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Digital spring-cleaning, the book of the summer, a trip to Lisbon
The other day I had to create a new Spotify account with a new email, finally cutting ties with the old ‘cutekitty’ hotmail address that my French mother had shrieked was “for prostitutes!”, when she discovered it on our family computer when I was 13.
At first, I felt panicked to be separated from my infinite playlists, each varying on the same title, many abandoned after just three songs: ‘outout2k15’, ‘turnt2019’, ‘fun2020’, ‘chill2021’. And the thought of having to re-follow hundreds of artists and podcasts – some niche finds through a midnight Shazam or friend’s recommendation, now impossible to remember – made me want to cajole cutekitty out of the bin.
But, even with a task as minor as opening a new Spotify account, there is something liberating about wiping the slate clean. I’ve written here before about how my brain often feels like it's buffering with too many open tabs – all the articles, TV shows, podcasts, films and books I keep putting on lists – or perhaps like that spinning pinwheel that has tormented us all.
Which means that, sometimes, when my internet browser crashes after the 30 tabs I’ve had open for over three weeks finally give way to the spam videos and advertisements that have crawled all over them like a virus, I’ll feel a deep relief. There goes that 10,000 word New Yorker piece about that niche thing I don’t actually care about and that fiendishly complicated FT analysis about some geopolitics I don’t quite understand. Adieu to the Cult Beauty haul I’d been furtively adding to every night when The Last of Us becomes too tense.
Staring at my empty new Spotify account, absolved from all those ‘informative’ podcasts I’d downloaded for flights that I’d instead spent watching Idris Elba wrestling a lion, I thought of a recent article by a writer about how she was going to stop watching new TV shows. Instead, she was going to spend her free time revisiting the things she enjoyed the most.
What are the things that I enjoy the most? The question is not as straightforward as it seems. When I was younger, it was easy: everything was visible, neatly stacked on a shelf or heaped in a corner of my bedroom. There was my walkman with a stack of CDs, there were all my books, my DVDs, my watercolours, my diaries, notebooks, photo albums, letters, magazines and toys. Things would be added and swapped out, of course, but if someone wanted to grasp the measure of my personality based on my interests, they could look at that shelf.
These days, I am not sure where to look. My shelves are a mess of unsolicited book proofs and books I’ve read for work, while the books I really care about are stuffed in my parents’ attic or strewn across friends. My photos are buried across three different laptops and two different iClouds. My music (until recently) sat in a vast and bloated digital archive that half consisted of songs I never wanted to hear again. Everything else feels scattered across email chains and Google docs gathering dust in the ether, infuriatingly intangible.
And so last weekend I started a fresh notebook and, across a double spread, wrote down some of the things I loved that might fit on a bookshelf, trying to limit myself to 10 across all the major categories, from films to books and music. And, while it is quite literally my job to keep up with culture and the glut of new content, the pressure to be across everything can leave you with a rather fragmented, and shallow, understanding of culture – and your own artistic interests.
So it’s nice to refer back to this master list when, say, I have time to read something for pleasure: more from one of the authors written down, or trying one of their own favourite writers, who, if they pass the test, can then be scribbled in the margin in a different colour.
As the list becomes a sprawling kind of spider diagram and I get too affronted by my own handwriting, I may have to transfer it to a dreaded Google Doc, the name of which I will inevitably forget (I think I must be on my sixth variation of ‘Ideas 2023’). But for now I’ve put the notebook on my bookshelf, where I can see it.
This week in links
I’ve been reading August Blue, the new novel by Deborah Levy, whose fiction I’ve always found slightly affected, though I loved Things I Don’t Want to Know, her take on George Orwell’s Why I Write. But I found August Blue, which follows acclaimed pianist Elsa as she travels across Europe one summer, unravelling after a reputationally damaging performance of Rachmaninov in Vienna and becoming obsessed with a woman she sees one day at a market, rather beautiful. Some of it reads like poetry, while the best passages are steeped in music, with Elsa using minims and quavers to make sense of identity and desire. It is also a deliciously sensory book, with descriptions of Elsa slicing into fruit and blistering in the sun, time soft and hazy and slow. I read it while sitting in the heat of Lisbon’s botanical gardens last week and it was bliss, though I’m very glad I didn’t read this review — about the possible inspiration for Elsa — beforehand.
Also, I love both Rachel Cusk and Annie Ernaux, so this thoughtful and moving New York Times longread in which Cusk writes about the taboos of Ernaux’s work, and why so many critics felt Ernaux’s writing on ‘the self’ was not worthy of winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, was a delight. I was particularly moved by the bit about Ernaux’s relationship with her mother: “In the bright, tranquil silence of Ernaux’s dining room, I was struck by the force and meaning of this story, the power that a mother’s acceptance could bestow on a woman artist, arming her against the whole world.”
And this Unherd piece by Aris Roussinos, a former war reporter for Vice, mulling over the reasons why the once $5.7billion punk media brand is now filing for bankruptcy, raises some interesting points. “Perhaps what really destroyed Vice News’s hope of making TV news into a profitable industry was the rise of Trump. The political polarisation of American life after 2016 saw viewers drift away from whatever interest they showed in confusing wars in far-off places for an obsession with their own internal conflict. “
I’ve been commissioning James Hall to figure out the hype behind My Last Dinner Party, the London-based female five-piece that has been selling out shows without a TikTok account or any released songs (though as of a couple of weeks ago they now have both) and are managed by the company behind Metallica. Their rare word-of-mouth success reminded me of Wet Leg’s, and both bands have been rumoured to be ‘industry plants’. But, finds James, their journey seems genuine.
I’ve been listening to enigmatic electronic wizard Jai Paul in anticipation of reviewing his first ever UK performance at the Outernet on Tuesday night – possibly the most excited I’ve been for a gig since Stormzy’s Glastonbury set. His song BTSU takes me right back to my first year of University, getting yelled at by third years on my corridor revising for finals for blasting music at full volume, and it’s madness to think that an artist with just three released singles (almost all his other songs were leaked, which prompted him to quit music just as he’d begun) can still be one of the biggest draws at Coachella, where he performed last month for his first ever show. I’ve bene listening to Crush on repeat.
I can’t stop thinking about glorious Lisbon, having spent four days there last week to visit my sister, who, having had enough of Britain’s gloomy skies, moved out there a year ago to teach at a school on a beach, where staff sometimes see dolphins on their lunch break and her morning commute whisks her along a gleaming coast. Walking up and down the city’s hot cobbled hills, I was intensely jealous of all the French and British ‘digital nomads’ sitting around cafes and restaurants with their laptops and a cold beer, radiating serenity. And I couldn’t believe how cheap Ubers were, while an enormous (and excellent) Campari Spritz cost me just €5. If anyone’s got a trip planned and wants any food and drink recommendations let me know.
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