Books as protection against existential fears. «If you’re reading this, you are a Worm. We’re all Worms, and in the end, we’re going to be eaten by them»
The opening of Clem Macleod’s Worms magazine confronts us with the option that we may all be worms. She begins, «If you’re reading this, you are a Worm. We’re all Worms, and in the end, we’re going to be eaten by them. As a (book)Worm, you will fertilize your mind with glorious words». Taking us through a spiraling wormhole filled with writers that were selected when she began the magazine as part of her final project at Central Saint Martins.
The pages then unfold, revealing emerging and experimental female writers, as Clem Macleod wanted to create a community for young writers that needed a platform and place to discover each other. The bi-annual publication was inspired by Kathy Acker, Chris Kraus, Cookie Mueller, Ariana Reines, Natasha Stagg, Eileen Myles, Dodie Bellamy, «the magazine centers on the themes these writers focus on — style, art, philosophy/theory, gender, politics/capitalism, contemporary culture, and social commentary», she explains.
«I’ve always been quite protective of books, or a bit of a hoarder». Her collection includes things that are up to ten years old and when she moved from Australia to London in 2014, with a scarce amount of books on her, the collection in London is only a result of six years of living in the UK. With most of her books occupying an entire room in the writers’ east London home, organization has not been in her favor.
Like for most writers, a thematic organization can be difficult when working on a story: «I’ve tried to organize them thematically, but things cross over and if I’m working on a piece I’ll pile up the ones I need for research and when I’m done put them back on the shelf altogether. There are loads of books on my desk, on shelves, on the floor. I have a system in my head and I know where everything is but it would look like mayhem to anyone else». Her hundreds of books tend to get dusty despite Clem making the effort to look after them. She annotates all her reading books with pen, pencil, and highlighter, anything available. She admits, «I’ve definitely tried to mark a page by running a painted fingernail across it before…».
«I suffered from anxiety from the age of seven, and when I discovered reading I found out it helped me escape from any existential fears I had. It allowed me to escape my mind, and it still does. I remember choosing not to go out with my friends one night when I was about fifteen, because my dad had taken me to the bookshop that day and I just wanted to sit in my room and read. I think my friends thought it was uncool of me, but I felt smug rejecting their offer of an evening together for a book».
When Clem first moved to London, she lived near the Notting Hill Book and Comic Exchange, which is filled with secondhand books. She would buy cheap fashion books there, before realizing that she had no interest in them, so sold them on eBay and Depop. It quickly became a habit to sell books that weren’t of use to her.
«I would then use the money I made from the sale to buy things I enjoyed more. Then, last year — she adds — a friend’s boss wanted to offload his library onto someone because he had accumulated so many books that it had become a hindrance. I took those off his hands, and I’ve been selling them and using the money to pay for the magazine’s printing. It all came about organically. Now I just sell stuff when I get sick of it or want to buy something new».
Sourcing most of her books abroad, Clem MacLeod has spent the last few years debunking the myth that print is dying. She explains how much of her collection includes books and magazines found in Japan and around the world. «My boyfriend and I spent two months in Japan in 2018 and went to about fifty bookshops trying to source cheap books that we love. We found so many, they have amazing bookshops there — they’re so precise about bookmaking and the prices are reasonable. There’s a whole district in Tokyo, Jimbocho, which is dedicated to book publishing and secondhand bookselling. There are bookshelves and piles and piles of books being loaded into trucks and being unpacked on the streets, it’s kind of a spectacle». One favorite includes Yoko Ono: Half and Wind Show, but she states, «I’ll probably change my mind by the time this is published».
Naming Chris Kraus, the poet/ performance artist and writer, who like Ariana Reines comments on the accessibility of the female voice via the internet. In the first issue of Worms, Chris Kraus acts a center figure for Clem MacLeod’s voice exploring the obsession driven text that both these women have experienced through relationships with men and ultimately, sex through their writing, which she discusses in her article entitled, Chris Kraus and Ariana Reines on the liberating form of online writing. When Clem interviewed her for the first issue of Worms, she explained that Kraus was insightful and helpful and a «total feminist icon». «Then when I sent her the magazine she emailed me saying it was ‘like heaven’».
The classics weren’t of big interest. She’d rather, Joan Didion’s, who gave her the initial love for reading and writing. Still there seems to be a difference between a hoarder and a collector. Whilst hoarders will hold onto various items found throughout ones life — often involving very different objects, items, clothes with sentimental value; collectors whether book, fashion or furniture will primarily source and seek particular missing items from a collection.
A collector will be known to acquire a single particular thing rather than hundreds of different items. Solely interested in collecting books, Clem suggests, «Maybe people think that books aren’t valuable? Or perhaps that people don’t care enough about them?». For her, they bring back memories, they are an escape, they at times can focus on a craft or focus on a specific design but for the most part featuring in Worms, they explored female writers.
Caliban and the Witch by Sylvia Federici, «about the role that the post-feudal witch-hunts played in the formation of capitalism”. And Oval by Elvia Wilk, which is a climate fiction (cli-fi) book about a Berlin eco-village set on a mountain, that fails miserably when the compost piles up and the houses begin to expand and contract with the sweat they’re producing from the toxic food-waste fumes.
Living in a self-claimed ‘eco-chamber of book freaks’, Worms platform has also served as a book club. Initially on Instagram, she would choose a book for her fellow worms at the beginning of every month. Everyone would read the chosen book in their own time, posting pictures of extracts or comments about the book as they would go, and at the end of every month, she would share a mini book review. «Now», she said, «I’ve amped it up and I’m doing reading groups, which is really fun and a nice way to meet book people who are similarly obsessed with reading».
Within her circle, more and more people have been joining book clubs and Instagram currently appears to be bringing these various clubs to light, each catered to specific genres, taste, and preference in writing. Book clubs still remain somewhat rare but social media seems to be knocking down the social ties to having to meet in a cafe or at someone’s house. Social media allows the freedom of and sense of community all at once whilst discovering new writers and readers alike.
When looking at the fundamentals of being a good writer today, countless elements come into question. Is one able to truly be objective in the way news is reported or is it dependent on the voice that is telling the story? «Personal experience will go into what people write. Reading anything that doesn’t have some kind of opinion or angle would just be boring». Still she assures, «we should always question what you read, who wrote it and what their motivations might have been».
Today, print media has come up against the digital world that we live in. Perhaps news and the way in which news is spoken about have increased the challenging parameters of this question. With the world increasingly moving online, people often question print because everything is so accessible without it. «Print publications encourage opinion-sharing because they are often coming from a particular point of view. Things get lost online». Today hundreds of independent magazines are appearing all the time. In fact, the fashion journalism course at Central Saint Martin produces an array of publications from students every year.
Worms magazine stockists include Eckhaus Latta [Los Angeles], Tate Modern [TURBINE SHOP], MagCulture [London EC1], Metropolis Bookshop [Melbourne 3000], Rare Mags, and more.