It feels like there's not much to update, but a fair bit has changed recently.. I’ve moved back to Bristol, quit my job at Waterstones, done an autumn tour with my band. It’s an awful lot colder now. I was unemployed for two months and have just started bookselling again. When you’re unemployed, you imagine you’ll be quite productive. You have so much free time. I wasn’t at all, but I listened to a lot of podcasts, read a lot of books, and cooked a fair bit. So here are some highlights:
For a long time I was lacking in good podcasts about books. Well, the internet has supplied them—and it has been bountiful. As well as The Reading Women, which I recommended last time, I’ve been listening to A Phone Call from Paul —a great interview podcast from LitHub. I strongly recommend the phone call with Sjon, the Icelandic poet, musician and author, who wrote the wonderful little novel Moonstone. fiction/non/fiction is also from LitHub and is about books that have relevance to some contemporary news story. Also I strongly recommend you go and listen to a very specific episode of Rookie’s podcast, which is the episode with George Saunders. He is has a very insightful and kind way of talking and also just has a lovely voice. Books Unbound is a long-form review podcast by Ariel Bissett (the booktuber) which I’ve enjoyed a lot.
In non-book podcasts, I’ve been listening to maybe the greatest concept for a podcast ever: I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats. Joseph Fink of Welcome to Night Vale and John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats talk about every song written by The Mountain Goats, episode-by-episode. The first series is about one of my all-time favourite albums, All Hail West Texas.
I’ve also been listening to The Heart, a narrative podcast about sex, gender and relationships from an intersectional feminist perspective. It can get pretty damn filthy and also pretty fucking emotional and very empowering.
Camp Cope by Camp Cope
This album is a fucking masterwork. I can’t stop listening to it. It’s my absolute favourite kind of punk as well. It’s deceptively simple music that uses rhythm, melody, the lyrics and the form in order to add complexity. Some songs are just two chords the whole way through but the way that the rest of the sound is arranged keeps it dynamic while also keeping it simple enough to keep the focus really pure.
Turn Out the Lights by Julien Baker
Sad, sad music. Julien Baker’s first album was so tender and depressing. The second album is another 11 songs about death, substance abuse, religion. While I could’ve listened to another album exactly like the first, with very simple tunes and clean riffs, I’m really glad that she does something quite different with this one in terms of arrangement, while keeping the sound very consistent.
I Swear I’m Good at This by Diet Cig
This is essentially a feel good pop-rock album. Diet Cig are a two-piece band from the states with a really fun vibe and absolutely fantastic singalong lyrics. It’s walking to work music. Or just all-the-time music.
Puberty 2 by Mitski
I have to be in the right mood to listen to Mitski, however. It’s music to die by. My favourite genre: sad girls & guitars. She creates very interesting sounds that all come together in such a melancholy way. I have a lot of respect for her. Also her episode on Song Exploder was fantastic.
The year’s coming to an end, which means an onslaught of book of the year lists. I’m still unsure what mine will include—which is strange, because this year I’ve read 92 books. I’ve never read that much before in my life. But here are the best books from the last couple of months that I’ve been enjoying.
Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
A lot of people rave about this book, but for some reason I never believed them. I picked it up on the desire to dive deep into a big escapist story, and it worked. It’s quite a whacky book that is absolutely hilarious. Lots of slapstick comedy. Set in a Moscow of stuck up and corrupt literary elites, the devil himself starts causing trouble. There’s a talking cat, there’s a scene where everyone’s clothes disappear, there’s a character who’s turned into a naked flying witch. But it’s also moving and beautifully written. It's actually a genuine rediscovered classic, too. Or, just, discovered very late in the game. It wasn't published until a few decades after its writing and was heavily censored, which is an interesting story for a book about art and writing, what is accepted in literature and that which isn't.
The White Book by Han Kang
Unlike everyone, seemingly, I wasn’t actually that fussed about The Vegetarian. I enjoyed it and the writing was beautiful but I didn’t get much out of it. The White Book, however, was fantastic. It’s so slight and lovely and strikingly moving without much plot. You can sit and read it in a sitting and just let it kind of wash over you. It’s quite similar to Bluets only in that it’s kind of autobiographical and is dominated by a meditation on a single colour. Han uses this colour as an entry point into memories of grief and an alternate life where her older sister did not die after birth, and so the narrator would never have existed.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
I talked about this in more length in another blog post. But yes this book was brilliant. It was funny and beautiful and moving with lots of interesting form- and genre-bending elements. George Saunders is a genius.
Now that it’s winter you need like a warming one-pot something. So I’ve been making this vegan bolognese and this vegan chilli. Both of which are pretty easy but take a while as you want to slow cook them. Also I would recommend this pretty simple butternut squash soup (pictured above).
I’ve also seen a couple of films recently. I saw Call Me By Your Name which is undoubtedly a masterpiece. So much to enjoy about it. Usually I think films are far too long. With this, I could have watched another half an hour. Timothée Chalamet’s physical acting was incredible. Also it’s nice to see a gay storyline that is completely absent of shame, only desire.
I also saw The Florida Project. Again, I could have sat there for a lot longer and again the acting was fantastic. Some really beautiful tracking shots and, even though you hate all the characters, such a strong emotional core.
And I recently watched Mustang, a Turkish-French film, which is maybe the best film I've seen all year (tying with 20th Century Women). It's maybe like Pride and Prejudice but opposite...? A family of daughters are locked into their home to keep them away from boys, while the mother and uncle go about arranging their marriages one-by-one against their wills. It starts incredibly charming and funny, and becomes, inevitably, quite emotional.
That’s all for now.