Books I read in March 2021

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Murakami (physical book, new read)

‘His wife is growing more distant every day. Then there are the increasingly explicit telephone calls he has recently been receiving.

As this compelling story unfolds, the tidy suburban realities of Okada’s vague and blameless life, spent cooking, reading, listening to jazz and opera and drinking beer at the kitchen table, are turned inside out, and he embarks on a bizarre journey, guided (however obscurely) by a succession of characters, each with a tale to tell.’
(The Wind-up Bird Chronicle synopsis)

I should start this by saying- this book is incredibly, incredibly weird. I think I got off lightly with Norwegian Wood as my first Murakami, I am now delving into the surreal world of confusion. The writing style is immaculate as usual, detailed, interesting, and unusual, and I loved some of the themes. These themes and style linked this book in a way that makes me feel that all of Murakami’s books and characters are likely set in the same world and could easily interlink with one another (I find this interesting rather than off-putting). However, I didn’t enjoy it as much as Norwegian Wood. Initially, the morality of the narrator struck me. He is an incredibly passive character and therefore very morally grey, overlooking some significantly disturbing stories (again, please search trigger warnings before reading any Murakami books). I think my main personal issue whilst reading this was that I often experience the emotions or themes of a story, and this one really made me feel quite low at times- this is testament to the writing style but not ideal during a lockdown hahaha. This was particularly evident after one chapter where we learn of a soldier’s story- I’m genuinely still scarred, if you’ve read it you know what I mean. I found the themes and the ending interesting, and as always, I enjoyed the mythology parallels to be seen, particularly Orpheus. I was intrigued by this book and very interested, although it was a bit long and spiralled me on a bit of a downer hahaha so I definitely preferred the less surreal roots of Norwegian Wood. I will continue to read his books eventually though (when I’m less scarred).

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan (audiobook, new read)

‘When you leave Ireland aged 22 to spend your parents’ money, it’s called a gap year. When Ava leaves Ireland aged 22 to make her own money, she’s not sure what to call it, but it involves:
a badly-paid job in Hong Kong, teaching English grammar to rich children; Julian, who likes to spend money on Ava and lets her move into his guest room; Edith, who Ava meets while Julian is out of town and actually listens to her when she talks; money, love, cynicism, unspoken feelings and unlikely connections. Exciting times ensue.’
(Exciting times synopsis)

I think this would definitely be classed as ‘millennial fiction’ and I really liked it! I always love listening to audiobooks by Irish authors as it’s honestly my favourite accent haha. The themes are some which have been covered many many times in this genre but I still found them interesting; class, identity and sexuality were the main themes. I’m always looking for more contemporary LGBT/lesbian books so please let me know of any! I enjoyed the exploration of these themes and found the narrator likeable (although she did do things that drove me insane, but these were part of her character so I lived to accept them). If you like these themes/this genre I’d recommend. 😊

A series of Unfortunate Events 10-13 by Lemony Snicket (physical books, rereads)

Once again, I’ve finished my reread of this series haha- this was especially necessary in getting some of the darker elements of the wind-up bird chronicle out of my mind! In these blog posts, I haven’t really mentioned too much about these books, but I would like to mention ‘The End’ in a bit more detail. I love a book series that develops in maturity with the reader, and the themes of morality change from black and white villains, to everyone is grey with a few existential breakdowns as the characters age, which I loved. Morality and family are central themes in these books, with loss of innocence. I love the way that this series explores the sense that being an adult does not mean being ‘good’ or right, and that children are capable and worthy of respect- beings rather than becoming’s. These themes reminded me of Roald Dahls books, he also did this so well. Rereading as an ‘adult’ the later, more detailed books are definitely more interesting, as the elements of mystery and morality come into play. ‘The End’ is a very philosophical book with strong ties to the garden of Eden/Adam Eve and the Snake whilst exploring the concept of innocence (there is a literal tree of knowledge, I honestly love religious parallels). There are also Animal Farm corrupt communism vibes going on, and I feel like Snicket/Handler is also influenced by dystopias like Lord of the Flies, although I haven’t read that and can’t be sure.

These books are flawed and a bit pretentious as I’ve previously mentioned, but I still feel a love for the nostalgia and comfort that they bring me. Ps. I also watched the Netflix series, and I’d recommend, they’ve done it so well! (I’m always pretty late to tv shows hahaha).

Heartburn by Nora Ephron (audiobook, new read)

‘Seven months into her pregnancy, Rachel discovers that her husband is in love with another woman. The fact that this woman has a ‘neck as long as an arm and a nose as long as a thumb’ is no consolation. Food sometimes is, though, since Rachel is a cookery writer, and between trying to win Mark back and wishing him dead, she offers us some of her favourite recipes. HEARTBURN is a roller coaster of love, betrayal, loss and – most satisfyingly – revenge.’ (Heartburn synopsis)

I had to idea what this was about after randomly finding the audiobook- the main factors that drew me in were how short it was (I’ve been trying to motivate myself to go on more walks), and Meryl Streep as narrator. Only after finishing did I realise it’s based on Ephron’s own life, and she was a famous author (oops). This book is based on quite dark humour, with themes of the infidelity and anti-Semitism experienced by the main character. The book kind of read to me like a one-woman comedy show (although all I know about them is Chandler’s experience in friends with ‘why don’t you like me’, chapter one my first period hahaha). Sometimes I felt that the humour was controversial, and although sexuality wasn’t a main theme I noticed that comments on sexuality were borderline homophobic, so for this reason I wouldn’t recommend.

Overall this was a strange strange mix of books haha, I loved rereading a Series of Unfortunate Events and really enjoyed Exciting Times. Happy Easter, I hope you’ve read some good books recently! Please recommend me some books, particularly LGBT 🙂

My favourite tv programmes

Game of thrones

I started watching this programme just before season 3 came out and I just absolutely love it. I was so glad when it became so popular because it was getting hard to convince my friends to watch a programme that features incest and a child being thrown out a window in episode one hahaha. This show is so incredibly well written- it obviously went downhill after the writers ran out of GRRM’s book material, but even so I’ll forgive it it’s many flaws. The characters are so intriguing, well rounded and realistic (most of the time) and the fact that GRRM has no problem killing and torturing makes you root for the characters and watch in fear when your favourites are in danger. With the exceptions of Ramsay and Joffrey, there are no definitively ‘bad’ characters that I hate. The Starks are obviously the ‘good’ family that the audience can grow with and root for, but the Lannister’s are incredibly interesting. I don’t think I can pick favourites; I love them all. I also love the character development throughout the story, characters often lose what is essential to their makeup for example, (SPOILERS!:)

 Cersei’s constant fear of losing her children, Jaime his hand which represents his safety, pride and arrogance, Sansa her idealistic view of the world and so on. Jaime and his redemption arc (kind of ruined at the end by the writers but ah well) is a good representation of the extremely rich, well written arcs in this programme. Even the minor characters who I typically wouldn’t find interesting such as Tywin have depth to their character and an intrigue (made even better by the exceptional acting). The power dynamics and different geographical locations are incredibly interesting, and I love the politics (Littlefinger and Varys are amazing). I also love the fantasy elements and I think they are so well woven into the plot; this is a political, character driven story overall and I think that is so important. I was going to talk about a few of my favourite characters but in trying I’ve realised that I honestly love them all, it’s too hard. Most of my thanks goes to GRRM because his source material definitely makes the programme what it is, but the acting, costume design, special effects and so many things that come together make this an amazing programme. The writers made mistakes and I feel that the show would have benefitted from another season or two, but I’m happy they pitched the idea of a tv programme, or we might never have had the chance to watch this. If you were let down by the last couple of seasons, I’d recommend reading the books, they are absolutely amazing and don’t feature any of the issues within the tv show (such as the unnecessary horrific rape between Daenerys and Khal Drogo and Cersei and Jaime). The books also have time to add depth to the minor plot points and are so so intricate. I’m now going to rewatch Game of Thrones immediately.

Killing eve

This is such an unusual programme and the relationship between Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer really make it. The mystery and music are used so well to create an intense and intoxicating atmosphere that keeps you really intrigued. I think season two has been my favourite so far, but I love the different plot points and elements of focus that each season brings, as well as the ever-changing dynamics between Eve and Villanelle. The characters in this programme are amazing, I love Carolyn and Constantine, and I’m so interested in Villanelle and Constantine’s relationship. I don’t want to say too much about the show, I think it’s better to watch it not knowing too much but it’s so intriguing and very addictive (however, I do think it might be a love it or hate it type of show). This is also one of the rare instances where I’ve liked the programme better than the book it’s based on, the writers have developed the story so well, and the actors are exceptional (Jodie is the queen of accents). The fact that this is a female driven story that steers away from gender stereotypes and positively represents sexualities (this is a hard one to explain because the story is written in a way that promotes good gay and bisexual representation, however, Villanelles relationships or rather fixations are definitely not okay hahaha, I hope you get what I mean).  

Gavin and Stacey

I love programmes that focus on everyday events and ‘normal’ relatable characters that focus on ‘British humour’. The characters in Gavin and Stacey are obviously slightly characterised for humour but I relate to so many aspects of the events and both families are incredibly relatable (I agree with Smithy, food is not for sharing and I will always get my own hahaha). It is the ability to empathise with the characters that make this programme so funny and heart-warming, this is such a good programme to watch if you feel a bit down or in need of comfort. The Christmas special just reaffirmed how well loved this programme is and created a sense of community with everyone else watching. James and Ruth are incredibly good writers and extremely funny actors, what a skill to write a show where the title characters are the least interesting. I would love to hear from anyone outside of the UK who has watched this programme, I’d be really interested in how it comes across. 😊 p.s the catch phrases will stay in your mind forever, I find myself saying ‘Oh my Christ!’ constantly hahaha.

The Inbetweeners

This is another programme with this type of British humour, the caricatured personalities are still incredibly (and depressingly haha) relatable and lots of the joy of this programme is cringing at the misfortunates as you decide what character you are most like. I’ve probably seen each episode 20 times and I still find is so funny, I’ve never really watched anything from the same genre that lives up to it. I think my favourite episodes are maybe Caravan club, and Will’s birthday with the French guy.  I think I might be a mixture of Neil and Simon, but as long as I don’t become Jay I can deal with it.

Friends

This is the type of programme that I will always find funny and comforting, and I probably know 90% of the words to every episode. The characters are incredibly likeable (although I’m still not sure how to feel about being compared to Phoebe more than once hahaha, I think I’m her with a lil bit of Chandlers sarcasm and self-loathing thrown in) and it’s overall just a classic, I’m not even sure what to say about it because everyone has seen it! I think Ross is probably very underrated (although he does have many MANY issues), so many of his moments are the best (holiday armadillo, sandwich, english accent at uni, FRONT AND BACK), but I love every character. I also appreciate the minor characters, Gunther’s hair, Mike’s piano miming and Janice’s laugh will stay with me forever. I just rewatched Friends in order and strangely season one and ten are my least favourites. In saying this, I’ll watch any episode that’s on forever and feel instantly comforted.

Orange is the new black

I haven’t seen this since the final season came out, so my memory has faded a little bit, but this is such an incredible programme. I love the time that has been spent developing each character’s arc and creating everyone’s voice and story, and the way that the writer’s use the plot to highlight social justice issues. I would define this as a drama/dark comedy, and I think there is an incredible balance between each of these elements. This is another example of a tv show that I have enjoyed more than the book it’s based on (although the book is good), and it was such a good decision to move on from Piper’s story to represent the less privileged characters that make up the majority of the prison system. I have so many issues with the prison systems and justice system in general (particularly America’s, the gun crime and corruption between police officers and POC is horrific), and this programme does such a good job of emphasising that woman in prison are people before they are criminals, so many crimes are related to addiction and mental health issues, and the lack of rehabilitation and prison conditions are doing nothing positive to counter the cycle of deprivation and lack of opportunity. I would definitely recommend this programme to all and think it has something to offer everyone, please do be prepared to cry (although you will laugh lots too). 😊

Grey’s anatomy

This is a programme that I watched around two years ago and haven’t seen since, I’ve still to watch the last season but I’m really not in the place to be crying at 3am just now haha. This programme is not realistic, both in terms of the number of main characters to die horrific deaths and- as my nurse friend has informed me- examples of the medical treatments administered. My memory is a little bit fuzzy as to what exactly makes this so addictive (and has made me stay up until 5am on many a night), but I think it’s the interesting characters and melodramatic yet easy to watch plots that create an addictive combination (interestingly, I find Meredith incredibly annoying and yet that doesn’t put me off the programme). I think the earlier seasons are slightly more enjoyable as everything felt new and the many MANY character deaths felt slightly more realistic, and I preferred the programme before (SPOILERS!):

Sandra Oh left (I love her), and most of the main characters died or left the show. Lexie’s death got me most of all, that was one of the few that wasn’t spoiled for me and I SOBBED at 3am, that whole episode was so intense and haunting. I may eventually re-watch Grey’s (when I want to torture myself haha) and return to the crazy world. 😊

Honourable mentions:

Misfits– this programme is incredibly unique and funny, I love the black humour, characters, and crazy plotlines. The music in this show is also amazing, I created many an angsty playlist based on this show in my teenage years. I preferred Misfits before Nathan left (he was an incredible character), but it stayed original throughout.

Peaky blinders– this would probably be in my favourites, but it’s another show I haven’t seen for ages so I can’t remember much about it (and I haven’t seen the last season, please no spoilers). I really enjoy the suspense and atmosphere, I love a programme that can feel relatively slowly paced but keep me intrigued, and I of course love Tommy Shelby and the outfits. I will also always be thankful to Peaky Blinders for sparking my love of Arctic Monkeys (I’m starting to realise that music has a large part to play in my enjoyment of a tv show or film).

You– a good example of black humour, my old favourite. This is such an interesting concept for a show and every time I watch it, I binge it within a day. Somehow despite the incredibly annoying characters (Joe’s a psychopath, Beck is so irritating, and I despise Love), this is amazing. I think the characters are actually meant to be annoying to parallel society and reflect Joe’s perception (I hope so anyway because it’s quite a talent to write such intensely irritating characters). Based on this list I think I’m drawn to a good psychopath now and again.

Black mirror– another incredibly interesting concept, I love this programme. If you haven’t seen it, I will advise that it’s very dark and maybe not ideal for these crazy pandemic times haha, but it’s so so interesting. I also love that each episode is standalone (although that didn’t stop me from binging it), though there are little linking features throughout, such as that one song that comes up in most episodes. This was another show that made me look a bit like a psychopath when I recommended it to family and friends, given that the first episode really sets the tone with the prime minister/pig scenario (I actually think they’ve swapped the Netflix order so that that episode doesn’t put people off haha).

Girls/broad city– every so often I like a self-involved parody of twenty something year olds in New York. I really enjoyed watching Girls, however, I’m vaguely aware that there is controversy surrounding Lena Dunham and Girls has a number of issues, such as the lack of representation of POC in the early seasons. These characters are incredibly selfish and very unlikable towards the end haha, but this is almost the point of the programme and it’s well written. Broad City has the same humour and satirical vibe (sorry for saying vibe hahaha I can’t think of another word), but a far better representation of issues of feminism, racism and discrimination throughout- although it is predominantly a satirical comedy.

Vampire diaries– this is such a guilty pleasure; I haven’t watched this in a couple of years and I’m so tempted to rewatch it during lockdown. Elena is incredibly whiney, and Stefan irritates me (as do many of the characters) but there are surprisingly touching elements and I love the melodrama (I love Damon hahaha). I did stop watching when Nina left, I don’t think it was the same after this point. The programme has many problems but for its teen angsty vampire genre, it is not the worst I’ve seen.

Overall, I think my favourites are character driven, heart-warming addictive tv shows, with a few psychopaths and eccentric characters thrown in. I also like to torture myself with programmes that will make me cry at 3am. Please let me know some of your favourite programmes and feel free to recommend! Thank you for reading, I hope you’re well! 😊