Hate to prang out the readers, but every time I close my eyes this civil defense siren of stress just starts blaring inside my head.
That happen to you as well? It’s not panic. No, panic is when I burn myself on the kettle in the morning or spill toothpaste on my shirt or miss my exit on the motorway. Panic happens every day and just means there’s some problem or annoyance that I need to sort out then and there.
No, this is some background tap-tap-tap of anxiety that increases to a chaotic stampeding not unlike if every person on a rush-hour tube platform looked up from their phones at once and turned away from the tracks and started chasing after me and what I’m saying is: anyone else feel this way? Or is this deranged?
I mean, yeah, Big, Brave, Ben has bonged Boris and the rest of England out of Europe and into an economical and political and societal nightmare over there. The US is going on with another one of its two-year election cycles over here. Climate change and how This Town’s On Fire Yet It’s Snowing In Baghdad and other frightening environmental nonsense is going on elsewhere. Look, we all read the news in some form. Knowing about the world’s pressing issues isn’t a suitable excuse for not having a personality anymore. And no sane person’s going off and stashing away tins of beans and candles in their back garden any time soon.
So, sure, everything is bad and tipping downwards. You’ve gotten too wound up with the world’s problems or you’re spending another Valentine’s Day with no boo and a KFC Bargain Bucket instead or you’ve just had an off couple of surfs and you can’t figure out why. Whatever it is: things are Quite Unwell And Could Be Better, sure. You know what helps get your mind off it all until things mellow out or at least the streets run red with billionaire blood, though? That’s correct, a good book. Here are five very pleasant reads that’ll have you smiling and enjoying yourself and turning page after page after page. Adulthood stress? Regular anxiety? Catholic dread? We’ve played an absolute blinder on all that with this one.
Writers At Work: The Paris Review Interviews series by Various.
If you don’t know about The Paris Review it’s an absolute class literary magazine based in New York despite the name. They have loads of these “Writers at Work” compilation books where their editor hangs out with about every famous author ever and writes about it. Standard posh, weekend-rag profiles these are not. You know the kind, all dressed up and of zero substance. “I wake up at 5AM for some cigarettes and coffee and some time in the sun,” that sort of thing. “Only cold glasses of water for drinking while I type.” No. This is much more insightful. Reading it feels like you’re sitting there peppering them with all the questions you’d normally be scared of asking in the first place because you’re so fundamentally afraid of confrontation or socially awkward to the point you’re just like, “Well I—uh, sorry could I—wow, well I’d like to say HI.” They’ve chatted with the likes of Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, and a lot more. Find the Boris Pasternak interview edition for an insane entry point that involves Pasternak talking about smuggling his Doctor Zhivago manuscripts from the USSR to Italy so the CIA can print them. Short chapters too so an excellent beach read. “Oh, you can’t start off with a whole series that’s not fair,” you’re saying, well, I’m saying: shut it.
Dolce Vita Confidential: Fellini, Loren, Pucci, Paparazzi, and the Swinging High Line of 1950s Rome by Shawn Levi.
Know how everything tastes better and feels better on vacation? The lazy stroke of the sun’s a touch warmer. The quiet lapping of the sea is just that much more calming. Every meal is the best meal in the world, the perfect meal, just that much tastier. Even the one that’s just an ice cream bar (always labeled in some language you can’t quite make out but you know is still some sweet because it has some mad cartoon of an animal kicking a football or holding a sword or lunging a dart on the packaging) from the supermercado by the Airbnb. Anyway, if that feeling of eating pasta in a massive plaza or wearing swimwear as clothes or, I don’t know, Vespas, was a book: it’s this book. All on the swinging and glitzy and wild times of 1950’s Rome. Doubt you’ll make it more than halfway through before you start looking for flights to Aeroporto Internazionale di Roma-Fiumicino.
The Cyclist Who Went Out In The Cold: Adventures Along the Iron Curtain Trail by Tim Moore.
Europe’s lovely because you can get from Point A of the continent to just about Anywhere Else very easily and for relatively cheap. EasyJet flights where you’re wedged between some Swiss banker on his way to Barcelona for business and a university lad who has the exact vibe of someone who can consume an alarming amount of ketamine without dying? There’s a dozen of those leaving every major airport right now. Or there are trains. SNCF, DB, RENFE, and the sort are always good for a cross-country journey and for face-planting a platform after you take down six mini-bottles of bar car wines along the way. Author Tim Moore said, “No,” to all that in this book though. He decided to ride his bike around instead, using the path of the former Iron Curtain as guidance. Hilarious writing and peppered with neat facts about each country he stops at.
Impossible Owls: Essays by Brian Phillips.
I love Brian Phillips because he’s one of those people you can read, honestly, anything of his and you’ll go: Oh, This Is How You’re Meant To Write. Alaskan husky races. UFOs terrorising the American southwest. The Queen of England’s persistence when it comes to communicating via her handbag-style. This ace book has those stories and more within. Phillips is also still an active writer too, so you’ll have plenty more of his to read after you finish blowing through this over your next long weekend.
The Far Corner: A Mazy Dribble Through North-East Football by Harry Pearson.
Put the words “England” and “football” in the same sentence and your mind might jump to an image of: some shaven-head, overweight man toppling over a stadium barricade while still holding plastic pint glasses in each arm, the massive St. George’s Cross flag tied around his neck getting caught by a group of builders in rubber King Arthur And His Knights costumes, the whole Round Table of Umbro shouting “WAHEY” as they try to yank him back up into his seat. This book about English football is not about any of that however. It’s a touch more wholesome in fact. In it, author Harry Pearson makes his way through the British northeast, chatting with supporters of lower-division football clubs. Even for the non-football lover there is a wealth of social history, humour, and vignettes. Most of which detail the general obscurities of small-town English life. Eat your heart out, Nick Hornby.