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.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Winning Saturday Morning

How to win at Saturday Morning in three simple steps:
  1. Coffee at Monmouth.
  2. Pain au chocolat at the Little Bread Pedlar. Londoners, help them buy a new bread oven. Think of the bread...
  3. Horst: Photographer of Style at the V&A. This is a ridiculously good exhibition - gelatin silver prints, vintage film and fashion, early-mid twentieth century high society. It has everything you could want. Horst P. Horst is my new favourite person.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Friday Sound: Babe Alert



I'm going to write an actual post about Barf Troop soonish because they're great.



Lady got moves.



Robyn robyn robyn robyn. Also, Busiswa.



Man, LP1 is a great album and Two Weeks is the entry point. I have been looking forward to Twigs' full album fo'eva and I don't think it disappoints. She is weird perfection. Molly Lambert has written my favourite FKA Twigs piece so far. Go forth and read Smooth Operator: FKA Twigs’ Brilliantly Unclassifiable Debut Album. I group Twigs with the recent wave of nu-rnb female singers and Lambert questions whether that is racist and reductive. I agree that post-internet music generally and Twigs particularly resist simplistic genre classification but there is a group of young, black girls who are creating a new, if not similar then perhaps adjacent, sound and I think that it has strong rnb/hip hop elements. I dunno, I have neither the historical knowledge nor the technical ear to argue persuasively about music but it is definitely something to consider. Follow up link: You Say Hipster R&B, I Say Nappy-Headed Pop. Either Way, It's Offensive.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Begrudgingly Admitting to Autumn





Daria Werbowy for Mango AW/14 via Because I'm Addicted

I have been trying to ignore autumn. It is August. It is ridiculous to be considering coats and jumpers and nine plus months of cold, damp misery. Admittedly, autumn clothes are more compelling than summer clothes but I have been resolutely ignoring September issues. I am nowhere near ready for summer to be over.

British weather is pissing on my denial though. Quite literally. It's cold and grey and wet and awful. It's like sunshine never happened. It annoys me that, like sleep, you can build up a sleep deficit or suffer from SAD but you can't build up a sleep surplus or ration out the sunshine like a solar power battery. Once it starts raining for real everything good and golden is wiped out instantly... Sad times.

A small compensation? Daria. She is the most beautiful, perfect creature and she makes even autumn, with its wet towel skies and cold hands, seem seductive and desirable. The answer, as ever, lies in the knitwear. Textured knits in muted colours, grey marl and scruffy denim. Tousled hair and sharp cheekbones. Soft fabrics and rugged eyes. As I said, perfect. I guess I'll take it.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hysterical Girls: Done and To Do

I saw Richard Armitage (Babe Alert) in The Crucible last week. The play is on at the Old Vic until 13th September and if you live in/around London I would highly recommend catching it. Important Thing I Didn’t Know: the Old Vic does £12 tickets for those 25 and under. It makes the theatre accessible! I wish I had known sooner. London has some amazing theatre but I rarely go because a) I’m not a massive theatre-head and b) it’s normally ridiculously expensive. I have to be enormously invested in a production before I’m going to seriously consider shelling out £50+ for crap seats. I mean, the Old Vic has 360° seating and we were at the back so we saw a lot of bald spots but you’re actually pretty close to the stage and the view is excellent and they do choreograph the play to the space so it wasn’t really a problem.

Anyway, the tickets were a bday present from VB and they were an excellent present because I got to see Richard Armitage shirtless and gnawing the minimalist scenery (I’m very fond of him but I am willing to admit that there were a few points where the overacting achieved comic proportions – aggressive arm flinging and bewailing) and I got to see a very interesting play about which, previously, I knew pretty much nothing. I studied Death of a Salesman at school, no American theatre at all at university and I don’t read plays for fun so The Crucible had passed me by. Pretty much all I knew going in was ‘Salem witch trials’ + ‘Miller theme: the failure of the American dream.’ It was very refreshing. I was not at all prepared for how insane it was going to be.


I’m not going to attempt to analyse the play because lots of people read it at school and even if you didn’t there are 51 years of actual literary criticism at your fingertips but I will say, to quote Mr. West, that shit CRAY. Having not yet read any of the aforementioned criticism I feel far from qualified to talk about the racial weirdness and I am not interested in the religious angsting over whether John Proctor is or is not a good man. Tear your hair all you like, sir, but good men don’t screw their teenage help, make promises and then collude to have them thrown out on the street. I mostly stand with Abigail. What did really excite me and what I think this production portrayed really well was teen hysteria and manic girl power.

As working class (such as it existed in 1690s America) teenagers the girls were disadvantaged by class, education, age and gender but as jury members and apparent ‘innocents’, arbiters of god and the devil, they could condemn anyone to death. They dance naked in the woods and send their fellow townspeople to the scaffold. They writhe and twitch in beautiful synchronisation under the influence of strange spirits and this production, at least, resisted assigning causes. (Obv I need to read the original.) The girls have their individual motivations but as a collective they are opaque. Are their spasms the devil, a sincere belief in the devil or something different? Are they all caught up in the moment or is this vindictive? Are they sensitive and susceptible or are they all contriving to play the system? It’s great.

Hysteria is a loaded term and has been used as both a diagnosis and a criticism to repress women approximately fo’eva but I wonder if it could be reclaimed. There is something so amazing and powerful and excessive about a particular state of teenage girlhood. Own your ὑστέρα (hystera "uterus")! There was an amazing article ages ago about the unique mental state of being a teenager and obsession and fan culture …*Cue extensive internet search – I wish I was the kind of person who remembered names and quotes rather than vague ideas of names and quotes. Is this the internet destroying my memory? Could I once have quoted entire hours of conversation verbatim like Fanny Burney and recited vast swathes of poetry a la all ye olde folkes of yore? My mother’s memory suggests not but I’ve found the article so crisis averted* …  The Killer Crush: The Horror Of Teen Girls, From Columbiners To Beliebers – Rachel Monroe. I’ve linked to it before – SO good.

I love the trope of teenage girls as secret and violent and proto-sexual and obsessive and potent and slightly unhinged. Teenage girls, like any other type of human being, are obviously varied and wondrous things and cannot be reduced to a single idea but this is a fun one and it rings true to me. I had a pleasant and staid adolescence but I still burned viciously inside. I don’t miss that, as such, I am enjoying the (relative) emotional stability of my twenties but I do value the experience. Tumblr, Rookie, the 1D fandom (all fandoms to a greater or lesser extent), Megan Abbott’s novels – they all capture something of the passionate obsession of girls, first hand or reflected in art.


I have written about Abbott’s novels before. I have read Dare Me and The End of Everything. They are intense. She writes the best teenage girls. I would kill for her take on the Salem witch trials but I don’t think she writes historical fiction. [Cue research: Omg, she does! She has five 1930s-50s pulp/noir novels that I had never heard of that predate her current oeuvre. How funny. I’m going to have to look into these.] However, her latest novel, The Fever, looks like it might be an excellent thematic match. Teenage girls in a small community begin to have unexplained seizures and chaos ensues. “As hysteria swells and more girls succumb, a series of tightly held secrets emerge, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town's fragile idea of security.” Juicy. This has been on my To Read list for a while but The Crucible is officially bumping it up.

In further tangentially related topics:

Louise Bourgeois, Arch of Hysteria – One of my favourite sculptures. It’s beautiful and terrifying. I saw it at a Bourgeois exhib at the Guggenheim a few years ago but I think there are a couple of versions so keep an eye out for it.



Hysteria (2011) – Man, this film about the invention of the vibrator is proper silly but it’s also kind of watchable in a lobotomised kind of a way. And it's streaming on everything. Maggie Gyllenhaal is delightful.