This year I’m trying to keep a diary of what I watch and read. In January I…
I started the year with a couple of rewatches, Life of Pi (I think the beauty is best appreciated on the big screen but I enjoyed it again on the small) and La La Land (still delightful).
Next up was Silence. It was beautifully shot, overlong, pretty harrowing, and an interesting exploration of the (depending on your viewpoint) nature, cost, or futility of faith. Adam Driver looks like he walked out of an El Greco painting, he was perfect.
As part of an effort to watch some classics, Casablanca and Rio Bravo both hit my screen this month. With Casablanca especially, it was interesting how much I could know about a film and still not really know what the film was about. I could name the characters, the locations, quote the lines, but I couldn’t have told you a jot about the plot. It was great, and reminded me how much I love Peter Lorre, even though his appearance was brief.
Free Fire was better than I thought it would be (and the facial hair lived up to expectations). The Lego Batman Movie was… something I’ll keep for when my nephews visit. And The Big Sick was lovely and funny, more Holly Hunter please.
Rounding out the month, I watched Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and I Am Not Your Negro. I think if you don’t know that there’s something fundamentally wrong with racial equality in America (and elsewhere) then I don’t know how to help you. I Am Not Your Negro is often sad, at times brutal, and throughout a necessary reminder that something needs to be fixed.
Three Billboards is also sad, and brutal, and at times hilarious. Frances McDormand is phenomenal, Sam Rockwell too. I think those complaining about Dixon’s ‘redemptive arc’ saw something I didn’t, the sad truth is that monsters in the real world are human. A horrible person can try to do something good, a virtuous person can do something bad, real people don’t have alignments, it’s not that simple.
The Comixology bug is still strong, but I’m trying to make a concerted effort to read more books this year. That said, I read the first two Atomic Robo collections, these were fun, reminded me of the early BPRD collections. The Sheriff of BabylonVol 1 didn’t grab me at first but got interesting, I don’t think it’s hooked me enough to keep going. If I spot future collections on offer I might pick them up. I found Captain Marvel Vol 1 so-so, I picked it up what with the movie adaptation in the pipeline but my knowledge of the Marvel Cosmic and recent events wasn’t up to snuff. Cap is a badass for sure, but I felt like I was on the back foot with the story.
The comic highlight for me this month was Invincible, Vol 2. I enjoyed the first volume just fine, but then something happened in this volume that made me double take and flick back to make sure I hadn’t missed something (a bit like the time I read the Red Wedding chapter in A Storm of Swords).
On Kindle I read a couple of historical non-fiction books: The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval Europe and Longitude. The Time Traveller’s guide was a bit of a slog, it was clearly well researched and referenced but severely lacking in character. Longitude was much more enjoyable; genuinely dramatic, peppered with historical figures and notable events. There’s a pullquote from a review along the lines of, “makes horology sexy,” which feels a little trite, but this was a genuinely world-changing development.
In fiction I read The Big Sleep, in a similar vein to Rio Bravo and Casablanca I feel I know all the tropes of hard-boiled fiction, but I’ve never read any Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett. Man, this was cool. To begin with I was definitely reading it in my head with the movie voiceover I mostly know from parodies but yeah, I ate this up. I picked it up as a trio on Kindle so I have Farewell My Lovely and The Long Goodbye to look forward to.
And on paper I read One Thousand Monsters, the latest in Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula series. If you’ve tried one of the earlier ones and it didn’t grab you, then this probably isn’t for you either, but they are very much for me, and shifting the setting to Japan only appeals to me more. Yokai as vampire strains is a great way to bring them into Newman’s world, and they are just as weird as yokai scrolls would indicate. The lads from Silence make an appearance of sorts, Popejoy is a wonderful insert. If you enjoyed the others in the series, or are a superfan of Japanese myth and cinema, then this is for you.
I only read the first book (I think the second is on my shelf), this is a lot more Last Action Hero than I was expecting, though this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, Matt Colville sums up my feelings pretty well:
I haven't read The Dark Tower but that trailer makes it look like a weird mashup of Time Bandits and the Last Action Hero.
Like the Kingdom of God, the Republic of Gilead is both now and not yet. Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale conjures a theocratic dystopia—a version of the United States taken over by fundamentalist Christians after a terrorist attack on Washington. Women are now divided into rigid classes determined by an idiosyncratic interpretation of the Bible. Atwood’s protagonist, Offred, is a Handmaid—a fallen woman who is forced to bear children for righteous couples—and the book follows her sufferings under the Gilead regime.
The linked article is also a good read: women in positions of power exerting incredible influence in order to reduce the influence of power of women is such a contradiction, and yet like so much in modern politics the contradictions matter not to those that support such figures. I don’t know how you persuade someone to give up a fervent belief, religious or political.
I recently found out that some friends of mine are flat-Earthers. I tend to avoid Facebook, now that I’m greeted by ‘Proof the Earth is flat,’ ‘Overthrow the conspiracy of the globists,’ and, ’10 truths that disprove the prehistory of dinosaurs,’ I’m even less inclined to log on. I’m aware I can mute people and channels but there’s part of me that can’t help but try to explain how things work. On the bright side I’m getting good at explaining in simple terms why the sky is blue, how one can tell the earth is round, or how it’s possible to see the sun from so far away. On the downside I’m not yet ready to just leave them be and unfortunately and ‘Yeah, that confused me at school, it all just sounds too complicated, I’m just going to believe this’ infuriates the hell out of me.
(You have to click through for the real polar bears.)
North is a travelogue of illustrations and photographs detailing Christoph Niemann’s journey to Svalbard as part of a National Geographic cruise (which looks ace but also seriously out of my price range).
Now, however, fresh from reading Prisoners of Geography it’s all about fishing territory, coal mining (or not), and the scramble for the Arctic.
Most countries and international organisations recognize the islands as being under (limited) Norwegian sovereignty, but the biggest island, Svalbard, formerly know as Spitsbergen, has a growing population of Russian migrants who have assembled around the coal-mining industry there. The mines are not profitable, but the Russian community serves as a useful tool in furthering Moscow’s claims on all of the Svalbard islands. At a time of Russia’s choosing it can raise tensions and justify its actions using geological claims and the “facts on the ground” of the Russian population.
It’s a genuinely fascinating read, I had no idea the extent to which Russia and China maneuvre their population en masse into foreign or disputed territories, or the importance of warm water ports. It was written pre-Brexit/Trump but with speculation on what could happen if UK or US foreign policy changed which adds an extra layer of interest.
Each one of us is walking our own road. We are born at specific times, in specific places, and our challenges are unique. As knights, understanding and respecting our distinctiveness is vital to our ability to harness our collective strength. The use of force may be necessary to protect in an emergency, but only justice, fairness, and cooperation can truly succeed in leading men. We must live and work together as brothers or perish together as fools.
The quality of your life will, to a large extent, be decided by with whom you elect to spend your time.
Those who cannot easily forgive will not collect many friends. Look for the best in others.
A dishonest tongue and a dishonest mind waste time, and therefore waste our lives. We are here to grow and the truth is the water, the light, and the soil from which we rise. The armor of falsehood is subtly wrought out of the darkness and hides us not only from others but from our own soul.
Anything that gives light must endure burning.
Grace is the ability to accept change. Be open and supple; the brittle break.
There is no such thing as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A hurried mind is an addled mind; it cannot see clearly or hear precisely; it sees what it wants to see, or hears what it is afraid to hear, and misses much. A knight makes time his ally. There is a moment for action, and with a clear mind that moment is obvious.
There is only one thing for which a knight has no patience: injustice. Every true knight fights for human dignity at all times.
You were born owning nothing and with nothing you will pass out of this life. Be frugal and you can be generous.
From Ethan Hawke’s Rules for a Knight a fictional (sort of) treatise on what it means to be a knight. Or, really, how to be good human being. This came out a few years ago and I passed it over but having read a bit more about it I’m now pretty keen to read it. I’ve got a bit of a reading backlog, though not for want of reading! I’m just not very good at adding books to the list at a slower rate than I read them.
I’m about two thirds of the way through Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant. I find the style a bit odd but I’m sticking with it though I’m scared of how it might end. One of my biggest fears is losing my memory and a major plot driver is that the Britons and Saxons are forgetting everything (for reasons I won’t reveal here). I’ve also had the Liveship Traders sitting on my shelves for far too long. The Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies are outstanding, some of my favourite fantasy novels, I’m keen to get back to that world. I’ve also got the first Wizard Scout book and the Haunting of Fabian Grey (thanks Signal Boost!), so… yeah. Lots to read.
Before we go, the last two rules:
Love is the end goal. It is the music of our lives. There is no obstacle that enough love cannot move.
Life is a long series of farewells; only the circumstances should surprise us. A knight concerns himself with gratitude for the life he has been given. He does not fear death, for the work one knight begins, others may finish.
Fatma el-Sha’arawi, special investigator with the Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, stood gazing through a pair of spectral goggles at the body slumped atop the mammoth divan.
A Dead Djinn in Cairo is a short story set in an alternate early 20th Century Egypt by P.Djeli Clark and well worth your time. (Kevin Hong’s beautiful illustration alone makes it worth a click at least.)