My Weekend in Pop Culture

These are the pop culture items I consumed this weekend.  Without further ado:

roomRoom: I read the book years ago and probably should revisit it, but I went to see Room this weekend and it was so, so good.  One of my favorite movies of the year, probably.  Smart, sad, powerful, this is a tear-jerker of a movie.  I ugly-cried through most of it.  Both Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are incredible (and I’d be surprised if they both don’t get some award nominations).  Definitely worth seeing.

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt: Read for the Cybils this weekend, this was the book that most stood out over the past few days (there’s a lot of reading happening).  It’s a sad, sad book, but also beautifully and sparsely written.  I’m going to be thinking about this one for a while.

fantastic4Fantastic 4: J. and I watched the remake when I said I wanted something really stupid.  It delivered on the really stupid part, but it was so boring that it hardly matters. Like, I couldn’t even make fun of it because it was so boring.  No wonder it bombed at the box office.  What a total disappointment (and it was a low bar to clear to begin with).

Master of None: I started watching this new Aziz Ansari show and ammasternone completely in love with it.  It’s smart, fresh, funny, and totally authentic.  I keep yelling, “This is so natural! Everyone seems like real people!” when I’m watching it, and it’s true.  This is a gem of a show.  I can’t wait to watch more and at the same time I want to savor it because it’s so smart.

What pop culture did you consume this weekend?

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

These are the things I’ve been reading and thinking about this week:

Every Episode of Saved by the Bell, Ranked (Vulture)

So great:

Saved by the Bell is evidence that nostalgia alone can keep a pop-culture artifact’s flame burning endlessly. A monster hit for NBC’s Saturday-morning programming during its run from 1989 to 1993, the teen sitcom featured little in terms of innovation or quality — its plots were well-worn in cliché, the acting ranged from competent to deplorable, there were very few high-wattage guest stars, and the jokes possessed a staleness that Generation X would presumably wretch at a few years later.

Spoiler alert: Jessie’s Song is #1 on the list, as it should be.

Everything You Wanted to Know about Project Greenlight from Effie Brown (Buzzfeed)

This season of Project Greenlight was something to behold.  I loved watching it, and a large part of that was because Effie Brown was so amazing, despite how terrible everyone else was.  This interview with her is very, very telling:

And then I do think a little sugar will get me further. It pisses me off that I have to think that way or do that, because if I were a man, I would not have to, but you know what? I’m not a man. This is where I am right now, and if I want to succeed in this business and do more and tell more authentic stories from the Other, I’m going to have to learn…I’m a hard worker, I bust my ass as a producer, I’m really great at my job, but I have a chip on my shoulder. I am a flawed person in a really difficult situation with other flawed people, and it just happened I have a camera on me, so that’s awesome.

How to Apologize (The Toast)

This is excellent, funny, and a little too real for me at times:

Make a cursory moral self-examination excusing yourself from all responsibility and justifying everything that you did. If this does not work for you, try an exhaustive moral self-examination in which it turns out that not only is everything is your fault, but that you are also responsible for the feelings of everyone around you, and if they experience disappointment or frustration or resentment, it is because of some inner flaw of yours, and it’s up to you to make them feel better.

What got you reading and thinking this week?

Book Review: Mosquitoland by David Arnold

Mim Malone heads out on the road after she feels like her family has imploded.  Now living in Mississippi, Mim learns her real mother is sick back in Cleveland, so she decides to go see her.  A Greyhound bus, a cast of colorful characters, and a slew of mishaps await Mim on her journey.

David Arnold’s novel is garnering all sorts of accolades, and while there are things here that are done well, there are problematic elements to the novel that make it hard to sing its praises wholeheartedly.  Certainly Arnold has crafted a novel with memorable characters and a compelling plot.  For a debut, there is some genuine moments of insightful commentary on growing up, mental illness, and much more.  But the book’s issues overshadow many of its good qualities.

First, readers must consider the cultural appropriation that runs rather rampant throughout the book.  When faced with stress, Mim paints her face with lipstick and refers to it as “warpaint.”  She dismisses this problem by claiming she is “part” Cherokee.  This is disconcerting, but so is the depiction of Walt, a boy with Down Syndrome who Mim meets along her journey.  There are moments where his characterization toes the line of being a stock character, serving as inspiration for Mim.  There’s a throwaway line about Walt being like a pet that doesn’t go down so easy, either.

Some readers will dismiss these small parts of the story as not worthy of dismissing the story as a whole, and while that might be true, they are also elements that should be considered and discussed.  There’s plenty of good stuff here, and Arnold is certainly an author to watch.  The weakest parts of the novel draw away from what is otherwise an inventive tale.

Mosquitoland by David Arnold. Viking Children’s: 2015. Library copy read for the Cybils.

Waiting on Wednesday: Rules for 50/50 Chances by Kate McGovern

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Rules for 50/50 Chances by Kate McGovern

Expected Release Date: November 24, 2015

Seventeen-year-old Rose Levenson has a decision to make: Does she want to know how she’s going to die? Because when Rose turns eighteen, she can take the test that will tell her if she carries the genetic mutation for Huntington’s disease, the degenerative condition that is slowly killing her mother. With a fifty-fifty shot at inheriting her family’s genetic curse, Rose is skeptical about pursuing anything that presumes she’ll live to be a healthy adult—including going to ballet school and the possibility of falling in love. But when she meets a boy from a similarly flawed genetic pool, and gets an audition for a dance scholarship in California, Rose begins to question her carefully-laid rules.

(summary via Goodreads)

It definitely isn’t going to be an easy read, but it looks like it’s going to be a good one.  The topic–whether or not to get a genetic test that will surely alter your future either way–is one that makes for good fiction.  I can’t wait to see what this one has in store for its readers.

What are you waiting on this week?

October 2015 Recap


Best Book of the Month:  Infandous by Elana K. Arnold

Books Read: 21
Adult: 0
MG: 0
YA: 21
Children’s: 0
Fiction: 21
Non-fiction/Memoir: 0
Graphic Novel: 0
# of Pages Read: 5343

Thoughts on October’s Reading: 

I read a lot of books but still feel like I could have read more.  I love reading for the Cybils, but work has gotten unexpectedly busy and life is getting in the way consistently.  I’m hoping to at least match the number of titles read for November, but we’ll see.

October was a bad month for watching stuff.  I watched a few movies and marathoned The Good Wife, but nothing to really report on here, which is embarrassing.

Goals for November:

  • At least 20 more books read for the Cybils.
  • At least 10 movies that are new to me.  I need to get out of the habit of re-watching shows/movies I’ve already seen.  It’s easy to do when you’re a distracted viewer and like to multi-task, but it’s wreaking havoc on my pop culture goals.


What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

Happy almost Halloween! It is my very favorite time of year and I am so excited about this weekend!  As a result, I have a whole bunch of links for you to peruse today.  These are the things I read and thought about this week.  Without further ado:

Why Do High School Shows Have So Much Trouble Graduating to College? (Vulture)

One of my internet favorites, Sarah D. Bunting, takes a look at why it’s so hard for TV shows set in high school to transition their characters and stories to college.  Bunting is a great writer and knows her TV, so this piece was totally fun to read:

The problem, I posit, is not college itself. Whatever you think about Felicity and its weird time-portal fourth season, it (and a flawless performance by Keri Russell) nails the petty aggravations, self-absorbed melodrama, and coexisting terror and exhilaration of campus living, from add/drop agita to inadvertent post-beer-pong infidelity. This was no easy feat. There’s story in them thar frosh hills, for sure — but much of it is about figuring out, then trying to become, who you are, an interior process that’s difficult to externalize entertainingly for a visual medium, and also isn’t necessarily a terribly likable one.

Drake: Rapper, Actor, Meme (NYT)

I’m pretty obsessed with Drake’s “Hotline Bling” and the subsequent internet memes that have resulted.  I think they’re hilarious and awesome and some of the best examples of what collaborative creative work can be on the internet.  This piece in the New York Times is excellent and interesting in that it examines Drake’s role in all of this, and his awareness of that role:

No celebrity understands the mechanisms of Internet obsession better than Drake. Online, fandom isn’t merely an act of receiving — it’s one of interaction, recontextualization, disputed ownership and cheek. For the celebrity, it’s about letting go of unilateral top-down narratives and letting the hive take control. For fans, it’s about applying personalization to the object of adoration.

There’s also some really interesting stuff here about art, and appropriation, and how Drake navigates all of this.  It’s a great read, and well worth your time, even if you don’t love Drake like I love Drake.

On The Babadook, It Follows, and the New Age of Unbeatable Horror (A.V. Club)

Two movies I watched this year and loved.  This piece takes a deeper look at the possible trend of unrelenting horror and whether or not we’ll see it continue in future movies:

With It Follows and The Babadook, there’s never much of a sigh-of-relief moment. In the former, a group of young folks who’ve been infected by the film’s “sexually transmitted invisible serial killer” disease trap their nemesis and make it bleed, but never actually see it die. In the latter, the top-hatted shadow-beast who haunts a widowed mother and her hyperactive son tacitly agrees not to be so annoying, but it doesn’t go away. And in both, the usual rhythm of slow-build, intensification, release is ditched in favor of persistent unease, punctuated regularly by shattering terror.

This is a great read for Halloween time and offers plenty of other horror suggestions if you’re looking for something spooky to watch this weekend.  But start with It Follows and The Babadook, for sure.  So great.

There Are No Innocent Black People (Concourse/Deadspin)

Shifting the tone completely, this piece is upsetting and important and provocative.  It details what happened at a school in Columbia, South Carolina this past week: a student was thrown around in the air while still in her desk by the school’s resource officer.  It was caught on video.  It is horrifying.  This article talks about the details of what happened and the officer’s response:

More important is the question of proportion. Fields is dubbed “The Incredible Hulk” at Spring Valley High because of his ability to bench 600 pounds. He’s also a trained police officer, who was dealing with an unarmed student who posed no threat. A cop working in a school should have tools available to them for dealing with children that fall somewhere on the spectrum between not doing anything and proceeding as if in an active shooter situation.

There’s more to think about here:

Given that blacks are presumed criminal from birth, it makes sense that even in school, punishment is distributed unequally. Black children are just 18 percent of preschoolers, but make up 48 percent of preschoolers who receive more than one out-of-school suspension. Black students of all ages are suspended at over three times the rate as white students; black girls are suspended six times more than white girls. Black kids account for 16 percent of all students, but as many are expelled as white kids, who account for over half.

The officer has been fired and is being investigated.  This is not the first time he’s been accused of using excessive force, nor is it the first time that racism has been leveled at him (one spokesperson from the deaprtment said he couldn’t have a racism problem because he’s been “dating a black woman for a long time,” which I’m not even going to touch).

Worth the time it’ll take to read, for sure.

What got you reading and thinking this week?


Book Review: The Truth Commission by Susan Juby

Normandy Pale and her friends start a “truth commission” as a way to find out the secrets at their school.  As part of a “creative nonfiction” piece for her school, Normandy details the drama and events over the course of a year as she attempts to step out from under her artist sister’s shadow as well as discover the truth about the human experience.  The truth commission goes swimmingly well until it leads them to Normandy’s own sister, who is hiding some pretty huge–and damaging–secrets.

Susan Juby’s ambitious fictional story of Normandy Pale is a knockout of a novel, guaranteed to win legions of fans, especially those who are literary geeks themselves.  Using Normandy’s creative nonfiction school project as her narrative device, Juby crafts a story that is funny, heartbreaking, smart, and sneakily provocative.  One of the best books of the year, this is one that readers will want to talk about long after they’re done reading.

Juby employs a whole host of literary devices to tell Normandy’s story, including footnotes (which tell their own hilarious, sweet story), flashbacks, cliffhangers, and more.  Literary trope geeks will delight in how many different devices are used here, and because Juby is so good at what she does, these thing add to the story instead of distracting from it.  These devices, combined with the story’s provocative themes about the nature of truth and gossip, about what should be or can be kept private in the world of oversharing and social media, make this a thoughtful, layered read.

Multi-dimensional characters and truly nuanced portrayals of family dynamics make this a rich read as well.  Normandy’s relationship with her family changes as the truth commission forces her to give a closer look to how her parents enable her sister Keira’s behavior.  They’re all tied up in it because everyone needs something from someone else, and there are no easy answers to be found here.  It’s a fascinating look at the dysfunction of families and how we can be blind to our own failings.

On the whole, this is a title with enormous teen and adult appeal.  It’s a novel that lends itself to multiple re-reads, and is guaranteed to add more to think about each time a reader completes it.  Recommended.

The Truth Commission by Susan Juby.  Viking Books for Young Readers: 2015.  Library copy.