Book review – Larry McMurtry – “Terms of Endearment”

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The third of the Houston Series which forms the last section of my hugely enjoyable Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project, and I’m realising that you need to read the series as one whole work, weaving in and out of the time sequence, as this one takes us back to before Emma and Flap Horton have their two sons, then forward a decade and more.

I bought this copy in April 2000 and read it in July of that year, along with “All My Friends are Going to be Strangers” which I’d previously read in 1997 from the library; I can only assume that as I bought them together, I realised the link and read them together which makes sense, although there’s more linkage between this one and “Moving On“.

Larry McMurtry – “Terms of Endearment”

(09 April 2000)

Rosie tried to smile but wanted to cry. Seeing Emma sitting there, so trusting and goodhearted, such a happy-looking young woman, filled her with memory suddenly, until she felt too full. She had come to the Greenway house two months before Emma was born, and it was all so strange, the way life went on and seemed the same even tough it was always changing. It never quite slowed down so you could catch it, except by thinking back, and it left some people more important than others as it changed. (pp. 186-187)

In some ways this is an oddly uneven book, in its structure, anyway, as it has one very long section set in 1962 and then a forty-page section bringing us up to date (and breaking our hearts) in 1971-76. In the Preface, McMurtry writes that this is his most “European” book to date, as he wrote it in Europe and had been reading a lot of the European realist classics by Balzac, Tolstoy and Eliot (cementing my realisation of why I love him AND Iris Murdoch when they seem on the face of it to be so different). He compares Emma to Harmony from “The Desert Rose” to Emma’s benefit, but developed a “cool distaste for my own writing” after finishing this, which he saw as the third of a trilogy (now six books) that didn’t subside until Harmony came into his mind.

I have enjoyed these prefaces but of course the text and our reaction to it is the main thing, right (according to my espousal of Reception Theory), so let’s get into the web of relationships spun around Emma’s mother, Aurora Greenaway.

Here I must pause. When I re-read all of Iris Murdoch a few years ago, I was shocked to discover that many of the “older” characters in her novels were my age or slightly younger. Here, although I know Aurora is an old woman in “The Evening Star” at the end of the series, and in her 60s at the end of this book, she is just about to turn FIFTY in most of this one, which is my age!

So Aurora has a suite of suitors, all of them lacking in some way, all of them past their best (or never having reached it); the General, a sailor who drops in twice a year, a sad Hispanic guy with a more jolly son, and we add Vernon, who I love, a man who lives in his car but is an oil millionaire. She’s very glamorous but lives her life in a bed of cushions, tended by her maid, Rosie, who has her own problems with her roving-eyed husband, Royce. Emma and Flap are negotiating the early years of their marriage and first pregnancy, and the novel revolves around the relationship between Aurora and Emma, two very different women who can’t seem to find their way to one another.

Is there a plot? There’s life, really, in its meanderings, encounters and daily routines, with a sketched-in arc that becomes clearer but also speeded up in Part 2. But it’s full of marvellous set-pieces – when Royce drives his truck into a dance hall being a memorable one – and characters, and the minutiae of a marriage, explored in true realist detail. I loved all the intertextuality with the other novels – Patsy is present throughout, loving her dear friend and coming into conflict with her mother, Danny Deck appears again with a pivotal moment in his and Emma’s friendship finally given in detail, Joe Percy the screen writer pops up, and at a party, we see Cybill Shepherd, who had appeared in the film of “The Last Picture Show” a few years before this was published. The descriptions of Houston, really a character in these novels itself, are beautiful – especially a long scene describing Vernon’s view from the top floor of his multistorey car park, sometimes with the mists below him, sometimes above.

It’s a melancholy book in some ways, but with the flashes of humour and ridiculousness that McMurtry is so good at. I’ve never seen the film, but it certainly has a visual quality and drama. And yes, I cried at the end, even though I’ve read it at least once before and knew what the end involved!


Are you doing the project with me? Are you planning to read this one / this series? If you’re doing “Lonesome Dove” or any of the others, how are you getting along?

Book review – David Lodge – “Quite a Good Time to be Born”

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My reading has gone to pot a bit this month – this represents only the sixth book I’ve finished so far (although I appear to be part-way through three more). It was on my print TBR at least – the second volume of Lodge’s memoirs is in my TBR project and Gill kindly gave me this, the first volume, last Christmas. I chose it to read on Monday as it felt appropriate, covering a large chunk of the Queen’s early life and her coronation up to almost her Silver Jubilee (although it turns out she’s not mentioned at all!).

David Lodge – “Quite a Good Time to be Born: A Memoir 1935-1975”

(23 January 2022, from Gill for Christmas)

Lodge planned to do his memoirs in two chunks, covering half his life each, and indeed did, so this takes him from birth to forty, taking in his family history as well. He kept diaries apparently, and he has letters and, from the age of about 17, Mary, later his wife, to remember stuff.

It was a good time to be born, with free education and the experience of a huge sociological shift in British life – he’s slightly too old to take part in 1960s counterculture etc but by that time is working in universities, so sees it happening with his students.

Excitingly, while I knew he was born in Brockley, South London, I didn’t realise his address was 8 minutes’ walk from where I lived in Brockley in the 1990s, and then obviously I knew he’d taught at Birmingham and lived there, but I had no idea he’d lived for a while in one of the “jerry-built”, poky and badly insulated 1930s semis on Reservoir Road, Selly Oak – where I lived in the earlier 1990s! So it all came alive for me in a very nice way.

Once his childhood is over, and trips to see his auntie in Germany, we get the development of his twin careers as novelist and academic – the academic side of things including writing books on literary theory that I’m afraid I haven’t read, while I have read all of his early novels, some of them a couple of times. There is satisfying detail on the novels and their writing, editing and publishing, and also on the academic administration side of things, interesting for being at the very university department I attended later (Lodge was an honorary professor by the time I got there: I attended a talk he did on adapting one of his novels for TV, and I have met him a couple of times since, and have even introduced Matthew to him).

He is a bit old-fashioned in some attitudes, finding women of his acquaintance becoming more interesting to him with the dawn of second-wave feminism and offering a few terms we wouldn’t really use now (this was written in c. 2014, we need to remember). He talks movingly but “of the times” about the birth and childhood of his son Christopher, who lives with Down Syndrome, using the terms that were used around the time but making sure we know of the full, rich life his son lives.

As we progress through the book, Lodge encounters people I knew myself – John Sinclair, who founded the COBUILD corpus linguistics-based dictionary project I worked on in the 1990s; Mr Shapiro, who used to come into Special Collections at the library when I worked there, and there’s always that thrill of actual recognition, isn’t there.

An entertaining and substantial book which I heartily enjoyed. I appreciated Lodge’s honesty about the anxiety he experienced at times, the worries over his novels and encounters with the publishing industry and the pull between family, writing and academia. Once I’ve finished some of the other books I’m reading, I’m looking forward to the second volume.

Book reviews – Light novels in heavy times

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It’s been a very weird week. I completely respect people’s right to mourn the Queen more than me and to mourn the Queen less than me. I’m certainly not a fan of the colonialism and legacies of Empire that endured through her reign; I am also not keen on sneering at the queue of people filing past her Lying in State. I’m bothered of course by the suppression of dissent and peaceful protest; and it certainly IS the time to think about whether we want a monarchy and what we want that monarchy to look like. But the fact remains for me that it’s the end of an era, that someone who has always been there since I first realised of her existence at the Silver Jubilee in 1977 (aged five, I confidently asserted that the Queen was named after me) is no longer there, and I respected the Queen’s commitment to public service and her quiet care for the nation and kind words to and for so many.

Add those feelings to the upheaval of a change of prime minister, and all the doings in the country and messaging and then seeing a lot of nastiness out on social media and I’ve been upset and unsettled. Reading is important as the constant in my life and I decided to deal with the little pile of books that’s lived on the front of the TBR shelf for forever and get them out of the TBR Challenge pile. There were two cosy mysteries that fitted into the category of “in a series and waiting for me to get the ones before them” and three light novels that I apparently bought in August last year in the hopes of a holiday, maybe; they should have been in the main sequence, not a funny pile, but they’d have been in the TBR project whatever.

After these, I’ve picked up Larry McMurtry’s “Terms of Endearment” for my McMurtry project, and on Monday, the National Day of Mourning, I’ve selected the first volume of David Lodge’s memoirs (not in the TBR project but needs to be read before the second volume, which is), as that covers a long period of the Queen’s life and her accession to the throne.

Earlene Fowler – “Delectable Mountains”

(25 December 2016 (!) – from Gill)

Gabe would want to strangle me when he found out I knew about the possible lead and didn’t tell him immediately. But, for not the first time, his job, and its promise to uphold the letter of the law, and my belief in what was the moral, not necessarily legal, thing to do, where in conflict. How many more incidents like this could our marriage endure? (p. 61)

We’re back with Benni Harper, who runs a folk art museum in California, and her husband Gabe, the town’s chief of police, and Fowler does a good job of reminding us who everyone is, given I haven’t read one of these novels since April 2016 and before that 2010 but still managed to pick up the (haha) threads.

In this one, there’s a death in the church where Benni and her grandma Dove are running a children’s play; the seemingly lovely handyman is there, hit on the head, and then other mysteries begin to unfold around the town. Did one of the children see what happened? In a way, this is more about family relationships and Benni and Gabe’s marriage than the mystery, which I liked, as it makes it more deep and satisfying than other cosies I’ve read.

Earlene Fowler – “Tumbling Blocks”

(July 2016 – Charity shop, Whitby)

After a bit of sleuthing round the blog, I established that I bought this in Whitby in July 2016 when we were on holiday in nearby Bridlington. I obviously then kept hold of it till I had the one before it! This one revolves around a posh group of women who have an exclusive club with only 49 members; when the president thinks her friend was murdered (but no one else does), suspicion falls upon three women keen to become members.

Added to this, Gabe’s difficult mum is in town for Christmas and Benni’s best friend is struggling with her pregnancy. Gabe doesn’t do well and patterns in their marriage resurface but there’s comic relief in the form of a corgi puppy Benni’s dog-sitting (weirdly, there’s a dog called Prince Charles in the previous novel and corgis here, so a nod to the royal events this last week even though I was very much looking to escape them!)

Sue McDonagh – “Escape to the Art Cafe”

(01 August 2021 – The Works)

Flora has the usual pattern of boyfriend messes up / job messes up / escape to the seaside / meets a hunky local with a sad bit in his life, but this is a nice, modern novel with a good cast of characters and the Welsh seaside for a change, and Flora certainly takes matters into her own hands and, like the author, is a biker, and Jake is involved with the lifeguards, like the author, so the book is full of rides out and authentic bike details, the sea and trips out on it, all of which I liked a lot. This is the third in a trilogy so probably best read with the others but I managed not to and still enjoyed it. Everything does wind up neatly quite quickly but the plot is plausible and the details were fun.

Now two off the pile but not actually read!

Katie Fforde – “A Secret Garden”

(01 August 2021 – The Works)

Title looked familiar, read a page, realised I’d read it before! Bye-bye!

Samantha Young – “Much Ado About You”

(01 August 2021 – The Works)

I should have liked this novel about an American (freelance editor!) in England on a bookshop-running holiday but I just couldn’t engage with it, it didn’t seem consistent in what she’d know about England in advance, and I encountered the word “moron” three times in the first 30 pages and while it’s not a really top one it is still an ableist slur I don’t like reading. So I closed the book and put it in my BookCrossing pile.


Weird little pile of books: done!

These represented TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Books 15-19/28 – 9 to go by 5 October! Can I do it?

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

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

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

(21 June 2022, NetGalley)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book review – Jane Rule – “Desert of the Heart”

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I’m not entirely sure what I’ve been doing since the beginning of the month – a fair bit of work and some emergency plumbing, I fear, but this is the first book I’ve finished in September! I borrowed it from Ali in October last year after she reviewed it in July here, and I’m not sure if it was down to the fragmented way I read it but I don’t think I loved it as much as she did. However, it was very interesting, and the excellent introduction by Jackie Kay set it very well in its context.

I pulled this from slightly later in my TBR to read for All Virago / All August and the LibraryThing Virago Group’s August theme read of journeys (the central character has travelled from California to Reno to get a divorce and she also has a journey through her own sexuality). Of course, finishing in September, I’ve failed at both of those attempts, but never mind, eh?

Jane Rule – “Desert of the Heart”

(9 October 2021, loan from Ali)

Ann stood, awkward and defenseless. If Evelyn had been either indiscreet or distant, she would have known what to do. But decorum was a climate in which Evelyn lived. Within it she could move with a kind of candor Ann could neither imitate nor reject. And she had no attitude of her own. She did not know what to feel. (p. 136)

We meet Evelyn, fleeing an unsuccessful marriage where she feels she is the culprit in it going wrong, her husband lost in a miasma of depression. She comes to stay in Frances’ boarding house to accomplish getting a divorce, as that and gambling are the two mainstay industries of Reno. Ann, related in a complicated way to Frances, and Walter, Frances’ son, are the only other two regular residents, the rooms filled with a shifting population of women who stay for six weeks, have a court hearing and leave.

When Evelyn and Ann slowly fall for one another (or fall for one another and slowly admit it), we’re all convinced Evelyn will leave at the end of the six weeks, maybe even returning to heterosexuality. But she’s reminded of a wartime liaison and is gradually convinced this is natural. Also natural, however, is her reserve and reticence, which are difficult for Ann, used to the more obvious charms of her casino friends and her on-off lover, the statuesque Silver, to cope with.

There’s a lot of internal rumination, contrasted with the detailed and fascinating life inside the casino. Paragraphs like the one I quote seem simple then fold in on themselves (who is the “she” in the last two sentences, when you think about it?). There’s a bit of plot around Ann’s jealous ex, Bill, easily settled by the composed Evelyn, and a feeling of worry about what’s going to happen when these six weeks are up, but it’s mainly a character study of shifting feelings and emotions. Of course, what Jackie Kay picks out rather brilliantly is that this is a lesbian novel that came before the women’s movement of the late 60s and 70s, showing normal, rounded people who don’t end up dead or damaged – something that doesn’t actually often happen in LGBTQIA+ themed novels now, let alone then.

I also found interest in reading a woman’s view of the desert and casinos, after my reading of Larry McMurtry’s Vegas novels. It’s an absorbing read and the context of a novel which changed many women’s lives and led many of them to write to the author is also fascinating.

Book review – Edward Hancox – “Every Last Puffin” – Book 20 in my 20 Books of Summer!

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And I’ve done it! I’ve finished my 20 Books of Summer challenge (intro post here) and also knocked another book off my TBR project! I had an hour or so between work projects yesterday and popped out in the garden to sit in what feels like the end of the summer sun, with a Beanies Caramelised Biscuit coffee in my huge Sports Direct mug, making sure my bookmark from Ali got in the photo, and there I was, finishing my last book! I’m so chuffed I managed the challenge, as I left myself with quite a few books to read this month for it.

I must have had a weird moment with this one – I supported it via a Kickstarter campaign (101 people supported it and my name is in the back of the book but I apparently just put myself down as Liz – I know the only lone Liz is me!) and then I completely failed to record it arriving, photograph it, write about it, anything. From tracing things back, I believe it would have arrived at the end of August 2021, so I’m still only a year behind myself.

Edward Hancox – “Every Last Puffin”

(August 2021)

There’s a well-established link between nature and mental health, and I was only just beginning to feel the benefits. This book may have started with me trying to find the puffins before it’s too late, but it was becoming clear that they were helping me too. I could feel the stresses and strains of life starting to dissolve. The puffin pulled at another blade of grass, twisting his head sideways to consider me fully. (p. 133)

Hancox has always liked puffins and he decides to go on a tour of Britain to find their last outposts and see how they’re doing. He’s read about seabirds in decline and hopes it’s not a farewell tour – spoiler: he finds some places are in decline, some other populations are doing well, and people all around the country are doing a lot to help them, including important rat eradication programmes on islands.

Each chapter details a visit and takes us through the part of the year when puffins are found in Britain, from May to July. He didn’t do all the trips in one year so it’s not sequential, but he doesn’t claim to and it’s fine. Each short chapter is perfect to dip into or you can read a load in one go. And he manages to make them not samey, even though essentially each is a trip to an island or coastal region, sometimes involving a more or less unpleasant boat trip, usually an RSPB reserve and seeing similar sets of birds – puffins, of course, but also guillemots, petrels, gannets, skuas and the like, as well as wheatears, stonechats and others.

I was of course drawn to and cheered by the places I’ve been to myself – Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire and the Isles of Scilly, though I haven’t been to the island he visits – or know of – Adam Nicolson’s Shiants make a welcome appearance. There’s also mention of Joe Harkness’ excellent book, “Bird Therapy“. And my friend Meg will be pleased to note that the Icelandic word for elephant gets a mention (it’s easily confused with their word for fulmar). There’s something for everyone; every birder will have been to one of the reserves he mentions (if even I, a non-committed birder has) and he describes the places and their guardians beautifully.

Despite the cold, I was smiling like it was Christmas morning; each puffin was a new gift under the tree. (p. 155)

Such a very cheering book, even with its mentions of species loss and occasional sad individual bird, and a worthy finale to my 20 Books project.


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

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 14/28 – 14 to go by 5 October! Can I do it?

Book review – Jokha Alharthi (trans. Marilyn Booth) – “Celestial Bodies”

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It’s Women in Translation month and I am notoriously bad at managing to fit a book in for it, but I have done this month! Ali kindly gave me this book for Christmas last year, and I have had it in mind to read for the project; then I really fancied reading a novel as I’ve been reading quite a lot of non-fiction, so here we are with an entry! (I realise this is going to mean more frequent reviews than normal for a few days to fit everything in – sorry!).

Jokha Alharthi (trans. Marilyn Booth) – “Celestial Bodies”

(25 December 2021, from Ali)

I’m not sure I’ve read a book by an Omani author or set in Oman before. I didn’t really get much of a sense of the history of this place from this impressionistic book (which did give me a lot in terms of relationships, culture and atmosphere, I hasten to add) so feel I need to brush up on the basic side of things another time.

Alternating between an omniscient narrator who swoops us into the lives and thoughts of various men and women of three generations, the middle generation being three sisters who have followed different paths in their personalities and marriages and first-person sections by Abdallah, husband of the oldest sister, travelling by plane from Oman to Germany, we dip back and forth through time, examining people through other people’s eyes, seeing there might be jinns and there might be magic or there might be women who carry out rituals of different kinds, and that what we wish for might come true but in a disappointing way.

The three sisters are the most vivid for me, one quiet, one bookish and vivacious, but keen to conform to her family’s wishes and one beautiful and stubborn, waiting for someone she then wishes she hadn’t got. There are love scenes in the desert, descriptions of slaving missions going back into the early 20th century, hints of progress and then dialling back on progress (especially in terms of women’s education). Abdallah also seems vivid and knowable, then his last section hints at terrible events, or does it? The narrative moves in a winding way through the three sisters’ weddings and married lives, darting back and forth.

The novel is very smoothly translated, as it doesn’t feel translated, if you see what I mean. Outbursts and cries in Arabic remain in Arabic but are understandable. A bit more fragmented of a read than I usually enjoy, but a powerful impression of a strong culture and ties that go back decades.

Book review – Lucy Delap – “Feminisms: A Global History”

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I think I might actually completely my 20 Books of Summer (mainly because I’ve had a low NetGalley TBR this month) as this is Book 19 out of the pile (intro post here) and is also again part of my TBR project. I was pleased to note that I acquired this on 26 August 2021 when I started reading it on 26 August 2022, literally a year behind now! I bought it with a Christmas book token my friend Sian gave me, and recorded it in my State of the TBR post from 1 September (I’ve now read all of the print books recorded as incoming in that post). I’ve taken Book 20 off the shelf to start later today.

Lucy Delap – “Feminisms: A Global History”

(26 August 2021)

By no means are all the figures discussed in this book – many would not have heard of this word and some would angrily repudiate it. But they can nonetheless be placed within a critical feminist history, one that helps us understand feminisms’ tensions and possibilities across a broad canvas. (p. 339)

In this book, one of the attractive new Pelican series, Lucy Delap, a historian of modern Britain at the University of Cambridge, sets out to write a history of feminisms and allied causes around the world, from about the mid 1700s until fairly recently. She does have a global coverage, bringing in work done in various African countries, including Nigeria and South Africa, Asian countries like South Korea and Indonesia, Australasia, various European countries, including Eastern European, Chile and Peru in South America, as well as the US and UK.

After an introduction in which she sets out her stall, of course, and talks about what constitutes feminism and its history, countering the claim it started in the West by looking at, for example, the Egyptian Rasheed WOmen’s Conference in 1799 or rights claimed by indigenous Sierre Leone women in 1972, Delap takes various over-arching themes and looks at them across time and place, whether that’s dreams and utopias from the earliest work until now, spaces for publishing, meeting and organising, items like badges or dress. This feels like a slightly odd way of arranging things but allows her to draw threads together, show influence and dialogue between different strands and show the contrasts in the way people have done things. For example, in the clothing chapter she moves between the “rational dress” of the bicycle-riding New Woman through the politicised use of the hijab to the pink pussy hats of the anti-Trump demonstrations.

There’s a lot of intersectionality, necessarily (including a discussion of where the term came from and other terms that have been used for the double or triple burden of being, for example, a Black woman living with a disability. Intersections with class and race are brought out a lot, highlighting how White middle-class feminism and its concerns has often pushed aside other equally important issues (interestingly, it turns out to be not only African Womanism which looks at the fight as a class one, with men fighting on the same side, but this is also a feature of a lot of South American campaigning. An important thread that is emphasised here is the continued oppression of native and indigenous peoples of various countries, who have remained side-lined, patronised and/or ignored.

The book includes some great images, although it’s a small-format paperback and they’re printed direct on the page so some detail is lost. There’s a marvellous picture of a group of Maori women in rational dress from the early 1900s, for example.

There’s no call for action, because this is a historical work; however, there is clearly a need to reclaim these different activists and thinkers/doers and to consider all in our feminism today. A really interesting book in a good modern series.


This was book number 19 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 13/28 – 15 to go (and I’m reading Book 14!)

Book review – Sue Anstiss – “Game On”

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

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

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

(18 August 2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Book review – Rob Deering – “Running Tracks”

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Well, I’ve reached Book 17 of my 20 Books of Summer books list (intro post here) and is also part of my TBR project. This is an Unbound book which I subscribed to and which is recorded in my my State of the TBR post from 1 August (I have now read and reviewed all of the print books recorded as incoming in that post!). As I’m already a good way through Book 18 and with over a week to go, I feel like I might manage my 20 Books of Summer after all.

Rob Deering – “Running Tracks: The Playlist and Places that Made me a Runner”

(23 July 2021)

Looking at it like this, I now realise that this run is absolutely riddled with memory – running and otherwise. It’s a living, walk-in map of my day-to-day life, my running history and all the great moments of my life with my wife and my family. (p. 151)

This is a book about running and music. Deering loves both, though he’s always loved music and he came to running a bit later. And I will say now that I, too, love running and music. My best running-and-music memory is when I was quite a new runner, plodding round local streets, trying to do a few more minutes on my run, when the Sex Pistols’ version of My Way came on my MP3 player and with a doof-doof-doof-doof at the drop, there I went, speeding down the road! However, I have to say I don’t really run with music now, for safety reasons, as I like to keep aware of what (who) is around me, hear what catcallers are shouting in case it’s a proper safety issue, etc. Doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the book, though, and I’m truly glad Deering has had all these lovely experiences where the right song comes in at the appropriate point in a run, and has the ability and, through Unbound, the wherewithal to write about it.

I didn’t start with this well, I have to admit, as early on he has a rant about not being allowed to wear headphones in races, and asserts that he’d rather wear them and have a row than be without his music. I do understand how important it is, but he rather wearingly says that nothing has ever happened in a race due to people wearing headphones (it has) and that he can hear around him perfectly well (many can’t). I’ve experienced, as a runner, trying to yell at the people in front of me to watch out for the motorbike and leader of the half-marathon that started after the marathon we were doing coming up behind as they blocked the whole road, earphones in, and I’ve experienced, as a marshal/official, trying to direct people who can’t hear. He might like to know that bone-conducting headphones are permitted at many races. I’ve only mentioned this in case other readers get the idea it’s OK to run with headphones and have a row: not really fair on the often volunteers staffing your races. There was also a moment where he seemed to imply that a 4:30 marathoner was the slowest one you might get, but fair enough, as he runs at the sharp end and might not know many back-of-the-pack types.

The rest of the book is excellent. Split into 26.2 chapters, we get some of his running story, a particular run he enjoyed (or didn’t) and the song that came up when he did it. At the end of each chapter are suggestions for other songs and other runs that might be similar: a nice touch. Interwoven through it (but not too much or cloyingly) is the story of his dad who lived with Parkinson’s for many years, and the fundraising that Deering has done, as well as a few tales from his stand-up touring life. This makes for an enjoyable book and an easy read.

It was nice to see Birmingham mentioned the once, in fact a canal section that I run on, although that was the only time. There are plenty of relatable moments: I, for one, have also banged on, in my case a pub door, to ask the cleaner if I can use the facilities … And parkrun features quite a lot; it’s always nice to see a positive mention. The quote I’ve used above really chimed with me, too – I’ve started to think about doing a personal Google Map of all the little memories around the routes I have been running for the past 17 years or so! He has a lovely bit about how the first step on the Couch to 5k programme is the hardest in your running career, and once you’ve got that done, you’re away.

A lovely personal yet relatable book and an unusual concept that really works. I hope he has many more happy runs with perfect tunes. May I just mention here one more running/music memory of my own: running the Reykjavik Marathon, my first, through a suburb with people banging saucepans to encourage the runners, and there’s a little band on a corner – a common thing in big city runs, we often get dhol drummers or brass bands or just a sound system. No, a four-piece band playing Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart …


This was book number 17 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 11/28 – 17 to go (and I’m reading Book 12!)

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