I desperately need to do something for no reason other than itself, and so here we are.
Reading in April 2020 is to read with profound collective trauma as part of the equation: it’s slower, more luxurious (when I can read, I read for an afternoon or a day, sinking deeply in). At the same time, it’s often shorter – I can concentrate only for short periods most of the time, and under particular circumstances. Only after I’ve done something to quiet my mind, only after I’ve been away from a news stream for a few hours, only soon after waking, only when the house feels a little bit still.
My relationship with writing right now is a tricky one – I have more time to write, but less (essential) brain space. So I’m holding it lightly, and doing only what I can.
It’s been such a long time since I’ve felt the urge to blog. I blogged under the banner of Little Girl with a Big Pen for a good seven years or so, but as my practice has shifted so too have my posting habits. It’s moved to other platforms, or to publication over personal pursuits. But I’ve been reading lately, and I’ve been wanting to record, share, and connect again. So here’s what I was reading in April.
CHERRY BEACH by Laura McPhee-Browne
Ness and Hetty are best friends who are caught in a one-way romance. Hetty has no idea of her best friend Ness’ adoration because she’s adored by everyone, but Ness has felt this way since they were kids. Joined at the hip, Ness and Hetty move from Melbourne to Canada to escape Hetty’s grief over an ex-boyfriend’s suicide. In Canada they grow apart, but continue to have moments of closeness. When Hetty’s personality shifts dramatically, Ness scrambles to pick up the pieces.
This book was so moreish. Short chapters meant that I kept staying up late for ‘just one more’. The writing is poetic, but doesn’t get in the way of itself. Small cameos by Margaret Attwood and someone I can only assume to be John Marsden are cute and rewarding, and other little generationally-specific detail makes it round and realistic. The tenderness of the relationship between Hetty and Ness, and between Ness and the people who move into her new life in Canada, is really moving. It’s in intimate book, full of heartbreak and yearning—one you curl up with over the course of a weekend and down it all in a few delicious sittings.
While real scarcity is new to the vast majority of people engaged in panic-buying, the scarcity mindset may feel familiar to many people who have a pre-existing janky relationship with food. A large part of being okay around food—for me—has been about learning to listen to my body and recognise what I’m feeling. A line I’ve learned to use over and over (that I need to attribute to Dr Rick Kausman) when I’m feeling overwhelmed is ‘I can have if I want it – but do I really feel like it?’. If the answer is yes, then great, have it. If it’s no, then I remind myself that whatever it is will be there and available when I do feel like it. Right now, that doesn’t feel true—and it’s a struggle.
In this article, Bee Wilson—queen of impeccibly-researched food writing—has a look at the phenomenon of panic-buying during the Covid-19 global crisis. The situation in the UK (around numbers, deaths, dire outlooks) is different to what we’re experiencing in Australia, but panic buying is still having an impact on what’s available in supermarkets here. For weeks now, eggs have been in short supply, pasta has been scarce, and good luck finding a bag of flour. The illusion of scarcity (whether it’s true or not) makes the population feel like the food supply is drying up. Food security has been on my mind a lot lately—“empty supermarket shelves”, says Wilson “When you are not used to it, this sight does strange things to your insides.”
I love the deep disquiet that comes through in these paragraphs, and the ease with which Schwartz pulls together disparate ideas about pandemics and dreams. My pandemic dreams seem to be my brain taking the space to get wacky and process the pandemic, but using the very small isolation world I’m living in. There have been lots of MasterChef contestant cameos.
Schwartz’ regular reading lists are part of what’s prompted me to return to sharing mine. They’re intimate and comforting, poetic and open-ended.
My favourite things—food writing! Watercolour food illustrations! Nostalgia! This incredible graphic mindfulness meditation is so comforting, at a time when we all need to take that wherever we can get it.
TRY THIS AT HOME by Frank Turner
I’m a big Frank Turner fan. I have a tattoo after some of his lyrics. His album Be More Kind dragged me through the hell that was winter of 2018. I was looking forward to his April show in Melbourne, before Covid-19 shut it down. I admire Frank’s work ethic so much—a touring muso who’s played over 2000 shows, and released an album most years since 2005. ‘Try this at home’ was the song that got me hooked on Frank Turner (belting it out on the stage of the Arthouse back in the day), so when I saw that he’d written a book with this title I jumped on it. The book is a look at Turner’s back catalogue, explaining the songwriting process track by track. It helped that I have a passing knowledge of music, but the book isn’t so music-theory heavy that you wouldn’t be able to get around it if you weren’t fluent, either. I was struck, while reading this, by how much Turner has grown, and how open he is to the idea of regret around his work. A few songs he talked about being sad he hadn’t expressed better, or feeling disappointed that he hadn’t waited for a better arrangement to land before recording. Very open to self-doubt, but not so much that it’s frustrating. A good read for a fan.
RALLYING by Quinn Eades
Rallying is an accessible and gutpunching collection of poems about parenthood, bodies, togetherness and separation. I love Eades’ ability to communicate clearly in poetic forms, but also to absolutely blow the roof off convention when it’s needed. This tender, sweet, painfully honest collection is one of the best poetry collections I’ve ever read. I’ll be revisiting.
A couple more
- At the end of days, be glad there have been others – Anna Spargo-Ryan on Meanjin In this world we’re yearning for the simplicity of ‘before’: replete with Sims, MSN, and Cheezel fingers.
- Finding food pleasures in a time of crisis – Ruby Tandoh on London Eater
Ruby Tandoh’s ‘Good Food Things’ threads on social media give me life, and ground my eating. This article is like an extended Good Food Thing, and a meditation on why they’re so valuable. Sink into it and cocoon yourself in treats. ‘All you need to do is notice’.