To me, August is the most blissful time of year— it is a month of many family birthday and anniversary celebrations (at least 1-2 a week-- many Leos and Virgos in my life) and the final weeks before the call of the new academic semester. And even though I am usually a bit anxious about whether the amount of writing, research, and course preparation I have accomplished by the time August rolls around is sufficient, I always make a point of scheduling a much needed summer vacation at the end of the month to restore and refresh for the year ahead. This is the kind of getaway that involves a lot of lounging, a body of water nearby, many beverages and snack foods, and a well stocked e-reader, phone, and computer with all of the titles, shows, and podcasts I have collected over the preceding months. Shared below are some of my current selections—many of which I have already been enjoying—with a line or two to describe, and image/text links to steer you to more information. I hope some of these suggestions make their way into your summer reading/viewing/listening picks if they haven’t already, and I wish you all a sun-soaked and relaxing August. Enjoy and savour while it lasts!
So many books, so little time…. that is how I feel when summer hits and I am able to indulge in many of the titles have been getting buzz and/or I have learned about through friends and podcasts (like the New York Times Book Review—a must listen on my commute to and from work).
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danier—I have been doing a good deal of thinking and writing about food this year, and I was struck when I heard about the story of this author who, like so many artists and writers spending years slogging it out as a servers, wrote a book paralleling her coming of age story with the time she spent getting to live and work in the New York culinary world. The book has received great reviews, and it is first on my list to read on vacation.
Better Living Through Criticism by A.O. Scott has been on my list since much earlier in the year and I cannot wait to finally dive into one of the New York Times film reviewer's reflections on the difficult craft of being an art critic.
The Girls by Emma Cline is a bestseller that has been on every much-read summer list this year, and I was first drawn to it because of the time period it covers (California in the 1960’s) and the topic of young people being lured by charismatic leaders into a cult.
In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi is a book that I immediately knew I wanted to read. Not only is the topic of Faludi's Hungarian father of keen interest to me (as a daughter of Hungarian immigrants) along with her father's lifelong profession as a photographer, but the compelling story of how Faludi uncovers and comes to terms with her father’s complex identity will make a truly fascinating read.
4-Part Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante—have you ever read a book like you sip a good wine, a little at a time to savour and enjoy before you know it will be gone? That is how I have been reading Ferrante’s series of novels since earlier this summer, a book series spanning the lives of two best friends and exploring themes of female friendship, jealousy, conflict, and love over the course of their very complicated lives. The books are not for everyone, as they are incredibly intense, but the stories and ideas explored in the series have stuck with me in a deeply affecting way.
Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success by Michael D'Antonio—I inhaled this book a few months ago when I simply had to begin wrapping my head around this man’s rise to power as the US Republican nominee. This is a must-read biography that is incredibly well researched, balanced, and even-handed in its approach. The book also does a careful cultural analysis to argue how and why Trump has risen to power at this particular moment in the world.
Shrill: Notes From A Loud Woman by Lindy West is a book that has been in the air a lot this year—I first heard about it during a great interview with Lindy West on the This American Life Podcast about fat-shaming, and West’s time working with Dan Savage, and then it was recommended and became the next pick for the book club I belong to. Looking forward to this one a lot!
Every Song Ever by Ben Ratliff—this is a book that I have been waiting to read for months, since it literally requires you to stop and listen to music as part of the reading experience. The book begins with the question of how musical tastes and appreciation have changed with the emergence of streaming and cloud-based music providers. It then goes on to introduce a new way of listening to and enjoying music across vast times and space by taking advantage of the new technological possibilities.
Everyone knows that we are in the new golden age of TV, and all of these series are incredibly unique and interesting in their own way, which is probably why I am drawn to them. Notably, not one of these productions emerge from traditional network TV (with the possible exception of the BBC produced GBBO—foreign to us here) and I encourage you to seek out earlier seasons where applicable. Binge watching in the summer is also far less guilt-inducing.
Mr. Robot: It is difficult to describe this TV show—it has so much going on both at the level of form and content—but it is simply one of the most brilliant dramas on TV today. Chronicling the life of a hacker who also suffers from social anxiety and depression, the show probes some of the most pressing questions about social justice and the role of cyber-vigilantes in today’s consumer-obsessed world.
Horace and Pete: Another unusual TV show that comedian Louis C.K. has written, directed, and self-funded as a web series that is more tragedy than comedy. Set in a family bar in Brooklyn, the show is like a cross between a much darker and more critically minded Cheers and the best of Louis C.K.’s stand-up.
UnREAL: If you despise The Bachelor as much as I do, or even if you don’t and are willing to see the veil lifted from the artifice of this particular reality show franchise, check out this wickedly humorous drama that depicts the behind-the-scenes manipulation of contestants and final outcomes for the fictitious reality show Everlasting. Keep in mind that one of the show’s creators worked on the original Bachelor, so much of what you see on this show will be more real than the reality show it is based upon.
Orange is the New Black: Simply put, if you haven’t started watching this show, start this summer, and make sure to binge-watch from the first episode. There is nothing else quite like it, the hype is real, and you will certainly never look at women’s prisons or the diversity of their populations the same way again.
The Great British Bake-Off: A kinder, friendlier cooking reality show that pits some of Britain’s top amateur bakers against one another in weekly challenges. Pure escapist TV for foodies at its best!
ROOTS: This series, updating the original miniseries that aired on US network television in 1977, is an incredibly well made update to one of the first televised dramatic depictions of the history of US slavery shown to mass audiences in North America. I cannot recommend it enough, especially as a way to begin thinking about and understanding the state of race-relations south of the border. The characters and stories will stay with you for a very long time.
Love: I am a sucker for anything Judd Apatow, and this Netflix series stars the fantastic Gillian Jacobs from Girls (playing the ever-hip Mimi-Rose on Girls). A stark look at romantic relationships that is funny and poignant without the dreaded and predictable rom-com tropes.
Silicon Valley: I adore absolutely everything about this show, set in the crazy world of Silicon Valley, California and the startup culture that it has made famous. The series does a fantastic job of balancing humour with the very believable story of six young engineers trying to make it big with their ideas. Think Entourage for computer geeks.
Probably my favourite media form for poolside or walking/traveling to and from vacation spots and activities—podcasts are entertaining, informative, and a great way to catch up on the shifting cultural and political zeitgeist around us.
NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour: I have just recently started listening to what I would describe as the US version of CBC’s Q. Something about its hosts and range of episodes (from “small batch” hot takes on cultural stories in the news to longer in-depth discussions) keeps me coming back. Topical, funny, and critically engaging.
Canadaland: I have been a fan of Jesse Brown’s renegade and frank podcast looking at the media in Canada and beyond for quite a long time, and I love that this podcast does not lose any steam over the summer. It just keeps getting better and better. Lots of important stories are broken on Canadaland long before they make it to the mainstream news. A must listen.
New Yorker Radio Hour: As a subscriber to the New Yorker, I must admit that I listen to the podcast when I can’t get to the longer articles, especially in the summertime. Great in-depth discussion on news events and ideas of the moment.
Trumpcast: Hands down my favourite podcast this year! The topic each episode is Trump, examined from different angles and with fantastic special guests and experts. Not surprisingly, they never run out of material to discuss, and always from both a humorous and critical angle.
DoubleX Gabfest: A favourite at any time of the year, this podcast covers news events through the lens of a fabulous and diverse all-woman cast. I always learn something new and interesting when I listen to DoubleX and especially like their weekly reading/watching/listening recommendations (some of which are on my own list!)
The Imposter: This is the one podcast on my list I have yet to listen to, but I am eagerly anticipating this new art-focused podcast produced by Canadaland. I have the first episodes saved for my vacation flight.
Burnt Toast: A podcast all about food—eating it, making it, thinking about it, and learning about those who work with it. Love, love, love this one.
Artsy: I was hooked from the very first episode earlier this year that looked at Ai Weiwei’s use of Instagram in his art practice. A targeted and very informative podcast for anyone interested in the breaking news of the art world.