May 2020 | Books & Links

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31.05.2020

Non-fiction

Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City – Guy Delisle

Ed bought me this for my birthday back in September and I’ve been saving it for a quiet month as I usually always have a big pile of library books to get through. The library has been closed for over two months now, and so I now only have my own books to read and I gave myself permission to start this one which I’ve been looking forward to for so long.

I really enjoyed Jerusalem. I like Guy’s style, and his judicious use of colour. His panels are usually monotone, but a pop of colour appears every now and then to illustrate gunfire or bloodshed, and it’s really effective.

His perspective on Jerusalem was fascinating. He was there as his wife worked for MSF, and as an outsider to all three of the Abrahamic religions his take on the customs, traditions and struggles was really interesting. I look forward to reading more of his books, as this and Hostage were brilliant. Thank you Ed!

Essays, Articles & Other Online Links

I read most of my non-fiction online. This month I decided to spend less time aimlessly scrolling Instagram and buried deep in live blogs and comment threads on The Guardian in order to free up time to read the stack of articles I had let pile up in Feedly and Pocket. I’m always amazed at how quickly my concentration span improves once I remove the option of permanently grazing on information throughout the day. I do this by using BlockSite to bounce me out of my usual black holes every time I try to turn to them.


A Drowned World – memories of a trip to Svalbard and Pyramiden, a Soviet coal mining settlement on the archipelago which closed in 1998. I am forever fascinated by abandoned spaces. My PhD research was about nuclear development in Poland, and I always found the visits I made to the abandoned nuclear village on the shores of Lake Żarnowiec in Pomerania particularly haunting. I am the girl who read a textbook about Soviet nuclear development on her honeymoon though, so YMMV for this one.

Paternoster lifts – nerdy but really interesting at the same time. I didn’t realise the University of Birmingham’s Muirhead Tower had a paternoster. It was gone by the time I started studying there in 2004. It explains the twin lift shafts though!

Facial recognition software and how to stay invisible. While I won’t be painting my face or wearing disruptive clothing to get around facial recognition technology, I am very much opposed to it becoming mainstream.

Technological determinism, and how the ballpoint pen killed cursive. I found this interesting. The romantic descriptions of writing with a fountain pen made me want to use mine more often, though I’m guilty of reaching for a biro or pencil more often than not.

How the decision to cut down a poplar tree in the DMZ between North and South Korea in 1976 almost resulted in nuclear war.

In fairy tales, form is your function and function is your form. If you don’t spin the straw into gold or inherit the kingdom or devour all the oxen or find the flour or get the professorship, you drop out of the fairy tale, and fall over its edge into an endless, blank forest where there is no other function for you, no alternative career. The future for the sons who don’t inherit the kingdom is banishment. What happens when your skills are no longer needed for the sake of the fairy tale? A great gust comes and carries you away.

On academia, the pandemic and the meaning of success

I’ve been thinking about this a lot the last couple of months. I’m trying to think what my Plan C career might be since plan A – do a PhD and get an academic job – didn’t work out, and plan B – freelance photography and filmmaking – is unworkable for the foreseeable future because of the virus lockdown and inevitable recession. Funeral director perhaps? That should be recession and pandemic proof. Dark humour gets me through.


How a volcanic eruption resulted in the invention of the bicycle. I hope something good comes of the current crisis.

Ghost stories and restless objects after dark at the British Museum

Home cooking, the pandemic and memories of a childhood in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. I look forward to trying the vegetarian version of the recipe at the end of Kalyanee Mam’s essay.

Memories of a first apartment and the lived experience of being Chinese in New York City

A piece about the Japanese rent a family industry

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