Welcome to the latest in an occasional series called ‘Charlotte Street Recommends’, where members of our team share the books, films, podcasts and other cultural highlights that have engaged, challenged or interested us this past year.
Podcast: These Times
These Times has been a welcome addition to my roster of podcasts this year. Featuring Helen Thompson (formerly of much missed Talking Politics) and Tom McTague, the two provide some of the most in-depth analysis you will hear on any given topic they approach. Their miniseries of episodes on the history of the Isreal-Gaza conflict is a particularly worthwhile listen, if not the most lighthearted.
This is a fascinating read about the power of media to shape and to disrupt. It confronts the fragility of modern democracies through social media platforms, media convergence, and populist movements, taking readers through the evolution of communication technologies and their influences in shifting political paradigms in history. Are the democratic challenges we currently face unprecedented? Or have we been here many times before?
Book: The Things We Cannot Say
Slipping between Nazi-occupied Poland and the frenetic pace of modern life, Kelly Rimmer creates an emotional and finely wrought narrative that weaves together two women’s stories into a tapestry of perseverance, loyalty, love and honour.
The title gives us a clue that something is kept secret in the family, but this poetically written and heart-warming story is not about family secrets but the words we keep inside and the emotions we hide. It is such an emotional and powerful read that I found it almost impossible to put down.
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This is probably the most mind-boggling non-fiction book I’ve read, so much so that I had to keep reminding myself it wasn’t in fact a work of someone’s vivid imagination.It is the story of the former Nissan chief executive who was smuggled out of Japan in a flight case before he had to face criminal charges. He’s still in Lebanon – which has no extradition treaty – today. He also managed to be both CEO of Nissan, based in Japan, and Renault, based in France, at the same time. Imagine the air miles!
Podcast: You Must Remember This
You Must Remember This is a fascinating podcast that explores 21st century Hollywood film history, expertly presented by critic and historian Karina Longworth. Every season is unique – exploring the silent era to the blacklist and beyond – but most recently Longworth has explored the portrayal of sex and sexuality in 1980s and 90s films. She looks at how notable films of this era both reflected and influenced the contemporary attitudes toward sex and how their impact can still be seen today. For any post-Gen Z-ers, it’s a walk down memory lane, but one in which you start to see everything from a new perspective.
Book: Tuesdays With Morrie
I read this book when I was a teenager, and it has stuck with me to this day. Tuesdays With Morrie is a true story about the author, Mitch Albom, reconnecting with his college professor Morrie Schwartz. Morrie is dying, diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), and Mitch visits him in his study like they used to do back in college.
The reader is a fly-on-the-wall during the emotional, sweet and heart-breaking meetings between the two men, as Morrie tries to explain the meaning of life to his younger companion. It’s a great reminder to spend time with, and learn from, those around us – everyone has experiences and knowledge to share, whether they are learned through education or simply by living.
Each December a small group of friends share with each other our favourite five albums of the calendar year. I don’t propose to bore you with that list here – or the detailed justifications for each selection – other than to say that Damon Albarn is likely to feature twice, which is testament both to his enduring creative genius and his unflagging industriousness.
I will recommend, instead, two radio programmes about another prolific musical virtuoso, Nick Cave, both of which were first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 this year. In This Cultural Life artists discuss their own major cultural influences and there are few people more qualified than Cave to remind us that “art can be thrilling and challenging and mischievous and problematic”.
Cave is as endlessly fascinating as a subject as he is as a writer. The second of my selections features him in conversation with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. In typically honest terms the two explore faith, humanity, addiction, restoration and grief, the latter being a topic and a process Cave has been forced to confront more than most in recent years.
Exhibition: William Gillies – Modernism and nation
This long anticipated exhibition at The Royal Scottish Academy opened its doors in early December, marking 50 years since Gillies’ death.
Shining a light on, in my view, one of the most underrated painters in Scottish art history, this major exhibition – and associated publication by Andrew McPherson – provides a much more in-depth exploration of the life and work of Sir William Gillies RSA (1898–1973) than previous books or exhibitions have sought to achieve.
This exhibition will tour nine venues across Scotland throughout 2024 and 2025, including Rozelle House, Hawick Museum, Perth Art Gallery, Taigh Chearsabhagh, Pier Arts Centre, Inverness Art Gallery, Gracefield Arts Centre, and Kirkcudbright Galleries. A ‘must see’ for any art buffs, it runs at the RSA until 28 January 2024.
As we aim to accelerate the global green revolution, Ed Conway examines the key materials that underpin this transition – sand, salt, iron, copper, oil and lithium – explaining why they matter and the implications of this new demand. If the subject matter appears dry at first glance, rest assured that this globe-trotting account is anything but, weaving in geopolitics, human history and a glimpse into the future.