Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Diana Athill & The Perch

Location: Christ Church, Oxford

Diana Athill's appearance at the Oxford Literary Festival is sold out! I'm really upset because I noted this event down, but didn't get around to buying tickets until it's too late. Her memoir STET is absolutely amazing, a behind-the-scenes look at what being an editor is all about (at least, before the digital age arrived). Not a lot of editors are 'famous' outside of the publishing industry, but if you are at all into literature, you probably would have heard of Athill's name.

It might be one of her last appearances too ... oh well! There are loads going on at the Literary Festival. I believe Philip Pullman and Kevin Crossley-Holland are also doing events (and yes, I do love children's lit!).


Where to drink: The Perch
Location: Binsey Lane, Oxford

And while I'm on an Oxford theme: last weekend we discovered Port Meadows and The Perch, a wonderful countryside pub. Their food is quite pricy as they see themselves as a historic pub and 'French restaurant serving innovative and high quality food'. So instead, we had a small picnic by the meadows before wandering in to the beer garden. 

The pub itself is quaint yet sophisticated. Their beer selection is alright, we weren't in love with what we chose, but the atmosphere in the garden is lovely: the customers are a mixture of mainly young academic families with strollers, students, and then some suited figures. I never knew that Alice in Wonderland has links around this area of Oxford.

Port Meadows itself is worth a visit, especially in spring. Bucolic would be the right word to describe it, though that word always reminds me of cholera (my mind's a funny thing!).

Monday, 19 March 2012

Mad Men (5) and Hunger Games

Coming soon: Mad Men Season 5 and the film Hunger Games
Locations: on TVs and theatres near you

Mad Men and the Hunger Games target totally different demographics and have nothing in common, but they are both coming out near the end of the month. 

While I'm super excited for the new season of Mad Men to start, I am also very intrigued by the Hunger Games phenomenon. I read the first of the trilogy in one sitting, without meaning to. It was very gripping, a total page-turner. The 2nd and 3rd parts started to wear thin though. I'm not going to give any spoilers, but suffice to say, when you have a plot based around a dystopic world with rules and morals of its own, you just cannot go and drop in a deus ex machina over and over again. If a beloved character is about to die under existing 'rules', you should not arbitrarily change the rules so that the character survives! It's called bad plot design, and I really hate that.

The trailer for the first film looks good though, so I might give it a try. If you're crazy enough, you can also try the Hunger Games Workout at your local gym.

Mad Men, on the other hand, has amazing plot lines. Every episode is superbly crafted from first line to last. I love it insanely, including the costumes, the lighting, the moods, the shots. Beautiful. I wonder what will happen now that Don has proposed! And I also wonder if the writers/directors were ever inspired by In the Mood for Love. My favourite film of all time, ITMFL is also set in the 60s, and is a film full of longing silences, looks, and similar camera angles and shots.

There's a countdown on the official Mad Men website, a fashion gallery, and even a 'Mad Men job interview' game, where you can find out if you have what it takes to get hired! How timely, in this economic climate.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Design and Literature

Topics: Graphic Novels, Illustrations, Literature 

It is fascinating to discover how different disciplines intersect, how they can inform each other, and how that can spawn new disciplines. Architecture (where art + function/engineering meet) is a good example; graphic novels (art + literature) is another one.

A picture book by Oliver Jeffers

I loved graphic novels before it became 'cool' - I guess I've always loved picture books. It's beautiful to see how text + illustration can work together to immerse the reader into the story.

You can think of it as a kind of movie, where you can watch the film at your own pace, frame by frame. I once took an undergraduate course on Graphic Novels and got the opportunity to read Spiegelman's Maus, Craig Thompson's Blankets, and many other classics.

Anyway, this very interesting post by brainpickings made me think about design + literature. Lovely illustrations of Joyce's Finnegans Wake, by Stephen Crowe. That novel is notoriously difficult to read, let alone to illustrate! 

 page 75 of Finnegans Wake, designed by Stephen Crowe

When commissioning an illustrator/designer to create something to go along with the text, I think it's preferable when the image doesn't just illustrate the text in a literal manner. It is way better to have a complementary relationship between the words and the images, so that a reader can't understand the whole story by just reading the words, or just flipping through and looking at the pictures. 

If you're interested in hearing a bit more about illustration and storytelling, and whether 'cartoons' can convey the magnitude and seriousness of real tragedies such as Auschwitz, I would recommend listening to this recent BBC radio podcast of Art Spiegelman talking about his Nobel prize-winning graphic novel Maus

Friday, 9 March 2012

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Title: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Author: Douglas Adams 

I finally read Douglas Adams' seminal work, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Not entirely sure why it took me so long to pick up the book (or ebook, as that was how I digested it). Possibly it's because I have always thought it was a cult book for sci-fi lovers, and so I didn't bother to learn anything more about it. 

After much nudging from a friend though, I got the ebook, and boy, was it good! I am sure that everyone has read it before me, but just to reiterate: I dabbled a bit in philosophy studies in schoo, and in the past few months, have been working on the same subject matter, so I can say with authority that the satirical takes on ultimate questions and arguments on the existence of god are absolutely spot on.

Other lovely surprises (with some spoilers):
  • The term Babel Fish originates from this book!
  • I finally have the answer to Life, Universe, and Everything!
  • Douglas Adams totally predicted the advent of ebooks. How beautifully meta was it that I read the ebook version of this novel as it describes the Hitchhiker's Guide written by the character Ford as such:
It's a sort of electronic book...I'll show you how it works ... you press this button here, you see, and the screen lights up giving you the index. A screen, about 3 inches by 4, lit up and characters began to flicker across the surface.
  • Lots of hilarious yet subtle references to all sorts of subject areas, like: mathematical ('The highest prime number coalesced quietly in a corner and hid itself away forever'), biblical (Deep Thought preceding something 'greater' than itself, aka John the Baptist).    
I'm glad I finished just in time to celebrate what would be Douglas Adams' 60th birthday this weekend. There have been lots of publicity on him these days. See here, here, and here

Happy Birthday!

Monday, 5 March 2012

Finsborough Wine Cafe

Where to Drink: Finsborough Wine Cafe
Location: London, SW10 9ED 

This entry was published on 05 Mar 12, but I'm sad to say that since Sep 12, Finsborough Wine Cafe closed down. 
A wine bar can be a classy and elegant way of enjoying an evening, but it can get quite pricey, so we generally go only when there's a big event on, or we're invited to a party. This weekend we were able to attend a 30th birthday do held in the wine cellar at Finsborough Wine Cafe, and I cannot recommend it more highly. 

You can hire the cellar or the whole place out for an evening, and our host did the former. The downstairs area alone is quite a big space with a rustic feel to it: sturdy wooden tables and benches line the cellar along with rows and rows of wine bottles, and the room is softly lit to create a nice ambiance.

We were served lovely canapes of cheese and ham and bread, olives and nuts, accompanied at first by a delicious and sweet sparkling rosé - Ackerman Laurance Sparkling Rosé NV. Normally some of us don't like sparkly/champagne drinks, but this one was perfect and went down well with everyone. There was also just enough food to fill us up so that the liquids could go down easily.

The atmosphere's excellent, but perhaps that's due to the quality of the people attending the party. The music was turned on much later and dancing started quite late. Near the end, we tried a bottle of white - Invivo Pinot Gris 2011 - and it was amazing. I absolutely loved it, and it had a beautiful aftertaste!

For a wine bar, their prices are extremely reasonable. They have a wine tasting event where you can explore 10 wines for just 9 quid. They also have happy hour prices daily until 7pm, and are willing to match prices or go lower than any other London location (supermarkets or otherwise).

I'd definitely return to this place, the only problem is that it's in West Brompton, a bit far from my usual haunts. However, this was well worth a trek!

PS: my favourite wine bar in the UK so far is John Gordons in Cheltenham. Charming atmosphere, with live jazz performances in the open space outside. Prices are a bit steep, but I can't wait for the weather to get better ... I'll write a proper review of this once I go again.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Wildlife Photography of the Year 2011

Event: Wildlife Photography of the Year 2011
Location: Oxford Science (and other locations across the UK)

Every year, we go to the Wildlife Photography of the Year exhibition. I'm not sure how the tradition started. It must have been that we accidentally stumbled upon it once at the Natural History Museum, and then ever since, we would make an effort to catch it annually.

Interestingly, this show goes on tour after a few months, and we caught it in Bristol last year, and Oxford this year.

My friend already gave it a good review, but to add to that, it is absolutely fascinating how good photography can really make people interested in the most common of things.

I love the unique perspectives and close-ups: for example, this beautiful image of a bee and flower is simple yet stunning. This exhibition also makes a point to award y
oung photographers, good story-telling, and those who draw people's attention to endangered species and environmental disasters.

Undoubtedly, we purchase the wildlife postcards every year just because the photos are too beautiful to forget. This time, however, something funny happened - my friend started juggling some random balls in the gift shop, and when we were about to pay for the postcards, the cashier (manager?) gave him some real juggling balls to perform for a bit. Obligingly, my friend did a few tricks, and then the cashier let us have the postcards for free! Haha!

A herd of musk oxen in Victoria Island, Canada. Photograph: Eric Pierre

The tour is still going on now, you can catch it at various locations across the UK, including Yorkshire, Wales and Cumbria.

Bookclub with Alan Hollinghurst

Coming soon: Alan Hollinghurst talks about Line of Beauty
Location: BBC Radio 4

So I generally write here after an event occurs, but this one time, I finally remember to share with you something I'm quite looking forward to: Booker-winning Alan Hollinghurst will talk to readers about his book Line of Beauty this Sunday 4 March, on BBC Radio 4 at 4pm.

You can find a synopsis of the book here:

Although I liked his Swimming-Pool Library and his latest novel Stranger's Child more, Hollinghurst definitely deserved his award for Line of Beauty.

Anyway, if you haven't read it yet, it's time to pick up the book and speed through it in time for the radio show!

PS: if you run out of time, you can download the podcast and enjoy his talk later