In yesterday's edition of The Seven, digest #3, I included a link to Zadie Smith's "Generation Why?" essay on The New York Review of Books website, noting that it was free. It turns out it is not free; though the opening paragraphs are provided as a preview, it sits behind a paywall.
For those who have just signed up and didn't receive yesterday's digest, I'm referring to a book of essays by Smith called Feel Free. I believe the entire book is important, and each essay is worth reading, so I've decided to run a giveaway. I will be sending one subscriber a copy of the book, posted to you for free (via Book Depository), wherever in the world you are.
Existing subscribers: Please visit the contest page to enter. I will not automatically enter you, so please register your interest there. You of course don't need to sign up to The Seven a second time!
New subscribers: If you have been forwarded this message, you will need to sign up to The Seven, and also complete the contest form.
I will cross-reference the subscriber database with the contest entrants (it isn't automatic) so if you haven't subscribed to the Seven and entered with the same email address on the contest page, you won't be eligible to win.
The winner will be chosen at random on Saturday night (GMT-4), and announced in this coming Sunday's digest of The Seven. I will then contact the winner to get their preferred shipping address and send the book!
Sending warmth from Atlanta to wherever you are,
The Seven is a weekly digest sharing a collection of seven carefully curated stories, recipes, images, movies, essays, books, songs and other content. Thoughtfully contextualised and passed along with consideration, for your mental nourishment.
In February 2018, not long after we first moved to Atlanta, I went to a launch event for Zadie Smith's collection of essays Feel Free. I wouldn't typically buy a book of essays, but I am a huge fan of Smith's work and I desperately wanted to see her speak in person (it was brilliant). Feel Free is not the kind of book you can necessarily read cover to cover, because the essays have been collected over many years, and talk about a huge range of topics - from Justin Bieber to Brexit. In one essay, "Generation Why?", Smith reflects on the problematic rise of Facebook, and the cult of personality behind it. One anecdote I remember well; that Facebook's iconic branding is blue simply because Zuckerberg himself is red-green colorblind. It's a reminder that this huge technological powerhouse came from his college dorm room project, in order to rank the physical attractiveness of women on the Harvard campus. It was built by him, for him, and now we are all sucked in. Smith first published this essay in 2010, when 'only' 500 million people were registered users. It foreshadows, but of course can't predict, the continuing growth and impact of Facebook. It is a sobering read as now, ten years later, Facebook's enablement of widespread interference in political processes in the USA, and incitement of major violence in Myanmar, are lived realities. I recommend the entire book, but you can also access many of the older essays online for free, including “Generation Why?” which is on The New York Review website.
I am unashamedly a huge fan of the teenage film and television genre. This has been the case before, during, and now well after my own teen years. One of my all time favorite teen movies, Love, Simon (2019), is somehow the very first time a mainstream film in this genre has told a queer love story. I first saw it on a flight, cried my eyes out from happiness watching it, and then signed up to HBO (who own the streaming rights in the US) so I could watch it a few more times. It’s a beautiful film that follows most of the teen movie tropes but in a modern way, and culminates in a typically epic romcom ending. You can only imagine my utter delight when I saw that Hulu had released a spin-off show called Love, Victor. While it features cameos from the film cast, it tells a very different love and coming out story and stands on its own two feet. Both are magical and both get my endorsement for your viewing pleasure.
Yotam Ottolenghi's prawn and orzo dish from SIMPLE is a winner. It's a great recipe to have on hand, because it can be modified to be made when the only fresh ingredient available is an orange. We always keep a supply of prawns in the freezer, plus canned tomatoes, garlic, herbs, spices and packets of orzo in the pantry. I've only made it with the marinated feta once, and typically use greek yoghurt instead (as I do on most things). In my current dairy-free life, I've used cashew yoghurt (not actually bad), or just had it as-is. When I'm out of fresh basil I used dried leaves in a very small quantity, and I've found it still tastes great. The fennel seed taste can be overwhelming if you overdo it, and I tend to use half of the recommended amount because we're not an overly liquorice-flavor-loving household. Try cooking it properly the first time, and when you see how good it is, find out which substitutions work for you so this delicious combo can become an easy weeknight staple!
Maya Angelou is one of the few writers who occupies a special place in both my mind and heart. As a half Black American, half white Australian woman who grew up between Australia and Southeast Asia, my Black identity was always an elusive (often stress-inducing) object of inquiry that I struggled to investigate from afar. One of the first times I connected with, and began to understand the multiple facets of my identity as a Black woman, was when I first read Still I Rise. Now, living in Atlanta as an adult, I've returned to Angelou's writing and found new nuance, but the same warmth and comfort. In particular, I adore and continually re-read her memoir All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes. The book reflects on Angelou's time living as a 'Revolutionist Returnee' in Ghana in the 1960s, and highlights and unpacks many of the tensions and contradictions of being a Black American in 'Africa'. This is an experience I relate to in many ways, as I lived in Malawi for a short time long before I returned to America, the place of my birth. Angelou also gives us an incredibly transparent window into her personal life, as well as an organic exploration of civil rights history. I couldn't recommend a book more.
A lot of people became aware of the magnificently eccentric 1976 documentary Grey Gardens, when Jinx Monsoon played Little Edie on Snatch Game during season five of RuPaul's Drag Race. Occasionally, I find out that someone has never heard of it, and it brings me delight to introduce it to them. I am equally delighted to now tell you, dear reader, about this film on the off-chance you still need to be exposed to it. I find Grey Gardens hard to describe, because the film itself isn't the star here. What viewers remember is the complex, at times toxic, and always spellbinding characters, Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter also named Edith "Little Edie" Beale (cousins of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis). They frolick and fight around their decaying and decrepit Hamptons mansion, accented with wild animals and decadent objects. I can't find it anywhere to stream for free, but I believe it's well worth a $3 digital rental fee.
My wonderful friend KaM told me to start watching Living Single earlier this week, a 90s sitcom I had never heard of. She then explained to me how Friends and Sex and the City ripped off this show, which debuted in 1993, ahead of them both. I've been watching Living Single for the past few days, and the comparisons are clear. There are six friends, four women and two men, living in a Brooklyn brownstone in apartments on different floors. The format, the character types, and many of the comedic plot lines, were clearly transposed directly to Friends. Similarly, if you zoom in on the dynamic between the four single women in New York, you also see obvious links to the Sex and the City format: a high powered lawyer, a character in publishing, as well as a man-loving woman and her more demure foil. Whitewashing and remaking of black content, without giving credit or royalties, are not new phenomena. Yet, it's still utterly mind-boggling every time you realise a piece of Black history or art was (consciously or unconsciously - it doesn't matter) stolen and repackaged with a white face, only to usurp it entirely in the mainstream pop cultural lexicon. If you're in the US, Living Single is available on Hulu. If you're elsewhere, Google is your friend.
My cousin Kristeen sent me this wonderful recording of James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni in conversation. It was filmed in London, in 1971, for the PBS program SOUL! Early in the conversation, while reflecting on Black survival in a white society, Baldwin remarks “you’re always scrubbed and shiny, you know, a parody of God knows what because no white person has ever been as clean as you have been forced to become”. I’m sure for some of you, these reflections are new, and timely. For those of us for whom these thoughts are very old, Baldwin expresses them so beautifully that it’s almost as though our own frustrated souls are speaking through him. Worth your time, all two hours of it.
Yotam Ottolenghi is the Godfather of our family kitchen, in the sense that his advice and sensibilities find their way into most of the dishes prepared there. As anyone who owns Ottolenghi cookbooks will know (if you've never heard of him, SIMPLE is a fantastic entry point), flavourful and healthy Middle Eastern staples like preserved lemons, barberries, harissa, tahini and sesame seeds, combine to make some ridiculously mouthwatering meals. This sheet pan recipe (halfway down the page) from his first cookbook, for delicious baked chicken, red onions and lemon slices, topped with sumac, za'atar, parsley and pine nuts, is my go-to for both dinner parties and easy weeknight dinners.
I’ve been building a Spotify playlist for a while, which is full of music that makes me happy. I don’t want to call it Afrobeats because it also includes reggae, dancehall, and other genres. Maybe we can stick with ‘talented Black musicians who aren’t played as often as they should be in the West’? Though I’d love to see that shift happen soon. Right now the song Mafo (Yoruba slang which means “don’t break”), by Nigerian musicians Naira Marley and Young John, is a big hit in our house. I don’t know what it is about this song that makes my son, who turns six months old on Thursday, so excited every time he hears it. But as teething kicks off, and his need for stimulation reaches high gear, I am grateful for any recreational activities we can both simultaneously enjoy. For now, that’s mostly walks outside and dancing in the house, with this playlist on.
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The Seven is a weekly digest sharing a collection of seven carefully curated stories, articles, images, movies, recipes, books, songs and other content. Thoughtfully contextualized and passed along with consideration, for your mental nourishment.