In which I wrap up December
(1) Things which I have read.
You can tell when there’s a holiday and I have a couple of weeks off work...
- The Last Samurai - Helen de Witt. I picked this up on the basis of it being on a best books of the century list, and a couple of people whose recommendations I trust saying they enjoyed it, and I loved it. It’s different and esoteric and wonderful, despite the fact that the two main characters are objectively pretty terrible. And yet, I loved spending time with poor, mixed-up Ludo, like he was my favourite problem child.
- Listening for the Heartbeat of God: a Celtic spirituality - John Philip Newell. This was a pretty short, sweet little read on some of the stages of the history of Celtic Christianity, that I found really helpful in reflecting on how some of the aspects of Celtic Christianity I find appealing integrate into my own faith.
- Field Notes from the Edge: journeys through Britain’s secret wildernesses - Paul Evans. I enjoyed this, but didn’t love it as much I wanted to. At points it was beautiful and lyrical, but not quite often enough to get it beyond the fact that it didn't really have any clear structure or narrative and so felt quite bitty.
- Calypso - David Sedaris. Definitely my favourite 'new' Sedaris since When You Are Engulfed in Flames: it's funny and a little bit bittersweet, especially on aging - and kinda fascinating how the way he has written about his family has evolved over the years.
- Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place - Philip Marsden. I started reading this about three years ago, but because I have it in hardback, it went slowly and then I shelved it and didn't go back to it but always wanted to. And so, it was the first thing I picked up off the shelf at the start of my Christmas break, skimmed back through the 100 pages I'd already read (getting sidetracked by Cornish place names) and then demolished the rest. From my point of view, the farther west Marsden gets the better the book - but that's because he's getting closer and closer to my home, and his writing about the place and history and georgraphy of home is wonderful.
- Everything Under - Daisy Johnson. I picked up this Booker Prize nominee in the autumn, and I have to say, I was underwhelmed. I can easily why it got so many good reviews and prize nominations - but for me, it's a bit of a case of the emperor has no clothes. The thematic side of things just didn't come through richly enough to sustain the story side. Off to the charity shop with it.
- Nox - Anne Carson. I'm always into literature that plays with classical text - and this poem does so in a wonderful, and poignant, way. It's a deconstruction and reconstruction of Catullus 101 as the poet muses on the death of her brother, and includes a beautiful translation of the original poem towards the end.
- House of Stone - Novuyo Rosa Tshuma. This was passed on to me by a friend earlier in the year, and I really enjoyed it. I think I enjoyed it more for its telling of a part of the history of Zimbabwe than for the inter-personal story of the narrator and his desired 'family', but it is well worth a read.
(2) Things which I have watched
- Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse, absolutely my all time favourite Spiderman movie ever and probably going to go on to be one of my favourite superhero films too. It's smart, it's funny, the visuals are spectacular, and the various family dynamics of the story are properly moving.
- Sorry to Bother You. I'm so glad this came to my local multiplex so that I got to see. My frame of reference describes this as a bit like if the Coen Borthers made Brazil but were black men from Oakland and instead of being Jewish men from the midwest, except it's tighter, smarter and perhaps even more screamingly surreal than that. I'm glad that Armie Hammer is able to laugh at himself, but I hope that he also takes the point.
- The Return of Mary Poppins. I took my parents to see this at Christmas, and it was fun and I enjoyed it, but it is essentially slight when stood next to the original. The highlight is, for me, Dick van Dyke.
- Free Solo. I knew what happened in this documentary (Man climbs El Capitan without ropes...) but that didn't stop me trying to sink into my seat in the cinema, watching the climb from under my fingers, with my hands covering the lower part of my face and trying not to hyperventilate or whimper. It's beautifully filmed, and nicely treads the line in asking the question, 'is he brilliant or is he crazy? I really recommend trying to see it on a big screen to get a sense of the height of El Capitan, as well as to fully appreciate the beauty of Yosemite.
- The Favourite. Yorgos Lanthimos has somehow sneakily become a favourite (though I still have to see the non-English lanugage stuff), and this one is so easy to enjoy. It's much more melancholy than the trailer makes it seem (though still laugh out loud funny) in its assessment of human frailty. Olivia Coleman is truly brilliant as Queen Anne, but honestly, I want to see Rachel Weisz also winning all the best supporting actress awards for her performance as Sarah Churchill, who is just a brilliant character. It is also fascinating scathing about men, for a film directed by a man. I am pretty sure that there were plenty of moments in the screening I was in when only the women were laughing.
(4) Two pieces from a Year of Wonder
It's the Christmas season, so two relevant pieces:
- The overture from Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite - the Nutcracker Suite isn't quite as brilliant as Ellington's Shakespeare suite, but it is still delightful, and a wonderful set of variations on the Tchaikovsky.
- The Lamb, by John Tavener, which was originally composed for Kings College's Nine Lessons and Carols: simple and luminous.
(6) In the pile for January
I got given a few books for Christmas, and Pat Barker’s Silence of the Girls is high on the list for the upcoming month. I'm also planning on reading Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and Steinbeck's East of Eden (finally). At the cinema I'm looking forward to Colette, and I'm also going to see Cate Blanchett at the National Theatre and Matthew Ball in Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake.