I don’t spend as much time as I would like reading books as I find longform journalism often filling this space. That being said, books do provide a depth you can’t hope to get from a newspaper column or magazine article. You can find my incomplete reading list over on Goodreads.
Black, Listed: Black British Culture Explored
by Jeffrey Boakye: A personal look at the language used by and about black people in the UK by a South London born teacher. Far from providing a definitive account but interesting to hear his take from the position as a first generation Ghanian in the city I now live in.
Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture
by Jace Clayton: I’ve been a long standing fan of Jace Clayton both as a DJ (his Solar Life Raft with Matt Shadetek being a particular favourite) as well as a writer. Uproot brings together a collection of his writings acting as something of a travelogue as he visits various music communities looking particularly where technology has re-shaped music particularly from non Western creators.
by Oisín Fagan: I tend to favour fiction written in the present or the future so a book set in 14th century Ireland during the Black Death is something of an outlier. I appreciated the prose but didn’t find it a particularly easy read.
Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language
by Gretchen McCulloch: inspired by an interview with Gretchen on the Ezra Klein Show. It’s great to hear how language has been shaped by communities on the internet and also provided the opportunity to brush up on my own digital etiquette.
Find below films that I’ve seen relatively recently that I have appreciated even if it hasn’t necessarily left a smile on my face. You will find a more complete picture of what I have watched now and in the past on my Letterboxd profile.
It seems almost another era when I was able to catch Parasite at the cinema but I would still describe it as a classic and something I am looking forward to revisiting. There’s some great explainer videos on YouTube which point to why the film makes such a great impact including ones from Thomas Flight and Nerdwriter.
I have had a growing fascination with the old Eastern Bloc helped along by occasional visits, the work of the Calvert 22 Foundation and representations on the silver screen (Leviathan,
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and Tangerines spring to mind). Beanpole definitely fits at the bleaker end of the cinematic spectrum following the lives of a couple of women in Leningrad soon after the end of World War II.
Come and See
Another film that’s probably best not viewed if you’re on a downer. A Belarusian film set in World War II that is now considered something of a classic. Whilst the film definitely ticks some of the usual boxers associated with a war film, it also has an ethereal quality at times that definitely left a strong impression.
A Serious Man
The Coen Brothers are long standing favourites of mine with the wood chipper scene from Fargo remaining indelibly imprinted on my memory. A Serious Man isn’t as flashy as some of their other films but definitely has a healthy dose of black humour.
The film brought to mind Michael Mann’s The Insider with a David versus Goliath battle (in this case with DuPont rather than the tobacco industry). Mark Ruffalo puts in a strong performance as a lawyer who switches sides from corporate defender to consumer plaintiff.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
I’m not the greatest fan of French cinema or period drama but I read enough recommendations to persevere and the film impressed with its beauty.
Another French film that like La Haine, focuses on the experience of some of the marginalised that inhabit Paris’ banlieue. Dheepan focuses on a trio of Sri Lankan refugees thrown together in an environment that appears almost as toxic as the country they fled.
Queen & Slim
It’s interesting contrasting this film with Green Book. Both are road movies looking at racism in Southern America but Green Book is set in 1962 whereas Queen & Slim suggests there’s still plenty of need for #blacklivesmatter.
Memories of Murder
Watching Parasite inspired me to take a closer look at one of director Bong Joon-ho’s earlier works. You definitely a sense of Bong’s feel for the absurd but Parasite feels like a more accomplished work.
Drama following the experiences of a young graduate in a film production company with strong echoes of accounts from The Weinstein Company. Julia Garner cements her position as one of my favourite actresses with scene stealing role in Ozark.
If there was one thing I’d like to see changed with Letterboxd, it would be the inclusion of television as well as film. Whilst I understand purists arguments for the uniqueness of film, in the age of streaming media I would argue the delineation between between the two mediums is tenuous at best.
I have a something of a crush on Berlin which I put down to growing up there for a period with a particular fascination with the city’s Cold War history. Babylon Berlin is actually set in the earlier Weimar Germany and provides a much more fraught environment than you associate with many British period dramas. The production is stunning and the rising tide of fascism definitely provides something to reflect on as we see the growth of the far right around the world.
For those of you looking to fill the slot left by Breaking Bad or The Sopranos, this series follows a family involved in laundering drug money in the American Ozarks. Series three recently went live on Netflix and reflects a return to the earlier form with some great acting and character journeys.
The Plot Against America
HBO series based on an adaption of a Philip Roth novel in an alternative reality where Charles Lindbergh is elected president and tilts USA towards fascism and antisemitism. The series doesn’t match up to creator David Simons’ strongest work (The Wire, Treme, Show me a Hero), but it provides another warning of how easily politics can be derailed in the wrong circumstances.
I haven’t always got on with Homeland sometimes coming across as islamophobic and at times preposterous. That being said said the series often quickly responded to issues of the day. Series eight represents a return to form for the series centring on a potential peace process in Afghanistan with the usual mix of spycraft and international politics.
I’ve seen too many fawning reviews of this BBC adaptation of a Sally Rooney novel with Jessa Crispin’s takedown echoing many of my own thoughts. That being said, it makes for easy escapist viewing with half hour episodes making for bite sized morsels.
I’m struggling to keep up with my podcast feed now that I’m no longer commuting to work. That being said, I find podcasts provide an important respite from the here and now of more traditional online news sources.
A look at the world with John Green’s idiosyncratic view of the world.
A regular review of international relations from Vox.
A chance to catch up with The Guardian’s more cerebral journalism.
A look at the impact of technology on society.
Part science fiction, part sociology looking at where our world is heading as well as reflecting on the present.
A look at the world through the lens of economics from Stephanie Flanders.
Long running series from NPR taking a deep dive on economic issues through a consumer lens (US).
Bite sized spin off from Planet Money looking at different economic indicators through the week (US).
BBC show taking a critical look at statistics reported by the news media.
Interviews led by Vox founder Ezra Klein
Interviews led by Marginal Revolution author Tyler Cowen.
Interviews with high profile journalists from the team at Longform.
limited run series
A series looking at the impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans from the team at The Atlantic.
A look at the lasting impact of slavery on contemporary American society from the New York Times.
Avery Trufelman looks at different attempts to create utopian societies from around the world and across history.
This series uses Dolly Parton as a filter to look at American culture wars.
BBC series where focus is more on greed and deceit rather than cryptography.
Series best consumed as a companion to HBO’s much loved Chernobyl programme.
Series that pulls apart the Cops television series providing a valuable antidote to this pioneer in reality television.
Header image: Akumulator by Marcin Dudek at Edel Assanti gallery.