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What Goes Around: A London Cycle Courier's Story

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  387 ratings  ·  43 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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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
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. ...more
Apr 18, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Could relate to so many things. Being in an abusive relationship with the city one's cycling in and not having on your mind where you're going but in your body. 💚 ...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
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.
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.
Rachel Stevenson
Aug 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
The cool thing about this memoir is that it’s not the usual millennial moan about how anxious and depressed the writer was until they started X as a hobby and it changed their life. Emily Chapelle comes across as a funny, intelligent, thoughtful, observant, shy-but-determined person who’s written a book about being a courier. If you’re interested in that, you can read it, if not don’t bother. Chapelle (and the reader) *does* go on a journey - but it's to the City from Shoreditch to the west end ...more
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!
Michael Lennon
Jan 23, 2022 rated it it was amazing
So readable
May 09, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed the passion for being a London Courier, and the pitfalls, from a distance. I could appreciate how this career can become a way of life that is all encapsulating. Would love the toned muscles and the feel of the wind through my air... if I was maybe 30 years younger!
Oct 10, 2021 rated it really liked it
Not my usual cup of tea, but this was a surprisingly fascinating and enlightening read. Who knew the cycle couriering was so interesting? Yes it's slightly wordy, self indulgent and cathartic, but always in a good way, as Emily Chappell's head is a lovely place to spend three hundred pages. She's positive, thoughtful and a role model. I particularly loved the extended sections on radio speak, body odour and plane tree allergies - far too much detail! - but again in a really positive way. Having ...more
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
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!
Peter Goulding
Dec 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Don't normally write reviews, but this book was magic. It made me wish I'd been a cycle courier, the whole thing was just brilliant. ...more
Iain Robinson
Nov 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cycle-racing
A beautifully written story where the quirky personality of the author and her honesty shines from the words. As a lifelong cyclist myself, her descriptions of riding in traffic, abuse from other road users and the solipsistic views of non-cyclists resonated with me. I loved the descriptions of the bikes, the controller (Andy) and the corduroy of her day to day riding, all set against a backdrop of shyness and a feeling of little self-worth. I'm glad to say that she does eventually begin to appr ...more
Sep 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Only upon finishing the book did I notice that my local library had stuck it with a SPORT: Cycling categorisation. That does the book a disservice and certainly isn't where I'd shelve it.

It's a memoir, it's an homage to an amorphous golden age of the cycle courier, it's an examination of intersecting subcultures, and it's an affectionate view of London.

Chappell is a talented and insightful writer.

"Perhaps this was one of the many reasons I loved being a courier so much - since couriers, like wo
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
Sep 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Really unique and insightful- I had never given much thought to cycle couriers before, but the writing was so descriptive and evocative I feel much more aware! Particularly stands out in it's descriptions of London (really tugged at my heartstrings, as I prepared to move out of that beautiful wonderful city); the various parts talking about the place and experiences of sapphic women; and it's incredibly honest portrayal of a difficult break-up. Some problematic language at times, and would have ...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
Christian Müller
Jan 03, 2020 rated it liked it
It's been a good read. But in the end I just got tired reading through all the directions she's giving. Might be more interesting if you were to become a courier in London. Or if you were living / familiar with the city. I have to give her that her writing skills are on point. More words, less Street Names would be my advice. ...more
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.
Nov 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
loved Totally submerging myself in the life of a cycling courier. By the end I could feel myself weaving through the traffic with Emily. Reading the Dunwich dynamo section bought back memories of riding it myself...
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. ...more
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
jenny cochran
Dec 29, 2020 rated it really liked it

I read this after Emily's book about the transcon, and this only gets 4 stars from me as I really really loved the other one! I love reading her such honestly written books.
Feb 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
Great read!

A very nice read really enjoyed it, recommended! Emily is a great writer and she really describes London well and her experiences are of course so real!
Gill Lightfoot
Mar 28, 2021 rated it liked it
Easy enjoyable read

I enjoyed being reminded of the hustle and bustle of the streets of London. I Miss London - return again someday soon!
Feb 04, 2022 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Em is a pal. Very enjoyable tales of cycling around the big city. Makes me want to get back on the fixie!
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Emily Chappell is a freelance illustrator, artist and silkscreen printer based in Glasgow, Scotland.

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