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Mentions | Fall 2020 ​

EMMA ADLER, STEPHEN ALTOBELLI, KIARA BARROW, BRAD BOLMAN, GRAYSON CLARY, KENNETH DILLON, SASHA FRERE-JONES, TARPLEY HITT, CLAIRE JARVIS, NOAH KULWIN, BETTY LEMA, BEN LIBMAN, CALDER MCHUGH, REBECCA PANOVKA, ELENA SAAVEDRA BUCKLEY, BRANDON SANCHEZ, JENNY G. ZHANG

EMMA ADLER, STEPHEN ALTOBELLI, KIARA BARROW, BRAD BOLMAN, GRAYSON CLARY, KENNETH DILLON, SASHA FRERE-JONES, TARPLEY HITT, CLAIRE JARVIS, NOAH KULWIN, BETTY LEMA, BEN LIBMAN, CALDER MCHUGH, REBECCA PANOVKA, ELENA SAAVEDRA BUCKLEY, BRANDON SANCHEZ, JENNY G. ZHANG

The Presidential Turkey Pardon |

FOWL PLAY

The origins of the November tradition, wherein the President poses for pictures in the Rose Garden with some larded-up bird, sparing it the fate 45 million others meet each year, are disputed. It was George H. W. Bush who first officially announced in 1989 that one “understandably nervous” turkey would not “end up on anyone’s dinner table.” But lore has it that Abe Lincoln absolved a fowl after his son started to cart it around by leash. Later, JFK — greeted with a 55-pounder sporting a sign that read “Good Eating, Mr. President!” — mused he’d “let this one grow;” Kennedy died three days later. The joke of the gesture is its basic arbitrariness. It’s hilarious when world leaders use executive powers to grant mindless gobbling birdbrains privileges few others could expect — like interstate travel during the holidays. An alternative genesis could start in 1987, when Ronald Reagan dodged reporters’ questions about whether he’d exonerate aides accused of wrongdoing in the Iran-Contra scandal (Bush would do it for him). Instead, Reagan pointed to the fat white bird before them and said: “I’ll pardon him.”

T.H.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond |

CHILDREN'S BOOK

Elizabeth George Speare’s 1958 story of Kit, a young girl brought up on a Barbados sugar plantation, and her Connecticut Puritan family was my favorite book when I read it in sixth grade. The descriptions — of hard Connecticut winter and rustling silk dresses — are as captivating as I remember. But a contemporary reader will notice limits to Speare’s representation: Kit is oblivious to the evils of slavery while her cousins are horrified; she is an ardent Royalist at a moment when revolution is being first imagined. I’m not sure if I am recommending this book so much as the process of revisiting an earlier self.

C.J.

David Lynch's Weather Reports |

STREAMING

Los Angeles, 7 a.m. — David Lynch gazes straight into the camera he has set up in his office, which resembles my landlord’s. “Today I feel like Pink Floyd,” he says. “Comfortably numb. One of the saddest songs. Childhood dreams, gone away.” These days, squinting out the window on YouTube keeps Lynch busy, when he’s not building some tiny lamp he saw in a dream. A stack of shoe outsoles was visible in the background of the first video, which got ~320k views but has since disappeared, along with 94 percent of viewers. Their loss. I’ve caught myself cheering on the fog which seems to dye the room blue.

K.D.

Quora |

WEBSITE

So annoying that I have to sign in with my Google account to find out the meaning of life on Quora.com.

B.L.

2020 |

ALBUM

I’d never heard a folk song about an Amazon warehouse employee until this record. 2020, the latest release from the eclectic British folk musician Richard Dawson, captures our current reality in all of its infuriating, depressing banality. Dawson’s mournful voice seesaws between registers as he sings about “voluntary redundancy” and the scarcity of healthcare in post-Blair Britain. He populates his songs with pitiful losers, from the titular narrator of the track “Civil Servant” to a UFO conspiracy vlogger cuckolded by his wife’s pilates classmate. Reviews of Dawson’s work often note that it is tear-inducing. I’ve found this to be true.

S.A.

Borgen |

TV

This show started on Danish TV in 2010 and ran for three seasons. Netflix released all of it into our pandemic bloodstream this September. The fantasy here is just rude — a politician named Birgitte Nyborg works her way into and out of power in a parliamentary democracy, simply by talking and being a fairly competent person! Borgen feels like water for anyone trapped in the desert of American enfeeblement. A smart woman negotiates with people she disagrees with, and aside from some tabloid smears, everyone works more or less in good faith. There are many hot adults and adorable children. Arguments are made and listened to. (Not listening is maybe the gravest sin on this show.) People leave bicycles willy-nilly in the street. The blend of public policy and soap opera makes you believe momentarily that people can do stuff and learn from their mistakes. Not that that happens in real life!

S.F.J.

Fanfiction |

WISHFUL THINKING

It occurs to me, when encountering full-grown adults’ half-formed political “your name here” fantasies (Bernie is my mean stepdad! RBG is my grandmother! Hillary is all women who are undervalued white-collar professionals who are also me!), that not enough people spent their formative years dabbling in the pastime known as fanfiction. Fanfic confers many gifts — a community of similarly besotted internet friends, a burgeoning sense of one’s sexuality, an appreciation for new ways to describe male genitalia in prose — but one of the most valuable is the opportunity to probe the delineations between reality and fiction. Frankly, society would be much healthier if everyone were to work out these fantasies as teens, before juvenile fancy becomes mature delusion. Adults, it’s not too late: there’s still Tumblr and Archive of Our Own and, for the truly young at heart, TikTok point-of-view videos. 

J.G.Z.

The Lying Life of Adults |

ANONYMOUS

“I wanted to expel myself from myself as if I were about to vomit myself” is an actual sentence from this novel. But the prose is, for the most part, great (whether we want to credit Ferrante or her perennial translator Ann Goldstein for this), and Ferrante’s latest take on the loss-of-innocence tale is astute and chilling. As the protagonist Giovanna grows from a girl into a young woman, we get a bleak sense that becoming an adult does not mean getting a clearer view of things so much as exchanging one set of delusions for another. Childish naivete gives way to adult myopias, and Giovanna’s narration — blinkered from the start — becomes unreliable for different reasons. Will we ever know how selfish her father really is, or whether her eccentric aunt Vittoria deserves the label “crazy”? Is the uneven plot — which eventually takes a sharp turn away from Giovanna’s family drama and toward her love life — a fair and formally daring reflection of Giovanna’s shifting priorities?  (Characters and subplots fall off the map, but that’s kind of how life is!) Or is it just clumsiness? We can never know, and it’s unnerving, maybe even structurally bad, but if you like Ferrante more for the psychology than for the craftsmanship, Lying Life is well worth reading. 

E.A.

The Silence |

POSTHUMOUS

We need to consider the possibility that Don DeLillo has died and that this book was put out anyways.

G.C.

The Kennedy Imprisonment |

HISTORY

To commemorate the election of a second Catholic commander-in-chief  and the near-simultaneous fall of the House of Kennedy with Joe III’s loss, I’ve been reading Garry Wills’s gabby volume of sex and questionable psychohistory, published in 1982. To hear Wills — who was socially adjacent to the clan — tell it, the most iconic Irish Catholic family in U.S. history was driven to overperform, overpower, and outsex because their patriarch hated being Irish Catholic (hmmm). Apparently, Joe Kennedy Sr. wanted to be a powerful, liberated “man of the world” but had a bad stomach (meaning no fancy food or liquor) and didn’t like art. So he slept around, cultivating an “English” attitude toward sex, which he passed on to the rest of the poor brood. Sins of the father, yada yada.

B.S.

The Other Total Landscaper |

HORTICULTURE

Philadelphia, whose bell announces “Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof,” has two landscaping companies that claim totalizing effects. The smaller of the two, Total Tree and Landscaping, is downstream the Delaware from its rival. Total has a pretty good website, where it lists services such as astroturf installation and “hardscaping,” something that seems to apply to rocks. A stirring, twenty-image photo album details the process of tree removal, ordered in reverse: piles of wood chips fuse into Tootsie Roll-like segments, and then reassemble into the trunk. Such a process does come across as sublime and all-encompassing; one could liken the montage to a cremation in reverse, passing the body back into the realm of the living and erect. On Yelp, the business’s description reads, chillingly, “TOTAL DOES IT ALL.”  

E.S.B.

Reviews of Dr. Jill Biden on RateMyProfessor.com |

PEDAGOGY

I suppose it’s a feminist victory that none of Dr. Jill Biden’s reviews on RateMyProfessor.com mention her husband, other than oblique references to “all that she has going on.” In the Biden tradition, her scores are middling: 22 students at Delaware Technical Community College rated her, on average, 3.6 out of 5. She ranks higher in the estimation of reviewers at Northern Virginia Community College, where she earns a 3.8. “She is a prof who can improve your writing skills, and she can teach u about the reality of life,” writes one student. Starting in January, the future of humanities in higher ed may rest in the hands of our once Second, future First Lady, who has said that she will not give up her job. A recurring theme in the students’ feedback is that she “really cares” and “has a big heart,” suggesting that, unlike that of our nation, the soul of English 111 is intact thanks to “Dr. B.” 

K.B.

Intercessors for America |

THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS

Founded in 1973, this organization offers “news Christians need to pray about EVERY DAY.” If you signed up online before the election, you might have downloaded the handy Voter Prayer Guide and other “resources to help you pray strategically,” listened to audio recordings of fellow users’ prayers, or visited the Interactive Prayer Map to see how many people were praying for each polling location at any given time. And the worship didn’t stop last Tuesday. Six days later, the faithful received an “IMPORTANT PRAYER ASSIGNMENT!” Their mission: seek divine intervention in Trump’s legal battle by praying for a list of firms including Jones Day, which has also represented the Bin Laden family and Big Tobacco. “The Lord woke me at 4am to continue praying for the uncovering of fraud and criminal activity,” an intercessor named Silvia writes in a message board post. “He impressed on me that there is a recorded conversation somewhere that when brought to light, arrests would be made throughout the Democratic Party. So I prayed angels would be sent to this or these individuals and the fear of the Lord will cause them to literally tremble.” Have you prayed for Brian Kemp yet? How about Gretchen Whitmer? Click “I PRAYED” and get added to the tally.

R.P.

Amy Klobuchar’s Ex-Boyfriends |

PERSONALS

Much ink was spilled over Amy Klobuchar’s alleged mistreatment of staff: hurling binders at aides, sabotaging their future job prospects, and, after downing a salad with a comb, forcing one guy to clean it as retribution for failing to produce a fork. But nowhere near enough time was spent on the Senator’s deep-pocketed (and potentially D.I.Y.) ex-boyfriends, who––as she told a debate crowd nearly one year ago––contributed some $17,000 to her campaign. To these gentlemen: hello : ) 

T.H.

Rudy Giuliani’s Year (Nov. 2019-Nov. 2020) |

SAGAS

Twelve months ago, Trump’s personal lawyer, and America’s mayor, was preparing for the impeachment. It would later emerge that his associates pressured the President of Ukraine to announce investigations into Burisma and Hunter Biden. Apparently, Trump’s response to those interested in Ukraine was: “You should talk to Rudy.” (“Nobody should be talking to Rudy,” John Bolton once said). In February 2020, Giuliani began hawking cigars when he wasn’t treating his 332k YouTube subscribers to a steady stream of unwatchable, conspiracy-laden videos (some accompanied by cigar commercials). His pièce de resistance was the delivery of the contents of Hunter Biden’s water-damaged MacBook Pro to the New York Post, which managed to arouse a surprising amount of interest, at least among those I know, in Hunter’s schlong. Last week, defending Trump in a parking lot between a sex shop and a crematorium, Giuliani proved that it’s possible to go lower than being tricked by Sacha Baron Cohen into flirting with a fake fifteen-year-old. A year for the record books.

B.B.

Meg Whitman For Commerce Secretary |

APPOINTMENTS

It seemed for a second that Quibi, which took a widely-mocked six-month quick bite of the streaming wars, had been played out, joke-wise. But the Biden-Harris admin will at least stimulate that economy. The president-elect may be mulling the nomination of Republican CEO Meg Whitman, who spoke longer than AOC at the Democratic National Convention and just shuttered a business with $1.75 billion of investment cash, to the cabinet position intended “to foster, promote, and develop the foreign and domestic commerce.” Economists predict her plan may give us all, like one Quibi protagonist, “pulmonary gold disease.” 

T.H.

The Debt Ceiling |

BIPARTISANSHIP

Twice in the early 2010s, a Republican Congressional majority successfully bullied Obama and the Democrats into accepting brutal reductions in government spending in exchange for raising the “debt ceiling”—a piece of pro forma legislation that allows the U.S. government to conduct basic borrowing operations. Republican intransigence, in fact, was all that kept Obama and his Congressional liaison Joe Biden from cutting Social Security in 2013. Mitch McConnell will undoubtedly extract pounds of flesh from the sure-to-be pliant centrists in control of the White House in exchange for averting economic cataclysm (reminder: the debt ceiling next expires in July 2021). I am afraid that the media, the lanyards, the Trump-radicalized liberals, and so on have not internalized an important lesson: despite what happened last Tuesday, it can get much, much worse. In fact, it probably will.

N.K.

Strokes reunion concert at the University of New Hampshire, February 10, 2020 |

MUSIC

After knocking doors in the cold outside Newmarket, I drove over to wait in a multi-hour line for one of a few remaining spots behind the equine stables to see AOC and Bernie open for The Strokes. Their latest album, The New Abnormal, which the New York Times claimed “flipped nostalgia toward the future,” wasn’t better than their last, but 2020 had to be an improvement on 2016. So it seemed at the time: someone told us it was the best rally he’d ever attended. Maybe at some point an elderly Sanders will introduce the next President of the United States, possibly an Alexandria, and I’ll think of that concert and feel nostalgic for the future that then seemed possible.

B.B.

Wilco "VOTE" Stickers |

ELECTORALISM

In a desperate attempt to lock down friends my freshman year of college, I paid to go to a Wilco show that was somewhere between three and four hours long. Beside me, some Gen X hipsters who had moved to Maine to start a family hung on Jeff Tweedy’s every word. This year, Wilco — along with Alice Cooper, Jefferson Starship, The Doors, and a slate of other bands closely associated with dad-rock — affixed red, white, and blue “VOTE stickers to their classic albums on streaming services. This gesture of corporate-approved, nonpartisan civic engagement struck me as even more vacuous than the emails from brands urging me to vote. But I’m sure many of those same Maine dads nodded sagely when they opened their apps and saw the sticker on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. “Democracy in action,” they muttered under their breath, contemplating whether to add the new art to Instagram. Pop back over to The Grateful Dead’s discography, fellas. The VOTE stickers are there too.

C.M.

Dwight Garner’s Reviews of Major Living Authors |

CRITICISM

“This is probably the place to say that, like a lot of readers I know, I’m divided about Robinson’s novels,” he writes, hitting send to his editor as if launching a probe into deep space. He is a critic at the height of his powers, though he would never use the phrase. But the one cliché he cannot avoid reproducing is that the trajectory of the Major Novelist must be parabolic. “The Silence is a minor, oddly frictionless DeLillo novel. In terms of his career, it is not waterfall but spray,” DeLillo is well beyond the apex, now, Mr. Garner says, shutting his laptop, straightening his lapels. At the sliding glass door, he watches the leaves and runs the mantra over in his clinical mind: working from home… working from home…

B.Li.

Mentions | Issue 2 ​

ISAAC ALPERT, THAYER ANDERSON, DAVID ASTROFSKY, ERIK BAKER, RAFAELA BASSILI, BRAD BOLMAN, BEN HAMILTON, TARPLEY HITT, JOHN KAZIOR, NOAH KULWIN, BETTY LEMA,  WILLIAM LENNON, CHRISTIAN LORENTZEN, TREE PALMEDO, JOE PURTELL, FRANCIS RUSSO, ELENA SAAVEDRA BUCKLEY, ELISSA SUH, ANNIE TRESSLER, KRITHIKA VARAGUR, JULIAN WADDELL

ISAAC ALPERT, THAYER ANDERSON, DAVID ASTROFSKY, ERIK BAKER, RAFAELA BASSILI, BRAD BOLMAN, BEN HAMILTON, TARPLEY HITT, JOHN KAZIOR, NOAH KULWIN, BETTY LEMA,  WILLIAM LENNON, CHRISTIAN LORENTZEN, TREE PALMEDO, JOE PURTELL, FRANCIS RUSSO, ELENA SAAVEDRA BUCKLEY, ELISSA SUH, ANNIE TRESSLER, KRITHIKA VARAGUR, JULIAN WADDELL

The Entire History of the Louisiana Purchase (1997) |

FILM

People from New Mexico rarely let themselves off the hook for making art about New Mexico. Joshua Oppenheimer, the director of The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence, partially grew up in Santa Fe, a city dedicated to selling the state to outsiders. This film mixes archival footage with the fictional  story of a woman living near the Trinity Site, where the atomic bomb — the doing of a different Oppenheimer — was? first detonated. She believes her baby to have been immaculately conceived, before deciding it’s the second coming of Lucifer. She kills it in the microwave. Oppenheimer’s work, like Kubrick’s, considers the overwhelming legacy of the genocide of Indigenous people in North America: blood pours out of the microwave as if from the Overlook Hotel elevator.

E. S. B.

“DVD Menu” |

SONG

Anchored by Rob Moose’s gravelly violin, the spacious little instrumental intro to Phoebe Bridger’s Punisher, could easily work as a prestige-TV theme song. But as its title suggests, “DVD Menu”  will also take 20th-century babies back to those pre-Netflix nights where you’d pop in the disc and go make popcorn as a thirty-second snippet of the film’s soundtrack repeats, repeats, and slowly sinks into your nightmares.

T.P.

The Beach Bum |

FILM

Is it possible for a single movie to eliminate every positive feeling you have toward a director? 

B.B.

Reptile Facebook Groups |

LIZARD PEOPLE

A scene where the harshness of the reptilian world — where dinner means live rats, not Purina — clashes absurdly with the infantilized mewling of pet culture. Photos of grass snakes draped on school-aged kids appear alongside screeds against faulty gecko deliveries and the rotting, ulcerated nodules of S.F.D. (Snake Fungal Disease). Some groups are highly specialized. Try Reptile and Amphibian Bioactive Setups for how-tos on low-maintenance enclosures; DIY Terrariums for help with hydro rocks or fake moss bundles; or Rehome your unwanted reptiles here for giving up. But most are social spaces to mingle, gossip, and swap tips on things like “field herping.” Facebook may have gotten older, conservative, and conspiratorial (look no further than South Dakota Reptiles to find QAnon’s trace on the platform’s collective psyche), but the internet’s tendency toward monoculture yields many rabbit holes. Some people just care about Malagasy leaf-nosed snakes. 

T.H.

Reds (1981) |

FILM

“You don’t rewrite my writing!” John Reed says twice in Reds: first to one of his New York editors, Peter Van Wherry; and then, a couple of cinematic hours and several historical years later, to Grigory Zinoviev, one of the seven members of the first Soviet Politburo.Van Wherry is a fictional character, and, played by Gene Hackman, he stands in for any gin-soaked hack the world over — they fuck with your copy because they can. Zinoviev, played by actual writer Jerzy Kosinski, rewrote Reed’s address to revolutionaries in Baku, changing his call for international class war to a call for holy war against the American infidel: don’t go into politics if you don’t want your copy fucked with. (Zinoviev was executed by Stalin in 1936 after the Trial of the Sixteen.) In between these episodes of nonconsensual editing, we witness the love affair of Reed and Louise Bryant — a passion hashed out between Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton across typewriters, where lovers’ quarrels over which line to put in the lede lead straight to the bedroom. It’s safe to say that Hollywood will never produce another epic on the joys and pains of freelancing and leftism quite so lavish. Also featuring Jack Nicholson, as Eugene O’Neill, Reed’s friend who had an affair with Bryant, and apparently never entered a room without asking, “Where’s the whiskey?”

C.L.

Emma Willard’s Maps of Time |

ART

Mesmerizing illustrations of time, if you can get past the fine-with-genocide brand of nationalism woven through Willard’s renderings of American “manifest destiny.” Modern visual timelines — screentime apps, work calendars, and more recently, Covid-19 mortality charts — tend to be suffocating and dimensionless; Willard’s chronologically-constructed rivers, valleys, and temples, give time space to breathe.

J.K.

Natalie Portman’s Master Class |

ACTING!

I learned that shuffling the stuff around on every surface in a room shows people that you’re very upset. 

T.P.

Blue Circle’s Classic Norwegian Roasted Salmon |

FOOD

The fish is impressively sculpted into an almost perfect, believably salmon-colored, rectangular prism. With wild salmon in their final century of existence, one can rest easy knowing that we’ve perfected the industrial salmon product to replace them. A product that briefly swims, eats, lives, and dies so that it can become the ideal pinkish-monolith for Whole Foods shoppers everywhere.

J.K.

Nomadland (2020) |

FILM

As Fern, Hollywood’s foremost no-nonsense thespian Frances McDormand tootles around the West living in her cargo van-slash-home. This feature captures the tension between the evasion of normal life obligations and the pursuit of freedom en plein air, but glosses over political realities — the circumstances behind why McDormand and so many others are working at Amazon on New Year’s Eve, for example. The seasonal hustle rewards these independent contractors with money, flexibility, and time to experience many sherbet sunsets. Major images include five-gallon buckets for bodily functions and McDormand’s fatigue-crinkled visage beneath the moody skyline.

E.S.

#APSTogether |

SOCIAL DISTANCE

Online read-alongs hosted by A Public Space: a brilliant writer holds our hands through 12-15 pages per week. Yiyun Li with War and Peace, Garth Greenwell with A Turn of the Screw, Ed Park with True Grit. If reading in public is “sacral,” “romantic,” and “the private self made public,” as LitHub would have us believe, then close reading in public must be bondage-slash-exhibitionism.

T.A.

The Blacklist |

TV

Imagine the most entertaining Nicolas Cage movie you’ve ever seen stretched over seven seasons (so far) of network television. And instead of Cage it’s James Spader, not so much chewing the scenery as gnashing it to bits with unhinged exuberance. The writers’ flourishes constantly threaten to send things off the rails, but they ultimately stick to soothingly predictable recipes, like the Great British Baking Show reconceived by Dan Brown. Also the soundtrack is really good for some reason.

E.B.

4 3 2 1 (2017) |

NOVEL

What’s better than one Bildungsroman? For Paul Auster, the answer is four. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to grow up Jewish in New Jersey in the decades following WWII, and you’re sick of Philip Roth, then count yourself lucky. Now, you can immerse yourself in that world not once, not twice, but four times in a book the length of four books.

I.A.

Carefree (1938) |

FILM

Fred Astaire is the psychoanalyst we need but don’t deserve. A gloriously uplifting film about subconscious mind control: Ginger Rogers is manipulated by hypnosis, sedation, and, in the end, a punch to the head. Includes the irresistibly senseless musical number “The Yam.”

B.H.

Roasted Watermelon |

FOOD

An attractive vegan YouTuber said roasted-then-smoked watermelon “looks just like meat,” so I tried it out. The result looked vaguely pot roastish, like red meat with a dark glaze. But the illusion only deceived one of the five senses. For the first half of a bite, the desiccated fruit’s rubbery texture was uncannily flesh-like, but each mouthful finished with a slight crunch that can only be grown on a vine. I left the table confused, and determined to no longer cook across Aristotelian categories. All in all, much less tasty than a fresh watermelon. 

J.P.

Desperate Living (1977) |

FILM

There’s something unnervingly topical about watching a character in the throes of a mental breakdown find her calling as the henchman to a dictatorial queen hell-bent on infecting her subjects with rabies. John Waters has always been prophetic. 

I.A.

William Gass’s Hatred |

AFFECT

In an interview with The Paris Review in 1977, William Gass poses the hypothetical question “Why do you write?” and answers: “I write because I hate. A lot. Hard.” Each of his three major novels deals with characters coming to terms with their distaste for the world. In Omensetter’s Luck (1966) a preacher subjects his parish to his suffering, concealing his atheism and daydreaming about how Jesus urinated. In The Tunnel (1995) a Nazi-obsessed professor hates his wife and reflects on being the child of an alcoholic and getting swept up by the energy of Kristallnacht. In Middle C (2013), a music professor specializing in Schoenberg builds an Inhumanity Museum in his attic showcasing newspaper clippings of human atrocities, and perpetually rewrites the sentence: “The fear that the human race might not survive has been replaced by the fear that it will endure.” These are familiar attitudes for Gass. In the afterword to Omensetter’s Luck, he says of the years he spent writing it: “I didn’t much like my life. I didn’t much like my job. I didn’t much like the world.” 

J.W.

Pick Me Up Off the Floor |

MUSIC

Norah Jones’s new album — how do you judge something so tied to the absolute high of your first Vanilla Bean Crème Frappuccino? The new songs are totally 100% just fine. 

B.L.

John Woo’s Unashed Cigarettes |

PROPS

Hong Kong director John Woo, pioneer of the neo-noir action genre Heroic Bloodshed, is a master of the “cool guy” trope. His men ooze indifference, privilege male friendship over the allure of the female lead, tend to go rogue, etc. That decided lack of care contrasts with the hyper-stylized construction of Woo’s scenes. One example: characters rarely ash their cigarettes. Smokers go around with these comically long, curved ashes at the ends of their cigarettes, sometimes almost as extended as the unsmoked cigarette itself. But we never see the ash collapse. It always stays in place, like Tom Cruise’s hair in the Mission Impossible films, the second installment of which Woo would go on to direct. Unfortunately, when I tried this, I got ash all over myself. Not very cool.

W.L.

Town Bloody Hall (1971) |

FILM

About 50 minutes into DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus’s documentary about a famed panel discussion on feminism, Germaine Greer tells Diana Trilling: “I adopt the same approach to Freud as you do. I quote him where it suits me and I don’t where it doesn’t.” Norman Mailer is moderating. He doesn’t laugh, which doesn’t matter, since he’s not in on the joke. An audience member is escorted out for not paying the entrance fee; on the way out, she yells: “Women’s Lib is for rich bitches only. Germaine Greer, you’re a traitor! All of you are traitors!” By the time the 85 minutes are up, I have forgotten Norman Mailer exists. 

R.B.

Whose Line Is It Anyway, season 15 |

TV

There should be a special Emmy awarded solely to whomever decided to replace Drew Carey with Aisha Tyler. No longer encumbered by the Brad Shelton of improv comedy, Whose Line… is now an escapist romp of dad jokes, prop humor, and the seemingly limitless talents of Wayne Brady. 

I.A.

How to Behave in a Crowd |

NOVEL

An almost-young adult realizing that most adults, no matter their age, are still young adults. The plot of Camille Bordas’s first English book is plotless in the best of ways: preteen hero, Isidore, loses his father; while his genius siblings escape through endless PhD work, Isidore learns lessons in sex, friendship, and the German language. One of those rare books where the saddest lines are the funniest, and the funniest are the most true . “I had no choice but to be different,” Isidore tells us. “I wasn’t as smart or as good-looking as my brothers and sisters.”

D.A.

The Lobby |

FILM

A character called Old White Male extols the virtues of death over dying while seated in countless lobbies in Heinz Emigholz’s latest feature. Each of these unremarkable and purgatorial spaces is filmed from improbable angles. No other new release will so accurately illustrate pandemic time.

E.S.

Mozart Symphonies Nos. 39 - 41 (2020) |

MUSIC

Here is Mozart at the wheel of a Bugatti: Riccardo Minasi and Ensemble Resonanz take us on a near-manic peek-a-boo thrill ride. Maybe a little too zeitgeisty, but with so many surprises, a genuine blast awaits Mozart veterans; for newbies, what an ace welcome.

F.R.

Darling (1965) |

FILM

If you’re a culture enjoyer who manages not to deduce your morals from works of art, come sit by me. Let’s watch Julie Christie wear great skirts in Mod London, flirt with Catholicism, and gulp dumb bitch juice for about two hours, but (not really a spoiler) become a princess in the end anyway. She won Best Actress for this through the opposite of whatever value system got try-hard Natalie Portman the Oscar for Black Swan.

K.V.

Belhaven Scottish Oat Stout |

BEVERAGE

Thick, strong, earthy. Nutritional enough to replace any meal (ideally breakfast). Perfect lockdown drinking.

B.H.

All That Heaven Allows (1955)/ Far From Heaven (2002) |

DOUBLE FEATURE

Some grimace at the word melodrama, and to them I say: begone, heartless trolls. Douglas Sirk made this perfect 1955 film starring Rock Hudson in flannels and Jane Wyman in pretty coats. In 2002, Todd Haynes reimagined the story, this time featuring a blonde(r) Julianne Moore in 1950s Connecticut. For Haynes, as for Sirk, political virtue — a belief in an equitable and fair world for all — is uncorrupted because it’s never something signaled for personal gain; instead, it’s held onto as a source of hope in a world that is otherwise crumbling. It’s nice, once in a while, to spend three hours in the company of people who know how to live. 

R.B.

NatGeo |

TV

If you’re looking for a break from this increasingly burnt Earth, Disney’s recent acquisition offers a lineup of streamable content set on an Earth-like planet sans ecological collapse, depicted in high-saturation colors and populated by erstwhile celebrities like Katie Couric and Joseph Fiennes. A good option if you can’t shell out the 90K for the NatGeo private jet tour.

J.K.

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History |

BOOK

There’s something equal parts cathartic and masochistic about lugging a 546-page book about the deadliest pandemic in history around in your tote bag during a modern-day pandemic. John M. Barry’s expansive but gripping story contains familiar details: mass death, government ineptitude, the politicking of science, and pervasive conspiracy theories. But, importantly, it also comes to an end.

A.T.

Lovers Rock (2020) |

FILM

Dance party FOMO abounds in the second episode of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe trilogy. Essentially just a single shindig recorded for an hour, this concise yet unhurried movie revives the joys of communal singing, an activity found nowhere now but the church. Indeed, the reveler’s sultry rendition of “Silly Games” stripped of instrumentation is a borderline religious experience.

E.S.

Cappuccino (.fm) |

AUDIO

An app that lets users share short audio segments called “beans,” which are collected and delivered as a morning “cappuccino.” Charmingly earnest, free-for-now, and evidence for my theory that podcasts are attractive largely because they repel loneliness. Here, for zero Patreon dollars, I can hear from my actual friends.

B.B.

Mentions | Summer 2020 ​

EMMA ADLER, ISAAC ALPERT, JULIANNE ARNOLD, ERIK BAKER, RAFAELA BASSILI, BEN S. BERNARD, BRAD BOLMAN, NOA DANESH, ANDREW FEDOROV, SCOTT GANNIS, MARELLA GAYLA, BEN HAMILTON, BRIAN E. HARKIN, JANE HU, MATTHEW IRVING STEWART, CAMILLE JACOBSON, GABRIEL JANDALI-APPEL, CLAIRE JARVIS, JAY CASPIAN KANG, NOAH KULWIN, BETTY LEMA, CRISPIN LONG, CHRISTIAN LORENTZEN, TRISHA LOW, ERIC MACOMBER, KEVIN NGUYEN, TREE PALMEDO, MADISON POLLACK, XAVIER ROTNOFSKY, ELENA SAAVEDRA BUCKLEY, ISAAC SCHER, ERIN SOMERS, KRITHIKA VARAGUR, JULIAN WADDELL, BRANDON WARDELL, MATTHEW ZEITLIN, TAYLOR ZHANG

EMMA ADLER, ISAAC ALPERT, JULIANNE ARNOLD, ERIK BAKER, RAFAELA BASSILI, BEN S. BERNARD, BRAD BOLMAN, NOA DANESH, ANDREW FEDOROV, SCOTT GANNIS, MARELLA GAYLA, BEN HAMILTON, BRIAN E. HARKIN, JANE HU, MATTHEW IRVING STEWART, CAMILLE JACOBSON, GABRIEL JANDALI-APPEL, CLAIRE JARVIS, JAY CASPIAN KANG, NOAH KULWIN, BETTY LEMA, CRISPIN LONG, CHRISTIAN LORENTZEN, TRISHA LOW, ERIC MACOMBER, KEVIN NGUYEN, TREE PALMEDO, MADISON POLLACK, XAVIER ROTNOFSKY, ELENA SAAVEDRA BUCKLEY, ISAAC SCHER, ERIN SOMERS, KRITHIKA VARAGUR, JULIAN WADDELL, BRANDON WARDELL, MATTHEW ZEITLIN, TAYLOR ZHANG

Emily Montes |

ALBUM

Here’s what you need to know about rapper Emily Montes. She is five. That’s clear from the jump. “My name is Emily,” she raps in the ethereal opening track, “and I’m five.” Her interests include Roblox and going outside (“I like playing Roblox and I like going outside”). Throughout her work, Roblox is a recurring theme—one song is titled “Roblox Is My Life;” her ad lib is “Roblox!” Where most child stars feel like the product of an overbearing stage mom vicariously living through her spawn, this feels like the experiment of a cool very online older sibling. In “Emily (Corona is Crazy)” she captures the current moment: “This virus is crazy! It’s the end of the world! Boom boom boom! (Roblox!)”

B.W.

Venus in Furs |

FICTION

I read this 1870 novella by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the namesake of masochism, to see if it still seemed scandalous by today’s standards. Only two parts do. One, when the dominatrix Wanda yokes our poor narrator Severin to a plough and has her servants drive him around a field. Two, when Severin signs a contract with Wanda granting her permission to kill him if she wants. Impressive to get that in writing. Otherwise, it’s mostly whipping. For a more condensed version, stick to the Velvet Underground song.

E.S.

Scooby-Doo |

FILM

When the live-action Scooby-Doo first lit up screens, America was reeling from 9/11 and the Bush administration was prepping for the invasion of Iraq. But kids like me were more concerned with Fred’s shark tooth necklace and the gluttonous CGI dog in a tropical paradise. It left the impression of a country on perpetual spring break rather than at perpetual war. But the two aren’t entirely inconsistent. Spring break is about getting out of control, wrecking shit, and ignoring the consequences. Scooby Doo captured that: Monsters live on party island.

A.F.

History Photographed |

INSTAGRAM

Childhood photos of Elon Musk (~39K likes); Brooklyn Supreme, “one of the biggest horses in history” (~109K likes); smartly dressed children in the 1940s (~69K likes). The comments section is surprisingly tame. It’s the Uniqlo of the meme account universe (i.e., perfect). Fingers crossed that whoever’s running the account skips selling t-shirts and leverages all those millions of followers for a normcore dating app. 

B.L.

Robert Christgau |

CRITIC

Seventy-eight years old and still doing his thing—that thing being holding onto the title of Lil Wayne’s oldest fan. His favorite albums of the 2010s include one by Billie Eilish (at #4) and three by Wussy. Still better than any pop critic under forty.

B.H.

The Lost Writings |

EPHEMERA

Kafka’s final wish that his remaining work be “burned completely, without reading” has long been ignored. In this collection, New Directions seems almost to take the edict as a personal challenge. Here, we’re promised “every single page, even small notebooks filled with pencil scribblings”—the writer “in his entirety” in English for the first time. But is it really the fragments, false starts, and grocery lists that make up an “entire” person? The world may always want more Kafka, but I’m not sure there is more Kafka to be had.

N.D.

Whole New Mess |

MUSIC

Before undertaking her sprawling, elaborately produced 2019 breakup album, All Mirrors, Angel Olsen travelled from her home in Asheville, North Carolina to a church-turned-studio in Anacortes, Washington and recorded sparer versions of the songs, working only with her voice and a guitar. Almost a year later, she has pulled back the curtain, releasing the recordings as Whole New Mess. To call it a rough draft would do it a disservice—it is its own thing, craggy and quietly tortured. Not every record needs to be an opus.

Cr.L.

MyMechanics |

DIY

No technical skill is required to appreciate this YouTube channel; tool restoration draws upon universal anxieties and desires. How much junk is in the garages of American homes? By how many decades will our appliances outlive us? We live in a world of trash, but MyMechanics pursues an alternative vision. Why buy a brand-new arbor press when you can get a rusty one for $30? Pure technical precision plus ASMR audio: he shows you how he makes new screws.

J.W.

The Concert in Central Park |

MUSIC

As far as live albums are concerned, bagginess is par for the course. In Simon & Garfunkel’s first live recording from 1982, the fey troubadours of ’60s folk-pop lean into the ramble. It’s a loose and heady jaunt through their hits, interspersed with languorous asides. (You probably haven’t heard their Tom and Jerry story, for one thing.) It’s nice to hear a large group of people laugh again.

C.J.

The National Hurricane Center's Tropical Weather Discussions |

CLIMATE

Stern weather reports from full-time forecasters. Anonymous pros with usernames like “Forecaster Latto” or “Specialist Roberts” divine our maritime future in Courier New font, predicting the unpredictable with snarky prognostications of the most violent storms on earth. Less a discussion, more a dictatorship of the weather posters. Blogging may have died at the hands of private equity and dubious sex tape lawsuits, but the written word lives on thanks to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s professional meteorologists.

S.G.

Marginal Revolution comments section |

ECONOMICS

On David Brooks’s favorite free-market blog, libertarianism so pure and strong it’ll bleach your hair: “Voluntary exchange,” one user writes, “is actually what keeps us out of caves and is the reason many of us lived past the age of five.”

N.K.

Empire of Passion |

FILM

No one feels good masturbating after watching a Nagisa Ōshima production. Empire of Passion is a testament to the director’s consistency in that regard. Loosely falling into the category of folk horror, this period piece finally answers the eternal question: “What is an appropriate punishment for extramarital sploshing?”

I.A.

The 2020 U.S. Open |

TENNIS

What, I wonder, will be remembered about this year’s tournament, somewhat buried in the onslaught of recent news? The empty stadium filled, not with fans, but with corporate-approved messages (banners read, “THANK YOU FRONT LINE WORKERS” and “BLACK LIVES MATTER”)? Or NoVaxx DjoCOVID, the nickname for known anti-vaxxer Novak Djokovic, who flouted lockdown and contracted COVID-19, only to play a tournament that never should have happened? Or when he smacked a ball into the throat of a line judge–who was later doxxed by Serbian media–disqualifying himself and leaving the tournament without a single Grand Slam winner? Perhaps we’ll look back on it as a changing of the guard, even though it took several acts of God for the titans to give the new kids a turn. For what it’s worth, I’m confident that Roger Federer will be leaving on his own terms (not God’s).

G.J.A.

The Old Curiosity Shop |

NOVEL

A frightening and grotesque Dickens novel, adulterated with the usual pummelling sentimentality. Daniel Quilp is the filthiest character in English literature, and Dick Swiveller is an idol for slackers and shirkers everywhere.

B.H.

All-Dressed Ruffles |

SNACK

The perfect chip—made in Canada, but sometimes found repackaged in the United States. The name is meant to be descriptive: the potato chip’s version of the “everything” flavor, but it tastes more specifically like a cross between salt-and-vinegar and honey-BBQ sauce. Salt, fat, acid, and a tiny bit of sweet.

J.H.

How to Humiliate Your Peeping Tom |

ARTIST'S BOOK

Crude in both content and form, but the coarseness only adds to this handwritten fold-out book’s strange, cantankerous charm. Uneven cutouts and unexpected inserts like “Car-Lag: Six Days of Pain in the Car” abound. Susan Baker, who was at RISD in the sixties, at once embraces and parodies that decade’s counterculture, surveying the sticky territory between free love and perversity, drug-induced enlightenment and sloth, activist fervor and sanctimony. Nowadays, she maintains the Susan Baker Memorial Museum (pre-mortem).

T.Z.

Longmont Potion Castle |

LANDLINES

Many people I like also like Longmont Potion Castle—the middle-aged, Colorado-based prank call artist who has released albums of his work since the 1980s. When my sharpest friend recently told me that she didn’t find him funny, I second-guessed myself and relistened to his calls. LPC occasionally punches up; he once kept Alex Trebek on the line for seven minutes, insisting he had a massive delivery of sod “from Siam” for the host. (Work never stops for Alex: “I didn’t order anything from Siam, and Siam is no longer in existence.”) Locals are the more common victims, trapped by his absurdist requests and stoner lilt. As he distorted his voice and adopted aliases like “Cokie Blaylock,” “Dr. Gordon Hucker,” and “Trinidad, from UPS,” I laughed out loud in the privacy of my “home office,” and then continued emoji-reacting to messages on Slack. 

E.S.B.

The Untamed (陈情令) |

TV

In this Chinese serial melodrama, two exceptionally beautiful men journey to quell demons, cultivate souls, navigate familial politics—and shoot each other longing glances along the way. Turns out the answer to government censorship of queer relationships is just to make everyone else a lot gayer.

T.L.

Fools Rush In |

FILM

Maybe the only romantic comedy to ask the question: Is Las Vegas the compromise between Aguascalientes and New York City? Whatever the answer, the Hoover Dam gets a lot of screen time.

B.E.H.

Kentucky Route Zero |

VIDEO GAME

The premise is simple: you’re Conway, a downcast driver making a final delivery for a failing antique store. Complications include a giant falcon and his human brother, a museum of foreclosed homes, a pair of vaporwave robots, a distillery manned by glowing skeletons, and, centrally, a rhizomatic ghost highway winding through the cave systems of Kentucky. KR0 uses simple economics to subvert the traditionally libertarian ideology of gaming. There’s no becoming the best since there’s nothing to beat. You’re in debt and you’re on the clock. Choices stop being choices; maybe they never were to begin with.

M.I.S.

The Communist |

NOVEL

Walter Ferranini, an earnest postwar Italian Communist politician, is disaffected with his party, his lover, and his ideals. “I’m a modest activist with a dilettante theorist inside,” he says, reflecting my own looping inner monologue. A few months ago, Guido Morselli’s novel read like a mild warning about a wave of less-than-inspired socialist politicians who might have followed a Sanders presidency. Now, it’s a bittersweet dispatch from another world.

B.B

What’s Good at Trader Joe’s |

BLOG

Detailed commentary on hundreds of Trader Joe’s items spanning a decade of new releases and seasonal drops. These are faithfully logged in a late-aughts-style blog interface, seemingly for no one in particular. Each entry is rated on a scale of one to ten “Golden Spoons” and grouped in categories from “Blahhh” to “Pantheon Level – The Best of the Best.” I hope they are making some money off of this thing.

B.L.

Bitter Wheat |

THEATER

A 2019 David Mamet production that may never be seen anywhere again. John Malkovich played Harvey Weinstein-inspired lech Barney Fein in this abrasive sexual harassment farce. Previews in London’s West End received praise from audiences before a barrage of one-star and no-star reviews steamrolled any hopes of an extended run or a New York transfer. Clumsily directed by Mamet (no one else would touch it), but sharp and funny enough to justify its place among his more palatable anti-Hollywood polemics. The text has not been published, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

B.H.

"Shark Lords" |

TV

The standout segment of the FX’s Cake series presents a mismatched team of Australians—two “Extreme Sports enthusiasts,” a PhD with dementia, an intern, and an unwitting deckhand—travelling the seas to “dominate sharks.” The joke is bestiality. 

J.A.

Benelet Sprinkler Pool for Kids |

WATER SPORTS

The kiddie pool has been around for about eighty years. Apparently there was some craze back then and a whole bunch of inflatable things got invented all at once. Since then, most of the improvements have been cosmetic and absurd. You can get a kiddie pool with six-foot dinosaurs or one with built-in beer koozies. But the general concept––a plastic inflatable pool filled with disgusting water for disgusting children––has not changed much. This year, during a heat wave in California, I bought a splash pad, which is just a very shallow kiddie pool that looks like a pizza with little jets of water springing out the crust. There’s just enough circulation to not have to worry about sitting in filth. I’ve found it to be a marked improvement on the original, but I understand why people feel nostalgic about these sorts of things and I will not judge them for it.

J.C.K.

Nine Eyes |

PANOPTICON

I get the feeling that it’s not uncommon to know someone who once mooned a Google Street View car. The medium is now nostalgic; being surveilled by something as conspicuous as a spherical camera on top of a hatchback seems almost quaint. Jon Rafman’s collection of Street View screenshots, which he has updated during quarantine, recalls the retro pleasures of people-watching, traveling, and hiding from—or showing ass to—multinational tech companies. Even the sinister images (an emaciated cow dragging itself across a road, a woman dry-heaving on all fours near a curb) are much better to look at than, say, virtual museum tours. 

E.S.B.

CruiseShipMingle.com |

CRUISING

Where lust and apparent luxury collide, coronavirus be damned. “The truth is,” the About page reads, “different cruise goer go on cruise for different reasons.” But many of these reasons are similar: “Interested in meeting other horny males,” says FuckStud before his ride on the Celebrity Summit. A hetero couple seeks anything but “male on male shit.” Luv2meet of “Cumswell,” San Marino writes: “live…laugh…lust :).” The pandemic must loom over some of the 2,367 minglers, but most don’t mention it in their bios. A perverse and distinctly American necessity, where the melancholic want “love, care and affection” and the randy are “dying to fuck on the High seas.”

I.S.

“America” |

MUSIC

The lead single from Sufjan Stevens’s first solo album in five years trades the fragile guitars of 2015’s Carrie and Lowell for thundering electronic drums and ten minutes of ambient techno. It’s his most politically charged work yet, but the message is muddled. “Don’t do to me what you did to America,” Sufjan pleads. Is he speaking to me? To God? To a fiscally conservative love interest? I’m at a loss, but the outro sure does slap. 

T.P.

Democracy |

NOVEL

Joan Didion’s essential conservatism, here tinged with a postcolonial nostalgia, animates this novel otherwise populated by lovers rhapsodizing on the beauty of nuclear tests and an unnamed character referred to nearly a dozen times as “the Tamil doctor.” Now a Senator’s wife in Hawaii, protagonist Inez used to work alongside a character named Joan Didion at Vogue in the 1960s. The book’s settings (Saigon, Jakarta, Da Nang, et cetera) are interchangeable; these characters manage to find chicken salad and chintz chairs in 100 percent humidity. To understand Inez, imagine if an inscrutable social x-ray took to heart the real Joan Didion’s famous and slightly cryptic essay “On Self-Respect,” in which giving “formal dinners in the rainforest” is posited as a chief example of respecting oneself. Still, I was primed to enjoy a novel filled with weak, icy drinks, talk of “the American exemption,” Garuda flights, and halfhearted tennis. And I did.

K.V.

The Six Times Future Raps “Nobu” on Jumpman |

DICTION

John McPhee once wrote that you only need a few words (“such as corn shocks, pheasant, and an early frost”) to bring a scene to life. Future accomplishes this with one (“Nobu”).

T.Z.

Yewande Komolafe’s Asaro |

RECIPE

A bright, spicy, and—most important—unfussy stew of plantains and yams. (Just buy a thing of fried shallots, to maximize unfussiness.) I’ve made this probably four or five times this summer, and will likely make it four or five times more.

K.N.

Soccer Mommy on Club Penguin |

LIVESTREAM

The first time Soccer Mommy endeavored to hold a virtual concert on Club Penguin Rewritten, the fan-made Club Penguin copycat site, the servers overloaded, and the show did not go on. The event was later rescheduled, and this time, the music prevailed. Animated penguins lobbed snowballs at each other while a purple, pigtailed avatar for Sophie Allison wobbled around, offering something sorely missed in quarantine: communal transcendence through live performance. My computer crashed twenty-seven minutes in.

M.P.

Jackbox Games |

"SOCIAL"

Firmly in the category of thing you’re not sure you’ll continue to use “after all this is over,” these digital answer-the-prompt games employ a cheesy interface and are emceed by obnoxious, disembodied voices (see Quiplash’s “Schmitty”). Hours of extended family fun. May trigger anxiety.

E.A.

Cool for America |

STORIES

Many have complained that Andrew Martin’s characters are mostly well-educated and self-aware, with a real ironic streak. What is mentioned less often is how awful they are when they drink.

N.K.

Inside the NBA |

TV

On August 26, Kenny Smith walked off the set of TNT’s flagship basketball show in solidarity with the players’ strike. A new tenor for the broadcast on which Smith’s co-host Charles Barkley once dunked his head in a tank of water to try to break David Blaine’s breath-holding record—and more courageous than anything the political commentators or late-night comedians have been able to muster. 

E.B.

The Price of Peace |

BOOK

Portrait of the economist as a cool guy. Zachary Carter’s Keynes is an uncompromising aesthete whose economic theorizing is a means of securing the high life—art, sex, champagne—against the threats of revolutionary upheaval, international instability, and domestic reaction. The narrative ends almost seven decades after Keynes’s death, having traced the decline of Keynesianism from a theory of economy and society to a set of mathematized tools for dealing with economic downturns by way of deficit spending. Written before the coronavirus turned Steven Mnuchin into the candyman, the book introduces a Keynes who seems likely to remain ever-present but faintly heard. 

M.Z.

The Octonauts |

TV

The only program my two small children watch: a British adventure cartoon about sentient animals who rescue at-risk sea creatures. The characterization borrows widely from British television culture—there are odd American accents (the lime green Engineer bunny is supposed to be from Florida, but she has a soft Texan accent) and pantomime camp (Kwazii Kitten is a Kentish rascal pirate with a flair for ghost stories). I have many questions: Is the show’s key intertext Heart of Darkness or Are You Being Served? Where did the Vegimals learn to bake? Why is the polar bear, Captain Barnacles, so small? But I’m grateful for children’s programming that isn’t entirely migraine-inducing.

C.J.

Bialetti Moka Pot |

APPLIANCE

In the world of coffee brewing, the ritual matters almost as much as the grounds. There is something about this coffee maker’s four-step process that calls attention to itself. Once in position, it invites you to assume your own: in front of it, at attention. Left too long on the stove, the coffee will burn. But under careful watch, it comes out exceptionally black, thick, foamy, scorching hot. This pot needs you as much as you need it. 

R.B.

Covid-Era UFC |

SPORT

The absence of crowd noise gives the Ultimate Fighting Challenge the welcome impression of unlicensed brawling, lending greater emphasis to the labored breathing and extra-meaty thumps and thwacks. Fighters can now hear the commentary of television announcers in real time and adjust their tactics accordingly. The whole thing’s reminiscent of prompt-based performance art in a sparsely populated theater.

B.H.

Watching Relic (2020) at a Drive-in |

VROOM WITH A VIEW

Traffic was all backed up, so I only caught the last twenty minutes. I was also parked way in the back and couldn’t see much anyway. A guy in the car next to me peed in a soda cup, and The Goonies was playing at the other end of the parking lot. I liked watching that instead. From what I gathered, Relic is about haunted Australians.

X.R.

“Unalienable Rights and the Securing of Freedom” |

ORATORY

“America is special. America is good. America does good all around the world,” Mike Pompeo said in Philadelphia on July 16, coining an apt mantra for tyro diplomats. The seating arrangement of the Commission on Unalienable Rights looked like a Giacometti sculpture that day, according to the Commissioner on Unalienable Rights. 

K.V.

Big Friendship |

NON-FICTION

Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman’s ten-year friendship, described alternately in a therapist’s third-person (“Aminatou could have been upset that Ann decided to move away. But Aminatou wholeheartedly supported the move…”) and an all-knowing “us.” Flattening the authors’ voices into an even consensus gives the book the tenor of a PR statement, which, to some degree, it is: Sow and Friedman, who co-host the podcast “Call Your Girlfriend,” are a duo in their professional lives, and the book attends to the pains and resentments that have lingered beneath the surface. Hillary Clinton called their story “universal.”           

M.G.

Intimations |

ESSAYS

Zadie Smith’s instant volume of quality quar lit begins with an apology (for not being definitive; for existing at all and so soon) and ends with an autobiography (an itemization of all the ways the author counts herself lucky—“my physical and moral cowardice have never really been tested, until now”). In between she ponders some big things—(in ascending order of interest if not philosophical penetration) the president, the compulsion to write, privilege, racism, suffering, death—and glances back at a few characters she saw in the Village before withdrawing a big wad of cash from the ATM and leaving town with her family. Heavy lies the crown on the primo interpreter of the now, ever aware of the limits of her range of vision. One night on Zoom her mother tells her of a neighbor who killed his girlfriend and burned their flat down. It could always get worse.

C.L.

Floodfactor.com |

APOCALYPSE

The most accurate models of how badly climate change is going to wreck American floodplains have all been private—secret projections used by asset managers like BlackRock. Until now! This new scientific model makes for much more effective doomscrolling than anything on Twitter lately.

N.K.

HBO Max |

STREAMING

Makes my shortlist for top three HBO video apps.

B.L.

folklore |

MUSIC

It’s nice to no longer pretend, as I remember doing in 2008, that I dislike Taylor Swift’s music.

B.B.

Too Much and Never Enough |

TELL-ALL

Unreliable narrator Mary Trump guides us through a mucky overgrowth of familial grudges. Mary’s poor alcoholic father—mistreated, disinherited, martyred! Eric and Lara, so unresponsive to Mary’s supposed good-faith attempts at reconnecting! Ground-breaking insights into the modern presidency? “The White House was elegant, grand, and stately.”

B.S.B.

12-to-18-Month-Old Mountain Lion |

WILDLIFE

First spotted in Russian Hill, then near the Embarcadero, looking at itself in mirrored office windows. The lion had wandered into the city after being separated from its mother; for a few days, its territory was all of San Francisco. The news reports on the short, strange journey read like a modern-day fable. Police detained the young male without injury—surprising some—and released it in the wild the same afternoon. Two weeks later, its body was found on Highway 1.

E.M.

Canceling Quibi |

QUICK BITE

This recommendation doubles as a reminder: If you downloaded Quibi around the time it launched, your three-month free trial is probably expiring soon, if it hasn’t already. There are many benefits to canceling your subscription; among them the opportunity to reflect on the passage of time. How much has the world changed since you downloaded the ill-fated streaming app? How is it that the videos, at seven to ten minutes, seem both too long and too short?

M.G.

Mentions | Issue 1 ​

EMMA ADLER, JULIANNE ARNOLD, ERIK BAKER, KIARA BARROW, OWEN BATES, TARPLEY HITT, GIDEON NACHMAN, RYAN MACLENNAN, TREE PALMEDO, REBECCA PANOVKA, JASMINE PECK OPIE, MOLLY ROBERTS, BAILEY TRELA, COLTON VALENTINE, REBECCA ZHU

EMMA ADLER, JULIANNE ARNOLD, ERIK BAKER, KIARA BARROW, OWEN BATES, TARPLEY HITT, GIDEON NACHMAN, RYAN MACLENNAN, TREE PALMEDO, REBECCA PANOVKA, JASMINE PECK OPIE, MOLLY ROBERTS, BAILEY TRELA, COLTON VALENTINE, REBECCA ZHU

Capricious Summer |

FILM

A trio of very Czech-looking men debate the meaning of life as they swim in a river. The images are sepia-toned and gauzy, and the light plot has the charm of a fable, proceeding in a serial fashion: each of the male protagonists, a priest, a colonel, and a bathhouse-keeper, has a shot at wooing the young blonde assistant of a travelling magician—and yet, as in a fairy tale, some mysterious force frustrates their amours. The magician’s high-wire act is one of the loveliest cinematic reveries you’ll ever see. It’s completely relaxing, precisely because, like the best of summers, it never claims to mean anything.

B.T.

Bratfree |

WEIRD

The FAQ of Bratfree, an online refuge for vehement anti-natalists, has a long list of hypothetical “snappy comebacks” to skeptics. Example: “But children are our future!” Comeback: “Death is our future.” It includes a lexical guide to words like MOO (“mindless, bovine mother”), and a warning to outsiders: “We do not seek any parent posters head pats…We will not be test subjects or lab rats…to meet big media’s pro family agenda.” The forums are hotbeds of imagined arguments, at times so nasty the members seem to be working something else out entirely.

T.H.

The H.R. Haldeman Super 8 Film Collection |

ARCHIVES

Shot beautifully by Nixon’s Chief of Staff, who was clearly much better at cinematography than obstructing justice, these tapes (not those tapes) offer the allure of intimacy. Come into the inner circle, they say, if you can bear to be implicated. Whispered jokes with Henry Kissinger. A cabinet member attempting to pet a deer that clearly does not want to be pet. The private nervousness before a televised call to the moon. The official broadcasts have plenty to offer—Merle Haggard serenading Pat the day after her birthday, for example, and reminding everyone that “leather boots are still in style for manly footwear.” But only in Haldeman’s home videos can you watch, from high in the stands of a Soviet circus, bears ride motorcycles and know that sitting beside you is Richard Milhous Nixon.

R.M.

Dinners and Diners–Where and How to Dine in London |

BOOK

“Next to eating good dinners, a healthy [wo]man with a benevolent turn of mind must like, I think to read about them,” wrote William Thackeray. Satisfy your cravings for maskless restaurants—or, failing that, restaurant reviews—with this riotous 1899 collection from Britain’s first professional restaurant critic, Nathaniel Newnham-Davis. Chortle as the epicure struggles with dish-pushing waiters, tactless champagne guzzlers, and patriots who refuse to eat “à la’s.” 

C.V.

Air Mail |

FLUFF

For some reason, the coronavirus era is a boom time for Air Mail, with new missives appearing almost daily. Graydon, as much as I appreciate the urgent updates on the Chateau Marmont, “controversial rosé,” and “a very rare purebred bison,” stop reminding me that I shell out $15 quarterly to get a newsletter written by your friends and Cazzie David.

K.B.

Duet for Cannibals (Susan Sontag) |

FILM

The exiled revolutionary Bauer begins to retch and stumbles from the dinner table. While he continues off-camera, Bauer’s wife Francesca urges his new secretary Tomas to eat. Bauer’s plate is replaced; he returns, fills it vigorously, and eats loudly, with gusto. Could his indigestion arise from politics? Saying so would be dangerously close to interpretation. 

J.P.O.

Lolly Willowes, or The Loving Huntsman |

NOVEL

Released way back in 1926, Sylvia Townsend Warner’s novel follows the eponymous spinster as she moves to the countryside and decides pretty casually to become a witch. You could call it a feminist classic, even though the latent suggestion is that a woman who doesn’t want to marry basically has two options (spinster or witch). But the book’s message is really more complicated than that. Even after her conversion, Lolly’s uncomfortable with the associations of her new role, finding peace only when she comes to terms with the “satisfied but profoundly indifferent ownership” of the devil. Heterosexuality, in a nutshell.

B.T.

YouTube Premium |

WEB

For $12/month, YouTube Premium gives you the YouTube experience of your youth (no ads). Chill out and fall down the hole without interference. See where the algorithm takes you—Japanese citypop, Zizek, the secrets of the Scottish Rite. What else can I say, I think it’s worth it not to see ads on YouTube.

O.B.

The Sea, the Sea (Iris Murdoch) |

NOVEL

If you’re trying to live out a culinary fantasy in which you have to survive off of canned foods—creativity thrives on constraint!—try out some of the gourmand narrator’s recipes. Wine for lunch, accompanied by such delicacies as anchovy paste, prunes, frozen kipper fillets, lentils, fried tinned new potatoes, and the baffling “eggs poached in scrambled eggs.” 

R.P.

Harvard’s Report on Jeffrey Epstein |

BAD

Much like a David Foster Wallace novel, it’s all about the footnotes, baby. That’s where we get such salient details as: “A number of the Harvard faculty members we interviewed also acknowledged that they visited Epstein at his homes in New York, Florida, New Mexico or the Virgin Islands, visited him in jail or on work release, or traveled on one of his planes. Faculty members told us that they undertook these off-campus activities primarily in their personal capacities rather than as representatives of Harvard.” Help, I can’t stop talking about this.

K.B.

Dark |

TV

The Black Forest atmospherics and occultish symbolism in this German time-travel show are worth the price of admission alone (thank whoever gave you their Netflix password). But the real MVP is casting director Simone Baer, who conjures up seemingly endless sets of variously-aged German actors that look exactly like one another.

E.B.

The Atlantic's Paywall |

MAG

I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay good money to scoff at David Frum.

B.T.

Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson) |

FILM

The perfect quarantine flick: cultural decadence, a web of contact among strangers and acquaintances, meditations on the radical contingency of human existence, plus an Exodus-worthy plague. In sad news, the real-life analog to William H. Macy’s “quiz kid” died last month, likely of Covid-19.

R.P.

The Etymology of Virus Names |

WORDS

I recently found an infographic on Reddit outlining the etymologies of infectious diseases. It includes the coronavirus—named for its spikes which “resemble the sun’s corona.” But it also glosses ailments like mumps (from an archaic word meaning “grimace”), and herpes (from the Ancient Greek herpein, meaning “creep.”) The illustrations of the various pathogens are tiny and alien-looking, like toxic plants from a video game. But the language is sillier and more emotional; more human. Rabies traces to Latin’s arbere, related to the word “rage.” Hantavirus came from the Hantan River, which translates to “lament.” Papilloma, the “P” in HPV, evolved from the Latin papilla, or “nipple.” 

T.H.

Villette |

NOVEL

When Woolf called this Bronte’s best novel, she was simply giving credit where credit is due. Bronte finds words that let her heroine—an obvious proxy for herself—describe mental illness before there was any official vocabulary for it. Still, this is a Victorian Novel, with enough gothic up-nods, father-figure/lovers, and damned good plotting to satisfy the most ardent PBS viewer. Jane who?

E.A.

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool |

FILM

Vaguely conscious of the duty-shirking inherent in making a movie whose sole thrust is proving how cool its subject was, the filmmakers go ahead and do it anyway. Apparently coolness just means being a bit of an asshole.

B.T.

The Glass Hotel (Emily St. John Mandel) |

NOVEL

This book is about global crisis, addiction, ghosts and a maybe somewhat better-looking Bernie Madoff. But as much as it’s about the lives of its characters, it’s also about their “counterlives,” or the could-have-beens that are always lurking beneath what actually is. It’s a strange novel to read at a time when typical everyday existence has turned into a sort of counterlife of its own—when what’s hypothetical now is what was normal once. The lines between the could-have-been and the actually-is look blurrier than ever; everything is counter to something else and this reality just happens to be where we’re living.

M.R.

Sunflower |

MUSIC

While it’s a far cry from the sunshine ditties of the The Beach Boys’ teenage heyday or the psychedelic white-man melancholia of the Pet Sounds/Smile era, a case can be made that this oft-overlooked 1970 masterwork is, in fact, the finest thing the Beach Boys ever produced. With primary songwriter Brian Wilson battling hallucinations and drug addiction, the rest of the Boys pitched in equally to the creative process for the first time, making Sunflower an especially varied collection of luscious art-pop. Pay special attention to the proto-indie rock jangle of “All I Wanna Do,” the edgy cop-show rocker “It’s About Time,” and the tender ballad “Forever,” a rare vocal showcase for drummer (and friend of Charles Manson) Dennis Wilson.

T.P.

The Six Accounts Bill Maher Follows |

SOCIAL MEDIA

One thing about Bill Maher, the late night pundit obsessed with saying the N-word, is that while 560,000 accounts follow him on Instagram, he only follows six. Those accounts are: Isabelle Mathers, an Australian model; CJ Franco, an American model; Svetlana Bilyalova, a Russian model; Alexis Ren, an exercise model; Emily Ratajkowski, the model who got famous for having big naturals in the Blurred Lines music video; and Jardín, a “Premium Cannabis Dispensary” in Las Vegas. Some might mock the horny aspirations of a 64-year-old fellow who looks like Jeff Bridges’ wax figure melted. But the man knows what he likes and it’s five models and one regional weed store. “To a coward,” a wise Maher once said, “courage always looks like stupidity.” 

T.H.

Verified Strangers, a serialized novel by Lena Dunham in Vogue |

NOVEL?

Pleased to see that Dunham is still thriving, i.e. writing about a thinly veiled version of herself. In twenty chapters, published twice a week on Vogue.com, Ally struggles through bad dates (“Could lips sweat? His sure felt like they could”) that bring to mind rosy memories of her last long-term relationship (“furious arguments about Dr Seuss’s intentions as an artist and makeup sex about that”). Who says the novel is dead?

K.B.

Travelin' Thru, 1967-1969: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 15 |

MUSIC

Most people agree Dylan’s late-sixties/early-seventies flirtation with country crooning was a bad idea, so it’s nice to have worse versions of some of the songs you’re already pretty ambivalent about. There are interesting discoveries, to be sure; “Lay, Lady, Lay” without its quivering steel guitar turns out to be a lonelier lay entirely, sadder than the spoony string of requests you’re used to, and Dylan’s version of Cash’s “Wanted Man” feels beautifully old-fashioned, a callback to the stripped-down folksiness of his earliest demo tapes. But then Dylan hits you with his bluesy, slued “Ring of Fire” and you realize that, even if ceaseless reinterpretation is central to the folk tradition, some reimaginings are always going to be a bad idea.

B.T.

The new printer I ordered to print health insurance claims from home |

STUFF

I don’t have any complaints except that it crinkles envelopes a little bit.

O.B.

The Lover |

NOVEL

Marguerite Duras’s autobiographical novel, set in colonial Saigon. By night, a white schoolgirl slips out of her dorm to her wealthy adult lover; by day, he feeds her family, and she ignores him because he is Chinese. Questions of race, class, consent, and empire fall away in the face of the narrator’s insistence on her own power and pleasure. Duras’ heady, ornate prose enchant the reader away from starker language that she might not have had: rape, coercion, pedophilia.  

J.P.O.

Covid-era advertising |

EVERYWHERE

Escapism is dead.

K.B.

Soft Power |

THEATER

David Henry Hwang’s fall production at The Public rehashes the 2016 U.S. Presidential election from the perspective of a theater producer in Shanghai. There’s singing and dancing and Trump-bashing by white and Asian people (no Black characters, conveniently). Hillary Clinton is the hero. In the emotional climax, she sings a bluesy show-stopper about her unerring belief in democracy. The message: Dems, get out there and vote harder this year! A neolib fairytale. It was a Pulitzer finalist.

G.N.Y.H.

Correspondence |

MUSIC

In this epistolary album, less Abelard and Heloise and more Poor Folk, Swedish cult-hero Jens Lekman transitions from singing about women to singing with them. The results are mixed. As they take turns sending songs back and forth, Lekman and Annika Norlin tackle some contemporary political situations with grace and sensitivity (“Not Because It’s Easy, but Because It’s Hard”; “Revenge of the Nerds”) and others with mawkishness (“Who Really Needs Who”; “Cosmetic Store”.) “2018 seemed like a good year to do [this],” Norlin said of her album. “Will Trump blow something up? Will a comet hit the earth? Will either of us go on a fun cruise?” No big questions are answered, but the protagonists do scroll through Facebook, send holiday cards, and shower in public.

G.N.

Normal People (Sally Rooney) |

TV+NOVEL

Revenge fantasy for awkward girls spurned by popular boys in high school, with an embarrassingly thin intellectual veneer: conversation topics include de-platforming and collegiate bullshitters who haven’t done the reading. All the reviews talk about sex.

R.P.

The Jargon File |

WEB

The funniest part of the Jargon File, a list of hacker slang that zipped around computer communities from the fifties until 1983, when it was published as The Hacker’s Dictionary, is its insistence on a distinction that few remember or recognize anymore. The word “hackers,” the file maintained, referred only to consummate programmers. “Intelligent. Scruffy. Intense. Abstracted,” their description reads. “Surprisingly for a sedentary profession, more hackers run to skinny than fat…Tans are rare.” These stand-up guys had been defamed by “sensationalist journalism,” which had confused them with criminal coders in the mold of Kevins Mitnick or Poulsen, who didn’t share hackers’ “strong revulsion against theft and vandalism.” They called these guys “crackers.” 

T.H.

Daiya vegan cheddar style cheese shreds |

FOOD

These rubbery, bright yellow slivers of tapioca don’t come close to tasting like real cheese. What they do resemble is that golden, ungodly but somehow also heavenly liquid that they pour on corn chips at the movie theater to create “nachos.” Add a few—but only a few!—on top of your Impossible Foods® vegan taco crumble taco; definitely don’t use on a sandwich. But maybe melt them on a Beyond Burger®? If you’re more of a strict three-meals-a-day vegan, you may want to just stick to nutritional yeast.

T.P.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s 2000 Oscars dress, auctioned off for Covid-19 relief |

STUFF

Not the one from the year she won Best Actress for Shakespeare in Love, but the year after. In the accompanying video, we learn that Paltrow chose it because the late ‘90s are back in style. Thoughtful. This hand-beaded “piece of Oscars history” sold for $26,250.

K.B.

It |

NOVEL

Stephen King’s having a moment: two It movies, a terrible Shining sequel movie, new shows on Hulu and HBO, a Netflix Original Movie. It’s almost enough to make you forget that he writes books, and that some of them are really good. One of them, It, is more than that—it attempts nothing less than to say something comprehensive and definitive about Americans and American life. It’s about solidarity and collective memory, and the relationship between the structural violence of American history and the micro-trauma of individual lives. Yes, this is the one about the clown. 

E.B.

Monos |

FILM

Alejandro Landes’s shoots began at 4AM every day, and food on set was rationed. Base camp lacked electricity, refrigeration, and running water. Like its clear antecedent Apocalypse Now, Monos is a war movie whose creation is more interesting, and gruesome, than the end product. 

G.N.

SpaceX and Space Force |

THE FINAL FRONTIER

Crew Dragon Demo-2, SpaceX and NASA’s joint mission to the International Space Station, launched just one day after “Space Force,” Netflix’s generally low-reviewed satire of the Trump administration’s space ambitions. Coincidence? “Space Force”—the show—has been criticized for not being sharp enough in its satire or even funny at all. So has this administration.

J.A.

Trader Joe’s Light Ice Cream |

FOOD

It only comes in two flavors, and it needs to sit for like ten minutes before a spoon can pass through it. It’s nowhere near as satisfying as normal ice cream and its “healthiness” is dubious. Cheers! 

E.A.

All of the recent Beatles 50th anniversary box sets |

MUSIC

Almost every year of the 2010s has included a Beatles album’s 50th birthday, and each of the last few years has also brought a sleek, many-many-disc deluxe box set (a.k.a. another reason to blow a hundred bucks on the band that you don’t listen to anymore). The Abbey Road set is inessential for everybody: the album’s still great, but the included outtakes and rehearsal cuts are just inferior versions of the real deal. Meanwhile, the Sgt. Pepper set will have audio nerds salivating; its stereo remix (!) brings a new level of clarity to each tuba note and guitar solo. Only the White Album set is truly valuable for a casual fan, with an extra disc of home demos that are, in the Lennon ones especially, quite poignant.

T.P.

Neopets |

HOBBY

Forget Animal Crossing. The best quarantine discovery is that Neopets is way easier to play as an adult, especially when you’re armed with cheat codes from fansites like JellyNeo and DailyNeopets. Feed your Zafara some omelette, play Tombola, spin the Wheel of Excitement, and squeeze in a quick game of Meerca Chase. 2020 could be the year you finally paint your Usul with a Royal Paintbrush at the Rainbow Pool.

R.Z.

Dead North Film Festival |

FILM

Genre-film made in the circumpolar region just feels different. Icy, but open. Given two winter months in some of the coldest climates in the world, filmmakers shoot an unforgiving, otherworldly and quite frankly arrestingly beautiful cold that we access through the screen. These adventures in the high North usually screen every February in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Thanks to the pandemic, Vimeo holds all of this year’s entries alongside the best of years past. 

J.A.

Copyright (c) The Drift 2020