Hello dear readers,
It has been a long while. I hope you are well, wherever you are. I have, like so many, found it increasingly difficult to focus for quite a long while now. Never have I read so little; the moment the book hits my eyes I struggle to follow the words and rarely, since the pandemic hit, have I been able to resist the urge to close the darn thing and turn on an episode of whatever is all the rage right now. Perhaps you can commiserate. What do you do when you find yourself in a reading rut? Recently, I have found great solace in re-reading, short novels, podcasts, and, shockingly to those who know me, cookery books.
I hope you enjoy all of the below. I always love hearing what you’re up to, what you’re consuming, what is helping you to derive meaning from daily life.
Until next time,
1. I have taken to walking quite a bit, and, as a result, have become slightly obsessed with podcasts (to the point of thinking of podcast hosts as “my friends.”). In that department, I have absolutely adored every episode of Louis Theroux’s new podcast, “Grounded.” The episodes with FKA Twigs and Michaela Coel are extraordinary, each sharing such thought provoking contributions on art, family duty, and the creative process. Like the rest of the world, I love “You’re Wrong About,” and while I greatly enjoyed their now infamous series on Princess Diana, I was very moved by their collection of episodes on Jessica Simpson. Another sonic balm for troubled moments has been “Soul Music,” an unbearably stunning podcast that delves into how one song has affected the lives of certain individuals. You will shed tears.
2. Recently I’ve become obsessed with cooking (I am working my way through Samin Nosrat’s tome, “Salt Fat Acid Heat“), and as a result have been reading quite a bit of food writing. Nigella Lawson’s classic, “How to Eat,” is just wonderful; a beautiful letter to food, to eating without guilt, and to the sanctity of taking the time to cook something for yourself. I also loved this piece, which she wrote for Lena Dunham’s old newsletter, Lenny, on how home cooking is a feminist act. I never thought I’d love reading cook books in bed at night, but here we are.
3. I re-read Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth.” I read it for the first time before I moved to London in my early 20s, and it provided me with an idea of the city that I have never quite been able to shake: a place where everyone is from everywhere, all clinging on to this idea of belonging that might not actually exist:
“And then you begin to give up the very idea of belonging. Suddenly this thing, this belonging, it seems some long, dirty lie… and I begin to believe that birthplaces are accidents, that everything is an accident. But if you believe that, where do you go? What do you do? What does anything matter?”
4. After falling in love with Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” two years ago, I read her first novel, “The Bluest Eye,” and “Sula,” both of which broke me in several wonderful ways. “Sula,” in particular, seared itself into my mind and soul. I will never forget an exchange towards the end, where a friend asks the novel’s namesake what she has to show for her life, that perennial question so many of us struggle with. Her answer: “Show? To who?.” To who, indeed.
5. I feel a bit saturated with news from America, particularly during this already tumultuous year, but Luke Mogelson’s piece in the New Yorker on the storming of the Capitol is chillingly brilliant.
6. In the same issue of the New Yorker, you will find a beautiful personal essay by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, in which she writes of the sacrifices the children of immigrants feel they are bound to make for their parents. As a child of an immigrant single mother, I really felt every word: “For us, gratitude and guilt feel almost identical. Love is difficult to separate from self-erasure. All we can give one another is ourselves.” Yes, yes, yes to this.
7. Thank you to my friend Marina, who sent me this stunning piece by Anne Patchett from Harper’s Magazine, “These Precious Days.” How gorgeous is her writing? Such a beautiful meditation on cancer, yoga, and how we spend our time.
8. I’m always angry about capitalism, but I haven’t been able to transform that anger into words. Luckily Eula Biss has, and the result, “Having and Being Had,” is a searing examination of our relationship to things – to what we own – and the many insidiously subtle ways in which our desire for ownership changes us.
9. I am pretty sure the single best thing I read in 2020 is Zadie Smith’s small collection of essays, “Intimations.” This, on the impossibility of mediating suffering, is something I think of so often now:
“Class is a bubble, formed by privilege, shaping and manipulating your concept of reality. But it can at least be brought to mind; acknowledged, comprehended, even atoned for through transformative action. By comparing your privilege with that of others you may be able to modify both your world and the worlds outside your world – if the will is there to do it. Suffering is not like that. Suffering has an absolute relation to the suffering individual – it cannot be easily mediated by a third term like ‘privilege’.”
10. As always, I close with a random note from my commonplace book. Here is Simone de Beauvoir on living with an existentialist mindset. What a privilege, to just exist in our ordinary, human way:
When one has an existentialist view of the world, like mine, the paradox of human life is precisely that one tries to be and, in the long run, merely exists. It’s because of this discrepancy that when you’ve laid your stake on being—and, in a way you always do when you make plans, even if you actually know that you can’t succeed in being—when you turn around and look back on your life, you see that you’ve simply existed. In other words, life isn’t behind you like a solid thing, like the life of a god (as it is conceived, that is, as something impossible). Your life is simply a human life.”