Sunday, 18 March 2018

Sunday Sundries: Spring (?) Reads

Happy Sunday, everyone!

I am in the midst of my usual Sunday R & R (i.e. not getting dressed until the afternoon, and sitting in bed a lot) but this week I feel as though I have an excuse because it is FREEZING outside (and, I might add, inside) and there is snow on the ground. It is March 18th, what has happened, is the world insane etc etc (obviously yes is the answer to that last part).

I have a constant argument with my boyfriend that flares up every thirteen weeks or so about the definition of the seasons. I prefer the meterological seasons that correspond with ACTUAL WEATHER PATTERNS that say spring begins on March 1st (then summer on June 1st, autumn on September 1st, and winter on December 1st), whereas he prefers to go by the equinoxes and solstices because, I don't know, pagan? Annoyingly, in the case of this spring, I can only agree with his definition, and hope that Tuesday will genuinely bring the start of spring.

On that note, and with a great deal of hopefulness, here are my possible potential maybe reads for spring!
These are the books that I intend to read specifically, so much so that they are moving next to my bed. I may/probably will read other things, either alongside or instead of these because I am a disloyal reader, let's face it. Let's take a closer look at these, shall we?

NW by Zadie Smith: Reading Zadie's books stresses me out because she hasn't written that many and I only discovered her last year and WAH. In order to chill the fuck out about this, I'm going to read another one of her books. That THAT, me.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: This book keeps popping up into my line of sight every so often, but I still don't really know what it's about? I'm going to remedy that in the near future.

Lamb by Christopher Moore: Is there a better time to read a book about Jesus (kinda...) than Easter? I think not.

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami: I haven't read a book by Murakami all year, which is obviously ridiculous, so here is the remedy to that. I believe this is short stories, but I made this pile so long ago now that I can't say for sure. Regardless, it's Murakami so it basically has to be good, right?

Human Acts by Han Kang: I really enjoyed The Vegetarian last year, so hoping for similarly excellent things from this one by Kang. It gets bonus points for not being too heavy to carry round with me.

At Home by Bill Bryson: This one I cannot carry round with me, but I miss Bill so it seems like a good time to read At Home. At home, obviously.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton: I have had this book for the longest time and I really need to read some of the classics that I always buy, so I guess I'll start with Edith. I have read none of her books ever, so this will either be a horrible slog or a pleasant surprise!

The Collected Stories by T. Coraghessan Boyle: I really prefer when he goes by T C Boyle... Anyway... I have had this on my shelves for approximately as long as I had Talk Talk, so seizing on the excellence that was that book, I'm going to tackle this one soon too. Short stories ftw, amiright?

The Nagano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami: As with Kang, I read one of Kawakami's books last year and it was very moving and lovely so I'm hoping for great things from this one too.

The Homemaker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher: It's a persephone book and therefore has to be good! The end.

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer: I wish I knew how to quit JSF, but his prose keeps me coming back even when I am really not into his narrative. I'm hoping here he has perfected the latter, WE SHALL SEE.

And those are pretty much my plans. At my current rate of reading these will take about a month and a half, so it's not my whole spring, but still. It's a start.

Have you read any of these? And what are your thoughts on the start date of spring? You gotta tell me, but only if you agree with meeeeeee.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Oscar Nominees: My Verdict

Oh good, a topical post! I realise that the Oscars were a week and a half ago now, but I only saw the last of the nominees for best movie Oscar (that I'm going to see) last week, so really I couldn't have written this post before now. Or, I could have but it still would have been after the Oscars and also I saw three movies last week like what even is my life?

Anyway. Since I have seen, over the last couple of months (apart from Get Out which I saw last year!), 7 of the 9 best picture Oscar nominees (which must be my personal record), I thought I'd give my two cents regarding how I felt about each of them. Did The Shape of Water deserve to win? Was Phantom Thread TERRIBLE? All shall be revealed...

And so, in order of favourites, we have:

7. Phantom Thread: I hated this film so much. I hated it so much that I wrote a really angry review of it on the bus on the way home, but I could never be bothered to type it up and so here we are. Did I decide to write this post mainly so I could tell the world how much I hate Phantom Thread? Maybe a bit. I essentially have a thing where I compare ridiculously overrated things to the Emperors New Clothes (weirdly apt because this is a movie about a tailor..? I don't know, I'm probably reaching here), and I honestly believe that critics have all convinced themselves that this was good because... it's so horrible? Because they're all scared to look stupid? I don't know what it is, but this film is not good. There is no narrative, I thought the soundtrack was awful, and WTF even is this film?! I love you, Daniel Day Lewis, but why do you make me sit through movies like this? WHY?!

See Also: There Will Be Blood.

6. The Post: This movie was so dull. I can't even tell you. Meryl Streep was great as always, but in my opinion the focus of the movie was so wrong, it was weirdly lumpy and uninteresting and there was so much fake drama, and am I allowed to say I really don't like Steven Spielberg's directing? Because I really don't, especially not in this context. I think there was enough material here that this could have been a good movie if it had had a good script and better direction (because how can Meryl and Hanks go wrong?!) but unfortunately it didn't and it wasn't.

5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: I ugly cried in this movie because there's a really moving event in the first... I'm gonna say third, but apart from that I had a lot of problems with it. I think it's really a skill to make a movie about a grieving mother where none of the characters were likeable, but this film manages to do it, somehow. It's ridiculously forgiving of racism and arson and fucking throwing a human out of a window (yes, that happens) and I just... didn't really like it? I keep describing it as a nasty little film, because that's how all of the characters felt to me, and I didn't really care if any of them succeeded. Maybe that's the point, but films work a lot better for me when I have someone to root for.

Here is where I pause, because those three were the worst of it. I didn't see The Darkest Hour or Dunkirk because snore snore WWII snore, haven't we done all of that already? (I respect remembering the war etc, but, seriously, I do believe there are enough WWII films in the world already, and I don't want to watch any of them, except The Sound of Music). I'm pausing because I loved the other 4 nominees. They're all films I would watch over and over again, and two of them I have already watched twice (in the space of a week, i.e. I watched them both twice in a week). Ranking these, therefore, is fairly arbitrary, but I'll try to give some gentle reasons why I have done so.

4. The Shape of Water: I loved The Shape of Water. I have no hard feelings for it winning the Oscar, and I almost feel bad for putting it so low down, but the other films are just so good! This was completely beautiful and moving (more ugly crying), and it just looked so damn attractive. I enjoyed every second of it, and I think it's my least favourite of my favourite 4 just because I feel like in some ways it was kind of... normal. Which is a weird thing to say, but in some of the scenes, if you took out the period costumes and the beautiful staging, there's just a bad guy beating some guy up. It's gorgeous, though, and I was so surprised and pleased at how romantic it was. Am I into fish monsters too? Mebbe.

3. Get Out: THIS IS SO HARD. I guess Get Out (which I saw THREE TIMES in the cinema last year, YES I really loved it) isn't higher because it didn't make me cry- I didn't really have strong emotions for it in a gut sense, I just adored it for its storytelling and thrilling-ness and FUCK it is so good. Also terrifying- I still can't listen to Run, Rabbit because of it, and before I moved house and used to walk down my tree lined street at night, my brain liked to freak me out by singing it to me. THANKS BRAIN. Basically, Get Out got under my skin in the best way, and it's really an incredible film. I was disappointed in a lot of ways that it didn't get more recognition, awards wise, but for a horror film to get nominated at all speaks volumes about how incredible it is. I hope you've seen it by now, but fucking watch it if you haven't!

2. Lady Bird: This was the hardest choice of all. I waited for Lady Bird to come out for the longest time, I love and adore Greta Gerwig (who should have clearly won Best Director, FIGHT ME) and I fully expected it to be my favourite movie of awards season. We'll discuss why not in a minute, but firstly, Lady Bird. Oh, I loved Lady Bird. Lady Bird is a realistic teen movie (if you will), I defy teenage girls who are even a little bit interesting to watch it and not recognise themselves in Lady Bird. My friend watched this and cried, I watched this and was too happy to cry- there was just a sense of like joy bubbling in me as I watched this brilliant film being brilliant and wondered why there aren't more movies telling women's stories. Lady Bird is everything I was hoping it would be, and please watch it if you get the chance.

1. Call Me By Your Name: I wasn't expecting Call Me By Your Name at all. Firstly I wasn't expecting to see it at all, since it kept being shown at about 11am and I have a full time job, but I also wasn't expecting it to have such an effect on me. I definitely wasn't expecting a movie that I'm not sure even passes the Bechdel Test (*thinks* ok, it maaaybe does, just about) to be my favourite of Oscar season, and dare I say one of my favourite movies ever, but there we go, life is full of surprises. Call Me By Your Name really snuck up on me- about half an hour in, I wasn't sure I was exactly enjoying myself, but after a certain point I realised that I wasn't really watching a film anymore, but I was living through it. I still don't know how it was done, but my heart both soared with joy and clenched with despair during this film, and I still can't get it out of my head. And yes, there was a lot more ugly crying. I apparently can't get enough of a doomed love story, especially a gay one (see also, Brokeback Mountain) and I truly can't get enough of a movie that is shot as beautifully as this one. It took me two and a half days after seeing it before ordering the DVD, and another day before watching it, so yeah, you could say I have a little thing for it. And I really think you would too.

And that, my friends, was my Oscar season. Please do not believe that I am a majillionaire because I could afford to see all of these films, I am merely the proud holder of an Odeon Limitless card (one where you can see as many films as you want for a monthly rate- I'm sure your cinema calls it something different). I wish this was an ad, but it's not, it's more just a recommendation to get oneeee because they are amazing and mine has allowed me to see so many brilliant films that I wouldn't have been able to afford to see otherwise. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must go and watch Call Me By Your Name for the 50th time *whispers* Elio, Elio, Elio, Elio...

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Sunday Sundries: So... Many... Movies...

Happy Sunday, Folks! This is a little later in the day than I usually like to write my Sunday posts, so those Monday blues are hitting me HARD, so I'm going to make this briefer than usual (I know, you're welcome) and then go and eat toast and watch Call Me By Your Name (about which, more on Wednesday...)

So, this week! It was alright. The weather, at least was, behaving itself, work was fine, and I had an equal number of cinema visits and hospital visits, and I don't even know if that balances each other out or what to be honest. What I do know is that it made my working hours confusing this week- for example, I had to leave at 1pm on Monday to go to a check up, and then on Wednesday had to leave for a couple of hours in the middle of the day, and then I had to make those times up and basically I didn't know if I was coming or going all week!*

Because I knew that I was going to have to work quite late a couple of days, I booked a couple of movies in for Wednesday and Thursday, and then on Tuesday I finally got the chance to see Call Me By Your Name so I watched that too (my friend was meant to join me but couldn't make it in the end, but I was quite grateful for that in the end because of the ugly crying). Basically, what I'm saying is that I wasn't at home much this week, which was fine and great and also very tiring. I think I slept for about 11 hours on Friday night...

I'm pretty sure that Call Me By Your Name has ruined me for all other movies and visual arts for a little while, because I didn't really love the other two movies I watched after it (I, Tonya, and Red Sparrow which is actually appalling, and not even for the rape part). I also, yesterday, went to the theatre with my mum and sister for our Christmas present from my dad to see Everybody's Talking About Jamie, and I kind of didn't like that either? I don't know, it's just that I'm usually fairly easy going and pleased with musicals because I don't really expect them all to be Les Mis or Hamilton (WHICH I AM SEEING IN 5 WEEKS) but I felt pretty eh about all of it except Jamie's mum who I could write pages and pages about she is amazing and also made me cry a little. Basically, it was fine, just not amazing like I wanted it to be. AM I TOO DEMANDING? Well, maybe.

Which brings us to today, which is Mother's Day here in the UK. My mum is amazing all the time, and even this week has been extra especially amazing by ferrying me from work, to the hospital, and back again, all in record time! After a stop at the hospital for my boyfriend this time today (he has a bad back and wanted to see if anything could be done, in case you were wondering [it couldn't really, in case you were wondering that too]) we went to see my mama and just generally thank her for being wonderful. She's so wonderful that she even made the food for today, and ugh, she's just the best.

Ahem. And yeah, that was the week in short. This week I'm planning to spend a lot more time at home after work rather than at the Odeon, and to cook more (at all) rather than buying food out to... pretty much eat in the cinema. Yeah, I have a varied and exciting life, what of it?! How about you?

*Hospital update: In case you were worrying, I'm fine really, I just have another ovarian cyst that I may have to have removed just like in October 2016 which I can't remember if I even blogged about, mostly because boring health boring boring, but also because I wasn't blogging that much at the time anyway. But yeah, maybe another one of those at some point this year, which frankly, I do not really have time for, because remember THREE WEDDINGS.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

(Still) Devouring Stephen King (& Owen King!): Sleeping Beauties

I read Sleeping Beauties so long ago now that it seems somewhat redundant to review it, but can I let you myself down by not reviewing a Stephen King book? I cannot! So I'll do my best.

It feels now as though I spent a good chunk of January reading this book, which is kind of true because it was too giant to carry round with me, so I had to spend a lot of time at home reading, which is not always how I read these days (it mostly happens on a bus. Or in my lunch break. Basically fit in around other things). It was nice, though, to put the actual hours in, and really hunker down with a book, rather than just reading it around other things.

Anyway. To finish stalling... Sleeping Beauties is about a world in which the women are all falling asleep, and cocoons are wrapping themselves around them. To rip one of these open is to risk almost certain death, because the women react horribly violently to anyone trying to wake them up. Why and how this is happening is shrouded in mystery, and how to fix it is equally as troublesome, and the town we're focused on for the story's sake has mutiple problems and obstacles to overcome once the women (who include the prison warden and police chief) succumb to sleep.

This book is kind of about the value of women in society, and about the shitstorm that would be left behind if they all suddenly went away one day. This novel explores the immediate effects of this (everything goes to shit, basically) but also takes a look at what would happen if this was a permanent state- how the world would cope without women (obviously, essentially it would end, after that generation was dead). It's all very flattering that women are so important, but at the same time, for a book with this message, it feels as though it should maybe be more about the women themselves than the men who ruin things. I felt like a lot more airtime was given to men in this novel (since, ya know, the women are falling asleep) which somewhat muffles the 'women are important!' message.

And yet. It's still pretty great. I found myself wanting to come home from work as early as possible so that I could read this damn book. As King does so well, he grapples with a large cast of characters with aplomb, and holds on to quite a few separate threads of story all at once without dropping any of them. The narrative, in spite of all the different parts, feels remarkably tight and nothing peters off like sometimes happens in King novels, and I meannn, yeah, it's pretty good. Feminism he doesn't do excellently, but storytelling? He's a master.

Also I guess Owen King did some things too, sorry baby King!

Basically, it was really nice to have a new Stephen King book to read after a few months away. I'm not sure if it's possible for me to truly hate one of his books (ok, except for The Tommyknockers. And Dreamcatcher) and this one is no exception, it's pretty good. I criticise because I love, and I read because I really really love.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Sunday Sundries: Hen Dos and Hen Don'ts

Happy Sunday Everyone!

I feel like the spring spirit has infected me, even though it's about 3C outside, because I've been cleaning allllll day. I feel all cleansed and refreshed and good about life and stuff, and my house looks all clean and stuff. Now is the time for sitting and blogging and finally starting Friends (for like the 50th time) on Netflix and yaaaaaay Sundays!

Let's see, this week. I always feel so uninteresting when I sit down to write a Sunday post, because nothing really happens to me that's worth remarking upon. Getting to work this week was horrible because it snowed a fair bit (for England) which means basically everything shuts down, making going outside at 7am into -4C temperatures even more upsetting. My evenings were pretty much spent hanging out and eating and watching The Simpsons which is awesome, and oh wait, I forgot the most important thing that happened this week...


This isn't that remarkable, I realise, for most people, but I haven't left the country for literally 9 years because of poorness, so actually I'm unbearably excited about it. My fella and I are going to Naples for 4 nights in April, so if you have any must sees for Naples or Rome (where we're also gonna go) let me know in the comments. SO EXCITED.

So that was the big thing and now I'm poor and determined to have a super budget-y month this month so I can afford to pay for it! Yesterday I spent, quite literally, all day in bed, as reparation for having to get up early and go out into the freezing cold all week, and also as preparation for my cousin's hen party in the evening.

Oh yes, wedding season (if you're new here, I have 3 family weddings to go to this year which is like 3x more than I've had to go to in any other year and it's exhausting just to think about) has officially started, and the first event was, I'm not going to lie, super fun. Good food, good company, all the hen do props you can think of (except a stripper... disappointing. Kind of) and I ended the evening by laughing hysterically so yes, I'm into it!

And that was pretty much my week. Some excitement and a lot lot lot of cold mornings. I'm hoping for warmer days, and just as much, if not more, fun and excitement. How was your week?

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Things I Read In February

Oh haaaai, March! I've been waiting for a long time for spring to come, but just as the days started to get longer, THE SNOWS came. I am just shaking my head at the weather right now, to be honest, but what can you do? Soon, real spring will be here. I hope.

February was pretty nice but, as February does tend to be, sort of unremarkable. I went to London far more than can be thought of as healthy, I did THE BOOKSHOP CRAWL (definitely a month highlight) and, well, I ate a lot of chocolate in anticipation of this long long month without it. Sigh. My reading month was odd, in that it started with a load of reading, then tapered off in the middle, I guess coinciding with my new job (oh yeah, that happened too, I suppose!) and picked up again right at the end. Let's take a look:

Such dark spines this month!

Talk Talk by T C Boyle- I can no longer say that I think I like T C Boyle but I've only read one of his books, cause I've read another of his books! I can say that I DO like T C Boyle, and this book was very good. It's kind of a crime/road trip/relationship/drama which is definitely not a genre but what can I say, it covers a lot of ground. It's about a woman who is a victim of identity theft, and how far she'll go to get it back, and about the man who loves her enough to try. Interestingly, it's also about the guy who stole her identity, which added a whole extra dimension to the story that I wasn't expecting but really liked. It's a good, good novel.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers- I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about this book because, you know, who has the gall to call their book this, but I knew I was going to like it when, in the introduction, Eggers apologises for the part of the book that's about people in their twenties, because the lives of people in their twenties are so boring (he's not wrong). I don't know if I'd call this book genius, exactly, but it is very good. Eggers lost both of his parents about a month apart when he was 21/22 and then raised his 7 year old brother, and wrote this book about it. This is, obviously, heartbreaking, but that's not exactly how Eggers writes it- he more avoids the major topic and goes straight for more self obsessive writing until (it seems) his anger about everything he's lost almost leaks out around the edges. I feel like this book is difficult to describe, so I think you should probably just read it, ya know?

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking- This was some kind of kindle deal at the start of the year so I bought it and revelled in its cosiness. Hygge is the Danish way of living that is all about being around the people you love, getting cosy in soft lighting and just generally enjoying the small pleasures in life. The book definitely explains it better than me, and just reading it made me want to sit under twinkly fairy lights and drink wine and read. Sigh. Hygge.

Postcards by Annie Proulx- Oh hey, I reviewed this already! Woohoo! In short: it's kind of like short stories, only a longer story, and it's very Annie Proulx like. If that's a thing.

The Book of Dust Volume 1: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman- I loved this book. I realised as I was reading it that it's been a long long time since I read His Dark Materials trilogy (like, 10 years of a long time) but it was a total joy to be back in Pullman's world that's kind of ours but also not ours and yeah, that thing. This book looks at Malcolm, a fairly regular boy who is thrust into situations that are way too mature for him and that he is completely unprepared for, and yet, he does so well. It's fantastic and exciting and ugh, it's just so good. Shout out to my sister who lent it to me and wanted a shout out...

Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Monetefiore- Ok, so. I have a disturbing lady boner for young Stalin and his face. This book has long been a joke between me and any book friends I go shopping with, until I finally had to buy it, and finally finally I had to read it. I don't read many history books and I know practically nothing about Russian history, so I can't say objectively if this was any good, but all I know is that I've learnt a lot about young Stalin and his journey to Stalin-hood. It's also pretty engagingly written for non-fiction, and, you know, there are photos of young Stalin inside so everyone's a winner. *creepy smiles all round*

And that's what I read in February, basically. For the first time in a long time, I actually finished off the month by finishing a book, so I get to start afresh with a new book today. It's very exciting, obviously. And oh hey, what about that challenge thing I've been good at doing?! Well, March's prompt is to read a book set in a different country than your own, written by an author from another country than your own, or a book in which the characters travel. I meaaaan, I could read many of the books I own for this one, and I suspect most of the books I read this month will not be set in England, but I am specifically choosing:
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery! It's set in France, the author is French, I don't know if there's travelling, but France! That is not where I live! I have had this book for the longest time, so long that my friend totally borrowed it years ago and I still haven't read it, so this is quite a moment for me. March, I'm ready for you, and I hope you all are ready for March too.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Devouring Books: Postcards by Annie Proulx

*Beams proudly* Hey, look at me, keeping up with challenges and stuff! This month's monthly motif theme was books with one word titles, and Postcards was my pick from all of the many books I still have outstanding (although I have surprisingly few with one word titles...) Here are my thoughts on it.

I have a weird relationship with Annie Proulx books, in that my brain seems to act like teflon around them. Nothing sticks with me, and I find that I have to read things over and over again to try and understand what's happening. I'm sure this isn't a failing of Proulx so much as my brain (I have the same problem with The Great Gatsby, in that I didn't even understand that there was a story so much as wonderful sentences until I saw the movie, FOR SHAME) but it still makes me somewhat reluctant to pick up her longer works over her short stories, which seem to stick better. I had thought that Postcards was short stories, as they kind of are in life, but nope, this is one of her longer works, and also her first published book.

In a sense, though, it was short stories. Postcards covers a long period of time, in not all that many pages, with the strange effect that, even though we are looking at the trials and tribulations of one family, it is in tiny snapshots, set years apart, at integral and often devastating moments for the family. Each moment, each event, is like it's own short story, and as this is where Proulx really comes into her own, I wasn't mad about it. I actually found it a really interesting way to stage a novel, not focusing so much on the everyday, but on lifetimes and what they really boil down to.*

As for the story itself? Well, bear in mind I have that teflon thing happening, and I'll do my best to tell you about it. The book starts with Loyal Blood (excellent name) doing something bad (this is one of things it took me the longest to figure out, but I think it's supposed to be that way) and skipping town,  'with his girlfriend' who he has actually just buried on his family farm. It's pretty much because of this that I found it hard to have sympathy with Loyal throughout the rest of the book, but that's not really the point- I never find Proulx as one for morality, or trying to make you think a certain way, she pretty much just presents things as they are, and lets you decide for yourself.

I like that.

Anyway, Loyal sends postcards home over the years, and various other people send postcards that are vaguely linked to the story in various ways, and it's a pretty nice way of tying things together (lest you think of this book as a load of connected short stories...) It's all a little bitter because Loyal writes home to a family that is disintegrating, that is split up, that various other bad things happen to that I shan't tell you about because of spoilers, but if I tell you that they're American farmers, you should kind of get the gist. My favourite line in all of the book is this one from Loyal's mother, about life: "I pitied her so bad, that her life had taken this terrible turn. And when it came at me in the same way I felt like... I still can't say what I felt like. But I know one thing. You're never ready for it when it turns on you and goes for the throat." Because, truth, but also Proulx writes so well about when life goes for the throat and this book is no exception.

So yeah, Annie Proulx, look into her. This isn't my favourite of her books, but the fact that it was kind-of short stories definitely saved it from hurting my brain (I really didn't like The Shipping News, for example). This is more of a recommendation to check out her work as a whole rather than this, or any particular book, although I will maintain that her short stories are just better. This was fine, and I'm glad to have struck it off of my giant pile of books to read, which was part of the point of this challenge so SUCCESS! Huzzah, etc etc.

*See also Brokeback Mountain- it's a thirteen page short story but is set over YEARS- also the movie is absolutely the reason I started reading all of Proulx's books, no biggie.