Posted in books

July 22: Calendar Reading

This month’s calendar reading is The Boy From Lam Kien by Miranda July.

I had heard great things about this author, and the synopsis of the story sounded interesting, so I set out on a quest…

The story is available as a paperback

Yes. I’m not paying that sort of price for a short story. On googling, I discovered that there had been a BBC radio series read by the author:

Of course, it was unavailable.

So I bought a kindle version of the collection of short stories it was in, for a LOT less than I would have had to spend on a standalone paperback.

I started reading at the beginning, and stopped when I finished the story I’d bought the book for, about halfway in. And it was hard work getting that far. I should have just read the one story I’d wanted – it was the least objectionable of the ones I did read. I don’t often abandon a book unfinished, but occasionally it happens.

These stories are not for me, I’m afraid. There is too much very dysfunctional sex. There are dysfunctional sex workers, dysfunctional care workers, dysfunctional everything. A woman cheerfully admitting to having a fourteen year old boyfriend was the last straw for me.

I couldn’t make myself go any further.

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Posted in Art

July 19: Coloured Sculpture

A few weeks ago, I took a trip to the Tate Modern to see The Jordan Wolfson installation Coloured Sculpture. Sadly, the exhibit was closed due to “technical difficulties”, and I was disappointed. It seems that there are many things that can go wrong with this piece of work, and today, there were technical issues with the eyes (I think it was the motion-sensors) which meant that the exhibit had to be closed again. Fortunately, I had already spent a fair bit of time being alternately horrified and sickened by what is clearly a representation of abuse. The bursts of Percy Sledge (When a Man Loves a Woman) made it horribly worse, and I feel fortunate that the puppet was not able to turn its gaze on me. It wasn’t terrifying, but it was disturbing. The videos of the piece don’t do it justice. You lose the scale, for one thing. That puppet is big, and it thumps down hard.

The work is on show until the end of August, and entry is free. Go and make your own judgement.

Posted in books

July 16: Reading

I have a pile of books to read (currently 46, shared between the kindle, iBooks and the wobbly pile of mixed paper-and-hardbacks on my coffee table). I also have a few on my shelves that I want to re-read. And a very long wish-list of books I don’t yet own.

I finished both my main Goodreads challenge and my personal summer challenge early, and in theory, all I have shouting “finish me!” are my two reading group books (Sebald’s Rings of Saturn and Drabble’s Pure Gold Baby).

I have scheduled reading times for book groups, so what to do the rest of the time?

The answer is always a random pick from my physical book pile and a random pick from my e-book “pile”. At the moment, my e-book is the latest Harry Hole, and my physical book is one of the slim Penguin classics (Kafka’s The Trial).

But – I follow authors and readers on Twitter, and they keep making recommendations. By coincidence this morning, two recommendations caught my eye: a short story by Miranda July; and a novel by Clare North that just happened to have the word “August” in the title. That set me off of course. I thought I would end up with a mix of author names and titles, but in the end, my calendar reads for the rest of the year are all title-based except for July.

I’m probably going to to do this for the whole of next year, as a sort of side quest to my main challenge.

Here they are:

No one belongs here more than you: Miranda July

The first fifteen lives of Harry August: Claire North

The Septembers of Shiraz: Dalia Sofer

October the first is too late: Fred Hoyle

Butterflies in November: Audur Ava Òlafsdóttir

December: Phil Rickman

I intend to be very disciplined and only read one of these a month. Let’s see how it goes.

Posted in Opera

July 12: Don Giovanni

Every year, the Royal Opera House live-streams three of its summer season performances to a number of “Big Screens” dotted around the country. There just happens to be such a screen not too far from my home, and I often brave the noise and traffic fumes for an evening of culture which always includes a Wimpy takeaway in the interval.

This year, the offerings were a little bland – Swan Lake, La Bohème and Don Giovanni. I’m not really a ballet lover, and I have already seen this particular version of Bohème on this particular big screen, so the only one for me this year was Don Giovanni. As it happened, the performance started well before sunset, and the day was too hot for me to sit in an open, unshaded space, so I plugged the laptop into the TV and live-streamed the opera into my living room via YouTube. Wimpy has joined the ranks of fast food outlets that do home deliveries, so I didn’t even have to miss my interval picnic.

I find it odd that while ballet live-screenings are introduced by Darcey Bussell (who has the validity of actually having been a ballerina), opera live screenings are nowadays introduced by Gok Wan, who seems an odd choice.

The set for this production was interesting- a blank cube of doors and staircases, revolving slowly. There was little colour, apart from the occasional washes of red used to represent blood, and at the very end, hellfire. It is difficult to describe the way that lighting and projection were used to bring the set alive – the images below give a flavour of the way that text and “grey veiling” was used. The ghosts of past conquests were effectively creepy, and there were some moments, such as the role-swapping of Leporello and Don Giovanni where video was used comically and cleverly, but overall, I found the set very distracting, and the closeup camera work made it difficult to see the complexity of the character action.

The story is an old one – a life of debauchery gets its fitting end, but I felt that there was a little too much of the debauchery and not enough of the end. The voices were all excellent, the characters were all stereotypes, and the only one I warned to at all was Leporello, played by Ildebrando D’Arcangelo.

Posted in books

July 12: Summer Reading #6

R is for Roth

I chose a Philip Roth novel for my final book as a tribute, to mark his death this year.

Nemesis is a narrow story, with a narrator who almost doesn’t figure in the story at all. It tells the harrowing tale of one of the last polio epidemics and its effects on the lives of the Jewish population in Newark, New Jersey. Bucky Cantor seems to me to be a selfish character, always wishing that his life had taken a different turn, while turning away from what might be the best choices. He has some unlucky breaks, but in the end, isolates himself from anyone that might help him. The final chapter highlights starkly what could have been… perhaps.

This was a “short novel”, and I read it during a sleepless night. I find Roth very readable, even if I don’t much like his characters.

There are other structured reading activities still continuing – the Twitter reading group, the library reading group, but this book brings my personal 2018 “SUMMER” reading challenge to a close, much earlier than expected.

Posted in books

July 11: Summer Reading #5

E is for Eliot

Every year I make myself read at least one of the “classics” that I should have read long ago. This is my “punishment reading” for the summer.

Actually, it was okay. I quite liked Dorothea, once she started to stand up for herself. I got irritated (as usual) by the various characters causing themselves trouble by not being open in their dealings. I disliked Rosamund, but she got her comeuppance, so that was all right.

Middlemarch was quite shallow, I thought. Similar to Austen books, very much about “place, face and manners”. I found it lighter than the Brontes, whose works I prefer. It was a “good read”, but not one that I expect to have any particular lasting effect. It would work very well as a TV serial.

Posted in books

July 9: The Rings of Saturn #1

A few weeks ago, I came across a proposal to set up a Twitter reading group. The book to be read, studied, discussed is W G Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn. The activity is planned to run from July 9th until August 2nd.

I had joined in with a similar group at the end of last year, with the same group leader, and I decided to take up the challenge again. I chose a hard-copy edition this time.

So, I opened the book to chapter 1 this morning. The opening paragraph was encouraging:

In August 1992, when the dog days were drawing to an end, I set off to walk the county of Suffolk, in the hope of dispelling the emptiness that takes hold of me whenever I have completed a long stint of work.”

However, the author then spends the entire chapter not talking about the walk. Instead, he meanders off on an interesting discussion of several dead academics, and aspects of their work.

I can tell already that Sebald and I will have different opinions on things, if only from the interpretation of one item – Rembrandt’s painting The Anatomy Lesson. Sebald mentions what I think is the most important item in the painting, the anatomy textbook that everyone is looking at. He then dismisses it as irrelevant (to Rembrandt, as well as to himself!). My copy of the book has two images of the painting:

In neither image does the textbook appear.

I am very curious to see how the book progresses. Watch this space.

Posted in Cinema, music

July 8: Yellow Submarine

It is half a century since the Beatles sailed off in their yellow submarine to save Pepperland from the Blue Meanies. Today there was a one-off screening of the remastered film in Picturehouse cinemas, and I went along to my local (happily air-conditioned) sold out screening.

I wouldn’t normally go to the cinema on a Sunday, still less on a Sunday morning, but this was a special occasion.

The music wasn’t the best of the Beatles songbook, but there were one or two goodies – Nowhere Man and Hey Bulldog are particular favourites of mine, and of course, the wonderful Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was in there too.

The film showed its age, and the age of most of its audience, but there were a fair number of young couples with children at the screening I went to, and they seemed to enjoy it.

It is rare for an audience to applaud a film, but that happened today. I’m very glad I was there to join in.

Posted in Cinema

July 6: Swimming With Men

We are in the middle of a heatwave, and the lure of cool water is seductive. I have ordered a swimsuit, and a Hammam towel, but neither has arrived as yet, so no swimming for me. Instead, I took myself to the cinema for the new Rob Brydon film, “Swimming with Men”. (The film incidentally co-stars Rupert Graves, who I like to look at even when fully clothed).

It was a gentle sort of film, very British in its humour. It paid enough attention to the technicalities of synchronised swimming, and enough attention to Eric’s life to make us want him to come through in style.

I enjoyed this film. I liked that the Swedish synchro team the story was loosely based on got to be in the film, playing themselves. I liked that it wasn’t a display of “bodies beautiful”. I liked the fact that the team consisted of older and younger men; men of different social and economic classes; I liked that the gay character wasn’t a stereotype. I’m glad the result of the world championship was what it was (no spoilers).

It was a piece of fluff, but good fluff for a summer afternoon when you have time on your hands and need the cool of an air-conditioned cinema.

Posted in books

June 29: Summer Reading #4

M is for McDonald (again)

I seem to be getting through these rather more quickly than I expected to.

This is my second Ian McDonald of this challenge, and it is a novella, rather than a novel. It is a romance, of sorts. It is a science-fiction mystery. IT DOESN’T HAVE ALIENS! It does have time travel, and it does have a bit of gay sex. Major events and twists are foreshadowed nicely but not too obviously, and there is enough romantic angst to satisfy anyone who needs that in a story.

The blurb doesn’t quite match the book, but I’ve read enough (particularly in “genre” works) to know that is quite often the case. I chose it because it was a new work by a favourite author, not because of the blurb.

It is a lovely, lovely story.