Obsessions #6: "There's No Book Club?!"
Everything I've Been Reading, Watching and Listening To in January
Welcome to Obsessions, a monthly newsletter-within-a-newsletter highlighting all of the things I’ve been reading, watching, listening to and generally obsessing over for the past few weeks.
What I’ve Been Reading
As I wrote in my last Obsessions newsletter, my main reading goal for 2022 was to read Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle series. I had just started reading the first volume, A Death in the Family, and was really taken with the quality of the writing and ambition of such an autobiographical series.
And then I read more of it. I started to understand why the series is so divisive. Parts of it are really fucking boring! This man spends 45 FULL PAGES describing how he procured alcohol and took the bus to a New Year’s Eve party he attended as a teenager. 45!!!
I got to page 176 and decided that I’m stopping for now. Maybe two years into a pandemic isn’t the best time for my brain to try to read a 3500-page series about the minutiae of one Norwegian man's life. Sometimes you just need to abandon ship. Back to my little LGBT books it is!
Speaking of which, one of the only books I actually finished this month was Margaret and the Mystery of the Missing Body by Megan Milks. It was much more readable (and enjoyable) than Knausgaard. I’d highly recommend it for its take on ‘90s queer girlhood and embodiment. You can read my full review of the book here.
What I’ve Been Watching
Two Movies by Sean Baker
The only Sean Baker movie I’d seen before this month was Tangerine, a 2015 film perhaps best known for being shot on an iPhone. His latest film, Red Rocket, came out at the end of 2021. While I had wanted to see it in theatres, I could not due to the continued hellscape we live in. My boyfriend was able to procure a copy online instead.
Released by A24, Red Rocket is about an ex-porn star named Mikey Saber, who moves back to Texas to stay with his ex-wife and her mother. Once in town, he meets a young woman named Strawberry and horrible things happen from there.
It’s a deeply uncomfortable film disguised as a comedy. There were three separate moments that were so unexpected I audibly gasped. I loved Simon Rex’s performance as Mikey, as well as the colourful visuals and excellent use of N*SYNC. However, I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone due to its subject matter.
Watching Red Rocket inspired me to go back and watch The Florida Project, a 2017 film also by Baker with similar themes of people in poverty living on the margins of society. However, I loved that this movie centres on the children’s perspectives, since it added a magical element to an otherwise brutally heartbreaking film. Willem Dafoe is incredible in this (as he is in everything) and I absolutely adored the surprise ending. Watch it!
Incendies (Denis Villeneuve, 2010)
Ever since I was blown away by his adaptation of Dune, I’ve become determined to watch more films by Quebec director Denis Villeneuve. Released in 2010, Incendies is considered to be one of his very best. The film, based on the 2003 play of the same name by Wajdi Mouawad, follows two twins following their late mother’s last wish to find their father and brother.
The film is a very intense watch, to put it mildly. Although the country is purposefully not named in the movie, the story is based partially on the Lebanese Civil War and the generational aftermath that it had. The story is similar to a Greek tragedy but shifted into something I could have never seen coming. Despite its brutal themes and scenes, it’s a deeply poetic and moving film, and might be one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.
Yellowjackets (Showtime, 2021)
A disclaimer: This is not a glowing review of Yellowjackets. While I prefer to praise and recommend art I love, I spent the majority of January watching this Showtime series raved about by critics and fans alike. I spent episode after episode trying to understand what all the fuss was about, but even by the finale I never got there.
That’s not to say that Yellowjackets is a bad show. Rather, I think it’s a pretty average show that suffers from being overly hyped and endlessly compared to Lost. Although the two shows both follow plane crash survivors stranded on a seemingly magical area and are structured using separate timelines, they’re actually quite different.
While Lost is immediately gripping for its character work and flashback technique, Yellowjackets is paced like an ultra-slow burn. Apart from the impressive pilot, not a lot actually happens in the first handful of episodes, which is quite odd for a 10-episode show that is not guaranteed to be renewed.
Even though the show picks up in the last three episodes, with Episode 9 being a series highlight, there is ultimately not a lot of payoff character-wise or thematically. Certain season-long subplots go nowhere and Jackie’s finale reveal felt… highly improbable.
After watching the entire show, I was pretty stunned by the critical response. How does it have 100% on Rotten Tomatoes?! Am I missing something, or are people just starved for content?!
Still, the “There’s no book club?!” moment was extremely funny and I’m intrigued enough to watch the first few episodes of the next season.
RuPaul’s Drag Race (Season 14)
She’s back, back, back again. Although the regular US franchise has been a disappointment for the past few seasons, I am emotionally tethered to this show and still feel the need to watch every episode. Suffice to say, I didn’t have high hopes for Season 14.
However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the first few episodes. I think the producers made a really smart choice with casting by making a lot of the queens close in talent level. My main problem with Drag Race is that it’s pretty obvious to tell what queens will succeed and which will fail. This season, I have a good idea of who will be in the Top 6, but I think the winner will still be a wild card.
Not to mention I actually like a lot of the queens! I was worried that Willow Pill would get sent home early based on her entrance look, but am super relieved that she already appears to be a front-runner (her talent show number was one of the best things I’ve seen on the show in a while). I also love Kornbread "The Snack" Jeté and Angeria Paris VanMicheals, who are both hilarious in the Werk Room and the confessionals.
If you are a Drag Race fan, I’d highly recommend reading Drew Gregory’s recaps in Autrostraddle. This one about the third episode, which addresses Maddy Morphosis, the series’ first straight cisgender male contestant, was particularly thoughtful surrounding the question of gender and sexuality on the show.
What I’ve Been Listening To
Ottawa Pizza Podcast
A podcast that exclusively reviews Ottawa pizza places?! This is the niche content I need. Having spent most of my life in Ottawa and loving pizza makes me the exact target demographic for this show.
Ottawa Pizza Podcast is hosted by Tyler and Stephanie, two locals determined to find out what exactly “Ottawa-style” pizza is, why it’s special and what the best Ottawa-style pizza is. The episodes each cover a different place in the city, talk about its history and place in Ottawa, and then review it. The first few episodes were devoted to city giants like Gabriel’s, Louis’ and Anthony’s.
Listening to this podcast brought up a lot ~pizza~ memories for me, many of which had to do with eating the BBQ Chicken pizza from Pizza Pizza as a child. Although I think Ottawans will appreciate this podcast the most, if you like long dissections and discussions of crust, sauce and cheese, this is for you.
Various Disney Soundtrack Music Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda
It’s two years into COVID, my brain is completely broken and I’m in need of comfort. I hate that it’s come to this, but the most music I’ve been listening to this past month has been… the Encanto soundtrack.
“We Don’t Talk About Bruno” is an absolute BOP, as is “The Family Madrigal” and “Surface Pressure.” I also rewatched Moana for the first time since it came out in 2016 and now can’t get “You’re Welcome” out of my mind no matter how hard I try.
I always thought Lin-Manuel Miranda was extremely corny, especially after witnessing so many people try to sing the songs from Hamilton at karaoke in the Before. But now I have to admit: the man can write a serious hook.
What I’ve Been Cooking
I’ve been making a lot of tried and true cozy winter favourites lately, like soups and stews. But I’ve also tried a few new recipes in the last month. I got Meera Sodha’s Made in India cookbook from the library and absolutely loved her recipes for Oven Roasted Chicken Tikka and Aloo Gobi. I was also pleasantly surprised by Joshua Weissman’s recipe for Chicken Chow Mein; it’s definitely the closest I’ve come to making take-out style chow mein at home.
Although I usually love Alison Roman’s bean stew recipes, one recipe that was a total flop this month was her Dilly Bean Stew with Cabbage and Frizzled Onions. It was just blah! Another member of my cooking group chat made it independently of me sharing my opinion with them and they didn’t like it either. I’d highly recommend her Brothy Beans instead.
Overall Review of January 2021
In a word: ROUGH! The combination of January cold plus the first COVID lockdown in months has been hard for every single person I know. It’s so frustrating when life was finally starting to feel more free to have to stay inside yet again.
But I keep trying to remind myself that it will pass and that hopefully, things will be a lot better by the spring. Until then, I am setting my self-compassion to 11 and doing whatever I need to to get through, whether that be checking social media way too much or watching three movies in one day. I hope you can give the same to yourself.
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