Fiona Roberts – Writer

Fiona Roberts writes about travel and music (sometimes separately and sometimes combining them together) and is a recent Anthropology graduate. She just finished an internship at online travel guide My Destination, and is currently blogging about music here – Happyendingsmusic.wordpress.com. These are her good things.

Good things to read.

Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson.  This book is the perfect antidote to mid-winter gloominess. Good children’s books often have the ability to gather up all the wisdom that its authors know, and express it in a simple and lovely way. Tove Jansson’s fiction for adults like The Winter Book is about the changing of seasons too, but it’s more of a stark kind of reflection – inevitable with the setting of a remote Finnish island. Moominland in November is full of simple, minimal advice and a gentle acceptance of the changing of seasons.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu.  Yu’s protagonist lives in the world of the future, but his struggles are from the same source as ours. His mother is stuck in a pre-recorded time loop, something invented for those who want to escape from the present, and his job is to rescue people who misuse time machines by travelling back to the painful, defining moments of their lives. It imagines that despite all the changes in the way we could live our lives, the biggest problem is still the human heart and what it could do if it could control time and be able to change it and reverse it.

Quiet by Susan Cain.  Self-help books can be a pretty powerful force when they defy the genre – and Quiet doesn’t contain the normal instructions for how to become more successful, popular or happy. It tells you that you don’t need to change; introvert or extrovert. It’s really refreshing to read a book like this, which aims at something which seems much more achievable – we should search for acceptance, not radical change. Cain’s case studies and arguments are gentle and convincing.

Good things to watch.

When Bjork Met David Attenborough. This documentary explores music from two different angles, bringing them together with a conversation between two icons of our time. Bjork and David Attenborough are both fascinated by music, and it’s a wonderful exchange of great minds as they wander through London’s Natural History Museum. The film switches between a normal Attenborough nature narrative as we learn about songbirds and why they sing, and a music documentary, as Bjork sets up her Biophilia tour – which involves translating natural processes into her music – like the sound of pulsating tesla coils which provide sonorous basslines.

Only Yesterday. Studio Ghibli takes anime outside of its usual borders in this film – it’s used to make a subtle, sweet story for an older audience. Only Yesterday is about a young office worker who leaves Tokyo to work on a farm for the summer. It stirs up memories of her childhood, and she finds herself accompanied by her younger self on her trip. The story is filled with nostalgia and reflections about growing up, and its setting of safflower fields and farmhouses in rural Japan is beautiful.

Safety Not Guaranteed.  This is a very sweet and quirky love story which actually happens to involve more time travel (oops!). A team of journalists decide to follow an ad they found in a newspaper for a time travelling companion (safety not guaranteed, etc.). They become more mixed up in it than they meant to be. Aubrey Plaza – one of my favourite emerging actresses – steadily peels back her usual snarky demeanour into a sensitive, multifaceted character, much like she does in Parks and Recreation. It captures the feeling of falling in love with someone very perfectly and beautifully.

Good things to use.

Airbnb is sort of like couch surfing, but you can book a private room, or rent a whole apartment or house for yourself. You also have to pay, but it’s still a very inexpensive way to travel. You can find quirky, stylish accommodation, and it’s altogether much more interesting than just booking a hotel. For instance, I used Airbnb for a trip to Istanbul, and stayed in an amazing flat that was on a lovely cobbled street right next to the Galata Tower, and we shared the flat with a fluffy Persian cat. Our host was so welcoming and helped us plan our days. She took us to art gallery openings as her guests, we walked to an out of the way flea market at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning, and she recommended the best local eateries for us to try a Turkish breakfast.

Spotify is a really good music platform – I like the layout, sheer volume of music included and the apps you can use with it. Another really cool feature has been the introduction of verified artists’ profiles – so you can follow your favourite musician and listen to their personal playlists. I really like the playlists made by Ólafur Arnalds, an Icelandic neo-classical composer. A couple of his playlists aim to introduce fans who may have only just bridged the gap from pop sensibilities to other classical music, and another provides a great introduction to some of the best new music emerging from his hometown of Reykjavik.

Memrise.  There are so many great ways to learn languages online these days, but this is my favourite so far. Memrise has a very efficient but stylish interface, it uses well-thought out ideas about memory and includes every language under the sun – and if not then you can create an app for it yourself. The Japanese courses on here are really good – after taking one for a couple of months I managed to pick up a couple of the alphabets, which is more than I ever could have expected.

Connect with Fiona on Twitter, @FionaAlice_

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