Black and British

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Read 27/05/2018-02/09/2018 (with breaks!)

Rating: 4 stars

It took me a while to read this history of Black people in Britain, mainly because it’s an in-depth piece of research that warranted a slow read to absorb the multi-layered stories, but also because the majority of those stories are necessarily hard going. I needed to take a number of breaks to read books that were lighter in tone or pure fiction.

I watched David Olusoga’s BBC TV show Black and British last year and have been meaning to read the accompanying book for a while. I enjoyed his presenting style and the way he made a difficult subject accessible without diluting the message of white culpability in the enslavement and continued denigration of people of colour that is central to this history. Continue reading

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Random Thoughts: Libraries gave us power, we should use it effectively

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I’ve read a couple of things about the need to protect and fund libraries properly this morning. The first thing was Nikesh Shukla’s column in The Observer. The second was a Twitter thread by Stephen McGann, brought to my attention by Cathy of Cathy Reads Books. Continue reading

The Letters of Ivor Punch

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Read 10/07/2018-15/07/2018

Rating: 3 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room European Backpacking Challenge

Colin MacIntyre records and performs as Mull Historical Society. He’s one of my favourite musicians. He’s also an author. The Letters of Ivor Punch is his first novel and it won the Edinburgh International Book Festival First Book Award in 2015.

Set on an unnamed island that is easily identified as Mull, the story begins with Jake Punch visiting the sports ground where his late father broke the island’s long jump record. He’s there because his uncle Ivor Punch has died and Jake, who has been distributing letters written by his uncle, has one last letter to deliver. Except he can’t deliver it because it’s a letter to his dad and his dad was killed by Pan Am flight 103, the aeroplane brought down over Lockerbie by a Libyan terrorist.

Instead Jake reads the letter and discovers that his curmudgeonly old uncle missed his brother, Jake’s dad, in ways similar to Jake. The letter triggers memories for Jake, centred on his uncle and the letters he wrote to the great and the good. Continue reading

Animal

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Read 16/06/2018-27/06/2018

Rating: 5 stars

I love Sara Pascoe. I think she’s one of the funniest people working in comedy. I follow her on Twitter. I love her on QI and Frankie Boyle’s New World Order. I’m going to see her live for the first time in October.

I borrowed her book Animal from the library after I saw a quote from it Tweeted by Pascoe, which I’ll talk about later. I thought it was going to be a straightforward memoir of Pascoe’s life and adventures as a funny feminist woman in the male centric world of British comedy. It is, in a way, but it’s also so much more than that. Continue reading

Sight

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Read 03/06/2018

Rating: 3 stars

When I first started to read Sight by Jessie Greengrass, I couldn’t quite get into it, so I put it aside for a week, read some nonfiction, a book I’ll return to and review later.

Attempt two went better, in a way. Better because I was drawn in by the confessional tone of her prose. In a way because I felt an immediate connection with the narrator, and a specific circumstance in her life, that didn’t feel entirely positive and yet carried recognition.

The novel is split into three parts. Each part has its own science story that is metaphor for the events happening in the narrator’s life. Each scientist is someone who sees the unseeable, bringing the hidden into view. Continue reading

Random Thoughts: Sleeping in a library

Well, not quite in a library. Almost, though.

My best friend’s husband texted me a couple of months ago to suggest a birthday surprise for his lovely wife. I’ve known Mandy since 1989. We met at a party in our first term at university and shared a house in our final year. Over the twenty six years since graduation, we have been through lots of adventures, but this weekend I think we had our best one yet. Continue reading

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

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Read 19/05/2018-24/05/2018

Rating: 4 stars

This is the kind of book that is right up my alley. I’m thrilled that it’s on the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist. Set in Georgian London, among the members of the city’s merchant class, the blurb promises something akin to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell mixed with The Giant, O’Brien and Slammerkin. The design of the book is in sync with its setting. The cover draws together design elements from the V&A’s textile pattern archive. The frontispiece echoes those of the time. The pages, while not the linen papers used in the 18th century, are thick and smooth, a delight to turn. The typeface is Caslon, named for William Caslon, the English typefounder whose typefaces were celebrated for their clarity. Caslon produced his type from 1720 until his death in 1766.

Imogen Hermes Gowar used to work at the British Museum, which must be fertile ground for literary inspiration. Especially when, like so many people working in museums, you’re over qualified and under utilised in your front of house role. I’m not saying front of house (gallery invigilation in the main) is boring, but standing around waiting for a member of the public to ask you something other than ‘Where are the toilets?’ leaves lots of thinking time. I’m surprised more gallery attendants don’t publish novels.

After When I Hit You, I was in need of something less intense, more escapist, and Gowar’s debut definitely hit the spot. Continue reading