Literary antidotes for restless minds

As our frenetic movements slow and attention spans wane, we’re casting our focus to podcasts, literary journals and tactile activities like bookbinding to massage our minds.

Here’s what we’re digesting:

Gene, Associate Director

London Review of Books
I’m a sucker for long-form deep dives, and there’s plenty at London Review of Books, including this haunting piece by McKenzie Funk I came across during the bushfires earlier this year and this more recent piece by James Butler reflecting on our current crisis. Their tote bags are a solid 10/10, too.

The Paris Review
There’s not a lot The Paris Review doesn’t do — short fiction, poetry, literary criticism, cultural essays, interviews… There’s something for everyone. Since social distancing entered our vocabulary and became a way of life, the fine folk at the Review have been penning a new weekly newsletter called The Art of Distance, which includes a curated selection of unlocked archival pieces. You can find the first here, and subscribe from there.

Babbling Books
I’m always delighted when a post from Melbourne-based book blogger Babbling Books pops up on my timeline. Tamsien has an incredible eye for detail and is a reader with discerning but varied tastes, photographing and reviewing anything and everything from books for YA audiences to classics to translated literature to contemporary Australian fiction. You should follow her. You won’t regret it.

Roxane Gay on Goodreads
If you don’t follow Roxane Gay on Goodreads, you must. She leaves such insightful reviews that are always a pleasure to read in and of themselves.

The Monthly
This publication is just the absolute best when it comes to Australian reviews for books and culture. That’s it. That’s the endorsement.

Sonia, Program Manager

Sugar Calling
I’m getting a lot more into podcasts now that I spend 50% of my day doing dishes and housework. One that I particularly love at the moment is Cheryl Strayed’s Sugar Calling, where she interviews prolific writers over the age of 60 like George Saunders and Margaret Atwood to gauge their thoughts on this unprecedented time.

Home Cooking
Another post-pandemic podcast that I’m getting into is Home Cooking, featuring Samin Nosrat of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat fame and host/producer Hrishikesh Hirway. Nosrat’s voice is incredibly soothing, her laugh is infectious, and the banter between her and Hirway is playful and light. As a novice cook, I’ve also learnt a lot of new things. Oil expands in the pan, so be careful not to add too much! And frozen vegetables should always be thrown straight into the pan — no thawing required.

Jaclyn Crupi
Like Jessica, I also love the Instagram account of Hill of Content bookseller Jacyln Crupi. Crupi is doling out personalised book recommendations to anyone who asks, demarcating both new and old literary releases into categories like ‘feel-good reads’ and ‘culty goodness’, and is such a voracious reader that I’m always clicking on to her page as a source of wisdom on what I should read next.

Literary Journals
Otherwise, I’m catching up on literary journals that I love but don’t always have the time to read — namely, Kill Your Darlings and Going Down Swinging. I also highly recommend The New York Times Book Review’s weekly emails with cultural critiques of new releases. Just this week, I found out about two books that I can’t wait to get my hands on — Karla Cornejo Villavicencio’s The Undocumented Americans and Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Poem.

Jessica, Festival Administrator

Jaclyn Crupi
For those who are familiar with Melbourne’s literary scene, this first one may be a bit of a cop-out. Jaclyn Crupi, a bookseller at Hill of Content, has always had a fun and honest Instagram feed. Her reviews are candid and raw, and she doesn’t shy away from giving well-rounded criticism of the books she has read. But recently, she has started making some recommendations by theme, much to the distaste to my wallet. Check it out — her advice is on-point.

Sea Lemon
I’ve always been a hands-on kind of person, so a couple of weeks ago, I decided it was time to start learning bookbinding. I’ve messed around with zines, glue and staples before, but I’ve never made an actual book, despite being able to name all the parts of one. One of the first things that comes up for ‘bookbinding’ is Sea Lemon’s YouTube channel, and after watching a couple of videos, I’m ready to order an awl and bone folder. Time to make some books!

Join the Party
So you want a story with a rag-tag bunch of characters fighting the world, but are overall the stories where the characters win every time without a single scrape? Or maybe you’re like me, a queer who loves science fiction and fantasy stories but wants a bit of representation in their media? Either way, Join the Party, a Dungeons & Dragons podcast, fulfils both of these criteria. For the nonbelievers, just imagine it as an ongoing audiobook with multiple voice actors and a fantasy plot-line, where the roll of a dice dictates everything.

As an act of self-care, I am limiting the amount of time I spend reading the news — I get fifteen minutes in the morning, and fifteen in the afternoon, and I only get it from broadcasters I trust to present balanced journalism. Schwartz Media’s 7am podcast is one of those sources, and I find their short-but-snappy format works well at conveying information without being sensationalist. The presenter and guests are always calm — which makes it a lot easier to digest the material — and I find the reporting to be accessible and comprehensible​, even on topics I’m not up-to-date on.

Gemma, Marketing Coordinator

The Vocal Fries
Language, like other colonial structures, is a sly and nefarious instrument of domination and discrimination, which is often overlooked. The way we judge someone based on their accent or vocabulary is as wrong as rejecting them for their race, religion or gender. Hosted by Carrie Gillon and Megan Figueroa, The Vocal Fries is a thoughtful and entertaining podcast about linguistic discrimination.

For long-form lifestyle and culture journalism, I adore The Economist’s 1843. Emanating the same recognisable poise and rigour as its mother publication, 1843 takes a lateral look at the world around us with a tint of wit and irreverence.

If I haven’t reached a verdict on whether or not I should read a particular novel, usually one that’s rousing a fair amount of hype, I’ll skip over to the New Yorker’s literary blog for frank and colourful criticisms interwoven with interrogations on form and style.

On my weekends, I relish the chance to catch up on the stories published on Longreads during the week. With topics spanning everything from arts and culture, business and technology, through to science and nature, I often lose myself for hours.

Shelter in Words
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, MWF is transitioning to a digital program for 2020, but we need your financial support to make the Festival happen. Make a tax-deductible donation today.