Books of 2017


1. Arabesques by Robert Dessaix. At the beginning of the year I took a holiday to Marrakech and was asking around for recommendations of books set in Marrakech. It’s so much more fun to read books set in the actual places one is visiting! My college said that I must take his copy of Arabesques with me to enjoy. Part travel memoir, part biography, part philosophical musings, this book traces Dessaix’s fascination with the author Andre Gide, a mid-century French novelist whose work was famously banned by the Vatican for its (homo)sexual content. I had never heard of Gide before — nor Dessaix — and not only was this book a rich romp through parts of North Africa I had never visited, but also a deeply thought-provoking read. Sexual ethics were one topic, to be sure, but also the nature of Protestantism, encountering strangers, how to communicate directly (and if that’s even possible) and existentialism. Had many good debates about it whilst sitting on rooftops in the Marrakech medina. Also a bonus: saw the photograph which features on the cover in the Photography Museum. Meta-win?

2. Leo the African by Amin Maalouf. Found this one near the Jardin de la Majorelle in Marrakech — happy accident! ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS go to weird, out of the way bookshops with tiny English-language sections when in foreign countries. ALWAYS. This book was a traveller’s joy, full of intrigue and cliffhangers and chutzpah. Leo was a historical figure, a refugee, businessman, traveller, diplomat and writer, originally named Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan al-Fasi, who lived in 15th/16th century. He’s most famous for his book, ‘A Description of Africa’ and apparently had one of those lives worth writing a book about. Maalouf’s novel really made this time and setting come alive for me, and employed just enough dramatic prose to keep me on my toes the whole time. I heartily recommend this book.

3. The Gap of Time by Jeannette Winterson. This ‘cover version’ of Shakespeare’s ‘A Winter’s Tale’ was thoughtful, funny, and at times incredibly beautiful. I appreciated how Winterson framed the story with her own story, with her own comments on Shakespeare and what he was doing in his final plays: encountering and discussing the possibility of forgiveness in all its joys and imperfections. It is clever and I was sad when it ended.

4. Beauty’s Field by Laurence Freeman. A collection of short newspaper columns by Freeman, a Benedictine monk and current leader of the World Community for Christian Meditation. This book helped me see both my religion (Christianity) and my faith (my spiritual practices, including meditation) in a much wider, more challenging, more generous, light. Little grace-filled stories. Highly recommended.

5. Living Stones: The story of Malling Abbey by the sisters of St Mary’s Abbey, West Malling. Picked this one up when on retreat at the eponymous religious house. Juicy details! Also puts lots of fears about ‘the decline of English monasticism’ WAY into perspective. (That is, we haven’t got Henry VIII going around dissolving them these days, at least…) Whilst reading this I got at least three ideas for novels I want to write.

6. A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. Complicated space diplomacy, punching holes through subspace (not THAT kind) for cross-galaxy travel, interspecies faux pas and discussions about the nature of family…this book did not disappoint. Chambers’ debt to Firefly is clear — she focuses on the drama of a small crew of the slightly-ramshackle ship Wayfarer, and also her mechanic Kizzy is a dead ringer for Wheedon’s Kimmy. I only wish that this book had been longer; some of the Wayfarer‘s crew were drawn more compellingly than others, and the ending seemed a little rushed. But I am told there’s a sorta-sequel? Hurrah!

7. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. One review I read of this book suggested that it resembled a literary Rubik’s cube, ever shifting from angle to angle, revealing more story and mystery. I think that about sums it up. I’m not sure I know enough about astrology to get how cleverly designed this book really is; but I could appreciate the massively intricate plot, brilliantly researched setting (the word ‘most piratical town on the South Island of New Zealand’ came to mind more than once, pace Dickens), complex (and myriad!) characters and an underlying sense of urgency that propelled me through the book’s 800+ pages. It is to most novels what a television series is to a film — that much more material, characterisation, plot-twisty-ness, and adventure.

8. The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.  Thoroughly loved this one. Metric tonnes of atmosphere. Strong-willed widow and would-be palaeontologist Cora Seagrave goes to Aldwinter in the marshes of Essex to investigate rumours of the titular Serpent, befriending William Ransome, the local Rector, leading to a science-versus-religion clash that winds up being about neither science nor religion, but rather friendship in the face of the fearfully unknown. Cora’s son’s autism is depicted with generosity: the strangenesses of her child are drawn not as deficiencies but differences; I got a sense of the particular mix of love and pain that comes with parenting an autistic child. Perry also delights gothically over the ‘blue delirium’ that overcomes a consumptive character whose otherworldly (and lengthy!) demise lends much to the dread that underpins the story. Other highlights include a socialist revolutionary ladies’ maid who drags various characters around the awful slums of…Bethnal Green! I envisioned all these scenes taking place in some version of Voss Street, E2.

9. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley.  This little bit of SF was charmingly steampunk and I enjoyed it, despite its flaws. Clairvoyance is explained by a woman scientist trying to prove the existence of ‘luminiferous ether’ — I’m not sure I’ve heard of anything more steampunk to be honest. Oh wait, I have: the watchmaker’s pet, a mechanical octopus named Katsu, who likes stealing socks. Katsu serves as a kind of shadow or foil for the watchmaker himself, Keita Mori, who I found difficult to picture and engage with.  This book, I think, would make a good film, and the film might be able to address some of the book’s pacing problems. Thaniel, one of the main characters, is synaesthetic — a clever decision on the author’s part which makes the leap from everyday Victorian London into depictions of clairvoyance less than it otherwise might be.

10. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. Similar to what A.S. Byatt did in her myth-retelling Ragnarok, Gaiman sets out here to acquaint the contemporary reader — who may or may not gain most of her mythological knowledge from grade school and from Marvel Comics — with some of the juiciest, most epic bits of nordic lore. In fact, thinking about the differences in tone and theme between Byatt and Gaiman was the best part about this book, for me. Of course Gaiman’s writing is good, but I think I like him better when I’m hearing about his own mythical characters.

11. Hame by Annalena McAfee. I wanted to like this one more than I did. The author does a great job with her world-building, but I found I couldn’t care as much about the protagonist as I wanted to. I liked the style, and the bit of ‘literary mystery’ about it which didn’t take itself as seriously as, say, an A. S. Byatt novel but was enjoyable nonetheless.

12. John the Pupil by David Flusfeder. MONKS ON A ROAD TRIP. Scientific discoveries by Bacon being delivered to the pope? I liked this book, but I thought the ideas weren’t executed as fully as they could have been. Then again, I was reading an uncorrected proof, so perhaps the final product was different? My favourite thing about this book was how the dates were given according to church feasts and festivals, saints’ days and so forth.

13. The Golden Compass / Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. I was ill, and read this and The Subtle Knife on a sick day. It was good escapism, and fascinating to read again 15 years after my first time reading them, with all the intervening years and hype! I am not really planning to read the ‘Book of Dust’ trilogy that Pullman is beginning to publish now, but getting back into Lyra’s head was good. Had many discussions with Max about the Jungian dimensions of the ‘daemons’ and the ‘aletheiometer’ because he was also reading this for a course.

14. The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman. The thing is, I don’t think this book is all that good. It is fascinating in how it ties together the other-world that Lyra inhabits and ‘our world’ where Will lives, playing in a narrative way with multiple-universe theory. But essentially Will is just not a very engaging character.  The complexity of his relationship with his mentally ill (or does she have good reason for paranoia?) mother is depicted heartbreakingly, but beyond that, Will is flat. It’s as if Pullman has written himself into a corner by painting Lyra’s world of daemons so vividly reflective of the characters’ inner lives, that when we are given a daemon-less, normal-world character, he’s just…meh.

What’s more, the disparate narrative is driven by events too far away from the central characters to command much emotional weight. Lord Asriel is ‘somewhere in another realm preparing to make war on the powers of heaven’, and a Latvian witch called Ruta Skadi goes to see him, with the help of some angels. This otherwise fascinating bit of plot is sketched over with overhasty exposition. The Subtle Knife suffers the typical ‘middle of a trilogy’ problem, and I just couldn’t get into it — not when I was grade school, not now.

15. Slow River by Nicola Griffith. Nicola Griffith has written about 10 (?) novels and each one is a treasure in its own way. I haven’t read them all yet, preferring to wait a while in between them so I can savour them properly. Slow River wasn’t next on my list of Griffiths — I thought I might tackle her detective trilogy next — but when I found it in a bookshop one day, I couldn’t leave it behind! The story focuses on Lore, an heiress who is kidnapped for a ransom her family refuses to pay. Three different story-levels exist in the novel: Lore as a child/adolescent; post-kidnap Lore and her life with her partner/abuser/boss, Spanner; and Lore trying to build a new life after having left Spanner. This structure allows Griffith to play with our perception of ‘what happened’ at key points in Lore’s life, and, as with all memories, as ourselves if what we think happened is really the whole story. This is cyberpunk at its best: an anonymous north European city rendered with all of Blade Runner’s ominous sic-fi-ness but not the same bleak outlook.

16. Mancunia by Michael Symons Roberts. I loved hearing him read from this collection at Greenbelt, and after enjoying his Drysalter and Corpus I knew I’d buy this as well. Was not disappointed.

17. Parable Island by Pauline Stainer. Thrift shop find. Scottish islands, light and mellow and stick-with-you language.

18. An End to Running, by Lynne Reid Banks. I have long loved Lynne Reid Banks’ brilliant The L-Shaped Room and so bought An End to Running as I prepared for my summer holidays. When it arrived I was surprised at the cover of the book (!) which was much more ’70s bodice ripper’ than the average book cover found on my shelves. The story does start off with a rather messy affair between two characters, but then radically shifts to a Kibbutz in Israel/Palestine, and deals with the fallout of the couple’s choice to explore what their life would look like in a communitarian, Jewish environment. It was gutsy and sad and I found it weirdly compelling.

19. Midwinter of the Spirit by Phil Rickman. A televised version of this was aired last winter (I think?) and I knew I was going to have to start reading these books eventually. Rickman writes about Merrily Watkins, parish priest in the village of ‘Ledwardine’ in the Welsh borders / Hereford Diocese, single mom, and…exorcist! Or, ‘Diocesan Deliverance Consultant’ if you want the church lingo. Rickman has written at least 14 books in this series so far and they are rather compulsively readable for someone like me — which should come as no surprise. Merrily’s encounters with the supernatural are everything from mundane (her own prayer life is ‘like a lamplit path leading towards blue and gold’ which description I LOVE) to the fantastic (curses, angry spirits, hauntings, etc). And yet, Rickman cleverly walks the line between ‘is this something supernatural/occult?’ and ‘is this a mental/social-psychological phenomenon’ with skill, and keeps the reader guessing at every turn.

This series is a series of mystery/crime novels, of course, and so has some of the same problems as the ‘Grantchester’ series: crime-solving priest appears to do lots of solving but do they do any parish work at all? Of course the humdrum of the day-to-day parish is not quite the scintilla of mystery/supernatural novels, but a few more nods to that life and its demands would, I think, increase these novels’ credibility. (She writes about a series featuring an exorcist. I know, I know!)

20. The Crown of Lights by Phil Rickman. Yep. I read about 4 of these in a row, very quickly, on holiday. They’re that good.

21. The Cure of Souls by Phil Rickman. Really. You should read them.

22. The Lamp of the Wicked by Phil Rickman. Right now. You’ll thank me.

23. Realms of Glory by Catherine Fox. The end of the Lindchester Chronicles! What’s a long-time fan of Catherine Fox to do, now? Perhaps it was hormones, perhaps it was the way that Fox depicts grace so freely and fiercely in this book — I was never far from tears or from laughter while reading. Don’t get me started on the slow demise of Barbara Blatherwick — as someone with many older people in her congregation(s), I found it touching and all too realistic. Fox know exactly how to poke through the armour of all the ‘parties’ in the Church of England, and I think only en ego bruised by this teasing could give a negative review to her wise, timely, satirical work in Lindchester. Yes, the form of blogged-weekly novel with its Dickensian & Trollopian structures and features has its limitations; but so do most forms of writing. I look forward to see what she’ll do next.

24. The Historian …OK, this one was a re-read for me. Every few years I get the desire to go read about academics tracking down Dracula whilst they around Iron-Curtain-era Bulgaria, Romania, Istanbul, and about a dozen other wonderful European locations. An impressive novel for a debut (!), it’s not perfect, but is very well worth the travel and the atmosphere.

25. The Mime Order. More Samantha Shannon steampunk-ish SF set in London.

26. Mythos by Stephen Fry. Blatant, airport-purchased holiday read for the last week of the year spent in the Cyclades & Athens. Good choice! Myths retold with a dash of Fry-wit.

What’s to come in 2018?





Two-for Tuesday

Week 4 of trumplandia. An American abroad, I rely on family & friends back home to keep me in the loop of what’s happening, what the atmosphere in different places is like, how people are learning and healing and protecting each other when the president is not interested in any of those activities.

Today, two little things I’ve been given, passed on to stave off the gloom:

Read books. Support bookstores. There’s a bookstore in MOSCOW on this list, y’all. Impressive.

Sufjan Stevens, much beloved musician, nails things right on the head.

Books of 2016

My annual round-up of (mostly non-ministry-related) reading is below! Did you read any of these? What were the books you read this year that you loved, loathed, or couldn’t care less about?

1. Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Another fab number from the woman I want to be when I grow up,  pastor of the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver. She writes like she actually believes all this Jesus stuff, and reminds me why I do, too.

2. Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

Want to know a place where it was nigh on impossible to be a lesbian and not get killed? Nigeria in the late 20th century. Ijeoma, the protagonist of this book, grows up hiding the shame of a romance with a young woman and her journey towards authentic sexuality is harrowingly recounted. The book utilises some of the structure and rhythm of classic Nigerian folk tales and so has almost a storybook quality, but its depiction of war, hunger, manipulation, and abuse are not light topics at all. I found this book to be both encouraging in how it seeks to put the stories of LGBTQ Africans ‘on the map’ and also deeply saddening, as with every page I was reminded of the struggles of queer people to just survive, especially in parts of Africa.

3. I am Radar by Reif Larsen

This book was a chance find that I picked up when in Berlin I found myself suddenly novel-less (a horrible state to be in, to be sure!). At the mecca of Berlin’s English bookshops on Friedrichstraße, Dussman Das KulturKaufhaus, I found this little gem — although it was more like a microchip than a gem. On one level it’s a story about Radar, a black child born to white American and Serbian parents; on another, it’s about a global network of performance-artists-cum-experimental-physicists; on another, it’s about the cyclical nature of history, human violence, and entanglement of destinies, and the unknowable-ness of death. I thoroughly enjoyed it although it felt like it stopped too abruptly; maybe 50 pages more could have tied things up better? Larsen continues his trend of including lots of extra tidbits in his text: diagrams, figures, some footnotes, and so on — less than was in his debut novel, but still pleasing.

4. Russian Disco by Wladimir Kaminer

This is, hands down, the best book I read all year. Kaminer is a Russian who immigrated to Berlin just after the Wall came down, and this is a collection of short writings of his about the lives of Berliners: old ones, new ones, German ones, Russian ones, and many others. It is hilarious. I read most of it out loud with my partner, or entertained myself in moments when I was supposed to be monastically silent at theological college. Ever so sadly, it is the only one of Kaminer’s several books that has been translated into English so far. Yet another reason to amp up my German language skills.

5. The Byzantine Tarot by Cilla Conway/John Matthews

Some readers of this blog will be familiar with my recent fascination with the language and imagery of tarot and its similarity to other therapeutic and pastoral language. The Byzantine tarot is a description of some of the convergences between classic tarot and the byzantine world, particularly its Christian-historical aspects, and their similarities and conflicts when it comes to talking of the inner life and of social life, determinism and freedom.

6. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Steampunk / futuristic / magical London & Oxford. Thoroughly enjoyable. Well thought out. Much more interesting & complex characters than Harry Potter & less predictable plot structure. A bit of Stockholm Syndrome.

7. The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon

Sequel to the above. It’s a world that takes a bit to submerge into, but once you’re there, you love it. This one only takes place in London, but delves deeply into the criminal underworld that exists in Scion (what London is called) and I love the part where Paige (the protagonist) et al try to write a Penny Dreadful as an act of political resistance!

8. Unseen Things Above by Catherine Fox

The ever-witty Catherine Fox adds yet another novel to her Lindchester Chronicles. I’d describe the Lindchester novels as a mash-up of Anthony Trollope, Joanna Trollope, and Charles Dickens: ecclesiastical, essentially about relationships of different kinds, and written originally as a blog/serial. Fox is currently blogging the third instalment of the Lindchester series here but I shall wait until the whole novel is up before devouring it, as I’ve done with these last two.

9. The Singing Bowl by Malcolm Guite

I’m a fan of Guite’s poetry, though I do feel about him a bit like I feel about C. S. Lewis: Christians get stuck on him (Guite) as ‘a poet they understand and like’ just like they get stuck on C. S. Lewis as ‘a theologian they can read and be fine with’. There is SO MUCH MORE good poetry out there besides Guite! But I am writing about Guite right now, and about The Singing Bowl which was a good collection of poems indeed. I read it on my pre-ordination-to-the-diaconate retreat, and it was just the sort of crunchy but nourishing stuff I needed whilst contemplating such a big life change.

10. Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid

A part of the ‘Austen Project’, this contemporary re-write of Austen’s original called to me in a thrift shop on Portobello road. It didn’t hurt that it has a bright, hunter-orange cover, suitably Hallowe’en-ish. McDermid managed to recreate some of the over-the-top daydreaming of Austen’s protagonist but locate it in the Edinburgh Festival instead of Regency era Bath (well done!). The adolescent obsession with paranormal romance novels is a fitting contemporary parallel to the gothic novel fantasies of which Austen was writing a parody.

11. Tiny Churches  by Dixé Wills

I am a little bit biased on this one, being a friend of the author and present on at least one of the fact-finding missions for this delightful travel book. 60 of Britain’s tiniest places of Christian worship are documented in all their tiny, unique glory, with excellent pictures. Less laugh-out-loud funny than other books in the ‘Tiny’ series by the same author, this book nevertheless delivers a massive amount of religious and cultural history, intrigue, and fascinating minutiae of the ecclesiastical sort. A chapter or five of an evening before bedtime is a perfect dose.

12. Vita Brevis by Jostein Gaardner.

A bit niche this one, but highly satisfying. For anyone who has ever admired the work of St Augustine but had significant reservations about his thoughts on women, sex, and bodies: this is a book you might like. Gaardner suggests that he has found this manuscript in an antique shop which purports to be a letter from Augustine’s discarded lover: the mother of their son and one smart and angry woman.

13. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson.

I wanted to like this more than I did. A quiet and lush book, mostly based around a little girl and her friendship with her grandma on a small Swedish island. Sometimes the sections are more like chapters, other times like interlocking short stories. I was surprised by the humour of the writing, and appreciated it. Honestly, I felt I was a bit immature for this book — I expect I’ll return to it and treasure it much more in a couple decades.

14. Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch.

As happened with other books in this series last year , I could scarcely put this book down. Policeman / wizard Peter Grant continues his attempts at not dying whilst policing the very contemporary London demimonde. Much epic standoff. Very magic-cop-show. And funny! This particular instalment has him investigating a suspicious death which may or may not be linked to to the daughter of Lady Tyburn AKA the goddess of the River Tyburn, tributary of the Thames.

15. How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis.

Revisiting the novels — and their women protagonists — who have shaped her own history, Ellis canters through the stories of the best-loved and -hated women in literature, sprinkling fascinating and human details along the way. Part memoir, part lit-crit-light, part excuse to investigate how age works on our memories of novels and what they teach us at different times of life.

16. John the Pupil by David Flusfeder.


17. Names by Marilyn Hacker.

I found in this in the inimitable SKOOB Books in London and was happily reminded what a brilliantly talented poet Hacker is. I learnt about a new form from this collection — the ghazal — and loved her precise, generous work. Political and pointedly elegiac.

18. Going Forth by Bill Kirkpatrick.

Distilled wisdom of years spent caring for the dying an bereaved, especially those dying of HIV/AIDS. Readings, reflections, resources. Difficult but important.

19. The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch.

Another new one! Whoop whoop! Peter Grant is back in London, chasing down some illegal drugs and even more illegal magical artefacts. The best thing about this book was in the introduction of some awesome non-establishment magical women who may or may not be long-term allies to the Folly, one of whom can definitely fly. Oh, and also Peter swearing a formal vendetta against the Faceless Man. Dun dun dun…

20. The Wine of Angels  by Phil Rickman

So earlier this year on the BBC there was a drama called ‘Midwinter of the Spirit’. It was based on the second book in this series featuring Merrily Watkins, priest in charge of a sleepy Hereford village which (I guess?) experiences lots of creepy/mysterious/paranormal stuff. I loved the TV show, and thoroughly enjoyed this novel.  Best bits: the question about the supernatural stuff being ‘real or imaginary’, the struggles of being a single mom and a female vicar, the olde-England mythology. If this book could be summed up in a single sentence, it would be what one character, the old and wise Lucy Devenish, says to Merrily’s daughter, Jane, in trying to explain local lore: ‘Nothing is ordinary! Read Traherne.’

21. Byssus by Jen Hadfield.

Picked this collection of poetry up in a delightful tiny bookshop in Whitby this spring. Hadfield channels the language and lore of the Hebrides, the islands’ and islanders’ ways of living through the seasons. Short, punchy, eloquent. Great wee poems.

22. Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier.

Despite my occasionally gothic preferences, as of earlier this year I had never read any du Maurier. This March when I accompanied a friend to Cornwall, not ten miles from the actual Jamaica Inn itself, I felt it was high time to read this classic, especially since the BBC had also produced an adaptation of it earlier this year with Lady Sibyl (the best of the young ladies Grantham from Downton Abbey, IMHO) as the protagonist. Despite the awful cold I had at the time, I read chapters and chapters aloud to my friend — it’s best that way, building up the doom a paragraph at a time. In the end I finished it and left it in Cornwall: the bookshelf where we stayed didn’t have a copy, and I found that pretty unacceptable. Next up – Rebecca?

23. Snakes Ropes by Jess Richards.

Ooh this one was really good. ‘Grabs you and won’t let go’ good.  What time does it take place in — the future or the past? Is it a social realist novel or a fairy tale? Are there mysterious forces at work in the island, or are the women of the matriarchy just making it all up? It was hard to believe that this was Richards’ debut novel, it was that tight. I look forward to reading Richards’ next one, Cooking with Bones.

24. Readings for Funerals compiled by Mark Oakley.

OK, so this a compilation and I can’t really comment on the quality of most of the selections, as they are from holy scriptures or classic literature. But I will say that Oakley does what he does best — that is, compile and lightly comment — here, preparing a very good resource for priests, pastors, and nonreligious funeral officiants. Especially those of us who have experienced the more ‘drivellous’ of funeral poems.

25. Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson

This book has possibly The Worst Title Ever. It is also what might be termed a ‘Self-Help Book’: not a genre I spend very much time in. But I stumbled upon it when discussing with my partner what we should read in the run up to our impending nuptials. In searching for good books about long-term relationships and/or marriages that would educate, challenge, and encourage us, I came across a lot of indefensible bullshit which (a) harmfully perpetuated the patriarchy in many ways or (b) was really hopeless in outlook or (c) unhelpfully spiritualised all the problems couples might encounter or (d) were frustratingly heteronormative. (Yes, I have probably too high of standards. Deal with it.) Anyhow, this book, while not perfect, was full of good insight — if slightly too many acronyms for my taste. The author is an experienced therapist who has developed what is a fairly widely practiced therapeutic technique, ‘Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy’ and it’s common sense stuff, well founded in psychological research, presented for laypeople clearly. I’m already considering how I might use some of its insights with future couples who come to me for marriage preparation.


Books that, at the end of 2016, I still have on the go…

The Tzar of Love & Techno by Anthony Marra. Short stories. Layers of meaning, of politics and history, of sad Russian-ness. A little spectacular. Interwoven short stories reading almost more like a novel. Apocalyptic but a little hopeful.

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters. QUEER DEMIMONDE of the turn of the 19th-into-the-20th century. Such fun! Like a queerer, better version of that Edith Piaf film, La Vie En Rose. 

Iraq + 100 edited by Hassam Blasim. So far: Wow. These are searing, fascinating science/speculative fiction stories. Iraqi writers imagine a world post-western-invasion, in 2103.

The Storyteller by Walter Benjamin. Oracular. Poetic. Dark. Dreamy. Is probably better in the original German. To be devoured slowly, in small doses.

Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit. A re-relase for dark times. A litany of ways humans are making the world a better place; coming together, listening to each other, standing in solidarity, resisting soulless utilitarianism. For when courage is needed.

Images of Mary Magdalene in art history

So, all you need to know today is that it’s the feast day for Mary of Magdala AKA Mary Magdalene AKA the first apostle or the ‘apostle to the apostles’ if you’re being picky.

With the demise of The Toast, sadly there is no one regularly providing snarky commentary on artwork. I feel that Mary Mag would have greatly enjoyed such snark, and so as my act of devotion for her feast day, I offer you the following.


This Mary has clearly been up all night looking after some dudebros — I mean disciples — who are upset about Jesus. She’s breaking out one of those squeeze stress-balls that pharmaceutical companies give away.



DOUBLE MARY TIME. Here we’ve got Big Mary (Jesus’ mum) holding little Mary (Magdalene).

Big Mary: ‘How cool is it that we share a name?’

Little Mary: ‘Like, so cool. It’s a name strong ladies have.’

Big Mary: ‘I know, right? I mean NOBODY in the future will ever get us confused, or any of the other Marys.’

Little Mary: ‘Nobody. I think we should both keep wearing red all the time. That’s not confusing.’


This Mary has realistic hair. Ain’t nobody wearing a headscarf without flyaways, I tell you.


This Mary is my spirit animal because of her enviable Resting Bitchface.


According to the title of this painting, here Mary is ‘penitent’. She’s also clutching a skull and rolling her eyes. I leave this to you to decide whether or not that is something a penitent person would do.


This Mary: ‘Jesus Christ! You’re alive!’

Jesus: ‘Can’t touch this.’


This Mary: ‘Sorry dudes fighting about women being priests, I’m just over here, looking fine and praying for you. Peace out.’


This Mary is having a day where staying in pyjamas and pondering the meaning of the universe (also watching Netflix) is all that’s gonna happen.


This Mary: ‘Looketh at my face. Is this the bothered face thou seest before thee?’


This Mary’s so awesome she went and got herself a suit of hair.


This Mary’s hirsute hair suit is better than hers ^^. Damn right.


This Mary moonlights as a vampire hunter.


This Mary was totally just having a topless nap in the forest, again with skulls and books. Nothing to see here.