Book review – Elisabeth de Waal – “Milton Place” @PersephoneBooks

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I’m still just about reading books acquired in 2019 but this was a glorious Christmas present and well worth the wait. It was one of Persephone’s 2019 offering; they have also published another by this author, both found in archives and never before published. This book has a new Preface by Victor de Waal (Elisabeth’s son) and an Afterword by Peter Stansky: both concentrate on the author’s life and the circumstances by which her novel manuscripts ended up in a US archive, and don’t give much discussion of the text, but both areas are highly interesting.

Elisabeth de Waal – “Milton Place”

(25 December 2019 – from Ali)

An absorbing and very readable novel, set in those interesting years just after the Second World War when people were adjusting to life again – and places were, too, as the house that’s the location for the novel was comandeered during the war, as so many were.

An Austrian woman, Anita, writes to an old friend from her mother’s address book when she badly needs to escape from her horrendous memories of the war and get some rest and quiet. Mr Barlow, who receives the letter, was terribly in love with Anita’s mother, having only seen her twice while himself engaged; he settled for the loveless marriage that ensued but constantly harks back to that time. Now a reminder of it is here, and he becomes very accustomed to her being around, the old ghost fading. I was a little bit confused why people just ‘accepted’ Anita as ‘a foreigner’ rather than a very recent enemy: maybe they think she’s a refugee, which she is in parts, and there’s certainly a good dollop of xenophobia of the general kind washing around.

Mr Barlow has two dreadful daughters, one bossy and one clingy – and of course they don’t like the idea of this woman of their age hanging around and inveigling her way into their father’s life, especially at a time when bossy Emily is plotting to winkle him out of the country house and into a nice, modern flat, pensioning off his trusty old retainers as she goes. There is a beloved grandson, too, who comes to visit, a product of the ‘generation gap’ straining to escape his father but dreading National Service. Anita fascinates both men, but without really meaning to – all she does is be kind to them and the shut-up old house, but that’s all anyone seems to need.

But the real joy in this book isn’t in the plot, however well-done that is. It’s in the quiet and deep observation of the house, the garden and their inhabitants. There are moments of drama, and a few of farce, tension and a love story, but the main love story is that of a man for his garden, I think, and the joy of the plot is actually found again in the quiet but precise observation – the nuances of an unpleasant and strained atmosphere at the tea table; the contrast between Emily’s inability to notice nature and Anita’s quiet glory in it. The human relationships are finely drawn in their shifts and contrasts, and incidental characters like the essentially kind Mrs Peacock beautifully observed. 

Several (many?) of Persephone’s books centre around what happens to the big houses when society has changed and they are too much to keep up. This adds much to this group and is a satisfying read.

(Here is Ali’s review – did we buy it for each other? I can’t remember now!)

Book review – Joe Moran – “On Roads” #amreading #bookblogger

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One from the backlist here and one of the last remaining books on the TBR acquired in 2019 – this time from the lovely Kaggsy of the Bookish Ramblings, a great enabler of my reading habit, who thought, rightly, of course, that I would enjoy it. You can read her review here.

Joe Moran – “On Roads: A Secret History”

(19 December 2019)

A history of Britain’s roads from the first motorway onwards, and concentrating really on motorways and A-roads, this is far from the dry tome you might imagine and packs an awful lot into its 259 pages of fairly small print. It’s mainly sociology and anthropology, with a bit of political history thrown in, and very authoritative, with a good chunk of notes at the back and an extensive bibliography.

Big chapters cover aspects like road manners through the ages (it does delve back into the dawn of the age of cars at times), speed, travelodges and service stations and anti-road protests. I found familiar points of interest even as a non-driver and light road-user: Spaghetti Junction, the Westway (I have read a really good book on the Westway several times!), the Welsh Language Society’s lobbying for bilingual road signs, road sign font battles, Matthew’s employer (who turned out to develop the first sat nav) and the Rebecca Riots, all things which pop up from time to time in what I’m reading and thinking about.

There’s a lot to learn, too: why gulls end up in the Midlands (mistaking roads for rivers and flying up them), how exactly Mills & Boon books and others are recycled into road-beds (I somehow imagined them just being laid down as they are!) and the fact that the first primary non-motorway signs were piloted in the nearby suburb of Hall Green!

Moran delves deep into his subject, sharing enthusiasm and knowledge. Some of the chapters were more enticing than others; I loved the one on protests, where he cleverly draws together the idea that the protests themselves were made up of a real mix of aristos, middle-class conservatives and societal outcasts. He makes the point in the conclusion that not everyone hates roads, and brings us back to the microcosm of road history found in his local area of Derbyshire.


I seem to have been reading quite varied fare this month. I am on Hyphens and Hashtags at the moment, a history of the symbols on the typewriter keyboard, which I’m reviewing for Shiny New Books, and just starting Mike Parker’s “On the Red Hill”, the story of a house, the two male couples who live in it over the years and a Welsh village, which I’m reading for Reading Wales Month. What are you reading at the moment?

Book review – Anne Tyler – “Searching for Caleb” #AnneTyler2021

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We’re on to the second book for March in my Anne Tyler 2021 project and yet another one I didn’t remember. I have a different copy to the one in my picture here, as that one was a) falling apart and b) a gift from someone no longer in my life, who noted it was quite hard to find – Vintage reissued it in 2016 and I picked up a copy to replace my old one. My original copy was bought for me and read in December 1998.

If you’re reading along with the project or just this one or whatever, please do share your thoughts in the comments at the bottom or add a link to your review on your blog or Goodreads, etc.. I’m adding links to these reviews plus all the reviews I am alerted to to the project page, so do pop there to see what other people have thought, too.

Anne Tyler – “Searching for Caleb”

(03 March 2021)

 

“Our family is very close knit, a fine family, we have always stuck together, but I don’t know, periodically some … explorer sets out on his own.” (p. 15)

I’m really starting to see variations on a theme here: primarily the big family with its own special “ways” and suppression of any kind of discord, disagreement or shock. Here we have the Pecks, four generations of them, looking at their ageing and the ageing of the top figure on the family tree. Different from usual is that they all seem to live in houses on one plot of land. It’s the usual stuff: things happen and no one talks about them (this gives one of the major plot points, too) and anyone who leaves the family is never mentioned again. In this one, we are accompanying the people who have escaped the family – Duncan, his wife, and her grandfather, also the paterfamilias. And we also have Caleb who, in a book set in the 1970s, left the family in 1912.

Daniel’s hobby is searching for Caleb, following up leads and going to visit people with the only person who seems to understand, Justine. She’s a fortune-teller (though the back of the book says she can’t remember the past and I don’t see where that comes in in the book!) and has adapted to tagging along with Duncan as he grows bored of his job and goes on to the next one and the next, “using up” his relatives and their social capital as he goes. Justine and Duncan’s daughter, Meg, has reverted back to Peck type and only longs to be settled – however, in an interesting twist, we witness just what she ends up settling for.

This is a complex book in terms of structure, starting off as a family saga then darting around quite a lot, especially when we find out what happened to Caleb. There’s an incidental character who drops in now and then and might be pivotal or might not. And will the Peck way of doing things finally claim Justine and Duncan when they run out of options? I did guess what solution might work for them, but it was satisfying to see it happen.

I loved the subtle ageing and shifts of the family, the bachelor brothers’ sudden shift to a joke present after years of dullness and Justine’s own sudden breakout from her patterns. Characters turn out to be central who were pushed off to the side and there’s a commentary from the Black servant (there are two instances of difficult language around race but in the thought processes of characters from long ago when the terms would have been used; the Black characters are fully formed and respected as usual).

There’s a sadness about the buttoned-up conformity of the family members which suggests the other theme I am finding in Tyler: it’s best to be your own self and not try to change to match others. This is expressed poignantly by Daniel near the end of the book:

“In my childhood I was trained to hold things in, you see. But I thought I was holding them until a certain time. I assumed that someday, somewhere, I would again be given the opportunity to spend all that saved-up feeling. When will that be?”

Nobody answered. (p. 346)

An uneven, interesting structure, a mystery that’s solved satisfactorily and independent characters who refuse to conform made this a more upbeat read than the previous one. Oh, and the cat’s OK.


Do let me know if you’ve read along, joined me for this one or any others at any time, or come to this later and have thoughts on it. All comments welcome at whatever time, no pressure! Do visit the project page to see how it’s all going!

 

Book review – Kwana Jackson – “Real Men Knit”

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A book that was recommended to me by the Canadian knitting/running blogger A Petite Slice of Life. I’m not quite sure why I like books set in knitting shops so much since I am completely unable to knit (and have tried all the ways of learning: just cannot do it), but I do, so I fancied reading this one. It was indeed a fun read, with some important things to say about community and masculinity, too.

Kwana Jackson – “Real Men Knit”

(05 July 2020 – ebook)

Jesse and his three “brothers” (two of whom share a mother) were adopted by the redoubtable Mama Joy as boys – as well as running her knitting shop and community hub in Harlem, she changed their lives around and now all except Jesse are successful in their fields. She has also provided a haven for Kerry, who has now finally got her degree and a part time job she hopes to turn full time in a children’s centre.

Now Mama Joy has passed away and three of the sons want to sell up and move on, especially when they find out there are debts and worries. But Jesse wants to keep the shop going and prove he can actually come good for once, even when he feels like running away as usual. While this is a light read and a romance, he really does face up to things, even resorting to go on an apology mission to all his exes – who then all turn up at the shop relaunch! Kerry’s a good character who won’t take crap from the boys she’s grown up with, but as she works closely with Jesse on the shop, the old crush she’s always had starts to well up again. She goes for what she wants, though, and good for her.

The book is named after the Instagram account Kerry sets up, busily and cheerfully objectifying the City worker, dancer, fireman and womaniser against a background of wools. And yes, all the guys knit and are seen knitting, and share with local children how it’s taught them calm and persistence and how to concentrate.

The side characters are great, from Kerry’s feisty workmate Val to their dreadful culturally appropriating colleague and the group of rather alarming older ladies who always met at the shop for a knit and natter and don’t see why they should stop now. Older guys are shown supporting younger kids, which is nice, and the diversity of the brothers’ heritage is celebrated and occasional microaggressions pointed out carefully but not in a laboured way.

This is a slow burn with a lot of description of thought processes, but I ultimately enjoyed this fun and diverse read.

Book review – Anne Tyler – “Celestial Navigation” #AnneTyler2021

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I am going to be honest here and admit I’m slightly freaked out by the fact that I do not remember ANYTHING about these books before or as I read them, although I have read them all at least once before. When I look on my spreadsheet of my reading diaries in order, I can look at books around the Tylers and recall at least something about them. With these, nothing at all, it’s as if I’m coming to them new. That’s not going to stop me, of course, but it is odd. I wonder when I’ll get to another one (I did sort of recall “A Slipping-Down Life“) that I remember properly.

If you’re reading along with the project or just this one or whatever, please do share your thoughts in the comments at the bottom or add a link to your review on your blog or Goodreads, etc.. I’m adding links to these reviews plus all the reviews I am alerted to to the project page, so do pop there to see what other people have thought, too.

Anne Tyler – “Celestial Navigation”

(10 October 1999)

“He’s not himself at all today,” Mr Somerset told me.

People say that about Jeremy quite often, but what they mean is that he is not like other people. He is always himself. (p. 10)

We are properly and permanently in Baltimore now, in a terraced house that’s shabby as only Anne Tyler houses can be, and in fact a rooming house for a succession of temporary and more permanent residents. Something shocking has happened and two middle-aged sisters, told in bleak detail, return to the family home and their younger brother as their mother has died. Will Jeremy ever leave the house (at all?) and what will happen to him now he hasn’t got Mother to look after him? Will the new tenant, Mary, and her daughter effect any change?

You can see immediately this is a step forward technically for Tyler. There are shifting narrative viewpoints, and while this happened in “The Clock Winder” to an extent, this is more formalised here. Like that novel, it jumps forward a few months or years at a time, allowing for a longer narrative. And the first-person narration by the characters is new and self-assured.

The portrayal of Jeremy, from both internal and external perspectives, is masterful as a portrait of someone with perhaps a neurological or psychological issue of some kind (he definitely has social anxiety and panic attacks) as he zooms into a detail then zones out again at just the wrong moment for whoever is trying to engage with him. It’s also a good portrayal of the artistic process – or an artistic process – again from both the inside and the outside. 

In some respect the story fills in the gap of what happened in “The Clock Winder” when a capable, strong woman encounters an insular, rigid and limited man, although once again a gap of a few years loses the detail, tantalisingly. While Jeremy always seems to, passively, develop the resources and support he needs, Mary is forced to diminish herself to fit in, but can she ever make herself small enough? I admire her resourcefulness and her resolve to not jump from man to man, and although she makes a fatal error, I am starting to see that that allows her to be herself in her life – “you be you” – which in fact seems to be what everyone in the book ends up doing. Jeremy tries to be brave and go outside more, yet does that ultimately achieve anything? Is it better just to be as you are? I just don’t know!

And on that note, Miss Vinton seems the most content character, living alone effectively, knowing she’s lost out on various things but cherishing her youthful dream of sitting reading a book along in her room. And who is the strongest character in the book? Not the person we were told at the beginning.

I’m not sure what to make of this book. I loved the detail and descriptions, but it’s ultimately a bit depressing, isn’t it? Or is that a product of the times in which I’m reading it? What did you think? 


Do let me know if you’ve read along, joined me for this one or any others at any time, or come to this later and have thoughts on it. All comments welcome at whatever time, no pressure! Do visit the project page to see how it’s all going!

 

Book review – Attila the Stockbroker – “Heart on my Sleeve: Collected Works 1980-2020” @atilatstokbroka #ReadIndies

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Around this time last year, we had a holiday in Spain (I know – thankfully, Gran Canaria, we ate outside when we ate out and hardly saw anyone; I sat next to a man with a dry cough on the plane home …) and Attila was playing in Stourbridge the day after we got back. So I didn’t go. And how I regret that, because that was the last time he did a live show for the foreseeable. Hard-drinking but not keen on the other stuff, his lungs were damaged by years playing in smoky clubs, and we need to keep him safe. This will keep the fans going for a bit.

I first saw Attila the ranting poet back in 1989 or so, as a student, and he and the band The Men They Couldn’t Hang helped continue the political education I’d had started for me by my wonderful leftist, grow-you-own, beer-making neighbour, Mary. For the last several years he’s been doing shows at the Kitchen Garden Cafe locally or at Katie Fitzgerald’s in Stourbridge which I’ve gone to – I even took Matthew along to the last one and he had fun singing along to a certain song. I’ve watched some of his live shows during lockdown, and now you can have your pick of his works at any time, as he’s put out on Cherry Red Books a new Collected Works, “Heart on my Sleeve”, which launched for pre-order yesterday and will come out officially on 05 April 2021 – I purchased it direct from his Bandcamp page and you can pre-order from all the usual outlets. The ideal companion to his very entertaining autobiography, “Arguments Yard“, I’d say there was something here for everyone (well, probably not rabid right-wing Thatcher fans or haters of Europe and multiculturalism).

Attila the Stockbroker – “Heart on my Sleeve: Collected Works 1980-2020”

(25 February 2021)

I love words and I love ’em in the red and raw

I like to use them in ways they’ve not been used before

Want you to laugh and want you to think as well-

Bollocks to TV – this is live, as live as hell!

(from “My Poetic Licence”, 2006, updated 2020 p. 332)

Being the collected works, we get rap lyrics, rants and song lyrics, as well as the poems, rearranged into themes with some new ones added and bang up to date (c.f. “Coro Nation” and “Take Courage”. Some have been updated or have taken various forms over the years and this is carefully noted.

All the fan favourites are here, from the affectionate “To my Wife Robina in Lockdown, 8th September 2020”, which I’ve only of course seen him do online, through older wonders like “Joseph Porter’s Sleeping Bag”, “A Hellish Encounter” (the Devil can’t cope when Mrs Thatcher arrives in Hell) and “My Poetic Licence”, which sets out his stall and usually features in live shows, and more recently enjoyed ones such as the excoriation of people’s addiction to being distracted by silly stories from the real things that are going on, “Prince Harry’s Knob” (his knob!).

The poems about family and funeral poems are wryly funny and poignant and demonstrate there is so much more to this excellent performer and writer than knob-jokes and swearing. And, as I am proud I haven’t, he has not moved to the centre politically as we’re supposed to do as we grow older, so “Never Forget” from the Orgreave anniversary event commemorates the miners’ strike beautifully.

Having the lyrics in means that some of the excellent Barnstormer early music band stuff is here (“Abiezar Coppe” being a favourite of many, celebrating one of the original Ranters) as well as the stuff he does with more modern instruments (I do love the early instrument stuff; always good to see a shawm in action).

I’ll share one full poem which encapsulates left-wing sensibilities and his new love for gardening, having seen the whole process of veg springing up in his lockdown garden in 2020 as he was at home all the time for once, not touring.

THE MARXIST TOMATO GROWER

He sits

and waits

for his world

to turn red.

He knows it will,

eventually,

but it’s taking

a hell of a long time.

(“The Marxist Tomato Grower”, p. 221)

Cherry Red have done a lovely job with the book, like his autobiography before this, and it’s great to see this out on an indie publisher with a great book and music publishing tradition.

Book reviews – Chris McMillan – “The London Dream” and Pete Lindsay, Mark Bowden – “Pig Wrestling” #NetGalley #TheLondonDream

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Two books from NetGalley today – I do like my non-fiction reads from here even if I don’t keep up to date very well (I am making an effort to read the upcoming books I have in time for their publication while also chivvying away at the backlist, reading the oldest ones first where I can, unless I need to mix things up a bit, and I’m continuing to be very selective about what to request!

Chris McMillan – “The London Dream: Migration and the Mythology of the City”

(25 August 2020)

A fascinating and excellent book in which the author sets out to write “a bleak critique of working conditions in London” but finds that his interviewees are all unfailingly positive about their future in London, however bleak their conditions and immediate prospects. So he has to take another line, and ends up with a rather marvellous and statedly Marxist reading of modern London as a hub for and maintainer of capital.

Even when we think we’re being anti-consumer, green, ecological and sustainable, of course we are buying things, whether that’s reusable sponges or experiences in craft beer joints. It’s just a different kind of “cool capitalism” and all the new features of London (and other places, of course) rely on the old Marxist concept of the supply of workers being larger than the need, meaning that people can always be replaced by other people who will accept bad conditions and precarity while they try to gain a foothold in the city. So the Deliveroo rider who gives up because they don’t make enough money per delivery and never see their family might move on to something else but will be immediately replaced by probably a new migrant to the city (or someone moving “up” from an even more precarious position) and the company will never have to change its tactics.

London has creative hubs of course, with tech doing well but academia and the creative industries increasingly precarious for their workers, many of whom hold down second jobs in the gig economy. And while the adverts make it seem cool and flexible to be on a zero-hours contract, there are very few people who are able to use that successfully (I will admit here to having used a company that was a pioneer in zero-hours contracts and working-time-intiative dodging practices in order to earn enough during concentrated enough hours to get me through full-time Library School at the same time: I do appreciate though that this is NOT the experience of most!).

McMillan compares the London of today with the Victorian London that Marx and Engels studied, finding parallels in the dock workers queuing up waiting to be chosen to work each morning and the delivery drivers logging on for gigs. As a New Zealander by birth and Londoner by adoption, he is able to look at the city with that much more of an outsider’s eye, for example noticing “the British seem unable to fully acknowledge industrialised slavery” which of course the wealth of many of these exploiting companies was based on – nothing’s new in the world.

But his interviewees remain positive. They love London, they work hard and they feel they can progress, so there’s a stream of hope running through the book as a counterpoint to the Dickensian squalour. Very interesting and worthwhile read, and not a difficult or dry one. And he mentions and interviews his own transcriber, which made this transcriber smile!

Thank you to John Hunt Publishing for making this book available for me to read via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Pete Lindsay & Mark Bowden – “Pig Wrestling”

(06 December 2018)

A decently done fable including a story within a story to use as a mnemonic for effecting change. The authors are well-renowned business and sports psychologists and claim that you can use the framework in the book for individual/personal as well as business/team change, to unstick problems that have got stuck, etc. The method is, without giving it all away, essentially around getting rid of preconceptions and reframing the question, and all but one of the examples are around business or a sports team, with one personal issue mentioned but not elaborated upon.

The people the Young Manager of the book is sent to chat with and learn from are varied in age and gender; I was just starting to huff a bit about racial homogeneity when I realised no one is described in enough detail for us to know their race or culture, so that was cleverly done. I feel this would be a good business tool to consider, but more in that area and team sports.

Thank you to Ebury Publishing for making this book available for me to read via NetGalley in return for an honest review

Book review – Christine Burns (ed.) – “Trans Britain: Our Journey from the Shadows” #ReadIndies #LGBTHM21

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I read this book, published by the excellent crowdfunded publisher Unbound (I would have contributed to this one’s campaign had I know about it – from the batch I’m currently supporting I’m realising how long the lead-in times are so this one was in progress before I’d found the publisher) for Kaggsysbookishramblings and LizzySiddal’s “Read Indies month“ and fortunately they have allowed a small overlap into March so everyone can fit in all their reviews! It also fit in with LGBTQIA+ History Month as I read most of it, all but the last two chapters, during that month. Out of these four books bought at the same time, I’ve read two, this one and “Mother Country”, so far.

Christine Burns (ed.) – “Trans Britain: Our Journey from the Shadows”

(20 July 2020)

A fascinating and deeply important book charting the history of trans people in the UK (taking in, by careful definition, transgender people, those who cross-dress and people who do not identify as gender binary, as these groups of people have been mixed up both inside and outside their respective movements, included and excluded one another and generally intertwined in their histories and organisations). All of the chapters are by people who are trans or non-binary (or all) or those who are closely involved with these communities and can offer a different and valuable viewpoint: the practitioner in a gender clinic, the parent of a trans child who helped found the Mermaids charity, the MP who campaigned for trans rights and was instrumental in getting laws changed. Most voices are from the communities themselves, however.

The book opens with a long set of introductions to the earlier histories of trans people, those who have already passed on but left some kind of record. Interesting issues of class come up here, with early upper class people perhaps better able to do what they needed to do and express themselves in their correct genders than the working class (I didn’t see anything about intersections with race in this book, which is quite clearly asking for a new book including that aspect). Then there are three sections, Survival, Activism and Growth, which chart the progression of trans and other communities from the early days of tracking down books or finding scraps of information in otherwise prurient and unpleasant media coverage (here I will acknowledge my cis-gender privilege of being able to talk about reading this book without having to worry about outing myself). In Activism people start to come together, showing the power of the Internet age, which has made the “sudden” flourishing and visibility of a group of people who have always been there possible as they were simply able to find each other; there is important charting of earlier collectives which relied on printed newsletters, phone calls and meetings. In Growth we learn about new initiatives to watch the media, change the law and embrace an increasing range of gender identities.

The set of essays is bookended by two stories of transition, Adrienne Nash’s early struggle to even communicate with a doctor contrasting with Stephanie Hirst’s seemingly smoother and better supported transition recently. A small group of activists, including Christine Burns, is credited with so much work early on, and we learn about gradual and hard work on the law, religion, personal identity, human rights and more. I hadn’t realised matters around marriage and birth certificates were quite so complicated, a horrible mess ensuing in the 60s with one divorce case which reversed in one stroke the ability to change a birth certificate, and even equal marriage didn’t seem to sort out the jumble of inequitable laws. There are interesting comments about the framework of laws being the impetus for societal change in favour of all protected groups of people and I do hope that is so, because 1 in 100 people are trans, which means we all must know a few trans folk (I certainly and happily do). I was struck by another statistic, that a third of people experience themselves as non-gender-binary in whatever form that takes, having never particularly felt massively woman-like myself, with a much smaller percentage expressing that identity.

The non-trans people in the book reminded me of the White people in “The Good Immigrant USA” taking it upon themselves as allies to explain, for example, the history of the Charing Cross Clinic, in Dr Stuart Lorimer’s case, or explaining their path from misapprehension to greater understanding in Dr Lynne Jones (ex-MP)’s case.  I was moved by the fact that Dr Lorimer is a friend of a friend and Dr Jones was my MP for some of the time that’s detailed in her chapter! Importantly, it did not feel that the trans narratives were being somehow legitimated or dominated by these few cis-gender narratives. Each one spoke to specific lived experience that I don’t think could have been covered by a trans writer on the topic. Dr Lorimer pops up later, and movingly, as one of the many examples of supportive people, helping Mark Rees (who bravely took his case to the European Court of Human Rights) to get his gender recognition certificate in later life.The book does not sweeten the pill of trolling, abuse, vile reporting and systematic exclusion from human rights, but the moments of joy and support are equally covered and important.

This is recommended reading, a great counter argument to narratives that have been damaging the cause of assigning equal rights and protection to trans and non-binary people. There is dissent within the movements covered and different opinions are expressed in the essays, but it’s a rich and important read that many could benefit from. I would be interested to read reviews by trans and non-binary people, or their thoughts on this book; please share if you have any links!

State of the TBR March 2021 plus many book confessions #ReadIndies #Dewithon21 @atilatstokbroka

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In February I read 13 books, a great total for me, out of which five were published by independent publishers for Kaggsy and Lizzy Siddall’s #ReadIndies month. The date for submitting reviews has been extended to 6 March (read more here) which makes me glad as I do have one (and one non-indie) book left to review that I read in February!

I realise with horror that the TBR starts with the same book it started with in February – however, I read books from all through the front shelf for #ReadIndies and so it definitely has a few extra on the right-hand side of the front shelf and has lost the mini-pile on the back row caused by there not being enough room for everything. So, all good. Honest. I did read a couple of Kindle books, too.

Coming up I have quite the reading roster! As well as the three review books in the right-hand pile to get finished and reviewed, I have Attila the Stockbroker’s new Collected Poems, “Heart on my Sleeve” which is launching on March 06 – I purchased it direct from his Bandcamp page although you can pre-order from all the usual outlets. Then I have my two Anne Tylers for the month, “Celestial Navigation” and “Searching for Caleb” (I have a new copy of the latter on its way as this one is really tatty and has an inscription from someone who is no longer in my life!).

I’m very happy to be able to take part in Dewithon21, otherwise known as Welsh Reading Month, in March (I can only seem to do one out of this and Read Ireland every March). More info here from BookJotter. Mike Parker’s “On the Red Hill”, about two gay couples who inhabit a house in the Welsh hills, I bought a good while ago when it came to my attention, and I purchased Will Hayward’s “Lockdown Wales” from indie publisher Seren Books earlier this month because I’ve been working on a book project about Wales and the Lockdown came up a lot, so I thought it would be a good memento – I’m not buying many lockdown books but this seemed very apt.

I’ll also be reading “Unspoken” by Guvna B, from NetGalley. Subtitled “Toxic Masculinity and How I Faced the Man Within the Man”, it’s the story of his upbringing on a London council estate and his engagement with the masculinities found there, and looks to be a profound and interesting book.

I’m not sure what else I will be reading apart from these nine books!! But I will definitely try to read some from my print TBR and some from my electronic one, both of which have grown, one a little more than the other …

Incomings

I had a lovely book post day on Friday when my Attila book arrived, and so did two books from lovely Kaggsy of the Bookishramblings (thank you!)

“Life in Translation” by Anthony Ferner is a novel about a translator which Heaven-Ali originally read and sent to Kaggsy, but I’d also put my name in the hat for it and so here it is! And Charlie Hill’s “I Don’t Want to go to the Taj Mahal” is a memoir of his upbringing in Moseley, the next-door suburb of Birmingham to mine (he’s also a friend of a friend) is one that Ali and I both want to read … Actually I must remember that at least one of those will work for Novellas in November when that rolls around …

Then I have won another NetGalley book, even though I’m trying to be careful with how many I request, having got my reviewing percentage safely above 80%. Anita Sethi’s “I Belong Here: A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain”, published in June, details her recovery from a racially motivated attack when she was walking in Northern England via keeping on getting out there and walking the Pennine Way, as a reassertion of her right as a brown woman to live in the UK and tread its open spaces. What a lovely cover and I’m very much looking forward to this, as I don’t feel I’ve explored much nature writing by Global Majority People.

And then, even though I very rarely use Amazon for print books, those 99p Kindle sales do appear to have got me rather, recently. Just this month, this has happened.

All but one of them are memoirs; I do have a thing for memoirs. “Boy Out of Time” by Hari Ziyad is a memoir of growing up Black and queer in Cleveland Ohio; Louise Wener’s “Just for One Day: Adventures in Britpop” and Bruce Dickinson’s “What Does This Button Do” offer very different music memoirs, the first about being in the band Sleeper (this was previously published as “Different for Girls”) and the second about being the front man of heavy metal band Iron Maiden as well as a pilot and radio presenter). Uzma Jalaluddin’s “Ayesha at Last” is a “Pride and Prejudice” retelling based in the Toronto Muslim community, Lee Mack’s “Mack the Life” is the comedian’s memoir and Pete Paphides’ “Broken Greek” tells of a life in music journalism that starts off in a chip shop a couple of miles from where I live. Fairly varied, then!

How was your February reading? Are you taking part in Dewithon or Reading Ireland Month, or any other Months?

 

Book review – Paul Magrs – “Hunky Dory” @paulmagrs #ReadIndies #LGBTHM21

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Another book read for for Kaggsysbookishramblings and LizzySiddal’s “Read Indies month“ and this one is independently published by the author, after his success with his Christmas and Silver Jubilee story collections at the end of last year. As a book featuring gay central characters and a setting in Manchester’s gay quarter (featuring the transgender memorial), it also fits in to LGBTQIA+ History Month. It was impossible to resist buying it in January this year and I enjoyed it tremendously.

Paul Magrs – “Hunky Dory”

(28 January 2021 with token from Ali)

Paul is known as a fantasy or magic realist novelist, but he’s published the odd non-magical book in his time and this is one of them. I always enjoyed the realist elements in his books and so thoroughly enjoyed this one. There’s only one peculiar interlude, which you could put down to the Italian sun!

We have Dodie and her rackety mum Elena as the central characters – Elena has been an alternative, brassy figure for years and Dodie is much more reticent and plain – but she does have an inner life and of course deserves her chance at happiness. The book opens with Dodie’s dad’s sudden death and in the year that’s covered by the book she must run the cafe he founded and try to rebuild her life. Elena seems to go on as normal after some months of decline, getting involved in community activism, her creative writing MA and a little light kidnapping and bondage, as you do.

Dodies’s horizons are expanded when she meets Ian, who’s asked to set up a book and comics stall in the cafe, and Oliver from the writing course, but she also meets a wonderful eccentric novelist, Emmy, at a fantasy convention who models the acceptable way to write one of the new kinds of sci fi and fantasy, which seems to have split into extreme violence on one side and peculiar cross-species sex on the other (this issue is interrogated by other characters in other places and gives an interesting depth to the book) and essentially she reinvents her own self and takes back the power in her relationships. Ian also has his horizons broadened but still manages to hold his own, rising to the occasion and maintaining the balance with his new boyfriend. There are some wincey scenes with Elena camping it up to draw in Dodie’s new gay friend and get him on her side, but Elena’s also a great character with her gin and her ability to calm down (or foment) a public gathering.

There’s a marvellous cast of side characters, no one perfect, some a little grubby around the edges, realistic, grey and a bit flabby here and there, from stroppy cafe worker Andrea to Ian’s ex Warren with his secret side and his knitting, a naughty professor and a cuddly academic. The world of creative writing classes and (genre) publishing is gently and expertly skewered – we know Oliver is thinking of going to the bad when he abandons his “silly” book (which sounds very like Magrs’ Mars Trilogy) to go all macho and violent in his novel.

Most of the book is set in Levenshulme, with excursions into the excitement of the Canal Steet gay quarter, and is an affectionate portrait f a suburb in transition. There are kidnaps and library closure vigils, cruises and cats (I’m glad to report all the cats in the book remain OK) in a long and satisfying novel of huge warmth in which most of the characters change and grow. There’s even a shout-out to Iris Murdoch! Only one thing would have made it more-than-perfect, and that would have been an encounter with a completely tattooed man when some characters went over to Newcastle, but you can’t have everything, right …?!

A great, fun read which I will re-read and which is a great addition to Paul’s marvellous and un-genre-definable oeuvre.

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