State of the TBR – May 2022

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Oh, the shame of my TBR shelf! For there is … a PILE! How could there be? But there is. It’s down to the amazing haul of books I scored from the Oxfam Bookshop Moseley in the month (see here for details). And I have (at least) managed to get it into the run of books, albeit sideways and in a pile, because I have taken several off the shelves since last month (I’ve realised I’ve included my big stash of Three Investigators novels in the pic – I normally move them aside and they play no part in my stats (OK?!)).

I managed to finish a grand total of TWENTY books in April, which I was really pleased with (helped by being near the end of a couple at the turnover of the month and finishing one of my readalongs with Emma). I managed to finish and review eight out of the nine e-books I intended to read, including the two non-fiction books published in March that I’d not got to that month, and only missing “The Go-Between” (not that one), which was published in January and adding in one more that I’m half-way through “True Biz”. (“The Love Songs of W.E.B. Dubois” is resisting me but I will get to it.). I have two books finished in April whose reviews are written but will be published next week).

I started my new quarter of TBR challenge books and managed to complete five of them, so not brilliant but not hopeless, with 36 left to go.

Shiny New Books

I reviewed “This Woman’s Work: Essays on Music” edited by Sinéad Gleeson and Kim Gordon for Shiny New Books – an excellent and diverse collection of essays on women in music by women, which really had something for everyone.

Incomings

In print books, it looks like I was quite restrained until we remember the nine books from earlier in the month.

The publisher Michael Walmer offered me a choice of backlist books after I reviewed “Letters on Shetland” and I chose “Foula: Island West of the Sun”, a memoir by Sheila Gear about farming on a tiny remote island. Natalie Morris’ “Mixed/Other” was a book that Past Me had pre-ordered in paperback; it’s a book about multiraciality in Britain today. And I popped up to Oxfam Books to pick up two more Virago Travellers for Kaggsy and it’s therefore entirely her fault I spotted Robert MacFarlane’s “Landmarks” in the window (actually, it was Matthew who pointed it out to me …) and had to buy it.

I bought several e-books for Kindle this month:

Because I’d won Christie Barlow‘s newest Love Heart Lane novel from NetGalley, I felt I needed to fill in books 4-6 (“Starcross Manor”, “Primrose Park” and “The Lake House”) so I could get all the back story filled in. Simon at Stuck-in-A-Book heartily recommended E. Nesbit’s “The Red House” and I found a cheap copy, and David Harewood’s memoir “Maybe I Don’t Belong Here” on race and his breakdown, and John Barnes’ “The Uncomfortable Truth About Racism” were both on my wishlist and both in the Kindle sale.

I won a lot of NetGalley books this month again:

Lucy Dickens’ “The Holiday Bookshop” (published in July) sees the heroine running a bookshop in the Maldives, a bit different there, Josie Lloyd’s “Lifesaving for Beginners” (July) is an ensemble piece about female friendship and sea swimming and Camille Baker’s “The Moment we Met” (July) pits a busy Black woman against a dating app. Emily Henry’s “Book Lovers” (May) is an enemies-to-lovers light read set in the world of book editors and agents, “Daisy’s French Farmhouse” by Lorraine Wilson (May) was offered to me by the publisher and has the heroine find a new life in France and Christie Barlow’s “The New Doctor at Peony Practice” (May) is the newest Love Heart Lane novel set in Scotland. In non-fiction, “Birdgirl” by Mya-Rose Craig (June) is the memoir of a young woman committed to birdwatching and environmentalism, “Inside Qatar” by John McManus (Sep) looks at the rise of this tiny, rich and troubled country, and “The Ponies at the Edge of the World” by Catherine Munro (May) continues my interest in Shetland. “Why We Read” edited by Josephine Greywoode interrogates 70 writers on why they read non-fiction.

So that was 20 read and, along with the 9 of the Oxfam haul, 28 coming in in April – oops!

Currently reading

I’m currently reading Katherine MacInnes’ amazing “Snow Widows” about the wives of Scott of the Antarctic et al. and Jude Rogers’ super “The Sound of Being Human” (started in pdf but I wanted to get the book) for Shiny New Books. “Cut from the Same Cloth?” is my current read with Emma (got off to a very theoretical start but looks like a good mix of essays by British women who wear the hijab) and my e-book novel is “True Biz” by Sara Novic, a novel set in a school for deaf people in the US which is fascinating.

Coming up next, my print TBR that I must read …

I want to get my teeth into “Foula” and I need to read those two British Library Women Writers novels, Rose Macaulay’s “Keeping up Appearances” and Maud Cairnes’ “Strange Journey”. It’s Real LIves month in the LibraryThing Virago Readers group so time to tackle this substantial “Virago Book of Women Travellers” and it’s Heaven-Ali’s Daphne du Maurier Week this month and she kindly loaned me “The Scapegoat to read for it … and there’s also of course my Larry McMurtry.

My NetGalley TBR for May is fairly full, and because it includes that Love Heart Lane book, I need to read books 1-6 of that series first (I have the first three as a cheapy omnibus e-book).

So from those incomings above, I have “Why We Read”, “Daisy’s French Farmhouse”, “Book Lovers”, “The Ponies at the End of the World” and “The New Doctor at Peony Practice”, then I have Sara Cox’s novel of community and pottery, “Thrown”, Susanna Abse’s therapists’ tales, “Tell me the Truth About Love”, Akwaeke Emezi’s “You Made a Fool of Death with your Beauty” (I hear this novel opens with a shocking scene so hope I can deal with it!) and Clare Pooley’s new community-based novel, “The People on Platform 5”.

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong which will take a while), that’s 21 books I think I’m going to read this month, and that’s not including getting a few more off the print TBR, too! I do have a weekend away with two longish train journeys coming up this month at least …


How was your April reading? What are you reading this month? Have you read or picked up any of my selection?

Book review – Lara Feigel – “The Group”

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Another print book from my TBR Challenge 2021-22 and another of the books that Bookish Beck kindly sent me in December 2020. This one riffs off Mary Macarthy’s novel of the same name, which I reviewed in 2007 but didn’t really remember – looking at my small review from then, it did cover a lot of the same ground, updated for the #MeToo years and likely to be as representative of its times going forward as the original.

Lara Feigel – “The Group”

(24 December 2020, from Bookish Beck)

So here we are then. Five exact contemporaries who once shared a cluttered, thin-walled student house off the Cowley Road, all privileged, white, middle-class, all vestigial hangers-on, left over from an era when we received free educations at our elite university and then emerged into a world where we could still just about find jobs and buy flats, provided with opportunities for selfishness and leisure by our cleaners and our childminders. Nothing very eventful happens to us, but that gives more room for the ethnographer in me to get to work. (pp. 11-12)

The narrator, Stella, and Priss, Polly, Helena and Kay, met at university and amazingly all ended up in London, now around 40 and living busy middle-class lives (Polly started off working class but is now working as a doctor) revolving around what read to me as a married, childless 50-year old with what one might term a quiet life an exhausting existence of marital troubles, milky babies and affairs. The narrative voice is cool and emotionless, even when describing emotions, and did remind me of Doris Lessing’s narrator in “The Golden Notebook”, so it was interesting that Rebecca mentioned this in her review (see link below).

It was interesting, like a sort of soap opera, and covered lots and lots of contemporary issues – is it OK to have a revenge affair, has the time of White middle-aged, middle-class men come to an end, is it OK to have affairs at all, is it OK to have a baby if it ends a marriage, is it OK to be a woman and still be the primary caregiver, what do you need to be able to write if you’re a woman, and also a hefty dose of #MeToo, as the uncle of one character / boss of another is facing losing his job over allegations from a series of women. That’s a lot to pack into a book and Feigel does it pretty well.

The omniscient narrator / first-person viewpoint choice does get a bit messy – we’re both in Stella’s head and observing the inner lives of the other characters, all very well until Stella’s present and then it gets a bit clunky:

I arrive, wearing a blue dress bought in yesterday’s lunch hour from a shop I usually think of as too young for me. Kay notices it, thinking that the sleeves are too baggy for my shoulders and that I look too determinedly fashionable. She thinks that it would look better on Priss. (p. 223)

Because quoted direct speech lacks inverted commas, at first you think this is reporting Kay’s spoken reaction, then you realise it’s in her head; at the end of this scene, Stella leaves and Kay feels irritated, jumping around in people’s heads again. There is a lot to be gained from this choice of point of view but it does pull this reader, at any rate, out of the narrative at times. And then, later on, Kay herself sits down to write a novel at last, which feels very like this one!

I also got a bit confused as to whether parts should be funny or not. There wasn’t much that was relatable to me, but I did enjoy reading about these people’s chaotic lives, full of secrets and revelations and shifting opinions on each other, making me appreciate my relatively calm time of it. I did like the variety of experiences and the different types of families that were being made; there was also some welcome and unfussy ethnic diversity. And in the end, in a massive echo of the next book I’ll be reviewing on Monday …

We have so much power between us, if we can take ourselves seriously, with our grief and rage and love and desire.

And our laughter, Polly said, laughing. Don’t forget that.

Maybe that’s what we’ll do in our forties, i said. Learn to use our power. (p. 318)

You can read Rebecca’s review and comparison with the original novel here.


This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 3 Book 5/41 – 36 to go.

Book review – Eley Williams – “The Liar’s Dictionary”

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I’ve been making some good progress with my TBR Challenge 2021-22 this month, and at the time of writing this review, I’ve finished this and another one from the layout here. Maybe I will do it after all! I’m into the books that Bookish Beck kindly sent me in December 2020 now, and what a lovely variety of review copies of novels and non-fiction they are. Here’s a really quirky and fun novel that I feel had something of the tone and setting of “The Snow and the Works on the Northern Line” (and as such, I’ll be sending it to Emma, who also enjoyed that one).

Eley Williams – “The Liar’s Dictionary”

(24 December 2020, from Bookish Beck)

Mallory is a paid intern at an obscure dictionary, helping with a project to digitalise it in the hope that something can be made of it. Her boss, David Swansby, is the last heir to the unfinished dictionary project that bears his name and the huge crumbling building in central London that used to house a whole hive of busy lexicographers but is now home to Mallory, David and a cat called Tits, with the lower floors hired out for events. Mallory sits out her days, underemployed but enjoying the wordplay, but also every day taking calls from a person threatening to destroy their world. Meanwhile, her more practical girlfriend, Pip, who is more about action, enjoys the coffee shop job where they met but is becoming more and more frustrated by Mallory’s refusal to be her authentic self, including admitting their relationship to others.

In 1899, Peter Winceworth is one of that hive of lexicographers, researching words and writing out slips to go into the great work. He’s constantly looking for words for things that don’t yet exist, one of the delights of the book. Rivalrous with his colleagues in an office teeming with cheeky cats (although the cats have diminished to one by the modern-day sections, we assume this has happened naturally and even though the book has some shocking episodes, no harm comes to any cats; hold calm with the pelican bit and it will come good). At a horrible party, he meets an irresistible woman … but of course she’s connected to his bitterest rival. After a terrible day involving rushing around on trains to nowhere, explosions, discoveries and fright, he takes his hobby of making up slips with invented words and their spurious definitions and combines it with his work, inserting mountweazels into the august dictionary.

Back in the modern world in alternating chapters, Mallory is tasked with finding these invented words. But will she find them all, why are they there in the first place, and can she cope with the hoax and threatening phone calls? Both plots work their way gradually through, with lovely wordplay and fun all the way through both texts. We know it will be playful after the preface, which purports to be a serious piece about dictionaries but of course isn’t. I did think one part of the 1899 plot was a bit weak, but it involves a strong and independent woman so we’re good there, and all ends satisfactorily and with an air of positivity that’s common to both protagonists after you’ve raced through all the short chapters to get there.

You can read Rebecca’s review here.


This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 3 Book 4/41 – 37 to go.

Book review – Usain Bolt – “Faster than Lightning: My Autobiography”

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As I’ve read five of my seven print TBR books for this month, I decided to treat myself to a quick read and pulled this one off the shelf (It was next to “Running in the Midpack”, almost in the exact centre of the first shelf). I bought this from the Kings Heath Oxfam Bookshop; I recorded that I bought Craig Revel Horwood’s “In Strictest Confidence” at the same time, and I can say I was very much less disappointed by this one (you’ll find my review at the bottom of the quite other review I link to there!).

Usain Bolt – “Faster than Lightning: My Autobiography”

(13 June 2021, Oxfam Shop, Kings Heath)

It turns out I have two things in common with fastest man in the world Usain Bolt: we both dislike running cross-country races and we both have one leg longer than the other! So there you go. This is the engaging, honest-seeming and likeable autobiography, ably ghosted by my lovely client Matt Allen (whose name is on the title page and who is thanked in the acknowledgements for helping to get the words on the page: hooray), but sadly before I started working with him. Notably opening with a car crash which should have been more serious, it then rewinds to take us through his life from the early years or running around at school and wanting to be a cricketer through his development as an athlete, change from 200m and 400m to 100m and 200m, two Olympics Games and through to the 2013 World Championships in Moscow (so we don’t witness his third Olympics in Rio).

He’s honest about his shortcomings – being a bit slack on the gym work, liking to party, admitting he chose to move from the 400m to the 100m because both the training and racing for the 400m was too much like hard work – but he manages not to annoy us, with his cheeky persona and huge raw talent which even he admits could do with some help in the gym, and especially from doctors and massage therapists, to achieve those amazing things.

Although Bolt always appears so relaxed and chilled, even he has had moments of pressure and of difficult interactions with his home crowd: Jamaica appears unforgiving if you are a bit off or tired/injured when it comes to a big race. He’s also perceptive on the effect stress has on his competitors, noting their expressions and trying to help relieve the pressure, even, when he sees it in them. He mentions what he considered the rigorous drug testing programmes in Jamaica, angered at insinuations about his and others’ ability (he reminds a journalist forcibly at one point that no, he didn’t come out of nowhere: he had a history of winning ability right from schools championships as a child).

There’s a funny incident with an official when he wants to take a baton from London 2012 home with him, and an admission that he mislaid some of his medals once and just hands them to his team to look after. What is nice is that NJ, who travels with him and manages him, is a childhood friend, and he’s obviously very loyal to his family, too.

A fun and interesting read with more depth and psychology than you might expect.

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 3 Book 3/41 – 38 to go.

TBR challenge update

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I suddenly realised I’d forgotten to post the next quarter’s TBR Challenge update photo and calculation – amazingly (or not really, as there were fewer books involved) I have managed to keep track with the calculations this time.

So (having replaced the three books (two reviewed, one not yet reviewed) that I’ve removed from the TBR challenge pile this month before I remembered I hadn’t photographed them, we end up with this:

To remind readers, I was set a challenge to read everything up to and including Dave Grohl’s “Storytelling” by the anniversary of it arriving (on my husband’s birthday), so 05 October 2022. I read 12 out of the remaining 53 during Q2, which is not amazing but not terrible (four per month, even I can work that out).

You can compare it with the start of Q2 pictured here on the TBR challenge page. I had 41 books left at the start of April 2022 which leaves me with just under 7 books to read per month to hit my target. I have read three this month already, though, so we’re getting … somewhere.

Book review – Sairish Hussain – “The Family Tree”

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I had been pretty desperate to pull a real-life, physical book from my TBR, as I have been terribly guilty of only reading physical review or challenge books and NetGalley ebooks recently. And how glad I am that I took this one off, such a good story, if a traumatic read at times, and so absorbing. I apparently bought this on a pre-order in the autumn of 2020 and it turned up slightly unexpectedly in November of that year – I have at least now read all of the four books I acquired then.

Sairish Hussain – “The Family Tree”

(27 November 2020)

Saahil spoke of success as thought it was waiting around for him like a faithful pet dog. It would come rushing to him as soon as he whistled. He’d worked hard enough for it and more importantly, Saahil wanted it badly enough. (p. 85)

This is the second book I’ve read recently (“Yinka, Where is Your Huzband?” being the other) where the author has written in an author’s note that they wanted to write the book they wanted to read, where they saw themselves represented. In Hussain’s case, she’s written a great book about Pakistani Muslims in a Northern British town which has not one arranged marriage plot or row about headscarves or any other stereotypical plot point. What it is is a fresh, approachable, well-researched and at times visceral portrayal of an ordinary family going through events that could happen to anyone.

We open with Amjad caring for his baby daughter, Zahra after his wife’s death in childbirth. He wraps her in his wife’s beautiful pashmina shawl, with its image of a tree with birds fluttering around and in it, and this shawl will see us through the next 500-odd pages. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but we watch Amjad doing his best, helped by his mum and his best friend Harun and Meena, who step in to help and support the little family, completed by Amjad’s son Saahil and Harun and Meena’s son Ehsan, Saahil’s best friend. We watch the kids growing up, close as anything, and then Saahil and Ehsan are finishing university and going for a night out which for the one gobby, handsome boy and the other quieter lad will change their lives forever.

Bringing in themes of addiction, revenge, homelessness and betrayal, we watch events slowly unfold for another decade, but secrets will always come out, people who have gone away can almost never stay away, and various characters will have to decide whether or not to forgive.

The family drama is set against the changing times in the country. Zahra has never really known the UK before 9/11, as she’s eight when the attacks occur, and she becomes an ardent feminist and highly politicised, writing a provocative blog that she knows will be undermining her opportunities to work as an investigative journalist for the BBC – will she get any chances? Her cousins in Birmingham don’t think so, with their middle son offering a vignette of the institutional racism of job applications.

I loved the main and supporting characters, Ammi with her lack of English and range of colourful swearwords, Libby, Zahra’s best friend, and Ken, an older White bloke who comes into their lives and provides an unexpected strength to them (I also liked the White characters being the side-kicks). Having Ken in the mix, as well as Zahra and Saahil’s university friends, allows Hussain to demonstrate learning points and microaggressions without making it laboured or didactic. I liked how one character is shown regaining dignity through his religion, while mosque is a central point for Amjad and different kinds of imam are shown.

I’m glad the current upswell in publishing of works by Global Majority People is continuing and allowing writers like Sairish Hussain to write what they have wanted to read for a long time and give representation to others in their communities. A genuinely suspenseful, heartfelt and moving first novel, this is a good and recommended read.


This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 3 Book 2/41 – 39 to go.

Yet more Another Bookish Beck Book Serendipity : this was the second book in quick succession (the other being “Blessed is the Daughter …“) to mention Crimewatch. I can only think this is an example of Baader-Meinhof Syndrome (you see something once and it’s suddenly everywhere) although I really can’t think of Crimewatch being mentioned anywhere else recently!

State of the TBR – April 2022

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Looking at my TBR shelf I notice that it’s about as full as it was last month (though with more review books) so at least it hasn’t got any worse, has it …

I read 13 books in in March, which I was pretty disappointed with, although I was having a very busy time at work in the first couple of weeks, and it’s still not too bad (note that there are a few more books in than out last month, however!) I only managed to finish and review seven of the eleven NetGalley ebooks I intended to read, although I have since finished two more (“The Love Songs of W.E.B. Dubois” is STILL proving hard to get into but I will persist). I have two reads from March left to review which is fine as I like to be reviewing in advance in case I don’t have time during the week. One of these was the Maya Angelou poems that finishes my set and I read my Larry McMurtry 2022 book for the month. The Angelou was number 13 out of 53 in the second quarter of my TBR Project, so I have 40 books left to read of that (I’m reading one at the moment) in six months, which makes 6.66 books per month and means I need to get on with that! I read two books for Reading Wales 2022, both by Richard King, “Brittle with Relics” and “The Lark Ascending” and bought another.

Shiny New Books

I reviewed “Brittle With Relics” for Shiny New Books as well as on here (see link above) with a less emotional and more “professional” review.

Incomings

In print books, you would think I have NOT been restrained this month as I was last month. But actually it’s all down to review copies coming in (thank you!), books being pushed on me and Unbound books getting published, oh, and needing to buy the second book in a series when I won the third one on NetGalley. So really, I only slipped up with Ted Edwards’ “Fight the Wild Island: A Solo Walk Across Iceland” which I suddenly found at a good second-hand price (so that hardly counts, either!).

I was kindly sent “Snow Widows” by Katherine MacInnes (the story of the widows of Scott of the Antarctic and his expedition mates and what happened next: how cool is that?), “This Woman’s Work”, edited by Kim Gordon and Sinead Gleeson, about women and music; Rob Cowan’s poetry book, “The Heeding” (OK, the publicist sent this to me in error but I peeked at it and was drawn in, it came in Feb, actually); and Maud Carnes’ “Strange Journey” and Rose Macaulay’s “Keeping up Appearances” which are the two latest in the British Library Women Writers reprints series.

Then “100 Voices” ed Miranda Roszkowski is an Unbound book I subscribed to, showcasing 100 women and their stories of achievement; my friend Meg pressed “Detransition Baby” by Torrey Peters onto me, saying I had to read it; and I had to buy Nicola May’s “Starry Skies in Ferry Lane Market” because I have book 1 already and won book 3 on NetGalley.

I bought two e-books this month: Malala Yousafzai’s “We are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls” and Charlotte William’s “Sugar and Slate”, a memoir of growing up Black and Welsh which was the readalong for Reading Wales this year – I was holding out for a print copy but none was to be found that was affordable and I won’t leave it till next March!

I won a lot of NetGalley books this month (but not toooooo many are published in April, thank goodness):

“Tell Me the Truth About Love” by Susanna Abse (published in May) is tales from a therapist on love and relationships; Sara Cox’s “Thrown” (May) is a novel about community and, yes, pottery; Osman Yousefzada’s “The Go-Between” (Jan) is a coming-of-age story set in 1980s and 1990s Birmingham where the author crosses two worlds and cultures; Nicola May’s “Rainbows End in Ferry Lane Market” (Apr) is third in a series about a small community; Salma El-Wardany’s “These Impossible Things” (Jun) charts the lives of three British Muslim women over the years; Sara Novic’s “True Biz” (May) is set in a school for the D/deaf and examines both the pupils and the head as it struggles for survival; in “You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty” by Akwaeke Emezi (May) a Nigerian woman struggling with grief goes to the Caribbean and finds love and friendship; and Candice Carty-Williams’ “People Person” (Apr) has a woman in South London finding she has five half-siblings …

So that was 13 read and 18 coming in in March – oops!

Currently reading

I’m currently reading Sairish Hussain’s “The Family Tree”, a multigenerational saga set in a Muslim family in the UK, because I had to take something from my standard print TBR. When I took this picture earlier today, I was reading Warsan Shire’s “Bless the Daughter Raised by A Voice in Her Head” but I’ve finished this amazing hook of poetry already, as it was both short and powerful.

Coming up next, my print TBR that I must read …

… includes the review books already mentioned, TWO Larry McMurtry’s (they are short ones) to finish the Duane/Thalia series, and that middle Ferry Market novel. I would ideally like to get something else from the normal print TBR, too.

My NetGalley TBR for April isn’t too bad:

So from those incomings above, I have “The Go Between” by Osman Yousefzada, “People Person” by Candice Carty-Williams and the two Ferry Lane Market books (books 1 and 3). I also have Julie Shackman’s “A Scottish Highland Surprise”, which the publisher kindly offered me via NetGalley, and Bonnie Garmus’ exciting looking “Lessons in Chemistry”. Elizabeth Fair’s “The Native Heath” was sent to me by Dean Street Press ages ago and somehow got overlooked: it fits in with Kaggsy and Simon’s 1954 Challenge so out if comes! I do also have “Shadowlands” and “The Ship Asunder” left over from my March NetGalley TBR, however I notice that all but one of the April ones are novels, which should help me get through them relatively rapidly, I hope …

That’s 15 books to read this month, which I hope I can manage, but hopefully I’ll get a few more off the print TBR, too!


How was your March reading? What are you reading this month? Have you read or picked up any of my selection?

Book review – Richard King – “The Lark Ascending”

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I bought this book in my Christmas/Birthday Book Token Splurge of June 2021, reported in my State of the TBR July 2021 post. Of the ten books I bought then, this is the sixth I’ve read and reviewed, which isn’t too bad, is it? This was Richard King’s last book, before “Brittle with Relics” which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago: it’s a lovely read and I hope the new one sends a few people back to pick it up, as it covers some of the same areas. Again, I provided some administrative support on this one, but there’s a lot more narrative and fewer quotations so there were more new bits and surprises.

Richard King – “The Lark Ascending: People, Music and Landscape in Twentieth-Century Britain”

(24 June 2021)

From the song written to commemorate the mass trespass of Kinder Scout to the moment before the sound systems of the free festivals finally ran out of charge, music was the thread of this activity and flowed through the century with the authority of a river. (pp. vi-vii)

From Vaughan Williams and war poets through dodgily right-wing back-to-nature enthusiasts to hippie role models to rock stars getting away from it all to get their heads together in the country to the women protestors of Greenham Common to the ravers of the 90s in their free festival fields, here is the story of people’s relationship to the British countryside and the music woven in among it. As soon as we get within living memory, King’s in there, meeting and interviewing people, and he visits sites such as the decommissioned bunkers at Greenham, thinking of the women who danced on them in protest and iconic photos. As is common to King’s works, an aura of wistfulness drifts around the text, but it’s also practical and workmanlike, doing the difficult job of describing music and covering all forms from jazz to classical to folk song to dance music.

The book does intersect with “Brittle With Relics”, showcasing some of King’s abiding interests – the women of the Greenham Common Peace Camp have a different emphasis (and remain anonymous) and there’s a big section on John Seymour, whose “How-to” guides were the bibles of so many of the hippies who moved to West Wales in the 70s (two of whom rewired King’s parents’ own cottage). It’s such a wide-ranging book in terms of geography and special interests, that there’s something for everyone, and a worthy addition to the books we’ve had recently on nature and land ownership, both of which are touched on importantly here.

Edited to add (thanks, Bill): This book has a good chapter-by-chapter discography in the back, as well as a bibliography, so the discerning reader can create a soundtrack to their read.


This was my second review for Reading Wales 2022. I’ve bought a Kindle copy of Charlotte Williams’ magnificent-sounding “Sugar and Slate”; I won’t get to read and review it by the end of the month but I’m also not going to wait until next March to read it, so watch this space for my review!

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 2 Book 12/53 – 41 to go.

Book review – Damian Hall – “In it For the Long Run”

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The last book I’m able to fit in to review for Kaggsy’s and Lizzy’s ReadIndies challenge which has been extended till today: this is my seventh read for it, although the other one I’ve been working on, Richard King’s marvellous “Brittle With Relics”, published by Faber, won’t be reviewed in time. It’s also one more down on my TBR Challenge. This is published by the lovely indie publisher, Vertebrate Publishing, whose “Wild Winter” I’ve also read and reviewed. I bought it at the same time as I bought “Pandemic Solidarity” (another ReadIndies/TBR challenge read!) after having read about Damian in Adharanand Finn’s “The Rise of the Ultra Runners“ (unsurprisingly, I’ve read all the print and none of the ebooks I talked about in that haul post!).

Damian Hall – “In it For The Long Run: Breaking Records and Getting FKT”

(13 April 2021, bought from publisher)

When reading this book, you have to remember that when Hall says he’s a below-average or moderate runner, he’s comparing himself to the elite fell and off-road runners who form his tribe. So the “just 8-minute miles” and the “not particularly impressive marathon PB of 2:36” are in that context, where people run immense distances at frightening speeds. Having got the running bug in his 30s, Hall goes on to work really hard to make his way up the ultra-running ranks, meeting and being beaten by all the contemporary greats as he goes, then gradually chipping away. He then goes in for Fastest Known Times on routes and rounds where the thing is to do it yourself (with someone around to help you prove it, so the South-West Coast Path in days (rather than the months of “The Salt Path”) or the Pennine Way in a record time.

Looking at all this, the “Salt Path” way of doing things is more relatable for me. He’s a bloke and it’s a bloke-who-runs-fast book, but it is more than that. He’s pretty self-deprecating and clear-eyed about both his abilities and the effect his hobby has on his family and friendships. Even better, he really does talk a lot about the women in the ultra world, very much admiring them, noting that it’s the men who cry and have to be persuaded not to give up, etc. He treats them as people, though, not as goddesses of running on pedestals, detailing both men and women’s relationships with their support teams or as his support team really honestly. He has something to say, too, about the dangers of extreme weight reduction in the pursuit of excellence, slamming a coach who encourages him near to an eating disorder. This is not usually discussed in running books.

Then, one better, he has quite a lot of environmental things to talk about. He’s uncomfortable about the carbon footprint of the flights he takes to races so he turns down invitations and reduces his flights. He worries about the impacts of farming and goes plant-based, including sourcing fuel for ultras that are vegan and plastic free, and generously listing the companies he gets them from (he lists sponsors in the back and not all of the ones he talks about in the text are sponsors). He tells us about Extinction Rebellion and carries a flag his children have made for him. That’s all unusual and refreshing.

Back to the running bits, reading about the camaraderie and community is always lovely. At least twice, strangers run up to a random gate to leave a snack for him to find! He really celebrates his support crews when he has them and even shares his thank you email to them for his big attempt. And he introduces us to the concept of Type 3 Fun (Type 1 Fun is fun; Type 2 Fun is not fun at the time, but is afterwards …).

A good read, not relatable as such for a slow woman runner who did her one ultra then retired from that format, but an entertaining one with some stuff to think about.

ReadIndies publisher note: This one is from Vertebrate Publishing, who say about themselves, “At Vertebrate Publishing we publish books to inspire adventure. It’s our rule that the only books we publish are those that we’d want to read or use ourselves. We endeavour to bring you beautiful books that stand the test of time and that you’ll be proud to have on your bookshelf for years to come.”


This was officially my seventh ReadIndies read.

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 2 Book 11/53 – 42 to go.

Book review – Kalwant Bhopal – “White Privilege”

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Thank goodness Kaggsy and Lizzy extended their ReadIndies challenge to the middle of this month: this is my fifth read for it. It’s also my oldest book on the main run of acquisitions in my TBR Challenge (I have some older randoms) so it felt good to have it out of March’s TBR photo finally (I read this in February). I bought this book in August 2020, apparently following a policy in buying diverse books of “buying some serious, hard-hitting books full of statistics and info and some lighter ones” and I’d been recommended it by a Facebook group I was in at the time (I think an anti-racist one that descended into virtue signalling and finger pointing … ).

Kalwant Bhopal – “White Privilege: The Myth of a Post-Racial Society”

(20 August 2020)

The main argument of this book s that within a neoliberal context policy making in its attempt to be inclusive has portrayed an image of a post-racial society, when in reality vast inequalities between white and black and minority ethnic communities continue to exist. Policy making has exacerbated rather than addressed the inequalities which result from professes of racism, exclusion and marginalisation in which white identities are prioritised and privileged above all others.” (p. 1)

In this academic title (really looking like one I’d have been putting on course booklists back in my university library days) dating from well before the big Black Lives Matter movement and publishing push, Bhopal looks carefully at the evidence for white privilege in the fabric of British and American society, looking mainly at education, work and wealth and finding that we are far from being the “post-racial” society we claim to be.

White privilege is, as we probably all know by now, the fact that by dint of being White, someone is the mainstream that other races are “othered” from and that whatever their level of education, poverty, etc., their world is not made worse by the colour of their skin. That’s very reductive and basic I know. But White privilege means I might not see middle-aged, childless women represented on the telly and in books, but I will easily be able to find White people represented, for example. Or I’ll find someone who looks like me to vote for (if I want to) and I won’t be singled out for my colour in a work meeting or asked to represent all White people with my behaviour and views.

Bhopal interrogates statistics and finds institutional racism still alive and kicking in universities, schools and workplaces, looking at the effects of that on income and living standards across people’s lives. She does look at intersectionality to (as in the combined effects of someone’s race and gender, race and class, or race and gender and class, etc.). What did feel slightly odd was the US-based bits, which did seem a bit bolted on, maybe an editorial decision to increase the book’s market. Education works differently in the US so the paragraphs in the university chapter didn’t really gel, and some chapters don’t have a US section at all. I think she could have left it at the UK stuff and still had a good and useful book.

It’s notable in this pre-pandemic read that there’s not much about health inequalities – I’m not sure those had been studied so much by the time she was researching and writing in presumably around 2016-17, and maybe one good thing coming out of the pandemic was the increased research output on ethnicity-based health outcomes. She does look at Traveller communities in that respect, when pointing out there are “acceptable” White and “non-acceptable” White communities, a point that echoes things I’ve read about the way some communities in the US had to lobby to “become” White and the work that recent writers have done on unpicking the conceptions and invention of race.

Like so many books, it’s slightly unfortunately heavy on the descriptive statistics and lighter on what can be done to address/redress the situation. Bhopal states that universities need to address the inequalities experience by their “black and minority ethnic” students and staff and understand that racism does exist in them, and in the final chapter talks more about this and about running unconscious bias training at least for recruiters. It’s interesting to consider whether she would have felt empowered to be bolder in her demands post the upsurge in publishing on race (also, would she have felt she had to include a personal note about the racism she and her family experienced, or would that have been more woven into the narrative?).

A decent, if academic, work that is still relevant today.

ReadIndies publisher note: This one is from Policy Press, who are an imprint of Bristol University Press and describe themselves as publishing “work that seeks to understand social problems, promote social change and inform policy and practice. Our core aim is to improve the day-to-day lives of people who need it most.”


This was officially my fifth ReadIndies read.

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 2 Book 10/53 – 43 to go.

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