Monday, September 28, 2015

Selected Reads: August 2015

It's totally still September. I'm doing fine! I mean, I'm not, it has been eighteen days since my last confession (blog post) and that is a long ass time, but if I start bringing guilt into this I will become mired down in a hopeless morass and never blog again! Maybe. I have read 13 books so far in September so August feels like a distant dream but let me dredge the memory banks.
  • Women - Chloe Caldwell: Women exploring their sense of self and their sexuality forever! I found this novella of a destructive love affair with an older woman rather insubstantial but I enjoyed Caldwell's clarity and I will continue to endorse this genre indefinitely.
  • Sex Criminals, Vol. 1 - Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky: As an internet dweller with access to many recommendations, I have decided that comics are going to be a key gift for R going forward. He is gently enthusiastic about comics but lacks the time/energy to work out what to read next, I pick up suggestions without effort but lack sufficient interest to follow through; together we shall make a quiet, low key team, slowly buying and reading the best of the comic landscape 2-5 years after original publication. I bought him Volumes 1 of Sex Criminals and Saga for his birthday and he thought I should try the former. I enjoyed the very silly premise (of two people who can stop time when they orgasm and who use this gift to attempt to rob a bank) but failed to connect with the form. It is still early days in my exploration of the comic media but I have yet to really get it. I'm sure that I will continue to road-test R's presents but if you have any comic recommendations for non-comic readers do let me know.
  • My Horizontal Life - Chelsea Handler: I am becoming something of a connoisseur of comedienne memoirs. Not that I care for the term 'comedienne' but 'lady comics' seems equally clumsy. I have never seen the American comedian/talk-show host/whathaveyou Chelsea Handler in action but I knew who she was when I stumbled across her first memoir/essay collection at the library and fancied something light. And, credit where it is due, Handler knows how to tell an anecdote and she has an apparently endless array of juicy stories that the 'good girl' comics can only dream of. These raucous adventures are often pretty funny but are also surprisingly mean. The casual cruelty and all-out alcoholism of many of her stories sometimes caught me off guard and it is interesting to consider how much the landscape has changed in the last eight years. This feels like a relic of the Sex and the City era now - fun but alien.
  • The Turner House - Angela Flournoy: This book is, more or less, everything I wanted The Twelve Tribes of Hattie to be. This is another story of a massive black family in a run down American city, Detroit this time, but the structure here allows you to actually get to know some of the characters. By focussing on the children who have stayed in Detroit and their decision about what to do with their family home once their mother can no longer live in it, you can have an evolving relationship with a handful of the offspring. Cha-Cha may be haunted by a haint, Lelah is secretly homeless and struggling with a gambling addiction and Troy is a cop who doesn't think that the law applies to him. The novel is concerned with white flight and redlining and the recession as well as family and race and mental health but it wears all of its 'issues' lightly and is primarily a great book with great writing.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Life Snapshots

  • The mad, beautiful effusion of hydrangeas at the V&A.
  • Chocolate, raspberry scones. These have double cream in the dough because why the hell not?
  • Dramatic London sunsets.
  • If You Don't Click on This Story, I Don't Get Paid - Noah Davis: I am endlessly fascinated by how much writers get paid and how they do or do not manage to make a living. This is a thorough essay that contains a lot of actual numbers. Screw your euphemistic whispered conversations about money - I want real figures and this delivers.
  • The Witches of Salem - Stacy Schiff: Speaking of sources of endless fascination; Salem. The Salem story has everything - mass hysteria, possible mass psychosis, witches, an abundance of teenage girls... The dream! This is an excerpt from a non-fiction book, The Witches: Salem, 1692 (not going to lie, I think they could have tried harder on the title), so it is quite dry but if it is your cup of tea you'll enjoy all the details.
  • Searching for Sugar Daddy - Taffy Brodesser-Akner: This is totally absurd and delightful. I'm a big fan of TBA but I'm not sure I've ever read her doing straight-up funny before and it's great. Watch out for Thurston Von Moneybags and Tigress St. Fawn.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Charleston, Sussex

I visited Charleston at the weekend - the Sussex farmhouse and Bloomsbury retreat. I've been meaning to go for a long time and we had a Sunday to spare. There is a lot of Bloomsbury in the air of late and it interesting to try and connect with a physical reality rather than rumour or opinion. Life in Squares was pretty but silly and I found its lack of engagement with the art, with the work that the Bloomsbury group created, not just the gossip they generated, frustrating.

Charleston is not set amongst notable country and, truly, it is in the middle of nowhere. Even in August the house smells and feels damp. It was good to get a sense of the very real isolation of the place, even now, and the discomfort that must have been felt in the name of freedom. Which isn't to say that I have limitless sympathy for those involved. I enjoy the sexual liberty but shy away from the selfishness, applaud the distrust of patriotism but flinch from the unwillingness to engage with political realities, admire the artistic devotion but loathe the snobbishness. It's difficult - I love the disregard for sexual stigmas and much of the work but I don't always like the actions or the players.

Charleston - Bloomsbury

I suppose that is the thing about reality. Not always straightforward or pleasant. But fascinating. And Charleston is strangely gripping. From the outside the farmhouse is unremarkable, except for a lovely garden, but inside it is tardis-like, beautiful and original. The commitment to colour and pattern and books and art is inspiring. It is a world fully imagined and I wandered around in something of a daze.

Tickets are very expensive and it's in the middle of nowhere so I can't recommend the trip unreservedly but if you are interested in Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, their siblings, lovers and friends, and you happen to be out and about in Sussex it is certainly worth a visit.