Monthly Archives: April 2016

What I Read: April 2016

To help me stay on track in my 2016 goals, I’m documenting the books I read all year. Here is what I read in April:

My Life On The Road, by Gloria Steinem: Gloria Steinem’s memoir had been on my reading list for awhile, because although I’ve read about her I wanted to learn more about who she is and what she stands for. All of the history classes I took glossed over the second-wave feminist movement (big shocker there), so I’ve been curious to learn more about her and why she’s so revered.

I also went into reading My Life On The Road a little guarded because of her recent Hillary Clinton comment, which made me wonder whether or not I wanted to bring this book into my life. After finishing her memoir, I still think she has great intentions and has done a lot of good for American society, especially women. As an itinerant organizer for the feminist movement, Steinem has spent most of her career traveling from place to place. The memoir centers around the lessons she’s learned and the people she’s met while living a nomadic life.

My Life On The Road is more of a collection of her traveling stories rather than a chronological telling of Steinem’s life, which felt disjointed most of the time. It was overwhelmingly apparent that Steinem, as a white woman, has been very privileged. While she repeatedly says she celebrates diverse women and points of view, she doesn’t do the best job explicitly reflecting on how her privileges have helped her be the person and public figure she is.

There were a few things about this memoir that I did like. Steinem is open about her personal experiences, and shares a lot of intimate moments from her life that I found to be very moving. I enjoyed reading about how she came to identify as a feminist, and why it was important for her to campaign on the behalf of women everywhere. It’s so important that we have a record of the women who are responsible for stirring up social change, and I’m proud of Steinem for taking up the cause.

I would recommend this memoir to someone who is already interested in feminism and has read a lot of other books about the movement. It is by no means the end-all, be-all of feminist thought, but Steinem has inspired me to seek out other intersectional voices — especially Alice Walker.

Confessions of an Art Addict, by Peggy Guggenheim: I had a brief Truman Capote obsession when I was in high school, and Peggy Guggenheim’s name came up repeatedly when I would do research. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Guggenheim was an art collector who championed artists like Jackson Pollock. When I found out she had written a memoir, I was intrigued to see what she had to say about modern art and why she loved it so much.

My initial perception was that she lived her best and most artistic life, and in some ways that was true. But her life was also particularly tragic. In addition to not having a great family life (her father died on the Titanic when she was young), she was married unhappily twice and worked in and around a male-dominated business. She acknowledges most of this, but she doesn’t give a lot of details or deep introspection about her life and what she did — for example, I was surprised to find out after I finished Confessions of an Art Addict that Guggenheim considered herself a nymphomaniac, which did not come up at all in the book.

This memoir is not particularly well-written either, and she doesn’t have anything that riveting to say about the art she collected. Guggenheim gives wonderful anecdotes about working with Pollock and other legendary artists, living around the globe and midwifing the birth of American modern art. But in spite of her unhappiness, she marched to the beat of her own drum and sought refuge in the art she collected. She was very passionate about being open with her collection, and was critical of how the art market has grown to be a game rather than cultural preservation. I can’t even fathom what else she would have been able to do for the art world if prices hadn’t astronomically risen. If you read this book and are as fascinated by Guggenheim’s life as I am, you’ll probably also like this documentary about Iris Apfel.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell: Way back in December when I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I was so fascinated with the Star Wars mythology that I wanted to read The Hero with a Thousand Faces. This is the book that inspired George Lucas to lay out the Star Wars universe and build it around Campbell’s interpretation of monomyth and the hero cycle. The book basically lays out the archetypal hero’s journey with many, many comparative examples from mythologies around the world. The overall point is that all of these hero stories are incredibly similar, and that we as readers can learn a lot from that.

It took me three months to finish this 300-page book, which is my equivalent of forever and 100 years. I’ve read a lot of really dense literary theory, and I struggled to read it at the pace I’m accustomed to. It didn’t engross me, so I put it down several times to read fiction. I’ve read that people think The Hero with a Thousand Faces is life-changing, but I obviously didn’t have that experience. There were a few stories from different cultures that drew me in, but I’m surprised that so many people find its language and structure accessible.

I still found it to be really informative, and think that it should be required reading for literary studies students. I wish I would have discovered it as a literature student, or that it would have been some kind of seminar discussion text or summer reading assignment. It would have been a good resource to help me with understanding and analyzing stories I read for class, and given me a better idea of what comparative literary studies is. I don’t think I’ll read other Joseph Campbell books anytime soon, but I’m glad I got through it.

 

What have you been reading lately? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Link Party: 4/25-4/29

Up close and personal with my brother's fish tank.

Up close and personal with my brother’s fish tank.

Here’s what I read this week:

1. This essay about working for a tech company in Silicon Valley is harrowing.

2. A glimpse of Larry Gagosian’s art empire.

3. I didn’t live on campus when I was in college, but I appreciated this essay about campus dining hall food.

4. An interview with the woman who fits celebrities’ Met Gala, Oscars and Vogue cover outfits.

5. The most copied fashion designer you’ve never heard of.

And a bonus: Postcards from Google Earth.

Have a wonderful weekend.

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Tune Time: April 2016

Here’s what I’ve been listening to lately:

The Last Shadow Puppets’ Everything You’ve Come To Expect.

I’m a pretty big Arctic Monkeys fan, so I will basically listen to anything that concerns Alex Turner. I loved this side project’s earlier album, and was so into the first single that I planned to buy tickets before I even heard the rest of the record in early April. That didn’t work out, and I’m still sad about it. Anyway, this album is good and feels like it came out of a 1970s time capsule. Alex Turner and Miles Kane have this lounge lizard thing down pat.

At one of its most basic levels, music is supposed to make you think and feel. The album is built on this “rockstars have Feelings” idea that’s borderlines on being a joke. But it’s so sonically beautiful, thanks to the layers of string arrangements, that it’s more about the aesthetic of Everything You’ve Come To Expect that makes it a good record. You want to feel the emotions of being loved by someone who would do the moon and back twice easy just to kiss half of your mouth (what a lyric, am I right), and a soundtrack to go along with it. I don’t think I would count it as one of my favorite albums, but there are some moments that make me want to return to it and feel wistful.

I always find it fascinating that people associate times in their lives with particular albums or songs, even if that time is long gone. I listened to this album the entire second week of driving to and from my new job, so every time I listen to it I can feel the warmth of driving home in the early evening. My favorite tracks are “Aviation,” “Bad Habits,” “Sweet Dreams, TN” and “The Element Of Surprise.”

The Arcs’ Yours, Dreamily,.

I love Brothers and think Turn Blue is great, but I have never been a huge Black Keys fan. However, when I caught wind of Dan Auerbach’s side project, the Arcs, the first single intrigued me enough that I bought the digital album on Amazon. This album came out awhile ago, but I went to one of their concerts last week and I’m currently in obsessed fan mode. It’s so fervent that I ordered vinyl copy that showed up at my house Monday. My favorite songs from Yours, Dreamily, are “Cold Companion,” “Pistol Made of Bones” and “Stay In My Corner.” If you have a chance to see the band live, take it — it’s one of the best shows I’ve ever been to.

The Arcs’ sound is like garage rock mixed with some mariachi (check out the band that does the backing vocals) and Faulknerian Southern Gothic vibes, which I immediately signed up for. The narrative that flows through the album is about a musician with a flair for the dramatic. He also sounds like a dude who watches old Western movies on loop and picks out blues songs on the jukebox. I don’t say any of that to discount the music or criticize it, but to paint the picture of where the sound is steeped — and maybe it’s all just a dream that we’re hearing recounted. It’s a lyrically powerful record that circles around themes of alienation, nostalgia and the price of fame. “Outta My Mind” is the cornerstone track for those ideas. But my favorite lyric is from “Cold Companion”: “She’s a cold companion, like a desert rose / the worse it is, the more she glows / Woman, are you undone?” You get the feeling that this woman, who is for the narrator a perpetual flame, is a woman that doesn’t ascribe to the damsel archetype. I love that.

If you like The Arcs, the Spotify radio station is exceptional. You will also probably like listening to Father John Misty, Timber Timbre and Dead Man’s Bones. You’ll also really enjoy this Song Exploder episode about “Put A Flower in Your Pocket.”

Parquet Courts’ Human Performance.

I have yet to find a Parquet Courts record I didn’t like, and Human Performance is no exception. The band released the record a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve kept it on heavy rotation. Parquet Courts’ sound is both heavy garage rock and experimental, which I really like.  It’s perfect driving music — there are some real bangers mixed in with instrumental interludes. My favorite tracks are “Human Performance,” “Paraphrased,” “Captive of the Sun” and “One Man No City.”

I also have yet to find another band that so masterfully handles the ~~millennial condition~~ in earnest and emotional ways. As a culture, we’re working slowly towards shifting the conversation around mental health, but it’s still extremely stigmatized. Using music, the band approaches that conversation. The sound is loud and messy and haphazardly layered, which mirrors what’s going on in our heads. Human Performance in particular deals with alienation, depression and anxiety, and how those concepts affect one’s sense of identity and feelings about one’s place in the world. The band’s narrator is trying to work through the idea that meaning is constructed by the language that we use and that this concept is related to identity. But he also asks how we can give words any power when life seems meaningless in light of what’s going on in our heads. A lyric like “Sometimes I drop definitions from my words / Sometimes my speech recalls moments of violence / Sometimes I can’t be repeated, I can’t be paraphrased” speaks to that.

If you like this Parquet Courts album, you’ll love Sunbathing Animal and Content Nausea. Then try listening to Mac DeMarco, who interprets the same themes in his own music.

De Lux’s “Better at Making Time.”

I find that I work best when I’m listening to a really awesome soundtrack, and I put on a playlist I titled “drop the beat” when I need some real pump-up music. De Lux’s “Better at Making Time” is the first track on that playlist. I discovered this song by listening to the Spotify station that someone at my old job played often, and even though I hated that there was communal office music — it was a real vibe killer most days — I didn’t mind when this song came on. I’m mostly interested in the instrumental aspect of “Better at Making Time,” but the narrative centers on a realization that a relationship that’s not fulfilling won’t work out. The song is very disco-y and kaleidoscopic, and it makes you want to get up and dance out your feelings. Sometimes you need that.

What have you been listening to lately? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

 

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Gold Star For The Internet: NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts

In my travels across the Internet, I stumble upon many gems that when I see them, I wonder where they’ve been the whole time. One of these gems I want to share is NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts.

Back when I had a much longer commute, I loaded my phone up with as many podcasts about art and pop culture as I could to pass time that was otherwise dead. In trying to find more shows about music, I discovered Tiny Desk Concerts on my phone’s podcast app. Bob Boilen, the guy who started NPR’s All Songs Considered, hosts a range of musical performances at his desk at the NPR offices. You can read more about Boilen here.

The first Tiny Desk concert I watched was its 500th episode a few months ago. It happened to feature one of my favorite bands, The Arcs, which initially hooked me — if the program was featuring an act I really liked, there was probably more where that came from. I don’t watch every episode that pops up on the feed, but if it sounds like something I’d be interested in I usually end up loving it. The standard set seems to be about three songs, which ends up being a 11-20 minute video. I like that I have to sit down and carve out time to keep up with the episodes.

I’m a big believer in the power of the live music experience, and highly suggest that if you love a band you need to go see it perform — recordings are incredible, but you can’t replace the emotional experience of going to a concert. The only exception to my suggestion is now Tiny Desk, mostly because of how high the production values are. In my honest and humble opinion, the cinematography rivals Oscar-winning movies. The cinematography is varied enough so that you see shots like close ups of hands on pianos — which are always beautiful — as well as the overall configuration, as if you were standing right in front of the artists along with the office audience. Even though these performances are shot in an office space and sometimes unplugged, the sound is great. And when you go to look up a band to find their recordings, you’ll have how they looked in the back of your mind.  These videos add to the overall experience of a particular band’s music, and I think that’s wonderful.

As much as I have tried, I’ve never been an NPR groupie. I promise you don’t have to be one to enjoy Tiny Desk Concerts.

My favorite episodes have been the Arcs, Benjamin Clementine, Monsieur Periné, Timber Timbre, Reggie Watts and the Bots. I had seen the Bots in concert before watching their episode, and thought they did an incredible job translating the power and layers of their music into an intimate setting. When I saw the Arcs last week in a crowded and tiny venue, I was extra hyped because of their Tiny Desk performance. I’ve always wanted to see Timber Timbre, and now I really really want to. Even though these videos were my first introductions to Benjamin Clementine and Monsieur Periné, I had some real “whoa” moments that added them to my must-see list. For whatever episode you decide to watch, I think you’ll have the same reactions. In scrolling through the list of 500+ shows, I’ve found even more that I want to look at.

What I really love about Tiny Desk Concerts is that it celebrates incredible music, and uses the digital platform to share performances that most people wouldn’t get to see elsewhere. When I watch a Tiny Desk concert, I feel like it’s just me, the performer and an audience that just happens to be in the background. That’s a really special experience, even if it is being facilitated by a screen. And most importantly, it has introduced me to new artists and sounds that I wouldn’t have found without it.  And for that, I give it the biggest gold star in the world.

Do you watch Tiny Desk Concerts, or have an Internet gem you want to share with me? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Link Party: 4/18-4/22

A photo from last night's Arcs concert. It was one of the best shows I've ever been to.

A photo from last night’s Arcs concert — one of the best shows I’ve ever been to. 

Here’s what I read this week:

1. Earning the “woke” badge.

2. The social media cabals that run the Internet.

3. The Coachella way of life.

4. How rich was Shakespeare?

5. Finding “lost” civilizations.

And a bonus: Starting at 3:28, Prince’s incredible guitar solo in “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the 2004 tribute to George Harrison. Also, this tweet.

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Post-Grad Adventures: Thoughts on My First Post-Grad Job

1. Although my first job out of college was neither a permanent position nor my dream gig, I still learned a lot about myself and how the world works. School was wonderful for me and I loved every moment, but it resides in a bubble that doesn’t entirely prepare you for the realities of the workforce. Throughout my six-month stint, I was simultaneously impressed with how people make things happen and flabbergasted at how anyone gets anything done ever.

2. I take immense pride in my work, and that quality is an asset. I am allowed to feel proud of my work, and I should devote my time to a job or project that encourages that and pushes me to do my very best. I will not work at a job or accept a freelance assignment that robs me of that. Life is too short.

3. On so, so, so many instances, I learned that a project is toast without strong and clear communication among team members. If you’re in a managerial position, understanding the need for this kind of communication and facilitating it is very important.There is a significant difference between saying something like “I don’t like the particular word you used” and giving meaningful and constructive feedback. Avoid the former at all costs. I’m working towards being an editor, and maintaining close working relationships — without micromanaging — is integral to running a successful publication. I will never forget that.

4. A work squad was very, very important for my daily and overall sanity, and so was a revolving soundtrack of Hamilton, Kanye West and Wu-Tang Clan. Being able to interact with people made doing very isolating digital work happen, and listening to good music definitely helped. Viva la Gchat.

5. No one told me how hard it is on the body, mentally and physically, to have a full-time job. Office chairs are the worst, and so are car seats.  I know why this exhaustion has become part of the culture, but I don’t like it.

6. Everything is an opportunity to strengthen my writing skills, whether that’s writing a two-word headline or a detailed email replying to a questionnaire. Besides my freelance work, 90 percent of the professional writing I did for six months were phrases and sentences shorter than a tweet. At the time, I didn’t know this was a learning opportunity — I learned how to work under character limits I couldn’t push and communicate ideas concisely. This reminded me that I should always pay attention to word choice and syntax, and anticipate the range of reactions the intended audience might have.

7. A lot of people don’t proofread the things they write, even if that writing isn’t for public consumption. It’s irritating.

8. There were people that walked into my life that would not have otherwise if I hadn’t taken the job, which on some level made the schlepping two hours each way and doing deeply shallow work worth it. Personal and professional doors to opportunity opened wide for me. I marvel at the serendipity.

9. One of my biggest realizations was that I was pressuring myself to be immediately successful, and felt stupidly self-conscious when I read about people my age making larger strides. But just because I don’t hit a milestone faster than my peers doesn’t mean I’m not good at something. I am young and have plenty of time to build my career. Slow and steady wins the race.

10. No matter what happens, I love myself and know that everything in my life is going to work out for the best. I trust the universe and its magic.

Do you have thoughts on the post-grad world? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Link Party: 4/11-4/15

I missed this. I missed this a lot.

I missed this. I missed this a lot.

I had a great week, and I hope you did too. Here’s what I read:

1. This is a fascinating read on Minecraft and the kids that play it.

2. Instagram is ruining vacation.

3. What working at Sephora is like.

4. The miniskirt‘s unabashedly feminist history.

5. A conversation with Elena Ferrante.

And a bonus: An awesome newsletter named “A Woman to Know.”

Have a great weekend.

 

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