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  • Brianne Moore

February reading roundup

It ended up being a non-fiction February (not by design, it just happened that way). So what non-fiction books did I get stuck into?

Cover of Traffic by Ben Smith

As the former editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed news (sniff!), Ben Smith had a front-row seat to the insanity that was early aughts and 2010s web and news publishing. It was a crazy, throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-goes-viral time, when nobody really knew what was happening or what they were doing, they just knew they needed to get clicks. And that drive to get clicks is what's brought us the internet we have today, stuffed with ragebait and attention-span destroying uselessness, with almost anything that'll make you think now locked up behind a paywall.

I won't lie, there were things about this book that made me nostalgic. I stumbled into a career in web publishing in the early-to-mid 2000s, and I was one of these people just trying whatever to get a bit of attention, poring over Google Analytics reports and trying to replicate spikes. It was a wild time, and this book lays it out pretty well. Did I find it hard to keep track of the dozens (hundreds) of names coming at me? Yeah. I won't lie, I found the first third of the book hard-ish to follow just because of that. But it evened out partway through, and I'm glad I stuck with it. It's good, it's really well written (as one would expect from a journalist), and it's an interesting look back at the not-so-distance past and a chance to reflect on how it helped shape our present, for better and for worse.

Cover of Aprons and Silver Spoons by Mollie Moran

This is pure delight. Mollie is, as my grandmother would say, a character. Her personality shines through so wonderfully throughout this whole book, which covers her idyllic (though close to impoverished) childhood in the Yorkshire countryside, her time in service (starting at age 14!), through to her marriage (and the end of her professional career).

She doesn't shirk from sharing hard truths: her father's health was broken by World War I, her work was backbreaking (and sometimes gross), and she was, for a time, in an emotionally and almost physically abusive relationship, but it's all related with such a zest for life and so many funny anecdotes the book doesn't feel heavy. And Mollie's loved, too. She's surrounded by people who care about her and treat her well, from her mother and grandmother to her fellow servants, employers, and the cook who trains her up and encourages her to advance.

She is somewhat naive, of course. The part where she's practically dancing with joy at the idea of being able to go work in Spain in 1936 has anyone who knows anything about the state of Spain at that time yelling, 'Girl, no!' And she goes and hangs out with some members of the BUF because they're cute, and finds Mosley enthralling; there's not much critical reflection on that from adult Molly. And then there's that bad relationship, which she needs her mother to extricate her from. But you know what? That's all pretty much to be expected. She's a teenager. Of course she's going to mostly be paying attention to how cute a guy is, rather than what's coming out of his mouth (I'm not saying that's great, but I think most of us have been there, though probably not quite at the hanging out with fascists level). Her youth is something I kind of had to keep reminding myself of, that as recently as the 1930s the economic realities of the world were such that a barely pubescent girl had to leave school to take a full-time job hundreds of miles away from home and everyone she knows. 14!

If you're at all interested in hearing about what it was really like for someone like Daisy in Downton Abbey, here's your book. It's charming, it's a quick read, and Molly's loads of fun.


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