Hey, isn’t it funny how 2015 is halfway over and you’ve barely done anything you wanted to yet? Luckily, other people are out there getting it done, making things for you—beautiful, irregular you—to read and listen to and look at. Here’s a list of what some of us have enjoyed in those three departments in the year to date.
The Ballad of Bobbi Kristina, by Danyel Smith: I read this three times in a row because the prose and construction is so beautiful and powerful and also because it’s full of compassion and all the things that are thought but left unsaid. This particular sentence gave me chills: “This because Bobbi Kristina Houston Brown, who hardly even had her own name, has not lived long enough to turn a corner and become herself. What model had she for the redemptive powers of one’s third and fourth decades on Earth?”
The Price of Nice Nails, by Sarah Maslin Nir: The best thing about this article, besides the extensive reporting, is that it’s actually effecting change (hopefully long-term) in NYC. Like any great story, the time and effort put into it will pay off tenfold.
A Quick Note at Getting Better at Difficult Things, by Ta-Nehisi Coates: It’s totally short and sweet and true. “There is absolutely nothing in this world like the feeling of sucking at something and then improving at it.”
“Can China Take a Joke,” from the NYT: Comedy, like religion, is so artificial yet so ubiquitous that seeing it built from the bottom is truly weird. I keep thinking about this piece, especially the guy who tries to teach eager students the structure of a joke.
“The Oral History of Mad Men,” from Clickhole: The first time I saw this, I could only get through a paragraph before I dissolved into tears of helpless laughter. It took me four tries to get all the way through. I kept crying.
“Last Girl in Larchmont, “ from TNY: The best thing written about Joan Rivers I’ve ever read.
And all of Charles Pierce’s Esquire Politics coverage of Scott Walker. I love it so much that I “save it” for when I’m feeling bad, or sad, or depressed.
Also earlier this year my mother apologized for a fight we got in 10 years ago wherein her mic drop was “THE WORLD IS NOT SEINFELD AND YOU ARE NOT ELAINE.”
KL: A History of Nazi Concentration Camps, by Nikolas Waschmann: it’s the first comprehensive history of the camps. Labor and death camps were not always exclusively that, they were dynamic tools of misery that expanded and contracted throughout the war.
Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s profile of Chris Harrison in GQ cements her as one of the best celebrity profilers we’ve seen in a long time, able to make a story about one man become a story about so much more. And Rembert’s “Going Way Too Deep Down the Rabbit Hole With Nicki Minaj’s Recent Bar Mitzvah Appearance” was posted while I was on vacation, when I have a strict “no internet reading” policy. But somehow, it made its way to my best friend, who read it aloud to me, crying, one night in a hotel in the Thai islands. Better than TV.
Miranda July, The First Bad Man: I didn’t expect to love this novel as much as I did. Not because I don’t like Miranda July, but because I didn’t think the format was right for her or that she would be able to sustain my interest or her own style for a novel-length piece of writing, but she did! It’s the gleefully bizarre story of a woman named Cheryl, who—thanks to an uninvited houseguest named Clee—slowly allows the entirety of her weird beautiful perfectly odd self reveal itself after a lifetime of keeping it trapped inside a self-made world of dull, obsessive compulsive order. Plus, the ending is just really, really, sweet.
Jami Attenberg, Saint Mazie: I interviewed Jami Attenberg for Jez, and you can read it here.
Elena Ferrante, The Story of the Lost Child: Gahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! When I got my hands on the final book in Ferrante’s Neapolitan series, I gasped. Loudly, probably. I didn’t start it for weeks because I was waiting for the right moment. But there is no “right” moment, and now that I’ve finished it I want to read all four books over again. The conclusion of Elena and Lina’s story—as it expands and reframes earlier events— is just breathtaking. Once Ferrante returns to where it all began—to the scene that occurs in first few pages of My Brilliant Friend—I felt just about as satisfied as I think I’ll ever be at the end of a book.
William Finnegan’s surf essay in the New Yorker:
The other world was land: everything that was not surfing. Books, girls, school, my family, friends who did not surf. “Society,” as I was learning to call it, and the exactions of Mr. Responsible. Hands folded under my chin, I drifted. A bruise-colored cloud hung over Koko Head. A transistor radio twanged on a seawall where a Hawaiian family picnicked on the sand. The sun-warmed shallow water had a strange boiled-vegetable taste. The moment was immense, still, glittering, mundane. I tried to fix each of its parts in memory. I did not consider, even in passing, that I had a choice when it came to surfing. My enchantment would take me where it chose.
And Will S. Hylton’s piece on deserters in NYMag has haunted me—soldiers trapped in churches, trapped in sanctuary. Jill Lepore on equality vs. privacy arguments taught me a lot in terms of its subject matter but also in the way that every Lepore piece teaches me how to build an argument clearly. Brit Bennett, a friend of mine from my MFA program, is also one of the most promising new writers out there in many ways, and her Paris Review piece on Addy the American Girl doll was stunningly well-done.
Books-wise: Elisa Albert’s After Birth, Saunders’s The Braindead Megaphone (who writes nonfiction more humanely? I reread this every year), more continual rereading of the Collected Ellen Willis, Eula Biss’s On Immunity.
The best thing I read this year was Man V. Nature by my friend Diane Cook. It’s a collection of absurd, dystopian, sexy short stories. It’s like if George Saunders were a horny chick? And it’s hilarious. I interviewed Diane about the book here. Read it.
Adrien Chen’s story about the troll factory in Russia — Great reporting, funny, weird, deep, so good. I’m jealous.
Kim Gordon’s Girl in a Band — I’m late to this. It’s so elegant and spare, and also she manages to let you know just what an absolute shitheel Thurston Moore is without going overboard. The whole book is cold and bracing as ice water, I’m pretty into it.
Kate Christensen’s Blue Plate Special — it’s just a great memoir and great food writing. Her apartment in Greenpoint was $400 at some point. [Pauses, weeps]
Jezebel.com — seriously, we’re having a great year, the site looks fucking great, I don’t care how stuck up that sounds.
I’m so late; but I’m finally reading Hilton Als’ White Girls, savoring it slowly since February (I’m almost done, also reading it on the train, on my phone). The Andre Leon Talley essay destroyed me; though this funny scene is not entirely indicative of the thesis (the end made me weep), this is my favorite part:
The Book of Unknown Americans: A Novel by Cristina Henríquez: an engaging story that weaves together the experiences of a group of Latino immigrants in Delaware, essentially exposing the failure of the American Dream. It’s also a nice reminder for obtuse Americans that not all Spanish-speaking immigrants are from Mexico. Diversity! Imagine that.
The Police Are American’s Terrorists, Greg Howard: Enough said.
I got back from Israel a few weeks ago, and I’ve been doing a lot of reading pre- and post-trip. Letters to Palestine, edited by Vijay Prashad, is a pretty miraculous compilation of essays and poetry on the occupation thrown together in the months following last summer’s Gaza invasion; not every piece soars, but there is some beautifully rendered rage in this book that’s been sitting in my chest ever since I put it down. My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit is another one that stuck with me, although it came out a few years back. A heartbreaking narrative retelling of the founding of Israel, Shavit rides a hard fucking line between love and shame.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s new album Multi-Love is complex, beautiful pop music that flirts with 70’s psychedelia. I can’t stop listening to it, especially the title track.
Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment, Surf: This is a super “feelable” album. I didn’t expect to be so moved by it, but it immediately activates happiness in my brain and makes me tuck in my pessimism for a bit. I can’t stop playing “Windows” and “Questions” and “Pass the Vibes.”
Kehlani, You Should Be Here: She’s young and fly and I feel like she’s in touch with her place physically (like, where she’s from) and also her place in the world.
This Willow Smith song and everything she does
Miguel “Coffee”: I love this song dangerously too much
Obviously Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly. And:
A band called Cyberbully Mom Club: they have a good, low-fi melancholy bedroom vibe.
Susanne Sundfor, Ten Love Songs: Sundfor’s voice is powerful enough to cut through the vacuum of deep space, and stuns me every time I hear it. These are love songs from another planet.
Sufjan Stevens, Carrie and Lowell: IT’S 2003 AGAIN. Ever since Soofy released The Age of Adz, which is FINE, I’ve been worried that he’d never go back to the quiet, lonely songs that made me fall in love with him. But then came this. It’s sad as hell and gives some uncomfortable insight in to what it means to be Sufjan Stevens, but albums like these have their place. And I’m glad he made another one.
Kacey Musgraves, Pageant Material: I love her. I love this. Here’s my review.
Right now I’m depressed about new tunes because of what’s happening to Soundcloud, and subsequently (selfishly) what’s happening to my compilation of side jams, which are getting pulled offline on the daily. But, it’s still been a great year so far.
K.A.A.N (my god), Alessia (she’s gonna be so famous), Katea (a perfect Florence + Adele blend in a debut single), “Better By Your Side” (let’s make out), “Should Have Known Better” (fuck me I’m falling apart is an extraordinary line where it hits here), Eskimeaux (the bones of this song are teasingly strong and flexible), Jamie XX (aside from all those GOOD TIMES, I lose my breath every time this melody kicks in), the album version of “i” (I have never been so thoroughly schooled by a second version of a song I dismissed), Azealia’s verse on the Trap Queen remix (wish they’d given her the full hook), Viceroy’s Jet Life remixes (the continual thread running through every summer), “Ryderz” (where’s the Cam verse), and this old remix of Chick Fit.
My baby singing “Roar” through a home karaoke machine. She’s not even two but that girl has IT.
The crinkle of the coffee bag in the morning, every morning; the weird deflated meow the fat cat I live with makes when he jumps down from the couch. He’s very fat; Eilen Jewell, Letters from Sinners and Strangers. It’s not a new album, I’m just getting into it; This old Nick Cave song “Easy Money” that I’m just rediscovering.
Tinashe’s “Amethyst” mixtape, but maybe even more than that I loved Rahel’s “Alkali,” which is ‘90s r&b times Cocteau Twins, New York City’s freshest. Also, re: NYC, “Choppin Necks” by Dai Burger, wowee.
“Sunday Candy,” Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment: Although technically this song has been out for awhile on Soundcloud, it’s featured on the group’s new album Surf, so I’m going to count it in 2015. This song is perfect in every way possible and it’s a crime that it’s not the number one song in the country right now. “Sunday Candy” is also the perfect counterpoint when baby boomers start whining that current music lacks artistry. Did I mention that this song is perfect?
You Should Be Here, Kehlani: This album has lots of lowkey summer jams and Kehlani is very good at capturing the vibe of what it’s like for the under thirty set to love—or just like a lot—in 2015.
Shura has been killing it with a series of airy, quietly jubilant tracks. 2Shy is probably the song I played most this spring; her latest ripped that sound wide open into something even more exciting.
Mad Max: Fury Road; still loving Jane The Virgin and Better Call Saul. Amy Schumer showed up at this stand up show I attended recently and did about 25 minutes (ostensibly from her forthcoming HBO special; Chris Rock was there, too, and afterwards I heard him giving her notes). Her HBO special will be... very good. I finally saw Radiolab: Live at BAM and it was one of the best live theater experiences I’ve ever had. I also saw the Mariinsky Ballet’s (nee Kirov) performance of Swan Lake in the flesh. Incredible.
This clip which before just the week, I had never seen:
Ex Machina: It’s been a few months since seeing this one, but I’m still so impressed by it. This is a short and sweet thriller. Efficient, smart, well-written, and tremendously performed by and Alicia Vikander (the robot) and Oscar Isaac (her creator). Despite the fact that I was fairly certain how the cookie would crumble by about 15 minutes in, I was just hanging on this movie’s every frame.
Clouds of Sils Maria: An aging French actress gets cast in a remake of the play that made her famous, only this time she’s playing the old woman and some new hot thing is playing her part - MEANWHILE she’s going through a mid-life crisis and mourning the death of her friend and sort of falling in love with her assistant?!! SIGN ME UP. I could watch Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart talk to each other for hours, so this was a sure bet for me.
Mad Max: This was weird because I wanted to list three movies and couldn’t decide what to put after Ex and Clouds. “Will it be Max Max (I LOVED IT)? Will it be Jurassic World (I LOVED IT)?” But last night I saw Magic Mike XXL and was like, “Yep it’s gonna be that.” This is one of the best and most delightful movies about friendship that I’ve ever seen. I’m so serious.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: It’s the story of a female vampire who quietly and methodically sucks the blood and soul out of bad guys, so it’s great. Watched it on Netflix. I love about how eerily it’s shot and how the director lets silence speak for itself.
Bessie: Queen Latifah is everything and I really enjoy Dee Rees’ voice/perspective
The Diane Sawyer Bruce Jenner special: A stark and real public emotional release that’s rare to see
Jessie Ware at Terminal 5: All the feelings ever had, I had here
The Mad Men finale: Every TV series finale feels like the end of some era. I think we’ll still be figuring this one out for a while.
DJ Snake and Calvin at EDC in New Jersey (Trap Queen in the former’s set and BBHMM in the latter); also Young Fathers at Music Hall of Williamsburg (I have not seen such a straightforwardly cathartic, genre-blurring, raucous show in a while); Christine and the Queens and Years & Years at SXSW; also this one guy who pulled up his skateboard to hand me a flower and tell me about Jesus, also the guys who film rap videos on their cell phones near my apartment pausing to tell my dog that they noticed (and liked!!) her haircut.
The Weeknd at Coachella. I had actually never really listened to him before this show and for me to come out the other side a SUPER FAN, like hardcore, he’s all I’ve been listening to since April, that is really saying something about his live show. He did “Drunk in Love.” I’m still surprised it didn’t get me pregnant.
The Going Clear documentary (I’m super boring, of course I’d say that) and The Jinx (ditto). The Fall, which, again, isn’t new, and Maddie already wrote beautifully on it in January. Call the Midwife—again, not a new show, but really absorbing and much less stuffy than I would’ve thought. Also, I’m not calling it The Best anything, but I think Aquarius, the new David Duchovny show about ‘60s L.A. and Charlie Manson, is really great so far, two episodes in. I’ll watch anything about a cult. And Hedwig on Broadway with John Cameron Mitchell as Hedwig. That movie meant so much to me as a teenager and so much more still as a withered old adult. I cried. More than once.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton,” which opens on Broadway in July. I’m not a B-way “person,” but is brilliant. I have written about this enthusiastically.
Grace and Frankie, Netflix: Although I adore Jane Fonda, I was initially a bit skeptical because all of the promos for the show read as an extended look into rich white people problems—which, it is. However, it’s hilarious and the cast is excellent—Lily Tomlin, Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen also star. They also talk about people over the age of thirty-five having sex like it’s a normal thing that occurs because, it is.
Veep: Continues to be the best show on television.
The Weeknd, weekend one of Coachella: I can’t really say that I was too into The Weeknd before Coachella. I knew some of his songs but nothing ever really stuck with him. Seeing him live was transformative and made me an instant fan.
Not to be dramatic, but this season of The Bachelorette is far and away the all-time best. Kaitlyn has a reasonable sense of humor and some pretty good arm tattoos; the contestants are way
hotter than usual and had to fight each other in Sumo diapers; and one storyline literally involved a gay villain in the house. The last few episodes have been kind of a bummer, but still—Mondays have never been more thrilling.