Sunday, 30 December 2018

10 Reads in 10 Minutes

As we approach the end of 2018, I wanted to look back on another selection of 10 books I've read this year. Including biographies, cult classics and contemporary fiction, this varied selection reflects myriad experiences of the 20th and 21st centuries.

1. Lolita,Vladimir Nabokov

Lyrically wrought, this classic tale of obsession, love and lust between professor Humbert Humbert and 12-year-old Lolita is as controversial as it is compelling. Continually questioning the reader's morality, it leaves them implicit in its narrative – following a road-trip governed by an unreliable yet enchanting narrator.

2. Coming Up For Air, George Orwell

As WWII looms across Britain, insurance salesman George Bowling reflects upon his life with humour and tragedy in equal measure. Tapping into universal ideas of nostalgia, it documents a changing urban landscape whilst looking into the protagonist's experience of an unstimulating middle-class domestic existence.

3. Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann

Exploring ideas of fame, addiction and the female experience within the entertainment industry, this novel is a culturally important text under the guise of a guilty pleasure. Over the course of 20 years (1945-65), it follows Anne, Neely and Jennifer as they are chewed up and spat out by the allure of the American Dream.



4. Elmet, Fiona Mozley
One of the newer novels I've picked up this year, Elmet explores life on the margins of society through atmospheric commentary. Set within the north of England's rural landscape, it is a dark and lyrical book, exploring themes of ritual within an alternative community. Family is at the heart of this tale, as it slips into a narrative of violence and revenge.

5. Generation X: Tales For An Accelerated Culture, Douglas Coupland

Andy, Dag and Clare are members of Generation X, working dead-end "McJobs" and living in the California desert. Comprising stories told by the trio, Coupland's book uses pop culture references and a satirical tone to offer blatant cultural commentary on a world defined by capitalism, technology and mindless entertainment.

6. Andy Warhol: Giant Size, Phaidon Authors

Bringing together artefacts, images and quotations from throughout Warhol's life and career, this visually arresting book is punctuated with informative yet readable essays that chronicle his rise to international stardom. Foregrounding an insatiable work ethic, interdisciplinary ventures and a visionary imagination, it is a must-read for those interested in Pop Art.

7. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Sue Townsend

This cult classic comprises diary entries by Adrian Mole – a 13 3/4 year-old "intellectual" living in 1980s Britain. Presenting easy-to-read, hilarious and very dry social commentary, Townsend uses Mole as a lens through which to view domestic life. This coming-of-age tale is nostalgic and relatable, offering readers a lighthearted escape.



8. The Travelling Cat Chronicles, Hiro Arikawa

Demonstrating the powerful relationship that can exist between humans and animals, this poignant book follows a road-trip taken by Satoru and his cat Nana. Meeting people from Satoru's past along the way, it delves into deeply human narratives whilst offering comedic and touching commentary from a feline perspective.

9. As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, Laurie Lee

This account chronicles Lee's own experiences travelling across England and into Spain. As the impending Civil War grows on the horizon, the author's vivid descriptions bring to life the striking landscapes and diverse inhabitants of a country that begins to take its hold on him irrevocably. Reminiscent of works such as George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris in London.

10. If We Were Villains, M.L. Rio

Utterly compelling, If We Were Villains follows the experience of a group of actors studying Shakespeare at an elite American arts school. The novel follows their descent into violence and tragedy, as life begins to imitate art. A true example of dark academia, it is perfect for those who enjoy narratives such as Donna Tartt's The Secret History.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino: A Review

In an era defined by technology, nostalgia and the end of analogue, it seems only fitting that the Arctic Monkeys - whose earlier music was so deeply rooted in the physical experience - should head off into the virtual world. The new concept album, entitled Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino, revolves around a resort located on the moon, and traverses this environment in a deeply cinematic way. Recalling film theorist Gilles Deleuze’s  theory of the “any-space-whatever” – a jarring, disorientating arena – Alex Turner’s aural journey is reflective of the digital landscape: a media-saturated, disconnected platform that society is struggling to understand, yet alone keep up with.

Social commentary has been at the heart of the Monkeys’ albums since their beginning. From examining youth culture in early 2000s Britain to tapping into the collective consciousness with AM, each record has held up a mirror to society. With the last five years offering so much in the way of technological and cultural change – including VR, drones and endless political upheaval – it seems only natural that this record deals with media overstimulation and new forms of communication. Young people connect differently now – and this album acknowledges that, with a wink to the camera.

In this respect, Turner’s complex, hard-to-decipher and often self-referential lyrics encourage repeated listening, rewarding fans with a deeper understanding of the album’s rich tapestry and the singer’s internal monologue. A surprising yet strikingly timely departure, the collection repeatedly breaks the fourth wall whilst retaining a shrouded essence of the band's earlier work. Punctuated by pop culture references and sounds originating from the 1970s up to the present day, the album is a postmodernist masterpiece – nostalgic, self-aware and strikingly forward thinking. 

What did you think of the album?
Elly xxx







Saturday, 28 April 2018

10 Reads in 10 Minutes


Over the last six months, I've been reading more than ever. From rereading my father's favourites to discovering contemporary classics, I've explored novels which have each engaged with modern life in different ways. Whether political, satirical or social in nature, these stories reveal and question truths about the state of 20th and 21st century. I've compiled a list of my 10 most recent reads, in the order I read them, with a brief synopsis. Enjoy!

1. Brighton Rock, Graham Greene

One of my all time favourites. This novel is intensely gripping, offering a dark story of gang violence set against the backdrop of 1930s Brighton. Following the tormented leader Pinky, the book touches on themes of religion, sexuality and the role of women in early 20th century Britain.

2. American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis

A biting satire on the disconnected nature of contemporary life, Bret Easton’s Ellis’ classic book occupies the border between truth and fiction. Filled with drugs, sex and graphic violence, American Psycho offers a revealing, disturbing and humorous look at material culture.


3. Grief is the Thing With Feathers, Max Porter

Max Porter’s response to Ted Hughes’ Crow blurs the lines between poetry and prose, offering a unique formal style which mirrors the complexity of its content. An investigation into feelings of loss, the book tracks the story of a family who have recently lost their mother. 
4. Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell 

Offering a personal look at a global issue, this novel tracks Orwell’s experiences of living in poverty in Europe’s major cities. The prose is educational, gripping and often very funny, highlighting the unique and strikingly human characteristics of those he meets along the way. 

5. 1984, George Orwell

This novel is uncannily timely. Dealing with issues of government surveillance and control, Orwell’s tour de force rings true over 50 years later. Highly political, the book chronicles the everyday existence - and acts of resistance - of those living under the gaze of the state.

6. The Secret History, Donna Tartt 

Shocking, compelling and deeply cinematic, this book offers an intimate look into the dark underbelly of the American college system. Following a dysfunctional group of Classics students - and a protagonist who falls under their spell - The Secret History is a disturbing mystery. 


7. The Virgin Suicides, Jeffery Eugenides

Investigating life in suburbia, this cult classic follows the story of a doomed family through the mesmerised eyes of young boys. Exploring notions of the male gaze whilst interrogating adolescence, this is a chilling - and at times otherworldly - coming-of-age story.

8. The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell
In true Orwellian style, this book deals with political themes through a personal lens. Chronicling life in 1930s Britain, the first half of The Road to Wigan Pier offers a glimpse into the homes and workplaces of working class citizens, whilst the second is an in-depth study of Socialism.


9. Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

This post-apocalyptic science fiction novel offers an insight into the human psyche, suggesting a vision of society after a major collapse. Seen through the eyes of those who have never experienced 21st century conveniences, the book offers an all-too-plausible vision of the future.


10. The Tobacconist, Robert Seethaler
Robert Seethaler’s nuanced tale tracks the story of a young man growing up in pre-WWII Vienna after leaving his rural home. Observing in microcosm the looming presence of war, the novel follows his experiences working as the apprentice to a local tobacconist. 
Have you read any good books lately? Let me know your favourites.


Elly xxx