in which I wrap up June
(1) Things which I have read and enjoyed
I started the month re-reading David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, after having spent time in Japan with Anna Sherman's Bells of Old Tokyo. It was a joy to discover that it is as good as I remember - and also to rediscover so many things about it that I had forgotten in my first hungry reading nearly a decade ago now. I think it is probably my David Mitchell of choice for readers new to him.
Then it went off the rails a bit, as I read Crudo by Olivia Laing. This got raves from the literary critics, and I mostly found it annoying and pretentious. Every now and then it provided a flash of insight (ready for captioning nicely on instagram), and so I stuck with it (also it's short), but I mostly wish I hadn't, because I wasted good reading time avoiding reaing it. I don't only want to read things I find easy and likable though, and so I kept fighting with it, but I don't think it was worth it.
Fortunately I then went on holiday for a few days, and demolished Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and Philip Pullman's La Belle Sauvage, both of which I hugely enjoyed. It was nice to be reminded that I do really enjoy Pullman's stories, even though I do often feel like I'm being hit over the head with a brick by his points (and never more so than at the end of The Amber Spyglass) and I'm ready to re-read His Dark Materials now. Before that, though, I spent the best part of four days buried in Tudor politics and the life of Thomas Cromwell, and I loved it. I studied Tudor history for half of my A-level history, and Cromwell was my favourite then, so it was a joy to come back to him. The story is so good, even without digging into any of the thematics - but I particularly enjoyed the Cromwell / More dynamic on the question of religion and the relationship between the church of Christendom and the nascent idea of the 'state' and working out what was really making Cromwell tick, knowing that while he will continue to rise in Bringing Up the Bodies, the third volume - coming next year - he will fall.
Finally, I've just finished Underland by Robert Macfarlane, whose work I've got into this year. To call him a nature writer would be to under-sell the way he writes about humans' relation to the world in which they live - and interestingly, you find him in the travel section of Foyles... and he does write about place. Underland is about, literally, the under-lands of the earth: their time, their space, their fascination for people - and the sense of perspective it gives us. He writes utterly gorgeously and his stuff is rich and deep and so wonderfully humane. I have loved this. Also I recommend listening to Olafur Arnalds while reading.
(2) Things which I have watched and enjoyed
A mixed bag at the cinema this month:
- Late Night, which I enjoyed but didn't adore. It was nice, it was funny, Emma Thompson was a delight - but it wasn't really sparky enough.
- X-Man: Dark Phoenix, which is truly bad and a waste of some very good acting. Michael Fassbender just emotes so hard, for so little pay-off in this film. But Jennifer Lawrence has wonderful hair when she's playing Raven looking like J-Law, so that's my next hair style sorted.
- Men in Black: International, which I seem to have enjoyed much more than any critic. I loved one, thought two was poor, and didn't see three - but I found International quite a lot of fun, and enjoyed the Tessa Thompson / Chris Hemsworth double act once again (and Emma Thompson, obvs)
- Toy Story 4 - finally, a film that was legitimately really good and enjoyable. I like the Toy Story films, but don't have a massive emotional investment in them (though that part of number three was extremely emotionally traumatic) so I wasn't too stressed about watching it in case it was bad, but I am very very glad it wasn't.
I also went to see Hugh Jackman: The Man, The Music, The Show at the O2, and it was possibly the most joyful night of recent months. Hugh Jackman is just such a deligthful human and wonderful performer, and also on the night we went he had the cast from the last London production of Oklahoma perform with him, and I LOVE that production of Oklahoma.
(3) A recommendation of some kind
How about some classical guitar? C'mon, it's great stuff. Miloš Karadaglić has just released his new single, a cover of The Sound of Silence, and it's delightful. Anyway, I would recommend his album Aranjuez, and also John William's recording of Bach's Lute music on guitar. If you want to slide sideways, go for Thomas Dunford's recording of Bach's Cello Suite no.1 in G (yes that one) on Lute.
(4) In the pile for July
Well, the Proms start this month, so I have outings - to see Josha Bell play Dvorak and hear Smetna's Ma Vlast, and to see Public Service Broadcasting perform Race to Space. I'm also going to Bristol to see Emma Rice's Malory Towers play, which I expect to be a joy. I am going to be reading Bringing Up the Bodies, after a brief breather, and also Natalie Hynes 1000 Ships.
(5) A photo from the month gone by