Read Watch Listen: Recs from a Slacker

It’s been an odd couple of months for me, and I’ve broken my regular cadence of book-reading and movie-watching in favor of more easily digestible podcasts and TV shows. Work has been just enough crazier than usual that I haven’t really been in the mood for anything requiring too much emotional investment. On top of that, I’ve been setting aside most of my spare time to relax in the kitchen or work on a personal project.

I do, however, have a couple of things I’ve been able to invest in that I highly recommend. In addition, I’ve got a read, a listen and a watch at the top of my “Get To It Immediately” list. 

Newly Consumed: Pick it Up

onthemedia

I’m always looking for new, palatable ways to digest the news that doesn’t make me cringe and hurl my phone across the room, and I’m only about 20 years late on this one. What I love about On The Media, hosted by Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield, is that it considers current events, as well as older stories and interesting media artifacts, through the lens of media coverage.

Rather than telling you another depressing spin on the news, it considers how stories are being presented by the media and what is or isn’t being coverage. A recent episode included everything from narratives around the Greek financial crisis to the vitality of the famous “A dingo got my baby” line.

Can you tell this podcast reaches to the deepest trenches of my media and communication nerd soul?

grove

Pick up this book and read it, because it is distressingly relevant to the current state of race relations in this country. This took me an embarrassingly long time to finish, in part because I would read a few chapters and then get depressed at how familiar the cycles of racial violence and police misconduct felt.

Gilbert King tells the story of the Groveland Boys case and Thurgood Marshall’s defense of the three men falsely accused of raping a white woman in Lake County, FL. It’s an engrossing narrative that serves to highlight our country’s horrifying (recent) past and our history of racial police brutality. As my brother pointed out, it’s hard to imagine a time in the 60 years since the Groveland Boys case that this story wouldn’t feel at once familiar and relevant. 

On My List

between

I need to give myself a short respite from nonfiction since Devil in the Grove took me far too long to finish, but as soon as I’m ready this is at the top of my list. It is one of several books from the last year, including Ghettoside and The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, that deals with what it is to be black in America. I’ve heard mixed responses about the format-Between is written as a letter to Coates’s son, and something of a follow-up to his 2008 memoir-but everyone seems to agree it’s an important and poignant read. 

misssimone

I tried to make it to see this documentary about Nina Simone at the San Francisco International Film Festival when I was volunteering there, but the timing never worked out. Luckily, it’s now on Netflix so I can watch it without leaving my house. Many thanks to Glen Weldon of Pop Culture Happy Hour (an NPR podcast of which I am a devotee) for his glowing review, and for reminding me of the incomparable Simone song “Four Women.”  

anotherround

Buzzfeed and I have a complicated relationship, but I’m totally excited about one of their podcasts, “Another Round” with Heben Nigatur and Tracy Clayton. I follow Clayton on Twitter and think she’s tremendous (follow her!), and am always looking for new podcasts to add into my rotation since I have the attention span of an easily bored 9-year-old. Plus, how can you not be excited about a podcast with a segment called Drunken Debates? 

Reading Roundup

2015-04-13 16.28.11

Hello computer, my old friend. After a weekend of no computer and just music and dust everywhere I have to admit just opening my computer has left me a blue. The emails have piled up and tomorrow will be a typically crazy Tuesday at work.  But I’m trying to ride that great-music-no-worries high through the short week until I can collapse in utter exhaustion next weekend.

In the meantime, driven by my dread at the thought of actually having to write/make/do today, here’s a roundup of some of the articles, books and bits that caught my eye over the last week or so.

(Doesn’t that framed woman look like she could use a good reading recommendation? Picture from my trip to the Legion of Honor with my mom a few weekends back.)

The feminism behind Flawless, a great read from literary critic Parul Sehgal.

Don’t spoil it for me–I missed the GoT premier for Coachella! But I loved this roundup of all the on-screen deaths from the last 4 seasons.

“Tell Me Again How You Don’t See Color,” an ever-important response to calls for color-blindness from the amazing Marshall Gillson.

All the things you never realized were wrong with Goodnight Moon.

In Indio I finished The Power of Habit–maybe not a nonfiction masterpiece, but got me thinking about my own unproductive habits (as I stuffed my face with pizza and roast beef and noodles and..).

Up next? I’m dying to read The New Jim Crow and I’ve got Devil in the Grove queued up on audible. Y’know, light, fluffy reading.

Books & Movies & Questions (Oh My)

The Idea

As the summer comes to a close I tried to think of the best way to round up the things I’ve been reading and watching. I could make a list, but that already partly exists on Goodreads. Instead I pose to you the questions that were raised for me as I read and watched, since lingering questions are perhaps my favorite takeaways from those experiences. I appreciate anything that keeps me thinking after it’s over, even if I didn’t love the book/movie, or sour on it as I mull it over (see: The Marriage Plot).

In the spirit of keeping things brief and distilled down, I tried to stick to one or two questions, whether serious or silly, that occurred to me during or after. For movies and TV shows, I only included films I saw in theater or shows I watched regularly, the exception being Hitchcock which I included just because I’ve watched a good amount. I’m certain I’ve left off a good few movies, but if they didn’t keep my thinking well then I blame them.

The Questions

  • How much is one’s own memory terrifyingly apathetic to and ignorant of our role in other peoples’ lives? (A Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes)
  • Is it easier if the past never catches up to you? And how awesome is Italy? (Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter)
  • Is there a singular best Hitchcock movie? (Vertigo, Rear Window, Rebecca )
  • Chapter 2 of Cannery Row is one of my favorite two pages of any book. Not a question. And while I’m on the topic of not-questions, nothing has ever made me love California more than the description of Cannery Row as “a poem, a sink, a grating noise, a quality of life, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.” (Cannery Row)
  • Why are boys so unable to wait to watch TV shows with their girlfriends? (Breaking Bad) (This may or may not be a question raised by my personal experiences rather than the show)
  • How did Georgia Bird give birth to an 11 lb 12 oz baby and then still go on to have even more children? (Bird: The Making of an American Sports Legend by Lee Daniel Levine)
  • Are Hemingway’s women just fantasy-laden projections at best, or complications at worst? Is it bad that I don’t really care, and linger on every misogynistic anti-Semitic word anyway? (The Sun Also Rises, In Our Time)
  • What does it mean to be a little beast in a big, big universe? And if you’re on a boat that takes you exactly where you need to go, is it the right place to be? (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
  • Can exes be friends? (Celeste and Jesse Forever) (My opinion: yes, but I’m naive and want to see the sliver of good in every boy I’ve ever slept with)
  • Aren’t we all a little bit defined by our obsessive and singular pursuits? Does it stand in the way of “thoughtless being”? (The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach)
  • Will sports books and movies always fail the Bechdel Test? (I’M A FEMI-NERD, GET OVER IT) (The Art of Fielding)
  • Is an ethereal male gaze an inherently flawed way of telling a female story? (The Virgin Suicides by Jeffery Eugenides)
  • To what extent does Eugenides write a realistic mental illness, and to what extent does he glamorize and fetishize it? (The Marriage Plot, The Virgin Suicides)
  • Is dating really just a big con? And how fun must it be to write this type of book? (Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn)
  • Will anyone be able to get over the obvious flaws in The Newsroom and see it as the “set of stereotypical yet entertaining characters embroiled in love plots” that it is? (The Newsroom)
  • Why doesn’t Julia Louis-Dreyfus do more? (Veep)
  • What is a First Love? And how come Wes Anderson movies make me laugh so much harder than anyone else in the theater? (Moonrise Kingdom)
  • DID BILL COMPTON JUST COME BACK AS A GOD? (True Blood)

Any make-you-think movies and books I’m totally missing?

An Unapologetic Autodidact and Book Fiend

I’ve been MIA thus far this week, in part because I’ve been trying to be on top of job searching and in part because I’ve been spending a lot of time on Spanish, HTML/CSS, etc. Normal people graduate and get jobs. I appear to have graduated in order to free up time to teach myself more things.

Learning Resources

For those who are interested, I’ve come across a few resources that have been really helpful in all of this. One is Duolingo, a website that I’ve found helpful in learning Spanish. I’m not always near my house computer, which has Rosetta Stone installed on it, and Duolingo has been helpful in those cases. You can use the website to learn Spanish, French and German, and in return for the “lessons,” they ask that you help translate small snippets from various parts of the internet. As you go you unlock certain skills, and if you’re a more advanced learner you can test out of the earlier parts. I’ve been using it to brush up on French as well as Spanish.

Another resource that’s been really helpful is Codecademy which I’ve been using to keep going with HTML/CSS. When it comes to learning I’m very much a book person, and I’ve found the books I have pretty helpful in that they allow me to then go off and try things on my own. Codecademy, however, offers lessons that allow you to try a few steps at a time, and then put them all together. Once you learn a set of skills there is a small project for you to try, which definitely helps solidify what you learned. Plus it makes me feel like a mathy-coding-engineering person, which any Communications student will tell you doesn’t happen very often.

Book Fiend

On top of all that, I just took a trip to the library, which is always dangerous. Let me loose in a bookstore or library and I’m guaranteed to spend hours contentedly browsing and to walk away with a massive stack of books. Luckily today it was a library and not a bookstore, because I don’t really need to be spending money I don’t have on books right now. I did come away with a few books, and even a few movies. Once the librarian realized I was a recent graduate without a job she was less surprised by my choices (Gravity’s Rainbow and Hitchcock), assuring me that every jobless college grad needs a good mental breakdown. She was my kind of lady.

If you need me in the next few weeks I’ll be reading

My haul had some good variety to it, including the mammoth Gravity’s Rainbow, some Kate Chopin, a book about Larry Bird and Swamplandia! by Karen Russel. I kicked off the summer with a slew of books I loved, and then petered out a bit. Hopefully something in this stack will get me excited again. I figure at the very least I’ll have a hard time not enjoying some Larry Bird trivia.

On top of that I have a stack of books waiting to be read or, in some cases, re-read, at the top of which is Tricia Rose’s Hip Hop Wars and Bob Dylan in America by Sean Wilentz. I’m in need of some good music & culture reading.

Begging to be read

Clearly I can’t get a job since it would get in the way of all my reading! Hopefully trips to NY and Philly in the coming weeks will give me some time to read before summer comes to an end for people in the real world.

Has anyone read anything fabulous this summer I need to add to my list?

Summer School

Studying in Starbucks

Studying in Starbucks

I used to think summer school was for nerds and burnouts, and one might argue I’m currently both of those things. And so, in the spirit of being a nerd at heart and a degenerate with nothing to do in reality, I’m sitting posted up in Starbucks forcing myself to learn. This is part of my whole “Do Things” mantra for the summer. Also I think if I watch another episode of 30 Rock my brain may atrophy, and then I’d really never get a job. Except maybe in Congress… ziiiing. Jokes, jokes, there are plenty of lovely people with functioning brains working in Congress.. maybe..

What exactly does my summer school entail? Stellar question.

Languages

Because my French skills are deteriorating at a laughable rate, I’m forcing myself to start reading in French and watching French movies more (no English subtitles allowed). I downloaded L’Etranger for my kindle to ease myself back in, and then got Madame Bovary in French as well, hoping that because I’ve read it in English I wont be quite so lost in it. What’s great about the Kindle is that it has the option of downloading an extra dictionary so that you can automatically look up words as you read. It’s not the best dictionary in the world, but it’ll do for now.

I’m also determined to learn some Spanish, and as I’d mentioned my aunt was kind enough to lend me her Rosetta Stone. The only problem is I need to fix my disc drive before I can use it… but I’ll get around to that soon enough.

Pointless Standardized Testing

Good study tool

A staple in all school curricula, I figured my summer wouldn’t be complete without it. For anyone out there studying for the GRE, I recommend the Princeton Review book to study. I got it on the recommendation of a friend, and it’s definitely served me well thus far. I find that if I make flash cards for the words I don’t know as I go through that helps as well. I may be getting garrulous and loquacious in my posts, but I’ll be doing it with panache.

Web Design

HTML & CSS: Design and Build Websites

HTML & CSS: Design and Build Websites

A friend asked me what I’m using to teach myself HTML/CSS. Well, I’m doing it the good old fashioned way: a big ass book and some trial and error. Figuring I needed a few more real world skills, I got the book HTML & CSS: Design and Build Websites and I’ve found that I really like the way it’s set up. I got through the HTML section in a day, partly because I knew some of it already. But what I liked was that the book breaks things down into simple diagrams and explains what every tag or piece of code is supposed to do. Then there are snippets of code at the end of every chapter that you can write up and try yourself; I usually made slight changes to see what would happen and whether I could do it on my own. I definitely recommend this book to total beginners like myself.

Literature

Finally, there’s nothing I like quite as much as a good book in the summer. I’m trying to strike a balance between contemporary fiction that I haven’t been able to read in the last few years, compelling non-fiction, and classics that I’ve been meaning to get around to. I recently read The Art of Fielding, and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a summer read. Though it’s centered around a college baseball team and sings to anyone who loves the sounds of a ball cracking off a bat, the characters are compelling enough to make it a good read for baseball lovers and non-lovers alike. I’ve also read some Hemingway, Julian Barnes, and just started in on a Steinbeck collection. I suppose it’s cheating to include all this reading in my “summer learning,” but I figure it’s better for my mind than my Game of Thrones binge. Anything that’s not pure pop is making it’s way into my summer school category.

I’m going to try to stay on top of all the things I’m doing, and it’s been a good way of keeping myself busy so far. And as I sit in Starbucks, I’m reassured by the two grey-haired men discussing Ulysses that I can continue to be a lifelong nerd if I so choose.