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Matt Haig: Notes on a nervous planet

People have literally everything at their fingertips: news, music, libraries, the internet, family and friends. But never before in human history are so many people stressed by how fast the world around themselves is spinning, afraid of how they can possibly face this stress. They are not only afraid but suffer from serious illnesses, including depression. Matt Haig knows what he is writing about in his latest book “Notes on a nervous planet”, having been through heavy depression himself.

“We need to build a kind of immune system of the mind.”

Without any self-pity Matt Haig offers his thoughts about the world and  what he finds helpful to stay sane on this nervous planet – what he finds helpful for himself; he is far from forcing his readers to follow his thoughts as gospel. But even if you are not stressed from constantly checking your Twitter or Instagram or scrolling through news, you will find that there is more than a little bit of truth in Matt Haig’s writing.  Unless you are the only person alive that has never enjoyed the sounds of a summer’s evening or watching the rain poring down or just sitting there with your own thoughts – or thinking nothing at all.

“Reading is love in action.”

Those moments are precious because we have to step back from all the fuss around us, we have to remind us that although  it is fascinating and a great achievement that we can chat to friends from all over the world any time, constantly. And even if we are so lucky to have met friends from Twitter in real life, we have to remind us that we don’t have to answer immediately, that it is totally okay to finish the chapter of our book or the whole book before picking up our phone again. But it’s not okay to try to be someone else, the model with that shiny hair, the actor with his huge range of knowledge, that colleague who runs a marathon. It’s totally fine to be ourself: “We are humans. Let’s not be ashamed to look like them.”

What makes Matt Haig’s writing and therefore this book – his books –  such a pleasant read is that it offers such a huge amount of knowledge, glimpses into different spaces, different opinions while being funny and relaxing and an eye opener at the same time. Some might say this isn’t what literature should be. Don’t mind them. Just read.

 

Matt Haig: Notes on a nervous planet, Canongate, round £11/ 12 Euro.

Ian Mc Ewan: The Daydreamer

Frequent visitors of my blog (hello again if you are one) or those you follow me on social media especially on Twitter (hiiii, nice to meet you over here) know that I have a soft spot for the British author Ian McEwan ever since I stumbled upon the film “Atonement” and decided to read the German translation of the book (for those of you moaning: I got my hands on the English one later as well). It not only offered the opportunity to dive into the novel the film is based upon (and of course a certain actor named Benedict Cumberbatch) but also introduced me to an author I’ve never heard of before (to my defence I’m not British, although this isn’t a good excuse given the fact that his works are available in wonderful German translations published by Diogenes.) Being late to the party isn’t that bad in this particular case because I don’t have to wait impatiently for the next book to be published (of course I do) but instead in every book shop I’m happily strolling to the shelves where Ian McEwan’s works are sitting and pick up the one that is lacking on my shelf.

“They thought he was difficult because he was so silent. That seemed to bother people. (…) He liked to be alone and think his own thoughts.”

My latest one therefore is “Daydreamer” which followed me from Waterstones Piccadilly (one of my beloved places in London) and which I finished only recently. Although it is a small one, the book is a collection of short stories that are  connected through the main figure Peter Fortune. The ten year old boy is the daydreamer, a silent boy that prefers to be on his own, reading and imagining the stories in the book. But Peter not only is imagining the stories, he always is part of them and tells them from his point of view. So when he dreams himself in being the  old cat William, he literally becomes the furry animal that has lived with Peter, his sister and his parents ever since William has been a young cat.

“It was the oddest thing, to climb out of your body, just to step out of it and leave it lying on the carpet like a shirt you had just taken off.”

Eventually Peter and William the cat will change bodies again in the end which is a sad one. But the story – and the six others – are so well written and intriguing that you sigh with delight and relief because even if there isn’t a happy end, there is too much joy in reading especially this story and the other. And the only sad thing about Ian McEwan’s short stories is – that they are too short.

Ian McEwan: Daydreamer, Vintage, 7,99 £

Celeste Ng: “The world is complicated”

Celeste Ng’s new novel “Little Fires Everywhere” is just out in Germany where the American author has been on a press tour – and she found time to answer my questions.

In “Little Fires Everywhere” (as in “Everything I Never Told You”) your figures are living the American lifestyle, lots of people find attractive. But as the story unfolds, the facade crumbles away. Why?
Celeste Ng: One of my main jobs as a writer is to remind people that the world is complicated, that there are many facets to every situation and every person, and that there are many things we don’t know. So every story, for me, is about showing that there is more going on under the surface than it first appears. The idea of the “American Dream” is so powerful and so pervasive, but no one really lives it. It’s just not that simple, and even the dream itself is a lot more complicated and problematic than it seems. In the novel, I wanted to probe beneath that facade and ask readers to reconsider the whole idea of that “perfect lifestyle.”

Embed from Getty Images

Your figures live a modern life in the late 1990s. Do you think modern technologies should have a place in the life of teenagers?
Teenagers live in the modern world, so it seems foolish to try and keep them in some pristine past where modern technology doesn’t exist. We’re in the era of Spotify and Snapchat, but my generation looks back with nostalgia to the days of mixtapes and email, and our parents look back even further to record players and handwritten letters—so I think every generation idealizes what they had, and sees the new as a corruption.

With that said, though, what everyone—teenagers as well as adults of any generation — needs is human connection. By that, I mean the ability to understand and be understood by someone else, and to feel seen. Our anxieties about new technology is usually rooted in the idea that it’s increasing the space between each other, or between us and the “real” world. And that is something that I worry about. Sometimes modern technologies can isolate us—see: the anonymous and unpoliced boards of 4chan, for instance — but sometimes it allows us to connect with people in new ways, too. For me, the connection, or lack thereof, is more important than the technologies themselves.

What books are you reading and what books would you consider as a must read?
I just finished Pachinko, by Min-Jin Lee (which I think is coming out in Germany soon as “Ein einfaches Leben” [It will be available in September by dtv ). I’m currently re-reading The White Album, by Joan Didion, and reading Anna Karenina for the first time. As for must-reads: there aren’t a lot of books in this category, but books I think everyone would benefit from reading include Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates and the work of James Baldwin.

Meine deutsche Übersetzung des Interviews gibt es hier.

You find my review of the German version of “Little Fires Everywhere” – “Kleine Feuer überall” here.

James Rhodes: Fire On All Sides

Honest and open. That were one of the first thoughts that came to my mind when I read the beginning of James Rhodes’ new book. Next it was astonishment. The astonishment that “Fire On All Sides” offers a much deeper look inside James’ mind than “Instrumental”, his first book, does. There’s no doubt that “Instrumental” is shockingly open when James, raped for years as a boy, describes how this disgusting and horrible abuse destroys the life of a young, sensible child that only seeks for love and support from his teacher who rewards trust with violence. James has no doubt that he is still alive because music saved him.

“Fire On All Sides” could be the evidence that dreams can indeed become reality. The James of today is a professional concert pianist, travelling various countries, playing concerts. He writes articles for newspapers, gives interviews, hosts radio shows. And yet there are those evil voices trying to convince James that he is not that good, that every single concert will be a disaster and that even an ordinary day offers problems and obstacles that are challenges.

The voice is so loud that I convince myself that I am perpetuating a fraud.”

Of course this is a book about music, about love and hatred and imperfection. But James wouldn’t be the author if he wasn’t to add “including the self-indulgent crap because it’s me and I’m a narcissistic asshole”. Even if we are lucky because we have not to fight depression or anxiety or a horrible illness on a daily basis, we all face the challenge to get up in the morning, go to work, get things done. And no one knows how difficult it is to smile and pretend everything is okay when it is not. Imagine you have voices in your head that are your constant companions that have nothing else to do than convince you, you are not enough. In James’s case: he’s not able to play the piano properly, no one will pop up to his concert venue, and the waiter in the café just round the corner always stares at you because you seem to be some sort of freak.

“Words are dangerous, music is salvation – the one thing I don’t need to be afraid of.”

But then there are these moments when James realises he can handle it. “It” meaning walking on stage after make sure for the hundredth time that every single note is saved in the memory (James always plays the piano on stage without scores), that of course there is indeed an audience that isn’t only excited to see what is waiting for them. They enjoy the evening and they want to get their books or CDs signed. And – surprise –  there is even a “bunch of really lovely German fans” waiting for him at the stage door in Munich’s Gasteig back in the autumn of 2016.

So after having survived a horrible childhood that still haunts him, James has finally reached a stage where he can even convince the evil voices in his head that he lives the life he always wanted, “a life surrounded by, engulfed by, music”. A life that is bearable because he is finally ready to see life as it is: Imperfect. And that there is no need to pretend that life and humans and especially James is perfect and furthermore its “fragility can unite us all in the most comforting way”.

Or as Sherlock would say: “We are all humans after all”.

James Rhodes: “Fire On All Sides: Insanity, insomnia and the incredible inconvenience of life”, Quercus, Ebook from 8,49£/9,49€.
The new album “Fire On All Sides” is available at the usual streaming service.

John Green: Turtles all the way down

Some books leave you in wonder, in despair, in tears or in joy. And some books leave you thinking about the story you just finished. John Greens “Turtles all the way down” is one of those. This is not only because of Aza, a teenage girl who struggles with her anxiety, endless thoughts and life itself because she wants to be a good daughter, a good friend and a good student. She and her best friend Daisy decide to investigate the case of billionaire Russell Picket.

“The world is billion of years old, and life is a product of nucleotide mutation and everything. But the world is also the stories we tell about it.”

Aza’s  story is the story of a teenager trying to understand and getting along with life. And even if we are lucky enough living without any panic attacks or are grown ups with a regular life, “Turtles” touches us because it doesn’t matter if you are a teenager like Aza or a famous actor, author or just an ordinary guy, living a decent but ordinary life. All that matters in the end are values like love and friendships that will stay with us – and authors like John Green telling stories that we will remember for a very long time.

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

John Green: Turtles all the way down, Penguin, 7£

Charlie Lovett: The Bookman’s Tale

Little is known about William Shakespeare, the playwright some consider the best ever, some think he has never lived.  What if a bookseller found a book that could prove that Shakespeare not only lived but has really written all the plays? But it’s not the famous writer that attracts Peter Byerly’s attention. When opening an 18th century study about Shakespeare forgeries, the bookman is struck by a painting of a woman who looks like his beloved wife Amanda. But why the resemblance? Peter who has lost every will to live after the sudden death of Amanda, finally discovers his passion for books again.

“Peter was in no hurry to open the door. It had been nine months since he had entered a bookshop; another few minutes wouldn’t make a difference.”

“The Bookman’s Tale” is one of those novels that lure the reader inside its story from the very first sentence and is unwilling to let him live his life until the book is finished. Charlie Lovett has mixed a love story of two people from very different backgrounds sharing the love for one another and the passion for books, literature and history. The story is set in London and the Welsh countryside round Hay-on-Wye and is alternating between the present, Peter’s and Amanda’s past and the 16th and 17th century. What could be confusing, keeps the reader hooked and eager to find out how the story and the fate of the characters unfolds. The novel is a lovely read for booklovers who should not be afraid to learn a little bit of William Shakespeare.

 

Photo: Petra Breunig

Charlie Lovett: The Bookman’s Tale – A Novel of Love and Obsession, Alma Books, £ 7.99

Matt Haig: How to Stop Time

Time travelling isn’t a new topic neither in films nor in literature. It seems that people have always been fascinated by stories about travelling back into history to meet people from the past and forward in time to get a glimpse of a possible future. BBC’s  “Doctor Who” has everything people expect from a telly series covering that topic: an age old time traveller who knows not only how to handle humans but also past, present and the future – not to mention all sorts of aliens.

“My mother died a very long time ago. I, on the other hand, did not.”

Matt Haig’s new book “How to Stop Time” comes without aliens, or strange tech gadgets but with a man who ages in slow motion. Tom Hazard may look like a 40 year old guy. But he has outlived centuries before he hits modern day London – and he hasn’t lost his memory. That’s why he not only remembers ancient times and places like Shakespeare’s London (and the great playwright himself). He also has to cope with serious headaches indicating that his brain, like a hard drive, is about to reach its maximum capacity. Teaching history at a school in London, Tom uses his first-hand-knowledge to bring history to life for his pupils without revealing his true identity. But the past is always with him.

“How to Stop Time” is an intense story that hooks the reader from the very beginning not because it is breathtakingly fast and action packed but because it is calm and lacks all sorts of excitement in a very fascinating way.  Matt Haig’s newest novel is one to loose yourself in  – which is the best you can say of any book.

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

 

Matt Haig: How to Stop Time, Canongate, 15 €/13 £.

The book will be adapted for film by Sunny March with Benedict Cumberbatch taking the lead role.

Die deutsche Ausgabe wird 2018 im dtv erscheinen.

Benedict Cumberbatch: I am a very lucky man

Over the last couple of years Benedict Cumberbatch gained lots of fans, especially women. Whether or not his wife is jealous of them,  the British actor, who in the last two years alone appeared in five films, reveals in this interview.  Additionally he  takes over the role as Sherlock Holmes on telly on a regular basis. The last episode of the fourth series aired on Sunday, 11th June on German broadcaster ARD.

Question: Besides your job you and your wife Sophie have to care for your two year old son Christopher and your new born son Hal. Isn’t this situation a bit too stressful?
Benedict Cumberbatch: It’s not stressful, it’s a blessing. It’s unbelievable that I’m offered roles at all. And that I am able to choose which one I want to take, that they are so different from one another and that people seem to like those films – this is something you simply can’t expect at all.

Have you ever imagined that the series would be such a huge success? What makes your version of Sherlock Holmes so popular?
I had not the faintest idea. Maybe it’s good we don’t do more episodes. Fans are more keen on what will happen and we do always look fresh and relaxed (laughs). Seriously, I do think that all figures in the series have their very special weaknesses or failures. The audience can accept them more easily.

The finale of series four is about to air (in Germany when this interview was first published). What was the best thing that happend on set?
Definitely Toby, the bloodhound of the first (it says “last” in the German version) episode. That damn dog wouldn’t move while filming because it turned out he hates asphalt and humans. He was trained in the countryside. It was a real comedy getting him to move.

As Holmes you almost have a romantic relationship with your coat (it says ‘cloak’ in the German version but you know about cloaks). Is there any private …?
… clothing I have an romantic  relationship? (laughs) Would be cool if I said I have a favourite blanket I’m carrying around since childhood, wouldn’t it? But there is nothing at all. My clothes are very boring, mostly one colour and I prefer silver, grey and blue.

Fans don’t think you are boring. You achieved cult status.
It’s something I never longed for. But it’s part of the job of being an actor.  Biggest problems I have with the pun some of my very intelligent, witty and creative female fans are playing with my name.

You’re hinting at the name “Cumberbitches” they gave themselves?
Yes, it’s a bit of self humiliating. I have made it quite clear that I would be more happy with a slightly different version of that name. But in the end everyone is free to decide which name to choose for oneself.

What about your wife? Isn’t she jealous of all the female fans?
Sophie loves me and is proud of my work. That’s all that matters. We are made for each other and fit together perfectly. That’s why she has no problems with all the stuff that’s going on. She’s a very strong and confident woman. I am a very lucky man.

How are you dealing with all the fame?
I ignore it and am trying to enjoy all the wonderful moments I can live through as an actor. It’s very easy to be dragged away by all the fuzz that’s made up around your person. That’s why it’s so important for me to have family and friends I know for a very long time. They keep me grounded.

You seem to be very self-confident.
Problem is self-confidence often is taken for arrogance. I’m a man with some short-comings.

That is?
Well, I do like tech gadgets but I’m not really good with them. I’m just an ordinary user who gets screwed up if something doesn’t work.

Do you always have your phone at hand?
Only for my job. Because I would loose out on all my appointments. When I’m at home, I don’t want to know anything of this.

What are you up to when you are at home?
First I’m changing into something very comfy. There’s nothing more wonderful than watching a great film crawled up on the sofa in front of your fireplace. But more often I’m reading a book. That calms me down.

Are you into sports?
Not in any studio. I like hiking in nature or walking through a park to clear my brain. Music helps me.

What is your favourite music?
Everything. Most of all I like songs getting me to think because they cover everything that goes wrong in this world. Just like Radiohead’s “Burn the Witch”. That songs touches my soul.

What should we do to make the world a better place?
It’s up to everyone to decide if or if not to make a difference. I’m working with an organisation called “Liberty” backing human rights in the UK. We’re trying to support people who are discriminated because of their origin, colour or religion.

You’re 40 now. Do you look back to your 20s nostalgically?
Not at all. The older I get, the happier I get with my life. I love my wonderful life, now more than ever, together with my family and the fantastic people surrounding me. I’m very much looking forward forward to what may lie ahead.

 

The German version of this interview was originally published online here.  My translation is published with the friendly permission of the author.

This is to you, Twitter

Dear Twitter,

I have to say that it wasn’t love at first sight. Not at all.

When I decided I needed an account, I was bored and frustrated. Because I didn’t understand you. Not at all.

But then BBC’s “Sherlock” came my way and I fell in love with Benedict Cumberbatch and the series as a whole (or at least the episodes I managed to watch).  And I wanted more. More information about every tiny detail I could get my hands on it. There wasn’t much out there. But you, Twitter, had some lovely accounts that offered all I needed.

You made me tweet  in English (and the English version of this blog wouldn’t exist without you) which has been quite a challenge. You will never imagine how difficult it was to get the very first tweet out there. And how thrilling it was to learn that you, Twitter, wasn’t a mere stream of information. People actually reacted, responded to my tweets, connected my to their conversations. People I wouldn’t have met without Sherlock and Twitter.  Some of them I managed to meet in RL, some of them I only know because of their Twitter but I miss them when they don’t update their status and am worried when I don’t see them online for a few days without warning.

Critics might say that this is how internet addicts behave and I should get myself some help to get rid of my addiction. But if it is an addiction – chatting with people from all over the world, learning new things from a variety of topics, getting news updates almost the minute stories are happening – then I am an addict. But as Sherlock would say: I’m just a user.

And I like it that way

Petra

xx

Sherlock: The Six Thatchers

The new year brought new Sherlock. And as always  the fans gathered round telly or any internet device to watch the first episode of series 4, “The Six Thatchers”. Written by Mark Gatiss this episode started where we left the beloved figures at the end of “His Last Vow” (or is it “The Abominable Bride”?):  Sherlock, trying to fight his addiction, John and Mary, the soon-to-be parents, and Mycroft as dapper and clever as ever.  But of course there is the Christmas special “The Abominable Bride” that first aired last year, and despite the fact that the creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss wanted us fans to believe it is a stand alone film, it isn’t. So aren’t the previous series.

That’s why “The Six Thatchers” is a totally new twist for the series as a whole and for Sherlock in particular. You see the only consulting detective in familiar scenes in flashbacks (confusing for newbies, a feast for fans) and you see him coping with new situations  and new figures – a baby only being one of them. Of course this changes him, it has to, just because Sherlock is human, no matter what he made anyone believe so far and  a very caring one as this episode unfolds. This doesn’t mean he stops being that high functioning sociopath (with your number). He is as rude and clever as ever. And he is more active in a James Bond-like way.

John Watson has changed, too, as Mrs Hudson predicted on the wedding day: “Marriage changes you”, she told Sherlock, and of course she is right. The couple has to care for their baby daughter while solving crimes together with Sherlock – the two of them against the rest of the world now are  three. And Mary? Well, she is smart and fits perfectly into Sherlock’s world. But you know what’s in the canon.

All in all this episode has anything you could wish for: humour, drama and settings with lots of details that clearly need lots of re watches to deduce all the hidden clues. Benedict Cumberbatch simply is Sherlock, he fits into the belstaff as perfectly as he fits into that iconic role, delivering a brilliant performance in every single second. Martin Freeman’s John Watson as well as Amanda Abbington’s Mary are more than just sidekicks. They are adding new lines to the story that set the path for the still unknown episodes to come. The week till episode 2 feels as long as the hiatus as a whole.

 

 

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