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.

Book review – Dave Heeley and Sophie Parkes – “From Light to Dark: The Story of Blind Dave Heeley” @blinddaveheeley @RunBookshelfFB

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June 2018 2I went to see Blind Dave Heeley give a talk in Bournville, hosted by the lovely Bournville Harriers running club (but with plenty of room for friends) back in June 2018. I already knew about him, the famous West Bromwich based blind runner, always running for charity with a guide runner, and I’d shouted out to him during races as he passed me or gone the other way on an out and back. His talk was a riot, down-to-earth and funny, and complete with guide dog to pat, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to buy his book. I’m a bit ashamed it’s taken me so long to read it, with my reading down a bit last year and my policy of reading some off the newer bit of the TBR and some off the older, but it didn’t disappoint when I did get to it.

Dave Heeley and Sophie Parkes – “From Light to Dark”

(10 June 2018 – signed copy)

A really good autobiography, very able co-written by Sophie Parkes, which felt authentically in his voice while also being well-written and well-structured (the two sides don’t automatically come together!). There’s lots of satisfying detail about his challenges but also humility about the mistakes he’s made and honesty about what being blind is like, as he is so often asked:

After all, the truth is that being blind is bloody awful. (p. 31)

But it’s a generally and genuinely optimistic book, full of community spirit and charitable enterprise and appreciation for what he can do and achieve (including woodwork – fair play to him!). He is always first to laugh at himself and funny situations he’s found himself in, and there were some genuine laughs there; what about when the Guide Dogs didn’t want him to have “Blind Dave” on his t-shirt because it was a bit negative! I of course loved reading about how he started out running (later than I’d thought) and also welled up a few times reading about his first London Marathon and a couple of his seven marathons in seven days in seven continents runs, for example when he was run in by a load of squaddies on the Falkland Islands leg.

As well as the human interest there’s lots of training and detail on the recovery and energy expenditure in the seven marathons challenge and details of the tent and logistics of the Marathon Des Sables (yes, he’s done that, too). It was lovely to see a mention of blind football Olympian Darren Harris, who I have also met, and I so look forward to encountering Dave, however distantly and fleetingly, at other events in the future.

Let’s all be inspired by one of his closing statements:

Don’t worry about what you can’t do; concentrate your efforts on what you can do and you will find you can achieve those goals and ambitions. (p. 287)

Book review – David Weir – “Weirwolf” #20BooksOfSummer #amreading

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Look at me getting on with my 20 Books of Summer list like a pro. OK, it is 26 June as we speak and I’ve only read four of them, but I’m sure I’ll catch up. Certainly having worked on my work schedule, I’m finding more time for reading at the weekends at least, and some more time during the week.

It’s also been lovely to get some reading in the GARDEN done – outdoors, in the sunshine, soaking up that Vitamin D. We have managed to get the garden reasonably tidy, too, keeping on top of the lawn, weeding and deadheading – there isn’t much to our garden and gardening isn’t a joy to me, but it’s nice to keep it tidy. At the moment, the hedges in the back are large and fuzzy, but we have birds nesting in them and I’d rather have lovely birds than neat hedges and no birds! Would you like a bonus bird picture? I’ll pop one at the end.

Oh, and look at the date of acquisition of this book – I’m only 11 months behind at the moment!

David Weir – “Weirwolf”

(31 July 2017 – Poundland)

Poundland do have a shelf of books and you never know what you might find – the slightly out-of-date autobiography of the UK’s most decorated wheelchair athlete for starters!

This is an honest and open autobiography (written with David Bond, who gets a credit on the title page and a bio at the back) full of exciting race report but also reflecting on disability, disability sports and training regimes. It was published in 2013 so is a bit out of date, but also positive, pretty well ending on the high of his London 2012 triumphs.

We open, as all London 2012-based sports biographies do, with him preparing to race in the Paralympics. He explains exactly how he gets into and stays in his racing chair and I appreciate the level of detail throughout the book on the technical details of steering, etc., which adds a good level of depth to the narrative. We’re then back to a chronological telling of his story, from his father’s uncanny ability to recover from effort when in the Army, which he shares, through is early life fitting in with the other kids and not considering himself disabled.

Weir, who went to a special school, speaks of changes in attitudes towards disabled people since mainstream schooling as a default came in, however I was pretty shocked to read him state he would consider terminating a pregnancy if a child of his was disabled themselves: “… because I was brought up disabled, I wouldn’t want a child to be brought up in the same situation as me” (p. 147). I suppose he has the right to his opinions, and it’s great that he’s honest, but I was still shocked.

Moving on, it’s a book full of respect and praise for his coach, Jenny Archer – whose advice he prioritises over that of UK Athletics even when that gets him into trouble – and mentor Tanni Grey-Thompson. He’s pretty scathing about the different treatment given to disabled athletes in comparison to able-bodied ones, but at least he has sought to address that by setting up the Weir-Archer Academy to help young disabled athletes, including people who want to take part in sport for fun and to keep fit (I particularly liked that bit).

Weir is open and honest even about less positive aspects of his own life, such as his long-past recreational drug use and his debilitating fear of flying. He’s obviously an anxious man and it’s refreshing to see him share this, as well as his concerns about and for his children. In the end, I enjoyed most the bits about the technicalities of racing, shouting across to his friend Josh Cassidy about getting boxed in (I never knew they could call out to each other during races), etc. A good read.

This was Book 4 in my 20 Books of Summer project.


I’m currently reading “Sacred Britannia” which is excellent on the mixing of religions in Roman Britain, absolutely fascinating and I can’t wait to write up my review of it for Shiny New Books. Then it’s on to the next 20Books book …

Oh, bonus bird pic. HOW many sparrows?

Book reviews – Welcome to Biscuit Land and Are We Nearly There Yet? plus four acquisitions

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Sept TBRWell, my TBR is not really looking like this any more, as I seem to have been all about acquiring books in September. More on that later: first I have reviews of two memoirs, both interesting and affecting in their different ways. I read both of these on my Kindle, as I decided to take it on my recent trip to Kingston and London, to escape having to carry too many books around (I solved this issue by almost immediately buying five books. Oh well). I had a couple of train journeys and some nights alone in my hotel, so got through quite a lot, and I’ve decided to share the index to my Kindle on my TBR posts in future, as it’s so easy to click-click-click then forget you have them!

Jessica Thom – “Welcome to Biscuit Land”

(Kindle e-book, no idea when I acquired it)

Jessica is the young woman with the neurological syndrome, Tourette’s, who people may recall meeting on Stephen Fry’s TV series about language and words. She blogs at Tourettes Hero, and this book shares a year in her life, I imagine drawn from earlier blog posts. As with the “Moonlight Blogger” book, the format does make it a little bit disjointed, with episodes from daily life interspersed with more general explanations, but it’s still very well worth reading.

Brave, honest, unflinching in her descriptions of how people behave towards her – good and bad – and of necessity using some swearing, etc. (not to say that Tourette’s is all about swearing, because it’s so much more, and less, than that, but there are swear words in there, so watch out if you’re easily offended), it’s a moving and anger-inducing yet also very funny book. You do get something of a feel for what it’s like to be Jess in her daily life (the “something” is not from a lack of good writing or explanation, but because it’s truly impossible to imagine what it could be like to get trapped in the world of tics but also draw immense joy in life and creativity from them) and she very usefully guides the reader through how she would like to be treated and things to look out for when interacting with someone with Tourette’s.

Although it is funny and life-affirming, it is also moving, and as Jess’ condition changes and deteriorates, it’s a testament to her hugely supportive friends and family and the NHS and those workplaces and officials that are understanding and caring.

Ben Hatch – “Are We Nearly There Yet?”

(Kindle e-book, no idea when I acquired it)

Hatch takes his family on a madcap, months-long driving tour of the UK, testing family-friendly hotels and attractions and trying to keep his young kids happy and his marriage together while compiling the guidebook they’ve been commissioned to write. But he has some health worries of his own, and then his dad receives a devastating diagnosis, and both sets of episodes, plus several involving their children are told in excruciating, harrowing detail.

While much of the travel stuff is amusing, especially when they visit Birmingham and stay in the Rotunda, the family stuff is so raw, like a cathartic therapeutic writing experience more than a professional narrative with the necessary amount of detachment. Don’t get me wrong – I feel for the author in his struggles with his identity within his family and facing up to an exceptionally difficult situation, but the harrowing medical details sit a bit uncomfortably with the warts-and-all but generally jolly travelling sections.

I did read on, and I felt guilty when skipping the more detailed medical bits as well as guilty for reading these details of someone’s life – I really would recommend you not read this book if you’ve lost a family member recently or indeed have elderly parents, as it might be a bit close to home. It’s not a bad book as such, but it was too uncomfortable for me.

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Sept 2014 11I’ve had a bit of a book-buying splurge, as I was in the local charity shops with some LibraryThing friends at the weekend, where I found a Maeve Binchy I’ve not read or got (how so?) and a Noel Streatfeild autobiography I didn’t know about at all, so that’s exciting. I saw a book that I wanted to buy a friend for their birthday, so I popped back to one shop today and found that book had been sold (of course it had) but there were some more lovelies, including this interesting Virago crime novel by “Amanda Cross” (pseudonym for Carolyn Heilbrun, apparently), which is way down a series but not a series I’ve ever seen before. I also, while calling M to check whether my big “Forsyte Saga” omnibus included books 1-3 or 1-6 (it was the latter, so I put down the copy of 3-6 I’d grabbed), remembered to check the state of my “I have 2/3 of each of the trilogies” Robertson Davies issue and picked up “The Salterton Trilogy”, of which I only had one volume already. I haven’t read any Davies for years, although I did read most of him in a big chunk back in the 90s, so this is a nice addition to the shelves. And I have been doing a lot of weeding lately (including finally getting rid of some an ex-friend gave me which I won’t read again and don’t need for sentimental reasons any more) so there will be space on the shelves for these, honest!

Have you read any of these? What about the ones I’ve reviewed? What are you reading at the moment? Are you as behind with your reviewing as I am?

NICK VAN BLOSS – Busy Body: My Life With Tourette’s Syndrome

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Bought 24 Jun 2007 – Bookends

An excellent, uncompromising memoir of a life, as he puts it, “with Tourette’s rather than OF Tourette’s”. Van Bloss is extremely honest and lacks self pity. He tries to give a clear picture of exactly what it’s like to have Tourette’s, then weaves it into his life story. Not just another “misery memoir”; this guy can *write*, and I hope he has started to write fiction too, as he mentions at the end of the book.

I am going to register this on BookCrossing and offer it on a bookring, to share this remarkably clear, lucid and readable memoir.

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