Valkyrie by Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir (Bloomsbury)
The women of the Viking world held powerful positions in real life as well as in Viking myth, not least Valkyries who could choose who lived and who died. The author is a medievalist who has read all the Icelandic sagas so that you don’t have to. Our own idea of the Viking world is brought closer to how it really was, but despite the power of some women, for many it was, well, not so great.
The Wife of Bath by Marion Turner (Princeton)
While all that was going on in Iceland, in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales we have the bawdy figure of Alison, “the wife of Bath” who survived domestic abuse to be an iconic figure in literature. Turner also describes the real lives of other less fictional medieval women but also discusses the way Alison has appeared in literature this century, a constant point of reference.
Uncommon Ground by Dominick Tyler (Guardian/Faber)
If you like to get muddy, or if you just happen to have a coffee table handy, this is a lovely book. Tyler collects old names for parts of the countryside, words that have been half-forgotten or which only exist now as place names. He gives examples of them, combining the text with wonderful pictures. It’s a bit Robert Macfarlaneish but prettier.
Black and Blue: one woman’s story of policing and prejudice by Pam Sandhu (Atlantic)
Sandhu worked her way up the ranks from constable to chief superintendent in the Met – London’s police force, the only woman of colour to do so. If you have read the papers over the last few years you will not be surprised to know her career was not an easy choice, as an Asian woman.
We’ve Got This: essays by disabled parents edited by Eliza Hull ((Scribe)
Nobody said parenting is easy either, but it’s not made easier if you have a disability. I’m biased about this book as I know one of the contributors. Five Leaves has published some of her work, as a poet, so I immediately turned to page 102 to see what Joanne Limburg had to say about being an autistic parent. The book has thirty contributions by parents who have visible and invisible disabilities as well as those who are chronically ill. Recommended as a book that would make for interesting discussion in any kind of parents’ circle.
The Story of Art without Men by Katy Hessel (Hutchinson)
Where to start on this one? Hessel immediately asks the reader how many women artists they know, and proceeds to tell us about some we might know and many we don’t know, ranging over centuries and over the world. The illustrations are superb. Given this is the Notts/Derby edition, Laura Knight is mentioned (though none of her paintings are included) but many of my favourites from elsewhere are – the surrealist women; Gluck; Charlotte Salomon; Barbara Hepworth; Kathe Kollwitz… but so many that are new to me. It’s £30 but if you have the remotest interest in art you will feel it is money well spent.
Unofficial Britain: journeys through unexpected places by Gareth Rees (Elliot & Thompson)
This is the oldest book mentioned here, first published in 2020, but every time we slip a copy onto our new table at the bookshop it sells. It’s full of urban legends, motorway service stations, industrial estates, fringe areas, car parks, places “where the border between the past and the present is unusually fluid”. The sort of places that tourist guides don’t even know exist, and why should they? Full of stories about places you wouldn’t want to be seen dead in, other than some burial places are included too.
Xanthe & the Ruby Crown by Jasbinder Bilan (Chicken House)
I’ll finish with the last book I read, a book for, what?, twelve year olds. Bilan was brought up in Nottingham and returns to her childhood roots with this timeslip story set partly here – at Wollaton Hall – and partly in Uganda, the former home of Xanthe’s Asian grandmother who is starting to suffer from dementia. Xanthe wants to make her grandmother happy again and she explores her family history to reveal long buried secrets. Literally buried secrets, in the tower block her gran lives in.