On Podcasts: The West Wing Weekly

West Wing Weekly

http://thewestwingweekly.com/

I absolutely love The West Wing. That’s not very impressive, I guess, since anyone that has seen it probably loved it too. 7 seasons of how the government operates with multiple plot lines, walk & talks, and ripped from the headlines type issues that the West Wing staff would need to deal with. The first four seasons were powerful, the last 3 were pretty okay with several moments of BAD, but all in all it deserves its place on the list of best television series.

Now let’s talk about the podcast.

It’s buddies Josh Molina (Will Bailey from the show) and Hrishikesh Hirway (Hrishi for short) talking about the episodes and what happens in them while adding extra commentary that, if you are a fan of the show, you probably already know. Listening to the first few episodes definitely made me want to go back and watch the series for a 6th time, but it did not make me want to continue listening to the podcast.

I have watched this entire series at least 5 times that I can remember. I have absolutely no interest in listening to these gentlemen explaining the episodes to me. What purpose does that serve? All the episodes are on Netflix, so just go watch the show. I have no interest in “behind the scenes” type commentary because, like I said, if you are a fan you’ve probably heard all they have to say, plus this series has been off the air since…2006? 2007? I’m not exactly on the edge of my seat to hear about the feud between Rob Lowe and Martin Sheen in season 3 episode 7 because Lowe didn’t get the cookies he wanted (I made that up, Martin Sheen is a saint).

Also, Molina didn’t join the series until…season 4 maybe? Let me look…yes, season 4. HOW ARE YOU GONNA COMMENT ON SEASONS 1-3 FOR ME, JOSHUA? You were on Sorkin’s other coke-fueled show, Sports Night, and they wouldn’t let you be Sam Seaborn because they wanted a sexier, non-nerdy gentleman. And don’t even get me started on Scandal. *walks away*

So while I was initially excited about this podcast, it’s just not as interesting as simply going back and re-enjoying the series for yourself. I’ll give them this though, with all those episodes and only publishing once a week, it’s fertile content ground. There are so many podcasts that rely on existing content for their survival (mine relies on books, so I can’t get too judgy on this score), and the husband said there is a podcast that does this same thing but with Simpson’s episodes. HOLY BALLS. That’s content for years if they can keep it up.

Seems gimmicky though. Podcasts that just describe something that’s already been done are always going to seem inferior in my mind to podcasts like Welcome to Nightvale that, while based on existing literature, offer a unique listening experience. I am probably not explaining this distinction very well, but I have no interest in listening to someone describe something to me that I can go and listen to/experience for myself.

On this one, it’s a soft pass. If you listen, let us know what you think.

Memoir Monday: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me

Last week I found myself moving closer and closer to the line between caring what other people think and just being myself and telling everyone to deal with it. I know that for confident, successful people this might seem like a simple thing, but for me being who everyone else wanted or needed me to be up until this point was a survival mechanism. That’s how I kept jobs, got help, made friends – there was a point where I lied so much about who I was that I forgot who I was. For whatever reason different events last week started pushing me back to who I was before and while I’m not there yet, I can sense that time coming.

With that internal struggle and change happening, it was very appropriate that I would be reading Mindy Kaling’s first memoir: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns), because if there is one thing you should walk away with after reading this book, it is a sense for how important it is to know yourself and to be strong in that knowledge.

My only real exposure to Kaling was in The Office in her role as Kelly Kapoor. She was snotty and hilarious and I really enjoyed her acting. This book expanded my knowledge to include her writing and directing experience, which included neither at the outset. It was cool to see where she came from, hear about her educational background, and how she took the leap to try to write in New York (not necessarily with an acting focus).

It is probably true that Mindy was able to pursue her dreams because both her parents were successful and able to help her financially. We see stories that place her in stereotypically “poor” or POC-type situations, but all in all this story says “I made it” as opposed to “I made it THROUGH ALL THIS GARBAGE” and in this way this story was also exactly what I needed after so many struggle memoirs. I needed to hear someone say “It was difficult and frustrating, but I had people around me supporting me and I made it and I persevered.” Everything is so much garbage right now that reading this short, light-hearted recollection of her own experience was really refreshing.

So if you need something light that inspires you to embrace the things that make you, YOU, pick up this memoir from 2011. You will be glad you did.

On Podcasts: Pod Save America

Pod Save America

https://getcrookedmedia.com/here-have-a-podcast-78ee56b5a323

I absolutely love this series, because it is forcing me to listen to and try so many podcasts! And there are so many. Many of you know that I have my own podcast, Based on the Book (available on iTunes and Google Play Music and I link to them over in the sidebar on this site ——>) and since I am only on episode 8 this week I am painfully aware that (a) I am a small fish in a VERY big ocean and (b) EVERYONE HAS A PODCAST so being able to separate the good from the bad can save you a lot of time.

Pod Save America is hosted by four gentlemen and states that it is for people who are not yet ready to give up or go insane, so I’m hoping I’m still allowed to listen to it? *fingers crossed* In The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight style, they talk about the week’s news  and interview people with important views and information to share related to the happenings.

Something that is very important to me in a podcast is the sense that I am sitting in a room having a conversation with friends. I love The Read, not because of the pop culture stuff they touch on, but because I feel like I’m talking to friends about things they are interested in and I’m also learning about the world around me as I go. Pod Save America is a listening experience that simulates sitting around with friends screaming THIS IS FUCKING NUTS and it feels so good to hear them say it.

This is an informed and entertaining ~45 minute gathering that allows you to remember that you are not alone and that this is not normal. Sometimes watching MSNBC or CNN gives the sense that we are trying to analyze the After-Times with Before-Times logic and they aren’t willing to let go of that. Having a podcast like this or a show like The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight to supplement that approach can truly help you strip away the bullshit and stay sane in a world that is on fire.

If you are interested in politics, America, and staying aware in a society that seems to be tearing itself apart, add Pod Save America to your playlist. Right now. Go. Why are you still here?

Total Solar Eclipse 2017

On Sunday the husband and I traveled to Hartswell, GA (about 7-8 hours from where we live) and stayed at a Hampton Inn (thanks Hilton Honors points!) to be in the band of totality for the solar eclipse. On Monday we waited in the parking lot for the eclipse to occur. Here are some pictures I took. If you look in the picture you can find a pinhole image of the stage of the eclipse as we went.

start 1mid 1three quarters 1

I had the special eclipse glasses, which allowed me to see the moon coming in front even as the sun continued to shine. As you can see by the pictures, if you actually looked up at the sun you would have no way to know what stage it was really in. The glasses are a necessity for the enjoyment of the eclipse as well as your safety.

This video was taken by my phone camera, but it’s pretty awesome. It’s the moment of totality and while it’s not as good as the videos you would see on the news or the Weather Channel, I’m glad I have it so I can remember how excited I was when it happened. Enjoy.

Memoir Monday: Born a Crime

Born a Crime

One of my favorite kind of books to read is one that takes me someplace I have never been and introduces me to a culture that I have never experienced. Trevor Noah was born to a Xhosa mom and Swiss dad while apartheid was still in force in South Africa. His birth was evidence of a crime, I’m not sure I would go as far to say that he was born a crime, but “Born a Crime” grabs your attention a lot better than “My Birth Was Evidence of My Parents’ Crimes.”

The beauty of this memoir is that you journey with Trevor from his childhood into his early adulthood, and watch how South Africa transforms as he grows. You see the transition from apartheid to Nelson Mandela’s government, and how all the different “homelands” adjusted to the shifts in power. My favorite stories that he tells are the ones from the different schools he attended. The clearest picture of how the different degrees of racial identity (white, colored, black) interacted with each other is painted by the behavior of these children.

With all the discussion of white supremacy and the need to resist the rise of Nazi influence in this country, it was informative and interesting to see how South Africa convinced the majority black and colored (Noah’s word) population to live under apartheid. The methods they used to reinforce infighting between the many different tribes that lived there, the way they exploited the existence of so many languages (South Africa has 11 national languages!) to confuse as well as encourage miscommunication and distrust, that level of confusion and infighting created an environment where whites could reign supreme. There is a lot that we could learn from this memoir politically, racially, and structurally in terms of power. If you are not familiar with apartheid and how it was overthrown, Noah’s book is a fantastic narrative to take you on a basic, open-bus tour of the phenomenon while you are also learning about the personal history of a rising star in late-night television.

At around 300 pages it’s a relatively moderate read, and the essays are so funny and enjoyable that you’ll find yourself reading through it quickly. If you’re feeling in a memoir mood, check it out. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Drawing of the Three (The Dark Tower #2)

The drawing of the three

The Gunslinger (TDT #1)

I’m going to sum this one up for you very quickly, because I almost put this trilogy down again in the middle of this book. Similar to my assessment of The Gunslinger, I think that this book suffers from some dialogue that hasn’t aged well, and some of the themes that would have seemed ~deep~ in the late eighties/early nineties are now relatively old hat (heroin/mental illness).

The drawing is what Roland does – the pulling would be a better way to describe it. The magic of his world presents him with 3 doors along a terrible beach, and when he steps through them his consciousness passes into the mind of the person he needs to draw, or pull back, into his world to help him reach The Dark Tower. The first is a drug addict (“The Prisoner”) Eddie Dean, the second is a schizophrenic African-American woman named Odetta/Detta, depending on what personality is presenting, and the third is a surprise. He needs all three to reach the tower.

This book was very procedural. Character development is very deep here, which I suspect is necessary because once we launch into the remainder of the books we’re going to be plot driven the rest of the way. But gosh was it a slog, halfway through the Odetta/Detta story I was like, “do I really want to read these right now?” and then once he goes through the third door things pick up a LOT, racing to the end of the book. The last section is 100% awesome and I wish I had gotten to it sooner.

On to the next one, as they say. I’ll be on the lookout to see if reading Cliff Notes for the first two books will get you through the rest, because I honestly don’t know how anyone makes it this far and continues.

PS: A movie version of this and The Gunslinger would be SO AMAZING so I don’t know why they did what they did. Why not a movie series?

Memoir Monday: This is Just My Face

this is just my face

The charming start to my Memoir Monday series couldn’t have been a more entertaining read. And look at that photography – where can I buy that dress?! Gabourey Sidibe has had an interesting life thus far, and shares her first quarter with us. Three main themes stuck out for me.

Family

It was interesting to learn about how non-traditional her family was. From her parents’ green card marriage to her father’s Senegalese heritage, reading her stories that take us on a journey through Senegal and polygamy to her mother’s insistence on being independent and singing in the subway, you’ll probably keep asking yourself how they did not end up homeless. I found myself holding my breath when they moved out after her dad brought his second wife to America, when her mom stopped teaching and decided to sing in the subway, and when Gabourey moved out on her own and her mom and brother were erroneously evicted. I couldn’t believe how often she and her brother traveled to Senegal with her father, and how they were treated by his family there. All of this was happening in New York City, which makes the financial elements that much more daunting. Her family history alone is enough to hang a solid memoir on.

Fat

I was so intrigued by how Gabourey describes her relationship with her body, especially her decision to have weight-loss surgery. I was thankful that she was truthful without getting too gritty – the message that this was a tough time in her life is delivered loud and clear without gorey details; I appreciated her levity. I could sense that she was expecting critics to clap back at her about the weight loss surgery, but she addresses it well and is clear that your decision about your body is your own and you should do what is best for you and your health. Her writing on this topic was inspirational and reminded me to continue on my quest to be okay with my body.

Fame

The only part of the story that felt…like it was missing something? was her path to her role in Precious. Wouldn’t it be great if things just happened to come together at the right time while we’re working for a phone sex company? If what psychics predicted about us randomly at different moments in our life came to be? I mean, I believe her because there have been too many moments in my own life when I happened to be in the right place at the right time to think it’s impossible, but here was where details seemed to be lacking. I’m not sure it matters though, she’s here now and we’re all better for it.

This was a short, informative, enjoyable memoir. Even if you have never seen her act you should learn her story. Don’t miss it.

Angry Angel Abandonment: Illuminae

Illuminae

This book is 600 pages. Now, visually that is a bit daunting, but with the insides made up of emails, documents, transcripts, and schematics, I figured it would be a faster read.

Our two main characters: Kady and Ezra are exes who find themselves caught up in a war between two corporations in space, and must hack and fight their way to the truth. Their story is told through documents which have been presented as proof of what has happened, presumably to a court or government, and when I first opened the book to find this alternative structure, I already knew I was done for.

Friends encouraged me though, and since I had enjoyed Nevernight (by the coauthor of this book, Jay Kristoff) I figured I would give it a chance. I have had this book for almost a month and I am only 100 pages in. I avoid it at every turn and reading it feels like a chore. I don’t care about the story, the characters are boring, and the format feels hectic and disorganized to me. Add in the sloppy references to the attempted love story and I am just so disengaged that I have to stop.

I’m sorry I can’t give you more information about the book. Since I didn’t get very far into it, the information I have about the plot can probably be found online as a preview on Amazon or other booksellers’ websites. It wasn’t for me, but I don’t feel strongly enough to tell you not to read it. I am certain that this book would be engaging for others, so if you like YA, space, war, intrigue, hacking and twists, all written in an off-the-beaten-path kind of style, do check it out. Let me know what you think.

On Podcasts: Live From the Poundstone Institute

poundstone institute

http://www.npr.org/podcasts/510322/live-from-the-poundstone-institute

“Every week, we’ll keep looking for knowledge, because we know we left it somewhere.” – Paula Poundstone

I am not a regular NPR listener, mostly because if I’m going to listen to something while I’m in the car it’s going to be the Lemonade album over and over until the CD refuses to play anymore don’t @ me. But when I’m riding in the car with the husband he listens to NPR ALL THE TIME so if I had to pick, I would pick All Things Considered and Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me.

One fateful Saturday a lovely lady named Paula Poundstone was on the panel and I fell in love. She’s absolutely hilarious and fills my need for women in entertainment that are not here for your bullshit. Dry, witty, and quick, it’s always a good show if she’s on.

So when I heard that she had a new podcast out I jumped on it because I am tired of catching up to podcasts that started like 390842075483 years ago and this is my chance to listen from the beginning in real time! It attempts to gather knowledge on all topics far, wide, and wacky. Episode 1 was a delight – they talked to someone who studied perceptions of appearance, a scientist who takes swabs of surfers for science, and gave an unusual personality test to a celebrity. It’s all done live, giving it a WWDTM feel, but with more focus on Paula, AS IT SHOULD BE.

I already know this podcast will be on my regular listening schedule. It’s smart, dry, and funny and I love it. Go check it out! (Paula if you’re reading this, you’re amazing and I love you!)

Angry Angel Abandonment: New Release! Sour Heart (8/1/17)

Sour Heart

Occasionally I read a book that I cannot finish. It does not happen very often, and when it does I try to identify why it happened so that I can recognize the signs later and choose to put a book down sooner as a way of reclaiming my time.

maxine waters

Sour Heart is a collection of short stories that convey the experience of being a Chinese immigrant and the struggles that accompany that experience. I made it through the first story, which was quite harrowing actually, her family waking up coated in roaches and moving every 2-5 months to conditions of varying quality, her struggles to deal with the various schools she was placed in, and her parents’ near constant search for multiple jobs to make ends meet. By the time I got a quarter of the way through the next story though, my brain was like “you need to put this book away, I’m bored.”

Her writing is almost all run-on sentences. I appreciate this more modern technique as a way to emphasize an event or point or struggle, but I think at one point I went a page and a half without a period. When I read works written like this I imagine having a small child standing in front of me describing their day, and instead of ending a sentence they say “and then!” in between each event, giving them time to breathe before launching into the next act. With a small child it’s difficult to detach. With this book I only needed to return to the home screen of my Kindle.

As a reader I am also growing tired of the “look how bad I had it!” foundation of memoir. I’m not sure what I would call it, maybe suffering porn? This idea that a person’s life is only worth reading about it if they truly suffered somehow. I’m burned out on it. I’ve written about this before: the idea that everyone is in a contest to see who can win “I had it the worst as a kid!” or the equally popular “I was the poorest!” award. I think people do this because our current conditions are so bad that simply writing a book about how you have a happy life seems patronizing or condescending when your intention may have been to be hopeful or inspirational. Sometimes inferences are made that if you didn’t suffer for your place in life then you must not have truly worked for it, someone must have handed it to you on a silver platter.

For example, have you heard a story about someone happily working their way through college, going to classes, doing okay, and now working a job and paying their bills because that’s just what’s next? No, you’re already asleep. We either want the surviving on Ramen stories, falling asleep in class because they worked a double the night before, eyes shining with tears as they grip their diploma at graduation because they made it or we want to be angry about the “daddy paid for my car and my tuition and my apartment and I have a credit card for gas and groceries and pizza and woooo!” because they didn’t really earn it.

I know that this book has stories inside that will resonate with people and they are important to hear and to read and to understand. Immigrant issues and conditions, particularly in America right now, are more important than ever to make visible and discuss. However, if you are informed, if you are well read, if you have your finger on the pulse of what is going on, you may well get 17% into this book as I did, heave a great sigh, and reluctantly put it away.