August reads 2017

the glorious heresiesThe Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney (novel)

I enjoyed this while I was reading it but it hasn’t stayed with at all. I like that the different story threads gradually come together (all centered around one somewhat accidental murder), I enjoy unreliable/unlikable narrators, and the writing wasn’t bad. But something about it just didn’t do anything for me. Perhaps my expectations were too high because it won the Baileys prize last year and the shortlisted books I’ve read this year have been amazing. Meh.

solar bonesSolar Bones by Mike McCormack (novel)

This is bloody amazing. It’s basically one man, standing alone in his kitchen, reflecting on his life, but the way it’s told elevates it to something so much more. The whole novel is one sentence in stream-of-consciousness that meanders and repeats the way a mind does. There are paragraph breaks, which help, but the whole thing is so well-paced I only really noticed it was one sentence when I was looking for somewhere to stop. Marcus, the main character, is an engineer, and the novel is about how life is constructed and connected. I found the ending a little anticlimactic and an “and it was all a dream…” type ending (though it’s not that at all and it’s not that bad), but perhaps that’s because the way it ends is inevitable. And some of the best writing is in those final few pages. Best thing I read this month and it will undoubtedly end up on my best of the year list.

the fifth childThe Fifth Child by Doris Lessing (novel)

This was described to me as a kind of family-based gothic horror but it’s not what I’d call “gothic horror” at all. Though I do understand it’s written from the parents’ and family’s point of view, and not the “evil” child, and the language is of its setting, it made me feel very uncomfortable a lot of the time, in a bad way. The ideas around societal expectations and mother-child relationships are interesting, but it read a lot like a book where a boy with some kind of disability is treated horribly, compounding his problems, but really it’s that the boy is inherently evil. There are hints about reasons why Ben is the way he is, like others’ reactions to him, the amount of drugs his mother takes in pregnancy, etc, but the way its written and the marketing of the book plays down those aspects. I think there’s a sequel from Ben’s perspective when he’s older, which I would be interested in reading, but this wasn’t a great introduction to Lessing’s work for me.

how you might know meHow You Might Know Me by Sabrina Mahfouz (poetry)

This collection is a series of poems, in different styles, from the perspectives of four women all working in the sex industry. I was lucky enough to see Sabrina Mahfouz read from this collection, so I had the voices of the characters in my head as I read them, but every character has got a distinctive voice and story even without Mahfouz reading them aloud. The women are from different backgrounds, are different ages, and have different feelings towards their work. It’s brilliant.

tomieTomie by Junji Ito (trans. by Naomi Kokubo) (comics, fiction. Japanese in translation)

More of a series of short stories than one long piece, Tomie is a about a beautiful girl who can seduce any man, and then drive them to murder her. She regenerates, even from just a few cells of her blood. Multiple Tomies compete to be the only Tomie, inciting men to murder the others on her behalf, and she craves beautiful, expensive things. It can get a little repetitive, so definitely one it’s better to dip in and out of rather than read in one sitting. At times it’s just a fun horror story, and at others it feels like a comment on the way some men seek to possess a beautiful woman and lash out violently when they are rejected. I enjoyed it. It’s gross and weird.

Also on the blog this month:

A review of Alice’s Adventures Underground at Waterloo Vaults

Currently reading: Still dipping in and out of Creating Freedom by Raoul Martinez and The Phantom Atlas by Edward Brooke-Hitching.

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Alice’s Adventures Underground at Waterloo Vaults by Les Enfants Terrible

alice's adventures underground

This isn’t the story of Alice as we know it, but an after-Alice story, long after she fell into Wonderland to a time when nonsense has been banned by the Queen of Hearts, and the different card suits are fractured into classes. But there is a rebellion afoot…

All theatre, all forms of storytelling, should transport you and surround you with the world of the story. But there’s something about being physically led through the world which is particularly apt for Alice in Wonderland.alice's adventures underground chesire cat.jpg

I won’t give any spoilers, but very near the start you are asked to choose whether you will “Drink Me” and follow the white rabbit, or “Eat Me” and follow one of the playing cards. This splits the group in two, where you are then split into two further groups when you are given your playing card suit. You are led through different rooms and different scenes as you go through the story.

I went with my mum and we made different decisions at the start, and then the way we were then split into our respective suits meant we had completely different story experiences and none of our plot points crossed over at all (except a visit to the mad hatter’s tea party and the queen’s court at the end).

The sets are bloody incredible. Just the initial space with the cloakroom and bar are beautifully done, but then you go in. You first wait in a room like an antique junk shop, full of bits and pieces of Victoriana. After the lights start flashing and papers go flying, a door appears and you walk into Wonderland through a tunnel made of book pages.

alice's adventures underground aliceAs a piece of intricate theatre it’s amazing how they make it work. Different groups at different stages of the story are being led through, so each scene has to run like clockwork, with the actors that move between different moments needing to keep track of exactly where and why they need to be, and the actors that stay in one scene needing to be fresh each and every time they repeatedly do their piece. This is no easy feat to ensure is timed correctly, or to maintain the energy in what’s a very hot underground set (seriously, I have no idea how the white rabbit does it in that costume). It’s a testament to everyone involved that at no point did it feel like it one show of up to about 36 loops they’ll do in one session. Although you could occasionally hear other groups, it completely felt like it was a fresh story just for you.

They do a children’s version in the mornings, then the adult version in the afternoons and evenings (so make sure you buy a ticket for the right performance!). The afternoon performances are slightly cheaper. You can also pre-book a cocktail, which you are given in a teacup just before the mad hatter’s tea party. (And make sure you’re not late by a minute – because of the way the show works you can’t enter late and don’t get a refund. I saw a group of very disappointed people being turned away because they were 10 minutes late when I was there).

I will definitely go back to make a different choice & see the other side of the story.

Check the website here, and watch the trailer below:

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July screentime 2017

I watched a whole lot of trash in July. Only some of it the good kind…

the circle film.jpgThe Circle (2017) film, Netflix

This was made worse by the fact it had so much potential to be good. I haven’t read the book so I don’t know if it’s due to the source material or the way that the film writers/director interpreted it, but it was just lacking. The relationship between Mae and Ty is oddly tacked on so its part in the ending makes no sense, John Boyega is totally wasted (as is his character), and the ending is messy. Mainly, it just doesn’t explore its themes in any real depth, which is kinda the point of a film like this. I mean, Tom Hanks is good, and the scene with Mercer being chased is good, but it’s not enough to save a very meh film.

glow netflixGlow (season 1) series, Netflix

Maybe I was in a bad mood at the beginning of the month but I found this kind of ‘meh’ too. I liked the campy silliness but it was more of a show I had on in the background rather than one that totally had my interest.

the-lodger1The Lodger (1927) film, cinema

I saw this with live piano accompaniment and it was awesome. 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.

jobs filmJobs (2013) film, Netflix

Eh. This is another one that lacks any depth. Ashton Kutcher was surprisingly alright, but what the film needed was a deep dive into Jobs’ character but it just skates over the surface and leaps over potentially interesting sections of time.

troll 2Troll 2 (1990) film

I love a so-shit-it’s-amazing film, and this is basically the ultimate good-bad movie. Everything about this is terrible, from the acting, to the script, to the cinematography, to the effects, but in a good way? (Aside from the usual horror tropes of disfigurement = evil. Urgh). I really want to see ‘Best Worst Movie’, the documentary about the making of the film, because the production behind it sounds completely bonkers.

okjaOkja (2017) film, Netflix

The reason this film is so sad is that at the end, whilst there is a happy ending for some, there is no final screen with a happy ending for all. I found it odd that there was a focus on GM foods as the reason why the Mirando Corporation does what they do, when really it was just about the hidden industry of the mass production of meat, and that in itself is enough. Ahn Seo-hyun is excellent as Mija, and the relationship she creates between Mija and Okja is what makes the film great.

Game of thronesGame of Thrones (season 7)

I’m at a point with Game of Thrones where I don’t love it anymore, but I still want to know what happens in the end (and if any of my theories are right). The first few episodes have been, though quicker paced than many episodes in previous seasons, surprisingly slow at times given how few episodes are left. There’s usually one or two episodes per season that blow me away, so I’m just kind of waiting for that this season.

rupauls drag raceRuPaul’s Drag Race (seasons 3 & 4) series, Netflix

So many of my friends are obsessed with this that I promised I would watch a couple of seasons to give it a proper chance. Reality TV isn’t my thing, so I mostly had it on in the background while I was pottering about or when I wasn’t feeling well. I can see why people love it, but I mostly find it just ok, probably because of the reality TV tropes but also because I don’t really care about fashion or friendly-bitchy banter. But I did love when Sharon Needles showed up. Having this punky goth weirdo being weird was just a lot more interesting to me. I’ll watch the next season, probably be in the background again, on the off chance there are more weirdos or people doing something a bit different. At least I get all the RuPaul memes that turn up on my fb feed now.

handmaid's taleThe Handmaid’s Tale (series 1) series, Channel 4

This is probably the best book adaptation I’ve ever seen. It goes beyond the book by adding stories from the perspective of other characters (the book is completely from Offred’s perspective), but still stays completely true to the themes and feeling of the original. For this reason, I suspect people who read the book only after watching the series may be a little disappointed, but the book does explain how the regime came to be more clearly, even without anyone else’s perspective. It ends in the same way, but there is going to be second series. I can’t wait.

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July reads 2017

I’m in the middle of three books at the moment, so August’s wrap-up will, in theory, have a whole lot of stuff. But, for now, the three I finished in what was a very busy month:

stay with meStay With Me by Ayòbámi Adébáyò (novel)

This is an excellent debut novel (shortlisted for the Bailey’s this year). It felt light and breezy to read, but still had some real depth in the themes of gender roles and expectations in society, family, and marriage. In 1980s Nigeria, Akin is pressured by his family to take a second wife because he and his wife Yejide have been unable to conceive a child, which he does without informing Yejide first. The novel is narrated mainly by Yejide, but I liked that there are also chapters from Akin and you see his view on the marriage. There wasn’t quite enough differentiation between Yejide and Akin’s voices, though it was always clear who was narrating a chapter within a paragraph or two from what they were saying. The female characters, particularly Yejide, are incredibly well drawn and fully rounded people. Akin’s character felt a little thin but that may because he is more reserved and hiding some of himself away from the other characters. There are lots of twists and turns in this story, but I didn’t find them as unpredictable as other reviews suggest. I think I went into it with my expectations set a little too high, so I didn’t love it as much as I expected to. But it’s a great debut with just a few debut-novel-flaws, and I’d definitely recommend it and am looking forward to whatever Adébáyò comes out with next.

eileenEileen by Ottessa Moshfegh (novel)

This is marketed as a thriller but it’s not really. It’s more of an extended character study of self-loathing. Eileen lives in a non-descript town, with and (sort of) caring for her alcoholic father, and works in a bleak juvenile detention facility. She is full of a kind of repressed rage but with both apathy and narcissism. She also wants us to be disgusted by her, the way she is disgusted with herself, by telling us about her poor hygiene and perceived ugly features of her body. The ending didn’t work for me. It needed much more of a punch, and perhaps more of Eileen and Rebecca’s ordinary interactions beforehand. If you like an unreliable narrator in a plot-light, character-heavy novel, then this is definitely for you. If you’re looking for plot, look elsewhere.

lost in translationLost in Translation by Ella Francis Sanders (comic, non fiction)

This is an illustrated compendium of words that have no direct translation into English. I love words and illustration and translation, so I should have loved this, but it was a bit disappointing. I liked learning about the words, but the way Sanders has laid it out and the font she uses makes it quite difficult to actually read at times. There’s also no indication of how to say the word. I like a lot of the illustrations, and the book itself is beautifully produced, but none of that’s any good if you can’t actually read it.

Also on the blog this month:

Oddly specific reading recommendations #1: Shoeburyness – books for the vague uncomfortable feeling you get when sitting on a seat that is still warm from somebody else’s bottom

Currently reading:

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney (novel), Creating Freedom by Raoul Martinez (non-fiction), The Phantom Atlas by Edward Brooke-Hitching (non-fiction).

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Oddly specific book recommendations #1: Shoeburyness

According to the Meaning of Liff, ‘Shoeburyness’ is:

the vague uncomfortable feeling you get when sitting on a seat that is still warm from somebody else’s bottom

I think what you need in that situation is either an extremely immersive book to distract you from that vague warmth, or to lean fully into it with something that transforms the feeling from discomfort to a feeling of connection to other humans. Or maybe something that manages to be both.

the-gigantic-beard-that-was-evil-3The Gigantic Beard that was Evil by Stephen Collins is a beautiful graphic novel about a man called Dave who lives on an extremely well-ordered island called ‘Here’, with everything beyond Here full of chaos, fear and disorder, called ‘There’. Dave, who is bald apart from one stray hair, one day finds the data he works on scrambled, forming shapes he has only seen in his nightmares of There. His face begins to burn, and a gigantic, ever-growing beard erupts from his chin. It’s a kind of Roald Dahl-esque fairy tale about the the fear of ‘other’ (what is There and not Here), the fear of what cannot be controlled (and how chaos finds a way nonetheless), what it means to be different, and just a beautifully drawn weird and melancholy story. “Beneath the skin of everything is something nobody can know. The job of the skin is to keep it all in and never let anything show”. Read it for connection and to embrace the lack of order and control you have over your bus seat.

the-arrivalAnother great graphic novel for shoeburyness is The Arrival by Shaun Tan, which is basically a book I’d shoe-horn in to any recommendation list. It’s completely wordless, so perfect if reading while travelling makes you queasy, or you’re in a medical waiting room and finding it difficult to concentrate. The illustrations are absolutely stunning, and tell the story of an immigrant arriving in a new city populated by strange creatures, unusual contraptions, and a language of symbols that he doesn’t understand. The man can’t communicate with words so we experience the world as he does – without words. He meets other immigrants, who welcome and help him, and we learn their stories about why they left their homes to make new ones in this city. Read it to connect to others and to escape into the beautiful illustrations.

nagasakiFor a different kind of solution, Nagasaki by Eric Faye (trans. by Emily Boyce), is an excellent choice. It’s very short (about 100 pages with very large font) so perfect if you want something you can read all in one go. Shimura, a middle-aged man living alone in a quiet suburb, begins to notice food has been going missing from his kitchen. He sets up a webcam and monitors it from work, hoping to catch the intruder. It’s a quiet, understated, novella about loneliness and disconnect, particularly as you age and particularly if you have no real friends or family around you. It’s almost as if the more Shimura detaches from the world, the more it forces its way in – not to bring connections, but just to highlight that it is there. Read it to transform the shoeburyness from discomfort to a reminder that the world is there.

life-after-lifeFor a longer novel, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is 600 pages of very readable and engaging writing. This is the story of Ursula’s many lives. You follow her life until she dies, then the story starts again and tiny or radical changes to decisions means her life takes a different course, until she dies again. It’s a bit like Sliding Doors, except rather than being completely separate, each of her lives seems to build on each other and she somehow retains unconscious knowledge of the lives that have come before. Kate Atkinson is incredibly good at writing believable characters, particularly within ‘family saga’ type stories, and this is no exception. Read to transform your shoeburyness into an exciting possibility of the path you have unknowingly chosen.

a-long-way-to-a-small-angry-planetFinally, an excellent shoeburyness read is The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. It’s very easy to read, cosy sci-fi, exploring how people from vastly different cultures and races find ways to interact and work together, as well as issues around gender and sexuality. The writing isn’t the best, with far too much exposition, but it’s written in an episodic way that makes it very easy to pick up and read little bits at a time. It’s very optimistic, especially for sci-fi, as to what the future of human race will look like and how well different species/races accommodate each other. Read it to escape to another world and for the possibilities of human (or alien) connection.

Happy shoeburyness!

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June screentime 2017

I don’t play games as much as I used to, but I’m going to start including games here as well as tv and film because screentime.

monument_valley_2Monument Valley 2 iphone app

This is even more beautiful than the first game. It’s very easy, which makes it difficult to go through it slowly and properly savour it, but I still love it. It’s just the most relaxing and beautifully designed game – from the music to the Escher-esque illustrations to the colour.

zelda majora's mask.jpgZelda: Majora’s Mask 3DS

Finally finished this after playing it off and on for a while. I don’t really like games with a time limit because I prefer taking my time to wander about and work things out, especially in a more open game like Zelda. As a time limit is half of the point of Majora’s Mask, I should hate this game, and, at times, I did, especially when I’d finally work out how to do something but didn’t have enough time to finish so would have to go back in time to do that whole section again. But, this is really great. I like the character transformation aspect as it adds an extra dimension to the puzzles and figuring out which masks were really key to collect. When I wanted to play but without the clock-watching stress, I would look through a walk-through before I started the section to have a rough idea of what I needed to do. I know it’s not the ‘thing to do’ but I don’t give a shit – I still enjoyed playing it (sometimes more) when I used a walk-through. Really wish I had Switch so I could play Breath of the Wild.

handmaid's taleThe Handmaid’s Tale series, All4

The series still isn’t finished yet but I’m loving it. It’s such a good adaptation – it changes things from the book to suit the medium of tv better but retains the feel and themes of the book perfectly. The only tiny gripe I have is that the commander is quite a bit younger than I see him, but that’s really nit-picking.

orange-is-the-new-blackOrange is the New Black (season 5) series, Netflix

As Piper is the least interesting character in OITNB, the fact they spend little time on her this series helps, but it felt a little bloated overall, like the whole thing needed to be condensed into fewer, tighter episodes. Saying that, there were some great moments and episodes in there too, but the bloat made the series feel just okay, not great.

independence day resurgence.jpgIndependence Day: Resurgence (2016) film

I was expecting this to be fairly terrible, but was hoping for the good kind of terrible, especially as I’m always here for Goldblum. Unfortunately, it’s pretty much just terrible in a boring way that even Goldblum couldn’t save.

house of cardsHouse of Cards (seasons 1-5) series, Netflix

I love a good fourth-wall break, so it’s no surprise that I loved this. Kevin Spacey is excellent, especially his simple Spacey-head-tilt fourth-wall breaking and understated quiet rage. Some of season 4’s plot points are bit too ridiculous, but season 5 brings it right back and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes next.

the dispossessionThe Dispossession (2017) film, cinema

This is a documentary about social housing, and the mess policy and greed has made of it. What’s really great is that it centers the people who live in social housing, and doesn’t fall into the trap of talking about them instead of with them. It packs a lot of factual information and stats in as well as personal stories but it doesn’t ever feel too much. Unfortunately, given the topic and the political situation, there’s very little hope – you come away with the impression that there will be no happy endings for the people involved. At my screening there was a Q & A afterwards with the director, an academic involved with the film, our local councillor involved in housing, a local housing charity, and a youth project. Really interesting discussion applying what was in the film to the local area. Do check out the film if it screens somewhere near you.

a cure for wellnessA Cure for Wellness (2016) film

Beautifully shot and crafted from a cinematography point of view, but let down by the writing. This would have been a much better film if it had stuck to creepy realism rather than [spoiler]. The ‘twist’ is also something that you can see a mile away, as are most of the plot points, so what could have been an interesting film was just kind of ordinary blah. Shame, as the visuals are really great.

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June reads 2017

bitch planet triple featureBitch Planet Triple Feature #1 (comics, fiction)

This is three short stories that take place within the universe of the main Bitch Planet series. I really like getting snippets of people and stories outside of the main narrative in dystopias, and these worked really well as being both true to the world of the story and as stories within themselves. I’m not sure what they’d be like to read if you’re not already familiar with the series, but they’re definitely worth a read if you like Bitch Planet.

plum hollie mcnishPlum by Hollie McNish (poetry)

I was lucky enough to see Hollie McNish perform some poems from this collection. She’s a great performer and it made a real difference to how I read the collection. This is the kind of poetry that I don’t often get a lot from just reading it on a page (though there were a few in here I loved that way), so I liked that I read it very soon after seeing her perform so I had her voice, intonation, and rhythm in my head. It’s a collection about growing up, particularly growing up as a young woman, and I liked that she included poems written when she was younger – it’s not just her current self looking back, but also her younger self in conversation with her older self. She’s great.

fullmetal alchemistFullMetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa, vols 1-3, trans. by Akira Watanabe (comics, fiction – Japanese in translation)

This is the first bit of manga I’ve read and I was surprised how easy it is to get used to reading pages and panels right to left. I chose this first because at the beginning there’s a little note from Arakawa talking about how he loves B-movies and wanted to bring that ‘over-the-top’ flavour that still draws you in to his work. I love a so-bad-it’s-good B-movie, so this seemed a perfect place to start. It’s a lot of fun and very self-aware, and I like how the art style of the characters changes occasionally to reflect more comedic moments. I found Edward’s angry reaction to whenever someone mentions his height a bit tiresome, but I think that’s because the anime I’ve been watching recently has featured whiny male protagonists with anger issues so I’m just a bit sick of it. But, I will definitely be continuing the series as it’s just really enjoyable.

the essex serpentThe Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry (novel)

There’s so much hype around this book, and my reading of it did suffer a bit for that. The first half or so was enjoyable enough but nothing particularly special, though that could have been too-high expectations. But then I got really pulled in to the characters and the relationships and the environment. There are a lot of threads you could unpick, like the young girls and the tension between childhood and womanhood, the different ways the Essex serpent embodies ‘haunting’ for different people, and about friendship and what friendship looks like. I found it well-written and, for the second-half, extremely enjoyable. It didn’t quite live up to all the hype for me, but still a really solid read.

Also on the blog this month:

Some post-election reading recommendations

Currently reading: Creating Freedom by Raoul Martinez, non-fiction

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