The Reading List #3

By Lucy Harbron - 19:24

My lockdown mornings were dedicated to two types of building, splitting my time between my arms and my mind. 4 months down the line, the results are minimal but I know which I like best as I look proudly as a fresh stack of finished books, and an even bigger to-read pile to look forward to. Realistically I’d like to have read more, but my relationship with reading is slippery, being either obsessive or absent. I always either power through a book in a couple of days, or have to slog through it in a month, a habit that haunted me through uni and still lingers, being more obvious in these past months than ever. 

In the 3rd instalment of my reading list posts, there are books on each end of the spectrum. For the first month or so of lockdown, I read nothing, bouncing between the opening passages of Joyce and Lord Of The Flies but never falling in love enough to commit, always falling back into the welcoming arms of an hour-long TikTok scroll. By mid-April, my procrastination annoyed me, so a necessary amazon haul pushed me back down the rabbit hole with these books.

#1 Normal People – Sally Rooney

I’ll admit my bias about modern best-sellers. Most of the time, new books make me cringe. I never feel inspired to pick them up and hardly ever even hear about new releases as I walk swiftly to the classics section and rarely stray. But normal people sparked my attention a couple of times with the huge onslaught of insta posts of the aesthetic cover. When the BBC adaptation rolled around I was finally getting sick of my inability to commit, so I picked up the book knowing I’d never read it if I watched the series first, and feeling like my FOMO might finally force me to concentrate. I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. It’s not poetic, it didn’t have me reaching for my pen to underline quotes, but Normal People is a lovely story. It’s human and realistic and extremely easy reading, all reasons why I flew through it in 3 days. I like that you find a piece of yourself in each character, having the classic realisation that we’re all both heroes and villains as Marianne and Connell are both equal parts endearing and annoying. As is normally the case, I’m so glad I read the book before watching the series, as although it’s an amazing adaptation, something about the show doesn’t quiet capture the tenderness of the book as you feel like you’re eavesdropping on a relationship, being witness to the silly little intricacies of real human infatuation.

#2 I'm With The Band – Pamela Des Barres

From something more serious to something silly. I’m With The Band has been on my list for ages being one of the top-rated music books around. I always love picking up books I already know I’ll love and this was definitely one of them. 60s America, female voice, small chapters and a diary layout are all massive ticks in my book, so I’m With The Band became a favourite within a couple of pages. Pamela Des Barres has such a unique and lovely written voice, finding a way to let you visualise the scene while also pulling you into a super intimate circle where suddenly you feel like your best friend becoming privy to her deepest secrets. Tender is how I’d describe it, reading I’m With The Band is a tender, comforting experience asyou really are reading the diary of a normal girl, letting you into her life in a really sweet and innocent way. Even though the book name drops some huge stars from Jagger to Jim Morrison, Miss P has a way of making them feel like side characters in her story, having a presence that outshines any celeb she encounters.

By the end, I wanted more, feeling sad that I was suddenly ripped away from my new friend, but lucky to have got to hear such a sweet and funny coming of age story that was deeply realistic in spite of the insane encounters. With it’s sex positive tone, relatable humour and delicacy of her narrative voice, Pamela Des Barres’ other books have immediately shot to the top of my list as I’m desperate to reunite with her voice.

#3 Stranger Than Kindness – Nick Cave

Somewhere in the middle of all these books, my hazy heatwave days in mid-may were laid in a park with this chunky coffee table book. As a way to soften the blow of the Nick Cave concert being postponed and being unable to travel over to Copenhagen to go see his exhibition, I treated myself to the accompanying book that shows all the artefacts in the exhibition alongside a series of essays. Realistically, this book is 70% images, and I was disappointed that it doesn’t include much writing from Nick Cave himself, beyond one beautiful passage about his wife and a couple of fragments. 

However, the essays included deals with the intersections in Cave’s work, talking about everything from religion to Elvis Presley, picking out the major influences and considering Cave as a literary figure. It’s nice to see such academic pieces being included, as the essay, God Is In The House, really doesn’t hold back on the analysis. And while that may put some people off, I feel like I’ve come out of it with a far deeper understanding of Cave’s discography. Prior to the book, I liked Nick Cave a lot, now I feel like I love him as the insight into his personal collection of inspirations and prompts really contextualises the work and his artistic process. It’s honestly just really fascinating, especially from anyone at all creative, as you're walked through the things and thoughts that started the ball rolling on some of Cave’s most famous songs. It’s a beautiful, visual discussion of the creative process in a way I’ve never seen before. Like with Joni Michell’s Morning Glory On The Vine, Stranger Than Kindness is a book I knew I wanted to own and have in my library one day, and enjoying the content this much was a very welcome bonus to having a beautiful collectors book.

 #3 The White Album – Joan Didion

Staying on the 1960s train, after Pamela Des Barres’ memoir, I moved onto this famed collection of essays from Joan Didion. At the start of lockdown, I started listening to a great podcast called You Must Remember This, which references Didion a lot as it focusses on the first decade of Hollywood. The White Album came up a lot in a series on Charles Manson, so I was excited to pick up a copy as some additional literature on my obsession with the Family. The titular essay didn’t disappoint. The White Album is a beautiful piece, weaving out of the personal and the political seamlessly as Didion moves between the setting of the end of the 1960s and her own personal experiences with the closing of the decade, sharing her friendships with major celebs in a way that was similar to Des Barres. 

Overall, The White Album is a really calming read, perfect if you want something simple and easy as the essays all hold the same relaxing, gentle voice. However, I definitely struggled to keep up my motivation when it came to the later essays, and admittedly didn’t finish the whole book as the piece of LA’s water systems were the final straw. I think this one definitely depends on personal taste and current mood as my lockdown brain required a bit more action to keep my focus. But! I do definitely think I’ll loop back to the remaining essays once I’m back to commuter life, as I really did enjoy getting to explore America in the 60s and 70s, my favourite era, through the eyes of a woman, which is definitely something rare. I love the assurance in Didion’s voice, and the resulting motivation it gave me to step back into journalism, becoming a new idol I hold dear despite putting the book down midway. Maybe as a collection of random essays, The White Album needs to be experienced in this way, picked up and put down when you need a soothing dose of Didion.

#4 Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race - Reni Eddo-Lodge

When I put down Didion, I immediately picked up Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, a book that’s been pulled up again and again as the Black Lives Matter movement reached boiling point in recent weeks. If we’ve learnt anything, it’s the need for white people to be active in their commitment to tackling racism. It’s not enough to simply not be racist, but we should be educating ourselves, making moves and using our privilege for good.  Reni Eddo-Lodge lays out perfectly why this is the case, writing a book that’s extremely important and educational for allies but you definitely get the sense that it’s not catered to us. 

This is a book that white people should read, but not a book written for white people as it finds a perfect space between being readable and education, not feeling like reading a textbook but teaching you in a really approachable way. That being said, this is a confrontational read as white readers are forced to face their privilege as the book takes you through the racism and abuse surrounding us in every institution and industry that white people haven’t seen or have actively turned a blind eye to. I feel like I learnt so much about everything from the police to university to the history of Windrush, weaving history with modern-day perfectly to really highlight how institutional racism came about and how it still rages on today.

This should be on your reading list. Yeah it’s not a cosy bedtime read, but it’s a necessary read to treat as homework, a task you need to complete. While sharing things on social media and retweeting articles is great, I think it’s really necessary, as a white person, to step back, shut up and learn something as a way of moving forward with a better understanding and a real, dedicated commitment to anti-racism.

#5 The Sick Bag Song – Nick Cave

My shortest and easiest read of the past months was this long, lyrical prose poem by Nick Cave which was recommended to me several times. Written across the US and Canada on his tour, The Sick Bag Song is somewhere between a love poem and a homage to his muses as it flows stream-of-consciousness style through Cave’s thought and memory. Out of all my reads, my copy of Sick Bag Song got the true Lucy Harbron blue pen underlining treatment as each section reads so beautifully, with Cave dropping in breathtaking poetic sentiments with nonchalant ease. An Example; ‘there are a million of us, all over the world, breathing like you tonight’ UGH! So simple, so nice.
At only 115 pages, The Sick Bag Song packs a punch if you’re looking for an easy, poetic read that’s going to be really inspirational. I think this is an especially good one for readers or musicians as Cave’s use of mythologic references is amazing, pulling up some images that made me want to reach for my notepad. I can see Nick Cave becoming a Leonard Cohen figure where his writing comes above his music for me…


I’m currently reading Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid test, then next of my list is…
The Flame – Leonard Cohen
The Topeka School - Ben Lerner

I’d also like to re-read Brave New World, and I’m keen to read some of James Baldwin’s novels, so a Waterstones trip is in order! Stay tuned for more reviews coming soon.

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  1. I still haven't watched the TV adaptation of Normal People. When I read the book I loved the humanity and realisim of the story and how easy it was to relate to the characters, it just felt so personal that I have been hesitant to watch the series because I feel like to see the story, which is so personal and relatable, on screen will make me feel so many things. I am going to watch it though, but am waiting for the right time- whenever that will be! I really like the sound of 'I'm With The Band', I rarely read literature that stems from music (if that's what you'd call it?? idk) but I love music so I have no idea why not- and your description of the book makes it seem like the perfect read to balance out the boringness of the book I'm currently reading for my course! I recently read Americanah, its a novel about a woman who immigrates from Nigeria to America. It is such a good book, if you haven't read it and run out of book motivation you should give it a go! x


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