a look on the dreaded Amazon, and what do I find, but the lovely High Street Books in New Mills is selling a copy.

So it had to be done, didn’t it – and it arrived today, looking very tempting. I have a little road trip coming up soon and I think it will be coming with me – there or to Iceland … Of course, one very good thing is that it was published in 1976, a year that is missing in my Century of Books. So that’s OK, then, right?

Book review – Katharine d’Souza, No Place #books #birmingham

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No place Katharine d'SouzaToday I’m thrilled to review an excellent new novel by Katharine d’Souza. Katharine kindly sent me a review copy on Kindle in exchange for a fair and frank review – I was happy to do so, as I very much enjoyed her earlier novels, “Park Life” and “Deeds not Words“, and not just because they’re set in my home city of Birmingham. Being set somewhere you know is an added bonus, not a prerequsite, and it has to be done RIGHT, too, doesn’t it, otherwise there’s nothing more calculated to put you off. So I’m glad to say, this is done right, and adds a lovely touch to a book that anyone, however, would enjoy reading.

Katharine d’Souza – “No Place”

(acquired July 2016, from the author)

It’s just Tanya, Geena and their dad now, since Mum died a decade ago, in a traditional 1930s semi decorated throughout with Royal Wedding memorabilia and Union flags because when Mum and Dad arrived in Birmingham, they decided to cut off from their past entirely and embrace Britishness wholeheartedly. Tanya and Geena have grown up with no religion, trips to National Trust houses and places of British interest and very little sense of their Sikh and Indian identities, leaving Tanya, at least, to feel she has no place, no roots, anywhere.

When their dad is at the receiving end of some nasty, but essentially fairly low-level, racism (he’s not physically hurt), he seems to suddenly panic then withdraw, trying belatedly to control the lives his daughters have been living quite freely and normally for years, worrying about where they are and who they’re seeing. Tanya’s colleague at the hospital might have some answers, but things are complicated when Tanya meets a new man (she doesn’t go in for many relationships, so this is new for everyone) and Geena starts working hard to prove herself and further her career after making a mistake in her personal life.

What happened to make their dad so jumpy all of a sudden? Why does nobody talk about life before Birmingham – do they have family ‘back home’ or is this all the home they have? Will Tanya ever stop being so responsible and learn to spread her wings a little, or will she sit in her childhood room forever, tracking aircraft but hardly ever looking out of the window?

The research the author has obviously done on both the cultural and work backgrounds is worn lightly, rare in a world where it’s so easy to shoehorn everything you know into a book. Her writing style is more muscular here and the whole is more self-assured and confident than in her previous books. The themes are timely, looking at culture, belonging and race, but again never laboured. There are lovely side characters – Geena’s boss and Tanya’s colleague – and a perfect ending that made me well up a little.

This book will suit … People who like reading fairly gentle books about family relationships and people changing as they grow older – it’s not whiffly or silly, but you don’t get hit with any horrible punches of nastiness or sudden unpleasant scenes, which isn’t to say your heart won’t be in your mouth at times. People in Birmingham, and people beyond the city!

The book is out now and you can buy it from Amazon (that’s just a link, I don’t get anything from it!) and read more about Katharine d’Souza on her website.

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