Category Archives: Entertainment

The Books I Read in 2014

2014 was the year of big whopping books – something that it is easy to forget when reading them on a Kindle. My total number of books is down on the previous year (36 in 2014, 42 in 2013). In mitigation, as well as reading whoppers such as The Luminaries and The Goldfinch, I also moved house – but this is where the Kindle really came into its own, as while all my books were (and still are) packed away in boxes, I had a good selection of things to read when I wasn’t stressing out or throwing all of my junk away or trying to make my old house sell-able.

Inspired by Woodsiegirl, whose excellent statistical analysis I discovered last year, here are few stats before I start:

Books by men = 20, Books by women = 16

Books read for first time = 35, Books read in a previous year = 1 (Where’d You Go Bernadette)

Books read on Kindle = 33, Hard copy books read = 3

Tough Shit: Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob who Did Good – Kevin Smith

I always feel compelled to read things by KS and to watch his films, despite the fact that he is starting to annoy me a little bit. I didn’t enjoy this very much – although I did really like Red State, which I only got around to watching recently.

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

Everyone raved about this book, and I did really enjoy it and was gripped by the story. I’m not sure how much of it has really stayed with me though. Almost like disposable literary fiction.

Stoner – John Williams

I was SO fashionable in 2014, reading all of the books that everyone else was reading. This falls into the category of good but totally depressing. A man strives and lives and dies. His miserable life is largely the fault of his wife (!).

Kangaroo Dundee – Chris ‘Brolga’ Barns

Brolga

I make no apologies for loving Brolga (a man who has dedicated his life to rescuing little Joeys from the pouches of road kill kangaroos). This book was a very welcome birthday gift. It had lots of photos of cute kangaroos in it 🙂

A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki

I did enjoy this at the time, but in some profound (possibly Buddhist) way it has all slipped away from me – as if the words were washed away on the tide.

A Place of Greater Safety – Hilary Mantel

Reading this made me realise that I actually knew very little about the French Revolution. This book was completely terrifying in its imagining of the paranoia and violence that divides and weakens the revolutionaries.

MaddAddam – Margaret Atwood

I think I need to read the whole trilogy again, I found myself getting a bit lost. It was still really good, though.

Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris

After hearing David Sedaris on R4, I decided to read some of his work. He’s quickly become one of my go-to ‘comfort’ authors – he’s like the nice mug of cocoa of authors. And I don’t mean that to be derogatory at all.

An Experiment in Love – Hilary Mantel

This was interesting – the first Mantel novel I have read that is set in a (relatively) contemporary period. It wasn’t one of my favourite books of the year. She’s much better with ye olde folks!

Hello, I Must Be Going – Charlotte Chandler

An account by a woman who spent time with Groucho Marx in the final years of his life. It does give some insight into the man, but I’m not sure it was really necessary to know that stuff. I kept thinking ‘Why am I reading this? I’d be better off watching a Marx Brothers film’.

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

Night-Circus-UK-cover

Yes! One of my favourite books of the year. Magic!

The Circle – Dave Eggers

I enjoyed reading this, and it has repeatedly popped into my brain ever since – especially when my boss texts me and tells me that I have to go and contribute to our company’s social media site so that we are ‘more visible’.

The Long Earth – Terry Pratchett & Steve Baxter

I like the idea behind this – that it is possible to ‘step’ into a parallel world, and that people keep stepping and exploring and colonising these ‘new’ lands. I liked the idea so much that I overcame my aversion to having a Terry Pratchett book on my reading list. It didn’t entirely live up to my expectations, although I appreciate that there are so many ideas that can stem from the basic premise that I would be extremely lucky if it explored the things that I wanted it to. I have the follow-up novels stashed on my Kindle.

Naked – David Sedaris

Argh! I’m moving house and our removal company can’t do the day we need tears hair out and then settles down to a nice cup of Sedaris

Where’d You Go Bernadette – Maria Semple

Argh! I’m moving house and what will we do with the cats while we’re moving?? tears hair out and then settles down to a book that I loved back in 2013

Born Weird – Andrew Kaufman

Not unpleasant, but not really that much to write home about.

The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton

A big, whopping, prize-winner. Like a nice big bowl of All-Bran; good for you, a little bit chewy, hard work at time, but gives a self-satisfied sense of having done something worthwhile. Doesn’t help with bowel movements, though.

Fatherland – Robert Harris

Fatherland

Still on my quest for good alternate histories, I realised that I couldn’t avoid the old Nazis. Most alternate history writing seems to centre on Nazis and detectives – I decided that I might as well go for the daddy of all Nazi writers and read a Robert Harris novel. There were Nazis (they won the war!) and a detective (hmm perhaps these Nazis aren’t as great as I initially thought). Many thrills ensue.

The Mistress’ Daughter – AM Homes

I like AM Homes, and I enjoyed this autobiographical piece.

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union – Michael Chabon

Another alternate history (Jews are settled in Alaska, a detective solves a mystery). It was a bit dull.

One Summer: America 1927 – Bill Bryson

Bill-Bryson-One-Summer-America-1927-hardback

One of my favourites of the year. Picks a year, then looks at all of the things going on in it.

The Man in the High Castle – Philip K Dick

Alternate history – Nazis, but no detectives.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim – David Sedaris

Would you like (vegetarian) marshmallows and squirty cream with that hot chocolate? Yes please!

Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami

Questions don’t always get answered in Murakami’s works (or not in a way that I can always detect, anyway) and I was slightly concerned that this book – which centres around a man’s need to know why his childhood friends stopped seeing him – would leave me hanging. Thankfully I got some answers, along with some more questions. To be honest, with Murakami I always enjoy the journey, even if I don’t reach a particular destination.

The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell

I love the variety in Mitchell’s work – he really seems to be able to turn his hand to anything. Previous works have had a mystical/magical element, but this went all-out sci-fi in parts. It was a really enjoyable romp.

Hatchet Job: Love Movies, Hate Critics – Mark Kermode

To be honest, this was something a bit fluffy to read between two longer books. It was ok.

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour – Joshua Ferris

I loved the idea – an emotionally closed-off dentist discovers that someone has created a new online identity for him. One of the most enjoyable books I read this year.

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys – Viv Albertine

Viv Albertine

Really interesting from a few different angles – firstly, an articulate memoir of someone who was right in the middle of the London punk scene and, secondly, as an account of a woman striving to succeed in a man’s world. It’s sad that Albertine fought so hard to make a space for herself in the macho punk environment, but then lost herself in love and marriage and babies. Thankfully she found herself again, and there’s definitely an important message (especially for me, on the cusp on 40) about reinventing oneself.

We Were Liars – E Lockhart

I didn’t realise that this was Young Adult fiction until I had finished it. I know a lot of adults like reading it, but I felt a bit tainted. It was a pretty good story, but fairly simple and unchallenging.

Tipping The Velvet – Sarah Waters

I’ve been meaning to read some earlier Waters, after loving The Little Stranger. She’s a very intelligent writer who is able to evoke a really strong sense of the era that she’s depicting. There’s a lot of interesting material here about music hall, Victorian attitudes to sexuality, and the growing union movement. I’m curious now about the TV adaptation of this that was made a few years ago because, on top of all the fascinating historical details, it’s just a really good story.

Yes Please! – Amy Poehler

This was a bit weak. I think Amy Poehler is hilarious, and I enjoyed the way she writes about her background in (and obvious love of) improv, but this book felt like a bit of a dog’s breakfast.

Attention All Shipping – Charlie Connelly

I picked this up at a second-hand book stall. Connelly travels around all of the British shipping areas. A fun read, although at times it felt as if he was having to force a story out of nothing.

Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut

This has been on my to-read list for years. The title has always put me off – like I’m never really in the mood for something with the word ‘Slaughterhouse’ in it. I’m so glad that I did finally pick it up, though.

Us – David Nicholls

It feels like Nicholls is becoming more of a substantial author with each book. I absolutely adored this, and will probably be buying copies of this as presents when it comes out in paperback. It reminded me a little bit of Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. Even though he’s too old to play the main character, Jim Broadbent was in my head all the way through. That can never be a bad thing.

Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” – Lena Dunham

I’m in two minds about this book. I really admire Dunham – she’s achieved an awful lot, she’s honest, and she’s a great role model in many ways for young women. Perhaps I’m getting old, but she’s SO self-absorbed, and she’s from such a privileged background that I find it hard not to be a little bit annoyed by her. I was slightly perturbed that we share a recurring dream – a much-loved (but in reality long-dead) pet has been forgotten about and is rediscovered in a filthy and uncared-for state. Unlike Dunham, I don’t have a therapist I can call in the middle of the night, so I’m not sure what this means!

Wilson – Daniel Clowes

WILSON_FC_COLORS

My only graphic novel of the year. This was a really moving story, told with great economy.

2015 will see the opening of The Grimshaw Library (i.e. I will finish painting the fabulous wall of shelving that I had built in December) and I will finally be able to unpack my books – many of which have been in boxes since about 2004.  I have absolutely no idea whether I will fill all of the shelving or have some embarrassing empty spaces.  Either way, my self-imposed book buying embargo (because of the house move) was broken on January 4th, with a very nice looking book called Concretopia, about building in post-war Britain.

What books have you enjoyed reading in 2014? What have you got lined up for 2015?

Friends Reunited – Revisiting the 90s via a Box-Set Time Machine

I frequently find myself having those box set conversations – you know the ones where they tell you that Dexter is really worth watching, and you can’t believe that they’ve never seen The Sopranos (but have found the time to watch Dexter – hello!). Everyone is watching Game of Thrones (some people are a bit further behind, which makes everyone talk in rubbish code “Could you believe the one where [winks] pops that dude’s eyeballs out of his head?”). Some people are big on Scandi-crime, others on inexplicably un-funny American animation (Family Guy, The Simpsons). Some people are clearly trying to get their money’s worth out of Netflix or Amazon Prime and will spend an entire game of poker trying to convince you that [insert name of shit comedy] is way better than [insert name of good comedy].

Amidst all of this, I have been revisiting Friends. Back in the year 1994 no-one was watching box sets (unless you count Joey’s icky VHS porn collection), no-one was streaming Breaking Bad on to their phones in the middle of Ross’ (really poor quality) palaeontology classes. In the real world I had just moved away to uni, and Friends saw me right through my degree, my Masters, a year working in a dole office, and right through my PhD. People could be a bit snarky about Friends, even at the time – and in the middle of a box-set conversation here in 2014 they can be downright shocked by the uncoolness of my viewing choices.

You know what? It’s still pretty funny. I’ll admit that coming off the back of watching Seinfeld again, it takes a bit of getting used to the huggyness of it all, but the writing is good and holds up. A few things surprised me this time around, though, and here are my random musings about them:

Porn

Chandler watching video

As Janice would say: Oh. My. God! There’s an awful lot of porn going on. Setting aside my own views about porn, they just seem to talk about it ALL THE TIME. In the early seasons they don’t have the internet, but the guys have boxes of porn stashed away, porn (home-made or otherwise) on VHS seems to pop up fairly frequently. When Chandler buys a laptop (or whatever the hell that large beige box is) it is largely used for watching porn. An episode is dedicated to Chandler and Joey watching non-stop porn that has appeared for free on their TV. Monica is disturbed when she thinks Chandler is getting his rocks off to sharks, rather than porn. Phoebe’s sister is a porn actor for a while. Porn porn porn porn porn.

Perhaps it is because I only have, like, three friends myself – but porn NEVER comes up as a topic of conversation. I’m sure I know plenty of people who like porn (indeed I have a friend who blogs about porn and other films) but it seems to be largely a private activity these days. Is it because porn has moved from the TV to the private screen? I’m sure there’s an A-level Sociology essay in there somewhere.

Technology

Phoebe Phone

Friends covers a huge technological shift in society. It begins when plots could centre around being unable to contact a character, moving into that period where someone rich (Jill Goodacre) might let you use their phone, right up to everyone having a phone and people rarely being out of contact. The internet doesn’t really feature hugely. Towards the end Ross and Chandler proto-frape each other on a Friends Reunited-style website, but that’s as far is goes really (apart from accessing porn). Restaurant and theatre reviews are still eagerly read from newspapers. The answer-machine is king (as it was in Seinfeld). Simpler times.

Modes of Masculinity

Hugging

Urgh that’s such a wanky title – but I can’t think of a better way of phrasing it. Three men – one handsome, confident, stupid, and a big hit with the ladies (whom he treats terribly), another who is funny, devoid of sexual confidence, and (eventually) a loving partner. The third (and more about Ross shortly) is a deluded mummy’s boy who gets the girl in spite of his perceived strengths. Now I’m not making any big statements about any of this (remember these are just random musings) but the thing that hit me this time round was a sort of implicit homophobia that peppers the interactions between the male characters. I think it’s a sign of how far we’ve come as a society that episodes like the one where Ross fires a male nanny because it’s just ‘wrong’ for a man to care for children, stick out like a sore thumb to me now. Ross, Chandler and Joey hug, sometimes snuggle, and even kiss, but the punchline is almost always ‘ewwww DUDE!’. Chandler’s Gay Dad (or is he a Trans Dad or a Drag Dad – oh who cares it’s the 90s and we don’t really distinguish between any of that stuff – it’s all funny) played wonderfully by Kathleen Turner, is the butt of countless jokes and yet I can’t help wondering how much could have been gained if he/she (see, I don’t even know) was delivering the funny rather than being the funny.

I don’t want you to think that I’m being a humourless, pompous arse about all of this. It is, after all, a TV show that ended ten years ago. I am surprised, though, by the things that washed over me 10-20 years ago, and now seem sort of … odd to me now.

Rachel

jennifer_aniston3_180_240

Rachel’s transformation from Long Island princess to career woman is constantly being scuppered by Ross. I’m not going to lie to you, I fucking hate Ross. I think I hated him back then, but I must have let it go. Watching Friends again re-ignited my hatred of him. I reckon it will take about four years to subside. Thankfully there is little chance of David Schwimmer popping up in anything and setting me off again.

Rachel gets her first big career break, and Ross ruins it because he is jealous of Mark, her colleague. His possessive behaviour almost gets her fired. Ross and Rachel break up because she’s working too much and he won’t give her any breathing space. When they split up I say ‘Huzzah’, then they get together again and I’m supposed to be pleased – all the studio audience coo and aww when they kiss. I say ‘Bollocks!’.

They were not on a break.

Ten series in, and things are starting to get wrapped up. Phoebe has Mike and a ‘quirky’ (but let’s face it, entirely conventional) life ahead of her. Monica and Chandler have babies and a house in the suburbs. Joey has, well, a short-lived spin-off sitcom* in his future. Ross gets tenure – despite being the most unconvincing academic I’ve ever heard. Rachel gets an amazing job offer – wow, the journey is complete…except it isn’t. Here’s Ross again – how can he manipulate things so that Rachel stays in New York? He tells her ‘I love you. Stay here’ and she does. That’s her happy ending. I had actually convinced myself, prior to watching the final episode again, that Ross moves to Paris with Rachel and their kid. I think my brain did what my mum used to do when I was a kid and she would edit books on the fly to make them less sexist (Julian always washed the dishes in the versions of The Famous Five that I heard at bedtime). I was so disappointed when Rachel decided to stay to be with Ross. Idiot!

* When posters for the new series ‘Joey’ started popping up around Leeds, someone wrote the words ‘Twat Rascal’ across Matt LeBlanc’s face. Possibly my favourite billboard vandalism of all time.

Obesity

fat monica

It’s kind of funny that fat Monica is probably thinner than about 50% of the American population now. I’ve seen a chap running a British Heart Foundation obesity awareness stall who was fatter than fat Monica.


So, now I’ve finished watching Friends I need a new box-set to watch – anyone got any recommendations? Anything worth a second viewing? Anything new to recommend?