(and jamming to the founding fathers)
Summer’s well and over, shopping period is behind us, and we’re coming up against the first round of midterms. It’s the rare one among us who genuinely has time for binge-watching whole seasons of shows or wandering through bookstores, pulling new series off the shelves. But, of course, we find time anyway—and stockpile for reading period and winter break the things we can’t get to now. This week, the Arts & Culture editors bring you their favorites of the semester so far: what they’re reading and watching to procrastinate, what they wish they were reading or watching instead of doing homework, and what they’ve been assigned and found, to their surprise, that they’re glad they read.
what we’re using to avoiding reading for class
I’m trying to learn how to cook. I won’t say that it’s not going well, but it’s certainly not going with devotion, if my cooking show preferences are any indication. The only education I’ve received from Cutthroat Kitchen is that durian is poison, gnocchi can really not be made without potatoes, and to never underestimate women. Also, that I must be incredibly slow in the kitchen, since everyone manages to make a five-star duck à l’orange with tin foil implements in 30 minutes when it takes me an hour to make spaghetti.
But there’s something incredibly seductive about the 45-minute format that convinces me that I’m actually learning something when I watch otherwise respectable adults cooking on a kid-size kitchen set. Maybe it’s the slick editing, maybe it’s my inner analytic convincing myself that I’m seeing through the slick editing, or maybe it’s Alton Brown’s maniacal laugh—somehow hours slide away. Thank god there’s only two seasons on Netflix. -LS
Anyone who knows me at all will not be shocked that this is my go-to. Since the soundtrack was released a few weeks ago, I’ve been listening to it often. Like Les Mis, Hamilton is more or less sung without spoken dialogue, so you can easily string together the story from the songs. Also like Les Mis, it is extraordinary. And it’s revolutionary too, in all senses of the word. The show has been described as “the story of America then, told by America now.” Mostly non-white actors tell the story of America’s founding fathers through hip-hop and rap; the women usually forgotten by history are brought into the spotlight; the audience is captivated by what bored them in high school history class. I wish I could say I were studying the American Revolution this semester, but I’m in a class three-quarters of the century later looking at the Civil War, so I have no real academic excuse here. Most recently, I’ve just been listening to “Wait For It” on loop. -AM
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
FNL has always existed on the periphery of my awareness. Every time I rewatch Remember The Titans I remember the existence of a show about a small Texas town that loves football. But what finally propelled me towards watching the show was an excerpt I found of an article from Bright Wall/Dark Room. It talks about love. It talks about respect. And most of all it talks about “a world where [people] are allowed to just keeping demanding more of each other and showing up for each other and yelling and loving and never giving up on each other.”
I haven’t been able to move on from FNL because there is no other show like it. It isn’t a circlejerk of gloom and doom that we find so often in the Game of Thrones-era of television. It isn’t a comedy that plays off the rivalry between the generations. It’s a show about good people trying to be good for each other and themselves, and making the viewer believe in that goodness in the real world too. And that’s never something you should leave on the field. -MF
what we would be doing if class hadn’t taken over our lives
LITERALLY ALL THE HARRY POTTER BOOKS (OR ANIMORPHS)
It’s the obligatory senior year nostalgia moment, but I have a legitimate desire to reread every Harry Potter book. Yes, I probably won’t accomplish it this semester, but I have a hope for winter break. My only virtue as a reader is my speed, and chugging through the first three shouldn’t be a problem. I recently rewatched movies five through seven (part two) and started to comprehend just how complex and dark J.K. Rowling’s world had become before the ultimate battle at Hogwarts— I thought I had been an HP fan as a kid, but apparently completely forgot that Slughorn and most of book six existed. The movies leave a lot out. I want the full experience.
Alternately, Animorphs books are way shorter and have a lot more animal facts. I’m not as excited about wading through repetitive battles with Yeerks, but according to Wikipedia the series ends with a main character dying (or multiple???). In any case, who didn’t have a crush on Tobias when they were 11? -LS
THE KINGKILLER CHRONICLE
The second book of this trilogy has been out for four years and the publication date for the final installment hasn’t been announced yet, so maybe I should’ve waited a few years to pick it up. But a friend lent me the first two this summer, saying, “There’s a three-month waiting list for these at the library,” and then three days later I’d read all 1600 pages. It’s a fantasy series that’s more His Dark Materials or American Gods than Lord of the Rings; the focus isn’t on narrating grand adventures but on looking back at the twisting road of the protagonist’s life. The worldbuilding is amazing and it’s really just one of the best-told stories I’ve ever come across. And—hallelujah—there are two associated short stories and a novella out in addition to the two novels! Tragically, though, I discovered this new material about two days before I came back to Brown in September. So, whenever I have the chance … I know what I’m reading next. -AM
BAND OF BROTHERS
It’s an oft-repeated dilemma faced by myself and my friend group: the woeful choice between watching something new and returning to an old favorite. My to-watch list is a mile long, and yet it’s my special-edition Band of Brothers box set currently poised by the TV.
The show, based on Stephen Ambrose’s book of the same name, follows a company of American paratroopers from training camp to Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest itself. There is gorgeous cinematography, tight dialogue, and music so formative I’m already planning to have it played at my funeral. But what really makes the show is the chemistry between the actors. Having endured a 10-day boot camp prior to production, the cast more than lives up to the show’s title.
According to my friends, loving Band of Brothers is very “dad” of me. This may be a valid description, but my love for the show remains unconditional. I’m currently stymied in my rewatch—I can’t watch my favorite episode without proper emotional preparation—but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t put my schoolwork away in a second if the moment to watch arose. -MF
what we’re reading for class
I’m not much for Victorian novels. I never had my critical 13-year-old Austen obsession, and have avoided British-centric lit courses in my time at Brown. But Gigantic Fictions, which I’m basically taking because a third of it is on Infinite Jest, requires me to read George Eliot’s (née Mary Ann Evans) Middlemarch. Thankfully my biases have been bypassed because I’ve spent approximately 840 pages in mostly bliss with three tortured but lovable provincial couples, as well as their neighbors, their estranged relations, and Eliot’s sheer power as a narrator. It’s like Dostoevsky with the empathy turned up to 11.
I can’t in good conscience recommend what’s taken the better part of the past three weeks to all those overburdened souls. But if you ever get some spare time to immerse yourself in a small corner of England, you’ll find the world is huge. -LS
ADOPTIVE MIGRATION: RAISING LATINOS IN SPAIN
My reading-intensive classes this semester are anthropology and history, so any summary of my class reading will be academic as hell—except this ethnography is a beautiful instance of academic writing done right, which is to say it is eminently readable. Written by Brown’s own Professor Jessaca Leinaweaver, it’s an investigation into the similarities between international adoption and international migration. Specifically, it’s about adoptees and migrants from Peru whose destination is Spain. It raises a lot of interesting points about identity, both how people conceptualize their own identities and how they perceive others’. Anthropology has historically been a field with a lot of hits, a lot of misses, and a lot of grey zones. It’s also my concentration, and I would defend its importance to the ends of the earth. I know not everyone will take an anthropology class at Brown, but if they don’t, I’d say that books like this are a pretty good substitute. -AM
I’m an American Studies concentrator, and I became an American Studies concentrator so I could watch trashy Mel Gibson movies and call it thesis work. And while the original Mad Max is leagues behind its descendant, Fury Road, watching it remains an experience. You get to watch baby-faced Mel Gibson being extremely heterosexual. You get to enjoy the antics of explicitly gay bikers who still enjoy raping women now and again. And, of course, there is the timeless satisfaction to be gained from watching one large mechanized object slamming into another and bursting into flames (I’m not being sarcastic about that last one. Movie explosions are fucking awesome).
This doesn’t sound like an endorsement of the film, and maybe it isn’t. I’m personally baffled that the same man who made a 2015 film about women escaping sexual slavery could have made one in 1979 that so glorifies the power of the white male anti-hero. But you can’t deny the impact that Mad Max has had on apocalyptic cinema. And besides—the comedy potential of Mel Gibson dressed head-to-toe in glorious leather is absolutely timeless. -MF