Best books of 2017

At only 44 books (plus about 3 academic books), I read less this year than I have for a long time, but I’ve done so much outside book-life that I don’t really mind. For everyone, doing more of something has a pay-off of doing less of something else, and that’s even more true when you have a chronic illness that causes fatigue. I still read some really great stuff, and that’s what counts for me. This year I have a top 7 (in no particular order) which has turned out to be a great mix of styles and genres:

the-argonautsThe Argonauts by Maggie Nelson (non-fiction)

This is a book about the fluidity of the apparent juxtapositions within gender, identity, love, and parenthood, written in a fluid style that moves between memoir and academic analysis. The fluidities between apparent firm binaries forms the centre of the book as “an endless becoming”. Whilst I did want some of the threads to be developed further by Nelson herself, I enjoyed that it made me do the work and it’s more a collection of thoughts to consider. It’s not often I read a book where the overarching themes are clearer than the specifics, but I liked it. Full review here.

human-actsHuman Acts by Han Kang, trans. by Deborah Smith (novel, Korean in translation)

This book is a favourite not just because of the book itself, but also because I went to an incredible and weird immersive theatre experience called One Day, Maybe by DreamThinkSpeak which was partly based around the violence at Gwangju, which added something to my experience of reading (though I read it first). This book is stark and brutal, and is about the violence done to the body as a violence to the soul – as the violence of the Gwangju uprising and massacre afflicts the community’s soul. I love the control and simplicity of Han Kang’s writing and the way she uses multiple perspectives and tenses to circle around and show different views of not just the event itself but also its aftermath. I also really appreciated Deborah Smith’s translator’s note & introduction at the beginning. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as The Vegetarian, but it’s still excellent. Full review here.

saga vol 7Saga vol 7 by Fiona Staples & Brian K Vaughan (comics, fiction)

I’d been going off Saga a bit, but this volume pulled me right back in. It mainly focuses on Hazel and family, which I much preferred to when volumes are constantly jumping around the universe. Fiona Staples’ artwork is beautiful as ever, and there are some amazing bits of writing from Vaughan, particularly when describing [sad spoiler] and when Hazel is giving a one-line insight/commentary in her narration. The way it ends on just black pages was absolute perfection and I hugged it to my chest. Can’t wait for volume 8 (out in a few days!).

do what you wantDo What You Want edited by Ruby Tandoh & Leah Pritchard (non-fiction)

This zine is a mix of essay, comics, illustration, and recipes that covers a wide range of mental health issues by a wide range of contributors. It’s so incredibly good and there will definitely be things in here that resonate deeply. I had to read it slowly, because the very first essay/interview about ‘why should I go to therapy?’ hit me hard in the heart. It’s good. I think it’s sold out in hard copies but you should still be able to get an e-copy.

the white bookThe White Book by Han Kang, trans. by Deborah Smith (non-fiction, Korean in translation)

The only author to have two books on the list! Han Kang’s previous novels that have been translated into English have this way of not looking at their central character or message too directly, and she circles around them, showing you different perspectives on them. This novel/non-fiction/poetry/whatever short book does do that, but also feels much more direct and personal than her other work. It’s also more experimental, so probably won’t be for everyone, but I loved it. It’s a fragmented meditation on the colour white, without a clear narrative, but the thread is the death of Kang’s older sister hours after she was born. White is the colour of mourning in South Korea. Kang’s mother had told her that if her sister had lived, she wouldn’t have had more children, so Kang would never have been born, and there’s also a thread of Kang living in her sister’s place, and the complicated emotions her death then brings her. Throughout the book are some black and white photos from an art performance by Kang in which she ‘lent her body’ to her sister and interacted with white things. There are also ties to the violence and memoralising (or lack of) in relation to place, specifically South Korea and Warsaw, where she was living while writing the book. It’s something you could read very quickly, but it’s best read slowly, pausing at the blank white pages.

letters for lucardoLetters for Lucardo: Book 1 by Noora Heikkila (comics, fiction)

You guys. You guys. This is so good. It’s gay erotica about a relationship between a 61-year-old mortal and an eternally 33-year-old vampire. There is a lot of explicit sex in this (so it’s not one to read on the bus), but it’s also this really loving relationship between these two men – grappling with all the usual stuff but also the fact one of them is a vampire, and the other will die. Vampire-human relationships are far less creepy when it’s an older human instead of a teenage girl with a 200-year-old (eww), and showing the sexuality of someone older is rare and so well done in this. It’s also a book to shove into the hands of anyone who says explicitly consensual sex can’t be super hot. Because damn.

do not say we have nothingDo Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien (novel)

This is a novel about the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution in China in the 1950s to 1980s and the present day (sort of), and I absolutely loved it. I’m not normally a fan of multi-generational historical fiction, particularly fiction that moves between two time periods because I always much prefer one time period over the other, but I equally enjoyed and was invested in, both time periods in this. Neither is written completely linearly but everything weaves together seamlessly. It seems to mirror the symphonies described in the book, with themes repeating and circling back around, while slowly it all comes together. I loved the writing style and the way she writes about language and music and what they can mean to people who deeply love them. I wanted to hug this book.

Happy read-whatever-you-want in 2018!

 

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Best screentime 2017

I watched a lot more TV and films this year because I’ve been too ill and tired to read much of the time, but only having Netflix has meant my watching has been more purposeful – instead of watching whatever’s on I’ve been actively choosing stuff to watch, so I’ve watched better things (and also more trash, but good trash). In no particular order, this is the ten best of film and TV I saw in 2017 (House of Cards would have been on this list, but Kevin Spacey, so…):

clouds-of-sils-maria-posterClouds of Sils Maria (2014) film, Netflix

I’m pretty much always here for post-Twilight Kristen Stewart, and I loved this film. It’s really smart and meta and there’s loads to think about. I love the way the play they run lines from blends into their real conversations so at times it’s easy to forget that it’s not a real conversation (and the characters seem to often forget too). But the actors (in real-life) themselves and what we know of them also informs how we read the film. It’s like this double-layer of the read and the real, combined with great performances from Kristen Stewart and Juliet Binoche, that makes this film magic.

loganLogan (2017) film, cinema

I’ve got a bit of superhero-movie fatigue, but this was incredible – both as a superhero film and just a film in its own right. Though it could have pushed some of the themes further, I liked the different story arc and how character-driven it was. Loved it.

get outGet Out (2017) film, cinema

I love smart horror, and this is it. The twists are all pretty obvious, so it’s not shocking or terrifying in that sense, but it’s still really enjoyable. It takes the more covert kinds of racism and appropriation from white people who “couldn’t possibly be racist because they like Obama” and then stretches it into more traditional horror tropes. Really worth watching.

diary of a teenage girlThe Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015) film, Netflix

This is brilliant. It’s a sexual coming-of-age that’s funny, emotional, bold, and non-judgemental, even though there are some complex moral questions. Bel Powley is great in the lead role, and Kirsten Wiig is surprisingly good in a non-comic role.

dear white peopleDear White People (season 1) series, Netflix

This Netflix series was even better than the original film. The extra time gives more space to explore the characters and themes in greater depth, but it still retains its super sharp humour. I loved it.

handmaid's taleThe Handmaid’s Tale (season 1) series, All4

This is probably the best adaptation of a book I’ve seen. It’s different, and changes aspects of the story to suit the different medium, but remains true to the feeling and themes of the original book. I’m not sure how a second series that moves beyond the ending of the book is going to work, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

the-lodger1The Lodger (1927) film, cinema

I think I enjoyed this so much because I saw it with live piano accompaniment and it was just a really enjoyable experience. I’m also not a fan of slapstick and this was the first silent film I’ve seen that isn’t a comedy. Ivor Novello is like this hot creepy Bowie-esque stranger on the doorstep, and London is all smog and danger. It’s fairly predictable, but it doesn’t matter.

13th13th (2016) documentary, Netflix

This is probably the best documentary I’ve ever seen. Not only is it an incredibly important film about mass incarceration in the US, and its roots in slavery, but it’s incredibly well put together. It’s tightly edited, interesting, informative, and has some really affecting sections, particularly the scenes with Trump speaking at one of his campaign rallies over old footage of black people people pushed and beaten on the street, and the montage of black men killed by police filmed on mobile phones. Ava DuVernay is a genius. I urge you to seek it out.

hidden-figuresHidden Figures (2017) film, cinema

As well as being just a really enjoyable film with a great soundtrack, it also highlights the often forgotten contribution of these black women to the space program. I know they’ve messed with the timelines and used some broad brush strokes in adapting the book, but it’s great.

the last jediThe Last Jedi (2017) film, cinema

I wrote a long-ish list of thoughts about this film over here, so I’ll just say that this is rapidly becoming my favourite Star Wars film. It’s basically about dismantling the system, from both the dark and light sides, so the story can truly move forward and the universe could become different. The accidental goodbye scene for Carrie Fisher between Leia and Luke hurt my heart, and I hope JJ Abrams doesn’t backtrack on what was done in this film. It has its faults, yes, but it’s the Star Wars film with the most to think about and the most potential.

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December reads 2017

the princess diaristThe Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher (non-fiction)

Most of this book is about Carrie Fisher’s affair with Harrison Ford during the filming of the first Star Wars film. The blurb suggests the book has more about her experience of the film but it doesn’t really, which was a bit disappointing. I’m not really interested in the affair, and it made it a strange book to be Carrie’s final one. She talks so much about her feelings and her insecurities back then that it feels like an unintentionally deeply sad book. I love Carrie Fisher, but I think it’s the General rather than the Princess I love. And this book is about the Princess. It’s not that she didn’t have insecurities and difficult feelings as an older woman, but I like the older her. Funny, self-deprecating mental health advocate, talented script doctor (who knows how many of our favourite lines in films came from her), and person more comfortable in her own skin (with a cool dog). Unless you’re particularly interested in her relationship with Harrison, I’d say give this a miss.

why im no longerWhy I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge (non-fiction)

I read this for a book club and it made for such an interesting discussion (incidentally, one of the guys there listened to the audiobook & really recommended the format as the book has quite a conversational tone). I think it’s a really great introduction to the ideas behind the Black Lives Matter movement, specifically as applied to the UK. The book came out of a blog post so it has a very easy-read conversational style, it starts with the basics (which is why having a history chapter as chapter 1 is perfect because it underlies everything else she talks about), and talks about the intersections between race and gender and class. Because I’ve read a few books like this, I didn’t get anything new from it, but I still think it’s a great book. Definitely pick it up if you’ve only read about racism as relates to the USA, and definitely pick it up if you’ve never read about this kind of thing before because it’s a great introduction.

bluetsBluets by Maggie Nelson (non-fiction)

I think I would have liked this more had I not just read The White Book by Han Kang, which is very different but also a fragmented meditation on a colour. I preferred Han Kang’s, but I still really liked this. Maggie Nelson is never an ‘easy read’, and, like her other work, she weaves in more academic thoughts as well as personal observations. She also leaves a lot of space for you to fill and work things out and consider your own thoughts. I was quite tired when I read this, so I know I didn’t get as much out of it as will when I re-read it, but I also think Maggie Nelson always benefits from a re-read. I wouldn’t recommend this as a place to start with her work (maybe The Argonauts instead), but if you’re already a fan of hers definitely pick this up. Her writing is as beautiful and lyrical and thought-provoking as ever.

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December screentime 2017

December 2017 is the month I realised Muppets Christmas Carol is my favourite Christmas film (though I didn’t watch any until Christmas eve), and had many many Star Wars thoughts.

the crownThe Crown (seasons 1 & 2) series, Netflix

I don’t like the royal family but I loved this? It was perfect sick-day binge watching – the acting is great, it’s engaging but you don’t have to think too hard, and it’s got a lot of fun and humour as well as more serious stuff. I know it’s not going to be historically accurate, but I don’t care because I’m not really interested in the royals. It’s more just a good story about a family that’s as messed up as any other but in a more formal way.

the last jediThe Last Jedi (2017) film, cinema

Okay. I have many (mostly spoiler-free) thoughts:

  • I didn’t sit in my seat at the end and think “ohmygods that was amazing”, but I enjoy thinking about this film more than any other in the franchise. It was definitely a slow burn but I love it. It’s rapidly becoming my favourite and I’m looking forward to seeing it again.
  • In any other of the films, Poe (and Finn) would pull off the near-impossible macho heroics and ultimately save the day. But this time, it almost destroyed everything. All those usual tropes are turned on their head and the characters have to properly think about and engage with consequences. Which relates to….
  • When the enemy is overthrown but the socio-cultural systems are not properly faced, dismantled and re-built in a different, better way, it is inevitable that the enemy will re-appear. In Star Wars, as our world, the space-Nazis are back and mainstream because Luke & co defeat the acute problem but nothing broader ultimately changes. The Last Jedi pushes the characters to dismantle the old systems, from both the dark and light sides, which means the story can truly change, though it remains to be seen whether it will be for better or for worse for their world. (As long as JJ Abrams doesn’t do some annoying back-tracking on certain spoilery aspects).
  • Half the main characters are women! Half! And they were all different types of characters & I’m pretty sure there were more women speaking more lines than all the other films put together (but don’t worry, Dudes Of The Internet, it was half, not all characters).
  • It was a little bit too long, and the casino side-plot was clunky and needed better editing/writing (though I do think it needs to be in there as part of the general theme of dismantling the wider system, thinking about consequences, and just cos every Star Wars film needs a cantina scene).
  • The scene near the end between Leia & *spoiler* was like an accidental goodbye to Carrie Fisher and it hurt my heart, as did knowing the next film was supposed to be focused around her but we’ll never get to see it or the General again.
  • It makes perfect sense to me that, like the long line of “Last Jedis” before him, Luke would fuck off alone to an island (while Leia stays behind & fights). I liked his arc – grumpy, old and fearful to *spoiler*. Luke was more reluctant than other last Jedi to come back to the fight because he was so fearful & ashamed he completely detached himself from the force. I know it’s the thing a lot of dudes that messaged me took issue with but I think it made sense where he was at the start of the film (and where he ended up). Also a grumpy Luke is a funny Luke.
  • Shout-out to Gary, Carrie Fisher’s awesome dog, having a blink-and-you’ll miss-it cameo in the casino
  • Also this tweet:

Screenshot 2017-12-31 20.11.10

manhunt unabomberManhunt: The Unabomber (2017) series, Netflix

Paul Bettany is really good in this; it actually took me a while to recognise him. Crime drama is my easy-watch TV and this was enjoyable, if a little heavy-handed at times. It didn’t really stay with me in any way, but I think that’s because I watch a lot of this kind of thing so unless they’re really great or different in some way they don’t tend to stand out. But if you like crime/true-crime/detective stuff, you’ll probably like this too.

La_Vie_d'Adèle_film_posterBlue is the Warmest Colour (2013) film, Netflix

It didn’t surprise me to learn afterwards that this was directed by a guy. It’s not that the lesbian sex scenes are long or graphic, it’s that they felt like they were viewed through a male lens, like hetero porn. I can’t articulate why that was, but I just know it would have looked differently had a gay woman directed it even with sex scenes just as long and just as graphic. Apart from that, I liked it. It’s ultimately a moving story about a relationship which doesn’t end up lasting, though in the scene near the end in the relationship you can see how hard it is for both of them.

sherlockThe Abominable Bride (2016) Netflix

I’ve seen the other Sherlock episodes but somehow missed this one. I enjoyed it at first, and the time hopping didn’t bother me though the pacing was a bit off, but, oh boy, Sherlock on feminism. It’s like Stephan Moffat was trying to address the criticisms about the way he writes his (very few) female characters in all his shows, but all he did was demonstrate he still doesn’t get it & still can’t seem to write female characters with any nuance or real agency. Sherlock is patronising as a character but explaining feminism to suffragettes and how important it is that they “win” and that we hear their voice without actually letting us literally hear their voices is…no. The whole “reveal” has this weird male lens that just misses the mark and is far too patronising.

BrightPosterBright (2017) film, Netflix

I didn’t know who Max Landis (the writer) was before I watched this, or I never would have inadvertently supported him through viewing figures. As well as being a douchebag, he’s also evidently a terrible writer – this isn’t a good film. Give it a miss for many many reasons.

GotG_Vol2_posterGuardians of the Galaxy 2 (2017) film, Amazon

This was better than I thought it was going to be. It doesn’t have as good a soundtrack as the first one, and that makes it seem not as good a film even though it isn’t that different. I liked that it had more of a focus on the relationships between characters, and about what ‘family’ means. I also thought they handled the death of *spoiler* at the end really well. It was fun, it was okay.

travelers netflixTravelers (season 2) series, Netflix

I downloaded this to my phone and used it as distraction on a couple of horrible train journeys (being wedged in a vestibule unable to move between all the suitcases and people is not good for my anxiety or bad joints). It was exactly perfect. It’s easy-watch time-travel sci-fi, not great but good enough to keep me engaged and watching, and not thinking about the increasing pain in my back, so I’d call it a win.

black mirrorBlack Mirror (season 4) series, Netflix

I usually love Black Mirror but I felt a bit disappointed with this series. The stories largely felt like ones we’ve seen before and lacked the kind of freshness Black Mirror usually has. I liked the Maxine Peake one best, but I think that was in part because it was shot in black and white (and the reveal at the end about why the characters were out there was a disappointing pay-off without the emotional impact that I think was intended – it would have been a much stronger episode if they’d ended it with Maxine Peake’s final scene then a shot of the countryside with the relentlessness of the ‘dogs’ coming for her). Meh.

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November screentime 2017

I only include films and TV shows I’ve seen for the first time in my screentime wrap-ups, but quick shout-out to The Force Awakens being on Netflix. Thank you Netflix gods.

marsha p johnson.jpgThe Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson (2017) documentary, Netflix

Marsha was a trans activist, a key part of the Stonewall riots and the fight for LGBT rights, who was found dead in 1992. The police ruled her death a suicide, but none of the people that knew her believed it, particularly given recent threats of violence against her and the violence towards trans women that was all too common. It’s not a perfect documentary – it’s one of those that’s trying to fit too much in and loses some focus and pacing as a result – but it’s an important one. People like Marsha are often forgotten in mainstream history, like the recent Stonewall film that centred cis white gay men and pushed aside the trans women, particularly trans women of colour, who were the ones who really threw the first stones. There are marginalised communities within marginalised communities, and the marginalisation of trans women (and men) in the LGBT community is definitely a thread that runs through the film. It probably would have worked better if it were longer, or as a series, which could have given more space to the people in the film and the life of Marsha herself, but it’s still worth watching. (I saw after watching that Reina Gossett, herself a black trans activist, has said David France used her extensive archival research and ideas for his film, which prevented her from making her own, particularly given the resources he gained through working with Netflix. She does have a non-documentary film coming out next year about Marsha, and France says he didn’t steal her work, and I’m not sure what to think about it. But if he did take advantage of her work (which was literally dangerous for her to acquire at times), a cis white gay man putting his voice over a black trans woman to tell Marsha’s story is…very much not good given the themes of the film. Very much not good. I’ll definitely be watching her film Happy Birthday Marsha! as well)

Casting jonbenetCasting JonBenet (2017) documentary, Netflix

This is a very odd film, mostly because it’s impossible to tell how much the people in it knew what it was really all about. Basically, the film is people from the local area auditioning to play roles in a film about JonBenet’s murder and talking about their own theories on what happened. But there is no film – the film is the auditions and theories. It’s a really interesting way of doing it, and makes it less about the murder and more about the way people speculate about these kinds of cases and why they believe the things they do, and how fascinated so many people are by ‘true crime’. But it also feels ethically a bit on the line – if the people didn’t know what they were really being filmed for, and were sharing at times extremely personal stories in an effort to be picked for a part that didn’t really exist, it would be quite exploitative. Some of the editing lends it a kind of dark humour, particularly when one participant says it would be impossible for the brother to have done it because a boy that age lacks the physical strength and the film cuts to a series of young boy auditionees bashing in watermelons with a hammer. If you like crime type stuff or meta stuff, definitely watch this because it is oddly fascinating, but definitely do it with a critical eye.

jupiter ascendingJupiter Ascending (2015) film, Netflix

Yeah so this is a mess. It’s hard to believe it’s made by the same people who made the first Matrix (though easier to believe it was made by the people who did the Matrix sequels). It’s trying really hard to be a campy space opera but it’s bonkers in the bad way, not the good. The visuals are good but I was too distracted by over-fast plot, bad acting, and wtf-ness. Nope.

La_La_Land_(film)La La Land (2016) film, Netflix

I’m not mega into musicals, but I thought this might be a good comfort watch. It’s weird that they chose so such as generic blah song to open the film, as it kind of sets the tone. I did like the very end, because I love a bitter-sweet ending, but it was definitely just a good comfy sleepy watch.

jim and andy the great beyondJim and Andy: The Great Beyond (2017) documentary, Netflix

I don’t know anything about Andy Kaufman, but you definitely don’t need to to watch this. I’m not a big Jim Carrey fan – I imagine he’s totally exhausting to hang with – but this is definitely interesting. It looks at the behind-the-scenes of when Jim played Andy in the 1999 film Man on the Moon, when he went ‘full method’ and stayed in character for the entirety of the filming. I think sometimes ‘method acting’ is used by actors as an excuse to act like a dickhead (hello, Jared Leto), but I don’t think that’s what was happening here. Jim felt such a connection and similarity with Andy that at times he talks as though he was possessed by him, and I do think he believes that. Even Andy’s family members spoke with him like he was, and felt like he was, really him. I don’t believe in any kind of afterlife, so I don’t believe in possession either, but it’s definitely interesting to see who a deep sense of connection manifests.

mindhunterMindhunter (season 1) series, Netflix

I really enjoyed this, it was very easy to binge on sleepy evenings. The main character gets increasingly irritating, but he’s supposed to, and it means the characters’ relationships with each other and themselves gradually shift, reaching a climax in the final episode (Ford’s arrogance does not pay off…). Definitely worth a binge if you’re looking for something crime-y that’s easy to watch but also engaging.

designated survivorDesignated Survivor (seasons 1 & 2ish) series, Netflix

Series 2 is still being slowly released, but I’m enjoying it so far. The writing, particularly the dialogue, isn’t great, and season 2 becomes even more ridiculous when the plot has to shift from what was driving season 1. But it’s fun (in an apocalyptic sort of way) and easy to watch. The pace is fast, too fast for reality, but the perfect speed for sleepy bingeing. I also just like the concept – after finding out about the existence of the designated survivor when I watched The West Wing, I always wondered what would actually happen if a very unqualified and inexperienced person suddenly had to rebuild an entire government and the heads of the legal system at a time of acute crisis. President Kirkman is a little too competent, but his doubts and his worries about it work. And I like that it often touches on current issues, though usually doesn’t linger on them long enough to go into any kind of depth (like The West Wing does). It’s good, ridiculous, political funs.

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November reads 2017

I read most of this in the first couple of weeks of November and then my reading took a nose dive because I was just too tired in the evenings to do much more than Netflix & bed. I’ve got a few more days in December when I’m doing less PhD reading so I should have more brain space in the evening hopefully. I’m not including PhD reading stuff on here unless I think it might be of wider interest which, given I’ve been doing a methodology reading, isn’t this month!

fever dreamFever Dream by Samantha Schweblin, trans. by Megan McDowell (novel, Spanish in translation)

This is purposely disorientating in the beginning, and I had to read the first two pages a couple of times to understand who was talking when. That kind of confusion, which thankfully doesn’t continue, sets up the disorientation of Amanda, the protagonist (sort of), perfectly. But I’m not quite sure what I make of the book. I’ve seen it described as a horror but I’d say it was more just eerie and weird than a horror per se. I think it’s best read in one sitting (it’s pretty short with no chapter breaks), but I wasn’t able to do that so I don’t think I got the full effect. I didn’t feel that need to keep reading, keep going to desperately find out the end, which I think is its intent. I like a lot of the ideas in it though, like the ‘rescue distance’, so I’ll give it another try when I can read it one go. I think I’ll like it more that way.

the white bookThe White Book by Han Kang, trans. by Deborah Smith (novel, Korean in translation)

Han Kang’s previous novels that have been translated into English have this way of not looking at their central character or message too directly, and she circles around them, showing you different perspectives on them. This novel/non-fiction/poetry/whatever short book does do that, but also feels much more direct and personal than her other work. It’s also more experimental, so probably won’t be for everyone, but I loved it. It’s a fragmented meditation on the colour white, without a clear narrative, but the thread is the death of Kang’s older sister hours after she was born. White is the colour of mourning in South Korea. Kang’s mother had told her that if her sister had lived, she wouldn’t have had more children, so Kang would never have been born, and there’s also a thread of Kang living in her sister’s place, and the complicated emotions her death then brings her. Throughout the book are some black and white photos from an art performance by Kang in which she ‘lent her body’ to her sister and interacted with white things. There are also ties to the violence and memoralising (or lack of) in relation to place, specifically South Korea and Warsaw, where she was living while writing the book. It’s something you could read very quickly, but it’s best read slowly, pausing at the blank white pages. (I’m hoping to read Bluets by Maggie Nelson in December so I’m looking forward to the comparison).

for the love of god marieFor The Love of God Marie by Jade Sarson (graphic novel – fiction)

I really liked the art style and the way the pages gradually turned from sepia to white as the story moves from the 60s to the 90s. I also really liked the way it explored Marie’s ideas of sexual freedom set against a more restrictive upbringing and that Marie was perfectly able to integrate her Catholic schooling with her sex life. But I found it a little thin. All the characters except Marie (and perhaps William) were quite two-dimensional and lacked any development, which sometimes made them feel tokenistic and a little patronised. Though the intent is “all these different kinds of people are sexual in different ways and that’s totally cool”, the 2-D characters unfortunately makes it more “isn’t Marie so great because she’ll sleep with a disabled guy and doesn’t find his disability an issue”, which is a subtle but important distinction. The pacing was also a little off, and at times the writing was a little hard to read. All this makes me think Sarson was just trying to do too much and squeeze too much in. I did enjoy it and I would recommend it as an enjoyable graphic (in both senses of the word) novel, but it would have been much better if she’d given her characters a bit more room to breathe, maybe included less so she could have given them more, and then it would have been great rather than just okay.

tin manTin Man by Sarah Winman (novel)

This book is incredibly warm. It’s sad, but there’s also warmth in that sadness, if that makes sense. It’s about love and friendship and loss, and told from two perspectives – the first half by Ellis and the second half by Micheal through a diary. It’s not the book’s fault, but it suffered a little by being so incredibly hyped before I read it – every review I saw were people saying it was one of their absolute favourites of the year. So, my expectations were a little too high in terms of the writing itself, but I did really enjoy it. The two sections are quite different from each other because Ellis and Micheal’s characters are so different, but the warmth carries through, even where the heartbreak and sadness and death appears. It’s quick and easy to read, and definitely one to put on your list.

poirot's christmasHercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie (novel)

This isn’t my usual kind of thing but I’ve found a new book club and this is the December pick. It’s kind of as you’d expect really. Lots of suspicious characters wandering about metaphorically twiddling their mustaches, some red herrings, some very obvious clues to whodunnit. Weirdly, there wasn’t as much actual Poirot in it. The best thing about it was I kept imagining a really overacted and over-dramatic TV movie every time one of the family members spoke. Eh, it was alright; probably won’t be looking to read more.

Posted in Graphic novels / comics, In translation, Novels, Wrap-ups | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

October screentime 2017

american vandalAmerican Vandal (season 1) series, Netflix

This was definitely over-hyped for me. It was good, but not as good as everyone was telling me it was. I like crime docs sometimes, I like a good spoof with those kind of ‘insider jokes’ for people that watch a lot of them. But I just got bit tired of the premise after a while. Eh, it’s okay.

bojack-horsemanBojack Horseman (seasons 1 & 2) series, Netflix

Once it got into the second half and got a bit darker, I enjoyed season 1, but then got really bored part-way through season 2 and stopped watching. I like the nihilistic sense of humour, but I’m not sure what wasn’t doing it for me in season 2. I’ve heard as whole Bojack just gets better and better as it goes on, so I might give it another go. Another ‘eh’.

Selma-Movie-Poster-webSelma (2014) film, Netflix

This is an excellent film – beautifully shot with great performances. Apparently they couldn’t use any of King’s actual speeches as the license is held by another studio, but David Oyelowo’s performance is so good (as is DuVernay’s writing) that it didn’t jar at all. As always with films like this, it draws parallels with the present – when the marchers crossed the bridge, it made me think about how the Black Lives Matter protesters are treated now – how much was achieved then, the cost, and how far there still is to go.

the good placeThe Good Place (season 1) series, Netflix

I loved this. It’s one of those series that you have to watch to the end – seriously, it plays the long game so all of the things that you think are incongruent with the premise are actually…not. Ted Danson is always good value (and when you get to season 2 which I started watching in November, his character has an excellent an answer for if you ever get frustrated with the trolley problem). Mostly I’m just sad now that American football has delayed the rest of season 2 until January.

travelers netflixTravelers (season 1) series, Netflix

This was exactly the sci-fi I was looking for. It’s light enough to be binge-y easy watching, but also engaging enough to actually watch. It’s basically time-travelling humans coming back from the future to try and save humanity, but they don’t come back in the usual sort of way, which is often what causes them problems. The first episode sets this up, and as a result drags a little as each character is introduced, but once it got going it was exactly perfect for tired-but-not-tired Netflix time.

gaga five foot twoGaga: Five Foot Two (2017) documentary, Netflix

I’m not a big Gaga fan (I like some of her music, though her Bowie tribute was awful, but sometimes find her a bit annoying), but I wanted to watch this because it shows her difficulties with chronic pain. As a fellow spoonie, I was intrigued about how she manages life as a performer with chronic pain, and how well it would be represented (good spoonie rep is very hard to find). As a whole, the doc is just okay – it has some interesting moments but also is a bit lacking (it often feels like an ad, which it is really). I think if you’re not already a fan, this film probably isn’t going to convert you. From a spoonie perspective, it was interesting. She does acknowledge at one point that without her success she probably wouldn’t be able to afford the medical (and non-medical) help that enables her to keep performing. But there is also a tiny element of “if you’re determined, you too could fly through a stadium like it’s no bother when you have severe pain”, which isn’t helpful. Watch it if you’re a Gaga fan, don’t bother if you’re not.

stranger things 2Stranger Things (season 2) series, Netflix

I actually enjoyed this more than series 1, which was a tiny bit over-hyped by the time I got round to it. The final bit of the final episode was absolutely pants – they always have to hetero everyone and bring in random characters you’ve never seen before just to make it a special hetero moment for everyone (though I did enjoy Dustin & Nancy). A few of the episodes are saved by just how good Millie Bobby Brown is, but the episodes she has with Hopper are great. I also liked Lucas’ arguments about not being Winston (the Ghostbuster) – it’s a really good example of how to bring in wider conversations about representation, stereotyping, etc, in an easy to understand and still entertaining way. What the series needed was more tension at the end – it needed a bigger, longer Bad Thing after the happily-ever-after to balance out the saccharine and make you anticipate and need season 3 more.

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