What we’re reading: O’Hagan, Colwin & Mackintosh

Each week we bring you a sample of the books we’re reading, the films we’re watching, the television shows we’re hooked on, or the music we’re loving.


Joanna Di Mattia is reading Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan

By no deliberate design, I’ve spent a significant chunk of the year thinking about life in 1980s Britain and the havoc wreaked by Margaret Thatcher and her policies on the working class. It began with a re-watch of the brilliant 1996 series, Our Friends in the North, and continued with the final instalment in the This is England series, This is England ‘90. I’m back in the era now, watching season 4 of The Crown, where the great Gillian Anderson plays the so-called Iron Lady. It was a no-brainer, then, that I’d adore Andrew O’Hagan’s new novel, Mayflies, which is set partly in July 1986, as a group of Glasgow lads journey to Manchester for the Festival of the Tenth Summer, which culminates in performances by that city’s greatest exports – The Fall, The Smiths, and New Order. Working class politics rises up and out of almost every character’s mouths, but what matters most is how O’Hagan captures the beauty and strength of community, forged by young people in that era through shared obsessions with music, film, and books. Between the narrator, Jimmy, and his brilliant friend Tully Dawson, all that stuff becomes the foundation of their lifelong, unconditional love. That O’Hagan writes about this relationship and the tragic challenge it faces in middle age with such tenderness and sympathy is a wonderful thing. I love these men and I love this book.


Bronte Coates is reading Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object by Laurie Colwin

During the peak of lockdown in Melbourne, I set myself the task of reading some books on my shelves that I’ve had sitting there for years, unread. I recently picked up Laurie Colwin’s 1975 novel, Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object, which my partner had bought for me as a second-hand bookstore some time ago. Colwin tells the story of Elizabeth ‘Olly’ Bax, who becomes a young window when her daredevil husband dies in a boating accident and must navigate her grief to forge a new life and identity. This is a quiet, introspective read – a philosophical rom-com in a way – and it’s also smart and charming. Colwin is terrific at describing the Olly’s inner turmoil as she grapples with contradictory feelings and desires, and she has the kind of sharp-edged humour that I love best.

After I finished the novel I googled Colwin and learned that she’d died young herself (from a heart attack at the age of 48), that she’d gained recognition as a pioneering food writer, and that she still had a dedicated cult following today. I also noted that there was a new edition of her most popular novel, Happy All the Time, being released in January of next year and marked my calendar accordingly.


Lian Hingee is reading Sustainable Gifting by Michelle Mackintosh

I come from a big family, which means I have to approach the Christmas period early, and with a military-like level of organisation. I am mocked routinely for my gift-giving spreadsheet, but the one year I tried to wing it I ended up in panicked hunt in a packed shopping centre on Christmas Eve, and I am NOT DOING THAT AGAIN, no siree, especially not with a toddler in hand. This year has been particularly difficult, because by this point I’ve usually got half of my shopping done (go ahead, hate me) but with everything closed during lockdown I haven’t been able to do my usual leisurely browse for That Perfect Gift in the months leading up to the big day. With extra time on my hands (and an increasingly anxious feeling about the world) Michelle Mackintosh’s Sustainable Gifting has been a fabulous source of inspiration. Packed with thoughtful suggestions for beautiful gifts that can be made from sustainable or recycled materials, this is a wonderful book to inspire creativity and crafting. It’s beginner-friendly and includes a number of step-by-step instructions and templates for everything from basic embroidery stitches, block printing, origami boxes, and more. There’s also a slew of recipes for cakes and biscuits, sauces, and even home-made toiletries. Mackintosh has also included a comprehensive section on how to wrap and present gifts beautifully – I’m particularly taken with the idea of Furoshiki, and will be raiding my fabric stash for parcelling up my made-with-love gifts in the most environmentally-friendly way possible.

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Andrew O'Hagan

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