The Reading List #7 | April - August 2021

By Lucy Harbron - 19:15

As the world has rumbled back into action, my attention span seems to have been swept up in the crowd. Only just returning after a several month bender where books were a forgotten thing in the face of weekends away and morning brunches, my mojo seems to be making its way back home. On a mission to power through the books still unread on my shelf, my birthday made the selection overwhelming and admittedly took my attention away as I tried to make my way through the pile. Returning to old favourite authors as well as dipping into works by people I barely even knew the name of, I’ve been touching on the various corners of modern icons from music to art to fiction these past months…

Slouching Towards Bethlehem - Joan Didion

My relationship towards Didion is annoyingly strained. I want to love her. I do love her in a lot of ways, spending days gushing over her documentary and forever googling pictures of her 60s lifestyle. But her writing feels hit and miss to be. I adore her title essays and Slouching Towards Bethlehem was no different, being both heart-breaking and gripping, confronting the realities of the 60s hippie heyday. In reflection, the essay seems to tackle the rose tinting of the 60s, painting instead a picture of helplessness in chaos as teenagers go missing and babies are left abandoned. With just enough Didion in there to infuse the story with emotion, but enough distance to have the sense of journalism, it’s perfect. But some of the other pieces felt like I was dragging myself through them. I guess that’s always going to be the issue with compilation books, so maybe I’ll give her a 3rd go with her novel Play It As It Lays.

Lady Sings The Blues - Billie Holiday

The book that shook me out of my own reading blues, Billie Holiday’s memoir became an instant favourite.

Before I dove in, I knew very little about the singer. I liked her songs but that was about it, listening occasionally when playlists brought her back to my attention. But since learning more about her life, the songs sound even better, overflowing with passion and tragedy just like her life. Taking you from her childhood through her successes and struggles with addiction, Billie writes her story with resilience despite the intensely vulnerable tales being told. After I finished reading it, I watched United States Vs Billie Holiday and wanted to immediately re-read it and hug the book close. Highlighting all the gaps and missing information about the elements of racism and how the war on drugs was used as a tool of racism, the difference between the film and the book broke my heart, as Billie clearly never truly knew the real reason why she was being so harshly punished. Leaving me with a real love for her music now, enthusing each song with 10x more feeling, this book will stick with me.


Breakfast At Tiffany's - Truman Capote

For as long as I can remember, Breakfast at Tiffany's has been one of my favourite films. A story I never tire off, Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly always felt like a character I wanted to emulate, constantly referencing her outfits as I tried to call upon each a touch of her grace. The Holly Golightly of Truman Capote’s novella feels more like the woman I’ve ended up as, far more real. While the story still definitely has some of the glamour and fun of the film, the original tale is just as different as everyone says. Previously putting me off picking up the book, I’m glad I finally did, as the more tragic tale now resonates with me so much more. As a story and sweet little novella, it’s left far more open with the lack of happy ending, as Holly’s character in the book is actually as elusive as Hepburn’s version constantly talks about. While the film talks a lot about running away, Truman’s actual character really does, never truly giving the reader a clear image of the fascinating woman he was trying to capture. I wasn’t wowed enough by Capote’s writing style to pick up another book, and I don’t think I would’ve been amazed if I didn’t already love the film adaptation, but I’m glad I ticked this one off my list.


Lunch Poems - Frank O'Hara

I love Frank O’Hara. Coining the term Personalism, O’Hara talks of his poetry as essentially a different approach to just picking up the phone and calling his friends. Writing deeply personal works about his social circle, his poems are full of names and inside jokes, that for a moment invite you into the New York Group. Moving between silliness and pure sentimental romance in the space of one line, I love how he writes about love especially, focussing in on little moments and details rather than declaring grade sentiments. I poured over Lunch Poems in a couple of days, reading the collection back to back for a brief support in romanticising my own life and social goings on.


Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl - Carrie Brownstein

I think autobiographies by women might be one of my favourite genres. Similar to Just Kids and I’m With The Band, Carrie Brownstein’s memoir lets you feel like a best friend or a little sister for a moment as she writes about private moments with intimacy and honesty. I’d never listened to Sleater Keaney, or really any of that music scene, so I went in totally blind here and had my expectations exceeded. Yeah sure, hearing about Carrie’s career and success is interesting. But what was fascinating was hearing her thoughts on the line between musician and fan, and then being privy to hearing all the issues and downsides to making it. A really raw look into the industry, Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl felt like lifting the veil and revealing all the anxieties of the sparkling world of a musician, all told in a way that makes you feel like you’ve been invited into some exclusive club. Written with such ease, this was one of those books that I seemed to glide through, flipping page after page on train journeys without it ever making my brain feel tired.


Playing To The Gallery - Grayson Perry

After Descent of Man became one of my favourite books of last year, I was keen to dive into more of Grayson Perry’s writing. I love his style, managing to be funny and approachable, without ever feeling obvious or like he’s explaining the obvious. This especially made Playing To The Gallery a joy. As a book about the art industry, it would be easy to feel locked out or not smart enough when you’re approaching it as an outsider. But instead, Grayson Perry takes your hand and makes all the lessons a breeze, full of silly little anecdotes that perfectly exemplified bits of theory or fact. If you like art and galleries in a casual way, pick this up. I feel like it will have totally changed my experience the next time I walk into the Tate or wherever, giving you points to think about and all the bolstering you might need to simply mill about with a bit more confidence and ease.

Next Up...

✿ Let Us Compare Mythologies - Leonard Cohen

✿ A Theatre For Dreams - Polly Samson


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