Alice Cottrell, Publisher
Last month I recommended the Desert Island Discs podcast. This month, after listening to and loving Man Booker prize winner Marlon James’ episode, I’ve been listening to the 26-hour audiobook of A Brief History of Seven Killings. The narrative follows a cast of characters who are involved in or caught up in the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976. It’s an incredible, ambitious, polyphonic work and I’m absolutely loving it in an audio format.
I’ve also been reading Sex and Lies by Leïla Slimani, a deeply personal and political non-fiction book about sexual norms and political repression in Morocco. Slimani interviews a range of Moroccan women about how they navigate sex in a society that outlaws all sex outside of marriage. The conversations are intimate and compelling, revealing vibrant and complex lives.
On a lighter note, I’ve been enjoying Shrill on SBS On Demand. Based on the bestselling memoir by Lindy West, the series follows aspiring journalist Annie (played by the excellent Aidy Bryant) as she navigates the challenges of love, life and work as a fat woman. It’s a short, sweet, sneakily affecting series.
Alan Vaarwerk, Editor
As I slowly try to rebuild my isolation-addled attention span, I’ve been enjoying Elizabeth Tan’s new short story collection Smart Ovens for Lonely People (Brio Books, out in June). A suicidal young woman is assigned a cat-shaped smart oven to help in her recovery; Sexual tension mounts between two long-time friends as they learn that they are both sleeper agents; Patrons at a karaoke bar weep over stock footage of pre-apocalyptic Perth. I loved Tan’s 2017 novel Rubik, and here she plays with the language of memes, advertising and pop culture in stories ranging from a few paragraphs to several pages; each story is a rich and utterly absorbing little world, delightfully weird but grounded in subtle and honest humanity.
I’ve also been enjoying Ennis Cehic and Shantanu Starick’s new literary and photography book New Metonyms: Bosnia & Herzegovina. Much as India is symbolised by the Taj Mahal, the US by the Statue of Liberty and London by Big Ben—their metonyms—Bosnia is still synonymous for many with its devastating war of the 1990s. Cehic and Starick travel the country exploring the country’s landmarks and cultural icons, and looking for new metonyms 25 years on. I’ve been a fan of Cehic’s writing since his stunning 2017 KYD essay on the tram commuters of Sarajevo, and the book is a beautiful combination of lush photography and thoughtful reflections on Bosnian and diaspora identity.
Justina Ashman, Editorial Assistant
This month has seen me regressing pretty severely into my teenage self, an experience which has been both delightful and unbearable in equal measure. I’ve been finding joy by meeting with friends over Netflix Party every week to gradually make our way through all of the Twilight movies, which I cannot in good conscience recommend other people do. I will, however, recommend Hot and Bothered, a podcast about romance writing that is currently releasing a series of ‘Twilight in Quarantine’ episodes in which the hosts read through the Twilight books, lovingly roasting them chapter-by-chapter and doling out advice to the characters.
I also highly recommend checking out their first season. Their regular episodes are a deep dive into the process of writing romance fiction, why certain tropes of the genre attract us and how writing romance fiction can help us process and move through difficult times in our lives. It strikes a unique balance between the personal, the literary and the creative and celebrates the joy that can be found in a much maligned genre.
I’ve also been playing a lot of video games this month, most notably Dungeon Siege, a fantasy RPG from 2002 which I’m appalled to realise while writing this very sentence is almost 20 years old. I’ve always loved fantasy RPGs and it’s comforting to know that, even in These Troubled Times, one can still find comfort in the simple pleasure of destroying pixelated skeletons with blasts of lightning while getting lost in a labyrinthine underground dungeon.
Phillippa Finkemeyer, ‘Memoir, Fiction, or Something in Between’
These days I’m not really one to take part in ‘sports’, but as a kid I played basketball and grew up worshipping the Chicago Bulls in the mid to late 90s. I’ve been watching The Last Dance on Netflix, which follows Michael Jordan and crew around while they try to win their 6th NBA title in 8 years. It’s been surprisingly nostalgic and uplifting, and there are too many iconic 90s fashion moments to count—mostly from Dennis Rodman, who I forgot I was strangely obsessed with as a child.
I’ve been struggling to read anything for a while, but luckily my reading drought has just ended with Coventry by Rachel Cusk. The titular essay is about silence and narratives, it’s amazing and something you can totally knock off in one lazy afternoon while that thing you’re probably baking is in the oven.
Also Banoffee’s new album Look At Us Now Dad is on high rotation at my place, particularly the tracks Chevron and Contagious, the latter of which is very aptly named for moody lockdown strolls.
Reena Gupta, ‘Yes, Your “Honest Mix-up” is Racially Biased’
As a global crisis continues to unfold, I’ve been drawn to what gives me comfort—British cop shows. I stumbled upon Unforgotten on ABC iView and was hooked. Maybe it’s the familiar police tropes (coppers flashing their badges, the endless swigs of tea) and tidy resolutions that go down well in this strange time. In any case, it was nice to see Sanjeev Bhaskar in a more serious role.
I’m also obsessed with this Hyperallergic piece on the Humboldt penguins who visited an art museum in Kansas City this month. It’s very funny and packed with perfect musings like this one:
‘I am earthbound, trapped in a prison of my own biology, and another of concrete and metal,’ said the third penguin, standing a ways off from the others and staring deeply at the image ‘St John the Baptist in the Wilderness‘. ‘I too am lost in the wilderness, but to me, humanity is the wilderness.’
Fiona Murphy, ‘Insomnia and Fear Collide in The Shapeless Unease‘
We have a new routine at work. At the start of each shift your temperature is checked. Any higher than 37.5 degrees—you’re sent home. Any lower—you’re given a sticker to wear. A patch of proof that you’re safe to be there. Mondays are blue, Tuesdays are red, Wednesdays are green, and so on. Whenever I wear a red dot, I think about the tulips in New York City. Last December the artist Daniele Frazier planted 3000 bulbs in Highland Park, which are now coming into bloom. Essayist Durga Chew-Bose reflects on Frazier’s ‘Temporary Red Dot’ art project for SSENSE: ‘With few certainties, arrive some. Like red for beginners. Like next spring—that incoherent, strange hereafter.’
I’ve also been reading Bluets by Maggie Nelson. The lyric essay suits my spectacularly fractured focus. Nelson’s the kind a writer who elicits curiosity and trust. I’m gladly taken by the hand and led through her thoughts on the colour blue.
Michael Sun, ‘The Cinematic Melancholy of the Suburbs’
I’ve been turning to a lot culture comfort food lately—haven’t we all? —and part of this means I am so addicted to Stan/Freeform’s The Bold Type that I have to actively set myself time limits on how much I can consume each day. Right now, that limit is two hours at night in bed and two hours when I wake up, which I now realise totals an unhinged four hours per day studying the Bold Type curriculum of fairytale fashion magazines, dream wardrobes, and New York media fantasies. If I have enough self-control, I’ll probably try to spread out my viewing further as the end of the latest season approaches—but don’t hold me to it.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I’m also reading Alexander Chee’s How To Write an Autobiographical Novel, and by reading, I mean alternating between manically underlining sentences and sobbing. Normally I can’t read with music in the background, but I’ve been finding Notes on a Conditional Form, the 1975’s new album, a surprisingly nice companion, although it means I can no longer listen to this song without thinking about tarot cards.
I am also dutifully completing (or trying to complete) the New York Times crossword each day, which is one of my last remaining markers of regular time passing by. The crossword has had two clues referencing Rita Ora in the last month, so make of that what you will…