Convalescence Media

September 19th, 2017

I’ve just been through a bit of not-terribly-major surgery, and recovery, after I got through the initial stuff, has been a pleasure. (What is better than a two-week stretch of bed rest? Absolutely nothing.) Here’s what I’ve liked most of the books I’ve read and films I’ve watched:

1) Off Course, by Michelle Huneven. A sharply observed, gorgeously written story of a twenty-eight-year-old woman who gets sidetracked by an obsessive relationship with a married man. What I love about it, in addition to sparkly quality of the sentence-level writing, is the incrementality of the emotional observation, the way we’re taken through every vicissitude of the relationship as the course keeps turning. It makes perfect psychological sense, all of it, and yet I never knew what would happen next. Highly recommended. I wish there were more books in the world like this one.

2) Carol. I think it’s easy to find Todd Haynes’ movies oversaturated, not merely with color but with feeling (they’re melodramas, yo), and there were moments in which I thought a tighter cut would have helped. But his films are also tone poems, mood pieces that you’re supposed to sink into, and this one is as beautifully crafted as they come. Cate Blanchett is insanely taut and wirey and vaguely predatory (though . . . arguable, given her cirucmstances) and wrecked. Loving her isn’t quite possible, but feeling for her, whoo-boy.

3) Afternoon Delight. I remember seeing the preview for this movie and thinking that the premise was too weak and too unreal to withstand any kind of plausible narrative. Then I found out (only recently) that it’s a Jill Soloway movie, so I queued it up. And I liked it! Humane, ecumenical, fair to all of its characters and points of view. It’s uncomfortable to watch (i.e., not the comedy it was marketed to be), and/but it pays off satisfyingly. I even believed in it, ultimately, which came as a surprise. And now . . . only a few more days until Season 4 of Transparent.

Some Good Stuff in a Terrible Time

August 14th, 2017

This is a wonderful movie. The more Kumail Nanjiani in my life (and, I hope, in yours) the better.

This is a beautiful book. Sometimes I have the sense that Alexie is a stuntman first and a writer second (though this quietly arresting story is 100% stunt-free), and for me, the jury was out for the first 25% or so of his new memoir. But the book won me over and then bowled me over. His voice is so singular, and his willingness to open his wounds is astonishing. Plus, You Don’t Have To is a primer on the power of repetition. Alexie uses it to harrowing effect.

This is a thing you can do, at least theoretically (calendar is currently booked up), that would make your life better.

This is a series of incredibly smart, compassionate videos about how to connect with other humans.

This, this, and this are good places to donate money.

This is a website dedicated to wonder.

This is a place to see something new.

Two Breathtakingly Humane Novels

July 17th, 2017

1

David Grossman wrote one of my all-time favorite novels, To the End of the Land, which is also one of the most openly, unapologetically racking novels I’ve ever read. (I find myself equal parts wanting-to-read-it-again and bracing-against-the-incoming-pain.) As of a month ago, I had yet to attempt any of his others novels, although I’ve been meaning to. Then A Horse Walks into a Bar won the Man Booker International prize. And while I’m generally against prizes, I do have a soft spot for the Booker. So I read the novel. And it is brilliant.

A Horse Walks into a Bar takes place in a single evening, during a performance that is supposed to be stand-up comedy but is actually a largely improvised one-man show, the details of which—i.e., both the performance and the content of the performance—become increasingly harrowing as the evening wears on. There is plenty of flashback, and Grossman raises the stakes (which is he so good at doing) by placing people in the audience who are relevant in surprising ways. The pacing is perfect. The characterization is unbelievably (i.e., super-believably) distinct. And the pain, the pain, the pain: It’s right there again, right out front. Grossman’s ability to inhabit and explore pain is a marvel to me.

2

I read every Elizabeth Strout novel as soon as it’s released, and her newest—Anything is Possibleis my favorite. It’s more a series of connected short stories than it is a novel, although I was left with the feeling of having inhabited a unified world and completed a coherent arc. Nearly every chapter begins with the feeling of a small life being lived in a small town, and then the floor falls out from underneath us and the stakes go through the roof (mixed metaphor), and we’re living in the biggest tragedies there are.

It’s such a masterful work of narrative. I was reminded of Alice Munro, both in the gentle unraveling of plot and in the shocking surprises that wake us up from what we thought was a provincial stupor. Additionally, Strout is astonishingly skilled at developing character in a few deft strokes; after only a couple of remarks or a short internal monologue, we know these people so well. Riveting and gorgeous and humane. I wished it were longer.

The Joy of Chopping, and Eating, the Rainbow

June 23rd, 2017

Happy Pride month!

Here’s a woman who has embraced her personal pastel rainbow. She’s a joy-bringer. And her purse/backpack collection is what would have happened to me if I’d inherited the shopping gene from my mother, which I did not.

However, I am not without rainbows. Just last night I was chopping add-ons for (vegan, natch) tacos, and here’s what happened:

Taco Fixins

Taco Fixins

Clockwise from the top: mangoes, red onion, purple cabbage, red pepper, avocado. There was salsa fresca, too, and I added Greek yogurt (instead of sour cream) (correct, not vegan) in beautiful dollops of white. So, so pretty.

This morning, a mere 14 hours later, I opened the refrigerator to find the following:

Mueslix Fruit

Mueslix Fruit

Fruit for mueslix. John had chopped it while I was sleeping. (That guy.) Clockwise from top: banana, strawberries, walnuts, grated apple, nectarine, figs, and blueberries. Soak 1/2 cup of oats in the milk of your choice (I used soy) and toss.

I don’t think I’ll ever tire of mincing ingredients, arranging them on a plate, and piling them on top of, or mixing them into, something yummy. Especially if they’re colorful.

I LOVE COLOR, AND I’M PROUD.

The Gifts of Art: May Edition

May 23rd, 2017

Of all the things I’ve been reading, listening to, and watching, here’s what moved me the most in the past month:

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Is there anyone more charming than W. Kamau Bell? Reading this book feels like sitting down with somebody who is not only smart and hilarious and feeling but kind and forgiving and connected*. I’d listen to what he has to say on any topic at all. Fortunately, there are many ways to do that, including multiple podcasts and one-offs and interviews. For what it’s worth, though, this book is my favorite iteration of Bell yet. It feels so eminently him.

*There’s an asterisk here, because Bell has said on more than one occasion (and he says in the book) that his amicability is in some ways an appeasement/apology for the fact that he’s a tall black guy. He’s trying to connect across race lines, and he’s excellent at that, and/but there’s a calculation in it that’s a response to racism, and that makes me wonder which parts of him we’re missing out on. I am in no way blaming him for using a tool that’s working. I’m sad for him and pissed at the world that he has to.

Manchester By the SeaEver since You Can Count on Me, which remains one of my favorite movies of all time, I’ve been in the tank for Kenneth Lonergan. I’d have been first in line to see Manchester in the theaters if it hadn’t been two hours long (back pain); I’ve been waiting for a streaming option, and it’s here; John and I watched as soon as we could. Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. The layering on of the backstory is masterful. The emotional build is earned and real. The payoffs are quiet and delicate and spot-on. It’s all exactly as you would want it to be without having been able to imagine it until you’re seeing it. It was, in short, the best movie I’ve seen in an age—and contrary to what people said about its capacious sadness, I felt uplifted by it. It is undeniably sad, but it’s sad in a way that breaks you open, if you let it. And that, as we know, is when the light streams in.

Master of None, Season 2I know, I know, everybody loves it, but THAT IS BECAUSE IT IS BEAUTIFUL. In particular, the episodes “New York: I Love You” and “Thanksgiving” are ebullient and loving portraits of regular people of color having regular life experiences, with an undercurrent of compassion and Ansarian joy in the world. In fact, the whole season is infused with Ansari’s joy and wonder at living, from his adorable celebratory chants with Arnold (“Eating in Italy is my favorite thing!”) to the gorgeous wide shots of Italian and American exteriors (and interiors: heads up, Brooklyn Museum!), to the deliciously lugubrious music, to his pleasure at simple memes (“Allora”). And while some people seem disappointed or frustrated with the love story, I think Ansari, Yang, and team actually do a remarkable job at portraying a very specific and understandable and relatable kind of excruciation. I wish that the love interest hadn’t been yet another white woman (the season is otherwise solid at presenting women of color in romantic roles), but they were in Italy, so there is some justification for it.

I Am Not Your Negro: From end to end, this film is a scorching fire of righteousness, and it’s smarter and more beautiful and more gutting and decimating and enraging than anything I can possibly say about it, except just go see it and feel it and take it in. And then, perhaps, do some kind of thing that will inch us forward in some kind of way, especially in this era of rekindled white supremacy. They’re shouting things they used to whisper, and we need to step up and SURJ.

April Books and Movie

April 23rd, 2017

Four “highly recommendeds” for your springtime enjoyment (and dismay):

1.  Ghettoside, Jill Leovy. Gripping account not only of a particular murder and subsequent investigation in L.A. in 2007 but of a policing and criminal justice system that is deeply failing black people and especially black men. One of the big surprises of the book is the idea that poor communities of color are vastly underpoliced, not overpoliced; in South Central L.A. as in any community of any ethnicity in any country, underpolicing  creates a gap of lawless instability that gets filled in by a street code. Fascinating and horrifying.

2. Zadie Smith, Swing Time. Really engrossing novel that contains layers of racial, social, and psychological complexity in a story that never stops being fascinating. I love that we stay with one (unnamed) narrator throughout the novel. I love that the novel is more or less her internal monologue, tracing the various in ways in which her awareness dawns over time. I love that things keep turning slightly on their axes, so our perspective shifts and the view changes, and I love that the story has stayed with me.

3. O.J.: Made in America. Hoo-boy. Harrowing and haunting and humane. Despite its length, there’s plenty that got left out — a discussion of football-related traumatic brain injury, a more general look at domestic violence (the specifics of O.J’s violence against Nicole Brown are documented) — but what’s there is incredibly important and, to me, brought layers of contextual understanding to a story that I failed to grasp at the time. Had I not been watching with John (which slowed things down, given his limited tolerance for crime-related anything), I’d have binged it in one or two sittings and walked away in a daze of dark horror and grief.

4. Tim Kreider, We Learn Nothing. Incredibly smart, palpably felt, hilarious, and exceptionally perceptive personal essays on topics like friendship and politics and love, all of it examined with so much honesty and originality and integrity that I felt I was constantly waking up to things I might have known but had never named. In other words, it was a richly satisfying experience, and I was sorry it had to end. More, Tim Kreider, more! (Apparently, he cartooned relatively feverishly re: politics in the Bush era but hasn’t published much else by way of the personal essay. There’s a new book coming out in 2018, from its title I’m going to assume we’re staying with the less political and more personal.)

Kumbaya Felt Services #6

March 22nd, 2017

Bluey and Orangina name their favorite animals, go on a hunt for a pen, and discuss the meaning of an impressive word.

Kumbaya Felt Services #5

March 22nd, 2017

Bluey and Orangina attempt to figure out where they are, and why.

Kumbaya Felt Services #4

February 11th, 2017

In which Bluey and Orangina discuss travel, such as it is (and isn’t) in their lives.

Kumbaya Felt Services #3

February 11th, 2017

In which Bluey and Orangina discuss Orangina’s proclivity for jumping up and down.