Don’t you miss the days when the biggest stressor in the news was the upcoming presidential election?
The COVID-dominated news cycle has been more than a little heavy these last long weeks. And while we know it’s important to stay abreast of what’s going on, the longer we hunker down inside our homes, the more we find ourselves needing distraction. Something — anything — that’s not pandemic related.
And so, here are a few quarantine reads, shows and podcasts — things we’re reading, watching and listening to to take our minds off things. We can’t promise they’re all positive (we thought about including a section for puppies and kitties but we figure you’re getting enough of those from Twitter), but at least they’re all something different.
If you’re looking for comfort
“Little Women,” by Louisa May Alcott
Sarah says: When I picked up this book to “reread” it, I realized, to my horror, that I had only ever read the abridged version as a child. It was immediately ten times better than I remembered because, duh, it wasn’t dumbed down for 10-year-olds. The story of the four March sisters is totally endearing and more relatable than I expected. Questions like “how do I deal with a changing identity as I age?” and “how can I manage my anger?” are timeless. “What do you do if your best friend who used to be in love with you marries your sister?” is slightly less relatable, but a hell of a plot twist. (Don’t even try to call me on spoilers, this shit was written in 1868).
I tend to read heavy things (my book club used to joke that our theme was “sexual violence and racism”) and this book was as comforting as chicken soup.
“A Baaaad Crew Takes Over A Welsh Town: A Herd Of Goats,” an article on NPR.org
Jen says: It turns out mountain goats are the new cat videos. You have to see these crazy, wonderful mountain goats making their way into a Welsh town to eat plants and wander the streets.
“Finding Fred,” an iHeartRadio podcast hosted by author and cultural critic Carvell Wallace
Amy says: I haven’t felt as engrossed as I did in this podcast in a long time, if ever. To say that it’s about Fred Rogers and “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood” is true but reductive. This 10-part series is similar to the “Dolly Parton’s America” podcast, in that it’s first and foremost about the philosophy and ideas a remarkable person shared with the world and how the world has responded to them over time. Yes, we learn about Fred Rogers along the way, but the podcast is about so much more than the events of one man’s life.
Through intimate personal interviews, we get to see the profoundly positive impact his work and relationships have had on individuals and families, and we’re also invited to think about Fred Rogers’ politics and the radical and even subversive nature of what he was putting out into the world. At the same time, host Carvell Wallace doesn’t shy away from exploring decisions Rogers made that are surprising given his values. (I’m thinking about episode 2 in particular, “Feed the Fish,” which delves into Rogers’ asking of François Clemmons, who played a police offer on “Mister Rogers Neighborhood,” not to come out.) Wallace is incredibly insightful, and I think his own reflections on love, loneliness and vulnerability are some of my favorite pearls from the show. This podcast will make you think and feel and question and grin hard and probably cry. I love it so much I’m probably going to listen to it again in the coming weeks. (It’s not like I have places to go or people to see right now.)
To nerd out on stuff that’s not related to epidemiology
“Switched on Pop,” a Vox podcast hosted by musicologist Nate Sloan and songwriter Charlie Harding
Sarah says: You know that feeling when you come across something that feels like it was made specifically for you? This podcast is that for me. As a classically trained violist (i.e. I know a dorky amount about music theory) and someone who loves pop music, this marries two things I adore. The hosts, a musicologist and a songwriter, break down pop songs and talk about the tiny elements you’d never notice that make songs so addicting. It’s like unwrapping a very catchy present.
“Lexicon Valley,” a Slate podcast hosted by linguist John McWhorter
Jen says: I’m a big-time logophile (i.e., word lover — see also: my very deep passion for swearing), grammar enthusiast and all-around communication geek. And after spending time recently nerding out about language with my English teacher dad, I’m feeling extra enthused about the ways we communicate and how they evolve. (Side note: Did you see that Merriam-Webster chose they, an inclusive, gender-neutral singular pronoun, as the word of the year for 2019? Language is a living, evolving, magnificent thing!)
Host John McWhorter’s deep dives into the nuances, shifts and cultural contexts of language are fascinating, at times controversial, and always thought-provoking. If this sounds like something you’d be into, check out the episode, “The Soft Power of Like,” about the adoption of words like like and sort of as tools of politeness. You’ll think about filler words differently after listening to this, I promise.
To laugh & connect with something real
“Fleabag,” TV show written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Alyssa says: I must admit I was slow to jump on the Phoebe Waller-Bridge bandwagon. I watched the first 20 minutes of the first episode and then returned months later after insisting friends (thank you, Emily and Alex!) made me reconsider. It is absolutely delightful in a funny life can be full of shit and random yet loving sorta way. In some ways, what Waller-Bridge has done with the Fleabag character is what we are trying to do with The Juggle — be honest about our emotions and experiences in sometimes a lighthearted and sometimes serious manner. In the second season, it opens with a tense family meal that made my skin crawl as if I was sitting at the table and needed a cigarette even though I don’t smoke. There is something about failing to meet family expectations, all being somewhat deeply broken and still trying to muddle through it that felt so honest and true to life.
To reflect on the world’s non-virus villains
“Who Goes Nazi?” by Dorothy Thompson in Harper’s Bazaar, archives from 1941
Jen says: Dorothy Thompson was a journalist and radio broadcaster named as one of the two most influential women in the U.S. (alongside Eleanor Roosevelt) in 1939 by Time magazine. An unfavorable profile of Adolf Hitler and a crusade against Naziism that she began long before the U.S. entered World War II led to her being the first American correspondent expelled from Nazi Germany.
“Who Goes Nazi?” is an essay she wrote proposing a sort of “macabre parlor game” identifying the types of individuals who would, in the right circumstances, go Nazi. Sadly, the exercise and the essay feel relevant again today in light of the recent rise of Neo-Naziism, the alt right, and nationalist candidates and policies around the world. Thompson’s essay is dark and clever. And it feels critical to remember and recognize that all people are not inherently good — and that things will not necessarily be OK — if just we sit back and let history play out.
“Watchmen,” HBO TV series
Jen says: If you haven’t seen “Watchmen” since it came out in October 2019, do. A superhero story that’s truly made for the modern era, “Watchmen” brings race, morality and personal drama to the fore in a brilliantly scripted and acted (especially by Regina King and Jean Smart) alternate version of 2019 that feels just a few degrees shy of real life. It’s sort of a sequel to the graphic novel of the same name, but you don’t have to read the book to understand the show (though it will enhance your viewing experience if you do). For those sensitive to on-screen violence, “Watchmen” is definitely heavy at times. The series opens with the massacre and total destruction of Greenwood, a prosperous black enclave of Tulsa, Oklahoma, by a white mob with the support of city police and the National Guard — an event that, though skipped by history books, actually happened in 1921. So a story for the faint of heart it is not. But it takes on the important tasks of shedding light on the underbelly of U.S. history and taking on race relations in the modern era. Besides, isn’t it about time we truly villainized white supremacists?
Bonus recommendation: The show’s creator took inspiration from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ June 2014 article, “The Case for Reparations” — which I’d also highly recommend if you haven’t read it.
To lose yourself in the sad but beautiful
“Sing, Unburied, Sing,” by Jesmyn Ward
Jen says: Jesmyn Ward’s brand of visual storytelling is breathtaking in this portrait of a biracial family in Mississippi that won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2017. Told through the eyes of a 13-year-old mixed-race boy with a drug-addicted mother, a dying grandmother and a father in prison, the story is at times devastating, at other times full to bursting with hope, and always beautiful. And she deftly weaves in supernatural elements in a way that feels somehow completely seamless in her modern narrative.
To continue the quest for improvement and professional growth
“Radical Candor,” by Kim Scott
Alyssa says: We’ve all had good bosses and bad bosses, and know how important our relationships with managers are to our productivity and general life happiness — this feels even more true when working remotely during the current crisis. The first half of Kim Scott’s book is a framework for how to be a thoughtful manager — hint, a lot of it starts by listening and asking good questions (shocker!). The second half goes into tips and tactics for all work conversations from one-on-one meetings to company-wide ones.
At the heart of her book is a chart illustrating the importance of caring personally about the people you manage and challenging them directly. If you manage anyone, please read this book (and tell me, because I want to talk to you about it). I’ve realized in moments of crisis, the practices at the heart of this book can help drive employee satisfaction and retention.
“How Will You Measure Your Life?” by Clayton Christensen, James Allworth, and Karen Dillon
Alyssa says: When Clayton Christensen passed away earlier this year, I added this book to my reading list as I had been wanting to read it for some time. He applies business principles to measuring one’s life.
A couple takeaways for me: 1. Our lives require as much if not more intention than we give to our work. What I mean is, if I were trying to grow a business by x% in a quarter by, say, expanding into a new geography or launching a new product line, I would make sure my week’s meetings/time was spent accordingly. Yet I rarely do that in life. If my goal in life is a sense of connection with family or friends, then how I spend my weeks/days should reflect that. 2. I need a personal mantra or mission statement. Companies have them, and Christensen has made me reflect on what it is I care about in all parts of my life and how I make that come to fruition. I’m still working on it, but I think my working mission statement right now is that I aim to be an empathetic human who values and nourishes diverse perspectives and voices to collectively build something that’s impactful and that I’m proud of.
What are you reading/watching/listening to during quarantine? Leave your quarantine reads & recs in the comments.