I’ve been doing so much more than reading books lately that I thought it would be a good opportunity to recommend some of the fantastic things that have consumed my time.
I run a lot and used to listen to music, but podcasts have taken over as my running soundtrack now. These are the podcasts that I regularly follow:
Serial. Of course. If you haven’t heard about Serial by now, you’ve been in witness protection. The Guardian has had an article about the hugely successful podcast just about every day for three months, and the discussion boards on sites such as reddit have kept suspense and excitement alive for much of the podcast's duration. I tuned in live, on recommendation, at about the third episode mark of the twelve weekly episodes and felt like a drug dealer hooking new people onto it, recommending it casually in conversation to people I knew were armchair detectives. They’d ring me a few days later with their theories, their bewilderment at the lack of conclusive evidence in Adnan Syed’s trial, and their despair that the podcast was only twelve episodes long. For mine, the final episode was much more satisfying than I had expected it to be, and while journalist Sarah Koenig had her detractors, I thought she and her team at This American Life did a magnificent job of story-telling, if not investigative journalism.
Reply All. Another one recommended by friends, this new series has half hour episodes exploring pockets of the internet that are odd, strange, fascinating. The team look at phenomenon such as the Instagram style app where doctors from around the world upload gruesome injury or disease pics and comment with a knowledgeable eye, or more often comically commentary to raise a laugh among their colleagues; investigating life after the Internet for one of the front runners in living life online, Jenny from Jennycam, who now has no social media presence at all; and tracking people’s lives from the financial records they expose when using an app that exchanges small finance between flatmates, friends etc. My favourite so far was episode six where the producers followed the story of a man who was incorrectly identified on Twitter as the brother of a woman allegedly going out with one of the One Direction singers: man, those One Direction fans are committed. A really interesting podcast.
Chat 10 Looks 3. A half hour podcast of ABC journalist and writers, Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales, as they discuss what they are reading, what they are watching and what they are cooking. I find these two presenters so warm, witty and intelligent, and it was a bonus that they discussed many of the books and television that I consumed this year, so it was really entertaining to hear their views. This podcast is a lot of fun in that they go on tangents all the time such is the closeness of their friendship, the breadth of their cultural knowledge, and the looseness of their presenting style. Hope they continue on in 2015.
NPR: Pop Culture Happy Hour. I’ve been listening to this American podcast for ages now so I’ve gained an appreciation for the in jokes from the presenters, all of whom have a great rapport. These three permanent presenters and their fourth rotating guest each week all work for various sectors of NPR and specialise in music, film, television, books, and comics: their collective knowledge of popular culture is amazingly comprehensive, and the presenters are mostly in their 30s and 40s so they reference decades of work, such as they did a few weeks ago by evaluating Denzal Washington’s entire career, or analyzing the development of Disney female characters across the decades. The presenters are also really funny and their enthusiasm for the themed subjects each week is infectious. Once you can get past the Americanisms and accents you’ll be hooked, and then you’ll always know what the next hot tv show from America is so you can wait impatiently for Netflix to arrive…
Kill Your Darlings Podcast. I listen to a few writing podcasts, notably the Australian Writing Centre’s So You Want To Be A Writer, which is fantastic. I enjoy the literary journal Kill Your Darling podcast as well, for its hour long eclectic mix of interviews, readings and reviews. The focus is a mix of local content and international writers; the interviewers have a gentle manner and really zone in on the craft as opposed to analysis of marketing and creating a platform. I recommend this one to writers and readers alike.
I’ve been a bit quiet on the television front lately: I watched True Detective but only patchily, after it lost my attention mid way through. I’ve just finished following a British reality show last month, which was declared by my husband as the most tedious concept for a show ever imagined. On the Lifestyle channel, The Big Allotment Challenge followed eight or so pairs of amateur gardeners as they developed allotments side by side in the grounds of a manor house: they had to compete in weekly tasks of growing, arranging, and making in the form of best in show produce, best floral arrangement and best produce in a chutney, preserve etc. I’m a keen but frustrated gardener, and as someone who can barely get a bean to sprout in the Australian climate, I’m in awe of people who can grow three identical straight string beans in the gloomy English climate. Okay, this is a twee concept and watching ordinary looking people in overalls fret over whether their sunflowers will stand up straight in their topiary display may be like pulling teeth for most people, but I loved it anyway.
Acclaimed Danish political drama Borgen is a whole other ball game, and I’m almost through mainlining Season One. This 2013 show had been on my radar and when I decided at Christmas time to get back into series watching, I thought of this straight away. I loved The West Wing, and while this doesn’t have the five hundred words a minute Sorkin style, it’s still an utterly compelling, intelligent and insightful drama. I would expect nothing but sophistication from the Danes anyway. I think Borgen’s success is its perfect balance of plot, with the right amount of time given to the workplace drama, and the domestic drama of the characters. The lead character of Birgitte Nyborg, the Danish PM, is a dream role for a woman, so nuanced and interesting. I’m completely gripped.
No films lately, I’m honestly the worst with seeing films. I can’t be bothered sitting through the standard three hour film these days: I must have the attention span of a gnat. Either that or the film industry is churning out such rubbish that I never feel compelled to drag myself to a cinema to partake in any of it. I did go see the Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo film Begin Again a few months ago: this romantic drama examines the indie music industry, and was made by Once director Jim Carney. I thought it was a completely charming film, with fantastic music and a realistic romantic plotline. Ruffalo’s performances are all in the facial expressions: he always inhabits a character. And I always enjoy Knightley’s work. I’ve noticed on a few ‘2014 lists’ that this film was mentioned a few times as an underrated piece. I’d agree.
There is something I might feel compelled to shell out popcorn bucks for this month: The Imitation Game. Of course, I adore Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch but more seriously, I think the true story behind this bio pic looks fascinating.
One of my micro-fiction pieces was read in December at a performance night held by Spineless Wonders, publishers of Flashing The Square, in which my piece Addicted was published mid-year. The night is to be a regular gig, called Little Fictions at Knox Street Bar in Chippendale, Sydney. It was a fabulous night - funny, riveting and a convivial atmosphere. The bar is tiny, so dozens of people squeezed into the little antechamber of the converted terrace house, and while patrons drank beer and ate the lovely food from the kitchen, actors and writers read their own work or works of selected writers. Particular stand outs for me were Dael Allison’s poem On The Wrong Side and Jon Steiner’s satiric Poioumenon. And of course it was thrilling to have actress Eleni Schumacher read my piece. For a couple of bucks to enter (with which you receive a ticket for the fabulous wheel of fortune game at interval) you can’t get better cultural value for a Monday night in Sydney.
Next time I’ll look at all the great literary journals I’ve been reading. Until then, back to Borgen…