This list makes no claims to being ‘on-trend’ or especially current. I usually come across new books about two years after they penetrate most people’s cultural consciousness … many of the things I’ll highlight are old faves of mine (especially books) and I’m not going to be too precious about ‘high’ vs ‘low’ culture distinctions. This is simply a list of stuff I’ve either loved, engaged with or intrigued me.
‘Slow Burn’ Season One – Watergate
This podcast is now into season two, examining the presidency of Bill Clinton (more on that in future weeks). Season one examined the last days of Nixon’s reign. Even if you think you know this story, this podcast is hugely revealing and timely. It’s a reminder that what we face with Trump – a bombastic and arrogant man who thinks he’s above the law – is an old story. This is the first podcast that has absolutely gripped me since the first season of Serial.
Matthew Sweeney – My Life as a Painter
Sweeney’s twelfth and – as has transpired – final collection combines all one has come to expect from him: surreal flights of fancy, a delight in word-play and sharp comment on creative-making. His death a couple of weeks ago adds poignancy to a fine collection.
John Le Carré – The Pigeon Tunnel: Tales from my Life
This book comprises a series of beautifully constructed and revealing anecdotes from Cornwell’s various lives. He’s honest about the malleability of memory and one wonders how many facts he’s abandoned along the way. If his recollections are carefully worked, his novelist’s skill only adds to the entertainment value. At times episodic, it reveals as much as it conceals.
Olivia Manning – Friends & Heroes
The final part of the Balkan Trilogy takes the Pringles to Athens in the months before the fall of Greece. By turns, insightful, frustrating and funny, Manning handles the classical sub-text to the end of the Pringle’s European adventures with real skill. I hadn’t expected to find going back to the Trilogy to be so timely. I recommend the whole trilogy to anyone reflecting on complacency and making the best of things while the world crumbles.
C.J. Sansom – Lamentation
A fine-old page-turner featuring Sansom’s enduring Shardlake character. The plot centres around Catherine Parr’s Lamentations of a Sinner, and for long-time fans its includes one or two shocks and new character developments. Perhaps, in need of a trim: some of the dialogue is flabby and I got sick to death of being told how dangerous everything was for the Queen and all involved. Smashing thriller though.
Kate McLoughlin – Veteran Poetics: British Literature in the Age of Mass Warfare, 1790-2015
A magnificent study of the ‘Veteran’ in British Literature. Sweeping and fascinating, its analysis of Lord Peter Wimsey was especially interesting for me, but it also examines the likes of Cormoran Strike, as well as West’s Baldry, Woolf’s Septimus Smith and Austen’s Wentworth. Readable, even for the non-specialist.
iamthemorning – Ocean Sounds
Fans of prog will already be familiar with Russian duo, iamthemorning. Combining classical chops (pianist Gleb Kolyadin is conservatoire-trained) with the ethereal and strange, their singer Marjana has one heck of a presence and set of lungs. Think Tori Amos meets Kate Bush meets Russian cool. Full review is upcoming in Prog Magazine, but I can say that this studio film is quite stunning: focused, beautifully recorded and performed.
Heidi Talbot – Here We Go, 1, 2, 3
Released in 2016, this album is for fans of the Barnsley Nightingale, Kate Rusby, as well as more recent breakthrough folk artists like Nancy Kerr. Less maudlin than many of Rusby’s efforts, Talbot explores spiritual themes alongside the everyday. Very impressive.