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They say you should never judge a book by it's cover...
But sometimes the outside is as good as the contents within. Here are 5 lush books to keep on your coffee table + gift to friends
I am out of my telly era! I think it might have been a Colombian telenovela called The Marked Heart that broke this camel’s back. Anyway, it means I am reading again, so expect to see some of the books that have got my exhausted old noggin whirring again, in the next newsletter.
On to today’s letter….
I really dislike the term ‘coffee table books’ - it conjures up exorbitantly priced books that look marvellous but can be flicked through in less time than it takes to drink a cup of tea. Frankly, I want more for my £35!
Thankfully, not all books in this category we must rename, are created equal. The handful below are those that I take immense pleasure in displaying, reading andgifting - delights that deliver inside and out.
The Story of Art Without Men by Katy Hessel From the creator of the Great Women Artists newsletter, IG, pod and Guardian column, this Mondrian-hued book, all about the forgotten women of the art world, won the 2022 Waterstones Book of the Year. Talking about 'art’ can make so many of us feel like lumbering dolts (wandering around exhibitions, my husband I often quote Andrew Lincoln’s line in Love, Actually to one another: “it’s not funny, it’s art”) but Hessel possesses that rare quality of a public intellectual, whereby she can distill vast amounts of knowledge and history into something accessible, relevant and joyful. With over 300 works of art spread across its glossy pages, I’ve gifted multiple copies already.
Every Room Should Sing by Beata Heuman You’d expect a beautiful book from one of interior design’s most decorated designers, who combines crisp Swedishness with colourful whimsy. But what makes Heuman’s book really stand out among interior design books is that you want to read from cover to cover. She’s a modern day William Morris, with a prose style and aesthetic grounded in literature and philosophy. Stuffed full of tips, it brings me joy every time I open it.
Wild Places by Katherine Mansfield I like to keep a few collections of short stories and poems on my coffee table - like The Prettiest Love Letters In The World, which my dad gave me when I was born. I’d never heard of Katherine Mansfield before I opened this beautifully adorned new edition of short stories, but it turns out she’s the only author that Virginia Woolf ever envied. The only! She was a New Zealand writer, essayist and journalist, who died aged just 34, and her stories captured me from the first page - they feel so vivid and modern.
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf Speaking of! Hi Virg. Sorry to put you bosom to bosom with your literary rival. I like Mrs Dalloway as a book, but I love this version, annotated by Merve Emere. From the 150+ drawings, photographs and paintings by the Bloomsbury group, (my favourites are Woolf’s original book covers by Vanessa Bell) to Emre’s neat little asides down the margins - about a flower, butcher, or friend that Clarissa Dalloway mentions - this new edition elevates Mrs D into something glorious that you can dip into.
The Golden Mole by Katherine Rundell. I bought this recently, because it reminded me of my mum. A few years ago my husband opened her freezer and found what we thought was a Tupperware containing a dead hamster. It was actually a golden mole, which my mother had found in the woods and held on to it incase any animal preservation charities wanted it. Do not mistakenly assume that this golden book by polymathic professor Katherine Rundell is for children (only). It is a lavishly illustrated, literary book for every age, about 22 endangered species, such as the golden mole, the seahorse, the stork and the Greenland shark (who, we learn, has crustaceans that attach themselves to his eyeballs, like paper streamers.) I can’t wait to give it to my mum, for her birthday.
TV, poems, memes + more
I found this New Yorker piece on why more girls are hitting puberty early than ever before - and how it relates to the pandemic - completely fascinating. Also thought-provoking: the culture-shifting idea that we should see puberty a part of childhood, rather than a gateway to adulthood.
I have many thoughts on The MET Gala (although not as many as Amy Odell), but my main one is that Jared Leto as Choupette was by far the best dressed.
What Was (and Is) the ‘It’ Girl? is an engrossing deep-dive by Matthew Schneier for The Cut.
“All of a sudden, when you leave, the party’s down”. There, in a koan and a credo, is as good a working definition of “It” as we are likely to encounter.
The first half is meticulously researched - kicking off with Clara Bow in the 1920s and really gathering steam in the 60s with Andy Warhol and his Factory - but the second half begins to lose its legs a little: I’d have liked to see an exploration of the modern iteration of the ‘It’ girl, through the lenses various of reality TV (Paris Hilton), street style (Alexa Chung) and Instagram (too many to name) in order to really land on what it means, now.
But it’s still an engrossing read, as is this piece on Baby Jane Holzer, the original Warhol girl. (Heartbreaking, as a sidenote, that Andy Warhol tried to pretend that him and Edie Sedgwick were never really friends, when she disappeared to drugs.)
I’ve been listening to - and enjoying- a lot of the Guardian’s pop culture podcast, Pop Culture with Chanté. Chanté Joseph is an energetic, curious host and, like its hugely successful sister pod Today In Focus, Pop Culture is a tight 30 mins with excellent talking heads. I really enjoyed this ep with Trisha Goddard on the legacy of the chat show (in the wake of Jerry Springer’s death), and this one with Michael Schulman about whether or not the Oscars has had its day.
I got my husband a Doodle Nest book for his birthday, filled with ‘art’ (as much as a 5 year old creates art) and messages from my daughter - and as it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever gifted anyone, I wanted to share the little brand here. You can put anything in it and they lay it all out so beautifully. Save-in-a-fire stuff.
During my telly era I caned a butt load of Silent Witness and by far my favourite character was Clarissa, played by the actor and activist Liz Carr, whose recent Desert Island Discs interview I delighted in. There’s this moment early on, which gives such pause for thought, when she tells Lauren Laverne that the reason why she became a jack of all trades in the entertainment industry is because people didn’t know what to do with a disabled person and so she had to become creatively nimble; to create opportunities where there were none.
It reminded me of something I’d read elsewhere - that she insisted on Clarissa being in a loving marriage on Silent Witness, because disabled people are so rarely shown to be in conventional, enduring relationships on screen. She wanted to show that Clarissa was capable and deserving of stable love. She’s a wise woman, Liz Carr, and I miss Clarissa on SW.
With a 5 week old baby, the theatre is out for me for quite some time - but I wanted to share what I would go see, if I could: Dixon & Daughters, a new play by Deborah Bruce about woman who returns home from prison, to confront the cycle of abuse in her family. This review is what hooked me in - it sounds ambitious and brilliant. Please let me know if you go see it and what you thought.
I really enjoyed (and learned a lot from) Helen Lewis’s Big Rules of Writing. A long-form journalist for The Atlantic (and before that, The New Statesman), her rules include: know the difference between plot and story; observe the rule of 3; and to e-mail like everybody’s watching. (That last tip feels particularly sage.)
I defy you to watch this video of chef Cedric Crolet making a croissant and not feel incredibly zen. It’s pastry ASMR.
I’ve also been busy telling everyone in my life to hurry up and watch Colin From Accounts - which I fell so completely in love with that I hunted down all the YouTube videos I could find of the two leads, writers and exec producers Patrick Brammall and Harriet Dyer, who are married in real life and share the same deliciously deadpan humour as Gordon and Ash. I YEARN for more.
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