Reading and Events Summary for January 2020

In addition to my Japanese reading extravaganza past and present, I had a very enjoyable month of reading, which almost made up for the fact that this month must have been at least seven weeks long, filled with school evenings, financial and other administrative matters, anxiety on our close about an attempted burglary and other dreary stuff. I read a total of 12 books, 4 for the January in Japan challenge (of which I only reviewed three), 5 which might be labelled crime fiction (or psychological thrillers, although I am starting to dislike the latter label, which has been overused recently), 5 in translation and 5 off my Netgalley list (I am sooo behind with my reviews there).

Other than books, I also had some more pleasant encounters this month than the ones with my mortgage advisor or bank manager. Here’s a quick summary:

Stranger Things Secret Cinema – It’s become a tradition that for my older son’s birthday on the 1st of January my present is an experience rather than an object. It may or may not be precisely on his birthday but it will fall in his birthday month, to make it slightly more bearable. We really liked watching Stranger Things on Netflix together, especially the first series, so this year we went to an immersive Stranger Things experience with some of his friends, dressed up as a rocker (him) and a New Romantic (me), enjoying 80s music, following a trail of clues and scenes from the series with actor look-alikes, all finishing with a sort of summary of the three series on giant screens.

The Irishman and Little Women – My older son has also become quite a film buff and is forever sharing his list of Top 50 films with me (subject to constant revision, of course, because there are so many of the classics he hasn’t seen yet). He liked both of the films above, but we agreed that Goodfellas is better than The Irishman (and shorter). Personally, although I loved the interpretation of Jo, and the beautiful, painterly backdrops and colours of Little Women, I didn’t fall quite as much in love with it as I was expecting.

Uncle Vanya at the Harold Pinter Theatre was a marvellous mix of frustration, seething resentments, luxuriously decaying scenery and excellent actors. Toby Jones was surprisingly good as Vanya (not because he is not a wonderful actor, but because I had a more louche, younger-looking Vanya in mind), while Aimee Lou Wood as Sonya broke my heart a little with her wide-eyed, coltish naivety. Above all, I liked the way the humour and bad behaviour was brought to the forefront, which is not always the case. Most adaptations of Chekhov are unbearably gloomy. Another thing which felt fresh was the prominence given to the doctor’s discourse about the loss of the forest, not just the demise of an old way of life but an actual environmental disaster.

Poetry Class – I trekked over to Chiswick to attend a Coffee House Poetry class with Anne-Marie Fyfe on the topic of homes and houses. Having lived in something like 20-30 houses throughout my life, you can imagine that I have a huge untapped reservoir there for poetic inspiration. The class (first of two, second to follow shortly) was full of talented and supportive people, and we were given challenging but interesting homework until next time. Now all I need to do is actually write… if I can find time for it…. What was the name of my blog again? Nothing’s improved in the past 8 years, then!

Meeting old school friends

At some point during our time there, the English School Vienna became the Vienna International School. For most of us, it was one of the happiest times of our lives, so of course we love meeting up after so long! Three of us girls were The Three Musketeers, while the others were the ‘annoying’ younger sisters or the ‘annoying boy’ who wanted to hang around with us. All very much loved and appreciated now, of course.

Making new blogging friends – I got to go to Uncle Vanya thanks to the lovely Aliki Chapple, whom I’d been chatting with occasionally on Twitter, so it was a great pleasure to meet her in real life. We share some common Greek experiences, as well as a passion for theatre (although in her case it is far more professional than mine). I also got to meet an old Twitter acquaintance Amateur Reader Tom, who was visiting London with his wife, an academic interested in both French and German history and literature. I introduced them to my favourite Greek restaurant near work and we chatted about France, Britain and the Quais du Polar (Tom lived in Lyon for a while). In future, I should make all my friends via Twitter or blogging, because after a few years of exchanging ideas about books, films and cultural events, you have so much more in common than you do with people you encounter randomly as neighbours or parents at school.

One other thing that has taken up virtually all of my ‘spare’ time this month, which has been as urgent as my admin (but nothing like as dreary) has been translation work. But more about that in a short while! Lots of exciting news coming up in this respect!

Plans for next month? What country should I ‘attack’ next? Since I am so busy translating myself, I actually want to read things written in English (because I seem to have forgotten all the slang and natural sounding expressions in English while translating), so I think I will opt for some English, Scottish, Irish and perhaps American memoirs and essays. I’ve already started with Deborah Orr’s Motherwell, while Janice Galloway, Kathleen Jamie, Jacqueline Rose’s Mothers and Maggie Gee have been waiting far too long on my shelves.

15 thoughts on “Reading and Events Summary for January 2020”

  1. Such an interesting month you’ve had, compensation for the miserable weather! I hope you enjoy your Scottish reading month – both Janice Galloway and Kathleen Jamie are superb writers, each very different from the other. I’ve just started Maggie Gee’s Blood but I’m not yet sure how well I’ll get on with it.

    1. Ha ha, yes it looks like I’ve got Scottish and Irish writers on my mind or much older English writers. I think I’m having a bit of an allergic reaction to current writing from England…

  2. Stranger Things experience sounds good. I am considering it for my eldest son who really enjoyed watching the series.
    I was disappointed with The Irishman. While it’s always a pleasure to see such greats together on the screen (from youth to mature age) it was too pedestrian for me. Kind of felt like a mish mash of a number of mod movies.
    Here’s to better weather in the month of Feb.

    1. The Irishman felt really self-indulgent, as if people just didn’t have the courage to tell the legendary director that it was too long and repetitive. I would recommend the Stranger Things experience, although even at the matinee performance (which was for 15+ year olds), there were mainly older people trying to relive their 1980s glory days (and yes, I include myself in that number).

    1. Poetry is so wonderful, soothing, sometimes challenging, provoking, yet always inspiring. Yes, a lot of schools tend to have extracts so as not to bore children.

  3. Wonderful month – jealous of your Uncle Vanya and also what a lovely picture of you and your friends! Agreed about blogging buddies – I’ve always got on so well with those I’ve met in r/l! Scottish writing is good… (but then I’m a little biased….)

  4. I’m so very glad you had the chance to do some fun things in the midst of all that was dreary and otherwise not-so-fun, Marina Sofia. Meeting up with friends (old and new) is fantastic, isn’t it? And I’d have liked to see Uncle Vanya. I’m glad you and your son are having the chance to share some interests, too. There’s something about bonding with your child over films/books/whatever, isn’t there? Here’s to a good February!

    1. Yes, that’s the best. There may be other things he moans about – like the very fact I breathe is so embarrassing for him – but there are good moments too.

  5. Month after month, the same comment: still baffled by how much you manage to read while dealing with so many things at the same time, watching movies and going to cultural events. There must be something in the water in England.

    Glad you got to meet Tom and his wife, we met a few times in Lyon, as you imagine.
    I understand the attraction of meeting bloggers / twitter correspondants in real life, I’ve never been disappointed. Books are a direct path to someone’s soul, discussing them makes you see the real persons. I should come to London, I’d love to meet a few of you there.

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