2018’s Reading Challenge!

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Thanks to my amazing sister, who spotted this on Instagram and suggested we try it.  We live 10,000 miles apart so it’s a pretty good way of keeping in touch, I think.

25 books over the year. 2 a month (ish) or 25 in December – your decision!

The IG post has some more details and the hashtag #ReadwithRD if you want to join in!

I’ll be posting reviews with numbers in the title to keep track.

 

Happy Reading!

Categories below:

A book

by your favourite author
A book with an animal on the cover
A book you read in high school
A book of poems
A book you got for free
A book set during WWII
A book published before you were born
A book you found in a used bookstore
A book recommended by a reading buddy
A book reviewed in a magazine
A book that is a memoir
A book that is a YA novel released in 2018
A book based on a fairytale
A book that is an award winning book
A book that is blue
A book with a city in the title
A book on your shelf you haven’t read yet
A book based on your spiritual beliefs
A book that is a graphic novel
A book written by a journalist
A book that takes place where you live
A book that is challenging for you
A book with a number in the title
A book that is non-fiction
A book of your choice
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Fine, thanks 2 of 25 #ReadwithRD

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*Please note, while I will try not to put spoilers in here, due to the nature of the story set up and the multiple twists, there might be references to story points which may become more relevant later on in the novel. I’ll try to point these out beforehand too!*

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.  She has a nice job, a nice flat and a nice routine in Glasgow.  Except she isn’t fine, of course. Early on and just after we meet Eleanor, she reveals that her routine includes buying multiple bottles of vodka on a Friday evening and drinking them all over the weekend. This is at odds with her external demeanour -she wears sensible shoes and a jerkin, she prides herself on having a bus pass and certainly never partakes in any idle gossip chit chat.

This is precisely what is fascinating about the character. She is at once many layered and entirely believable. Her self perception is absolutely at zero – she doesn’t understand why people don’t like being told that they’re wrong, or that she can’t stand the vacuous discussion on the Christmas party. In a nutshell, she’s not very nice. One day her computer breaks and she calls the helpdesk, and someone comes to fix it. This brief encounter leads to a series of events where we get to see the real Eleanor, peeled away like all the layers of an onion.

We are introduced to her social worker, her mother, the man who owns the corner shop – all through her own eyes. With the benefit of being independent though, we can see that she is not completely fine and actually, the other people in her life know that too. Deep down, so does she.

*spoliers but not very specific ones* At times it is a hard read, and I would say that the author has done some research into PTSD and coping mechanisms for terrible events and disasters. It’s absolutely worth the time though – I really enjoyed getting to know not just Eleanor, but the rest of the people in that world too.

I am looking forward to seeing what Gail Honeyman writes  next, and who she introduces to the world! Given that this novel won the 2018 Costa Debut Novel award, I think it’ll be a good one!

 

Thanks to Harper Collins for letting me read an advance copy through Netgalley – all opinions are my own, of course!

Merry Christmas! 1of25 #ReadwithRD

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So, it’s January and I’m doing a Christmas book review. Just think of it like I’m super organised.

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Jeanette Winterson’s “Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days” is a beautiful book, first and foremost. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but it’s hard not to when it’s so aesthetically pleasing. Cloth-bound in navy and adorned with silver filigree type illustrations front and back, it’s a joy to read. The only slight niggle I have is that I kept looking for the non existent ribbon – it feels like it should have a navy blue or even navy and silver plaited ribbon bookmark.

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Luckily, the contents deliver on the promises the cover holds, and I really enjoyed reading it. It’s set out as a short story anthology, interspersed with recipes. The theme is Christmas, but the topics Winterson covers extends to giving thanks for all you have, remembering those who are lost to you and how to make the most delicious gravlax.

 

Christmas stories, especially short ones, have a tradition of being ghost stories, or murder mysteries. Something about the eternal gloom of a Winter’s day, or maybe the ethereal mist if Victorian London, evokes a feeling of unease and a look to the past. What is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, after all, if it’s not a ghost story? (Minor spoilers ahead, although I am pretty sure you all know what the ending is by now) Scrooge spends the time, real or imagined, reliving his past snubs and bad behaviour before coming to the realisation that it is not too late to change, that redemption is available to all. Even him.

 

Winterson’s stories tell tales of wedding day brides getting revenge, long dead murder victims getting peace and Christmas sceptics finding festive cheer. I think I share a lot of the same outlook as she does – not a Christian believer but happy to buy in and engage with the notion that the 12 days are about spending time with friends and family, those that love us and care for us, and that we love and care for in return – God or no God. There is a story that tells the story of the Nativity through the eyes of the hapless donkey, which is beautifully written. Another story is a first person narrative where the sex is unclear – something that dawned on me about halfway through as a clever, unassuming way to play with conventions.

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Interspersed with these short stories are the recipes. Not just straight recipes, and in some cases, not really recipes at all – they’re more like anecdotes from her life. Afternoons making marmalade with Ruth Rendell, and a tradition of making Christmas pudding with her Mum even though their relationship was strained in later life.  It reinforces the idea, the theme, of Christmas being a time to reflect on times gone past, on people in your life (and no longer) and almost a promise to yourself for the year ahead.

 

While I might not be about to make all of the recipes in the book, I look forward to re-reading them and the stories next December. Maybe earlier, if I need a reminder to be grateful and focus on the promises I set for myself this year.

 

 

 

 

A fork in the road

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Well, isn’t this a surprise. Well, not really. I have to warn you, this is a rip roaring self pitying read – I’m posting it up here to share with you all in the hope that it resonates with someone to show that you are not alone. Any advice welcomed too, of course.

I have not been very good at updating this blog of mine lately – real life is getting in the way. In all honesty though, I have been ashamed. I have not been running very much at all, and when I have, I have run in bad faith.  What I mean is,  I have struggled to run for fun. I’m so hung up on the numbers on the watch – the speed, the pace, the miles, the heart rate, that I forget that I am supposed to enjoy doing it.  Even worse, I have been fixated on other people’s numbers, and while I am pleased for them to achieve PBs and ultras and everything else, I have a stab of jealousy when they do. Especially when we used to be the same pace. When I used to be faster. When I remember them starting on their running journey, and I encouraged them along.

I know what I would say to others in the same situation as me. I have said it. The numbers don’t matter, you’re getting out there and that’s what counts. Don’t compare yourself to others – and that includes you from four years ago. You do what you can on the day. But the truth is, I am resentful and frustrate and annoyed that all the training in the world doesn’t seem to make a difference for me and it makes all the difference to someone else. Last year I did the Hanson marathon method for Rotterdam in my nth attempt at a sub four. Training went reasonably well until I got a chest infection, but in reality, even then, it was fine. But my head wasn’t right and on the day, it leaked away like sand through your fingers. Four months of 5am starts and six days a week of running. 10 mile mid week runs. For a time which was at that point, my personal worst on the road. Don’t worry though, I managed to get a new personal worst in Chicago in October, hoorah. That was after another chest infection. Lucky me.  I know, I know, pity party for one, over here, bring the tequila.

So I feel like I am now at a crossroads. I am supposed to be training for Helsinki marathon in May and haven’t really started to.  I think, if I can be completely honest (again) – I’m afraid to. What’s the point? I’m just going to choke on race day anyway. And even if I could train, my asthma is a constant presence now so it feels like there is always something sitting in my chest, day and night. I have to take two antihistamines and a pretty strong steroid inhaler every day, one which is affecting my vocal cords so I lose my voice if I speak for long periods of time.

So my choice seems to be: go all in or not. I know I need to shake off this bad faith, I know I’m not being fair to myself or my friends and family by being so bad tempered. I just seem to have this constant mantra in my head, a drumbeat of “It’s not fair It’s not fair itsnotfair notfair notfairnotfair” I think I need to suck it up. But I feel like I have done that, so many times before. I don’t have the emotional energy or strength. Every run is not a triumph. Every run is a repeat of the slow plod the day or week or month before. I am getting slower, not matter what I do. I have tried high volume and low volume and rest and slow runs and heart rate runs. Strength training and protein diets and no dairy diets. Different trainers and morning and night and fasted.

All of this and I feel I am running out of time. Every cycle is a waste of youth, a waste of my physical peak.

The bottom line is that I know what I need to do, I’m afraid that if I do it, it still won’t work and I will still be slower than I want to be, slower than I have been.  So maybe I don’t concentrate on speed. Ha. Even if I could ignore it, I couldn’t. What else do you see apart fro the time it takes you to do a run? Maybe I take each mile as It comes and don’t worry about it. But what if I don’t push myself at all and that’s the reason I’m getting slower – I’m not improving because I’m kidding myself that I am pushing myself?

It’s really complex and the struggle is 90% mental. I know it is. I just feel like my mental energy battery is so low, and I’m not sure how to refill it. I am doing yoga every day, and have done this year – it’s making me feel stronger but it’s not running. It’s a means to making me faster, although I do find it’s also a really good way of bringing me some peace, too. Noticing the incremental gains is satisfying – I can now almost touch my heels to the floor in Downward Dog. I can plank without thinking about how hard it is (although I am ashamed of the little belly pouch and wobbly thighs I have). I know the balance poses are not far away – I’d love to do crow but that hasn’t flown since I was in a class. I don’t think I am confident enough, not at the moment.

Okay. So maybe I need to be patient, be kind and see what happens. I do think I need to see what my training plan is doing though – three weeks in and I’m not sure I’ve hit any of the sessions yet. Maybe I’ll do four runs a week not five, and I’ll make sure I schedule yoga tine in too.

So no goals this year, not like last year. I did get two of the goals last year – both of my parkrun goals, woohoo.

My main aim is to re-locate the joy of running. I will see if I can run offroad, no agenda, no time, no distance in mind. Maybe I’ll also see about sorting out my head and getting rid of the negativity. Running should not be this complicated. Lace up, get out.

What do you think?

 

 

 

Transworld BlogTour: Our Memory Like Dust

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Our Memory Like Dust. HBI was really pleased to have been invited to be part of the blogtour for Transworld Books and to read Gavin Chait’s second novel: “Our Memory Like Dust”. I love reviewing books, mainly because I love reading but it also helps me use my English Literature degree!

“Our Memory Like Dust” is a bit like a rubber band ball. It takes a while to find the end but once it’s there, you’re on board. It’s a multi-narrative, location and temporal story driven by Gaw Gon, a god who appears as a baboon, able to draw memories from people and view them like films.

As you can tell (and regular readers know), I normally lean towards YA/bildungsroman type novels, mainly in current-ish times and usually with a twist. For example: “The Time Traveler’s Wife” – it’s a love story where one half of the couple has trouble staying located in time.

(c) David Fisher

“Our Memory Like Dust” was a departure out of  my usual comfort zone, and I enjoyed the change of pace. I talked to author Gavin Chait, to find out a bit more about it – click on the link below for the storify timeline!

Some question and answers we did offline – there was so much to discuss!:

Where did the idea for the book come from?

Travelling in Mozambique 20 years ago with a group of Nigerian migrants, listening to their stories, and wondering about the myths inherent in mass refugee crises. This was shortly before the rather awful floods that came through there a few weeks later, and we ended up walking out through central Mozambique after the truck we were travelling in sank in a swamp.

What five books would you take to a desert island?

Actually covered this in quite some detail for Transworld:

https://www.penguin.co.uk/articles/find-your-next-read/five-books/2016/sep/gavin-chait-five-books/

Do you have to have read your first book to tie in with “Our Memory Like Dust”?

No, definitely not (and it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever write a series). However, if you do, you may find a deeper theme in how characters and narratives echo. Plus, the importance of names…

Who are the authors who inspire you?

Not so much authors as creatives. Sure, Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino, Mikhail Bulgakov and Alan Paton, but also Ai Weiwi, Sylvie Guillem, Akram Khan, Jocelyn Pook, Ismael Lo, Johnny Clegg, Emel Mathlouthi, Desmond Tutu … the list goes on.

What are you reading now?

Not reading much fiction. I find it strangely difficult to read fiction while I’m writing fiction. I mostly spend time reading reference material. So at the moment it’s all yacht repair manuals, physics textbooks and a fair number of accounts of various disasters (Into Thin Air, Annapurna, Force 10, Outside Magazine’s ‘Best of’ …)

Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing?

Coffee … coffee … single origin, medium roast, preferably Ethiopian done as pour-over, AeroPress or flat white. And I love ocean kayaking. Being out on my own in the middle of nowhere is the place I find my centre.

Thank you Gavin, and thanks to Transworld for the BlogTour! Follow on twitter with #OurMemoryLikeDust

The Girls – Emma Cline

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the girls

I was interested to read this book, and it was a good read. It’s the story of a girl who was ‘almost’ – almost remembered, almost revered/reviled. In the right place at the wrong time.

 

Evie is a middle aged woman who is house-sitting for a friend in California, when her friend’s estranged son and his young girlfriend visit unexpectedly. She is encouraged into telling her story of how she was part of a cult when she was a teenager.

 

The story is told in flashbacks, as vignettes, snapshots of young men and women living together in the Summer of Love era. The days are hot, the food is scarce and they live on lust and drugs.

 

Evie’s story is wistful, and because there isn’t really anything about the thirty years inbetween now and then, it feels like she’s been stuck in time, not being able to move forward from that episode. Without introducing spoilers, I thought that Evie regretted her part in it, and wished for something more. Something more impressive.

 

The book was a good read and I thought it was well written, but there was something lacking for me. I expected there to be something else coming round the corner, and it never did.

Number 15 – Luxembourg Night Marathon

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After doing the Rotterdam marathon in April in horribly warm weather (that was the same day as the Norwich Half), we looked forward to the Night Marathon because of course it wouldn’t be hot.

 

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Numbers pick up!

Forecast the week before was 30degrees +, and as we went into the weekend it stayed that way. Great for a long bank holiday weekend – not so good for long running!

 

I hadn’t been to Luxembourg before, and while it was quite scenic, I found it to be surprisingly seedy. We stayed in an IBIS hotel which appeared to be in the middle of the red light district, next to the train station. Ladies in very high heels sat outside the neighbouring clubs and men asked if we wanted to buy any recreational substances. All very exciting.

 

I learned from the last night marathon I did (Tromso) not to eat too much during the day, so I made sure I had a normal sized lunch. It was really hot.

 

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The beer was delicious

The expo is past the airport but buses were easy to get around on and were a flat rate of €2 each way. The start and finish are at the expo – The Box exhibition centre, which was quite handy. The expo itself was decent enough and the goody bag had loads of things in it – a Luxembourg buff, waffle, orange, sweat band, temporary tattoos…

 

The race started at 7pm and we stood outside in the pens for about half a hour before we got going. It was 32 degrees and it was hard work standing still – this was going to be tough.

My husband and I had talked about doing it together –my training hadn’t ramped up since Rotterdam’s heatwave and his hadn’t been as consistent as he’d have liked. We were still pretty confident that we could get him a PB – 4.50. Oh, the naivety of youth!

 

The race was friendly and we set off in good spirits. Within the first mile or two we realised we would be running between aid stations, spaced around 2k apart. It was just too hot to try anything else. This was a good strategy as two of our friends DNFd at mile 17 ish, with nothing left in the tank.

The aid stations were well stocked with water, cola, energy drink and fruit but I was surprised to see spectators and relay runners who had finished miles before taking from them and chatting, on the course. It’s the first race I’ve been in where I’ve felt the the marshalls were there to stop you from cheating and not entirely to help you.  The course is a series of twists and turns and out and backs, so they obviously do need to keep an eye on this.

 

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Mid race – thanks to the wonderful Alig, spectator extraordinaire

We passed through half way in 2h27 – still just about on target if we could do a negative split.  It’s also the only race I’ve done where you can choose to drop down to the half while you’re on the course – you just take the left hand turn called ‘Half Marathon’. That was a tough choice!

 

It’s a really lonely course and I was glad to have my husband with me – don’t do it on your own. There’re only 2000 marathoners and it was a bit unnerving run/walking through parks with no marshalls, no barriers and only the mist to keep us company.

Conversely, there are bits through the city centre which were obviously designed to be fun but I found to be a bit claustrophobic – the spectators were drunk by then and it was all quite close. Some of them were laughing at us too, which wasn’t very nice. I shouted at a couple of mean women who mockingly told us to ‘allez’ and then cackled at my ‘merci’. Not kind. The people of Luxembourg do not speak English willingly, and we got a couple of blanks when we didn’t speak French beyond the standard touristy phrases. After spending time in countries where  the inhabitants love speaking English, this was a bit of a surprise.

The last four k was a slog back to the exhibition centre and the finish. We picked up a guy who was sitting on the road – we got him up and walking and I told him in my pidgin French that he had to keep moving to get his bag with his clothes and beer. He said he wasn’t ill or sore, just tired, so I hope our gee up made him keep walking as we jogged slowly away.

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Finally we were coming down the ramp with the wax lamps beside us, red hot after so long alight. We ran into The Box for our first indoor finish, and were cheered over the line by cheerleaders and announced too, hand in hand and very relieved to have finished in 5 hours and 26 minutes.  We got our medals, which are pretty nice,  and were cheered in by our friends – one of whom finished 90 minutes later than expected due to the heat.

 

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Recovering on Monday with some nice walking about in the caves

Although I know that the heat was a massive factor in my not enjoying the race, but I wouldn’t do it again. I loved running with my husband on his second marathon and would definitely do that again – maybe we’ll train properly next time!

If you really feel like that review sold it to you, here’s the link: http://www.ing-night-marathon.lu/en/

If you’re looking for a night marathon, do Tromso’s Midnight Sun – friendly, small field with a nice route.

Marathon 15 done – next stop, two weeks of recovery followed by some summer training to get me in shape for Chicago Marathon!