27: Angsty novels abound

September 29, 2023


Recently, my reading list has been plagued by a stream of angsty novels by MFA-holding cool girl novelists with affected main characters. There, I said it. It started with Sally Rooney’s Normal People, then Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, then Coco Mellors’ Cleopatra and Frankenstein (which I think I’ve written about in a previous weeknote). The premise is literally almost always the same: sad female main character, sharply intelligent and nonchalantly pretty but feeling unfulfilled in her career, dumped by (or legally and/or emotionally attached to) strange man-children, taking drugs and sleeping with sexy strangers and generally lamenting her mess of a life. And invariably, at some point in all of these stories, I’ve put the book down, held my head between my hands, and said, “a lot of this would resolve itself if you just communicated. Or went to therapy”. The overarching argument is that these books are a protest against women not being able to express our emotions freely. And while that’s true to a point, what rubs me the wrong way about this whole sad girl lit genre is the pervasive sense of a lack of agency. If I had to talk about it more, it would probably sound a lot like this New Statesman piece about how this “literary trend has coagulated into parody”, so I won’t rewrite it — it’s pretty spot-on.

I had one day this week when I worked on only two projects, and it felt great. Allowing myself a couple of uninterrupted hours to focus entirely on one thing at a time really helped me get into a flow state, and I emerged feeling so much more satisfied with the work I did that day. I also found my concentration was at its highest, because I wasn’t getting distracted every few minutes (which tends to happen when there’s too much going on at once). I’d like to make sure I have more days like that soon.

In last week’s note, I’d tentatively opened up my Calendly to have casual conversations with new people about common interests. I didn’t expect too great a response, but some 10 people have signed up! The introverted side of me is cringing at the thought of having to actually follow through on this, but I do think it’ll be good for me. Vishwanath did something similar a few months ago and said he had some really memorable conversations, so that’s also motivating.

Some house updates: I got a lovely new rug for the living room. It’s a little smaller than I’d planned, but it doesn’t look terribly off and it instantly made the room look so much cosier and finished, so I’m definitely keeping it. I also struck gold in Avenue Road: found a vintage Art Deco-style shoe cabinet that’s finally collecting all the shoes I was forced to keep lined up in my foyer until then. There was also gorgeous filing cabinet from the 1940s that I thought would be perfect for stationery storage in my study, but when I returned home I realised the wood tone was way too orange and it would’ve also looked too blocky. Glad I didn’t impulse-purchase that, but that means I’m still on the lookout for a storage solution for that room. I wanted solid wood, but maybe IKEA is the way to go this time.

I trialled a new newsletter format for paid subscribers of Kindred Spirits this week (all 5 of them!). It’s a letter-y, journal-y sort of format that some people had requested — quite similar to these weeknotes but less personal and more in keeping with the theme of my newsletter. People really seemed to like it!

I had a whirlwind interview with Anne-Laure Le Cunff of Ness Labs, and even though it was just me trying valiantly to string words together, I was excited to help move her book chapter-writing along (even if my final quotes don’t make it to her upcoming book). She’d had five interviews before me and four more after, and she was still very warm and charming. I can’t wait to read Liminal Minds when it comes out.

Also, Visakan V followed me on Twitter. I had to physically restrain myself from sharing a screenshot on Twitter so I could seem cool about it. Cat’s out of the bag now, though.

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