I’ve done the literary equivalent of sucking my thumb while listening to a lullaby of my own opinions – Pandora Sykes’ how do we know we’re doing it right? was an experience that had me nod, nod nod from the first essay to last. It was not in vain, though, as I got the validation the end that I am, in fact, doing everything absolutely right.
Had it not been for the pandemic, I might have not come across The High Low –podcast that Sykes is co-hosting, and actually would have probably not crossed paths with her book, either (hereafter The Book). I did know of her, of course, she’s a prominent columnist and contributor to various UK newspapers and magazines, but never particularly made it onto my radar.
I was buying books for my grand voyage to the North, a combination of automobile and a ferry, no less, so I thought I could spare a few moments at sea to finding out what the millennial way of getting it right entails these days. No great expectations, though I do like Sykes’ style.
The Book is not self-help. It’s a collection of essays that cover topics pertinent to millennial life (and why not elderly millennial life such as mine): self-care, looks (clothing and fashion), work, work-life-balance, the Internet, social media, living authentically and such. Sykes offers her insights on these topics, and each essay is throughly referenced using sources such as the Cut (of the New York Times), exhilaratingly many books I’ve read and reviewed here (Lisa Taddeo, Rebecca Solnit, Zadie Smith, Nora Ephron, Jenny Odell (How to Do Nothing) and every fashion and lifestyle magazine in the English-speaking world.
So basically if you do peruse the above list already, you will be able to guess the viewpoint Sykes takes in The Book. Woke is the word.
The Book is a very well written woke-bible. It’s cleverly done, because it only touches topics that aren’t particularly inflammatory. As most books that are out this year, obviously The Book has also been written pre-pandemic, and some parts do seem ever so slightly less relevant amidst the Second Wave.
You will have the gentle mockery of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop! (but only gentle, because we all still pore over each of her IG-post in an attempt to decipher the Holy Grail to look like her/have her life). There’s the feminist part about the flattening of women “Child-free women are denied the legitimacy society gives to those who procreate. Instead, they are seen as flighty and formless, pitiable and self-indulgent, with buckets of free time”. Nod. Nod. Nod.
There’s the bit on spending too much time online wading neck-deep in the social media sewer and getting all worked up about random people’s shit. Instructions follow on how to do instant messaging services right (in case you didn’t know already, you are not obliged to reply to every single unprompted message that finds its way into your inbox instantly, because you just don’t, also, see “boundaries”.) This kind of information might be fascinating to someone who’s a good decade younger than I am.
Then there’s the bit about email etiquette (including tips for an Out-of-Office, including a reminder “We all know that, despite writing ‘I will not be checking my email at all during this time’, we are definitely still checking our email during this time”). Boom. Also there’s a bit about how on one hand people are excessively rude online, and on the other hand also too sensitive.
The Book is not bad. But if you do follow certain (liberal-leaning) Anglo-American press regularly and agree with most (liberally leaning) female thought leaders about feminism and the outrageous lack of code of conduct for the Big Tech, there’s very little new you will learn in The Book. On the other hand, even if you keep yourself educated on aforementioned issues and agree that fast fashion is a problem, The Book is a compact companion that houses every argument a woke millennial absolutely will need to know in order to to be able to hold 360° discussions on a range of topics at the next avocado toast brunch (once allowed post-pandemic).
I have enjoyed Sykes’ The High Low -podcast which she hosts together Dolly Alderton. It’s a good mix of pop culture and current affairs, and nice, easy listening for anyone interested in the goings-on in the UK. The Book is a quick read, and serves many good points especially about social media. If you are sort of interested in the topic, but cannot quite be bothered to dwell into specialised books on the matter, The Book might be something worth considering spending one August weekend on.