Pandora Sykes is the podcaster of The High Low, the chart-topping, marvellously cultural and arguably quite posh podcast. She is currently writing for multiple high-end outlets including GQ, ManRepeller, The Telegraph and Vogue.
She started her career writing about fashion under the name Wardrobe Mistress for the Sunday Times. Nowadays her focus is on social phenomena, about which she writes deliberately, often including her experiences as a writer, an Instagram influencer or a mother.
If you’re like me, for some reason or another, you might end up browsing through her social media platforms – her very chic, incredibly well-organised Instagram feed or her astonishingly funny Twitter. Pandora Sykes is a modern-day mystery, mostly posting about beautifully organized furniture, her favourite books and articles she wrote – and rarely about her family or personal life. It’s almost impossible not to compare her to her co-host, Dolly Alderton, who told the whole world about her affairs as a dating columnist and in her bestselling memoir at 30: Everything I Know About Love. Pandora, less keen to discuss private matters in front of an audience, released her first book this summer, titled How Do We Know We Are Doing It Right. A title she now – jokingly – says she regrets, due to the amount of time it takes to say it.
If you were hoping to get to know her better based on her book, How Do We Know We Are Doing It Right you might be disappointed, as the book says very little about the author. But you might be pleasantly surprised – as was I – to find out that this book is about a lot more than Pandora herself: it is about an entire generation, and the very particular time and the fascinating environment we live in.
How Do We Know We Are Doing It Right picks the problems of a millennial, looks at them from afar and from close, turns them inside out, mirrors them on society and explains them.
It is easy to read in this weird, semi-pandemic time, possibly more comfortable than long-form books or fiction, as many would say. And for the „podcats”: you can listen to one season of podcast episodes under the same title, equally marvellous and engaging, where Pandora picks the brains of some of the most intriguing people featured in her book.
From the analogy of the wellness industry to millennial burnout; from Twitter polls to Zadie Smith; from Taylor Swift to anxiety; this book touches on a wide range of topical issues for the millennial audience. It is “a middle finger to the word should” – as Tahmina Begum points out on Buro. It’s incredibly hard to summarize, as it stands from multiple essays dealing with independent issues. But a topic that comes up quite often is choice, the decisions women have to make in their life: between career and family, between coffee and turmeric latte. Maybe too much choice is not always good, she wonders.
Pandora Sykes did her homework while writing this book – interviews, quotes, references flood the pages. And yet, not just the thoughts and quotes borrowed from great thinkers, but Pandora’s own views and conclusions add value to this book – they are accurate, well-put and relevant.
How Do We Know We Are Doing It Right is not a self-help book, nor is it the collection of memories from the 21st century. It’s not „wringing the flannel of her personal life out for everyone” – as Dolly Alderton described her first book in her latest Vogue interview. It is the collection of observations and epiphanies from a middle class, white, in many ways privileged Londoner millennial. And it doesn’t try to be anything else.
Pandora acknowledges her privileges and writes about them with earnestness. She doesn’t try to pretend that she will understand everyone and speak for everyone.
Consequently, many will find it (and according to GoodReads, many did find it indeed) unrelatable or narrow. „Dismissive, sometimes thoughtless and lacking curiosity and intelligence” – one review reads, also calling the book a „vanity project”. Others would criticise it for not offering salve, for adding to the litany of middle-class books. Some also look for more mention of phenomenons as fatphobia or other issues, that Pandora herself probably hasn’t experienced herself. I should warn you: this is not your all-inclusive, fiercely feminist book.
However, 4.08 stars out of 5 on GoodReads tell me that most readers did understand it – myself included. The topics she explores are ones I can relate to, such as the experience of being labelled as a “certain kind” of women, the fragmentation of life, efforts to avoid consumerism, struggles regarding social media and the wellness industry. Pandora and I may not have been brought up in the same country, may not be in even similar life situations, and we may belong to different generations, but her well-reasoned judgements and examples from her personal life still apply to me. It made me think about the lies I have been told – by society or by myself – and the norms and rules I tried to follow without questioning; it explained some of my anxieties and fears.
If you are curious about the opinion of this journalist/role model/wonder woman called Pandora Sykes, if you would like to dive into phenomenons of everyday millennial life, if you aim to understand a world around you rather than just witness it, I guarantee that you will enjoy this collection of essays.
Written by Lili Rutai.