Bollocks to Alton Towers

Bollocks to Alton Towers is a guide to visitor attractions in the UK that are a parallel world to the identikit theme parks and desperate-to-entertain you museums that top the visitor attraction lists and vie for awards.

This small book of “Uncommonly British Days Out” is a friend lend. I’ve only had it for three years. We’re off to stay with the friends who lent it soon, so I thought I’d make it the first book in my new personal reading challenge.

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Six Degrees of Separation: From The Book of Ramallah to The Book of Istanbul

It’s the first Saturday of the month and time once again for Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. This month we start our chains with the book that was the final link in last month’s chain.

I chose The Book of Ramallah, a collection of short stories by writers from or based in this Palestinian city. This month, I’m going to use it to promote the books of its Manchester-based radical left wing publisher, Comma Press, and the female editors and writers featured in their books.

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Variations

Variations is a collection of short stories inspired by real events that explore transgender history in Britain. The stories take a variety of forms, from diaries, letters and oral history interviews to blogs and screenplays. Across the collection, Juliet Jacques follows a series of trans people and their experiences from the 19th through to the 21st century. She opens each story with a paragraph that contextualises what follows and regularly includes footnotes with further context. This gives such an air of authority that I began to question whether this book gathered together fiction or fact. In a way, it does both. Jacques has written a history of trans experience but disguised it as fiction.

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Six Degrees of Separation: From Wintering to The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

Here we are again and already at the first Saturday in the month. July this time, and a new round of Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best.

I’ve read this month’s starting book, Katherine May’s Wintering. It’s a bold choice with which to start our chains, and it took some thought for me to find a thread. I forged my chain late on Saturday night, but chose sleep over wrangling it into a post. Only a day late with that.

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The Book of Ramallah

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Read 29/05/2022-02/06/2022

Rating 5 stars

Comma Press in Manchester publishes a series called Reading the City, in which stories from cities around the world are brought together in an anthology, often stories that have not been translated into English before. I picked up The Book of Ramallah at the recent Northern Publishers’ Fair at Manchester Central Library.

During the pandemic, I’d watched Mayor, the 2020 documentary by David Osit that follows Mousa Hadid as Mayor of Ramallah over a two year period. Hadid comes across as that rare thing – a man of honour in politics. It’s a moving, funny, heartwarming look at what it means to be a Palestinian in a city hemmed in by occupation. It made me want to know more about Ramallah. This collection seemed a good place to start. Continue reading

The Lincoln Highway

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Read 18/05/2022-28/05/2022

Rating 4 stars

The Lincoln Highway follows 18 year old Emmett Watson from the middle of the United States to its East Coast along the Lincoln Highway. It is June 1954, and Emmett has just been released early from an eighteen month sentence at a juvenile work farm in Kansas, due to his father dying. With an 8 year old brother, Billy, to look after, Emmett wants to leave his childhood home in Nebraska behind to start a new life somewhere else. Duchess and Woolly, two friends who have escaped from the work farm, stowing away in the boot of the car that carries Emmett home, have other ideas about that. Continue reading

Villager

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Read 08/05/2022-12/05/2022

Rating 5 stars

Villager is Tom Cox’s first novel. I’m not going to call it a debut, because the author has a wealth of writing already in his back catalogue.

Cox is a writer of place. His books 21st Century Yokel and Ring the Hill explore landscape and folklore, mixed with Cox’s eye on the world and its margins. His short story collection Help the Witch marries that sense of place and love of folklore with fictions that open the door a crack to the other places hidden just behind what we experience as real.

His writing in Villager is a beautiful leap off from the coiled force present in some of the longer pieces in Help the Witch. There is folklore here, but also Bildungsroman, speculative fiction, diary writing and cultural reference points that span Mary Oliver, Mike Leigh, Oliver Postgate and Public Enemy. The story sprawls over time and place, slipping through the margins and brushing up against its own past and future. At its heart is a collection of songs written by an itinerant musician, and one ancient song in particular that echoes through the narrative. Continue reading