books, Books 2018

Books 2018 – Slow Horses by Mick Herron

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I’ve missed a couple or so of books out since my last review; a Susan Sontag, a couple of John Bergers.  Good books in themselves but the Sontag on Photography was heavier than a Box Brownie on a tripod and John Berger writes like an Olympian.  But a week or two ago, looking for a holiday read for a short trip to Spain I picked up on the author Mick Herron during an interview on the BBC TV show, Meet The Author.  A bit of research led me to the author’s series of novels about British spy Jackson Lamb and the Slough House stories.  So I bought the first and second in the series, Slow Horses and Dead Lions.  I just finished Slow Horses.

I usually steer clear of the Crime and Thriller shelves in book shops but the last time I read a spy novel was the conclusion of the George Smiley series by John Le Carre in Benalmadena, Spain 4 years ago.  And I enjoyed the lot of them.  A skim of the cover suggested these novels would be good so Slow Horses became my holiday reading of choice.  And what a book!  A great read, a real page turner (I know, I know), unputdownable.

Jackson Lamb is a blown up, washed out British spy, long beyond his Bond days but like the footballer Teddy Sheringham, his brain is worth an extra yard of pace.  Exiled to the attic office of the run down building that is Slough House, Lamb presides over a motley assortment of has beens, never have beens and nor never will be’s.  And yet when a young man is abducted and his kidnappers threaten to behead him, it’s Lamb’s Slow Horses who are dragged into the fray for a final sprint round the track.

The language, the characters, the story all contribute to a dynamic, rewarding read.  I’ve finished the first and the fifth, London Rules has just been published.  I aim to read the lot and I wouldn’t blame you if you did either.

Books 2018

Books 2018 – Ways of Seeing

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Phew, what a read;  I think I read each paragraph, on average, three times or as many times as it took for me to comprehend what was on the page.  You see, when it comes to art, I don’t know my stuff.  The book is attributed to John Berger as author but inside its making is credited to five individuals, none of whom I have heard of, except for John Berger.

John Berger, I know, was an intellectual.  I have watched a couple of videos of him including one of him in conversation with American intellectual giant Susan Sontag and I recently finished another of his books, Confabulations (see previous review).

Published in 1972, Ways of Seeing is written by an intellectual in an intellectual style.  But at a time when there were only 2 or 3 TV channels and AJP Tayor could command a huge prime-time TV audience just by standing infant of a camera and speaking, off the cuff, about history for half an hour.  Our population at that time had not yet been subject to the dumbed-down, celebrity led culture which began in earnest in the 1980s.  Before then, when miners formed their own poetry groups, people could read this kind of stuff and understand it.  I often struggled but even though I feel like I read this book three or more times in one go, I kind of got it.  In fact, part way through I visited Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery and the knowledge I gained from both this book and the recently read Keeping an Eye Open by Julia Barnes helped me enjoy a much more tangible experience with art.

John Berger was a committed Marxist and saw art as the province of the ruling classes.  He makes many references to capitalism, ownership, class and the objectivity of women in art.  Many of his political points are supported by the inclusion of a gallery of paintings depicted in black and white thought the book.  Published in 1971 it is the earliest example in a book I know of which covers the subject of sexism by the objectification of women in culture and art in the centuries of patriarchal society.  Berger describes a painting of a nude woman by Memling (1435-1494).  An attractive woman painted in full frontal nudity, is holding a mirror and thus the painting is called Vanity.  The mirror is a device simply used to disparage the woman and detract from the real intention of the commissioner or buyer of the painting to provide sexual titillation, a  form of 15th century pornography.

The final chapter brings art up to date (or as up to date as it could have been in 1971) by both focussing on publicity and drawing on the parallels between painting in oil and advertising.  I took from this chapter the line, “Publicity is the culture of the consumer society.”   Where art was once commissioned by men of property to project their status, now, publicity is used to fill the space caused by the deficit in democracy in our age of consumerism by projecting the image of our future selves which, as much as we envy it, is never attainable always deferred.

If, like me, you’ve been to a gallery and felt intimidated by the sheer volume of art on display without having a real understanding of whether it’s any good or not, you will gain a great deal of insight from this book and books like it.  I read it through over three days but feel like I read it three or four times it was that much of a challenge.  It was first published in 1972 at a time when miners formed poetry groups at colliery meetings and austere historian AJP Taylor could command an enormous prime-time TV audience just from standing before a camera and speaking, unscripted, for thirty minutes on a topic from history.  It’s a reminder of just how dumbed-down our culture has become over the past three decades but this book remains accessible if challenging and the reward for reading it is immense.  Read it and then visit a gallery.  I was pleased to note that some of the art on display at The Whitworth was crap but other was sublime – that will be Francis N Souza.

books

Books 2018 – Keeping an Eye Open

julian-barnes-art-essaysI first came across this book in a review on another blog.  It would be a struggle for me to find it again but it was complementary and struck me as a book which could teach me a thing or two about art and how to enjoy it.  Last year I visited The Manchester Art Gallery and The Walker Gallery in Liverpool.  I saw some paintings I liked and many I didn’t or couldn’t really be bothered to give more than a five second glance to.  To be honest I didn’t ‘get’ many of them and didn’t know how to.  In fact, I felt quite disappointed while walking around The Walker; pictures you had to walk backwards and backwards from due to the position of a light throwing an almighty blob of luminescence right across the canvass at the optimum viewing angle.

But then, a few years ago, lazing by a swimming pool in Spain I read Jeremy Paxman’s The Victorians which shed its own light on paintings from the Victorian era. The book described how many works of art from the period reflected the growing technological advances of the era and the developing sense of women’s sexual awakening.  Paxman spent a good few pages on Ford Madox Brown’s, Work which I confronted me during my walk around The Manchester Art Gallery.  The whole canvass was a revelation because I got it, I really did get it because, thanks to Paxman I knew how to read it and solve it.  It was a revelatory moment during which I genuinely enjoyed regarding a painting.  And when the Arts Officer at the local council told me what a wonderful gallery The Walker is, I realised I was missing something, largely through ignorance.

So on another visit to the wonderful London Review Bookshop I bought Keeping an Eye Open.  I began it in mid January but my reading was curtailed for two weeks when I was struck down with flu and I had neither the energy or inclination to do anything as remotely active as holding up a book.  But on making a full recovery I returned to this very readable book which contains a collection of essays by the author primarily known for writing novels including Booker winner The Sense Of An Ending.  This work of non-fiction focuses on the art and lives of, in mostly chronological order, a succession of artists rom Géricault to Hodgkin, many of whom I hadn’t even heard of.   It’s by thanks to the wonder of the internet as well as some handy prints on the pages I realised I had seen many of the paintings described but had done nothing more than assign their image to my subconscious.

Each essay offers a compact biography of each artist highlighting their friends, their contemporaries, their lovers and their beligerancies.  It helped me understand that a painting is not some two dimensional drawing on canvas but an expression of the thought and attitude of the artist which contains more within it than the latest box-set available to download from Netflix.  As the title tells us, it’s all about keeping an eye open and not being a “window-shopping gallery-goer”, who will give a painting, “a five second glance”.

Keeping an Eye Open is a great introduction to artists and art.  It doesn’t talk down to the reader but invites them to see art for what it is and how to enjoy it.  Now I’ve completed it, I can’t wait to re-visit The Walker!

books

Books 2018 – Pond

Here’s the second book I completed in 2018.  I bought Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett in 2017 and started and finished it in January 2018.

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There’s an old saying and you’re familiar with it.  Never judge a book by its cover it goes.  The cover you see above is the cover on the book I bought.  I was book browsing in Rough Trade East in London and was attracted by the cover.  It’s a sort of azure blue.  I’ve looked the book up and spotted alternative covers but I judged this book worthy of buying because of its cover;  and the post-amble on the back cover.  Pond was for sale in a vinyl record shop but because I don’t have a record player I browse the books section instead.  Blue is the colour and this book had done its turn in high street book shops and was now on sale to savvy readers wary of quirky covers designed to lure unsuspecting readers.  Rough Trade is cool so Pond’s got a cool cover.

Claire-Louise is, I read, from Wiltshire.  A  rural county and at an early age she moved to Ireland.  Pond is about a woman living alone in a cottage by the sea in what seems like Ireland.  I’ve seen Pond described as a collection of short stories, a stream of consciousness or elsewhere as a collection of vignettes.  In an interview further afield the author deliberately avoids describing it as much at all giving the reader license to decide for themselves, if they want to.  I tried but couldn’t.

Each chapter of the book is named; the first is Voyage In The Dark, others are A Little Before Seven; Stir-Fry; Morning, 1908 and The Gloves Are Off, for example.  You’re not going to get much of a story out of this book but what you will get is great language, atmosphere and irritated at times.  The chapter Morning, Noon & Night begins; “Sometimes a banana with coffee is nice.  It ought not to be too ripe – in fact there should be a definite remainder of green along the stalk; and if there isn’t, forget about it.”  And so it goes on, a faithful record of one woman’s process of thinking, capturing those internal narratives and conflicts inside our brains.    In Finishing Touch Claire-Louise is in full-on neurotic narrative declaring, “I’m determined you see, quite determined to host a low-key, but impeccably conceived, soirée.”  You can almost hear the the voice of Hyacinth Bucket warbling against  itself offering self-assurance that everything must be just-so conflicted against the fear of guests ruining things simply by, by turning up and getting the party protocol all wrong.

Claire-Louise Bennet superbly captures the ebb and flow, the straightness and digression  of those vexing conversations that take place nowhere other than inside our heads.  A lone walk disturbed by the appearance of a hooded youth evokes fear one moment excitement in another.  This is what living alone is like; introversion coupled with introspection when you’ve got time on your hands.

Art, books, Film Review, lists, Live music review, Uncategorized

2017

2017

Books:
The Civil War – Peter Ackroyd
Runaway – Alice Munro
The Italians – John Hopper
The Lonely City – Olivia Laing
A Room Of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf
Imagine Me Gone – Adam Haslett
To The River – Olivia Laing
The Last Banquet – Jonathan Grimwood
Eating Rome – Elizabeth Minchilli
1984 – George Orwell
Our Man In Havana – Graham Greene
As Consciousness Is Harnessed To Flesh – Susan Sontag
Winter – Ali Smith
Civilisation & Its Malcontents – Sarah Wood
The Argonauts – Maggie Nelson (unfinished)

Films:
Julietta – dir Pedro Almodóvar
Whiplash – dir Damien Chazelle (TV)
The Survivalist – dir Stephen Fingleton (TV)
Deadpool – dir Tim Miller
La La Land – dir Damien Chazelle
Venus In Fur – dir Roman Polanski (TV)
A Serious Man – dir Ethan & Joel Coen
T2 Trainspotting – dir Danny Boyle
Hail, Caesar – dir Ethan & Joel Coen (TV)
Fargo – dir Ethan & Joel Coen (TV)
Toni Erdmann – dir Maren Ade
Raging Bull – dir Martin Scorsese (TV)
Jackie – dir Pablo Larrain
Moonlight – dir Barry Jenkins
Elle – dir Paul Verhoeven
Dunkirk – dir Christopher Nolan
The Bourne Identity – dir Doug Liman (TV)
Carol – dir Todd Haynes (TV)
The Big Lebowski – dir Ethan & Joel Coen (TV)
Panfilov’s 28 – dir Kim Druzhinin & Audrey Shalopa (TV)
In Bruges – dir Martin McDonagh (TV)

Live Music:
Cabbage + The Shimmer Band + – EBGBS, Liverpool
Josefin Ohrn & The Liberation – The Soup Kitchen, Manchester
Honeyblood – Museum Of Life, Wigan
Various – Folk Roots Festival, Hebden Bridge
Saint Etienne – Trades Club, Hebden Bridge
Blue Öyster Cult – The Academy, Manchester
UFO – King George’s Hall, Blackburn
The Duke Spirit – The Deaf Institute, Manchester
Lana Del Rey – Echo Arena, Liverpool
Gorillaz – Arena, Manchester
Saint Etienne – The Ritz, Manchester

Galleries/Museums:
The Whitworth, Manchester – Andy Warhol exhib
The Manchester Gallery – True Faith exhib (Joy Division/New Order)
The Harris, Liverpool
Fylde Council Art Collection – St Annes Town Hall (guided)
The Charles Dickens Museum – London
The Manchester Gallery – Waqa Khan (closed), Dutch painters 1600 – 1800, etc