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About willoyd

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  • Reading now?
    Almost certainly!
  • Location:
    Wharfedale, Yorkshire
  • Interests
    birding, cycling (mainly touring), running, walking, family history.

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  1. Your Book Activity - July 2021

    Finished The Feast by Margaret Kennedy. Very cleverly written book, handling some heavy stuff with a very light touch. We know at the start that a number of people staying a Cornish hotel have been killed in a landslide, but after that is introduced in the prologue, we go back a week to explore what happens to staff and guests during that week, and, eventually, who survives and who doesn't. All including an examination of the 7 Deadly Sins! Pretty unputdownable. 5/6.
  2. Things in books that annoy you

    Very possibly - but it was an English author with an English publisher.
  3. Willoyd's Reading 2021

    I haven't. I read Brideshead for the first time a year or two ago, and absolutely loved it - which really surprised me! - so am very interested! (I realise, going through her bibliography, that I have also read her biography of Mary Robinson, soon after it came out so a while ago. Guess what? It was good!) Byrne is one of a group of biographers whose work I tend to read even if the subject isn't one I'd normally go for. Others include Claire Tomalin, Jenny Uglow, Hermione Lee and, (provisionally) Franny Moyle. A couple of other history writers have also crossed over into the biography genre, and I rate both types of theirs: Lisa Jardine, Hallie Rubenhold, Stella Tillyard. Interesting that they are all women. I don't think there's any male historian/biographer that I read because of their writing as much as the subject, although James Holland and Max Hastings come close.
  4. Your Book Activity - July 2021

    Completed Ventoux by Bert Wagendorp earlier this evening. Attracted by the cycling element, but, whilst that added to the interest for me, it was really just a vehicle for an intriguing and gripping read that shouldn't put off anybody uninterested in the sport. Anyway, I ripped through it in only a few sittings. 4/6.
  5. Willoyd's Reading 2021

    Definitely worth reading. I want to explore more of Sylvia Townsend-Warner - another of those writers very well known at one time who now seems to slide under the radar. I've got that Pym biography on my shelves to read - I couldn't resist it after Byrne's Austen biography which I do so agree was brilliant (I've dipped into her other Austen book too, and that looks just as good). Her husband's book, The Genius of Shakespeare is excellent too - a formidable partnership! Just finished Ventoux by Bert Wagendorp. Review to follow, but a very engaging read that I completed in barely four sittings, and only as much as that because I was dragged away on a couple of occasions! 4/6.
  6. Willoyd's Reading 2021

    May Reads Yes, I know it's now July, but that's how far behind I've got! Anyway, here are brief thoughts about what I thought of those books I read in May (if I can remember!) The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim **** Four disparate women come together to share the rental of a castle in Italy for a few weeks' holiday. And it is the interaction and consequences of these aspects that the novel is about. Von Arnim's writing is lightly elegant, witty, and a pleasure to read, with characters that are beautifully drawn - not always instantly likeable but very human in their flaws and strengths. Very much a book of its time - particularly in its attitude to male-female relationships - but no less a pleasure because of that, not least when those mores are subverted. Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac ***** A French variant on Shakespeare's King Lear, with the ex-trader Goriot's love for his daughters exploited by them to undewrite their extravagant lifestyles and social aspirations. Where it differs is in the intertwined narrative of Eugene de Rastignac's efforts to himself climb the self-same social ladder, and the Machiavellian Vautrin's own machinations in exploiting Rastignac to make his own fortune. All part and parcel of Balzac's Human Comedy project that extended over 90 volumes and revolutionised literature in the way characters were woven through multiple volumes. Another major character in this book is Paris itself, or at least three contrasting faubourgs, reflecting three clearly defined social strata. Balzac's descriptions are detailed, intricate and help bring the city to vivid life. A classic classic! Balzac's Pere Goriot by David Bellos *** A short volume of commentary that helped a lot in understanding and appreciating the book itself. The Screaming Sky by Charles Morris ***** All about swifts, my favourite bird! A slim, beautifully presented, volume from Little Toller, with much fascinating material. Loved it! Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend-Warner **** Lolly Willowes, a post-WW1 spinster who keeps house for her father, is left to rely on her brothers and their wives when he dies. A rather barren existence awaits, but Lolly rebels and establishes her own life in the semi-rural Chilterns. I really enjoyed the bulk of this book, but found it latterly a mite disappointing as things become wilder and more fantastical. Other reviewers found that this is what raised the book above the ordinary for them, but for me it had the opposite effect - it almost felt like a bit of cop-out. Less than Angels by Barbara Pym ***** Whereas The Enchanted April and Lolly Willowes reeked of the 1920s, Less than Angels is very much a book of the mid-twentieth century. Whilst I've mildly enjoyed a couple of her books previously, there was an extra bite here which for me raised to this to a higher level. I was a bit perplexed by the setting: an institute of anthropology isn't exactly your average setting, but I subsequently read that she had spent much of her working life at the International African Institute, so had first hand experience of this world and the people in it! As with those others I've read, it's the characters that count here, the plot being relatively trivial, although distinctly amusing. This was certainly good enough that I want to go back and both reread those books of hers I've read before, and explore some of her other work too.
  7. Your Book Activity - July 2021

    Finished my 50th book of the year, the appropriately entitled Fast After Fifty, by Joe Friel. Not exactly recreational reading (or at least read for pleasure/recreation), but, in amongst the padding, some useful material for this post-60 athlete! Functional if not exactly gripping, so 3/6.
  8. Willoyd's Reading 2021

    Fast After Fifty by Joe Friel *** Being a post-60 athlete, this was certainly of interest! Like so many of these 'training bibles', it could all have been said in half the pages, but there was some useful material, well evidenced, in amongst the whiffle and repetition, which confirmed some other reading I've done. It certainly made me think again about some of my training, and provided some specific information that I was looking for. Basically, older athletes need to incorporate a higher proportion of more intense training to counter strength and speed loss (worse than pure endurance), whilst recognising that recovery takes longer. Nutrition needs to be more fat and protein and less carbohydrate based (but I've been doing that, with very satisfying results, for the past couple of years anyway). Overall a decently useful read, and appropriately titled, given that this was my 50th book of the year!
  9. Your Book Activity - July 2021

    Just finished James Rebanks' first book The Shepherd's Life. Excellent: 5/6 with possibility of upgrading.
  10. Willoyd's Reading 2021

    I'm so behind on my reviews, and I'm starting to forget detail, that I'll jump forward to the present, and catch up with shorter notes later. So..... The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks ***** One of my book groups, normally a fiction group, opted for this this month. I can't say I'm complaining! Rebanks has become quite a well-known figure through his twitter account (@herdyshepherd1) and his tweets centred around his sheep farming life in the Lake District, where his family have apparently been farming for over six hundred years. It's a mix of autobiography, account of a farming year, and paean to the place and people in his life, particulary his father and grandfather. It could have turned out a bit of a sentimental mess, but in fact it proved a genuinely unputdownable read - it took me just three sittings - simply and beautifully written, with an affectionate but clear-sighted (and personally honest) look at a way of life that is all too easily disregarded by people like me - visitors who use places like the Lake District primarily for recreation. It's a compelling read, and one from which I also feel I learned loads. It should certainly be compulsory reading for any fell-walker, and for any politician pontificating on agriculture and cheap food deals with other countries, although they'd probably still put money in front of people! At least five stars, but may well get upgraded.
  11. Things in books that annoy you

    I can't remember where I've read it - it's certainly more a feature of speech than writing - so will have to look out for it again. Editors aren't perfect: I finished reading Stephanie Scott's "What's Left of Me is Yours" a couple of weeks ago - overall an enjoyable book, but the word 'practice' (the noun) was consistently misspelled as 'practise' (the verb), something you'd equally think would have been picked up by them.
  12. Things in books that annoy you

    Sorry to take so long to reply - not been on the site for a bit. I must get back more regularly, starting today! 'Myself' (along with all the other 'self' s, like yourself, ourselves etc) is a reflexive pronoun that is used in two contexts: Firstly,it is used as the object when the subject and object refer to the same person or thing. For instance 'I hurt myself'. (when myself is the direct object), or "I sent the parcel to myself" (indirect object). It's, in other words, a direct replacement for 'me' which is used when something or somebody else is the subject of the sentence, for instance "She hurt me" or "He sent the parcel to me". Secondly, it can be used for emphasis, for instance "I myself am the writer of this post" All too often, people use 'myself' as the subject of the sentence "Myself will give the speech" or "My wife and myself travelled to Spain" This is the same as saying "Me will give the speech" or "My wife and me travelled to Spain" (the latter is a common mistake to!). Hope that helps!
  13. We did this for our book group. I managed the first 60-70 pages and gave up. Other did rather better, but the highest score was a 5!
  14. Your Book Activity - May 2021

    Finished Charles Morris's little but elegant volume The Screaming Sky - as ever Little Toller's production values are excellent. A bit over elaborate in his writing at times for my taste but a still excellent book about one of his, and my, passions - swifts. The prose may get a wee bit purple at times (especially early on), but it was still a beautiful and informative read, which I read in two sittings, and will go back to for sure. Now moved on to Sylvia Townsend-Warner's novel Lolly Willowes.
  15. Willoyd's Reading 2021

    April Reads Quick reviews of my books for April - gradual catching up so that can get back to proper reviews - struggling a bit already to do these in any detail as it is! With 2 five-star reads and even 1 6-star, and nothing below 3, this was a cracking month's reading. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison ***** Read both as a book group read and, by coincidence, my stop over in Michigan for my tour of the United States. This was my first Toni Morrison, and certainly won't be my last. The subject material verges on the torrid at times but there is a vitality to Morrison's writing that carries you through it. The characters are so full of life, and the narrative so full of energy, that it would have been hard not to genuinely enjoy this. And yet Morrison deals with some pretty tough issues. At the core of it is Milkman's search for his own identity, but wrapped up in it is, inevitably, his race, attitudes to women, the power of place etc etc. As so often in these sorts of books, I found the men the least attractive characters, and the women, almost marginalised at times (as in real life), by far the most interesting. A book that needs to be reread, but in the meantime a 'comfortable' 5-stars. Blood and Iron by Katya Hoyer **** A concise and highly readable history of the Second Reich - the sort of overview I needed to put things in place, covering a lot of ground in a very short distance. It will certainly make more in-depth histories more comprehensible, and interesting, now; I'll almost certainly be starting with a biography of Wilhelm II, of whom it always surprises me when I remember he actually lived through until after the opening of World War II, so far off the political radar did he disappear after his downfall in 1918. I heard Katya Hoyer on Dominic Sandbrook's and Tom Holland's podcast 'The Rest is History' and she performed well on that too! It all makes for fascinating, but often overlooked, history - how high Germany rose in the second half of the nineteenth century, and how far things came crashing down in the twentieth. Travels in Scottish Islands - The Hebrides by Kirstie Jareg **** Originally published as part of a longer book that has now been split into two parts. An interesting introduction to aspects of both Inner and Outer Hebridean life from a writer originally from Scandinavia, so able to view the islands with both a native and a foreigner's hat on. Focuses very much on the people, and quite down to earth its approach, I do feel as I know these places better as a result. A good read. Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver *** Started off really well, and settled into this quickly, but ultimately I have to say I was a mite disappointed. Hard to put my finger on why, but it sort of never really took off. I usually enjoy these sorts of novels, where to timelines reflect each other, and gradually weave together, but the overal feeling at the end was that this was all a bit inconsequential. Skylarks with Rosie by Stephen Moss **** Slight but as ever thoroughly engaging account of the author's local nature experiences under lockdown during the spring of 2020. An easy, quick read that thoroughly evoked my own recollections, even if we live in a rather more suburban environment. Many will reall the Covid epidemic with horror, sadness and/or grief, but I will recall it as a time when the planet regained a bit of sanity, even if only temporarily. All Among The Barley by Melissa Harrison ***** Read as a book group read, this definitely grew on me. From the word go, I loved the author's evocation of the 1930's East Anglian farm upon which the book is centred, but felt, initially, that as a novel it wasn't going anywhere particularly fast or precisely. However, it was a slow burner (with an explosive ending, alongside an only partially anticipated twist)that completely sucked me in by the second half - it's one of those plots that slowly gets under the skin rather than keeps you tied to your seat in anticipation and suspense. Book group views were a bit more mixed - mostly centred on the perceived lack of narrative drive - but I have to say that I'm finding Harrison's writing increasingly addictive. What everybody agreed was that she writes nature brilliantly. The book itself may not have quite made it to a 6-star level, but Melissa Harrison is definitely, overall, on my list of favourite writers, and a very rare one in that this is for both her fiction and non-fiction writing. Nineteenth-Century Britain by Christopher Harvie & H Matthew *** As with so many of the Very Short Introduction series, this performs the function it sets out to do: a slim, succinct introduction to its topic. Not great literature, not a hugely detailed or insightful analysis, but a valuable overview that puts so much into context. Read as a bit of revision as I introduce my niece to this aspect of history, it did its job perfectly. Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald ****** I read and enjoyed the authors H for Hawk, but this collection of essays was for me, if anything, a significant improvement. I initially started reading these serially, but found that I wanted to slow down and read them individually, one at a time, with breathing space between each. Deceptively simply, they needed time to absorb. As with so many 6-star reads, one I will need to return to to really appreciate. I originally had this out as a library book, but needed to buy my own copy for longer term contemplation and reference!