January 2017 reading round-up

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This month had some pretty big ups and downs. I had a lovely birthday. I successfully managed to run three times every week. We had a fantastic weekend in London, looking at art and watching the stage show Lazarus.

I have also despaired at the news even more than usual. On Monday evening I joined thousands on College Green in Bristol protesting against the US “Muslim ban”. These really do feel like dark scary times but I have to hope that continuing to raise my voice against injustice helps.

To distract myself from world affairs, I’ve managed to read a decent amount and I’ve also watched a lot of films. I thought La La Land was a lot of fun in the first half, then kinda bittersweet. Not the best film ever but very good nonetheless. Plus Tim and I have ploughed our way through almost four whole seasons of Dexter. (Speaking of which: has anyone read the book it’s based on, Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay? Would I like it?)

Here’s to February, hints of early spring and escaping into books! In the US February is Black History Month but in the UK it’s LGBT History Month (we do black history in October) so I’ll be choosing some reading based on that. What are your February reading plans?

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Sunday Salon: #Diverseathon

The Sunday SalonDuring Trump’s first nine days in office I have been constantly thinking about civil rights, women’s rights…human rights, basically, and how they are being threatened and outright denied. As well as doing practical things to help – donating to refugee charities and subscribing to newspapers that I feel are doing vitally necessary journalism – I also wanted to base my reading around these subjects. And then I heard there was already a BookTube project to do just that.

#Diverseathon runs from 22 January to the end of today and is co-hosted by Simon Savidge, Monica Watson, Christina Marie and Joce. The primary aim is to encourage everyone to read more diversely, but there are some more specific goals. There was a group read of The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which I didn’t join, but I’ve thought the book sounded fascinating since I first heard about it on the Slate Represent podcast.

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Had he said that? Or had she just made him say it inside her head?

A Jealous Ghost
by A N Wilson

Way way back at primary school, I think for my 10th birthday, a boy in my class gave me the book Stray by A N Wilson. I hadn’t heard of the author and I wasn’t especially close friends with the boy, but it was a really well chosen gift. I loved that book (it’s about a stray cat and it’s sad and lovely and I’m pretty sure I still have it). But for some reason I never looked out for other books by the same author.

Then two years ago, Tim’s mum was clearing out some books and offered me my pick of them first. I couldn’t quite figure out why the author’s name was familiar when I picked this up but the story appealed to me, and then later I realised and was glad I was finally going back to Wilson.

The story is that of Sallie, an American student in London writing her PhD on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. She’s struggling to make friends, struggling to come up with a thesis argument that her PhD supervisor is happy with, struggling to pay rent. So someone suggests she takes time out with a summer job – perhaps as a live-in nanny so she doesn’t even have to pay rent. When at her job interview she learns that she will be looking after two young children in a country house with neither parent around – just like in The Turn of the Screw – it seems like fate.

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Testing out some new comics

Our pull list at our local comic shop seems to get longer every month. Every time a series ends or starts to flag enough for us to cancel it, another two or three come along. I’ve mostly been leaving those new series to Tim but today I decided to try out a handful and see what grabbed me.

Gamora issue #1
by Nicole Perlman (writer), Marco Checchetto (penciller) and Andres Mossa (colourist)

This new series centres around a character from Guardians of the Galaxy, which I personally only know from the excellent film. Gamora is the adopted daughter of Thanos, raised by him as an assassin and heir, despite him having created his own daughter Nebula. Consequently, Nebula hates Gamora. In the meantime, Thanos has given Gamora the gift of destroying a whole race. It’s an interesting, if violent, set-up. The artwork is an interesting, watercolour style. But I must admit this didn’t grab me.

Published December 2016 by Marvel.

 

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Sunday Salon: Long weekend of culture

The Sunday SalonTim and I have just got back from four days in London. We saw lots of art, mostly photography, hence the new purchases below. I highly recommend the Malick Sidibé exhibition at Somerset House. And I have loved Philippe Halsman’s work ever since being prompted to seek him out after reading a novelisation of his life, called The Jump Artist, five years ago.

But the eagle-eyed will spot that not all the below books are photography-related. We also bought the script of Lazarus, the musical written by David Bowie and Enda Walsh in 2015. The main reason for our trip to London was that my Christmas present to Tim was tickets to the production of Lazarus in London. It’s the Broadway transfer, so we got to see its original star Michael C Hall, AKA TV’s Dexter. That was pretty exciting.

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Meanings form spontaneously at the points of confluence

The Girl With All the Gifts
by M R Carey

This book was picked by my book club, otherwise I doubt I would have read it, but I’m glad I did. It’s also going to be very difficult to write about without spoilers.

Melanie lives in a small locked cell. Each day she is strapped to a wheelchair by soldiers and wheeled to a classroom. She loves to learn. She loves her fellow classmates, though it’s difficult to make friends when you can’t turn your head to look at each other. Most of all she loves Miss Justineau, her favourite teacher. But why is she here, living like this?

And that’s where I will leave the synopsis for now, but I’ll put a spoiler warning below so that I can explain a little more for those who have read the book/watched the film/don’t mind spoilers.

“Melanie lets these facts run together in her mind. Their possible meanings form spontaneously at the points of confluence.”

It’s definitely an easy, compelling read. I liked Melanie, who is both very smart and also naive. She is for the most part very self-aware, except for the one key aspect of herself that should have been obvious to her long before the reader figures it out. But she’s not the only good character. Miss Justineau and Dr Caldwell have a fundamental difference of opinion but are forced to work together in close quarters, leading both women to at least try to question their own point of view. And the story is interesting as well as thrilling.

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A piece of a human being but yes, a human being

Sophie’s Choice
by William Styron

I spent most of December re-reading Sophie’s Choice. I wanted to understand what it was about it I fell in love with 10 years ago. I still think it’s a great book, but it has dropped a little in my estimation.

Partly that’s its length. I used to happily read much longer books than I do now. It’s not that I have anything against long books per se, but I have less patience for rambling. I’ve always had a fondness for brevity. This book is not brief. But it is an amazing story.

This is the story of Sophie, an attractive young Polish woman who has survived the Holocaust – has survived Auschwitz – and come to live in Brooklyn, where she works as a doctor’s receptionist and is in a relationship with Nathan, a volatile but charming man who rents a room across the corridor from her. Sophie’s back story is told intermittently between the tale of the second half of 1947.

The title of this book is so familiar, a phrase well known for its hint of torment, but now that so much time has passed since both the book’s publication and the film based on it, many people now will, like me when I first read it, not know exactly what the choice of the title refers to. The novel is structured around gradually revealing Sophie’s secret, but there are plenty of smaller reveals along the way.

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