April 2021 reading round-up

Beckett at the beach
We took Beckett to the beach!

The world opened up a little bit this month and the weather wasn’t terrible. Which meant I spent more time outdoors and less time reading. I’m definitely happy to start seeing friends and family again, though I do feel we still need to be cautious, as most people our age are only just starting to be vaccinated and our younger friends are still waiting.

My top film watches this month were Call Me By Your Name, Palm Springs and Easy Rider. I also started a project of watching all four versions of A Star is Born – two down, two to go. And I watched another terrible-in-a-good-way K-drama called I Am Not a Robot.

May starts and ends with bank holiday weekends, so here’s to some days out and some free time for reading.

Books read

How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? by N K Jemisin
This collection of sci-fi and fantasy short stories are wonderful. They were written over 12 or 13 years and include afrofuturism as well as commentary on life in the US, particularly race and sexuality. I especially love the opening story “The ones who stay and fight”, about a beautiful city that seems to be perfect in every way – until its devastating secret is revealed. I also loved “The effluent engine”, about a mysterious young woman arriving in New Orleans in search of someone who can manufacture a machine she has designed. It has romance, science, intrigue, social issues; all wrapped up in a highly entertaining adventure.

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
This is a pair of letters written by Baldwin in 1963 on the topic of being a Black man in America. One is a personal letter to his 15-year-old nephew; the other an extended essay published in the New Yorker. The second of these looks in particular at the role of religion both in Baldwin’s life and in the world history of racism. It’s interesting to hear Baldwin’s account of a dinner with the Nation of Islam and his thoughts on their stated aims. Baldwin is eloquent as ever, balancing anger and frustration with generosity and hope that sadly feel misplaced as a reader in 2021.

Pompeii: the life of a Roman Town by Mary Beard
Whereas the previous book I read about Pompeii concentrated on the history of the archaeology, this book synthesises all those archaeological findings to explain what life was probably like in Pompeii in its last 100 or so years. Beard has a wonderfully frank turn of phrase and is really good at explaining what we don’t know, or what historians disagree on, without it ever being frustrating to read. It is unavoidably fact-heavy, so it would be a challenge to just read start to finish with no breaks, but it a fantastic book to read a chapter at a time, particularly if you want to regale someone in your household with fun facts!

Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald
This novel is closely based on Fitzgerald’s own life, making it a colourful ride through Jazz Age New York and Paris (among other locations), as well as a thoughtful exploration of a marriage filled with love, resentment and jealousy. The language is overblown (and occasionally racist) but this is a fascinating insight into a (rich American) woman’s life in the 1920s.