In which I wrap up... July
(1) Things which I have read and enjoyed.
July felt like a slow reading month, and indeed, I spent read the last three books on this list in the last weekend of the month. I started with All for Nothing, Walter Kempowski’s novel about the last days of World War II in eastern Prussia (now Poland). It was my first Kempowski, and it was perhaps as different for me as reading my first Sebald years ago. It’s dry, almost funny in the small details and foibles it picks up on in its depiction of the way people completely fail to comprehend the magnitude of what is going on around them.
Then I got stuck: partly in Proust (I am now at the end of the Combray part of The Way by Swann’s), which I think I need to commit to reading at the deliberate rate of 5–10 pages a day for evermore; and then by Frankenstein, which was my book club’s choice. I found this such hard work, because Victor Frankenstein has to be one of fictions most infuriating men even before he creates the damn monster and I didn’t want to spend any time with him at all.
I finally got rid of Frankenstein before going away to the Lakes for a weekend, where I promptly powered through:
The Illustrated Herdwick Shepherd- James Rebanks. Delightful and funny, with lovely photos. I do miss him on twitter, but fortunatley he does still instagram his sheep and dogs.
The Odyssey in the new Emily Wilson translation which is utterly wonderful and incredibly readable in its blank verse. If you’ve never read The Odyssey before, get thee a copy of this now it’s in paperback. She’s also worth a follow on twitter, talking about translating Homer (among other things) and I am so glad she is translating the Illiad next, I’ve always liked it more than The Odyssey.
Small Country - Gaël Faye. Having come back from Rwanda, I picked up this on its publication in hardback. It’s a short novel about a boy, son of a Rwandan mother and French father, coming of age in Burundi just as the genocide took place in Rwanda and civil war began to break out in Burundi. I really enjoyed it, and it captures the trauma of these events even for those somewhat on the fringes, without being graphic.
(2) Things which I have watched and enjoyed A wild mix at the cinema:
Mamma Mia! Here we go again - I was a surprised convert to the so-bad-it’s-amazing first Mamma Mia so I was super-excited for this, and you know what, it’s as joyfully terramazing as the original.
Mission Impossible Fallout - apparently the only films I can bear to watch Tom Cruise in are Mission Impossible films. Numbers four and five were really fun, and this keeps up. Plus, it’s really nice to have Rebecca Ferguson back, and to get Henry Cavill and his rechargable arms.
First Reformed. And then for something completely different: Paul Schrader’s latest, about a despairing priest connecting with a couple of his congregation. I hugely enjoyed this, with all of its strangenesses, and completely connected with it, because I share Michael’s question as to why, with the planet as it is, you would choose to have a child. Theologically and intellectually I understand the importance and truth of eschatological hope, but I cannot summon it to the extent that I can imagine choosing to have a child that will have to face the future we’ve made probable, and I can understand the way that what happens drives Rev. Toller forwards in the way that it does.
I also made it to the theatre and to a few Proms. I saw The Lehman Trilogy at the National, of which more below, and finally made it to Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre for a fun new production of As You Like It. At the Proms I saw a large collection of former winners and participants in BBC’s Young Musician of the Year, which was a bit of a delightful festival, a programme responding to World War I at the Roundhouse, and Mahler’s 8th Symphony, with a truly huge choir - and I would recommend you find all of them on iPlayer.
(3) Things which I wrote
I was completely wowed by The Lehman Trilogy at the National Theatre, a play that is not, really, about the fall of Lehman Brothers.
(4) Two pieces from a Year of Wonder
For July, Year of Wonder gave me one of my favourite pieces of music in the universe: Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. The playlist gave us Variation 18, but my favourite is 12. It also reminded me that Kurt Weill can be such a delight, with My Ship Comes In
(5) A photo from the month gone by
Two this month: one from Kigali, which is was a complete joy to return to after 15 years; and one from a short weekend away in the Lake District.
(6) In the pile for August
There is a new Jasper Fforde novel coming out, Early Riser. Nothing Fforde has done has - or maybe will - come close to the joy that is Thursday Next (from The Eyre Affair to Something Rotten), but I am eager to read it and have a little light relief in my reading. Book Club has chosen Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker, and Laurent Binet’s Seventh Function of Language is top of my TBR pile. At the cinema I will be seeing Ant Man and the Wasp and The Spy Who Dumped Me, because Summer Fun.