Lead Review

  • Book: Toksvig’s Almanac 2021
  • Location: World
  • Author: Sandi Toksvig

Review Author: Tina Hartas



This is yet another delightful audiobook that has accompanied me on my walks during lockdown 2020/21. I am delighted I chose this format for this book because it lends itself SO well to dipping in and out. Sandi Toksvig is, of course, a gifted storyteller, her dulcet tones are entertaining and amusing, and the humour is never far from the surface. She also has a very wise and thoughtful head on her shoulders.

She starts in January and moves right through the year, and with each passing day she features a woman (mainly, and often who had to dress up as a man to be able to achieve her goals), who had something significant happen to her on that particular day. She was perhaps born, died, achieved something that has never been really celebrated or acknowledged, discovered something worthwhile to the human race; perhaps, even, she was notorious for all the wrong reasons; perhaps there was a notable historical event to tie her into history. This really, in many ways, is a celebration of the achievements of women but also an exploration of the rather dismal story of how womanhood through the centuries has been recorded for posterity, indeed, much of it hasn’t; very often a man has been given credit where in fact the woman has done the groundwork and should have deserved the concomitant accolades.

The amount of research that has gone into this collection is utterly staggering and she features people across the centuries and from around the globe. There are short poems, facts, musings and so much more in this wonderful and esoteric compilation.

You will discover who the only woman was who had her head spiked (after she had been beheaded, of course) on London Bridge; that Eleanor G Holm was disqualified from the Berlin Olympics in 1936 for drinking too much champagne; and why the British tax year ends on the 5th April rather than starting at the dawn of a new year. You may even be delighted to discover that on 19 September there is “Talk Like a Pirate Day” (who knew!) and OF COURSE she discovers that women pirates were very much doing their own thing, in fact – and inevitably – far surpassing the feats of male counterparts. She admires the determination of Bessie Coleman, the first African American/Native American woman to hold a pilot’s licence and the lengths to which she had to go to obtain said licence!

She loves a good festival too. She tells the story of the woman behind Walpurgisnacht (check that out!); she shares the details of The Hunting of the Earl of Rone in Combe Martin (she optimistically offers the dates for May 2021) and ponders the origins of the Honiton Hot Penny Festival . She describes the festivals in the States that are held in Battle Creek, Michigan (Kelloggs are based there) and the delights of the Gerber National Baby Food Festival in Fremont (also Michigan, what is it with this State?).

She moves over to France and the storming of the Bastille; she records the story of the forgotten woman of the Eiffel Tower; she looks at the fascinating life of George Sand (who was, of course, a woman), who at one point was more famous than Balzac, and who flouted permission to wear trousers (women across the world have had to seek permission to wear trousers, and lamentably in some parts of the world it is still illegal for them to wear them); and she checks out the story of the woman who murdered Marat in the bath – any idea who she was? No I didn’t either! But Marat was immortalised in a very famous painting by Jacques-Louis David, and she was, well, consigned to history.

It is truly mind boggling how many women have been left out of the history books, simply because of their sex; their contribution has been sidelined and the men, quite simply, bigged up. As she states, history depends very much on who is writing it and that has largely been men.

You will of course cherrypick your own favourite stories and anecdotes, and my only regret is that I simply couldn’t assimilate all the wonderful information that she has brought together. Goodness, I would be a popular team member in a pub quiz!

I was very pleased that I listened to this on audiobook. It is a perfect format to tune in and out, and listen to in shorter and longer bursts, just as one chooses.

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