Sunday, August 26, 2018

Consumption diaries: June, July & August 2018

Here's what I've been reading and watching, and what music has delighted me, as I've trudged through the last three months...



Motherhood by Sheila Heti (novel, audiobook)

For a writer that struggles with over-thinking things (me), Heti's reconstruction of the novel form as something based on thought and deliberation (in this case, whether it's okay not to have kids), rather than drama and conflict, is both appealing and incredibly dangerous.

For all it's seriousness, I found it incredibly funny. Especially the way the adapted I Ching (the writer tossed three coins to determine the answers to YES/NO questions and plugged the answers straight into the text) gives the novel a feeling of being written in real time. Even though it's random, so many of the responses are so perfectly mischievous and gnomic (like a good piece of AI poetry) that I couldn't help be tickled.

Pops by Michael Chabon (non-fiction, audiobook)

From motherhood to fatherhood, from innovative to pedestrian: Chabon's collection of essays makes some attempts at being 'woke', and it contains a few genuine moments of truth/power/heart-string tugging, but it still feels incredibly self-centred and as a whole it doesn't really know what it is or what it's saying.

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje (novel, audiobook)

Loved it.

The kind of book you nestle into, not because the content is comforting, but it;s clear from page 1 you are in the hands of a master and you can just let yourself go with it. 

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (novel, audiobook)

Loved this, too, for quite different reasons. All those extended sequences that fly the geek flag high (the immersive world of the Three-Body Problem game; the challenge of unfolding a proton into an 11-dimensional shape and then folding it back up again).

I'm not sure how this gets turned into a TV series, or if I'll ever get around to reading/listening to the next book in the series (now that we know the aliens are real and what they want, I'm not sure where the mystery lies except whose gonna win).

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (novel, audiobook)

Since finishing my undergrad degrees, I probably only read 2-3 "classics" a year. Which is a small enough number to be frequently surprised by how different the received version of a story is from the original book.

What you probably don't know if you've never read the book: there's a series of nested narrators and the Frankenstein's monster gets a turn at the mic. And the horror is mostly metaphysical.

The scariest thing: that Mary Shelly wrote it in her teens. Or, forgetting myself and looking beyond the date of publication: the miserable run of miscarriages and dying infants and her own health battles (smallpox, brain tumor) AND YET she wrote more books (!) AND YET she was seen as her husband's wife for so long and she's remembered mostly for this (very good, if misappropriated) teenage novel.

Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen (novel)

Apparently this is considered a classic in Canada.

Huck Out West by Robert Coover (novel, audiobook)

I enjoy Coover's short fiction. And I enjoyed this novel in chunks, and appreciated the corrective lens Coover provides to Huckleberry Finn's (later) life and times, but I typically struggle with the picaresque -- it so often feels like a TV show in it's third season with no idea where it's going but knowing what it has to do to keep it's core fans and knowing what it can't do if it's to get renewed and having something to write about in season four.

And I struggled with it here.

The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon (short stories, audiobook)

I really didn't take to the titular story, which opens the book, but from then on Haddon's stories grew on me. I liked the way he took ideas or set-ups that might be considered a bit disposable or "popular" (a mysterious man interrupts a family gathering at Christmas; the misery of a morbidly obese man) and just goes with them, lifting them above a Dickensian knock-off or a story buried in the centre of a woman's magazine, through depth of characterisation and generosity of spirit.

Cloudbursts: Collected and New Stories by Thomas McGuane (short stories, audiobook)

Another story collection by another dude (sorry). This one contains a lot of stories and I had to break them up by listening to other books in between, as they do start to run into each other.

And the non-ending endings can get a little annoying.

But taken in small doses, one can appreciate the artfulness with which McGuane gently skewers his men in quiet crisis.



Silicon Valley (seasons 1-5)
The Big Sick
Thor: Ragnarok
Print The Legend
The End of the Tour
Into the Inferno
Date Night
Baby Driver (yawn!)
Westworld [TV show] (abandoned after season 1, episode 1 - I don't want to see extreme violence, even if it's upon robots - it feels like a way to pander to base instincts while dishing out moral get-out-of-jail-free cards... At least crime dramas are willing to be upfront about their (and their audience's) fascination with a female corpse) 
Dark Tourist (also abandoned after the first episode, but I might return to it one day)

MUSIC: August

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