Every Monday I recommend a book, an album, a film, a television programme, a short story, and a bonus miscellaneous thing that I think you might like, tell you about a bird you could go and have a search for (UK and European readers may have more luck with this) and then give you a writing prompt or a tip or something to spark your literary imagination for the week ahead.
This week, it’s 60s week!
Don’t expect clever themes every week (or today, really) but things just sort of fell together as I was compiling this and I ran with it.
Last week, I read The Pine Barrens by John McPhee. First published in 1968 – hence the whole ‘sixties week’ thing – it was republished in a very nice edition by Daunt Books in 2018.
I have read three McPhee books now and he is quickly becoming one of my favourite writers. If I had to sum up his style (and I don’t, but I’m going to anyway) I would describe it as, ‘Books about things you didn’t know would be interesting but that turn out to be very interesting indeed. Oh, and the sentences are [insert Carl from The Simpsons doing a chef’s kiss gif here].’
The Pine Barrens is a description of an area of New Jersey forest but it is also a description of the descriptions of the area. It investigates how the place and the people who live there are (and were) thought about as well as what and who they really are. It is non-fiction that recognises that the fiction in non-fiction cannot be scrubbed away. It tests myths against reality and, pleasingly, often finds a happy medium between the two. It is a door into another world, separated from ours by geography (and time now too, of course). It’s a blooming classic.
Obviously, it’s a ridiculously pointless endeavour to recommend an album from the 1960s. No era of pop music has been more thoroughly written about. You don’t, for example, need me to tell you that Revolver has some pretty decent tracks on it.
I’m here now though, so… if you haven’t heard At Newport 1960 by Muddy Waters, may I recommend giving it a stream at some point this week? It’s an absolute corker of an album.
I’m not sure if The Beatles: Get Back is a film or a tv series (or if it matters, really) but I am sure you know about it already, so I’m not recommending that. (It is great though, obvs). You probably already know about Summer of Soul (…or, when the revolution could not be televised) too, but on the off chance you don’t, it’s also on Disney+ and is superb, a mixture of archive footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival (Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone, The Staple Singers, Sly and the Family Stone etc) and interviews with people who were there.
A television programme
The only thing I watched last week was both seasons of The Witcher on Netflix. I watched the first season when it came out, and thought I remembered most of what I had watched, but the ‘previously on…’ bit at the start of the second season was a stark reminder of the frailties of human memory. I had remembered nothing. I’m getting old, I guess.
[In fairness to me, the first season did come out in December 2019, which was seven thousand years ago.]
Anyway, starting again from the start was no hardship. I really enjoyed it. The Witcher balances the serious and the silly expertly, drawing you into the hopes and dreams of its characters without ever losing sight of the fact that it is, before every thing else, a programme about a man who beats up monsters. As a bonus, it turns out that Henry Cavill is capable of delivering the line, “Fuck”, better than any other actor who has ever lived. [Please don’t @ me your arguments about that. I am right.]
Oh, btw, Nilfgaard conquered Cintra in 1263, so this still counts as a 60s choice.
A short story
This one doesn’t count as a sixties choice but we’ve strayed far enough from the original pitch now that I don’t really care. It’s not even a short story, it’s a radio play adapted from a short story, but I found it on YouTube this week and I wanted to share it with you.
Survival, based on the story of the same name by John Wyndham, was produced by BBC Radio 4 as part of their Fear on Four series. It was originally broadcast in 1989, which means I was thirteen when it disturbed the shit out of me as I sat alone in the passenger seat of my dad’s car. (Don’t ask me where my dad had gone. I only remember the story. He wouldn’t have gone very far.)
Yesterday afternoon, inspired by the 1960s vibes of at least half of this list, I made a pineapple upside down cake. I used this recipe on the Nigella.com website, but I left the glacé cherries out because glacé cherries are concentrated evil.
My advice, if you choose to make the same cake, is to read the instructions carefully. I noticed far too late that it said, “use a 23cm / 8-9 inch cake tin (neither loose-bottomed nor springform)” and not, use a 23cm / 8-9 inch cake tin (either loose-bottomed nor springform)” so I had to improvise and use a massive rectangular tin and the resulting cake was a huge thin disaster. It was like eating a slightly spongey, slightly delicious, placemat.
The closest I could get to a 1960s bird is the collared dove. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the animals in a place have always been in that place but there are loads of creatures that just enjoy checking out new places to live. There are about a million pairs of collared doves in the UK today but the first pair to breed in the country did so in 1956.
Finding one shouldn’t be too difficult. There are loads of them and they are everywhere. Which will give you more time to find that woodpecker I mentioned last week. Did you find one? I did. Quite close to my house. Flying from one tree to another. And very nice it was too.
I thought I would give you a writing tip this week instead of a prompt. Keep you on your toes and that. I have been told by famous published writers that my writing tips are useful and helpful and not in any way at all really really stupid.