Book review – Angela Thirkell – “Summer Half” #20BooksOfSummer #Amreading

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Book 13 read (a while ago, I’ve got a bit behind) and I feel like I might be keeping up now, although I’m currently reading a non-20Books book. My lovely friend Verity sent me a parcel of books in December that I opened on Christmas Day and it was full of lovely Viragoes and Vintages, what a treat!

Angela Thirkell – “Summer Half”

(25 December 2017 – from Verity)

Another great fun read – AT is always good for a laugh and I tend to ignore the snobbier bits (though I was glad those weird Eastern European projects didn’t come up in this one). Colin Keith decides to be “useful” and become a schoolteacher, then instantly regrets it. His family is phlegmatic and believe it will all sort out in the end (once they’ve actually listened to him and realised his plans). At Southbridge School, he encounters various odd masters and pupils, including the recurring character, Tony Morland (who some love to hate but I’ve always been quite fond of), who is now 16 (I know I’ve missed some out but will collect to fill in the gaps then go through them all again) plus Hacker and his chameleon. There are all the tropes of school-set books, of course, including midnight roamings and a sports day.

There’s fun sorting out romantic pairings and Colin’s galumphing little sister, Lydia, is a treat (a sort of female Tony Morland: I want them to end up together!) It’s also perceptive and a little bittersweet at times. I loved this pinning down of Colin early on, talking of his

belief in ideals and unconsidered action which it would take him several years to bring into any kind of relation with life. (p.5)

and I was also pleased to find Tony’s love of trains still going strong. The subtlety of Kate and Noel’s courtship (or is it?) and the careful settling of couples into those that suit was nicely done too, so it wasn’t all silly even though I was reduced to hooting and reading bits aloud. Yes, Mr Birkett does talk about his awful daughter needing a good beating, but took that as metaphorical (and, that awful thing, “of its time”) and no one was actually beaten.

Great fun!

This was Book 13 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.


I’m currently reading Iris Murdoch’s “The Time of the Angels” which is thankfully not as terrifying as the first time I read it. Should get that finished tomorrow then on to “Peking Picnic”. I did accidentally start a Stella Gibbons in Vintage after this one but rewound hastily when I realised my error!

Book review – Ellen Glasgow – “Barren Ground” and some book confessions #20BooksOfSummer @ViragoBooks

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I approached my first Virago of this summer with a little trepidation, given that it was a bit of a hefty tome and by an author whose last book I had a bit of a problem with (read the review of “Virginia” here) but actually it was really readable and I steamed through it with relative ease, enjoying both the what-happened-next aspect and the detail and descriptions. Phew.

I also accidentally fell into The Works as I was leaving next door’s Holland & Barratt (vitamin pills and running recovery bars) and came out with three paperback novels for a fiver. My Cornish friends will know why I couldn’t turn at least one of them down …

But first to my first All Virago / All August read.

Ellen Glasgow – “Barren Ground”

(25 December 2017 – Not So Secret Santa from my Virago Group santa, Lisa)

As mentioned above, while more books by this author had been firmly on my wishlist, I was a bit intimidated by it, esp as I’ve sort of Fallen Behind a bit with 20 Books of Summer. No need to worry, though, as I plunged into the world of the strong Dorinda Oakley, seduced and abandoned, who re-forms herself in New York then returns to take over the family farm in Virginia. What a story, and I loved how it was written by Glasgow in her early 50s, the age Dorinda has reached by the end of the book.

It’s very powerful on how people get trapped by the land and their circumstances, needing a big injection of innovation and cash if they want to haul themselves out of the desperate struggle to keep going. Hard work isn’t enough, as Dorinda’s parents find: some luck and open-mindedness, plus cash, are needed, and hardly anyone gets this. It’s a small community where Dorinda and Jason’s names will be linked forever: will she be able to perform a final act of charity? A few pretty dresses have to come at the expense of a new cow, everyone knows everyone’s business and the broomsedge, pine and life-everlasting will take over lost fields, one by one.

The innovative and compassionate are praised but don’t always do well; and a bad character doesn’t condemn you as much as weakness and fear (Jason’s problem is that he’s neither good nor bad enough). Dorinda is ripe to fall in love with the first man who comes along, and her love is described in aching detail – but so is her rebuttal of love and reliance on land and hard work that comes afterwards. The scenes in New York are a bit reminiscent of “Pilgrimage”‘s dentistry sections, but the whole book, with its strong sense of predestination, its chorus of rural dialect and brooding landscapes reminded me of Hardy – and I was happy to be vindicated on this when Paul Binding pointed out in the introduction that Glasgow met Hardy and was very influenced by him. There’s a good level of detail on exactly how Dorinda improves the farm, which will always attract me to a book.

As to the problem I had with “Virginia”, well, the black characters are a little infantilised and you have to read with gritted teeth, reminding yourself this was people’s attitude in the 1920s. However, it’s not nearly as bad, and we have characters such as Fluvanna who is pretty well Dorinda’s equal in the running of the house – really, her wife, and definitely most constant companion.

These two quotations sum the book up for me:

She could never be broken while the vein of iron held in her soul. (p. 141)

and

At twenty, seeking happiness, she had been more unhappy … than other women; but at fifty, she knew that she was far happier. The difference was that at twenty her happiness had depended upon love, and at fifty it depended on nothing but herself and the land. (p. 365)

An enthralling book with a heroine the equal of a Bathsheba Everdene and more highly recommended than you would think at first glance.

This was Book 1 in All Virago / All August

This was Book 12 in #20BooksOfSummer


I’m currently reading Angela Thirkell’s “Summer Half” which is a delightful school-set romp I’m highly enjoying. Reading that, I’m not sure why I thought I needed some light relief, as what is more fluffy than an Thirkell, but I picked these up anyway …

Tracey Corbett’s “The Summer Theatre by the Sea” is set in Cornwall and features a picture of the famous Minack Theatre on the front cover. My friend Pam works there, so how exciting! Laura Kemp’s “The Year of Surprising Acts of Kindness” is about a Welsh village that gets rejuvenated by a mystery benefactor, and Clara Christensen’s “Hygge and Kisses” is about finding happiness in Denmark. All very much part of trends that are going on at the moment but I’m sure I’ll have a tired and delicate moment these will fill nicely.

What are you reading? Have you bought any new books yet this month?

Book review – Becky Wade – “Run the World” #20BooksOfSummer #Amreading @RunBookshelfFB

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Well I’m getting through my #20BooksOfSummer with another running book and another smasher. I know Cari has read and reviewed this one and thought similarly to me: anyone else read it? This was Book 11 and I’m galloping through Book 12, so who knows, I might still do it …

Becky Wade – “Run the World”

(26 October 2017)

A delightful book following Becky around the world as she experiences different running cultures. She’s a lovely companion on the journey, and what I really liked about the book were her open-mindedness, especially as a college athlete who’s always been under the strict aegis of a coach and team, and the way she looks not just at how the elites run in each place, as other travel-running writers do, but at the club and recreational running cultures (if they exist), too. So she compares the British and Irish independent athletics club culture with the college-centred running culture in the US (I’m assuming this is just as far as youth running is concerned and that adult runners have their own club structure?) and investigates multisports in New Zealand and orienteering in Finland, for example.

She finds lots of differences, surprised at how independently lots of people have to run and train, while holding down jobs and other roles, and is very open to different experiences in both running and nutrition. Some things are strange to her but familiar to me – like when she discovers parkrun, rather amusingly by innocently going for a run in Bushey Park (home of parkrun) and getting the feeling of someone coming up behind one … British cross-country is also a revelation to her, used to the pristine golf courses of PB-chasing America (I giggled at this, having spent my very first cross-country experience as an adult having to jump in a huge ditch … twice!

I loved how honest she is when she has to face challenges, like not getting lost in Ethiopia (she’s endearingly famous for getting lost) or befriending a shy host in Switzerland. She even opens the book struggling in the footsteps of two women in Ethiopia (she seems to love the people there best and it’s heart-breaking when she describes how she won’t be able to keep in touch with them unless they coincide at a race).

I also really liked the similarities she finds in running cultures all around the world: the long run is generally on a Sunday, there is an emphasis on mile or kilometre repeats as a standard of speed training, and, most importantly, recovery revolves around tea! Although I had read about some of these cultures before, especially about Japan, there was lots to learn here and I really enjoyed finding out about how New Zealand started the jogging revolution and other snippets. What’s lovely is the kindness that she experiences throughout her journey, from her distant cousin Padraig to jolly Finns in a summer cottage. She’s right when she describes the running community as a whole as

the kindest and most inclusive community in the world. (p. 263)

and it’s lovely to see that evidenced – in her own kindness and thoughtfulness as well.

The epilogue takes us through Becky’s first marathon, where the descriptions of each mile are interspersed with memories and learning experiences from her travels. She genuinely seems to have adopted quite a few of these, from warm-ups to recipes (there’s a recipe for each country, too, which is a cute touch) and I hope Becky both achieves running success and writes again some time.

A great read.

This was Book 11 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.


I’m currently reading “Barren Ground” by Ellen Glasgow which is a bit like Hardy set in Virginia, with a strong woman with a thread of iron in her soul refusing to be beaten by the land and a man who deceives her. A substantial Virago book but a good one!

Oh, and in confessions, I’ve completed my collection of Iris Murdoch first editions. I haven’t got super-rare first edition first printings of everything and I’ve only managed it because her reputation has dipped and they have come down a lot in price, but the value to me is inexpressible.

Book review – Prajwal Parajuly – “Land Where I Flee” #20BooksofSummer #amreading

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Slowly, slowly, I’m working my way up that pile of books (although of course it’s my original pile and “The Accidental Apprentice” was abandoned weeks ago (see my page for the project for the up-to-date list). This is actually Book 10 – so it’s a bit of a shame it’s the last day of the second month rather than half-way through the month. And look at the satisfying but also slightly intimidating size of those Viragoes and Persephones to come in August. Gulp.

I have also finished “King of the North Wind” and submitted my review to Shiny New Books, so look out for my link to my review in due course.

So, here’s my review of Book 10 in the project, one of two I bought in Oxfam in October while, presumably, shopping for LibraryThing Virago Group Secret Santa ideas.

Prajwal Parajuly – “Land Where I Flee”

(25 October 2017 – Oxfam)

In a book which on paper I should have loved, three siblings fly in to Sikkim in Northern India, two from the US and one from the UK, to celebrate their grandmother’s 84th birthday. Two have gone against what would be traditionally expected of them (neither on purpose) but only one’s “error” is known; the other has made a “good” marriage but is desperately unhappy.

We learn a lot about the lives of Northern Indian hijras (the intersex/transgender/trans people who make their living dancing at weddings and other events, in this case a eunuch who uses feminine pronouns and is both exploited and exploiter; this group now has a legal position as the third gender in India), and the difficulties of the Nepali people and those calling for an independent Gorkhaland State (this I knew nothing about), but the book is made a bit uncomfortable-feeling, in my eyes, by the author being from that area and his own author character mining Prasanti for details of her hijra experience. There’s metafiction and then there’s weird grubbiness, somehow. This metafictional character and a really distasteful scene with another character which seemed only put in to echo a scene in the writer character’s book (told you!) really did undermine the book for me; I loved the Caucasian American character and especially the fact that he’s essentially unchanged by his experience in India, which I thought was subtle but very clever, but things don’t really resolve enough for the lover of a family intercultural saga book or in fact for other kinds of readers.

I think the book had too much it wanted to say and get across, and in the process, the characters, even though they should have had plenty to them, fell a bit flat. It was OK, but as it was on paper the perfect book for me, that wasn’t quite enough for me.

This was Book 10 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.


I’m currently reading Becky Wade’s “Run the World”, which is irresistibly about visiting different running cultures around the world and has already featured parkrun, and I’m going to save Gurjinder Basran’s “Everything Was Good-Bye” until the end of the project, after the Viragoes and Persephones, because it felt a bit too similar to this one in terms of culture clashes and unconventional marriages (which is why it was dropped in the first round of choices and only made it back in with the removal of “Accidental Apprentice”.

 

Book review – Peter Ginna (ed.) – “What Editors Do” #20BooksOfSummer #amreading @KOKEdit @DoctorSyntax

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I’ve been a bit absent on this blog this week – sorry! I finished this book ages ago and have been absorbed in Henry II (you’ll have to wait for my review of “King of the North Wind” until it’s out on Shiny New Books, and no, I haven’t quite written it yet. Or finished the book). I’ve had a lot of work on this week and just don’t seem to have got round to writing this review, especially as it’s quite a special book.

Being Book 9, you can see the white spine, well, well over half way up the pile you can see in the pic. So I’ve probably got fewer pages to read before the end of the challenge than I’ve read already (right?).

You see, I basically bought it because it had a chapter by a friend of mine in it. Whoo hoo! But I read it all because it was fascinating, engaging and useful. Hooray!

Peter Ginna (ed.) – “What Editors Do”

(15 October 2017)

The book’s subtitle – “The Art, Craft, and Business of Book Editing” very aptly sums it up. Oh, and it’s beautifully edited itself, too. After an excellent introduction giving us useful definitions (trade, mass market and scholarly publishing, for example) and the three phases of editing (acquisition, text development and publication), Ginna shares that he is optimistic about the profession, which sets the scene for a fascinating and engaging read. We then have a series of wonderful chapters covering the bigger themes of acquisition, the editing process, publication, categories and varieties of careers in book editing. Although I am an editor, I only cover the text development side of things (and then narrower categories within that, as I tend towards line and copy-editing and proofreading rather than developmental editing) so it was a revelation and great learning experience for me to find out more about how the publishing industry works as a whole.

All of the chapters are fascinating in their different ways, and the chapters aren’t too long and are full of personal experience and honesty (with lots of people admitting all sorts of mistakes along the way, with Matt Weiland even outlining a Terrible Error he made with someone’s book, which is very refreshing but very like the edibuddies I’ve come to know during my career), so it’s engaging and attractive to read all the way through and never dips or drags.

The book is full of great, down-to-earth advice. Some things appear more than once, so are obviously hugely important, the two main ones I noticed being never buy a book you don’t love and there’s a lot of emphasis on making sure the writer’s voice and intent shine through in everything you edit which I think would reassure writers.

The categories or genres section is full of really interesting case studies – especially the one on developing and editing the different kids of children’s books by Nancy Siscoe. I was pleased to read that Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” (which I reviewed here) was the best memoir that Jonathan Karp has edited, and I enjoyed Betsy Lerner’s experience of being edited herself (I wrote about my experience of that over on my work blog here).

I enjoyed Carol Fisher Saller’s piece on the nuts and bolts of copyediting (I read her book a while ago and loved it), especially her comparison of different ways in which different style guides expect editors to format abbreviations, etc. and her discussion of “the mistaken belief that there is a single ‘correct’ way to render a piece of writing” (p. 110). This is something I’ve encountered with some of my own clients and I’ll be quoting from the piece when I write an article for my work blog on this topic: it was great to see it treated here.

Katharine O’Moore-Klopf’s chapter on making a career as a freelance editor, which is of course is super, is what I bought the book for and how I knew about it, but I stayed to read all the chapters and the whole thing was a complete delight.

I would recommend this book to all editors, writers and people generally interested in the process of how books get from ideas to the printed (or electronic) page. The chapters I’ve singled out are by no means the only stand-out ones: it’s of a very good quality and level of interest throughout.

This was Book #9 in my 20BooksOfSummer challenge.


I’m currently finishing off “King of the North Wind”, and very good it is, too (I’m learning an awful lot about this not-well-known king) and I’ve just started on Prajwal Parajuly’s “Land Where I Flee”, which promised to be a very good and entertaining culture-clash story about returning to one’s roots. What are you reading? How are you doing with your 20 Books of Summer or other challenges?

 

Book review – Christopher McDougall – “Born to Run” plus #BookConfessions #20BooksOfSummer #amreading

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I turned to this book with excitement as I haven’t read a running book in a while and this is supposed to be one of the classics. Bought in Penzance in October 2017 (get me with my being caught up!), it represents Book 8 in my #20BooksOfSummer project, which feels like some progress (I’m already reading Book 9, and Books 10-12 are two novels and a running/travel book so that all feels doable by the end of the month). I did acquire some books this week: I had a slightly unexpected dentist appointment (my old dentist had a habit of rescheduling so my March-September appointments have slipped, thank goodness for their text reminders) and popped into Oxfam books to see if I could find a nice novel, came out with … well, you’ll see below.

Christopher McDougall – “Born to Run”

(02 October 2017, Penzance charity shop)

Far from being the polemic about shoeless running from the start through to the end that I was expecting, this is a very engaging narrative non-fiction book. He spends most of it in shoes, actually, although he is, as expected, in careful pursuit of the elusive Tarahumara people of Mexico, the best ultra-runners in the world. He tracks them down with the help of a strange and elusive feral man who turns out to have been so inspired by supporting them through a US race that he gave everything up and built his own shack in the mountains – hardly the most suitable chap to set up a race or even manage to meet, but McDougall seems to manage to gel with him and find a charm in him, as he does in (almost) everyone).

McDougall weaves in a lot of history and information about the sport of long-distance running, especially in the US (claiming it peaks in national crises), and I loved how other runners I’ve read about earlier get woven into the narrative, too, from Deana Castor‘s Coach Vigil through Dean Karnazes (McDougall is not a fan, it’s safe to say) to Scott Jurek, who he has a lot of time for and spends a lot of time with. I’d already read about Jurek’s run with the Tarahumara so it was lovely to have this triangulated from an outsider’s point of view, backing up the impression of him as an all-round nice guy, fitting in nicely with Coach Vigil’s emphasis on being a good person as well as a good runner.

I also very much liked the (non-sexist, non-creepy) celebration of some of the amazing women of ultra-running, very much strong and equal to the men, with higher proportions finishing ultras than men have, interestingly (this might just be in the US, although I know some super tough female ultra runners here, too!). An oddball set of characters, including one woman, is assembled for the first Tarahumara/US race on Mexican paths, and I really liked the mutual respect the two groups show each other in this section, exciting as it is, but also very human.

The stuff on barefoot running and humans being born to run is all backed up scientifically and almost made me throw out my shoes (I have one leg longer than the other, so I feel I fall into the small percentage of people that McDougall admits do need support and orthotics!) – I will certainly work on foot and ankle strengthening, though. I can see how it makes people espouse that and he’s careful not to be too stary-eyed and pushy about it and to advocate taking care (and the barefoot runner in the race does suffer somewhat, so it’s not all shown as being easy).

It’s an exciting book, full of risk and danger, but not too gung-ho: McDougall is honest about his own short-comings as a runner and all he has to learn, and indeed his mis-steps in the process of studying the Tarahumara. I can see why this book is considered a classic and heartily recommend it.

This was Book #8 in my 20BooksOfSummer challenge.


So I didn’t exactly pick up a light novel in Oxfam! Here we have Simon Garfield’s “On the Map: Why the World Looks the Way it Does” which I was sure I had, but no. I do like books about maps. Harold Nicolson’s “Journey to Java” is a real find, one of his travel books, obviously, and one I’ve been after for a while. John Carter and Nicholas Barker’s “A.B.C. For Book Collectors” is a 1990s edition of a classic I pored over when I was a special collections library assistant: it covers all the ways book sellers describe second-hand books, the parts of a book etc., but is also very sparkling and witty in the way it does it. I can’t wait to read this again, with its updates.

I’m currently reading Peter Ginna’s “What Editors Do”, which, even without having a chapter by an edibuddy of mine, is absolutely fascinating: just because I’m an editor myself doesn’t mean I know how it all works in a big publishing house or how people do acquiring and developmental editing. A real pleasure to read.

Have you any confessions to make?

Book review – Robert MacFarlane – “The Old Ways” plus a DNF #amreading #20BooksOfSummer

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Finally getting on with another #20BooksOfSummer book after a diversion into the Kindle (and although I’ve got another on the go now, then we’re all about Iris Murdoch and Henry II for a bit). I do feel bad that I’ve only got to Book 6 so far but then it’s not a challenge you’re ever made to feel bad about, so I need to stop that!

I also report on a DNF that I really didn’t take to – I was reading it for NetGalley and I’ll paste here the notes I put there. I did skim the whole thing but didn’t take in every word, so I’m not counting it as a book properly read!

Robert MacFarlane – “The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot”

(21 August 2017, Oxfam)

Apparently third in his trilogy, but the one I’d heard of, spotted in Oxfam Books. I was a bit worried about this as a few of my readers had said it had fallen a bit flat for them, however I’m happy to report that I loved it!

There were a few icky bits, with dead birds and a VERY odd sculptor, but nothing I couldn’t cope with. There was also a funny supernaturally bit near the start but by the time I got to another nearer the end, I’d realised there isn’t a lot of Woo to this writer, and when the old ways and their old walkers are concerned, sometimes slightly uncanny things happen.

MacFarlane weaves in the lives and works of other writers, especially Edward Thomas, whose home locations he visits and whose life he tells, but also people like Adam Nicolson (hooray!) whose Shiant Isles he memorably visits. The old ways turn out not to just be holloways and sunken tracks, ridge ways and drovers’ paths, but also sea paths and shifting estuarine mud projects. I loved learning about how paths develop and remain (that requires common care and common practice) and learning about how “desire paths” can supersede and impose themselves on official routes. The book wears its learning lightly, though, and I think you still get a sense of the human behind it – especially when he describes a walk made to his grandfather’s funeral, which I found very moving.

Although he experiences danger, particularly in the muddy Broomway, most of the book is about walks with friends, describing the natural world and particularly birds, and encountering various characters along the way, again, also covering an idea of who has walked in the British countryside and when. I enjoyed the parts in Britain most, but the travels abroad, especially his encounter with vultures in Spain, were interesting, too. He has lots to say about pilgrimage and talks of pilgrims.

I did like a quotation I pulled from his wet walk of the Broomway, when he’s worrying about the tide rushing in:

For some reason, I couldn’t overcome my sense of tides as volatile rather than fixed, capricious rather than regulated. What if the tides disobeyed the moon, on this day of all days? (p.68)

Who hasn’t felt that, when crossing a causeway or descending to a beach?

The index, in categories, is a bit odd, but he thanks the indexer by name, which is lovely. So all in all a great book that I’m glad I read.

This was Book 6 in my 20BooksOfSummer project.

Helen Cullen – “The Lost Letters of William Woolf”

(from NetGalley, May 2018 – skimmed after about 25%)

I was intrigued by the synopsis and, like other reviewers, was interested in the idea of the Department of Lost Letters and all the different parcels that had gone astray and had to be reunited with their owners or addressees. The parts of the book which covered this were great, however I was not expecting the actual main theme of the book, picking over a marriage gone sour, and I found this quite depressing and not something I would look forward to reading about. And then it was very much “tell” and not “show” so not really interesting as such. I ended up skimming it, so I can’t review it on my book blog, but got a good general idea of it. What a shame as it could have been so good. There’s no mention of the marriage in the synopsis so maybe the publisher was aware it wasn’t this aspect that would sell the book. The very ending, the epilogue, was so pat and tidy as to grate, an assumption made that if something is settled upon as an ending, so it will happen. I’m sure lots of people will like this, but not for me, sorry.


How are your reading projects going?

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