March screentime 2018

This month I discovered I can get a 6-month free trial of Amazon Prime, so that’s opened up a whole new world of procrastination…

The_RevenantThe Revenant (2015) film, Netflix

The cinematography is amazing, but apart from that I felt kind of meh about this. It’s too long and the pacing is off so it kept losing me. I just found I didn’t care about the continued torture of Leonardo DiCaprio and just enjoyed the scenery instead.

the push.jpgDerren Brown’s The Push TV special, Netflix

I don’t think I’ll be watching any more of these Derren Brown shows. He always aims to put people in extreme situations to push them towards huge personal growth, but there’s no way he can hit it every time. The people in this show genuinely believed they’d killed someone. It doesn’t matter that they actually didn’t. I’m sure he and the show put lots of support in place every time they do this sort of thing, but post-traumatic growth is a very difficult thing to engineer. Also, imagine trying to get this stuff through a university/NHS ethics committee.

brooklyn 99Brooklyn 99 (series 1-3) series, Netflix

This is my new obsession. It’s perfect easy-watch-but-good TV. I love Holt being weird and mischievous, and Charles being weird and yet so pure. I’m sad I’m already half-way through series 4. I love it so much.

I,_Daniel_BlakeI, Daniel Blake (2016) film, Prime

As someone who’s been in the middle of the DWP system before, it’s taken me a while to get to watching this because I knew it would be hard. I was very lucky in that I never had to deal with some of the difficulties and poverty that Dan and Katie do, but that hold music…The DWP hold music is enough to make me feel stressed and horrible. The only problem with this film is that I don’t think it will change the minds of people who support the current system. I don’t think some people understand that what’s in the film aren’t extreme examples, but very common ones, or that the characters aren’t exceptional ‘deserving poor’ compared to all the ‘scroungers’. But watch it anyway.

the big sickThe Big Sick (2017) film

I’m not a big romcom fan, but this was funny and enjoyable enough. I think I liked it more because I find Kumail Nanjiani so likeable, and I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much with someone else as the lead.

the shape of waterThe Shape of Water (2017) film

I was a bit underwhelmed by this. I liked how it played with fairy tale, like a lot of del Toro’s films do, and it looked great, but the amount of hype (plus the Oscar) meant I was expecting something more from it.

what happened to mondayWhat Happened to Monday (2017) film, Netflix

Netflix is really great at original TV, really not so great at original films.  It has an interesting premise and a good cast, but it’s so badly written all the sisters blur into one (ironically), it’s predictable, and full of weird plot holes. Give it a miss.

train to busan.jpgTrain to Busan (2016) film, Prime

This a Korean zombie film that’s huge in Asia and about to be made into a VR game. Like a lot of horror films this is also social commentary, and it doesn’t do it subtly. The characters are quite trope-y so it’s very easy to quickly predict who will live and die by the end, but I actually didn’t care. Most of the characters have personality despite the tropes and it’s just an enjoyable zombie film. I must play the VR game.

wild-wild-country-250Wild, Wild Country (2018) documentary, Netflix

This is a really great documentary about the cult/religion (depending on your perspective) of Rajneesh in Oregon in the 1980s. It doesn’t tell you what to think, but you constantly switch back and forth between supporting the town and supporting the religion/cult (until they go too far and you support no one), and on how much you trust and support individual ex-members. It’s so good. If you like stuff about cults or crime, definitely watch this. And then make everyone you know watch it too because you’re going to want to talk about it (even if just to figure Sheela out).

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March reads 2018

With one notable exception February was a bit of write-off. I was too ill most of the time to do much of anything, including reading. It’s the first month in a very long time that I’ve read nothing (and watched nothing new), but, it happens. This time a couple of years ago, even last year, I never would have thought I’d be well enough to do a full-time PhD, so I’m not going to beat myself up if I can’t always read as much as I used to.

pages for youPages for You by Sylvia Brownrigg (novel)

I really enjoyed this. Novels set on American university campuses are my weakness for some reason, and this is also a lesbian coming-of-age book in which neither gay character dies at the end (you’d be surprised how rare that is). It’s about the rush and passion of first love, and as a result both characters are a little thin as it’s more about the getting swept up in each other so I didn’t really mind. The chapters are short and choppy so it’s really easy and quick to read. Definitely recommend.

new worldNew World: An Anthology of Sci-fi and Fantasy edited by C. Spike Trotman (comics, fiction)

This is an anthology broadly about first contacts between civilisations. They’re all by different writers and artists, so, as is the way with collections, I liked some more than others. There weren’t many that really stuck with me afterwards, and I think I just wanted some of the ideas to be developed further.

women & powerWomen & Power by Mary Beard (non-fiction)

This short book is essentially two lectures that Mary Beard gave with a short preface and afterward. As a classicist, she refers to ancient Greece and Rome to understand today’s structures of power and women’s place in it. It’s partly about how “you can’t easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure”, and partly about how we need to alter what we understand as ‘having power’. As a short book, I wanted more, particularly on re-understanding the concept of power, but mostly I wish I’d seen her give these speeches. I wanted to underline so many sentences and I’ll definitely re-read this.

fun homeFun Home by Alison Bechdel (graphic novel, non-fiction)

I think this was one of the first graphic novels I read and so was interesting to go back to. I was re-reading it for a book club I’m facilitating, and I’m really interested to see what people new to the genre make of it. I didn’t get anything new from it on this read, but I think I appreciated the craft of it more – the way she circles back to stories with new information or perspective so you see the same panels in a new way.

the good peopleThe Good People by Hannah Kent (novel)

It took me a little while to get into this, I think because Kent has a tendency to put a little bit too much of her research into her writing, but I enjoyed it once I did. She’s really good at developing the sense of place so that you can really see and feel it, and she writes her characters in a way that you can empathise and understand them even if you don’t agree with them at all. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Burial Rites, and it was a little too long in places, but it was enjoyable enough for a bank holiday read.

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January screentime 2018

unrestUnrest (2017) documentary, Netflix

It’s impossible for me to talk about this film with any kind of objectivity because I had such an emotional reaction to it. And maybe that’s the best thing I can say – it was emotionally true. I spent most of the film sobbing, like proper sobbing, which isn’t something I do very often. It reminded me of when I was more severely ill, though it wasn’t so much the physicality of it than what it was like to cope with emotionally. And what it’s like to cope with now. Though I am much more well, I am still more restricted than the average person, but it’s become such a normal part of my life that I don’t always acknowledge the emotional toll it can take at times. But it’s not really that that made me cry. It was also this feeling of being truly seen. And what’s important about this film is the seeing – both being seen yourself and, hopefully, by people who are not part of this community. It also places everything in the wider context of these kinds of invisible immune illness, that primarily affect women, being disbelieved through history until technology and medicine catches up. It’s fairly well-known (from a scientific research perspective) that women’s physical pain is disbelieved and downplayed in medicine/hospitals compared to men’s pain. But how do you advocate for yourself and others like you when you’re too unwell to leave your house or your bed? What Jennifer Brea has done, from her house, from her bed, shows you one way how.

the danish girlThe Danish Girl (2015) film, Netflix

I watched this on a train on my phone, which is possibly why I didn’t connect to it, but I didn’t connect to it. I just found the emotions seemed to lack the depth or punch that was intended and as a film it just sort of washed over me. Meh.

friendsFriends series, Netflix

I don’t normally include things here that I’ve seen before, but I had to include Friends because I watched so bloody much of it (like, literally all of it). There are many aspects of Friends that have not aged well, but I was ill in bed for a week and it was perfection.

joyJoy (2015) film, Netflix

I didn’t really understand the point of this film. I know it’s trying to be an underdog-entrepreneur kick-ass woman film, but it just felt kind of one-dimensional and flat. It wasn’t doing anything new or interesting, and the performances felt just okay. I have a feeling Jennifer Lawrence was only nominated for an Oscar for the role because she’s Jennifer Lawrence.

darkDark (season 1) series, Netflix

This is brilliant. It’s been compared to Stranger Things, but it’s quite different – there’s less Spielberg-y humour, more plot, and more death. The cinematography is absolutely beautiful and the soundtrack is full of these creepy as fuck strings. I watched some of it with dubbing when I was tired, but it’s definitely one to watch in the original German with subtitles.

personal shopperPersonal Shopper (2016) film, Netflix

Although there is always a place in my heart for post-Twilight Kristen Stewart, I wasn’t sure about this film when it first started. It’s a slow burn, but also so unsettling. It has this way of suddenly throwing something odd or violent in to keep you unsure of what’s really going on. It also never really ties things up and the supernatural element of the film is left ambiguous, which I really liked.

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January reads 2018

January seemed to last about 7 years this year, so even though I was too ill to read for nearly two weeks of it I still got quite a bit of reading done. My PhD books probably aren’t very interesting to non-academics, so on to the others:

saga 8Saga vol 8 by Brian K Vaughan & Fiona Staples (comics, fiction)

Volume 7 was one of my favourite books of last year, so I was really hyped for this. Too hyped. Though it had some interesting ideas, the writing wasn’t quite there so it kind of missed the mark. I often find this with Vaughan’s work – it either hits me right in the heart or feels frustrating because it’s so almost-but-not-quite.

how to survive a plagueHow to Survive a Plague by David France (non-fiction)

This is a book essentially about how knowledge and treatment of AIDS developed through the work of grassroots activist movements. It’s long, and a little dense in places, but it has to be because in order to truly understand why things took so long and why the work went in certain directions France shows you the culture and main personalities of the activists, mainly in New York; the culture and struggles between the main scientists; and how both those things were embedded within wider institutional and socio-cultural homophobia. And, as a young gay man in New York at that time of the crisis himself, France is also able to offer his own experiences of the fear of the disease and losing friends. It’s a really important and interesting book that shows that activism, though sometimes feeling hopeless, can lead to profound change, and bears witness to the horrific experience the gay community went through.

annihilationAnnihilation by Jeff Vandermeer (novel)

I should have loved this – sci-fi(ish), all-female cast, weirdness – but I found it a bit disappointing. The writing was quite stilted in places, both in the narration and the dialogue, and I didn’t really care about what was happening and none of the emotional beats hit. I was looking for a quick, light read after finishing How to Survive a Plague, and this was that, but I have no desire to read the rest of the trilogy.

Currently reading: Pages for You by Sylvia Brownrigg (novel)

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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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