Sunday, May 17, 2020


What I've Been Reading

On the Road by Jack Kerouac - I cannot believe I have never read this book. It took about 20 pages to get into the swing of it, and from there it was a page turner and I loved it. The rhythm of the writing, poetic as it was, felt like the jazz it refers to throughout the book. Syncopated and stylish and just when you get into it it changes and it sharp and off beat, just like jazz! The characters were looking for fun in this new era, and it was all about booze, drugs, and women. Some will need to remember the context of the times, but these things didn't bother me. It was about the writing and the writing was exceptional. Sure, some of the characters aren't that likeable, Dean Moriarty was awful, but he was interesting. This, whilst fiction, was based on the exploits of the beats at that time. Nothing really happens, it is just life and movement, but it is fascinating. The descriptive nature of the prose meant, for me, I could imagine every scene, every character in my head and I loved it so very much.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson - this is my second or third read of this modern classic, based on a real life adventure by the wonderful Hunter S Thompson. I grew up reading his pieces in Rolling Stone magazine. His anarchy and humour delighted me. His style, the gonzo style, I was immediately a fan of. This is a romping tale, of drugs, sex, drugs, booze, fast cars, drugs, guns, women, Las Vegas, drugs, motorcycles, drugs, and drugs. You get the picture, it's a little hazy and filled with flying rays and such. There really is no way to review this book. It is hilarious, funny, crazy, and fun. You don't dip you toe in, you belly flop right into the action and just go with the tides. You're welcome!

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer: a novella by Fredrik Backman - this is a very short and easy to read little gem. Backman also wrote A Man Called Ove which I loved. This is the story of a grandfather and grandson, sitting and reminiscing. The grandfather is struggling to remember his life and his grandson prompts his stories. He remembers his wife and how they met and so on. It is humourous and moving. 

La Passione: how Italy Seduced the World by Dianne Hales - this is a great book about all the 'passions' of Italy. Starting with history, war, the gods. It is part travel, part history, easy to read and fascinating. With chapters on art, architecture, food, opera, cars, film and much more you will escape into all things Italy. Milan, Venice, Romeo and Juliet, Ferrari, The Sistine Chapel, Puccini, Fellini, and so on. If you love anything remotely Italian, you will love this.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby - this is a fabulous book of feminist essays about Samantha's life. They are funny and clever, witty and real. Focusing mostly on relationships, but also family, friends, work, and other life things. I loved her essay on weight and 'dieting' called Fuck it, bitch, Stay Fat. 

The Beautiful Ones by Prince - absolutely brilliant book 'written' by Prince. He had started a memoir before he died, and this contains that, plus other pieces of writing, scribbled notes, photos and so forth. It focuses a lot on his upbringing and teen years leading up to his first album which is incredibly insightful and fascinating. There is much from his popular period too. Musically it is interesting, but it also delves into his persona as Prince and his fashion and appearance. It is definitely a book for fans and also for those who want to know more about behind the scenes and why Prince is so revered. It is also aesthetically beautiful in it's production, lots of purple and gold with photos and such presented beautifully.

Wham! George and Me by Andrew Ridgeley - this was a lovely biography about a lovely friendship. Andrew tells the story of their lives since becoming friends at school when they were young. How they put together Wham, remained friends, that fame and the aftermath. No real gossip and such, just a genuinely lovely story.

Dear Dad edited by Samuel Johnson - this is another small gift books full of letters from the Love Your Sister team, headed by Samuel Johnson. Full of celebs and regular people writing letters to their Dads. They range from sad to funny to surprising. I found out Joel Creasey's Dad was The Solo Man - that was super impressive!

The Nobel Lecture by Bob Dylan  - I've had this little gem for a while. It was a quick read but an outstanding one. If you do not understand why he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, all you have to do is read this and you'll work it out. (Or maybe just read his lyrics as poems and stories!) He references 3 books he read when he was young that helped shaped his storytelling: Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front and The Odyssey. Reading his descriptions of these novels - that I have not read - made me feel like I had indeed read them! A musical genius and a World Treasure!

Scratch edited by Manjula Martin - authors and writers writing about writing, publishing, how to make money, bookstores and so on. Including Cheryl Strayed, Susan Orlean, Roxanne Gay etc. It was an easy dip in and dip out read and enjoyable.

The Australian Face: essays from the Sydney Review of Books edited by James Ley and Catriona Menzies-Pike - this was a great read on books I have read and some I have not...but want to. Including Anna Funder's All that I Am, Michelle de Krester's Questions of Travel, Christos Tsiolkas' Barracuda, and This House of Grief by Helen Garner. 4 books I have read and enjoyed.

What I've Been Watching

The New Pope - I really enjoyed The Young Pope when it came out 4 years ago. It starred Jude Law, was incredibly sexy and very subversive. It ended with Law's Pope having a heart incident. The season picks up 9 months later, Law is in a coma and they need a new pope until (if) he comes out of it. A pope is anointed but it becomes clear he was not a good choice. This is the first episode, and it so incredibly funny and clever. It sets the tone for the series, the first was funny and subversive but this lifts it up quite a few notches. Malkovich becomes the New Pope, after some co-ercing. It becomes quite meta and that adds to the humour and sexiness of the show. These sounds like spoilers, but they all happen early on and were in the trailer. Malkovich is superb, and Law appears in dream sequences. And you are just hanging for Law's pope to wake up and meet with Malkovich's pope. But it is so much more than that, it is a wide open exploration of what is bad about the Catholic Church. Paolo Sorrentino is a wonderful auteur, and his vision is always spectacular. They were not allowed to shoot inside in The Vatican, so some parts were remade from scratch including The Sistine Chapel where a lot of scenes were shot. Remarkable art design. Some outside scenes were shot on location. Every shot is beautiful and awe inspiring. The music is perfect, the full cast are great, especially the fabulous Cecile de France. Look out for cameos by Marilyn Manson and Sharon Stone. Sharon in particular steals the show, outstanding acting and she looks remarkable. I could go on all day, this is a spectacular show!

Will and Grace S3 - l love Will and Grace, always have, and it is just what we need right now. Funny light comedy that can pack a punch every now and then. The cast are great, their comedic chops separately impressive, but put them together and it is just everything. I think Debra Messing is such an underrated Comedienne, and the I Love Lucy homage lets her shine. It was a more fitting finale this time, simple but it worked. It made me laugh and cry. This reboot was only 3 seasons and I will miss it, but I'm thankful it did come back.

Philharmonic - this was an intriguing French thriller/murder set in Paris in and around a Philharmonic orchestra. Helene is the new challenging conductor after the previous conductor dies. She has been in New York and known as difficult. No one is keen to have her, not least the French Horn player who is having an affair with Helene's husband. Helene's mother is in hospital with a bad mental health disease that will ultimately kill her and Helene could have the same gene but is keeping her distance. She sees herself in a young violinist and replaces the aging 1st violinist with her and that creates many cracks in the orchestra. When a young player she has been picking on mysteriously dies, it seems something far more sinister is at play, and Helene seems to be behind it. Or is she? This was a fascinating thriller, but add in the brilliant classical music and scenes around Paris lifts it to another episode. Definitely worth checking out.

Devs - this started out as a fascinating look at time travel. A young IT guy in a large company gets moved into Devs, a super secret section. What he sees there blows his mind and he tries to escape, but is murdered instead. His death is altered to look like a suicide, his girlfriend - who also works for the company - doesn't buy the suicide and enlists an ex boyfriend to help her work out what is going on. Obviously, there is much more to the show than that, and it is quite remarkable, but it took a long time to get to the twist. I liked this a lot, but the story telling was long and slow.

Year of the Rabbit - heard about this little gem from a conversation on Twitter with Dave Graney. Rabbit is Inspector Rabbit, played by the brilliant Matt Berry, and set in Victorian times. Great cast starring Keeley Hawes and Sally Phillips, obviously a comedy and totally worth watching the 6 short episodes.

Escape to the Chateau - I love this show so much. It is all my dreams come true, a castle in France! Dick and Angel are unique and glorious humans, I know we'd be firm friends. It is about 4 years in now and they have done sooo much to the Chateau and it's grounds. The kids are growing up and utter delights. The only issue I have is Fox is no longer playing the show, it is on a commercial channel and I missed this as I don't watch those channels. and it seems to be playing both S5 and S6 simultaneously and I am catching up online and have holes in the viewing. Preferably I'd watch S5 in order, then S6. Sigh. Anyway, this show is truly an escape, one I'd love to indulge in myself.

Gogglebox - this is one of my favourite shows full stop. I guess it is a reality show, and I am so not a fan of them. But it is more than that, it shows a cross-section of humanity. You come to love and adore all the people watching tele and making commentary on it. It is my feel good show and wish it was on every week. 

You Can't Ask That - this is one of the best shows on tele. Such a simple premise, people taking questions about something that isn't usually spoken about, eg Nudists, Murder, HIV, Autism etc. There is so much beautiful humanity within this show and you always learn something. Those that are featured are heroic and beautiful.

The Amazing Race
 - I have come back to The Amazing Race after a long break. I love the mix of travel and challenges, I usually don't love the people on it, but often there are one or two couples you root for.

The Great British Bake Off - this is another 'guilty' pleasure. I am not usually a fan of cooking shows, I would rather just eat the food, and they are usually full of idiots and in-fighting and stuff that makes me feel my IQ disappearing rapidly. This is very British and lovely and baking, eg cakes and yummy things, and has Noel Fielding as a host and Paul Hollywood who is rather swoonworthy. This season had an astonishing baker who was easily going to be a winner, but things went haywire in the finale and things didn't go according to plan!

The Art of France - This was a short 3 episode documentary about French Art. The host not only showed up the actual art and explained it, he took us to places throughout France where the artist worked or the art was made. Fabulous!

Opera Legends - thoroughly enjoying this great series that features a great opera singer each episode. It is extensive and remarkable, and the music and their voices a thing of beauty.

The Sleeping Beauty - Australian Ballet Company - This is an exceptionally stunning version of the ballet classic. My goodness, to have seen it in person, it would have been stunning. The costumes and set design are out of this world. A few years ago I was lucky to have a backstage tour of the Victorian Arts Centre when they were leading up to this ballet and we got to see some of the costumes and head pieces being worked on and we were blown away. This was pure perfect to watch.

The Sleeping Beauty: behind the curtain - this is the documentary behind the ballet, the training, the dancing, the casting, the music, the costumes, and on and on. A true treat if I ever saw one and totally enhancing the ballet itself.

The Australian Dream - finally got around to watching Stan Grant's powerful documentary about Adam Goodes and race relations in Australia. Every Australian should be made to watch it, but those that need to probably will not. It made me cranky and embarrassed. Never let anyone tell you we are not a racist country, because we are...deeply...but I already knew that! I suspect anyone who says that is actually racist themselves. It is up to us to call that behaviour out.

Margaret Atwood: a word is power - fabulous documentary about the great writer with footage going back to her start in the industry right up until her most recent author tour surrounding her sequel, The Testaments, to The Handmaid's Tale. Total fan girl stuff here, and really worth checking out.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Hunter S Thompson said he liked the film and felt it was a good depiction of his book. I prefer the book infinitely above the film, but the film does do a great job in displaying visually what is within such a dreamlike, drug addled book. Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro do a great job as Raoul and Gonzo. Some of the scenes translate beautifully from the book, the car scenes especially. There are loads of cameos, including Thompson himself.

Searching For Bobby Fischer - This is a great little indie film about chess. A child prodigy is headed for Bobby Fischer style stardom, but his family refuses to let him lose his childhood. What's really interesting about this film is the cast, a huge all star cast, most of which were on the cusp of stardom when the film was released. Laura Linney, Joan Allen, Lawrence Fishburne, William H, Macy, Dan Hedeya and so on. The only big name was Ben Kingsley. 

The Straight Story - one of the more simpler David Lynch films. Alvin, Richard Farnsworth, is elderly and has lost his drivers license, but he can still drive his tractor. When his older estranged brother falls ill, he decides to drive across multiple US states to see him...on his tractor. This is a road movie unlike no other. Stunningly shot, with heart and drama.

What I've Been Listening To

Stand out Podcasts this month are:
Clear and Vivid with Alan Alda and guest, Paul McCartney - wow, and interesting conversation with Alda bringing out things I have not heard my Paulie talk about before. An absolute gift!

Chats 10 Live - Salesy and Crabb bring us our podcast live form their homes, more hilarity ensues!!!

Robbie Williams Corona Karaoke - this has been hilarious. I don't mind Robbie but I wouldn't call myself a fan. He has been in lockdown since arriving home from Australia and took to singing his songs over youtube clips to whoever wanted to listen and this moved to any songs. He patters them with humour, his 'art', and philosophies on life and remaining happy. It's all pretty simple stuff but it is kinds fun and comforting. Him singing along to I'm A Believer or Come On Eileen, fluffing words and notes and not giving a shit is great.

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