Summer Favourites & Updates
Well, I’ve been writing lots of long-form blog content recently, so maybe it’s time for some lighter, list-y content. We can’t be thinking deeply and seriously about too much stuff. And also, list-y content allows me to talk about some stuff that isn’t just books. Although, I will talk about books too.
The summer is a strange transitional period of goodbyes, changes, sorrow; and it is coming to a close. Here’s some of the stuff I consumed over the summer that was really fucking good.
Ursula Le Guin
I can’t say that this was entirely summer related, but I’ve just been blasting through Ursula Le Guin’s books of late. My mum bought me The Earthsea Quartet (which I recommended to some Belgian tourists literally yesterday) and I read the first novel from it, A Wizard of Earthsea, last summer. This spring and summer I read the other three novels in the quartet. It’s a fantasy saga that’s more thoughtful than some, focusing on internal, psychological conflicts but on an epic fantasy scale with all the wizards and dragons you could hope for. It’s kind of a tract on Le Guin’s personal commitment to Taoism, anthropological study, environmentalism and such, and so is perfect fodder for someone who likes their fiction to be laced with politics and that searches for wider meaning. It’s also pretty refreshing to read a fantasy saga which is not based on another-world-analogue for Northern Europe. Whoopee!
Since then I’ve read The Dispossessed, a science-fiction novel which plays out as an analogy to the Cold War, except in space! It's about the ideological conflict between two planets (or moons) which orbit one another: one, a world divided between capitalist and communist nations; the other a desolate anarchist “colony”, and the home of the physicist Shevek, who has discovered a new theory of physics which will in principle allow simultaneous communication across worlds.
After that I read The Word for World is Forest and The Left Hand of Darkness, both science fiction books set in the same universe as the Dispossessed , which revolve around various conflicts between different races of humans which evolved on separate worlds. The Word for World is Forest is mostly about environmentalism and colonialism, whereas The Left Hand of Darkness is more anthropological: focusing on a “what if” idea concerning humans on another world. These are fantastic works of sci-fi and I now have Orsinian Tales and The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin on my to-read pile. What a legend.
The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
What an unexpected delight of a read this was. I have been trying to get through some books that have been on my pile for too long, and picked up The Master and Margarita during a insomnia-wracked, far-too-well-lit summer morning while searching for something comforting and escapist. This may be one of the most fun novels I've ever read, and completely took me out of my life and on a journey around Moscow, following (literally) Satan's antics, along with the various literary societies of Russia and their slapstick escapades. There's a depression-plagued novelist whose manuscript is burned, there's a theatre which becomes the stage of the devil, there are naked high society Muscovites crowding the streets, there's a witch, there's a talking cat. Total genius.
Dare I say it, this may be the album of the fucking year. I cannot stop listening to it. I listen to it every morning, start to finish, while I’m drinking my coffee, and then again when I walk to work. It’s about punk rock and growing up, Catholic upbringings, trying not to care about what people think, depression, self-harm. It’s an album I wish I’d grown up with. It’s upbeat and honest and totally fantastic. After I listened to it, realising it may be a new favourite album, I also found out that my band, Toodles & the Hectic Pity, would be supporting them in Exeter. Fuck yes! Favourite song: “Fuck My Life”
The Reading Women
At last, at last! I have, after looking for so long, found a podcast discussing books that I actually like. Most of the ones I’ve found looking online or recommended to me have been quite sterile and boring, and they haven’t introduced me to new books or books I hadn’t really heard much about. So many of them are simply author interviews with the big names of the day, without much room for the more niche.
The Reading Women is a fairly low-production biweekly discussion between Kendra and Autumn about books by or about women. So, already, we have a podcast project that is trying to avoid the monocultural mainstream deliberately. They talk about what they’ve read, as well as specific themes. They do general reading discussions on singular books, and do author interviews. Thus far I’ve discovered a lot of interesting books through them that I had never heard of, with plenty of contemporary and cutting edge fiction. They read a lot so there’s a constant stream of great content.
I know I’m late to the game with this one, but having listened to them many times in the past, I have finally got their record. It’s phenomenal. The rhythms are so strange and wonky and they use dynamics in a really brilliant way. You don’t notice it much, but so many of their songs are actually one long tune based on the same riff or idea which last for five minutes, but they way they use instrumentation and dynamics disguise that. Such a tight band with such clever, uplifting songs.
That’s right, the best thing about summer is that it precedes autumn. On my street, the leaves have already started falling from the trees and I can sense that homeliness that autumn brings. The lull to comfort, to stay inside, to enjoy lots of coffee and hot, comforting meals.
My last few weeks of summer are also going to be last few weeks living in Cardiff, and in Wales, after living here for four years and going to uni here. It’s great city, that really shines in the summer after a years’ worth of rain. The parks are lovely, there are great cafes and bars, and a general charming and friendly vibe. I’m sad to leave.
Which brings me to some updates:
At The Cardiff Review, since my last update, I’ve written some pieces for the blog. These include a post about how authors approach writing comics and a piece about why we don’t read literature in translation as much as we should. I also reviewed Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds for the spring issue.
For a much more belated announcement: my band, Toodles & the Hectic Pity, released a five-track EP onto vinyl a few months back. It was released via Invisible Llama Music and is called “Call in Sick”. We’re going on an autumnal “tour” in the South West during September and October, playing several dates in Bristol, as well as Bath, Cardiff and Exeter. We’re currently writing new stuff, mostly about ghosts, grandparents, guilt. Our album and tour poster artwork were done by the amazing Bethany Wallington.