My love of podcasts is still going strong, and the latest one to cross my radar (very much in a sequence of Backlisted and The Reading Women) is the LRB podcast.
The first pieces were very much in the nature of 20 minute reviews, so if you want to know what a Giorgione painting is or isn’t, and the chicanery is art attribution, or an investigation of if “international relations” is just “race studies”, then it’s here.
But there’s also a longer-form interview style that develops, so you can also hear the Asia editor of The Times on North Korea, discussing with an American South Korean author the common iconography of north and south Korea, or a riveting, freewheeling, incisive interview with Carmen Callil of Virago fame (“such a lot of short malnourished people with bad teeth”) on Angela Carter and why Bohemia is bad for women.
In fact that latter one was ringing in my ears as I went to the Rodin Museum recently and thought of Augustus John saying with complete seriousness what a “great pleasure” it must be for his sister Gwen to serve such a man as Rodin…
Lucinda Rogers’ gentrification exhibition at the House of illustration is a must see. Each piece documents the changing nature of life in Hackney and the changing communities. Striking, energetic, thought-provoking and top quality as ever.
I posted a couple of months ago about the excellent Instagrammer @sophia_stories and her hashtag #readingoutsidethebox, which got me really thinking about what I tend to read: a lot of female writers, definitely, but usually white, middle-class and from the first half of the twentieth century.
Now I’m not going to abandon those authors, but they do of course present a certain world-view (see here for Kate McDonald who writes about the deliberate social conservatism of many these writers), and it’s been refreshing to start reading very different voices. Partly this is the result of being in a relationship with someone who can also roar through Waterstones like Genghis Khan on a good day, but tends to scoop up new publications, authors from the Indian subcontinent and non-fiction, so my across-the-bookshelves borrowing is getting far more varied.
Enter The Reading Women, a blog and podcast that has so far introduced me to this funny and angry book of essays (by the way, her anger at alcohol pressured on young women is fully justified although thankfully it’s not something I’ve had to deal with),
a range of memoirs including the one at the top of this article, and crime fiction including this debut about a young Muslim Canadian detective:
In the way of all algorithms, the Internet then led me to The Good Imigrant, which I devoured last week. A collection of essays that covers everything from learning to wear your “black” hair when you’re a mixed-race kid in rural Somerset who doesn’t identify as black to the different voices of home, work and friends, to the hidden racism facing Chinese and other East Asian populations in the U.K., to a series of funny and rage-inducing articles about literal type-casting of actors. I’d say this is a book to buy so I won’t post a whole load of shots from it, but these are both from a piece by Riz Ahmed. One about the restrictions of casting slots and how this interacts with national self-images, and also the continual indignity of airport checks:
Still finding London’s war memorials whenever I go. This one’s in Baker Street. If you want a literary record of the Second World War, then VS Pritchett’s London Perceived, written in 1962 but republished with a new foreword in 1985, reflected how the post war building boom saw London lose its “almost Venetian” low skyline. Funny to read as a Londoner who’s grown up with a much more diverse city and rather likes the skyline from Waterloo Bridge.
Not sure what to feel about this. On the one hand, wonderful dancing that exposes the ultimately martial purpose of the ballets central to the French Court from Louis XIV on, and choreography that makes Rameau’s music feel fresh. On the other, his is music described as the air for the savages and the opera’s decidedly uncomfortable racial imagery – unsurprising for the 1730s – is replicated here in modern-day France’s uneasiness with its colonial history.
“Motherships”, Maryam Hashemi
Like most cities, London sees September shift from pop-up restaurants and pop concerts to a parade of plays, operas, history exhibitions and weighty films to get you thinking after the summer break. Here’s my list of things I’ve seen and would recommend:
1. Aida at ENO: superb singing, including from the chorus, and most definitely a star in the form of this new Aida herself. Great sets – hats, masks and leopard skin a go-go – of the Hollywood musical kind and none the worse for that.
2. The girl from the north country – at the Old Vic and now sold out, but the cast recording is available online and well worth the price for some gutsy, gritty, beautiful performances.
3. Oslo, which is now transferring to the West End. I liked the political negotiation parts best rather than the drawing room marriage comedy, though despite the good cast in London, I wonder how I’d have felt if I’d seen Jennifer Ehle in New York.
4. The Scythians at the British Museum – wonderful gold pieces discovered in the 18th century frozen in the Siberian tundra, along with the remains of silk, cheese, pottery and wooden coffins. All the wrong postcards, but it doesn’t matter if you’ve been to actually see the show. Quite big, but can be done in an hour. The BM is on fire still after their American Dream show earlier this year.
Try this any time someone tries to fob you off. The brilliance is that translating the bullshit to an argument over pockets exposes the full nonsense of “oh no, X doesn’t need a voice at the table because if they did they’d already have it [ignores massive power differential and access to influence.]”
This list is from the American Suffragist , journalist and eventual White House speechwriter, Alice Duer Miller, and you can download her book “Are Women People?” for free from the lovely people at Project Gutenberg.
Why women should not have pockets:
1. Because pockets are not a natural right.
2. Because the great majority of women do not want pockets. If they did they would have them.
3. Because whenever women have had pockets they have not used them.
4. Because women are required to carry enough things as it is, without the additional burden of pockets.
5. Because it would make dissension between husband and wife as to whose pockets were to be filled.
6. Because it would destroy man’s chivalry towards woman if he did not have to carry all her things in his pockets.
7. Because men are men and women are women. We must not fly on the face of nature.
8. Because pockets have been used by men to carry tobacco, pipes, whisky flasks, chewing gum and compromising letters. There is no reason to suppose that women will use them more sensibly.
I was pretty sceptical when I heard that Somerset House was putting on a show about perfume, and even more so that it would be done in the manner of a contemporary art installation. Well that’ll show me – it was actually great fun, very well thought out, would be perfect to do either on a date or with friends, and is actually both non-intimidating and witty, a real achievement for a craft that is second only to wine-making for jargon, history and insiders’ snobbism.
As the notes to the show said, self-taught perfumiers are now breaking the mould, getting away both from the stuffiness of some schools, and the idea of scent as a marketing product. I won’t tell you too much about the perfumes in this exhibition as the whole point of the showing is to have a guessing game / voyage of discovery of your own, but you can see from the pictures above how inventive the sets were. In other rooms you smelt white cotton scarves or brilliant liberty-style print pouches, whilst the room with “paint pots” inspired this response from some other visitors:
I didn’t get so creative myself, but enjoyed the game of hide and seek, and the weekend I went there was also an interesting series of presentations from perfumiers at the end in the testing lab.
PS in the first room you smelt the bowling balls…it felt quite James Bond, actually.