podcasts for lockdown (and beyond) – part 2

I’m back again with more podcasts to spice up your lockdown. I’ve got some long running, some pacy stand alone series’ and even some completely new ones because of course, what else would people do during a pandemic than start a podcast. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have the voice for it, which would be why I’m here writing instead.

Grounded with Louis Theroux

Starting with the man who’s lovely photo is gracing the top of this post, Louis Theroux is making the most of lockdown to branch out into the realm of audio and use this time when everyone’s stuck at home to get to chat with interesting people without busy work schedules getting in the way. I’ve been a big fan of Theroux since I first watched his weird weekends series back in high school and have watched pretty much everything since. So I was really looking forward to this and then I find that his first guest is Jon Ronson, who I’m possibly an even bigger fan of (don’t tell Theroux that though). Anyway it was one of my favourite podcast episodes ever, I loved getting to hear them both so casually in conversation, it was fun but also got rather deep and covered all sorts of different things from lockdown anxiety (and a lack thereof), ethics when making content on the likes of neonazis or jihadists and even the rivalry between the two men whose paths have crossed so often. I love Jon Ronson’s voice and Louis Theroux’s is just as distinct. It’s bound to have plenty of interesting episodes with Theroux’s signature interview style always allowing us the most fascinating insight into peoples lives. I’m looking forward to the episode with Miriam Margolyes, she’s one hell of a woman and a wonderful one at that.

The Guilty Feminist- The New Normal

As I’ve mentioned before when talking about the book of the same name, I love the The Guilty Feminist podcast. And now to get us all through lockdown, Deborah Frances-White, both the author of the book and host of the podcast has created The New Normal. These are Instagram live streams with a different guest every weekday at 6 o’clock, but can also be streamed as a podcast. Instead of the usual Guilty Feminist set up, friends of the podcast talk about how they’re coping with this entirely new situation thrust upon every one of us and their thoughts on it all. There will be lots on how guests are managing as well as their perceived successes and failures while in lockdown, providing comfort and a sense of calm and belonging in such a difficult time for many. So far there have been loads of 10/10 guests, like Phoebe Waller-Bridge (who’s episode is on the usual podcast), Mae Martin, Jamie Windust, Amika George and Sara Pascoe. There’s plenty of laughs and many shared fears and concerns and with over 30 episodes already, you can’t run out of lockdown entertainment.

Table Manners with Jessie Ware

Table manners has one of the loveliest interview styles I’ve ever came across. Musician Jessie Ware and her mum Lennie invite guests over, cook them a wonderful meal and talk about all things food as well as basically any possible topic under the sun. It makes for a very casual and friendly conversation with all sorts of interesting guests, including just recently John Legend, Florence Pugh and Emily Maitlis. I love all the talk of food even though I know very little about it and I am a pretty terrible cook and an even worse baker. I can do the decorating bit (I won a prize in school for my 3D Easter bunny made out of icing) but just don’t try eating any of it. Jessie and Lennie make what sounds like the most glorious food which will be sure to leave you feeling a bit hungry, so it’s handy they’ve also got a Table Manners cookbook out now as well. Like Lennie, I’m hoping they manage to get the stars of Normal People on the podcast as they always seem to create a lovely fun atmosphere which I think would complement the actors perfectly.

Science Rules! with Bill Nye

Bill Nye is possibly one of the most enthusiastic people ever, there’s literally never a dull episode with him, so it’s virtually impossible not to love this podcast and enjoy all there is to learn. Each episode features a new topic with an expert in that field and as well as general discussion, it’s also a call-in show so they take listener questions. Every episode has something completely new to learn and I love being kept up to date on current science and discoveries. Recently this has been expanded with two extra shorter coronavirus special episodes every week with a new expert in relation to the current pandemic and all the different issues surrounding it. Featuring scientists, economists and more, answering viewers questions and keeping everyone up to date on the facts and providing reassurance when so many different stories and so much different advice is going around. So as well as having an already great weekly show, it’s also got some extras to help keep everyone well informed during lockdown.

The Missing Crypto Queen

Where do I even start with this 8 part series of craziness. Jamie Bartlett, author of The People vs Tech and The Dark Net, takes us through the story of One Coin, a crypto currency like bitcoin except it’s fake (would be best to let him do the explaining). He looks at how so many people were tricked into putting their money into it and primarily they’re on a hunt for it’s elusive founder Dr. Ruja Ignatova, who just so happens to have gone missing, as has the billions of dollars that were gained through the scam. Nothing at all weird about that. No matter your knowledge of crypto currencies, Bartlett and the producer, Georgia Catt, manage to make a mystery involving something so many people find completely inaccessible, into a suspenseful and at times gripping and tragic tale of one hell of a scam. Following the traces she’s left behind they end up all over the place, from a beauty pageant in Romania to an expensive housing area in Frankfurt. And god does it leave you on the edge of your seat, I couldn’t stop listening till it finished. It’s an entertaining one for sure, I just hope they’re coming back with more soon.

The Gurls Talk Podcast with Adwoa Aboah

Thankfully the new series of The Gurls Talk Podcast is back just in time for when we could all do with a feeling of community and a lil extra strength. Featuring loads of comforting and inspiring guests covering all sorts of much needed and important topics like mental health, self worth, inclusivity, toxic masculinity, motherhood and disability, the list quite literally goes on and on. Honesty, empathy and hope runs throughout the entire podcast and the appreciation for the talents within the community of listeners through their writing and poetry, etc is a lovely thing to see. I loved the recent episode with Lucy Sheridan on “breaking the comparison trap and the power of self confidence”, it was super helpful and with such a big topic they still managed to keep things light and have some laughs.

Jon Ronson’s The Last Days of August

As mentioned before, I love Jon Ronson’s work and this podcast is no exception. This is a kind of follow on from his first podcast, The Butterfly Effect (counted as the first season of The Last Days of August on apple podcasts), which looked at the rise of free porn sites, such as porn hub, a lot of which were created or bought over by Fabian. Now Fabian, who’s name I can still to this day hear in my head in Ronson’s voice, has an aquarium in his house that is so big it needs its own diver, so although Fabian hadn’t intended to leave the people involved in the porn industry out to dry, he has certainly profited a lot from it. Ronson then went deeper into the consequences, both good and bad, that followed from Fabian’s idea and the ways in which the porn industry was having to adapt to still make money. This was done through things like custom porn (wait till you hear about stamps man) and having to fit every single search word in the title to up your views (stepdaughter cheerleader orgy). The second series went to a darker side of the porn industry, with the tragic suicide of the well known porn performer August Ames. The mystery and suspicion surrounding her death and the events that led up to it. There are many twists and turns and lots of revelations and when it comes down to it so much came together to lead to her death. In both series’, Ronson takes a very in depth look into the porn industry in all its flaws but also the lighter side, the friendliness and why people gravitate to such an industry. I found them both unimaginably interesting and I always love some (good) taboo breaking.

The Waterstones Podcast

One of my favourite literary podcasts to date, I’m always looking forward to the next calming and cheerful episode of The Waterstones Podcast. From the likes of Ann Patchett, David Nicholls, Candice Carty-Williams and Zadie Smith, they feature authors from across the genres with a new theme every episode for the guests to discuss. Ever helpful in these times the recent episodes have covered themes such as togetherness, coping with change and kindness. I love this layout for the episodes where you hear so many different great writers give their thoughts in such a relaxed atmosphere and learn more about their writing, as well as finding new authors of interest. Plus ya know, hearing about all the wonderful new books and never coming away without more to add to the reading list.

I’ve been finding lots of new podcasts lately and listened to a lot of really great episodes which might be a bit much for one post, so I think there will be another podcast recommendations type post coming soon. Although if you’re anything like me you won’t be needing any more shows as I’m struggling to keep up as it is, which I think is because I usually do most of my listening on journeys which there are obviously far fewer of now. Looks like there’s talks of lockdown restrictions changing, in the uk at least, so maybe soon enough these will be less lockdown listens and more for the beyond part, whatever that looks like. Until then I guess we just gotta get Theroux this.

—T

loss and hope – the pound project

The newest limited edition book from the Pound Project arrived recently in it’s snazzy lil envelope with some added postcards inside. Including a lovely one by Charlie Mackesy, author and illustrator of the much loved The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse and one where Rita Ora appears to have gone rogue with her lipstick. Might follow suit and make use of my 5+ year old lipsticks that I never use but for some reason can’t seem to bring myself to throw out. This book, Loss and Hope, was made in collaboration with Eternity, a movement created by Lola Bute which is working to raise awareness of addiction, mental health and suicide, with all the proceeds being donated to relevant charities. This slightly chunkier book is a bit different to the others I have from The Pound Project as it is a curation of lots of different pieces, featuring the likes of Scarlett Curtis, Jamie Windust, Sebastian Faulks and Adwoa Aboah (whose podcast is also a great source of hope). The writing inside, as you might have guessed from the title, is all centred around grief – a notoriously difficult subject not just for people to talk about but to try and explain and garner understanding. It’s a saddening yet beautiful little book, which really puts into focus how dire the mental health crisis is and how urgently changes need to be made. Even though grief touches us all, it’s still a story of hope, not for a new start without any pain but for the knowledge that even though losses can be truly awful you can still continue and have an inspired and wonderful life with the memories you have and most importantly, as Richard Curtis writes in the last piece, “the bit that’s alive is love, a real thing, like warmth or food or conversation”.

The Pound Project is an independent crowdfunding publisher which aims to “put the value of writing first”. They use sustainable materials and appreciate the effort that goes into writing therefore believe in paying authors their fair share. Considering my interests in the publishing industry, it’s always intriguing to see the different ways publishing is evolving and I’m a big supporter not just of the content they provide but also their ethos. You can buy the project to read or listen to online for, as you might’ve guessed, a pound. It usually costs £5 to get the ever so pleasing printed versions, of which I have four now, the other 3 of which are long form essays. The book that introduced me to the Pound Project was Dolly Alderton’s Hopeless Romantic, which is the most gorgeous little read on loving love in all it’s forms, in Alderton’s signature warm and witty writing style. Soon after this I bagged Pandora Sykes’ The Authentic Lie (in the perfect shade of yellow), which looks at authenticity in the new age of the social media presence, where picking out what is your true self is becoming increasingly difficult as is finding some sort of balance. Lastly, Emma Gannon’s Sabotage analyses why we sabotage our own lives and helps identify the many ways in which this can manifest, and in turn, how we can challenge it. This has now been made into a full length book of the same name, out in September this year.

Although the books are limited edition, they often do re-runs so keep an eye out for that if any of these caught your eye! And they’ve already announced their latest project, titled Quarantine, written by the authors, journalists and podcasters, Anna Whitehouse and Matt Farquharson. So go check out The Pound Project’s website or social media to keep up to date as more is announced to do with that and future projects. I love what the Pound Project are doing and stand for and can’t wait to see what they do next.

—T

April books

April brought with it some wonderful books and amongst other things, the perfect weather for getting lost in a book for hours outside (and still looking ghostly pale afterwards). There were some important reads, some anger inducing ones, others filled with cheer and even a lil audio number. You’d think that so much extra free time would mean getting through more books but especially nearer the beginning of the month, I was finding it far harder to concentrate. Because of this, I hope people aren’t putting too much pressure on themselves to be reading even more. Sometimes I see it becoming far less about the enjoyment of a good read and instead turning into a competition where people (mainly in the instagram comment section) feel personally offended by the number of books someone else is getting through. I would imagine this will end up making both those who feel they are reading a lot and those who feel they are not reading enough, unable to share their book piles and thoughts. And what good is that. Social media has managed to make almost everything into a competition but I hope everyone can at least find their own non-judgmental and fun space to share their love of books with others. Enough of my lockdown thoughts though, let’s get on to the good bit.

The first book I read in April is part of the Vintage collection of feminism short editions, this one being Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. I haven’t read any of De Beauvior’s work before, but already knew a fair bit about her from other more recent feminist texts and the many, many references made to her and her writing. I think this is a lovely little collection that gives a little bit of insight into some great but often quite inaccessible works. Although I don’t think that to be an impassioned, educated, understanding and inclusive feminist requires reading all the classic literature (and I don’t think anyone should feel they have to) which are often not the easiest of reads, I did find it interesting how current much of the writing still is. And most importantly, it certainly provides more fuel for my own outrage around both the way things were and what still needs to change. I don’t think I’ll be reading the full version anytime soon, but on the other hand, the extracts from The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf which I read last year, really piqued my interests. Even though I understand the ways in which the patriarchy has moved to other means, our looks, to hold us back, seeing the scale of the problem and how difficult it is to get out of your system even with the knowledge laid out completely on paper, certainly left me needing to take a moment just to take it all in and grasp it. I feel at the stage we’re in, The Beauty Myth and what we can learn from it is even more important now than when it was written and I am anxious to get my hands on the full version. So basically, I’d recommend The Beauty Myth more so to everyone, but if ya like a lot of classic feminist lit these are a lovely little set to add to your collection, with plenty that can still be gained from reading them.

Next up, one of my favourite non-fiction writers, Yuval Noah Harari with his 2nd book, Homo Deus. A follow-up to the wonderful Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, which was helpful in me realising what I’m passionate about and want to study. In Homo Deus, Harari now tackles the future of humanity, if there is much of one at all (I see ya climate change) and identifies the key challenges we have overcome and what we’ll likely move to next if we carry on the same trajectory. Harari somehow manages to make his books amazingly readable while containing such a vast amount of knowledge, a lot of which although sometimes surprisingly simple can be very difficult to wrap our heads around. It’s easier to go into the book as if starting afresh, try to put all your own biases and things we’ve been led to think of as facts to the side but even in the book he’ll explain why that’s so difficult and really just rather impossible. It can all be a bit much and it definitely goes deep but sometimes we gotta get over the difficulty and uncomfortableness of it all because as a whole, we as human beings have to decide what direction we’re gonna go in, and crucially, what values and morals are most important to take with us. It’s a shame we can’t have Harari as a big man in the sky guiding us but his books will definitely help open minds and if you’re anything like me, make you wonder and worry about what the hell we’re gonna do.

After two pretty hardcore reads, I finally got stuck into something a bit more lighthearted, Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare. Now this was a lovely book with a really fun and entertaining premise. It centres around two characters who end up sharing a flat, more specifically the same bed, but due to work schedules they never actually meet. It’s very funny and filled with some really great romance and not nearly as cringey as you might imagine a book with such a plot to be. It also has multiple intriguing subplots which lead to explorations into the more difficult parts of romantic love, family bonds and surprisingly, the justice system. It’s definitely a binge read with lots to look forward to and a nice distraction, I’d be surprised if it didn’t leave a reader with some more warmth inside and maybe even a lil bit of a craving for love. Beth’s newest book The Switch sounds just as fun if not more and she’s already had her 3rd book announced, The Roadtrip, coming in 2021. So seems i’m not the only one loving her writing. It’s always wonderful to find an author you love and have loads more books to look forward to.

And now for my favourite, The Most of Nora Ephron which brought the most joy imaginable and left me feeling far from isolated. A chunky collection of Nora’s work; from her journalism, screenplays, fiction, blogging and more, it’s all in there. Filled to the brim with laughs and maybe some cries, I just can’t recommend Ephron’s writing enough. Containing some of my favourite essays, that will stick with me for a long time, Ephron is a comforting friend to everyone who reads her and she can’t be held back from tackling every possible topic, no matter how embarrassing or difficult. I know I’ve just finished this 576 pager but my god I’m already looking for more, I’ve ordered her semi autobiographical fiction, Heartburn, of which the first chapter is included in this book. There’s always so much to learn, I almost feel like I’ll need to start taking notes. I adore every bit of her writing. I’m obsessed. I’ve no doubt you will be too and that’s if you aren’t already.

This month I spiced things up with my first audio book, Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers. And boy is it a good one. Gladwell is up there with Yuval Noah Harari and Jon Ronson being men I trust and admire (and I can confirm such men are few and far between). The book starts and ends with the story of Sandra Bland, a horrific, frustrating and upsetting instance of an interaction with a stranger gone wrong. Gladwell takes us through spies working as double agents, Chamberlain meeting Hitler, the Amanda Knox case and much more to show why we all misjudge strangers. Even the people who’s job it is to judge others. Like the rest of Gladwell’s work it’s completely fascinating, filled with interesting questions and examples which I’m sure will lead to much discussion and debate. I think it might be my new favourite book of his. There’s no end to the intrigue Gladwell has and you can’t possibly read this book without being left with a whole lot of curiosity.

The last book I read this month, which I confess I actually finished a few days into May but I cannot wait a month to write about it so here it is. The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargave, was beautiful from start to finish (and not just because of those endpapers). Set in a time and place very far from our own, she manages to draw you in and take away the unknown quicker than I could’ve imagined. I was sucked right into the time, one of mass hysteria building up to the 1621 Vardø witch trials, which were the first major witch trials in that area and by far the worst, drawing you into the true story on which the fiction is based around. The talent required to make you feel so close to the characters is immense and will leave you wishing you could do something while it all starts to unravel. It’s a story that sticks, it left me feeling a bit lost and wanting back in to see what comes next for the women of Vardø. It’s a frustrating story to be told, especially with all the hindsight we have. It gave me so many opposing feelings, mainly a lot of outrage, but at least that gives some hope that such tragedies of history will not be repeated.

I’ve seen a Marian Keyes quote circulating recently from when The Guardian asked her for the book she’s most ashamed not to have read, and like Keyes, the whole concept of something that you “should read” does my head in. Read for your own pleasure, unless it’s for studying no one should ever feel they have to read something. And considering May is going to be filled with exciting book releases, I’m sure there will be something for everyone to want (I’d double underline if I could) to read. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch When Harry Met Sally and happy cry over the amazing woman Ephron was and all the wonderful things she gave us.

—T

living, learning and lounging in lockdown

During these stressful times, it seems due to the fact I was an anxious mess already, I’ve actually became calmer during lockdown. To the point where I’m having more good days than bad for the first time in a long time and strangely I’ve ended up figuring some things out that have been preying on my mind for a while now. I know, sounds a bit odd, might need to get it checked out. I’m making the most of reading in the sun- therefore turning into one big freckle- and trying to focus on doing the things I enjoy and learning as I go, while attempting not to worry about unemployment (quite the feat if I ever manage to pull it off). I’m also trying to make sure I keep up my daily exercise, which includes a lil routine which is incredibly basic and yet always leaves me feeling faint on the floor dripping with sweat even though I’ve been doing the same thing for almost a year. So seems I might be unfit. And with the added addition of a walk everyday I aim to balance out the high quantities of ice cream I consume for maintaining optimal happiness levels. I’m kept busy caring for my rather large number of houseplants, which I haven’t started talking to yet cause that’s not really my thing, but another few months and who knows what could happen.

My babies are growing and thriving like heck as you can see, and I’m completely obsessed with my monstera, to the point where I’m now drawing its leaves and becoming the artist I was always meant to be, one that only draws the same type of leaf over and over. Speaking of art, when this all started my first moment of possible insanity (or genius) was to buy a can of yellow spray paint and basically spray any plant pots or other similar paintable items yellow. Think I was attempting to brighten the mood, which was all well and good other than the mess of yellow paint I left on the ground outside. No time to dwell on that just now though.

Looks like we’re gonna be continuing like this for a while, so good #content is gonna be required. So I thought I’d do a lil run down of the things that have been keeping me entertained, starting with the obvious, books.

I’m currently reading The Most of Nora Ephron and if you happened to read my last post you’ll know I’m a big fan of Ephron. I thought it would be the perfect read to keep my spirits up as it’s a rather chunky collection of her writing so it should keep me going a little while. And if you’re interested I’ll be giving it a proper review in my April books.

As well as reading, I’m listening to my first audiobook, Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers. Which of course I knew was gonna be pretty damn good from listening to all 4 seasons of his podcast but damn it really is that good, and Oprah agrees. David Sedaris also has a kindle/audible exclusive essay out called Themes and Variations which I bought for £1.65 to listen to while I painted some more monstera leaves which was a short but wonderful listen. And as always he managed to make me snort with laughter. The other book I’ve been meaning to listen to for a while is Michelle Obama’s Becoming so I’m happy to finally be getting round to that next month.

I’ve got a lot of exciting books in my tbr pile at the moment- including The Mercies and Girl, Woman Other- which I cannot wait to get stuck into and review. I also don’t know how I’m gonna manage the wait for some of the books coming out late summer, there’s so many wonderful ones and so many new books from authors I love. I really want (need) to get my hands on them. For now I’m looking forward to Holly Bourne’s newest novel Pretending arriving.

As usual I’m listening to plenty of podcasts, some of which I’ve talked about before and some of which I’m going to in an upcoming blog post but I wanted to mention a couple of really great episodes I’ve loved over the past few days here. First of all is the only episode, so far, that I’ve listened to of Angela Scanlon’s Thanks a Million podcast. The most recent episode with Marian Keyes was just wonderful (as everything involving Keyes tends to be) and ever so honest, and as the name gives away the interview centres around gratitude. Next up, I adored the newest episode of Table Manners with Jessie Ware and guests Mel and Sue. Their love for each other was such a nice thing to listen to and they were as jolly and full of laughs as ever. Elizabeth Day’s special episode of How to Fail was filled with listeners sharing their stories of living in the time of Coronavirus which was a really lovely idea and managed to leave me in tears multiple times throughout. And lastly in a recent episode of Ctrl Alt Delete, Emma Gannon interviews the writer Holly Bourne (who’s book I’m waiting very patiently on arriving) and it’s a truly fascinating interview about writing, the difficult topics Bourne writes about and how she does so with sensitivity but also humour and ease.

I’ve also been watching more tv, I say more because I’m terrible at actually sitting down and concentrating on watching something. Really the only time I manage is if I’m sitting down with my boyfriend specifically to watch a show which is where Netflix Party has came in handy so we can still watch shows at the same and chat in the lil sidebar. Season 4 of Money Heist was just as amazing, if not more, than the others and doubly heartbreaking and tense. We also raced through Netflix’s recent thriller, The Stranger which is a really twisty lil show at 8 episodes long and I’m still thinking about it now. Also Safe, written by the same guy, is just as suspenseful. And I’ll always recommend the last few seasons (or all the seasons if you’re in the mood) of Death in Paradise, it’s just such a happy show to watch, even with the odd murder. Not on Netflix but as I’m sure everyone’s seen, Fleabag live is now available to rent for a limited amount of time from Soho theatre’s website and after binging the two seasons I’m more than ready for it. And also, I’m half way through Mae Martin’s show, Feel Good which is wonderfully funny and great so far.

@thehyphenbookclub on Instagram

Coming back to book content for a moment, I’ve been loving Emma Gannon’s new book club The Hyphen on Instagram. It’s super pleasing to look at and has been giving me loads to add to my list as well as just keeping me topped up on that book love. It’s possible I get cravings for books as well as for chocolate ice cream (with chunks). And if you happen to be looking for more people to follow on Instagram, Florence Given, as I’ve mentioned before, is the one.

Back to the current situation and a topic I’ve seen a lot of discussion online about at the moment: Productivity. As much as I try to keep up a good routine; write everyday and also work on my studies because I know I feel better when I do, some days I just lose all that motivation and need to take a lil moment to get back to it. I used to really beat myself up about it anytime I slightly deviated from my plan, which definitely didn’t help matters or get me in a good head space to be productive. So I’ve been trying to work on letting those moments pass and allowing them to exist without getting annoyed with myself and fighting them to no avail. Which I think is a problem quite a lot of people can maybe (?) relate to. Anyway I think I’m getting somewhere although then sometimes I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere, but overall, I hope I’m making moves for the better.

I hope you’re finding some little forms of happiness during such weird times, dancing to some proper bangin’ tunes maybe? I’d recommend Hot Stuff by Donna Summer on repeat and maybe a lil Stevie Nicks and Prince in-between, gosh I’d love to see what he’d have made of these times, probably more music by the looks of his extensive catalogue. If music is your thing, Dolly Alderton has a wonderful Spotify playlist called “Pandemic at the Disco” ready made for groovin’. I’m loving the band Fuzzy Sun at the moment, they have perfect upbeat tunes to get you moving. I’m at the point of actually looking forward to when I next shave my legs and then stick on a summer dress and some hoops, drink some super fruity cider and go out dancing.

I can’t wait to be watching the sunset from one of my favourite spots in Edinburgh again, I don’t think I ever really took it for granted in the first place but I’ll certainly appreciate it even more than ever. I’d also just love to go out for some damn good food and drinks. And I know everyone will be saying this, but I really really wanna be by the sea. What are you looking forward to in life after lockdown, or as Cher might say do you believe in life after lockdown? The question is why has no one done a parody of Cher’s song Believe yet, although I guess it’s possible someone has as I’ve been avoiding most social media (I could maybe check). But anyway, what are your little moments of joy? And please send any book, podcast or tv show recommendations my way!

—T

non-fiction comfort reads

Often when I read non-fiction it’s some sort of science, historical or investigative book. Although I love to learn from these, the ones that stick with me most tend to be the more friendly and approachable ones that end up really making you think. From memoirs, to essays, to curations – sometimes you can gain the most not from science, but just reading other people’s thoughts. I find that if I’m having doubts and anxieties or am just a bit lost, it’s a wonderful thing to find my own worries put into words by some of the best writers we have. Many of these books have the feeling of a warm and yet deep and undoubtedly helpful chat with an old friend, possibly over your drink of choice. So really what I’m getting at is that I’d love to be sitting with Dolly Alderton and David Sedaris in a beer garden in the sun but I understand that even outside lockdown, that will most likely stick to just being another one of my daydreams.

Firstly, if you haven’t yet read Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love, why not? It feels like a hell of a lot of women fell in love with Alderton through her glorious memoir (I’m definitely not included). Alderton writes with such honesty and brings clarity to many of the shared experiences women have throughout their lives. It’s wonderfully entertaining and funny and shows the reality and true unconditional love within female friendships, of which she appears to have some of the best. Through the groovy times and the bad, Dolly Alderton has really lived her life her way which I’m sure will inspire other women and remind them to cherish the women around them that have held them up and got them this far. Filled with optimism and lots of fun, it’s the perfect distraction and reminder of the small joys of life.

Very few men can make me laugh like David Sedaris does, particularly in his most recent book, Calypso. Sedaris has plenty of fans and yet I didn’t see a single review that quite prepared me for how much I was gonna love his writing. I’d like to add that I find it a bit annoying everytime I see his work compared to a certain nonce who’s memoir has thankfully been dropped by Hachette- the audacity that they’d even think about being the people to give him a platform after only recently publishing Ronan Farrow’s book Catch and Kill, which I love. And yes of course I know that just because I wouldn’t read it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be published (@ Stephen King I hear you) but I think anyone who read Farrow’s book would agree that Hachette shouldn’t even have considered Allen’s work. Anyway, back to the good stuff. The world would be a lot less boring if we were all as blunt and honest as Sedaris and I know his humour isn’t for everyone, seems it’s a love it or hate it type thing like marmite, but well I’d certainly love to meet one of these people that hate it. I truly think it’ll provide entertainment to everyone’s rather simplistic repetitive days at the moment. And the writing is far more than funny, he can make you look at things in a new way and remind you of the simple pleasure of observing. It might also leave you uncomfortable (I know, I’m going against my own title) but in a good way that allows for growth as Sedaris certainly doesn’t beat around the bush. And don’t stop with this book, he’s got plenty to choose from (Me Talk Pretty One Day started my obsession) and even better you can listen to him online, there’s plenty of YouTube videos and podcasts too (Clare Balding joining him to pick litter in the countryside near his home on her podcast Ramblings is the most random and yet brilliant thing). His writing is even better in his own voice and his answers are never dull. David Sedaris could basically keep you occupied for the whole of lockdown he spoils us that much.

If Sedaris is one voice whose reaction to things I can imagine in my head, Nora Ephron is the other. They each have such a distinct voice and way of thinking that’ll take a while to leave you. I Feel Bad About My Neck is a collection of Ephron’s essays that I raced through in one day and have re-read many times. I’d say Ephron’s writing is the epitome of comfort reading but that hardly covers it. Ephron will take you on all the ups and downs of life, and she’s one of those women that just instantly becomes your idol. Whether you are interested in her profession or not, her honesty, heart and absolute lust for life is one that us mere mortals can only try our best to obtain and hold on to. This new (and lovely) addition has an introduction from Dolly Alderton as well, which I think is a wonderful pairing. It’s a shame for us all that we never got to hear Ephron’s wit and wisdom long into her old age as she’s been a guiding light for so many throughout their lives. I’m sure that anyone who reads this book will find something of themselves within. She never shied away or forgot the important things and I don’t think I’ve ever read anyone who writes better about well, just about anything really, but particularly the experience of life itself- from ageing to love to cooking- she has something to help with it all.

I seen Matt Haig live for his Notes on a Nervous Planet book tour and he was just as emotionally intelligent and aware and calming as you’d expect from his books. This book showcases our worries and 21st century problems then takes them all apart. Haig explains why humans are going through the crisis that we are, the one on the inside that can be hard to pinpoint and explain. With technology advancing far faster than our unchanged brains can keep up with, Haig points out that it’s no wonder we’re overwhelmed and facing a global mental health crisis. It may seem like a worrying read but Haig is on hand throughout to provide reassurance and his own experiences to remind us that we are not alone in our thoughts. I managed to find the last rainbow hardback cover left in my local bookshop and as you can see it’s such a beautiful edition but I treasure it for far more than the cover I promise. This book and Haig’s others books cover difficult topics but somehow bring joy and help the reader regain perspective and remember the loveliness of being alive.

Scarlett Curtis’ second curation of writing, It’s Not Ok to Feel Blue and Other Lies, is the perfect sign that we aren’t alone. Featuring essays, poems and even a few drawings from over 70 people including; celebrities, authors, journalists, poets and activists, all talking about mental health- it quite literally has something for everyone. This is anything but a sad book though, it is filled with stories of strength and the refusal to give up and the desire for something better. I’m sure it required a lot of courage for people to put their own stories out there in a book but as I’m sure Brené Brown would agree, that vulnerability can bring so much good as well. Scarlett Curtis’ own pieces in the book were some of my favourites and her story and passion for helping others is something we can all learn from.

If you’re looking for something a little on the motivational side, Raynor Winn’s The Salt Path is certainly a book for changing things up. I’ve talked about it a bit in a previous post on upcoming books, as the sequel is coming out this summer. What starts off as a scary upsetting time for Winn and her husband, is turned around dramatically by their determination and love for one another. I won’t provide much plot detail so as not to ruin it as I think it’s most impactful to go on the journey with them but it is an emotional and uplifting story and a reminder of the great things the human body is capable of. Upon finishing the book, no one could possibly leave without being reminded of the importance (and necessity) of nature in our lives for both our bodies and our minds.

Another collection of essays this time in aid of women for women international, is Comfort Zones. Filled with some of my favourite writers taking on topics and styles that are far from what they are used to. Exploring the importance of change for allowing room for growth and endless possibilities. It’s a proper lovely little book, filled with so many treasures inside, with sections on learning, relationships, fiction and big ideas covering a wide range of topics in a easily readable way. It’s heartwarming and full of things to learn to peak your interests, and now that we’re all in a time where we’re forced out of our usual routines, this might help us cope and gain something from being stuck a little out of our comfort zones.

Hopefully these books can provide the reassurance and warmth we all need, or at the very least, be a great distraction. I’ve gotten something from each of them, mainly a whole lot of laughs, and maybe even a lil touch of belonging- things I get from my best friend- so I’d say that’s a sign of some damn good books.

—T

podcasts for lockdown (and beyond)

I listen to possibly too many podcasts and stress myself out trying to fit them all in and schedule what I’m going to listen to next. I listen to them while I exercise, cook, clean, go for my one daily government sanctioned walk, and as well as being a great way to learn new things and get loads of recommendations they’re also often just really comforting. In my opinion, a podcast can make even the most menial task an enjoyable one. So as you might have guessed I’ve got quite a few recommendations, so I’ll start with just a few of my favourites.

Fortunately with Fi and Jane

I’m not saving the best for last because I’ve no time for that. Fortunately is my happy place and to get me through such strange times I’ve been going through the back catalogue listening to an old episode every morning while I struggle through my exercises, and it helps. There’s literally nothing more comforting, you can’t possibly stay stressed about the state of the world while listening (unless equality Jane is out and about, then you might get a bit angry about the gender pay gap but that’s okay, sometimes a little anger is needed). I’ve listened to so many episodes I think Fi and Jane are part of my thought process, sitting on my shoulder and giving me their advice. It’s just lovely and I’m not forcing you or anything but do listen to it, I promise it’s wonderful and will make you feel much less alone in isolation. I’d be surprised if anyone could listen to an episode without cracking a smile, try episode 72 – ‘A burst of hamstery energy’ with Dame Esther Rantzen if you’re in need of some fun. The good news is they’re still putting out episodes, just recording remotely (as although some find it hard to believe, they don’t live together as they aren’t in fact a couple) and having guests on over zoom.

Unlocking Us with Brené Brown

I came very late to understanding why everyone loves Brené Brown, after only looking into her work when I seen people talking about her podcast, Unlocking Us. It’s fair to say one episode in and I understood why. Brown’s ted talk on vulnerability has 12 million views, and with good reason, she’s eloquent in discussing subjects centred around the human psyche that many of us avoid even thinking about just because it’s hard. Brown is a researcher and best selling author, and this podcast is an accumulation of all her findings throughout her research into the experience of being human. This is certainly a podcast for the times, Brené Brown is here to help guide us through and offer a helping hand through guest appearances, talking directly with us and answering questions. One of the recent episodes with David Kessler, on grief and finding meaning, touches a lot on the collective grief and anxiety the world is going through at the moment and should be required listening to reassure and provide hope.

Football, Feminism and everything in between with Grace and Alastair Campbell

I’ve seen Grace Campbell’s stand up show Why I’m Never Going Into Politics twice now (the second of which she was wearing the most brilliant vulva dungarees) and absolutely love her, she’s my woman of the moment. I’ve followed her co founded activist collective, The Pink Protest, for a long time and that’s how I found this podcast which gives me almost as many laughs as her stand up. The added addition of the wonderful banter between Grace and her totally unknown dad, Alastair Campbell, makes for a very merry podcast with great guests and even better interviews, covering quite literally ‘everything’ as you can see from the title, and neither of them shy away from the hard questions. It’s also really interesting to hear people talking about feminism who don’t tend to speak much on the subject or aren’t associated with the movement. They recently finished the second series, so this is the perfect time to catch up on the back catalogue before the next one.

Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell is fast becoming one of the most thought provoking and intelligent people I’ve ever read or listened to. In this podcast he re-examines incidents of the past and provides a different look at, as he puts it, “the overlooked and misunderstood”. You can never come away from Gladwell’s work without feeling like your eyes have been opened to the world, he often shows just how narrow our viewpoints and conclusions can be, and proves them completely wrong. He appears to have kept that constant questioning of the world that is often lost after childhood, with no acceptance for leaving things as they are just because it’s what we’re told. I’m sure it’ll reignite a curiosity in many others. As well as covering great topics, Revisionist History episodes, like Gladwell’s audio books, are amazing listening experiences – with music, interviews and his wonderful commentary throughout – he certainly doesn’t do boring. If you’re looking for an episode to try, series 4: episode 8 ‘In a Metal Mood’, is a really great example of the way Gladwell starts with seemingly unrelated topics and somehow brings it all together to make sense of the world. And if you enjoy that, series 5 is on the way soon.

Doing It with Hannah Witton

This podcast covers a wide variety of topics based around sex and relationships, and if you’ve watched Hannah Witton on her YouTube channel before, you’ll know her content is always really inclusive and informative. I’ve watched Witton’s content since I was in high school, and find it just as important as I did then, and this podcast is, dare I say it, my favourite piece of work she’s done. There’s never a dull moment as her happiness literally radiates through your earphones/speaker and there’s no topic that she’ll shy away from. I love that it’s helping break down so many taboos and giving people a better understanding of experiences other than their own while also showing our similarities (which I’d say is the way forward in becoming a more understanding and empathetic species). Doing It will make you learn and laugh, make you less embarrassed and best of all intrigue you with new things.

The Catch and Kill Podcast with Ronan Farrow

I became a bit obsessed with Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill podcast, which is based around his New Yorker piece revealing the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, and the lead up to this with the challenges the survivors and reporters faced. He also has a book out of the same name, which I’d recommend reading before the podcast as it’ll really leave you wanting more. The podcast was intense and heartbreaking as you follow Farrow through the scary times leading up to the release of the story, with the many obstacles Weinstein and his lawyers try to throw in his way, which included having him followed. There’s now the added benefit that when you listen to the disgusting and horrible stories the women tell in the podcast, and you root for Farrow to get the story out and for them to be believed, that we can be slightly comforted in knowing that atleast he’s now officially convicted, and getting his ass kicked into prison- I swear, if a bad man got put away everyday, the joy would fuel me. It’s one hell of a story to read and listen to, it’ll take you through a whirlwind of emotions with a LOT of anger. I think its important still now that everyone hears what all went on behind the scenes to get this story out, and the bravery from the women to keep going. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this, and it’s bloody great that people are finally being held accountable for their actions but it’s still necessary that everyone understands the systems that were in place that allowed a widely known predator to stay in power for so long.

The High Low with Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes

I think this might’ve been the podcast that really started my obsession, after reading Dolly Alderton’s memoir, Everything I Know About Love, I soon found my way to The High Low and haven’t stopped listening since. It’s quite literally joyful, packed full of recommendations, from articles and books, to tv shows and films. They also cover recent news stories and pop culture, and whatever the current topics and debates of the week are and I love their ability to look at everything fairly, understanding all the nuances and therefore not always needing to pick a side. They often have guest authors on, and I love a bumper book special as I know I’ll leave with loads of books to get excited about and fill up my tbr pile. Dolly and Pandora are one of the most entertaining, thoughtful and intelligent duos, they make The High Low what it is. The podcast is thankfully back with its latest series to save us all from constant panic, and with bonus episodes already, filled to the brim with recommendations, you won’t be bored for long.

You’re Booked with Daisy Buchanan

Daisy Buchanan’s book, The Sisterhood, is a comfort read in itself and this podcast is much the same and a really wonderful idea. In each episode, Buchanan visits authors in their homes and has a nose through their book shelves with them, finding out many stories along the way. This is the perfect podcast for those who’d love to get a look at their favourite author’s shelf but it’s also just as lovely listening to authors you don’t know and finding more out about them and their books. So it has something for everyone. I’ve just finished listening to the most recent bonus episode of You’re Booked, with the author Lissa Evans, and I think it might be one of my favourites ever. Evans’ enthusiasm for books and wonderful personality shines through. So if you adore books and authors as much as I do, I’d recommend giving that one a listen.

Hopefully you find something of comfort, something to distract, something to learn or maybe even something to infuriate you and get you hyped up ready to make change happen. Who knows what podcasts can spark with such a variety out there.

—T

books to look forward to this summer

2020 has been one hell of a year for books, with many of the most anticipated reads coming this summer. Here’s my run down of some of the most exciting fiction and non-fiction on the way in the coming months.

Fiction

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

I’ve loved every single Matt Haig book I’ve read, both non-fiction and fiction, and been excited for this novel since he first mentioned writing it. His fiction always manages to give me a different perspective on daily life, and the concept of this book, a library in which you can pick from all the lives you could’ve lived, sounds brilliant. Haig somehow always finds the words to express what many people can’t, so I’ve no doubt his words will resonate with a lot of people through this novel as well. During the anxious times we’re in, I’d recommend taking a break from the news and getting stuck into Haig’s previous books while we wait ever so patiently for this one.

Out 20th August.

Olive by Emma Gannon

You might’ve read Emma Gannon’s non fiction books, or listened to her podcast, Ctrl Alt Delete. I adore her podcast and have listened for quite a while now, it’s super helpful and informative, so I would highly recommend using this time to listen to it as well. I really like the sound of this book, centred around the character Olive, as she tackles adulthood and the still frowned upon choice to not have children. I can’t wait to see what she’s done with the concept and from the reviews so far, I think a lot of women will feel very seen, and it’s about time.

Out 23rd July.

Out of Love by Hazel Hayes

This book is a love story told in reverse, and based on Hayes’ online content as a screen writer, I know it’ll be witty and wonderful and will ultimately leave me a wreck. I’m intrigued to see how she’s pulled off such an interesting approach to a romantic novel, and I look forward to all the insightful observations as she dissects the age old story of love and heartbreak.

Out 11th June.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

I’ve seen so many reviews raving about Osman’s debut novel already, it sounds like a fantastic twisty plot that everyone will love, with characters you won’t want to leave (which is handy since it’s the first of a series). It centres around 4 friends who meet up once a week to work out the truth behind unsolved murders, and one week they find themselves stuck in the middle of a real case. I’ve no doubt Osman will dazzle with a story that is equal parts clever and funny, and put a fresh spin on the classic crime novel.

Out 3rd September.

Non-fiction

Women Don’t Owe You Pretty by Florence Given

If you don’t already follow Florence Given on instagram, go change that now. I keep instagram off my phone most of the time but the times I do download it are because I need to hear what wisdom she’s giving us today (and look at her bangin’ illustrations). Given will take us all on a deep dive to find out who we really are when we don’t have the patriarchy holding us down. She reminded me what a god damn angry woman I am, and that I won’t hold back my passion or dull myself down or lose any of myself for anyone ever. And I’m sure as hell this book will do that for a lot of other people who’ve held back and stayed quiet just because we don’t fall into the category of straight white cis male. The world would be a better place if we all listened to Florence Given, and the world certainly doesn’t deserve getting all her free education and advice, so go preorder and support god’s work and maybe dump your boyfriend as well if you’re feeling it.

Out 11th June.

How do we know we’re doing it right? by Pandora Sykes

The contemporary world may be a more positive one because it brought with it a wide variety of choice for most of the population, but that wide variety has come with its own problems too. It can be overwhelming to try and figure it all out, but thankfully, Pandora Sykes will take us through it all in this book. Whenever Sykes recommends an article or some good non-fiction (on her much loved podcast, The High Low, with co-host, Dolly Alderton) I know it’s gonna give me a whole new outlook on the modern self. From the sound of this book, and her writing in the past, this looks like it will dig deep into the many thoughts and fears that take up our lives, Sykes basically does the work for us, as she unwinds all the possibilities and sifts through the myths. I’ve no doubt this book will have something for everyone, and allow us to stop trying to be on top of everything, and instead take a moment to enjoy the unknown.

Out 16th July.

The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn

I read Raynor Winn’s first book, The Salt Path, last summer and it was so breathtaking I can still remember it all so clearly even now. I’m not sure how to describe the type of book it is other than that it was one that was missing from the market. I’ve never read anything quite as calming and yet incredibly moving, and The Wild Silence sounds like it’ll do just that and more. It continues the story from the end of the first book after Winn and her husband finished walking the coastal path and were preparing to return to a more mundane, and more situated existence. It’ll leave you with a craving for nature and appreciating our wilder, less tidy, and imperfect selves.

Out 28th April.

The New Queer Conscience by Adam Eli

This book is part of a series of small books called The Pocket Change Collective, giving voice to the creatives and thought leaders of the moment. In this one, Voices4 Founder and LGBTQIA+ activist, Adam Eli takes us all through the responsibility that queer people have, and how compassion and care is needed in order to come together towards a common goal. This sounds like a much needed book for everyone- whether you’re part of the queer community or an ally- to reassure and provide guidance, especially given the volatile and ever changing times we live in. I’m sure this book will be an excellent reminder of the importance of standing together, and caring for one another.

Out 2nd June.

Hopefully this gets you buzzed for summer reading, even if this year, it’s a little less poolside reads and more window/balcony/garden reads. Either way I wish you plenty of sun, as long as you’ve got the factor 50 on, or if you’re not into that, plenty of shade.

Make sure to support authors by preordering if you can.

—T

fiction binge reads

I love non-fiction but sometimes I just want a really good immersive novel that is impossible to leave. Some of my most comforting reads are probably books I read when I was younger (eg Harry Potter) but here’s a few more recent novels that have hooked me in and left me a little lost when I finished them. The kind of ones that make you have to take a moment before you can move on to the next book or even think about anything else, which I think all the best stories do.

One of my favourite books from last year was The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. It’s a book that sucks you right in with one hell of a mystery, and the plot is so thick it’s a bit insane to imagine someone coming up with it. A friend of mine had no time to read the novel so asked me to give them a run down, and I would not recommend attempting that. The book centers around a character who relives the same day 7 times, each day waking up in a different body, and trying to figure out who killed Evelyn Hardcastle and what on Earth is going on, since waking up in a different body everyday isn’t exactly the norm. There’s a lot to follow, and so many twists and turns that there’s no way you won’t be surprised. It’s a book to get entangled in and find yourself unable to leave till it’s done. He also has another book out later this year, The Devil and the Dark Water, so if you loved this book, that’s something to look forward to.

Another twisty novel is The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley, this is a book I seen in the window of every Waterstones for months but never actually knew anything about. Until the paperback came out and I thought to actually read the blurb and see what all the hype was about. It sounded fun, which could be an insensitive description for a book involving murder, however it didn’t disappoint. It’s a secluded murder mystery where a group of friends get stuck in a lodge in a snowstorm in the Scottish Highlands, someone dies, and there’s obviously a rather limited number of suspects. It’s far less complicated than Stuart Turton’s murder mystery but just as unpredictable and tense. This is another author who has a second novel out this year along the same lines called The Guest List, so there’s plenty of mysteries to get lost in.

Next up, one of my favourite authors, Jessie Burton had a new book out last year, The Confession. Burton is one of those authors that make me rather jealous of their ability to write such enchanting wonderful novels. The plot and characters are as intriguing as ever and the time periods are just bloody lovely to immerse yourself in. This one has two stories running along side each other, one in the present day, and one in the past, as a young woman tries to find out about the mother she never knew. It’s a little similar in style to The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, which I’d very much recommend, especially for anyone who likes that era of the 1950s Hollywood Starlet. Burton’s other books The Miniaturist, and The Muse, are both excellent binge reads as well and her cover art is always almost as enchanting as the book.

Might be a bit of a monstera overload here.

A YA novel I enjoyed recently was Savannah Brown’s, The Truth About Keeping Secrets. It’s an enticing story of a teenage girl who is certain her father’s death was not an accident. While following her story, the book explores love and grieving in all their complexities and is revealing and beautifully written. It’s less of a murder mystery and more a romance novel that has its tenser moments. If you like YA I’d highly recommend.

So lucky by Dawn O’Porter makes me feel lucky to read her books. It’s comforting and funny but also tackles the rather big issue of social media and the way we view our lives in comparison to others. It does so in an interesting way through a number of characters and the different insights they get into each other’s lives, and the assumptions they then make. This will make you do A LOT of reflecting on your own experiences on social media. It’s easy to read and comical to the point it made me snort, and just really good fun that’ll leave you unable to put it down. And if, like me, you can’t get enough of what O’Porter has to say, then make sure you listen to her podcast of the same name, where she talks with guests about the concept of luck.

Next is a book I read recently, The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides. I’ve seen it pop up a lot and hadn’t paid much attention but suddenly being in the mood for a good thriller it sounded like just the right thing, and it really was. It’s quite hard to be completely unpredictable with murder mysteries now that we all watch and read so many, but somehow this book still manages to shock. He gives you so many leads, so many people to point fingers at and then somehow leaves you stunned. It’s a very clever book with an ending that you won’t forget.

The Binding by Bridget Collins is for a start a god damn stunning book, I love it when a hardback isn’t just plain under the jacket and they really go in with the gold foil making it look all grand. Thankfully it isn’t just a pretty face, and with a unique intriguing story involving mysterious beautiful books and characters you’ll root for- and possibly make you wish you could shout into the book and tell them what to do- it’s the kind of book that draws you in and keeps you in suspense as everything slowly unravels. It’s a rather beautiful novel inside and out and it’ll definitely make you forget to check your phone for a while. It’s also just recently been announced that Collins’ has another book out later this year, The Betrayals, which I can’t wait to get my hands on.

I mean, that’s what you call a good hardback.

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite may be a rather short book but it really packs it all in and leaves an impression. It’s a daring and dark- yet comical- look at the strange relationship between sisters, the jealousy and hatred alongside the fact they’d do anything for each other. It’s both fun and jarring and I’m not at all shocked to see it get so many nominations, read it, and you’ll feel its impact too.

Reading The Familiars by Stacey Halls made me go through a bit of a phase with reading that kind of literary fiction, but mainly it made me excited for her latest book, The Foundling, as I just need more of what she does. However, I’m trying to make myself wait till it’s out in paperback and just read the others I have right now, but we’ll see how that goes. The Familiars shows the strength of the friendship of women through the Pendle Witch trials, and is gripping from start to finish. Any story of women coming into their own, and becoming their most powerful selves is captivating in my eyes, and Halls’ does this perfectly.

The Pisces by Melissa Broder has both a stand out cover, and a stand out story. From the beginning it’s a wonderfully written interesting story, but there’s quite the twist as it goes into the second half that completely changes everything. The twist might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re open to a little bit of fantasy, it’s a lot of fun. I found it super addictive and loved every page, I think this might be one of those books you describe as delicious.

Even the glorious cover can’t prepare you for that TWIST.

It’s a lovely feeling when you find a properly unputdownable book. From the reactions I’ve seen online, these books are ones that are universally loved, regardless of your preferred genre, so hopefully you find something to your taste.

—T

March books

Accidentally, or perhaps subconsciously, the theme for this month appears to be *Saoirse Ronan voice* women. Feminism will fuel me through this pandemic.

First I read The Future We Choose by a phenomenal woman, Christiana Figueres, and her co-host of the Outrage and Optimism podcast, Tom Rivett-Carnac. Most climate change books I’ve read have been information and prediction based and massively depressing and although of course these are important books, sometimes, we just need a lil hope. And that’s what The Future We Choose is all about, in which they outline the two possible futures the planet faces; one being very bad, and the other, although not perfect, will mean that humanity are happier, healthier and more a part of nature than we’ve been in a long time. They then tell us, step by step, what we can do to get there. And in an overwhelming, non-stop digital content age that gives people too many options, often resulting in them doing nothing, this is a much needed approach. Reading it certainly made me want to have a more, as they put it, “stubborn optimist” approach, and I think that’s what we’ll all need to try and harness in order to keep fighting for the planet, and stay sane through it.

Then I read Celeste Ng’s second book, Little Fires Everywhere, now a tv show produced by and starring Reese Witherspoon that came out last month. I read her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, last year and loved it and her second hooked me just as fast. Both have completely different plots but in both she takes complicated societal and cultural issues involving race and class, and through family life somehow manages to show all the perspectives and nuances involved in such matters that in today’s world we are all too quick to try and paint as black and white. Many of the character tropes will be all too recognisable and remind you of someone you’ve encountered (and probably make you cringe like hell) but seeing inside someone’s thought patterns might help people think twice in their judgments. It’s not a book where you can easily pick sides. Another book that does this really well is Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid which is equally entertaining and fun while covering such important and sensitive topics throughout.

Next up, How to Fail by Elizabeth Day, which is the second of three books in this pile that started as podcasts. I often sneered at this book a little, due to the fact I felt I certainly didn’t need any help with failing, and it feels like you’ve got to be at a point of succeeding, in order to look back on failures in such a way that you can feel a bit less shit about them. I absolutely love the podcast and Elizabeth’s interview style so I thought even though it didn’t seem like the book for me at this point in my life, I’d give it a go anyway. And boy does Elizabeth go in deep, but somehow in a light and extremely refreshing way that made me look at many things in a new light. I found myself being able to apply her thoughts to parts of my own failings and her stark honesty helps make it a rather comforting read, which I think everyone needs, no matter their success or age.

Then came Grown Ups by the most wonderful woman, Marian Keyes. I’d say it’s my favourite of the month, but I’m stuck between it and Once Upon a River, I suggest you read them both anyway. Big crazy family (so big it even includes a family tree), count down to a disastrous day, extremely interesting and thought provoking characters who your opinion changes of throughout, so damn fun and gripping that even when you’re not reading you’ll feel the excitement of getting stuck back in with all their lives. Marian Keyes somehow manages to make her books as page turning as a thriller but without the murder. Also her episode on the How to Fail podcast, go listen to it now, and every other podcast she’s been on. I’m possibly in love with Marian Keyes. Also, this edition has a striped sprayed edge to match the striped top the woman is wearing on the front cover, it’s very pleasing.

Fifth book of the month was a book that’s been out quite a while and also came from a podcast (I’m very late to the party), it’s The Guilty Feminist by Deborah Frances-White. You can tell I loved this book and got a lot from it by the number of corners I folded down on important points I wanted to come back to. It’s basically super accessible intersectional feminist theory, so if you can’t bare reading The Feminine Mystique (of which there is a wonderfully funny “I’m a feminist but…” reference to which is reason alone to read The Guilty Feminist) or all 978 pages of The Second Sex, get this right now, or if you’re a feminist theory nut already, get this anyway as there never stops being more to learn. It’s both easy to read and so so important, especially for the women that don’t feel feminist enough. Which if you don’t feel part of the movement or are busy worrying about your less feminist things, this only hinders us getting on with fighting the patriarchy. To make any guilty feeling feminists feel better, I’m a feminist but… I hated the way I looked so much I once bought a £67 vitamin c serum that ended up making my skin flare up thus never using it again. So like a triple threat I’m contributing to the patriarchy, capitalism and (through my wastefulness) climate change. However I must add it didn’t totally go to waste as through all the months I pretended I was using it so my mum couldn’t go mental about me wasting £67, turns out she was using it instead. 

After getting super angry and wanting to fight the patriarchy one on one, I’d really recommend reading my last book of the month, Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield. This genre of fiction might be my favourite, like Jessie Burton and Stacey Hall’s novels, it’s set in the past, often centred around complex and realistic women, and it’s got a touch of magic but not quite, as if it’s up to you to decide if you want it to be, and of course there’s a whole lot of mystery. From the start I had absolutely no idea what to expect, and I came to love the characters and not want to leave the book. It’s enchanting without actually being magical, and boy does it keep you guessing. I’ve seen a few reviews on Goodreads which mention how the book deals with race, as of course authors want to accurately depict the cultural and social realities of the time period while also, ya know, not being a racist twat. For the most part I think the author does this well, however it became quite clear and a bit of a recurring theme, that one of the characters, Mr Armstrong, who is black, was only seen as okay and worthy of respect because he talked in a upper class eloquent way and wore good clothes. It was then implied that people like him because they see him as not really being black. This is what caused an issue for some, however I think that what the author aimed to do is highlight how both ignorant and downright horrible the thoughts that people had around this time were, allowing them to be challenged. Other reviews I’ve seen make no mention of it, while some think she deals with it wonderfully and others badly. So seems everyone took it differently, so that’s for you to decide if you choose to read it. But I think everyone can always learn and strive to do better when depicting the realities of the past.

Already I want to be deep in another good story, one that makes your day better with the anticipation of reading it. Thankfully my tbr pile for the next month looks full of escapism.

I hope you find the right books to get you through.

—T