Monday, August 17, 2015

Selected Reads: July 2015


The new job means that I am going to have to reassess my book posts. I've done six months of completist posting, everything I've read whether or not I enjoyed a given book or even felt strongly about it, but that isn't going to work any more. Partially this is a question of discretion but mostly it is just because a lot of what I'm reading at the moment isn't yet published. In the interest of accessibility I'm going to pick a couple of titles that I found particularly interesting/will be published in the UK within the next few months/are in print internationally to highlight each month.
  • The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend - Katarina Bivald: Little of what I read can be comfortably described as charming but this novel is light, pleasant and good natured. I suspect that heavy readers cannot fail to enjoy a story about fellow book worms - it appeals to our interests and our narcissism. Here are pen pals and shared books and small towns and introverts and gentle friendships. What's not to like?
  • Green Girl - Kate Zambreno: Green Girl is neither charming nor easy but over the last nearly five years it has become something like a modern classic. Although it has been publicly disliked it seems to have become a kind of touchstone for a new wave of idiosyncratic young female narratives. I didn't especially enjoy reading this, it is intentionally alienating, but I did find it interesting and my desire for possible mirrors is almost endless.
  • Men We Reaped - Jesmyn Ward: This memoir is brutal. Ward lost five young men in four years and 'lost' is such a euphemism. America is killing its young black men. This isn't a simple story about gang violence or police brutality or drug addiction although all of those things play their part. Ward is concerned with poverty and institutional racism and systematic violence. I didn't find this quite as overwhelmingly moving as Salvage the Bones but StB might be the best book I've read in the last five years so that is a crazy high bar.
  • Freedom - Jonathan Franzen: I spent the first third of this monster feeling quite defensive on J-Franz's behalf. He takes an unbelievable amount of stick from the interwebz but I thought the rape scene was handled surprisingly well and there is no doubt that he has an eye for detail. But then this book just went on and on and on and I lost a lot of sympathy. It felt flabby and the Lalitha character made me nervous all the time because she always felt a hop, skip and a jump away from horrible, tone deaf racism. Also, all of the sex stuff is so weird. If I never encounter another J-Franz sex scene again it will be too soon.
  • The White Road: a pilgrimage of sorts - Edmund de Waal: Moment of truth here... I never got around to reading The Hare with the Amber Eyes. I guess I was doing other things in 2010. So I didn't know that Edmund de Waal isn't primarily a writer - he's a potter/ceramicist/artist. When I eventually joined the dots I recognised a lot of his work and his fascination with white. This book is a history of porcelain and a travelogue across key sights in the production of porcelain and a memoir of EdW's career and his obsession with the mysterious material. It is quiet and thoughtful and the production on the book is beautiful. Also, it desperately made me want to track down a community pottery class...

Monday, August 10, 2015

Stockholm in July





We had what felt like a whirlwind trip to Stockholm at the end of July. It is beautiful although, perhaps, my expectations were unreasonably high. It is a lovely northern European city but, probably, it could never have been the perfect utopia that I imagined. Mostly because of the dodgy weather and remarkable expense.

Still, the architecture is elegant, the people are pretty and I love a city on the water. The black seas are particularly striking against the grey skies. The fashion is very cool if strikingly homogeneous in comparison to London. The bread products are excellent and the Swedes are masters of breakfast.

Some favourites:
  • Nytorget 6 - Pulled pork croquettes with mint and avocado.
  • Hornhuset - Drinks and tapas on the ground floor; a restaurant on the first floor; a pizzeria-sports bar on the second floor.
  • Il Caffé - Fabrique is an excellent bakery and they provide the sourdough for Il Caffé's grilled sandwiches. Perhaps one shouldn't eat mozzarella and prosciutto in Scandinavia but if you can't face any more herring they are a nice break. 
  • Vasa Museet - This C17th ship is at the top of every Visit Stockholm list but the guidebook writers aren't wrong. I am not a big one for ships but even I can admit that both the preservation and the presentation are remarkable here.
  • Fotografiska - My favourite place in the city, I think. This photography museum opened in 2010 in an art deco customs building on the waterfront. If you luck out with the weather you can sit and drink outside or, if you're a statistical norm, their café on the top floor has floor to ceilings windows and fantastic views. The main exhibition in July, and running until 27th September, looks at the work of Inez & Vinoodh and I really loved it. A great, wide selection of photos, beautifully printed and displayed. Many variations on Kate and Gaga but some more obscure and artistic work too. Thumbs up.
Most favourite: the archipelago.

Our one day of perfect summer weather was spent travelling to and lounging around Svartso, one of the 30,000, I think, small islands that form an archipelago outside Stockholm. I will, more or less, accept city rain for island sunshine. Like Derek Shepherd, I love a ferry boat and the two hour trip to Svartso was shockingly lovely and the island was idyllic and blonde children in life-jackets frolicked everywhere you looked. The skies were blue and the islands were a lush green (all the rain) and yellow and purple flowers were inescapable. If the weather were reliable (and I had unlimited holiday time) I would happily spend two months in the archipelago every summer. It is bliss.

There were lots of things we didn't get to see or eat in Stockholm - plenty of reasons for a re-visit. And now that I have a better sense of the city I can come up with a more cogent plan of attack. We had better get saving... 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

On MMXXL*

MMXXL IS A CINEMATIC MASTERPIECE

MMXXL IS THE GREATEST FILM EVER MADE

IF MMXXL DOESN'T WIN EVERY OSCAR AVAILABLE NEXT YEAR I WILL BURN THE WORLD DOWN

ALTERNATIVE OSCARS THAT MMXXL COULD ALSO WIN: MOST GRINDING; LEAST HATE; BEST USE OF MALE PECTORAL MUSCLES; BEST UNORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK; MOST DELIGHTFUL USE OF PONY IN A GENDER-REVERSED, FLASHDANCE-INSPIRED CARPENTRY DANCE ROUTINE

MMXXL HAS NO PLOT AND IT DOESN'T NEED ONE BECAUSE PLOT IS FOR AMATEURS AND SNOBS WHO DON'T UNDERSTAND THE DELIGHTS OF WATCHING RIPPED AND GRINNING MEN HIP-THRUST CROWDS OF WOMEN INTO PAROXYSMS OF HORRIFIED DELIGHT

DONALD GLOVER IS REALLY REALLY RIDICULOUSLY GOOD-LOOKING AND SINGS AWFUL CHEESY LOVE SONGS WHILE WEARING A BLAZER AND NO SHIRT

HE ALSO WEARS A PORK PIE HAT IT IS THE WORST-BEST THING

DONALD GLOVER AND MATT BOMER ARE FAUX-DEEP AND CHARMINGLY MORONIC AND THE FILM IS BOTH AWARE AND HAPPY FOR THEM

DESPITE HIS PERFECT PERFECT BONE STRUCTURE MATT BOMER IS ONE OF THE LEAST SEXUAL MAN TO EVER GRACE A FILM OR TV SCREEN BUT MMXXL DON'T CARE

MATT BOMER'S CHARACTER IS INTO REIKI BECAUSE OF COURSE HE IS

THESE CHARACTERS ARE BARELY TWO-DIMENSIONAL BUT WHY WOULD YOU BOTHER WASTING POTENTIAL DANCE TIME TO BUILD DEPTH WHEN YOU COULD JUST GIVE THEM EACH A SINGLE, PERFECT DEFINING HOBBY/INTEREST/WHATEVER

ARTISANAL FRO-YO

EXACTLY

CHANNING TATUM

CHANNING TATUM

CHARMING POTATO IS 74% LABRADOR AND 100% DELIGHTFUL

CHARMING POTATO GOT MOVES

WHY CHARMING POTATO INSISTS ON MAKING OTHER FILMS WHEN HE COULD JUST BE MAKING STEP UP, SHE'S THE MAN AND MAGIC MIKE IS BEYOND ME SINCE THESE ARE CLEARLY THE BEST FILMS OF THE LAST DECADE AND ALSO THAT TORSO

SOME PEOPLE ARE HUNG UP ON THE FACT THAT THEY ARE NOT SEXUALLY ATTRACTED TO CHARMING POTATO AND THIS IS COMPLETELY BESIDE THE POINT

OBVIOUSLY VERY FEW PEOPLE ARE ACTUALLY SEXUALLY ATTRACTED TO CHARMING POTATO - I RECENTLY SAW HIM DESCRIBED AS A 6"1 BIG TOE WHICH SEEMED FITTING - YOU SHOULDN'T BE SEXUALLY ATTRACTED TO LABRADORS THAT WOULD BE ILLEGAL

THE PLEASURES OF CHARMING POTATO LIE NOT IN HIS RIPPLING ABS AS IMPRESSIVE AS THEY ARE BUT IN HIS PHYSICAL DEXTERITY HIS EASY LAUGH AND HIS PUPPYDOG HEART

CHARMING POTATO SPENDS THE WHOLE OF MMXXL TRYING NOT CRACK UP AND YOU ARE RIGHT THERE WITH HIM

OBVIOUSLY THIS IS RIDICULOUS BUT WE ARE ALL SO HAPPY TOGETHER

MMXXL DOESN'T EVER TRY TO BE DARK OR BROODING AND SO SURPASSES MMOG BY ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE

AT NO POINT IN THIS FILM IS ANYONE MEANINGFULLY OR LASTINGLY UNHAPPY

SADNESS CANNOT PERSIST IN THE FACE/GROIN OF MALE ENTERTAINERS

MMXXL RESPECTS A MULTITUDE OF FEMALE DESIRES

SOME OF THESE DESIRES MIGHT SEEM DUMB - I WOULD RATHER DIE THAN BE SINCERELY SERENADED EVEN BY DONALD GLOVER WHO IS AS DISCUSSED REALLY REALLY RIDICULOUSLY GOOD-LOOKING - BUT MMXXL WANTS YOU TO DO YOU AND IT WANTS YOU TO BE HAPPY

THEY ONLY WANT TO MAKE WOMEN SMILE

WHITE WOMEN/BLACK WOMEN

THIN WOMEN/FAT WOMEN

YOUNGER WOMEN/OLDER WOMEN

STRAIGHT WOMEN/QUEER WOMEN

CHARMING POTATO NEVER HOOKS UP WITH THE POTENTIAL LOVE INTEREST BECAUSE SHE DOESN'T FANCY IT

HE MAKES HER SMILE AND THAT IS ENOUGH

ALTHOUGH EVERYONE IS LAUGHING ALL THE TIME IT IS NEVER AT THE WOMEN

FEMALE DESIRE IS NOT A PUNCHLINE

FEMALE BODIES ARE NOT A PUNCHLINE

THIS IS SUCH AN UNBELIEVABLE RELIEF

MMXXL IS SUCH A RELAXING HATE-FREE DELIGHT

MMXXL TAKES THE BOYS TO A DRAG SHOW WHERE THEY MAKE ZERO HOMOPHOBIC JOKES

STRIPPERS VOGUING AND HAVING A GREAT TIME AT A DRAG CLUB

MMXXL HAS TWO MEN SHARE A BED AND TALK ABOUT THEIR FEELINGS WITH ZERO HOMOPHOBIC JOKES

JADA PINKETT-SMITH TAKES NO SHIT

JADA PINKETT-SMITH MAKES OUT WITH WHOEVER SHE WANTS

JADA PINKETT-SMITH AND ELIZABETH BANKS HAVE A LOT OF SEXUAL ENERGY

JADA PINKETT-SMITH KNOWS THAT YOU ARE A QUEEN

ANDIE MCDOWELL, THAT BEAUTIFUL NICE LADY, KNOWS WHAT SHE WANTS AND SHE GETS IT

THE VERY ROUGH PLOT OF MMXXL INVOLVES THEM GOING TO A STRIPPING CONVENTION BUT IT ISN'T EVEN A COMPETITION THEY JUST FANCY IT AND THEY WANT TO DANCE

THE DAAAAANNNNCCCING

THE ENTHUSIASM

THE GRINDING


*This was originally written and emailed to many of my friends in the joyous and hysterical aftermath of seeing MMXXL at the beginning of July but it still stands and, since MMXXL doesn't seem to have got the box office it deserves, I wanted to make my appreciation official.