26 recommends: April 2024

Easter is several weeks since past, but Gillian Orr’s Substack on “How to have a Joan Didion Easter party” has remained with me. Slipped into Orr’s guide to stylish, Didionesque hosting are references to the astonishing prices the late writer’s kitchenalia commanded at auction in November 2022: $5,000 for ‘a single porcelain plate,’ $8,000 for ‘her burnt, orange Le Creuset set.’ I remember reading about the auction before and being particularly struck by the fate of Didion’s blank notebooks. Bundled into lots estimated to sell for $100-200, her unused pages ultimately sold for as high as $11,000. Paper spaces, empty but suffused with possibility. What might Didion have written in them; what might we have read, and how?

– Chloe Green

(Ed – I had to cut Sue’s piece on this book from the Guide to Reading for space, but I wanted to salvage it here!)

Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities and the Pleasures of Solitude by Stephanie Rosenbloom.

A museum itself can be a restorative environment. Like a church or temple, the space itself allows the mind to drift, free-associating, making meaning. This tranquility can be felt as much in the blank white box of a modern art museum just as it can in the dark, galactic halls of a planetarium. It can be experienced in sculpture halls amid frozen white nudes, or in a flowering courtyard between galleries.

The book celebrates the joys and benefits of time alone as an enriching travel experience, and as a journalist her work is supported by really interesting research.

– Sue Heggie

Production photo of Michael Sheen in Nye taken from the National Theatre website.

I’ve seen a few things this month – Jenüfa at ENO (now finished) was an emotional farewell to their time at the London Coliseum, Lucia di Lammermoor at Covent Garden was astonishingly sung by Nadine Sierra (though I’ve never liked the music all that much), and Michael Sheen’s Nye at the National Theatre was an incredible and beautifully idealistic homage to the man behind the NHS. But it was Seeing Things, an Autobiography of Oliver Postgate (creator of Bagpuss, Ivor the Engine, and most importantly The Clangers), that has surprised and stuck with me the most; particularly in his evocations of his childhood and his family home – he has a wonderfully engaging and insightful brand of whimsy and it’s enchanting.

My girlfriend picked it up in a charity shop and I don’t know what I expected, but I was gripped from the first line:

“On a dull day in the early 1990s, I took the number 13 bus to Hendon, got off at the corner of Shirehall Lane, and walked along it towards the house where I was born…”

It may sound mundane, but it’s perfection. Find it. Read it. (The first chapter is titled “Stroking Bees”…)

– Max Parfitt

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