Book review – Sara Novic – “True Biz”

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A really interesting novel from NetGalley here about the D/deaf community in the US – not an area I knew much about, either there or over here (I would LOVE some recommendations on books, fiction or non-fiction, on the D/deaf community in the UK as I’ve had trouble locating anything but expensive academic works but I know they must be out there). I did check with a friend who has experience with the D/deaf community in the UK and confirmed that many of the issues are similar to those in the US, the only difference being that the NHS provides cochlear implants and the relevant training and support, where basic US health insurance gives implants without support, from the book. We’re onto books I’ve finished in May now, although this was an extra one I picked up in March and published in April.

Sara Novic – “True Biz”

(25 March 2022 – NetGalley)

We meet February, the head teacher of a school for the deaf in a relatively run-down American city, the hearing child of deaf parents and bilingual in English and sign language, and Charlie, a teenager who’s transferred to the school after sinking at a mainstream school, de-languaged by the installation of a cochlear implant that’s never worked properly, without the accompanying high-intensity therapy that’s needed to navigate the world with one, while not having been allowed to learn sign language. Now she and her dad are learning ASL at night school community classes run at the school, while her mother still refuses to learn. Charlie and the other teenagers have the usual preoccupations with classes, lessons, friendships and relationships, all mediated through the various bits of tech that a person with a hearing disability need – from video phones to flashing alarm clocks to new apps.

The school is under threat and February’s relationship with her wife Mel deteriorates as she holds this knowledge to herself. Meanwhile, her mother, who is living with them at the start of the book, is becoming more overwhelmed with dementia: will a care home living with an old deaf friend of hers help? I loved that Feb just happens to be gay, just as Charlie’s roommate Kayla just happens to be Black – although their characteristics do throw up plot points through the book. I particularly appreciated learning about Black ASL and its origins and differences from ASL.

This was not the only learning point. The book is full of sign language lessons and exercises from presumably a textbook they are learning from themselves – although at one point, associated with a part of the story where Charlie is engaging in various risky drug and sex behaviours with her anarchopunk sometime high school boyfriend, we get an awful lot of interesting signs for various sexual activities (don’t look at these too closely while being a visual learner, as they will become engrained in your mind forever!). I liked the way Charlie’s experience of spoken and signed language is conveyed to us with dashes where she can’t understand a word, and signed communication is written in italics, spoken in plain type. The history of ASL is covered in boxes (I think this book would work better as a physical book than an e-book, actually, in layout terms) and current issues, like the apparent wish to eradicate D/deafness and its culture by implanting all babies or genetically engineering it out of them, and issues there around class and race, are explored through the characters’ lives and experiences.

I wanted this book to end on a more positive note, and was sure it would when a certain plot point happened. However, all is not light and positivity in the D/deaf community as regards culture and education, so this is more realistic. There were lovely points, for example when Charlie finally gets an interpreter in her implant appointments when she can understand enough ASL, and her dodgy high school boyfriend makes an effort to sign and be lip-read and is careful around consent. The different experiences of different kinds of people are explored with care and understanding. The author’s note thanks the Deaf community, of which she is part, and lists real schools that have already closed.

Thank you to Little, Brown for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “True Biz” was published on 21 April 2022.

Here’s a great review by Grab The Lapels, who has been immersed in ASL and Deaf culture for the past year and gives a view on the book from that valuable perspective.

Book review – Raynor Winn – “The Wild Silence”

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Emma and I have finished another of our Reading Together books – we read a chapter or two of the same book every Thursday evening, chatting about it on Messenger as we go, and have done since the start of lockdown. We take a while to get through a book this way but that’s OK and we often find we benefit from this slow read. Here we are, reading this author’s first book, “The Salt Path” – and you can see all the books we’ve read together here. My friend Verity kindly sent me this one after we’d read “The Salt Path”, which she also gave me.

Raynor Winn – “The Wild Silence”

(07 January 2021 – from Verity)

As surely as removing heavy human interference from the land was allowing the wildlife to return to the farm, so Moth was surviving by returning to a more natural state of existence. Life re-forming and reshaping, not with man’s intervention but without it. (p. 273)

We were both keen to read this follow-up to “The Salt Path” – I think we both had the impression there was going to be more travel in it and I knew they went to Iceland, which attracted me even further to it. We were also worried that this would see the last days of Winn’s husband, Moth, and I think we might have Googled to check he was still around.

We found it a slightly disjointed book. There was quite a lot about Winn’s childhood and then the horror of her mother’s death; knowing that she would go through this eventually with her husband was even worse, but it was a very detailed memoir and quite difficult to read in its medical detail (but it’s important to have this kind of thing recorded, of course). Then we have Raynor and Moth’s time living in a converted chapel in Cornwall, followed by the amazing offer to renovate and caretake a farm they already knew and had walked past from an absent owner. Interspersed among these sections were details of the writing, publication and reception of “The Salt Path” and this was certainly the most successful and interesting part of the book for me; Emma, too, I think. It was particularly lovely to read about the walker they meet who has read an article about them and emulated their walk, also finding solace in nature.

Later in the book, they go to Iceland with friends and walk a pretty terrifying walk in the south of the island which, incidentally, I “ran” as one of those virtual runs you can do where you are shown where on a route you would have been, had you been terrifying yourself in Iceland rather than running around suburban Birmingham streets (it had a good medal, though). There’s no way I would have attempted that walk-and-camp, and I was impressed they managed; they find it hard but get through with grit and observing the other walkers (we got very invested in one particular walker’s story and had to read on one week to find out what happened to her!).

So Moth was helped by hard work and physical exertion: Winn does research and finds that there are certain chemicals emitted by trees and plants which are shown to aid healing and physical health in humans (although I’m not sure how that translated when they were in the barren landscapes of lava and moss in Iceland’s interior). It was positive to read about this slowing of the decline caused by Moth’s neurological condition, and while Winn certainly doesn’t press the idea that this could help everyone, it did worry both of us that people in a similar situation might draw (false?) hope from this. The other massive positive from this book is seeing how by writing the first book after undergoing bankruptcy and homelessness, Winn has given them financial stability.

Definitely worth reading and really interesting, if a bit traumatic at the beginning. Winn’s writing is lovely, descriptive and authentic, and I will continue to look out for her work.


Em and I seem to alternate nature/travel books with ones on social equity, race and society, and so we’ve chosen “Cut from the Same Cloth? Muslim Women on Life in Britain” edited by Sabeena Akhtar for our next read. It was an Unbound book which I supported and looks fascinating.

Book review – Marina Sitrin and Colectiva Sembrar – “Pandemic Solidarity”

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I’ve done quite poorly with my lovely pile for Kaggsy and Lizzy’s ReadIndies challenge: this is only my fourth read for the challenge, but fortunately they’ve extended it until the middle of March, so I have time to squeeze in a few more. It fits into my TBR Challenge, too, at least. This excellent book from Pluto Press showcases community activist responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, and this seemed a good time to read about it. I originally spotted this on Lovely Bookshelf’s list of Books for Leftists during Non-Fiction November 2020 and bought it in April 2021 among a lot of other books but I do cheerfully note that I have read 11 out of the 16 books featured in that post (and I’ve just created a NetGalley collection on my Kindle so I can see the poor neglected e-books from other sources that languish on it …).

Marina Sitrin and Colectiva Sembrar (eds.) – “Pandemic Solidarity: Mutual Aid During the Covid-19 Crisis”

(24 April 2021, bought with money Ali gave me at Christmas)

The fact we have created a web of solidarity that is able to reach the most vulnerable and precarious during this crisis – it’s a great achievement. (p. 153)

Rushed out to be published in June 2020, this takes a look at endeavours from around the globe inspired by the very beginning of the pandemic; the editor and her circle took a sort of snowballing approach through their networks to reach out to people who might want to contribute and submit pieces or interviews about their or people in their networks’ work. It’s very determinedly non-hierarchical and as equitable in what and who it shows as it can be, extending to putting America (or Turtle Island, as North America is known by many of its Indigenous inhabitants) and Europe towards the end of the book, and covers such a huge range of projects so it feels very inspiring and also bittersweet.

I suppose my reading of this felt a little bit like when I read Mass Observation archive books or novels set in the two world wars and written before they had finished. There’s an air of expectation and hope that feels poignant: people often comment how the best has been brought out in communities – which it was, of course, at that time – and how this is likely to last, and I’m not sure whether we haven’t fractured back into individualism as things have gone back to “normal”.

The efforts range from helping elders who are in lockdown to people with disability’s reaction and activism through food banks and radio stations, pet care and keeping in touch by phone. The countries covered range from South Korea to Italy to Mexico, Argentina, Greece, Kurdistan – and it’s very notable that the basis for the UK work seems here to be on community groups rather than the fierce, protective, left-wing activism in many other countries, where disparate groups banded together to give a combined response.

A worthwhile work of record and history and a book to warm the heart, although reading it now raises more questions than it would perhaps have done at the time of publication.

ReadIndies publisher note: This one is from Pluto Press, who describe themselves as “An independent publisher of radical, left‐wing non­‐fiction books. Established in 1969, we are one of the oldest radical publishing houses in the UK, but our focus remains making timely interventions in contemporary struggles.”


This was officially my fourth ReadIndies read (one of them was a book published by Canongate I reviewed for Shiny New Books, which I talked about on Tuesday).

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 2 Book 9/53 – 44 to go.

Book review – Alecia McKenzie – “A Million Aunties”

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Didn’t I do well – this is the last of the NetGalley books published this month that I undertook to read this month; I didn’t read or didn’t finish three but read and reviewed all the others, plus I have won two more within the month and read and will be reviewing soon one of them. I don’t think I’ll do so well for March books but that’s a story for tomorrow … I requested this one from an email because I liked the idea of a novel(la) set between the US and Jamaica, and also because Bernardine Evaristo had praised it on the info I had.

Alecia McKenzie – “A Million Aunties”

(9 Jan 2022, NetGalley)

Chris is reeling after the sudden loss of his partner, an interesting woman who had given up a business career for a job working with plants, and has come to Jamaica to recover himself, staying with his friend and agent Stephen’s “Auntie” Della. Della rescued Stephen from a children’s home and Chris must be careful to be polite and call everyone by their honorifics as he settles into life on a very remote part of the island, recently partially destroyed by a landslide. Chris needs space to work on his art, but also ends up visiting his own relatives in another part of the island, as his father was a US serviceman and his mother from Jamaica herself. He meets other residents, too, Della’s friends and neighbours, and other artists, as well, and thinks back over his early life and art development, including his great-uncle Tommy, a White man who passed as a light-skinned Black man to be with his own wife (I don’t ever remember hearing or reading about such a phenomenon, so that was an education!).

Moving on from Chris, we also have vignettes from his father, Stephen, another artist friend of theirs, Chris’s uncle, Miss Vera from across the road and Miss Pretty, a local eccentric who’s been woven into Stephen and Della’s life forever. I loved this multi-faceted approach, looking at Chris and Stephen from different angles; it did remind me a little bit of Girl, Woman, Other but also other narratives of chosen family (like Michael Cunning ham), because that’s what ends up forming, including a trans artist with Chinese heritage and various generations of American, Jamaican and French folk. There’s a trip that involves everyone to close off the story, with Chris in particular healing and bringing closure to his bereavement with the help of the others. Back home in Jamaica, Aunt Vera, who has lost interest in dressmaking after all these years, makes a tentative new friend, which is a lovely part of the story.

Some reviewers have complained this ends abruptly but I think it was just right, with new beginnings about to blossom. Worth mentioning that there is one scene of unpleasantness but it works with the story, and talk/some description of a terrorist attack (with nothing gratuitous or horrible), and there are many dogs at the beginning, all of whom are still there at the end.

Thank you to Little, Brown for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “A Million Aunties” was published on 24 February.

Book review – Kelli Sandman-Hurley – “The Adult Side of Dyslexia”

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I was attracted to request this NetGalley book because I’d just been thinking and writing about my editing clients with dyslexia, who are one group of writers who often use speech-to-text software (I wrote about this on my professional blog here), and also one of the books I’d been reading about race issues had mentioned how Black children are less likely to be diagnosed with dyslexia and more likely to be diagnosed with behavioural issues. I liked seeing the darker skin of the woman on the cover, allowing her to be one of many ethnicities rather than just a “standard” White. It is published this month, so I aimed to read it anyway, popping it into my NonFiction November challenge, but then when I started powering through the percentages on my Kindle I checked and realised it was also a Novella in November candidate!

Kelli Sandman-Hurley – “The Adult Side of Dyslexia”

(29 September 2021)

This short book has all it needs to pack a punch, give people visibility and recognition and put forward good solid action points for the future. Sandman-Hurley did a qualitative study, interviewing around 50 adults with dyslexia about their experiences in education and their lives and opinions now.

She recruited a wide range of respondents of all races and social classes, and reports their words directly in most of the text, drawing comparisons and making careful use of “most”, “many” and “some” as she goes (she’s also careful to ask them how they wish to be referred to, as dyslexics or people with dyslexia, and is careful to honour all their different experiences, although I did note she only seems to refer to people’s race when they were not White*; she does talk about particularly inequitable treatment given to Black and Latinx students in schools).

The stories are of course sad and painful, but she’s quick to draw lessons from them about advocacy, self-advocacy, teacher education and the importance of adult dyslexics providing role models and advocates for younger people coming along. She even includes call-out quotes that summarise the page they’re on (I’m not sure what this looks like in the print book; it showed up as paragraphs in bold in the middle of the pages on the Kindle ARC), presumably to allow a more smooth read for people with dyslexia accessing the book.

There’s a resource list in the back that includes books, websites and podcasts, including non-US ones. Sandman-Hurley is an adult literacy teacher and researcher and has written other books around dyslexia and this is an excellent, although based in the US school system, resource.

* Edited to add: in fairness to the author, I received this gracious reaction to my review from her via (public) Twitter: “Thank you for the review. I appreciate the point that I only referred to race when it wasn’t white. That was certainly an unconscious issue that I will address as I go forward.”

“The Adult Side of Dyslexia” was published on 18 November 2021. Thank you to Jessica Kingsley Publishers for making it available on NetGalley in return for an honest review.


I read this for Nonfiction November and it was also Book 10 in my Novellas in November reads

Nonfiction November Week 3: Be the Expert / Ask the Expert

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It’s Week Three of Nonfiction November and it’s The Thousand Book Project’s week – see the main post here.

Week 3: (November 15-19) – Be The Expert/ Ask the Expert/ Become the Expert with Veronica at The Thousand Book Project: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert). 

I wasn’t sure what to use for Be The Expert, then I realised people have been asking me about this, even recently, and I have an important point to make about timing …

Be the Expert (Guide?) – Books on Social Justice and Equality I’ve read this year

So this topic, especially Black Lives Matter, was certainly not just for 2020, even if the proliferation of lists and recommendations seems to have gone a bit quiet. I have continued reading books on social justice, marginalised people and equality/equity through this year (and always will do), using the groundswell in publishers’ interest to pick up books as they’re published. The book in the image is a case in point, “Black British Lives Matter” edited by Lenny Henry and Marcus Ryder pulls together pieces by Black British artists and activists and is just out and on its way to my bookshelf as I write this.

So here are the nonfiction books on social justice, marginalised people and equality I’ve read this year, all recommended (there’s a leaning towards the British experience here: our racism and class issues are quite different from the US, although just as insidious, and I’ve been trying to start from where I am). They’re in order of when I read them, not otherwise arranged. Note, these are books from the last year. I am adding categories for social justice – race, gender sex and sexuality, disability, class and neurodiversity this week so you can find all the books in a category on the blog not just these newer reads.

June Sarpong – “The Power of Privilege” – unpicking privilege and what we can do about it

Nikesh Shukla (ed.) – “The Good Immigrant” / “The Good Immigrant USA” – immigrant experiences in both countries

Reni Eddi-Lodge – “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race” – history and a call to action

Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené (eds.) – “Loud Black Girls” – essays by British Black women

Catrina Davies – “Homesick” – working class and housing inequality

Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff (ed.) – “Mother Country: Real Stories of the Windrush Children” – stories from people who came from the Caribbean to Britain in the 1950s and their descendants

Kenya Hunt – “Girl” – essays by a Black woman

Sathnam Sanghera – “Empireland” – the effect of Empire on Britain today

Christine Burns (ed.) – “Trans Britain: Our Journey from the Shadows” – vital essays on the history and experience of trans people in the UK

Mike Parker – “On the Red Hill” – older and younger gay male couples and their different life experiences

Guvna B – “Unspoken” – race and class in South London

Jeffrey Weekes – “Between Worlds” – an exhaustive history of the gay liberation movement in Britain

Maya Angelou – “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” etc., – race relations in the US and Africa; so many statements we are still hearing today.

Danny Assaf – “Say Please and Thank you and Stand in Line” – the Lebanese community in Canada

Jonathan van Ness – “Over the Top” – a happy but still traumatic LGBTQIA+ life in America

Kit de Waal – “Common People: An Anthology of Working-Class Writers” – class alive and well in Britain in this set of memoir pieces

Akala – “Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire” – race and class in Black communities in London and the UK

Juno Dawson – “Gender Games” – growing up trans in Britain

Anita Sethi – “I Belong Here” – woman of mixed heritage explores the British countryside

Nadiya Hussain – “Finding my Voice” – a British Bangladeshi life

Trystan Reese – “How We Do Family” – a trans man, his husband and their fight to have a child

Johny Pitts – “Afropean” – exploring African communities across Europe

Stormzy – “Rise Up” – class and race in music in the UK

David Olusoga – “Black and British” – history of Black people in and in association with Britain. Seminal. TV series also recommended, though different.

Damien Le Bas – “The Stopping Places” – the life of Travellers in the UK and Europe

Sophie Williams – “Anti Racist Ally” – provocative ideas and concrete things to do

Emma Dabiri – “What White People Can Do Next” – you thought the above was provocative!? Really made me think.

Pete Paphides – “Broken Greek” – growing up in the Greek Cypriot community in the Midlands

Armistead Maupin – “Logical Family” – creating a family when yours rejects you for being gay

Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff and Timi Sotire (eds.) – “Black Joy” – there’s joy, but often in overcoming challenges

Johnny Agar and Becky Agar – “The Impossible Mile” – a life lived well with cerebral palsy in the mix

Michaela Coel – “Misfits” – a call to be a misfit and to extend the ladder down to help other marginalised people in the entertainment industry

Shon Faye – “The Transgender Issue” – debunking the myths and showing the struggles of the trans community; a call for lifting all marginalised people through mutual aid

Hassan Akkad – “Hope, not Fear” – inspiring story of a man who escaped from Syria and joined the NHS, campaigning for refugees and low-paid workers

Raynor Winn – “The Salt Path” – class and homelessness and health

Anita Rani – “The Right Sort of Girl” – race and class and growing up unconventional in a traditional Indian expatriate community in Yorkshire

Something for everyone there, right?! and of course there are more to come!

Ask the Expert – Books on Returning (especially to Africa)

I’ve read quite a few books this year that have featured returns to African roots, whether that’s Afua Hirsch in “Brit(ish)” packing up her English life and going to live in Ghana for a few years, Alex Haley finding his tribe through language then finding his people in “Roots” or Maya Angelou living in Egypt and then Ghana, too, in her autobiographies, and discussing at length the experiences of mostly Americans who have ‘returned’ to Ghana. Toufah, of course, bravely returns to The Gambia to help justice be done, although she’s not away in Canada for very long. On the TV, Afua Hirsch’s African Renaissance series showed Jamaican people who have moved to Ethiopia to connect with the foundation of Rastafarianism, and I caught a bit of Enslaved with Samuel L Jackson on the TV, which had him reconnecting with his ancestral Benga tribe in Gabon and being welcomed into it in an emotional ceremony. So these returnees have been following me and interesting me.

I am aware of the book “Return” by Kamal Al-Solaylee, which looks at various returnees and includes a chapter on Africa, and I’ve read Jackie Kay’s “Red Dust Road“, in which she traces her Nigerian roots. Ore Agbaje-Williams and Nancy Adimora’s edited collection, “Of This Our Country” about Nigeria and Britain has some examples of writers who have gone from Britain to Nigeria. But there must be more narratives, preferably but not only modern ones, about people who have found their roots in Africa or tried going and living there and re-establishing a link with their ancestry and/or families.

Suggestions, please!

Book review – Pragya Agarwal – “Sway”

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I won Jessica Nordell’s “The End of Bias” on NetGalley back in June (it was published at the end of September) and had decided I really needed to read this one first, which explains unconsious bias (and I hoped help end it, too). Then I somehow didn’t get round to it until this month, but it’s done now and I’ll get the Nordell book read as soon as I can. Phew! This one was also a loan from my friend Sian that I’ve had for far too long, so all neat and tidy now all round.

Pragya Agarwal – “Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias”

(Feb? 2021, borrowed from Sian)

As we talk about gender bias, let us not forget about intersectionality and how certain multiple identities can further stigmatise women and render them even more invisible. Yes, there is change, but it is glacial. And to all the sceptics, I would just say, ‘Am I not believed because I am a woman?’ (p. 251)

This is a long and dense book which covers a lot of research, well-known and more niche, about unconscious bias, i.e. the decisions we make and opinions we form in a split second, more automatically the more tired or under pressure we are, which affect how we perceive and treat other people. Agarwal contends that this is a product of both individual learning and wider cultural environment, which I tend to agree with. There was a fair bit in here I’d encountered before, but who knew that hurricanes given ‘feminine’ names end up with more fatalities than those with ‘masculine’ names, because people don’t treat them as seriously and don’t evacuate to safety in such numbers?

In the early chapters she goes through the neuroscience of how the brain operates and what ‘activates’ in the brain when looking at people, recognising in-groups (broadly, people who share one’s race, accent, social class, other characteristic) and out-groups (those we might see as a threat or ‘other’). There’s a lot of detail here and the images of the brain would have been better within the chapter than stuck at the end. Anyway, then we get into characteristics such as race, gender, and smaller categories such as height, weight or age, demonstrating through discussing many academic studies how bias and stereotypes are formed and exemplified.

Agarwal takes in a world perspective in the book, showing how bias works in Indian and American politics and how various examples show up around the globe. She addresses issues of intersectionality (the double bias a Black woman might face, etc.) and makes it clear she’s considered non-binary and transgender people in her gender chapter, while pointing out that there’s not enough research on these groups at the moment to be able to draw conclusions.

There’s an interesting section at the end about how AI systems, which we must remember are taught using data from real-world phenomena, can become biased from the beginning (for example, if the criminal justice system treats Black offenders as more likely to re-offend and lets White offenders, off, any AI system created to make those judgements is going to take these data and amplify them, ending up even more racist than the originating humans; if driverless cars aren’t shown enough images of Black and Brown pedestrians, they are less likely to recognise them as pedestrians and more likely to run them over than White pedestrians – it’s all pretty horrific). She does demonstrate how human intervention can work against this.

Agarwal puts enough of her own experiences into the book to make it interesting and personal, but not too much, retaining the scientific rigour. At one point, she bravely makes job applications in both her original name (used here) and her married name, double-barrelled with her White British husband’s name, thus not getting five out of six invitations to interview in one of the two sets (you can guess which). The academic rigour is certainly there, but angled to the popular science reader, too – there are lots of footnotes explaining scientific and sociological terms, and a good set of notes easily found which point to the academic studies referenced.

There’s only a small section in the back about how to work against bias: the usual stuff of be aware and don’t go with the first instinct till you’ve thought about it, consider using anonymous job applications to remove name bias, and also notes on how we can’t be exonerated by it being unconscious and reiterating the double dose of personal and societal bias. Lots of information is packed into this book and it’s valuable for pulling all of that together. It’s written accessibly, there’s just a lot of it!

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Book 3/85 – 82 to go.

Book review – Raynor Winn – “The Salt Path”

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Emma and I have done really well with our latest Reading Together read, as we only started it at the beginning of August and we finished it on 30 September! Raynor Winn’s “The Salt Path” is quite a short and easy read, though – definitely easier than our last book – although it was a bit more sad and a bit less uplifting than I’d imagined (Em trusted me on this one and was just attracted by the cover, however she did say she enjoyed it overall, phew!). I did wait to read this until I knew there was a sequel, and then Verity very kindly gave me this copy for Christmas.

Raynor Winn – “The Salt Path”

(25 December 2020, from Verity)

Excited, afraid, homeless, fat, dying, but at least if we made that first step we had somewhere to go, we had a purpose. And we really didn’t have anything better to do at half past three on a Thursday afternoon than to start a 630-mile walk. (p. 43)

This is one of those books (again!) that pretty well everyone has read and/or knows about. Raynor Winn and her husband, Moth, become homeless in their early 50s as a result of a a business arrangement gone wrong. In a long relationship they’ve gone from students to farmers, building up their lives and family, but now it’s all gone – and now Moth’s had a devastating diagnosis of a degenerative disease.

So things aren’t great and indeed Em and I wept our way through the first section. Then they get onto the South-West coast path, having decided to walk that and wild camp as something positive to do. At first, Moth is really creaky and in pain but things improve and, while they never achieve the speed of the man who wrote their guidebook, they work their way around from North Somerset to South Cornwall.

It was lovely reading about places I know, and we both enjoyed the nature and travel aspect. Amusingly, until half-way around they are unwittingly tracking Simon Armitage (who is writing his journey up for “Walking Away”) which causes all sorts of mix-ups. Less positive was people’s attitude to finding out they’re homeless, which is quite shocking, assuming they’re addicts and backing away or being cruel. They do experience kindness, as well – the kindness of strangers being a theme through this and my last review.

Emma, who has children, was very affected by the effect on theirs, having to turn into sensible adults when they’re barely into their 20s, worrying about their parents but having to stand on their own two feet. This was poignant of course, as was so much of the book, but we both drew from it a sense of the capacity humans have for endurance and strength. And the book does end with a degree of hope, Moth has been all the better for regular exercise but they need to work out how to sustain that. Look out for the tortoise, too!


Emma and I have decided on our next tranche of books and I’m going to note them here so we have them recorded to look up. AND we’ve actually met up in person, the other weekend, after not having seen each other since late February 2020, the longest we’ve gone without seeing each other in our 28-year friendship!

Afua Hirsch – “Brit(ish)” – this is the next one we’ll start and is part memoir of growing up with mixed heritage in Britain, part an exploration of racism and colonialism

Francesca Wade – “Square Haunting” – about Meckelburgh Square and five overlapping residents

Sabeena Akhtar (ed.) – “Cut from the Same Cloth” – stories from British women who wear the hijab

Jini Reddy – “Wanderland” – a London woman with multicultural roots goes looking for the magical in the British landscape

Adam Nicolson – “The Sea is Not Made of Water” – rock pool and beach life between the British tides

Raynor Winn – “The Wild Silence” – homelessness and travels after “The Salt Path” and yes we’re aware people don’t rate it as highly as the first book, but we were curious

Those should keep us going for a good while: I’m so glad we’re keeping our Thursday Evening Reading going even as the lockdowns (hopefully) diminish and we can actually see each other again a bit more regularly.

Book review – Johnny Agar and Becki Agar – “The Impossible Mile”

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I have a lot of NetGalley books to read this month so I might not make them all. This one is an inspiring story of overcoming difficulties in life which I was fortunate enough to win in June, when I had a bit of a requesting frenzy.

Johnny Agar with Becki Agar – “The Impossible Mile: The Power of Living Life One Step at a Time”

(23 June 2021)

Johnny Agar was born prematurely and diagnosed as living with cerebral palsy, affecting his whole body quite severely so that by the time he was 18, the furthest he’d walked was 23 steps. But after a series of sporting endeavours, starting with his dad pushing him in an adapted buggy and moving on to being assisted around a triathlon by a team of people who were set up to do just this, he then decided to try to walk the last mile of a local 5k fundraiser for his church. The struggle, work and training he did for this are fully akin to that which elite and non-elite runners do, and it was moving to read about him going through the same processes as all of us.

It was lovely to read about the people who inspired him but then came to be inspired by him – baseball players and the great swimmer Michael Phelps. The folk at the Under Armour sportswear company take him under their wing and feature him in one of their adverts, but also ordinary people share with Johnny and his mum, Becki, the effect he’s had on their lives. The role the family’s strong faith plays is major and that’s a bit harder to get a grip on for a non-religious person, but fair play to them, of course. I love that he made contact with the doctor who gave the first diagnosis but also so importantly gave his parents permission to not upset themselves reading up in the textbooks but to just go out there and take every day at a time with their new baby.

One particular point that I found interesting was Johnny’s support by the Institutes for Conductive Education – an organisation founded in Hungary that helps people living with conditions like cerebral palsy to move more freely through exercises and physiotherapy. The British national Institute happens to be in Birmingham, and I help out at a 10k race run to raise funds for it every year, so it was lovely to read more about the use of the system across the world.

It’s a warm and honest book. Johnny’s family are obviously very supportive and tight-knit, his parents refusing to mention his diagnosis in front of him and always turning the negatives into positives, while Johnny himself does mention his frustrations and embarrassments as well as his triumphs. He thanks them and his sisters as well as other people in the long Acknowledgements section at the end. The book isn’t perfectly written; it has a feel of self-publishing about it and could have done with an edit to excise a few repetitions. But it will certainly inspire, and that’s what it’s there to to do.

Thanks to publisher Dexterity for giving me access to this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. The book is published on 14 September.

Book review – Sarah Reinertsen – “In a Single Bound” #amreading

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My friend Cari has been a book friend for well over a decade: we met through BookCrossing but only actually met in August 2018 when she came over to the UK and spent a couple of days up here – and she’s also a running friend now, so we went for a run then and swap inspiration and support in that area of our lives, too. Cari’s excellent at sending book parcels over here, or bringing piles of books in person, it turns out (I am less good though have sent her some real crackers, and did ‘enable’ her doing some good purchasing in charity shops. So this book was the ideal cross-over of a BookCrossing registered book about a runner, passed to me with a few others when we met!

Sarah Reinertsen (with Alan Goldsher) – “In a Single Bound”

(BookCrossing/Cari 23 August 2018)

Sarah had a congenital defect which left her with one smaller leg, and made the decision to have it amputated to give a better chance of using more useful prosthetics. After a few false starts, she was introduced to a disability sport mentor then took up athletics, first as a sprinter (and a world-record-winning one) and then, when she became frustrated with the lack of numbers in the sport whihc led to farcical races between a field with too many different categorisations at the Paralympics, triathlon and marathon.

As a trained journalist, she notices and describes all aspects of competitions, from the officials to the media surrounding them, as well as her own trials and tribulations and those of the people around her, which gives an extra depth to her descriptions.

I liked her honesty most, from her descriptions of her dysfunctional family and the hard work they put in to mend (or not) to her tales of her wilder student days (and mention of the band The Violent Femmes, which doesn’t happen often!) and her thoughts and thought processes on re-encountering her old football coach, whose behaviour she’d talked about in lots of presentations and in the book. I also loved her comparison of a triathlon to a wedding day (the expense, it lasting approx 18 hours, your family seeing you whizz by for about 6 minutes during the whole day …)!

I’ll be sharing this on with other running readers who I’m sure will appreciate it as much as I did.

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