Dip in 'n out books to curl up with
The 3rd instalment of my mini-series for the time poor/ jumpy brained. And much bouty for the word nerds
Things I have googled this week:
who is addison rae
how do you make salsa verde
what does hurkle durkle mean
That last one is great, btw. It means “to lie in bed after it’s time to get up”. The thing I miss most about pre-parenthood is hurkle durkling. I could easily hurkle durkle all weekend.
Last week I published a Book Thoughts on Rebecca Ivory’s debut essay collection, Free Therapy, which publishes January ‘24. The writing reminds me of Saba Sams and Abigail Ulman (if you’d like a taster, you can read one of the stories Push and Pull for free online.)
I also answered a Shelf Request for books to dip into by the fire, metaphorical or otherwise, during cold winter evenings. Which brings me neatly to part 3) of my mini-series for the time poor and short of attention span: dip in ‘n out books, that you can put up and put down ad infinitum. (If you’re new to the gaff, part 1 was on short story collections, part 2a) was on non-fiction mini books and part 2b) was on short fiction, aka novellas.)
If you were also raised to believe that a small pile of dusty books about grammar - such as Schott’s Original Miscellany and Eats Shoots and Leaves - belong on the loo cistern, weighted down with a spare loo roll, like the cherry on top - then these are for you.
The 3 books I chose for last week’s Shelf Request are stellar entries to the dippy book canon: Bay Garnett’s Style and Substance: Why What We Wear Matters with contributions from style icons such as Sienna Miller, Jarvis Cocker and Zadie Smith, Rita Konig’s entertaining 00s throwback Domestic Goddess and Observer journalist Rachel Cooke’s new collection of food essays, Kitchen Person, which reminds me of Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking.
Not to cannibalise my own content too much, but there is also this post about some of my fave coffee books to treasure and gift (which can be classified as dip in ‘n out of books but are too big to be ‘loo books’) including Beata Heuman’s Every Room Should Sing, Katy Hessel’s The Story of Art Without Men, a beautifully annotated edition of Mrs Dalloway by Merve Imre, and Katherine Rundell’s The Golden Mole, which is my favourite book of all time to gift anyone. Give it to anyone who loved The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse. And also to someone who didn’t. (By which I mean it’s for everyone: somehow both cerebral and a crowd-pleaser.)
Here are 3 more that I haven’t written about before, that are also worthy contenders for Christmas gifting. Keep them by the bath, keep them on the cistern (Charleston might slide off). Can you see the water marks all over my copy of Word Perfect? From bath not bog water, I might add.
I love this book, I mean I really love it. Almost every page of my copy is folded down which entirely defeats the purpose. Susie Dent is a lexicographer, etymologist and queen of Countdown’s Dictionary Corner and what I love the most about her books is that her enthusiasm bursts off the page. I can’t help but feel joyful reading it. Favourite morsels include the etymology of ‘muscle’ (from ‘musculus’ meaning ‘small mouse’ in Latin because a flexed bicep looks like a mouse scuttling under the skin) and a word for the feeling of going backwards, which is “arsleing”. Also fun for the word nerds: Steven Poole’s A Word For Every Day of the Year.
Forgive me, but no bedside table is complete without a little copy of What Writers Read: 35 Writers on their Favourite Book, which I edited in aid of The National Literacy Trust last year. What (what!) could be better than modern literature’s most respected wordsmiths - Ann Patchett, Deborah Levy, David Nicholls and Tessa Hadley, to name a few - in morsel form and in close proximity?
There’s Marian Keyes on how Cold Comfort Farm brought her back to herself when she was suicidal, Elif Shafak on the necessary salvation of reading Virginia Woolf’s Orlando as a bisexual teenager growing up in conversative Turkey, and George The Poet on how Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers helped him reconcile ambition with community. I must have read each entry ten times over and yet still, picking it up and reading a few pages at random always brings me something new.
And for careworn aesthetic delight, there’s the truly lovely Charleston: A Bloomsbury House and Garden. Saying you love the Bloomsbury aesthetic has become something of a middle-class cliché and you’ll scarce find more interior design inspo per sqm than at Vanessa Bell and Duncnan Grant’s Sussex farmhouse, Charleston (open for visitors). But a cliché can also be a classic and this book, written by Vanessa’s son Quentin and her granddaughter, Virginia, is such a good flick book if you are remotely interested in design/ creativity. It feels like a scrapbook, and I move it between rooms and book piles constantly.
Please do let me know your own faves! I’m always on the hunt for fresh dips.
docs, pods, journalism + random phrases
It’s that time of year again and - controversial opinion - but I wish The Holiday was… just the British storyline. YAY to unnervingly fake-tanned Mr Napkin Head and NAY to Scroodly Doo and his Santa Ana winds. (I’ll save a berry kiss for Arthur though.)
It’s been ages since I got stuck into a pod series, but I’ve just started The Storyteller: Naked Villainy after reading about in Grazia and if you like true crime I’d recommend what I’ve heard so far (NB: it covers coercive control, domestic abuse and murder.) It’s the story of genetic scientist Dr Brenda Page, who was murdered in 1978 at the age of 32. In March of this year, almost half a century later, her killer was finally charged. Her ex-husband. What’s most fascinating about the series is that this is the first time in British history that anyone has been granted permission to share the audio of a trial.
“I wanted to show that there is no time limit for justice” narrates Isla Traquair, who is a seasoned crime journalist. “But time is also running out. We have ageing witnesses… and we need to make sure this will actually happen.” I think this is her third series of The Storyteller - and she’s a great host, with a voice both calming and authoritative, explaining every step of the trial as it unfolds.
I was so absorbed and moved by this interview (starts 5 mins in) on Naga Munchetty’s Radio 5 show last week with ‘Anna’, about her experience of pregnancy and giving birth in prison, that I stood stock still for 10 minutes by the radio. Anna, who was put on remand when she was 6 months pregnant, speaks candidly and plainly - Munchetty calls it an “incredibly powerful testimony” - how she was left alone with her son when he was born with no midwife support and how she had to fight to get her baby taken to the hospital when he was ill. (Further reading: Jailbirds, a thoughtful and not remotely salacious memoir by former prison teacher, Mim Skinner.)
Last week my husband told me the longest train station name in the world (he lived near it as a child) and I am only sad I did not learn it sooner:
Please enjoy this video of weatherman Liam Dutton absolutely nailing it. Go go goch!
Wanted to go see Saltburn, couldn’t get there due to lurgy/ baby/ lurgy baby, so instead watched something on Netflix that my bf recommended called Escaping Twin Flames, which is about a batshit
cult “spiritual community” run by Michigan-based Jeff and Shaleia Ayan who coerce members to do everything within their power to end up with their soulmate aka their twin flame, including stalking and changing their gender. Absolutely mad, sometimes very sad, with great access to the mothers of the victims and former members themselves.
It might be eye-wateringly naff - all fire pits, champagne and shagging in a police station - but erotic thriller The Couple Next Door (Channel 4) is still highly watchable, with its eerie housing estate (Wisteria Lane by way of Leeds) and Eleanor Tomlinson’s compelling turn as a woman from a devout evangelical background who funnels her grief into a misguided sexual awakening.
If you’re in the market for a book club Christmas present, another one (which I’ve written about before) is the brilliant Shelter Box Book Club, also £10 per month - you receive books from all over the world and all profits go to charity.
I find the bulk of glossy magazines pretty advertorial-y these days (it cannot be denied that my beloved print is dying a very long slow death), but I really enjoyed this interview with Olivia Coleman for Vogue. Giles Hattersly brings such levity to his interviews (“Oh, the expressions. The sensitivity. The resolve. The humour. An hour in Colman’s company is like a romp through Britain’s emotional alphabet”) and Coleman is always a pleasingly impish interviewee (“Just be kind, and try not to be a twat”). It’s a jolly combo.
Speaking of Vogue interviews, if you fancy a stomach churn, try this one with Lauren Sánchez (and by proxy Jeff Bezos). Internet conspiracy theories include Bezzy’s bicep being photoshopped (maybe?) and Amazon paying for the cover (unlikely - not a Condé Nast vibe) with the very valid question abounding: why would Vogue profile them over MacKenzie Scott, whose given $14bn to charity since her divorce from Bezos? Then again, says Amy Odell, Anna Wintour is famous for her rogue cover choices - she once put Asma al-Assad on the cover and declared her “a rose in the desert”.
For millennials like me - who came of age with The OC, forever dreaming of sunshine and slip dresses - the designer of boho West Coast bridal label Stone Cold Fox, Molly Rosen, was an early Insta pin-up. And so it was with a hefty dose of nostalgic curiosity that I read Rosen’s piece for The Cut about the truth behind her Valencia-filtered marriage: STD tests at her six week sonogram; her friend matching with her husband on a dating app. The whole “Instagram isn’t real life” long-read might now be as as original as the con-artist documentary, but when done well, I find both fascinating.
See you next time!
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