As of late | May 27, 2016

It’s been almost two months since my last “as of late” post, but that will be mitigated today! I have been keeping track of stuff I want to talk about on my Google Drive, but haven’t sat down and actually written the post. Alright, enough rambling, here’s what I’ve been into as of late…

Booktube’s influence in my life –> What Should I Read Next podcast

I’ve realized that booktube has been influencing the books I’ve been reading lately – more so than I really want it to be influencing what I’m reading. I don’t remember the last book I picked up that wasn’t even tangentially a recommendation from outside of booktube. YouTube is a great platform to get across to others that you love a book and that they should pick up said book and love it too. For this reason, I have been picking up more booktube recommended fiction and YA fiction than normal. There is nothing wrong with either, but I want my reading experience to be more diverse genre-wise and for my recommendations to come from more diverse sources, too.

As a result, I found a new podcast! Podcasts are the second most common way I find recommendations (typically On Point or Fresh Air or On the Media) will talk about books in segments they are doing, thus piquing my interest. Then, I’ll get the book, I’ll read the book, and I’ll love the book (best example: Matt Bai’s All the Truth is Out: the Year Politics Went Tabloid, which was a recommendation of On the Media).

I haven’t been following up on podcast recommendations lately, so I found “What Should I Read Next,” a podcast by Anne Bogel. She has guests with very different reading tastes and asks them about books they’ve loved, hated, and what they are currently reading. Then she finds them new books based on that. My favorite thing about this podcast is that Anne has “normal” readers like you and me on her show – it’s not a show with authors, or well-known people in the book world, so it’s very grounded.

So far I am really loving the format and the book picks. I shall get to reading some of them soon. (I need to find more reading podcasts that match my tastes, so if you have any you should drop them in the comments.)

 

booksareweapons 2Books as weapons

Librarians were important in the war effort during WWI and WWII. They provided books for soldiers to lift morale, to offer technical education, and often to help soldiers connect with the world they knew back home. During WWI and WWII, librarians were responsible for collecting 10 million and 17 million books, respectively. You should read the short piece on NPR if you’re a fan of libraries and history (hey, that perfectly describes me).

Recently added to my TBR

One of my favorite past time is adding new books to my monstrously huge TBR (it’s well over 200 books… I don’t have enough hours in the day and I don’t have enough years of life!!).

I have been fascinated by White Trash: the 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg. I first heard about it on On the Media and it pretty much has all the history things I find interesting: the intermingling histories of culture, race, and class. I’m also really excited to read Peggy Orenstein’s new book, Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape. Again, topics I find fascinating: culture and how it impacts sexual ideals and sexual pressures.  Another Jon Krakauer book (I read Missoula this year): Into Thin Air. I’ve been researching Mt. Everest a lot recently since in the past week a handful of people have died trying to climb or descend the mountain. I’ve heard Into Thin Air is gripping, so it might be the perfect non-fiction book to get me back to non-fiction. Ok, I will stop writing about TBR books after this one: Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams. This one I got from What Should I Read Next as a “beach read” that still has great, well-developed characters you can connect with, AND a 1960s historical setting. We shall see if I like it!

A really fantastic YouTuber I found recently

Typically I watch either booktubers or family vloggers on YouTube. The other day I found a new YouTuber that is neither of those. Evelyn from the Internets makes more comedic videos based on stuff that happens in her life. I found her through the VEDA videos she was creating in April after I saw a link to her videos on Rosianna Halse Rojas’s Twitter. The one that made me laugh the hardest – like my belly hurt from laughing – was one about how Kanye West saved her life. Her video about Beyonce’s Lemonade album got featured at Beyonce’s concert tour. She also made a reaction to that a few days ago which is amazing (linked below). I haven’t watched all of the VEDA videos but hopefully I can make my way through them soon.

The cicadas are here

Have you guys heard? A brood of cicadas that have been in the ground for 17 years have started to come out. They are mostly found in West Virginia and Ohio, but will also make appearances in some parts of the surrounding states. David Attenborough’s video about these long-in-the-ground cicadas were my first introduction to what these cicadas sound and look like. I have already started to see them on the ground and on trees. Of course, nothing is as gross and aggravating as cockroaches, so I think I am good. However, the 17-year cicadas haven’t started “singing” to mate just yet. If you go to 1:52 in the David Attenborough video and listen to the noise the cicadas make you can get an idea… I don’t know if I am ready for that mental torture.

Great stuff in short

New currency featuring women and people of color. I am really happy they decided to not just re-do the $20, but to re-do a bunch of other bills. I love that Eleanor Roosevelt will be on the back of the $5! 

New national monument to women’s equality in D.C. I will be taking a trip to D.C. with my dad and brothers this June, so it’s definitely on the list of things I have to see.

Jeffrey Golberg on On Point with Tom Ashbrook about Obama’s foreign policy. This hour honestly explained everything I could ever imagine asking about Obama’s foreign policy and how he sees the world. If you’ve ever been stumped about how to think about Obama’s foreign policy, Jeffrey Goldberg explains it in terms we easily understand, and then we can compare Obama’s policies and ideologies with how we (ourselves) think foreign policy should be done.

The Lonely Death of George Bell by N.R. Kleinfield. This story is just, wow. It was first published in 2015, but I never read it until it was nominated for a Pulitzer. At first I was like, “This is way too long” but then I started reading and soon I couldn’t stop. A great piece of journalism, which also poses lots of questions about journalistic ethics (would George Bell have wanted this published?). 

This is what happens when I rack up all my favorite media things for a month and a half: 1200 words… hopefully I’m back sooner than this next time!

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As of late | January 19, 2016

Hello there! I haven’t made an “As of late” post in a bit so I thought I should. This post only focuses on TV and podcasts. I haven’t really been that connected with the news lately. So here’s what I’ve been watching and listening to that I would like to recommend.

UnREAL, a very unique television show

When I first heard of UnREAL as a concept, I was totally in. I watched the first three episodes when they aired, but then suddenly stopped watching the show altogether. This past weekend I’ve been catching up: I’m now on the penultimate episode of season one. I think one of the greatest aspects of the show is how it deals with and ultimately stomps on typical drama/romance tropes. Moreover, the contestant characters are three-dimensional and interesting (the LGBTQ character comes to mind).

Hands down, though, my favorite thing about this show is its main character, Rachel. Rachel’s constant back-and-forth between being a socially conscious and empathetic woman to a manipulative and conniving reality TV show producer is superbly handled by the actress (Shiri Appleby). I connect with Rachel in certain ways – I am not apologetic about my love for The Bachelor franchise, but I do know it portrays women and romantic relationships degradingly. Rachel, too, loves her job and is good at her job but knows it is not the best situation for those involved. Yet I keep watching The Bachelor and Rachel keeps working on Everlasting. I’m excited to see how this UnREAL season ends (and also how The Bachelor goes this season, too).

Mercy Street, a new period drama on PBS

I just heard about the new PBS drama Mercy Street, which focuses the lives of two volunteer nurses on opposite sides of the Civil War. In this article, the filmmaker/producer of the show discusses what it’s been like scouting and filming in Civil War-era location in Alexandria and other parts of Virginia. I had no idea this show was being made, but now I for sure need to watch the pilot. The producer/filmmaker, Lisa Wolfinger, is a historian by training, which is fantastic news to me. There are also some very interesting actor choices (including a bearded Josh Radnor) and a producer credit for Ridley Scott. So long as this doesn’t end up a soap opera a la Downton Abbey, I hope to see this show on air for years to come.  

Making a Murderer, after I watched it all in a few days

Yep, I’ve watched Making a Murderer like (it seems) everyone else. I think overall the series is fantastic. Some takeaways after I was done: 1) I’m still in shock that episodes three and four are things that exist and happened. 2) I have the utmost respect for the producers – this series basically took 10 years to complete and that is an amazing feat to accomplish. 3) One thing that Slate’s Culture Gabfest brought up recently about MaM is how interesting it is that there is no real narrator. For instance, Sarah Koenig tells us her point of view in Serial and we never really got to fully know any of the personalities involved in season 1 (what do I really know about Adnan, Jay, and Hae Min Lee? Nothing, really). I feel like I understand the complex personalities of MaM a little better by having them tell the story with their own words instead of having an outsider (like a journalist or filmmaker) telling me who he or she thinks is culpable. 4) Finally, if Steven Avery did not commit this murder (?), then these producers were nearby the real killer for probably 10 years. I wonder if we’ll ever really know what happened to Teresa Halbach.

Fresh Air’s recent podcast episode about a woman’s search to discover her family’s past

Fresh Air’s recent episode titled, “A Family Discovers Its Connection to an Escaped Slave” had me totally enraptured today. In the episode, the host interviews Regina Mason, the great, great, great granddaughter of a runaway slave widely considered the author of the first fugitive slave narrative. I can’t imagine what this search meant for her – it must be very emotional and harrowing but also very empowering and important to know who her ancestor was. It was a great hour – it reminded me a lot of PBS’s Finding Your Roots aka one of my favorite shows, but with someone who is not a celebrity. I am constantly gravitating towards stories about genealogy and family history, especially pertaining as to how individual stories can add to the fuller history of an institution (slavery in this case). If any of that sounds interesting to you, you can hear it here or download it wherever you get your podcasts.  

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Finding Your Roots: Telling Compassionate and Intricate Stories About the Reality of Slavery

It feels like every single guest on Finding Your Roots has a connection to slavery one way or another and almost every episode explores the monumental impact of it. In one episode, journalist Anderson Cooper finds out a distant relative owned 12 slaves. In another, author Stephen King finds that his Methodist relatives moved from the slave state of Tennessee to the free state of Indiana as they didn’t agree with slavery on a moral basis.

Basil Biggs and his wife, Mary (PBS).

Actress Anna Deavere Smith finds out her distant relative, Basil Biggs, a free man of color who worked as a veterinarian, was hired after the Battle of Gettysburg to exhume the dead, place them in coffins, and rebury them. The Battle of Gettysburg, for context, was the deadliest battle of the Civil War with 46,000 to 51,000 dead and was also a major turning point in the war. I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like to be so close to such an important and devastating event.

For each body, Ms. Deavere Smith’s relative earned money which he later used to develop a larger farm. As if that wasn’t enough, her relative was also an active agent in the Underground Railroad, helping slave fugitives cross into free land.

*****

Actress Gloria Reuben (PBS).

In one of my favorite scenes, actress Gloria Reuben finds her original African relative–her link to the African continent. Dr. Gates looks at Ms. Reuben gravely and says, “You found her name, her age, and her birthday. Nobody has found that… nobody. This is something black people only dream about and you found it.” And as Ms. Reuben holds back tears, the viewer can see how history can come alive–it can help you make a sense of who you are and where you come from in ways that sanitized family lore cannot.

*****

Host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. at a gathering with distant relatives, all descendants of the same Mayle ancestor.

Finding slave names under slave masters’s property records, Dr. Gates shatters all preconceptions we have about race. Henry Louis Gates’s own ancestry is an example: one of his relatives, Wilmore Mayle, ended up emancipating his black slave, Nancy, in 1826 and declared in a letter that he intended to marry her. Consequently, his white ancestor became regarded as mulatto or free-colored in census records because of his relationship to his black wife. To me, this goes to show how much murkier race is as a construct: whatever the time period, we make the color line fit what we want it to fit.

*****

Investigating the family tree of Benjamin Jealous, the youngest NAACP president ever appointed, we can see another instance of slavery’s significance when it comes to shaping and reshaping family structure. Finding Your Roots discovered that Mr. Jealous’s great-great-great grandfather (Peter G. Morgan) was a slave that had bought his own freedom. But, looking into slave schedules of the 1860s, Dr. Gates found that Mr. Jealous’s free ex-slave relative became a slave owner himself by 1860: he actually owned his wife and three children.

Henry Louis Gates and previous NAACP president, Benjamin Jealous.

Mr. Jealous’s relative decided to own his own family in order to protect them (he had permission to be free in his state, but his family would’ve been sold back into slavery if they were granted freedom). Peter G. Morgan later wrote a heartbreaking letter emancipating his family a year before the Civil War was over.

*****

Actress Khandi Alexander’s grandfather, Joshua Pinckney Masters, Jr. (PBS).

Of course, emancipation brought changes–but these changes were promptly trampled by Jim Crow. Actress Khandi Alexander’s grandfather, Joshua Pinckney Masters, Jr., achieved the high-ranking position of distiller at a chemical factory in the 1920s. However, he died in an “accident” at this factory that was widely understood to have been a work-place lynching executed by his white co-workers.

*****

Finding Your Roots uses real human stories to illuminate how hurtful, shocking, exciting, and nuanced history can be. Our country’s complicated history with slavery can be seen when black guests take DNA tests and see how convoluted their race make-up is. Many white guests too, can see their families’s connection to slavery through slave schedules and DNA tests.

If there’s one thing that Finding Your Roots can tell us about race is that it’s really not that simple.

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