Films Watched 2019

If Beale Street Could Talk directed by Barry Jenkins**

Vice directed by Adam Mckay**

Vox Lux directed by Brady Corbet**

The Boss directed by Ben Falcone

Life of the Party directed by Ben Falcone

The Sixth Sense directed by M. Night Shyamalan**

The Justice League directed by Zack Snyder

My Best Friend’s Wedding directed by P.J. Hogan**

Shoplifters directed by Kore-Eda Hirozaku**

Something Borrowed directed by Luke Greenfield

The Sweetest Thing directed by Roger Kumble

Eighth Grade directed by Bo Burnham**

The Hate U Give directed by George Tillman Jr.**

Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse directed by Peter Ramsey**

Phantom Thread directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Colette directed by Wash Westmoreland

On Chesil Beach directed by Dominic Cooper

Billy Elliot directed by Stephen Daldry

BlackKKlansmen directed by Spike Lee

Venom directed by Ruben Fleischer

The New Romantic directed by Carly Stone

Us directed by Jordan Peele

Green Lantern directed by Martin Campbell

Booksmart directed by Olivia Wilde

Always Be My Maybe directed by Nahnatchka Khan

Then Came You directed by Peter Hutchings

The Last Summer directed by William Bindley

The Dead Don’t Die directed by Jim Jarmusch

Kramer vs. Kramer directed by Robert Benton

The Avengers directed by Joss Whedon

The First Wives Club directed by Hugh Wilson

Midsommar directed by Ari Aster

Spiderman: Far From Home directed by Jon Watts**

The Farewell directed by Lulu Wang**

The Great Hack directed by Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim

Solo: A Star Wars Story directed by Ron Howard

Parasite directed by Bong Joon-Ho**

Hustlers directed by Lorene Scafaria

The King directed by David Michôd

The Lighthouse directed by Robert Eggers

** mumbling cap recommended

Books Read 2019

Tar Baby by Toni Morrison**

Emma by Jane Austen*

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi** (also read for school)

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte*

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee

The Course of Love by Alain de Botton**

Hard Times by Charles Dickens** (also read for school)

The Prisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat*

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Otessa Mosefgh**

Against Everything by Mark Greif**

The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle*

A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid** (read for school)

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones**

Normal People by Sally Rooney**

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Slutever by Karley Sciortino

Sex and Rage by Eve Babitz

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot**

You Think It I’ll Say It (short stories) by Curtis Sittenfeld**

The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick

More Than Enough by Elaine Welteroth

Severance by Ling Ma

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne**

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

The Vanity Fair Diaries by Tina Brown**

Between the World and Me by Taneishi Coates**

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante**

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante**

All About Love by bell hooks

I Like to Watch by Emily Nussbaum

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson

Follow me on Goodreads for reading progress, my want to read list and more book recs

** mumbling cap recommended

* read for school

it's a sad day for sure

I know seasonal affective disorder has hit when I start getting bored with everything. When Instagram accounts I used to love make me roll my eyes; when I go from animated to buck tired in seconds; when I start watching tv all the time. I have been watching a lot of tv. Like waking up and watching tv before I brush my teeth a lot. And unlike watching tv when I’m in a fun mood, it’s mostly felt like a drag. I’ve watched things I’ve enjoyed — Unbelievable, Fleabag, a few episodes of Modern Love — but not with any real joy. Not with the kind of joy that makes television criticism seem like an exciting career. I’ve been in a pretty comfy school hole for two weeks and after hitting a very dramatic bump this past weekend (it involved ugly crying and three hours on FaceTime) I feel drained. One of the most exhausting parts of school for me right now is feeling like I’m putting in the work and not feeling any smarter or wiser. It’s frustrating because this is not a new feeling and I’m not sure what I could do to get over it. In The Story of A New Name, the second novel in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series, the narrator expresses the feeling of reading and gaining facts, yet feeling that you are not knowledgeable in the way it matters. She says: “I recognized in them what I had never had and, I now knew, would always lack. What was it? I wasn't able to say precisely: the training, perhaps, to feel that the questions of the world were deeply connected to me; the capacity to feel them as crucial and not purely as information to display at an exam; a mental conformation that didn't reduce everything to my own individual battle, to the effort to be successful.” Thinking about the book, I wrote a note in my phone: will I ever know enough? And furthermore, will I ever be good enough? I love learning but so much of knowledge is about expressing it, is about being able to talk about it. So much of the time I feel like I’m talking in fragments, using vaguely understood concepts in incorrect ways. I feel like no matter how much I read, no matter how much I analyze, I will always be missing something.

consumption report

The one Twitter couldn’t stop talking about: Adam Driver in the New Yorker. He claims not to know what ‘toxic masculinity’ is about.

The one I’m going to see live: loving the Kate Bush energy that fka twigs’ mary magdalene is giving me, especially “sad day”.

The one that made me laugh: Condé Nast employees really care about their fancy snacks.

The Timothée Chalamet one: I would not recommend The King but cackling at Robert Pattinson’s French accent is worth putting this on in the background

consumption report: scattered pieces

Tavi Gevinson interviews Natasha Stagg for Interview magazine. “It’s disingenuous not to acknowledge it [abuses of power], and it’s also disingenuous to edit an artist’s influence out from the history of music. It’s a different story if you’re talking about giving people money to do new projects”. This felt really relevant to what I was thinking about in “the holy gestures are broken”. It seems like the conversation about this stuff is going in this direction—we have to hold the actions of the artist together with their work. A good point that Stagg and Gevinson also make is that America, and the Western world, is built on the exploitation of people. Not to be all tumblr about it but: abuse of power comes as no surprise. The behaviours being revealed by #metoo have always lingered under the surface. So really the question isn’t ‘what should we be doing’ and instead ‘what can we do differently from before’.

“Your Driver is Here” (The Cut on Tuesdays) *TW sexual assault* A well-reported, fantastic podcast episode on one woman’s experience being sexually assaulted by her Lyft driver and sexual assault in the rideshare industry. Discusses the responsibility of rideshare apps and companies when it comes to issues of this. In-depth without exploitation. Listen with care.

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am (iTunes). Not necessarily the best documentary ever but if you need a reminder of Toni Morrison’s brilliance and want to be dazzled by her presence for a couple of hours, this is worth a watch.

“Fascinated to Presume: In Defense of Fiction,” Zadie Smith (The New York Review of Books). On fiction being a way to imagine lives wholly different than our own; the difference between containment and exploration; questioning fiction as “correctness”.

Parasite, directed by Bong Joon-Ho. A movie with Oscar buzz that is worth seeing.

I Like to Watch by Emily Nussbaum. Writing that makes you appreciate the artistry of television and Ryan Murphy.

Caroline Polachek’s PANG. “Caroline Shut Up” is iconic.

incandescent rage

As I mentioned last week, I just finished Rebecca Traister’s latest book Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. I first read an excerpt from the book sometime in 2018 and was automatically engaged. I love women’s anger and I love reading about it more.

The act of a woman opening her mouth with volume and assured force, often in complaint, is coded in our minds as ugly”
— Good and Mad, pg 54

Early on in the book, Traister talks about the way women’s anger has been expressed in popular culture, specifically in the work of Beyonce. She talks about the video for “Hold Up” (from Beyonce’s Lemonade) and the way in which the fire hydrants that burst forth with uncontrollable water were reflective of a woman’s anger. Later, I was listening to the song and paid special attention to its lyrics. More than ever before, Beyonce’s refrain of “what’s worse/looking jealous or crazy” struck me. Even more so when she decides that she’d “rather be crazy,” suggesting that expressing her anger--and looking crazy--was better than sitting in bitter silence. For a long time I’ve been interested in how women’s expression of negative emotions, whether it be moroseness or anger, makes them monsters in the face of the world. And sometimes women do become monsters. Because at some point, it is exhausting to stay smiling while the patriarchy continues to stomp us into the ground. And so we rage. We use foul language and create “Shitty Media Men” spreadsheets and we act ‘crazy’ because it’s what we have to do to make things change. Traister’s book primarily focuses on the moment after the 2016 Presidential Election, but she recognizes that women’s anger and revolution is not new. It goes back to the centuries. To the French Revolution even. And it’s worked. It’s changed things. It hasn’t been neat or easy or consistent, but it has worked.

Throughout Good and Mad, Traister talks about the ways in which the expression of women’s anger can backfire. How the messiness of it can undermine or derail the revolution that we seek. But as Traister recognizes at the end of the book, we must go on. We must remember this anger. Because it is our driving force. And it will save us before it ever destroys us.

Good and Mad also made think about Solange’s “Mad” and the lyric where someone asks Solange why she’s mad, and she responds: “I got a lot to be mad about”

consumption report

  • My friend Kyle made a playlist called “road trip with bloody tires” which is made for quiet and steamy summer mornings. It reminds me of something that would play all day in an old house, or as the background to scenes from Donna Tartt’s A Secret History. After giving this a listen put on Kelsey Lu’s “I’m Not in Love” which I asked to be put on the playlist but has yet to find its place there.

  • Been reading Tina Brown’s The Vanity Fair Diaries which makes me nostalgic for a certain literary New York crowd that I don’t think really exists; but I hope it doest. Brown’s writing is quick and sharp, making the book easy to pick up and put down—perfect for the last lazy days of summer.

  • Saw the new Netflix documentary on Cambridge Analytica, The Great Hack, and was mildly disappointed. It’s premise: how the influence of Cambridge Analytica over the 2016 U.S. presidential elections and Brexit, specifically the data harvesting, brought about new questions about data advocacy. Should’ve been vair interesting but focused mostly on Brittany Kaiser, a former employee at Cambridge Analytica, and one of the two whistleblowers who put it all out there. As I put it to my friend Charlie: it was a movie about young people choosing power and prominence above all. And I still don’t know how we’ll advocate for our data rights against increasingly powerful Tech.

a minor but perilous triumph

I started reading Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem, which has been on my Amazon wishlist for years. Being a person who likes books and liking Joan Didion feels like the most unoriginal thing ever, but there’s a reason everyone loves her. There’s a reason she’s a legend. The book is filled with essays that Didion wrote for various publications in the the late 60s. Essays about John Wayne and and “Life Styles in the Golden Land” and self-respect. I just finished Part One this morning in which the essays are primarily reporting. What makes her reporting so good is that it’s thoughtful and poetic and moving. Concluding an essay about Michael Laski, the man who founded the Communist Party U.S.A, Marxist-Leninist, Didion says: “You see what the world of Michael Laski is: a minor but perilous triumph of being over nothingness”. Ugh, talk about magic!

I saw The Farewell with my roommates and found myself stunned with emotion for hours after. It’s about a young woman, Billi, “whose family returns to China under the guise of a fake wedding to stealthily say goodbye to their beloved matriarch -- the only person that doesn't know she only has a few weeks to live”. Awkwafina plays Billi whose close relationship with her grandmother makes it even harder to maintain the lie. She’s fantastic. The film itself is an amazing depiction of family life, especially immigrant family life. It depicts the tensions created when people move away; it perfectly captures the ways we hide from our families but never very well; and it gets the way in which culture defines family and the way in which the family unit is tied into the traditions and practices of a culture at large.

This week was filled with sweet moments and interactions with people that gave me lots of joy. To leave any interaction with a shit eating grin on your face makes you optimistic. Unfortunately, I capped the week off with a not so great moment. I made a mistake that was inconsiderate of other people around me and of course upset those people. It was a small mistake and it wasn’t too serious but I still found myself spending the entire day hating myself for it and believing that my friendship with the people I affected was irreparably damaged. But the experience was a good reminder that making mistakes doesn’t make me a bad person. And that people aren’t going to hate me or cut me off because I make stupid mistakes. It’s sometimes nice to believe that you’re going through the world and not causing any ripples. That as long as you can sit still enough and not be too messy and not do anything noticeably bad that you’re safe and that people will never have a reason to dislike you. And that’s just not the case. I know it and yet everytime I falter I spend ridiculous amounts of time beating myself up. I know it and I’m still thinking about it as I type this. But I’m learning. As everyone’s favourite yogi, Adriene, says: “We all fall, we all fart, and we all cry into the pillow sometimes. But, listen, We also all have the tools”.

consumption report

  • I’ve been watching a lot of reality tv this week, specifically Love Island (which is one FIVE nights a week) and MTV’s Are You the One? Watching reality shows in which people form emotional connections based on sheer proximity is always fun for me because as silly as I think it is, I always get overly invested as if it was happening to me.

  • Reading Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. More thoughts on that to come.

  • I finally listened to “Brown Skin Girl” and almost cried. Can’t wait for Blue Ivy’s solo album

it doesn't have to be this way

This morning I was talking to my roommate about one of my favourite books, Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, and suddenly found myself feeling slightly weepy. I talked through the burgeoning tears and moments later they urge had passed. I could have easily dismissed the teary moment to PMS—I had, afterall, gotten equally teary during an episode of Love Island just yesterday—but throughout the day I couldn’t stop thinking about that moment. I had been talking about the moment I had realized, influenced by Yanagihara’s novel, that there was great appeal, for me, to have “a little life”. A little life: finding rich and satisfying intimacy with other people, whether romantic or not, having a beautiful home; maybe you’ll have a dog. It’s a life that is defined by love and connection, and simple pleasures. It’s one that sounds completely satisfying and beautiful , but in a world in which we are constantly told that we should always want more, that we should always want better, it doesn’t feel like enough. It feels like giving up and settling. I think the reason I felt so teary describing that moment is that I want it so badly. And I want to also feel like that’s a worthy pursuit. I don’t want to be disgusted with myself for wanting that. The greatness of a life that results in love, joy and beauty, even in the face of terrible things and the worldly pressure is beautifully depicted in John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies. I just finished reading the book and I enjoyed it so much. Although I shed quite a few tears over it, it didn’t leave me completely wrecked and feeling incapable of living in the world, which always feels like a plus. The novel follows an Irish man named Cyril Avery through his own little life, from the moment he is born into chaos to the tender moments of the months before his death. Over almost seven decades—each new section of the novel skips forward seven years—Boyne makes you feel tied to Cyril, as he comes to embrace the immovable fact of his homosexuality in 20th century Catholic Ireland, falls in love and makes quite a few mistakes all in between. I devoured the book, my emotions alternating between laughing and crying and groaning and gasping. It’s the best book I’ve read this year. Another thing I read this week that fits well into this theme and motivated me to write any of this down, was Anne Helen Petersen’s newsletter titled oh no all my earnestness in one place. It’s comprised mostly of a commencement speech she gave at the University of Oregon in which she encourages the new graduates to forego the idea that there is a map and if they follow it, they’ll follow it right to certainty and security. Because more and more, that certainty is not there. You follow the map and then at the point where the bells should ring because you’ve absolutely made it, you’ve won, the map falls off. She talks about how many of us know that we have to throw away the map, we have to rethink what our futures may look like and what we need to do to get to that nebulous future, but find it difficult to do so. I screenshotted this:

“And for various reasons, you’re scared and exhausted”

“And for various reasons, you’re scared and exhausted”

She reminds us that we do not have to be ruled by fear, especially of the unknown and the uncomfortable. She reminds us to dig into the uncomfortable instead of dismiss it. She reminds us that whatever it is that we are struggling to reconcile with, whether it’s how we work or how live or whatever, that it doesn’t have to be this way. We have the power to make it any which way we want. Although as she suggests, that is easier said than done. I feel like I’ve been telling myself for years to ditch the conventional definitions of success, to ditch the ideas of how my future could look like. I’ve been telling myself for years to just listen to myself, rather than to the voices that tell me there’s a right way to get what I want and to have a satisfying life. I remind myself everyday that I can’t put too much stake into the future because there’s no way I can control what happens. But then I panic. Because the thing is that the future is like a poor potential partner: it demands you to invest everything into it but at no point will give you any signals, any indication, that it’s in it with you. That it will give back everything you’ve given it, and maybe more. And no matter how much you give it up and swear you won’t return it’s call, you always do. Because you feel like you’re missing out on something potentially great. And it’s hard to believe that something actually great will come your way without as much strife. There’s no use promising that you’ll get over it. But as Petersen’s newsletter, and Boyne’s novel, and my tears remind me, it’s worth trying to get over. Because you might miss the good stuff otherwise.

consumption report

  • The Man Repeller article that led me to AHP’s newsletter

  • I started listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, which hasn’t necessarily told me anything about success that I haven’t really thought about myself, but has given me lots of interesting stories to share at dinner parties. It is satisfying though to have things I’ve thought about before be expressed in a more eloquent and pseudo-scientific way.

  • I find it really hard to get into podcasts, though when I do, I dive all in. I recently have been obsessively listening to Gimlet’s The Cut on Tuesdays, and excitedly await the episode each week. New York magazine’s The Cut is the only media publication I read on a regular basis because it combines fantastic reporting and writing with easy humour, as well as has a splendid mix of celebrity gossip as well as newsy news. The podcast is essentially just an audio version of that greatness, a perfect distraction from tedious work. I’ve also been really enjoying the Longform podcast again, especially this and that.

  • You can find out the other books and movies I’ve consumed recently here

MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

public.jpg

Months ago I read Otessa Mosefgh’s acclaimed novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation at the persistent request of my friend. Later, I drafted an email about my thoughts on the book. I never sent the email, and I never shared the thoughts I wrote. Here’s the (slightly) edited version.

I was fully prepared to dislike My Year of Rest and Relaxation. When I was encouraged to read the book by my friend, I had known about the book for awhile. It had dotted my Instagram feed for weeks at some point last year and even though it was lauded by people whose opinion on literature I quite respect, I also recalled books like Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion that are the talk of the town and then I find a tremendous bore. And I really want to start forming my own opinion on things.

When I started reading the book, I thought wow I do not like this girl, I do not like this book. But I kept going because my friend wanted me to read it and I wanted to read more of almost anything. My first thoughts about the novel’s unnamed narrator and protagonist is that she was conceited, privileged and a little whiny. I felt disgusted with her and I was unsure if I could make it through a entire novel full of her. But of course, over time I came to understand her. I came to appreciate her, to care for her. She could be a little despicable and gross but she also felt relatable. The overwhelming, and sometimes debilitating feeling of caring so much it feels impossible to live when life feels like a grey, purposeless mess. When it felt full of people who thought they had it all figured out, desperate characters that were grasping at every possible thing to make themselves feel good about who they were and who they had chosen to be. Characters like Reva and Ping Xi and Natasha, who weren’t bad people, but who are the kind of people we should resist becoming if only because there is no satisfaction in a performative life. 

Yet, her project of a year of rest and relaxation feels like a performance art piece, even without Ping Xi’s strange appropriation of her experience. I still haven’t decided what I think. I think it was Mosefgh’s intention for it to feel a bit performative. Despite this, and despite the protagonists lies and delusions the whole thing feels honest and open. Maybe the joke’s on me.


Blossom Out: Hulu's 'Shrill'

I don’t think I paid much notice to ‘Shrill’ when it first came out and only really knew it existed based on a passing Instagram Story. But when it became available to watch in Canada, I was excited to watch it right away. Although we live in a time when body positivity reigns supreme, representation of fat people is always disappointing. We live in an age when ‘Insatiable’ was made with little concern about what it was saying to fat people. Lena Dunham might have bared it all on ‘Girls’ but fat bodies in the media are often depicted as things to diminish and dismiss. Which is why ‘Shrill’ is so appealing on one level. Based on Lindy West’s book Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, the show stars Aidy Bryant as Annie, a young woman who wants to write things she cares about at the publication that she works at, and is in a situationship with a guy who makes her leave through his back door. It follows Annie as she gains more confidence to ask for what she wants, both at work and in her relationship. While the show addresses being fat in the world, it is not the thing that defines Annie and she doesn’t pay much attention to it. In fact, it’s the people around her that bring constant attention to her body and associate it with negative connotations. In one scene, Annie is accosted by a fitness trainer who tells her that there’s a small person (in Annie) “screaming to get out”. Later that same fitness trainer calls Annie a “fat bitch” for refusing her services. ‘Shrill’ has its fair share of hostile moments like this (Annie deals with an Internet troll), but even so, the show is overall lighthearted and funny. In what I think is the best moment of the whole season, Annie lets herself dance goofily and freely at a pool party, and the joy that she experiences is so tangible I burst into (happy) tears. Lolly Adefope (Loaded, The Spy Who Dumped Me), who is absolutely hilarious, plays Annie’s commitment-phobe lesbian best friend and roommate, Fran, and is absolutely hilarious in the role. My biggest complaint with the show is that we don’t see enough of her. Thankfully, ‘Shrill’ has been picked up for a second season, so there are more chances for the purest moments.


Watch ‘Shrill’ on Hulu (US) or Crave (Canada) or however you want to

*gif courtesy of GIPHY

I would have been torn to shreds

In the year of 2019, our society is obsessed with the concept of fame more than ever. And as more and more people get famous from transforming themselves into businesses, fame as a concept is sticky and constantly changing. One thing that isn’t changing is our confusion over fame—who gets it, who keeps it, and what damage does it do, both to the famous and those who follow their every move? It’s the latter question that Brady Corbet’s latest film, Vox Lux concerns itself with. Starring Natalie Portman and Jude Law, the film tells the story of Celeste, a young girl from Staten Island who suffers a spinal injury due to a school shooting, writes a song about it, and becomes instantly famous. The film is divided into four parts, with the first half following Celeste as a quiet but confident teen, who quickly falls in love with the adventure that is fame. The second half follows Celeste, now 31 years old, still confident but increasingly anxious and prone to explosive behaviour. As much as its concerned with the pitfalls of fame, it is more concerned with the ways in which we escape our pain—individually and collectively—and the ways in which pasting glitter over gaping wounds is both healing and damaging.

The film attempts to say this in various ways but in doing so, fails to fully realize any one message. Moments are often spat at out at the audience—sometimes in blurred and sped-up time lapses—and the narration, done by Willem Dafoe, is used to fill in the gaps the audience isn’t given time to fill. Personally, I would have been happier if they’d skipped the narration and sustained some of the most crucial moments. Yet, the film’s quick-paced energy perfectly reflected the anxious energy of Portman’s Celeste, and caused the viewer to feel that same anxiety. It was an anxiety that was all too common in 2018, the kind that came with news of one terrible thing after another.

Despite my qualms, I can’t deny that I enjoyed Vox Lux immensely. It was a puzzle that had to be figured out, and Natalie Portman’s performance was absolutely fantastic. I do wish that some of the amazing soundtrack they created could have gotten more play, but not every movie is A Star is Born. And I’m completely okay with that.