I love a good retro revivalist hot take. You know: modern life is rubbish; social media causes cancer; life was so much better when we all knew our neighbours because none of us had indoor toilets – that sort of thing?
Because here’s something I’ve realised: I wouldn’t read half as many books if it wasn’t for e-readers. And I’m not even talking about my Kindle, the charger for which I have to hunt for every time I go on holiday because the battery has run down from ill-use: I’m talking about the Kindle app on my iPhone.
Look, I get as much of a ladyboner for the aesthetics of the printed page as the next person. I’m a 30-something woman with two turntables, for chrissake! But of the six books I read in January, every single one was on my phone – and I’m yet to even reach the halfway point in that hardback Joni Mitchell biography.
Six books. I wasn’t expecting that, and as I sit here trying to write the first of these posts in three months (you’ll just have to guess at my opinions of the things I read and watched in November and December, or follow me on Goodreads or something [this one is my favourite]) I’m already weary of rediscovering the voracious appetite for words of my girlhood. Though I wouldn’t expect the same next month: the perils of the 99p Kindle download is that I didn’t realise current read A Suitable Boy was literally one of the longest books ever written until I was already committed. No regrets, mind: it’s gorgeous.
What are your cultural highlights of this blooming year so far, pals?
NB: Current practice of including a series in the month I finished it precludes me from holding forth about that X-Files spoiler, to what I’m sure is the relief of all.
Black Mirror, season 4 (Netflix): Because nothing says Happy New Year like dystopian tales inspired by technology, we finished the latest season of Black Mirror on 1st January. So… it’s probably fair to describe this as tending towards the gimmicky now, yes? given straight-up, twisted stories are now outnumbered by megalomaniacal fan fiction and some black and white bleakness I’d probably be describing as if Hitchcock did robots, had I ever seen anything by Hitchcock? Case in point: my personal favourite of the new batch, Hang The DJ, seemed almost cynically designed to tap into the same feelgood magic as 2016’s Emmy-winning San Junipero – but I loved it anyway, in no small part thanks to a delightful turn from Georgina Campbell (Murdered By My Boyfriend). ***
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017): In which I somehow managed to make it ’til the first weekend in January without Star Wars spoilers. The same, however, cannot be said for any poor soul yet to see it in that Carlisle pub, who had to overhear Dom excitedly share every thought about it he’d been keeping from me since his midnight showing. I was one of those kids for whom Star Wars was a part of their mythology, so I can’t give you an objective review of this – but, for me, it was the perfect combination of nostalgia, passing the baton and holding the hand of my main dude since 1984 through the Carrie Fisher bits, and I absolutely loved it. ****
Molly’s Game (2017): Isn’t Jessica Chastain wonderful? I couldn’t take my eyes off her performance as real-life poker entrepreneur Molly Bloom in this Aaron Sorkin-scripted biopic. Plus, there was a decent bit of daddy-daughter angst in there too, which I am always here for. ****
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017): While Martin McDonagh’s latest indie crime flick boasts some cracking performances – and a certain timeliness, arguably prompting its strong showing at various industry awards – the only bit that lingers is shifting in my seat in a packed Glasgow cinema while the audience pissed themselves at a scene consisting of little more than repeatedly hurling around a racial slur. ***
Cheryl Strayed – Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life From Someone Who’s Been There (2012): If my love of advice columnists is as much to do with the idea of community – a problem shared, and worked through almost as much by writing it down as by the advice itself – Cheryl Strayed’s Dear Sugar is among the best. Her advice is warm, empathetic and always, always human, and this collection of columns from The Rumpus will have you wishing your Kindle allowed you to turn down the page. *****
Jon Ronson – So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (2015): One of my favourite voices in journalism, Jon Ronson excels at finding the human interest other side of the story (see: The Butterfly Effect, his podcast series on the pornography industry, which is often a bit of an awkward listen at work). For his most recent book, he tracks down some high-profile victims of social media “shaming” (you’ll remember them all, even if you can’t remember their names), finds out the real-life repercussions of their ill-thought tweets and photos and asks to what extent social media and wider society should be expected to police the behaviour of others. ****
CL Taylor – The Lie (2015): Jane Hughes lives a quiet life. She has a fulfilling job in an animal sanctuary, a lovely home, an attentive partner – and a secret past, which the writer of an anonymous note seems to be getting ready to expose. Average writing meets above-average grippingness in a thriller that kept me turing the pages, even while I grumbled how much I hated it. ***
Elizabeth Day – The Party (2017): The titular party is the 40th birthday of some Tory or other. It’s one of four scenes that this cleverly structured book will flit between on a chapter-by-chapter basis, as we try to piece together the shocking events that transpired involving Ben and his best friend since boarding school, Martin, who totally loves him but not in a gay way nope no sirree, both at said party and back in their boarding school past. Wonderfully written, but dear GOD everybody in this book is a total scumbag Tory who I hate. Your tolerance may, therefore, vary. ***
Riley Sager – Final Girls (2017): Until a friend asked how I was getting on with this book, I had no idea that Riley Sager was actually some dude named Todd – but it’s amazing how much more sense the first two thirds of this book, in which two ‘Final Girl’ survivors of various massacres do little more than bake cupcakes, braid each other’s hair and call each other “babe”, makes when you realise that these Strong Female Characters TM were not written by a woman. Final Girls goes above average on the number of out-of-left-field twists and turns – it just so happens they’re all squeezed into the last 50 pages of an otherwise incredibly dull book. **
Ernest Cline – Ready Player One (2011): The computer generated puzzle setting of much of Ready Player One is an apt one, because I’m still trying to figure out why I got so into this book as much as I did (a reaction to how terrible Final Girls was, perhaps?). Starring Your Worst Ex-Boyfriend; a love interest whose favourite movie is, unsurprisingly, Highlander since There Can Be Only One (Woman Capable of Such Heroic Nerdgasms); and more sad old man pop culture references than you can shake a stick at. GOD, CULTURE IS MEANT TO BE ENJOYED I screamed, as yer man listed every single Rush bootleg and piece of concert footage that he had only ever consumed for research purposes. And yet. ****
There may be 47 albums dated “2018” in my iTunes library (I wish I was joking), but January, to me, has always been a month for rediscovering old favourites rather than falling for new ones.
My couple of weeks off over Christmas mean I’m still catching up with a backlog of podcasts, most of which I’ve already recommended. Apart from Slow Burn! It’s a Slate podcast alllllll about Watergate, and there was even a full episode on Watergate-related conspiracy theories. My tastes are… unconventional.
And my episode of The Math of You, in which I introduced Lucas to the music of David Duchovny and we reminisced over the chart-toppers of Byker Grove, was released at the start of the month. Still haven’t gotten around to trying the cocktail he created for me, but it’s happening.
Frank Turner, Will Varley @ Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, 23rd January: I’m not sure by whose measure Frank Turner is “celtic” enough for Celtic Connections, but I got to see my favourite solo/acoustic, performing songs from his new album the week before it was even announced, so no complaints here. Turns out that, after a few too many depressive episodes mainlining “Get Better”, that song also reduces me to messy, triumphant tears.
Hearing Voices Movement, The Trudyloots, The Doctor D Disaster @ 13th Note, Glasgow, 27th January: New musical projects featuring some of my absolute favourite people in various combinations – although this night is the most likely candidate for me catching the cold I’ve been unable to shift this past couple of weeks. Worth it, though.
- No, female trans athletes do not have unfair disadvantages (The Establishment)
- Amazing Patrick Stickles (Titus Andronicus) interview by my pal Ryan Walsh on the band’s own website
- From C-3PO’s perspective, Star Wars is a prolonged nightmare (The Washington Post)
- Why are so many Americans crowdfunding their healthcare? (Financial Times)
- I made the pizza cinnamon rolls from Mario Batali’s sexual misconduct apology letter (The Everywhereist)
- Sara Pascoe on new year’s resolutions: “Lower your expectations and you’ll feel like you’ve triumphed” (The Guardian)
- Dressing for sexual harassment hearings: how I learned to look believable (New York Times)
- Pop culture’s “great awokening“: what happens to culture in an era of identity politics? (The Cut)
- Frances Glessner Lee, the “first lady of forensic science”, remembered ahead of a New York retrospective (New York Times)
- The Blow and EMA talk touring in tough times (Stereogum)
- Seeing in the new year in the company of the two people I love the most;
- Drinks that look like dessert at Lebowski’s (Lynsay: “I think she took one look at us and realised that could be even more extra…”);
- A day of cats and cake with Charlotte – including ginger kitten cuddles at Glasgow’s newly-opened cat cafe!