I feel like it’s a theme of my blog that I am a huge fan of The High Low, and its hosts Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes. It’s almost getting to the point where I look like I do PR for them. (I’ll be walking around in a sandwich board announcing new podcast episodes any day now.) Pandora has recently had her first book published so naturally, I couldn’t wait to get my mitts on it. The title of the book How Do We Know We’re Doing It Right? is an apt motto for the millennial generation (I see a slogan t-shirt coming) and this essay collection explores the questions and anxieties that pervade a modern woman’s life.
Contemporary life is full of choices and How Do We Know We’re Doing It Right? is not a how-to guide, but rather a philosophical look at how we navigate the knottiness of it all. The essays cover zeitgeist subjects such as the wellness industry, fast fashion, cancel culture, our binge-watching tendencies, and the dread of 150 unread messages in a WhatsApp group. (Makes my insides shrivel up just to think of it.) The topics are admittedly middle-class anxieties; however, Sykes checks her privilege at the start of the book, acknowledging this and that her experience is that of a white, middle-class, well-educated woman.
If you’re familiar with Pandora from either her podcasts or journalism, you will be pleased to hear that her writing is as clever, thoughtful and witty as you’d imagine. It’s also meticulously researched, and her musings are peppered with quotes whether from authors, pop culture, philosophers, or scientific research. This means that a wide range of voices and viewpoints are brought to the table, so you’re not just hearing one opinion. These essays feel more like a collective conversation that the author has deftly woven together to get the reader thinking.
In some sections of the essays, the narrative does become slightly more personal and we hear about Pandora’s experiences and thoughts. I loved these bits and they really shone for me. Although the citations and references are incredible and thought-provoking, by including herself into it occasionally, it added warmth and a layer of compassion. Plus, I enjoy her self-deprecating humour and superb vocabulary.
Pandora writes insightfully about topics that I am personally fascinated by and it gave me a lot of food for thought. In ‘Relentless Pleasure’, she discusses the plethora of entertainment we have at our fingertips through various streaming services, online articles, books etc. This can both be liberating and suffocating, depending on your stance. I have often proclaimed that I wish we could go back to having one episode a week and a nice yearlong gap between a series, but I predict that I am in the minority. There are some essays I had more familiarity with than others but I like that. With essay collections, in particular, I love learning about topics that I may not have given much thought to before or having my opinions challenged.
Sykes’ writing is above all curious. She doesn’t always offer answers to all the questions, which may frustrate some, but I was thinking – isn’t that the point? If there was a one-size-fits-all answer to how to live the ‘right life’… well, I don’t know about you, but that seems like a rather depressing thought. I’d much rather learn more, listen more, and choose what feels right for me, and I think that’s what this book gives you space to do.
Buy the book!
You can get a copy of How Do We Know We’re Doing It Right? here.
I really enjoyed this review! I’m just about finished Pandora’s book and totally agree that the little insights into her own experiences really add to her findings, as does her enviable vocabulary. I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of research that seems to have gone into it.
I know, she must have done SO much reading! Definitely I think without that it could be quite dry but she makes it accessible.