In which I wrap up March
(1) Things which I have read and enjoyed.
I was away for two and a half weeks of March, and my current approach to reading while travelling is to take some of the books that I own that I want to read but don’t think I’ll want to keep, and leave them behind as I go. This means I don’t have to take the kindle as another piece of tech (if I’m travelling for work then staying on, I’ll already have either an iPad or laptop, plus my DSLR - and I love reading books on an iPad even less than a kindle, which is to say not much) and I work through the pile of stuff on the shelf. However, it can also mean that the books I most want to read or think I’ll most enjoy don’t get read... So, on this trip, I had:
- Smiler’s Fair by Rebecca Levine, a fantasy novel that I had wanted to read and was a gift, and that then languished on the TBR pile for a few years. It was fine, but neither the world nor the story hugely captured me. There is a sequel, and I don’t feel any impetus to read it - but also I don’t regret having spent time with it.
- Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes. In this novel, Hitler wakes up in a park in Berlin in the 2010s, is taken for an extremely method satirical comedian, and ends up having a hit TV show. It was published in about 2013 in English, and I sort of wish I’d read it then, because I probably would have thought the satire was clever and quite funny, and not have worried too much about what it was saying about the state of the western world. Reading it in 2019, it just felt far too close to reality to enjoy the sharp observational humour.
- The Russia House by John Le Carré. I threw this in to my case so that I would definitely have one novel that I knew I would definitely enjoy (and if it turned out to be a keeper I could either bring it back, or half-inch my parents’ copy at some point), and I was so glad I did. Like almost every other Le Carré the plot seems to run on rocket fuel but in a way that doesn’t feel like it is manipulating you to keep reading, and I enjoyed/twitched nervously at the glasnost-but-the-cold-war-is-never-really-gonna-be-over mood, and really, international relations and politics is truly quite screwed up, isn’t it.
- Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi was my first of the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist (other than Silence of the Girls, which I read before the longlist), and I really enjoyed it. My introduction to African literature came through Ben Okri’s The Famished Road, and it was good to return to world of ‘spirit children’ or ogbanje in a different register and after more life experience of engaging with indigenous belief and theology, and ‘what gender is (or isn’t)’. While it deals with weighty things, it’s not a heavy book, and I thought the characters were really well drawn.
(2) Things which I have watched and enjoyed
At the cinema I saw Fighting with my Family and Captain Marvel, both of which I hugely enjoyed. I didn’t think Captain Marvel was spectacularly amazingly amazing, and as a film I don’t think it’s as good a film, from the marvel list, as Winter Soldier, Black Panther and Thor Ragnarock. BUT, it also fully hit the spot for me as a piece of great fun entertainment, and I love Brie Larson and am very here for her having a great career. Fighting with my Family, meanwhile, was not something I probably would have expected to love (Stephen Merchant? Wrestling?), but it was totally delightful and warm and fun and managed to cover a ‘this family is not usual’ without being patronising or mean, and Florence Pugh was, as ever, thoroughly fab.
I finally saw A Star is Born, on a plane. I enjoyed it more than I expected, but also didn’t adore it - and did not experience any AALS, so it can’t have been that amazing and totes emosh.
I also watched Isn’t it Romantic? on Netflix (and Steven Spielberg can go away with his “Netflix films aren’t real films” gubbins, please and thank you) and it was quite fun and enjoyable, and Liam Hemsworth should do a buddy comedy with his brother sometime. Also on Netflix, I finished The Crown (so that I can be ready for Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham Carter), and can conclude that being Queen is terrible and everyone involved in the royal family who isn’t the queen is terrible, and why would you want to go there; and I watched Umbrella Academy, which is good but not great, but was still a fun time with an excellent musical selection.
(3) Things which I wrote
It’s all in my journal... for Lent this year, I have been working through a book on meditation and trying to meditate daily, and I might write about what that has been like (HARD, you guys)
(4) A recommendation of some kind
Firstly, if you get the chance to go to Peru, you should go to Peru: it’s a wonderful country and great place to travel, and if you’re in Arequipa, go to Puku Puku and drink their lovely local coffee on their terrace.
Secondly, and maybe more realistically, the Royal Ballet are performing Romeo And Juliet in rep at the Royal Opera House from April to June. It’s a wonderful verse (Macmillan) and there’s a number of brilliant dancers and pairings performing across the run, from the established stars (Lauren Cuthbertson, Sarah Lamb, Marianela Nuñez) to emerging stars and debuts. I’m going to see Frankie Hayward do Juliet for the first time - and then I gave in and also got tickets to see Beatrix Stix-Brunell, because I love her and I want to see her in her first run at Juliet. Anyway, go if you can, do the live-stream if you can’t.
(5) In the pile for April
I am working through Wendell Berry’s The World-Ending Fire, which I am loving and which is challenging me to live better. I still have Max Porter’s Lanny in the pile, and the new Tash Aw novel is out (I loooooved his last, Five-Star Billionaire). The rest of the April pile is made up of the longlist of the Women’s Prize for Fiction. I’m looking forward to Circe, Ghost Wall, An American Marriage, Praise Song for the Butterflies, and My Sister, The Serial Killer; I’m going into Normal People with a scepticism of the popular, and my friend Jamie assures me that Bottled Goods is almost certainly my kind of jam. That should cover the Easter break - and then I plan to see Avengers: Endgame and hopefully have my emotions trashed.
(6) A photo from the month gone by
I went to Machu Picchu, and it truly was amazing and special, despite all the people.