A friend of mine once told me that I consume more content than anyone else she knows (hi Jesse!). I’m not sure if I am unique, but I do feel like I’m frequently begging people to watch a new documentary or listen to a podcast so that I can discuss with them. I recommend quite a few books here, but I thought I’d start recommending other things as well. Maybe I have too much free time – but who can really say?
ALSO – if you’re reading this before Tuesday, November 6, PLEASE VOTE. I don’t care who you vote for (I do, but) I just think democracy works best when we all vote. It’s free, and it’s our civic duty. Let’s try not to fuck this one up here. If you need more info, www.votesaveamerica.com is an excellent resource.
As I mentioned in a previous books post, since I’ve started utilizing my library card, I’ve upped my book intake to around 1-2 books a week in order to read all the books I’ve borrowed before they’re due again. Sometimes it is stressful, but mostly it’s an excuse to light some candles and snuggle under a heated blanket and read all day. Here were some of my favorites:
This one was recommended a few times for people who loved A Little Life, which I did. I loved this book. The story is tragic – a boy (who becomes a man) whose mother had to give him away and was adopted. Then he grows up gay in Ireland in the 1980’s, where it’s illegal, and experiences just loads of loss along the way. The beauty of this book, though, is that the writing is incredibly witty, and I found myself laughing aloud throughout the book, despite the depressing plot. There’s parts where characters are being incredibly bigoted towards homosexuals and then say of themselves, “but of course I’m not a bigot…” The irony in the writing helps make the tragedy more palatable without taking away from the story on the whole. Highly recommend.
This book was…okay. I love books set in New York and about glamorous parties and murder, so I thought this would be up my alley. It was just…weird. None of the characters were likeable, and the whole plot seemed ridiculous. It’s allegedly a modern-day The Talented Mr. Ripley, but I never watched that, so it didn’t hold much bearing for me. The one thing about this book is that the main characted, Lavinia, reminded me of something I’ve already read and I just can’t place it. Someone who parties lavishly and in excess and is always making the main character of the story do wild things and asking for love. Maybe the Great Gatsby? Someone help me here.
I had read The Glass Castle a few times, and loved it, and honestly was expecting this book to be more of the same. While the start to Tara’s story seemed to be just that, it’s the second half of the book – where she decides to leave home and her family – which I found most compelling. What’s more, Tara and her family were subjected to a lot of abuse from her brother, and the trauma of this was heartbreaking, yet fascinating to read. It was also wild to read about her experience in higher education, given that she received absolutely no schooling. Also – her advisor at Cambridge is an author I’ve worked with, David Runciman!
This book is beautiful. A lot of hype surrounds it, but it’s totally worthy. It follows a couple whose world is disrupted when the husband is wrongfully convicted and their lives fall apart. It does a beautiful job of expressing heartbreak and the effects of being in prison, and how love falls apart and back together again exactly how we need it to. When I finished this book, I felt exactly how I feel after a hard, cathartic cry, without having shed a tear.
A WILD RIDE. This book is by the reporter who uncovered the phoniness at the startup, Theranos, and although his reporting revealed a lot, the book is absolutely buck wild. The founder, Elizabeth Holmes, sold so many people on her bullshit. Reading the book, it seems obvious that her claims and her technology were too good to be true, but everyone from top Venture Capitalists to Joe Biden to James Mattis bought in. And Elizabeth herself comes across as a total nut – emulating Steve Jobs, obsessed with security at her startup that no one ever heard of, lowering her voice to an upsetting baritone. I tore through this book in a weekend and highly, highly recommend.
This had been on my list for a while, and I finally managed to grab a copy from the library. I loved this book for a few reasons. To begin with, it’s not a typical thriller. Lacking for someone to interview for a writing assignment, the main character heads to a local nursing home for a subject. He winds up interviewing a convicted murderer who has been released to the nursing home to die of cancer. Joe, the protagonist, learns from the old man that he likely didn’t commit the murder he was convicted of, and winds up going down some rabbit holes to find the actual killer. The killer’s backstory also has moments that remind me of Tim O’Brien’s books, notably The Things They Carried, which I read in high school and loved. This was a perfect, quick fall read, just in time for Halloween.
I listened to these last four books when I was still training for the Chicago Marathon and spending a ridiculous amount of time running along the West Side Highway. After spending much of the summer listening to thrillers while I ran, I downloaded Fitness Junkie on a whim. I honestly had forgotten about “chick-lit” as a genre, but was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed these books. It was also nice to be running late at night and not worry about murderers lurking around every corner.
What I particularly enjoyed about all the books I read was how they kind of satirized today’s cultures. Fitness Junkie especially pokes fun at a lot of the fitness crazes and the culture that’s surrounded the industry, especially in New York. It was refreshing to listen to something that didn’t take itself so seriously, especially while I spent an entire Saturday running 20 miles.
I actually bought this book on Audible specifically for the Chicago Marathon. So many people had written about what a fun read this book is, and I wanted to have one queued up and ready for the race. This got me through 13 miles of the marathon, before I decided that music was sufficient. There is a lot to enjoy about this book, especially since it’s by the author of The Devil Wears Prada, arguably one of the best books ever. I liked how it poked fun at how New Yorkers think about the suburbs, and the various ways in which women handle marriage, having kids, having a career, etc. It was really fun!
I actually loved this book. It was funny and smart and when I finished it, I realized that it’s a modern retelling of Pride & Prejudice (although, I’ve never read the original, I’m sorry). I did love going back and reading the SparkNotes (sorry again) of the Jane Austen version and comparing the two stories. Sittenfeld did an amazing job. I’ve now added a few more of her books to my reading list, including her most recent one, You Think It, I’ll Say It. Which, by the way, is exactly my philosophy after a few glasses of wine.
Not a book, but worth diving into, especially if you love spookiness as much as I do. These are all actual peoples’ actual stories about scary experiences they’ve had. Some are supernatural, some are moving, some are just really creepy encounters that will ruin your life. I highly recommend NOT reading these if you will be home alone at night in the near future. I did once while Andrew was out of town and spent a whole night wide awake, thinking someone was hiding in my closet.
I’m a sucker for a documentary, especially exposés. This one (a Netflix original) focuses on the medical implant industry, and the complete lack of regulation. For instance, most devices don’t need to go through rigorous testing by the FDA if they are super-similar (not an official term) to an existing item already on the market. So much of the implants in our bodies haven’t underwent all the clinical trials and regulation that we think they have. These include cobalt knee replacements (can lead to poisoning similar to that of mercury), and sterilization devices (that end up lodged into women’s’ bodies and are impossible to remove, except by hysterectomy). The documentary made me a little squeamish, but it was definitely eye-opening and heartbreaking in some cases.
I did not read the original Shirley Jackson book of the same title. I’m sorry for (another) literary disappointment here. But I do know that her books are some of the gold standard for spooky stories, and was very intrigued when I started seeing posters around the city for the Netflix series. Although, I thought that it was just a movie. So when I watched the first episode and literally nothing happened, I was confused and disappointed. But the next two episodes really picked up the pace. I watched the whole series – 10, 60-min episodes – in a week. The series has every kind of scare: jump scares, gore, the creepy feeling you’re being watched, drug abuse, family trauma….
I also thought it was an interesting adaptation of the book, since the series covers not only what happened in the haunted house in their childhood, but the impacts on their adult life, and the hold the house held over them for their entire lives.
I was not initially eager for this. I had watched season one, felt the injustice, but then also read and understood the criticism. The series is incredibly one-sided. If I imagined the series from the victim’s side, it would be a totally different show, if a show at all. So I figured season two would be more of the same. However, it is not.
In season one, myself and the rest of the world held a deep affinity for Steven Avery’s lawyers, Jerry Buting and Dean Strang. They were so casual and just dad-like, it was impossible not to love them. In season two, Avery has a new lawyer, fabulous in her own right: Kathleen Zellner.
Zellner is famous for exonerating people who have been wrongfully convicted. She is an obviously wealthy woman, but brilliant. She believes that Steven Avery is innocent, and dismantles the State’s case against him one thread at a time, all the while exposing Strang and Buting as ineffective. Her theories are incredible, and made even more so by her ability to pretty much prove them to be far more viable than the State’s. It’s like one of those Jacob’s ladder toys – it keeps unfolding.
I listen to a lot of podcasts, although I don’t think I’m unique in that. Given that I commute about 45 minutes each way on the subway every day, I have plenty of time to fill with podcasts that would otherwise be spent (god forbid) alone with my thoughts. I like news, I like comedy, I like crime – I really won’t say no to anything if it’s interesting.
“An advice show for the modern era,” so they say in the intro. Andrew actually led me to this podcast, and I resisted for some time, assuming I would not think it funny. That has been proven untrue every week, as I find myself doubled over in laughter on the subway.
The core premise of the show is that the hosts, Justin, Travis and Griffin McElroy (brothers, obviously) answer Yahoo! Answers questions. They do not answer seriously, obviously, and go on long, somewhat off-topic riffs. It’s hard to explain, but a lot of their jokes have worked their way into my vernacular, and not many people get it. Which is why I’m recommending it here, in the hopes of finding some more friends.
Also hosted by the brothers, but air far less regularly. Till Death Do Us Blart airs every Thanksgiving, where the brothers and their friends Tim Batt and Guy Montgomery (kiwis!!) from Worst Idea of All Time. The premise is simple – they watch Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 and review it. They have all agreed to do this every year until they die, and have even named their successors, should they perish during the year. I have not laughed harder than I did last fall when I listened to all 4 existing episodes on the train home for Thanksgiving. I am recommending this now so you can catch up before the new one airs in a few weeks. You’re welcome.
The McElroy Brothers Will Be In Trolls 2 is exactly what it sounds like. The boys had a dream, and launched a podcast to achieve that dream. I don’t want to offer any spoilers, but they might have realized it. This podcast does not have a regular schedule, they just add new episodes when they get more info about their casting status in Trolls 2 (actually to be called Trolls World Tour). The most recent episode went up Monday!
Doesn’t everyone know about PSA at this point? Former Obama bros do the news. They are funny, but they are also helpful. They made politics feel accessible to me, and make it feel like it’s something everyone should be inserting themselves into (which they really should be). I’m most impressed by their understanding of their audience, and their ability to mobilize listeners to actually campaign and vote.
I like podcasts in the same family – can you tell? If I were to compare myself to one host of the Pod, it would be Lovett. We’re both two loud, opinionated Mets fans, and so his show is one of the highlights of my week. He tapes live at an improve theater with a panel of guests. They do games, watch video, have a rant wheel, the whole shebang. Another show covering the news of the week in a medium that is far more fun to consume than reading Twitter.
Another Crooked Media pod! Keep It is a little different, in that it focuses on the intersection of pop culture and politics – think Omarosa on Big Brother, Colin Kaepernick, the Oscars, and so on. Hosted by Ira Madison III (who coined the term “keep it,” which is what you say when you’re not into something at all), Kara Brown (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH MY KARA BROWN aka KBreezin) and Louis Virtel. Their combined expertise is unique, hilarious and also super helpful for digesting everything happening outside of DC.
From the same people who made Dirty John last year. This podcast pairs nicely with Bleeding Edge. I consumed both in the same week and it was a very eye-opening and squeamish week for me. The podcast focuses on a neurosurgeon who botched several surgeries in a row, and instead of the hospital revoking his license, they just told him he couldn’t operate at their hospital, leading him to botch more and more surgeries across the state. It was scary to think of how many other doctors like this man exist all over the country, and how no one is really looking out for patients.
I just got into this one. The good news is that there are 6 episodes up. The premise is that in the 1980s, a barrel filled with human remains was found in the woods in Bear Brook State Park in New Hampshire, and 20 years later, another barrel was found. The trouble was, the bodies couldn’t be identified. No one knew were the people were from, so they couldn’t find who was missing, and if you don’t know the victims, you can’t find a killer. They were the first to use an ancestral DNA system to identify the victims. It’s a great crime pod and super intriguing, since every episode just opens a new can of worms.
This podcast is the first of what I’m guessing will become a new genre – interviews with children of serial killers. The woman in this podcast is the daughter of the Happy Face Serial Killer, who was active in the Pacific Northwest from 1990 – 1995, and the family had no idea. It’s fascinating to hear her put things together from her past, and to deal with the trauma of finding out at age fifteen that her dad had killed around eight women right in front of her.
We Were Promised Jetpacks Live @ Brooklyn Steel
Not a podcast, but some excellent music. Andrew and I have been big fans of the Scottish rock band We Were Promised Jetpacks for years now. We’ve seen them live quite a few times as well, and every time I’m reminded of how amazing they are. The singer is so emotive, and singing along to one of their songs live is cathartic.
In the words of a fan in the crowd, “that was fucking sick!”
A few of my favorite WWPJ songs:
- Circles and Squares
- Sore Thumb
- It’s Thunder and It’s Lightning
- Boy in the Back Seat
- This Is My House, This Is My Home
We like beer a lot. Even better, there’s a ton of amazing breweries in New York, and we have been to most. I wrote about some of the great beers I had in Portland in this post, but I had some exceptional ones locally as well. Since the We Were Promised Jetpacks show was in Brooklyn, Andrew and I met at Grimm, a few blocks from Brooklyn Steel, for some pre-concert drinks. Andrew looked for specifically hazy New England IPA’s but I like to dabble in stouts and ciders too. In the hazy camp, I really enjoyed Kites Are Fun, which was juicy, and citrusy, and didn’t have that bitter aftertaste that some IPA’s have.
In terms of stouts, the Sumi Babka was otherworldly. Similar to the Stuffed one I had in Portland, Sumi Babka was vanilla chocolatey perfection. It literally tasted like a piece of dark chocolate – more bitter than sweet.
I also tried a Spanish Style Cider, which I never had before. It tasted like a cross between a cider and a sour, and was actually very mild and dry. If you’re in the Williamsburg area, Grimm is excellent. Although Andrew has been on the weekends, and he says it’s very packed.
Is anyone still with me here? This was LONG. Since this covered a few months, I’m hoping the coming months are more manageable. Please let me know if there’s any content you recommend. I’m always looking to consume more.