For such a short month, February seemed to last for ages. I spent a lot of time heading from Dorset to London too, three times for work and a couple for personal reasons, one of which was to judge the Stanford Dolman award. More on that in a later post, after it has been printed in NB Magazine. Anyway onto the books that I read in February. I managed to read 17 in the end. First up are my fiction reads
I was recommended The Hours by Michael Cunningham by a friend on twitter. The library had a copy so I thought, I’d give it a go. It is three stories all intertwined together but focused on the book Mr Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. I have read one of his others, and really liked it, but this didn’t do it so much for me. Maybe it was because of the Woolf links as the only book of hers that I have read I could not get along with. I really like spy fiction, but most of what is out there, is broadly similar. The latest book, from Sarah Armstrong, The Wolves of Leninsky Prospekt Fiction is the story of a woman who is kicked out of university and ends up marrying a childhood friend in a marriage of convenience before heading out to Moscow, where she becomes unintentionally embroiled in an espionage scandal. I also read one of the fiction offerings from the Wellcome longlist, Astoturf. This book by Matthew Sperling is about a character called Ned who isn’t getting the girls and is stuck in a dead end job. He is persuaded to try taking a short course in steroids to improve his physique. One thing leads to another and he starts a website selling his own brand of performance drugs. Very much a blokish book and I wasn’t that impressed.
In my reading challenges, I had promised to read the Discworld books that I hadn’t this year. The Last Hero was the first from that list and in true Terry Pratchett for it did not disappoint. Very funny and a tiny parody of life on our world too. I have been following Gareth L Powell on Twitter for a while now and was fortunate to be sent his book, Embers of War, last year. Didn’t get to read it until I picked it up when we were away for the weekend and heading up into London. This happened to be the weekend he was at the Forbidden Planet promoting his new book, Fleet of Knives, so I popped in to see him to buy a copy and to get both books signed. He is a genuinely nice guy and well worth following for his always positive posts. Anyway, the book, Embers of War is a book about a ship with a sparse crew on board who are there to help other ships in danger. When they are called to assist a ship in distress they don’t fully realise what they are getting into and it is not long before they realise they are right in the middle of a fast-escalating war. Really good stuff and I am looking forward to reading his next book.
Not really sure where to slot this one, but Silence: In The Age Of Noise is Erling Kagge’s thoughts and musings on the absence of noise and how it can benefit us. It is a beautifully produced book with lots of things to ponder.
There is a lot of talk about how the natural world can help you and how our lack of it is affecting mental health and wellbeing. This is brilliantly covered in the book, The Nature Fix. But how do you set about rediscovering something that we have been ignoring for the past few years? Well, Simon Barnes’ book, Rewild Yourself is a set of 23 ideas to help get you outside and making nature more relevant to you. There are lots of simple and inexpensive and most importantly practical tips to assist when you venture outside. I have lived some of my life near the coast and was really looking forward to reading the debut book by Charlotte Runcie called Salt On Your Tongue: Women And The Sea. This memoir is about her personal journey through pregnancy in the context of her love of the sea. She brings into it all sort of stories from myth and folklore as well as recent history. Really liked the writing style of it too, so if you have any longing for the coast then this could be for you.
My poetry book this month was Green Noise by the amazing Jean Sprackland. I had only read her non-fiction before now and now I have read this beautiful collection will read her other poetry books.
The Stanford Dolman shortlisted books are always worth reading, and Lights in the Distance by Daniel Trilling was one that I was looking forward to from there. It is about the realities of migration told through the personal stories of the people he meets. Powerful stuff and should be essential reading for lots of people.
I also read the others on the shortlist. Damian Le Bas’ book is called The Stopping Places where he travels around the UK and Southern France looking for the laybys where his Gypsy people paused in their journeys. Fascinating book on the almost hidden sub-culture of our country. The Ottoman Empire was in existence for several hundred years before collapsing after the First World War. Even though it has been gone for a century, if you know where to look you can still see that the traces and echoes of the past are still there. Scott travels through twelve countries looking and talking to the people that have been displaced and who are still feeling the effects of the collapse. The Rhine is Europe longest river, reaching from the North Sea, across Germany and deep into the Alps. Ben Coates has written an entertaining book of his travel from his adopted home along the river to this source. Not quite as good as his first, but still worth reading though.
As well as the Stanford Dolman books that I was reading to judge, I also have read the Adventure travel shortlist and the next three are from that. A short book about a woman who inadvertently adopts a dog by Ishbel Holmes is as much about her torrid past as it is about Lucy the street dog. Really enjoyable and uplifting story. I have read one of Ben Fogle’s books before on Land Rovers, which was ok, but not brilliantly written. Up, about his training and successful attempt to climb Everest is a little better. I particularly liked the other side of the story told by his wife, Marina. It added a better depth to the story. As an adventurer, Levison Wood is hard to beat. He has walked halfway across Africa, across the rooftop of the world and through the jungles of Central America. This latest book of his travel around the Arabian peninsula doesn’t have a TV series to accompany it but is still worth reading none the less.
After the Beast from the East I was hoping for another pile of snow this year, sadly we only got the merest dusting. But the day it did snow seemed to be a good day to start reading The Little Book of Snow by Sally Coulthard. This beautifully produced book was a delightfully cornucopia of all sorts of facts and anecdotes about the white stuff. It makes a beautiful gift book.
My book of the month was The Last Hero. I have forgotten just how good STP could be. So do you like the look of any of these?