My Pop Culture Digest – September 2020

Music

For music, along with sprinkling in a whole host of other albums, the ones I’m listening to over and over are largely unchanged from last month. folklore, Gaslighter, Such Pretty Forks in the Road and Petals for Armor are my mainstays.

Taylor Swift

Earlier this month, Taylor performed “betty” for the Academy of Country Music Awards ceremony. This was the song that got to me most on my first listen to folklore and has stayed one of my favorites off the album ever since, so of course I tuned in. I don’t have cable, but, there are ways around that.

Her performance was pitch-perfect, from the music to her voice to the outfit to the guitar. Here it is:

Since this was on TV and all, she had to change “Would you tell me to go fuck myself?” to “Would you tell me to go straight to hell?” and it most definitely doesn’t have the same punch as the original line. God I hope we get live concerts again before too long because I want to scream this line, the real line, along with Taylor and tens of thousands of fans. I miss live music.

I hope one day, I can play this song on guitar. I reeeeeeeally want folklore guitar and piano books!

Smashing Pumpkins

As a follow-up to last month, here are two more new SP songs in video form:

Wrath:

Confessions of a Dopamine Addict:

TV & Movies

Not a ton here. My pop culture consumption has skewed mostly towards books this month, but I’ve watched a little more TV than the last month or so, which was basically zero. But, since we’re in stressful times, my TV watching has skewed towards the comforting, which for me means re-watching shows I’ve seen before. The two I’ve started rewatching recently are Happy Endings and Friday Night Lights. I’m watching Happy Endings while I take a break for lunch and Friday Night Lights when I take a break for dinner.

I’ve seen Happy Endings several times through–it’s such a fun and delightful comedy so it has an extra layer of comfort and familiarity, like a blanket. I’ve only watched Friday Night Lights once but loved it and ready to get back into it. I’ve only rewatched the pilot and the second episode by the writing of this post, so I’ll probably have more to say next time around.

As for movies, I’ve watched two this month. One was a rewatch–Definitely Maybe–which I love for its love story, and for Abigail Breslin of Little Miss Sunshine (which I also may watch again before too long), and for the escape back into simpler times, and for the way it’s set in a time that matches my musical moment, including “Come As You Are” by Nirvana (and one of the characters, April, talking about Kurt Cobain) which was my first rock band obsession, and also including “Save the Best for Last” by Vanessa Williams, which was the kind of music I listened to before I discovered rock and which gives my inner eleven-year-old the warm fuzzies.

I also watched To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, another romantic comedy. Here’s the trailer:

It was cute, and heartwarming, and funny, and relatable (as a girl who wrote a lot of love letters herself). It was exactly what I needed in these pandemic times (and I may have watched this during the wildfires too, I can’t remember now, it all blurs together). It was fun and adorable and I might watch the sequel soon.

Books

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

bookoflongingsI’ll read anything Sue Monk Kidd writes, ever since my friend Leo and I read The Dance of the Dissident Daughter in 2003. I’ve liked some of her books more than others, and this one was a hit for me.

It’s the story of Ana, back around 2000 years ago, and in this re-imagining, she is Jesus’s wife. SMK did a good job of writing it in a way that doesn’t really encroach on the Christian stories of Jesus (at least from what I can dredge forth from memories of my Catholic upbringing) in that Ana is away in Egypt avoiding arrest while Jesus is doing his teachings, and she has to leave again soon after his death, so misses what would be the resurrection story. In the book, Jesus is wholly human, but there’s room for the miracle stuff to also have taken place.

But really, the book is Ana’s story. She’s a spunky, rebellious writer and her passion for writing, and for preserving her writings, spoke to me on a deep level. There’s a time she has to bury her writings in a cave to save them from her parents (who are downright awful), and other times when she lugs her scrolls with her at the expense of almost anything else, and later, finally, she preserves them, and also buries them again for safekeeping. It reminded me a lot of the digitizing I’ve been doing with my own writing (which I’ve also carried with me through countless moves).

There’s a lot of tough stuff in the book. A lot of violence and oppression. But also a lot of love, a lot of female friendship, a lot of witnessing through writing, and a lot on the importance of story.

11/22/63 by Stephen King

112263Wow, this was a wild reading experience for me. I assumed that reading this book would take months. At least a month. That’s how long it originally took me to read Mists of Avalon, which is similar in length, and it’d taken me two months to read Infinite Jest. So a month seemed a good guess for this epic novel about a guy who goes back in time to try to stop the assassination of JFK.

But I forgot how addicting Stephen King’s storytelling is. And how he writes in a way that is so ultimately readable. I couldn’t put this book down. It was a real page-turner, even with a lot of (what seemed at first like) detours in the story.

I’m not much for sci-fi (like, at all) but time travel is always something that fascinates me, and if I’m going to read a story with some fantastical elements, I like it to be as grounded in the actual real world as possible, like a little variation, a blip in the matrix, is as far as I’ll really go. When I’m reading, I want to be able to believe in what I’m reading, and this book did that well, with everything aside from the time travel rabbit hole being firmly set in real reality.

But yeah, I like things that play with time and questions of what would you change if you could, and what might that change. I liked the movie The Butterfly Effect (which I only saw once, and only the director’s cut (which has a different ending) around when it first came out so fifteen-ish years ago) for the same reason. I was surprised that, while the book mentioned the idea of the Butterfly Effect, it never alluded to the movie, even while the “now” of the book is set at 2011.

It also had a love story, which was totally unexpected to me. And it becomes central to the story in so many ways.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Hulu series made from the book ends up on next month’s digest. I’d be more surprised if it doesn’t.

Currently Reading

Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family by Mitchell S. Jackson

I got the book only a couple of days ago, so I’m only a couple of pages into it so far. It’s about Mitchell S. Jackson, and his family members, growing up Black in Portland. In just the prologue, he distills a lot of the horrible racist past of Portland, and Oregon, but unlike in other accounts I’ve read that have been more straightforward history lesson type articles, this is written in a way that always connects the history to himself and his ancestors, which lends it power in the telling. It’s more personal and poetic.

I’m really looking forward to the adventure and learning and experience ahead of me in this book, and I’ll be going to his seminar on voice in writing put on by Corporeal Writing, on Saturday.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

I’m listening to this on Audible–used my last two credits to get this and pre-order Tana French’s new book (less than a week away!) partly for the virtual book club of one of my favorite podcasts, Crime Writers On. As part of their Patreon, every month Toby Ball does a deep dive on a crime-related book. Sometimes I’ve read along (I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, The Fact of a Body, Adnan’s Story, Killers of the Flower Moon) and sometimes I haven’t read along but still listen to the episode.

I’m a bit behind in this case, the Bad Blood episode is out but I’m about halfway through the audiobook. Bad Blood is about Theranos, the startup founded by Elizabeth Holmes that purported to make blood testing devices that could do a bajillion different tests with just a fingerstick’s worth of blood. And it’s about how it all fell apart. I decided to read this one because I’m so fascinated by how Elizabeth Holmes did what she did, and frankly how anyone thought she knew enough about science to pull this off. And also it was nice to have a crime book that wasn’t about violent crime. I find this sort of con just as fascinating to read about.

I’ve listened to the podcast about the Theranos story (The Dropout) and also watched the HBO documentary when it came out. The book is definitely more detailed than either, and hearing about the ins and outs of the company reminds me a lot of the Trump administration (people are constantly getting fired, it’s a revolving door of people, loyalty is valued above all else, tons of lies and secrecy and avoidance of regulation or oversight, and so on) and there are some literal ties in terms of people who were involved in both.

It’s a good and infuriating read and I’m looking forward to finishing it and listening to the CWO Toby Ball’s Deep Dive patreon episode about it. Next month’s book is Just Mercy, so I wouldn’t be suprised if that shows up here next month.

And yes, I love that it’s named after a Taylor Swift song.

Running List of Books Read So Far in 2020

Books finished this month (as opposed to earlier in the year) are in bold.

Before getting to the list, I think I need to say that I went on some serious audiobook bingeing early on in quarantine, and that’s reflected here in this list, which was essentially blank until mid-March at which began some intense listening. A lot of quicker, thriller type reads, and I discovered and devoured the work of Tana French.

  1. the likenessThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  2. In the Woods by Tana French (first in the Dublin Murder Squad series and ummm, the books are waaaaaaay better than the series, which is what we usually expect, but I mean really)
  3. Into the Water by Paula Hawkins (did not like)
  4. The Likeness by Tana French (loveloveloved this one, didn’t sleep at all one night because I couldn’t stop listening, read (audio) twice and thinking about a third go-round)
  5. Faithful Place by Tana French
  6. Broken Harbour by Tana French (personally my least fave of the Dublin Murder Squad)
  7. The Secret Place by Tana French (loved it, read (audio) twice)
  8. The Trespasser by Tana French
  9. The Witch Elm by Tana French (the only that’s not part of the Dublin Murder Squad)
  10. Little Fires Everywhere (this is going to sound bad but I thought the TV show was better, by a long shot)
  11. The End of Everything by Megan Abbott (ehh)
  12. The Janes by Louisa Luna
  13. Educated by Tara Westover (great, highly recommend this memoir)
  14. The Secret History by Donna Tartt (came highly recommended but I didn’t think it contactwas that great)
  15. The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell
  16. Watching You by Lisa Jewell
  17. Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell
  18. The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell
  19. The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell
  20. Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah (made me cry a lot)
  21. Contact by Carl Sagan (for my NOAH book club, this was a re-read but from over 20 years ago – amazing, highly recommend)
  22. Fly Away by Kristin Hannah
  23. Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics and Big Business Re-Create Race in the Twenty-First Century by Dorothy Roberts
  24. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  25. Mists of Avalon (re-read) by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  26. The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
  27. 11/22/63 by Stephen King

And if you want to be friends on Goodreads, you can find me here.

-April

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