in which I wrap up September
(1) Things which I have read and enjoyed.
A long weekend in Cornwall this month = quality reading time. I got on the train armed with the then very new John Le Carré, A Legacy of Spies and then got off the other end with it finished and handed it straight over to my father. It got left behind with my mother, because the family that reads together has something to talk about over Sunday dinner. I really enjoyed it, by the way: kind of a spy ghost archaeology. Peter Guillem has long been my sneaky fave of the Smiley books, so his central role was a treat for me. I went straight to my dad’s shelves and grabbed The Spy Who Came in from the Cold for a re-read. It is still great, btw.
I also read:
Mrs Dalloway - Virginia Woolf. My first Woolf. It pays to put aside a chunk of time to read this, I found, so that you can get into the style. I enjoyed it fine, but it didn’t make me want to read more Woolf really, beause it feels so self-involved. I can easily imagine it having rocked my world if I’d read it in my late teens or early twenties.
Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life - Phileena Heuertz. This month’s reflective book. I enjoyed it fine, but it didn’t quite give me what I wanted. I wanted something that would give me more on the hows of contemplative practice, what this gave me was something of the whys of its relevance to modern life and Christianity - which I’m already on board with.
Sudden Death - Alvaro Enrigue. Tennis and imperialism in post-modern fiction? Sounds like my jam, no? And to some extent it was. I think it suffered though from the fact that I wanted so much to be blown away by it, and it didn’t quite do that. It was an inteteresting way to explore Spanish imperialism, though, and I warmed up to it more and more as I went on.
Crosstalk - Connie Willis. September’s London Book Club choice turned out to be fluffy sci-fi chick lit. It was fun to read, but not a lot to talk about. I wished it had properly been about the technology that kicked off its plot, but it wasn’t so… Holiday reading, for sure.
Visitation - Jenny Erpenbeck. I enjoyed Erpenbeck’s End of Days earlier this year, but I really really enjoyed this. A beautiful look at a century of turbulence and trauma, that hides yet cracks open pain through an almost mythical kind of story of a place.
The Slow Regard of Silent Things - Patrick Rothfuss. I’d forgotten I had this, but it was really nice to revisit a little bit of the world of the Kingkiller Chronicles
The Auschwitz Violin - Maria Àngels Anglada. In the month of reading through a lot of the slimmer books on my shelf, I finally read this (I’ve had it for about five years). I enjoyed the way that it took a look at the trauma of the holocaust through a particular lens, and I thought it worked really well at exploring how art and engaging in a craft can hold reality at bay for a little for a little while. I’m also grateful that it knew exactly how long it needed to be and didn’t overstretch that.
Never Mind - Edward St Aubyn. Another finally - I’ve had this for a couple of years now, waiting for me to get myself to the Patrick Melrose series. One of the blurbs referenced A Dance to the Music of Time (which I love) but this was much nastier: both the characters and the author’s dispassionate exposure of their nastiness. I enjoyed it very much, and promptly went out and bought the rest - in a one volume edition which makes a mockery of the fact that individually they are perfet commute size.
(2) Things which I have watched and enjoyed
Two cinema outings this month: one good, one very very good. The first was Wind River, which I enjoyed more in watching than I think it probably deserves, as a film about missing Native American women focused thorugh a white man… It was definitely a good intro to an issue if you’re social-justice-ly blind, and made me feel very very cold, but could have been so much more. On the subject of so much more, God’s Own Country is so much more than the sum of its synopsis: “a romantic drama in which a young man struggling with both his sexuality and the challenges of running the family sheep and cattle farm falls in love with Romanian migrant worker engaged for the lambing season” (courtesy of the BBFC). This film is So Yorkshire that it hurts. It’s bleak, beautiful, real and hopeful all at the same time, and in its ending completely and delightfully upended my expectations. It made me very happy.
(3) Things which I wrote
Public writing was not a thing that happened this month.
(4) A photo from the month gone by
Home is where this beach is.
(5) In the pile for October I’m writing this in October, so I’ve already seen one of the things I’m waiting for, Blade Runner 2049. I’m also screamingly excited to see The Death of Stalin and Follies at the National Theatre. In the book pile are the new Ta-Nehisi Coates collection, We were eight years in power and at least the next Patrick Melrose novel. I’m not quite sure what else I’m feeling up for reading right now… I want to re-read In the Light of What We Know but I’m saving it for a trip I’m going on in November.