It was a slow summer for reading. As I mentioned before, I filled a lot of the time I’d usually spend reading with my first viewing of Mad Men. Seven seasons, 92 episodes, and now it’s over I’m still suffering withdrawal symptoms! 😀
*well, at least in my subjective opinion. Yours may differ.
Warning: this post contains a mild Mad Men spoiler about the career path of one of the main characters.
I’ve always been more of a movie person than someone who’ll sit down and watch a TV series in one go. I love the big screen and a movie requires less time investment than watching hours upon hours of one series. But I’m not here to discuss the merits of movies over TV, or vice versa.
I just finished marathon-watching the whole of Mad Men for the first time: all 92 episodes from June to August. Now it’s over, I’m missing my nightly fix of a few episodes watched back to back. After spending all that time with the same cast of characters, watching them grow and change, I think any other series will be somewhat underwhelming. After all, Mad Men is regarded as one of the greatest TV shows of all time. It’s pretty hard for anything else to live up to that, right? Continue reading
In July I started reading Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. Set primarily in Naples, the four-part series follows two friends — Elena Greco and Raffaella (known as Lila) Cerullo — from childhood through to their sixties.
These books are bestsellers and have drawn global acclaim, but one of the great mysteries behind them is the true identity of the author. Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym, and there has been a lot of speculation about the person behind the nom de plume.
Last year, the New York Review of Books published a piece by an Italian journalist who claimed to have outed Ferrante’s identity. Given that she published her books with the repeated desire to remain anonymous, I feel that the media frenzy over uncovering her identity is in poor taste. It’s certainly unusual for bestselling authors to avoid publicity, but Ferrante clearly has reasons for wishing to write under a pseudonym. Continue reading
Photo credit: Nicola Jones
June was one of those months when I hardly read anything. I can blame some of my reading slump on the fact that I signed up to Netflix and started watching Mad Men. I’d heard a lot about it but I hadn’t seen a single episode…until now. I’m mid-way through season three (out of seven seasons).
While it’s easy, relaxing viewing, I’m also enjoying watching how the characters develop as society changes. For me, Peggy is the most interesting character as she evolves from a timid young secretary to a confident working woman. I’m intrigued to see where all the characters will end up in season seven. No spoilers please! Are there any Mad Men fans among my readers?
When I wasn’t watching Mad Men, I read a couple of books in June: Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien and The Durrells of Corfu by Michael Haag. Continue reading
Last Night the Rain Spoke To Me
By Mary Oliver
spoke to me
to come falling
out of the brisk cloud,
to be happy again
in a new way
on the earth!
That’s what it said
as it dropped,
smelling of iron,
like a dream of the ocean
into the branches
and the grass below.
Then it was over.
The sky cleared.
I was standing
under a tree.
The tree was a tree
with happy leaves,
and I was myself,
and there were stars in the sky
that were also themselves
at the moment,
at which moment
my right hand
was holding my left hand
which was holding the tree
which was filled with stars
and the soft rain—
the wild and wondrous journeys
still to be ours.
As I go out of the door, taking my dog on the last walk of the day, my boot crushes a snail. I hear the sharp crunch and lift my boot, but it is too late. It’s pretty, with a yellow and brown striped shell. Not your average, drab common garden snail. Continue reading
Aimée is one today. The little three-month-old puppy we brought home in September has grown up into a beautiful, long-coated adult dog. Despite technically being out of puppyhood now, she isn’t trustworthy yet, as shown by her decision yesterday to take one of my best shoes off the shoe rack. Fortunately, I rescued it before she did any damage! Continue reading
May was a more varied literary month than April, with a couple of fiction books and one non-fiction title.
I started off the month’s reading with one of Alexander McCall Smith’s books, Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers. McCall Smith is an Edinburgh-based author who is a prolific fiction writer, well known for his No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series set in Botswana.
Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers is part of the 44 Scotland Street series, which follows various characters living and working in Edinburgh. At the heart of the series is Bertie, a young boy who is forced to cope with his pretentious mother’s overbearing approach to child rearing. Earlier in the series, she enrols him in a variety of classes, including yoga and Italian lessons, and sends him to psychotherapy.
A couple of months ago, I posted about some of the music on my playlist. Spotify has led me to encounter so many new artists I probably wouldn’t have found otherwise, and I’ve been listening to a lot of Spanish and Latin American music. Here are a few of my favourite tracks. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, you can still enjoy the music!
La Santa Cecilia
La Santa Cecilia are a Mexican-American band based in Los Angeles. They’ve won a Grammy for Best Latin Rock Album, and their music incorporates many different traditional Mexican and Latin American styles. I’d love to see them play live — it would be so much fun. Continue reading
I started reading several books in April but I didn’t finish any of them. Usually, when I have a compelling book on the go, I look forward to getting the time to read a few chapters in the evening. But my well of reading matter has run dry and I need to stock up on good books.
The first book I started reading last month was The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing. I received a free digital copy from the publisher (Canongate Books in the UK) via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
The premise of the book centres around a time in Olivia Laing’s life when she finds herself alone in New York after a bad break-up, having moved from the UK to be with her American boyfriend. Despite being surrounded by millions of people, loneliness in the city can be at its most acute.
“The city reveals itself as a set of cells, a hundred thousand windows, some darkened and some flooded with green or white or golden light. Inside, strangers swim to and fro, attending to the business of their private hours. You can see them, but you can’t reach them, and so this commonplace urban phenomenon, available in any city of the world on any night, conveys to even the most social a tremor of loneliness, its uneasy combination of separation and exposure” (Quote source: Goodreads)
Sana Krasikov’s debut novel, The Patriots, is a compelling account of one woman’s experience in Soviet Russia under Stalin’s regime.
Florence Fein is a young, idealistic woman growing up in 1930s Brooklyn, but the capitalist ‘American Dream’ does not inspire her. With all the fervency of her youthful convictions, Florence believes that America has nothing to offer her. Instead, she emigrates to Russia to pursue her utopian ideals, and also “one particular dark-eyed Soviet man”.
As she sets sail from New York, waving her family goodbye, she is blithely unaware of the magnitude of the events that will follow her decision to emigrate. Reading The Patriots, I was impressed by her grit and tenacity, leaving her family and her native New York behind to journey thousands of miles to an industrial city, Magnitogorsk, in the Ural mountains of Russia. For a moment, as a reader, I became swept up in Florence’s girlish enthusiasm. But the knowledge of things to come soon overshadows any naive optimism you have at the beginning.
“Florence could feel a constriction in her chest…She had been foolish enough to hope that whatever she was walking into would affect no one but herself. Now the truth was catching up with her at the speed of her galloping heartbeat…Now they had summoned her. And they knew everything”
Decades later, her son Julian travels to Moscow to find out the truth about his mother when her KGB file is released. For years, he struggled to understand Florence and her refusal to criticize the political regime that destroyed their family. Now, he hopes, the truth will come to light.
The book jumps between years and decades, beginning in 1934 as Florence starts her voyage, then rewinding to 1932, 1934 to 2008, 1940 to 1948… Sometimes I find that changes in chronology disrupt the flow of a narrative, but that isn’t the case with The Patriots. Once Krasikov has set up the back story for each character, the links between the plot lines become clear.
Krasikov’s characters are so vivid that you almost think you are watching events unfold on a movie screen, as one of the reviews praises on the back cover. Although the characters are fictional, the book is based on true events and Florence’s story could be viewed as a representative for one of the many Americans who were trapped in Russia during the Stalinist era, their passports confiscated and unable to leave the country.
The Patriots is a novel which encompasses many themes — identity, family, love, loyalty, self-deception and the dangers of political ideology. It’s a beautifully written epic novel, and it will certainly be one of my stand-out reads of the year.
The Patriots (2017) is published by Granta Books. I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.