#1 The Culture Club 📚
A round up of the best links, books, podcasts and recipes I've been enjoying
Hello and welcome to The Culture Club, my recommendations round up!
Here are some things I’ve been enjoying recently, so I hope you do too.
Going forward this content will be exclusively for my paid subscribers, but as I’ve just started this Substack, I’m making this first one available to everyone so you can see what it’s all about.
As always, I want to be led by you, so if there are other categories you’d like me to include, do let me know in the comments section!
The future can seem very bleak at times, but it’s helpful to be reminded that action is the most effective form of optimism Do You Have to Be an Optimist to Work Toward a Better World?
I keep coming back to this article as it has so many gems in it and I’m trying to incorporate them into my new year 52 acts of kindness: how to spread joy in every week of 2023
You know that feeling when you say yes to something and almost instantly regret it? I live in that space. Here’s some great advice for How to Say “No” After Saying “Yes”
This personal essay about joy as a form of resistance resonated with me a great deal The Joy of Being Iranian
This is a helpful reminder of how secondary trauma works and how we can help ourselves through it. It is written by a news journalist but I think much it also applies to all of us who consume the news What’s it like when your job involves wading through others’ suffering?
Can we learn to be more resilient? Dr Neeta Bishan thinks so. Here’s some advice from her new book.
Let’s all move to Spain? Spain becomes the first country in Europe to offer paid menstrual leave
Like many writers, I often have a few books on the go at the same time. A novel that sits on my bedside table which I look forward to reading before I fall a sleep. A few non-fiction books, that I dip in and out of during the day. And a pile of books that I buy to read for work which inevitably means they sit in a pile near my desk and never get read. Anyway, here’s what I’ve enjoyed recently.
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus — what a treat this was! It’s one of those novels that manages to combine being funny, uplifting and engaging AND is easy-to-read yet still very well written (see also Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid). If you need some happy escapism, this is the one.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — I don’t know why it took me so long to read this book (Adichie’s debut) when I read Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah as soon as they came out. It’s funny how that happen sometimes, you can buy a book which sits in your book shelf for years before you finally get round to it. This was worth the wait. Powerful writing, incredible characters, she’s a masterful storyteller and I didn’t want it to end.
Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason — I re-read this last month and it felt even better the second time round. It’s a moving exploration of mental illness and navigating life when you suffer from anxiety and depression. It’s so beautiful and yet often manages to be very funny too.
Life, Almost by Jennie Agg — I first came across Agg’s work after reading her award-winning Guardian Long Read about recurrent miscarriage. Her debut book came out last week and I had the privilege of seeing an early copy. Part-memoir, part scientific investigation, it explores miscarriage, the misconceptions around it and a search for answers. A vital contribution to a subject which is poorly researched.
Everyone’s a Critic by Julia Bueno — a deep dive into our inner critics and how they manifest for us in different guises written by a therapist. I found it helpful to learn how we can reframe our critical inner voices and develop more self-compassion.
How to fix our loneliness — the We Can Do Hard Things podcast is my guilty pleasure and has been a surprising companion for me since it first began during the pandemic. I say surprising as I expected it to be super cheesy but it’s actually very funny, down to earth and often quite politically interesting too. For Valentine’s Day they dropped this episode on loneliness.
I’m Not a Monster — with a tribunal set to announce next week if Shamima Begum will have her citizenship revoked, this podcast retraces Begum’s journey from east London to Syria. Meeting her in a detention camp, journalist Josh Baker invites her to tell her own complex story in her own words.
I enjoyed the documentary series Fight the Power: How Hip Hop Changed the World featuring and executive produced by hip hop legend, Chuck D, from Public Enemy. It’s not so much an exploration of music but rather of hip hop as a cultural phenomenon and how much it has influenced society and politics. Having said that, it does make you track down (and dance to) lots of old songs.
It’s been a long time since I saw a theatre production that wow-ed me but Best of Enemies at the Young Vic certainly did that. A dramatisation of a series of TV debates in 1968 between conservative William F. Buckley Jr. and the iconoclastic liberal Gore Vidal, it feels super relevant to political discourse today.
For easy, rom-com viewing, I finally got round to watching season 2 of Love Life on Netflix, which was just the cozy February viewing I needed. It made me miss New York terribly.
I visited the Barbican’s Rebel Rebel exhibition by Soheila Sokhanvari which celebrates feminist icons from pre-revolutionary Iran. It was a timely reminder of how Iranian women have always been at the forefront of struggles against the patriarchy and is on for just one more week — until February 26th.
Another cool exhibition of political artwork I saw was the OSPAAAL collection at the V&A (easily my favourite museum in London). It’s a collection of posters from the Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAAL) based in Cuba, which supported revolutionary movements throughout the Global South. If you go, make sure you visit the V&A cafe too, it’s a lavish art-deco space and does an excellent cream tea. A friend once told me it was his favourite spot to take people for a first date in London.
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I loved visited the new Palestinian restaurant Akub in Notting Hill. The food was innovative and fresh (you must get the Gazan winter tomato salad and the Hilbeh cheesecake if you go) and the decor cool and classy. The racist tirade that food critic Giles Coren unleashed on the restaurant this week was a painful reminder of the struggles faced by Palestinians in just existing. Chef Fadi Kattan has done a tremendous job.
In the winter months, I need all the cheer I can get so have been spending more time baking. This simple rhubarb cake was a recent winner.
I’ve been trying to eat as many Turkish pomegranates as I can before the season ends (gah!). In Iran, we sprinkle pomegranate seeds with salt and the ground spice golpar and it is THE BEST. Here is a primer on the whole golpar and pomegranate thing. You can easily order the spice online and as well as using it on fresh pomegranates you can also use it to improve your fesenjoon. Here is a recipe for that and a couple of other pomegranate recipes from The Saffron Tales
Speaking of ingredients, if you don’t have a jar of fermented black bean sauce in your cupboard, can I suggest you rectify that right now? I like the Lao Ga Man and Happy Eating House brands. It makes for the quickest and tastiest fridge raid dinner. Simply spoon it into stir fried veg/protein, throw in some rice or noodles and you are set 👌🏽
That’s it for this edition. I hope these make you as happy as they made me. Let me know in the comments section.
Thank you so much for including Life, Almost here! (Also, I raced through Everyone's A Critic. Such a thoughtful and fresh exploration of the subject). x
Also good: Lao Gan Ma chilli black bean sauce. The absolute best in quick noodle dishes or dumpling dipping sauce.