in which I wrap up December

(1) Things which I have read.
1. Go Went Gone– Jenny Erpenbeck. I read three of Erpenbeck’s novels last year, and this may have been my favourite (though there is something more haunting about Visitation). It’s about the refugee crisis in Germany, but its made richer by the way its considerations of borders and ‘home’ is narrated by a retired classicist, who has spent a career translating words and ideas across time and space and yet is clueless about the present, and who experienced the end of the Cold War from the eastern side of the Berlin Wall.
2. The Divine Dance – Richard Rohr. This is the first Rohr I’ve read all the way through, and I’m in the mixed opinions camp. I liked a lot, thought some of it wise and some of it pushing his argument a bit, and oh boy am over everything being written like it’s an aphorism.
3. The Flying Classroom – Erich Kästner. This was a birthday present from a friend, and a lovely pre-Christmas read. It’s just delightful.
4. The Santaland Diaries – David Sedaris. Completely the opposite kind of a pre-Christmas read to the Kästner. I love Sedaris’ story of being a Macy’s elf, but nothing else in the rest of the collection was anything I’d rate as Peak Sedaris.
5. The Vegetarian – Han Kang. I read Human Acts at the end of 2016 and loved it, so it was nice to finally get to this earlier novel. I don’t think I liked it quite as much – but then, I would be more likely to be drawn to a novel about the trauma of revolution. However, The Vegetarian had the same magnetic kind of pull and delicate precision and was a lovely read.
6. Dogs at the Perimeter – Madeleine Thien. Another case of going back to read an earlier novel by an author who wrote a book I loved in 2016. I didn’t go into this expecting to love it half as much as Do Not Say We Have Nothing, but loving anything half that much would still be pretty good for most books. I picked this up on the way back from Cambodia, and was really glad to be reading it after the trip and after learning more about the Khmer Rouge and the country as that definitely made it easier to pick my way through the fragments of memory and history that are the heart of this book. It’s really good – even if a lesser beast than Do Not Say…
7. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – John le Carré. Ahhh, the Christmas holiday, a good time for re-reading old favourites. It had been a while since I read it and there was a lot I’d forgotten, especially snark about Percy Alleline. It was so much fun to revisit it (though I remain convinced that Benedict Cumberbatch is not and never will be Peter Guillem).
8. HHhH – Laurent Binet. This has been on my shelf for actual years: I finally got around to it and I loved it. I was actually glad, to some degree, to have read this after having seen the film Anthropoid (which was a surprising joy in 2016) because, it meant I could place the story of the novel within a (very) rough knowledge of the history, and could relax into what Binet was doing with the dissection of historical fiction. I don’t read a lot of historical fiction about the period of history I know best, and Binet skewers some of the reasons why. Smart-arse.

(2) Things which I have watched and enjoyed
1. Murder on the Orient Express: super-glossy, snowy ‘it’s Christmas and I’m winding down’ entertainment. I enjoyed it a lot, but I don’t think it’s fantastically great.
2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi: I am team Pro-Last Jedi and also Team Sick of the way the converation about The Last Jedi is going on, because it loses an interesting and fair critical conversation in a swathe of nonsense.
3. Pitch Perfect 3: an utterly pointless entry in a series that had already seen a significant drop-off. This was total bobbins and yet I still love the friendship between these lunatics and the facts that for once in a film the boys get to be just the love interests. One of the ways we’ll know we’ve achieved gender equality in films will be when women-led films can be as daft as some of the truly terrible male-led films without jeopardising the careers of the women involved or casting doubt on the idea that women-led films aren’t good.
4. Hamilton: breaking out of the cinema and into the theatre, I finally, finally, got to see Hamilton and now I can die happy. Obviously I would die even happier if I could have a time machine and go back and see the original Broadway cast too, but the London edition is smashingly good, especially Jamael Westman as A. Ham.

(3) Things which I wrote
My favourite books of the year, and my favourite films of the year.

(4) A photo from the month gone by
I was in Leipzig for a few days in December for some Christmas Market time and a good dose of Bach.

We also went to Dresden for a day and saw the stunningly rebuilt Frauenkirche

And finally, I was in Cornwall for Christmas and we had one clear day

(5) In the pile for January
So many things. I may already be giving up on London Book Club’s January Book (The Lives of Others), but I have Little Fires Everywhere, The Patriots, The 7th Function of Language and Godel, Escher, Bach in the TBR pile, so I think I’ll be fine.

0 comments

Leave a Reply