Repelling Arachnids – A Review of Keeping Away the Spiders by Anne Pia.

Flipping through the pages of an open book.

When Luath Press, a publisher based in Edinburgh, reached out to me asking if I would like a free copy of a book to review on my blog, I thought it was spam. In my defense, most of the messages I receive on social media these days are spam, but several days after initially receiving the message curiosity got the better of me and I googled them. Shortly after I realized that Luath Press were actually offering me a free book I messaged them back, and a copy of Keeping Away the Spiders by Anne Pia was sent my way.

Anne Pia is a Scottish-Italian woman who has had a long and diverse career, of which being a writer is only a small part. They had their first book, a memoir called Language of my Choosing published in 2017, and a poetry book called Transitory published in 2018. Keeping Away the Spiders, a collection of essays on a variety of topics from food, relationships, gender, sexuality, exercise, music, feminism, and being the parent of a disabled child, had the misfortune of being published in 2020.

My copy of Keeping Away the Spiders, a paper-back book with a blue geometric pattern cover, sitting on my spider-web table cloth.

Pia’s writing style is fluid and poetic without skirting around the less pleasant aspects of certain topics, with each essay taking readers on it’s own little journey. Individually the essays are interesting, but together they paint a surprisingly detailed picture of the author, her values, opinions and experiences shining through in each piece. It perhaps helped that Pia and myself seem to hold similar opinions on a range of topics, even if we didn’t agree on everything. Since I can’t possibly discuss every essay in the collection, I have decided to pick out three pieces on which I have the most to say.


Harmonics is all about self-expression through fashion, touching on gender in the form of cross-dressing. As someone who loves unconventional items of clothing, I certainly enjoyed the descriptions of particular outfits and fabrics throughout different decades, and how others reacted to them (up to and including being excluded from certain social circles). Discussion of the fluidity of gender was very sensitive and well-handled, something which I had been a little concerned about when I opened this chapter, a reflection of the current climate for trans and non-binary people in the UK and not anything to do with Pia’s writing. My main criticism of Harmonics is how it seemed to lose its way towards the end, something easily forgiven when taking it’s message of self-love and positivity from the overall piece.

On Miracles.

Out of all the essays in Keeping Away the Spiders, this was the one I was most excited and most nervous to read. On Miracles gives Pia’s perspective on raising a disabled child, and I was delighted when it avoided the pitfall so many parents of disabled children fall into; thinking that their experiences as carers and parents equate to those of actually being disabled, and speaking for and over us rather than with us. Pia never once presumed to write about what she thought life as a disabled person was like, instead giving her perspective of having to support and advocate for her daughter in the face of rampant discrimination. She fairly accurately paints a picture of how as a society we seem to fear the use of mobility aids, going so far as to subject ourselves to painful and invasive medical procedures to avoid using them, something rarely heard openly spoken about outside of disabled people’s circles. On Miracles was a pleasure to read, and was included in the book with the blessing of said disabled child (now all grown-up), much to my relief.


Shift has nothing to do with disability, gender, sexuality, or even food and nutrition; it’s about teaching. You may be wondering why on Earth I want to write about this piece, and simply put it is because this essay should be compulsory reading for all current and future teachers. Shift takes a brutal and unforgiving look at British education over recent decades and how it is seemingly more interested in churning out virtually identical labourers than it is in giving young adults the skills to reflect critically on politics, science, or their leaders. It also discusses how students should be supported and their individual needs met, rather than the blanket application of one-size-fits-all education that is to the detriment of disabled students in particular. It is a fantastic piece.

Keeping Away the Spiders was truly a pleasure to read; my only real criticism of the book is the way that quotes from various sources are scattered throughout the pages. These quotes are written in a similar text size and font to the rest of book, and I would often find myself perplexed by a sentence that made no sense only to realise I had gone from reading the essay to the quote without noticing. Indeed, I think that if the worst thing I have to say about this book is to comment on formatting, that is in itself a pretty strong reflection of just how much I enjoyed this book.

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