Book Review – Simon Barnes – “On the Marsh” #NonFicNov

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This was a book I actually finished at the weekend, so still during Nonfiction November, but didn’t get time to review, frustratingly. So now I’ve read or started everything I planned to read apart from “Homesick” – and at least “The Good Immigrant USA” will now ‘do’ for #DiverseDecember!

I’m also pleased that I’m almost caught up to being a year behind, after having slipped back horribly in getting through the books I bought the longest ago, and even when picking newer books off from time to time. It’s all good.

Simon Barnes – “On the Marsh: A Year Surrounded by Wilderness and Wet”

(02 October 2019, The Works, Penzance)

This book has contributions from Edmund Barnes and Cindy Lee Wright. Cindy is Barnes’ wife, she has done beautiful illustrations for the starts of each chapter, and Barnes also includes moving passages of appreciation for both her art and for her support of their family. Edmund – Eddie – is a young adult who has Down’s syndrome and has contributed both a his character to the book and his rather lovely poems scattered through it.

I did worry that I would find too many personal incursions into this book – not because I don’t like reading about people living with different conditions, but because I like my nature books to be about the nature. But here, the theme of Eddie’s life and the effect being on the marsh has on it, as he passes through a big year where he leaves school and starts college, learns more about nature and learns some potentially hard lessons about his beloved horse (don’t worry, though), is woven beautifully through the book, with promised excursions and repeated joys bringing a daily structure to the book which echoes the monthly and annual one. There is some polemic, and why the hell shouldn’t there be, about the odd unkind educator and the very existence of people with Down’s syndrome, but the main theme is carried through with aplomb.

There’s polemic, too, about nature conservation, about keeping wild lands joined up, and a lot of musing on what ‘wilding’ and ‘rewilding’ are and what we should do to our land – Barnes makes the excellent point a couple of times that “our land” can be anything from a massive estate to a window box, but it all matters and it all involves decisions (we’re thinking of climbers and fruit trees to plant to offset our next-door neighbour’s huge extension, for instance). He mentions Isabella Tree’s book “Wilding” a couple of times, and visits the farm where it’s set, which is making me eager to pick that one up. But the joined-up nature of wild places is the most important thing for him:

It’s part of something that covers the nation: a vast and spreading web of places where the wild things are. And every strand depends, at least to an extent, on all the others; when you break a single strand you weaken the entire web. (p. 63)

We come off the marsh in fact to visit his neighbours and friends around and see how they manage their land and what they think of his. There’s quite a lot about the local nature reserve at Minsmere, which is lovely to read about. 

He’s got a nice turn of phrase – his horses turn into dragons on a frosty morning “I found I had exchanged them for a stable of dragons, three twin jets of smoke billowing over the three half-doors” (p. 73).

In one very exciting passage, he also reveals that his grandfather lived basically half a mile from where I live now! My next but one read has featured Peckham, too, so everything really is a web of knowing and places!

Barnes’ African sojourns also feel natural to relate here, talking about the lions he loves and the naturalists he’s spent time with and, notably, seeing migratory birds on the marsh that he has also seen on that other continent, thousands of miles away. As well as Cindy’s lovely animal illustrations, there is a pleasingly drawn map at the front. I learned a lot reading this book (are baby spoonbills really called ‘teaspoons’ by birders, though?), it’s the everyday small pleasures, recognising a birdsong, seeing a new creature, seeing the same creature again and again that really stuck with me when I finished this book.

 

State of the TBR December 2020 and Book Confessions #DiverseDecember #Magrsathon @PaulMagrs

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I have been trying to clear the decks and not buy new books in order to prepare for the Great Christmas and Birthday Influx and I don’t feel I’ve really succeeded at either! I did finish 12 books in November, six of which were off the physical TBR (the others were a mix of review books and Kindle ones). I set out to read one book for Australia Reading Month, which I read (“The Three Miss Kings“) and I took part enthusiastically in Non-Fiction November – I set out five books to read, finished three and started one, and read a bit more non-fiction through the month, and posted my four themed posts and enjoyed linking up with more non-fiction readers.

So this is how the TBR stands, at least it’s not two full shelves, I suppose, and has moved along. The pile to the side is Christmas books which will be read between Christmas and New Year (apart from one of them, see more below) and the ones on top are my remaining Thirkell war novels and three lovely British Library books I haven’t been able to get to yet.

I’m currently reading these three. Reni Eddo-Lodge’s “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race” has been a thought- and discussion-provoking readalong with my best friend Emma – we took to reading books together during lockdown and enjoy a bit of time on a Thursday evening. We’re quite slow with these as we sometimes have a chat rather than a read, but it’s a lovely thing to do. We have one chapter and the afterword left of this. I just started “The Good Immigrant USA” to go with my read of the UK version, and am learning new things with this one, too, and Jonathan Gornall’s “How to Build a Boat” is just getting started. The first two will be contributing to the DiverseDecember reading challenge hosted by The Writes of Womxn (thank you to Ali for alerting me to this one) – they will be blogging about Black Brown and Indigenous writers who identify as women but we’re free to read anything and use the hashtag. More on that below – including not pushing myself to read loads and feeling I’ve failed!

Up next, Emma and my next read together will be Isabella Tree’s “Wilding” which was discussed in “On the Marsh” which I’ve just finished and I’ve been looking forward to reading for ages. Of course those BL books will be devoured, too. For my LAST BOOK in my Paul Magrsathon I was going to re-read his lovely “Stardust and Snow” which I read on Christmas Day last year, but then he brought out this “Christmassy Tales” volume which includes that one and a host of other short stories. I have already dipped into it to read his Fester Cat story (from the book he wrote by his late lovely pet) and I am not going to be able to resist it now we’ve got into December – there’s a story about a Christmas Trilobite! I will be reading the four light Christmas novels I bought in October between Christmas and New Year, and I have assigned myself Ayisha Malik’s Sofia Khan novels to read for DiverseDecember. Yes, I have “Brit(ish)” and “Black and British” and various other books but I don’t want to force the issue or read all my BLM books in a rush, so I will enjoy these and see what else I can add in.

New books in

The aforementioned “Christmassy Tales” arrived last week and I also bought my friend Katharine D’Souza’s new novella “Friend Indeed” on the day of publication. I wish I’d got it read for Novellas in November but it will be a Novella in December instead. Bizarrely, Past Me decided to do some Amazon pre-orders in August and September and I was somewhat surprised to receive Jane Linfoot’s “Love at the Little Wedding Shop by the Sea” (book five in her series) and Sairish Hussain’s “The Family Tree” (shortlisted now for the Costa First Novel Award” following the fortunes of a family emigrating to the UK. Both obviously “me” but do I recall ordering them? I do not.


Did you have a good reading month in November? Tempted to join DiverseDecember? Bought anything new or holding off? Is there room on your shelves for Christmas incomings???

Book Review – Nikesh Shukla (ed.) – “The Good Immigrant” #NonFicNov

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I’m still a little bit disappointed with the amount of reading I’ve got done this month, especially for Nonfiction November. I have now read the Ada Cambridge for Australia Reading Month and “The Secret Teacher” and this one for Nonfiction November (plus a couple of short reads not pictured here). I have started Simon Barnes’ “On the Marsh” and might finish it by the end of the month. And this is the eleventh book I’ve completed this month, which is not actually too shabby. But still, I had wanted to read at least the other two in this picture by now.

Onwards to this excellent, moving, important and shocking read, however. And at least the date I acquired it shows I’ve always read books about people who have lives different to mine!

Nikesh Shukla (ed.) – “The Good Immigrant”

(25 September 2019)

From the Editor’s Note onwards, this book speaks powerfully of the lived experience of people who have moved to the UK or been born here who have heritage that is not directly and completely from here. The purpose was, among writers who do not write exclusively about race, to provide “a document of what it means to be a person of colour now. Because we’re done justifying our place at the table”. And where did the title come from? Shukla explains that it was suggested by a comment from contributor Musa Okwonga: … the biggest burden facing people of colour in this country is that society deems us bad immigrants – job-stealers, benefit-scroungers, girlfriend-thieves, refugees – until we cross over in their consciousness, through popular culture, winning races, baking good cakes, being conscientious doctors, to become good immigrants.

The contributors come from all sorts of backgrounds, African, Asian, what we confusingly call East Asian or Southeast Asian (and this nomenclature is discussed in the book). Some are funny, some are angry, some are both. All reflect direct lived experience and offer a simple way to access people’s lived experiences while educating oneself rather than demanding stories out of people. Like reviewing a book of short stories, I’m not going to cover every piece in here but pick out a few that really stuck out.

One thing my friend Sarah warned me about, and she was right, was how shocked I’d be reading the people of East/Southeast Asian heritage’s experiences of British life. Vera Chok (who is ethnically Chinese but physically from the UK via Malaysia) talks in a matter of fact way of the stereotypes applied to her, the things that have been shouted after her. Did you know that East Asians are the third largest minority ethnic grouping in the UK yet experience the most racist incidents (yes, she backs this up with figures)? However, she was not able to find many reports on this, just as I have struggled to find more nonfiction works by East Asian authors about their experience in the UK, something I’d like to add to my reading if I can (any suggestions out there?).

Reni Eddo-Lodge pops up to remind us that most of the Black history we learn at school seems to be about America, Kieran Yates gives a brilliant description of code-switching as she goes from confident British Asian to inadequacy but loving in in her Punjabi village to mixing with the cool kids in Delhi, and Coco Khan talks movingly of her mum’s covert sympathy as she covers for her and her friend as they spread their wings a little, an opposite narrative to one we’re often presented with. Riz Ahmed writes about the similarity between film auditions and interrogations at airports, noting the match between his ethnicity and those who stop and search him again and again at Heathrow, and Salena Godden’s piece is a cleverly constructed discussion of shade and othering as she negotiates the world as a person of mixed heritage.

Worthwhile but not worthy, entertaining but thought provoking I’d encourage everyone who’s at all interested in people’s lives outside their own demographic to read this. I can’t wait to read the US version now and compare it.

Short reviews of short books: Rory Fraser – “Follies” and June Sarpong’s “The Power of Privilege” #NovNov #NonFicNov

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I thought I couldn’t take part in Novellas in November as, well, I didn’t have any novellas to hand, but Bookish Beck and 746 Books include non-fiction in their challenge and I did have some short non-fiction! Of course this also acts as another post for Nonfiction November, too! So two very different books here, but I can tie them together by saying that both are crying out to be bought for other people – “Follies” as a Christmas gift and “The Power of Privilege” to help people be the change they want (or need) to be.

Rory Fraser – “Follies”

(5 October2020 – from the publisher)

Coming in at 111 pages, Rory Fraser’s debut book, “Follies”, newly published by the fairly new publisher Zuleika Publishing, fits the nonfiction novella bill perfectly.

If you’re interested in architecture, history or architectural history, you’ll enjoy this small, attractive book, with 25 watercolour illustrations, on follies.

What is a folly? Officially, it’s “an elaborate building set in a beautiful landscape that serves no purpose other than to improve the view” (p. x) but there prove to not be very many true follies like that, and indeed the first one he visits, at Walsingham, as well as a shell of a Wren church in London later, is actually part of a ruined building left to stand incongruously in its surroundings. There are also mounds, caves and that famous fibreglass shark embedded in a suburban roof, as well as the more expected classical temples or gothic frills in lovely parks.

Fraser hops enthusiastically through history, kings, landowners and peers, sharing what he learns with glee. We’re looking at folklore one moment and Empire the next, always with something new to read about. It’s also something of a garden history on the grand scale, looking at the development of the landscapes in which follies often exist, framing huge swathes of land, as at Stowe, or a view of a city, as in Bath.

A great gift idea coming out at just the right time. Thank you to Tom at Zuleika for providing me with a copy in return for an honest review. A full review will appear in Shiny New Books next week and I’ll share that here then.

June Sarpong – “The Power of Privilege: How White People can Challenge Racism”

(1 October 2020)

I’ve always read pretty diversely but I’ve been buying, reading and reviewing some more of the non-fiction that’s come out as part of the upswelling of interest and activism after the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum across populations. I’m reading “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” alongside my best friend at the moment, for example. But what I was looking for was some direct ways that I could be an ally and help combat racism, and this book (and also Sophie Williams’ “Anti-Racist Ally” which I have but haven’t read in time for this review) offers that.

Sarpong is a journalist who has a senior diversity position at the BBC and is able to draw from both this and her experiences as the child of Ghanaian immigrants growing up on a council estate in London to put this useful book together. She’s recently published a longer work called “Diversity” which demonstrates the power of diversity to benefit companies and society economically as well as socially. I would imagine that talks to those in high power, as this one does: there’s an emphasis on including elite (not just privileged) white people in the conversation and a lot of the action points are for those who have power in companies and society. She also includes white people with less privilege, e.g. people of the working class and/or on a low income, people living with disabilities, people with an LGBTQ+ identity and makes it clear she understands privilege is a continuum, with well-off white male captains of industry and politicians at the most privileged end.

We get a good explanation of basic terms – racism, othering – then we’re taken through some statistics and reports about the position of Black, Asian and other Minority Ethnic people in the UK. This does have a lot of US information which I found a bit distracting from the main text. It’s also bang up to date, talking about how the disparities highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic are impossible to ignore and how it’s time to change things.

As with my attempts to join in with general inclusivity and “better together” campaigns before, I’m a bit hamstrung in my pro-cohesiveness and anti-racism work by the fact that I’m not part of any formal groups – I’m self-employed and work alone and I’m not a member of a faith group or large volunteer organisation (apart from parkrun, and I will be taking steps to look at that). It’s not the place to list what I I I am going to do: suffice it to say that in the ten clear points Sarpong offers, from educating yourself about Black lives now and in history to standing up against racist incidents to helping your white friends think about race there is something that everyone can use to help improve society and challenge racism. Action 10: Act Now has some particularly useful summary lists of things we can all do.

Oh and one for Bookish Beck’s serendipity – like “Work” which I review in Shiny on Thursday, this book talks about moving from a “scarcity” mind-set where we’re all fighting for small pieces of a pie to broadening out to build something that’s more than the sum of its parts.

 

Book Review – Ada Cambridge – “The Three Miss Kings” #AusReadingMonth2020 @ViragoBooks

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I’ve been quite disappointed in the amount I’ve been able to read this month so far. Not sure what’s happened, but I think a combination of quite a lot of work on leaving me not so much time in the daytime for sitting and reading and some busy weekends (somehow. How?). How many of these books shown that I intended to read this month have I read? Two and a bit so far …

But I have managed to read a book for Brona’s Australia Reading Month, and it’s one I kept aside for a while, leaving it out of All Virago / All August so I could read it in November! I started reading it in the nice Virago copy shown here but the print was SO SMALL and a bit blurry in places, so I downloaded a copy from Project Gutenberg and read it on my Kindle, returning to the Virago for the introduction at the end.

Ada Cambridge – “The Three Miss Kings”

(December 2019, Oxfam Books)

Elizabeth, Patty and Eleanor King are newly orphaned when we meet them, just about to leave the rustic cottage they grew up in, saying goodbye to their woodland pets and simple friends and preparing to move to Melbourne. There, over the course of a year, they meet the loves of their lives, suffer a reversal of fortune and meet a fairy godmother – there’s a lot of coincidence and plot in this book but only as much as a Dickens or Hardy novel published in parts, as this was in the 1890s, might have.

Alongside the romance we have some quite long and careful discussions of important topics: how to move from the country to the city; how to be a lady; whether innocence is more attractive than sophistication; what makes a good musician; who should look after the poor and unfortunate and how; are all religions in fact one in the end? This makes for a few stodgy passages but the best parts are the sparks between the sisters and their fellow citizens, the lovely descriptions, ranging from a deserted Australian clifftop to an Elizabethan manor house in England, and the excellent relationship between the sisters. These themes and descriptions and the historical value of the depiction of Melbourne society in the 1880s are presumably what compelled Virago to republish this in 1987.

I enjoyed finding out more about this period in Australian life and seeing the development of the heroines’ taste and fortunes.

State of the TBR November 2020 plus incomings and the schedule for All Of Anne Tyler next year #AnneTyler2021 @DeanStPress @BL_Publishing #BLWomenWriters

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Well, the standard TBR has actually gone down, although not as much as I would have wished. An actual gap, right? “Motherland” is still at the end of the front row.

I completed 13 books in October, even though I had a week off at the beginning of the month, which was a little disappointing, especially as only four of them were from this physical standard TBR (the rest being made up of Kindle, usually NetGalley, books and review books that came in, plus two off the pile of Books Where I Have Another One In The Series). I did also DNF two books from this shelf, which is why the gap is so substantial. Anyway, 13 books is not nothing and I read some great ones of course!

New in!

I’ve been very lucky in terms of review books coming in this week (mostly on one day, actually!). British Library Publishing have kindly sent me two more of their beautifully patterned and tactile Women Writers series. Mary Essex’ “Tea is So Intoxicating” has a village divided when a man suddenly decides to open up a tea-garden, and in “O, The Brave Music” by Dorothy Evelyn Smith, we have a coming of age story set just before World War One. Both of these have the usual marvellous introductions and afterwords as well as being lovely objects in themselves.

I was also offered a look through the British Library’s publishing catalogue and chose Polly Russell and Margaretta Jolly (eds.) “Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights” which is a truly glorious book published to accompany the exhibition but a marvellous object and record in its own right:

From personal diaries, banners and protest fashion to subversive literature, film, music and art, no topic is too taboo: Unfinished Business presents how women and their allies have fought for equality with passion, imagination, humour and tenacity.

The exhibition is on at the British Library until 21 Feb if you can possibly get there (info here, lockdown will alter this of course).

Thank you so much to British Library Publishing for sending me these – “Unfinished Business” is destined for a Shiny New Books review and I will share about it here, too.

The lovely folks at Dean Street Press are publishing a lovely new tranche of books in their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint in January, concentrating on the works of Margery Sharp and Stella Gibbons, and while I was busy adding them all to my wishlist, I’ve received e-book copies of Gibbons’ “A Pink Front Door”, about a woman who can’t say no to a series of misfits who need her help, and Sharp’s first novel, eye-wateringly rare to get hold of before this publication, with a highbrow family dealing with a decidedly middlebrow sister. You can read about all the new novels on the Furrowed Middlebrow blog here and I cannot WAIT to read these!

Currently reading and coming up

When I got to the end of my last NetGalley book and got into a sort of state of being totally unable to make a decision (review book from the physical pile? NetGalley book? Angela Thirkell, oldes book, newest book?), I decide to pick off two lovely Dean Street Press books, “Mrs Tim Gets a Job and Mrs Tim Flies Home” – I finished the first earlier today and the second is the current read, along with the very interesting “Work” from Bloomsbury, which is a lovely hardback and not suitable for lounging over a pizza with. Watch this space for notification of my Shiny review of that one.

Coming up, I am taking part in two challenges this month. Australia Reading Month, run by Brona, is what it says, and I’ve been saving up Ada Cambridge’s “The Three Miss Kings”, published by Virago, for AGES so I could join in.

I doubt that’s the only novel I’ll be reading this month (see above!) but I will also be concentrating on nonfiction for NonFiction November, which I so enjoyed doing last year. I have prepared my initial post for tomorrow and laid out some books I will definitely be reading – “The Good Immigrant” UK and US editions, edited by Nikesh Shukla, with Chimene Suley for the US one, which are collected essays on the immigrant experience in the two countries, continuing my reading of direct lived immigrant experiences; “The Secret Teacher” which opens the lid of a school and a young teacher; “On the Marsh” by Simon Barnes, which follows his owning and care for some marshland with an element of rewilding; and “Homesick” by Catrina Davies, which mixes sociology and nature, exploring why she ended up living in a shed on her parents’ land in Cornwall. Some good themes there, I thought, and there will be more nonfiction, too.

All of Anne Tyler in 2021

I’ve been talking about this for ages, but I’ve finally got round to setting out a project page to support my re-reading (and some new reading) of all of Anne Tyler’s novels in order next year. Exciting! I’m going to read two per month and people are totally free to join in with as few or as many as they want to do. I need to wait for “Redhead by the Side of the Road” to come out in paperback then I’ll do a new picture. Meanwhile, see the page here for the schedule and do let me know if you’re joining in / my instructions are clear.


Whew, a busy post and a busy upcoming month. What are you getting up to in November reading-wise? Any more challenges?

Book review – Sam Selvon – “The Lonely Londoners” #1956Club

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I thought I wasn’t going to be able to take part in Kaggsy and Simon Stuckinabook‘s latest year challenge, the 1956 Club, as I didn’t have any books from the year in question on my TBR, which is the self-imposed rule I’ve been applying to all my challenges this year again, but then a chance noticing of a title mentioned led me to my fiction shelves, where I found this slim volume I thought I could fit in, seeing as I was on a week off work. And I did!

I’m sorry I wasn’t able to use the special image for the Club, but I just can’t save it in a format where it will upload here. I’ve had the same problem with other logos for challenges. Not a New WordPress Blocks issue as I’m editing in the old editor right now. So here’s a photo of my rather dishevelled copy from the 1980s which my local library discarded and I snapped up.

Sam Selvon – “The Lonely Londoners”

(17 September 2007 – my original review says it was from a local charity shop, and it’s a withdrawn-from-circulation library book)

I last read this book in January 2008 and did a not very detailed review here. This is a tour de force of narration in a language blended from the voices of the people it describes. It has a loose structure behind its episodic nature and reflects the tangled and often chaotic lives of the early and subsequent emigrants from the West Indies to London.

We open with Moses going to collect yet another new arrival at Waterloo, bemoaning his own kind nature: he talks Galahad through is first days in the city and slips into remembering his own arrival, introducing a suite of characters whose stories are told alongside his, intersecting and moving away over time, all linked together in a precarious world of lodging houses, labour exchanges and manual labour jobs. The acquisition of trousers takes a major role; everyone is clever and careful in different ways, whether they’re self-reliant or relying on the kindness of others.

While the Americans are described as openly racist, the British are more subtle and “diplomatic”, the job having just gone as you arrive for an interview, the flat mysteriously already rented, assuming everyone who arrives from the West Indies is from Jamaica. Has this aspect really changed, I wonder? Cleverly woven into the text are mentions of discussions of the immigration situation in Parliament, that background we know for creating a “hostile environment” for the Windrush generation and their families.

There are comic and heroic passages, such as when the redoubtable Tanty, who was never expected to arrive in the first place but turned up in a family group one day, ventures onto the Tube and bus (having asked a police officer) after lording it over the Harrow Road, and a party that everyone turns up at, spinning the threads together then separating out as there are rows over who is dancing with whom. It’s very much a love song to London in all its grimy glory, treading those streets whose names people had only heard, with the characters saying they will go back to their green islands but knowing they never will. Moving and bleak by turns, and has much really changed?

I really enjoyed revisiting this book and am glad I was able to take part in the 1956 Club after all!

Book review – George T. Eggleston – “Tahiti” plus @ShinyNewBooks reviews, incomings and current reading #20BooksOfSummer @eandtbooks @ThamesandHudson @DeanStPress

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A bit of a gallimauphry of catching up with bits and bobs today. And when I went to dig out this photo from when I acquired the book I’m reviewing, I was cheered to note that I have actually read all the books on this pile (these are books that Cari gave me when she came to visit in August 2018 and two that I bought on my trip round Stratford with her (I can’t remember how many I ‘encouraged’ her to buy …)). So a quick review of the first of the #20BooksOfSummer I’ve read, recaps of two wonderful reads for Shiny New Books, one incoming from a lovely publisher and a note about what I’m reading now as I accidentally left it a bit late after the publisher kindly sent it to me …

George T. Eggleston – “Tahiti”

(23 August 2018, Blue Cross charity shop, Stratford-Upon-Avon)

For a book published in 1956 this is not toooooo colonialist or patronising, although it does need to be read through a careful and modern-day lens. We tour the Society Islands of French Polynesia (still part of France even now) with an enterprising couple who think nothing of popping over to Tahiti to find a yacht to crew / take them island-hopping. They note that French has not really taken hold as the language of the country (and do attempt to learn the local language and even include a vocab list in the back of the book) and also point out the “ravages of ‘civilization'” – and I hadn’t realised that Tahitians and others participated in World War I and II and that many lost their lives in France in those wars. However, George’s wife Hazel does have to do all the supplying and cooking and is only allowed to get a  bit comically cross when she’s castigated for having a rest while he and their captain do the washing up, even though she is marked out as a highly competent sailor elsewhere in the book.

There are nice little maps at the start of each chapter, and cheerful and respectful descriptions of the islands and the islanders, as well as some good sailing narratives. A sweetly outdated guide to how to repeat the journey is included in the back of the book. He’s no Harold Nicolson but this was a pleasant read. I also loved the list of authors on the back flap of the book. The Travel Book Club reprinted this book, but the list of authors is so lost to me now – Freya Stark and J. B. Priestley yes, and a vague memory of a Tschiffely horse book, but what about all the others? My social media friends were similarly baffled!

This was Book 1 in my #20BooksOfSummer


Other booky loveliness …

I read two fantastic books from Thames & Hudson in June to review for Shiny New Books. I’m so fortunate that they give me the run of their catalogues twice a year. I read one other which hasn’t been published yet and am in the middle of my fourth at the moment!

“Tracks: Walking the Ancient Landscapes of Britain” by Philip Hughes is the ideal art book for the nature, archaeology, history, geology and/or map enthusiast. I said, in part,

Being a Thames & Hudson book (the paperback edition of an initial hardback, and lacking the endpapers of the former edition), the quality is high, the reproductions lovely, and all the details there, author biographies, lists of his exhibitions and a decent index.

This is a fairly short review as it’s an easy book to read quickly, not much text, lots of images. However, it’s a book you will want to return to again and again. The spare images, with no fussy detail, are calming to view and the notes charming. Highly recommended.

Read the full review here.

Then I read the first of the two Grayson Perry books in the set (hooray Grayson), “Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years”, edited by Catrin Jones and Chris Stephens, which was a great introduction to the artist’s early life, inspirations and themes. I said,

I loved reading Perry’s dialogue with his earlier self and his earlier work. He admits in his essay that he hasn’t seen many of the works since they were sold decades ago, and had often not kept records of them – “it has been wonderful to be reacquainted with the outpourings of a different me”, and he notices that he is more forgiving of them and compassionate about himself than he was at the time … What a treat to read the artist’s reactions to his own former self, seeming now so distant.

Read the full review (and see some images from the book) here.

Then I was fortunate enough to receive Lev Parikian’s “Into the Tangled Bank” from the super publisher Elliott & Thompson. They published the wonderful “Seafarers” by Stephen Rutt, which I reviewed for Shiny last year and came out in paperback this week and were kind enough to offer me a couple of new reads to say thank you for me writing that and sharing about the paperback. This is about the relationship the British have with nature and looks fab, and I’ll be sending in my review to Shiny soon (it’s out in early July). What a clever cover, with the inevitable crisp packet woven into the image of nature at its finest.

And finally, although I’m still reading the big monograph on Grayson Perry, having just finished Book 2 of my 20Books as well and having seen the announcement about their new books coming soon (in August), I realised with horror that I’d never got to the third book that Dean Street Press kindly sent me in January from their selection they were publishing then (I reviewed and Miss Read’s “Fresh From the Country” and D.E. Stevenson’ “Vittoria Cottage” from that batch earlier in the year, the Miss Read having arrived in physical paperback form for my birthday from my best friend!). So I pulled Doris Langley Moore’s “Not At Home” (the cover is so super and I will need to be buying a paper copy!) up on the Kindle and have enjoyed starting this just-post-WWII novel of household battles.


So, art, more art, mid-century women and travel – not a bad representation of my usual reading. And while we all try to get to grips with how we can approach Black Lives Matter awareness-raising and support in a meaningful way, I am thrilled to say that I’m chatting with a couple of friends about having them guest-post on here about the books by and about People of Colour that they’ve been getting hold of and reading. This is particularly useful when I can’t add to my collection due to the popular books going out of stock all over the place (which is a Good Thing).

 

Book review – Daphne Du Maurier – “Jamaica Inn” @Heaven_ali #DDMReadingWeek

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A second book read and reviewed for Ali’s Daphne Du Maurier Reading Week and I’m quite proud of myself for that! I read and wrote a review to publish during the Week for “Rebecca” just in case I ran out of time to get this one read – of course, it turned out to be another one that cannot be put down, and I finished it in a great rush one lunchtime (of course, I slightly regretted reading it over my lunch, but I just about coped!). So although I will probably have a pause before reading more Daphne Du Maurier, I certainly won’t rule out dipping into her long list of works again, especially if there’s another Week next year. Thank you to Ali for introducing me to a new to me author (and Cornishgirl for sending me this one!)

Daphne Du Maurier – “Jamaica Inn”

(25 December 2019, part of my LibraryThing Virago Group Not So Secret Santa gift

I have realised that you can pretty well guarantee a cracking good story and a great sense of place with DDM. In this historical novel (yes, me reading a historical novel!), set in the 19th century just when the vile practice of “wrecking” ships was being stamped out, orphaned Mary moves to the forbidding Cornish moors from a hard life in a pretty village to stay with her aunt and the horrible man who she married, in their forbidding and empty inn.

The opening is suitably Gothic, with Mary swaying along in a coach in a storm, head full of warnings about staying at Jamaica Inn, all very Hardyesque or Mary Webbish (and in fact there’s a bit at the end that’s very Mary Webb but not quite as horrific). We have doors that are bolted to strange rooms, odd noises in the night, a bog to get lost in and a peculiar vicar who keeps turning up at just the right time, and it’s a touch more scary and violent than I’d normally read, but nothing is gratuitous. You know Mary is asking for trouble – or is she – when she’s too proud to turn down the opportunity to take a trip to Launceston on Christmas Eve with Uncle Joss’ younger and more attractive (mainly because he has basically killed fewer people) brother; it’s interesting when there’s a clear pivot point in a novel. But the story is by no means guessable or simple from there on in.

There’s an interesting gender politics angle – Mary is described as working or being fit to work as well as a boy, Uncle Joss wishes she were one, and she’s very clear that once she tries to escape the Inn, if she’d been a boy she’d have been sent off to work her way onto a ship, rather than being looked after and offered a cosy job.

I’m glad I read this one and didn’t run away screaming when it got a bit dark. It’s always handy to have read “Northanger Abbey” in these situations and to assume better than the heroine does, even if she turns out to be right in the end!


Book review – O. Douglas – “Penny Plain” #1920Club

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Well, I am writing this a day late, but I read 19 of this book’s 25 chapters yesterday, which was still inside Kaggsy and Simon‘s 1920 club week! I was alerted to this book by my dear friend Heaven-Ali (miss you! Waves!) who reviewed it earlier last week – I found a Kindle collection for less than a pound and it’s lovely to know I have four more of her books to read, too!

Ali points out in her review that lovers of D.E. Stevenson will like O. Douglas, and the comparison is apt, as it felt very Stevenson-esque in the lovely picturesque Scottish setting, the gentle and attractive characters and the gentle humour.

O. Douglas – “Penny Plain”

(17 April 2020 – ebook)

A charming novel. Jean and her brothers plus one “extra” who came to them by convoluted association, live in cheerful simplicity but slightly concerning poverty in the village of Priorsford. Moving towards them on the train from Euston are two people who will change their fates – Peter Reid, an elderly businessman who has neglected all other sides of life and who’s just had bad news about his health but finds himself unable to bring himself to throw them out of the house he actually owns once he meets them, and the Honourable Pamela, shockingly 40 and with a heart of gold, who is escaping the ‘good’ marriage she should be making to visit the place her old love Lewis spoke of with such love. Add in the neighbours, some nice, some comedic, some sharp social observation and some points about marriage and gender (including the observation that it’s best to let people be who they want to be, some not wanting to be ‘tuppence coloured’) and some comic servants, but also a leavening of sorrow and sadness running through the community, which comes from the date this book was published, I think, and you have a very satisfying read, not all light, but with some depth. You do kind of know what’s going to happen, but watching the careful unwinding of how it’s going to happen while reading about a lovely community is most entertaining. I’m very glad I got to read this!


Next up is a Paul Magrs, and continuing with the excellent “Hidden Figures”. My fiction is pulling strongly ahead of my non-fiction numbers, which I shall need to address soon!

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