What words and watches has Team WHQ put in front of their eyes in October? Here’s a chock full list of things we’ve read and clickholes we’ve fallen down and other assorted fascinating arty cultural doodats that we wholeheartedly recommend you put in your face.
In Holy What I Feel Old news, Jeff Noon’s Vurt – the radical counterculture, cyberpunk novel about drugs, friendship, the future and the elusive idea of what reality even is anyway – is 30 years old this month. Yes, you heard correctly. Thirty goddamn years.
I don’t know where you were when you first read this novel but tiny 1993 Sarah was obsessed. It lived by my pillow for years, and I stalked Waterstones and the book pages of the newspapers for Jeff Noon news. It also inspired a number of proto fan fic attempts that will definitely never be shared, and generally changed my whole world view of what is possible to do in a story. The copy on my bookshelf now is about the fifth one I’ve owned, as it either disintegrates or gets forced into the hands of an unsuspecting reader. The big question: does it hold up in 2023? Well. Sort of. That doesn’t negate its massive impact over the years though, and if you’re a Noon lover now is the perf opportunity to pick this bad boy up again.
We’ve also been revisiting Howard Zinn’s famous essay Artists In The Time Of War. Zinn was, as the saying goes, something of a dude. A socialist intellectual who believed history could only be understood from below and whose anti war efforts were so rad the FBI had a big ol’ file on him. In this essay, Zinn explores the relationship between artists, society and politics, and is filled with such zingers as “to criticise the government is the highest act of patriotism” and “it is the job of the artist to transcend that – to think outside the boundaries of permissible thought and dare to say things that no one else will say”. Important and, sadly, timeless.
Another revisit: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. No reason for this particular revisit, it just felt like the right book at the time. Not quite a comfort read because lol, wow, intense, but a super immersive page turner nevertheless. Also, the bit about The Big Tesco is legit hilarious. Also too as well because we’re massive story nerds, we’ve given it the Plotstormers treatment. So, if you’re a Gold Star Member you can check out the sixteen point plan of this massively multi award-winning debut here.
The Language of Lava Lamps in The Paris Review about lava lamps as a vocabulary of creativity, chaos and obsession is kind of everything and we love it.
I’m also currently obsessed with the podcast 99% Invisible, which feels like the grandchild of This American Life but leaning more towards the politics of everyday life. It’s ostensibly about design but really it’s about how we live and why things happen the way they do. Episode 389, Whomst Among Us Let The Dogs Out AGAIN is a hilarious, somewhat unbelievable, and curious look at the way ideas permeate throughout society. By exploring the origins of the Baha Men’s 2000 irritant-hit Who Let The Dogs Out, journalist Ben Sisto discovers that no idea is an island. Hints of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic philosophy, and also some brilliantly dogged pre-digital journalism.
The UKLG obsession continues unabated and I finally got round to watching her new documentary, The World Of Ursula K Le Guin. A wonderful, touching and cosy look at her life and career, and a fascinating insight into her incredible brain.
And if you want to proper geek it up, check out this essay, A geography beyond the Anthropocene: Ursula Le Guin’s Always Coming Home as topophilia for survival. It’s just great, but also not for the faint-hearted. Also also, I have a theory that Always Coming Home should be read like a D&D source book rather than a novel, and then it will all make sense. Thoughts and comments on the forum please.
Edinburgh Writers’ Retreat host Veronique Kootstra is currently reading The Bloater by Rosemary Tonks. “It’s excellent and very funny,” she says.
Flashy Kathy Hoyle is reading Dance Moves by Wendy Erskine, which she says is “absolutely stunning”.
Brighton host, Anika Carpenter, is reading Night at the Nature Museum by Tyler Barton. “His characters are brilliantly written”.
And I’m finally getting round to reading Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin several months after everyone else. It’s fun. I’m enjoying it a lot. Recommend.