Thursday, July 27, 2017

ApeTizer - Shaka Ponk

I enjoyed both their previous concert and album so much, my usual low-expectations principle was sadly unapplicable to this five-song EP.

Very fortunately (as I have already got tickets for Bercy next March..!) I still enjoyed this! Perhaps not as much as 'The White-Pixel Ape' but enough for the time being. 
Album coming up in November.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Neva Left - Snoop

What Snoop is : Accessible on most music-streaming platforms. A very OK rap artist.

What Snoop is not : Jay Z. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

HHhH - Laurent Binet

I used to be fairly interested in World War II. Then I went and married my husband : Overkill of WWII interest. That's why it took me so long to get around to reading this biography about Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Gestapo, architect of the Holocaust etc. 
(Also the man of the brilliant book-title : Himmler's Hirn (brain) heisst (is called) Heydrich. The publisher felt 'Heydrich' was too basic a title, according to Binet.)

Binet's passion for the war and the assassination attempt on Heydrich in particular makes my husband's look like a lazy pastime. That is a strength and a snag, actually, since I personally thought that a good hundred pages of detail could and should have been edited out of this book. (But then I wonder whether editors actually edit anything at all any longer? I feel books just like films are getting longer and longer, yet none the better for it.) 

The take on narration, however, elevates 'HHhH' from a meticulous history book to an original literary work, no less! Binet converses with himself and his readers, prattles on about his musings on other writers, on the narrative course to follow, on how much fiction is profitable to a history novel, on the difference between a novel and a book, on his research, his travels, his girlfriends past and present... Impossible to say how genuine he is, but it certainly feels both imaginative and accurate at the same time.

A bit long, but excellent!  

Friday, July 21, 2017

Fake Sugar - Beth Ditto

Quite possibly I may be more into Beth Ditto for her voice and personality than for her music.

That doesn't mean I don't enjoy listening to her, though! Not overly innovative, but very listenable pop/rock/whatever!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Dear White People s1

A film developed into a TV series is not a particularly promising concept, and one that I would certainly never have watched had it not been writer & director Justin Simian himself who was in charge of the show. And even so, it took me some time to get around to it. 
I am, as I may tend to repeat a tad too often, extremely suspicious to all sorts of adaptations.

But what do you know?! Turns out that rule, too, has exceptions! Or at least this one!
Somehow, Simian's brilliant film has become a brilliant series. It's still clever, political, risqué, thought-provoking and occasionally rather provocative. And as if that wasn't enough, it also daringly plays with narrative voices, perspective and timeline, which is a stunning performance, really, in modest 30-minute episodes.

It's still about racial tension on an Ivy league campus. And homosexuality, outsidership, love, ambition and a lot of other things.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Sapiens - Yuval Noah Harari

So this time I read it in small portions and an active pen in my hand. Also a good way! (Last time's unmitigated praise here

What stuck with me the most on this reread was the concept of cognitive dissonance : "Every man-made order is packed with internal contradictions. Cultures are constantly trying to reconcile these contradictions, and this process fuels change."
For instance, we see equality and individual freedom as fundamental values. "Yet the two values contradict each other. Equality can be ensured only by curtailing the freedoms of those who are better off. Guaranteeing that every individual will be free to do as he wishes inevitably short-changes equality."

You might argue this is more of a philosophy-lesson than the history Harari promises in the title, and I would say it is both and all the better for it.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Okja - Joon-Ho Bong 2017

I suppose I simply should have done some more research before hitting 'play'.
Past the first twenty minutes, it was embarrassingly obvious that this was in fact a kid's movie : Predictable, farcical at times, overly simplistic, edifying and animated by very basic emotions. Plus a young kid and her cute pet. Basically, this is 'E.T.'

Attentive readers already know how I feel about Spielberg.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

To The Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf

A fervent admirer of Woolf (rediscovered  'Orlando' to great satisfaction) I nevertheless found this opus more strenuous than enjoyable, just like last time I read it. 

The experimentation in narrative technique and point of view definitely did loads for postmodern literature but it makes for some tiresome reading. 
Focalization skips from one character to another in what felt like a nonsensical way and as there is no plot to speak of, I never got really acquainted with the characters and so was wholly unable to muster any interest in them.

Sadly, I gave up halfway through! I like her short stories, some of which are a lot more abstract, but for some reason I just can't get into this. Might have to try it a third time, at some point in the future... 
(I don't know why I refuse to accept that I just don't like it. I SHOULD like it!)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Ten Things I Hate About You - G. Junger 1999

Shakespeare it ain't, but not far from either. Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Heath Ledger, all youthful and innocent and cuter than they ever were thereafter in a 1990s fashion, re-enacting 'The Taming of the Shrew'. 

My thirteen-year-old liked it, which may not say much but she is, after all, the number one target audience for this.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner

The timelessness of art is gripping not only when I contemplate 600-year-old Notre Dame de Paris, but also when realize this Faulkner masterpiece is almost a full 90 years old. 

Re-reading it, I'm thinking it's almost as if Faulkner had been determined to experiment how much it is humanely possible to play on narration while still remaining coherent and maintaining his literary standard. 
Reading takes focus and concentration, therefore, but is so intensely pleasurable I tore through the novel in two days.

It is set, of course, in Faulkner's usual, fictional Yoknapatawpha county, and revolves around the Compsons, the fall of the Compson family paralleling the decay of the Old South. The narration is divided into four parts, the first three told by different members of the family and the fourth by an omniscient narrator. Daughter Caddie does none of the narrating yet is at the core of the plot, most of which, incidentally, is already in the past when the novel begins.

For anyone with even a slight interest in literature, the Norton Critical Edition is always The Shit To Get, as it completes the novel with a series of very enlightening critical texts -  by prominent critics; here Robert Penn Warren, Jean Paul Sartre and André Bleikasten, for instance, though my favourite is Olga Vickery's A Study In Perspective -  plus, in this case, Faulkner's own Appendix, explicating the plot to the point it's almost indispensable.

I just remembered precisely why Faulkner my Favourite Author of All Time.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Going Clear - A. Gibney 2015

Though I had heard good reviews of this documentary, I had also viewed enough other documentaries on Netflix - of that very American, overly-dramatic, Nat Geo Wild-kind - to be a bit skeptical as well. Unwarranted skepticism, as this turned out insightful, knowledgeable and finely tuned.

It dealt in detail with :
- Founder L Ron Hubbard, his insanity and his batty theories. (Watch 'The Master'!)
- Successor David Miscavige, his paranoia and violent methods.
- Big bucks.
- Travolta and Tom Cruise.

For obvious reasons, it's tough to have any sort of opinion on the veracity of their findings, but the whole documentary draws essentially on interventions of ex-scientologists from Miscavige's inner circle. It also fits with things I have read about the sect (France classifies it as such) from other high-ranking scientologists.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Plan B - Jonathan Tropper

Present in this first novel by 'This Is Where I Leave You'-writer Tropper :
A tad Jackie Collins (sexy, beautiful women, big love, a celebrity with a cocaine habit) 
+ A lot of 'Friends' (1990s yuppies, a tight group of friends, incessant punchlines) 
+ Heavy 'The Big Chill' inspiration (relational melodrama in a wooden cabin in the forest, an absent friend, midlife crisis).

Original? Not so much.
Shallow? Yes.
Entertaining? That, too.

Also : A demonstration of how tough single-voice narration can be to pull off...

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Crown season 1

This series was well in the line of the royal Windsor-family; keeping a stiff upper lip, all in understatement (litote, I mean!) and restraint.

Although it is of course hard to tell facts from fiction, it has a truthful ring to it and doesn't feel overly sugarcoated. 
For instance, the children are conspicuously absent except when playing with their dad in the background. Somehow, it all manages to feel both genuine and dramatized in some authentic yet off-biopicky way.

The light, setting and costumes are gorgeous, and finally, it is very pleasant to watch a series that actually draws on the fact that it is a series and not a two-hour motion picture, i.e. taking its time, steering clear of conventions and daring to be discreet in the Windsor way.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Kung Liljekonvalje av Dungen - Maria Lang

Maria Lang is pretty much a Swedish version of Agatha Christie :
- The plot is regularly set in the small town native of her recurring Police officer hero (on whom I had a Serious Crush as a teenager) (still do, frankly) where people frequently resort to murder to solve their problems, like in Miss Marple's St Mary Mead.
- The characters are Swedishly quaint in just the same way as Christie's characters are Britishly.
- The whodunit plots are puzzles without any ambition whatsoever to be anything else. Which is OK since in those days, detective stories weren't yet thirteen to the dozen, each more violent and seedy than the previous. (#old and #grumpy)

This book was first published in 1957 and I got my copy in 1982 (I was 14!) so it wasn't exactly fresh from the print even then. It is one of my favourites so I have reread it a number of times. Interesting thing about rereading detective novels; I feel I have forgotten all about the plot, but then as I turn the pages, it all comes back to me in portions, a little at the time. Only happens with detective novels. This time, though, it came back to me a bit too soon. I suspect I may have to pick some other of her novels next time I get an urge for 1950s smalltown Sweden. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Histoire de la Violence - Edouard Louis

You may well harbour all sorts of opinions on the author's choice to tell an autobiographical event (rape and physical violence) in a novelized narrative - and all sorts of opinions are indeed both harboured and expressed in the media - but Louis's literary talent is so irrefutable, there is no way for me not to love this.

The writing style is elaborate, with multiple narrative voices and multiple time spans intertwining as the night in question unfolds, just as these events interweave with stories of his past (again!). Convoluted yet seemingly effortless = Truly elegant!

Extra bonus points for the literary interlude assimilating his experience to that of Temple Drake in Faulkner's 'Sanctuary'.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

New York Public Library Podcast

These are live recordings of people conversing in front of an audience so the sound quality is very far from that of most other podcasts. But then the quality of the speakers largely outweighs anything else!

Knowledgeable, articulate, intelligent writers, artists and thinkers speak about literature, their lives, economy, world politics or Shakespeare.

My favourites :
Marjane Satrapi (of brilliant Persepolis) was a blast! Funny and clever and irresistible!
Jay Z was surprisingly well-phrased and levelheaded. (That surprised me because I know he hasn't done any higher education.)
Gloria Steinem was her usual intelligent, outspoken and humane self.
Noam Chomsky is always Noam Chomsky, but that his conversation partner Yanis Varoufakis should be so convincing I had not anticipated.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

I Am Not Your Negro - R. Peck 2016

James Baldwin's articulate and perceptive musings on race relations in the US + heaps of stock footage = Yes this was interesting and thought-provoking, though not necessarily very original.

If, however, you are accompanied by a curious thirteen-year-old, desirous to learn more about icons Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, then you definitely want to choose another film.

Friday, June 23, 2017

And the Great Unknown - Bror Gunnar Jonsson

Not all of this is very runner-friendly, but all of it is bluesy yet original and it rocks!
(very runner-friendly!)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Exit West - Mohsin Hamid

Regrettably, the very useful low-expectations principle is a no-go with Mohsin Hamid.
I have read and loved all his previous novels ('How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia', 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' and 'Moth Smoke') and his essay collection so I should have been slightly better prepared for the inevitable disappointment, due to come sooner or later.

'Exit West' deals with a country under extremist attack, emigration and then immigration - highly topical, distressing subjects and not so very different from Hamid's previous novels. 

The treatment, however, is incomparable. Far from his previous first person narrations, this story is told in a Paulo Coelho-esque narrative voice, observing from the outside and naming only the main characters. (Others can be described as "the man" or "the second man".)
This ambitious / pretentious fairy tale, stilted style of writing was one of the things I hated about 'The Alchemist' and I can't say I appreciate it much here, either. Whereas this impersonal narration does bypass tearful melodrama, it also prevents at least me from identifying with the characters. 

So : Could have been good, should have been good, but I suppose not even my personal housegods can hit a home run with every book. Hamid will do better next time, I'm sure.    

Monday, June 19, 2017

Look Who's Back - D. Wnendt 2015

What the concept of the return of Adolf Hitler to today's Germany may lack in originality (classic fish out of the water) it makes up for in audacity.

Indeed, to have the Germans find him charming and captivating is what I call a very bold move! Whether that in turn compensates for what I definitely felt was a lack of credibility (I mean Come On!! It's Hitler!) is an open question.
What did bother me in this film :
- I wasn't very funny. It should have been. It would have been like a glass of water to swallow the pill.
- It depicted the German people as a homogenous bunch of conservative fascists. Which was daring enough, but in my experience very unfair. 

In short, an interesting idea which would have deserved a better treatment.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Trespasser - Tana French

Even before I came across the mention of Rhys's 'Wide Sargasso Sea' in 'The Trespasser' I had made the connection between Antoinette, the brown murder detective at war with the rest of the squad, and Antoinette, Mr Rochester's first wife from 'the islands' subsequently become 'the mad woman in the attic' at war with the rest of Thornfield Hall.
Love French for her literary references! Previously, I have drawn parallels to fellow Dubliner James Joyce.

However, I love French for more than her taste in literature : 
She also smoothly avoids the greatest pitfalls of crime literature and the worst stereotypes in today's society as a whole. 
She writes elegantly and idiosyncratically. Single-voice narration is not that easy to pull off.
She is following a path which, I believe and hope, will eventually lead her away from the murder plots and towards something more ambitious.

In short; a good read!

Other French books you want to check out :
'Broken Harbour'
'The Likeness'
'The Secret Place' 
'Into the Woods'
'Faithful Place'

Thursday, June 15, 2017


For some wholly inexplicable reason, I have always had something of an issue with French rap music.  I cannot explain why, but French rap just doesn't speak to me.

As it turns out, that issue does not at all apply when the French rap in question is :

a) in English. (Good English, too! I am an English teacher - I know a good accent when I hear one.)

b) brilliantly talented and original. (I mean, like, really very talented!)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Here I Am - Jonathan Safran Foer

The key question to this novel, it seems to me, is not so much (W)HERE I am, but rather WHO. Foer explores subjects of jewishness, kinship and identity for over 500 pages, which is, I'm sorry to say, at least 200 too many in the present case.

In its family saga form, it rather reminded me of Jonathan Franzen's 'Freedom' (no particular favourite of mine). They very much share the same genre as literary bestsellers. Regrettably, I had come to expect more of Foer after his two previous masterpieces ('Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close' and 'Everything Is Illuminated'). 


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Pollinator - Blondie

Without wishing to focus on their age, I don't suppose it's reasonable to ask for renewal from people this old. Not everyone is David Bowie. (Very few are, in point of fact.)  Therefore I won't hold the 1980s sound against them in any way.

That said, the world can definitely do with some more 'Heart of Glass' and 'Atomic'-like songs! It's up-to-date and fresh and very runner-friendly!

And though I can't say I particularly respect elderly musicians playing their own elderly songs, I set great store by elderly musicians playing new songs.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Departed - M. Scorsese 2006

So there was a lot of characteristic Scorsese in here : Organized crime, plenty of talking, explicit violence, Leo Di Caprio, an aging mentor, a tight plot, deception, a great deal of swearing, white powder and of course a single female character torn between the two doppelgänger, Damon and Di Caprio.

And all that know-how which makes it a good film.