Things I've Been Enjoying Lately
This list has been slowly coming together since late-fall when I first began compiling it but then it got pushed to the wayside as the winter and spring seasons stretched out and other lists took priority. With summer comes a similar leisure that exists in the winter when the weather dictates activities and, if you’re lucky, you’ll find yourself with pockets of time where there are no activities planned and perhaps a vacation on the horizon. Road trips will need audiobooks and podcasts, and poolside afternoons will need books to read in the shade. Hopefully you’ll find some joy in these lists as well, and maybe a new discovery or two. As I sit here typing this, there’s a nice breeze coming through the bedroom window that twists the blinds round and back again. The cool nights and mornings of these spring days is a favorite thing of mine, a reminder that soon the heat will be settling in. It’s already begun to creep in with those 80 degree days signifying that summer is right around the corner. The cat is currently curled into a ball with her pink nose visible at the foot of the bed. Interested in being close but also far enough away that she’s doing her own thing. All in all a good way to spend a Saturday after a very busy Friday spent on my feet sorting through wrap gifts. (Future me from Fourth of July weekend jumping in. June Gloom has extended into the start of the month, and I for one am loving it, though the days have begun to expand with the heat, and the air has been on more and more. This time last year we were barely surviving the 110 degree days, while this year we were greeted with cooler temperatures and multiple earthquakes. Not quite a fair trade off, if you ask me. The cat is sitting on the arm of my charm providing line notes as I go along, while also contemplating if she wants to stick a paw in my wine or if it’s too much trouble. She takes her editorial job serious.)
The collage was put together over a long afternoon of movies that was then followed by a cheese board and pistachios. We’ve been on a pistachio kick lately. The sorting through the pictures took place during Wine Country, which was more disappointing than I thought it would be given the talent, followed by, I think, another film though the specifics are escaping me so I might’ve actually worked in silence as picture frustration grew to a standstill, and then there was Gosford Park. I remember renting this movie as a teen and not fully getting it or, dare I say it, liking it. I am not actually sure that I ever finished it. This time around I was engrossed from the opening frame and found it to be marvelous. I loved it so much and want to watch it again. The humor, the pacing, the costumes. Helen Mirren. The American director trying to describe the way things work to his Hollywood companions who just weren’t getting it. The breakfast scene. I understood the film in a way that I didn’t before and also saw many future Downton Abbey plots filter throughout the story. The Bates and Anna season three and four storylines made a bit more sense after the film.
This is an extended edition so pull up a chair, grab a drink, and let’s dive in.
THINGS I’VE BEEN LISTENING TO
The things I’ve been listening to have primarily existed in the car whether that’s been driving back and forth between work and home, or to various errands. The afternoons of walks have been less frequent lately, though on the moments when I do get myself outside for a wander without a destination it has been lovely to stretch my legs and power through some podcasts. Most of these were listened to in installments over a couple days though they each made me almost wish that my commute was a tiny bit longer in order to finish the episode.
One of my new favorite podcasts is David Tennant Does a Podcast With… The host, David Tennant, a favorite of mine from his Doctor Who days, sits down and interviews friends and colleagues. The format is simple but the content is really something special. I would recommend the episode with Michael Sheen. I had a hunch that with Good Omens on the horizon Michael and David were bound to record an episode. Waiting paid off as their episode was saved for the finale, and it did not disappoint. They discuss stage fright, their mutual dislike of photo shoots and the expectation to put on a vivacious face whenever the camera is on them, and how the desire to return to your home country can sneak up on a person later in life.
Other memorable and equally delightful guests include Jennifer Gardner (who recorded in her pajamas with a cocktail), Gordon Brown, Catherine Tate (I have loved the two of them together ever since seeing them as Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing in the West End and was reminded of the magic that happens when they’re in the same room), Samantha Bee, and Jon Hamm. My only complaint is that I wish the episodes were longer and that there were more. At almost an hour each, the conversations cover a variety of topics and reveal Tennant to be a thoughtful interviewer who wants to go beyond the facade of each guest’s public image and well-known name in order to have an honest conversation.
Another podcast that falls in this same category of breaking down the interviewee’s public image to get at the heart beneath is Tim Ferriss’s interview with Neil Gaiman. I will be the first to admit that I am relatively new to reading the works of Neil Gaiman. The first book of his that I read was The Ocean at the End of the Lane in 2017, then Good Omens in 2018, and am now slowly working my way through Nevermore. Though long before I read any of his novels, I was familiar with his persona as a writer and his canon of work. He was a writer that always intrigued me and now after a slow dive into his catalogue, I can see why his work is so beloved and protected by his fans. My level of fandom has certainly been escalating over the years.
Some people might be turned off with the introduction being on the longer side, the interview doesn’t start until approximately 11 minutes in, or by Tim’s other work and business persona. That aside, I recommend giving it a listen. I came to this podcast cold after finding it on Neil’s twitter and the thing that made this conversation compelling was that Neil was given the freedom to speak without interruption, which is not something that happens often enough in interviews. It feels like a pub conversation more than a formal interview. Neil is very open as he talks about how he starts a new project and what he does when he finds himself blocked; his origin story and missteps along the way; what it was like to work with Terry Pratchett across two countries in a time before the internet’s hands were everywhere; and perhaps my favorite bit, geeks out about his preferred pen and notebook. It was interesting to hear Neil talk about the craft of writing in a way that didn’t come off as pretentious but rather with a sense of curiosity that remains the fuel of his writing. While working on Stardust, Neil decided to put away his electric typewriter in favor of a fountain pen as he wanted the book to have the “antiquated rhythms” of 17th/18th century writing. By writing by hand he had to think through sentences from start to finish and couldn’t futz around as much until he was finished, which becomes so easy on a computer. It changed the way he worked and the work he ultimately produced.
To link the first two podcasts together: Michael Sheen tells a great story about how he and Neil once ate sushi at a restaurant near LAX that got shut down mid-meal as the chef was involved in a fishing scandal. That’s all I will say. Both are a delight and if you’re interested in conversations about craft then I would recommend queuing up both and going for a long walk. The constant stop and start of traffic doesn’t help with the rhythm these episodes are asking from you.
These last two podcasts did lend themselves to the rhythm of the car, and sparked joy. I was on a drive to Malibu for our first beach day of the season and was stuck in traffic on the 101. There’s one section before and after the 405 that causes everything to bottleneck, and I always seem to leave twenty minutes later than I had intended which has me wadding through traffic with everyone else on the road. On that day, as I drank tea and ate digestives, thinking about the breakfast truck that was waiting at the beach and inching my way across the freeway, I landed on Emma Gannon’s interview with Elizabeth Day. I’ve listened to Ctrl Alt Delete for a while now and find the episodes are hit or miss but this one really struck a cord. Elizabeth Day is an English journalist and novelist, who’s latest book is called How to Fail. It is a memoir, based on the podcast she created of the same name, that celebrates the things that go wrong. It was refreshing to hear how the failures and challenges she encountered were actually the things that helped her the most. There are so many ways in which people want to define success, and I responded to the way Elizabeth talked about what she considered to be her marker. It was also a nice reminder that every experience is leading you somewhere, even if it’s not where you initially planned to go.
It was on a February night that I started Dolly Alderton’s Love Stories with Stanley Tucci. I had heard her name thrown out all across the internet, especially with the rerelease of her book Everything Thing I Know About Love, but knew little else about her work. Sometimes when someone or something is so hyped - like Sally Rooney’s Normal People, which I have heard is a good read - it takes me longer to check out their work and dive in. I’m not quite sure what the reasoning for this is. I think it’s that thing where the expectations for the work to be amazing have been raised so high that it seems like the work couldn’t live up to it, and therefore might come off as disappointing. The reverse does happens and it’s just as good as everyone says it was all along but sometimes it takes me longer to get there.
One of the reasons I decided to dive into Love Stories was because of Stanley Tucci. It was my first episode of the series and it was delightful. Dolly is a skilled interviewer and I found that she was able to pull stories out of her guests with ease. I’ve always liked him as an actor and this interview has only increased this likability. He is very charming and tells a good story. He’s also honest with his answers whether that’s talking about his first love of food, or his relationship with his first wife and how he coped with raising their children alone after her death, or how he came to meet his second wife, who happens to be Emily Blunt’s sister. The podcast is all about the love stories of one’s life and I think in order to go on the show one must be open to talking about those experiences. He has a love for sausage rolls and a martini (which is pretty much only cold vodka and sometimes a splash of scotch). He does a funny impression of his British children who have become very posh and how he’s baffled by the same things that we all are. I went back and re-listened to part of the episode as I was writing this up. I could’ve listened to the whole episode all over again, and pretty much did. During the conversation about Nora Ephron and shooting Julie and Julia, Stanley and Dolly both gave the tip about Duke’s in London who is said to make the best martini in the city. Apparently they cut you off at three. It’s that powerful.
THINGS I’VE BEEN READING
My reading has been a bit all over the place lately. With summer on the horizon I’m finding that I’m ready for bigger stories that will fill out these expanding days. One article that really stuck with me is Emilia Clarke’s personal history essay for The New Yorker. It is the first time she has talked publicly about her two brain aneurysms, the first of which occurred at the start of her tenure on Game of Thrones. Emilia says she didn’t want people to know about her aneurysm and brain surgery as she was worried that this tremendous job and opportunity that had been given to her would be taken away, which I think is a fear that most women have felt at one point or time in their lives. I know that I certainly have. It’s this rationale that by saying something you’ll be a bother. It is a mindset that can be really dangerous.
A couple years later after she goes into surgery for her second aneurysm, and major complications arise during the procedure, what was supposed to be manageable turns out to be so much bigger and worse that anyone had originally thought, she describes that she couldn’t look anyone in the eye because she was terrified about who would be coming looking back. It felt like part of her had been lost. She would go through days on set and her daily life, while recovering, thinking that she was going to die. I found her essay to be grounding and so honest. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years thinking about my brain and the way that constant headaches have shaped it, and though I have never experienced anything like Emilia has, I found her openness to be very refreshing as this isn’t something most people talk about nor does it seem to always be taken seriously. I think it was brave of her to open up about her experience and I’m so glad she did.
This is not quite a thing I’ve been reading but more of an I’m excited to start reading. At the time I first started writing this post, I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of At The Pond: Swimming at the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond which I had pre-ordered from Daunt Book Publishing. As soon as I heard about this compilation of essays that features thirteen writers and their experiences of visiting the pond, I knew I had to pick up a copy. Visiting the pond for the first time last October was magical and I find myself thinking about it often and wishing it were closer so I could do a swim before work. There was something invigorating about swimming in the cold water as ducks flew over head and other women chatted on the deck. My copy arrived in the mailbox just before it’s June 20th publication, along with my eagerly anticipated copy of Spring by Ali Smith. If you’re interested in the Hampstead Ponds I would also recommend keeping an eye on the documentary The Ponds. It follows a year with the swimmers who frequent the ponds, there are three in total, and why they keep coming back. Here’s hoping there will be a US release soon.
This last book is technically more of a what I’ve been listening to as it is an audiobook but on first introduction I read it aloud at the kitchen table. Rumple Buttercup is the story about a monster who has five crooked teeth, three strands of hair, green skin, and a left foot that is slightly larger than his right. He lives in a storm drain and wears a banana peel on his head in order to appear invisible. He thinks he’s weird and that no one could possible like him because of it. I found myself tearing up the first time I heard a description of the story, and then reading it, and then again listening to it. It is a touching story about how our differences make us who we are and how that is what makes us special. The audiobook was directed by Mr H who wonderfully captures the spirit and voice of Rumple Buttercup and the world he lives in. I highly recommend it for the adults and children in your lives.
WHAT I’VE BEEN WATCHING
I am very late to the game when it comes to Killing Eve. So many people told me that I would love this show and that I needed to watch it immediately. I had every intention of doing just that so I made a note and tucked the thought into my brain, and then it took me a year to get around to it. I watched the first scene of the pilot a few times and then for one reason or another I always turned it off before getting too far. It was the time when I finally stuck with it that I found myself hooked, and devoured the first season in a week.
There are so many things to love about Killing Eve: Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer have amazing chemistry and can do so much with a single glance (just look at their award show photos together for further proof); it’s a spy show about women told through humor, fantastic costumes, and life and death situations; it’s way funnier than you would imagine but then again this is by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who is mostly known for her show Fleabag; and finally it is refreshing and totally engaging. I like that it’s a play on the traditional spy thrillers which I really enjoy while also being modern and edgy, and it’s so good to see Sandra Oh again. Fiona Shaw is also amazing. I love the scenes of them trying to act normal at the market or butchers while they exchange messages. The first season is currently available to stream on Hulu, which is where I finally watched all eight episodes over a couple days. Looking forward to starting season two.
On the smaller screen, there is a lovely video called Fran’s Bookshop that I found via the Persephone Books instagram page. It follows Fran, the owner of Persephone Books, as she goes through a day and interviews authors/poets in the shop. She wears the beautiful Grenson x Persephone collaboration that I wish I had bought but definitely didn’t have the funds for at the time. I would love if these shoes would resurface. The pattern featured on the shoes is also available on notebooks, wrapping paper, and other products made by Cambridge Imprints. You can find these at Persephone and also directly through Cambridge Imprints. One of their pocket notebooks currently lives in my purse and is filled with bits of poems and lists for projects in progress. This is the first, and only, to my knowledge, episode though I really wish it were a complete series. To get a taste for what it is, Fran describes it as such:
This is a show about books. Those books that you read, and you love, and you lend to your friends, and you can’t stop talking about, and you bring to book club, and the only way you can explain how you feel about them is that you want to clutch them to your heart all the time.
I have felt this way about many books, and really loved watching this series. The passion that others have for the books they are reading and creating is palpable which is lovely to experience. It is also a feeling that I’ve experienced whenever I’ve gone to her store. What are the books that have made you feel like this?
Another video that I’ve recently enjoyed, also on the smaller screen, is Simon Savidge interviewing author and potter Elizabeth Macneal, who’s debut novel The Doll Factory came out this spring to wonderful press. Throughout the interview, Elizabeth is throwing what will become mugs while talking about the inspiration behind her novel. I am a big fan of Elizabeth’s pottery as well. She doesn’t currently ship outside of England but might one day and I will be first in line. It is a fun video and I am looking forward to watching part two whenever it’s released. I have also been talking about taking a pottery class for over a year now, maybe even longer, and watching it in action has only heightened that desire. This is the year that I learn how to throw pottery and make my own mugs.
Kosas is a LA based make-up company that I discovered while wandering through this year’s Echo Park Craft Fair. i had been out for a very long walk in the neighborhood when I decided on a whim to attend the fair. I had been to the winter fair and had been pretty disappointed by the outrageous price range of basically everything, and the thing that drew me to attend again was that I wanted to talk with a visiting pottery company. I was walking up and down the aisles looking for the pottery when I came upon the Kosas table. Their products are natural, cruelty free, and contain botanically rick formulas. They offer a few products like tinted face oil, a blush pallet, and lipsticks, which were what first drew my attention. I tried on all of their eight shades before settling on a somewhat neutral in Stardust (though almost went with Rosewater, a light pink) and a bolder berry in Royal. The colors are arranged from cool to warm tones so there’s a shade for every person. The women at the table were so helpful and knowledgeable. It is one of the best smelling lipsticks I’ve ever owned, has a matte finish and a magnetic cap, and feels nourishing throughout the day. Both colors have been my go to shades that I find pulls an outfit together and adds a spring to my step.
The Book Spa at Mr. B’s Emporium
I was introduced to Mr. B’s Emporium by Pan McMillian’s youtube series Book Break. It is an independent bookstore in Bath, England that has a very special surface for the bookworms in your life. The bookstore has been able to expand its shop over the years due to its customer’s support and looks like a cozy spot to spend multiple hours. The Book Spa is a one-on-one session with a Mr. B’s bookseller where over drink and cake you’ll discuss your reading likes and tastes. Then your bibliotherapist will hand-pick a teetering stack of books and introduce you to them, before leaving you to decide which ones to take home. I like the idea of sitting down with a bookseller and discussing the latest books that you might enjoy, and then being introduced to new titles.
Virginia Woolf Summer Course at Cambridge
Now this is a course I wish I was attending this July had I found it earlier. The literature department at Cambridge offers a variety of summer courses each year and the one for this summer focuses on Virginia Woolf’s gardens: her physical garden at Monk’s House (the last place she lived) and the gardens that feature in her work. The week long course will explore “why gardens were so important to Woolf, and asks how they affected her life and work.” Some of the books on the course list include: Kew Gardens, Mrs Dalloway, Orlando, To the Lighthouse, and more. Last year was a big Woolf reading year for me and even then I barely scratched the surface of her writing it reignited that itch to read and study her works further. The subject of gardens in literature has become more and more of an interest of mine and one that I would like to explore in more analytical writings. I may take on some of the course reading to try and figure out her connection to gardens on my own. Next year’s Woolf course was recently announced and will focus on her women characters.