At the Pond: Swimming at the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond
“The Pond was full but I was alone in my sensations, paying attention to what being in the Pond activated within me. This was pleasure,” writes Amy Key, one of 14 contributors to a joyous collection of essays celebrating the sanctuary of the women’s pond on Hampstead Heath. Margaret Drabble, Esther Freud, Sophie Mackintosh and Nell Frizzell also praise the UK’s only wild-swimming place reserved for women, where the water is enjoyed both by the fearless who embrace a refreshing zero degrees during the winter months, and by hordes of sun worshippers come summer.
Daunt Books Publishing, 160pp, £9.99
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
In On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, a man writes a letter to his mother that she will never read: understanding this, we feel we are witnessing something incredibly private. Ocean Vuong’s debut novel is a profound consideration of identity, as well as a work of sensuous, poetic detail. As the narrator Little Dog writes to his mother in English (a language she cannot read), we are made aware of his sense of invisibility as a Vietnamese-American while becoming totally immersed in his world. This tension between voice and silence is what lends the novel its gentle, dignified attack.
Jonathan Cape, 256pp, £12.99
Here Comes the Sun
The geneticist Steve Jones’s usual subjects are snails and fruit flies. In his latest book, however, he takes on the sun. It is, he points out, a paradoxical star that both nurtures and destroys us. Jones examines its various benign and malign aspects not just through science and medicine (one of the reasons viruses are more prevalent in winter is that a lack of sunshine reduces our vitamin levels and ability to fight them) but history and economics too. The sun matters, he shows, because it has a role in every part of existence.
Little, Brown, 368pp, £20
This article appears in the 19 Jun 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Bad news