Welcome to a month in which I have been in a major reading and writing slump. That often happens when a large proportion of my work is focused on a project that involves a lot of reading and writing, because then I just don’t want to come home and do either. (1) Things which I have read and enjoyed. My book club book was Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsey, which I was glad to read, because I’d seen the film as a teenager and a lot of the atmosphere had really stayed with me. Sadly I found the book a little too languid to really make the eerieness of the atmosphere of the book sustainable throughout. Apparently that atmosphere is easier to sustain in a 90-odd minute film (I rewatched the film as well, and I think it is a much better telling of that story).
However, the other book that I actually finished this month was A Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks, which I have been wanting to read for ages. I love following him on twitter (@herdyshepherd1) and I am crazy about his border collies, and this book did not disappoint. It was a wonderful, loving, account of farming in the Lake District, and just the right kind of sentimental, i.e. not saccharine, but not afraid of talking about emotion or beauty. It was also not afraid of being frank about what is hard about the life - especially the external interferences - but without being bitter about them. If my friends haven’t read it already they’re getting it for birthdays and Christimases to come.
(2) Things which I have watched and enjoyed Instead of reading, I’ve been at the cinema a whole bunch, for some things that were better than others. So, in ascending order: I Saw the Light (aka the Hank Williams biopic) - I took my Dad to see this because we were both impressed by Tom Hiddleston’s performance on the @wittertainment podcast, and we were both disappointed. The songs were great, the performances (especially Hiddles, and Elizabeth Olson, who I always enjoy) were really good, but the story didn’t really go anwywhere.
The Jungle Book, which I enjoyed more than I would have foretold (because the original animated version is one of my most beloved films), but it didn’t quite soar for me.
X-Men: Apocalypse, which was not as bad as the reviews threatened and therefore I enjoyed it more than I was expecting. Still much better than X-Men: Last Stand, you guys, even if nothing comes close to the glory of X2. Oscar Isaac is remarkably compelling as Apocalypse given the level of make-up and lack of convincing character background or develppment involved. I was completely unmoved by most of the major plot and the extreme destruction (booooored) but I did enjoy some of the smaller moments. Big fan of Evan Peters’ Quicksilver and Nightcrawler in particular.
Our Kind of Traitor, which is a very solid Le Carré spy thriller. I remember the book being a less-great recent Le Carré, so I was glad that this held up well. Thoroughly good use of two hours.
And the final three are really tied, because they are all so very different and I enjoyed them immensely for very different reasons. Knight of Cups, which is even more Terrence Malick than the last Terrence Malick. I had to make my way into central London to see this as it had the tiniest release and I am so glad I did. Something about Malick just works for me, even though I totally get why so many reviewers panned this. I recommend reading Matt Zoller Seitz at rogerebert.com and Richard Brody at the New Yorker on the film, because they really put into words some of the stuff I found fascinating about the film. It was just the most remarkable depiction of a the completely subjective way people engage with the world around them and see each other. Yes, Christian Bale’s Rick is an epitome of fairly objectionable male with first world problems, but I don’t think the film pretends otherwise and the great discomfort to be found in viewing the world through his eyes is intentional and, I think, should make you dislike the experience to some extent. He doesn’t like it much either. I’ve also been listening to Grieg’s Peer Gynt suite ever since.
Everybody Wants Some!!, which again, I really enjoyed though I understand why some critics (looking at you, @wittertainment) didn’t enjoy spending time with these characters. I feel like I really should have disliked spending time with these epically bro-tastic, casually sexist baseball boys far more than I did, but hey, I just rolled my eyes and laughed at them. I have a theory that it is easier for women to spend time with these guys than it is for men who weren’t in the ‘jock’ category and who have bad memories of being mocked/ignored by or compared to that category. While I am entirely used to finding dude-bros attractive despite my knowledge that they would mark a terrible life choice, and rolling my eyes at their nonsense. And in the list of douchey dude-bros I have known, the guys in this film are so mild. They can grow up and learn the errors of their ways.
Love and Friendship, which I just described to my mother as ‘Like if Blackadder did Jane Austen.’ This sprung out at me from nowhere when the postive reviews started rolling in, because I’d just not heard of it, but I made sure I made the time to go see it, and I am so happy I did. I sniggered my way through, completely ensorceled by Lady Susan’s glorious machinations and hilariously charmed by Tom Bennett’s gloriousy dim Sir James Martin. Properly witty. Will watch again.
(3) Things which I wrote Yeah, this was the month I didn’t.
(4) A photo from the month gone by It was nice at the beginning of May - remember that? This is Greenwich in on a Sunday.
(5) In the pile for June My wonderful friend Jamie picked up C.E. Morgan’s The Sport of Kings for me because she thought I’d like it. I started it over the bank holiday, and I am completlely fascinated, so I will be finishing that. Our book club book is Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King, which will be a first for me. Since I was ordering that from the library I also decided to request Authority, which is the second of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy. I want to read the rest, because Annihilation creeped the heck out of me at Christmas - but I didn’t want to buy it, because I don’t think I’ll re-read them (I’ve already passed Annihilation on). And then I am going to read China Miéville’s Railsea, because then I am allowed to buy his most recent book. I mostly really love all his stuff, but I mostly manage to be a book behind (which is good, because it means paperbacks not hardbacks!) - so I am looking forward to finally getting to this. I had read the first chapter before I was given The Sport of Kings, so I’m actually going back to it.