Spoiled Brats, Simon Rich. I find it hard to believe I haven’t written about Simon Rich before, but a very brief search tells me I haven’t. Apologies if I’m mistaken, however.
Rich has written for Saturday Night Live, The New Yorker, and Pixar (he worked on the delightful Inside Out), so his comedy-writing credentials are top-notch. Spoilt Brats is a collection of short stories, most of which are very funny but with elements of darkness: the family of hamsters that are classroom pets, badly looked after by their young caretakers, with tragic consequences. Then there’s Herschel the pickle factory worker, who after being preserved in brine for a century, finds himself living in contemporary Brooklyn with his only known descendant, a comedy writer named Simon. See also the woman who gives birth to a demon but insists, with his claws, pentagram birthmark and tendency to run off and live in woodland for months on end, that he’s merely “gifted”.
Rich skewers contemporary life in a way that’s genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. The World of Simon Rich is also fantastic – it’s a collection of shorter scenes and vignettes, perfect for dipping into just before bed. But perhaps only if you’re single. Your partner won’t thank you for keeping them up with shrieks of laughter, I’m sure.
Left of the Bang, Claire Lowdon. I’m a bit obsessed with this book; I got it out the library the other day for the second time in less than seven weeks, and can’t stop thinking about it. Essentially, it’s a novel about a group of middle-class friends stumbling through their twenties (I can’t think why I love it so much) – Tamsin, the central character, is a struggling pianist; her older boyfriend Callum is a teacher, and their friend Chris is bound for Afghanistan. It takes an intelligent look at relationships both romantic and familial, and has a faint but nagging sense of impending explosion right the way through.
Ohhhh God, this book. I’d read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and loved it, so when I saw that Haddon’s collection of short stories was getting rave reviews, I put aside my ambivalence regarding that particular format and gave it a go.
It is gripping, in a way that a shark’s bite probably is. These stories pin you down, wrap their hands around your throat and do not let go of you. Is it enjoyable? In the way that getting pierced or tattooed is – you put up with the pain to see the result. The writing is stunning, don’t get me wrong, but this is best read when you’re really feeling full of the joys of spring – and when you’ve got something funny lined up for afterwards, like Simon Rich.
Desperate Journalist caught my ears with their anthemic track ‘Resolution’, and its Cure-esque vibe – fitting, as they’re named after a phrase that band used in response to a bad review. Best described as indie-slash-post-punk, they can write a storming hook, and frontwoman Jo Bevan’s voice is smooth as sea-glass.
The best podcasts:
The Emma Guns Show podcast – this one’s for the make-up and skincare nerds, as Emma Gunavardhana is a health & lifestyle writer, and was beauty editor at OK! magazine for a decade. She interviews fellow beauty industry professionals, and each episode is a goldmine of information and advice on everything from acne and sun protection to career progression and feminism. The most recent interview with Nadine Baggott genuinely had me hooting with laughter (got some funny looks on the bus, I can tell you), and the Dr Dennis Gross episode was chock-full of fascinating science.
Marian Keyes’ episode of Desert Island Discs was brilliant – she discusses writing, feminism and her severe depression articulately in her gorgeous, ‘please-never-stop-saying-words’ Irish accent.
And, because I’m deeply unoriginal, S-Town – come for the accents, stay for the mystery. I haven’t finished listening to it yet though so no spoilers please.
Special mention: the Glamour Hey It’s OK podcast, in which CAITLIN MORAN SAYS SHE BASICALLY WANTS MY TATTOO. It’s around the 03:50 mark, so you don’t have to listen to the whole thing.
The comeback (I’m all out of alliteration, sorry):
Like most other Branch fans, I’ve been waiting 14 years for this album. She had two successful records in the early 2000s, and was locked into her contract with Warner Brothers until 2014 – during which time she put together at least two albums only to have them shelved.
But finally, with the help of Black Keys’ drummer and her now-boyfriend Patrick Carney, she’s back. And how.
Hopeless Romantic is a gorgeous album – it has more of a dreamy, indie-pop feel to it than her earlier, guitar-driven offerings. I’d compare it to HAIM if Branch hadn’t pretty much invented their job description. Stand-out tracks: ‘Heartbreak Now’ – with its yearning chorus and 60s girl-group feel, I’ve already hit repeat on this many times; ‘Knock Yourself Out’ – it’s classic angsty Branch, but older and wiser; ‘Fault Line’ – a melodic, almost new wave-y take on a doomed relationship; and ‘Temporary Feeling’ – a sexy number that could very well be a sister track to Lissie’s ‘What’s It Like‘.
You really could do worse than give Hopeless Romantic a listen.
The Money Diaries series on Refinery 29 (UK site). I am OBSESSED with these. I cannot stop reading them. Not the ones on the US site, mind, they make me feel nothing but queasy.
Phew, that’s a lot of links.
Over and out.