Books: I seem to be going through a lot of popular science books at the moment. I'm blaming Robin Ince for that - the authors I'm reading have all appeared on one of his science-based comedy shows at some time or other. This year so far, I've already mentioned the latest works by Simon Singh and Chris Hadfield: most recently, I've been reading Stuff Matters by materials scientist Mark Miodownik. Using a neat structural device - a photo of the author chilling out on his rooftop - he looks at a dozen or so of the materials we can see in the photo, and delves into the history of our relationship with them. Part of what makes it such an engaging read is Miodownik's unique mixture of serious science and personal anecdote: for example, the section about glass opens with the story of how he once carelessly found himself being propelled through a car windscreen. His ultimate aim is to make you look at the world differently, and he's certainly achieved that for me. At the very least, the chapter on concrete has made me look at the film Locke differently, as I was saying to him just the other day.
Comics: There's been a curious bit of role reversal at Spank Towers when it comes to purchasing funnybooks. The Belated Birthday Girl has three monthly titles on her current pull list - inevitably, they're all Joss Whedon related. As for me, though, my comics buying has been reduced to limited-run miniseries for over a decade now. It's possible, however, that a comic with the unlikely title of Sex Criminals might drag me back into comic shops on a monthly basis. Written by the previously-namechecked Matt Fraction and drawn by Chip Zdarsky, it's the story of two people - Suzie and Jon - who discover that they both have the ability to briefly stop time at the point of orgasm. They choose to use their powers in exactly the way you'd imagine: fucking in bank toilets, stealing the cash during the time freeze, and using it to finance a library. I'd assumed from that sky-high concept that this would be a limited series, but the first story arc (collected in the just-published graphic novel Sex Criminals Vol. 1: One Weird Trick) shows that Fraction and Zdarsky have a long-term plan in place. Look past the flashy gimmick and you'll find a surprisingly mature attitude to sexuality and relationships, albeit one that knows when to leaven things with rude humour: the two page spread where young Suzie is taught the facts of life via a series of toilet wall illustrations is an absolute hoot. Fiendishly, this collection is being released in the gap between the first and second arcs in the monthly series, so I'm all caught up and ready for the next issue when it comes out in June.
Music: When I wrote about Kyary Pamyu Pamyu for Europe's Best Website back in December 2012, she was on the verge of announcing her first ever British concert. The tickets went on sale while I was away on my Christmas holidays, and by the time I found out about them, they'd all gone. When she announced her return visit to London this year, I was better prepared. Inevitably, part of the appeal of seeing Kyary at Shepherd's Bush Empire was discovering what an English audience for her show would look like. Like a nuclear explosion in a Holly Hobbie factory, was the inevitable answer: lots of Loligoth dresses, almost as many glittery facemasks, several people in full size animal costumes, and slightly more men in drag than I was expecting. (Most unexpected fashion choice: the guy who turned up in a Fall t-shirt.) Her 2013 gig was basically a club PA with a few dancers, and this was only slightly bigger than that thanks to the addition of a stage set and some dancing teddies. From video clips I'd seen online, I was expecting Kyary to be miming throughout. So I was pleased to see that we got live vocals, albeit sung along to the original records: and her charming attempts to get in a few bits of English banter went down well. (If you can read Japanese, you may be interested to see how she did the equivalent announcements at her Paris gig.) Nevertheless, for all the enthusiasm and the (still brilliant) songs, there's not quite enough there to make it a fully satisfying live experience. I suspect I wouldn't need to see Kyary in concert again, unless she brought over her full-size arena show with the flying effects and the unicycle stunts and the assassination attempt and everything.