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What I’ve been reading № 8

25.February 2016

What is your idea of perfect happiness? Reading.

Bowie died. Here at Darby O’Shea HQ (and Dr. Hurley HQ and [untitled] HQ) this is cause for protracted mourning and that’s what we’re doing. Here are a few things to read/watch/think about:

Darby O’Shea HQ, by the way, has temporarily relocated to Germany, where we’re eating all the bread we can get our hands on, frequently substituting cake for lunch, and imbibing the occasional big beer. It’s lovely and a wonderful change of pace, even if it is snowing today. Here’s what I’ve been reading for the last couple months, in no particular order.

Cocks & Morgan: The Royal We

I am a long (and I mean long) time fan of Go Fug Yourself (a.k.a. one of the very finest sites on the whole of the internet). When the Fug Girls announced they were writing a novel about the (*ahem* fictional *ahem*) royal family, I was sold. Sold, but also a bit embarassed to buy it for myself. But, luckily, I have a sister who thinks more or less precisely the same way I do, who bought it for me for Christmas, not knowing I had also bought her a copy. (This happens almost every year with us, it seems.)

Anyway, I devoured the book in about forty-eight hours after opening it (in between eating Christmas leftovers, playing with puppies, and watching a lot of TV). I did have to stay up until about two in the morning to finish it because I couldn’t put it off for another day, although now I wish I had waited, so that it wouldn’t be over so quickly.

Whatever you think about the royal family (and I don’t really care WHAT you think about the royal family), this book is totally riveting. Yes, it’s basically a romantic dramedy (and yes, it will make a sensational movie), and yes, it’s basically 100% escapist, but when you spend a lot of your time thinking about climate change and most of the rest of the time thinking about modern German history, escapism is NOT A BAD THING.

In short: Pick it up because you’re a fan of the Fug Girls, read it because I told you to, weep a little in appropriate places, and finish it because it’s impossible not to. It’s fantastic.

Carpenter: Farm City

I don’t remember where I picked up this recommendation, but I intended to hate-read it. And in fact, I did hate-read it in parts. But by the end, Novella Carpenter won me over and convinced me it would be a good idea to raise pigs in my back yard. (NOT ACTUALLY, but I’m glad someone is doing it.)

This is a great story of a hippie/yuppie gardener getting serious, lamenting gentrification while participating in it (admittedly not un-self consciously), and coming to terms with where her food comes from. It’s generally a pretty winning description of the difficulty of being serious about producing food without having serious resources and about the realities of producing said food and the effect doing so can have on a community. It’s both revealing of some problems with the whole locavore and urban food movement, but somehow not off-putting. Generally very readable.

Gardener (but really Hiddleston): The Red Necklace

Y’all already know about how Tom Hiddleston has been somewhat of a *distraction* lately. Well. I had to pack up my office before leaving the country and I find it exceptionally difficult to do tedious jobs like that without some degree of distraction. So first I listened to Hiddles reading a bunch of poetry and then I discovered he also records the occasional audio book. My rationale was that listening to Hiddles would be less distracting than watching Hiddles (not true, as it turns out). Anyway, I discovered a free version (which I won’t link to) of this silly little YA novel that Hiddles recorded a few years ago (presumably before he was Loki, because otherwise it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever). BTW: this version is only available in the UK.

I’m not going to lie. This is NOT great literature. I’m not even sure I would have been convinced of it when I was thirteen (actually, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been). But, then there’s the Hiddles factor. He reads it really well, does all the voices, and is generally pretty charming. Somehow he got me invested in this (very silly) story such that I just sat down and listened to the last hour or so, rather than continuing to pack my office like a responsible person.

The moral of this story: Don’t read this for it’s literary value. Listen to it for Hiddleston. You’ll enjoy it.

Ballard: High Rise (Audiobook read by our buddy Hiddles)

This is related to the above, but also has the benefit of actually being a really interesting book. I’ve written about J. G. Ballard before and this one is no less weird than The Drowned World. I’ll admit I only became interested in High Rise specifically because of the film that Hiddleston starred in (genius casting, if you ask me), which is being released in the U.S. on May 13. But I wanted to read more Ballard anyway, so this was a good excuse. The other thing that motivated me is that (in part to promote the movie, I’m sure) Hiddles recorded an audiobook of High Rise as well. I just happened to be about to get on a trans-Atlantic flight and thought it would be a perfect way to pass the time. Alas, I didn’t get any sleep at all on the plane, between being riveted by the very strange and violent story as well as by Hiddleston’s excellent reading and realizing that I was flying over the Arctic at night in winter and MAYBE I COULD SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS (no, I didn’t).

Anyway, like the other books I know by Ballard, this one explores the breakdown of humanity under extreme circumstances, except that the circumstances here seem less extreme than elsewhere in his works. It’s an excellent (though disturbing) book and will make an excellent (and, I assume, disturbing) movie. The absolutely spellbinding trailer is here, by the way.

French: Faithful Place

I’ve gotten fairly obsessed with Tana French. She writes mystery novels, but the settings (the political and economic upheavals of Ireland in the late twentieth century) are exceptionally well realized and her characters are exceptionally distinct and relatable if not always likeable. This one was no disappointment, although The Likeness remains my favorite so far. I’m rationing these books. I think two to go? You see: they’re that good. I don’t want to devour them all at once. Go read them. You’ll thank me.

Trojanow: EisTau (English coming May 2016)

This one was for work, but was also very pleasurable. It’s the absurd story of Zeno, a glaciologist whose glacier melts and who then goes to work on a cruise ship sailing to the Antarctic. It’s funny, but never pokes fun at Zeno’s dispair, sad without being utterly depressing, and really, really sharply critical of eco-tourism. If you’re at all interested in any of those things, please go read it, but you might want to bone up on your Coleridge beforehand.

Gerard: Binary Star

I’m fairly sure that this book came up on NPR’s excellent book concierge and that’s how it ended up on my wish list. I don’t know what to think about this book. It’s slim – less than two hundred pages – but heavy – it took me about six weeks to read it. I think it is a really well-observed narrative of mental illness and eating disorders and I did really love the astronomical metaphors. BUT. It was colossally depressing and although I’ve never suffered an eating disorder, it read almost like a manual for developing one. I tread lightly on the subject of the much-discussed trigger warning (which I decline to discuss here), but I think that this book could seriously touch off some serious issues for many readers. And even without those tendencies, it’s rough reading. I don’t un-recommend it, but I also am not sure I recommend it, just for how upsetting it was.

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