Tuesday, April 9, 2019


What I've Been Reading

The Library Book by Susan Orlean – this is the best book I have read so far this year and I find it hard to think anything will move it from number 1 spot. What a remarkable read, and I guess I need to call bias as a Librarian and lover of books and literature. But even so, I think you will be hard pressed to find a more informative, interesting, page turner with so much heart and soul. Essentially this is the story of  a huge fire that went through the LA Public Library in 1986 and the aftermath of the devastation. It’s about the crime of arson and who may have done it. It is also the history of the LA Public Library, its wonderful staff, and generally the history of libraries and librarians. 

Mostly it is a love letter for libraries, books, and literature, and it is magnificent. It shows how very important public libraries are for the community, what they can do, and how their reach has changed (for the better) over the years. I listened to Susan Orlean reading her own book on talking book and I never wanted it to end. I was hypnotised and fascinated, and I learnt so much. But mostly it moved me, with huge wide grins and also it made me weep. If you do not understand or get libraries and how important they are (I am holding my breathe!) this will have you hooked by the end of the first chapter. Sheer perfection!

Ben Quilty - huge coffee table book of his remarkable work with essays added within. He is an exceptional man and role model. The painting are astonishingly good.

Nevermoor: the trials of Morigan Crow by Jessica Townsend - This is Harry Potter crossed with the Hunger Games and Australian. This was my second read - or rather listen, as I listened to it on talking book - and a refresher before I read book 2 which has just come out. I love this book with it's great female lead, it's fabulous fantasy world and the unique characters within. Cannot wait for book 2!

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak - this is the very long awaited next book after The Book Thief. The thing is, The Book Thief was an instant classic and for some lightning does not strike twice, I never really thought he would be able to top it and he hasn't. Reviewers have been bouncing around that or not saying much at all after the new release. It was quite remarkable to see, I think Zusak is so beloved, no one was game to say it. There are copious articles on how he struggled with the writing of this and why it took 12-13 years to write. I really feel for the guy.

The book is not bad, it's just not great. It is a solid read about a family with flaws and how things unraveled over the years. A fairly standard story, but what singles Zusak out from the rest is his beautifully stunning way with words, his style and the fact it is him! It contains some great characters, and yet there is so much more I wanted out of this book and wished someone had edited the middle section a bit better. It meandered in a way that just annoyed me at times and introduced some characters and plots but moved away from them too quickly leaving me wanting more, their father's first wife for instance. The end leaves the reader hanging a little. I hope these things do not lead to sequels, because I thought Zusak was better than that.

I know this sounds overly harsh, but if you have read and loved The Book Thief as much as I have, you will understand. Bridge of Clay is most certainly worth reading and it is very good, but my expectations - for better or for worse - wanted and expected much much more!

Men explain things to me and other essays by Rebecca Solnit - Solnit is the true original feminist writer, not flashy or a super star, although she should be. Her essays have brought her great acclaim in America. She was one of the big movers of the #metoo movement and appears to be the originator of the phrase mansplaining. She is amusing and interesting in her essay topics, but she is more a serious writer, with loads of meticulous research and facts behind her words. I guess she may not be for everyone, but I intend to seek out more of her work, a new fan here!

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doer a fabulous little memoir/travel book from the author of All the light I cannot see. Anthony wins a writing scholarship to travel abroad to Rome for a year. The book is about living in Rome with his wife and young twins, travel, writing, Italians, the church and much more. A fabulous insight into the brain of writer, I thought there might have been more on his process, but sadly no. Nonetheless this was an intriguing read!

Say Hello by Carly Findlay - I really love following Carly online and seeing what a joyful lovely woman she is and how she deals with and educates others on her appearance. This book is a continuation of that, with her life story interwoven within. A great book for those that have been bullied and for those that fear those of us who are different. Written with kindness and humility about kindness and humility!

Books That Saved My Life: reading for wisdom, solace, and pleasure by Michael McGirr - great range of books read over the years by McGirr and how they affected him and his life.

Outspoken: the life and work of the man behind those signs by Father Rod Bower – What a remarkable man, you could tell from those fabulous signs. I am not at all religious, but if I am ever in the area I would definitely attend his church! This is his story, his life, and the things that have happened to him that have led him to where he is today. It is profound and honest and funny and dramatic. It is also about humanity, and how to deal with all the things that seem unjust and unfair in this crazy old world. I cannot recommend this one highly enough.

I might regret this: essays, drawings, vulnerabilities and other stuff by Abbi Jacobson – I loved this so much, but no surprise really as Broad City is one of my favourite shows and the book felt like an extension on that. And yet, still unexpected. A mix of memoir, thoughts, stories, and just plain fun set to the backdrop of a road trip, this was thoroughly entertaining.

Easily distracted by Steve Coogan – I love Steve and this was a good read. I just wanted more, but he’s not that kind of guy. A little bit of the behind the scenes for his television and movies, but nowhere near as much as I would have liked. He keeps you at an arms-length and I guess that is not unexpected. Totally worth reading though, but fans won’t find anything that new within.

What I've Been Watching

Killing Eve - this is one of the best television shows I have seen. I heard about it when it first came out, but as always my dancecard was full but I knew I'd pick it up at some point. And then I found out Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) was the writer, so I had to get my hands on it. Sandra Oh (how fucking gorgeous is she?? not just in looks, but in character!) is Eve, working at MI5 get put on special case to track Villanelle, a female assassion. Villanelle is bold and sexy and completely mad, and Eve ends up chasing her around the globe. This has some of the best feminist writing I have ever seen, is funny and dark, and interesting and intriguing and has a great cast. The show is everything, if you have not seen it, don't be late to the party like me, go and find it NOW!!!!

The Cry - Interesting mini series about a young couple who's child disappears after a long haul flight from the UK. The ex wife becomes the main suspect whilst the parents themselves do not seem quite on the up and up. Twists and turns come along until the end, which felt a little dragged out, and the ending a little been there, done that. This is worth watching, but once the main reveal is revealed I felt a little let down. You may not!

Little Drummer Girl - is a BBC mini-series based on a John Le Carre novel, about a young girl who is sucked into a 'spy' group to take down a 'terrorist' cell, but who are the goodies and who are the baddies. This was 6 episodes, and really really dragged in the middle. I loved Florence Pugh, who as Charlie was sucked into this game of espionage at a very young age. It was her story that kept me hanging on when I was starting to get bored.

Sally4eva - this is a Julia Davis penned black comedy. If you have watched any thing by Davis before you'll know what to expect. She is very subversive, and pushes boundaries. Davis plays Emma, a wild bi-sexual actress, who meets Sally, a quiet woman who is engaged to a boring man and is just sailing through life. Emma shows Sally fun and excitement and they head into a full-on lesbian romp. Sally leaves her fiance and moves Emma in and things get crazy from there. This is definitely not for everyone, but I loved this. It really made me laugh, Emma is an awful person and you can see her sucking the lovely Sally in and you know it won't end well, but will it. Also starring Julian Barratt (the husband of Davis in real life and half of The Mighty Boosch) as an office worker who is in love with Sally.

Crashing S3 - I love Crashing, about Pete Holmes (loosely playing himself) a comedian, with a Christian background, making his way through the stand-up scene in New Yorkz. Pete is a bit of an innocent, but he is funny, he's grown over the seasons. This season he meets Cat and falls in love quickly, and this is a great relationship. Loads of real life comedians star as themselves, this is funny and sweet. Totally worth a look!

Gavin and Stacey S1-3 – this is 10 years old and I have always heard good things but no idea why I never watched it until now. It holds up well and I really enjoyed this great little family comedy. It is the characters that make this, rather than the storyline of Gavin and Stacey who meet and get married quickly and have all sorts of ups and downs. Written by James Corden and Ruth page who play the best friends of Gavin and Stacey, they are fabulous roles. But the star of the show – in my mind, which could be biased as I love him so – is Rob Bryden as Uncle Bryn. Hilarious, impeccable timing and just so very funny, this is a great character. The cast is perfect and the laughs are plenty, if you haven’t seen it, it is definitely worth a look!

Come Home – Christopher Eccleston plays another melancholy guy, and I am such a sucker for him doing that. This mini-series sees him as a single dad of 3, his wife has left, and they are struggling. He meets another separated woman and she moves in and drama ensues. Littles secrets from all the adults are revealed along the way, showing none of them to really be that decent. It left me irritated in parts, because the situations bothered me, this is what happens when you accept mediocracy I guess.

McQueen - documentary about the late great designer. A real insight into his early life and his creativity.

John and Yoko: above us only sky - great documentary about the making of the classic album, Imagine. This is just beautiful, with footage from then, and then the players talking now. I loved this so very much.

Marwencol - lovely documentary about a man who was damaged deeply in a horrid attack, and how he coped by building miniature villages with miniature people depicting his life and his fantasy life as a form of therapy. Sounds crazy, but it's really beautiful.

Back to Burgundy - French family drama about a son who comes back to help the family vineyard after his father dies.

The House With a Clock in its Walls - family thriller about a young boy who goes to stay with his eccentric uncle in a strange old house. Very good, both Cate Blanchett and Jack Black are great in this.

On Chesil Beach - an ok film of the great modern classic by Julian Barnes. This was a dramatic novella about a young couple who marry in the 50s and never consummate their marriage which causes a huge rift, and is absolutely devastating to them both. Beautifully written, this just does not come across that well in the film and I found it quite annoying at times. Read the book!

Fahrenheit 451 – remake of the classic book and film. Very chilling in today’s political climate and packs quite the punch still. Excellent acting form Michael B Jordan and Michael Shannon as our ‘baddies’ and an unexpected Martin Donovan as their evil boss.

Man Up – this was a so-so romantic comedy starring Simon Pegg and Lake Bell.

Frida – I haven’t watched this since it came out and have kept meaning to revisit it. It is such a great film, so underrated when it came out. I imagine if it was released today it would be a whole other story. Salma Heyek is everything as Frida, absolutely stunning. The supporting cast are outstanding, Alfred Molina, Antonia Banderas, Ashley Judd, Edwards Norton, and Geoffrey Rush. The colour, the art, the music, the food…this is a sensual feast for the soul. 

Sophie’s choice – I watched this for the first time in probably decades and it still holds up. Such an intense film though, I am unsure I will watch it again, but don’t let that put you off if you haven’t seen it. Set in the late 40s in Brooklyn, it follows the path of a young writer (a very young Peter MacNicol) who befriends an odd and intense couple (Kevin Kline and Meryl Streep). AS he gets to know them, he delves deeper into their lives and finds out the reasons behind their intensity and oddness. Both MacNicol and Kline are great in their roles, but it is Streep that shines here as a Polish immigrant who has been through the most horrendous things during the Holocaust. The levels and depth of her performance are simply off the richter scale. I had never really ‘gotten’ the appeal of Meryl until I saw this some in the mid 90s, after that I was a fan. It is a long film at 2.5 hours, but the pay off is worth it and incredibly powerful.

What I've Been Listening To

Roma Soundtrack – such wonderful world music, easy to listen to and relaxing.

Why You So Crazy – The Dandy Warhols  - not as good as their early work and a little depressing in parts, but overall a good listen.

Women of the World – a world music compilation with songs from and by women from all over the world. A bit hit and miss but mostly good.

Down the Road Wherever by Mark Knopfler – Knopfler gets better with age, yeah it is laid back and mellow but it’s really good. Great tunes, lyrics, and riffs.

The Great Expanse – Hilltop Hoods – great new album of funk and hiphop, pop and rock, really enjoyed this.

Triage – Methyl Ethel – new album is pretty good, new age pop vibe, with listenable and likeable tracks.

Crushing – Julia Jacklin – lovely pop, great lyrics and melody. I really love Julia’s voice and style. She ranges from laid back ballady pop to danceable pop which is fab. A new discovery for me, highly recommend.

Don’t Let the Kids Win – Julia Jacklin – loved the new album so much, I went and found her debut album, a little mellower but still divine. Sometimes she remind me of First Aid Kit in terms of tone.

Stolen Diamonds – The Cat Empire – the usual mix of funk, ska, and world music from the boys. I always enjoy their music, it’s uplifting and joyful.

Anthem – Madeleine Peyroux  - lovely as always, her voice is so smooth and her songs divine.

The Teal Album – Weezer – glorious album of 80s covers; Africa, Take On Me, Billie Jean, Sweet Dreams, Mr Blue Sky and so on.
They sound great, and the cover in a lovely teal with the boys wearing lovely teal suits is just perfect

The Best of Everything: 1976-2016 – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – commencing with the perfection that is Free Falling, this covers all the hits and more.

Unspooled - really loving this look at the AFI's 100 best films by Amy Nicholson and Paul Scheer. WIth detail analysis on each classic film and sometimes interviews with those involved, this is one of the best film podcasts around.

David Tennant Does A Podcast with... - a podcast by Tennant with some of his famous friends, Olivia Coleman (soooo good), Whoopi Goldberg, Jodie Whittaker, Ian McKellan, Jon Hamm, etc etc. A little bit sweary, and a lot funny, this is a great one to add to your listening list!

Clear and Vivid with Alan Alda  - lots of science and communication chatter with interesting people. Alda is fiercely intelligent and measured and funny, the chatter is delightful!

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