Alice Cottrell, Publisher
I’ve been raving about Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe to anyone who’ll listen—it’s one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in some time. Through the unsolved case of the 1972 abduction of Jean McConville, Keefe tells the larger story of the Troubles in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. It’s both a compelling story well-told and a fascinating exploration of some really complex ethical questions. It’s a book about the extremes people will go to for an ideal, and the way societies mend—or don’t—after long and bloody conflict.
I also really enjoyed The Lie and How We Told It, a beautiful graphic novel by comic artist Tommi Parrish. After a chance encounter, two formerly close friends spend an awkward night out trying to salvage whatever is left of their relationship. The story explores navigating queer desire, masculinity and fear, and the artwork is gorgeous.
If you need a laugh, then Rebecca Shaw’s ‘The 10 funniest things I have ever seen (on the internet)’ feature for the Guardian should deliver. Speaking of internet laughs, I also love this meme my friend Tess made, which speaks to me deeply:
Alexander Wells, ‘What are Young Australians Searching For in Berlin?’
I recently came across a fascinating project named Open Memory Box, a vast collection (400+ hours) of digitised home videos from the now-vanished Communist state of East Germany. You can browse the clips in ‘Archive’ format or as an experimental ‘Anti-Archive’ themed around headings like Buddies, Fly or Erotic. Sometimes they’re touchingly relatable, sometimes they’re genuinely strange—all together they offer a tantalising glimpse into the daily life of a society that was so much more than just Berlin Wall and Stasi.
I’ve been missing Australia, so I’m re-reading Antigone Kefala’s Absence: New and Selected Poems (1992). Kefala is magnificent. I think she’s as good a writer of intimacy and distance—of grief and discontinuity—as any I’ve read. I particularly recommend this recording of her reading ‘Mrs Macquaries Chair’—it always hits me right in the feelings.
Hayley May Bracken, Podcast Producer
I’m currently listening to Rabbit Hole, a narrative audio series from the New York Times. It’s a sonically textured, flawlessly produced deep dive into internet culture. Guided by tech columnist Kevin Roose, each instalment illuminates the darker recesses of the online ecology and how it’s affecting us all. To say it’s at once entertaining, educational and relevant is an understatement.
I’m also currently watching ContraPoints (which I learnt about via Rabbit Hole), a YouTube channel created by the brilliant video essayist Natalie Wynn. Contrapoints offers eloquent and insightful counter arguments to alt-right and online hate groups rhetoric. Each ContraPoints offering is a heady mix of the deeply personal, the highly stylised and the academically rigorous. As I binged several videos in one sitting I lol’d, I cried, I learnt about cancelling, incels, TERFs, gender critics, philosophers and consulted UrbanDictionary more times than I care to admit.
Rosalind Moran, ‘The Joy of “Bad” Art’
I’ve been reading lots of non-fiction and Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House stands out. The memoir explores Machado’s experience of being in an abusive relationship with another woman. While her subject matter already engages, Machado’s book shines through its use of experimental form; I’ve rarely read a book where unconventional structure so effectively complements the narrative. For example, Machado replicates a circular argument on the page by transforming part of the book into a ‘choose your own adventure’ story offering only bad outcomes.
As for films, a recent favourite is Tangerine, a comedy-drama about the tempestuous friendship of two transgender sex workers. I’d read plenty of praise about this film and was not disappointed: it’s both funny and heartfelt.
Lastly, I’ve been enjoying the new podcast Margin Notes by Yen Eriksen and Zoya Patel. It unpacks a range of issues through the lenses of race, identity, and feminism.
Elizabeth Flux, ‘This Is Not A Eulogy for Hong Kong’
I have been finding it difficult to concentrate on TV lately—sometimes it takes me up to a week to make my way through a single episode of any given program. And so, the fact that I suddenly found myself in the middle of a 12-hour binge came as a bit of a surprise—and perhaps weirder still was the combination of shows. The Sinner—a dark, twisted murder mystery, with a chaser of The Baby-Sitters’ Club reboot.
Season 1 of The Sinner is based off a novel, and starts with a young woman committing a violent, murder of a stranger on a crowded public beach. The focus of the show is about teasing out why. Despite what she says, did she know the man? And Is there something hidden in her memory that she just can’t access? Hints are dropped delicately and compellingly, and I could not stop watching until I had all the answers. But then it was 2am and everything felt bad. Thus: The Baby-Sitters’ Club.
When a series is as beloved as BSC the chances of failure are high—and so the fact that the writers managed to pull together the perfect blend of nostalgia and faithfulness to the books while updating things to the modern day is actually pretty amazing. It’s new and yet completely familiar, kitsch without being naff, and—look, I don’t think it was just because I was watching it at 3am—strangely affecting and emotional.
Katherine Smyrk, ‘Why Passports Matter’
I couldn’t wait to read In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado, after being completely enthralled by her short fiction collection, Her Body and Other Parties (2017). Her new book is non-fiction—she calls it memoir, but that doesn’t quite do justice to the fairytale-like quality she brings to her telling of living through a queer abusive relationship.
While the story is powerful and heartbreaking, the writing is still dreamy, evocative and sexy. She throws her words like weapons against tropes about domestic abuse, and the historical silencing of queer women. This is extraordinarily personal work, but is accessible and beautiful.
And on those strange lockdown days when I need something a little more escapist, I have been delighted to delve back into the world of The Obernewtyn Chronicles via audiobook. As a teenager I was obsessed with this series by Australian author Isobelle Carmody, about a post nuclear apocalypse world populated by people who have mysterious mind powers. Revisiting it in audio form has been a real treat; Carmody reads the book herself, with all the voices.
This is ostensibly a YA book, but its gutsy young female protagonist, its gorgeous prose and its dark honesty about human intolerance and greed hold true whatever your age. Perfect for those socially distanced walks around the block.