In this special holiday edition of Good Reads, E&M’s editorial team shares what we’ve been reading and watching recently and why we think you should, too. From a queer Christmas romcom to celebrate the holigays to a book on the joys of gardening to take your mind off the mess that’s 2020, we’ve brought together some distractions, deliberations, and delights for the upcoming weeks. 

Reading

The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature by Sue Stuart-Smith (2020)

Genre: Non-fiction book
Length: 352 pages – it’s not a book that you necessarily read all at once, you can read a chapter whenever you feel like it.

What’s it about?
The book is basically about gardening and the many effects this has on our mental health and well-being. More and more research is showing that gardening is not only a nice way to spend your free time, but is actually a very healing activity in many ways. It can help to recover from traumatic experiences, to refind purpose in life, to deal with depression and many more. The book is full of anecdotes and stories of how your life can change through gardening.

Why read it?
Even if you do not have any intention to start gardening, it’s just fascinating to read how taking care of nature and growing things can be so inspiring and healing. To me it was pretty cool to read how such a simple thing like nurturing some plants in your room can make such a big difference in your life.

Why read it now?
It’s a very calming and soothing read. The book is full of positive examples and hope-giving experiences, and the language used is very accessible and good to follow.

The World of Yesterday: Memories of a European by Stefan Zweig (2014)

Genre: Non-fiction book
Length: May take more than few nights to finish it but its worth it.

What’s it about?
Early 20th century European history. This may evoke images of dust-covered shelves filled with frighteningly thick books but this could not be further from the truth – by intertwining personal stories and reflections on political and cultural developments of the time, Stefan Zweig paints an extraordinarily rich picture of Europe. While not lacking nostalgia for Austro-Hungarian empire, it is at the same time an honest account of how the endless belief in the progress of united and free Europe has turned to shambles with the world wars.

Why read it?
If you are wondering what it means to be European, this is a must read.

Why read it now?
This book is likely to bring comfort as we feel like the world is slipping away.

The midnight library by Matt Haig (2020)

Genre: Novel
Length: depending on your reading speed, 1-3 evenings or midday tea breaks.

What’s it about?
Nora doesn’t just die. She finds herself in a library, in a library that contains all of the (and I mean ALL of the) different paths her life could have taken if she had had cereal for breakfast instead of toast this one morning in 1993. The choices she is presented with are overwhelming, her anxiety palpable and your urge to shake her awake as the reader is encompassing. Little by little Nora will try out different lives and undo, or rather dive into all of her life regrets. The book is accessible, it is written like a fairy tale and it is an easy read – in the best way. It is entertaining, it is adorable, and it reminds us that despite not having been able to live 2020 to its fullest, if we are surrounded by what really counts, we’re doing alright.

Why read it?
Take your mind of things and stop wallowing why 2020 was so shit. It was shit for everyone. Are you healthy and surrounded by loved ones? Then you’re fucking lucky, mate.

Why read it now?
This time of year is difficult. Have we reached our yearly goals? (No, lol). Should be regret that? (No.) Read something that makes you smile – this will do.

Watching

The Boys

Genre: TV-Series
Length: Two seasons à eight episodes – one episode has 60 minutes

What’s it about?
Superheroes exist – and they are not as good as we think! The protagonists of the series are a group of men that lost everything to one of the Supernaturals. The crimes committed by the ‘Supes’ are systematically concealed by the company that manages their careers. The Boys – who have no powers and at times really just behave like boys – go and fight against the true bad guys.

Why watch it?
Apart from the ingenious exchange of good and bad guys, the series presents criticism of neoliberal structures that make corruption and abuse of power so easy. On a more superficial level, it’s hilarious – and sometimes painful – to watch, and you end up being thankful that there are no superheroes.

Why watch it now?
This series was one of the best distractions from these weird times this year.

Happiest Season

Genre: Movie
Length: 102 minutes

What’s it about?
Abby is planning to propose to her girlfriend, Harper. What better time and place to do it than when spending Christmas with Harper and her family? There is only one small problem: turns out Harper hasn’t yet come come out to her conservative parents. What ensues is funny, heartfelt, and, most importantly, very gay.

Why watch it?
It’s a queer Christmas romcom. Directed by a lesbian (Clea DuVall), whose own experience the movie is loosely based on. With a bisexual lead (Kristen Stewart). And queer supporting characters (Dan Levy and Aubrey Plaza). What. Else. Do. You. Want. – There is indeed a lot more to want, more POC representation for example, but maybe – hopefully – this is a start.

Why watch it now?
It’s a queer Christmas romcom. Why aren’t you watching it? (Maybe because it’s currently only streaming on Hulu in the US and Amazon Prime in the UK, but fingers crossed Happiest Season will soon come to a computer screen near you.)

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

Genre: Movie
Length: 136 minutes

What’s it about?
Lars orders a sex doll from the internet – not to have sex with, but to start an actual love relationship. While his family members try to convince him to see a psychiatrist, they are also trying to figure out how to react: with worry, anger, sadness, or shame? The story is not only about the peculiar relationship between Lars and the doll, but also about Lars, his family and the community they live in.

Why watch it?
I accidentally stumbled upon this not-so-well-known Ryan Gosling movie, and wow! It is awkward and at times very uncomfortable to watch, but it is also simply beautiful. The story is able to present complex human relationships in a non-judgemental way, and it teaches some cheesy lessons about what it means to love and care for someone. It made me end up with some warm cosy feelings, which is exactly what we need right now.

Why watch it now?
136 minutes of Ryan Gosling.

Cover photo: Chad Madden (Unsplash), Unsplash licence

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