Welcome to Jezebel Endorses, a monthly feature where we endorse the small things that give us pleasure and keep us going.
Like a snack purchased under duress at the airport—a Babybel cheese, a package of shrink-wrapped pickles, a single Slim Jim—the various books out right now about the horrors of the Trump administration seemed like a good idea at the time. Reading Bob Woodward’s Fear, a breathless, behind-the-scenes account of the White House’s palace intrigue, is probably a fine life choice for the first 150 pages, but if you make it to the end, agita awaits. Omarosa Manigault Newman’s Unhinged confirms everything you’ve already learned or intuited by paying attention for even a second and Stormy Daniels’s tell-all has already gifted the public with the image of the presidential penis as a button mushroom. There are plenty of Trump books, but that doesn’t mean you need to read any of them, ever.
Because of the news cycle and the sun setting earlier, and my cat’s unfortunate sundowning, I am desperately seeking peace; tranquility of the sort brought on by mainlining Great British Bakeoff. Television is very bad, except when it’s visual Xanax. Reading is escapism. Choose wisely.
American house hunting shows are stressful. House Hunters and its offshoots are a thrilling spectator sport, perfect for making its viewers feel sad about not being able to afford the American dream. In stark contrast, British reality shows of the same genre are a wildly different beast. Expectations are tempered, grounded by a stiff upper lip. The format is the same, but there are real life consequences. Sometimes you don’t get the house. Sometimes life has other things in store.
Escape to the Country spawned Escape to the Continent, the new target of my streaming obsessions. British couples nearing retirement travel to various bucolic locations across the continent looking for the crumbling grist mill or stone farmhouse of their dreams. That’s it. Three houses, one overly-chatty host, and rolling shots of bucolic farmland or rugged coast. The appeal in watching lovely retirees bicker politely about whether or not they really need a snug in addition to a living room, dining room, and kitchen with original stone fireplace is clear: it’s a low-stakes fantasy that seems attainable enough for the viewer at home to consider giving it all up and moving to the Languedoc. Sell your belongings, buy the 18th-century manor deep in the Mosel Valley, and start your new life as an innkeeper with a dried lavender business on the side.
I have been chasing a feeling in literature since the summer of 2015, when I read and devoured William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days in the course of an entire weekend, soothed by lovely descriptions of water and waves, and settled by the ebb and flow of that book’s rhythm: calm. Enter Waterlog, naturalist and charming British eccentric Roger Deakin’s ode to the various lakes, moats, channels, waterfalls, lidos, and pools of the United Kingdom, and his mission to swim his way across the country. Inspired by John Cheever’s short story “The Swimmer,” Deakin traverses the country and its various water sources, swimming in bodies of water that aren’t necessarily meant for swimming. It’s categorized as an act of “defiance” by the Guardian in its 2011 review, but if this is defiance, it is exceedingly polite and very British.
Deakin’s writing is soothing, calm, like standing waist deep in an empty ocean, facing the horizon, feeling the pull of the tide. Knock out a few chapters before you go to sleep every night. Take some deep breaths. The morning will come.
Bill Cunningham is the reason street style exists. His legacy vis-à-vis the New York Times Styles section is a legend, but his life before that was a mystery to the general public. Cunningham was intensely private and preferred to keep the focus on his work, which treated fashion as democratic—a refreshing attitude that has slipped by the wayside as of late. Amongst Cunningham’s personal effects was a typewritten manuscript, lightly revised, titled “Fashion Climbing.” The memoir details his life prior to his career at the Times and is a beautiful, sweet chronicle of a man whose life’s passion has always been fashion.
There are difficult passages about his childhood, and how his family didn’t approve of his passion for womenswear, as well as charming anecdotes about his millinery business, which was well ahead of its time. Reading the book is an innately soothing experience, and though some of the details within are depressing, it’s a light read. Fashion, in Cunningham’s eyes, is a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Frivolity has its place.