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

Rilès

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. 


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Poldark season 1

There was actually one exceedingly handsome fellow among Peter Jackson's dwarfs, but sorry to say it was not Aidan Turner. Perhaps if Richard Armitage (King under the Mountain) had been cast as homecoming hero Poldark, his dour face might have compensated for what I felt was a lack of creation and innovation in this BBC series. At least it would have been nicer to look at.

As it was, I must admit Iost patience with this after a mere two episodes.


Louis CK 2017

Louis CK on stage is less up close and personal than his TV series, obviously, but still; the perfect stand-up comedian. Smart AND funny. Deals with topics ranging from abortion ("Don't have an abortion. Unless you need one.") to religion to rescue dogs to Achilles to married life to 'Magic Mike' to his dad's penis.

Watch and learn, Schumer. Watch and learn.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Album - ABBA

Mercifully, the world has already forgotten about the 1977 disaster 'ABBA The Movie' (Lasse Hallström's worst film ever, although admittedly that isn't saying much).

Hopefully, not everyone has forgotten about the accompanying album. It's their best! 

I know them all by heart, you can take my word for it. It's still their best.

(This video, though? Another great moment in the Hallström filmography. I don't suppose he understood a single word of the lyrics?)

 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Santa Clarita Diet s1

I very nearly gave up on this. Though the pitch is refreshing and frisky - mousy housewife turns zombie - I found the first two episodes gruesome and gory, which felt like a cheap trick (as opposed to a clever script).

But then around episode three, something happened! 
There were slightly less torn-off body parts and a lot more irreverent punchlines. 
The secondary characters gained depth.
The opposition between Suburbia and human-flesh-devouring undead sharpened.
I suddenly realized all the first-rate characters were women.
It became great fun!


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Tropismes - Nathalie Sarraute

A tropism (I love Wikipedia!) is "a growth or turning movement... in response to an environmental stimulus". The motif of tropisms in this short story collection may not be immediately perceptible when reading - but then, truth be told, almost nothing is!

All the elements I considered as the upside to Lucia Berlin's short stories - analogy of narrator, point of view and focalization - are conspicuously absent here. 
In Sarraute's 29 short sketches, everything is implicit and differing from one piece to another. The point of view is always subjective but then as the narrator keeps changing, these texts demand constant focus and contemplation.

It is fortunate, therefore, that :
1. The narratives are very short. All 29 amount to less than 100 pages in all.
2. Sarraute's writing is so unbelievably adroit. She is of the same literary family as Woolf and Joyce, and that is a very, very restricted family. 
 
Beautiful!


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Army of Darkness - S. Raimi 1981

I don't suppose anyone even remotely acquainted with my tastes would imagine I could find any pleasure whatsoever in this (except of course my husband) : Blood-spattering entertainment violence, gross and amateurish special effects, a plot designed as a parody of its own genre and sadly uninspired dialogue. 
In many ways, it feels like Sam Raimi used this to practice for 'Ghostbusters'.

And though I do see the attraction : Nah. Not my bag of tea.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

"For Crying Out Loud" (2017) - Kasabian

50% are new songs of the same upbeat, melodious, indie-ish rock music kind as their previous album, which I very much enjoyed.

50% are live recordings from a 2016 concert where they seem to have been particularly chipper. 
I hope that is a regular feature, as I have now got my tickets for their upcoming Paris concert. Can't wait!


Friday, May 26, 2017

The Middlepause - Marina Benjamin

So I'm not really turning fifty IRL yet. But in my head, the process has already started, and it is MUCH harder than I had expected! Like the author Benjamin says "50 is my mum!"


Which is why I figured the concept of this book was promising; a skilled journalist's musings on menopause and passing the 50th hurdle.

Yet for all that, I don't really recognize myself in Benjamin's experiences, however similar they are to mine.
While she sees the end of her life approaching, I'm personally more childishly chafed at the irritating physical inconveniences of aging. 
While she sees taking hormones as "reckoning with the treatment's desperately misogynistic roots", I was just greatly comforted at coming to terms with those insufferable hot flashes.


Some interesting stuff, though! 
Partly, obviously, on the "desperately misogynistic roots" of hormone treatment (1960s doctor refused to acknowledge cancer risk of his oestrogen treatment, using his wife as a lab rat; her suffering the same fate as most lab rats do).
Also on what someone called Hammond calls "autobiographical memory". Means that "the older you get, the more you notice the recurrence of things you've come across before". This is why the older we get, the faster time seems to pass. Makes sense!

There, I have summed it up for you in a nutshell. You don't need to read it now unless you share Benjamin's feelings about 50. (In which case, you may buy my copy at a very reasonable price.)


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Amy Schumer, The Leather Special

As much as I do like Amy Schumer, her film 'Trainwreck' and all that she stands for (gender equality, female sexuality, outspokenness etc), this just didn't make me laugh at all. 
I simply didn't find it funny.

I had much more fun watching her on Youtube have a heckler thrown out of the Stockholm show. I suggest you watch that instead.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Swimming With Sharks - Joris Luyendijk

The Swedish subtitle augured well; "A journey into the inner workings of finance."
I know virtually nothing about finance, and scratch is generally a pretty good starting point.

I did learn. Some. For instance, I gained awareness of how narrowly we avoided worldwide catastrophe in the 2008 crisis, and how little has changed since then.

The author - a London-based Dutch journalist - has conducted 200 interviews with City-insiders and published them on his 'Guardian'-based blog. His findings seem well-sustained and his conclusions not too far off.

And still, for some reason, I didn't learn as much as I had hoped to.
The writing and the presentation both felt fuzzy and vague, and the whole book just didn't come off as very educational. At least part of that might have been due to the Swedish translation, which was uninspired and old hat at the same time.

In short, a couple of hours unfruitfully spent..!


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Legion s1

Even the most careless readers among you out there are probably aware by now of my distaste for superheroes. Possibly also of the eerie frequency with which I still find myself watching them.

Here, the superheroes have been enriched with filmic ambitions, snazzy 1960s fashion, Downton's Dan Stevens looking like one of the Gallaghers, a fair share of talent (his name is Noah Hawley, he created 'Fargo' and I've read a book of his!) and profuse cultural references in the Pink Floyd/Tommy/Clockwork Orange-genre. 

Psychedelia has grown rare on modern day TV - suffice to say, there is a reason - so over-using it like this is a very bold move. And though I have despite my spouse's insistent attempts at indoctrination always been impervious to Pink Floyd, I do love me a bold move!
Also bold : Furthering your narrative in this slow, meandering fashion, actually assuming your audience is capable of thinking for themselves, and do not need to be shown or told everything.

As for likenesses to the cinema or comic versions of the X-men, I really wouldn't know, but the narration is fundamentally different here.

So whereas I would never have believed the combo psychedelia + superheroes could be anything but a nightmare, it turns out to be quite a winning concept!


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Matmatah at La Cigale, Paris 18th arrdt

A rough estimate would be that around 98% of the audience at La Cigale last night were over-excited, homesick Bretons, craving for Matmatah's older hits of a folkish, rock breton kind of arena music.
The remaining 2% were me, not a Breton bone in my body, and very largely preferring their latest album.

The group finally achieved something like general satisfaction, playing old and new songs alike, and yet I suspect the Bretons left the venue just as slightly disgruntled as I was.

However, one major advantage to bands with a long career behind them is that not only do they play their instruments well, but they play well together, perfectly in sync with one another. Though I can't say I've ever suffered from a lack of synchronicity in a band, I still feel I detect and delight in this musical consensus. Very satisfactory!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Grace and Frankie seasons 2 and 3

Two out of three from season one are still valid. 

- The Fonda - Tomlin chemistry from 1980 comedy '9 to 5' is still working so they seem to be having a blast together. Which is generally a blast to watch. 

- Marta Kauffman from 'Friends' is still Marta Kauffman from 'Friends' so the generality of the sitcom is the same. 

HOWEVER. The number of times you want to watch this odd couple fight and make up is limited. I felt my limit was reached some time towards the end of the second season. I still plowed through the third but I am definitely done now. (Though a change of mind at the premiere of season 4 is perhaps not entirely out of the question. We'll see.)


Monday, May 15, 2017

God Help The Child - Toni Morrison

As the adjective 'compelling' has become part of the stock-and-trade in book blurbs, it now has a rather watered-down ring to it. When it comes to Toni Morrison's work, however, it remains 100% accurate. 

'God Help The Child' is about child abuse and love. Though it is set in modern-day California (as opposed to a historical, Southern background), I still view Morrison as a direct descendant of my personal housegod William Faulkner

They share so much, not just the Southern scene and writing style, but also the preoccupation with race (or skin color, as we like to call it here in Europe), memory and the influence of the past on the present; not to mention the elaboration of their narratives. 
True to her habits, Morrison blends several voices, points of view and time spans, all of which ought to make for troublesome reading yet somehow only serves to heighten the experience.

In short, I loved this (in case it hadn't showed already). 
I also realize it is the second time in only a few weeks I mention Faulkner. Perhaps time has come for me to reread 'The Sound and the Fury'?


Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Burning Spider - Parov Stelar

Some googling informed me that this cryptic stage name designates an Austrian musician, slightly older than our average DJ (like, 20 years older) and with a longer career behind him.

I had never heard of this person before (which probably says more about me than it does about his renown) but am now very satisfied with having discovered him, as this turned out to be an interesting blend of jazz and electronica (or whatever I'm supposed to call electronic dance music, these days?).

As an extra bonus, some of the lyrics contain actual social criticism! 
I thought there was some rule against that in any music but rock and hiphop.