Anna Campbell

November 2019

Some Interesting Reads Part 2

Last month, I started a short series about some of the books I’ve recently enjoyed with three great romances (check out my choices here). This month, I’m talking about three memoirs/autobiographies that left a lasting impression.

I’ll start with Andre Agassi’s searingly honest autobiography, Open. I don’t watch a lot of sport and I don’t read a lot of sports biographies, but someone recommended this one to me and I’m so glad I took them up on the suggestion.

If I did watch a lot of sport, I think tennis would be my choice. There’s something so fascinating about the psychological game of tennis that runs alongside the often grueling physical one. And I find a lot of tennis players terrifically interesting as personalities.

Like many people, I was intrigued by the charismatic Agassi who has had a career unlike anyone else’s. Often he himself seemed to be his most difficult opponent, rather than anyone he met on the court. This details his fraught early life with a father who was determined to have a champion tennis player in the family. Early bullying prompted Agassi’s oft-repeated comment that he hates tennis. Then despite talent to burn, personal issues and a tendency to self-sabotage prevented Agassi from reaching his full potential, before very late for a professional tennis player, he entered his glory years to become one of the all-time greats of the game.

In turns, horrifying, inspiring, moving, funny, this book details every step along the way. Even if you don’t like tennis, give it a go!

My next choice is a million miles away from the scandal and glamor of Andre Agassi’s world. The Salt Path by Raynor Winn is a story that stayed with me long after I finished it last year. It starts off with Raynor and her husband Moth facing the loss of everything they’ve ever worked for, thanks to a friend playing them false in a business deal. Moth has also just been diagnosed with a neurological disease that promises to take away all his faculties one by one, and then kill him.

Effectively homeless, they decide to walk the South-West coast Path, England’s longest footpath, camping and foraging along the way. This means starting in Somerset and following the coasts of Devon, Cornwall and Dorset.

What sounds like utter madness turns into a life-affirming and healing journey, a journey as much of the soul as of the body. Raynor Winn’s prose is simple and heartfelt and really suits this story of redemption and effort. And it’s much more fun to read than I’ve made it sound in this description! I’m not surprised it was a bestseller in Britain and nominated for a couple of major prizes like the Costa Book of the Year and the Wainwright Prize for nature writing.

My last book in this short list of recommended memoirs is another British coastal one, this time set in Orkney where Victoria Whitworth, an English historian specializing in Dark Ages Britain, lived for four years. Swimming with Seals details how she became addicted to wild swimming, especially off one particular beach in Orkney.

She develops a rich and emotional relationship with her surroundings and with the wild creatures who share it with her. Her descriptions of weather and scenery in this book are breathtakingly beautiful, partly because they’re so detailed and specific to one seemingly rather insignificant place that comes to symbolize the whole world for Whitworth. I also shivered every time she puts a toe in the water – I love to swim, but I’m not sure Orkney would be my choice of a venue! Give me Tahiti any day!

This book is in many ways a farewell to a life and a place the writer loved. She says openly that she turned to the sea to escape difficulties on land, including a failing marriage, religious doubt, and problems with her health. In the end, she must leave Orkney to seek work on the mainland, and her bitter sorrow at her departure brought tears to my eyes. Her beautiful writing had made me love these windswept islands.

Come back next month when I return to talking about fiction!