Readin’ and Watchin’ and Drinkin’

It seems like we haven’t had a book post from me in a while, dears. I certainly have a backlog of books to tell you about. First, however, some music to get you in the mood. How about the wonderful Wasting My Young Years, from London Grammar…

or perhaps TR|PW|RE, a lovely swirling, bouncy track by commenter nastybrutishntall.

I’ve just finished The Days of Anna Madrigal, by Armistead Maupin. This is the ninth book in Maupin’s Tales of the City series. If you haven’t had the pleasure of Mr Maupin’s tales, then this isn’t the book for you, and you should immediately hie yourself to a bookstore and begin at the beginning, where all good stories start, back with Mouse and Brian in the popper and dope-smoke fug of the sexy seventies. If you have been following along then, happily, The Days of Anna Madrigal is a triumph. Anna may be 92, but she still likes a toke and a dance (honestly, who thinks of these things?), and her swansong is a gentle, bittersweet trip into the past and present for Maupin’s finest creation.

I’m making my way through Greg Ross’ Futility Closet. Subtitled “An Idler’s Miscellany of Compendious Amusements”, this book is a joy, not least for its … well, compendious (and fully hyperlinked) index, a masterpiece of the form which contains such gems as:

authoring papers, 67
befriending racehorses, 74
besetting airships, 19
denoting verbs, 140
governing Bombay, 187
piloting bowls, 216 …

dusty, 174
faithful, 102
marauding, 145
self-mailing, 42

Also well worth your time are Alastair Reynolds’ Blue Remembered Earth, a sprawling, operatic romp that rockets all over our solar system and beyond, and his Doctor Who novel, Harvest of Time, which brings Roger Delgado’s Master thrillingly back to life while (importantly) making sure the character is still just a tiny little bit crap.

If you like police procedurals and have a taste for ghosts and gods and monsters, then have a look at Ben Aaronovich’s Rivers of London series. Aaronovich’s London is perfectly evoked, and his characters get down and very dirty in the tunnels that lie beneath that stinking shithole of a city. (Thanks Tom!)

If tentacles and forebodings of doom are more your thing, then I heartily recommend Innsmouth Magazine – a thrice yearly collection of Lovecraftian tales.

TV-wise, I confess that I have been making heavy use of my AppleTV to keep myself sane until Game of Thrones and Broadchurch return, mainly because Australian television is far worse than you can imagine – a heady mishmash of bogans cooking, yellow people having their luggage searched, footballers in blackface, and current affairs shows that make Murdering Joe look like Edward R. Murrow.

I particularly enjoyed Utopia. Starring, amongst others, James Fox, Stephen Rea and the luscious Geraldine James, Utopia tells the story of a group of geeks who discover a global conspiracy hidden in the pages of a lost graphic novel. It’s incredibly, graphically violent, and beautifully shot in vibrant reds and greens. Best of all, it pays off every story thread in six taut, tight episodes. See it before some American remakes it and sucks all the pleasure out of it.

I love a bit of murder and a good frocking, and so I have been making my way through both Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and Ripper Street.

The first is an adaptation of Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher mysteries that lovingly recreates Melbourne between the World Wars, with lashings and lashings of blood, handsome policemen, shameless (but tastefully shot) rumpy-pumpy and the most gorgeous costumes you’re likely to see anywhere. It’s the kind of thing for which the term “frippery” might well have been coined – a glittering jewel to behold.


Finally, Ripper Street. Set in Whitechapel in the aftermath of the Ripper murders, this series doesn’t flinch from the muck, poverty and corruption of Victorian London. Matthew Macfadyen is perfectly stoic as the head of a fine cast, but for my money it’s Jerome Flynn’s magnificent turn as the lovelorn bruiser Sergeant Drake that steals the show.

So, what else should we be reading and watching?

28 replies
  1. 1
    Cervantes says:

    So, what else should we be reading and watching?

    Try this:

    September 30, 1919. The United States teetered on the edge of a racial civil war. During the previous three months, racial fighting had erupted in twenty-five cities. And deep in the Arkansas Delta, black sharecroppers were meeting in a humble wooden church, forming a union and making plans to sue their white landowners. A car pulled up outside the church …

    On the Laps of Gods: The Red Summer of 1919 & the Struggle for Justice That Remade a Nation
    Robert Whitaker, Three Rivers Press, 2009

  2. 2
    some guy says:

    FINALLY finished Chris Ware’s Building Stories. amazing, inventive, and tweaks some hoary cliches of the form along the way.

  3. 3
    Suffern ACE says:

    I’m reading a history of punctuation marks, so I’m not much help in the reading department. I’d do better if we were recommending drinks, but you probably have that covered.

  4. 4
    Roxy says:

    Just got through rereading the 3rd volume Return of the King from the Lord of the Rings series.

  5. 5
    some guy says:


    any book where one of the players is named Scipio Africanus is well worth a read.

  6. 6
    Mike in NC says:

    Jerome Flynn is also excellent in “Game of Thrones” as buddy to Peter Dinklage.

  7. 7
    reality-based says:

    The Riddle of the Labyrinth: by Margalit Fox – on the decipherment of Linear B, and how one stubborn Brooklyn woman drove it forward – – Truly great book.

    In honor of the Olympics, The last two Arkady Renko novels, by Martin Cruz Smith – great depictions of today’s Russia

    And just re-read Plainsong, by Kent Haruf. If you have not read this book, drop whatever you are doing and go find it. Like To Kill a Mockingbird, I re-read it every two or three years – it’s that great.

    28 degrees below zero in North Dakota tonight, Downton Abbey is over – going to start reading Ottolenghi (a cookbook) to be transported to sunnier climes, full of olives and dates and za’atar and sunshine.

  8. 8
    Cervantes says:

    @some guy: Yes — a former slave, he became a lawyer and took Moore v. Dempsey all the way to the US Supreme Court — and won:

    But if the case is that the whole proceeding is a mask — that counsel, jury and judge were swept to the fatal end by an irresistible wave of public passion, and that the State Courts failed to correct the wrong — neither perfection in the machinery for correction nor the possibility that the trial court and counsel saw no other way of avoiding an immediate outbreak of the mob can prevent this Court from securing to the petitioners their constitutional rights.

    So the next time anyone starts to feel that all is lost, and that change is impossible or futile, just think a moment on the life and labor of Scipio Africanus Jones.

  9. 9
    BethanyAnne says:

    The best book that I’ve read recently is Charlie Stross’ “Neptune’s Brood”. It was flat out wonderful. I’ve been lucky to be in a run of good reads, but Neptune’s Brood is just awesome.

  10. 10
    brettvk says:

    Oh, I love the Phryne Fisher books for Greenwood’s vivid descriptions of life in 1929 Australia. I’ve seen clips from the adaptations but I’m afraid they pale beside the images I have from the books. Greenwood says the costumes she give Phryne are inspired by Erte’s fantasies; I don’t think you could do them justice in live-action drama, you’d have to use animation.

  11. 11
    cckids says:

    I’m on the third book of Robin Hobb’s Rain Wilds Chronicles, and enjoying it. I like some of her other series better, but this is fun.

  12. 12
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    Reading: I have been succumbing to the lure of the familiar and rereading John Mortimer’s Rumpole books.

    TV: Hey, luge is on right now.

  13. 13
    bago says:

    The hours of Benny Sonnet?

  14. 14
    J.Ty says:

    The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles is excellent, read it last year. This is also a really good (and really long) web serial that ended a couple months ago, it’s in sort of the Hard-Sci-Fi-Meets-Superheroes genre.

  15. 15
    piratedan says:

    Recently finished Lawrence Block’s Hit Me, working my way slowly through book 4 of Donna Leon’s detective stories set in Venice, and that was post the Steig Larsson’s Salander trilogy. Recently ordered some James Burke books that follow along the same path as his noted Connections and When the Universe Changed series. Patiently awaiting delivery of the latest David Weber tome as well…..

  16. 16
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    Laymen interested in jurisprudence might find Kermit Roosevelt III’s The Myth of Judicial Activism worthwhile. Lawyers might find it interesting as well; nothing new, but a nice summation of final appellate court function in the US.

  17. 17
    J.Ty says:

    The Information by James Gleick is a really good whirlwind trip through information theory, if folks are into that and/or in need of a doorstop. Pulling one out of my ass, everybody should watch Cowboy Bebop, too. Not like that’s recent.

    The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone is a wonderful graphic… nonfiction comic book thingie about the history of the American media, nice quick read too.

    Bone by Jeff Smith is one of the best graphic novels of all time. Also highly recommended as a doorstop too.

  18. 18
    Cervantes says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: The Rumpole and Titmuss books are fun; there’s a compilation of interviews he did that I liked; his BBC Radio memoir (“A Voyage Round My Father”) was excellent.

  19. 19
    Omnes Omnibus says:


    there’s a compilation of interviews he did that I liked;

    In Character? A copy is on a shelf not two feet from me. They were brilliantly done. The Roy Jenkins and Denis Healey ones were particularly good.

  20. 20
    Jewish Steel says:

    Why have I avoided Martin Amis’s fiction for all these years? Who knows. I’m enjoying the hell out of London Fields.

  21. 21
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Jewish Steel: My favorite of his is The Rachel Papers. The movie based on it is rather decent as well.

  22. 22
    Jewish Steel says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: His first novel, yeah. I’ll definitely put it in the queue.

  23. 23
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Jewish Steel: The character of Niciola in London Fields bothered me and turned me off to the whole novel. Personal taste matter not an indictment of Amis’s writing.

  24. 24
    JoyfulA says:

    @reality-based: Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko books are great, very atmospheric. I think I have the newest yet to read.

  25. 25
    bob h says:

    I’m returning Robert Gates’ “Duty” to the library, half-read. A turgid account of DC bureaucratic infighting, with a self-infatuated tone and Republican assumptions. You’d have to be pretty far gone to read this stuff.

  26. 26
    Cervantes says:

    @bob h: My sentiments exactly.

  27. 27
    nastybrutishntall says:

    Aww, thanks for the shout-out, SBT! YOUDABES!

  28. 28
    billB says:

    Well for the hopeful liberal sci-fi romantic, there is my [shameless plug]
    book of 2013, Occupy [Life]. It is centered on building a self-sustaining floating city in the Pacific, with new egalitarian community/social values. Oh and at the grand finale, cool things happen, and humankind and the planet are transformed for the good. Book Two is nearly done, so read this one now. [plug over]
    Really fun easy read that I hope pushes the needle to the Left!

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