June 30, 2021

Reading, watching, enjoying — Q2 2021

For the first few months when our little one arrived, I didn’t get much time to read, or watch television and movies. Now that she’s a lot older and sleeping much better, I’m finding a bit more time to enjoy some reading and watching and just escape for a little while.

Below, inspired by Kottke, a quick look at some of the books, television shows, and movies that I’ve been enjoying over the past three months:

The Death of Vivek Oji, Akwaeke Emezi: An incredibly powerful novel about becoming who we truly are, and the repercussions of the secrets we all hold about each other and about ourselves. A rumination on identity and family and friendship that was impossible to put down.

The White Tiger: A thoroughly entertaining film about the servant class in India and the effects of the massive wealth gap on people, families, and society. Wrapped up a little too quickly and easily—the end felt rushed—but overall an entertaining look at a part of the world I don’t think about often enough.

Fleishman Is In Trouble, Taffy Brodesser-Akner: The last third of this novel saves it from the first two thirds, which were a slog that leaned too heavily on the real and imagined sex life of a recently-divorced man who had no redeeming qualities. The last third is much more compelling, but the voice—an omniscient narrator who can’t actually be omniscient because they are a character in the plot—throughout the book adds to an already hard and lacklustre read.

The Undoing: I will never understand the world of the super-rich. Shows like this one, with their ostentatious shows of wealth, do a lot to turn me off, but this one did a lot to keep me captivated, too. Essentially, this was a six-hour long episode of Law & Order—it followed many of the same beats as the iconic show—and that was to its credit: we know who did it (or do we?) from the start, but the details all get filled in slowly and in a mesmerizing way. The show was beautifully shot and staged, too.

The Great British Bake-Off, Season 10 and The Great Canadian Baking Show, Season 4: There is something so charming and joyful about these baking shows that make them one of my favorite things to watch on TV. The format is delightfully low-stakes: there is tension in the challenges, but everyone is rooting for each other to do well instead of trying to cut down other competitors. The contestants are adorable, and the fact that they all help each other and seem to genuinely like each other makes the competition feel like a family affair.

Nomadland: A very deserving Best Picture winner, this film is meditative and emotional and gorgeous in its starkness. Frances McDormand is a tour de force, and the pacing is slow in the most beautiful way.

Promising Young Woman: Thrilling and gasp-inducing; while the ending is (needlessly?) shocking, the whole film keeps you on the edge of your seat and wondering where it is about to go. The subject matter is heartbreaking and infuriating, and the way Carey Mulligan navigates these emotions is powerful. Not an easy watch, for sure, but worth watching.

Legendary, Season 2: It’s impossible not to be enthralled by the dance talent on stage in this show. I love how it is bringing ballroom culture to the masses. Some of the judging was suspect (especially the guest judges) this season, but overall this was an immensely enjoyable series.

RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under: Probably much weaker than the US flagship version of the show, but entertaining nonetheless. The cattiness of the contestants was a bit shocking and deterring at first, but you get used to it.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always: An incredibly powerful film about the struggle to get an abortion in America. At parts gutting and at parts heartwarming, this film tells the story of a young woman doing what she can to exercise her choice in a world determined to make it impossible to do just that. Incredible performances and very relevant subject matter; it’s a must-watch.

The Glass Hotel: I’m convinced that there is nothing Emily St. John Mandel can write that I won’t be enraptured with. This book may be ostensibly about a financial Ponzi scheme, but it’s really about the relationships we make and the trust we have in others. It’s a compelling read and one I couldn’t put down.

Wonder Woman 1984: A serious letdown after the joy that was the first Wonder Woman movie. The plot was convoluted, the character motivations made little sense, and even the action felt contrived. Was still a fun way to spend an evening, but failed to capture the wonder of the first movie in the franchise.

Mare of Easttown: One of the best series of television I’ve seen in a long time, Mare of Easttown is a tour de force examining relationships, motherhood, and small towns where everyone knows each other. Kate Winslet is incredible, and the rest of the cast (especially Julianne Nicholson) are stupendous. The suspense of the story—and the twist at the end—is captivating, but the show is best when exploring the relationships between the web of connections in the town. Television at its best.

High on the Hog: Lush, vivid, beautiful, enlightening. This documentary series purports to be about food and how African American cuisine transformed America, but it is so much more than that. It is a rumination on history, on geography, and about people and our connection to food. A gorgeously-shot and impeccably-edited piece of documentary film-making. It will make you hungry and contemplative all at once.

Mexican Gothic: Beautifully written, but not really for me: I just don’t think I’m into horror-adjacent period pieces, so no matter how gorgeously vivid this was, the story didn’t capture me as much as I hoped it would.

Lupin, Part 2: Sure, the plot machinations are far-fetched and just barely believable, but it’s hard to argue that this show isn’t a fun romp. Omar Sy is phenomenal in the starring role, and the suspense and convoluted capers keep you cheering him on, flawed as the character may be. Already hoping for a third season.

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