March 2017 reading round-up

(Bill Nye’s History of England, 1900)

I feel like I’ve barely looked at a book this month, though actually the list below isn’t especially short. I have watched a lot of films, including Logan, which isn’t my favourite X-Men film (that would be Days of Future Past), but is my favourite standalone Wolverine film.

My favourite film of the month was probably Freeheld, the 2015 film based on the true story of a dying policewoman fighting to have her pension assigned to her domestic partner. It made me cry a lot, but also includes a very funny turn from Steve Carrell as a gay rights activist who takes on the case.

On 10 March, for British Science Week, I ran a 10k virtual race. I was so proud of myself! Now I have to make sure I keep the effort up ahead of the Bristol 10k at the start of May, which I’m running for charity (more on that soon).

Now I need to wrench myself away from all the films we have on DVD, Netflix and Amazon Prime and get some reading done!

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Sunday Salon: Quiet January?

The Sunday SalonFor most people, January is pretty quiet. You might be drinking less so you maybe cut down on socialising, when the booze might get tempting. You might be eating more healthily after Christmas indulgence so you don’t go out for meals. The weather is nasty and the evenings long and dark, so walks and other outdoor activities are kept to a minimum. Which makes it a great time for catching up on reading books and watching films.

On the other hand, January is also traditionally time for a fresh start: a new exercise regime, a new project at work, an honest look at all those DIY projects that need finishing. Which isn’t so good for the ol’ leisure time.

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To define happiness, its one clean note

Seducing Ingrid Bergman
by Chris Greenhalgh

When I spotted this title in the Penguin Press Newsletter it wasn’t so much Bergman’s name that attracted me – though she was a great actress and some of her films are deservedly classics – but that of the other half of this brief affair – war photographer Robert Capa. Photography interests me as a hobby and as an art form and I was interested to see how that would be handled within a novel about one of the medium’s legendary names.

It’s a great story that has all the right ingredients for becoming a great film, but it didn’t immediately click for me. Despite a dramatic, well judged opening that contrasts Capa parachuting into enemy territory and being shot at in March 1945 with Bergman receiving an Oscar in a glittering ceremony in Hollywood, I found myself noticing the writing, tutting at all the similes that would have served better as metaphors and the slightly obvious parallels drawn with photography wherever possible:

“…involuntarily she repeats the way Pia had wrinkled her nose, closing both eyes at the same time as though taking a photograph.”

However, I think perhaps I just took a while to get over the fact that these were real people and that I had been expecting something that felt a bit more like historical fiction or even biography. Because this is solidly a novel, ascribing thoughts and fears and feelings to its characters and even using first person for about half of the narrative (always as Capa). And as I gradually got pulled into the story I began to thoroughly enjoy it and even to pick out well written passages:

“We watch as the light rises, giving the world shadows. The grey shapes of the trees on the boulevards hold their breath for the heat of day. And behind the buildings the sun comes up with its liquid edges.”

The bulk of the story is set in Paris, where Bergman is sent to entertain troops and Capa is based in-between assignments. Greenhalgh does a good job of describing Paris, primarily in a romantic light but with the occasional touch of realism, such as very funny observation about a high class cafe having a hole-in-the-floor toilet, and Capa imagining all the fancy ladies in their high heels squatting over the filth and being impressed by them emerging looking flawless.

I must admit, and this may be largely my own cynicism, that I found the early descriptions of the affair saccharine to an annoying degree:

“I don’t know whether it’s the music or Ingrid sitting there, her spoon poised over her ice cream, but everything merges at this moment – the leaves, the sunlight, the scent of vanilla, the street with its sliced shadows – and if I had to define happiness, its one clean note, well, this is the closest I’ve come to it.”

For me, it was everything else in their lives that captivated me, for instance when Capa had flashbacks to wartime and was terrified and yet would profess later that day a desire to get back to work, meaning another war. Or descriptions of Bergman making films I know and love, such as Notorious.

Perhaps I would have been better off reading biographies of these people and an anonymous love story, but the one advantage this novel does have is that you know from the start (or at least I did) how it ends, you know that this was not the only love either person experienced in their lives, nor even the most dramatic one, and yet while it lasted it was all those things and more, because that’s how life and love are. And I do now want to go back to Capa’s photographs and Bergman’s films, which is after all their legacy, not who they loved.

This book was kindly sent to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Published November 2012 by Penguin Books.

Sunday Salon: Here comes the sun

The Sunday Salon

I’m back! I didn’t post last weekend because I was in London visiting friends. We did karaoke, watched films and chilled together, plus I bought too many books. And now I can ask you all which of the two Joss Whedon films currently out do you prefer? I vote Cabin in the Woods but they are both excellent, of course.

This week it was World Lupus Day, which I didn’t do anything special for, unusually. But I will take this opportunity to encourage you to learn more about lupus, a good start being Lupus UK or the Lupus Foundation of America.

10 May is World Lupus Day

This week also saw the rain finally stop and the sun come out, so I am going to stop waffling and enjoy my summery Sunday. Is it summery where you are today?