It’s November already. Can you believe it?
We returned home in March after living in the UK in 2018 and the months have just flown by since that first morning we set foot back onto Australian ground into the fog of humidity.
It feels like that scene in the movies when the days and months are crossed off in fast-forward.
So here we are heading into the silly season with all its end-of-year get togethers, Christmas parties, end of school events, concerts and shopping.
It’s a bit of mixed bag with books for this month’s round-up, which includes a couple of books I’ve read and a couple I’ve put on the ‘must read’ list. The first I’ll mention is Something To Believe In by Australian music journalist Andrew Stafford. It’s a funny and, at times, sad story about his enduring love of music, a few relationships that didn’t endure and the way music is always with us, soundtracking the good times and the hard times in our lives. His memoir covers his young years and his discovery of music, his unlikely passion for bird watching and the ups and downs of being a freelance music journalist, author and part-time taxi driver. And the music list at the back is an excellent resource too.
The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie has been out for a while, although the Broad just finished it after being sidelined by a few other books that needed reading and promptly returning to the library. It’s the first-person fictional account of a woman who returns to her family home in Canada to help her ageing parents, but these are not any ordinary parents. Her mother is a difficult woman, by turns manipulative, deceitful and a drama queen, and the story charts the narrator’s conflicted relationship with her ailing mother as she attempts to assist while at the same time wanting to turn and run. Laveau-Harvie has an engaging turn of phrase and there are some darkly funny scenes, although it does at times feel like you’re reading a diary and the reported dialogue keeps the story through the narrater’s point of view, leaving the reader somewhat at a distance.
Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner is one of those books that’s generated a lot of buzz online and lots of discussion in books and culture podcasts. The author is now a staff writer at the New York Times and has written revealing profiles of celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Bradley Cooper. Fleishman is the story of a 40-something man whose wife takes off, leaving him with their children, and we follow what happens from then on – and there’s a lot of Tinder and a lot of anger.
What’s so remarkable about the story is how we learn about his wife and, with that, their marriage, through the husband’s point of view, but told by his female narrator-friend of, Libby. The shape-shifting perspective lets us delve into the shifting sands of marriage, female experiences and the usually dominant male point of view. It’s on the Broad’s ‘must read next’ list.
The last book in this month’s round up is Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China by the author of the worldwide hit Wild Swans, Yung Chang. Published in 1991 it was a sensation and has sold more than 13 million copies around the world, although it’s still banned in China. Wild Swans tells the story of three generations of women in Chang’s own family – grandmother, mother and daughter – and reveals the tragic history of China’s twentieth century.
This book is about the famous Soong sisters in China – wife of Sun Yet-Sen, Madame Chiang Kai-shek and advisor to Chiang Kai-shek – who each helped shape twentieth century China and lived extraordinary lives in China and across the world.
Apologies if you don’t have a Netflix subscription. Three out of four of this month’s recommendations are on the streaming giant’s platform. But first to the ABC and the Broad stumbled upon Frayed and, two episodes in, is hooked, although not enjoying being drip-fed episodes one per week. How did we ever watch TV that way pre-streaming days?
This Australian/English co-production is about an Australian woman who escaped her bogan upbringing in Newcastle, Australian, for London. Fast forward 20 years and she has a strong accent, some Dynasty-style hair and two very English children. It all goes wrong when her very English husband dies, leaving her broke and humiliated by the circumstances of his death. The only choice is to retreat home to Newcastle and try to get her life sorted, while facing the music with everyone she left behind – the heartbroken old boyfriend, jilted mother and brother and old school friends with scores to settle. The black comedy perfectly captures the culture clash between the staid, conservative English identity and the ‘she’ll be right’ ocka, but easygoing Australian approach to life.
Our notion of a serial killer didn’t always exist as it does today. Mindhunter, the tense crime drama about two FBI agents working with a psychology academic, explores how the agency guided by the expert on criminal behaviour developed the understanding of repeat offender through interviewing and analysing some of the most notorious killers in the US. Inspired buy the book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, there are two seasons available and the third is in production.
Before Fleabag, Pheobe Waller-Bridge’s dark comedy about a grieving London woman navigating life’s ups and downs, there was Crashing. Written and created by Waller-Bridge, this series has six 20- and 30-somethings who band together to live in an abandoned hospital in London trying to follow the rules, work out their feelings and work out themselves.
True crime is everywhere. There are podcasts, documentaries, TV dramas, books. Perhaps it’s the need to understand the motivations for these horrors or to peak inside from the safety of our lives that drives our interest. It makes for compelling entertainment. And so too the documentary series Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes that takes us inside the world of the infamous series killer.
The series uses archival audio interviews conducted by two journalists while Bundy was in jail awaiting execution, intercut with interviews from some of the key figures such as police and prosecutors talking about him and his crimes. The juxtaposition between Bundy’s view of himself and the recounts of his actions is chilling, and it’s only when he shifts to the third person is he able to speak in detail about is crimes. You’ll want to have Friends or some comedy on stand-by when you’ve finished this series to get out of Ted Bundy’s head. But it’s compelling TV and, like Mindhunter mentioned above, reveals how we’ve come to better understand pathological killers and highlights the importance of techniques like forensics to identify and prosecute them.
Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes
Mystify, the Michael Hutchence documentary that was in cinemas the year made by Richard Lowenstein was as an examination of Hutchence’s life and his tragic unravelling, after an accidental fall induced a serious brain injury. Some 20-odd years earlier Lowenstein had directed Michael Hutchence in Dogs in Space, his docu-style film about a group of muso friends in a ramshackle sharehouse in Melbourne, set in the post-punk early 80s. The film is untethered by a strong narrative and you don’t really get inside the characters, but it’s got plenty of comedic moments and if you’ve ever lived in a share house, you’ll identify with the goings on in the house.
Dogs in Space
SBS On Demand
We’ve had a couple of Churchill movies in recent times, retelling some of the dramatic events of the Second World War and Britain’s iconic PM. Darkest Hour with Gary Oldman playing Churchill takes places over several weeks in 1940 as the British war-time leader must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler or go into battle and save the country. Riveting.
Netflix, YouTube, Google Play
From the interwebs
Love Amazon for its speedy delivery and abundance of products, but uneasy about the stories of long hours and poor wages for its factory staff and delivery drivers? The New Yorker delves into the culture of the retail giant to ask, Is Amazon Unstoppable?
Have a passion project you wish you could turn into an occupation? You’re not alone. Here’s an interesting article on people taking their passions and interests, everything from graphic design and social media marketing to teaching and yoga and attempting to make a livelihood out of it.
You probably don’t wake up every morning wondering what really went on during the Cold War, but you might be surprise to know just how close the world came to a nuclear event and I’m not talking about the Cuban Missile Crisis. There was another occasion that if it wasn’t for a Russian double-agent also working for MI6 who shared the necessary intelligence, things might have been very different. ABC Radio National has an excellent four-part series Why The Cold War Still Matters that takes a look at the lessons we can learn today from the Cold War.