This is no “Best Of” List. It’s no Top Ten. Rather, it’s a highly subjective list of the most compelling media objects, broadly defined, that I’ve encountered and endorse in my capacity as a media studies professor-doctor of celebrity gossip-Twitterphile-VQRcontributor. We welcome your own recommendations in the comments. Happy exploring!
MEDIA NERD CHRISTMAS GIFTS
Ork City Maps of major cities, like this one:
Litographs: Entire books and poetry collections … on an article of clothing (or poster or tote). Below: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Number Eleven Dictionary Page Art. Pop Culture Young and Old. This one’s currently on my office door:
For the Burgeoning Cinephile: David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film and Pauline Kael, For Keeps.
I was given copies of both of these books during my senior year in undergrad, and both have structured my understanding of films in indelible ways. Thomson and Kael also taught me how to write about media in a way that’s opinionated and compelling, and any student (or “nontraditional student”) in your life will devour these.
AIRPLANE ESSAY READING
Nothing Was the Same: On Drake and the White Boy Imaginary, The Indy
“Drake is the hip hop Rorschach test. Do you see a Black guy acting a little ‘too white,’ or the opposite, like Kool A.D. does? You can hate Drake or love Drake for basically the same reasons. Drake would have meant everything to us at summer camp if he had been around when we were that age, because he would have been ‘Black enough’ for us to accept him as an authentic rapper, yet ‘white enough’ for us to feel like we could claim and celebrate him without being ashamed. Drake would have given us a deeper level of closeness with the Black music we were dying to feel and understand. I still experience that impulse, but now I better understand how wary I should be of embracing it.”
Remembering the Early Days of Jezebel with Anna Holmes, The Hairpin
“I had a friend named Geraldine who was friends with Nick Denton, and he asked her if she wanted to start a ‘Girly Gawker.’ She asked if I wanted to do it with her, and I said no. The internet was scary. I didn’t know anybody who was going over to the Web. I thought it was too risky, but she and I kept talking about it. Then Nick’s deputy, Lockhart Steele, said he’d match my salary at InStyle, where I was working at the time. That was a surprise. I said OK, maybe. But after I agreed, my friend decided she didn’t want to do it anymore. I was informed that I’d be starting the site on my own—that was terrifying—and my name would be at the top of the thing.”
The Summer I Tried to Save Memphis, Saeed Jones, Buzzfeed
“My grandmother and I still haven’t spoken about what happened during the summer of 1999, or why it was the last time I visited her by myself, and how it came to be that she watched a pastor put a curse on her youngest daughter.”
Facebook Feminist, Like it Or Not, Susan Faludi, The Baffler
The most incisive and incendiary take down of Lean In feminismI’ve read.
The Sad State of America’s Aging Sisters, Allie Conti, Vice
Nuns are practically taking over the nursing home, according to Ann Frey, the Wartburg’s director of volunteer services. “Some residents are kind of resentful that they’re taking over,” she said. “If you’re of another religion, then that’s obnoxious.” Non-Catholic seniors who live there may not like it. But with convents closing in New York, as they are all over the country, and the existing population of nuns aging rapidly without younger women to replace them, where are they supposed to go?
When the Lights Shut Off: Kendrick Lamar and the Decline of the Black Blues Narrative, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Los Angeles Review of Books
“I could easily tell you that Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst’ is one of the best songs to come from hip-hop in the last few years, and since I like grand statements, I might even give him the decade. Lamar’s style is uncanny: at times when he raps it sounds like a Congo Square bamboula, fueled by inflated tears. His lyrics deal with his mortality, his fears, and the futility of street life, and his phrasing is such that he seems to both pause and dervish over his well-selected beats, but that is not what makes Kendrick Lamar’s work important. What makes him important is the way in which the autobiographical good kid m.A.A.d city is so novelistic and so eloquently anchored in the literary blues tradition of which Ellison wrote.”
And to lighten the mood, Mallory Ortberg, Male Novelist Jokes, The Toast
Q: How many male novelists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: His alcoholism was different, because someday he was going to die.
EUROPEAN MYSTERY TELEVISION EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT AND YOU SHOULD JUST BUCKLE DOWN AND WATCH
The Returned (iTunes; currently airing on Sundance) is better than every mystery American television has thrown at us in the past five years. Dizzying complexity and beautifully, eerily acted, I find myself wholly addicted.
Broadchurch (iTunes; Amazon) has the best lead detectives and a British setting (the Dorset coast) you’ve rarely seen.
The Fall (Netflix) is terrifying, features the X-Files’ Agent Scully (Gillian Anderson) as an unapologetically abrasive detective, and will also introduce you to Jamie Dornan, recently cast as the male lead in Fifty Shades of Grey.
Borgen (Amazon): Danish television is amazing television, and Borgen is the best evidence as to why. Like House of Cards, only much better and mixed with The Wire….with a female president who isn’t a caricature. One episode and you’ll be hooked.
GOOD OLD-FASHIONED BOOKS
Alice Munro, The Love of a Good Woman
Munro very deservedly won the Nobel Prize this year, and I’ve been celebrating by revisiting her short-story collections one by one, reading a story a night. The Love of a Good Woman is classic Munro and accessible to those who’ve never read her. The titular first story will very slowly, very precisely take your breath away.
Becky Cooper, Mapping Manhattan: A Love (and Sometimes Hate) Story in Maps by 75 New Yorkers
Exactly what it sounds like, exquisitely executed. A perfect gift for any person who loves (and intermittently hates) New York.
Thomas Frank, The Conquest of Cool
If you like Mad Men or are in any way interested in understanding the sixties in a more profound way than as “the time of the hippies,” read this book. It’s an academic hybrid, which is just another way of saying that it’s very smart but you don’t need an advanced degree to read it: just curiosity about the dramatic shifts in advertising culture in the 1960s, and how those changes were both a reflection of and catalyst for the broader cultural changes we associate with the era. My Mad Men students loved it and so will you.
PHOTO ESSAYS THAT’LL STICK WITH YOU
Portraits of Albian Women Who Lived Their Lives as Men
Old Finnish People With Things On Their Heads
Photographer as Witness: A Portrait of Domestic Violence
AND A WEBSERIES TO KEEP YOU IN STITCHES
Best friends Katy & Katie offer “Just the Tips”—a series of videos in which they try out the internet’s advice so you don’t have to. They’re charismatic, clever, and roll-on-the-ground hilarious. Start with The Hunger Games Make-Up Tutorial and don’t stop until you’ve watched them all.