(1) Things which I have read and enjoyed.
I finished my War and Peace re-read and it was deeply deeply satisfying. There really isn’t a book like it - and I have to wonder what a contemporary literature fiction editor would say if one of their authors presented them with quite so much straight historiography in chunks throughout a new novel. That said, for all my historian-nerdery, my favourite thing about the novel remains its humanity. Everyone in this book is terrible and falls over their own selves to frustrate their chances for happy lives, and yet you love them anyway. My favourite remains Prince Andrey Bolkonski who, despite being a pretentious muppet who is horrible to his first wife, is a precious cinnamon roll too pure for this world and I could totally fix him, honest (I couldn’t, he’s such a mess).
We read Sara Novic’s Girl at War for book club and I would really recommend it, as a book and a book club choice. We all enjoyed it and found it demanded reading, despite finding imperfections in it, and then we had a fascinating discussion about what we remember about the Serbo-Croat war, representations of trauma and the nature of language and living in translation.
Finally I read Better Living through Criticism by the NYT film critic A.O. Scott and was - disappointed, which I’m sad about. I like his criticism, I am onboard with his argument (essentially that criticism illuminates and adds to art, which learns and grows from criticism), and I like meta-criticism generally. But I found it dragged and couldn’t see the train of thought signposted that well through the chapters. There’s subtlety and there’s subtlety, and the through-line was too quietly given for anyone not reading a chapter in a sitting. I liked the dialogues the best, but they had to carry too much of the lifting in illuminating what everything else was getting at.
(2) Things which I have watched and enjoyed
I saw Midnight Suprise, which I enjoyed hugely and which took my breath away in the end. I love a film that trusts you enough to not explain everything and makes you smile in wonder.
Then I saw Eye in the Sky, which took my breath away in the other direction. I went on the basis of a very good review from Mark Kermode and a fascinating letter from one of his listeners as I’d not thought much of the trailer - and wow, it was underserved by the trailer. It was a very simple socratic dialogue about contemporary drone warfare and the balancing of life against life in the military and political desicion-making process, and incredibly intense. It made you a part of that process, twitching to act or desperate to delay, and made you simultaneously frustrated and impressed at the people and systems involved. It also made me realise just how much I’ve got used to the ‘military = heroes / politicians = PR-focused donkeys’ narrative in films and how that translates to the way people think about this kind of thing when presented with the kind of condundrum the film throws up. The number of times I just thought, ‘Oh let Helen Mirren do her thing and we’ll win and it’ll all be fine…’ is just horrible.
And finally, Friday saw very-excited-me at Captain America: Civil War. It’s still not officially out in the States yet, so I will be mostly-schtum, except to say I enjoyed it immensely. It’s not flawless, but it has an interesting concept that it executes well and is emotionally satisfying. However, I am already mentally writing a blog post that is called ‘A Civics Lesson for Steve Rogers’, because I love him and I understand where he is coming from, but boy is he wrong about some things.
(3) Things which I wrote
I have a thesis idea going free to a good home, because it is not mine to write:
On Ta-Nehisi Coates, Hamilton and the Prophetic Imagination. And then I wrote two pieces about the EU and the upcoming referendum, in which I am deeply invested. Our future is at stake, people!
(4) A photo from the month gone by A study in transport contrasts… India and Dubai.
(5) In the pile for May
I’ve started reading James Rebanks (@herdyshepherd1)’s book The Shepherd’s Tale, which I’m loving and I’ve cracked into the Hamiltome. My book club book is Picnic at Hanging Rock, so I picked up the film to re-watch as well. After that, it’s anyone’s guess on the book front. At the cinema I will be trotting off to X-Men: Apocalypse, and I still want to see The Jungle Book and Son of Saul.