Sunday Shelf, Vol. 2

Anime, Audiobooks and Alexis Ffrench

I’m not sure how everything that I came to writing about ended up being something beginning with A… But here they are, three things that are certainly keeping me going at the moment while lockdown carries on and distractions are welcome.

Anime is a very new love. Since titles started appearing on my Netflix suggestions, I’ve admired their title artwork and wondered which one to pick. It seemed like an unspoken test, one that I would surely fail, to start in the “right” place with the “right” anime out of the hundreds available, for my first foray into this strange new world. And then appeared a documentary, presumably aimed at people exactly like me who were stumped by the sheer volume of choice.

‘Enter The Anime’ was a great watch: it took such a broad look at anime, which I soon realised was extremely necessary because of the huge, huge number of sub-genres within it. Much like the filmmaker who made the documentary, I had no idea. Something I really appreciated about ‘Enter the Anime’ was the consideration given to how anime emerged from its cultural roots – sometimes it appears to sit beautifully beside that quintessential, peaceful, cherry-blossom view of Japan while at other times it clashes so abruplty that you can’t imagine how it possibly came into being.

Perhaps not surprisingly, my preference so far is for the peaceful kind. Anime can be a gift for the introverted: so often in British or American films and television, “the quiet one” is used as a cookie-cutter character, synonymous with “loner” “weirdo” or “butt of many jokes.” This is something tI’ve always felt strongly about, being highly introverted myself. A quote I love says that the quietest people have the loudest minds [Stephen Hawking] and even the fact that this isn’t true of all quiet people proves that it’s time for the Western media narrative to change. I know quite a few introverts, and no-one could ever line up our personalities and say we were all the same!

A huge difference that I immediately spotted in the anime I chose to consume was that in these shows and films, the introverted character was often the protagonist, and their story was not one centred around transforming like a beautiful extroverted butterfly. It was never even explicitly mentioned that these characters were quiet.

For example, a series I immediately fell in love with features Kaoru, an office worker in her thirties who lives with an almost human-sized, live teddy bear called Rilakkuma (which translates rougly as Relax Bear.) It’s a quirky concept, I know, but stay with me. Kaoru is the quietest in her office and sometimes judges herself harshly for this. She is quiet but she doesn’t solve her problems by becoming less so. Or take Anna in the touching film ‘When Marnie Was There.’ She doesn’t have many friends and prefers drawing over talking. At the end of the film (this isn’t a spoiler) after various developments have taken place, she still doesn’t have many friends and still prefers drawing over talking. And this is the success of the film – she has not changed the core of her personality one bit.

From left to right, Rilakkuma and Kaoru, When Marnie Was There, In This Corner of the World, and My Neighbour Totoro

With my new found love of anime well-established, on to the second ‘A’ of this Sunday Shelf. Audiobooks.

I grew up listening to stories on cassettes long before I could read and carried on absorbing stories by various means, long after the squiggles on pages became words I could understand without effort. Even as an adult I love my virtual library of audiobooks, and they have worked their way into my lockdown working routine. The first hour of my day is usually accompanied by a chunk of whatever book I’m currently ‘reading’. So, my breakfast, my first cup of tea, a check of work emails, a quick browse of #edutwitter and my initial cursory glance over ClassDojo are done to a backdrop of a book. Which is even more in-keeping with my bookishness than my pre-lockdown habit of bringing my book to work every day. Currently I have two audiobooks on the go.

‘Where Am I Now?’ is a collection of personal essays by Mara Wilson, the now thirty-two-year-old who starred as Susan in ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ and as the eponymous ‘Matilda’. My mother will attest to the latter being one of my all-time favourite films, having seen my watch it far too many times on poorly days and bored days and anxious days alike. Wilson’s title is accurate – I cannot be the onoly one who wondered what happened to her after Hollywood. As I carry on with this book I am finding out more and more about the life behind the name – namely, that she always despised being known as ‘cute’.

‘Educated’ by Tara Westover is a book I first heard of thanks to the author/writer/youtuber Carrie Hope Fletcher. It is the memoir of a girl raised in a cut-off survivalist family in Idaho, who didn’t go to school until she was seventeen but went on to study at Harvard and Cambridge. I am completely gripped: having studied religious cults in A2 Sociology it’s fascinating to finally put that to reality and hear the real-life impact of being so isolated from what we would consider “normality.”

I am a person who rarely goes without background music. Part of it stems from avoiding silence so that my brain can’t inadvertently go into panic mode. I have so many playlists on my Spotify account that it’s sometimes hard to keep track. When I drive, there is music. When I write, there is music. When I mark/plan/file, there is music. You get the idea.

I discovered the composer and pianist Alexis Ffrench (yes, with two f’s) on Scala, my favourite classical radio station, some time after the release of his 2018 album ‘Evolution’ which I have linked above. His unique version of The Last Post is breathtaking. I’ll be the first to say that I had thought The Last Post was something to be left well alone, but this version blew me away. The whole album is a lovely listen though, and Ffrench recently released a new album, ‘Dreamland’, that is everything I didn’t know I needed in this lockdown. As contemporary classical goes, it is truly beautiful.

I have definitely geeked out enough for one blog here… If you have thoughts on anything I’ve mentioned or if by some miracle I convince you to try something new, let me know in the comments.

The arts are what we have left to colour the days of lockdown, so sharing them feels kind of nice.

One thought on “Sunday Shelf, Vol. 2

  1. I love audio books, they are there when I drive, sometimes to shut out the world on public transport when even reading isn’t enough. I listen while I walk, cook, do the housework etc. On days when I don’t even feel well enough to read I can still lie back and let my audio book take me to another time and place. My current audio book is the extremely unintellectual but very entertaining M is for Malice by Sue Grafton.

    Liked by 1 person

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