In which I wrap up August
(1) Things which I have read and enjoyed.
What does one do in August when there’s decent weather but lie in a hammock and read? And when it’s damp, but lie on the sofa and read?
The Clocks in this House All Tell Different Times - Xan Brooks. This month’s book club choice, it was nothing like I was expecting and I really enjoyed it. It’s creepy and disturbing, but also quite innocent and naive, and really atmospheric. It’s also a great book club option because there’s lots to talk about.
In the Shelter: finding a home in the world - Pádraig Ó’Tuama. Beautiful, reflective, philosophic, wise. This one I’ll return to a lot.
The Rise and Fall of DODO - Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland. Shorter than the last few Stephenson solos, but retains the ‘wrapping up at high speed’ tendency. I enjoyed it immensely, because it was great fun and easy to read, and I love fat books that get you to fall into their world - but it is a ‘miniature’ in Stephenson cannon.
In Other Words - Jhumpa Lahiri. An interconnected suite of essays about learning Italian and moving to Italy, with the Italian (by Lahiri) and the translation into English side by side. It works really well and is really insightful - and it was nice to realise how much Italian I can still remember, even though it’s been 12 years since I spent the summer in Bologna learning Italian.
Who thought this was a good idea? - Alyssa Mastromonaco. This book is aimed at girls and young women between about 15–25, and it’s a great book for them about how to adult and be bold and ambitious in the career you build. I didn’t need the ‘things you need to know’ stuff, but I had a ball with the stories of the Obama White House.
Home Fire - Kamila Shamsie. The latest Greek-myth novel of the summer, and absolutely the best. There is, it turns out, a reason why this is on the Booker longlist and the others are not. It’s a really clever update of Antigone for the age of the “War on Terror” and a great novel about immigration, assilimation, and radicalisation. I loved it and it gave me book hangover for a couple of days.
Exit West - Mohsin Hamid. I followed the Shamsie with this, also on the Book longlist - and also about immigration, but in a very different way. The doors give it a magical realism, and the atmosphere is almost dreamlike at times. The fact that you never meet a ‘native’ in the countries that Saeed and Nadia end up in means you only experience refugee-migration through the eyes of the refugees, which is very effective.
All Tomorrow’s Parties - William Gibson. This was a re-read - of what was my first Gibson, back when I had no clue at all what was going on and what I was getting myself into. It was really nice going back having read Virtual Light and Idoru. The whole trilogy are getting on for 15–20 years old, and they’re still astute.
(2) Things which I have watched and enjoyed
I went to see Dunkirk again, this time in 70mm Imax, which is literally immense. I got neck ache from craning around the screen, but it was so worth it. I also saw Detroit, which really left me cold with the brutality (the scene with the church choir in the end worked, but was too late). The performances were all great (especially John Boyega), but the sense of ‘same-old-same-old’ that the film brings out about race in America provides no catharsis or conviction of complicitly.
On bank holiday Monday I traipsed off to the only cineworld in London showing A Ghost Story in the middle of the day. It was astonishing and beautiful. It went somewhere I absolutely did not expect and completely worked. It’s a gem and worth the effort of finding in a cinema.
(3) Things which I wrote
A short review of Tish Harrison Warren’s book Ordinary Liturgies
A short piece on rest, with the help of Terrence Malick films.
(4) A photo from the month gone by
I got to dog sit for a day while my parents went to a wedding, so Bess and I went for a walk on the common.
(5) In the pile for September
I’m in the middle of Mrs Dalloway, which is my first Virginia Woolf. London Book Club are reading Connie Willis’ Crosstalk so I’ve been to order than into the library. I also ordered in Jeff Vandermeer’s Acceptance, so I can creep myself the heck out one more time in the Southern Reach trilogy. I have a very large TBR pile that includes The End We Start From (Megan Hunter), The Visitation (Jenny Erpenbeck) and White Tears (Hari Kunzru). Also the new Le Carré Smiley novel comes out, and I shall be reading that on a long weekend in Cornwall.