Alice Cottrell, Publisher
I’m currently reading Fathoms: the World in the Whale by Rebecca Giggs (Scribe). I’ve been eagerly awaiting this book since I read Giggs’ beautiful essay Whale Fall in Granta years ago, and it’s living up to my (high!) expectations. Giggs blends natural history, philosophy and science to explore what our enduring fascination with whales can tell us about them—and us. It’s a fascinating and compelling look at the world’s biggest mammals, the consequences of environmental change and humanity’s relationship with nature.
I’ve been deep-diving into the podcast archives of the BBC’s wonderful Desert Island Discs, which astonishingly has been running since 1942. It’s a cosy and calming show—like sinking into a warm bath. Guests share eight tracks, a book and a luxury that they’d take to a desert island. The current host, Lauren Laverne, is a wonderful interviewer. I’m a big Succession (HBO) fan, so I particularly enjoyed the recent episode with lead actor Brian Cox.
On TV I’m very excited by the return of Insecure, which is written, produced, directed and performed by Issa Rae. It’s a brilliant comedy-drama series that follows Issa and Molly, two best friends in their late 20s, as they navigate careers and relationships in their hometown of LA. It’s a funny show that also explores the social and racial issues faced by Black women in the African American community.
Alan Vaarwerk, Editor
Writing this month’s column has throw into sharp relief the fact that the last four weeks have been pretty unadventurous and uninspired in terms of culture—I’ve found myself falling back into bad old habits of aimless clicking around the internet into the wee hours with little to show for it, while my to-read pile goes sadly neglected. Turns out one of the most psychologically taxing situations in modern memory has not been the thing to finally make me productive.
One small things that has kept me distracted from the firehose of bad news: the iOS game Mini Metro, in which you have to build train lines across a city in order to shuttle passengers around as efficiently as possible. It’s a deceptively simple premise executed brilliantly, and I’ve found myself losing hours to it.
I’ve also begun watching The X-Files for the first time, all 11 seasons of which are available on SBS On Demand; somehow it’s one of those cultural products that have always seemed to slip by me. While it’s not always exactly cosy or comforting, there’s generally just enough 90s cheese to take the edge off some of the scarier episodes, and early seasons hold up surprisingly well—some plots that would have seemed far-fetched in 1993, like smart homes and intrusive surveillance, now seem remarkably prescient. Plus, it has to be said—the incredible chemistry between Mulder and Scully is truly a joy to behold.
Lauren Burns, ‘My Life as a “Miracle Baby”‘
Art galleries are closed but the Getty Museum in Los Angeles has challenged the public to channel the ingenuity of the Apollo 13 ground crew to recreate their favourite works of art. So far my cousin is winning our family competition by pairing a packet of frozen prawns with a child’s toy telephone to recreate Dali’s Lobster Telephone.
For those primed for radical post-coronavirus change, consider beginning with your own ideas about Australian history. Several years after a first reading on my own trip down the Franklin River I’m hooked on rereading Richard Flanagan’s debut novel Death of a River Guide. The gothic portrayal of the ghosts of Tasmania’s Indigenous, convict and immigrant history are transmuted into the troubled drifter Aljaz who faces the terrible, hypnotic beauty of a wild river in flood.
If you’re ready to dive deep into tweaking your consciousness of Australian history try pairing with Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu and Tyson Yunkaporta’s Sand Talk. Buckle up and get ready to blow your mind!
Ellen Cregan, First Book Club host
I’ve been oscillating wildly between obsessively reading the COVID-19 news, and trying to avoid it at all costs. My picks for this month reflect this…One of my all-time favourite podcasts, This Podcast Will Kill You, has been releasing a series of COVID-19 minisodes that explain and explore different aspects of the disease, from epidemiology to spillovers to the potential for a vaccine. The hosts of this podcast are such intelligent, amazing women, so if you can’t bear to listen to the COVID episodes, I recommend going back and listening to some earlier ones instead (my personal favourites are the Smallpox episode, and the two-part special on the Black Death). On the podcasting flip-side, I’ve been listening to episodes of the hilarious porn review series, Girls On Porn. Each episode sees the hosts review two porn videos—one from an ethical porn producer, and the other from a more mainstream (and often seemingly dubious) source. While they do have an episode on coronavirus porn (how!!), I’ve been giggling away to their recent episodes ‘Step Siblings’, ‘Fairy Tales’, and ‘Latex’.
I also just finished reading Emily St John Mandel’s latest novel, The Glass Hotel, which is an absolute delight. Set over several decades, this is the story of a fractured family, a remote hotel, a ponzi scheme, and the metaphorical places that can exist within literal ones. The way Mandel moves through time, and draws together plot lines is just magical. And while Mandel is perhaps most famous for a pandemic novel (the great Station Eleven), those wearied by the current, real-life pandemic can be assured that The Glass Hotel has no sickness in it at all!
Chloë Cooper, ‘Mourning the Dead in the Digital Afterlife’
With everything that has been happening in the world at the moment, I have been finding it difficult to take in as much information as I normally would. So, I’ve found myself turning to shorter works like TV series, short stories, and books under 200 pages. I tend to lean towards content that is slightly quirky with dark undertones. Two books which I’ve loved recently are Weather by Jenny Offill and Oligarchy by Scarlett Thomas. Both were very easy to get lost in and very satisfying. I’ve also been re-reading Marlee Jane Ward’s excellent dark and satirical short stories and stumbled across ‘Starving to Death in Brunswick West’, a story about quarantine told in recipes (very apt for our times, but actually published in 2017!). And finally, I’ve recently finished rewatching the complete seasons one to seven of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in preparation for the apocalypse (because Buffy saved the world… a lot).