In which I wrap up July…
(1) Things which I have read and enjoyed
Most of the month was taken up by reading the new Neal Stephenson behemoth (800+ pages), Fall, or Dodge in Hell, which was flawed, but ambitious and interesting. This is, of course, one of my preferred forms of fiction, being far more engaging than perfect blandness, and I enjoyed readingFall a lot. It starts off strongly, and gets weaker (no one needs that much questing outside of Middle Earth, and it has definite Battlestar Galactica finale vibes), but for me, the core idea carried it over the line. It’s about what might happen if humans were able to live forever through technology, specifically through having their brains uploaded into the cloud - and its a really enjoyable — and theologically fascinating — exploration of the importance of bodies and matter, and who might get to construct the afterlife and how. If the universe is turtles all the way down, so is privilege, suggests Stephenson.
While I was reading Fall, I needed a commute book, and read Sara Majka’s Cities I’ve Never Lived In. It’s a collection of stories, but has a cohesive quality, so it didn’t feel like skipping from story to story. It was strange and sad, and I’m not sure I enjoyed it, but I’m glad that I read it.
Apparently short story collections with some kind of unity are my access points for short story collections now, because I also read Wendell Berry’s latest book, Stand by Me which is a collection of stories about Port William, his fictional stand-in for his own home. I really enjoy Berry’s storytelling and his world, but I’m also aware that it is a particular world and worldview, for which your mileage may vary. That said, it is a perspective that it’s all too easy to sneer at if you spend time in the urban left-of-centre world, and this is a generous, loving, other-side-of-the story.
Finally, I read Nineveh by Henrietta Rose-Innes, which is, so far as I can summarise, a story about bugs, and I think empire, set in Cape Town. I know that sounds a little strange, and I don’t think I fully got my head around the thematic stuff about empire and ancient Babylon, but I definitely enjoyed this.
(2) Things which I have watched and enjoyed
I made it to the cinema once this month, to see Spiderman: Far From Home I only saw the first Tom Holland Baby Spiderman film on a plane and was so pleasantly surprised by it — and this was also enjoyable Superhero Fluff. Tom Holland and Zendaya are particularly charming, and the whole this is a bit daffy, but very enjoyably so.
I made a trip to Bristol to see Wise Children (Emma Rice's company) in their production of Malory Towers. I loved Malory Towers as a kid, and I was super looking forward to this (to the extent that I went to Bristol to see it). It's a hugely inventive production, editing the books to a nice little story with aplomb, and earnest in all the right places.
(3) A recommendation of some kind
It is the Proms season again, so if you’re in London, get yourself to the Royal Albert Hall for a £5 promming ticket, and if you’re not get yourself to BBC Radio 3 to listen to some of the concerts. I can recommend Proms 2, 10, 13, and 20 from my own experience - perhaps especially 13 (Messiaen’s Des canyons aux étoiles) and 20 (Sibelius, featuring Pekka Kuusisto playing the Violin Concerto).
(4) In the pile for August
The new Colson Whitehead novel, The Nickel Boys is coming out, so that is going in the pile. I also have the Natalie Haynes' new Thousand Ships (fiction about classical myths, yay!), and The Adventures of Maud West: Lady Dectective, both of which I was given for my birthday.
(5) A photo from the month gone by
I went to Bristol for a weekend, and we went to see the SS Great Britain, Brunel's steam ship. The museum is really well done and hugely engaging - and yes, the ticket's not cheap, but you can then go in for free for the rest of the year, so if you're in the Bristol area, it's a great idea.