In 2016 I was so distracted by the horror of the outside world that I read fewer books and watched fewer movies than I usually do. This was a mistake because I live in my head. I know one must be aware of what’s going on, but it’s not necessary to get the bizarre news as it happens or read vile tweets as they are posted. In my case it only leads to helpless rage, despair and catatonia, and I’m not even on the social media.
It is precisely in times like these that novels and films are essential to survival. To ensure that I do not slacken in my reading and viewing, I’m starting a weekly scorecard. I urge you to do the same. File under sanity maintenance.
Week 1: Bright, Precious Days by Jay McInerney and A Bigger Splash by Luca Guadagnino.
Precious is the word, as in precioussssss. This is a seriously overwritten book about well-to-do people who feel poor among richer people. Oh, the humanity. Typical sentence: “Inside, she’s confronted with a vast creaking stairway composed of ancient oak planks that recedes as it ascends in front of her, each floor taking her farther back into the building, until finally she finds herself on the top floor, where the door stands ajar.” Wow, he just described how stairs work.
(I saw Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back on the plane—every time Princess Leia appeared I felt like bursting into tears.)
Ralph Fiennes is hilarious in A Bigger Splash as a loud, disruptive, middle-aged music industry guy who turns up uninvited at the Italian island retreat of his rock star ex (Tilda Swinton) and his ex-friend (Matthias Schoenaerts), dragging along a young woman (Dakota Johnson) whom no one believes is his daughter. Trouble ensues. Since The Grand Budapest Hotel Fiennes has been in a comic phase (See Hail Caesar) and it’s unleashed something wild and unpredictable in this serious thespian.
Week 2: A Strangeness In My Mind by Orhan Pamuk and La La Land by Damien Chazelle
Reading Pamuk in Istanbul is an incredible experience. Combine with a visit to his Museum of Innocence and you can sit in the van for the rest of the trip (But don’t).
La La Land is beautiful to behold, Emma Stone graduates from her protracted ingenue phase to break your heart in her final audition song, Ryan Gosling’s frustrated jazz musician is so real that you want to kiss him and punch him in the face at the same time, and that Last Temptation of Christ-like montage nearly killed me. I wish the composers had listened to Sebastian’s rants about jazz and used more bebop. But though I am also partial to Bird and Monk, I know that jazz isn’t dying, it’s simply moved on. You got a problem with Miles?