How is the end of the first month already! And it felt so long too. Anyway, the advantage of a long month is that there is more opportunity to read, and this month I excelled myself and managed to finish 20 books. Though to be fair there were a few that I had started right at the end of December. A few stats first, fourteen of the books that I read were by men, and six by women so that is 30%, a little low that my target. Did read one poetry book too. Nine of the books read were review copies and eleven library books, but none of my own.
So to the books then. First up is John Bew’s biography of the former Labour Leader and Prime Minister Clem Attlee, called Citizen Clem. Thought it was a well written and impartial assessment of his life, from his inital work in the East End of London with the poor to being deputy Prime Minister in the War to the far-reaching changes that he instigated after World War II. Well worth reading.
I have been a great fan of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London Series and have been collecting them too. I have the first four signed and am hoping to meet him again to get the others signed one day. I had got the new Lies Sleeping from the library and as it had been reserved then had to read it and return. It is another enjoyable one in the series, not quite as good as the Furthest Station but still has lots of life left in the series.
Only one fiction book this month, which was All Rivers Run Free by Natasha Carthew. This is a really good dystopian future about a young girl who decides to head back home across a shattered Cornish landscape. Well worth reading.
I didn’t get to read the Baillie Gifford Shortlist before they announced the prize but did finally get to another this month with the final two still reserved from the library. Stephen R. Platt has written an interesting book about the Chinese and British war called Imperial Twilight. It covers the Opium War and events leading up to it and signifies the beginning of the end of China’s Golden Age. I liked it, but it did feel a bit long.
I read three books that don’t really fit in any sort of category, really. Amateur by Thomas Page McBee is about his journey learning to box for a charity match. People have done this in the past, but McBee was a trans man and the people training him didn’t know. Really nicely written book. I had read the Book of Tides a couple of years ago, so was quite pleased to find The World of Tides in the library. This second book by William Thomson is similar to the first, lots of infographics and details on tides and waves around the world. I love books on Language and whenever Paul Anthony Jones (Haggard Hawks) writes one, you know it is going to be good. Around the World in 80 Words doe not disappoint and it will take you around the globe discovering the words that we have pilfered for our own use.
Three books that bridge between landscape and memoir. First up was The Dark Stuff by Donald S. Murray which is a celebration of the worlds peatlands and the story of his growing up next to one. Really enjoyed this. Whitney Brown is an American who ended up in Wales after seeing a man make a drystone wall. Her book, Between Stone And Sky, tells her story of learning to love in the Welsh hillsides. The Old Weird Albion is Justin Hoppers walk back through his family history and at the same time his exploration of the chalk hills that make the South Downs, culminating with him standing on Beachy Head where a family tragedy happened. Slightly surreal and very good.
I read two very different memoirs too. Swell by Jenny Landreth is what she calls a waterbiography. I this she recounts the history of women swimming and the things that they had to overcome to be able to get into the water. In amongst all this, we hear of her own story of swimming. Really enjoyable. It is the tenth year for the Wellcome book prize and I was on the book tour reading one of the books from the first year, called Illness. This book by Havi Carel is a philosophical look at long term illness and it is also a very personal diary of her own illness.
I had been sent a review copy of Vertigo & Ghost by Fiona Benson and it fits with my aim of trying to read at least one poetry book each month. It was quite a challenging read and I prefered the second half of the book to the first. Good though.
I finally finished the last of the Royal Society Books from the shortlist last year, The Beautiful Cure by Daniel Davis. in this he looks at how our immune systems work and how these natural defences keep us alive. The next was a book that my wife wanted to read and after she had read it I thought that I would before it went back to the library. In Inferior, Angela Saini looks at how men and women are different, but also how women have been marginalised in science and life in general. Though it was very well written with some solid evidence behind her findings.
January is always a travel month as it is when the shortlists are announced for the Stanford Travel Writing Awards. If you hadn’t heard, I am an actual judge for one of the shortlists, but first I had been kindly sent the two new Nigel Barley books and also the first that have all been republished by Eland. They all look magnificent together. The first, The Innocent Anthropologist, takes us to Africa and the Dowayo tribe in Cameroon and his first experience at fieldwork as an anthropologist. In A Plague of Caterpillars, he returns to the same village to see if he can witness a ceremony that only takes place every seven or eight years. His final book from Eland takes him to Indonesia to visit the Sulawesi tribe and he brings them back to London to show their skills off.
Two other travel books this month were The White Darkness a biography of the adventurer, Henry Worsley, and his travels across Antarctica pushing his body to the ultimate limit. The final travel book was one from the Stanford Dolman shortlist, Dancing Bears: True Stories about Longing for the Old Days by Witold Szabłowski and I won’t say any more about this until the winner is announced. Reviews and an interview with Nigel coming soon.
My book of the month was Not a Hazardous Sport. It is really funny and you can see how his writing improved from the first two.
What did you read this month? Did you have a favourite? Let me know in the comments below.