April Reading 2023: Writing late, a memoir and a novel. Observation note 117 and Reading notes 64-65

I tried to write this post in the depths of Autumn semester, when I rarely have time to spend time reading for pleasure nor much time to blog. I failed. Instead, I have finished it after the last week of classes.

Observation Note 117: Pain.I unwisely took on an overwhelmingly large teaching load in February. I had nothing offered to me in Spring semester last year, leaving me stuck doing some contract work in road safety education which is totally fine but not what I want to be doing. So when I found myself drowning in offers in February, I decided a heavy teaching load was fine as I was feeling strong and healthy in February (despite the plague having finally befallen me). I was fine until I literally fell off the end of my bed injuring my back. I lay on the floor for half an hour, unable to get up, with hubs away on a work trip and my son taking a long hot shower. I was calm but winded. I couldn’t call out and my phone was nowhere near me. When my son finally came through he freaked out, helped me into my bed, checked me for breaks, concussion etc. But in the end, we decided I was just winded. I limped and was bruised, I saw my doctor who agreed with me. I felt mostly fine until a fortnight later when I started the gargantuan task of marking 170 student essays and then my whole body went to pot. Sciatic pain I had never experienced on my right hand side took hold of my life and pierced me with spasms and continues to do so. Weeks later I injured my ribs while I was doing some gentle gardening, giving me more grief and the inability to breathe deeply. And then last week I injured my ankle just by standing up. No rolls, no trip over, nothing. Once again, I am off my feet, because of pain, but I can’t lie down because of my ribs, and I can’t sit because of the sciatic pain. Because life needs to come in threes when it hurts. I found that I could not sleep, mark, function, at all. So, with all that, there is little surprise that I only read two novels in April, and one text book on web usability which is set reading for my students. No surprises, I won’t be discussing the text book.

Along with being late posting my April books, I also have spoilers because when I am in pain, I have not filters. At all. You are warned. Look away. Especially for the schmoushy fab Harlequin I discuss in Reading Note 65 (I wanted to end on a happy note).

A very pretty etching of the sea, sky and a cliff face.

Reading Note 64: Raynor Winn’s The Salt Path. Let’s start with the blurb: Just days after Raynor learns that Moth, her husband of 32 years, is terminally ill, their home and livelihood is taken away. With nothing left and little time, they make the brave and impulsive decision to walk the 630 miles of the sea-swept South West Coast Path, from Somerset to Dorset, via Devon and Cornwall. They have almost no money for food or shelter and must carry only the essentials for survival on their backs as they live wild in the ancient, weathered landscape of cliffs, sea and sky. Yet through every step, every encounter, and every test along the way, their walk becomes a remarkable journey.

The Salt Path is an honest and life-affirming true story of coming to terms with grief and the healing power of the natural world. Ultimately, it is a portrayal of home, and how it can be lost, rebuilt, and rediscovered in the most unexpected ways.

For many of you who have been reading my blog for a long time, you will know how much I hate camping and the fact that Raynor Winn and her husband choose to camp wild while they walk the UK’s South West Coast Path when they were rendered bankrupt and homeless was nearly the worst nightmare possible for me (pipped to the post by the thought of plummeting to my fiery death on a plane though that would be quicker torture than camping, right?).

This memoir was a visceral true life horror story for me. Every description of walking in downpours, sodden tents in deluges, cold wet soil crumbling under their feet was all just a “nooooooo” from me! Winn and her chronically ill husband chose to do the walk rather than wait for council housing and accept help from their families and friends writing “Not camping  out with friends and family, being a burden, becoming an irritation, wearing friendship away to just tolerance. Here we were still in control of our life, of our own outcomes, our own destiny”. I’m not really on board with this sentiment. Perhaps this is a reflection of how they felt about their own family when they were in need so they expect their people to feel that way about them. But hey, to each their own, right?

Anyway, when they start on this arduous walk neither of them are fit enough at the beginning. Having rushed packed their backpacks, they did not have certain survival supplies like a hat! or sunscreen!. I felt I was pain reading when Winn writes that “I peeled more skin to find yet another nose”. Her constant sunburns had me flinching and not coping. Skin cancers run rife in my family, and it is a myth that England doesn’t have sunshine (my husband got sunstroke there in MAY!). Surely, she could have fashioned a scarf out of a t-shirt or something, right?

The walk continues where they stealth camp on private property, public property, cliff edges and shrubbery. The discomfort would have driven me mad, just reading their discomfort drove me mad, yet Raynor and Moth, both in their 50s, find themselves preferring this discomfort to a friend’s sofa bed. So, on their months long walk, the couple scavenge for food, rob food, swap food with others. They meet many others also doing the walk but most of them were backpackers and vacationers out for a lovely ramble. Some were walking for a week, a fortnight, a month. The majority walked during the day yet stayed in inns at night, always having comfort of a bed, the luxury of a shower, and the option to escape from nature. Raynor and Moth don’t have this luxury. They also find that people treat them differently once they learn that they weren’t on holiday but were experiencing homelessness.

I really wanted to like this book but I can only deal with repetitive nature description for so long, right. How many times do I need to read about crags, and sea sounds, and salt on soil. I also found the author a tad annoying. This couple was homeless by choice. They could have been on their council list for public housing. And sure, they wanted to do this differently, their way. Which would be fine, except their way took advantage of other people – the shopkeeper who was robbed, the campgrounds they camped on without paying (sure sure…I get that there is a whole lot of neo-liberal capitalism in these statements but Raynor and Moth used to charge others to vacation on their farm during holidays. That was their business. I am pretty sure they would have been shirty with freeloaders before they went bankrupt).

They occasionally have to seek shelter from the rain and they end up in tearooms where they have to pay for a cup of tea. They say “How did we keep ending up in tearooms, as if someone was waiting with a teapot and a cash register behind every door and acts of kindness had a minimum charge of four pound twenty”. This realllly annoyed me. Why be antsy with business owners for charging them for the use of their tearooms. Why expect a freebie? What if they too are struggling to make ends meet? What if they too are on the brink of bankruptcy? It’s not like you rake in big dollars selling tea, scones and clotted cream. You want a freebie, why not seek shelter in any of Cornwall’s 29 library branches or Devon’s 51 libraries? Warm, comfy with zero expectation of paying $$. I checked Winn’s route and there are many libraries along the way. Even with the UKs diminished and defunded library services surely some would have been accessible. But no, let’s get shirty with small business owners. The Winn’s guide themselves on their walk using Paddy Dillon’s The South West Coast Path as it contains ordinance maps but it seems that he too didn’t include libraries on his journey either.

I know that Raynor Winn’s story is meant to make me feel all nature-like and contemplating life’s possibilities if I too lost my housing, as well as contemplating choosing to approach life differently. I didn’t find Raynor sympathetic. If anything, her sense of entitlement as someone who is experiencing homelessness to be particularly classist and snobbish. Several times in the book she points to being a different kind of homeless. Not homeless due to substance abuse. Somehow she considered herself more worthy than people with alcohol or drug dependancy problems. You know, the proper kind of homeless, upper-middle class who lost their home in a dodgy investment with a dodgy friend (she glosses over this part super quickly). So once again, even white-collar homelessness to her is better than someone who has addictions.

Having read this book about a month ago, I’ve had some time to ruminate on it. These are my take-aways 1) I do not love my husband enough to go wild camping in nature while homeless 2) even people who are homeless can be judgemental and elitist.

Book cover: Yellow NYC taxi with a bridal couple seen from the back window.

Reading Note 65: Teri Wilson’s Her Man of Honour. Is there any higher praise for a book than sneaking out of a wedding just to go hide in the loo to keep reading your novel? I mean, it was after food but before speeches, I am not a monster guest. But it did take a text from my husband asking if I was OK? Had I run away? Was I bored. Nooooo! No I was not bored. But I needed NEEDED to read more of my book. I lurve a good category romance novel and Teri Wilson (one of my recent fave authors of the genre) did not disappoint with her latest offering. But first, the blurb!

Her bestie would do anything for her—including step in as groom in USA TODAY bestselling author Teri Wilson’s first book in the Love, Unveiled miniseries!

When did her longtime best friend

Become the perfect groom?

Everly England is a bridal-advice columnist. A guru. And unfortunately, a jilted bride! Her ruined reputation and wedding only get more disastrous when her bestie Henry Aston’s sympathetic kiss ignites a desire she never knew possible. Henry knows the glamorous city girl is terrified romance will ruin their friendship. But this stand-in groom plans to win her “I do” after all!

This book had all the cray-cray. Friends-to-lovers, puppies!, secret-crush, secret-baby, puppies!, left-at-the-altar, other women are best friends, puppies!, evil men are not so evil but they sure-as-shit have bad timing, secret-babies, a jilted bride alone in a hotel room!, and what bride would hook up immediately after being jilted! (I told you there were spoilers!), oh and did I mention puppies!? And, of course, there was love. L-O-V-E love! Like, I can’t tell you how delighted and relieved I was that category romance is still being written the way I love to read them. And there is no romance reading joy like finding an author who knows how to amp up the trope tensions! This book was full of drama, full of soap opera highs, full of heart. Top marks!

6 thoughts on “April Reading 2023: Writing late, a memoir and a novel. Observation note 117 and Reading notes 64-65

  1. I am so sorry you have been struggling with pain, especially the confluence of pains that just don’t let you find a restful position to sleep, breathe, be. I hope things are getting better and that you are much recovered soon.

    About your reading: I felt my blood pressure rising as I read your commentary on The Salt Path; I get not wanting to impose on family or friends for trivial shit, but when you are facing homelessness? and one of you is terminally ill? Fuck that noise, ask for help and be grateful for whatever anyone can do for you! And yeah, don’t get me started on them resenting other people having to make a living, for I’ve been too often on the receiving end of that sense of entitlement.

    (I’m a cynic and wondering whether the ‘dodgy friend’ existed at all, or whether in fact the dodgy ones were the Winns themselves–wouldn’t be the first time complete assholes told the story ass-backwards to make themselves the victims after screwing someone else)

    (wow, do I sound angry–sorry, something about this hit all my nerves; perhaps because I live every day one paycheck away from homelessness, and there’s no council housing here that I could even get on a list for)

    I am so glad you found a good author to read; nothing is better than reading something so engrossing one finds way of neglecting almost everything just to steal a few more minutes of reading. Here’s hoping for many such moments for you.

    • I feel your anger. This discomfort was voluntary so selling it as a sob-story annoyed me. Family and friends help. That’s what we do as a society. The weird thing is that I felt calmer reading it than telling people about it. I kept finding myself shouting loudly. I didn’t even mention their adult kids who were at university stressing out about their parents. Now to decide whether to hate-read the next book.

      I hadn’t even questioned the veracity of their friend and the fraud. What I do question is the husband’s terminal illness and then I feel bad that I even consider it.

      • Husband’s illness: yeah, after reading the Wikipedia entry, I wonder how he would be fit for walking hours on end for months–and apparently they kept doing it at least for two or three more years? I get why you feel bad for questioning it, but it does sound fishy.

        And as you said, they chose this, then played it as victimhood. I didn’t realize they had kids who would worry out of their minds over their parents doing this–it gets worse the more I learn about it!

        Like, I can see how someone could have a moment of desperate irrationality/psychosis and go off, but a) I don’t see how that could last months, and b) then play it as if you are the brave one in the face of a world that’s abandoned you–when you could have accepted help from family/friends/the fucking council? and then have the whole literary establishment applaud you for it?

        Flames. On the side of my face.

        • I can’t begrudge them their choice to walk. Nature is healing and all that, it worked for them and I was on board for reading about it. It is the entitlement and judgement of others that annoyed me. Especially as they had an out which they took. Once it got too cold to be homeless, they accepted a friend’s offer for accomodation and found seasonal work. And then when the season ended, they went back to walking and being selectively “homeless” as they did have an end plan and a tad bit of money.

          That the literary establishment applauds it is probably because they can relate to it more, a bit of a cautionary tale that even well-off people aren’t safe from homelessness.

          I can totally understand the flames on the side of your face.

  2. Longtime reader / lurker… just to say, all my sympathies for your various travails & sending good vibes and wishes for full recuperation. (Also Raynor Winn sounds like a remarkably tedious and illogical person.)

    • Hello juliaef longtime reader/lurker! I am so glad you chose to comment. And thank you so much for your good vibes and well wishes. It’s baby steps for now but hopefully it’s only a blip in my health radar. And yes re: Raynor Winn. She seems to polarise people. Those who adore her and the rest of us 😀

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