books

Insomnia by Marina Benjamin

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Our autumn issue is inspired by dreams and sleep. Marina Benjamin’s fascinating new book explores the opposite state: Insomnia. Our book club editor Terri-Jane Dow takes a closer look.

Marina Benjamin’s slim meditation on sleeplessness makes for interesting bedtime reading. Maybe I’m leaning into the wakefulness, but I think it’s more likely that the directions Benjamin spins off into are too interesting for me to sleep on. Instead of reading myself to sleep, the musings in Insomnia keep my mind ticking over long after I have turned off the lights.

At just over 150 pages, Benjamin’s latest memoir doesn’t take long to read, but I go back and forth through it, making mental notes of sleep experiments, of theories on sleeping, of ideas of why we chase sleep so hard, and why it is sometimes so elusive. Living with an insomniac gives me an interesting perspective; I take on the sleeping role of Benjamin’s husband, only ever referred to – somewhat enviously – as Zzz, while my partner finds the snippets I read to him disarmingly accurate.

The list of sources at the end of the book is vast, and promises to keep me awake for many nights to come. Art, philosophy and science jostle together, the fragments flowing in and out of each other. Things that seem unrelated on the surface become entwined with one another. In the art world, insomnia is romanticised. Sleepless nights are full of stars and lovers, and the state of sleeplessness is evocative of something ancient and grand. Poets find a place here, as do many painters. In his early work, Edward Burne-Jones depicted ladies draping themselves all over the place, suddenly overcome by a need to sleep, and Benjamin writes about his pre-Raphaelite paintings beautifully, looping back to them at the end of the book. (Serendipitously, Burne-Jones’ paintings are the subject of a new exhibition – his first since 1933 – at Tate Britain.)

The intensity of each snippet of the book is not to say that it isn’t also very funny. Benjamin’s CBT group and attempts at sleep-aids are portrayed as torturous; exercises devised by people who have never had trouble sleeping. (“That, or they are sadists,” says Benjamin). She misses Zzz recounting his dreams to her because she has earplugs in. She refuses meditation, “terrified of the blankness”. Her book muses on her marriage, the early days of bed-sharing with Zzz, and the ways that they comfort and accommodate each other both in waking and sleep. There are many, many comparisons between sleep and love: falling, potions, and the hours of research into the science of both.

Early in the book, Benjamin writes that insomnia is as much to do with longing as it is to do with sleeplessness. “To be without sleep is to want and be found wanting.” Insomnia does not reach a conclusion, there’s no cure. Benjamin is no more able to sleep at the end of the book than she was at the beginning. Instead, she asks what it is that her wakefulness wants of her, what it is that writers and artists and philosophers have been seeking to express, and how we can find rest in restlessness.

Insomnia by Marina Benjamin is published by Scribe Books. More tales of dreams and sleep in the autumn issue of Oh Comely.



Elaine Castillo talks America is not the Heart

Photo: Amaal Said

Photo: Amaal Said

words: terri-jane dow

Elaine Castillo’s debut novel, America is not the Heart, centres around Hero De Vera, a woman who has recently arrived in the United States to start a new life. She is undocumented and an ex-member of the communist New People’s Army. As the novel unfolds, she becomes part of the family, and part of the community, in ways she didn’t expect. America is not the Heart is one of our What We’re Reading picks in our midsummer issue, which you can pick up here. We spoke to Elaine about the inspirations behind her novel. 

Our latest issue explores identity – it seems to be a theme that runs through America is not the Heart.

I don’t know that identity is a huge theme – at least, any more so than it figures in novels that are about people living anything resembling a life, and thus about that encounter between the citizen self and the private self, where we’re at once emotional, animal, historical, political. Of course, there are certain communities of people whose lives get reduced to identity discourse, and people whose lives – and identities – get taken for granted; for neutral; for universal. How often are white authors told that identity is a huge theme in their novels? I certainly read books by white authors and marvel at how deeply white their worlds are, how alien they seem to my particular corner of America, how much a glossary would come in handy – and yet no glossaries get demanded for those books despite the fact that hyper-specific questions and assumptions around identity, particularly around the intersection between whiteness and class, whiteness and gender, impinge upon their characters’ lives on every page. But there’s often a silent coding around words like identity or community, as if these terms are dogwhistles, a racialised vocabulary that only applies to immigrant identity, people of colour identity, and so on. 

Did you always know you wanted to include languages other than English in the novel?

I never thought about it as anything other than perfectly banal and ordinary. It’s important for writers, especially writers of colour, to ultimately claim the space for their own banality. It never occurred to me that to write a largely English-language book that was inclusive of large portions of untranslated non-English language was in any way remarkable: I grew up in a majority-minority town, Milpitas, the town where most of the book is set. Something like nearly 70% of the population speak a language other than English; our mayors have all either been Filipinx or Vietnamese since the nineties [Oh Comely note: Filipinx is used as a more inclusive term than the gendered Filipino/a]. That’s an American reality. That we don’t see towns like that portrayed as American heartlands says nothing about those towns, and more about the paucity of our discourse around what constitutes as American.

I grew up in a house where multiple languages were floating around, piecemeal, and the boundaries between those languages were porous: my mother had her own language (Pangasinan), my dad had his own language (Ilocano), they spoke the lingua franca of the Philippines to each other (Tagalog), as well as the second language of the Philippines (English). It was a mundane reality of my life for my mother to start a sentence to me in Tagalog and end in English or Pangasinan; most of my Tagalog had Pangasinan words sprinkled into it, which would confuse Tagalog-speaking friends – I would have no idea that some word I’d known all my life wasn’t actually Tagalog, but Pangasinan. And I was by no means an anomaly in my larger community. I didn’t include these languages in the book to “add local colour,” which is usually how the inclusion of non-English words in English-language fiction is described, fetishistically or disparagingly. This is simply how the community like the one in the book sounds. These are the material, sensual, granular facts of this particular American reality – and if we’re going to have American fiction that’s in any way deserving of that epithet, then we need to both write and read the fiction in a way that is commensurate to those realities, period.

The title of the novel is a play on Carlos Bulosan's America is in the Heart: A Personal History, [Bulosan was a Filipinx/American immigrant writer, and his semi-autobiographical novel was one of the first to show an Asian American working-class experience]. Could you tell me a bit about that? Would you say that your novel is an update to the Filipinx-American experience; a “Personal History” for your characters?

Haha, to be completely honest, the title came out of a year-long private joke I’d always told myself. Not to make wide cultural generalisations, but being a Filipinx kid, I like a pun – and so whenever I heard Bulosan’s title, especially pronounced with a Filipinx accent, I always misheard it as "America Isn’t the Heart"; it just made me snicker to myself, so I always thought I’d write a story or chapter title with that Isn’tone day, which is why the last chapter of the book still contains the conjunction. It wasn’t this big ambitious intertextual reference or staking out of a literary heritage! Just the kind of dumb joke that makes only you laugh.

But of course, Bulosan’s book remains a seminal text read in high schools and colleges all over the States, mostly in Filipinx American Studies and Ethnic Studies, though obviously I think it should be required reading for American history – for its stark depictions of the miseries and realities of early immigrant life, particularly Filipinx and Mexican migrant labour on the West Coast in the 1930s, its lacerating portrayals of white supremacist discrimination, racist mobs, police brutality, economic deprivation. It was also the first book I’d ever seen depicting the rural poor from Pangasinan, the same province from which my mother comes; Bulosan’s descriptions of the region ring true to stories my grandmother and mother used to tell (when they would tell stories at all; mostly they were silent for years around the subject of their abject poverty back in the Philippines). To read books about Filipinxs that were not necessarily wealthy or educated, or Manila-based, or cosmopolitan – that was a gift. But the dubious accompaniment of that gift is the profound misogyny that is threaded throughout the book: scene after scene of women brutalised, beaten, raped, disappeared. Bulosan’s autobiographical narrator often expresses sympathy and pity towards these women, in a kind of ‘Nice Guy’ fashion, but there’s a conspicuous failure to connect the oppression of those women to his own, and that failure needs to be discussed and indicted more than it is. 

So in some way, sure, the fact that America is not the Heart [AINTH] expressly centres the granular details of women in their fullness – immigrant women, undocumented women, queer women, women who exist in the narrative not merely to be tragic foils or victims of brutal violence – in a way that AINTH simply doesn’t could be considered the beginning of a conversation. But luckily there’s a healthy community of Filipinx American literature that doesn’t need to be “updated” per se – that would sound pretty presumptuous! The history there is long and rich and various, thankfully (though perhaps less known by the wider reading population than it ought to be); and let’s work so it continues in that vein, so we can keep reading different types of Filipinx stories, from different people, classes, genders, regions, universes.

How does America is not the Heart’s relationship to the idea of ‘family’ play into those stories? 

There are a handful of genres that are usually spoken about dismissively, as if they occupy some lower rung of the artistic echelon: the family epic, the immigrant saga, the domestic novel, the romance. No surprises that these genres are often written by and about people in some of our most marginalised communities; no surprise that they’re also often genres, especially the latter two, that centre people who identify as women. It’s always funny to me how quick literary discourse is to absorb certain genres into critical discourse – works of science fiction and fantasy adopted for their larger metaphors around dystopia, state brutality, marginalisation, etc. Or even in AINTH, the parts of the books that often get politicised tend to be the episodes of what we might call legible historical weightiness, things like dictatorship, the NPA, the American genocides in the Philippines at the turn of the century, all of which are of course at the core of how we think about both Philippine and American statecraft, but they’re also not the only sites for thinking through characters as political animals as much as emotional, historical, social.

I often think of both love stories and family dramas as being the sites for some our most urgent and radical political dramas – and yet we don’t offer confer that kind of critical analysis or legitimacy on those types of stories. But why not think through the ways in which a queer undocumented woman meets another queer working-class immigrant woman and gets introduced to romantic manga? What might she think of those stories? Why not think through the ways in which a bi woman who’s been disowned by her parents would have to learn how to be a decent family member to a younger cousin; what the love of extended family members might mean to someone with as fraught a relationship with family as Hero?

One of the things I always say is that for me, I’m not interested in the portrayals of trauma that function as portraits, rather than landscapes. Which is to say, one person in the story has trauma, and everyone else is a handmaiden to that trauma, in the classical sense of literary tragedy. That’s just fundamentally not how I grew up – everyone in my family and extended community had their baggage. And I think that’s how I necessarily come to write love and family and queerness: that people live at the vectors of all these parts of their lives, and all those parts inform the whole. To write about a bi woman, who is also undocumented, who is also living in political exile and has lingering disability from her time in a prison camp, who also has to show up and be responsible for a younger cousin, who also has to be there for a new girlfriend, who has been disowned by her parents, who has to have an adult reckoning with a relative she loved in childhood – who has to be a person in the world, in other words. I think it’s particularly vital to think through those vectors – love, family, queerness – when you’re writing about this kind of community embeddedness, because I’m also, fundamentally, writing about queer suburban people. In my burgeoning youth as a bi kid of colour, I read and loved a lot of queer fiction that mostly centered suburban flight: that you had to leave the town, the community, in order to be fully realised as a queer person. It’s a flight I know well in my life and have huge, abiding love for: but I also know it’s not the end-all be-all of queer stories. 

Especially when you’re writing about someone like Hero, for whom the family is at once a source of absolute abandonment (her own parents) and profound life-saving refuge (her uncle Pol and his family, whom she comes to live with in Milpitas). It’s not as easy to cut ties with family or community when, in a purely practical sense – Hero has no papers – her survival is also dependent on the kindness and material aid of certain family members, the larger consequences of which she has to eventually reckon with. Certainly that was true of my own family; when you don’t have the larger support system of a functioning social welfare state, the people that help you make rent, pay for hospital bills, post bail, are usually your family members.

The relationships in the novel felt cautious and tentative – perhaps especially the relationship between Hero and Rosalyn. I felt that becoming a big sister to Roni was the push Hero needed to overcome some of her caution.

That Roni might be the one who pushes Hero out of her caution around Rosalyn is also part of that idea: that the love story in the book isn’t singular, isn’t just about one woman falling love with another (though of course it’s hugely about that), but also ultimately about things like: how do we even learn to be tender? When do we step up to care for other people, particularly when we’ve been through so much shit ourselves? What does it mean to come through for someone else? I think the reluctance you’re picking up on in Hero has so much to do with a larger reluctance that is probably the book’s real subject, one which most of us will have to encounter in our lives: how searingly difficult it is to be loved and known; to love and know others. And yet how absolutely, earth-shatteringly transformative; how plain; how like nothing else in the fucking world. That goes for our lovers, our friends, our family members. 

America is not the Heart is out now. Buy a copy here

 

 

Train by Sharlene Teo

photo: ceren kilic  words: sharlene teo   

photo: ceren kilic

words: sharlene teo

 

"I relished the forward momentum, when I felt so stuck in my own bad habits, my anxieties and frustrations"

In 2012, I moved to Norwich for my Master’s degree in Creative Writing. My memories of that time are tempered with a mixture of joy and desperation. On one hand, I was ecstatic because I’d always dreamt of being a writer, and now I found my place and community. Yet I felt simultaneously grateful for and overwhelmed by this lifeline. 

I commuted back to London every weekend in an attempt to resuscitate my ailing relationship. The journey takes one hour and 50 minutes: long enough to sink into a book, short enough to be endurable. I always booked the early evening train out, as a thin blue patina settled over the steeple of Norwich Cathedral and the East Anglian countryside softened and blurred.  

I favoured the quiet carriage, typically Coach B. Front-facing window seat: I relished the sensation of forward momentum, when I felt so stuck in my own bad habits, my anxieties and frustrations. I fretted constantly about my irascible, enthralling boyfriend and my non-existent writing career, as well as what I’d do after my student visa ended. 

I read many interviews where successful writers mentioned getting their best writing done on trains. But I am too self-conscious and skittish to invent things in public. I typed and deleted, watched the blinking cursor questioning my veracity. 

When my thoughts got too loud I listened to music on my headphones. I only allowed a certain kind of music to soundtrack those grey hours in the Quiet Zone: ambient electronica, or some passionately discordant woman or sad-voiced American man, cooing refrains in my ear about time gone, gone, gone. 

I bought the same meal for these train rides: one messy baguette, a bag of crisps, a large black coffee, and sometimes something very sweet and small, like a Freddo.

That year I read Teju Cole, Yiyun Li, Anna Kavan, W.G. Sebald, Helen Oyeyemi and Deborah Levy, bending their paperback spines like a greedy monster trying to devour genius. I scattered crumbs and underlined achingly beautiful phrases. I chewed with bovine abandon, as I daydreamed impossible solutions for my doomed relationship. In every scenario either or both of us had the same faces, but were different people. Kinder, intrinsically happier, unrestricted by immigration law, more confident. 

The train rattled through Norfolk; and if I focused on the world outside, I’d see a rush of trees, cow fields, parks, laundry-lines. The overhead lights of the Quiet Zone flickered in synchrony to my anxious, crazy heartbeats. I felt a sullen resentment every time someone sat opposite me on a near-empty carriage, denying me of the opportunity to scoff the butt of my baguette in peace. 

All that year I felt wound up like a spring, fraught and withholding. I learnt the word “liminal” in a seminar and it fit my feelings with a certainty few other things seemed to hold. I was an in-between sick of other in-betweens. I was a migrant, about to get ejected from the UK; I was a writer, published career uncertain; I was a graduate student, further employment unknown; my boyfriend and I kept arguing and eventually broke up. I loved him so apocalyptically. We had no fight left in us. 

Then 2012 became 2013. New habit became routine. Travelling between two places I didn’t quite belong to, my heart sped up every time the train approached Stratford: the monolith ArcelorMittal tower maroon and desolate, a reminder of the gloriously sunny Olympic summer come and done. Pulling into the stark lights of Liverpool Street, I’d feel both a comfortable pain, and a temporary comfort. 

 

Sharlene Teo's debut novel Ponti is out now. 'Train' was published in our midwinter issue. You can read another story by Sharlene – 'Spring clean' – in our spring issue. Order your copy here

Laura Dockrill's power fresh green pesto

Portrait: Liz Seabrook

Portrait: Liz Seabrook

“Look at that! You get to pour your own chocolate in here.” Laura Dockrill is marvelling as she spirals her jug of warm, dark drinking chocolate into the awaiting mug of frothy milk. “It’s so good!” For a moment, it feels like we’re in Laura’s new young adult book, Big Bones, whose heroine, Bluebell, just loves her food: whether crumpets leaking with butter, salty caramel slathered millionaires shortbread or chips so vinegary that they make your nose hairs shrivel. 

In our early spring issue, we had the pleasure of speaking to writer Laura Dockrill. Her new book Big Bones – out today - celebrates the pleasure in eating. As Laura says, “There’s no such thing as a perfect body but there can be a perfect meal and you can enjoy that”. Needless to say, it made the entire team very hungry indeed. Laura was kind enough to share her favourite recipe for pesto. 

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Laura Dockrill's fresh green pesto recipe

Big Bones is not just a love letter to food and the body; it is also to show how rewarding it is to cook and eat. It doesn’t have to be hard or fussy or posh or embarrassing to cook. I want to inspire people, kids, to enjoy food. And so the recipe I’ve chosen to share is simple, quick, easy to make, fragrant, vibrant and versatile and can turn any cheap carby comforting canvas into a wholesome meal that looks and tastes impressive. It’s the way I like to cook. Messy and natural. And if you are able to grab, rip, squeeze, pinch and smush you can make this without even touching a flame or a knob of the oven!

I made this for my partner Hugo, after a lot of beer, smothered over pasta. He said, “oh my god, this is the best meal I’ve ever had.” (No, it was not the beer talking) and he is not one tincy bit interested in cooking, but this is something he can now whizz up himself in under a minute and saves the day every time.

It lasts and it’s so much better and tastier and cheaper and vividly GREENER than the jarred stuff.

FRESH GREEN PESTO

You will need:

one massive handful of basil stalks and everything (or I just use one of those whole bags you can buy individually from the supermarket)

big glug of olive oil the better the olive oil the better it will taste

parmesan the best thing about this is because the pesto gets smushed up you don’t have to fiddle around with the small fiddly bit of the grater!

juice of a whole lemon

sea salt and pepper

*optional toasted pine nuts

 

All you have to do is simply bring all of this together. Use a Nutri Bullet or blender if you have one for a 30 second smooth sauce or you could bash it up in the pestle and mortar or hand mix for something chunkier.

The thing I love about this is you can add as you go, more lemon for acidity, no pine nuts for pasta for something smoother, add nibs of toasted walnuts or pecans for a salad, a handful of spinach for extra green and goodness and chilli flakes work well too.

Then stir into hot pasta, smear over hot roast potatoes, drizzle over a green salad, slather over bread for a toasted cheese sandwich. A great invention are those Jus-Rol puff pastry sheets, you can smear this homemade wonder over a sheet of this stuff and accessorize with olives, sun dried tomato, artichoke, mozzarella for an impressive pizza/tart or roll into little swirls for a snack that makes you look SO FANCY! You could add to yoghurt or houmous for dipping (which is also super easy to make), top over roasted vegetables or just stuff it in the corner of a lunch box and visit with bread or whatever’s in there like a little pesto watering hole.

 

Big Bones by Laura Dockrill is published by Hot Key books and is out today. And pick up a copy of our early spring issue to read the full interview with Laura. 

 

 

 

Well-Read Black Girl

Glory Edim photographed by Elena Mudd

Glory Edim photographed by Elena Mudd

To help others discover the work of black women writers, Glory Edim started her bookclub Well-Read Black Girl, a safe space for honest discussions about literature and beyond.

Marta Bausells speaks to Glory in the autumn issue of Oh Comely: “There isn’t a lot of room for black women to really see themselves in a very honest and pure way,” she told us, “and when you enter the book club you know it’s a safe space. You know it’s other people that look like you and appreciate you and aren’t judging you. […] You don’t have to pander to anyone, or posture – you’re just yourself. I think “ that’s what makes it unique.”

The group has become a support system where its members can just be, without judgement or comparing themselves to anyone else. She adds: “In this group we’re setting the standard – that these are our books, our inspirations, our suffering, whatever it is – we can all read it on the page and experience it in real life, too.” 

We asked Glory to share some of her favourite Well-Read Black Girl bookclub picks: 

 

Pick up a copy of our autumn issue of Oh Comely to read the full interview with Glory, or you can go to wellreadblackgirl.com to sign up for Glory’s newsletter, and follow her on Instagram @wellreadblackgirl.

 

 

#ohcobookclub Dana Spiotta's Innocents and Others

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We're reading Dana Spiotta's Innocents and Others for the next #OhCoBookClub – join us in London on the 8 November for cocktails and book chat!

Meadow Mori and Carrie Wexler grew up together in Los Angeles, and both became film-makers. 

Meadow makes challenging documentaries; Carrie makes successful feature films with a feminist slant. The two friends have everything in common – except their views on sex, power, movie-making and morality. And yet their loyalty trumps their different approaches to film and to life. 

Until, one day, a mysterious woman with a unique ability to cold-call and seduce powerful men over the phone – not through sex, but through listening – becomes the subject of one of Meadow's documentaries. Her downfall, and what makes her so extraordinarily moving, is that she pretends to be someone she is not.

We're utterly gripped and can't wait to discuss it with you! 

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Buy the book herehere, or here (links aren't affiliated), or from your favourite local bookshop.

If you're not in London, and you'd like to host an #OhCoBookClub group, get in touch with our Book Club Editor, Terri-Jane, on twitter @terrijane or by email terri-jane@icebergpress.co.uk. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the book, so don’t forget to tag @ohcomelymag and #OhCoBookClub on instagramtwitter, and facebook

What We're Reading: Matilda by Roald Dahl

words: Aimee-lee Abraham

 

When I was small and relentless, my mother would occasionally threaten to call up Agatha Trunchbull, enquiring about vacancies at The Chokey. Sometimes, she’d get as far as punching the “special number” into our landline – slowly and deliberately, for added suspense. It never proceeded beyond that, though, because I’d melt into a teary, hot heap of sorry on the floor by the time she hit the third digit, hysterical at the mere mention of her name. In case you have never read Matilda (also known as The Gospel for Bookish Girls Everywhere), let me explain. Trunchbull is the fictional headmistress of Crunchem Hall Primary School, where Our Saviour Matilda is imprisoned. A fine educator, Agatha is also a heavyweight athlete, and likely a psychopath. In 1972, she competed in three separate Olympic events – Shot Put, Javelin, and Hammer Throw – skills she is still perfecting decades later, swinging innocents by their pigtails, chucking them into “Chokeys” of nails and smoke – a child’s incarnation of Dante’s inferno, hand-built with care.

What makes Trunchbull so enduring and terrifying is the maelstrom of pain she embodies, representing every childhood injustice we have collectively experienced distilled into a single dictator. She represents mushy vegetables piled high, and is probably to blame for the existence of frogspawn tapioca. She stands for every premature bedtime – for the loneliness of being banished to a single bed, listening to grown-ups laugh and live beyond the forbidden glow of the hallway. She’s in every sibling squabble that was somehow your fault, even though they started it. She’s in every toy ripped from your helpless grasp, in every summer holiday cursed with rain, in every privilege inexplicably removed.

To revisit Trunchbull is to remember how it feels to exist in a world so impenetrable and vast it makes your head hurt, where adults insist they know best, but behave in ways that seem spiteful, nonsensical, or both. Trunchbull is big and you are small, Trunchbull is right and you are wrong. There is nothing you can do about it. In that sense, she is a lot like the US President, but even more sartorially challenged. To this day, I occasionally dream of her, directly or indirectly. Sometimes she appears as a phantom, bearing coffee breath and spinach wedged between teeth. Sometimes she manifests in enclosed spaces and closed minds, in visions of stunted growth, shards of ruined potential cutting my feet. Her power is timeless and strange. It clings to ambitious girls like tar. 

 

Pick up a copy of issue 35 to discover three more books with strong characters that have stuck with us – for better or worse.

What we're reading: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Photo: Liz Seabrook

Photo: Liz Seabrook

In issue 34, four writers shared the books they like to dip into, again and again. Here Jason Ward shares why, for him, December always means returning to A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. 

 

It’s surely not a coincidence that our most ebullient rituals occur during the bleakest days of the year. As winter batters its fists upon the windows, tradition is a friendly face at the door, a comforting visitor to help us ignore the darkness outside. Without even noticing, Christmas rites accumulate naturally around us. We listen to the same songs every year as we put lights on the tree, make the same biscuits we always make, watch the same Christmas specials that we could recite by heart. For the satisfaction they bring, we observe these events as closely as if they had been ordained.

Here’s a ritual of mine, then: every December I listen to a different audiobook of A Christmas Carol. An unabridged reading takes around three hours, so I’m able to get through it over a couple of crisp, lonely walks. In keeping with the oral tradition that fomented literature, A Christmas Carol is not a story you’re meant to read, but rather one you’re meant to have read to you. Dickens himself did this for 127 audiences during his lifetime, including his final public reading.

Like a bicycle or the zip on a jacket, we take A Christmas Carol for granted because it works perfectly. Possessing the quality of a fable, the story unfolds with such pleasurable inevitability that it’s difficult to imagine someone actually sat down and toiled over its nouns and verbs, that Ebenezer Scrooge and his misery didn’t always exist somewhere. Not wasting a moment, its elegant narrative works like a machine: there’s a reason why two centuries later we’re still telling the story to ourselves, not just through adaptations but versions starring everyone from Bugs Bunny to Fred Flintstone.

Despite the Bob Cratchit in my head bearing a striking resemblance to Kermit the Frog, however, I am helplessly, joyfully drawn to the original text. I love how its opening line – “Marley was dead: to begin with” – manages to be spooky and witty at the same time. I love that it’s written with a noble purpose and yet Dickens can’t resist showing off how clever he is. Most of all, I love the meaning of the tradition in my life. Every year, wandering the same city as Scrooge once did, I’m provided with a reminder that change is achievable, and that it is always possible to be one’s best, most compassionate self. 

 

For more tales of Return, pick up a copy of Oh Comely issue 34

Culture Monday

Anna Meredith, who plays the Simple Things festival this week. Portrait:  Lauren Maccabee  for  issue 33 . 

Anna Meredith, who plays the Simple Things festival this week. Portrait: Lauren Maccabee for issue 33

Another week, another opportunity to throw yourself into our cultural picks. From photography to film, music to MADE, there's masses on this week - the problem will probably be deciding where to start! Do let us know what you get up to, and if there is anything you think we really should be checking out ourselves...

Art

Unveil’d Photography @ various venues, Exeter (20 to 23 October)

Helen Marten: Drunk Brown House @ Serpentine, London (until 20 November) 

Quentin Blake: Inside Stories @ National Museum Cardiff (until 20 November 2016)

 

Film

Cambridge Film Festival @ various venues, Cambridge (20 to 27 October)

Aberdeen Film Festival @ various venues, Aberdeen (17 to 26 October) 

 

Music

James Vincent McMorrow @ The Roundhouse, London (17 October) 

The Duke Spirit @ Manchester, Nottingham, Bristol, London (17, 18, 19 & 20 October). Read our interview with Leila Moss in Oh Comely issue 31.

The Simple Things festival @ various venues, Bristol (22 and 23 October), featuring issue 33 interviewee Anna Meredith 

Slow Club @ Brighton, Bath, Leicester (20, 21, 22 October) 

 

Theatre & Comedy

Lost in the Stars @ Union Chapel, London (17 to 19 October) 

Bridget Christie: Because you demanded it @ Leicester Square Theatre, London (19 & 20 October)

Cathy Come Home @ Bristol, Southend, Luton (21, 22, 24 and 27 October) 

 

Books

Undiscovered Islands @ Stanfords, London (19 October)

New Writing @ Foyles, Charing Cross Road, London (24 October) 

 

Events

Bloomsbury Festival @ Bloomsbury, London (19 to 23 Oct)

MADE London Marylebone @ One Marylebone, London (20 to 23 October)

How To Hygge Festival @ The London EDITION, London (22 and 23 October) 

Battle of Ideas 2016 @ Barbican, London (22 & 23 October)

 

Show us where you've been and tell us what we should include in next week's round-up via our Twitter or Instagram.

Culture Monday

Georgia O’Keeffe,  Abstraction White Rose , 1927.  Oil on canvas, 36 x 30 (91.4 x 76.2). Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. Gift of TheBurnett Foundation and Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation ©Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

Georgia O’Keeffe, Abstraction White Rose, 1927.

Oil on canvas, 36 x 30 (91.4 x 76.2). Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. Gift of TheBurnett Foundation and Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation ©Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

The nights are getting longer and the days cooler so even more good reason to throw yourself into all things cultural. To inspire you, here are our pick of events happening this week, ranging across art, film, music and books. One strong piece of advice, if you can get yourself to London - don't forget to visit the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibition before it closes at the end of the month - as the curator told us in issue 30, it's a once in a generation chance to see the artist's work in Britain. Enjoy! 

 

Art

Georgia O’Keeffe @ Tate Modern, London (Until 30 October). Read our interview with the exhibition's curator in issue 30

Jeff Koons @ Newport Street Gallery, London (until 16 October)

Lie of the Land @ Gallery 40, Brighton (until 22 October)

Girl Town @ St Margaret’s House, Bethnal Green, London (until 1 November)

 

Music

Wild Beasts @ The Junction, Cambridge (10 October)

Sussex Songfest @ Snape Maltings (15 October), featuring issue 33 interviewee Anna Meredith. 

Hackney Wonderland @ various venues, Hackney, London (15 & 16 October)

Mystery Jets @ Coventry, Cambridge, Bath, London (11 to 15 October)

 

Film

London Film Festival @ various venues, London (until 16 October). Our associate editor, Jason, recommends: 

  • American Honey, directed by Andrea Arnold @ Odeon Leicester Square (11 October)
  • Certain Women, directed by Kelly Reichardt @ Embankment Garden Cinema and Hackney Picturehouse (12 & 13 October)
  • Prevenge, directed by Alice Lowe @ Haymarket and Picturehouse Central (13 & 16 October) 
  • A United Kingdom, directed by Amma Asante @ Curzon Mayfair (11 October)
  • Heal the Living, directed by Katell Quillévéré @ Prince Charles Cinema (14 October)

The Greasy Strangler @ general release (requires a strong stomach!)

Books

London Literature Festival @ Southbank Centre, London (until 16 October)

Birmingham Literature Festival @ various venues, Birmingham (until 16 October)

Waterstones presents Vivienne Westwood @ St James’ Church, Piccadilly, London (14 October) 

 

Workshops 

Plant Life Drawing @ Ace Hotel, Shoreditch, London (11 October) 

Wool weaving workshop @ Wool BnB, De Beauvoir Town, London (12 October)

 

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