I shouldn’t really be doing this (well, by definition), but reviewing instead the two best novels of 2008 so far which I just happen to have read back to back. Just to warm you up, they were Nell Freudenberger’s The Dissident, and Kathryn Heyman’s Captain Starlight’s Apprentice. I’m giving nothing away as I want to do justice to both of them in proper posts. And I’ve also nearly finished two excellent non-fiction books as well, Alexandra Soiseth’s Choosing You (about having a baby using a sperm donor) and Julian Baggini’s Complaint. They’ve both been fascinating in radically different ways. So much good stuff to talk about! But I’ve been busy writing the academic chapter on dreams and by the end of the day lately I’ve been all written out and not up to doing justice to beautiful, complex, clever narratives. Today, having been working on a bit of Lacan (that was very good, I hasten to add), I am in dire need of something completely frivolous. And thankfully Emily (Telecommuter Talk) was there to provide it.
1. Name the singer/band/performer you are most embarrassed to admit you actually paid good money to see in concert.
Have I already told this story? Surely I have – well, stop me if you’ve heard it. I’ve pretty much only ever seen one band in concert, when I went with a group of school friends to Hammersmith Odeon to see Bon Jovi live. They were pretty good. But we’d spent the day in London beforehand and so I was dressed like any good sixth-former on a shopping trip – black trousers, white shirt, black v-necked jumper. The first person to catch my eye on entering the stadium was a woman dressed in leopard print skin-tight leggings and a ripped lace blouse, and she was par for the course, audience-wise. I have never, ever felt so inappropriately dressed for an occasion.
2. Which reality TV show have you watched more than once (come on. I don’t believe you if you say “none,” unless you don’t own a TV)?
I can’t stand Big Brother, or anything that removes people’s dignity, but I did use to watch a lot of a parenting program called ‘The House of Tiny Tearaways’ in which three families with troublesome offspring all stayed together for a week being given a variety of expert parenting help – counselling and hands-on practical advice. It was fascinating and the High Priestess of Parenting, Tania Byron, was extraordinarily good at turning the parents around. We watched it primarily because my son adored it, but he loved the first part of the show the most, when we saw the families in meltdown. Once things began to improve he’d lose interest, which made me kind of curious as to what experience he wasn’t getting at home. I watched it wishing it had been on television when he was younger.
3. Which complete trash novelist have you not only read but enjoyed enough to read more than one book of his/hers?
Jilly Cooper. I read Riders when I was fifteen and it made a lasting impression; I went on to read her regularly over the next decade. She was always so brilliant at representing people with flaws, mistakes and weaknesses who were still very lovable. And she has this sense of fun and adventure and passion that really invigorates her novels. She’s class, as well as trash. I remember going to a very high-powered reading group in Cambridge once when everyone sat around discussing the merits of Homer’s Odyssey and The Iliad and exclaiming at how they’d read it over and over from age eight onwards (this was probably true) and I came home feeling decidedly unworthy. ‘Never mind,’ said my husband. ‘Not one person in that room had the expertise you do with Jilly Cooper novels’ and I felt this was undeniably true. Breadth of reading is a fine thing.
4. What sappy musical could you watch over and over and over again?
It might be easier to ask which one I couldn’t. Ummmm, Calamity Jane is probably up there, for the pleasure of hearing Doris Day sing ‘Whip-crackaway!’ And I love the recent film version of Chicago and will happily stick it in the DVD player if I am feeling under the weather.
5. Who was your first celebrity crush?
Oh dear. Well, please don’t think any the worse of me (this is futile pleading), but I think it must have been Cliff Richard. I can remember sitting on my mother’s lap watching him sing Miss You Nights on Top of the Pops. Be gentle on me – I was five and knew no better. My longest standing crush is Anthony Hopkins – what a voice! What a talent! That little bit of masterful brilliance does it for me every time. So yes, however much of a bad idea it might seem, I would date Hannibal Lector.
6. Who is the most embarrassing celebrity on whom you have a slight crush today?
I don’t think you’re really going to want to know this either. I’m a big fan of American Idol and I have to say that I do have a tiny thing for David Cook. Me and approximately sixty-two million screaming American teenage girls, that is. I have this theory that when people are doing something they excel at, when they are flying, become very, very attractive, or at least that’s my excuse. I haven’t dared calculate whether I am actually old enough to be his mother.
7. What movie that everyone else and his cousin and even his dog has seen have you never seen?
Again, it would be quicker here to ask what I have seen. I so rarely watch movies, and so rarely are the movies I watch the ones that people rave about. Let’s see, I haven’t watch Blade Runner, or The Godfather, or Reservoir Dogs, or 2001 A Space Odyssey (I wrote ‘oddity’ there the first time – oops!), I haven’t seen Sleepless in Seattle, or Kramer vs. Kramer, or Schindler’s List or The Matrix. I haven’t seen Psycho, or La Dolce Vita or Jules et Jim, or Alien, or even It’s A Wonderful Life. I think I’d better stop now, though the list is endless.
8. What were you drinking the first time you ever got drunk?
Pimms. I was at a garden party in Cambridge, drinking it for the first time and I thought, yum yum, what delicious fruity lemonade, unaware that it was lethal. Our old friend, M., led me home through the town center. I remember we had to stop at Gonville and Caius College for him to drop off a letter and there was a hard wooden bench outside the mail room. Mmmm-hmmm, cosy! I thought, and was nearly asleep by the time he returned. With the recuperative powers of youth I had a nice little nap when I reached my room and then went on to party for the rest of the evening and half the night. I hardly ever even got tipsy because I couldn’t bear to inflict a hangover on myself, and in any case I was a very dull drunk, usually asleep after a glass or two of wine. Then I got chronic fatigue and even the least drop of alcohol would make me feel absolutely terrible. Sometimes life works in mysterious ways, but I suppose at least I didn’t miss it.
9. Which old re-run will you still pause to watch if you’re flicking through the channels and see that it’s on?
Probably this will mean nothing to half of you, but I love an old comedy show called Yes, Prime Minister. It is the wittiest, cleverest, funniest satirical program I have ever seen with three outstanding actors in the lead roles. I could watch it all day and not tire of it. Here’s the part where I sound like a granny and say: why don’t people make intelligent comedy any more?
10. What book/movie/t.v. show that only a fifteen-year-old would think is funny makes you laugh?
We’ll have to drop that age range here. I still love Peanuts cartoons. Just the thought of Snoopy sitting on top of his kennel typing the words ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ makes me start to smile. Or the way Linus’s hair stood up on end every time his blanket got whipped away. One of my favourite cartoons features Snoopy pondering what to have for his lunch when Lucy walks by, grousing and grumbling and moaning in her usual fashion. Once she’s gone Snoopy sits up and says ‘That’s it! I’ll have an open-faced crab sandwich.’ Ah, pure joy.
Tagged: anyone in a shameless mood.
ps Still no wordpress joy with the italics – sorry, folks.