Book review – Riva Lehrer – “Golem Girl”


I read Bookish Beck’s review of this book back in October 2021 and while a lot of the medical memoirs she reads are too medical for me, this one, even though it quite obviously featured a lot of medical detail, appealed to me, I think because of the queer and art themes, so I went ahead and bought a copy in the October. Notably, the paperback had quite small print: I did manage it but it made it that tiny bit less accessible, which I felt was a pity. I’m glad I didn’t have to resort to the e-book copy I bought, as I wanted to see the reproductions of Lehrer’s art works and that’s still usually better in a book. Weirdly, I don’t seem to have recorded this book coming in to the TBR so I can’t comment on what I bought at the same time, but it was the oldest book on my print TBR when I took it from the shelf last month.

Riva Lehrer – “Golem Girl”

(07 October 2021)

There was no one left to tell me how to take care of myself. I clattered alone inside my body, not even sure what was left of me after all my operations. Mom had been my librarian, my architect, my surgeon general, my curator. She had left me half-formed; for all my teenage rebellion, I was unprepared to take over the task of inventing myself. (p. 172)

Riva was born in 1958 with the congenital condition of spina bifida. Countless operations and medical treatments – not all listed here – later, she’s still affected by her condition in terms of her appearance, her gait, her health, and her need to endure further medical interventions. But she’s not defined by this: she’s defined, if anything, by her uncompromising art and art practices. Boyfriends and girlfriends (and a wife before it was legally possible) have come and gone; her friendships and brothers have endured, and so has her art.

I was particularly impressed that in her “risk” series of collaborative works, she intentionally leaves her subject alone with her portrait of them, obliged to make some sort of intervention in the portrait. Crucially, many of these portraits as well as other series and self-portraits, are included in good copies in the book, with a section at the end explaining a lot of them and even including feedback from their subjects.

The first part of the book deals with Riva’s childhood under the fierce protection of a mother who ends up with her own back issues and surgery in a closely symbiotic relationship. It’s testament to Lehrer’s fierce independence that she manages to have any more adult experiences living in this almost suffocating environment. But she’s so independent that she manages not to interact with D/disabled culture at all until she joins an art group and has her eyes opened; she describes in similar honest detail her explorations of race and intersectionality which start in ignorance but blossom in learning.

Later in her life, she helps others learn, too, being an artist in residence in a medical school making sure the first person with a disability the students meet teaches them compassion and empathy and how people are different, not wrong, and having them sketch specimens as real people and present biographies of living people with the same condition: powerful work.

An epilogue brings the book into the pandemic period, just when she was about to stop writing, and hammers home the different experiences of the general population and the vulnerable. Searing honesty that links her life story telling and art seamlessly makes this indeed a book that was a worth winner of the Barbellion Prize, which is awarded “to an author whose work has best represented the experience of chronic illness and/or disability”.

This was Book 1 for Pride Month (not an organised challenge, just thought I’d note them and have rearranged my 20 Books of Summer pile, too).

Book review – Lisa Z. Lindahl – “Unleash the Girls”


Lisa Z. Lindahl Unleash the Girls, black and white cover shown on a Kindle in a purple case

Continuing my quest to finish the older items on my NetGalley TBR, here is one that, shamefully, I downloaded in September 2021 (it’s not the one I’ve had the longest, but it is the oldest publication on there). Every now and again, when I’ve finished my reads published in the current month, I’m picking one of these up.

Lisa Z. Lindahl – “Unleash the Girls: The Untold Story of the Invention of the Sports Bra and How It Changed the World (And Me)”

(25 September 2021; NetGalley)

I just find it so fascinating, and truly ironic, that the sports bra – a true gift to girls and omen – was to a great degree born out of such a contentious relationship between two women. It was powerful fuel for my own inner search and growth.

That quotation sums up the book, really. It’s a blow-by-blow account of Lisa’s, plus colleagues Polly and Hinda’s invention and development of the sports bra in the 1970s and the subsequent ins and outs of the company they formed to take it to market in the 70s and 80s. Very much of their time, Lisa, at least, concentrates on being woman-centric and personal growth, where Hinda is more confrontational and competitive. This leads to what sounds like a horrible environment for both them and their eventual employees, with disagreements and shouting and an eventual grudging acceptance of their different ways of doing things (Polly gets bought out early on but is still a presence in Lisa’s life), which then fractures again when they sell the company.

It’s interesting on the growth of “jogging” in the US and the mechanics of setting up manufacturing and sales, but there are also a lot of musings on the nature of power and women’s personal growth. Lisa has lived with epilepsy her whole life and it’s fascinating to read her insights into how that has affected both her personal life and her business practices. We do get an update on what happened next, and it’s an interesting story to read. There are reproductions of adverts and business documentation in the middle of the book which add to it, and are now archived in the Smithsonian!

Thank you to BooksGoSocial for approving me to read this book via NetGalley and apologies for taking so long to do so. “Unleash the Girls” was published on 9 September 2019.

Book review – Beth Moran – “How not to be a Loser” / “A Day that Changed Everything”


Because I’ve already read two of my May NetGalley reads, I’m making the effort to start going through the older ones I’ve had languishing (19 in total, the oldest published in 2019; I’ve been up to date for well over a year now, so there is only one published between July 2021 and May 2023), and I thought I’d pick up this light novel that included running to get me going on that project (I’m now onto a book from 2019 helping Black women and nonbinary people to navigate university). This was called “How Not to be a Loser” when I downloaded it but is now “A Day That Changed Everything”

Beth Moran – “A Day that Changed Everything”

(16 March 2020, NetGalley)

Amy Piper is a recluse, kept in her house by a very bad case of agoraphobia. A previous champion swimmer who crashed out of her own career, Amy is supported by her old coach, Cee-Cee, to keep life going as normally as possible for her 13 year old son Joey. But when Joey starts showing promise in swimming himself and Amy comes to a few realisations, she finds she needs to make a change. It takes the support of a disparate group of women in a running club (and their hunky coach) to help her to help herself.

Unlike some of the other NG reviewers, I found Amy’s path to getting herself out and about believeable – it takes a good while and she has big regressions. The descriptions of panic attacks are realistic but carefully done so they don’t feel triggering.

There’s a good thread of self-development and positivity in the book, and I also like the diversity of the running group – one character mentioned as having an afro and being the only Black woman in her university year, one character with a child living with a disability, just seen as natural parts of the group, which is refreshing. I also liked her job as a bid-writer and editor as it’s nice to see the sort of work I do manipulating words described in a book!

I didn’t much like the fat- and unfit-shaming Amy engages in – although she is called out for it, there’s a narrative where her appearance comes back to how it was as well as her strength, although to be fair she has got the guy before then (not a spoiler in a book like this!).

A competently written and good read with some nice moments of learning for a few characters.

Thank you to Boldwood Books for selecting me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review, and I’m sorry it’s taken so long to produce one! “A Day That Changed Everything” was published on 20 March 2020.

Book review – Derek A. Bardowell – “Giving Back”


I’m still reading pretty slowly, and to be fair I think this was quite a substantial book (checking the print version, it’s over 400 pages) but I’m a bit disappointed I’m only reviewing my second book on the 8th of the month. Hopefully I’ll get some more reading time over the weekend. The combination of some plumbing work that took up a chunk of the weekend, then helping deal with the plumber who had to come out has cut it down a bit! I do know I’m fortunate to have time to read and I get to read more than many people, I just like getting my books read and sharing them!

Derek A. Bardowell – “Giving Back: How to do Good Better”

(21 June 2022, NetGalley)

With this book, I am calling on you to embrace a new way of contributing to a better world. I am not calling for you to stop donating to your favourite charities. Philanthropy should be personal, it should be about the heart, and for many, the element of self-interest or instant gratification will always be a factor. This book is not about whether we are generous or not; we are. It is more of a call to rethink the nature of our giving, to question who controls how we give, and to understand how changing the way we contribute can help us have a greater voice in our society.

Bardowell is a respected figure in philanthropy, who has worked both in direct front-line charity services and for funding providers, and in this book he shares his own journey and learning, including the mistakes he can see he made in not calling out or in bad behaviour by funders and taking a patriarchal view of funding and charities, and a history of how philanthropy has worked in mainly the UK but also the US. He calls for a radical new way to distribute philanthropic resources, whether that’s the money from big foundations or the time and money ordinary people can “give” (or give back, reparatively, as he and many others would have it, and rightly so).

The detail on how funding bodies and charities work is fascinating, the feedback on how people from Global Majority groups have felt and been interacted with by big organisations (not good, not well) and there’s great information on a range of game-changing people and organisations around the word, including Immy Kaur from Civic Square here in Birmingham, who I have the pleasure of knowing (through running). This is really positive and life-affirming and Bardowell makes a conscious effort to include as many initiatives as possible that are breaking moulds and working on real, systemic change. He does also list ways in which individuals could best divert their funds and energies, encouraging us to think less about giving to large organisations (he includes some excellent questions on social justice policies to ask larger organisations) and worrying about hierarchies and more about giving (back) to smaller, on-the-ground initiatives, run by the people they’re for.

There is a lot of extra material, a history of the Black Panthers and lots of history of reggae and hip hop music which, while interesting, and definitely in the case of dancehall music with a real tie-in to the social justice movements he talks about, but I feel this does dilute the central message a bit and might be a bit off-putting to those looking for direct suggestions they can put into action. Maybe there could have been a companion piece or website with this information, as it is interesting and relevant to an extent. I just wonder if it will mean some of the audience doesn’t read through right to the end.

So a useful, bold and provocative book which could have been a smaller or two books and perhaps had a stronger effect. I do encourage people to look out for it, though, especially if you’re having a think about where your hard-won cash and time might best go.

Thank you to Dialogue Books for selecting me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Book review – Sue Anstiss – “Game On”


Galloping through the end of my 20 Books of Summer now and wondering if I will actually do it: this is Book 18 of the pile (intro post here) and is also once again part of my TBR project to get everything up to Dave Grohl’s book read by 05 October. This is also an Unbound book which I subscribed to and which arrived on 18 August 2021 (so I’m now “only” a year behind on my reading!) and I recorded it in my State of the TBR post from 1 September (out of the print books recorded as incoming in that post I have now read all but one and I’m currently reading that one!). I’ve started Book 19, “Feminisms” by Lucy Delap (the Pelican Classic near the bottom of the pile in the picture) so who knows, I might just do it (will I get them all reviewed, though?).

I’m a bit ashamed I didn’t read and review this excellent book when it arrived, however I’m working towards being able to do that sort of thing again and hopefully it will still pique some interest.

Sue Anstiss – “Game On: The Unstoppable Rise of Women’s Sport”

(18 August 2021)

My goal for this book was to celebrate the huge progress we have seen for women in sport, while also highlighting the inequalities that still exist today. I wanted it to be a joyful book, acknowledging all that has been accomplished, as well as being a rallying cry to action for the future. (p. 312)

Well, in my opinion, this book succeeds on all those fronts. Anstiss has been active both in working in sport behind the scenes and participating in sport; now middle-aged, she’s had a long career in both and she freely admits that initially she didn’t see the inequalities, coming up through a family that gave her the same sporting opportunities as her brothers and only slowly noticing the playing down of women’s abilities and strength, the homophobia in women’s sport and the whiteness of the main teams that did well in Britain. But she acknowledges all that and is now here with an intersectional perspective and a lot of research to show us where we came from, what we’ve been through, the state of play now (well, in 2020/21) and what we can do moving forward. To do this, she’s both done secondary research and conducted interviews with a lot of influential women (how I wish I’d been the transcriber on this project!). It’s enraging and inspiring in equal parts and she leaves us with a good game plan.

Anstiss takes us around the world, into lots of different sports, and also looks at sports writers and broadcasters, coaches and officials, board members and managers, as well as players. She’s really good at making connections and drawing points together (for example, the Title IX legistlation in the US that gave all women equal opportunities for federally funded activities, giving equal sports participation and scholarships to women and men, the proportion of women coaches dropped as men grabbed the now-more-lucrative contracts …). She’s containedly scathing about misguided attempts to tempt girls into sport by offering vapid dolls or pink outfits and committed to working at grassroots level to make things better.

There’s not too much of Anstiss’ own story woven through the book: she’s professional and astute and presents a lot of facts, figures and pertinent quotes in an interesting and useful way, but she does include her experiences in sport, for example taking up triathlon in her mid-40s just when menopause started to hit and realising her experience wasn’t going to be quite as she expected. Fair play to her for raising this issue, and that of periods and motherhood, of course, as well.

Starting with twelve game-changing moments in women’s sport (now, the Lionesses’ victory in the European Cup for football would be one of them), the chapters then take themes of either types of participants (coaches, participants) or wider themes such as sexuality and race (there’s not a chapter on disability, which is a shame, although some para-athletes and disability activists are quoted through the book). There’s a chapter on male allies (yes, Andy Murray’s there, but others as well, with some cheering quotes) and one on mass participation sports to balance the tales of elites. There are some truly shocking stories and some inspiring ones, too: I think she gets the balance just right. We get the usual ones about one’s womb dropping out if you run a marathon (I’ve done four and an ultra and appear to be intact in that regard) and also a lot of more modern guff about femininity and heteronomativity. The stats on pay and prize money are the most shocking: if you think women’s sport isn’t as technically advanced as men’s, consider all the women who are working full-time as well as playing for their nation and earning 10% of what the men earn, with less access to coaching, physio, etc. There’s an interesting chapter at the end about sport for development, a movement to use sport as a catalyst for improving women’s lives around issues like FGM and forced marriage, and an acknowledgement of the complexity of the issues there, and she ends with a great bullet-pointed list of what exactly we can do to advance the cause of women’s sport in the world.

A well-researched, impeccably written, passionate, angry where it should be and celebratory book that I will be recommending to many.

This was book number 18 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 12/28 – 16 to go (and I’m reading Book 13!)

Book review – Sabeena Akhtar (ed.) – “Cut from the Same Cloth: Muslim Women on Life in Britain”


This is an Unbound book that I subscribed to back in May 2020 and which arrived with me in May 2021. I’m very proud to see the variety of names in the back, testament to the wide variety of people from different backgrounds who supported the book. I’ve got really bad at reading my Unbound books as soon as they arrive, however hopefully that will change soon, plus this is one of my Emma and Liz Reads books, so necessarily took a while to get through (if you want to find them all, click on the link there or click on the category in the category cloud). We finished “The Wild Silence” near the end of April, so this one has taken us about 10 weeks. We read one or two essays per week, usually on a Thursday evening.

Sabeena Akhtar (ed.) – “Cut from the Same Cloth: Muslim Women on Life in Britain”

(24 May 2021)

As a Muslim, writing and making art isn’t separate to the act of living, and living cannot be separated from the act of worship; the intention is the same. (p. 292, Sumaya Kassim, “Riot, Write, Rest: On Writing as a Muslimah)

This is a collection that was put together in order to give “visibly Muslim” (i.e. hijab-wearing) women a space where they could speak freely about their lives and interests. It ranges widely, from the purely political to the more purely personal, from angry to funny (often in the same piece), from theoretical to practical, from knotty and tangled to clear and easy to read. Each piece had its value and we had lots to talk about when we were reading.

It was a bit challenging to find a fairly sociological-sounding and tough piece at the beginning to start off with, and we both felt a bit disheartened that we were going to have to think hard all the way through and read and re-read, unpick and check we’d got it (we have no need for easy books but we do this to relax and enjoy and the first one was HARD). However, there were fewer of this kind of essay and more of the approachable kind as we went through, and of course each style has its place and the lack was in us!

We learned a lot. Emma was very careful to look stuff up, terms and names (some writers explained more than others; there is also a useful glossary at the back as there were quite a lot of religious terms here), I tended to coast a little more, getting a general understanding (this is how we tend to do our Reading!). We both enjoyed the deep dive into the life of spiritual, religious Muslim women like those we see daily in our neighbourhoods. We were shocked, but not surprised (worn down, maybe) by the daily toxic environment all the women live in but some chose to write about, and were both previously unaware of the anti-Black sentiments among the Muslim community, certainly in the UK, that many of them wrote about, with Nigerian, Somali and mixed heritages women speaking about colourism and prejudice from the communities they should feel safe in.

The pieces that detailed women’s daily lives were fascinating to us and a good learning opportunity. Khadijah Elshayyal’s “Covid-19 and Recalibrating my Ramadhan Reality” was a good example of what happens when men run the show and don’t think about what women might have to deal with, and showed resourceful women sorting things out but also being honest about their struggles, and a few pieces looked at life at school or work. There’s a theme around whether things have really changed since writers’ mothers came to the UK a couple of decades ago which is interesting and sad. The religious theme strung through the whole book was often beautiful and sometimes jagged and challenging, especially when women’s writing came up against the patriarchy, as in the last piece quoted at the beginning of this review.

Emma and I agreed we were glad we read this book, even if some pieces were challenging intellectually or emotionally (the Grenfell chapter was hard to read, but necessary). It was good to see the women included able to share and be honest about their experiences and their experiences of being asked to relive or suppress those experiences. I’m glad it got to Unbound and was published, and I recommend it: there really is something for everyone here.

Book review – Ibram X. Kendi – “How to Raise an Antiracist”


Back to NetGalley reads today and at this point I’m half-way through my 10 books to read for July, having actually finished 6 as I had one that came in suddenly and was published in June. And at the time of writing this review, I was already part-way through “Girls They Write Songs About”. I haven’t read any of Kendi’s other well-known and best-selling books, just really because they concentrated on the US experience of racism and antiracism and I was trying to catch up with the books published in/about the UK first. Then this one popped up on NetGalley and I just had to go for it.

Ibram X. Kendi – “How to Raise an Antiracist”

(23 May 2022, NetGalley)

We raise a critical thinker in much the same way as we raised an antiracist. Asking, not telling. Modeling, not lecturing. Radically changing the environment and ourselves.

As I say above, I haven’t read any of Dr Kendi’s other books, but going on this one, I will do so. I don’t know if the personal and almost confiding nature of the narrative, with personal experience woven in with academic research and calls for action, is a feature of all of his work, but it made it an attractive read, making me feel we were all in it together if we want equity for all peoples and an end to systematic as well as personal racism, and understanding that antiracism is a journey and we can exhibit aspects of both antiracism and racism (especially given that racism includes seeing racism yourself and doing nothing about it, the kind of “default” “neutral” status people try to claim as “I’m not racist”) as we move along that journey.

Although Kendi was working on his “How to be an Antiracist” when his daughter Imani was born, but he admits it didn’t strike him till much later that alongside he and his partner Sadiqa child-proofing the house against accidental injury, they should have been child-proofing her against racism. Then he admits he finds it uncomfortable to have to do that, to introduce the idea of racism to his small, innocent daughter.

He then takes the background of first Sadiqa’s treatment when she was pregnant (she is a paediatrician and knew something was wrong anyway but was naysaid and disbelieved until it was suddenly clear that something was very wrong; this is set against figures showing that the maternal mortality rate for Black women in the US is more than three times that for White women); their first moments with their baby; Imani’s daycare (where only White dolls were available; this is compared to the famous sociological Doll Test); and her first school – as she’s only five by the end of the book, we then follow Ibram and his brother’s journey through their own school lives (encountering racism from caregivers and teachers; compared with research on racist and ablist perceptions and actions of teachers, underfunding of schools, overdiagnosis and underdiagnosis of learning disabilities, etc.). So all through the book, he takes personal experience expressed clearly and honestly, then compares it to the research that has been done on all types of children and families, and then offers points to work on, learning points and action points.

One small issue I have with the book is of course that it’s a US-based book, so the stats and experiences include Latinx and Native (as he calls them) American people, with South Asians being lumped together, where the UK experience obviously has a smaller proportion of GMP populations but more people from South and East Asia as a proportion. But obviously the issues are very similar, and the statistics here will be similar based on our populations. I still have a bit of trouble getting my head around the levels of school grades in the US, and while he talks about class-based issues and poverty, I’m not sure the class issues are the same in both countries. This is obviously not a criticism, just an aspect of reading this book from here, and there are plenty of books that show the UK stats and issues (for example, “Brit(ish)“, “Slay in Your Lane“, “Natives” and some upcoming ones here, too).

Anyway, the powerful options he suggests are useful anywhere: teaching critical thinking, discussing what has happened in the news or what the child has seen. He extends this nicely to cover other issues such as gender, people with disabilities and the accommodations they might need, class and poverty issues, showing how we can influence the children in our lives to see and notice inequity and protest against it. There’s a call for both changing ourselves AND society at the end:

We must stop problematizing children and start problematizing power and policy – and ourselves. We can parent better. We can teach better. We can care for the child better. But there are limits to what we can do as caregivers, especially when resources are lacking, when kids are irritable from hunger, when parents and teachers keep getting evicted from homes or buildings, or because the state, through its policies, is imposing a racist curriculum onto parents and teachers.

The afterword builds a picture of the backlash in the US after George Floyd’s death and the growth of the BLM movement – I hadn’t realised about all the curriculum changes made since then by White supremacist activists trying to remove “critical race theory” from schools to as they claim protect their children from hating their own race (research shows White children don’t end up hating their race from being educated about racism; there’s a chance Black children will stop self-hatred when that education is there). I don’t think that’s a thing in the UK, where curriculum reform is adding GMP history into schools, though I’m not entirely sure on this.

A great book with lots of really powerful and useful, practical points. The referencing is done well, with authors’ names being given in the text but with no footnotes or endnote numbers to break the concentration and a reference list done by chapter and page at the back – suitable for a book like this, I think. I loved that he acknowledged his wife as “The real Dr Kendi” and thanked his editors in detail at the end. If you are raising, teaching or around babies to teenagers and want to explore introducing antiracism in their lives, I recommend this book.

Thank you to Bodley Head Publishers/Vintage Books for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “How to Raise an Antiracist” was published on 7 July 2022.

Book review – Mya-Rose Craig – “Birdgirl”


The last of my NetGalley reads published in June, I always try to get ahead of myself with reviews so there aren’t too many gaps, so reviewing in July. It was published right at the end of June, though.

Mya-Rose Craig – “Birdgirl”

(28 June 2022, NetGalley)

I requested this one because it was described as a nature and social justice memoir by a young woman (19 when she wrote it) of a dual Bangladeshi-British heritage who explains the solace gained from birdwatching. It is all that, but it also really could do with some trigger warnings as a lot of the content of the book is around her mum’s pretty severe mental health issues, including some fairly strong stuff around sectioning and also mentions of two drugs, one not helpful to many, one helpful to many but sort of made out to be dangerous with no redress on how it helps others, a bit dangerous in itself.

So although I did enjoy the descriptions of a very different kind of birding to my preference, fairly advanced twitching as a family, following bird alerts all over the country and then going to all seven continents before she’s 15, picking off life-list species, describing them briefly (with a concentration on a particular bird in each chapter, loosely based on each trip) and twitching overseas, too, the mental health content was quite distressing to read.

There is good stuff about the very decent social justice efforts she’s made, running camps for what she calls VME (visible minority ethnic) people (she points out that using BAME can mean that White minority ethnic groups get counted in statistics, meaning VME people still don’t get to see themselves represented), creating a conference on increasing diverse people’s access to the countryside when aged 14, and founding a charity to support those efforts (Black2Nature). She also credits the work of Indigenous peoples in particular in making efforts in conservation and some good, positive examples, as well as pointing out that you can see common local species of bird through new eyes, too. There’s some stuff about racial bullying when her blog became famous and the sensible way she has dealt with that, and interesting points on being a teenager with a fairly middle-aged-perceived hobby.

So not quite what I expected, a bit more distressing in the mental health content than you might want, and does descend into lists at times (but then who else has seen over 5,000 bird species: not me!) but an interesting read.

Thank you to Jonathan Cape for making this book available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Birdgirl” was published on 30 June 2022.

Book review – Sara Novic – “True Biz”


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”


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.

Older Entries