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What Goes Around: A London Cycle Courier's Story

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  202 ratings  ·  25 reviews

Emily Chappell was never meant to be a cycle courier. She planned to earn her living using her mind rather than her legs. She thought it'd be a useful stopgap while searching for a 'real' job. Today, six years on, she's still pedalling. 'It's my most enduring love affair; the career that's shaped my life, made me what I am, and entirely derailed any hope of a normal existe

Kindle Edition, 320 pages
Published January 5th 2016 by Guardian Faber Publishing
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3.97  · 
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 ·  202 ratings  ·  25 reviews

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Aug 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
I remember reading Emily Chappell’s blog about being a bike courier in London and enjoying it, so was obviously inclined to read the book version too. She’s a visceral, evocative writer who conveys both the romantic appeal and serious practical drawbacks to the job. I’ve never been a bike courier and am far too lazy for such an active job, but her writing made me nostalgic for my cycle commute back in Cambridge. ‘What Goes Around’ was a fast, fun, diverting read that balances courier cultural hi ...more
Emily Chappell paints a fabulous picture of the mythology of the life of a cycle courier in London. Starting the job herself in part because she was seduced by the idea of cool couriers flying around town, their freedom, the outdoor lifestyle, the camaraderie, the social life, the counter-culture community. Instead, she finds out that the reality is both nothing as she imagined, and everything she had imagined. The camaraderie, the outdoor lifestyle and the freedom are all there, but it's also f ...more
This review first appeared on our blog, where we also chat to the author:

Memoir of a cycle courier set in London (“swerve, brake or die”)

Ever wondered what it is like to be a cycle courier in London? And a female one at that? Emily gives up her predetermined life in academia to work initially as one of two females in a courier company in the capital. As anyone can imagine, it is a hard job through all the seasons, from the biting winds and rain of the Win
Tom Allen
Jan 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Like all personal memoirs, this book is best approached with the fewest possible expectations, for it is primarily about the author's inner life, rather than its advertised subject of cycle couriering which, though skilfully depicted, often serves only as a backdrop. In that sense, What Goes Around is a resounding success. Hinting at the events that precede and succeed these years of cycle couriering in enough detail to frame her story, but without becoming laborious, this retrospective and plea ...more
Lou Robinson
Jan 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
In no way did this book make me want to give up my job and become a cycle courier (as seems to happen for a number of people in Emily's story). But it did give me a new appreciation of what goes on in London day in day out, that you just don't notice unless you really look. I'm going to be trying to spot cycle couriers from now on. Entertaining book.
Jun 28, 2016 rated it liked it
A good insight into the world of cycle couriers. I ride regularly in London and could relate to a lot of her descriptions on the city and its streets. Mostly a good 4 star read, which drops a star as for some reason I became a little disengaged with it about 3/4 of the way through.
May 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cycling
Had the good fortune to meet Emily Chappell at a talk about this book in Cardiff. Was blown away by her stories. Read the book and loved the way she told her life story and her cycling experiences. Truly inspirational. Very good read!
Feb 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Wonderful bildungsroman. (Well, so very nearly: Chappell just misses the bulls-eye.) She writes very well, and has that inspiring ability to make a life she wants rather than the one that she seemed destined for (academia or a post-academic conventional career). She comes across as a hugely sympathetic character and, like many readers, I suspect, I couldn’t help falling half in love with her (but I’m 61 and twice her age, and oh, she’s gay, of course).

It only felt like a stitched-together collec
Hannah Darvill
Jan 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
If you have any kind of relationship with London, I think you'll enjoy this book. If you ride a bike, I think you'll enjoy this book. If you like books in which someone takes you into a world you don't normally inhabit, I think you'll enjoy this book. And, at the risk of cliché, if you're interested in a dyke's perspective on a world most commonly associated with men, I think you'll enjoy this book. Also, the writing is fantastic.
Mike Webster
May 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Similar to other 3 star reviews here, I enjoyed the book at the start - also being a London cyclist, however, despite being well written, I was unable to keep engaged - possibly more a fault of mine than Emily's but I think some more aggressive editing and could have made it punchier. It was much longer than I expected - I kept looking at my progress on my Kindle and was always surprised how far I still had to go. I usually find that a bad sign is if I'm wishing the book would accelerate, it usu ...more
Oct 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Emily is a author with a great story, and this book was enjoyable for the most part.

My point of constructive criticism would be that the story jumps around a lot, and some areas that get a lot of coverage fizzle out with only a small mention.

I wonder if this is because the book was born from Emily’s online writing (maybe) or just how it was put together. Life doesn’t always flow the way a book should, and I feel the editors could have helped massage the story chronology and context a little be
Oct 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I bought this book, mainly because of my interest in cycling, but it delivered so much more than excepted. Chappell is an excellent storyteller and has a real gift for writing. I see cycle couriers in a new light now!
Bruce Frampton
Oct 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
As a keen cyclist this was a top slice of real world cycling and intricacies of London navigation and hazards. I felt the writing style reflected Emily’s personality and she’d have great stories to share over a pint or two. I struggled at points in the book but glad I made it to the end.
David Thomas
Nov 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely loved this remarkable inspiring book. Stayed up all night to read it. My full review
James Targett
Jun 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
book most likely to make me want to quit my job, move to London, and start couriering
May 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I mean honestly, there is no way in the world you won't love that one, if you love cycling your city.
Nov 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
A very good and well-written book. Chappell, writing is clear, vivid and gives an excellent account of life asxs London cycle courier.
Mar 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: cycling-urban
The beginning of the book was great, but after about 20% it started to get repetitive, and I had less and less wish to read more. At about 60%, it lost me totally. As a cycle courrier life, it would have been better to keep 20% of the text, and add great street photographs to it. Because who would read it? I think only those who are interested to see the life of a messenger from inside. As a biography, there are way much better books out there to read.
Emily Chappell took up cycle couriering in London as a stopgap while trying to figure out what 'real' job she wants to peruse. 6 years later and Emily is still cycling. What Goes Around is part memoir, part day in the life of a courier and part ode to London. Chappell tells us what it's like to be a cycle courier, the pain, the exhaustion, being subjected to the elements, how reckless drivers and pedestrians are towards cyclists. We get a sense of the community of cyclists and especially courier ...more
Molly Hopkinshaw
May 26, 2016 rated it liked it
I think Emily is a really great writer and manages to capture the spirit of what she's talking about really well. I also like the way she intertwines personal stories with more general cycle courier stories. I feel I can identify with her as well as being impressed that she can do what she does- it doesn't sound easy!
I think that one problem is that with a book like this is is hard to create a coherent enough thread to really push the narrative through- it is essentially a bundle of anecdotes a
Jan 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
I defy anyone to read this and not feel compelled to cycle immediately.

Without taking away from the poignant and beautifully written personal recollections from the author's life, this memoir of a bike courier covers psychogeography, life in the city, finding your way in life after college, making your way in an unusual career, a tight community which has been gentrified and stolen by hipsters and London's regeneration. It's a travelogue of London, speaks of the delightfully gritty details of bi
Nov 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My favorite messenger book by far.
I suspect the author is at least 10 years younger than I am but there are some huge parallels in our courier careers, not the least of which is that she came back around. It was great to read a well written memoir about someone else not who's not straight and the separate worlds that involves, who struggled with early insecurities in the industry, found their place and grew into their self. The details like the joy of working with a talented dispatcher, the aut
Mar 05, 2016 rated it liked it
This was an interesting book which took you through the life of a cycle courier. Not being too familiar with London I got a little lost in the detail about cycling routes, etc but I found the book to be entertaining and engaging to read.
Harry Coen
Sep 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An engaging read that would make for a pleasant little indy flick.
Nov 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
lyrical writing, very enjoyable read. I was swept along by Emily's prose.
Tereza Jarnikova
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Oct 18, 2018
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Peter McParlin
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Apr 30, 2019
Benjamin Thomas
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