What's this all about, then?

This is my blog on Livejournal, which I have been running since the spring of 2003. Since late 2003, I've also been using it as a record of (almost) every book that I have read; I read a lot (in non-plague times, I have a long commute) and wanted to keep a good note of what I read. At 200-300 books a year, that's over 4000 books that I have written up here. (These are the most recent.)

As the twentieth anniversary of my bookblogging comes closer, I've also been revisiting each month of reviews every six days or so, so you'll see some less recent reviews mentioned.

As well as books, I have been going through the films that won the Oscar for Best Picture in sequence and the films that won the Hugo or Nebula for Best Dramatic Presentation or equivalent.

And during the COVID-19 pandemic, I've been trying to keep discipline and write something about it every ten days.

Also used for occasional commentary on other stuff, but you'll find my Facebook and Twitter are more live.

I am sticking with Livejournal for now out of inertia. Dreamwidth is similar (and I'm mirroring this there) but it lacks some of the key features I like here (post-dating posts, decent image management). Some day I will bite the bullet and go with Wordpress.

Comments welcome, though sometimes quicker to email me at nicholas dot whyte at gmail dot com.
not happy

COVID, day 10 and 620 days of plague

Not a lot better today in fact, and I’ve been out of bed less than yesterday. I am coughing a bit more but I’ll take that as a good sign as my lungs start to clear themselves. My oxidation level is as good as it’s been, usually around 94%. But I think the story from here is going to be one of dull slow recovery, so I don’t propose to keep up my daily updates after today.

Meanwhile poor B has had a positive diagnosis. It is impressive that her care home has managed to hold the line as long as they did in such a high risk environment. But it cannot be pleasant for her.

As expected, the Belgian infection rates are the worst they have ever been and still climbing, but the other key numbers – deaths, hospitalisations, ICU occupancy – are still some way below previous peaks. I have not really enjoyed becoming part of the statistics.

My kind work colleagues have sent me A Desolation Called Peace to read. I expect I will finish it fairly quickly. Thank you, chaps.

Chicago (2002)

Chicago won the Oscar for Best Picture of 2002, and five others: Best Supporting Actress (Catherine Zeta-Jones, beating fellow cast member Queen Latifah), Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing and Best Sound. It lost in another six categories, two of them to Roman Polanski’s The Pianist. That year’s Hugo and Nebula winner, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, also won two Oscars that year.

The other four Oscar nominees were The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, which I have of course seen, and Gangs of New York, The Hours and The Pianist, which I haven't. This was a year when I was settling into a new job and preparing for our third child’s arrival; the only other 2002 films I have seen are Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Minority Report, Die Another Day, Men in Black II, Austin Powers in Goldmember and Scooby Doo. Naming no names, I know someone who watched Scooby Doo in late pregnancy and laughed so much that she went into labour. I think they are all entertaining enough but none stands out for me. IMDB users rank Chicago 25th on one ranking and 28th on the other, behind most films mentioned above. Here's a trailer.

Slightly surprisingly, none of the cast had been in previous Oscar-winning or Hugo/Nebula-winning films, or (less surprisingly) in Doctor Who.

It is a story about murderesses awaiting trial in 1920s Chicago. In some ways it is a blast from the past. Four of the eight winners from 1961 to 1968 were musicals; this is the first one since then. Seven of the eight from 1967 to 1974 were about crime and law enforcement; the only other one since then was The Silence of the Lambs.

I have a bad case of COVID, so I’m not going to go into my usual depth. I did enjoy Chicago. However the erotic and sexualised dancing was somewhat lost on me last week; I think my libido has not been lower since I hit puberty. I was really struck at how well the old classics All That Jazz and Razzle-Dazzle were integrated into the script, and then discovered that both songs actually originated with the 1975 stage show of Chicago. They must have penetrated popular culture really quickly; I am sure I remember Morecambe and Wise doing a routine to at least one of them, which must have been very soon after. The West End show ran from 1979 to 1980.

The other song that really made me sit up was the Cell Block Tango:

Renee Zellweger as the main character gets only one really good song, with Catherine Zeta-Jones:
Also shoutout to Queen Latifa, Lucy Liu and John C. Reilly for their roles.

Sure, Toronto doesn't look much like Chicago, and one may object that in real life, no woman was executed by the state of Illinois between 1845 and 1962. But that's beside the point. The film is not at all subtle in calling out the celebrification of criminals and the flaws of a justice system driven by showmanship. Watching it in the week of the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict, I felt the point just as relevant today as in 2002, or when the musical came out in 1975, or when the original play was written in 1926.

I'm putting it about a third of the way down my ranking, just below that other Chicago-set film, The Sting, and ahead of The English Patient.

Next up is the only film to win Oscar, Hugo and Nebula. (But first, The Two Towers.)

1920s: Wings (1927-28) | The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
1930s: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30) | Cimarron (1930-31) | Grand Hotel (1931-32) | Cavalcade (1932-33) | It Happened One Night (1934) | Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and books) | The Great Ziegfeld (1936) | The Life of Emile Zola (1937) | You Can't Take It with You (1938) | Gone with the Wind (1939, and book)
1940s: Rebecca (1940) | How Green Was My Valley (1941) | Mrs. Miniver (1942) | Casablanca (1943) | Going My Way (1944) | The Lost Weekend (1945) | The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) | Gentleman's Agreement (1947) | Hamlet (1948) | All the King's Men (1949)
1950s: All About Eve (1950) | An American in Paris (1951) | The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) | From Here to Eternity (1953) | On The Waterfront (1954, and book) | Marty (1955) | Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) | The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) | Gigi (1958) | Ben-Hur (1959)
1960s: The Apartment (1960) | West Side Story (1961) | Lawrence of Arabia (1962) | Tom Jones (1963) | My Fair Lady (1964) | The Sound of Music (1965) | A Man for All Seasons (1966) | In the Heat of the Night (1967) | Oliver! (1968) | Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970s: Patton (1970) | The French Connection (1971) | The Godfather (1972) | The Sting (1973) | The Godfather, Part II (1974) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) | Rocky (1976) | Annie Hall (1977) | The Deer Hunter (1978) | Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
1980s: Ordinary People (1980) | Chariots of Fire (1981) | Gandhi (1982) | Terms of Endearment (1983) | Amadeus (1984) | Out of Africa (1985) | Platoon (1986) | The Last Emperor (1987) | Rain Man (1988) | Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
1990s: Dances With Wolves (1990) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Unforgiven (1992) | Schindler's List (1993) | Forrest Gump (1994) | Braveheart (1995) | The English Patient (1996) | Titanic (1997) | Shakespeare in Love (1998) | American Beauty (1999)
21st century: Gladiator (2000) | A Beautiful Mind (2001) | Chicago (2002)


My tweets


Friday reading

The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Shanghai Sparrow, by Gaie Sebold
Beautiful World, Where Are You, by Sally Rooney
The Last Defender of Camelot, by Roger Zelazny (the 2002 collection, not the 1980s one of the same name)

Last books finished
Exploding School to Pieces: Growing Up With Pop Culture In the 1970s, by Mick Deal - did not finish
Mortal Engines, by Philip Reeve
The Story of Sex: From Apes to Robots, by Philippe Brenot and Laetitia Coryn
River of Gods, by Ian McDonald
The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, by J R R Tolkien, ed. Verlyn Flieger
Waste Tide, by Qiufan Chen
Iron Council, by China Miéville - did not finish
One Bright Star to Guide Them, by John C. Wright
The Last Witness, by K. J. Parker

Next books
Le dernier Atlas, Tome 3, by Fabien Vehlmann
Lying Under the Apple Tree, by Alice Munro

The HAVOC Files 3, ed. Andy Frankham-Allen

(This was the last review I had written before I went down with COVID. if you have been wondering how I kept up my daily book posts for the last week, it's because they had all been written some time before...)

Second paragraph of third story ("Eve of the Fomorians", by Robert Mammone):
All Danny saw was the faintest edge of the moon: pale and ghostly and sickle sharp, sailing dreamily through the gathering clouds. The faint hiss of waves running onto the shingle beach reached him, as did the lonely clanging of the buoy in the harbour, nodding and bowing with the tide.
Another collection of really strong short stories in the Lethbridge-Stewart continuity. I think my pick would be the first, "The Bledoe Cadets and the Bald Man of Pengriffen", by Tim Gambrell, a tale from the Brigadier's childhood with, as it turns out, no sfnal elements, but they are all good, requiring not too much familiarity with the surrounding novels. You can get it here.

COVID, day 9

Well, I am very glad to say that I feel a bit better today, and spent most of the afternoon downstairs. F ventured forth to the supermarket, armed only with a long shopping list, but seems to have survived the experience.

I did some mild blogging and even cleared this morning’s work emails, though that still leaves me more than a week in arrears. I generally write my book posts a couple of weeks in advance; tonight’s is the last that was written before I got the bug. But I expect to be able to do some catching up at the weekend, and the odds are that I will be fit for work on Monday.

My tweets

Collapse )

COVID, day 8

Nothing drastic to report, after yesterday’s exciting adventure. I am 54 years old, and have not had to spend a night in hospital since my parents brought me home from the maternity ward. That record still stands, just.

The good news is that my appetite has returned - I had the same dinner as the rest of the family, for the first time in a week - and without going into detail, my digestive system seems to be back on track as well. These are the first real upticks I have had since I went down with the bug, but I am still very tired and again spent the day in bed.

A couple of people have asked what medication I am taking. Very little, is the answer. Belgian clinical guidance is to take the maximum safe level of paracetamol (four grammes a day), and I have combined that with advice from my old friend Emma in Stroud to take an aspirin daily to deter clotting. (And that may have worked.) Otherwise, a cup of coffee in the morning, herbal tea through the day, and most crucial of all, a hot water bottle to keep me warm in bed. I also have a TENS machine for micro massage. (Thanks to Esther for letting me try hers out when we were in Buxton.)

And I have been lucky, I know. Another old friend in Antwerp, a year and a half younger than me, is in intensive care with COVID. We had a damn good lunch together just six weeks ago. Wishing him well.

Building Healthy Boundaries: An Over-giver’s Guide, by Helen Snape

Full title: Building Healthy Boundaries: An Over-giver’s Guide to Knowing When to Say ‘Yes’ and How to Say ‘No’ in Relationships.

Second paragraph of third chapter:
The one topic that I get asked about time and time again from my clients is how to set boundaries and how to say 'No'. My dearest wish is that you will read this book and it will give you both hope that you too can set healthy boundaries and it will give you practical steps to take to help you achieve that.
A very succinct (28 pages) self-help book for people who have difficulty with boundaries in their relationships, and who as a result become vulnerable to abusive partners. The author (who is known to me personally) endured an abusive marriage for many years, and eventually realised that she had to get out for her own mental survival; and she has converted that awful personal experience into a new career as a coach and counsellor. She particularly concentrates on the problem of asserting yourself and your own interests in the face of a spouse who has no interest in your own welfare. It's not a situation I have directly experienced myself, but this is a useful little text that I might share with people who I suspect might need it. (And do contact me if you think you might know such a person.) You can get it for free here.