Ploughing through


Deineka – young woman reading

This is basically me right now, as the Christmas period is always a great time to get stuck into a pile of books and that drive usually continues into the new year. What I’ve taken down from the book pile already:

and what I’m currently dipping into every day:


and some of what’s on the heap after a generous amazon voucher from my dad:



Or rather devouring both these Christmas books. I must have cooked 5 different recipes from the Anna Jones within the first week of having it, and the Emily Wilson translation completes my triumvirate of Bettany Hughes and Mary Beard on my shelves.

An urban childhood

The two younger Bodens were sitting at the large, very much littered table, while Felicity lay stretched out on a comfortable sofa near the glowing fire. The light in the high, well-proportioned room was growing dim, though it was barely three o’clock. Beyond the window was a view of Old Church Street, Chelsea, dismal on the wet, misty December afternoon, in spite of the pleasant frontages of the eighteenth-century house’s opposite.

Swiss School, ME Allan. A London childhood means that scenes like this are catnip to me – they’re my equivalent of the wanderer turning the corner to see a beloved hill or mountain.

Like keeping bees or playing chess

“Oh.” said Stephen. “Politics.”
“Yes, but you can’t say ‘politics’ in that sort of voice nowadays, can you?”
“What sort of voice did I say it in?”
“As though it was something separate, like keeping bees or playing chess.”
“And don’t you think it is something separate.”
“Well, do you, really? It seems to me it’s everything – how we mlive and behave to each other, how we bring up children, what sort of world we want to live in.”…
“Of course – my father…He’s a stout Tory.”
“That generation decently could be.”
“And our generation decently can’t?”
“I think not.”

National Provincial by Lettice Cooper, whose other excellent books include The New House and Fenny. The quote above reminds me very much of Nancy Mitford’s wry comment that politics in the 20s was an esoteric hobby until Hitler came along to liven things up. Luckily Persephone are republishing this next year, but it might be worth seeing if there are any secondhand copies out there.


How beautiful and atmospheric is this Brian Bailey wood engraving for E Nesbit’s The Three Mothers?


And Nesbit is the perfect comfort read for the Christmas period too as I remember her Psammead series being the bedtime books for quite a few years. I’m still a fan of them.


Bedtime reading

I came across this great, ultra camp sounding, memoir when I was actually looking for images from Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. I will talk about that below, but this is just too good for Christmas to pass up:


And here we are for the original theme of today’s post – 100 tales of active and inspiring women. There is a fear that this kind of buy-the-Tshirt feminism is replacing activism, but my view is that in an age when so many socially progressive policies are being rolled back, we need to reminding kids of the alternatives:


Reading outside the box

I posted a couple of months ago about the excellent Instagrammer @sophia_stories and her hashtag #readingoutsidethebox, which got me really thinking about what I tend to read: a lot of female writers, definitely, but usually white, middle-class and from the first half of the twentieth century.


Now I’m not going to abandon those authors, but they do of course present a certain world-view (see here for Kate McDonald who writes about the deliberate social conservatism of many these writers), and it’s been refreshing to start reading very different voices. Partly this is the result of being in a relationship with someone who can also roar through Waterstones like Genghis Khan on a good day, but tends to scoop up new publications, authors from the Indian subcontinent and non-fiction, so my across-the-bookshelves borrowing is getting far more varied.


Enter The Reading Women, a blog and podcast that has so far introduced me to this funny and angry book of essays (by the way, her anger at alcohol pressured on young women is fully justified although thankfully it’s not something I’ve had to deal with),


a range of memoirs including the one at the top of this article, and crime fiction including this debut about a young Muslim Canadian detective:


In the way of all algorithms, the Internet then led me to The Good Imigrant, which I devoured last week. A collection of essays that covers everything from learning to wear your “black” hair when you’re a mixed-race kid in rural Somerset who doesn’t identify as black to the different voices of home, work and friends, to the hidden racism facing Chinese and other East Asian populations in the U.K., to a series of funny and rage-inducing articles about literal type-casting of actors. I’d say this is a book to buy so I won’t post a whole load of shots from it, but these are both from a piece by Riz Ahmed. One about the restrictions of casting slots and how this interacts with national self-images, and also the continual indignity of airport checks:


Bread and ashes

Tabasarn, in south-eastern Daghestan, spoken by about 90,000 has, I was once assured by a tipsy linguist, eight genders. Scholars, he assured me, enjoyed introducing new, unfamiliar objects to the Tamasars to see which gender might be assigned. Apparently a samovar was unanimously assigned to the seventh gender, though no one could say why.


A typically hitchhikers-guide-to-the-galaxy type intervention from this delightful book that talks you through the politics, landscape, history and languages of this region, along with a good smattering of rollicking travel tales (Tony’s friend Chris generally sleeping upright in his green sleeping bag like the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, and staring at the local cheese trying to decide whether it would make his hangover better or worse.)

Here’s some more on the local linguistic melting pot:

Many languages here have a prolix proliferation of cases: one analysis of  Tsez identified forty-two different locative case markers, which can describe precisely what space someone or something is in, at, under, by, near, away from: a hollow space, a flat space, a space that might be a trifle uncomfortable or sadly lacking in alcohol…Abkhaz, a notoriously difficult language, has fifty-eight [consonants] ; one of its dialects, Bzyp, has sixty-seven…Essed Bey insisted that Tabarsarn was so difficult that the Tabasars…preferred to speak an easier, neighbouring tongue.