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Culture, Literature

OX Reads: Stress-Free Reads


The wonderful Kim Harvey, owner of the excellent The Mad Hatter Bookshop in Burford (and Creative Director of The Burford Literary Festival) shares her reading suggestions for books to enhance your feeling of wellbeing.

You are now entering a stress-free zone. It might only be temporary but grab a cuppa and a packet of chocolate digestives and let’s go on a journey into the book spa.

Why Women Grow by Alice Vincent

I am not a gardener but during the first lockdown when the sun shone, I took to my mostly neglected garden. Not only because I wanted to improve the space for lazy lunches with my children, but I felt a deep-rooted urge to dig my hands into the soil. Being retrospective, one could say in a time when it was difficult to achieve anything I turned to growing – although due to the fact the garden centres were all closed the only thing I managed to plant were some rather beautiful tree branches, which still adorn my garden today. In Why Women Grow, Alice Vincent gives us a much-needed exploration of why women turn to the earth, as gardeners, growers and custodians. This book emerged from a deeply rooted desire to share the stories of women who are silenced and overlooked. In doing so, Alice fosters connections with gardeners that unfurl into a tender exploration of women’s lives, their gardens and what the ground has offered them, with conversations spanning creation and loss, celebration and grief, power, protest, identity, and renaissance.

Enchantment by Katherine May

This is the book your soul needs right now. Life is presently giving us a hell of a roller coaster ride and whether you are at the very top or the very bottom of the ride it is a little overwhelming. In Enchantment Katherine May pulls on the breaks, releases us from the overly tight restrictions of the safety harness and invites us to step out of the carriage and join her. She explores the restorative properties of the natural world – from a pebble in the hand to the humbling effects of the sea, the pleasure of the ground beneath her bare feet, to the magic of a moon shadow. Enchantment is an invitation to each of us to experience life in all its sensual complexity and to find the beauty waiting for us there. Agreed, at some point you will have to get back on the roller coaster, but I guarantee with Enchantment stuffed into the seat beside you, the views from every angle will be better.

The Minotaur takes A Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill

My copy of this book does not belong to me. It was ‘loaned’ to me several years ago and having read it and loved it, I never returned it. I am one of those frightful friends who will take your paperback, turn down the pages, read it in the bath, maybe even scribble some pencil notes in the margins and never return it to you because to me books take on the patina of the reader and I feel the need to make them mine. I know some of you will be nodding in agreement but we, my friends, are the minority. I was reminded to re-read The Minotaur Takes A Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill after a recent visit to Labyrinth: Knossos Myth and Reality, the latest exhibition on show at The Ashmolean Museum. Five thousand years after leaving the Cretan Labyrinth, the Minotaur - or M as he is known to his colleagues - is working as a line chef at Grub's Rib in Carolina, keeping his horns down, trying in vain to put his past behind him. He leads an ordered lifestyle in a shabby trailer park where he tinkers with cars, writes and re-writes to-do lists and observes the haphazard goings on around him. Outwardly controlled, M tries to hide his emotional turmoil as he is transported deeper into the human world of deceit, confusion, and need. The writing in this book is a sublime combination of comedy and melancholy. If you want to read about earth-bound immortality, walk away from the preening vampires and get stuck into ancient mythology, like the exhibition at The Ashmolean it will draw you into their world where beauty may be bloody but it is still breath taking.


Corinne Bailey Rae
Wed 1 May 2024

Corinne Bailey Rae’s Put Your Records On snap-shotted the summer of 2006. Her most recent release, Black Rainbows came out 2023 and it is obvious to hear how much she is relishing the full range of her unique voice and, as I was to discover when we spoke, her extraordinarily lyrical vocabulary.

Paul Foot 3 wi4hf6
Tue 2 Apr 2024

Award-winning quirky and alternative comedian Paul Foot is returning to Oxford this month with his new show, Dissolve which is set to be his most vulnerable and honest yet. We got in touch to find out what we can expect from his performance at Oxford’s New Theatre, as well as – in very Paul Foot fashion – getting side-tracked by King  Tutankhamen, and what  Jesus might have  achieved if  he'd been a plumber...

Katie otb8tw
Fri 1 Mar 2024

This month, Katie Melua will be in Oxford, helping to launch the Oxford Literary Festival’s new Programme in Georgian Literature and Culture.

Namvula BBC Music nuyc98
Fri 1 Mar 2024

Described as having a diasporic upbringing, singer-songwriter Namvula is also a gifted photographer and was co-founder of Film Africa, a London-based celebration of African cinema and culture. She now lives in Oxford where she will be performing later this month at The North Wall.