A new end-of-year series in which we ask some of our regular contributors what they've been reading, listening to and watching in 2016. Here's Lauren Entwistle's maternity leave edition.
If you like church, lunch, brandy, jumble sales, tea, and subpar romantic interests, this novel is for you. Mildred Lathbury has new neighbours, and they’re not the church-going kind. Intellectual, secular, and glamorous, the Napiers make for fascinating specimens, and being sucked into their world and their troubles is just the sort of thing a churchmouse needs sometimes. Barbara Pym’s poignant short novel celebrates the sensible single women we underestimate and take for granted in our lives and churches – the ones we expect to Just Be There to ensure the smooth running of things – while poking fun at our proclivities and parochialism.
2. Lady Susan by Jane Austen
This lesser known novella by Jane Austen is one of her sharpest and funniest. It’s a stark deviation from her normal set of heroines, because you won’t find much virtue or merit in Lady Susan Vernon, a veritable tick on the skin of England’s gentry. A permanent visitor with limited means, Lady Susan, much like Thackeray’s Becky Sharp, sinks her straw into whatever milkshake she sees. This work is a study in social power, exploring what humans are capable of, even in the best kinds of societies, and what happens when we consciously abandon our honour.
3. Stories of Winnie the Pooh together with favourite poems by A.A. Milne
Put down the primary coloured board-book for a night and return to something brilliant, delicate, and pure fun. It’s difficult to care which Octonaut saves the day, which may cause a reader to rush through a bedtime story, but impossible not to care whether Pooh manages to come unstuck from Rabbit’s front door or not. The poetry included in this edition makes you laugh, and even very young children will benefit from the exposure to the cadence and effortless rhythm created when they’re read out loud. The books read to us as children are formative, helping us develop taste, literacy, and character – why not expose babies and toddlers to genuinely good writing, funnier plotlines, and more nuanced humour? No, it doesn’t light up, but then, some things just shouldn’t.
4. Why They Cry: Understanding Child Development by Hetty van de Rijt and Frans Plooij
It goes without saying that babies are bewildering at times. From the developers of The Wonder Weeks, this 1996 book breaks down the first year into developmental stages, explaining changes and challenges with clarity and a calmness that is rare in parenting books. Rather than promoting a specific routine or ethos, what’s provided is practical information which affirms that there’s a wide range of normal. Its writers helpfully acknowledge the range of emotions new parents can face (even the uncomfortable ones like aggression and grief) without passing judgement or indulging in sensationalism. This book is designed to be read over the course of a child’s first year, making it digestible and less intimidating than most.
5. Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers
Sayers’ last novel featuring her charming amateur detective Lord Peter Wimsey is a bittersweet end to the gentleman’s murder mystery-solving career. Like all comedies, the end comes in the form of a marriage – happily for LPW it’s a marriage to the undeniably awesome Harriet Vane, mystery writer. Annoyingly, matrimonial festivities must come to a halt when the pair find the previous owner of their dream honeymoon cottage dead in the basement. And it doesn’t look like an accident. The most brilliant part of this novel is its end, where the usually indefatigable Wimsey has to confront what it means, on an emotional and a spiritual level, to deal out justice to another human being.
6. The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story – available on iTunes
Rated MA for general blood, sweat, and tears.
This ten part season of American Crime Story is engrossing and gripping, even though you know how it ends. Based on Jeffrey Toobin’s 1997 book The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson, this show proves to be well-paced and thoughtful as it follows both legal teams leading up to the verdict. If you enjoy feeling annoyed that you didn’t end up getting a law degree, or enjoy feeling relieved that you didn’t end up getting a law degree, this show is for you. Sarah Paulson and John Travolta give particularly good performances, with an honourable mention to David Schwimmer for managing to make the world empathise with a Kardashian.
7. Rosehaven – available on ABC iView
Rated M for a few blue jokes.
This hilarious sitcom from Utopia stars, Luke McGregor and Celia Pacquola, reminds you that we lowly Antipodeans can make great television too. Daniel (McGregor) returns to his hometown in rural Tasmania to help run his mum’s real estate business while she has a spinal fusion. Next thing he knows, his BFF, Emma, arrives on his mum’s doorstep dressed for the tropical honeymoon she should be on but isn’t. Reeling from the breakup, Emma sticks around in Rosehaven, helping Daniel conquer fears, confront childhood bullies, and just maybe win back his girl. It’s tender, unassuming, and brilliant, and you should watch it.
8. Grantchester – available on iTunes
Rated MA 15+ for crime scene shots, bad judgement, and a lot of whisky.
Young priests. Grouchy detectives. Unrequited love. True friendship. Murder mysteries. Seriously, what else is there? Set in the village in South Cambridgeshire and based on a series of novels by James Runcie, this show follows the adventures of the young, imperfect, but thoroughly likeable Canon Sidney Chambers and the local detective inspector he’s struck up an unlikely friendship with. Together the two solve mysteries and work through spiritual and social problems in the parish and, that’s right, in their hearts. This show is impossible not to like.
9. Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life – available on Netflix
Rated PG for bad choices. *minor spoiler alert*
Yes, there are problems, and yes, there are inconsistencies, but this revival does deserve to be considered as part of the canon, possibly more than its evil twin, Season 7, the final season, which was produced without its creators. While it’s a joy to see old faces again (particularly Sean Gunn as Kirk), and track their exploits over the last nine years (it seems only natural that Liza Weil’s Paris is a divorcee running a surrogacy and IVF clinic called Dynasty Makers), true satisfaction for long-time fans comes from seeing Lorelai, Rory, and the third Gilmore Girl, Emily, more exposed and vulnerable than ever, giving us a further glimpse into their real natures. The electricity of the earlier, stronger seasons is there, and Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband, Daniel Palladino, finally have their say and unleash the Four Final Words, top secret from its inception, on the world.
10. Detectorists – available on iTunes
Rated 15 (UK) for life’s challenges and bad language. Mackenzie Crook (Gareth from The Office, ghost pirate losing an eye all the time from Pirates of the Caribbean) wrote, directed, and stars in this underrated and not-as-famous-as-it-should-be show from BBC Four. Two friends in a town in Essex share a love of metal detecting, and are holding on to the hope of finding something truly special. The exploits of their very (very) small metal detecting club and the modest ambitions and big challenges that litter their personal lives make for gentle, lovely, wonderfully human, and BAFTA award winning television.