As we all head out to our Office Christmas Party, we thought we'd continue last year's tradition and share our staff cultural highlights of 2015 - enjoy!
Book: EAT THAT FROG! by Brian Tracy
If there’s one thing people know about me, it’s that I’m an organisation freak. I started reading this book because I’m giving it to a friend and had no idea it would end up changing my own life.
It gives you 21 tips on how to stop procrastinating and balance your work and personal life.
Because the book is aimed at people who are, in fact, not organised, it’s a very short read.
Read it by the end of 2015 so you can set your goals for 2016.
TV & Film: How to Get Away with Murder
This show came out in 2014 but it didn’t appeal to me. However, a friend recently convinced me by saying it was too good to miss and I don’t regret watching it for a minute. It’s a smart script, with strong characters and a plot full of twists. I honestly haven’t watched a TV show quite as good in a long time.
Music: Florence and the Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
I have to say, it’s been a while since I’ve heard music as beautiful and as strong as in Florence’s new album. Released in May 2015, this is the band’s third album and, unlike Ceremonials and Lungs, this album is a wave of reality. The songs feel much more personal, almost as if Florence is learning & teaching how to live and love in a world that doesn’t make sense. I highly recommend it!
Book: THE USELESS SEX by Oriana Fallaci (original title IL SESSO INUTILE)
Oriana Fallaci was an amazing Italian journalist, who covered many war conflicts in Asia and the Middle East for the Corriere della Sera during the 60s and 70s. It was a time when a woman wasn’t considered suited for that kind of job – THE USELESS SEX is a memoir of her experience in those countries, meeting journalists and politicians, being looked at because of her appearance, being able to do a ‘man’s job’ better than most men thanks to her sensibility and wit.
Youtube Channel: BUTTON POETRY
It’s a poetry slam channel full of amazing poets and performers. My favourite lately is a poem by Brenna Twohy, ANXIETY: A GHOST STORY. You can find it here .
Music: BUILT ON GLASS by Chet Faker
It’s from 2014, but of course everything arrives in Italy after English-speaking cool kids decide it’s worth spreading. I just love this album, his voice and most of all his beard. Here’s my favourite single, Talk Is Cheap.
Schiele’s technical virtuosity and unashamed confrontation of the naked form distinguishes these works as being amongst his most significant contributions to the development of modern art and Austrian Expressionism. Not only was Schiele remarkable for the manner in which he was able to confront and deconstruct the classical nude in art, his revolutionary flair enabled him to expose the sordid underworld of the early 20th century.
Television: FARGO, series 2
Executive produced by the Coen Brothers, this American black comedy/crime drama follows an anthology format with each season set in a different era along with a different story, cast and set of characters. FARGO provides the stand-alone pleasure that can give a show texture without seeming like a detour, for fans of brilliant storytelling and obscure humour. Those who pledge allegiance to the original film should not be put off.
Music: KENDRICK LAMAR: ‘ALRIGHT’ VIDEO FROM THE ALBUM ‘TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY’
The black and white images of Kendrick Lamar’s journey through California will leave you haunted by its seven minutes of exhausting visual metaphor. In 2015, several youth lead protests against police brutality across the country were heard chanting the chorus to 'Alright.' Critic Ben Beaumont-Thomas has described Lamar’s album as ‘the definitive black American statement of the year’; the music may not be to everyone taste but it is without a doubt a cultural and artistic statement worth watching.
Book: THE LAST ACT OF LOVE by Cathy Rentzenbrink
Achingly sad, but uplifting memoir. Sobbed my way through it and even embarrassed myself by crying when I asked her a question during her event at Foyles.
Exhibition: Inventing Impressionism at The National Gallery.
Although I find much Impressionist art too ‘pretty’, the story of the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel and the way he devotedly bank-rolled the artists was quite new to me and fascinating.
Performance: Willard White with Julius Drake at the piano in the Middle Temple Hall
Sitting just 3 metres from him, the sheer power of his voice and personality was extraordinary. Such presence, and in an awe-inspiring setting.
Book: WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES by Karen Joy Fowler
My top read of 2015: hugely original, thought-provoking and painful, this book took me places I really didn’t expect to go..
Book: MY BRILLIANT FRIEND by Elena Ferrante
Now I’ve read the first of these Neapolitan novels, I see what all the fuss was about! A startlingly honest and riveting story of friendship – it gave me the ANNE OF GREEN GABLES tingle and I can’t wait to read on.
TV: Orange is the New Black (Net Flicks TV series)
A bit of a curve ball as I’m not a massive TV watcher but I really love this series, clever and compelling and again, all about the relationships…
My culture/nature experience of 2015 was a walking holiday in Italy’s southern lake’s region. A flight to Rome, train to Viterbo, then daily walks from town to town – Montefiascone, Bolsenaand spectacular hilltop Orvieto – with our luggage conveniently ferried to the next hotel by the good people of ATG.
The route (unguided, apart from our detailed map) took in Roman thermal baths, Etruscan tombs, spectacular views and beautiful churches (of course – this is Italy, after all). After five hours of vigorous walking (at peak August heat, mad South Africans!) you can eat an enormous plate of pasta and still feel virtuous. And put your feet up and sink into a good book … I read my two favourite non-agency books of the year in this happy recovery time – Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven, so imaginative and humane, and the short, yet astonishingly powerful Closely Observed Trains by Bohumil Hrabal. Both had me in tears and missing the characters when, reluctantly, I reached the end. Young Milos Hrma is my fictional hero of the year and now I look forward to watching the film.
If that journey counts as one choice, then there’s my musical discovery of the year at Cambridge Folk Fest, where the blazing talent of Rhiannon Giddens blew me away. And my pre- Frankfurt New York trip the Knopf centenary party gave me the extraordinary thrill of hearing three literary heroines – Toni Morrison, Sharon Olds and Patti Smith – at a gathering of publishing and literary greats. Joy!
Book: SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard
Vivacious descriptions of life and politics in Ancient Rome. Makes you feel you are there. Should be filed under ‘Time Travel”.
Book: RHS Handbook: Propagation Techniques
A must for any greenhouse owner (which I am now). Beautifully illustrated and seriously simple guidance. My rose cuttings are coming on brilliantly.
Book: Rick Stein's India
Having cooked curries for nearly 50 years I was given this book and have realised that I could do better. Brilliant recipes. The food tastes like the best Indian restaurant food.
I’ve been to the cinema 30ish times this year (all hail the Cineworld Unlimited programme), plus the four-or-so movies I consume at home each week, so this was not an easy choice, constant reader!
Film: Mad Max Fury Road
Stunningly shot and tightly paced. Tom Hardy played the title role stoically but with resevoirs of hidden depth, and Charlize Theron’s tough, complex Furiosa was so awesome I briefly considered shaving my head in tribute.
Film: Inside Out (wr. A LOT OF PEOPLE, dir. Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen. Disney, Pixar Animation Studios)
I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Pixar fan (they had me at ‘sentient lamp’), and this one didn’t disappoint. Bags of charm plus gut-wrenching tragedy and their usual uncanny ability to plug into the experience of childhood. I was devastated when Bingbong… no wait, that’d be a spoiler. Also, Amy Poehler’s in it, so that’s a seal of quality right there.
Film: Unfriended (wr. Nelson Greaves, dir. Leo Gabriadze. Bazelevs Production, Blumhouse Productions)
At first glance, I noted some over-used and tired modern horror tropes: angsty teenagers, ‘found footage’ etc. BUT overall I was pleasantly surprised. The plotline isn’t terribly original, but this grounded the film in familiarity while taking the risky decision to set it entirely on Skype. Thus, it played like a proper horror film while being visually distinctive. The slowly teased out conflict between the teens felt viscerally honest (rather than trivial), and I was left feeling entertained and spooked.
Honourable mentions: Sicario, The Martian, Bill, Legend, Amy, Ant Man.
Theatre: TREE – Daniel Kitson
Starring the rarely spotted Kitson (who appeared predominantly hidden in the titular Tree throughout the play) and Tim Key, this was a hilarious and meandering two-hander about the conversation between one man in a tree, one man on the ground, and how they got there. Comedic dialogue at its brilliant, naturally bizarre best.
Film: AMY – Asif Kapadia
Aside from being obviously heart-breaking, the film for made me feel completely maddened. It very powerfully conveyed the tragic waste of talent that was the end of her life. I think what made it work for me was the candid nature of the footage Kapadia used: home videos filmed by friends and family. We viewed her through their eyes, our friend. When Amy Winehouse died it felt like something inevitable that we were all expecting. What I wasn’t expecting, after watching this film, was just how much I should have felt for that loss.
Book: THE BELL JAR - Sylvia Plath
I feel like it might be unforgivable that this only hit my radar this year – but I got there eventually! So beautifully written and not over-hyped. It defied my expectations and portrayed depression in a very real and non-melodramatic way. It immersed me in a dull grey funk – depicting depression as a kind of inescapable insomnia, which was even more profound for me in the in coming-of-age context. I wish I’d read this 5 years ago – where on earth have I been?
Book: LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE by Jessica Knoll
This was pitched to me as GONE GIRL meets DEVIL WEARS PRADA which already had me sold, but I was absolutely blown away. What seems like a standard psychological thriller is actually an incredibly compelling exploration of gender roles, consumer culture and trauma. Absolutely unputdownable.
I’m not normally a big science fiction fan but this new Netflix show took me completely by surprise with its warmth and humanity. Eight characters from around the globe find they have an odd psychic connection. Incredible writing, beautifully shot with a wonderful and diverse cast make this a complete winner in my book.
In 2015, I really got into beauty blogging. This is often perceived as shallow and superifical, but I think Ella’s column demonstrates that beauty can be about so much more than this. Ella’s boyfriend was diagnosed with cancer this year and her column tells how sometimes it’s the little things – like lipstick – that can pull you through. Her writing is beautiful, moving, funny, infused with grief and hope – and her lipstick recommendations are always on point. In general, I just love The Pool which I think is publishing some really great writing by women, for women right now.
Book: THE LONEY by Andrew Michael Hurley
The story of a pilgrimage, as a zealously Catholic London family sets off for a remote holy well, hoping to cure the muteness of the oldest son. A young parish priest comes with them, the last priest having never recovered from an earlier failed attempt. As the tension builds a mother’s love has rarely been less comforting and just wait till you see the locals – and the basement. It’s thrillingly gothic with a brilliantly accomplished sense of place.
Music: TWENTY ONE PILOTS
How to describe the sound of this American duo, who formed in 2009 but hit the big time in 2015 with the release of BLURRYFACE? Critics call it schizoid pop, as it shifts unpredictably from the bombastic to the low key, with reggae, hip hop and electronic influences. Billboard said BLURRYFACE was a ‘hot mess’ but I found a song for any mood. Tyler Joseph’s lyrics express a questing but ultimately positive outlook on life.
Television drama: LONDON SPY
Dark, sensual, paranoid, surreal at times and always tense, this has me glued; when I’m not hiding behind a cushion! Ben Whishaw delivers a transfixing performance as Danny, a lost romantic who believes that enigmatic Alex could be his answer to everything. Danny’s hopes are scotched in the first episode of course, in one long and terrifying scene, and from there on in it only gets more disturbing. Lesson learned: avoid pop producers’ ‘parties’.
Book: THE CABARET OF PLANTS by Richard Mabey (Profile Books)
Fascinating stories about all kinds of weird & wonderful plants. A personal and idiosyncratic ramble through the mysteries of the plant world & its relation to artists, writers & the imagination. A beautifully produced book too with heavy gloss pages & gorgeous illustrations, I want to pick it up & fondle it often.
Film: SALT OF THE EARTH dir. Wim Wenders and Julian Ribeiro Salgado
A couple of years ago I saw Sebastião Salgado's GENESIS exhibition & his incredible huge black & white photographs have stuck in my mind long afterwards. This film, made by Wim Wenders with Salgado’s son, explores Salgado’s life & work. After decades of witnessing & documenting some of the world’s most devastating events – wars, famines, and ecological disasters - he has somehow decided to embrace optimism instead of despair.
Exhibition: LEE MILLER: A WOMAN’S WAR photography exhibition @ Imperial War Museum
Lee Miller had a varied life, from Vogue model & muse to the surrealists to war photographer to surrealist cook. This exhibition focuses on her photographs from the WW2 period. The notes include tantalisingly brief accounts of the stories behind the photos of Polish female spitfire pilots, WRENS, factory workers and aristocrats suddenly left to manage huge estates. The exhibition also has artefacts illustrating the life of the artist herself and ends with a final huge colour photograph of Lee in later life in her country kitchen, sadly not displaying any of her surrealist culinary creations.
Theatre: HAMLET – Barbican production, directed by Lyndsey Turner starring Benedict Cumberbatch
I didn’t know what to expect - the hype surrounding this production meant that it had to exceed expectations, or it was never going to deliver. Benedict Cumberbatch’s masterful Hamlet ensured that it did indeed deliver. Elsinore’s claustrophobic feel was heightened by the ambitious and elaborate set – the subdued dark blue hues of the grand palace to the war torn rubble slag heap piles in the latter half of the play lent an eerie and tense feel to the inevitable impending doom, but it was Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance which left the hairs standing on the back of your neck.
Film: THE MARTIAN – film, dir. Ridley Scott starring Matt Damon
Not your typical science fiction blockbuster. A Robinson Crusoe stranded on Mars, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) has to survive until his fellow compatriots rescue him. The ‘best botanist on the planet’ who has to ‘science the shit’ out of his situation in order to survive. Edge of the seat thriller, which had you captivated from the first moment.
Book: THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP: THE JAPANESE ART OF DECLUTTERING AND ORGANISING by Marie Kondo.
This is a book that has changed my life. Literally. Going through regular cycles of tidying up but never really getting anywhere, I thought I was doomed. But Marie’s frank and engaging writing style made me realise I wasn’t alone, and that this is something which can be tackled once and for all. This is the book which will make you feel like a heavy weight has been lifted from your shoulders for good!
It was an impulsive ‘let’s go and see whatever’s on at the cinema’ kind of Sunday afternoon choice, and it turned out to be a lush, romantic film led by the impressive Carey Mulligan. And who doesn’t love a breathy ménage à quatre with a sheep farmer, a soldier and a rich widower?
Book: THE LIGHT YEARS by Elizabeth Jane Howard
I’ll mention once again, despite everyone being sick of hearing it, how much I LOVED the Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard (except the 5th book, which should never have been encouraged). This series tells the story of the big, complicated but utterly fascinating Cazalet family, before, during and after the Second World War, focusing particularly on the women and their experiences as wives, mothers, workers, lovers, feminists… I’m pretty sure I’ll never read anything like this series again, so I’ll simply re-read every few years and savour it afresh. Start with THE LIGHT YEARS. (Repeat: DO NOT READ BOOK FIVE. You were warned.)
Book: AMERICANAH by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Lastly, I’d choose AMERICANAH as a real stand-out read of 2015. Stories like this one are not read (or published) enough; Ifemelu (the central character) is smart and full of vigour, yet struggling to maintain an identity true to her Nigerian upbringing in an America that wants to box her into a catch-all black category. AMERICANAH is not only completely illuminating on race and self, it also has a deeply absorbing love story at its heart. I’d recommend this to everyone.
TV: Mr Robot
One of the most accomplished thrillers I’ve seen. Part Palahniuk-esque satire, part Anarchist manifesto, it deals with questions of youth & sub culture, mental health and global socioeconomic crises. If you do one thing this Christmas, watch this show. I accept no liability for anyone smashing the system as a result.
Book: Little Sister Death by William Gay
2015 was my Year for Fear: so many great movies (Babadook), games (Alien: Isolation – still not finished due to shot nerves) and, for the first time ever, not even my bookshelf escaped. A writer takes his family to a house with history to get inspiration for a new novel. But as he becomes tangled in his book, in the house, and its previous residents; and as the interminable summer heat settles, the house breathes sinister life and - through Gay’s sparse, detached prose - we have to question everything. Do not read at night.
Exhibition: Alexander McQueen at V&A
Despite having impeccable style & a fashion designer girlfriend, I just don’t get fashion. So I wasn’t particularly moved to see this but man am I glad I did. The exhibit was impeccable, something I can only describe (sadly, given the circumstances) as like being inside the designer’s head as his life flashed before his eyes. A frenetic assault on the senses; a hazy junkie trip through the mind of a tortured genius. The level of love, care and passion that was poured into, and consequently emanated from each stitch, feather, crocodile head is something I’ll never forget. I still don’t get fashion, but I do get Lee.
Extra special mention: Catastrophe
Honourable mentions to: Bioshock: Infinite, Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy, Primer, and Match of the Day.