There's a lot of stuff out there on the internet. This is what I've found so far.

Millennials, Monkeys and the Moon

No Complaints #165

It’s been a while, but I finally have time to read/listen to/watch things again, so here’s a selection of the best.

Things to read

“They say millennials are easily offended, and I finally get what they mean, because I think this un-wrappable tissue paper sprout is abhorrent. Each day, you unravel one layer of sprout to reveal a Christmas cracker joke, hat or plastic bug. The final prize (spoilers) is a red yo-yo. The planet is literally on its deathbed! This tiny pink plastic lobster has contributed significantly to the destruction of our natural resources, and for what? I'll tell you what: it’s weirdly satisfying to chew on.”
My former colleague Amelia is extremely funny and talented, and you should read her epic journey through 24 days of really stupid advent calendars immediately. Email to Pocket.

“Austen is often described as a satirist who only hints at depths of feeling. But in fact she is startlingly blunt about emotions, describing her characters’ feelings, from desire to envy to shame, with scathing exactness. In Persuasion – my favourite Austen novel – the hardness of life for a woman is laid bare. Only a mature reader – perhaps even one in a similar position to the novel’s central character, Anne Elliot – can understand how cruel, and yet how common, her experience has been.”
Jane Austen is wasted on teenagers. Email to Pocket.

“There’s a bad double bind in being a writer: If you don’t write about things people are interested in, nobody is going to read you. But if you write about things people are interested in, other people are writing about them, too.”
On writerly jealousy and Sylvia Plath. Email to Pocket.

“Like so many retail brands in 2018, the brand has shuttered stores and reported falling sales over the past few years. But beyond the shoddily produced merchandise, Victoria’s Secret feels dated, with its inherent and unavoidable male gaze; the retro sense that their products are not really made for women. It’s this gaze that primarily defined many other crumbling mall brands that once soared in the 1990s and 2000s. While a male-centric approach to fashion once made some brands cool and aspirational for customers, in 2018 it’s exclusionary to a fault.”
The male gaze in retail is a new concept to me, but now I see it everywhere. Email to Pocket.

“Working with the living legend was a dream come true for Lin-Manuel Miranda, who plays a lamplighter named Jack. ‘One of the greatest moments I experienced on set was Meryl. She was sort of in weird Mary Poppins aunt mode the whole time, and at one point she goes, “Hey, kids, wanna see a perfect pratfall?” And just boom, face down, went from 90 degrees to flat. You haven’t seen Buster Keaton do a pratfall like this. Everyone rushed over like, “Meryl Streep has died!”’ he recalls. ‘And then she just got up and was like, [wiping hands] “I learned that at Yale.”’”
Working with Meryl Streep sounds both incredible and incredibly stressful. Email to Pocket.

Things to listen to

If you ever find yourself unconsciously completely the line “A sailor went to sea. . .” with a few more repeats of “sea”, then you have to listen to this documentary with Emmy the Great about why you do that.

+Also: I have a new job where I write the Sunday newsletter for the curation service The Browser, and it will all be excellent offbeat podcast recommendations you would never find otherwise. You can sign up for their free emails here, but as you all know you have to pay to get good stuff on the internet, and my email will only go to paying subscribers. However, they’ve given me my very own discount code for you people to use, so head to to get 20 per cent off, which makes it less than $4 a month for my email plus daily bulletins of amazing articles to read. (Doing this also shows them that I’m worth having on the team, thank you very much for your support.)

Things to watch

The Glee kids can’t stop doing covers, and I love it.


What it’s like to go viral.

Compulsory medieval thingamabob

Women’s unwaged labour: ’twas ever thus.

The guest gif

Working nine to five. . .

Shoes, Shareholders and Shocks

No Complaints #164

Thanks very much to everyone who has listened to the first episode of my new podcast, Shedunnit, and left nice reviews and comments. I know some of you have come from this newsletter, and that makes me really happy. If you haven’t tried it yet, but you are interested in books by Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Gladys Mitchell, Ngaio Marsh etc, do give it a try.

Things to read

“For nearly her whole career, Cira Robinson has — like many ballet dancers of color — performed a ritual: painting her point shoes to match her skin. She did it first in 2001, when she was 15, at a summer program with Dance Theater of Harlem. The company said her shoes needed to be brown, not the traditional pink, but she couldn’t find any in stores, so she used spray paint. ‘It made them crunchy and just. . . ew,’ she said in a telephone interview.”
I’m so interested in how ballet is finally realising dancing isn’t just a white pastime. Email to Pocket.

“It is fair to say that Fisher wasn’t the everywoman’s food writer. An entire book dedicated to oysters is not the most vital or accessible text of our time. She acknowledges, if only obliquely, the narrowness of the audience for whom she writes when she comments that “oysters are very unsatisfactory food for labouring men, but will do for the sedentary.” On the topic of mass-market cookbooks, she describes having to toss back a glass of dry vermouth just to be able to face them. “The trick worked its… magic, and I felt only an occasional wave of hysteria as I read [them].” A reactionary streak runs deep through Fisher’s writing and she was clearly unsettled by the introduction of cheap, factory-made foodstuffs to the American post-War marketplace.”
I learned a lot from this piece about the US food writer MFK Fisher. Email to Pocket.

“From 1965 to 2011, Mrs. Davis also published an annual newsletter, Highlights and Lowlights, that covered corporate meetings, shareholder proposals and most anything else on Mrs. Davis’s mind. The price varied, but lingered around $600 — and Mrs. Davis required that her customers, mainly CEOs, purchase no fewer than two copies per order.”
The obituary of a newsletter icon. Email to Pocket.

“The question is, then, who is this book is for? If you are young enough not to know about spare toilet rolls and spring cleaning, you are probably too young to have your own pantry and be hosting dinner parties with table runners. It feels at once remarkably cynical and utterly removed from the reality of most young people’s lives. Or perhaps it is the truest reflection of the Instagram generation, yet – just a big, pretty, hollow collection of paper garlands, sprigged cocktails and pugs in party hats, all rattling around seeking approval.”
This take on Zoella’s book is both very funny and quite worrying. Email to Pocket.

“If you’ve ever watched a horror movie, you know that the star psychopath wins mostly because he’s playing by psycho rules and the victims are playing by normal-people rules. So your office Michael Myers comes knocking at your front door and you invite him in for tea. Every day he’s stomping all over you! Yet here you still think he’s like you on the inside. He’s a Murderbot 6000. He’s a misprogrammed goon who’s out to get you. Let’s talk about your choices! You’re “nicer to him” than everyone else? You’re acting like the office is a day care center and it’s time to share blocks, yet this guy is running around with a chain saw. Tell him firmly, once, what you need. Second time, send an officewide email that says, “Babadook here keeps ‘forgetting’ to add me to these meetings, can you help him remember?” Third time, roll up on his office and start straight-up yelling. It’s time to misbehave.”
Reading this has made me realise that I really, really want to write a workplace agony aunt column. If you want to publish that. . . hit me up. Email to Pocket.

Things to listen to

I’ve been trying out Proof, a new cooking podcast. I’m suddenly very into food podcasts of all kind, actually. Maybe it’s the time of year.

And obviously, my new podcast, you should be listening to that, duh.

Things to watch

I mean.


Stop skipping the credits!

Compulsory medieval thingamabob

“This is more of a statement than a question. . .”

The guest gif

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a parable for our modern age.

Clickbait, Creators and Christie

No Complaints #163

Hello! I took a big step this week, and put the trailer for the podcast I’ve been working on for about a year out in the world. The show is called Shedunnit, and it’s all about the detective fiction of the 1920s and 30s — the work of writers like Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Ngaio Marsh etc.

If you’re interested, you can find out more on the website or subscribe in all the major podcast apps, like Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, RadioPublic, Spotify, etc. It’s a scary thing to do, to allow strangers to listen to something that you really care about, so I hope you like it. The first full episode comes out on 31 October, so if you subscribe before then it’ll deliver straight to you phone automatically.

Now, links.

Things to read

“This is, of course, bunk. Your DNA, as Sarah Zhang put it in The Atlantic recently, ‘is not your culture,’ and it certainly isn’t guaranteed to tell you anything about the places, history, and cultures that shaped you. The scientific-seeming results you get from a home DNA kit are fun, in the manner of a party favor, but they’re not particularly reliable, especially for people from outside of the U.S. and whose ancestors are from outside of Europe. And even if they were pinpoint accurate, what you’re being told is, as British geneticist James Rutherford puts it, ‘something that is at best trivial and at worst astrology.’ If you want to know who you ‘really’ are, you should examine your family history, the environment you grew up in, the experiences you’ve had and relationships you’ve formed. Those tell you a lot about who you ‘really’ are. Your DNA itself tells you very little.”
I got my father one of those DNA tests as a fun stocking filler last year, and it went exactly as this writer describes: it told him that basically everyone in his family ever is from Ireland, mostly the south, which we already knew. Obviously, this changes nothing about how he feels or thinks. It’s concerning that people seem to think it should. Email to Pocket.

“Part of the problem, he began to realise, was that no one ever taught him how to collect information – the message was: ‘Take notes, full stop.’ When faced with an hour-long lesson and a issue with focus, that instruction was daunting. But over time, he began to note down ‘pieces of what was being said’, rather than scrabbling to write down everything. ‘I was slowly starting to figure out these tiny little wins. I figured out how to take these notes, how to make them even shorter, then codify them.’”
—I’ve been doing a bullet journal for a couple of years now, and a lot of this resonated with me. Email to Pocket.

“The demands of the YouTuber life suit younger creators – and the largest demographic on the site is those in their 20s (when once teenagers may have dreamed of becoming pop stars, now they dream of becoming YouTubers). Many find it possible to keep creating at a high enough rate, if only for a few years. ‘At that age you absolutely can,’ Lees says. ‘You’ve got the energy and focus to work incredibly long hours, you’ve got very few responsibilities to take your attention away from work, and – perhaps most importantly – you’ve likely still got a solid social circle, friendships that aren’t difficult to maintain.’ But, as every casualty of childhood stardom demonstrates, early success carries with it tremendous risk.”
I’m so interested in the consequences of invisible online labour, and this piece on YouTuber burnout has lots of insights on that. Email to Pocket.

“Fifty years ago, a frightened 15-year-old black youth checked into St. Louis’s City Hospital with unusual symptoms that puzzled doctors. His legs were swollen, and soon so was his entire body. Nothing seemed to work, not even seven weeks of antibiotics. Doctors suspected he may have acquired chlamydia from a same-sex partner, but the youth never said he had. For six months he continued to deteriorate, until in May of 1969 this sweet, shy teen lost his life to the disease that baffled medical personnel. His name was Robert Rayford, and he is the first known person to die of HIV in the United States.”
On the whitewashed history of HIV. Email to Pocket.

“I don’t know how everybody else felt, but I always felt like we were slightly on the outside looking in. We were never a cool band. When people think of cool bands, they very rarely think of us. I haven’t read it but there’s been a lot of talk about that book Meet Me in the Bathroom. It’s funny that I’ve been doing this long enough that people are waxing poetic about this time in music that doesn’t seem like it was that long ago. It was 15 years ago, but it doesn’t feel that long ago. There were the White Stripes and the Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, these bands that were very hip. They looked cool, they dressed cool, they hung out with cool people. We always fell outside of that. I think it might just be a Northwest thing. Northwesterners tend to feel like they have an inferiority complex. We were these collegiate shit-kickers from Bellingham/Seattle.”
The guy from Death Cab for Cutie ranks all their albums, and reveals that he hates the same kinds of his songs that I do. Very reassuring. Email to Pocket.

Things to listen to

I have absolutely loved 99% Invisible’s “Articles of Interest” series, all about the deeper issues involved in the clothes we wear. The episode on punk style was my favourite.

And obviously, my new podcast, you should be listening to that, duh.

Things to watch

Again, interesting insight into that invisible online labour thing.

I love this woman’s videos.


Compulsory medieval thingamabob

Nice to meet you, have you come far?

The guest gif

Miss Marple knows the truth.

Ballet, Bedtime and Britney

No Complaints #162

Happy Friday! A classic mixture here of things I found on the internet this week and thought were good/interesting/amusing. Thanks for subscribing, and please do forward to a friend if you think they’ll enjoy it.

Things to read

“I never know how to answer that question well because the only answer I have is really boring: you morph into the most patient version of yourself and you do the work. There's no fast track. You build a name, you do your best, you learn from the edits your editors give you, you learn how to adapt your voice to suit the tone of publications, and you just keep on keeping on. There's no magical phrase or certain email or anything other than time, time, and more time. Which also means that if you want to stay on top of your bills, you may also need to work a day job or a part-time job or take on copy editing or the type of writing you don't think is particularly cool or glamorous. But also: too bad! No one is above day jobs or part-time jobs or copy editing or types of writing that aren't cool or glamorous! Clearly don't do anything that you feel uncomfortable with, but you're no less of a writer if you also enjoy paying rent.”
Anne T. Donahue here in her newsletter (sign up!) with some of the best “writing as a freelancer” advice I’ve seen in ages. Email to Pocket.

“Back in Switzerland, there were other restrictions on the Jewish community. Since they could not own their own homes, Jews often financed the construction of a building and then rented an apartment in the building from its Christian owners. However, Jews and Christians were barred from living in the same house, which led to a unique solution still visible in Endingen and Lengnau: Many old buildings have two entrances side by side: one for Jews and one for Christians.”
This is a fascinating history of Switzerland’s Jewish communities. Email to Pocket.

Othello: You’re either a person of extreme discernment and top-notch taste or a sociopath.

The Merchant of Venice: You own a ‘The Future is Female’ shirt and would absolutely call the cops on a barbecue.

Pericles: You are a Fox News host who wants a bedtime story.

The Winter’s Tale: You only liked your favourite band before they got ‘accessible’.”
I feel very seen by this piercing assessment of what your favourite Shakespeare play says about you. Email to Pocket.

“Right now, though, Spears’ very existence, as an innocent, after all her troubles, presents as something quite subversive, though. Her most sustained interaction with her fans is via social media. Along with the earnest tweets and inspirational quotes and the throwbacks on her Instagram, she is constantly doing - whether it’s working out with her boyfriend, painting with her kids, singing and dancing, go-karting or doing some yoga so she doesn’t go ‘stir crazy’ in her hotel rooms on tour.”
On Britney Spears’ long pretence of innocence. Email to Pocket.

“We are now habituated to regard cartography as a science: an endeavour of exacting precision, whose ambition is the elimination of subjectivity from the representation of a given place. But before it was a field science, cartography was – as Stevenson proved – an art. It was an art that mingled knowledge and supposition, that told stories about places, and in which astonishment, love, memory and fear were part of its projections. It is instructive to consider these earlier artistic forms of mapping, for they exemplify neglected ways of proceeding within a landscape.”
I’m in the process of getting maps drawn for my book, and it’s so interesting working out the balance between accuracy and art. Email to Pocket.

“The fragment – the bassline and six bars of melody – has never been seen, leading most music historians to conclude that Adagio is entirely Giazotto’s work. It was certainly Giazotto who copyrighted and published the piece in 1958, and later in life (he died in 1998) he revised his story claiming full authorship, possibly as a ruse to keep his presumably considerable royalty payments flooding in. In a 2007 book, Giazotto’s last assistant before his death, Muska Mangano, is quoted as saying that a modern but independent transcription of the fragment was found in Giazotto’s papers after his death, but none of this matters very much.”
Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor, a piece of music that infests film scores everywhere, is actually a 1950s rip off, and that’s not even the first time someone ripped off this poor Baroque composer. Email to Pocket.

Things to listen to

I listened back to the very first episode of Heavyweight this week. It’s still good. Also, I recently discovered The Boy Who Hasn’t Lived, an excellent Harry Potter podcast, so I recommend getting into that one asap if you’re a fan.

Things to watch

I could spend hours watching pointe shoe videos on YouTube. I don’t even like ballet that much.

This is very well articulated.

I love Marian Keyes’ YouTube videos so much and I don’t care who knows it.

Compulsory medieval thingamabob

Tally ho!

The guest gif

May you all experience a high speed high five this weekend.

Heaven, Havana and Home

No Complaints #161

I’m working a lot at the moment on something I can’t really talk about yet, which is a bit frustrating; as soon as I do have updates on it I’ll be telling the people on this mailing list, so make sure you’ve signed up.

Things to read

“They are real people, but they are so on their guard. If you just sit and listen to them, they will inevitably explain something to you that’s been on their mind about the way they’re perceived. Sometimes, midway, they hear themselves talking and they turn on you. They’re like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe I’ve fallen for this.’ But it’s always nerve-racking. I dread interviews; I’m never excited. I did a story on synchronised swimming a few years ago, and that’s how I think of it now: You are in the pool and you are working so hard beneath the surface, but you have this crazy smile above the surface that makes it look like you are enjoying yourself.”
Here’s Taffy Brodesser-Akner, one of my favourite writers, talking about what it’s like to interview celebrities, and a few other things. Email to Pocket.

“It’s harder for a writer to get this material merely by ‘overhearing’ it, and besides that’s a genre of Twitter thread—the shamelessly extended eavesdrop. In any case, there’s a sense among writers who are “extremely online” that we have to be on Twitter for work, and it’s not true—but it does help. Even obnoxious self-promotion tends to get you more freelance work—the websites are always half-empty—and more importantly to ‘log off’ would mean losing step with much of the world. Look at the most notorious dissenter, Jonathan Franzen. His most recent novel, Purity, in which he attempted to address some of the issues of the internet, was not very good, because although he can identify the systemic problems, he refuses—to use a social-media word—to ‘engage’ with the details of the system that would affect the characters of his novels. It’s an approach that would serve him better on Twitter. (That’s also irony.) Even writers who purport to ‘not do social media’ will later reveal that they’ve started anonymous accounts, which allow them to look at it about as much as anyone else. Others who seem relatively inactive are often lurking. You can tell because they often casually mention they saw your recent tweets.”
Lauren Oyler on the push-pull of social media and creativity. Email to Pocket.

“Aiken wrote a brief essay, probably in 1952, about her unconventional living arrangements. She published it in Housewife magazine. The piece is called, with cheerful straightforwardness, ‘Our Home Is a One-Decker Bus.’ What’s remarkable about it is how Aiken treats her (intimately personal, yet also odd and whimsical) material. That is, she doesn’t ‘treat’ it at all—she reports, with brisk efficiency. Living on a bus comes across as a practical problem, to be managed without fuss. Here is where we built our airing cupboard, above the hot-water tank. Near the clothes horse we keep the baby’s folding bath.”
I resent the “you’ve probably never read her” framing of this article about Joan Aiken, but I still think it’s very good. Email to Pocket.

“When you’re actually playing these games, you likely won’t give a second thought to the digital sky in the background. You would certainly notice it if it wasn’t there, but, in the moment, you’re more focused on the task at hand. Presented on their own, however, the diversity of colour and design is impressive. Especially given the limitations of the technology.”
Hey, let's take a load off and look at some relaxing video-game skies. Email to Pocket.

“The discretion they’re calling for is frequently cited in the issue of geotagging on Instagram. On the app, geotagging lets you share the location where a photo was taken. Tap on a tag — say, Yosemite — and you’ll see all the public photos associated with that locale. But geotagging can also get specific, and that’s where the real issues start. ‘We’re having a lot of problems with people geotagging hidden or sensitive places,’ Boué said, adding that these places don’t always have the infrastructure to handle a lot of new visitors.”
Another way social media is ruining the world, lol. Email to Pocket.

Things to listen to

I went to the Third Coast Festival in Chicago last week (was it just last week, it seem so long ago, thanks jetlag) and I met a lot of people who make great audio. One of them was Tamar Avishai, who makes the Lonely Palette podcast. I inhaled about 12 episodes in a row on the flight home, and I am now a confirmed fan of her unsnooty approach to art history and commitment to trying to explain paintings using only words. I highly recommend you have a listen, and if you like it, check out the lovely things available if you support her on Patreon.

Things to watch

All Cats Go To Heaven.

I don’t care if this is fake.

I have found 2018’s answer to Changing Rooms and it is on YouTube, made by two young Canadian women, and it is perfect.

Compulsory medieval thingamabob

Me, escaping my deadlines.

The guest gif

It’s 9.30pm on a Friday! I am still working!

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