Porridge: A brief introduction to Sheffield


It’s strange how it takes some time to settle down after a trip; you’ve told the stories, discussed the weather, critiqued food and board, said yes, maybe you’d like to live there, if only public transport were not so expensive. After some time, you begin to realise which stories you will keep on telling, and which ones simply make your trip, well, a trip.

So I decided to post about the literature and pop culture of Sheffield, where I went last week – since that’s what I do – and I checked The Webs in case I’m missing something big.

Boy, am I.

Turns out both Angela Carter and Joanne Harris – author of Chocolat, excellent book, awful movie – were professors there. As if that were not enough, A. S. Byatt, perhaps my favourite author of all times, is also from Sheffield. I’d excuse myself saying that the three books I’ve read by her do not mention the city at all, but come on. Critical research failure and all that.

So no, I don’t have a post about pop culture in Sheffield – or Sheffield in pop culture – ready yet.

I turn to moodboarding, and like a Victorian governess, I start with porridge.

  • 50g porridge oats
  • 350ml milk or water, or a mixture of the two
  • Greek yogurt, thinned with a little milk and clear honey, to serve
  1. Put the oats in a saucepan, pour in the milk or water and sprinkle in a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil and simmer for 4-5 minutes, stirring from time to time and watching carefully that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Or you can try this in a microwave. Mix the oats, milk or water and a pinch of salt in a large microwaveproof bowl, then microwave on High for 5 minutes, stirring halfway through. Leave to stand for 2 minutes before eating.
  2. To serve. Pour into bowls, spoon yogurt on top and drizzle with honey.(Source)

I, a 23-year-old English Studies graduate who’s lived in Scotland, hadn’t tried porridge before. Oh, I had read about porridge. It’s in the tales of the Brothers Grimm (1812-onwards), in Elizabeth Gaskell‘s North and South (1855), and I’m sure it appears in Harry Potter, because all kinds of food appear in Harry Potter. In fact, I’ve said “Please sir, I want some more” at every possible chance. But shame on me, I hadn’t tried porridge.

It was more than alright – I had it with lime drizzle, blueberries and vanilla yogurt (middle left), which probably isn’t the classic version, at the fantastic Tamper Coffee (top left), home to hip lady professors, stacks of artsy magazines, and young men who all look vaguely like bassists. It’s small, but you can have a proper breakfast while reading, so it’s my kind of place.

I do believe I prefer the idea of porridge to the reality of it. It’s beginning, and gathering strenght, and something new but familiar. Plus, there are three things I love more than anything, which are reflected in most of my favorite books:

  1. Domestic folklore
  2. Eerie revisions of workaday things
  3. Breakfast

A quick search brought me this: if you stir it widdershins, you might accidentally summon the devil – I hope they make a Black Tapes episode about that.


Rare and Racy, Sheffield.

Sheffield is best known for its music scene, which rates high up in the List of Pop Places (a work in progress). We visited one of the pubs where the Arctic Monkeys played in the early 2000s – The Grapes. I was listening to Britney Spears back then. And… I’m still listening to Britney Spears now. If it’s on Doctor Who it’s instantly canonized – I don’t make the rules – also the canon is a lie. We also visited Record Collector (middle right), an independent store that’s been around since the late 70s, and Rare and Racy, a fantastic second-hand music and bookshop (they also have prints, maps and, well, everything rare and racy) that’s been open since 1969.

Besides spending way too much time in shops (it kept raining, your honor!) we also visited Chatsworth House, aka Pemberley (bottom middle). Talking it over with my travel mates, we came to the conclusion that the English Studies sort of person can ramble infinitely about:

  1. Bookstores
  2. Mugs

Let me add:

3. Jane Austen


Pemberley grass – for realsies. Chatsworth, Bakewell, Derbyshire.

While there is very little of Lizzie Bennet’s wit and strenght and sparkle (Pride and Prejudice, 1813) in the interior of the house, which is fussy and simply too much, we had the incredibly good luck of picking a sunny day and we were able to roll around in the gardens, exclaim “Ten thousand a year!” in very high pitched voices and read while laying on the grass. Yes. I also have a “Walking in Stately Homes” post in my list, and I’d be thankful for any suggestions on that.

I did enjoy the exhibition of Cecil Beaton‘s portraits of the Bright Young Things set, of whom the Mitfords (my perennial “future-research” ideal) were a part. On the top right picture you can see his portrait of his sisters Barbara and Nancy c. 1925. I also enjoy:

  1. Wacky hijinks
  2. The first half of the 20th century
  3. Biting historical biographies

So I’m a Nancy Mitford fan. Sure, they were all way too posh, and her books wear such fancy pants – but there is something very pop about the Bright Young Things, their embracing of celebrity and the very odd, very different ways they became cultural icons, only to fade into relative obscurity. Imagine them with social network accounts!

This is a poor excuse for a post in a pop culture / history / literature blog, I know. However, much like telling and retelling a trip, writing about this has helped me consider what my following posts will be like: what I want to explore further, and what I won’t.

Also, I stumbled upon this poem. It’s about porridge. And it has some interesting cameos in it.




Step Up: Fashioning the Romantics (3)


Pas de Quatre (1845, London): from left to right, Carlotta Grisi, Marie Taglioni, Lucile Grahn, Fanny Cerrito – top of the pops.

Rounding up – the Romantics cared about fantasy, the ballet, and expressing their ideological alliances through fashion. Those three things, then, were fused in the new Romantic ballet costume, which included the white tutu and what would become the pointe shoe.


Muslin dress (UK, c. 1830) – Shows the fashionable silhouette of the decade.

Fashionable ball gowns provided the basic shape; sleeves were puffy, skirts were full and supported by petticoats, the waist was laced and the bust and hips were padded. The impression was that of a small torso enveloped by flimsy, curving lines. Although inspired by current trends, the tutu had not been worn before by any group at any point in history. It was not a sudden breakthrough – it developed after the Revolution, which popularised Greco-Roman tunics and sandals. Since the Romantic costume was only worn by women on stage, regardless of the origin of their characters, the tutu was purely a gender marker.

La Sylphide (1832), considered the first Romantic ballet, introduced the pointe technique. Pointe work – or toe dancing – had already been seen, but it was used only on occasion as an acrobatic gimmick. However, with La Sylphide the audience saw a ballet consistently danced on pointe for the first time. In 1832, Marie Taglioni – who played the lead role – wore normal slippers with extra darning on the front; the blocked pointe shoe, with a box at the front, did not appear until later in the century in Italy. Pointe work transformed the dancer’s body and its lines, which became vertical and elongated. Stances, poses, jumps and turns changed, helped by a thorough shift in the style of the costumes, which were now approached as a tool to contribute to the expression of character and authenticity.


Leather and satin slippers (UK, 1830-1840) – Ballet slippers would be similar in style, with flexible soles and darning at the toes.

The aesthetic of Romantic ballet was related to the Gothic boom, which played up everything otherworldly and mysterious. Lit by gaslight (fire hazard and all), the dancers’ figures became translucent; their clothes were lighter than those worn by other women, and their movements seemed surprisingly free. It is not that designers turned their backs to the search for authenticity, but rather that they played up the split between ‘real’ characters and supernatural ballet blanc scenes, which eventually proved more popular. This ethereal aesthetic placed the ballerinas at a distance from real, flesh-and-bone women, and identified them further with the characters they played. The world onstage, then, was a place for fantasy.

Male dancers were not included in that discourse; playing Romantic heroes, they were the avatars for the librettists and critics, and they belonged to the real world. Technique split between genders, with women becoming more prominent – in fact, many male roles were played by women. This is not to say that masculine dominance disappeared. Instead, it shifted backstage, since men were still teachers, administrators, and could extend their dancing careers as choreographers, a possibility that was not open for women until the midcentury.

Théophile Gautier – Romantic critic and ballet librettist, wearer of medieval outfits, male gazer extraordinaire – remarked that ballerinas must work on their physical beauty as well as their technical training. That beauty was, first and foremost, white. Of course, this aesthetic only underscored racist stereotypes that continue to this day; dancers of colour are still exceptions in most Western companies.

Giselle - Lormier sketch

Paul Lormier’s design for Giselle (1841, Paris) – notice the similarity with the dress above.

Michael Marrinan credits the painter Eugène Lami with the first design of the Romantic tutu for La Sylphide (1832), while Judith Chazin-Bennahum points to Paul Lormier’s work for La Péri (1843). Lithographs show that the costumes were quite similar, although the hem in La Péri appears to be slightly higher. In any case, it is remarkable that the tutu-wearing protagonists of both ballets are fairies – the ballet costume articulated the Romantic ideals of modernity and escapism. This way, ballerinas and supernatural women were threaded into the current cultural discourse of Romanticism.

However, while the characters’ costumes do give off messages of delicate, essential femininity, it can signify something different on the ballerina as a real woman. Ballerinas showed more flesh than most women; the exposition of their bodies was controlled by costume designers, producers and writers, and expected by professional critics and general gazers. On top of that, critics like Gautier and Jules Janin didn’t bother to disguise their sexualized reading of dancers in general. Dancers were morally condemned not only for showing flesh, but also for using their bodies professionally.

Some lead ballerinas, though, were almost regarded as deities; they rose from performers
to cultural icons – the four in the 1845 Pas de Quatre (pictured above) most of all. Their reach expanded across Paris through marketing devices like posters and press releases, along with memorabilia such as special illustrated volumes in fine paper. Those books would include portraits of dancers or actresses and showcase their fashion, both in and out of character; their influence in style was also reflected in dress-up dolls and other merchandise.

Lithograph by unknown of the ballerina Carlotta Grisi in Giselle. Paris, 1841 Image was scanned from the book The Romantic Ballet in Paris by Ivor Guest

Lithograph of Carlotta Grisi as Giselle (1841).

There are very close ties, then, between popular culture, fashion and costume design, Romantic political statements, fantasy, and the Gothic – and all of those elements were articulated in the ballerinas that caught Paris by storm in the 1830s and 1840s. Those implications might have been lost in time, but the image of the ballerina persists. And boy, is it fascinating.

Should I learn more about Romantic ballet? Yes, if you enjoy pretty stories and images with chilling, disturbing undertones. Don’t suppress your feminist sensibilities – watch with them, and hit me up to discuss it. Also, Marie Taglioni’s uncle – a dancer and choreographer, like many in her family – was shot multiple times when he was mistaken for a revolutionary in 1848, survived, fell down the stairs and broke a bunch of bones while he recovered, survived, and died years later of a perfectly normal illness. So, there’s a guy to research. To learn more, take a look at the Royal Ballet’s “Ballet Evolved” series of videos and listen to this cool Stuff You Missed in History Class episode about Marie Taglioni.

What are some Romantic ballets with chill? There… aren’t any.

So, then? Try out Giselle (1841), the most famous one. If you have already seen that, Matthew Bourne’s punk version of La Sylphide, Highland Fling (1994) is super interesting.

I dig the vibe. My job here is done! Watch The Red Shoes (1948), a fantasy ballet movie based on an Andersen tale, or curl up with Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1817) for Gothic fun and MUSLIN.

What should I accompany this with? Vanilla yoghurt and granola for sweet softness and hella energy underneath, to be eaten while scrolling social media for your favourite celebs.


Revenge of the Goth: Fashioning the Romantics (2)

We’ve met the Parisian Romantics, their love for macaroni and their underground posturing – see now what they wore and why.

From an individualistic, late capitalist society, it is easy to say that fashion is simply a way of self-expression – or to criticise and dismiss it as a sign of consumerism. Fashion is not usually taught in history classes – how silly and frivolous! – and yet it speaks volumes about society. Costumes mark and shape our bodies; they tie us to our communities and differentiate us from it. Of course, its supposed superficiality and unworthiness as a topic of serious academic study is profoundly linked to its inherent ~femininity – that’s a rant for another day.

Clothing “works to imbue the body with significance, adding layers of cultural meanings, which, because they are so close to the body, are mistaken as natural” (Joanne Entwistle, 2000)

Fashion, then, is a key aspect of the ‘set of effects’ that make up gender – I will write about Judith Butler and Teresa de Lauretis at some point. Women and men have certainly used fashion to signify gender, class, and all kinds of cultural allegiances, and the Romantic period was no exception.


Evening and ball dresses (UK, 1828) – Note the fussy headdresses in which jewels are mixed with ‘natural’, country elements, the low neckline and puffy sleeves that underscore the small waist, the heavy hems and pointy shoes.

As Romanticism took hold of Paris in the 1830s, artists and culturally-inclined people felt the need to embrace their true nature and to renounce artifice. In the theatre and the ballet, costume designers strived for authenticity, paying attention to the stories’ settings, but they also looked to the trends offstage. The idea that our appearance reveals our character developed in the modern city, with growing bustle and industry. The rush of the anonymous crowd resulted in a concern with decoding others in order to get to the ‘truth’ of them – after all, they might be disguised! Think of all those sensational, double-identity novels! This “true to oneself” fashion, however, still exaggerated people’s silhouettes.

For that decade’s fashion, think contrasts: big, ballooning heads, padded shoulders and chests; tiny, laced waists; wider, also padded, hips; narrow ankles and shoes. Clothes were made to fit better with the development of waist and under-arm seams; coats became longer and sometimes had rich, shawl-like collars. Men’s trousers substituted breeches, which in the 1820s were not even required for formal events,  and they were high-waisted and supported by braces. Women’s waist descended to its natural level and eventually became pointed downwards, while skirts were gathered at the back and around the sides, falling in soft draping folds. Patterns occuppied the whole outfit, rather than having extra decorations – they were fussy enough and kind of… terrible. Authors and celebrities of Romanticism often came from higher or middle classes, or at least actively gave thought to fashion as cultural icons; working-class fashions are not included in the sources I’ve consulted so far.

Fashion was everywhere in Paris; press publications became cheaper and increasingly popular, and consequently so did fashion magazines. I will do a series on fashion press at some point; for now, let me point to the Journal des Dames et des Modes (1820-1839) as an example. Technological developments such as lithographies and, later, photography, made the distribution of fashion plates much easier. Paper dress-up dolls were common, and sometimes they came in the shape of celebrities – marketing strategies haven’t changed at all. The link between costume and class is especially obvious in the case of the grisettes – urban working class young women were referred to by the colour they wore.


Suits (Le Bon Ton, 1836) – The silhouette follows the same shape as that of women’s dresses; cravats and waistcoats are good backgrounds for spectacular embroidery.

Parisian Romantics were an easy target for satire, wearing colourful outfits inspired by the Middle Ages, often literally theatrical costumes. The turn to the medieval was not the result of whimsy or a conservative stand, but rather a radical political statement. It underscored their participation in – or appropriation of – popular, modern forms like the Gothic. Victor Hugo’s 1831 Notre Dame de Paris is the most famous example of this appreciation. Women did participate in Romanticism and in these trends, but, of course, women’s fashion has been more closely regulated throughout western history, either by convention or by law – I haven’t been able to find examples as outlandish as men’s.

Parisian Romantics, then, were actively interested in representing themselves through their clothes as well as through their art; for all their musing about the spirit, they articulated their discourse through materiality. Like contemporary urban youth subcultures, they differentiated themselves from mainstream society through style at the same time that they resembled one another, building a sense of community.

Should I learn more about the Romantic fashion? Yes! Most of our 21st century approach to fashion and consumerism comes from the Romantics’ obsession with statements and modernity. Stay tuned for the final part of this series and future posts on fashion history and costume design.

I dig the vibe. I’m glad! You can learn more at:

What should I accompany this with? Some cassis and a game of dominoes with your grisette friends, followed by a dramatic reading of extremely detailed outfit descriptions.


Pelerine (UK, c. 1830) – to complete the glittery fairy look.


Silk hat (France, 1830s) – just gorgeous.

Mac and Rad: Fashioning the Romantics (1)

I’ve had a very busy, very Romantic couple of weeks – I travelled to Sheffield to hear Francesca speak at the Summer of 1816 Conference and presented my Master’s dissertation on Gothic elements in Romantic ballet. An earlier version of a chapter has been published by the Dark Arts Journal as “Giselle, ou les Wilis: Gothic Possibilities in the Ballet Blanc” – it’s my first academic publication ever, and it’s an incredibly cool journal.

In my dissertation I discuss the role of fashion in the construction and social reading of Romantic ballerinas and writers, and it’s too good a blog post topic to pass up.

Who are the French Romantics, then?


Benjamin Roubaud, 1842. “The Great Charge of Posterity”. Includes Victor Hugo on a pegasus, Victor Hugo’s forehead, Théophile Gautier with a cool hat, Alexandre Dumas (with… a column?), Honoré de Balzac (small and round), and George Sand (under the Satanic mosquito person), among others.

Romanticism arrived later to France than it did to Germany or Britain – it’s understandable, since the 1790s-1810s were quite busy decades, with the rolling heads and all. By the 1820s, though, some French writers made clear their struggle with aesthetic rules for the sake of artistic expression. With the journal La Muse Française, which included Alphonse de Vigny and Victor Hugo, French Romanticism found a platform. It was the premiere of Hugo’s play Hernani in February 1830 at the Comédie-Française that helped Romanticism take hold of the Parisian cultural scene. The event saw Hugo’s followers (including a young Théophile Gautier) physically fight the defenders of classical conventions in the audience; it was a question of artistic principle, and the actual text of the play was paid little attention to. The debacle was gleefully reported in the press, while Hugo found his own stardom confirmed. While the so-called Battle of Hernani has often been referred to as the turning point towards Romanticism, academics have described it as simply part of a greater artistic shift.

With the Battle of Hernani, as Mary Gluck explains, radical artists emerged as a recognizable group. These artists developed the Gothic genre, the crafted fairy-tale, and fantasy; they also worked on melodrama and – yes – ballet, as they wrote both librettos and criticism. The taste for the fantastic went beyond the literary cutting-edge they represented; spirits, spells, alchemy and magnetism were favorite topics of salon debate, and of course, Hector Berlioz’s 1830 Symphonie Fantastique underlines that trend.


The Petit-Cénacle

In 1830 most of these writers were quite young; they represented a cutting-edge artistic current, and they deliberately set themselves apart from mainstream culture – they were hipsters. It all makes more sense if we consider La Muse a zine. They met in cénacles, artistic societies led by the bigger figures like Nodier or Hugo; these reunions took the place of the pre-Revolutionary salons, which had been mostly led by women.

The Petit-Cénacle, smaller and more radical, met in Jehan du Seigneur’s studio – he was an sculptor – and included Gautier, Nerval, and Pétrus Borel; they were in awe of his beard and thus called him the “lycanthrope”. There are some things you just can’t make up. According to Gautier, they often met for macaroni. Youths! At the end of the decade, though, French Romanticism split in different currents due to disenchantment and precarious economic situations; some of them found an income by writing for the press or the theatre, but poets and visual artists were often not so lucky. While some of them settled and became more conservative over time (think Hugo), others became more markedly ‘outside’ and shockingly violent texts – often with women as victims. I’d say the approach was similar to that of our own Game of Thrones, if that makes it easier to understand.

French Romanticism saw the rise of the inexpensive newspaper with La Presse, which began its run in 1836. It included cultural reviews from galleries to the theatre – Michael Marrinan points out that this undermined the previous separation of art from ordinary life; journalists demystified and democratised art for the general – alphabetisised – population. Of course, this boom of popular, commercial culture brought about an elitist reaction by some. Gautier and his peers sided with the popular classes and presented themselves as cut off from bourgeois values through an adhesion to popular forms like melodrama.

However, their construction of a ~misunderstood community of intellectuals was a performance; if there had been anything subversive in their works, it was only in the artistic sense, not in their representations of class or gender. Still, the notion of popular culture is complicated. Romantic writers actively participated in it, since they developed popular forms. On the other hand, they were in culturally dominant positions. Stuart Hall’s essay “Notes on Deconstructing the Popular” is always useful. He describes popular culture as “those forms and activities which have their roots in the social and material conditions of particular classes; which have been embodied in popular traditions and practices”, and places it in continuous, tense dialogue with dominant culture. Following that line of thought, Romantic writers could be seen as appropriating popular culture from their dominant position, while at the same time reshaping it.


Suits (1829, Petit Courrier des Dames, Paris). The cénaclers were not like other boys.

The Romantics’ approach to self-presentation was fairly, well, ridiculously fun. Check out the following posts in the Fashioning the Romantics series for puffs, blatant excuses for wearing doublets, and cool scarves!

Should I learn more about the French Romantics? Is your tolerance for ridiculous shenanigans high? Then yes. Yes, yes, yes. It’s all so bizarre.

I like them, but I want something with more chill. Ask Francesca for chill Romantics.

I like them, but this is not ridiculous enough. Ask Francesca about that too.

I dig the vibe. Who wouldn’t, to be honest? Stay tuned in for more. Learn more in my sources:

What should I accompany this with? A statement piece (I’m thinking a rich red cape or a cane-sword), Gautier’s Mademoiselle de Maupin, cheap wine and, of course, macaroni.


Middling: Stella Gibbons’s Here Be Dragons


Nell Sely

Moodboard  inspired by the mc, Nell Sely. (Sources)

Liminal moments are strange. It’s summer, but it isn’t; I’m done with my master’s dissertation, but I’m not; I have a job, but I don’t; I’m nominally grown-up, I have no idea about what I’m supposed to do; I start a blog, and I don’t know how to approach it.

Moodboarding relaxes me: I see pretty things that remind me of other things that I like, and I order them to fit me better. I put up this one yesterday on Twitter, and today I thought: Nell Sely is the character to start this blog with. She’s an adult, but barely. She’s starting a job, but barely. She has no idea about what she’s supposed to do. If she was a contemporary character, she’d be blogging.

NPG x13759,Stella Dorothea Gibbons (Mrs A.B. Webb),by Mark Gerson
Stella Gibbons in 1955

Here Be Dragons, by Stella Gibbons, was published in 1956. Gibbons was born in London in 1902 and died in 1989 in the same city. Although she published more than 20 novels, as well as short stories, poetry, and journalism (some of it in The Lady, a magazine that I’m dying to study), she’s mostly remembered for her 1932 novel Cold Comfort Farm. That novel is a classic example of a parody becoming more famous than the texts it is mocking, to an extent – in this case, the rural novel in which everybody is related, dialogue is written in imitation of the local dialect, and tragedy ensues. I made the mistake of reading it at the wrong time, when I 1.) Didn’t know it was a parody and 2.) Wasn’t aware of the existence of the genre. Needless to say, I missed most of the jokes. It was funny even like that, but also… Pretty weird. In fact, I just re-checked the plot and it’s set in the future. Yes. It’s… Scifi? And I have no memory of it.


Rufus Sewell broods with his shirt open; Kate Beckinsale is in The Office; there is a cow. (Cold Comfort Farm, 1995)

Much like her novels, though, Here Be Dragons is not really remembered. It tells the story of Nell Sely, who moves with her parents to Hampstead Heath when her father has a crisis of faith and loses his job – hello, North and South. A new girl in the big city at the brink of the Beatles era, she starts working as her aunt’s secretary and meets The Young Cool Set. You know the type – they wear all black, they go to bars, they have artsy professions, they say the 1950s equivalent of “poser” with a straight face. Nell is only halfway through fitting in – she’s way too sensible and relatably uncool – when she realises that what she actually wants to do is dip her toes in another genre entirely – the Coffee Shop AU. Yes. Really. I told you she’d be blogging. Also, a character is described as an “adolescent chicken”, which is possibly one of the clearest defining images I’ve ever encountered.

This is part of what I wrote in my review back in February:

This is a fantastic book to read on a journey, or during a long rainy weekend, when you can dive into it and enjoy every detail.

The setting (1950s London) is absolutely alive and in a couple of sentences I felt that I was part of it; I could see the lights on the canal, the squalid flats, Gardis’ unkempt jumpers. The characters are a delight, even the nasty nasty ones, and the dialogue is witty and sharp. My favourite thing, all in all, is Nell Sely herself. She’s not only a fantastic protagonist, who needs to learn and build her own corner of the world while still being practical and a solid relief among all that sea of artistic coffee drinkers, but she’s also someone I’d love to be friends with.


My copy (a Christmas present from Francesca), with what I found under a minute to represent “the middle”.

The thing with Here Be Dragons, though, is that it’s so in the middle. It’s a story about in-the-middle characters from the (white) middle classes in the mid-twentieth century. It’s good literature, but it’s not a classic. Here we arrive at the complexities of the middlebrow – yes, that’s a dated concept, and a derided one at that, but bear with me for a second. The term “middlebrow”, contrarily to what it might seem, does not necessarily refer to texts produced, aimed at, between the highbrow and the lowbrow – the snob and the pop? – but rather, to those that bring the high to the low – the top to the bop. So it’s an elitist – classist, even – concept: It criticises making the high-end accessible, but it also does not refer to popular culture becoming canonised. Instead, for decades it was meant as “bringing” something (complex topics and forms) down . It’s slippery and complicated – I’m fighting the urge to use “problematic” – and I will be returning to it in future posts.

Should I read Here Be DragonsYes, if you enjoy character-driven, witty coming-of-age stories that capture a time period and bring it to life, even if it feels dated at times.

I liked it, but I want something sweeter next. Why not try Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climatea sparkly romantic comedy from 1949.

I liked it, but I want something with a sharper bite. Time for Muriel Spark’s Loitering With Intent – a 1981 novel set in 1949 (do you see a theme?) about writing, finding one’s own voice, and being surrounded by kooky artsy people.

I dig the vibe. So do I. Check out An Education (2009) for the main character and the aesthetics, and Frances Ha (2012) for the feeling of being lost in the middle.

What should I read it with and where? Glad you’re asking. On a bench in the park with fresh lemonade in a thermos, or during your daily commute with a latte – no sugar – on the go.