Saturday, May 1, 2021

April Consumption Diary



I started writing a short story yesterday. I took my laptop to a different building at lunchtime and wrote for 30 minutes surrounded by studying students. It felt good.

Now I woke up at 6am on a Saturday to continue working on it, but instead I'm doing this consumption diary.

Baby steps.


A Short History of the World According to Sheep by Sally Coulthard (non-fiction, audiobook)

I view these topic-specific history books are as a kind of palatte cleanser between books. A way to reset and may learn a thing or two in the process, or see things in a different way. This was okay in that respect. The second half is very Anglocentric. Oh well.

How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt (non-fiction, audiobook)

Written during the first half of Trump's first term, when the spectre of a second was very real (as was impeachment or implosion before the election). Pretty spot on in it's diagnosis of the authoritarian traits of Trump and a reminder, as Biden pushes through some pretty good policies on things like climate change, that we are no longer on the darkest timeline.

Two Stories by Sally Rooney (short stories, audiobook)

Should I count this as a while book? Probably not. But I have a 20+ hour Kim Stanley Robinson novel queued up for next month so I will, so there.

The first story was so good. The second less arresting. Hard to judge without another six or so stories to bounce off.

A Children's Bible by Lydia Millet (novel, audiobook)

I will always love Millet for the jolt her novel Oh! Pure and Radiant Heart gave me when I was letting my dream of writing seriously slip away as a twenty-something living in soulless Brisbane.

A Children's Bible takes just as bold risks, but is completely different. It'd be interesting to read this after Parable of the Sower, rather than before. I think I would have enjoyed this take on climate-induced partial apocalypse even more.

Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion (essays, audiobook)

A collection of previously uncollected essays, reviews and columns from across 5 decades of Didion's writing. Didn't feel bitsy. I enjoyed it.

Islands of Decolonial Love by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (short stories, audiobook)

Wow. This book is exciting. It starts out with short stories in a recognisable, North American mold. It felt a little like a first nation's Jesus' Son - and then the stories lean more into Nishnaabeg modes and language. Another bad comparison: it felt like the bait and switch in David Vann's Legend of a Suicide where the death (the dyer?) in the second half is unexpected and makes you re-evaluate everything. This time, it's like: where those first stories good on their own terms or were they bait to lure me in.

Lots to mull over. Lots to learn from.

A Complicated Love Story Set in Space by Shaun David Hutchinson (novel, audiobook)

YA romance notable for two things:

1. How absolutely unremarkable  it is within the world of the novel that the romance is between two male sixteen year olds. Literally unremarkable: no one bats an eyelid that person A is gay, or person B is gay, or that A and B would be a couple. It's cheering that there's these representations out there and that LGBT youths might experience total acceptance from the get go - in some spheres / at some point in the future.

2. How badly this thing falls apart in the second half. It felt a bit like taking the set up from an early season of the Simpsons and resolving it with in the many of recent seasons (or Rick and Morty). 

Oh well.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler (novel, audiobook)

If this is Science Fiction or Fantasy, then they need to build a bigger church, because a bunch of stuff written by dudes that manages to avoid the SFF label definitely deserves it. From the The Road to anything by Michael Crichton, and even Lawrence Wright's The End of October.

But who cares for labels, anyway?

I really enjoyed Parable of the Sower and am looking forward to reading the follow-up, Parable of the Talents. I did feel frequently wrong-footed by where I thought the novel would go and where it went. Again, approaching this from an SFF perspective is partly to blame.

And it's hella prophetic. See: How Democracies Die, et al.


The Gulf - Season 1

Cremerie - Season 1

Last Chance U: Basketball - Season 1

Defending the Guilty - Season 1

Shtisel - Season 1

Juliet, Naked

Instant Family

Bad Neighbours (yes, that's 3 Rose Byrne movies in a month)

The Merger

Love and Monsters


The Blue Max

Bill & Ted Face the Music

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Feb & March 2021 Consumption Diary



The End of October by Lawrence Wright (novel, audiobook)

Foresaw an influence pandemic and the disintegration of life as it was known in the US. Unfortunately, assumed this would play out the same way everywhere and the US would save the day. A good piece of speculation - and kind of absorbing - but on reflection: not a very good novel (later characters in particular are 2-dimensional).

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante (novel, audiobook)

Ferrante through and through. Very good. How does it compare to the Neapolitan Quartet? Similar pretence of extreme self-divulgence from first person narrator. Same world. Less expansive, obviously (hard to compare a standalone novel to a quadrilogy). 

The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan (novel, audiobook)

I'm beginning to think I'm just not on the Richard Flanagan wavelength.

Reality & other stories by John Lanchester (short stories, audiobook)

A classic case of stories being fine in isolation, but when piled on top of each other in a collection the strengths get drowned out by the weaknesses. Like Black Mirror without the edge. Like Steven Millhauser without the imagination. A very normcore kind of twist-in-the-tale short story, rinsed and repeated.

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (novel, audiobook)

Not gonna lie, this felt long. Starting when Shuggie is on his own as a teen and then flashing back to when he's an infant and then staying in this flashback for 95% of the book is probably one factor. By then last 20% I was invested, and I think overall it's a good book. An instant classic, though? I'm not sure it brings anything new to the table, besides its fully realised characters.

Silver by Chris Hammer (novel, audiobook)

There's an event near the midpoint of this thriller, the sequel to Scrublands, that ratchets up the death toll. It felt exhilarating at the time. "Oho, the stakes are through the roof!" But each aspect of this event are unpicked relatively quickly and simply so that the narrative can return to the much less interesting, but precipitating death that occurred in its first pages. So: structural issues, but not definitely not "red stickered". Two books in and you can count me as a Hammer fan.

Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor (novel, audiobook)

Fabular in mode, mildly futuristic in setting. Suffers from the classic fable flaws of a lack of depth and the clash of science/tech and magic.

How to Pack for the End of the World by Michelle Falkoff (novel, audiobook)

Good YA. Love the title. Enjoyed the book. But the title could lead you to expect some bad shit to go down on a global scale. Not here. Bad stuff = worrying about all the ways apocalypse might happen and standard high school hijinks. 

A Short History of Russia by Mark Galeotti (non-fiction, audiobook)

Too short. Lesson learnt.

The Secret Life of Mr Roos by Hakan Neeser (novel, audiobook)

Weird. Structure again. This is the 3rd inspector Barbarotti novel, but the inspector doesn't show up until halfway through the novel, when he's introduced to the case we've spent 200 pages with from the two suspects' perspective. Hard to establish or maintain much tension like that. But interesting to see someone try!

Intimations: Six Essays by Zadie Smith (essays, audiobook)

I really liked Smith's essay collection, Feel Free, but this one felt rattled off, responding directly to events in the first half of 2020. I'm interested in the tension between the ever-moving news cycle and how a book (with all the inertia the publishing industry applies) can interact with this. Six Intimations felt stuck in the middle. Too late to be contemporaneous, too insubstantial to be enlightening. 

Strange Flowers by Donal Ryan (novel, audiobook)

A mixed bag. Promising premise: a couple's daughter goes missing for five years and then returns. Ryan steers head-on into Irish racism but gets the speed wobbles. Failure of nerve, imagination or research? Dunno. 


Taskmaster UK - Seasons 6, 7 & 10

Solar Opposites - Season 1

Made You Look: A True Story about Fake Art

Big Trouble in Little China



The Darjeeling Limited

Taken 1

Taken 2

The Watch

Moxie - impossible to not compare unfavourably with Book Smart... one of it's flaws is the way it uses 1990s Riot Grrl / zine culture as the inspiration for a 2020s teen's feminist awakening, rather than something organic from contemporary culture (the seams really start to show when the film tries to be meaningfully intersectional inside of a bloated-feeling but still inadequate 1:50 runtime)... BUT it does mean - in isolation - it has a killer soundtrack. TopLady isnt on Spotify (so not on one of the playlists here) but check out Green Light Red Light from 2015 on Bandcamp!


Thursday, February 4, 2021

January 2021 Consumption Diary


So we live in Dunedin again. The Burns Effect is real.

I start my new job (Net Carbon Zero Programme Manager at the University of Otago) after the long weekend (9 Feb). It's gonna be great.



Turns out moving to a different island is great for your reading/audiobook listening. Lots of cleaning, lots of gardening, lots of books churned through.

Autumn by Ali Smith (novel, 2016, UK, audiobook)

Promised I’d re-read this after finishing the other three books in the seasonal quartet in 2020… Still great. My altar to Ali Smith is progressing well.

New Waves by Kevin Nguyen (novel, 2020, US, audiobook) 

Strong debut novel that deals with gender, race and privilege through a fairly straight-forward narrative set in New York’s start-up scene.

Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami (novel, 2020 [translation], Japan, audiobook) 

Never warmed to this one. These things happen.

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata (novel, 2020 [translation], Japan, audiobook)

A gem. I loved it from the first sentence. I worried for a bit that it was going to swerve too much into the territory of Convenience Store Woman, but it remained enough of it’s own thing to be a triumph!

Sisters by Daisy Johnson (novel, 2020, UK, audiobook) 

A short novel that trades almost completely on an atmosphere of dread. Felt like I’ve been told this story before.

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans (short stories, 2020, US, audiobook)

I’d never heard of Danielle Evans but the title intrigued me and I was really impressed with these short stories (one of which is billed as a novella, but it’s just a long story IMO).

Whatever It Takes by Paul Cleave (novel, 2019, NZ, audiobook) 

I enjoyed this. Starts off at a rollicking pace and pays off in the right places.

Rules of Prey by John Sandford (novel, 1989, US, audiobook) 

Ugh, it’s official: I never want to read/watch/listen to anything that includes extended sections from the perspective of the killer ever again. That shit can fuck right off.

A Neon Darkness by Lauren Shippen (novel, 2020, US, audiobook) 

The second Bright Sessions novel. This one is set well before the time period covered in the podcast (which I haven’t listened to), but ironically I think it needed that prior investment in the Damien character to fully hit its straps.

The First Bad Man by Miranda July (novel, 201X, US, audiobook) 

Did it go on too long, or maybe just take a little long getting there? Maybe the endorphins from the drastic brain re-wiring enacted by the first couple of chapters wore off by the two-thirds mark? Still v. good.

Bluffworld by Patrick Evans (novel, 2021, NZ, physical book)

I’ve reviewed this for The Listener... should hit shelves in early March. Here's the cover, which didn't fit in the collage...


Turns out moving to a different island significantly reduces your screentime. Hurrah! The only thing I can recall is: I May Destroy You - Season 1.

Monday, January 4, 2021

This Fluid Thrill Book Awards: the best things I read in 2020

You can find similar lists for 201920182017, (...), 2014201320122011, & 2010.

The rules are, as ever, that I'm choosing the books I liked best from what I read in the calendar year, not solely from those released in that year. 

Though my reading does tend to skew towards more recent releases...

For 2019 I set myself reading targets, focussed on increasing the diversity of my reading, and tracked my progress. At the end of the year I set myself the target of reading 70 books in 2020 (which I promptly forgot about, but came pretty close with 66), and left it at that. I wanted to see how diverse my reading would be with a more laissez faire approach.

And the results were... interesting.

Only 6/66 books were in translation, with 3 of those being from French (Flaubert, Camus, Houllebecq).

Only 27/66 books (41%) were by male authors, which is probably my best ever result in terms of reading female and gender diverse writers (last year male authors = 52% of reading).

I didn't do so well in reading non-white writers, with only 12/66 (18%), which is pretty damn poor (2019 = 25%).

And books by nationality tells a similar story:

As per usual, fiction dominated other forms, and audiobooks far outstripped physical books, but I've started reading poetry collections as e-books from my local library and it's really great, hence this surge of poetry & e-books relative to previous years.

Okay, enough quantification, time for some... ur... qualification.

My top ten reads of 2020

1. Winter by Ali Smith / 
Spring by Ali Smith / Summer by Ali Smith

I'm cheating already! 

I wish I'd had time to re-read Autumn (it was in my top 10 in 2017) before the year was up and have something intelligent to say about the quartet as a whole, but here's what I said in November:
Holy shit, Ali Smith. I am in awe of you. 
My favourite out of all four was Spring. Somehow blends The Sixth Sense and No Friend But the Mountains, and spends a lot of time on Katherine Mansfield and Rilke. It works.

2. Weather by Jenny Offill

Loved it. Leaves all the guff of novels on the cutting room floor (explaining who folks are and how they fit together) and just gives us the fluff of daily life.

3. How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell

This is a book I'm already finding multiple reasons to recommend to people. It's not about withdrawal from society at all, but a refusal to play on the field as it's defined by the online materialists.

There's a lot of depth to Odell's arguments, and I enjoyed the fact so much of it is grounded in the (visual) art world. And nature. And history. 

So good.

4. Convenience Store Woman by Sakata Murata

Somehow I didn't include this in any of my consumption diaries, so I can't say for certain which month I read this (or quote from a more contemporaneous reaction), but I definitely read it and LOVED it.

A great mixture of weird and banal, sinister and sweet. Looking forward to reading her next book, Earthlings, in the coming months!

5. Lost Connections by Johann Hari

I have had this on my Audible wishlist since it came out in 2018 but, despite depression marching ever closer over that time, I kept putting it off...

I only finished Lost Connections today so I haven't fully processed everything. There weren't many surprises. Materialism is bad. Big pharma is bad. Contact with nature and other humans is good. But Hari stitches it all together so clearly, weaving in his own experiences with depression and anti-depressants. One refrain through the book is why some people can see the off-ramp but never take it - like Joe, the paint-mixer whose mindless job is sucking his will to live and dreams of becoming a fishing guide in Florida but never does anything about it. 

It's what I'm asking myself now. I'm working too much at the expense of everything else because, why? Because I have a mortgage and just a few more years of killing myself to live will be worth it? By which time my kids will have been boiled slowly in this stressed atmosphere, used to being fed and ferried by us but little else. 

Something has to change... 
After writing this, I started applying for different jobs in Wellington, then got very excited about a job in Dunedin and now we're moving back down there at the end of this month!

Right now it feels like there's so much to do and so much to still fall into place (like, uh, somewhere to live), but the big driver is still to have a better lifestyle as a family.

6. Lanny by Max Porter

Porter has a subversive streak, evident both in how he puts a page together and use of narrative... For the longest time, the 'disappeared boy' arc felt fresh and new. That it doesn't hold that line to the very end is a bit disappointing, but it's still fantastic overall.
(The passing of time meant the positives remain vivid while the slight disappointment had been forgotten.)

7. Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

Very good. Does aging so well. The stories without Olive do a pretty good job of holding their own.

8. Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell

O'Farrell rises to the challenge of writing about Shakespeare's life without making it Shakespearean in scope or language but still making art. I really loved this. Agnes takes a while to emerge as the heart of the story, and overtake the eponymous child, but it's masterfully done. Stephanie Merritt's review in The Guardian covers the main strengths. Just so good. Top ten book of the year with a rocket.

9. Dark Emu, Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident by Bruce Pascoe 

I felt pleasantly flayed by this one. Like, it should be no surprise that Australia's colonial history actively overwrote a lot of what the indigenous people had going on pre-contact. So much cognitive bias going on then and now. 


Because I'm not done cheating, I'll let two different novels, both "genre" fiction, share the final slot...

10= The Martian by Andy Weir

... I got sucked in quick and finished it in a couple of days.

I'm a sucker for hard sci-fi. This doesn't have the scope of something like Neal Stephenson's Seveneves. We're only a couple of decades in the future and every piece of technology described conceivably exists now. But Weir makes it thrilling and epic, while also keeping a sense of the quotidian, both on the surface of Mars and back in Houston.

Two thumbs up!

10= The Infinite Noise by Lauren Shippen

I really liked this. A YA novel, which is basically an adult novel with permission to have a plot and be a bit emo, that asks what if the X-Men were real, but instead of becoming superheroes they went to therapy?

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

This Fluid Thrill's Best Music of 2020

You can find a playlist at the bottom of this post and previous editions here: 2019, 2018 albums and songs,  2017 albums and songs20162015201420132012.

According to my Spotify Wrapped I listened to 25,636 minutes of music by 2,150 artists, 699 of them were new (as far as Spotify would know) in 2020, which seems like a lot. But 2020 was also the year that my kids really got into music and thus all our road trip playlists were dominated by their music. The top 5 songs listened to on my Spotify account were by Dua Lipa (2), Demi Lovato, The Weeknd and Aldous Harding (an artist both generations agree on).

Reflecting on what my top albums of the year have been, I feel as if I didn’t scratch the surface of what came out in 2020 as much as I have in previous years. So you’ll see a lot of names that have featured in previous years, or albums on lots of other best of 2020 lists. Which I guess is fine. This also explains why my little blurbs after each album sound apologetic.

From next year, I’m thinking of having a rolling 2-year “best of” for music and books. So at the end of 2021, I’d list my favourite albums that came out in either 2020 or 2021, and in 2022 I’d list my faves from 2021 and 2022, so the 2021 albums get two chances and the ones I missed before the end of 2021 still get a chance. It’d also be interesting to see what stays and what drops off, and how much recency bias comes into play.

But for now…

Best Albums of 2020

(in the order in which they made it onto my "I think this might be one of the best albums of the year playlist...)

The Big Moon – Walking Like We Do

This one came out in January, which feels like eight years ago. A notch poppier than their 2017 debut (Love in the 4th Dimension), which I loved, and being immersed in so much pop this year I’m totaly fine with that.

The Beths – Jump Rope Gazers

The singles ‘I’m not getting excited’ and ‘Dying to believe’ had me hyped before the album dropped and I was a little underwhelmed with the remainder on my first few listens, but it definitely grew on me. Great live, too.

Protomartyr – Ultimate Success Today

This is the kind of album where my 2 year rolling list idea may be insightful. I really enjoy listening to this album, but it hasn’t stuck with me the same way Relatives in Descent (my fave from 2017) did.

Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

I feel like the algorithms have really been pushing Bridgers at me, but they needed try so hard. She’s great. I like this album. I feel a bit like that kid in Hype (documentary about Grunge-era Seattle) with cotton swabs up his nose complaining that everyone now likes the bands he liked when there were 20 people at their shows, but that’s the way it often goes.

Lo Tom – LP2

An album featuring David Bazan is becoming a tradition in these awards. Just as good as LP1 – but doesn’t quite compare to the last Pedro the Lion record, which felt way more personal.

Mac Miller – Circles

Leaving aside all that can be written about post-humous albums and the rap to muted indie aesthetic, I just enjoy listening to this album.

Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

2020 really was Dua Lipa’s year. She just kept dropping hit after hit. Don’t Start Now, Break My Heart, Physical, Levitating – the family all sings along in the car. She walks the line between hackneyed and fresh, as all good pop must, and mostly succeeds.

Margaret Glaspy – Devotion

I must have listened to this five times and I still feel I haven’t spent enough time with this album… Which is a compliment!

Bill Fay – Countless Branches

I love Bill Fay. This album sent me back on a big BF kick. Countless Branches is up there with his other albums. So it’s a “yes” from me!

Soccer Mommy – Color Theory

I was a big fan of their song, “Your Dog” off their 2018 album. Color Theory doesn’t have a track that stands out as much as that one, but it hangs together to well as an album and a vibe.


Best new song - Black Licorice by Peach Pit

This award usually recognises one of two types of songs. Hideously catchy songs with nonsense syllables or a great song from a band I suspect I really like but haven’t spent enough time with their latest album for it to appear in my top 10.

Black Licorice falls into the latter category, which is not to downplay it’s catchiness. It’s just to foreshadow that Peach Pit’s You and Your Friends might appear in my rolling top 10 (maybe it should be 20?) next year.

Special mention - Ice Age by Alasdair Roberts

Best old song I heard for the first time - Oh I Wept by Free

Heard it on Watchmen. Shazamed it. So good.

Best old song I’d heard before but really appreciated properly for the first time in 2020 - Shake Some Action by Flamin’ Groovies

Proto-everything that’s good about music in the last 40 years.

December consumption diary





This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein (non-fiction, audiobook) – sadly, this book didn’t change much since it’s 2014 publication date, and the hurdle keeps getting higher with every year of inaction (even a year such as the one we’ve had with far fewer airline emissions…). I might have to do something about it…

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson (non-fiction, audiobook) – this one came out in 2015 and felt at times like it could have been 50 years ago, and at others 5 minutes. Like, if you asked 100 people when that person was destroyed online for tweeting about hoping she doesn’t get AIDs in Africa, some would say early 2020 and others 2010.

Strange Hotel by Eimear McBride (novel, audiobook) – very good but is perhaps missing the X-factor to be super memorable??

Venetia by Georgette Heyer (novel, audiobook) – I see the appeal of slipping into a Heyer book. This one, written in 1958 and set in 1818, is interesting for what it tries to present in a Regency-era story that contemporary stories omitted, with the added interest of considering what further gaps the last 62 years may have highlighted.


Poetry (all as e-books)


Far-Flung by Rhian Gallagher


How to Live by Helen Rickerby


AUP New Poets 6 by Ben Kemp, Vanessa Crofskey, Chris Stewart


Because a Woman’s Heart is Like a Needle at the Bottom of the Ocean by Sugar Magnolia Wilson





Bunch of questionable content to fill the silly season food coma downtime, such as:


Hacksaw Ridge

The Invisible Man


Call of the Wild


Taskmaster UK Seasons 2-5

Monday, November 30, 2020

October & November consumption diary


I went to a concert! My first for 2020!! Up yours COVID-19.

The Beths @ San Fran.

It was on a Sunday and it was totally worth going out on a school night for.

Pity that Big Thief, who were supposed to be in here May, then got shunted to March 2021, have just been canned for good. C'mon vaccines, I want to see American bands!


Okay, so on the face of it I read 18 books in the last two months. But there's a lot of asterisks.

* One was a manuscript I was assessing for a Masters in Creative Writing student, so I won't say anything about it here.

** Three were poetry books, read as e-books on my phone, which always feels like cheating:

  • AUP New Poets 7 by Rhys Feeney, Ria Masae, Claudia Jardin (poetry, e-book, NZ)
  • Moth Hour by Anne Kennedy (poetry, e-book, NZ)
  • How I Get Ready by Ashleigh Young (poetry, e-book, NZ)

*** Speaking of phone reading: do these two count?

  • How to Talk to Trump Supporters by Shea Serrano (non-fiction, e-book)
  • 20020: The Future of Football by Jon Bois (fiction, online)

**** I got paid to review a book for Newsroom, which is a bit too much like work. It was: 

  • City at the Centre: A History of Palmerston North - edited by Margaret Tennant, Geoff Watson and Kerry Taylor (non-fiction, NZ)

Got a lot of feedback on this one - all of it positive. Easily the most  feedback I've received for a review, ever. If only reviewing books was a little more lucrative (and all review venues allowed reviewers the space to actually dig in to the topic). Like, I got paid $200 for this review, which meant $150 after tax, which is still three time more than I got from my last review (Drongo for Landfall Review online), but when you factor in the time it took to read the book (10-12 hours) and craft the review (4-5), you're looking at $10 (or fewer) an hour, which is below minimum wage. So reviewing will remain something I'll do if I can fit it in around other things, because those other things pay the mortgage or are my own follies.

***** And then I churned through the last 3/4 of Ali Smith's quartet of short novels/meaty novellas

  • Spring by Ali Smith (novel, audiobook)
  • Winter by Ali Smith (novel, audiobook)
  • Summer by Ali Smith (novel, audiobook)

About which I will share some thoughts...



Holy shit, Ali Smith. I am in awe of you. 

I'm going to re-read Autumn before the year is out and maybe one day I'll say something intelligent about the whole quartet. But for now, some dumbass bullet points:

  • I read Spring before Winter because that's how the holds worked out on Libby. 
  • My favourite out of all four was Spring. Somehow blends The Sixth Sense and No Friend But the Mountains, and spends a lot of time on Katherine Mansfield and Rilke. It works.
  • Summer was hyper-current - dealing with the first wave of European lockdowns in 2020 (up until June, I think) - and I guess this would have been what it was like reading the others when they just came out (I remember reading Autumn on the heels of the Brexit vote was kinda thrilling).
  • But it felt like the some of the thesis established by Autumn and Winter had to be jettisoned as world events intruded. 
  • Also, Summer suffered from having too many recurring characters from earlier books. It could feel the circle closing when I just wanted the work to continue on and on, finding new lives to inhabit and refract current crises through. 
  • Smith's Ekphrastic Mode (writing about art) is so good.

****** One was only half a book, but the audiobook is split into two books (both 13+ hours, which is longer than any other book this month so I damn well deserve to count it as a whole book, especially as I have Part 2 now and I've got the first two weeks of December to finish it...

  • A Place of Greater Safety (part 1) by Hilary Mantel (novel, audiobook)

******* Well, for the rest, there's no disqualifying factors, unless you count listening to them as an audiobook rather than reading with your eyeballs... which I DO NOT. I just really got into this asterisk thing. Here's a sprinkling of thoughts on the rest:

The Double by Fyodor Dostoevsky (novel, audiobook)

Gogol does it way, way better. But it was kinda nice to see Fyodor not overtly fretting about Free Will or The Nature of Evil.

A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees by Dave Goulson (non-fiction, audiobook)

I've been looking at bumblebees closely since reading this. And the sections on how NZ got its bumblebees and attempts to re-introduce them to the UK were interesting. But I can't forgive the pun in the title, and the Personal Journey bits at the beginning felt tacked on at the instruction of an editor rather than true to the rest of the book. Does a bumblebee expert really need to have a profound childhood experience for us to care about their expertise?

Rewild Yourself by Simon Barnes (non-fiction, audiobook)

Maybe I've reached my fill of white people connecting with nature lit. Not very enlightening. Not funny. Moving on...

Difficult Women: a History of Feminism in 11 Fights by Helen Lewis (non-fiction, audiobook)

For some reason I thought it was going to be focussing on 11 women rather than 11 themes... The themes, or "fights" were the predictable sort and thus I never really escaped the pitfalls of once-over-lightly "general history". But that's on me.

They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie (novel, audiobook)

So I haven't read a lot of Agatha Christie. This one was like a cross between Charles Dickens and John Le Carre. Like, a Le Carre plot peopled by Dickensian do-gooders. Which was fun, I have to say.

The Infinite Noise by Lauren Shippen (novel, audiobook)

I really liked this. A YA novel, which is basically an adult novel with permission to have a plot and be a bit emo, that asks what if the X-Men were real, but instead of becoming superheroes they went to therapy?

No I haven't heard the podcast this was based on (The Bright Sessions). Yes, I've ordered Book 2... 

The Animals in that Country by Laura Jean McKay (fiction, audiobook)

I can't decide if this book about a pandemic started when a disease jumped from another species to human beings suffered or benefited from the weird coincidence of 2020 having A LOT of that going on for reals.

In McKay's book, the disease is more interesting than COVID-19, in that it allows humans to understand the chemical and other physical signals sent by animals as a kind of speech. But is the book more interesting that the human dramas still unfolding... Come back to me when the calendar ticks over.

FILM & TV (aka a lot a light fluff)

  • Match Fit - Season 1
  • Taskmaster NZ - Season 1
  • Taskmaster UK - Season 1
  • Grand Designs NZ - 2020 season
  • Tunnel (Korean) - Season 1
  • Operation Christmas Drop
  • The Next Three Days
  • High Score: Season 1
  • Aunty Donna's Fun House - Season 1
  • Song Exploder - Season 1
  • Tenet
  • The Forty-Year-Old Version
  • Bad Neighbors
  • A Star is Born (1976)
  • The Old Man and the Gun
  • The Gentlemen
  • Borat 2

MUSIC - NOVEMBER (aka a bit of a Bill Fay binge)

Thursday, October 8, 2020

September Consumption Diary



The Girl in the Mirror by Rose Carlyle (novel, audiobook)

Much-hyped local success story - and I can see why. It has all the components of a compelling page-turner (and the equivalent when it inevitably translates to the screen), ranging from the dog-eared ("girl" in the title) and done-before (twins) to just twisted enough to feel new (the extended sequence at sea). I devoured it, and enjoyed the cascade of twists in the books final pages, but I couldn't help feeling I'd read or seen the book's twin before. 

In the Clearing by J.P. Pomare (novel, audiobook)

Cults. I love 'em. The zanier the better. Pomare based his Black Marsh cult on the real life Aussie cult, The Family. Both The Family and the fictional version are notable for being fronted by a female. Aside from that, there's not much else unique about them, and zaniness is in short supply. Grimness, though, is available by the bucket-load, which suits the thriller genre better, I suppose.

This is the third of Pomare's novels I've listened to (insert comment from the green-eyed monster about how prolific he is), each of them relying heavily on female narrators. In the Clearing chiefly relies on two narrators, a girl in the cult and a yoga-teaching solo mother living in a rural community. 

For the first half of the novel I did not enjoy for the simple fact the narration felt manufactured. I think I muttered aloud, "This is bullshit" on at least one occasion. The mother narrator does the old drip-feed technique with every last aspect of her current circumstances, to the point she says very little of consequence for long stretches. Lots of names are mentioned - Wayne, Henrick, Aspen - with no immediate explanation. She's only telling her story like this to build tension, but it's a fake kind of tension. Stringing out the backstory shouldn't be the engine that drives a story forward. 

When the twist at the midpoint is revealed, which includes the relationship between the two narrations - not just who they are, but when they are - a lot of the narrative gymnastics can be dropped and the story  finally achieves its own forward momentum. There are more twists. I got sucked in. So in the end it was fine. I can see why everything was the way it was - I just get triggered by heavy-handed narrative techniques.

The Quick and the Dead by Cynric Temple-Camp
 (non-fiction, audiobook)

I've read Temple-Camp's first book, The Scene of the Crime, in fits and starts since I met him at a book event in Palmerston North. Both that book and this one recount various cases from his career as a pathologist (and before that, a doctor in the military) in New Zealand, South Africa and Zimbabwe (when it was still Rhodesia). 

The Quick and the Dead doesn't shy away from the gross side of his field. Parasites, coprophagia, more parasites... I'm pretty squeamish - I can't watch surgery shows on TV - but Temple-Camp is so interested in everything that his curiosity is contagious. 

A kindly, eminently curious provincial pathologist -- now there's a character ripe for a crime novel!

A Peculiar Peril by Jeff VanderMeer (novel, audiobook)

This fat, YA fantasy-farce just wasn't my cup of tea. The fantasy elements reminded me of The Absolute Book and Ian Tregillis' Bitter Seeds - two reading experiences that contained a lot of "I can't actually picture what's going on here" and moments verging on boredom. Then there was the kind of humour at play, which seems to operate in the interstitial clauses in VanderMeer's wordy sentences. It felt forced and unfunny and clogged the plot.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (novel audiobook)

I didn't want to seem a snob about YA so I chose this book next. It was okay. But I totally get the glorification of suicide angle that many have levelled at the book and, especially, the show (which I haven't seen). And on that basis, I'd say it's best to avoid it.

Beach Read by Emily Henry (novel, audiobook)

In my search for a pleasurable genre experience, I turned to Henry's book. How could a novel called Beach Read not embrace its genreness?! And it delivered. 

The graphic novelist Dylan Horrocks asked on Twitter last year (I think) where are all the romances written for men (or at least with male POV characters)? Henry's book features two writers, a female writer of romance (and our POV character) and a brooding male writer of literary fiction who references Jonathan Franzen at least twice, but there's a bit of David Foster Wallace in their, too. Henry does a good job of not resorting to kneecapping the lit-bros in order to raise up what might otherwise be called chick lit. It's a both/and argument rather than an either/or.

And it did get me interested in the challenge of writing male romance. It'd need a snappy name for the genre though. Dick lit? Nope. Bromance? Means something else already.


Summerwater by Sarah Moss (novel, audiobook)

Ghost Wall promised so much but ended so quickly I felt short changed, so I thought I'd give Moss another go. 

Summerwater is a story collection masquerading as a novel set at a bunch of holiday cabins beside a remote Scottish loch. There's a lot of rain. There are hints of something ominous. But again, the payoff just isn't there.

There are elements I really like. The contemporary-ness. The inside-a-range-of-people's-heads-ness. But after this I started reading more Ali Smith (Winter and Spring) and Smith does both of these things so much better. There's more bite. There's more bile. The politics and the integration of other art is richer. And the promise of the premise is followed through on.

Film & TV

Jojo Rabbit

My Octopus Teacher

Enola Holmes

Project Power

The Duchess

Rose Matafeo: Horndog