Tuesday, September 1, 2020


What I've Been Reading

Rodham - Curtis Sittenfeld - I have recently discovered Curtis and am a huge fan, so have been eagerly awaiting her latest novel. Basically this is the story of what happened if Hilary never got married to Bill. A closing doors situation or a rethink of history. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride but there were moments that didn't ring 'true' to me. And here is the thing about history reworked, when you hear the premise you may already have your own story in your head for whatever reason. It is hard to write about this without giving away 'spoilers' so tread carefully if you have yet to read this . The first section of the book is Hilary meeting Bill, them falling in love, and her moving to Arkansas to be with him.This is based on a lot of research as to what actually happened but obviously there still a lot of speculation. This section rang true to me, although the sex writing is appalling (having said that I think unless you are Anais Nin, most sex writing is appalling!)

This is where history changes, Bill does not become President as his sexual advances whilst married (to someone weaker than Hillary) ruins his political career. Again, this I don't really buy, it is saying that without Hillary, Bill would never be president. And yes, I totally believe Hillary strengthened Bill's standing, but that charisma would always be there, Hillary or not. As the story continues there are little moments like this I didn't exactly buy. But in all, they didn't ruin this highly entertaining read. It was interesting to see where Sittenfeld thinks or wishes the cards had fallen. It made me smile and also made me perplexed. There is an alliance with Hillary and someone else late in the novel that I found very difficult to believe, despite the way it was sold to us. I loved the ending but also found it sad. I know all of this is a bit here and there, I just don't want to spoil the plot. This is a great book, totally worth reading. I am sure everyone will have bits they are unsure about, how can you not!!??

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh - The main character in this novel has had a rough life and has had enough. She decides she needs to reset and will do that by sleeping and resting for an entire year. This does not go according to plan. It is an interesting read, funny and dark, and very much a New York novel, which is always endearing. As I was reading there were hints of what was to come in terms of an ending, and whilst I was on the money it was exactly the ending  I thought. I really enjoyed this, and thought it a really different read.

Close to Home by Alice Pung - I loved this book of 'selected writings' by Alice, a Chinese Australian. It is a mix of essays, thought pieces, and memoir style stories about her life and that of her parents who were refugees from Cambodia. Alice writes about growing up Chinese in Melbourne, her heritage, her family's life in Cambodia and why they fled the country, trying to fit in, racism, and travel. She writes honestly with humour and reality. The stories are funny and honest and raw and heart wrenching, but so worth reading and so beautifully written.

White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad - Hamad's book is where #MeToo meets #BlackLivesMatter and it is utterly brilliant. Whilst it covers racism specifically to women of colour, it concentrates on brown women. If you thought crimes against black women were awful, brown women are treated even more appallingly. Hamd backs her ideas and stories with facts, loads of them, including statistics. It is rough reading - because things are far worse than you'd think. I got quite angry and frustrated reading this, we can do better. I will do better. We all need to keep pushing back until all women of colour are not treated with such disrespect or simple ignorance. Don't let the this upset prevent you from reading this, because that makes you part of the problem. We need to face these facts, arm ourselves with the information and speak up when we see or hear women being treated wrongly.

The Witches are Coming by Lindy West –Lindy’s follow up to the brilliant Shrill, and like Shrill is it honest, fierce, and funny. She focuses a lot on the #metoo movement as you can imagine and also the filming of her book into the television series, Shrill. She looks into other comedians like Adam Sandler, Joan Rivers, and Ricky Gervais and debates whether they are funny. She talks about her family and other subjects in the media. I couldn’t put this down, love this gal!

This is what  Feminist Looks Like: the rise and rise of Australian Feminism by Emily Maguire – this was an interesting read on the history of feminism in Australia. It covers politics, work, home, body, and public space, and shows how far we have come. It is a good read, but a little dry.

Women and Leadership: real lives, real lessons by Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – This was a fascinating read. Julia and Ngozi interview 8 high profile women including Theresa May, Hilary Clinton, and Jacinda Ardern about leading as a woman, power and much more. From these interviews they come up with 8 hypotheses including hair, clothes, and presentation, bitches/witches,  do women support women and what the women have said about them and the take aways from these chats. It is a great read about great women.

Letter to my Younger Self: 100 inspiring people on the moments that shaped their lives - this was a fun read, filled with all sorts of interesting people. The thing I took mostly from the book is that pretty much most of these people knew or were doing what they became famous for at that young age. So stick with it people!

Books that saved my life: reading for wisdom, solace and pleasure by  Michael McGirr – there are a lot of these books around, short chapter, essay style writing about books and their impact on the author’s life. I want to love them but I always want more. They never really explain why they really impact, they often pick the obvious and I feel like I could do a better job…maybe I should! Having said that, this is a good read, full of classics and favourites.

Literary Paris: a photographic tour by Nichole Robertson - This was a lovely escape into photos of all things literary accompanied by words; prose, poetry, descriptions, essays etc. 

A Writer's Paris: a guided journey for the creative soul by Eric Maisel - I loved this and know I will go back to it again and again. It is full of information and tips on how to write in Paris (or anywhere). It also delves into everything literary about Paris, including libraries, bookshop, where famous writers lived and wrote and so on. It includes travel information, history, and everything literary and is an amazing little guide. It really stirred up my creativity which is great.

What they didn't teach you in Art School by Rosalind Davis and Annabel Tilley - I never went to art school nor did any of the information within this book really apply to me, but it was a fascinating read. This is a great book for anyone wanting to sell and promote their art.

Triumph: Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics by Jeremy Schaap – I listened to this on talking book and really loved it, although the reader left a lot to be desired. It tells the story of Jesse’s poor upbringing and the unleashing of his talent and his road to the Berlin Olympics. It also tells in great detail about that particular Olympics. I have a thing for Olympic history, and it was a great listen. 

The Artificial Horizon by Clive James – I listened to Clive James reading his own poetry. Sheer magic. What a man, what a voice, what lovely and hilarious poems. Including his hilarious ode, Give me the sweat of Gabriela Sabatini, and tributes to The Eternity Man and Philip Larkin, this is word porn at its best!  

The Yield by Tara June Winch – I really loved this book, beautifully written and so clever. It tells the story of August, returning from London for her grandfather’s burial. She ran away from her small home town years ago and her return fills her with dread and concern. The small town looks likely to be overrun by a mining company, there is a long left behind love, and the ‘ghost’ of her sister who disappeared when they were kids. The story is told simultaneously in three sections. August’s story of her return, which is the main focus. A small section that tells the story of the original settlement, and a stunning section that forms a dictionary of sorts of indigenous language. This is from a book August’s grandfather was writing on his life based on their language. So this not only educates August – and the reader – to her language, but tells some back story of their family. This story is funny and stunning and heart breaking and fierce. You can see why it is winning so many awards and why it is so popular. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

An Elderly lady is up to No Good by Helen Tursten -  This is a teeny book with 4 short stories in it, all based around Maud who is 88, has no family, likes to travel but dead bodies seem to follow her around. What is going on? This was a quick read and loads of fun!

What I've Been Watching

Perry Mason - this was a great noir style version of Perry Mason. It commences when Mason is a gumshoe detective and before he becomes a lawyer and has an arc of a child kidnapping and murder. This is gruesome and a complex arc, that keeps you guessing and interested. Matthew Rhys, from The Americans, plays Mason and is mesmerising. The whole show is beautifully shot with that noir feel, but whilst very stylish is not style over sunstance. Teh supporting cast are great with special nods to Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) as Sister Alice and Lili Taylor as her mother, and to Juliet Rylance as Mason's offsider.

Search Party S3 - It's been a while since I watched S2 and didn't realise S3 had been out for a while. Search Party is unlike anything I've seen on TV, although it is shades of Hitchcock. S1 focuses on Dory and her friends, privileged millennials, who become obsessed with the disappearance of an acquaintance. But things go horribly wrong, and S2 toys with the possible consequences of some ill thought actions. S3 deals with the consequences and is a great watch. This is a comedy, but can be quite black. The entire cast is great, look out for cameos. There will be a S4, so I look forward to that. It is so well written and so unusual, the kind of show that sucks you right in.

Rosehaven S4 - this is such a lovely show and we really need more of that in this crazy world. Two friends, Emma and Daniel (the brilliant Celia Pacquola and the dry Luke McGregor) working in real estate in a small town where not a lot happens. Both crap at relationships, they are funny and sweet without being saccharine. 

What We Do in the Shadows S2 - This is up there as one of my favourite shows on tele. Based on the movie of the same name it follows 3 vampires living on Staten Island in a gothic share house. It is filmed documentary style and is hilarious. This seasons has witches, a mortal enemy of Lazlo (Jim The Vampire played by Mark Hamil), a new familiar played by Haley Joel Osment, and much more. It is well written, clever, funny, visually magnificent, and such fun!

Succession S1 – Finally caught up with this and you can see why it is popular and winning awards. Set around a media family with an ageing and unwell patriarch and his four children, who squabble and backstab each other and those around them. This reminds me a lot of Dynasty or Dallas but updated. I love that Alan Ruck (Cameron from Ferris Bueller) plays the oldest, more sensitive child, it feels like a natural progression from Cameron! Kieran Culkin is deliciously bad as the youngest of the clan, filterless and devious. There is more to this family than meets the eye, I guess more will unravel in S2, and I for one cannot wait.
Schitts Creek S1-4 - this took a while for me to get into or for it to find it's rhythm. About a rich family, they've lost their money and the only place they had to go to is a town the father brought as a joke for their son. So the Rose family, Mum Moira, Dad Johnny, Son David, and Daughter Alexis move to Schitts Creek, a very small country town full of odd and endearing characters, and live in the town's motel. It is a typical fish out of water show, but also about a family that really don't know or care for each other, being stuck with each other and having to get to know each other, and for me that is the beauty if the show. Yes, it is funny and their characters are utterly brilliant and they bounce off the cast of small town folk beautifully. I have always loved Eugene Levy but didn't know much about his son Dan, who plays his son David and was the co-creator of the show. I love Dan so much and his character David, so much depth and layers, petulantly funny. Moira and her costumes and hair, utterly brilliant. Johnny, a kind soul who is just trying to keep his family together. Alexis, who has the most wonderful character arc. I must admit I thought how on earth can they keep this up for 6 seasons during season 1. But upon finishing S4 I just think I will be sad when it does finish. This is one for a laugh and a smile.

Lucifer S1 - I have been meaning to watch this for ages, mostly as I knew Neil Gaiman was a contributer/writer on the series. But when I found out the gorgeous Tom Ellis was Lucifer I was gobsmacked and had to commence. How I did not know this I cannot tell you. I loved Tom so much playing Miranda Hart's love interest on the brilliant Miranda. This is a far cry from his lovely chef, Gary. Lucifer is the devil and gets caught up in helping detective, Chloe Decker, solve her crimes. He is interested in her, and cannot understand why his feelings are no reciprocated. He is the devil and holds charm over everyone, but not her! Ultimately this is a crime of the week kind of show, which normally is not my thing, but there is a bit of supernatural within and Ellis is delicious so I enjoyed the series. Will I enjoy 6 seasons of this, unsure, but I will see how I go.

Greed – This is another Michael Winterbottom/Steve Coogan collaboration with Coogan playing a London High Street fashion mogul, Sir Richard McCreadie. McCreadie is an awful character, exploiting the workers who make his clothes and generally being mean to those around him. David  Mitchell plays the writer following him to write his biography. Whilst there is background to McCreadie, much of the film is around the lead up to his 60th birthday and a huge party he is staging around a Gladiator theme complete with arena and a lion. Near the venue is a beach where a group of Syrian refugees are camping out. McCreadie is organising celebs to attend the party, and hoping the refugees will go away and his family will come, but everything is going wrong. This was good but could have been better, it is obvious what Winterbottom was trying to do with the themes of money, exploitation, refugees, etc but it was too heavy handed.

MIB: International – This was a worthy follow up with Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson in the MIB roles. Usual aliens and mole situation. Emma Thompson cameos as a head on the agency. Loads of fun.

Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears – much like the tv show this was style over substance, but really that is the whole point of Miss Fisher and what style she has. Set overseas, in London and the middle east, there is the usual espionage, but also gems and curses! Some of the Australian cast end up following her, through her usual adventures. Lots of high speed chasing, camels on the sand-dunes, quick sand, and guns. The set designs fabulous and Miss Fisher and friends look spectacular. This is light but fun.

Palm Beach - this was a nice light film about a group of friends in their 60s meeting for a weekend to celebrate a birthday. The actors are Sam Neil, Richard E. Grant, Jacqueline McKenzie, Bryan Brown, and Greta Scacchi. There are secrets to be unraveled, and issues dealing with ageing for all of them. This was good light entertainment, but pretty much rolled as you would expect.

I am Johnny Cash - documentary about the life of Johnny Cash. Filled with loads of interviews of his family and contemporaries. Plenty of footage, from television, filmclips, home footage and concerts. It enjoyed this but wanted more.

Amy Winehouse: Back to Black - this was a sad but lovely look back at the album that made Amy a star. Plenty of interviews with those who worked on it with her, including Mark Ronson. Plenty of footage from that time and lot of remorse for her no longer being here. Her talent shines through, but also her vulnerability and fragility. But that voice, what a gift.

Expecting Amy -  this is a three part documentary series following Amy working on what is to be her next special, but she becomes pregnant at the beginning of the process. And it is a rough pregnancy, she also finds out her husband is on the autism spectrum. It is a really honest, and interesting look into how a comedian pulls together their work on the back of having a real life. I always liked Amy's honest, feminist humour (although can take or leave her films) and really really loved this. It is definitely her best work.

Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict - great documentary about the eccentric art collector, her life and her legacy. Loads of footage and stills with voice overs etc. Peggy was way ahead of her time, as a feminist, and an art collector. She had affairs with too many artists to note here, and she adored these men and their art. Her collection of modern art is outstanding, and her life lived large.

Margaret Olley: A life in Paint  - is a charming documentary about the great artist. Underrated in her time but beloved in later life and after death, this follows Margaret's life from being discovered through to her prolific later life. With interviews by fellow artists from the vault, and newer artists talking about her influence, this is a sheer delight. Just looking at her painting always lifts my mood, seeing her talk about the art and actually painting is divine.

Brillo Box (3c off) - this was a quirky short documentary about a New York family that owned a special Brillo Box but traded it for a painting back in the 70s. Filmed and directed by Lisane Skylar, she remembers the box from her childhood. Her parents were contemporary art collectors, but were not rich and did not have a lot of space. So when they saw something new they wanted, they would trade or sold older pieces. Her father paid $1000 for a yellow Brillo Box BUT said he wanted Andy to sign it. He had a friend that knew Andy and had it arranged. This was the only box signed. Mr Skylar had a clear box made to put it in to preserve it. The box was eventually traded for a painting and that was that. When Lisane was looking at childhood photos she saw the box and decided to see if they could track it. The doco is just gorgeous, her parents real characters and lovers of art, and the outcome of finding the piece is quite remarkable. If you love art, Warhol, NY culture, or just plain quirky, this you will definitely love. I know I did!

Showbiz Kids - this is a great documentary by Alex Winter (Bill and Ted) about child stars. It focuses on Wil Wheaton, Henry Thomas (ET), Todd Bridges (Different Strokes), Mara Wilson (Matilda), Evan Rachel Wood and more. They all give very honest and revealing interviews about their experiences. It also follow a couple of young kids who are keen to get into the business. One looks like he is being pushed by his mother, the other seems likely to succeed. It is really well put together and fascinating, but also a little disturbing.

Ali and Cavett: the tale of the tapes - this was a fabulous documentary about the friendship between Muhammad Ali and DIck Cavett, the talk show host. An unlikely pairing if you ever saw one, but Dick had great respect for Ali and Ali loved that. They become best friends and Ali was on the Cavett show many many times. The documentary follows the evolution of the friendship with Ali's history during that time. Absolutely compelling and fascinating stuff. I was always such a fan of Ali, so this was a real treat.

Mary Beard's Shock of the Nude - This is a wonderful two-parter by the fabulous Mary Beard on Nude Art. It goes through the history on Nude Art and she travels to various destinations and galleries to showcase the story. She is dry and wonderful in her descriptions and even takes her gear off to be painted nude herself. This was really fascinating and a lot of fun.

Escape to the Chateau - I love this series about an eccentric (I know we would be good friends) English Couple, Dick and Angel, who buy a French Chateau, renovate it, and turn it into a successful wedding and event business. I love watching them make amazing out of nothing, their style is equal parts quirky and timeless. I have also been watching the Sister series, Escape to the Chateau DIY, where DIck and Angel help other couples with French Chateaus make the best of their situation. Both shows really are an escape, I daydream a lot about doing something similar.

Pilgrimage: the Road to Istanbul - this is the third series of this documentary series. It follows a group of varied people (usually British celebs, none of whom I know) on a walking pilgrimage based around faith. I am not religious and I doubt I would last such a thing, but I do love a walk, a wander, to flaneur and to think, so I am fascinated by these journeys. This one was lovely going through Europe, lovely little towns, mountains, and villages. Stunning, and of course seeing how people change (or not) from the journey.

Snakes in the City - this is a really weird show for me to watch, let alone like. I love animal docos, that is a given, but I am absolutely freaked out by snakes. Always have been since one separated me from my family doing a bush walk when I was about 8. I was dragging the chain, surprise surprise, and one crawled across the path separating me from everyone. I freaked out and have been freaked out ever since. I started watching this by accident, it was at the beginning of being back at work after Covid. I was pretty tense about covid and being out and about, and the tension I felt watching this took away the Covid tension...if that makes sense. And then I was hooked! Basically it is about this crazy couple who capture snakes from suburban places in Durban, Sth Africa, and release them back into the wild. Their love and passion for snakes are amazing, and that is part of the appeal, and I guess knowing anything could go wrong at any point. It is a show that puts you (well, at least me) on edge. Call me crazy, but it is compelling.

What I've Been Listening to

Akilotoa by Vika and Linda Bull - this is a great double album of their hits over the years. These ladies are National Treasures, and their harmonies second to none. I love some of the spiritual stuff they sing, but really all of it is just perfection. I have been listening to this over and over and over. You will do the same, highly recommend!

Don’t Waste Your Anger – The Smith Street Band – Don’t Waster Your Anger is a lovely melancholy album that refreshingly deals with a lot of heartbreak on the back of Wil Wagner’s attempt at suicide. Thankfully he is back on track and putting his experiences into his art and we are all the better for it. The Smith Street band are often described as punk, but I wouldn’t say that, I hear a lot of early U2 in their work to be honest. This is a great listen, and if you listen to the lyrics carefully it can be quite profound.

Paul Weller on Sunset – easy and smooth, as you would imagine.

American Uptopia on Broadway by David Byrne - this is the soundtrack of the successful tour and Broadway show THAT I MISSED OUT ON!!! Yeah, I had opportunity to go, but had seen Byrne a few years earlier doing what looked like a similar show so opted out. HUGE MISTAKE!!! This is brilliant, and full of Talking Heads and Solo stuff reworked. Loads of energy and now I know that Spike Lee (I love him) is making a documentary of the show I am excited I will get to 'see' it.

Julia Gillard and Cate Blanchett - I have finally gotten up-to-date with Julia Gillard's fantastic podcast, but really loved the one with Cate. Coming from very different backgrounds, but the same feminist sensibilities it was a great chat.

Overwhelmed and Dying - Judith Lucy's podcast - I devoured this 8 episode podcast in 2 days, and loved it. It comes from a depression after her brother died and her boyfriend stole of a lot of her money, and hitting 50. She spends time wondering whether life and romance are really worth it, and it is a funny and at times dark ride but totally entertaining as only Judith can be. Highly recommend.

In Bed with Nick and Megan - I have started this podcast which has been around for ages, with the cutest couple ever, Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally. They interview people they know and it feels like you are eavesdropping on a personal conversation. I really enjoy it, but sometimes they feel like they run a little too long and sometimes Megan talk a little too much. But other than that, another fun podcast to listen to. They are prolific, so loads to choose from. But if you want a nice place to start, their double date with Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen is wonderful.

Twinsthenewtrend Reaction Videos - I spent a lot of time this month down this wormhole. Twins, who are in their early 20s and love rap, listening to classic songs for the first time and filming their reaction to said song. Absolute pure joy. It is almost (almost) like hearing the song for the first time again yourself. There are hundreds to choose from. It is worth the visit, you will thank me for the honesty and joy. Their reactions to Queen and SInatra are gold, also Phil COllins, In the Air Tonight, but then some 'newer' songs like Hey Ya and You Can't Touch This are also great.


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