May 2016 reading round-up

(George Wharton Edwards, 1873)

In writing this post I was briefly convinced I was wrapping up June, not May. It must be the lovely weather we’re having. I’m glad I was wrong! This month we went to three gigs (Sound of the Sirens, the Heavy and the Dandy Warhols) and one play (The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary), had two weekends away visiting family and I still managed to read a lot. (Tim thinks I have more energy these days, since taking up running regularly. He might be on to something.)

I think May is a good month. It’s bookended by bank holidays; it’s warm even on wet days (I have had “Summer rain” by Belinda Carlisle stuck in my head far too often lately); the months of summer stretch out ahead full of promise. It’s also when the city really begins to be packed with far more things to do than we can get to. For instance, yesterday Bristol Old Vic had a huge street party to celebrate its 250th anniversary. It looked awesome, but we had a lawn to mow, pictures to hang, books to read, new music purchases to listen to. Chilled time at home is good too.

How was your May?

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Comics in brief

To celebrate the sunny long weekend I decided to sort out our comic book collection, which had become several scarily tall piles around the house. We already had the boxes, the plastic covers, the back boards – I just had to combine them and give them some kind of order. The latent librarian in me thoroughly enjoyed it. And it reminded me of how many said comics I wanted to read, so I read a handful.

I-Kill-Giants-coverI Kill Giants
by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura

This is a gorgeous graphic novel about a teenage girl going through a difficult time. Barbara and her younger brother Dave are being cared for by their older sister Karen, but their situation feels precarious. Barbara won’t stop telling everyone that she kills giants, that the handmade bag she carries is her secret giant-killing weapon, and everyone is getting fed up of humouring her. What is this fantasy life all about? How much does she really believe in it herself? Can her new friend Sophia and the school counsellor get through to Barbara before something awful happens?

The art is manga-inflected, which feels right with the dark fantasies and darker themes that are gradually revealed. It’s heartfelt and sad, so much so that I pretty much wept through the last 20 or so pages. If anyone ever doubts that comics and graphic novels can deal with deep, nuanced themes, this is the story to show them. I can’t recommend it highly enough. (Thanks to Purple_Steve for the reading suggestion!)

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The true India slid by unnoticed

passage to indiaA Passage to India
by E M Forster

This is the second time I’ve tried reading this book and I almost didn’t finish it again, but this time I was near the end when I got a little bored. For the most part I found it gripping and beautifully written, if a little troubling when it comes to race and politics.

The thing is, it’s a story about how problematic colonialism can be; effectively it’s about racism, and yet it itself reads as racist. It was written in the 1920s so that wouldn’t normally be a surprise, but when Forster has taken race as a central theme you’d think he’d have the self-awareness to avoid his own racist remarks. Unless they’re all intended ironically, which is a possibility, but in that case the point being made is just as obscured as if it were not ironic.

“She continued: ‘What a terrible river! What a wonderful river!’ and sighed. The radiance was already altering, whether through shifting of the moon or of the sand; soon the bright sheaf would be gone, and a circlet, itself to alter, be burnished upon the streaming void. The women discussed whether they would wait for the change or not, while the silence broke into patches of unquietness.”

The story centres around Dr Aziz, a young Indian doctor in British-run Chandrapore (a fictional city in north-east India). He is well liked by everyone and has a large circle of close friends from different religions, different backgrounds. So it is doubly surprising when he is accused of assault by newly arrived Englishwoman Adela Quested.

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Lovely new books

I am yet again a bit behind on writing reviews, sorry if that’s what you come here for. What I do have is photos of the many new books I have acquired lately. I never had an official book-buying ban but I have been genuinely trying to limit my book acquisition this year. Clearly it’s not going that well. Or it is, if I allow in the secretly-happy-about-all-the-new-books voice!


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Hello! What are you reading?

hello-what-are-you-readingIn this new blog series, I ask my friends and family to talk a little about their current reads. I figured it would make a change to look at the reading habits of people who read a lot but don’t blog about it usually.

This week we’re hearing from Amy, who I’ve known forever. Well, okay, not quite forever, but since we were 11 so a pretty darned long time. I have many a memory of fun and adventure (and of consoling heartache) shared with her. We don’t see much of each other in person these days, pretty much since we went to different unis, but we’ve always stayed in touch, sending each other long rambling e-mails and even on occasion real actual letters! Amy is a bundle of creativity and always has been. Let’s see what she’s been reading…

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Musical interlude: The Heavy

Last week was an especially musical time in the life of Kate and Tim. On Wednesday we went to see The Heavy, a rock band from Bath that Tim’s been following for a couple of years without me paying much attention. Their live show was phenomenal and I am now totally on board. A few of their songs were used in adverts a couple of years back so you may well find you recognise some of their stuff if you look them up.

Friday morning found us awake at 6 a.m. – that’s an hour and a half earlier than usual; we are not early birds – so that we could go and queue to buy tickets for the Massive Attack gig on Clifton Downs announced just days beforehand. It was a total success – nice weather, nice crowd, tickets obtained – but I had to break my usual one-coffee-per-day rule to get through! (Shout out to Hayles who brought me a coffee while I was queuing after I complained on Twitter that I needed some!)

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Hello! What are you reading?

hello-what-are-you-readingIn this new blog series, I ask my friends and family to talk a little about their current reads. I figured it would make a change to look at the reading habits of people who read a lot but don’t blog about it usually.

This week we’re hearing from Spiky Zebra, who I met through work and hang out with regularly. She’s a stalwart of our pub quiz team (especially excellent at music rounds), a far better photographer than me and will forever be cooler than me because, though we have in common that we both wrote for our respective student papers, while I reviewed books and theatre, she reviewed gigs and interviewed bands. Super cool. Here’s what Spiky Zebra has been reading…

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Sometimes we don’t want to be tethered to yesterday

by Sue Perkins

This memoir by beloved comedian and TV presenter Sue Perkins jumped out at me when browsing one of our local charity shops, as I was looking to add some comedy to my book shelves and this seemed like just the thing. One the one hand, I was right that it would be funny, on the other it also made me cry no less than three times. Damn it Sue with your sweet, touching moments. And dead pets.

I’d like to claim to be an early fan of Sue, having watched her first TV shows Light Lunch and Late Lunch, back in the 90s, but the truth is that they followed years of stand-up comedy that I of course knew nothing about. Sue is yet another alumnus of the Cambridge Footlights society, and gives a brilliant description of the drab, dingy basement that is the Footlights theatre. This is also where she met long-time comedy partner Mel Giedroyc, who in this book (and, I assume, in life) is the butt of many a joke, primarily about her being two years older than Sue.

Sue is a good writer, whether talking about her family, her career, her loves or her pets. Her timing is spot-on, knowing when to hit the sad button and when to lighten the mood with a joke with the canny judgement of Spielberg. She’s not afraid of sincerity about tough subjects and the chapter about her break-up with a long-term partner after getting back into TV work and running a bit wild is a little painful to read as it seems to betray lingering feelings.

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Hello! What are you reading?

hello-what-are-you-readingIn this new blog series, I ask my friends and family to talk a little about their current reads. I figured it would make a change to look at the reading habits of people who read a lot but don’t blog about it usually.

This week we’re hearing from Mess, who I originally met through his wife, but both have become great friends of ours. We’ve been on holiday together (always a good test of friendship) and Mess and I share similar taste in board games, TV and film, as well as (perhaps surprisingly) karaoke song choices. Here is what Mess says about his current reads…

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Stirring, like a sleeping monster about to wake up

blood-harvestBlood Harvest
by SJ Bolton

Last year one of my books of the year was Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton, a crime drama set in the Falklands that I found beautiful and gripping. So I had been on the lookout for other books by her and was excited to spot this one on sale. You can tell it’s an older title from the fact she was still using the pen name “SJ Bolton”, presumably to disguise her gender, but also from the fact it’s a slightly less ambitious undertaking.

Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s just less impressive than one of my favourite books of last year. Now that’s out of the way I’ll explain what it’s all about.

Heptonclough is a fictional Lancashire village surrounded by the Pennine Moor. It’s a classic atmospheric setting, both wide open space and spookily claustrophobic thanks to the residents effectively being trapped at night or in bad weather by the danger of the surrounding countryside. New vicar Harry is not a local and neither are the Fletcher family, residents of the village’s only new build in decades thanks to the Church of England selling off some land next to the church. Both the church and the Fletchers’ home are loomed over by the ruins of an ancient abbey, giving the village a gothic centrepiece.

The book opens with Harry being shown a crime scene by local policeman DCS Rushton – a mudslide has caused a 10-year-old grave to collapse, revealing not one but three bodies, two of which should not be there. The story then skips back two months to the arrival of Harry shortly after that of the Fletchers. He’s a groovy young vicar who wears shorts and sometimes swears, and he’s nervous about the task ahead of him – Heptonclough’s church has been shut up and unused for 10 years.

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