Post-election reading recommendations

Whether you got the result you wanted or you didn’t, there’s always work to be done to ensure the issues you care about get attention, get policy change. There’s also always more to learn about just what the hell is going on.

Irish Political History

England is extremely insular when it comes to what topics are included in education, and that’s no different when in comes to Irish history (even though Northern Ireland is part of the UK and its representatives form part of our parliament). After this election, suddenly Northern Ireland has a bigger part to play and England is finally starting to take notice.

As books can take a while to catch up, this article is a good summary of the current situation and what it means if a Northern Irish party has a part in the government in Westminster (TLDR: the government can’t be neutral in peace talks, which have been unstable over the past few months, so it really fucks stuff up).

making sense of the troublesI haven’t read any books on the Troubles, but someone recommended Armed Struggle: A History of the IRA by Richard English, though said it was a bit biased. And also Making Sense of the Troubles by David McKittrick & David McVea, but that it lacked a bit of background to help you understand the different perspectives. I’ll probably pick up the McKittrick/McVea, but if you have any good recommendations I’d love to hear them. I don’t really know where’s good to start.

Activism & making changes

hope-in-the-darkHope is often seen as naive or ‘weak’, but it’s not. Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit is a beautifully written book about how hope means action, and that action works because it has done so many times before, even if you don’t get to see the broader changes in your lifetime. I don’t agree with everything she says, but I find it very motivating and uplifting. As she says, it’s despair, not hope, that’s unhelpful because “if the world is totally doomed no matter what, little or nothing is demanded of you in response.”

creating freedomThe book I’m picking up after I finish my current read is Creating Freedom by Raoul Martinez. It’s a book about how the ‘lottery of birth’ (you don’t choose where to be born, what your genes will be, how much money your family has, etc), undermines our cultural/societal beliefs in freedom (free markets, free media, free thought, free will, etc). It’s about how we need to understand the limits on our freedom so we can transcend them, and calls for deep and radical change in so much of our current system, from education and prison reform to change in the structure of society. And about optimism and empathy. Looking forward to getting stuck in.

protest stories of resistanceProtest: Stories of Resistance edited by Ra Page isn’t out until July but is definitely one to pick up. It’s a collection of fictional stories about characters in the middle of a range of different British protests, from the Peasant’s Revolt to the Suffragettes to the Anti-Iraq demo and everywhere in between. What makes me excited about this are the great authors involved (like Kit de Waal), and that they’re each paired with a historian or witness so the story is factually correct, and each story comes with a short non-fiction afterword about the event. It looks ace.

how to survive a plagueAnother great example of activism can make a change is the Green Carnation Prize-winning How To Survive a Plague by David France. This is about the activists and campaigners who fought for research and treatment in AIDS against incredible amounts of stigma and homophobia, and beautifully balances reporting and France’s own experiences as a gay man and reporter at the time. Another one I haven’t read yet, but it’s very high on my list and comes highly recommended.

If you have any other recommendations, I’d love to hear them. Just leave a comment below.

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May screentime 2017

I mostly watched things I didn’t like that much, with a couple of stand-out awesome things. (If you have any anime recommendations I’d love to hear them, especially something a little bit dark that doesn’t have a really whiny boy as its central character, because I feel like I’ve had my fill of that).

mad menMad Men (seasons 5-7) series, Netflix

Annoyingly, Netflix doesn’t have the second half of the final season, which I didn’t realise until I got to the end of what they do have. Mad Men has some truly great episodes, and some really blah ones. I don’t feel the kind of love for the series as I’ve seen hyped because it was too mixed, but I’m glad I watched it (I just need the very end!).

the virgin suicidesThe Virgin Suicides (1999) film, Netflix

I wasn’t a big fan of the book, but I thought it had a kind of hazy summer quality that would work well as a film adaptation. I know this film is well-loved, and I did enjoy it more than the book, but it didn’t really do anything for me. It felt like most of Coppola’s films – a feeling without substance underneath it (the exception for me is Lost in Translation).

dear white people.jpgDear White People (season 1) series, Netflix

I watched and loved the film on Netflix a couple of months ago so was excited to see what they did with this. The series is even better. 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.

trollhunters.jpgTrollhunters (season 1) series, Netflix

This was perfect for when I was feeling under the weather (literally – I have temperature dysregulation as part of my health shenanigans so summer is not my favourite). It’s a children’s animated series by Guillermo del Toro (who is awesome), with the lead voiced by Anton Yelchin as one of the last things he did before he died. It’s a lot of fun, it’s got some monsters in it, it’s definitely a nice comfort-watch.

death noteDeath Note series, Netflix

This is the first anime series I’ve watched in full. The subtitles seem to have been translated literally, so it’s much better to watch with dubbing as that’s translated better and the voice actors are pretty good. I liked how the story moved relatively slowly, and didn’t judge any of the characters for what they thought was the ‘right’ way to do things – it gives you space to decide yourself. Light Yagami can get kind of annoying in a self-righteous teenage-boy way, but I enjoyed this.

attack on titan.jpgAttack on Titan (series 1) series, Netflix

More anime! I had this on in the background while I was notebook-making, and I’m glad I watched it that way for the first bit. I wasn’t too keen on the first 10 episodes or so because Eren is just so very whiny, and it’s obvious that [spoiler] is controlling the [spoiler] titan. But, once they reveal that it’s [spoiler], it all gets much more enjoyable, mainly because there’s greater focus on other characters and less of Eren whining every two minutes. I hope they put the second series on Netflix soon.

silence.pngSilence (2016) film

The cinematography is stunning – it’s a beautifully crafted film in that respect, and there are a few powerful moments. And that’s pretty much the only good thing I have to say about it. It’s too long, and both the writing and Andrew Garfield’s acting lacks any kind of real tension or conflict in his decision over whether to apostasize. It’s also a film that claims to be about Japanese Christians and their pastors, but it’s not, it’s about the pastors. All the Japanese characters are othered. They are all curiosities in the eyes of the camera. This is not a good film.

handmaid's taleThe Handmaid’s Tale (episode 1) All4

This is one of my favourite books and, one episode in, this is an excellent adaptation so far. Also extra points for the Margaret Atwood cameo where she slaps Offred.

pitch perfect 2Pitch Perfect 2 (2015) film, Netflix

I wanted something light and enjoyable but found this a bit disappointing. It’s not as good as the first one, and its minor characters are more poorly represented and even less well drawn than the first. Having a predatory lesbian, a kooky-weird Asian girl, a Mexican girl who had diarrhea for year, etc, and never developing any depth to their characters beyond the stereotype is just lazy, boring writing. It’s supposed to be a fluffy easy film, but it would be a good fluffy easy film if they actually developed the characters more.

sense8Sense8 (season 1) series, Netflix

I’m still not sure what I think about this. It took a few episodes to get into because there are just so many characters it takes a while to get properly going. Unlike my previous rantings, this series has really excellent representation, particularly of LGBT characters. The fact they are LGBT is part of their lives and effects them sometimes, but it’s not their main storyline (just like real life omg), and they have an actual trans woman acting in the role of the Nomi, who is a trans female character, and a properly international cast without whitewashing. But something about it didn’t quite hook me in; I don’t know what. I’ve seen that they’ve just cancelled the show after two seasons and I feel sad for the representation side of things but not for the show itself.

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May reads 2017

Slowly slowly being able to read more…

bitch planet 10Bitch Planet #10 by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Valentine DeLandro (comics, fiction)

It’s impossible to spoiler-free review a series as it gets further down the line, so I’ll just say, as usual, that I hate the delays between issues, but I love this comic forever and always.

paper girls vol 2Paper Girls vol 2 by Brian K Vaughan & Cliff Chiang (comics, fiction)

I loved the 80s’ vibe of the first volume, but found the plot a bit rushed and kind of so-so. Because of [spoiler], this has less of the 80s’ vibe but the story really got into its stride. Super enjoyable with excellent colour-work from Matt Wilson as always.

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.

dont let me be lonelyDon’t Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine (poetry / non-fiction)

This is about loneliness, grief, mental health, death, television, and how to live in a world where all that exists. What I love about Rankine’s work is that it’s always emotionally raw and flows freely but at the same time has this real control. I didn’t like it as much as Citizen, but even work that’s not her best is completely incredible. I think in narratively-linked prose poetry, especially Rankine’s prose poetry, I’ve found the kind of poetry I like.

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

There are no hard copies left of this limited-edition zine about mental health, but you can still get an ebook copy. And you definitely should. It’s 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.

the tidal zoneThe Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss (novel)

There is so much hype around this book so I was little apprehensive going into it. It wasn’t quite as good as the hype (though, what is?), but it was still a great read. Told from the perspective of a stay-at-home dad, it juxtaposes the family trying to rebuild and work out how to live a ‘normal’ life while living with the constant anxiety that one of the daughters could literally drop dead at any moment, with the rebuilding of Coventry cathedral and the rebuilding/anxiety of living through the blitz. There’s some really beautiful writing and thinking through of the ideas, but it got a little repetitive towards the end, particularly the Cathedral passages. Definitely worth a read, and I’m going to check out Moss’ other work.

Also on the blog this month:

Some book recommendations for Mental Health Awareness Week

A review of Richard III by Northern Broadsides at Hull Truck Theatre

Currently reading: The City & The City by China Miéville

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Richard III by Northern Broadsides @ Hull Truck

richard iii 2I’d never seen or read the play before, but I really want to see this because Richard III is such an interesting character and they cast Mat Fraser as the lead. You probably recognise Mat Fraser from the London Paralympics (he presented some of it and drummed with Coldplay in the closing ceremony), but in the past few years he’s been doing more acting, particularly with theatre companies. This is apparently the first time a disabled actor has been cast as Richard III, which is ridiculous and well over-due (usually able-bodied actors portray famous disabled characters & win awards for it, while actually disabled actors get overlooked).

It was a bit of a mixed performance for me.

It felt like the first half was missing something. Chunks of it were more like actors striding around saying lines to each other, rather than something more flowing or with more meaning. Because the set is very sparse, and, in the first half at least, there’s no changes in lighting, there was little differentiation between some of the scenes. Some, though not all, of this half felt a bit flat.

The deaths throughout, including of the two princes in the tower, happen largely off-stage. I liked the way the production used different coloured scarves to represent each killed character, and then used them again for the ghost/dream scene. But, because I didn’t connect with the first half, I didn’t care about deaths. They lost any impact they might have, especially the deaths of the princes.

The second half, however, is full of texture. The battle scene is incredibly well done. The cast is drumming and Richard is roaring and it makes excellent use of Mat Fraser’s punk drummer past. The night before the battle also uses lighting changes and smoke effectively to change the mood.

On the whole I liked Mat Fraser’s performance. At times his delivery loses some of the nuance of the lines and the character, but he’s good at switching between false charm and overt villainy and rage. I also thought Matt Connor as Buckingham was good, particularly as he realises Richard is not going to stand by his promises.

It’s got a week or so left of the run, and I think it’s still worth checking out despite my feeling the first half fell flat. The second half battle scene is well worth it, and Mat Fraser is especially good when he gets to really go for it.

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Book recommendations for Mental Health Awareness Week

A few novels, comics, and a zine that look at mental health in a variety of ways:

the shock of the fallThe Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (novel)

This book does that thing I find annoying where it hints at Something Bad in the past and doesn’t tell you what it is until the end (though it’s pretty easy to work out early on). However, it’s still worth your time. This is told from the perspective of Matthew, a man with psychosis. Because you are inside his head, it makes those things that seem “weird” or “crazy” to others perfectly understandable. It also talks a lot about the difficulties of being a patient in a mental health system which is underfunded and, at times, dehumanising. Nathan Filer is a mental health nurse, and that experience definitely comes through.

a spot of botherA Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon (novel)

This is a funny, enjoyable, easy-read family drama centred around fifty-seven year-old George who has just retired. Among other things, George develops quite severe health anxiety, though does his best to hide it from the rest of his family. Because you see it from George’s point of view, it’s easier to understand why he does something rather extreme that just looks out of the blue and “crazy” to the rest of his family who haven’t seen how he got there. (Note: As I read this a very long time ago I can’t remember how it ends, so I can’t be sure how good a representation of anxiety/health anxiety it is, but I remember it being an enjoyable read).

an untamed stateAn Untamed State by Roxane Gay (novel)

Mireille is kidnapped, held hostage, and repeatedly raped (so trigger warnings for graphic sexual violence for this one). What’s really good about this novel is that it doesn’t end on the ‘rescue’ being a neat and happy ending, but shows the aftermath of trauma and sexual violence. It also shows how difficult it can be for people around the person to know how best to help them, but, importantly, that it’s not that person’s job to teach them as they’re using everything they’ve got just to hold themself together. I do remember thinking the end was a bit too neat and a few of the characters a little one-dimensional, but that it was a fast-paced and important book, particularly about PTSD.

the vegetarianThe Vegetarian by Han Kang (tr. by Deborah Smith) (novel, Korean in translation)

Unlike the previous novels in the list, you never hear from the central character, Yeong-hye, in this book – you are put in the position of the characters around her who are unwilling or unable to truly hear or understand her. As a result, it’s never quite clear what’s happening for Yeong-hye, but she essentially turns away from ‘normal’ living, trying to become one with the nature around her by taking control of what she eats and her body. Is it about taking control of her body for herself, regardless of what that may mean for her life? Or is it more about a kind of self-destruction in reaction to the world in which she lives? Perhaps it’s a little of both.

esme lennoxThe Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell (novel)

In the 1930s, Esme is too outspoken and too unconventional and is committed to an asylum where she lives, without visitors, for 60 years, after her sister Kitty admits Esme has hallucinations. In the present, Iris receives a letter that a great-aunt Esme she’d never heard of is due to be released from her psychiatric unit, while Kitty is in a residential home with Alzheimer’s. This is another one I haven’t read in a very long time, but I remember it being beautifully written and paced, with the kind of open, but not really, ending I like. As well as about mental health generally, it’s also about the way behaviour can be pathologised because it doesn’t meet societal norms and expectations, particularly for women.

hyperbold and a halfHyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh (comics, non-fiction)

You’ve probably seen panels from her comics, with different captions, as memes for all sorts of things. But I urge you to read the original. As well as funny stories about her dogs and from her childhood, a main theme in her work is mental health and depression. This contains one of the most eloquently accurate and bleakly funny descriptions of living with depression I’ve ever seen.

the red treeThe Red Tree by Shaun Tan (graphic novel, fiction)

This picture book is an absolutely beautiful depiction of navigating the world with depression, and finding hope. I think it jumps to the hopeful end a little too quickly, but the book is so good I don’t actually mind that much. I will never get tired of Shaun Tan’s artwork.

everything is teethEverything is Teeth by Evie Wyld & Joe Sumner (graphic novel, non-fiction)

This is a memoir about some of Evie’s childhood spent visiting family in New South Wales, and her childhood fear of sharks. Evie’s obsession with sharks becomes a safe place for her brother, and for her, to connect with her dad. But it’s also about that anxiety that lies beneath, that follows you everywhere, even if you ‘know’ it’s irrational to be afraid of sharks indoors, in Peckham. It feels very true of childhood anxieties, the big ones, that they are a fascination as well as a fear, and are often a displacement for the big adult fears that you aren’t ready for yet. In this sense it’s a book about growing up, about seeing danger or difficulty, and learning how to cope with that when “everything is teeth” (every part of it can hurt you). But it is more complex than that – as Evie does grow up and learns that even though it can hurt you, it doesn’t mean to.

are you my motherAre You my Mother? by Alison Bechdel (graphic novel, non-fiction)

This is a graphic novel about Bechdel’s relationship with her mother, her own therapy, and psychoanalytic theory. It’s not as accessible, or quite as good, as Fun Home, but if you are interested in psychoanalysis and literature, this is worth a look and beautifully drawn with a muted red colour palette. But if you haven’t experienced therapy yourself, just be aware that most therapy isn’t psychoanalysis and isn’t like this at all, there’s no lying on the couch in the NHS!

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

There are no hard copies left of this limited-edition zine about mental health, but you can still get an ebook copy. And you definitely should. It’s 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 incredibly good and there will definitely be things in here that resonate deeply.

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April screentime 2017

I mostly watched trash or okay things this month, but there were a couple of awesome films. In the order I watched them:

insurgentInsurgent (2015) film, Netflix

I was feeling ill and needed some trash and this was that trash. Some of the effects are good, but it’s just generic YA dystopian. It did what I expected.

1Sheet_Master.qxdThe Good Wife (seasons 6-7) series, Netflix

The Good Wife definitely peaks with season 5. These final two series were still easy shiny watching, but it loses itself a bit. The overall storyline in terms of the direction of Alicia’s character development makes sense, but the writers don’t pull it off and the ending doesn’t work or have the kind of impact they intended. Even though I know they knew where it was going, it feels like they were lost.

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. Definitely worth a watch (it has 93% on Rotten Tomatoes so you know it’s good), and the best thing I saw this month.

The_fear_of_13The Fear of 13 (2015) documentary, Netflix

This is basically just Nick Yarris, a former deathrow inmate who was proved to be innocent, telling his story. There are no frills, no reenactments, just Nick and occasional cut-aways to prison-type scenes. It works because Nick is a very engaging story-teller, so the stripped-back style fits. But it maybe could have been truly great doc with a bit more general context about deathrow, innocence, and fighting for justice.

the most hated woman in americaThe Most Hated Woman in America (2017) film, Netflix

I was expecting this to be a documentary but it’s actually a biopic of Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the American atheist activist who was eventually kidnapped and killed (though surprisingly not for her activism, but related to her embezzlement of her charity’s funds). It’s an average film – not bad but not great either, which is a shame because the story has so much potential.

the neon demonThe Neon Demon (2016) film, Netflix

I have no idea if I liked this or not. It’s beautifully shot and the cinematography and colour is incredible. But at times it feels like it’s try too hard to be “edgy” and doesn’t always make sense within its own universe. I have no idea. Maybe that’s the point?

mad menMad Men (seasons 1-4) series, Netflix

If I hadn’t heard everyone say how good this is, I probably wouldn’t have stuck past series one. Misogynistic men doing misogynistic men things is a story told so many times it’s just boring. But, it does get better as each series goes on, and where there is more focus on the female characters (when they’re not just Interchangeable Secretary Number 3). I don’t give a shit about Don Draper. Give me more Peggy and Joan.

I_Don't_Feel_at_Home_in_This_World_AnymoreI Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore  (2017) film, Netflix

I had this on in the background while I was sorting out my desk drawer of doom, so I was half-watching it which may have affected what I thought but I enjoyed it. Sometimes the pacing was a bit off, and I didn’t always care about what happened, but it was enjoyable enough with some good performances.

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April reads 2017

I’m slowly finding ways of reading more again and I’m so enjoying it. Probably twice as many pages read as last month, but, more importantly, I’m regularly carving out little spaces where I’m not too exhausted. Winner.

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.

i hate fairylandI Hate Fairyland vol 1 by Skottie Young (comics, fiction)

I found this just okay and a bit over-hyped. The problem is it’s basically one joke (a middle-aged woman trapped in the body of her six year-old self, having become bitter and extremely violent after being stuck in fairyland for so long, looking kind of cute but violently taking everything she comes across apart) over and over again.

homo deusHomo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari (non-fiction)

This is the follow-up to Sapiens (a brief history of humankind), and offers some possibilities about what the future of humans might look like. It’s not as good as Sapiens, but it’s still really interesting and worth a read. Harari is really good at challenging your basic assumptions, like whether you have a ‘self’ (yes and no) or whether countries exist (not really). I don’t agree with everything he says, but I don’t think he expects you to. As with Sapiens, though he never states them explicitly, Harari’s own view and opinions of the world and humankind comes through strongly. I imagine this annoys some people, but if you approach the whole book as an opinion and a possibility, it fits; after all, it’s impossible to be objective about humans as a group when you are one, and it’s impossible to know the future or even everything in the world in the present. Thought-provoking and interesting – some of the ideas in here are going to stay with me for a long time (particularly who it is that’s making a decision, my experiencing or my narrating self).

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