Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Tonight and Every Night

As an internet dweller and person-who cares-about-stuff it seems impossible to read/write about anything other than Ferguson right now. I can't sit here and browse or write about soup or fashion editorials. But it is also impossible for me to write about Ferguson. Everything about the situation is impossible. As a white British woman there is nothing I can usefully add to a conversation about the experiences of black American men facing police brutality but I can't be silent. I don't write much here about current events or international politics but my corner of the internet has been subsumed by Ferguson and everything it represents in terms of unarmed black children being murdered by the state that should be protecting them and I can't ignore that. At the very least I feel obliged to bear witness and link to those better equipped to speak.
“Atticus–” said Jem bleakly.
He turned in the doorway.
“What, son?”
“How could they do it, how could they?”
“I don’t know, but they did it. They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do it — seems that only children weep.” 
— To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
The Talk: Bijan Stephens
Different Rules Apply: Matt Zoller Seitz

The Case for Reparations: Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Racism Beat: Cord Jefferson

Is This Working?: This American Life

The Parable of the Unjust Judge or: Fear of a Nigger Nation: Ezekiel Kweku
Words: Roxane Gay

Exactly How Often Do Police Shoot Unarmed Black Men?: Jaeah Lee

#Michael Brown #Tamir Rice #Trayvon Martin #Jordan Davis #Renisha McBride #Roshad McIntosh #Laquan Macdonald #Carey Smith-Viramontes #Qusean Whitten #Dillon McGee #Diana Showman #Akai Gurley #Kimani Gray #Kendrec McDade #Amadou Diallo and on and on...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Summertime Gladness

Once upon a time, seemingly aeons ago, it was summer and it was happy and it was beautiful. On one particularly golden morning and/or afternoon (I can't remember, it doesn't matter), R, mulp and I went to Great Dixter and it was glorious. Clearly I am prematurely turning into my parents whereby an afternoon spent visiting a garden rates as a good time but what can you do? You like what you like and I frickin' love Christopher Lloyd. The original garden design was Lutyens but the insanely luscious, almost chaotic but carefully considered planting scheme is pure Lloyd, now maintained by Fergus Garrett. Flowers upon flowers upon flowers. The long borders and the wild flower meadow. So much colour and texture and barely contained botanical exuberance. It is everything I would want an English garden and my one-day dream garden to be.

I smile every time I see this Venetia Scott Vogue editorial that was shot at Dixter so I thought I would share it here to remind us all that summer happened and it will probably happen again. I think I am going to try and establish an annual pilgrimage to Dixter.




Dream a Little Dream
Vogue UK October 2013
Photgraphy: Venetia Scott
Stylist: Bay Garnett
Hair: Tomo Jidai, Make-up: Sharon Dowsett 
Model: Georgia May Jagger

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Friday Sound: Le Déluge

There is a lot of music around at the moment. I mean, sure, there is always a lot of music around. We live in an age of CONTENT. I always find the YouTube statistics particularly shocking - 100 hours of uploaded to YouTube every minute. That's insane. This might just be because they are more widely publicised and monopolistic than other sectors. I'm sure if Soundcloud/Bootcamp announced how many minutes of music were uploaded per hour or there was some book/news/web writing conglomerate that could give any meaningful estimation of how many words were published every day it would be just as overwhelming, if not more. There is a lot of stuff out there and it is easy to freak out about missing something important and just climb under your duvet and re-read your favourite book from childhood while eating chocolate biscuits and listening to an album from 2007 in an attempt to distance yourself from the horrifying imbalance and existential knowledge that you will never be able to keep up, that you are just a minuscule dot in an ever increasing flood of human culture, and that you will one day die still basically ignorant and alone. YOU DON'T KNOW MY LIFE. DON'T JUDGE ME.

That said/panicked, it does feel like there is a lot of music worth listening to right now and that is probably a good thing. Some of these are legitimately new (as in, the last month, obv this is not the home of the hot take), some of them are older and that's ok. All in your own time. Some of these are from albums but I'm only featuring a single track because albums can be overwhelming. Everything can be overwhelming. I'm clearly feeling overwhelmed at the moment. Here is some music to take my mind off things...

Love Again - Run the Jewels. Heads up, this is RUDE and maybe offensive? It certainly starts out pretty gross but Gangsta Boo brings some great balance in the later verses. And the lyrics are sharp and the production is great and the underlying beat is addictive. I have had this stuck in my head for ages and it is just so inappropriate to even hum at the office.



Twengerbibbytwo - Aphex Swift. Unlike most of the internet I am not a Taylor Superfan. I know, it's controversial, but I cannot wholeheartedly embrace that level of pop/country. It is not where my heart lies nor will it ever be. However. I do have a huge amount of respect for her as a business woman and a craftsman (some weird gendering going on there - business man and craftswoman both sound wrong and business person + craftsperson sound hokie. Language is hard. Businesser and crafter?). I think she makes basically perfect pop songs and, sweet jebus, they are catchy and persistent. Once a Tswizz song has got inside your brain it will not let go, to the point of mild hysteria. I love how reactive and engaged she seems. Her creation of herself as the biggest selling artist of the decade seems super conscious and I admire that even when it kind of creeps me out. She puts in the work and she lets you see (some of) that and that's awesome. I love a hard worker. Anyway, the Taylor I most enjoy is creeper-Taylor, murder-you-in-your-sleep Taylor, if-you-hurt-me-or-my-best-friend-I-will-end-you Taylor, who seems to be a predominantly internet creation but who, I like to think, is based in something real. The Aphex Swift mashup album by David Rees really draws out the creepiness and it's great. Taylor's voice modification is pushed and stretched and cut every which way and it is weird and hilarious. It's. Tiiiiime.



Younger - Seinabo Sey. I managed to listen to a lot or, at least, many repetitions of Seinabo Sey before I saw what she looked like and obviously it doesn't matter what a musician looks like but also she is gorgeous and unexpected and adorable. I like her face. Music crush blown out into full blown girl crush. The video for Pistols at Dawn just came out but I can't resist the folksy hipster charm of the Younger video and it is catchy as hell. Mostly this post is just going to be about amazingly catchy songs. Her voice and register will blow your mind. I can't wait for whenever her album comes out.



Lady fronted girl pop. No, I can't love bubblegum pop but I do love me some less commercial/less tween oriented pop. Whispy girl pop, spacey Scandinavians, 60s girl bands, Fleetwood Rock blues-rock-pop (what genre is Fleetwood Mac?? All music should probably just be that genre). And there are loads of great girls/girl-led bands around at the moment. I haven't had a chance to really get involved with Haerts debut album but I'm very excited that it is here. I think they make pretty perfect pop. 27 Club is trying very hard to be Lana Del Rey but I'm enjoying Ultraviolence/todestrieb/murder-teen era LDR and the lyrics are fun and silly and it is hella catchy (again). I don't have a bunch to say about Vérité but Heartbeat is also catchy and girly and great. All the girls.







To Do List:
  • Gay Dog Food - Mykki Blanco. Mykki's new mixtape is out and I've downloaded it but I haven't had much of a chance to get into it. I love her and I'm psyched for the new release but it is quite... abrasive... and it's going to take some work. I have faith though.
  • Broke with Expensive Taste - Azaelia Banks. Well, I will be goddamned. I genuinely didn't think this album was ever going to be released and now here it is. Only three or four years late? And AB's sound has changed a lot in the lead up time. I've heard a couple of tracks and liked them but I can't imagine how 212 is going to sit next to Heavy Metal and Reflective. Her new sound is pretty aggressive (I mean, it's always been lyrically aggressive but sonically) but HM&R really grew on me so I presume I'll enjoy the album at large.
That's quite a lot of things but if there are other new/not new musicz that I might/probably have missed then do let me know. Only in manageable chunks though, please.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ramblings: Songbirds and Cashmere

If wishes were thrushes, beggars would eat birds.

Right.

But… Ok? Hang on. No. I understand that if wishes were thrushes beggars would have a lot of thrushes but I can't imagine it is a lack of thrushes that is keeping them from eating birds. They probably lack proper bird processing and cooking facilities and an excess of thrushes isn't going to change that. If anything, it will probably exacerbate the problem.

Thrushes, songbirds generally, were a delicacy once (maybe they still are somewhere) but I imagine it takes time, attention and careful handling to derive much nutrition or pleasure from a thrush. They are not very big birds. They would be very fiddly to eat on the bone and I can't imagine there is much of them left off the bone. They must have been cooked on the bone (whole?) in those fancy pies. That would be a lot of tiny bird bones amidst your pastry, just waiting to spike you viciously in the gums or stick in your throat. Perhaps you ate the bones like those terrifying Filipino fetal eggs. You do you but even the thought of balut makes me feel a little queasy. Raw-ish egg and crunchy skull and tiny, sharp, choking bones and quills... That is a lot of texture right there. That is more texture than I can cope with. I love food; I love exploring food and new cultures and histories through food; I wish I could be one of those travelers who will excitedly try anything that is put in front of them but I don't think I could eat the most authentic balut in the world. I am too much of a coward. Or I am too repelled. I read or watched or heard an interesting talk about disgust once; about how (from my garbled memory) disgust, social or physical, is, at its most basic, a biological response designed to protect us. Humans are almost universally disgusted, across cultures, by the faeces of carnivores and incest because these things will cause us harm, they will poison us and damage our progeny. You are repulsed by rotten food because it can make you sick. That seems to give a lot of autonomy to the physical body but if you can flinch away from pain then I guess why not? QUASI-SCIENCE, Get It Here. I question how much you can expand on disgust-as-biology because so much of disgust is clearly cultural and because I am deeply wary of 'status quo disguised as evolutionary biology'. [Men's rights activists have really, horribly undermined the possibly sometimes legitimate field of evolutionary biology. OBVIOUSLY I am not a creationist but I nearly punched my computer that time I read that women like pink because they are used to searching for berries and men like blue because they had to watch the skies when they were on a hunt. Oh sure, just blithely ignore like 1200 years of Western history when pinks and reds were viewed as masculine colours and blue was for girls and Madonnas.] Raw eggs can give you salmonella but I don't think that is the heart of my discomfort and clearly it hasn't swayed balut eaters. I don't enjoy handling raw meat but people love steak tartare and Scandinavians like to bury food and eat it putrefied (#NotAllScandinavians). The world is a weird place and people have strange tastes and I should embrace that more but I struggle but I should try. But but.

I think they should have made thrush pies on the Great British Bake Off. I would swear blind that I saw pictures once of thrush pies that looked a little like crowns and they were rather beautiful. Can I find any photos? No. But, theoretically, they would be complicated, obscure and deeply British, i.e. perfect GBBO fodder. I mean, there would have been uproar but whatever.

Also.

I just realised that feathers are super pimped out hairs. Or rather, they are both integumentary systems. Bizarre. I quite fancy the idea of feather eyebrows but it also seems painful. Do birds get in-grown feathers? Asking the important questions.

If wishes were thrushes, beggars would eat birds. If wishes were scarves, I would be snuggled in cashmere? Certainly, if money was no object, I would be wrapped up in a Begg & Co. scarf. Their Arran cashmere scarves look lush. £240 might be a perfectly reasonable price for goats raised and wool spun and knitted in Scotland, I don't know, but it is sadly out of my price range. [N.B. The scarves are definitely made in Ayr but I can't see the source of their wool on the website and this post is quite long enough without going on another research binge.] Either way, they look lovely and local(ish) and I fancy one. I love their colour palette and apparent ethos. I would wear the hell out of that slate grey number. All I really want from my clothing is for it to be soft and warm - all cashmere everything. A cashmere cocoon. A cashmere sleeping bag perhaps? That would be the (possibly slightly sweaty) dream...

Thursday, October 16, 2014

These Are a Few of my Favourite Thing

I can't imagine why something like the Longform app didn't exist sooner. Maybe it did and I just missed it. I can admit that happens often. The app, which has a clean, mostly straightforward layout, allows you to follow your favourite publications and bookmark any interesting essays/longform articles to read offline. This is obviously great and the in-app reading experience is neat and free of distractions (there are a couple of issues with stuff like pull quotes and repetitions but I'm sure these will be ironed out). 

More excitingly though it allows you to follow writers directly. This may not sound like a grand innovation but I love it. Most writers write across more publications than I could read and although I follow lots of writers on Twitter I am too inactive and Twitter moves too fast for me to be able to catch everything. I follow some writers on Tumblr too which is great but, again, it's so easy to miss things in endless streams. In the app I have my own queue and I get notifications when the people I like write great longform things anywhere online! Revolutionary! I can then bookmark everything I want to read and have it in one handy place, safe from the abyss. Apparently I can't write about apps without sounding like an old. What can you do? One day I shall turn into my beloved Luddite father and eschew all machines. They have the devil inside of them...

In a fit of excitement upon downloading the app I brain-vomited up about 20 writers that I wanted to follow and I have added a handful more in the last fortnight. They are a solid 90% women and there is only one white man amongst them. John Jeremiah Sullivan gets a free pass because he has written some of my favourite essays, I mean, not a free pass to be awful but a free pass to be white and male. (Actually, I've just added David Grann. I'm sure there are others but I think 3% of my list is basically appropriate.) My list isn't conclusive and I'm sure there are some obvious people I have forgotten so let me know who I might be missing. You can also follow me on there since there is a 'recommend' function which I am enthusiastically using on anything particularly great. I am, as on Twitter (which I am trying to engage with more at the moment although it does not come easy to me), @cmiscellany. You can't come say hi on there or anything (I don't think?) but let me know if you're enjoying the app and recommending good things and I will find you.


New Ways to Consume Content. *barf*. Still, 2/3 of my favourite things. I can't be arsed to trawl back through my email to work out when I started getting into newsletters in a big way but I can tell you that Rusty was my gateway drug. The Tabs summer holiday/sabbatical/empty hole in my life was a hard time. Tinybitchtapes is the best and Ann Friedman does a great weekly roundup of her work and generally internet bizness. Real humans direct into your heart (inbox). Those are (relatively) old favourites but I recently signed up to a new baby newsletter that is bring me much joy. Heads up, it's not about new babies, phew - it is just a morsel of delightfulness and I have been receiving it for about three weeks. Laura Olin's Everything Changes near weekdaily email has made me smile every time I've opened it. Impressively random, no more than two minutes, a tiny flash of happiness. Dolly Parton facts (goddess - informative), the secret lives of emoji (weird - insightful), context-free animal gifs (obv). Awesome. I would highly recommend it. Do you have any favourite newsletters?


Transparent is so great. I had read many things saying it was great but I was and am still surprised at it's greatness. Amazon made this thing. Well, Jill Soloway and co. made it but on Amazon's buck. Wonders will never cease. I'm only about half way through and maybe (unlikely but not impossible) it will take a horrible downturn or have a very disappointing ending but that seems unlikely and, even if it is true, a half series of wonderfulness is a wonderful thing.

I did not particularly care for Afternoon Delight although I thought all the female actors were very strong. I feel like, with this kind of indie film, you maybe don't have enough space in 90-110 minutes to develop the likeable parts of a character that allow you to engage with the bog standard human awfulnesses. Of course, likeability is beside the point but I don't know if a film gives me enough to hold onto with more complicated characters? I'm not sure totally what I mean by that or even if I agree... A book (or perhaps a tv show?) character has 300 pages and a week or a month to engage you so they can be difficult and horrible because you get more, the character is unrestricted, but a film traps you in the mire... I don't know. Afternoon Delight made me feel miserable and Transparent makes me feel joyous even though everyone in it has their own brand of unpleasantness. It is warmer? I am just blissfully happy to have a trans protagonist and gender centre stage. I love a women-centric show but I really love that this blows gender up a bit wider. It is funny. It is beautiful and quiet but not mumble-y. The acting is great. Gaby Hoffmann hates pants. It is a good time for television.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Girl Crush: Meg Myers

I am deeply wary of nostalgia. I watched The Two Faces of January at the weekend and Kirsten Dunst's wardrobe is fantastic but no vintage dress can beat out the internet, easy access to birth control and hummus. [For reference, the clothes, settings and actors in the film are beautiful but - for me - its only appeal is aesthetic. I neither actively liked or disliked the film - it left me cold. I would only recommend it to those with a particular fetish for early 1960s structured fashion, sun-drenched shots of Athens and Crete and Kiki/Oscar. Admittedly, those things shine.] I want to experience original punk, the glamour of Hollywood's Golden Age, the party-going nihilism of the inter-bellum, Regency England (et al) but I'm not an idiot. I love Austen but I would lose my mind trapped in a drawing room.



It makes sense that the lost idyll that I truly regret missing is one within my own lifetime. If I was only 5-10 years older (and possibly American) I could have been a riot grrrl and still enjoyed the perks of 2014. I really wish I could have hit Fiona Apple and Sleater-Kinney and Liz Phair and Bikini Kill at their peak, at the right age. [N.B. For music purists and people who were culturally conscious at this time, I appreciate that I am blurring genres and epochs slightly here but since I missed both and they share DNA I am going to group them together. For more, see this history of riot grrrl and the 'angry woman'.] I can listen to their music now but I wish I could have experienced their rage/fierceness at its peak. I wish I could have listened to them as a teenager, become obsessed and seen them live. Seen them tear the world apart just as I was creating myself.



Of course, I've missed Meg Myers in the other direction. I am too old to enjoy her as an obsessive, bewildered teenager but at least I can bask in her anger and fierceness contemporaneously. I stumbled across her about a month ago and I am in mad love/lust. In my grand tradition of missing the boat she's been around for years - her first EP came out in 2012 and her latest EP came out in February. Whatever. Desire is a magnificent song with a magnificent video. It is dark and twisty and perfect. I love the viciousness, the sexual aggression and the barely contained rage, the challenge. She's beautiful and talented but also vicious and creepy. Heart dangerous girls...



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Article Reading Group: Allsorts


Baby LiLo via ITG

I have no coherent theme here. This is straight up: Stuff That Is Good On The Internet.

The Logic of Stupid Poor People - Tressie McMillan Cottom:  Just something everyone should read. Perhaps every three months or so. A reminder of how to be a human being.

The Transgender Crucible - Sabrina Rubin Erdely: Are we having a trans moment? Has the tide turned? Are we ready to abandon gender binaries and embrace a gender spectrum where people can self-identify however they please without fear or threat? (I’m not even going to try and posit the idea that we’re post-gender because ha!) Short answer: probably not. I’m thrilled that Laverne Cox and Martine Rothblatt and Jill Soloway’s show are enjoying success and getting good press but I am not touching the comments section of those articles with a barge pole and many trans/non- gender conforming people still face hatred, violence and systems of power that are stacked against them. CeCe McDonald is just one example of how much further we still have to go.

BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti Goes Long - Felix Salmon: Did you know... Jonah Peretti, founder of Buzzfeed, co-founder of HuffPo, ye olde Original Internet Dude, is the brother of Chelsea Peretti, Gina off of all-round excellent TV show Brooklyn 99? That’s hardly the main takeaway from this extended conversation with Peretti but it was news to me. I miss B99. Peretti is a thoughtful, interesting human being and he and Felix Salmon talk past and future internets. If those things hold any curiosity for you I would recommend giving this (admittedly pretty long) interview a try.

The Afghan Girls Who Live as Boys - Jenny Nordberg: This is awesome. I mean, awful but also awesome. The world is complicated. Obviously, as per Article #2, I would like to live in a world where people are not discriminated against based on gender – where a person’s access to education, employment, health, freedom is not determined by gender. But I don’t live in that world and the women of Afghanistan certainly don’t live in that world. And, given these flawed, patriarchal realities, I want all of the stories about the women and girls who cheat the system. The women who cut their hair and put on trousers so they can go out and fight and learn and support their families. Lady Fu Hao, the pope who gave birth, the bacha posh. These women can only exist in a society that denies women choice/agency/freedom and I don’t want to romanticise that but I love their determination and the way they expose so many of the moronic illusions of gender. Any further reading recommendations, esp. books, much appreciated.

I Re-Watched Garden State and Will Never Feel Again - Lindy West: Glorious. #NotAllLampreys

Thursday, September 25, 2014

R.I.P. Debo


Deborah Mitford puts a string of pearls on her pet whippet. Photographed by Madame Yevonde, 1941.

Oh, Debo. You were a champion. I can't imagine it was much fun to be the last of a generation but you will be missed.

Mitford recommendations:
Mitford To Read list:

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Cinematic Joy: Pride

Aaahhh, I have reached film nirvana. I don’t need to see any more films this month. I can just go back to the cinema and watch Pride every night for as long as it airs.



Because this is the internet I should probably preface this rhapsody by saying, obviously, your fave is problematic. Nothing is perfect and equality politics are difficult but Pride is a delight and I loved it. Pride is ‘inspired by the true story’ of lesbian and gay support for the miners during the strikes in Britain in the 1980s. I know that some people object to the increasing fictionalisation of history in pop culture but, generally speaking, I’m in favour. I don’t think that many people watching these kinds of films think they are seeing an exact record of events – they are aware that they are watching a story and if the topic sparks their interest they can find historical/academic source material later. I also think that often a consciously constructed fiction/narrative can be the best and most accessible way to communicate wider truths about an event, time, movement etc. Yes, despite the homophobia and hatred that are portrayed in this film, it probably still elides a lot of the bigotry and brutality faced by the gay community (and by the labour movement)(and the violence that both of these communities committed in self-defence, fear and to further their causes). Pride is rose-tinted: the timeline is coherent and the people are beautiful and the dialogue is snappy. It is entertainment not documentary and I’m fine with that. Unfortunately, this works both ways and if you are going to sugar-coat history a bit of diversity would have been nice. Obviously Welsh mining villages in the 80s were not thrumming centres of racial diversity but it seems like a strange oversight to make the London gay scene quite so glaringly white… You can’t have it all though.


These issues aside, Pride is pretty much my dream. The cast is amazing – Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy, Andrew Scott, Dominic West, Paddy Considine, that guy from This is England, that girl from Fresh Meat and The Bletchley Circle, that babe from Sunshine on Leith. The 80s costumes, hair and music are amazing. I love the very British humour and sensibility of the film. It is sad and funny and charming and poignant. It is a festival of gayness and Welsh accents. That said, this is gayness designed to appeal to a middle class, conservative (small c) audience – sympathetic gay bashing and AIDS victims but no actual sex and little more than chaste kisses. There could have been more snogging, that’s all I’m saying.

I want a whole extended premium TV show about the lives and loves, futures and origin stories of the Gay’s The Word bookshop but until then I will be buying the Pride DVD the moment it comes out and playing it on repeat. Highly enjoyable fare. I’m not sure what kind of distribution the film will be getting outside of the UK but keep an eye out for it or, if you’ve already seen it, let me know what you thought.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Sunday Book: Literary Eclipse

You know how sometimes you read a series of moderately good books and then you read a BLOODY AMAZING book and it makes all the books around it, temporally and physically, seem like pale imitations of books? Yeah, I just had that. The truly great book reminds you of everything a book can really be and makes everything you read before and after it a disappointment by comparison.

Salvage the Bones is that book. It is throwing shade on everything else I've read this month and will probably continue to do so all year, maybe forever. MUCH HYPERBOLE. Much deserved. It is gaspingly beautiful and it will destroy you. The end of the book made me jiggle nervously in my seat and cry for the best part of half an hour. I continued to cry after I closed the book. I was on a train. Luckily, I am a silent crier and hopefully the other people sharing our table didn't notice my expansive web of snot.
“Salvage the Bones,” the 2011 National Book Award winner for fiction, is a taut, wily novel, smartly plotted and voluptuously written. It feels fresh and urgent, but it’s an ancient, archetypal tale. Think of Noah or Gilgamesh or any soggy group of humans and dogs huddled together, waiting out an apocalyptic act of God or weather. It’s an old story — of family honor, revenge, disaster — and it’s a good one. As Arnold Schoenberg said, “There is still much good music that can be written in C major.” And Jesmyn Ward makes beautiful music, plays deftly with her reader’s expectations: where we expect violence, she gives us sweetness. When we brace for beauty, she gives us blood.
Best of all, she gives us a singular heroine who breaks the mold of the typical teenage female protagonist. Esch isn’t plucky or tomboyish. She’s squat, sulky and sexual. But she is beloved — her brothers Randall, Skeetah and Junior are fine and strong; they brawl and sacrifice and steal for her and each other. And Esch is in bloom. Her love for Manny and her love for literature have animated the world; everything is suddenly swollen and significant. (NYT)
It might be because I am horribly lacking in Bayou points of comparison but Salvage the Bones reminded me a lot of Beasts of the Southern Wild. Certainly if you like one I think you’ll like the other. A storm looms over both, threatening both the alien landscapes and the poverty stricken families who survive on them. Both have young, black female protagonists, with absent mothers and disconnected fathers, although the teenage Esch of STB has responsibilities of her own. There are animals and wildness and myth. I have decided that this is definitely a legit comparison. Also, Jesmyn Ward gives truly great dog.

Everything is wonderful: the writing, the plot, the structure, the characterisation, the wrenching emotional kick… This book is alive and important and vital – I can’t really recommend it highly enough. It sets the bar super high.


Vampires in the Lemon Grove is so whimsical. Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! and Kelly Link’s collection of magical realist/fantasy/genre busting short stories, Magic for Beginners, were two of my favourite books of the last year or so and I was prepared to love VITLG but it fell a little flat. My expectations were high (see also: Everland) but I don’t think that was the real problem. It is just a bit too quirky. My tolerance for quirk/kook/whimsy balances on a knife edge and VITLG tipped towards the cloying. I dunno, I love her imagination. There were stories that worked, like the Settlements Act and the tattooed Iraq vet, and there were stories that glimmered with possibility, like the silkworm girls, and I enjoyed the horse presidents but as a collection it left me a little cold.

Appropriately, Everland, which is set on two parallel Antarctic expeditions in 1913 and 2012, also left me a little cold. Mr Chartwell is such a great first novel and another of my favourites of the last few years; it is strange and imaginative – the ‘black dog’ of Winston Churchill’s depression is made talking, drooling, sinister flesh. Everland lacks that weirdness, beyond the inherent weirdness of Antarctica, and I felt lacked the heart. The setting is obviously interesting and Hunt writes extreme cold very evocatively. The tension builds in both stories and the triumphs and limitations of the human are stark against the brutal, unchanging setting but the parallels between the stories are heavy handed. There are so many connections between the stories that I struggled to remain immersed – you are constantly playing guessing games with the plots and characters, trying to match and predict the story. Some readers might enjoy that but I found it distracting and frustrating. Still, Everland is intriguing landscape to explore.

I have earmarked some quotes from How Should a Person Be? for future blog posts because there were moments where Heti articulated very exactly ideas/thoughts I was on the brink of feeling. There were sentences and paragraphs where I almost gasped at how intimately Heti seemed to have understood my own emotions and experiences. There were also long stretches of the book I found tedious, I could have done without the whole blowjob-as-the-art-of-our-time plot line, and ‘privileged white girls angst about how to live an emotionally and creatively satisfying life’ is difficult to swallow (ha) alongside STB but the flashing moments of truth and Heti’s willingness to really push the narrative and her eponymous protagonist to extremes made me glad I had read the book.

Even when they are imperfect I have a lot of enthusiasm for narratives by and about flailing, scruffy, broke young women trying to find/become themselves. It’s narcissism, of course, but I also think it is our turn – we have had centuries of the male equivalent, bring on Girls and Greta Gerwig and HSAPB?. I was so ready to like Friendship. Emily Gould is a complicated, super visible and often controversial internet ‘character’ but I like her writing (I thought her MFA vs. NYC essay was great) and I admire her aggressive openness online. But… meh. Admittedly, Friendship suffered the most from STB eclipse as it was the first book I read after the glory and emotional annihilation of STB and it just felt pointless. After Esch and Skeet, Randall and Junior, Manny and Big Henry, the bickerings and financial irresponsibility of Bev and Amy fell hella flat. I mean, I did appreciate the complexity of the central friendship, there are jealousies but the friendship isn’t defined by competitiveness, the girls make mistakes and hurt each other but they do love and try to support each other. Romantic relationships are totally secondary in the novel and that’s great. Plus, the book is very short and easy to read. It’s not awful but it just feels vapid. I will defend to the death women’s right to write pointless novels but I can’t really recommend it. That said, if you are going to read it I would suggest you do so as soon as possible because it is v au courant and is not going to date well.

Basically. READ STB.