What We’re Reading, Listening to, and Watching

May

Reading: “My Foreign Mom” by Mary H.K. Choi for Aeon Magazine
With adult eyes, Choi reflects on her relationship to her Korean-born Mom: the childishly cruel actions she still regrets, and how her Mom went from her enemy to her most important person. For those of us with immigrant Moms we would die on battlefields for, Choi’s funny, heartfelt love letter to her Mom rings especially true: “These days I don’t love money how I used to. My mom though, I’m crazy about. I think about her all the time and can’t stand it. When she rings during a meal I get indigestion if I don’t call her back immediately. There’s a roiling shame spiral wherein I become resentful that she called at all and punish us both by prolonging the wait.”

 

Listening: “Hello, Hello” from WNYC Studio’s podcast Nancy
Every one of Nancy’s episodes so far has been golden, but the conversation between host Kathy Tu and her mother has to be singled out as especially listenable. As Kathy puts it, she has come out as a lesbian to her mother multiple times, but it just doesn’t…stick. In Nancy’s first episode she tries again, and we get to listen in.

Reading: “Instagram Won’t Stop Showing Me the Mother’s Day Photos I Don’t Want to See” by Lindsey Adler for Gizmodo
Even when you haven’t spoken to your Mom in over four years, social media platforms like Instagram won’t leave you alone about Mother’s Day, no matter how hurtful seeing all those posts may be. By detailing all her failed attempts to stop seeing well-meaning Mother’s Day posts in her Instagram timeline, Adler shows the impersonal algorithmic cruelty of engineers prioritizing celebratory motherhood for everyone.

Listening: “23 Weeks 6 Days” by WNYC Studio’s podcast Radiolab
It’s been close to four years since this story came out, but after all this time its effect hasn’t diminished. Without giving too much away, according to many doctors, 24 weeks is considered the cut off for fetus viability outside the womb. Juniper was born at 23 weeks 6 days. Get your tissues ready. (Pro-tip: listen first, then watch the video.)

Watching: Penis Power” by Alexyss K. Tylor, Public Access TV via Youtube
This video doesn’t need an introduction. Just watch it, all of it.

Reading: “How to Murder Your Life” by Cat Marnell

This book, although ostensibly an addiction memoir, in many ways defies category: there’s not much of the common redemption narrative, no rags to riches (just rich to richer). A drug-fueled whirlwind of privilege, ambition, and Adderall, it addresses our theme headfirst in Cat Marnell’s constant power struggle with herself. As soon as you start romanticizing her time as a beauty editor for Lucky Magazine and xoJane in the golden age of publishing she devours and pukes up a sleeve of cookies and smokes crack with a stranger before name dropping her leopard print flats. This read was delicious, heart-breaking, and infuriating. Thanks, Cat!

 If you, like us, want to believe that the reclusive, elusive U.S. First Lady is subtweeting her husband by favoriting a negative tweet about their marriage, you’ll love that analysis taken to another level in Imbauch’s years-deep analysis of Melania Trump’s Twitter photos. Under Imbauch’s darker fairy tale, Trump is a prisoner of her own making; the only winner is her son Barron, pictured in the wide, open spaces Trump will never allow herself to occupy. In her one Twitter selfie with Donald Trump, he “dominates the frame; her face is in shadow and cropped out. It is both a selfie and an erasure, a depiction of her placement within their world.”

April

Listening: “Food 4 Thot” podcast hosted by Tommy Pico, Joe Osmundson, Fran Tirado, and Dennis Norris II
“Food 4 Thot” is a new podcast of smart friends offering their delicious thots in a family dinner we’re all welcome to attend. In each episode, the hosts spill the rosé on “what [they] like to read and who [they] like to read.” Structured as a meal, the podcast deftly weaves between low-brow and high-brow thots. For an appetizer, you’ll be enticed by sexcapades from the hosts, such as the most hilarious story of successful anal sex involving Taco Bell we’ve ever heard. Then, you’ll want to stay for the main course of meaty thought-provoking discussions. Recent debates have included the fraught search for safe gay spaces in bars and bookstores, and whether obligation is a form of love. The podcasts can be listened to in any order, but we recommend starting with “But Do I Have 2?

Listening: “You Must Remember This: Charles Manson’s Hollywood” podcast hosted by Karina Longworth
These twelve episodes of “You Must Remember This” are actually from 2015, but the content is evergreen and ever spooky. Focusing on the infamous murders that rocked Hollywood (and the rest of America) during the summer of 1969, this series within a series is unique in the way it dives into the lives of the people involved. Creator and narrator Karina Longworth does an incredible job of providing listeners with details about the era in which the incident took place, helping us understand how something so horrific could ever happen and why no one was surprised that it did. It feels a bit strange to link this series to our f*cking edition, but it cannot be denied that Charles Manson controlled his family of mostly young women through drugs and sex. His power was harnessed from his charisma, and he was able to satiate their need for someone to guide them. Manson often flexed his power over his followers by demanding they have sex with whoever he chose, and they followed. Although this podcast series is disturbing, it is also fascinating, due in part to the idea that sexual charm and manipulative power can have such influence over people.

March

Reading: “When Things Go Missing” by Kathryn Schulz for The New Yorker

“No wonder losing things, even trivial things, can be so upsetting. Regardless of what goes missing, loss puts us in our place; it confronts us with lack of order and loss of control and the fleeting nature of existence.”

When someone dies, is it a euphemism to say you’ve lost him or her? In a piece that defies category, Kathryn Schulz finds that loss is the most accurate term for her grief in the wake of her father’s death. This essay meanders from a study of the psychology behind misplacing minutiae to losing our minds into more personal and painful territory. Through Schulz’s frank but exquisite prose, the reader can’t help but feel uplifted at the end. Do yourself a favor and set aside an afternoon to go on this journey with her.

Reading: “These Women’s Magazines Aren’t Just for Women” by Jennifer Miller for The New York Times
“What about people with marginalized identities who want to write about whales or baseball or the Fibonacci sequence? Where are they going to be respected and taken seriously in the way that straight white dudes are?”

What else can you feel but inspired by women taking the system of sexism in readership into their own hands? As the landscape of journalism and media changes, the goal of the magazines detailed in this NYT piece is to make sure certain statistics become a thing of the past: “Cosmopolitan has a male audience of only 15 percent, and Elle has 12 percent…Esquire’s readership is almost 39 percent female.”

Reading: “When a Partner Dies, Grieving the Loss of Sex” by Jane E. Brody for The New York Times
Discussing the loss of your loved one is part of the healing process, but talking about how their loss affects your sex life is considered a cringeworthy taboo. Enter Jane E. Brody’s much-needed piece on the “grief that no one talks about” where widows feel the sting of loss of not just companionship and love, but sex. Brody’s insightful interviews with doctors and experts show us that many elderly people, even up to their 80s, are very much having and enjoying sex, and when they lose that intimacy, it’s a loss that should be acknowledged: “They think, ‘How can I feel that?’ But you’re not cheating or casting aspersions on your love for the partner who died.”

February

Reading: “Ladies in Waiting by Becca Rothfeld for The Hedgehog Review

If you have gone crazy waiting for a partner’s text, then you are one of Becca Rothfeld’s “Ladies in Waiting.” After reading about the lover’s fatal identity—“I am the one who waits”—we felt exposed, our anxieties around online relationships laid bare. Rothfeld uses the stories of Penelope in the “Odyssey,” the masochistic protagonist in “Secretary,” women who pray in wait for God, and her own experience with being ghosted to explain the agonizing endurance of waiting for a man who never calls: “The gendered distribution of waiting assumes a hierarchy of time and activity in which men set the terms and fix the schedules. To be waited for is to assert the importance of one’s time; to wait is to occupy a position of eternal readiness in which one can be called on at male convenience.” Yikes, we have been seen.

Reading: “All My Exes Live in Texts” by Maureen O’Connor for New York Magazine
“Even casual dates have expansive biographies to plow through and life narratives you can follow for years. You hear about their hangovers when you check Twitter for the morning news. You see their new apartments when you browse Facebook at work. They can jump into your pants whenever they want by sending text messages that land in your pocket. Online, you watch your exes’ lives unfold parallel to yours—living, shifting digital portraits of roads not taken with partners you did not keep.” A luminous read on ghosts of relationships past haunting your feeds, which unfortunately doesn’t fully answer the question, “who arranges a booty call by e-mail?” Please don’t @ us, New York Magazine!

Listening: “Cut Loose: Your Breakup Stories” from WNYC’s Death, Sex and Money
Anna Sale’s unique ability to tease the most intimate reactions to life’s most sensitive situations makes Death, Sex, and Money an invaluable addition to your listening queue. This week’s episode cuts extra deep, detailing breaking up with a best friend to betrayal after decades of marriage, and the most final of separations: death. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Listening: “In the Dark,” an American Public Media Reports podcast hosted by Madeleine Baran

5 stars for reporters who did the investigating that authorities failed to do for more than 27 years

This podcast chronicles the 1989 disappearance of Jacob Wetterling, an 11-year-old boy, from his hometown of St. Joseph, Minn. Baran must reveal the identity of Jacob’s murderer in the first episode, because on the eve of the podcast’s debut in September, he confessed. Authorities heralded the case as a success, but why did it take nearly 30 years to find the killer? Through tireless reporting, APM shows us that this was not the perfect crime, that the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department is not uniquely incompetent and that we should all be worried.

“In the Dark” shines when it connects Jacob’s disappearance to the millions of Americans his story affected. In one memorable episode, it chronicles how Jacob’s case led to the establishment of the national sex offender registry. By following a sex offender’s difficult search for housing, “In the Dark” shows that sex offenders are punished in a way murderers and other criminals are not. It’s punitive justice that even Patty Wetterling, Jacob’s mother, no longer agrees with. Little closure awaits you at the end of the season, but you’ll be well-informed and will experience fire-breathing outrage. As of this week, a second season has been announced, so get bingeing!
Note: This podcast contains explicit accounts of violent acts, some of a sexual nature.

Watching: “Melissa McCarthy as Press Secretary Sean Spicer for SNL” 
Politico reports that what made the White House most uncomfortable about this sketch, which stars the comedian as the gum-chewing, hot-headed press secretary, was Spicer being portrayed by a woman. We can’t wait for when Rosie O’Donnell portrays Steve Bannon!

January

Reading: “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,” by J. D. Vance

3 stars for Mamaw, 0 stars for explaining Trump supporters to us.

What started as a moving account of J.D. Vance’s less-than-ideal upbringing in Appalachia quickly turned into a prescriptive allegory on why poor white people can’t seem to break the poverty cycle. Unfortunately billed as one of “Six Books to Help Understand Trump’s Win,” Vance’s story should be read as a memoir rather than a sociological handbook to understanding rural whiteness. Structural racism and capitalism get glossed over because they would disrupt the bootstrapping fantasy Vance wants to give his fellow whites. His boner for The Marines and his mansplaining how-to guide to higher education also turned us off. More Mamaw and Papaw and less toxic masculinity plz. For further reading, we recommend “Hillbilly Ethnography” and “J.D. Vance, The False Prophet of Blue America.”