Book Review: Meat by Joseph D’Lacey

This was another book recommended by the Manchester Post Apocalyptic Book Club. The last recommendation was Mortal Engines (read about it here, and its sequels here and here), which was a fantastic series of books.

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Meat was altogether darker, a full on horror novel, with a horrendous twist very early on, where the cattle are not what they seem. We never find out what happened in the future to make this small town what it has become, or if there are any other towns left in the world. What this book does include is the idea of mad cow disease taken to its nth degree.

The hero in the book works in the slaughter house and starts communicating with the cattle, and decides that maybe he would be better off not eating the meat. Arguments and rivalries abound between the meat barons and the religious powers. In the middle is Richard Shanti and a few enlightened others.

Unfortunately one part of the book ruined the whole thing for me. Pseudo science at its worst. Our hero obtains nourishment from the sun. It isn’t explained how this works. It’s just left there. There could be numerous reasons why this occurs. The sun in the future has different properties to our sun because of the apocalypse. I don’t need the science to be absolutely accurate, as in a Artemis by Andy Weir (read about it here), but something, anything, would be better than what was dumped on the pages. It is a shame, because apart from the pseudo section I really enjoyed this book as it was different, inventive and fairly horrific.

Anyway, my signed copy which I bought from Amazon will go to the local My Little Library (read about it here) round the corner in the morning.

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Book Review: Map Addict by Mike Parker

I’m old enough to love a good fold out map. Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to look at maps on my phone, especially when out running, but I always turn to the paper version when I’m looking for inspiration of where next to run or cycle.

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Map Addict was therefore always going to be a book I would enjoy, written by a self confessed map addict. Mike begins with his own obsession with maps, stealing them from his local book shop as a teenager, behaviour that can’t be condoned. He explains the differences between the different OS maps, and why they are some of the best maps in the world. He looks at other iconic maps, for example the London A-Z. I also enjoyed the section where he lists the five best and five worst Landranger maps, which is a bit harsh on Thurso and Dunbeath.

One area of the book I loved was when Mike explained how map makers make sure that if someone steals one of their maps, and then re-brands it as theirs, maybe with differently coloured roads, they would know about it. To do this, OS, for example, place deliberate mistakes on the map. Small enough that you wouldn’t notice, but wrong enough to prove that the map is theirs. OS recently took another company to court, who settled before the trial, which is partly a shame as many people would love to know where some of these ‘mistakes’ are.

Back at home, and me and my beautiful wife have recently organised our map shelf. Helen’s father passed away almost five years ago, and my father earlier this year. We now have both of their map collections, which combined with mine and Helen’s maps means we have almost the whole set of Landranger maps, with only the north east of England and parts of Scotland missing.

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Some of the maps go back over 40 years, so it’s always fun to look at an area before motorways.

Anyway, back to the book review, and while I really enjoyed reading Map Addict, it is a bit of a niche book. If you don’t get excited by maps then you probably won’t really enjoy this book. (Who are these strange people who don’t love maps?)

Book Review: Waterlog by Roger Deakin

It seems fairly apt after my first open water swim of the year (read about it here) that I write a review of a book that is all about open water swimming.

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If you love swimming, especially open water and wild swimming then this book is for you. Roger goes on an odyssey around the UK looking for places to swim. He begins by looking for historical places, swimming holes and spot where people have swam for generations. He looks for lidos, unheated ones, big ones, small ones and even a triangular one, although so many lidos have been permanently shut down, which is a real shame. Last month I had the chance to swim in Hampton Pool Lido (read about it here), wich was very busy, even on a cold April morning. Back in it’s heyday, Morecambe used to have a really large lido, now sadly gone. Grange-over-Sands still has it’s lido, although closed, however there are attempts to re-open it, which would be fantastic.

Roger write about swimming across estuaries, down rivers, through lakes and lochs. He also chats to everyone about where and when they learnt to swim, finding some great new places to try out, and also finding secret swimming holes that had been forgotten about for many years.

He also swam in places that I knew quite well. He visited Oxford, where I lived for many years, and swam along the Thames, or the Isis as it is known in the city of spires. Roger also swam under Devil’s Bridge in Kirkby Lonsdale, although he declined to jump off the bridge.

There’s also an undercurrent of officialdom, for example by the Environment Agency saying the water might not be safe. As Roger pointed out to them, isn’t it their job to make sure that the water is safe. Roger also writes about perfectly good swimming spots where you’re ‘not allowed’ to swim because the water is owned privately, either by landowners for fishing, or by a school. This is nonsense of course, but Roger does suggest that the Scottish Right to Roam Act could be used in the UK for our waterways.

I took my time with this book, dipping in and out when I felt like it, and I made plenty of mental notes of places that I would love to swim.

Book Review: Don’t Go There by Adam Fletcher

My beautiful wife gave me this book as a Christmas present, and even though I’m only now writing a review, I had finished it a couple of months ago. I currently have a pile of seven books that I’ve finished but haven’t reviewed, so I’d better get on with reviewing them.

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My wife knows that I have a predilection for unusual travel books, so this was right up my street. However, the author doesn’t come across as the most likeable of people in the first few chapters.

The books premise is quite simple, go an visit the places where you are generally advised not to go. For example, Chernobyl or North Korea. This crazy tourist stuff doesn’t start deliberately, it begins with a holiday to Turkey which just happens to coincide with the uprising and numerous riots.

Stuck on a bus in China for 24 hours isn’t anyone’s idea of fun, and if I’m honest I would be happy not to visit most of the places. Saying that, Palestine was interesting, as was North Korea. The group that Adam travelled with through some of the more out of the way Eastern European countries would have driven me mad, as it almost did him, with their constant drunkeness.

Overall an interesting read, once you get past the author’s tendency to lie of the sofa antagonizing his girlfriend, and I will probably look out for the sequel when it comes out.

Book Review: John Lanchester – The Wall

A few months ago I was in our local branch of Waterstones looking for a book by Alex Hannold called Alone on the Wall (read my review here). The very helpful assistant thought that I had asked for The Wall by John Lanchester. Intrigued by the wrong book I had a look at some reviews and decided to give it a go. I’m very glad that I did.

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It’s set in a dystopian future, very 1984, where there has been some cataclysmic climate change event, resulting in huge sea level rises, mass migration and a complete lack of beaches around the UK. The future in the book is like some kind of nightmare Brexit scenario designed by Farage and the Daily Mail. To keep out migrants from Europe and beyond which have become uninhabitable, a huge wall around the whole coast of the UK has been built. Added to this, every person once they reach 18 have to spend two years on the wall defending it. This causes great resentment between the younger generation, who are not responsible for the mess the world is in, and the older generation, who are responsible, but don’t have to live with their actions. Much like climate change or Brexit. On top of this, if someone successfully gets over the wall in the section that you are supposed to be defending, you get turfed out.

What actually caused the UK to become so insular is never explained, or how the wall came to be built, but I do hope that John Lanchester is busy writing a sequel. This book would be good for the Manchester post apocalypse book club to read.

Book Review: The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

You know it’s a good book when you finish it and immediately hand it to your wife to read, and then the moments she finishes it she hands it to her Mum to read. This book has everything. It will make you laugh and cry, but it will also make you think.

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Raynor and her husband Moth lose everything, and I mean everything. A court decides that they are liable for a debt and then lose all of their savings their house and any form of income. The book starts with the pair hiding in their house before the bailiffs arrive. A box of books in front of them has 500 Mile Walkies by Mark Wallington on the top. In a moment of madness or brilliance, Raynor decides that as they are about to be made homeless, why don’t they walk the West Coast Path from Minehead to Poole, wild camping to save money.

Almost thirty years ago Mark Wallington’s book was recommended to me by a friend, and I remember that I really enjoyed it. So much in fact that many years later on holiday I walked most of the path around Cornwall.

One of the things in the book that will strike you is people’s attitude once they find out that the Winns are homeless, and not homeless through choice. Almost like lepers. Raynor doesn’t shy away from talking about the vast numbers of homeless people that exist in the UK, often slipping through the cracks. The sofa surfers, the summer workers living in tents and the alcoholics and drug addicts, all trying to survive on very little, living hand to mouth, week to week. They meet them all on their walk, and the situation is getting worse. To make things worse, Moth has a long term incurable illness.

Is there a happy ending? You would hope so, but life isn’t always that kind.

The pair of them are approximately the same ages as me and my beautiful wife, and I couldn’t imagine losing everything as I near 50. It made me realise just how lucky I am. I have a wife and dog who love me, and all three of us are fit and healthy. Quite simply you should read this book.

 

Book Review: The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

This was by far one of the best books that I’ve read for a very long time. I didn’t want it to end. Shaun Bythell owns and runs a second hand book shop in Wigtown, and started to write down what went on in his shop.

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He writes about the staff who work from him, and their quirks, and the numerous customers and how books about trains are some of his biggest sellers. He notes down how many online orders there were each day, and how many of them could be found in the maze of his shop. It’s not unusual for a customer to put a book back in the wrong place, or for his staff to enter the location code into the computer incorrectly.

One theme that runs throughout the book is how Amazon have completely changed the business, and how they are squeezing every book shop in the country. Customers would even check Amazon prices when they were holding a book they wanted to buy while in full view of Shaun, or would say in a loud voice ‘it’s cheaper online’.

I also enjoyed reading about the process of buying used books. People would ring up and ask Shaun to visit and buy job lots. Often most of the books are old and not in a very good condition or are just unlikely to sell. Other times people wander into the shop with a couple of boxes or bags full of books to sell.

Opening the book at a random page;

orders online 5, books found 4. There was another invasion of lycra-clad septuagenarian cyclists this morning, most of whom bought a book or two, and who were flattering about both the shop and the stock.

The shop also had a Random Book Club, with approximately 160 members, who for £59 a year would receive a good quality random book each month, mixed between fiction and non-fiction. Brilliant idea. However, when I looked online about joining, it was closed to new members, so I assume that the success of this book has helped with the physical shop. Let’s hope so.

I used to love browsing in a second hand book shop, and there used to be a good one in the Oxford covered market, but when I returned last year it had closed. There is a fairly recent second hand book opened in Lancaster, but I am sorry to say that I have never been in. This I will rectify, post haste.

As I said at the start, I loved this book and you will too.