I’m starting to suspect that I’m missing the gene that allows me to enjoy, or at least experience, horror as a genre like other people do.
Last month, I had the dubious honour of reading the most depraved, horrible work that has ever borne the name “book” (and I’ve read the biblical Book of Revelation!). And while the first third of it fair disgusted me, by the time I got to the scene in which the central character was recounting to her lust interest her own gang rape at the age of 14, and then turning round and berating the guy for being somehow anti-feminist because, you know, maybe being gang raped as. a .child. was her own choice something just snapped within me, and I decided to treat the rest of the book as a comedy. Because, lol, of course this or that episode of small-town vileness was the next logical course of action.
Then it occurred to me that I’ve been reacting in the same way to the “horror” genre since I was a child, sneakily watching The Exorcist with her little brother. Doesn’t everybody think a little girl projectile vomiting on a priest then calling him a cunt is hilarious?
October: the month in which all of your friends turn their Twitter names into some “spoopy”, witchy pun or other, while I sit here and wonder why it is I just. don’t. give. a. fuck. Is it that whole Catholic-when-it-suits-me thing, the same one that makes my jaw set when the shops fill up with advent calendars packed with overpriced beauty products (sidebar: your girl, sucker for a Facebook advert that she is, just bought a heathen advent calendar for the first time – it’s got a gourmet marshmallow behind every door and I am COUNTING DOWN THE DAYS)? Is it because I’ve opted out of child-rearing?
Had we known there was a live Inside No. 9 special on, and watched it at the same time as our pals on social media rather than having the ability to fast-forward through the iPlayer version, I imagine we would have properly felt like a part of something, in the way that nothing but TV coverage of international football matches and reality show finals really allows for now. But then the day itself rolled around, I once again didn’t have any sweeties in and some neighbourhood brats booted in my front door when I didn’t answer.
It could be that I’m missing something – that my brain just doesn’t work that way. Or it could be that every time you turn on the news these days it’s a whole new real-life horror show, so it’s no wonder that I turn fictional ghosts, ghouls and projectile vomit into its own sick form of entertainment.
Oh, if you’re wondering, when I shared this insight with Stringer the answer was a half-amused, half-huffy, “I’ve noticed” – something to do with me losing my shit at some John Carpenter mad spider ‘hing with serious rage face. I just Googled it to see if I’d remembered correctly and laughed for what might have been 10 minutes straight. Go on, tell me I’m wrong.
Better Call Saul, s4 (Netflix): I’ve said before that my least favourite thing about Better Call Saul is that every episode brings us closer to the reason Rhea Seahorn’s Kim Wexler never appeared in Breaking Bad… and god, didn’t this season bring us achingly close to that point. Season four manoeuvres central characters Jimmy “Saul Goodman” McGill and Mike Ehrmantraut as near as damn it to their roles in the multi-award winning drama that spawned them (further than that even, if you count some flash-forwards) and I both cannot wait and am completely dreading how it all ends. ****
Bad Times at the El Royale (2018): Mind how, last month, I said that A Simple Favour was bonkers? Well wait until you see how this one plays out, as the intersecting, and mostly kinda criminal, stories of an oddball selection of guests in a hotel intersecting the California/Nevada border – none of whom are as they seem – end explosively. Shaving a star off for the bloated running time: pin the others on a great soul soundtrack; some great characters (Dakota Johnson is great! And English actress Cynthia Erivo, better known for her theatre work, is an absolute revelation as down-on-her-luck session singer Darlene!); and the all-round good fun of it. ***
Deborah Frances-White – The Guilty Feminist (2018): I’d be very surprised if there is anybody reading this who isn’t familiar with the work of Deborah Frances-White, thanks to a hit podcast with the same name as this book. The Guilty Feminist both is and isn’t a tie-in: sure, Frances-White shares her thoughts on life, confidence, body image and representation in a way that is inclusive and empathetic and knowledgeable and hilarious, but it’s way more than that. Also, much like the podcast, she alsomakes space for intersectional voices with contributions from comedians, actresses, activists and others like Susie Wokoma, Reubs Walsh, Hannah Gadsby and Leyla Hussein.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to credit some of my growth in workplace confidence and adult identity to listening to the lessons Frances-White learned in her corporate coaching work recounted on the podcast, so you’ll be pleased to know that there’s LOADS of bits on that topic in the book – as well as a chapter on food and diet culture that twice reduced me to tears (my iPhone photo album is a mess of pictures of paragraphs, saved for later, because I didn’t want to vandalise pages I knew I’d be passing on to pals with my highlights). I’ve booked Jehane and I tickets to The Guilty Feminist live in Glasgow in May for her Christmas (it’s okay, she knows) and I cannot wait to share an evening that will be as hilarious as it is powerful with my bestie. *****
Tim Marshall – Prisoners of Geography (2015): British journalist Tim Marshall explores the impact that the physical geography has had on the development, politics and prospects of various regions of the world (did you know that most of the borders in Africa, and between India and Pakistan, are straight lines because colonialism?). If you frequently both tremble and marvel at nature’s ability to consistently overpower technology then you too will find this one a fascinating read, even if the nature of global geopolitics means that the European chapter in particular is out of date. Definitely one that needs a bookmark, or Kindle’s newfound ability to flip quickly between pages, too! ***
Laura Lippman – Sunburn (2018): This femme fatale/unreliable narrator mystery, set in smalltown Delaware, was so elegantly written that I ached to love it… and yet, it simply didn’t do it for me. Part of the problem was that Laura Lippman’s central character, Polly, drip-feeds the reader her motivations at a frustratingly slow pace, meaning that for roughly half the book you’re basically waiting around for something to happen. Lippman writes unsympathetic women wonderfully, and I also really enjoyed it as a portrait of how the most exciting affair descends into mundanity (even if it’s with the guy you didn’t know was a PI sent to scope you out for the gangster you may or may not have screwed over) – but as a thriller? Not so much. ***
Stephen Witt – How Music Got Free (2015): From the extensive list of sources at the back of the book, economic journalist Stephen Witt has set out to create the definitive accounting of the shift from physical (or paid) to digital (or “free”) music – but this fascinating read is no encyclopaedia. Witt interviews or profiles a record executive, an accidental pirate and the team behind the mp3 in an essential read for lovers of music, technology and the intersection between them. Despite me being a couple of years younger than Witt and the first wave of music pirates, it felt a bit like reading my own history too – although nothing made me feel older than realising just how many years ago Napster was shut down. ****
Gillian Flynn – Sharp Objects (2009): So, as the preamble of this post implies, there’s not a lot I can’t stomach. There is, however, one topic on which I’d benefit from the proverbial trigger warning – and had my copy of Sharp Objects come with the original razor blade cover and not illustrated with a greetin’-faced Amy Adams, I probably would have figured it out.
But that’s not why I hated this book.
The debut novel from the author of Gone Girl – well, it just reads like a first novel. So much so that, five chapters in, I thought it might be worth catching the recent TV adaptation to see how the source material benefitted from a redraft. However, after 15 chapters of the author working through all of her most depraved ideas like a kid in a sandbox full of poison and rattlesnakes – followed by a breathless rush of plot in the final 30 pages – I was ready to set both it and the rest of my bookshelf on fire.
There’s a real nastiness to Sharp Objects: both in the heart of central character Camille, whose snippy, bitter observations about her home town and the people that she left behind go beyond that of your typical small town escapee; and in the plot. And the seedy, tossed-off details that provide “colour” to that plot: the younger sister’s obsession with factory-farm pigs. The gang (statutory) rape I mentioned above. The throwaway “fridging” of one final murder victim. In fact, by that point I was rolling my eyes at every additional, unnecessary horror. Better that than let it bother me.
A fortuitous meeting led to the creation of OK Button: drummer Adam Falkner (One Eskimo, Babyshambles) stumbled on vocalist Amber Wilson (Bombay Bicycle Club, Morcheeba) performing in her native Aberdeen and the pair struck up a friendship and exchanged musical ideas over email. With multi-instrumentalist Nass Donald now in the mix, the trio have developed the dreamiest brand of synth-pop going: on debut single “The Message”, Amber will reduce you to a swoon with a well-placed curse word.
Aby Vulliamy album launch @ Glad Cafe, Glasgow, 25th October: After getting to know Yorkshire multi-instrumentalist Aby Vulliamy a little earlier this year while I worked on the press release for her debut album, it was an absolute joy getting to spend time in her company and with her collaborators as they brought her intimate songs inspired by the most beautiful and oppressive bits of motherhood and domesticity to life in a way that was so organic it was practically improvisational at times. Jo Burke, supporting, was fascinating too: a scholar of folk music, which she rearranges to dark, tempestuous, piano or strings, with her mellifluous, yet almost world-weary, voice skating over the top.
- Captain Awkward, typically great, with practical tips to help with unwanted criticism after public speaking;
- The US Army has developed combat-ready pizza! (New York Times);
- This New Yorker piece on the history of lifts dates back to 2008, but is still a good’un.
- “Why are the well-employed, ambitious [millennial women] of my acquaintance feeling so adrift, as discontented as the balding midlife sad sacks whose cliché dissatisfactions made Updike rich?” (The Cut);
- Even my mum loved this New York Times piece profiling Catholics wrestling with their faith in the context of yet more cases of child abuse by the clergy;
- “I was a feminist long before I knew this term.” I sobbed my way through this interview with Zia Yousafzai, father of the magnificent Malala (The Times, £).
- Getting the Accessorize earrings I really wanted for cheap in the duty free before a red eye flight to London;
- Otter Candle Co., run by my friend Amber May and making gorgeously-scented, hand-poured soy/coconut wax candles that burn beautifully;
- Glossier sending me a surprise Birthday Balm Dotcom to mark one year of them trading in the UK (get 10% off your first order if you use this link)
- Bargain jeans from Collectif’s eBay store. They’re high-waisted and have braces, so make me look like a cross between the 13th Doctor and an Oompa Loompa and I bloody love them;
- Stringer and I replacing the TV that was the first thing we bought as a couple with a heckin’ great big one;
- The Wicked Broadway 15th anniversary celebrations. I’ll limit my fangirling to my girl Ariana smashing “The Wizard and I” because I’m still not over Idina and Kristin’s big sobbing-in-traffic-worthy reunion;
- Meeting Lucas, the newest member of the family – and getting to meet some fantastic cousins somewhere that wasn’t Facebook!
What are you loving right now?