What I’m Into (February 2014)

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February was characterised by crazy weather and bad health (hence the super-late arrival of this post linking with Leigh Kramer = apologies). I hovered around the suburbs of an ME relapse at the end of January, but by the first week of Feb I realised I was definitely in Relapseville, and promptly cancelled all fun Skype calls and friend visits, and hunkered down to do some good-quality resting. Enjoy at your leisure this meandering survey of books and music (with some amazing books this month!)
 
**NB contains Amazon affiliate links – this means if you click through to Amazon from any of the links on my site, and buy anything at all from Amazon, Amazon reward me with some pennies, at no extra cost to you! How good is that?? **

 

Books

Novels

  • One Day – David Nicholls. Whenever I ask people if they’ve read this book, they all reply, “OH! yes!” and seem to clasp their hands to their heart, as if you’ve just told them you’ve met they’re favourite niece. I normally despise such popular fiction, so naturally I thought I would hate it. But I LOVED it.
    The premise is a love story, of sorts. On 15 July, 1988, a slightly lazy-but-goodlooking boy and an earnest-and-intelligent girl almost get together, and spend the day together on the day of their graduation. The book then follows their relationship by taking a shapshot of their lives on that same day, 15 July, for 20 years. It’s one of those books where you fall in love with the characters, and I found myself laughing out loud at the witty dialogue. As well as being an endearing love story (and a somewhat frustrating one – ie will they EVER get together?), it’s also a way of tracking, with no small degree of fondness and nostalgia, how popular culture in Britain has changed over the past twenty years. I was hoping for a slightly different ending, but I made my peace with it, and I was interested that an interview with the author said that he actually started with the ending and a quote from Tess of the D’Urbervilles as the entire premise for the book. (A slightly cryptic non-spoilery fact). I read it from the library and then bought a copy, because there were so many quotes I enjoyed, including:
     
    (On having a newborn baby): “There was a time when he used alcohol as a stimulant, something to lift his spirits and give him energy, but now he drinks like all parents drink, as a kind of early evening sedative.”
     
    (On childhood holidays in the UK): “Each year until she was 16, [holidays] had been 2 weeks fighting with her sister in a caravan in Filey while her parents drank steadily and looked out at the rain, a sort of harsh experiment in the limits of human proximity.”
     
    If it were a meal, it wouldn’t be fillet steak or some exquisite haute cuisine, but the world’s most perfect burger and chips – succulent and comforting, and one to return to. Highly recommended. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
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  • Seven days in May – Jennifer Luitweiler
    Jennifer kindly gave me an advanced review copy, so I got to read the ebook before it came out at the beginning of March. It’s a story about the riots in Tulsa in 1910, which resulted in as many as 300 African-American men, women and children being killed. The city was reshaped and rebuilt as a result of the riots, permanently devastating a whole community of African-Americans in Tulsa. The reporting of the riots at the time focused mainly on gunfighting between the men, so it is interesting that in this story of those seven days of trouble, Luitweiler focuses mainly on the women and children, looking at the cross-racial friendship between two teenage girls and the families they belong to. The plot builds up slowly, like the hot muggy days it describes, with several different voices telling the story. The details of household chores in 1910 were artfully done, and for me the most powerful part was hearing the chilling inner monologue of a racist man, in all its ugliness. If, like me, this article by Jenn Luitweiler for A Deeper Story on the cause of the riots in Tulsa piques your interest, you should check out this book. Only available from Amazon.com, not amazon.co.uk.
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  • The Testament of Mary – Colm Toibin
    I read this for a book group. I was intrigued by the concept of a testament of Mary, because Mary, the mother of Jesus is such an interesting character. But I was sorely disappointed, and very surprised that this was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. The premise is that Mary is telling her view of Jesus’ life, a few years after Jesus’ death, angry at Jesus for having got himself killed, and dismissive of the disciples’ naivety and the way they are spinning the story. If someone is going to do a retelling of a historical character, especially a provocative retelling, I would assume they were going to do their research on the background. This seemed to be very sloppily done:
    Mary was described as elderly. But most scholars think that Mary was probably very young when she had Jesus – a teenager. Assuming Jesus was in his early thirties when he was crucified, then a few years after this event would make Mary in her late forties. Hardly elderly.
    There was no mention whatsoever about tricky issue of a virgin birth, or indeed any details of his birth. This seems a bit of a copout to completely ignore the issue, when it is supposed to be Mary reflecting on Jesus’ life. Even if you go along with the conceit in the book that the gospels are all heavily-elaborated stories by the disciples, it is strange that she wouldn’t comment on the claims either way.
    There is absolutely no mention of Jesus’ other brothers and sisters. Mary is described as being all alone at the end of her life, ‘protected’ or guarded by two intimidating disciples – but we know that Jesus had a large family. It seemed a little incredible to me that Mary should have been living alone in a small house. It seemed to be a 21st Century Westernised wash over what was purporting to have been based in 1st Century Palestine.
    Jesus’ words were artificially all in King James English, when the rest of the work was in modern language. This seemed disingenuous to me, just a trick to distance the reader from Jesus’ words.
    – At the end of the book, Mary goes into a Greek temple (which the author seemed to think would be as tranquil as Canterbury Cathedral) and gets an icon of Artemis, the Greek fertility god. From what I know of Greek pagan worship, it could involve orgies and hysterical shouting and dancing. Even assuming that wasn’t going on when Mary entered the temple, (and even assuming that the devout Jew had abandoned her faith to the extent that she was going into a place of pagan worship) to suggest that Artemis is somehow a feminist symbol is about as plausible as suggesting a mini Moulin Rouge is a great feminist icon.

    For me, the Mary narrative didn’t quite ring true. We were told rather than shown that she felt guilty for running away at his death (another leap away from the gospel accounts), and she seemed to come across as an unlikeable, unemotional, unfeminine character. I can’t quite understand the accolades that this was revolutionary and daring. This was basically just a bitter version of “Jesus isn’t the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy”, with scant regard for any contextualisation. In its favour, it was very short. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

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    Memoir
     

  • It’s all in your head – Eva Hagberg.
    This was a Kindle Single (a very short e-book, c. 10,000 words) that I bought for something like Β£0.99. It’s written by someone who had a serious illness dismissed by doctors as being a somatisation disorder (ie she was creating the symptoms subconsciously because of the ‘illness benefits’). As this is something that is often said by doctors to ME patients, I was immediately interested.
     
    She tells the story of how they discover that it really is ‘all in her head’ – ie a tumour in her skull, and the fight to get doctors to take her seriously. It’s quite an angry book (understandably) and it has lots of insightful quotes in it that I found myself underlining. At one point it looks like she has cancer, and she initially is elated (at last! proof I’m not making it up) but as reality sets in she realises “it’s never good news when it’s cancer”. This turn of phrase, in particular, resonated with me:
     
    “I had, up until this point, known that I was imagining my cancer to be small, treatable, manageable. I hadn’t known that I was imagining it to be imaginary.”
     
    There’s lots of quotes like that I found myself underlining. The best thing for me was her articulation of the emotional battle of experiencing a mysterious illness, because it was so reminiscent of my experience. I wished it had been divided into chapters, even though it’s so short, but other than that, it’s a great read, and well worth getting, if only for a sense of solidarity. She also does great VLogs (NB with lots of swearing), and I find her both charmingly whimsical and engaging. And insightful. I’m a fan. Check out this 4 minute Vlog on how she responds to pain. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
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  • The Glass Castle: a memoir – Jeanette Walls
    Whenever I ask people which memoirs they recommend, this is the title that comes up again and again. It was also a New York Times Bestseller, and having read it, I can see why.
     
    There aren’t many books where you can say that the heroes of the story are also the villains. When I first started reading it, I thought, “oh, so this is a memoir about child abuse” – but then two chapters on, I was thinking, “No, I got it wrong – they’re just bohemian and anti-institution types”. Somehow, she manages to walk this line throughout the book, where you vacillate between thinking her parents are crazy and abusive, or super-intelligent and free-spirited.
     
    Jeannette recounts her remarkable childhood, moving from place to place around America, with her very unconventional parents. Although there are some dramatic and emotional elements she tells it all with journalistic precision, which means that it never feels saccharine or over-dramatic. The writing is elegant and lean, and allows you to feel the emotion as she tells the story. I borrowed this from the library, and then went and bought a copy for myself, because I wanted to study her writing more closely. And then I went and bought a copy as a gift for someone else, because it really is remarkable. I was hooked from the moment I began reading. You should buy it immediately. (Trigger warnings for abuse). Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
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    Music

  • Civil Wars – Barton Hollow and the Civil Wars
    I was watching Nashville and thinking how wonderful it would be if Gunner and Scarlet sang together in real life – and then I came across The Civil Wars and realised that’s probably as close as you could get. Their music is deliciously melancholic, and their acoustic sound and haunting harmonies have a good bit of bite. I loved both of these albums, but their second album, The Civil Wars, was just exquisitely done, with so many hypnotically good tracks. I was sorry to learn that they had split up – their music is amazing. Get their first album, Barton Hollow from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com, and their second album The Civil Wars from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
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  • Casey Abrams – Casey Abrams
    I loved Casey Abrams when he was on American Idol, and although he wasn’t as dramatic a singer as other finalists, he is an accomplished musician and gifted songwriter, and this album sounds like artistry rather than the often-artificial marketingy-sounding albums that emerge from American Idol winners. This is a lovely, upbeat, funky sound, a little like Jason Mraz but with a bit of a bluesey/Jazz twist every so often. It’s the kind of music you want to sing along to in your car on a sunny day, or to put on at the start of the evening for a relaxed dinner party. (His duet at the end with Haley Reinhart is a fabulous treat, as well). This gets a lot of airplay in our house (with the Boy requesting Hit the Road, Jack multiple times). Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
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    TV

  • Body of Lies – very dark/violent. But for an American film about war in the Middle East, it was very respectful of Middle East culture and politics, and the acting is superb, particularly by Leonardo Di Caprio, Russell Crowe and Mark Strong.
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  • Big Ballet – surprisingly endearing. I was glad that it wasn’t just set up to be laughing at overweight people in tutus. The dancing was charming.
  • Revenge – my guilty pleasure
  • Nashville – I’m loving this second season.
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    At home:
     
    Exciting meteorological events
     
    Meanwhile, out in the real world, we had the tail end of some crazy weather. I was really glad that our house wasn’t damaged by the floods that affected so much of the UK, but we live near the sea, and Jon managed to take some pictures of it after the storm (this is when the waves have died down a little).
     

    copyright Jon Marlow

    copyright Jon Marlow


     
    I have never had such a healthy fear of the power of the sea. At the height of the storm, this is what the sea was doing locally (forgive my lack of artistic skill):
    Ginormous waves

    Ginormous waves


     
    CRAZY waves!
     
    Also – this month I had a weird event. I was lying in bed in my ‘day room’, and heard what sounded like a big lorry coming up the road. Then I looked up, because it looked like someone had wobbled the curtains and windows and (somewhat bizarrely) the walls. It was only for 2 seconds, and I got out of bed to look out of the window in case it was teenagers pushing the outside wall of our house and making it move. (That seemed logical at the time…) Turns out – it was an earthquake! Very minor, but I’m still counting it. I have officially survived an earthquake.
     
    (Unrelated to the above…)
    Blood pressure monitoring
    – I have a new toy!
    blood pressure monitor
     

    Story 201 laminated wisdom cards
    I’ve been going through The Artist’s Rule again with a few friends from Story 201, and I enjoyed producing these ‘wisdom cards’ (basically a grown-up term for collage). I found it a really relaxing way of speaking good things to myself.
    Here’s two of them:
    wisdom card 1
     
    image
     

    Thanks for reading!
     
    **NB contains Amazon affiliate links – this means if you click through to Amazon from any of the links on my site, and buy anything at all from Amazon, Amazon reward me with some pennies, at no extra cost to you! How good is that?? **

     
    Over to you:

  • What were you into in February?
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    19 Responses to What I’m Into (February 2014)

    1. Cara Strickland 9th April, 2014 at 6:59 am #

      I just want you to know, I laughed out loud at the end of your review of the book about Mary (‘In its favour, it was very short.”). You crack me up!

      Also, I love the Civil Wars. I’m so glad that you’re finding them.

      • Tanya 17th April, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

        Ha! I’m glad to have made you laugh!

        And we have great taste in music!

        I miss you, girl! Vox me soon!

    2. Emma 27th March, 2014 at 8:47 pm #

      I’m liking House of Cards season 2 and walks by the sea. But they’re not as earth shattering as yours!

      • Tanya 4th April, 2014 at 10:39 am #

        I reeeeally wanna watch House Of Cards. But we don’t have Netflix or whatever, and it doesn’t seem to be on any of our channels. #firstworldproblems.

        Walks by the sea are also amazing. I think I would find it hard to live now in a city that wasn’t by the sea. There is something about seeing that far horizon which is so calming. Thanks for stopping by!

    3. Mark Allman 22nd March, 2014 at 12:48 pm #

      Tanya,

      I like the song Civil Wars did with Taylor Swift for The Hungar Games movie. I just found out about a young British singer I think is great; Ella Henderson. Here is a song she is covering: http://youtu.be/rMY6FUkCfaw

      I’m continuing to watch old episodes of Dr Who and really enjoying them. I like the ones best so far with Amy and then Rose. Some very moving episodes. I’m looking forward to another BBC program to start it’s second season Orphan Black where the main character player 7 different characters brilliantly.

      • Tanya 26th March, 2014 at 1:50 pm #

        Thanks for the link to the youtube song! Ella Henderson has such a lovely, smoky voice. I think she was on the X Factor UK, but I can’t quite remember back to that season. I’ve never heard of Orphan Black – I’ll have to look out for it on BBC iplayer! Thanks for the recommendations!

        • Mark Allman 26th March, 2014 at 2:00 pm #

          She was on 2012 XFactor UK. I listened to all of her performances and I really like her voice as well as her character. I am going to try to keep up with her. Orphan Black can be a little racy but most of the time not. Overall an excellent show and an amazing actress who did seven parts the first season.

          • Tanya 26th March, 2014 at 2:03 pm #

            X factor 2012 – right, I shall look her up! Thanks!

    4. Rebecka 21st March, 2014 at 10:27 am #

      “In its favour, it was very short.” This made me laugh out loud.
      I’m so glad you survived those crazy, scary waves. And the earthquake!
      Wisdom cards seems very interesting, I’ve been trying to be a little more creative lately, and they seem like something that would be easy to do when my brain is too tired to things like writing.
      Your new toy looks like fun! πŸ™‚

      • Tanya 26th March, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

        Ha! Glad to have made you laugh! I did my wisdom cards when I was really, really brain-dead, and it was very soothing. I hope you have enough strength to do it, cos you’re right, it is an easier way to be creative than writing.

    5. Caiobhe 20th March, 2014 at 10:29 pm #

      I like reading what you’re into – and your lateness encourages me that blogging doesn’t have to keep to rules πŸ™‚ I really like the sound of The Glass Castle. I have a huge pile of unread books at the moment, but I will keep it in mind for the future! I also found the picture of the ginormous waves really helpful ;0

      • Tanya 26th March, 2014 at 1:43 pm #

        You are most kind – and yes, I seem to break most blogging rules… Thanks for appreciating my ‘art’!

    6. tallandrew 20th March, 2014 at 7:45 pm #

      So glad you liked One Day. I loved it too. Just wonderfully written and he expertly summed up the mood and tastes of the nation through the 90s. Glad you survived the earthquake too.

      • Tanya 26th March, 2014 at 1:41 pm #

        Yes! Particularly good on the tastes of the nation. I always think it’s weird how we go through food fashions, because they’re always so hard to identify at the time. What are we in now? Offal and beef cheeks??

    7. ellen flack 20th March, 2014 at 7:02 pm #

      wisdom words sounds interesting.This month i discovered art journalling,something similar.using a cheap A5 sketch book,i ve begun collecting magazine pictures,ribbons,paints,a variety of pens,anyrthing arty and crafty really ! I havn t done many pages yet,but creating collages of words God says to me is so theraputic.One day i may put photos up !!

      • Tanya 20th March, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

        OH MY GOODNESS! I’ve also just discovered art journalling! Like, literally this month! I’ll undoubtedly be talking about it for March’s ‘what I’m into!’ It’s so cool, isn’t it?

        • Nick 21st March, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

          Is that akin to scrapbooking? Or am I a complete moron, lumping together two utterly unique things?
          Loved the post, too πŸ™‚
          And I’ve been through a fair few earthquakes (including the one which my parents seemed initially to suggest was a result of me jumping on the bed…)

          • Tanya 26th March, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

            Art journalling is more about processing all the feeeeeelings whereas I think scrap booking focuses mainly on facts and events, right? I love that your parents suggested you started an earthquake. What power you must have thought you had as a child!

    Trackbacks/Pingbacks

    1. Best of the Blogs March 2014 | - 4th April, 2014

      […] Thrive Show – Eva Hagberg. The wonderful Jen Brea has started Thrive Show, an online Google Hangout show (c. one hour each) – conversations “about how to live well with chronic illness and make a more just world for all.” If you are interested in chronic illness, you’ll want to check this out. The first one was a conversation with Eva Hagberg who always has interesting observations about illness, misdiagnosis and life in general. (I reviewed her book here.) […]

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