Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Reading, Listening, Watching: June 1, 2015

I wanted to try something new on this blog, and record a brief weekly update on my current media consumption. So, here is my first experiment in this vein:

Reading: Edward III: The Perfect King

I was able to get a free (to read) copy of Ian Mortimer's "Edward III: The Perfect King," through a gift subscription to Kindle Unlimited. It's a good and very detailed history of the life of England's King Edward III. Edward III came to the throne at a young age, following the deposition of his father, Edward II, and lived to reign for over 50 years. So there's quite a lot for a biography to cover.

I confess to having gotten a little bogged down in my reading -- not because it's boring, but it is long and a lot of detail even for me. Perhaps most eye-catching is the author's theory that Edward II was not murdered in prison soon after his deposition, or interred in his tomb at Gloucester Cathedral, but rather survived quietly incognito for many years into his son's reign.

Tome of Edward II; review of "Edward III" by Ian Mortimer
Detail of Edward II's tomb in Gloucester Cathedral

Edward II's tomb: review of "Edward III"
Edward II's tomb in Gloucester Cathedral. Is he really buried there?
I'm not sure how widely accepted the idea is, but Mortimer does provide some plausible evidence. At worst, it's interesting food for thought and serves to illustrate that the historic record is not the static body of documentation those of us who aren't historians might presume.

Audible Listening: H is for Hawk

I first heard about Helen MacDonald's "H is for Hawk" in connection with the Wainwright Prize for UK nature and travel writing. "H is for Hawk" was shortlisted, but did not win the 2015 prize. It sounded interesting enough that I remembered it, though more in a filed away sense than a "must read now!" sense. Then I heard the author interviewed on KQED (our local public radio station), and knew I had to have it -- and listen to it in her voice. I've linked the interview here:

Neither nature writing nor memoir are generally among my favorite genres. But there is something unforgettable about this story of a woman in terrible grief from the sudden loss of her father who looks for some kind of relief in bonding with an animal. While many of us would probably look to a dog or a horse, MacDonald, an experienced falconer, chooses to train a goshawk.

Bird of Prey, San Francisco Zoo; Review of "H is for Hawk"
Encountered this pair guarding their kill in the road to barn. He stood off my car for several minutes! I think it's a pair of Peregrine falcons, but please comment if you know.

Bird of Prey, San Francisco Zoo; Review of "H is for Hawk"
A display of birds of prey at San Francisco zoo. Possibly a Peregrine?
Along the way she includes a great deal of biographical information about writer T.H. White, of "The Once and Future King" fame. But the real magic of this book is the quality of the writing. MacDonald is a poet, among her other many talents, and it shows. The language is beautiful, and enhanced by being read aloud in the poet's voice. I think "H is for Hawk" may turn out to be my favorite book of 2015.

I'll refrain from more than a passing whine about the latest series of updates to the Audible App for iPhone. Each of which deleted my audiobooks and lost my places -- a pain in any book, but especially one with long chapters. After deleting and reloading the app and the books, it all seems to be working again. Grrr.

Watching: Penny Dreadful

As an unrepentant fan of classic horror, I love Showtime's "Penny Dreadful." The network provides a concise and accurate description so I don't have to:

 Some of literature's most terrifying characters, including Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, Dorian Gray, and iconic figures from the novel Dracula are lurking in the darkest corners of Victorian London. They are joined by a core of original characters in a complex, frightening new narrative. PENNY DREADFUL is a psychological thriller filled with dark mystery and suspense, where personal demons from the past can be stronger than vampires, evil spirits and immortal beasts.

The wonderful cast features Timothy Dalton, Josh Hartnett, Billy Piper, and the luminous Eva Green as Vanessa Ives. Whether attacked by vampires, pursued by witches, or raving (and possibly possessed by demons) in an insane asylum, she unfailingly retains the poise (and corset) of a proper Victorian lady (who isn't actually proper at all). Indeed, all of the "good" guys in Penny Dreadful have dark secrets and troubled pasts, which can never be entirely buried -- in any sense of the word.

If you're not a Showtime subscriber, check the website for other ways to view. If you're already a fan, don't miss out on Tom Blunt's recaps of each episode of Penny Dreadful, found on Word&Film.

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