Sally Flint

Book Review of Between the Stops: The View of My Life from the Top of the Number 12 Bus

This is a great memoir by Sandi Toksvig, but so much of it seemed familiar, that I spent a great deal of my reading time perplexed about whether this is a re-write of an earlier memoir. Is it?  The part where Sandi expresses how hurt she was at being hounded by the press, when her and her then partner were new mothers, seemed exactly like something I had already read about. Perhaps it was just an article I’d previously seen.

Sandi Toksvig’s ‘Between the Stops is both simple and complex. Simple in its transparency and compex in the depth of personality it portrays. Sandi’s exuberance, Her desire for activity and enthusiasm jump off the pages, yet she is clearly also capable of deep thought. calmness (a little anyway)  and reflection. Her warmth and fun-loving nature are always apparent,, but so is her sensitivity and ability to be hurt. This open humanity plays a large part in the book’s appeal.

As both the title and the preface suggest Between the Stops is quite a random and unsual memoir. The structure is irreigular and deliberately challenges the conventions of an autobiography portrating a birth, childhood, middle-age and old-age. Instead it jumps around randomly using bus-stops and sightings along the route covered, almost as a cue for ‘memory association memoir writing’.

I have to admit that I didn’t love all the hilstorical information about London, (though it was well reseached). as It felt to somewhat tagged on to the wonderful anecdotes and reflection that is at the book’s core. It felt as if Toksvig, having settled on structuring the book around the bus journey then needed to afford plenty of attention to the places that she made her associations from.

Between the Stops is extremely readable and extremely honest. Sandi opens up about her political stance and ideology, the homophobic behaviour she has experienced and the haphazard nature of her career path. If you enjoy watching Sandi on the TV you’ll most probably also enjoy reading her words; She is a quirky person and it is a quirky book! It is impossible to not respect Sandi as she is continually looking to  improve the world. I don’t accept some criticisms levied against her that she soulnds sanctimonious or trite. She doesn’t 

Ultimately, Sandi writes beautifully and unlike many memoirs (particularly those of celebrities) there isn’t a sense of the book having been ghost written or even worse badly written!  Overall, I like Sandi’s original approach to memoir writing. Her life is outlandish in its adventure, yet predictable and full of compassion. Sandi lives in an area of London for the sake of her wife being close to her teenage daughter, not because she wants to be there.. I like that about her. She is angry, funny, kind and emotional. If you do choose  to read this book you will be left with the sense of having made a friend. What a privilege it would be to actually catch the No 12 bus and have a chat with her. 

A great memoir, especially if autobiographies are not your thing.

Book Discussion Questions for Between the Stops

Sandi is trying to tell her life story whilst not being restricted by traditional conventions of memoir writing. Is she successful. Discuss?

What was the most interesting thing you learned about Sandi Toksvig’s life during your reading of the book?

How would you have reacted to almost being sent down from Cambridge for being gay, but being allowed to stay because you were clever and gay?

Sandi Toksvig takes great delight in retelling small and every day events. For example, she tells the anecdote of the lady who likes her, not because she is funny, but because she, like, the lady, is of indeterminate size. What did you find the funniest story in the book?

Sandi cites numerous examples of inequality in the book. What did you learn about her political views? Did they surprise you? 

Sandi was disappointed that Miss Macdonald didn’t run away to pain but instead joined a silent order of Carmelites. What is she trying to show us through this humourous anecdote? 

Sandi shares very little about anyone other than herself in this book. Does this diminish its validity as a memoir?

Book Club Questions for Between the Stops (if you haven't read the book)

Sandi demonstrated during her first job in the theatre that she was prepared to do everything from sweeping the stage to fixing the lights. What is the most unusal job that you’ve ever had?

When Sandi’s university college finally apologized for their homophobic behavour she was able to forgive them. Are you able to forgive and forget, or at least forgive?

Sandi would be a great dinner party companion. Who else would you invite along to have dinner with her and you? 

Sandi talks quite openly about how ‘people were not out’ in her day, whereas now they are.  What is the bigget social or political change that you’ve seen in your life time?

When Sandi is accused on the bus of being racist it caused her a great deal of distress as the criticism was unfair and unfounded? Do you have a similar experience to share. 

When Sandi presents Great British Bake Off she genuinely cares for the contestants and sheds a tear when they get disqualified. What makes you feel emotional?

Which other celebrity memoir have you enjoyed reading and why? 

Sandi frequently travels the Number 12 bus? If you were to use a regular journey to structure your own memoir around, where would you travel to and from? 

If you enjoy reading memoirs then you may also be interested in these reviews too. 
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