Pod Review November 21 – 27

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends! I love this foreign-to-me holiday (which I don’t celebrate as it is a normal working Thursday for people in Europe) and it always makes me think about how lucky I am and how I should probably express my gratitude more often. Among others, I’m so grateful of all the amazing free audio content that I find every week on the internet. The podcast world has expanded exponentially, and I’m always on the lookout for new amazing podcasts.

  • I Hate it but I Love it #96 The Sound of Music – it made me laugh so much! As always never venture into an episode for which you haven’t seen the movie
  • Heavyweight Rachel and Jon; it made me sad how dysfunctional some people are… and sad that it was the last episode of this short season… Very moving and beautiful sibling relationship.
  • Rough Translation: Radical Rudeness; so many things I didn’t know about Uganda politics and culture; an unprecedented activism strategy using vulgar poetry. Not to be listened with kids around!
  • Get Booked #257 Spiritually Hungover and Surprisingly Horticultural; podcast recommended by Laila. The hosts are a bit hurried to get to so many books (I can relate)
  • Reply All #167 America’s Hottest Talkline
  • Beach Too Sandy, Water Too Wet #71 Universities in England: I got this recs on FB, it was half weird, half funny features dramatic readings of one-star reviews
  • 💙 The Scaredy Cats Horror Show #4 Hereditary and Midsomar; contrary to IHIBILI, I didn’t watch the movies before and don’t have any intention to, because I’m a real scaredy cat and second-hand scare is quite enough for me! Surprisingly vulnerable episode, to be honest.
  • Best Friends with Nicole Byer and Sasheer Zamata: Sasheer vacuumed that spider right up; this show made me feel so old! Probably not for me, but it was nice to try this NYT recs.
  • Call Your Girlfriend #276 Indoor activities: after the missed experience of the previous podcast, I turned to a girlfriend podcast I know I would enjoy, and it didn’t disappoint.

My heart is divided between the Heavyweight episode and something lighter, and I finally chose the latter. As you can see I went for laughs and friendships this week, and I found some in the most improbable episode, one about sharing one’s passion for horror movies. I liked how PJ Vogt was surprisingly personal about the reasons why he was so scared and moved by the movies, and it was fun to see that he also slowly found his bearings in a genre he obviously didn’t like before.

Unforgettable and Forgettable Books

Is it a fact that lists of best books of the year come earlier and earlier each year? That’s my feeling at least, we’re not even December and people everywhere seem to have decided that they already know what they preferred for the whole year. Is there a trick, like counting from December to November, or do people really give up on 1/12 of the year and consider that they won’t read much or read anything good on the last month? I always secretly hope to read my best book the next time around, even when I start reading on Dec. 20!

Anyway, this year I tried not to get surprised by the phenomenon and I started to check and compile all the titles I read on 2020… it refreshed my memory and I also made 2 discoveries. First, that my Goodreads count was overestimated by a few because when I switched editions it counted twice the same book. I might be nit-picking, but I was annoyed, to be honest…

Second, back in March (well, a lifetime ago) I finished an audiobook that I never mentioned anywhere: The Purity of Vengeance by Jussi Adler-Olsen (2010). Only my Goodreads list had this title, and this is because I finished the book exactly the day before the start of the first lock-down (remember the panic back then? the rush to the library?). Needless to say that I didn’t find it exactly memorable.

A weird cold case, a complete police team that catches the flu (it’s supposed to have a comedy effect but somehow in 2020 it fell flat), a long series of very gruesome murders… It was the first time that I tried bestselling Danish writer Adler-Jussi but to me it seemed strikingly similar to other Nordic noir writers, Henning Mankell, or even Stieg Larsson, or… here my memory fails me. [Spoiler alert] I do know that there were indeed some extremist radicals in Scandinavian modern history who endorsed Nazi eugenics policies and tried to impose racist and criminal measures unto “socially unacceptable” people. These are facts, certainly not known widely enough, but now it is becoming very much a lazy trope for many Scandi noirs, along with gruesome serial killers. I don’t know who wrote it first, but this book had an air of déjà-vu (or déjà-killed). I had certainly borrowed this book to take my mind off the pandemic but it didn’t do the job, no wonder than I’d almost forgotten it!

Another disappointment was the short mystery collection, Call Mr. Fortune by H.C. Bailey (1920), with a medical practitioner who turns into a clever detective. I had first read Bailey at the beginning of 2020 when one of his stories was featured in the scientific mysteries collection edited by Martin Edwards, and it made me want to try some more.

These stories are the first to introduce Dr. Fortune, and perhaps the later stories were better, but I must say the encounter was not really pleasant. Fortune comes out as a major snob, and Sherlock Holmes, in comparison, would seem a man of simple tastes and the most humble, agreeable character. Just to give you an idea. The stories have aged, and not very well in my opinion. It doesn’t help that he views Jewish and Black people with the prejudices of his times and that he really takes women for dumb creatures, but that would be ok (I guess) if the stories were stunning. I don’t know about his bedside manners, but the way he’s treating victims, or he’s complaining about having to investigate was a turn-off.

Well, not every book needs to be unforgettable. I should probably have stopped reading and turned to something better, but I didn’t. On the other hand, I have just started something that seems really awesome, so I’ll quickly turn the page, and maybe that shiny new book will feature among my favorite bests of the year!

Shiny New Books!

What do you do when you’re stressed out? I’m not a eating-my-way-through-the-ice-cream-tub person, I’m not a sweating-it-out-by-running-a-half-marathon person, I’m inclined to stress-shopping, of the bookish variety. I normally don’t buy so many books for space reasons, but a few weeks ago I splurged and those two shiny new books have arrived yesterday:

When 2020 gives me lemons…

It’s ironic that none of them are fiction and that both of them are linked to blog / podcasts / social media I’m following.

I was also experimenting with online booksellers other than Amazon (sending books overseas without horrible posting fees, that is), and so far I’m really happy with my experience with The Book Depository (for new books in English). I have chosen Momox for second-hand books in English and Gibert for French books, because they have a local branch in my town. The delivery takes some time, but I can’t say that I have nothing to read at home, so I don’t really mind. Have you tried alternatives to Amazon? Have you purchased any new books recently?

Pod Review November 14 – 20

This week went by in a blur. With the lock-down still enforced in France, I didn’t go out much and one day was just like the next. I didn’t have much time for podcasts outside of the weekend, but those I got to were all quite interesting. I have tried to load new podcasts that were recommended to me through newsletters, like for example the Washington Post reports on Affirmative action hires.

  • 10 Things to Tell you by Laura Tremaine: #87 3 Mistakes I’ve Made Recently
  • Heavy Weight: Annie; what a roller-coaster of an intimate family drama!
  • 10 Things to Tell you by Laura Tremaine: #82 Create a family yearbook (10 tips from Miss Freddy); I want to do such a yearbook too!
  • Radiolab: Fungus Amungus
  • Sorta Awesome #268 Self-care vs. self-comfort: everything you need to know
  • Washington Post Reports: “I hired you because you’re Black”
  • Science Vs. by Gimlet: S8E13 Coronavirus: how many silent spreaders are there?; spoiler alert : about 20%, which is less than I feared; most people have some symptoms at some point.
  • 💙 Change ma vie by Clotilde Dussoulier: #167 The double-decker bus

“Fungus Amungus” should come with a big Warning sticker. If you’re prone to anxiety, you should probably delete this episode at once! Kidding aside, this episode about the impact of global warming on the development of new fungal infections in humans is deeply worrying, as if we needed any more reasons to be stressed-out.

After that gloomy bit of science, the best strategy is to switch to the Sorta Awesome episode, that has such good tips about Self-care and self-comfort. Or the episode in French by Clotilde Dusoulier, who explains how we often compound our problems by adding shame, guilt and perfectionist worries, like a second level struggle on top of our initial one.

The One with the Un-Classical Career Switch

Joanne Harris, Holly Fools (2003)

You soon will get tired of me complaining that I don’t remember where I first heard of this book, but Goodreads says that I added it to my TBR list in April 2017. It feels like a lifetime ago! I still remember that I’ve read Joanne Harris’ short stories collections, one in 2016: A Cat, a Hat and a Piece of String, and another in 2018: Jigs and Reels and that I loved them both.

Holly Fools was at my workplace library in French translation, with a nondescript blue cover. So I was rather surprised to see that it was taking place in a religious convent in 1605, off the Brittany coast. I knew that Harris wrote on a wide range of topics but nothing had prepared me for a main character who is a nun, with a young 5yo daughter living with her on the premises, and who used to be a comedian and tightrope dancer. I can’t help but wonder how Harris got that idea, but she sure has much more imagination than I do.

The main character Juliette (or Sister Auguste as she’s known in her present career) is a free-spirit, courageous and determined. She got to the convent and staid there in hiding, but all her secrets are now in danger as a new Abbess is coming from the mainland with a new confessor, a powerful man in a all-female community, and a man who knows Juliette from her past.

To be honest, I had difficulty getting into the story. I don’t know if it was because of a bad timing, or because I didn’t warm up to Juliette. I still didn’t want to leave it midway, but the ending was not convincing either. Still, Harris knows how to spin a tale, and she’s one author I regularly check to see if she has any new story out.

The One with the Surfing Night Cop

Michael Connelly, The Late Show (2017)

I’m a fan of Connelly, so I am biased and I don’t even hide it. But reading this book with a completely new heroine was so invigorating that Bosch paled a little in comparison. You can feel a new energy in Connelly having the freedom to develop a whole new character without being encumbered by the 20+ books that have come before and that he must remain faithful to.

Renée Ballard is quite a fresh and energetic protagonist, and also very different from Bosch. A young female detective on the night shift for the LAPD, she has an interesting backstory. Ambitious and driven, she used to be promised for great things, but a few years’ back she was sexually harassed by her boss and she publicly complained against him. The complaint didn’t go through and he made her pay. She’s supposed to just go from one case to the next and transfer everything to the daytime investigators, but Renée is determined to keep some cases for herself to investigate.

I couldn’t believe how fast I got into this new character, she’s just as good as Bosch in a completely different way. The idea of the night shift provides a lot of very different cases and plot twists to the stories, and Connelly doesn’t shy away from putting his new character in the most dangerous circumstances. The awesome thing about this bad-ass heroine is that she’s inspired by a real-life person, whom Connelly thanks at the end of the novel. More info here for the fans.

It’s the third Connelly I read in 2020, because I have really embraced comfort reads and self-care in book form. But I’m so glad to have several Ballard books ahead of me already!

Pod Review November 7 – 13

It feels weird that last week when I started listening to these podcasts, there was no clear winner for the US Election yet! We had a very stressful week, due to a family crisis, and I resorted to podcasts as a sort of background noise to distract me. But thankfully we’re out of the dumpster-fire mode for now, so I’ve more mental space to get interested in the world again.

  • Sorta Awesome #267 Do this (not that) and you will be prepared
  • 💙 Sinica podcast: Why doesn’t the China bubble pop? with Tom Orlik
  • Radiolab: Kittens Kick the Giggly Blue Robot All Summer, in case you don’t understand what this episode is about, no cute kittens at all, it’s a mnemonic sentence to remember the judges of the Supreme Court
  • Sorta Awesome #266 Goosebumps, daytime chills, creepy stories
  • This American Life #721 The walls close in
  • Heavyweight: Bobby, about the worst McDonald’s song ever
  • The Lazy Genius podcast #177 Plans the day
  • Edit Your Life podcast #215 Why Self- care is hard + make it happen
  • Radiolab: Uncounted
  • Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard: Day 7, as recommended by Laura Tremaine, a moving confession

My favorite of the week is in a niche market, but I learnt a lot while listening to the Sinica podcast episode on the China economic bubble, and why pessimist economists who have predicted many times over that China economic growth was going to go bust, have all been wrong so far.

The One with Jesus in the Black School

Jacqueline Woodson, Feathers (2007)

I borrowed this book (translated into French) because it was one of the two from this author owned by the library system and the only one available. I do believe that I wanted to try Woodson after hearing from her through Laila from A Big Reading Life (it might have been in one of Anne Bogel’s list too, but I’m definitely the worst to remember who recommended what), but I didn’t do my research so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Feathers is a middle-grade novel centered on Franny, in 5th grade in a black school on the wrong side of the highway. She has loving parents, a best friend named Samantha, who is very devout, and a deaf big brother who is very handsome. But Franny worries a lot. Her mother is not in good health and she has suffered several miscarriage, and now she’s pregnant again. When her teacher assigns Emily Dickinson’s poem Feathers to the class, Franny gets to think about hope, all the more as a strange new boy arrives in the class. This boy is not black, and the kids call him “Jesus”. Will his arrival change everything?

It took me by surprise that the book was set in the 1970s, and I didn’t quite understand what age the kids were at first. The tone of the book is gentle and kind, and the theme of hope is rather a rare one (and don’t we need a bit of hope these days?) There’s nothing wrong with the book, but Feathers is quite understated, and it lost a lot by being translated from the English.

First, because nobody in France hardly knows Emily Dickinson, and nobody studies her poems at school, so all the references to the poem were lost (the French title is “The boy who was not black”). All the spiritual and Christian allusions were also alluded, so we don’t really understand what Samantha is going through. The last cause of misunderstandings is that in France, kids aged 11 are not in primary school, they’ve entered middle school, with all the huge changes in their routines and perspectives and often a quick evolution towards teens, and to me Franny felt a little babyish still. But I realize that all this is absolutely not Woodson’s fault, just a case of culture shock.

I’m interested to read more Black female writers, and to read more Woodson in particular, but next time, I’ll get an English original version for sure.

Pod Review Oct. 31 – Nov. 6

I’m sure I’m not the only one to have had a very short attention span over the last week (and to be honest it’s not over yet). This didn’t help with podcasts, even the best ones could not hold my attention for long. I wonder why… (although in my case, the US elections and covid are not enough, you have to add some work situation and a looming family thing to the mix…)

  • This American Life #720 The moment after this moment: except for the poem like list of fears, I’ve not really connected with this episode
  • Sorta Awesome #265 The Eneagrams guide to surviving 2020: I’m still totally unsure what type I am but there was interesting psychological aspects for each type
  • 💙 Heavyweight: Vivian: I hadn’t realized how much I had missed this emotional show
  • Science Vs: Working out from home for 7 minutes? I was curious because I had followed that program for a while but I mostly have succeeded to convert my husband
  • The Lazy Genius #178 How to start a hobby: I do have hobbies but I never really gave a thought about my reasons why I would choose them. It gave me some clarity
  • Radiolab: What if? A pre-election episode that tries to predict what would happen if the results were tight and if Trump didn’t concede defeat… well, wait, what? Not the episode to listen just right now for sure.
  • Change ma vie by Clotilde Dusoulier #165 Helga and Gigi: I couldn’t really relate, sorry.
  • The Splendid Table: Mothers and Daughters: it was nice to see that closeness around food and cooking, especially in this period of social distancing and lockdown

Clearly, a week like that will separate the good from the great shows… and in that category, the new episode of Heavyweight didn’t disappoint. There are already 2 other new episodes waiting in my phone!

The One with the Vietnamese Americans

Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Refugees (2017)

I’d heard a lot about these stories when they first came out, and I’m glad I stumbled upon this French translation at our local library. These eight stories are deep and subtle, dealing with difficult pasts, traumas and family relationships in a beautiful, spare language, and it’s hard for me to tell you which one I loved best.

There’s the first of the collection “Black-Eyed Woman”, whose narrator is a ghost writer for celebs who write memoirs, but she has her own traumatic past she tries hard to forget, until one day the ghost of her dead brother visits her.

I also loved “I’d love you to want me” with an ageing couple. The husband, an old university professor, has Alzheimer’s and starts to call his wife with another woman’s name. She gets to wonder if he had an affair in his past, and if it hurts her so very much to doubt whom he really loved more.

Nguyen captures the culture shock between Vietnamese who have escaped the war and have rebuilt their lives in America. The distance between the two countries illustrate some misunderstandings and illusions / projections that Americans have on Vietnamese immigrants, and vice versa (see the shock of this young refugee arriving in the US at the end of the war to be welcomed by a gay couple, “The other man”), and Vietnamese in Vietnam have on the emigrants who may (or may not) have a grand, easy life in the US (“Fatherland”). I also loved to see Nguyen tackle the divisions amidst the immigrant community, as they are no monolyth. In “War years”, a teenager boy watches how his hard-working parents in their small grocery shop are being harassed by a Vietnamese woman who collects money for the anti-communist fight. Will his mother give her some hard-earned cash? (No spoiler here for you, but the story is a rollercoaster of emotions)

After these stories, I’m now more tempted to try Nguyen’s prise-winning novel, The Sympathizer, although it was not on my radar before. Have you read it?