Vivian Leopold James, a prayer for debut authors, some reading reccs, two potters on 19th Century farm in Paris and sad, hurting people.

Hello friends,

This the last READ.LOOK.THINK. for a bit.


“…people turn away from us and refuse to engage. But we react differently to being frozen out. Some seek heat, looking for a way back into the sociable warmth, miserable in the cold, unable to get used to it. Others, like Cusk, get comfortable.” | “With that kiss, the ice water of theory came pouring over me.” Ariana and the lesbian narcissus. | Stevie blogged! | A prayer for debut authors.

Goodbye Clive James, I loved your memoirs so much. “[I]t was the Australian sunshine he absorbed in his youth that did for him in the end”. / A summary from the New Yorker in case you didn’t know him. / His 1997 piece mourning Princess Diana that people derided at the time as being too intense but in retrospect completely caught the mood. / Go back to the opal sunset. PS, true fact: his real name was Vivian Leopold James <3

Some of my all time greatest reccs for anyone needing an absorbing, transporting, reading experience to get lost in during the holiday season:

  • The Amelia Peabody mysteries by Elizabeth Peters. Peabody is a suffragette spinster in a Pride and Prejudice-style rel with an intensely loveable male Egyptologist. Why is it not a TV show?! Anyway, start at the beginning, but my peak fave is Last Camel Died at Noon.

  • PD James. Start with Original Sin, set in a publishing house. Then read from the start to fall in love with Adam Dalgliesh. Keep in mind PD James is conservative, and some characters make conservative arguments, but she shows the truth and complexity of life.

  • The Cazalet Chronicles: I still cry about Villy’s teeth. Hilary Mantel on why we should all read Elizabeth Jane Howard. (This is superb on audiobook, all these reccs are.)

  • The Line of Beauty. I used to say I “re-read it X times a year” but actually now I just have it with me at all times in three formats — I just constantly read it. New jokes and terrible new realisations every single time I dip in. “The ability to repeatedly engage with a work of art to the point where you not only experience the initial emotional impact but start to comprehend the framework of craftsmanship beneath it is the essence of cultural appreciation. And, frankly, it’s a thrilling experience, no matter what work of art you’re engaging with.”

  • Love, Nina: Dispatches from family life. This book is perfect. An instant, timeless classic of warmth and comedy.

Do not miss Emily Gould’s new novel Perfect Tunes. It’s not out yet but pre-order it or put it in your calendar or whatever! Hard to describe it, but it was like going to therapy for me — like the novel was a safe place for me to exist and have feelings inside.


If you start watching Carol (2015) at 22:47 on December 31st, Carol and Therese will share their first kiss exactly as the clock strikes midnight. | A joyful testament to middle age. (Content warning: includes a graphic — beautiful — medical/body photograph.) | Two potters on 19th Century farm in Paris. | Samin Nosrat has an email newsletter.


Something is stopping us from creating the families so many of us want. | Why do people think the UK is or was a beacon of tolerance? | “The present objections to cancel culture are not so much concerned with the weapon, as the kind of people who now seek to wield it.” | The new trend in feminism is feeling nothing. | How smartphones turned election news into chaos, featuring frightening case studies.

From For Rashan Charles: a poem by Raymond Antrobus:

[…]Can we disagree graciously

I am tired of people

not knowing the volume

of their power.

Because it’s the holidays: The Trussell Trust provides emergency food and support to people locked in poverty. | £10 to the Book Trust will give a child in care a book of their own for Christmas. (I saw someone say that many books are available in charity shops for a lot less. I think you’re only cool with getting old stuff when you have enough new stuff not to mind.) | Donate to Magic Breakfast to help children who go to school hungry.

Have a beautiful holiday season everyone. I’m offline for a bit but email me if there’s something I need to see, particularly meals you’ve cooked, selfies taken in nice light, or to share how you’ve reorganised your desk/any room in your home. I’ll be back in January (or February or March at the latest) after I’ve finished a second draft of something I’ve been working on for SEVEN YEARS.




Helen Garner does the housework, coquetamine, after publication comes depression, "Instagram mama" scandals, disaster collectivism.

Dear friends,

Here is a new edition of RLT, still experimenting with how to lay it out. Thank you for the feedback on the last one.


The most special, most important thing you can read is Helen Garner’s Yellow Notebook: Diaries Volume I 1978–1987. A flavour of this beautiful icon at work:

We fought about housework. I saw red and smashed a plate and a bowl. ‘There are more plates here. Why don’t you break them as well?’ ‘Shut your face.’ He went upstairs and turned the TV on full blast. I swept up the mess. I bawled a lot as I swept, and then as I washed my plain, spotty, forty-year-old face and looked at it in the mirror and thought that I couldn’t bear having to go through another bout of this BATTLING. I also thought, I am about to get my period. It absolutely shits me that this should explain anything. I objectively do most of the housework and it’s NOT FAIR. After I’d washed my face I took off my pants and they were stained black with blood.

Her essays are on Audible read by her. She has the perfect Australian voice.

November 2, 2019

For writers, after publication comes depression.

“… sometimes it’s so hard, and you really don’t know how to make your work work, and it feels like months or years of may have been wasted and you continue to be, beyond all heroic efforts, right smack in the middle of the job, rather than at the end, as you had so brightly hoped.” 

“People in real life so often do not know what they want. People trick themselves, lie to themselves, fool themselves. It’s called survival, and self-mythology. […] I don’t do the big hand of God placing people around the Kriegspiel board and claiming to see into their deeper motivations.” Rachel Kushner.



Can a woman who is an artist ever just be an artist? Rachel Cusk on the artists Celia Paul and Cecily Brown. The muse at her easel: Zadie Smith reviews Celia Paul’s Self Portrait.


Alison Roman’s kitchen. | You don’t really look to me usually for make up content but I have found a wearable SPF that’s nicer than a foundation. | Cooking this aubergine parmigiana as we speak. | “He asked the tiler to use tea instead of water to mix the grout so it did not look too new.” A flat in East London decorated with salvage finds. | Every Australian born in the 80s went to university thinking it would be like this sparkling gem of a small budget film, now on Amazon Prime: Love and Other Catastrophes. It stars Helen Garner’s daughter, Alice! It was directed by a 23 year old woman! | Kate Jinx has perfect taste in film — and now, a newsletter.


I highlighted about twenty bits of this discussion in Granta about politics in psychotherapy/the consulting room:

Once you acknowledge that there are other people in the world, then you have to acknowledge the fact that you can’t control the other people on whom you are dependent. And then you’re in political life. The end of solipsism is the beginning of politics, presumably.

The slim book that overnight turned me from a centrist dad into a radical: Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi The Second Coming.

“They have disaster capitalism. We need disaster collectivism.” An interview with Naomi Klein.

Remember this piece: It’s so much more than cooking? (It features this horror story: “I'll make dinner!” he said. “You don't have to do a thing.” That evening, he waltzed through the door from work, bubbling with enthusiasm. I met him in the kitchen, exhausted and hungry. “Okay, I'm ready to start cooking,” he said. “What do we have in the fridge?”) Here is Laura Hazard Owen’s response: Eat alone. On a couch. Mostly carbs.

A functioning constitution should be able to cope with the odd charlatan and bullshit artist, steering them gently away from the levers of power like a friend removing car keys from a drunk.

People buying things because they saw an ad is “even rarer than cystic fibrosis.”

If you haven’t been following this scandal, google “Clemmie Hooper” and then read this: Instagram is allowing white mommy-bloggers to silence black women. Related: the education of Natalie Jean. Also: Loneliness is Instagram’s biggest trend.

“When I see someone issue a posturing, blustery “I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks!” speech, I can see the pain dripping off their 12-year-old self.” Brené Brown on coping with social media cruelty.

Research shows posi vibes can win the online campaigning war.

A good thread:


Resistance is first of all a matter of principle and a way to live, to make yourself one small republic of unconquered spirit. You hope for results, but you don't depend on them.

― Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark




Tits from the past, writing about people who don't look like you, fungal acne, our broken sense of time.


I’m doing this edition a little sooner, slightly more slapdash than usual, and here on “Substack.” I hope it works out, and that you enjoy it! Thanks for bearing with me as I experiment with existing inside an internet that is largely bad. I’m still a bit iffy about being back on Twitter, where the earnest posi vibes-only approach I take to Instagram does not work. But here we go:

READ: "It is possible to become intimate with a city by eating out alone in the winter." | Jeanette Winterson: why I adore the night. | "When you say “release” I think first and foremost of being released from the novel, a sense of melancholy relief, how I can’t make any more improvements or mistakes, how I don’t know what I’ll do next, etc." | Advice for writing about people who do not look like you. | "What I mean is I am wary of leaving my brain untended”. | 'Still, as [Mary-Kay Wilmers] said during a discussion at the New York Public Library in 2018, she “quite liked” the patriarchal nature of the place, “men who were amused by clever girls, who liked them without resenting them because,” as she put it, “the clever girls weren’t going to get very far.”' | "He persuaded me less of any positive reason for marrying him than that there was no justification for not doing so." | Zadie Smith on transatlantic dressing.

The Enchantress, Falero Luis Ricardo, 1878
June 17, 2019

LOOK: Trullo braised beef shin. | Chickpeas (the lemon rind works). | Fungal acne?!!? | Contrapposto. (Check it out I can actually embed images really easily in Substack. Does this work, or is it annoying?)

@halemur: “Can we post an ad to the feed? Would that be crazy?” @harlingross: “We can when it's life-changing."
October 28, 2019
Martine Rose SS20 Campaign. Adam, Ndu, Thomas, Kenny and Dara in Martine’s garden. Photography @dickjewell Art Direction @ericwrennoffice Styling @tamararothstein1 Casting @jonicasting Make up @marinabelfonrose
October 11, 2019

THINK: The 2010s have broken our sense of time. | "When you’re used to doing whatever you want, following the rules feels like a cock block." /"That is the problem with power: It incentivizes forgiveness and forgetting."

October 7, 2019

"One of the things about desire is that you can not want something for the first 30 years of your life and wake up one day and suddenly want it—want it as if you might as well have always wanted it." / "Everyone is female, but how one copes with being female—the specific defense mechanisms that one consciously or unconsciously develops as a reaction formation against one’s femaleness, within the terms of what is historically and socioculturally available—this is what we ordinarily call gender."

Greater empathy actually increases political polarisation. | "The problem for governments is there is no longer a centre ground to snap back to, and their opponents know it." | "Be water, my friend."

Forcing negative attention is still forcing attention. | "If white supremacy is a mass shooter, then it is killing us all." | "Without a plan, Aanya and David succumbed to social pressures."  

It’s SHOW TIME 😈 We’ve been preparing for this moment - stirring up plans to #KickBorisOut. And now we need your help to make it all reality 🌟 From poster campaigns spreading #FckBoris truths in every town to voter registration Raves up and down the country, let’s make Boris and the Tories tremble 👻 read more of our action plan, donate and share via link in Bio xxx
October 29, 2019




READ: “Suddenly I heard Virginia’s voice calling to me from the sitting room window: ‘Hitler is making a speech.’ I shouted back, ‘I shan’t come. I’m planting iris and they will be flowering long after he is dead.'” | The animal model of inescapable shock. | “Embarrassed by the novel—and its mortifying habit of putting words into the mouths of others—many have moved swiftly on to what they perceive to be safer ground, namely, the supposedly unquestionable authenticity of personal experience.” | “The social novel sets out to speak for others but often merely speaks over them. Autofiction, with its resolution to speak only for the authorial self, risks dead-ending in solipsism. [Ben] Lerner’s escape hatch is a kind of synthesis, a narrative mode that dares to imagine the inner lives of other people while at the same time foregrounding how such efforts are always faulty and provisional, riddled with blind spots.” | What makes a millennial novel?

“I weathered their emotions, I scoured their words for subtext and read their expressions as intently as a palm reader following the lines in a hand…” | “Feeling nothing at all towards my body – feeling it to be essentially separate from me – was vastly preferable to what I had felt towards it in my youth.” | “You out?” | “This erasure of the authentic self for the famous (reflective, wish-fulfilling, stardust-glazed) self is only good for people who dislike themselves, because it allows them to erase who they are and become someone totally new. In order to be really good at being famous, in order to embrace it wholeheartedly, you have to dislike yourself.”| “As broken glass crunched underfoot, [Joanna] Hogg’s imagination was at work in concert with her memory. ‘There’s nothing wrong with this carpet,’ she said, briskly. ‘It just needs a good clean.'” (Anna Calvi, ‘Julie‘ — the Souvenir end credits music.) | Rejection is the norm for authors. So why do we hide it? | “The cougar is also sad, because to get what it wants, it must hunt. No one hunts the cougar.” | “It was not easy to read what Karl Ove has written,” she says. “But it’s a good book […] When I got to the Hitler part,” she says, miming turning pages, “it was skip, skip, skip.” | Face, accept, float, let time pass. | Susan Sontag’s queer life.

LOOK: The Beauty Podcast with Sali Hughes. | Stath Lets Flats made me cry with joy and laughter. | Considerate. | Art world insider style. | Fragrance sensitivity: why perfumed products can cause profound health problems. | The gospel of St John. | Farewell to the most beautiful hotel in Melbourne — my pic above! | Lentil burgers. | RACHEL. CUSK’S. HOUSE.

THINK: “I feel a genuine terror about how little time we have. I feel that incredibly intensely and have ever since I have started to listen to the climate clock.” | “For fuck’s sake, life expectancy is declining in America. On a dying planet we are dying sooner. It’s like being in an otherwise quiet room with the loud ticking of a nearby clock. Can’t you hear it?” | “End of the world, end of the month, same struggle.” | “It hurts to realize that they have the power to define what is radical and what is reasonable, what is appropriate and what is insane, who we have to respect and who not.” | Flight shame. | Australia: a nation of docile submissives. | “When people talk about missions, I always warn them: if this is something that makes you feel comfortable and happy and cosy, then you haven’t understood it“.

Brexit-triggered psychosis. | “In 2002 Theresa May, who was elected to Parliament four years before Cameron, had called the Tories ‘the nasty party’ and told them they needed to change. Three years later she co-founded Women2Win, which successfully campaigned to elect more Conservative women. She helped develop the concept of free schools that Cameron and Gove so enthusiastically adopted. But from [Cameron’s biography] you wouldn’t know she was there at all. No wonder she ended up despising the pair of them.” | How bad can it get? | ‘Loud, obsessive, tribal’: the radicalisation of Remain. | Brexit may feel apocalyptic – but radical new ideas are taking root.

“…the deranged psychological investment that even our most powerful elites have in their social media accounts is having a significant impact on their political behavior.” | “The couch in my therapy office is occupied mostly by white people. We talk about everything. Except being white.” Men must lean out. | Masculinity doesn’t just belong to men. | Take your money and run. | What if Trump refuses to leave the White House?


READ: “In the following months, the author invited me to attend his various lectures and readings around town. I heard him talk about the idea of the paragraph on several occasions. He liked to repeat that he was bored by stories and that he didn’t enjoy reading entire novels. At the same time, however, he quoted works often and with authority, fitting them into literary eras and styles. I couldn’t tell whether his knowledge was gleaned second hand or belonged to another phase in his career when he’d read entire books.” | “My fear wasn’t even of public speaking, per se: It was a fear of people seeing me get nervous.” / “… my brain notices, does everything it can to gauge if what I’m about to say is “right,” then lets me know that “saying the wrong thing” must be risky since I invest my whole being trying to elude it, which supports my fear that my words aren’t right and sensitizes me to any possibility of wrongness — on and on, until now my brain perceives “speaking up” or “speaking in error” as life-threatening.”

“I have accumulated layer upon layer of bad feeling; of negativity, rage and doom” — on postnatal depression. | “I suffered only for being so blessed, and for my cowardice. I dodged fights, I held my tongue, I minded my rules. Do the work. Deliver on deadline. Don’t sweat the nonsense; you’re not dead. I kept Jane’s picture on my desk.” | “I had wanted leverage, and in some cases I had it. Men had started to act like scared animals, whimpering and then snapping. They had no way of knowing how hostile their very presence could feel to a woman who has been assaulted.” | “If we’re to do anything other than perform false versions of ourselves for the entertainment, or moral satisfaction, of others, we have to be willing to give voice to those words they don’t want to hear the most. Artists, writers, and thinkers are supposed to say the unsayable.” | “Since I’ve stopped my struggle to be beautiful, I am overtaken by beauty more often.” | The Crane Wife. | This piece by Rachel Cusk about Yiyun Li is now locked for subscribers but here’s a bit I can quote because I whatsapped it so much: the “not-good-enough mother, who leaves a shard of her own self-hatred inside her daughter and then disowns or disapproves of the resulting pain”. | “No one is asked to leave and no one feels anxious about out-staying their welcome.” (Rebecca May Johnson on canteens, or: why I love Westfield Stratford Food Court.) | “I am tired of the struggle […] I am always hungry. All I can do all day is wander about the streets. No one needs me. There is no place in the world for me.” | “A lot of my acerbic, cruel wisdom seems really irrelevant now.” | The ideal woman is always optimising / highly regimented.

Nico Muhly: How I write music. | “The Internet seems to me to be something like that, where what used to be passing thoughts and rumors—things intended to be spoken, intended to vanish after a moment or two—have stayed on, frozen, then thawed, then frozen, then thawed.” | “When I see beautiful 17-year-olds now, it’s not as though I’m ignorant of how one could be attracted to them. I can see their beauty and charisma as well as anyone. Maybe I even see it more clearly than those older people who seek out relationships with them, because I can’t imagine sullying it with my cynicism and beer gut and eye bags.” | “It’s now the mundane, the standard, the ho-hum that we want to keep secret, not whatever might set us apart.” | “Plus, I’m alive; I have emotional problems, I’m getting my girlfriend pregnant, all that stuff.” | Skin, stomach, vagina: the anatomy of a depression. | Click this if you need to cry. | A life-altering week on a cruise ship with a thousand lesbians. | How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. | You can now pre-order the novel of your friend and mine, Victoria Hannan!

LOOK: The Highly Enthused podcast. | LRB 40th anniversary pink tote! | The Man in Seat Sixty-One: the train travel guide. | Amazing interview with Emily Maitlis (whose book is wonderful on audio). | Decidedly not-sweet granola. | Trash Plastic. | Food and climate change made simple. | An artist’s flat. | Smitten Kitchen family meal planning for real life. | Mama eats plants. | On Instagram: Dalston In The 80s RIO Archive, including Hackney women at Greenham Common. | Watching: Thatcher: A Very British Revolution / Everybody in the Place: an Incomplete History of Britain 1984-1992 / Michael Cockerell archive.

THINK: You can pay more tax if you want to. | Are you really the ‘real’ you? | Are white girls capable of making art that’s not about themselves? / “To demand someone enter into and entertain your anxious mind-palace and reckon with your complicated and endlessly fascinating individuality can be an act of power.” | Why can’t we just call things unkind? | The politicisation of testosterone. | 1975 Icelandic women’s strike. | The language of transphobes. | Why having a third baby felt like the safe choice. | “I just say I was kind of connected to Australia. I was nearby Australia, so I learnt English from there. I just say something like that.” | You accomplished something great. So now what? | The case for redefining infertility. | Elizabeth Warren is completely serious. | Gutting a pile of books. | Poor pupils’ Xmas jumper shame. | How to bullyproof your child. | The new school bullies aren’t children — they’re parents. | The secret UK government blueprints shaping post-terror planning. | Precrastination. (I’m a sufferer.) | “‘professionalism‘ is mostly just codified racism/ classism/ sexism/ queerphobia/ etc meant to discredit the work & expertise of marginalized groups.”

Our new Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a mini-primer: his ten ages / “Let’s play reading” / Sinking giggling into the sea / He can never be found out because his mendacity was never hidden / “I feel 13 again because the old questions reassert themselves. How did these people get here?” / Why boarding schools produce bad leaders. | A poem: Bad New Government.

Climate stuff: “Young people have led the climate strikes. Now we need adults to join us too”: Greta Thunberg. Strike on September 20 if you can. | Ten steps for personal resilience in the face of a changing climate. | Roadmap to a UK Green New Deal. | “We have for too long as scientists rested on the assumption that by providing indisputable facts and great data that we are…counter[ing] the forces against science. And obviously that strategy has failed miserably. What we need right now is all the scientists who care so deeply…to shake off the fear that holds them back from engaging in this space.” This was, she says, the first time she had placed her “personal voice and body on the line.” | Authoritarians are less willing to make sacrifices for the environment. | From control to connection: A new ethos of care.

Loading more posts…