Polly Barton, author ofPorn: An Oral History, publishing on 16 March, shares her cultural highlights of the last few months. To read an extract and pre-order the book, please visit our website.
BOOK Aftermath by Preti Taneja
I want to recommend this book with everything I have, yet I’m struggling to think of anything I am comfortable committing to saying about it – which I feel is probably testament to just how sui generis it is. Writing from a place where the concept of truth itself feels shattered (the aftermath of the London Bridge stabbing of 2019, where the author was acquainted with both the attacker and one of those killed), yet still determined to resist the compulsion to silence imposed upon racialized communities, Taneja manages to set out the shattering of her psyche on the page in a way that is both an accurate map of trauma and a scalding and comprehensive critique of the system in which such trauma is permitted to occur.
POETRY Constructions by Joshua Calladine-Jones
While in Japan, I thought relentlessly about the non-native English I was surrounded by at my language school – and whether there was any way for me to address it in writing, as someone who grew up with English as a first language, in a way that acknowledged the relationships at play and didn’t become appropriation or exercise in arrogance – and so discovering Constructions (and its sequel, Reconstructions) recently was a big deal. Within the realm of these pages – whose governing bodies are transcription software, subtitling and language lessons – non-native English is legitimized and becomes sole (albeit polyphonic) tongue. The result is a cross-section of the mind in its perpetual and ever-frustrated attempt at self-expression, an interrogation of the power dynamics that regulate this process, and a poignant and human rendering of digital and linguistic alienation and uncertainty.
FILM All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, dir. by Laura Poitras
I’m struggling to remember when I saw a film that hit me as hard as this one. It touches upon so many things of such profound weight that it would be really easy for it to lapse into triteness or overkill, but Poitras’s balance is masterful, and the result is almost scaldingly powerful. Visually, too: the slideshows of Nan Goldin’s photographs punctuating the narrative sections of the film set the tone for a both unstinting in the clarity of its gaze and sublimely beautiful.
ALBUM Mr Morale & the Big Steppers by Kendrick Lamar
I was hoping, honestly, to give something more underground for my musical choice, but I have to be honest and say this last couple of months I’ve been unable to listen to much other than this album. I catch echoes of Saul Williams in some of the more downbeat tracks, the upbeat ones are so popping, and it hangs together perfectly as a whole. Mostly I’m just in awe of the way that not only is it so wildly full of inventiveness, complexity, poetry, things to say and ideas, but that those seem to actively enhance the immersiveness and excitement of the musical experience.
FOOD Butterbean, fennel and kale soup
All winter I’ve been consumed by a desire to make and then eat vast quantities of very spicy soups, and this is a home-grown creation adapted from a Joe Wicks recipe, which seems to only get better the more chillies I put into it. He suggests making it tomatoey, but I prefer using just vegetable stock, and having it clear. I also add in fennel seeds, and sometimes put some toasted hazelnuts on the top if I’m feeling fancy.
DRINK Sundance by Wiper and True
There are lots of good breweries in Bristol but somehow Wiper and True are my favourite. They have a great taproom, and supremely great packaging design. Sundance is a beer that feels like it’s brewed just for me – at least I pretend that to myself – and something about the combination of the name and the hops and the ship on the front makes it always taste summery to me.
Interesting Books is a small space on a narrow street in the far north of England, not far from the border with Scotland. It’s in a town, not a city. The range of books is considered, mostly contemporary publishing from interesting independent presses: whoever chooses the books there clearly loves to read. When I went in, the man behind the desk was chatting with the other customers, it felt welcoming.
Brick Lane Books has a unique selection of literature within which I always find something to surprise me. And now the staff there run an increasingly important short story prize. It’s in a part of London close to my heart, as I spent some of my teenage years on Brick Lane while there was still a music scene there, rubbing shoulders with my favorite musicians and yet to discover new ones.
Walking into The Broadway Bookshop in Hackney is an inoculation against the world of algorithms, against the power of faceless AI and Big Tech that dictates ‘if you liked that, then you might like this’. Independent bookshops are part of the landscape that allows for a healthy literary ecosystem. I have lost track of the number of books I have read and loved that have been recommended to me by Tom or Janie or any of the people working in The Broadway Bookshop. I visit as much for the books as I do for the conversations I have with the people who work there. My life would be so much poorer without it.
My favourite indie bookshop is Lutyens & Rubinstein. I feel a rush of solidarity every time I see the name which must get misspelled just as often as my own. It’s the bookshop that’s closest to my work and I love going there during my lunch breaks, stare at new covers and fantasise about a life that could be spent just reading books. And I also love listening to Claire’s very honest opinions about the latest publications which helps me manage my own unmanageable reading list.
For indie twinning week we are delighted to partner with Toppings & Company Booksellers of Edinburgh. This beautiful bookshop, housed in a William Playfair building, holds a wonderfully varied selection of fiction and non-fiction. The booksellers are knowledgeable and passionate – you are bound to leave the shop with a book you didn’t know you wanted.
All the independent bookshops listed on this page are open for online orders.