Creative Sensemaker: What to read, watch and listen to this weekend

A man in sunglasses pondering

A rundown of new books, films, music and more by Tortoise Media, the slow news agency

By Matt d’Ancona

Welcome to the latest Creative Sensemaker from Tortoise Media.

For an unfinished novel, Truman Capote’s Answered Prayers has accrued quite the mythology. Rather less enthralling than his true-crime masterpiece, In Cold Blood, the three-part fiction was not published in book form until two years after his death.

Originally intended as America’s answer to Proust, all that survives of Answered Prayers is three vituperative, muddled and unstructured chapters that say more about Capote’s drug-fuelled decline than the state of the American Dream.

The story behind the book is far more interesting, which is why Ebs Burnough’s documentary, The Capote Tapes (VOD, 29 January), is such a gripping contribution, shedding light on the author’s fall from the toast of Manhattan to social exile.

The film is one of the great examples of what happens to an artist when he or she becomes the work. By the end, Capote’s literary magic was consumed by his bohemian, hedonistic persona, and it was this, rather than his sad, unfinished book, that fascinated and appalled people.

The novel’s epigraph, attributed to Saint Teresa – ‘More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered prayers’ – could scarcely be more apt. Capote got everything he had dreamt of, and it destroyed him.

Here are this week’s recommendations:

A woman looking at a bale of hay in a farm


The Dig (Netflix, 29 January) 
Based on John Preston’s novel of the same name, Simon Stone’s film splendidly depicts the 1939 Sutton Hoo find of an Anglo-Saxon funerary ship, complete with the astonishing treasures of a seventh century chieftain.

76 Days (VOD) 
Hao Wu’s documentary is a gripping account of the world’s first COVID-19 lockdown in Wuhan in January 2020 – a terrible trial run for a now all-too-familiar model. The access granted to the cameras is extraordinary, as are the scenes of family grief and moments of intimacy between health workers and dying patients.

Losing Alice (Apple TV+) 
In Sigal Avin’s new series, Alice (Ayelet Zurer) is an auteur director past her creative prime whose chance encounter with Sophie (Lihi Kornowski), a young screenwriter, changes everything. A first-class psychological thriller, you’ll want to stream the next episode immediately.

The Turn Of The Screw (Marquee TV, 30 January)
A bullseye by the excellent arts streaming platform, Marquee TV, this OperaGlass Works video production  of Britten’s opera was filmed at Wilton’s Music Hall, with a host of high-calibre soloists. If you are missing opera – or want to give it a try – don’t miss it.
Two book covers on a grey background
A book cover on a grey background


(To buy any of these books, and browse further, click on the title to go to the Tortoise Book Store.)

Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain by Sathnam Sanghera 
This exploration of the role played by imperialism in the formation of modern Britain successfully combines personal voice with rigorous analysis, making it both engagingly witty and compellingly serious.

Breathtaking: Inside The NHS In A Time Of Pandemic by Rachel Clarke 
A riveting, heart-wrenching account of what happened in the UK’s wards in 2020. Clarke writes with grace and empathy about her patients and colleagues, but also has much to say about the scandalous shortages of PPE, the mismanagement of the pandemic, and the sheer scale of this disaster.

Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion (4 February; available on Kindle now) 
A collection of Didion’s essays, spanning from 1968 to 2000. From a celebration of subjective journalism to a profile of Martha Stewart, this is a book for completists.
An album cover with a woman curled up in a ball on the front
An album cover featuring a landscape


Not Your Muse by Celeste (29 January) 
Celeste’s debut album includes at least one familiar track – ‘A Little Love’, the soundtrack to John Lewis’s Christmas advert. There is potential for greatness in her style, and this is a hugely impressive first step.

Palintropos / Michael Stewart: Beyond Time And Space (In Memoriam John Tavener) by Aruhi (piano); New London Orchestra/ Ronald Corp
Written on the Greek island of Patmos in 1978, this 25-minute composition is other-worldly and hypnotic, and sits well with three pieces by Michael Stewart in memory of Tavener, who died in 2013.

Dead Hand Control by Baio (29 January)
The Vampire Weekend bassist has cultivated his own style, and his third album is surprisingly upbeat and eclectic in style. A joyful album in grey, uncertain times.

Stay safe and take care of yourselves – and each other.

Best wishes,

Matt d’Ancona
Editor and Partner
Tortoise Media
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