26 recommends: May 2024

First, I’ve been enjoying the Instagram feed Five Flights Up. It’s a curatorial project of my friend Colin Huerter, an American expat living in Berlin, and the St. George bookshop. The feed examines where painting and poetry intersect. Colin has run galleries in both the U.S. and Berlin. I’ve been nagging Colin to join 26, as he’s a writer, too. 

– John Jordan

I’m a little late to the party but I recently read Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke, and it deserves all the praise it received when it was released in 2020. If you haven’t had the chance to get lost in a mystical labyrinth, as told from the diary entries of an amnesiac and (certainly not) madman, do treat yourself to a read of it. Mysteries layered on mysteries that I could not leave uncovered.

– Harry Ashton-Key

Our household has been binge-watching two very different streaming TV shows, but both are heartily recommended.

For the fun at the end of the world, Fallout (Amazon Prime) is a fast-paced, funny, dark and incredibly well done dystopian story with a gorgeous aesthetic. It’s based on a game series, but I haven’t played any of them so it’s not a prerequisite to enjoyment. Join “silo-dweller” Lucy as she ventures to the surface a few hundred years after nuclear armageddon, comes face to face with a whole array of dangerous dudes, and generally realises the world is not all peachy keen as she’s been taught. Trailer below.

If harder sci-fi is your thing, For All Mankind (Apple TV) is a fascinating alternative history that imagines what life would’ve been like if Russian got to the moon first. It’s really interesting to see how they’ve just slightly tweaked a few things here and there (John Lennon was never assassinated; there was a female President in the 90s whose husband had a sex scandal) and the ripple effects these have across the world. Incredibly tight writing, great performances, and oh so much dramatic tension. We’ve been running through the (currently) five series at a sprint. Trailer available here.

– Lauren McMenemy

Favourite books of the moment: Lady Tan’s Circle of Women by Lisa See. Also, well-known now, but the audio version of The Covenant of Water read by the author (Abraham Verghese) is a winner.

About to read NZ’s Ockham award winner for fiction for 2024 Lioness by Emily Perkins.

– Sue Heggie

Ralph’s People: The Ingrave Secret by Frank Dineen. The story of the encounters in 1904-5 that brought to life Ralph Vaughan Williams’ interest in folk music. 

I was led to this book while writing an article for East Anglia Bylines on the hymn tune “Herongate.” Dineen’s research and conjecture make his reconstruction of people’s movements and motivations compelling. How he tells the story can be glimpsed in the titles of the book’s three parts:

I. 1829-1872: From the birth of Charles Potiphar to the birth of Ralph Vaughan Williams
II. 1872-1909: From the birth of Ralph Vaughan Williams to the death of Charles Potiphar
III. 1908-1958: From the death of Charles Potiphar to the death of Ralph Vaughan Williams

It reminded me a little of Thomas Hardy’s The Convergence of the Twain

– Aidan Baker

I watched the Apple TV Show “Pachinko” based on the novel by Min Jin Lee (which rapidly made it to my TBR list after watching the show!). It’s an exquisite story of 4 generations of a Korean family enduring: Japanese colonisation; migration to Japan and The U.S.A; racism, ableism, and sexism; and the expectations of their elders. Would highly recommend it as a thoroughly engrossing character study with a spectacular ensemble cast. Episode 7 in particular is a tragic standout illustrating the circumstances that shaped one of the show’s primary antagonists and causing me to empathise with a character that I had previously despised.

I personally strongly related to the stories told as my family’s history in Uganda is very similar, across the four generations. In particular, there is a scene for anybody who has had to translate/manage something for their parents due to a language/technological barrier, that will hit home for the countless adults and children who like me have had to do the same.  

– Mugabi Byenkya

On the first of this month’s few sunny days I found myself sitting on the sofa with 26 Postcodes. It wasn’t a project I knew anything about before but I was completely swept up in it, especially as, mid-preparations for my company’s summer opera tour, I’ve been spending a lot of time staring at the map of venues above my desk.

“LA22 9SQ” in particular stood out – Michelle Nicol’s description of Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage on the edge of Grasmere. (The site is just 20 minutes away from our venue in Keswick.)

Your library, these rising hills
Your reflections, these sun-dappled lakes
Your muse, these dancing golden flowers
Your wistful words, whispers of valley voices
Your fine court coat, the mossy earth
Your eyes and ears, a sister’s diary
Your heart, the swaying sycamore green
Your wanderings stilled by slate paths
Your poetry etched by nature

Hill, lake, earth, stone
Pen, ink, hearth, home

It made my sun-soaked morning seem still brighter.

– Max Parfitt

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