Articles, Comment, Non-Fiction

Things I’m reading that aren’t books

I read a lot of books, but I also read a lot of other stuff that doesn’t require quite so much concentration and/or time. A lot of this is book reviews and blog posts, but it varies. Here is what I have been reading recently:

Fern Riddell’s article on History Today – Sanitising the Suffragettes: Why is it so easy to forget an unsavoury aspect of Britain’s recent past? You can find Fern on Twitter here.

Speaking of suffragettes, I also liked Mary McGill’s article on Constance Markievicz over on The Pool.

I’m also enjoying the LARB’s review of 2017 in horror. My husband is really into horror and I’ve worked out what I do and do not like about the genre, and there is plenty that I love. Get Out was one such film, of course.

I’m keen to see The Alienist, whenever it is available in the UK, and will definitely be reading the book at some point. This article is pretty good.

Another big thing for me recently has been the new episodes of Star Trek: Discovery (so good!!). I’ve been reading a few things about the new developments, including these on io9 and Vulture (spoiler warning). Personally I still think it’s awesome, and still love Tilly and Stamets. And I still find it hilarious that Shazad Latif, who plays Ash Tyler, also played Clem Fandango in Toast. Reading-wise, it’s been the Wikipedia page for the series, as well as the Memory Alpha page.

I recently went to see Möngöl Hörde live for the first time (drove to Birmingham and back in one night), and it was awesome. It has got me back into their album, as well as Frank Turner’s back catalogue (he’s the singer!). I’m also refreshing Ticketmaster to try and get tickets to his upcoming tour… not a reading thing, but just a thing for me at the moment.

I am of course also reading a book at the moment, which is The Amazons: Live and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World by Adrienne Mayor – and I am loving it. I adored Classics at school and currently work on the Classics list at Routledge, so it’s a big thing for me. This is the first time in while that I have read a Classics book outside of work, and I love it. It’s technically an academic book given that Mayor is a Professor at Stanford, and it’s published by Princeton, but it’s still accessible and not presented as a textbook. Very pleased with myself for choosing it.

That’s me for now.

What are you reading, that may or may not be book?

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Non-Fiction, Reviews

Gone: A Girl, A Violin, A Life Unstrung by Min Kym

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Penguin UK cover (image: goodreads.com)

This book was one of the few review copies I have been accepting recently, and I’m glad I decided to read and review it, because it’s something a little different – but once I got into it I realised it actually is the sort of thing I like. Gone: A Girl, A Violin, A Life Unstrung is what I would call an unconventional memoir – it is not a straight chronicle of someone’s life, but rather a story from that life that has significance, that means something to the author. It is an unusual story and a special one that deserves to be told.

Min Kym is a concert violinist, and as a child she was classed as a prodigy. Her list of achievements is certainly impressive, with awards and scholarships, huge concerts, and acceptance into the Purcell School of Music as well as the Royal Academy of Music. She has made a few recordings and these are available on iTunes and Spotify. I would recommend listening to the little album she released of songs that feature in this book – it is simply beautiful. One piece on it is very special to me as it will be played at my wedding in a couple of weeks! I’ve decided to use Min Kym’s recording as I walk down the aisle.

I am no expert in classical music, but I feel I learned a lot about it from this slim book. Kym speaks passionately about her love of music and how it feels to play. Her writing isn’t perfect but it doesn’t matter because she conveys a strong sense of her personality and personal experience, with the music but also with the people in her life, and most importantly with her violin. She repeatedly reminds the reader that it feels like part of her, that she does not feel whole without it, does not feel like herself. She states that she is two people – Min, and Min with a violin.

Gone is quite an emotional book, and you go on the ups and downs with Kym as she experiences huge career success, and intense love for her violin and the music she plays; but she also experiences difficult relationships and setbacks – and of course the biggest setback of all, the theft of her Stradivarius violin. This is the crux of the book, the tipping point in her life. There is the time before, when she had the violin; and the time after, when she is mourning for it, and suffering from its absence. Kym goes through a period of depression, and it takes her a long time to get back to her old life – but while the writing is emotional and personal, it never becomes sensational or melodramatic. Kym is in control of her story.

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Min Kym (image: deda.uk.com)

The writing is at its best when Min Kym is writing about music. Her language flows beautifully as she describes the sounds, the feelings, the images that music brings to mind; the way the violin feels in her hands and when she nestles it into her neck. It is like a child, a sacred object, a beautiful thing. She also talks eloquently about the violins she plays, how they were made and where they came from, and how these things affect the experience of the player as well as the sound that the violin makes. It is utterly fascinating.

I was also fascinated by Kym’s discussions and mentions of her sense of self in relation to the violin, and how this develops as she gets older. She started playing at such a young age that she always sees herself with a violin – it is an integral part of who she is. Her family moved from South Korea to the UK for her musical career, and this relationship between familial and national belonging and the violin and its music is wonderfully explored, from a practical as well as personal point of view.

Though only slim this is a rich volume filled with life and passion, joy and sorrow, silence and beautiful music. I would highly recommend Gone to anyone who loves unconventional memoirs, especially those with a love of or an interest in classical music, and the ways in which our passions shape our lives.

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Published in 2017 by Viking, and imprint of Penguin, in the UK and Crown Publishing, part of PRH, in the US. My thanks to Viking for the review copy.

Purchase from Wordery, Foyles, and Blackwell’s.

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