November Reading and Film Summary

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: until the very last week, when I finally got a well-deserved holiday, the month of November has been all work and no play. And that shows in my reading: 11 books, virtually all of them external commitments.

Books

I had committed to reading the shortlist for the Young Writer of the Year Award, though, so those five books made up most of my month. I loved the two poetry books, Surge and Tongues of Fire, I was impressed and discomfited by Inferno, and I appreciated the talent of young writers Naoise Dolan and Marina Kemp, although these debut novels didn’t necessarily work that well for me.

I also tried to take part in the German Lit Month event, always one of the highlights of my year. But, although I reviewed Marlen Haushofer this month, I have to admit I read her back in October (together with Dear Oxbridge, which I also reviewed then), and I barely managed to sneak in one other German book, a reread of All Quiet on the Western Front. That book led me to a reread of another book about the First World War on a lesser-known front, so I tried to compare it with The Forest of the Hanged by Liviu Rebreanu.

For the Virtual Crime Book Club, I had the pleasure of discovering the zany but hugely enjoyable crime meets magic series by Ben Aaronovitch, Rivers of London. I was expecting an equally pleasurable experience from rereading Dune in tandem with my older son. I had read the trilogy when I was his age or even a little younger, but could remember next to nothing about it, and was looking forward to the new film release. Unfortunately, this time round, the plodding style distracted me, and neither my son nor I were driven to finish it. It will have to live on as a fond teenage memory, lost in the mists of time.

Crimson Snow is an overhang from last month, so ignore the pretty picture of it, but I have nearly finished Tombland by C.J. Sansom, now that I finally had time to devote to such a massive volume during my week off. Norwich is the one place in England that I am seriously considering as a possible future home (I also have a place in mind in Scotland and in Wales respectively), and knew very little about the Kett Rebellion, so the Shardlake series is always a great opportunity to educate myself as well as enjoy a good murder mystery. As a counterpoint to that detailed, long read, I played around with the short, fun novel set in Lausanne by Muriel Spark The Finishing School. It isn’t one of her best, and I found it difficult to believe that it was as recent as 2004, but her sarcasm is always welcome.

Films

My older son finally convinced me to join Letterboxd as a way to keep track of the films we watch (previously I was doing it on pieces of paper which invariably got lost all over the house). However, although he now follows me there, I am not allowed to follow his reviews, because he finds that ‘stalkerish’! Kids, eh? (OK, maybe my comment on his use of apostrophes might have had something to do with this!)

So I can now report with confidence that I have rewatched 5 films, watched 6 films that were new to me and one TV mini-series.

The mini-series was The Queen’s Gambit, which everyone else seems to be watching this month as well. It was a fine recreation of the period and does a good job for promoting chess, and I also liked the way it refreshes the ‘genius’ trope by making it a female genius. But I can’t help but feel it does rely quite heavily on cliches and feels overrated.

The rewatches I cannot be entirely objective about: there is too much sentimental memory attached to them. Yes, Rocky Horror Picture Show may be flawed, but it’s still one of the most fun films I’ve ever seen. Alien remains one of my favourite sci-fi films, both for its threatening atmosphere and for its smart, brave heroine. Tokyo Story and The Apartment are undoubtedly great works of art, while Minghella’s Talented Mr Ripley captures the attractions of expat lifestyle in Italy so well, even though I tend to lose interest after Tom murders Dickie.

The new films were: Inception (possibly one of the most interesting of the Nolan films), Ivan’s Childhood (an early Tarkovsky that already shows his obsessions and beautiful cinematography), I Vitelloni (an early Fellini which makes for a poignant social study) and L’Enfant d’en Haut (an early and depressing Ursula Meier, set partly in Verbier). The film which I liked least this month was Eric Rohmer’s A Good Marriage – it just didn’t seem to have the wit and humour of some of his other work and the main protagonist annoyed me with her obsessive pursuit of a man who is uninterested in her. The film I liked most was Grave of the Fireflies, although it tugged at every single heartstring I had. An anti-war film that does not have to hammer home its anti-war message, but just shows its impact on children.

23 thoughts on “November Reading and Film Summary”

  1. You’ve packed in a great deal this month! I’m a fan of Nolan’s earlier work and throughly enjoyed Inception which I remember watching on Christmas Eve in our Berlin aparthotel shortly after it came out. Might watch it again this year.

  2. I think it’s been a very busy month for all of us, Marina Sofia. I’m sorry to hear that you weren’t more drawn into Dune than you were this time around. Isn’t it interesting how our views of books change at different times in our lives… I was wondering whether The Queen’s Gambit was any good. I always wonder about shows and books that get a lot of hype. Here’s to a good December!

        1. Ha! I see I hit the wrong reply button … question meant for Marina , given how much she packed into November, though your answer is interesting too!

        2. LOL! The side effect of lockdown – Mr. K is considerable vulnerable so we have been quite hermit-like, going no further than the local post office/Co-op… But I join you in wondering how Marina fits so much in! πŸ˜€

      1. I did have a week of holiday in all this, but I have to admit that at times my body (and head) starts showing the strain. I need to learn to take things more slowly… this is what comes of having been a hyperactive child.

  3. Grave of the Fireflies is both outstanding and devastating, and should be required — indeed enforced — watching for every supporter of a table-thumping tyrant or warmonger. I agree too with your assessment of the other films or box sets I’ve seen: Inception is clever and haunting, The Queen’s Gambit a glorious sumptuous comfort watch if a bit predictable. As for books, I have the last the Dune trilogy to read but then that’ll be it; as for the Aaronovitch, I loved the concepts but was put off by the opening and ending, one too obvious, the other too cynical: https://wp.me/s2oNj1-rivers

    1. I agree with many of the points you make in your review about the Rivers of London. I found it a nice contrast to the other, more sombre novels I was reading this month (the two WW1 novels, for instance), so I treated it as pure escapism. Also, I used to study at King’s and often walk through Covent Garden on my way home, so I liked that sense of place.

  4. I seem to have lost my enthusiasm for film over the last few years. Maybe I should watch some old favourites again.

    1. I find myself wanting to return to old favourites rather than watch new things, and luckily now have my son who wants to catch up with the classics! (But he tends to like newer films too).

  5. The Queen’s Gambit is on my list of things to watch this month. I’m hoping for something smart and well produced, but it’s useful to hear that you feel it might be a little overrated. Consider my expectations suitably tempered!

    As for Mubi, I’ve paused my subscription for a while to allow a little more time to catch up with films on other channels (e.g. the Small Axe series and British film premieres on the BBC – Apostasy, Lynn + Lucy etc.) The Fellini is also on the list for the future, once I have enough time for Mubi again.

    1. I mean, it was a pleasant enough way to spend a few hours!
      I haven’t been watching quite as much Mubi lately, but still enjoy it. And I really do want to catch up with the Small Axe series, plus my boys will want to bingewatch His Dark Materials over Christmas, plus they promised me we can finally start watching West Wing together (am dying to rewatch). So… our eyes will turn square!

  6. I got Rivers of London out of the library and needed motivation to get to it before it’s due, so thank you for mentioning that you enjoyed it. Zany is definitely not my usual, however!

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