Weekend recs


Orange is the New Black (2013- )

Series in the age of Netflix are designed for binge watching, and Orange, about a Smith grad who goes to federal prison, is a prime example. Season I is thirteen episodes and everyone you know has already watched the whole thing, so you might as well power through. The writing is B+ stuff, but the politics are decent and the performances irresistible, with a real sense of ensemble: Kate Mulgrew, perfect and unrecognizable as a tough-ish Brighton Beach emigre, Pablo Schreiber in a sleazy mustache as the archetypal sociopath CO, Uzo Aduba hilariously bonkers as the protagonist’s erstwhile “prison wife.” It ain’t I, Claudius, but on the other hand, it kind of is I, Claudius. — Greg Freed


The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller (2012)

God I love this book. I still think about it all the time. It’s the book I press into loved ones’ hands more than any other. I know it came out a year ago. But it just came out in paperback a couple months ago. And I just finally read it last month. If you liked Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, you will absolutely love this novel. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale about an airplane-flying, trout-fishing dude and his lovely dog trying to survive in Colorado. It has gorgeous sentences. And it’s the sweetest reflection on loss and love I’ve read in some time. Heart-breakingly sad. It even made me cry a few times. (Don’t know if my tears were totally unrelated to life circumstances.) Go read it and let me know. You will love this book. — Farrell Fawcett

The New Kale Salad

So we’ve been making this salad for years: Lacinato kale, lemon, parmesan, bread crumbs, lemon juice, olive oil. You know the one because you’ve been making it for years too, ever since Adriana brought it to Thanksgiving in DC sometime in the middle of the last decade. But I’ve set it aside for a new ensemble, carefully perfected over several weeks: Lacinato kale (or other good grade greens), Granny Smith apples, beets, heirloom cherry tomatoes halved, roasted corn cut from the ear, blue cheese, lemon juice, olive oil. My song of the summer. — BW

19 responses to “Weekend recs”

  1. LP says:

    Re: Orange is the New Black: RB and I are 3 episodes in, and loving it. I read the book but like the series better. What a fantastic range of characters, and all incredibly well-cast. But I must ask – as a person who has spent time around prisoners and jails, do you find the characterizations of people and events realistic?

  2. GF says:

    Well, I don’t want to oversell my knowledge of prison life. I go to jail but only to the counsel visit area, so I don’t see much. The characters do strike me as kind of real. Taystee in particular is someone I could imagine meeting at work.

  3. LP says:

    People dream of having jobs where they could say, “Taystee in particular is someone I could imagine meeting at work.”

  4. Jeremy says:

    Ah, The Dog Stars. I want to add that, if you found The Road too daunting/harrowing/depressing/shootmenow-ing, then you should know this novel ain’t that. It’s much more meditative, much more hopeful, and I don’t know, much more human. Or something.

  5. GF says:

    Comment 4 makes me more likely to read this as I did not like The Road.

    Now I am arguing with a friend’s partner who says “Orange” is “sly under-handed pro-prison propaganda” on fb.

  6. Bryan says:

    Currently finishing off season one of House of Cards (getting a little tired of it frankly) so looking fwd to another series. I found the phrase “the new black” a little odd in the title of a prison show. Is it supposed to have racial undertones? And I loved The Road, so I’m all in there.

    Hanging w/ Parrish the other night I jokingly referred to these recs as “artisanal blogging.” Ha ha. Kicking it old school. Remember when blogging was pre-corporate? Y’all are my favorite artisanal bloggers. Thanks for doing these each week.

  7. Dave says:

    The British version of House of Cards it pretty good. Post-Thatcher Shakespearean camp. Ian Richardson is delightful to watch.

  8. T-Mo says:

    I like to think of it as small-batch blogging. You know, farm to WordPress.

  9. GF says:

    [I realized at some point after I wrote this that they establish at some point, and I don’t think this constitutes a major spoiler, that Crazy Eyes is in fact mentally ill, so “bonkers” may seem unpleasantly glib. It just seems that, even so, when she’s doing well, she’s nutty in a fun way. You can be both mentally ill and nuts, right? It’s like the Rilo Kiley song they use in the trailer, which appears to be about being severely depressed or perhaps bipolar:

    And sometimes when you’re on
    You’re really fuckin’ on
    And your friends they sing along
    And they love you
    But the lows are so extreme
    That the good seems fuckin cheap
    And it teases you for weeks in its absence…

    So what I’m saying is when she’s on, she’s really fuckin’ on.]

  10. Godfree says:

    Swells and I are three episodes into Orange, and I am deeply troubled by a few things:

    1) In episode 1, we see several shots of topless ‘attractive’ white ladies, but no topless shots of any of the ‘less attractive’ characters. Hmm, I wonder which demographic the producers are appealing to here.

    2) The two lesbian sex(ual) scenes seem to be shot for the benefit of the same white male audience — perhaps I’m just being overly prudish, but this kind of bugs me.

    3) I wonder why the Whities are the only rational characters. The Latinas are hot-blooded fighters, and the African American women are either crazy, irrational, Voodoo ladies, or transsexuals.

    4) Speaking of race, there’s the happy scene when that African American character dances through the prison because her hair looks so darn good — those Blacks are such good dancers aren’t they? Seriously??

    5) Every scene that included the fiance… YUCK!

    6) And here’s one thing that I don’t get: Piper reads a book about being in prison, but she’s shocked that there’s racial segregation in prison. Is that maybe so we continue to see her as sympathetic? Would we be too shocked if she shrugged off that reality when confronted by it? This makes me feel somewhat distrusted by the writers.

    I feel better now. Thanks for listening…

    And I will continue to watch.

  11. swells says:

    I KNOW you don’t mean to list “rational” as dichotomous with “transsexual.”

  12. Godfree says:

    That’s right. I understand that I wasn’t entirely clear. I don’t mean to suggest that transsexuality is irrational or abnormal. I would suggest, however, that there was a degree of nudging and winking regarding that character — especially when the ‘sensitive’ prison guard questioned the jerky one about wanting to ‘hit that.’
    (I think that was the phrase that he used.) So the communication to the audience seemed to be that the transsexual character was abnormal. Make sense?

  13. GF says:

    Weird, I read this essay by Yasmin Nair that made sort of the opposite complaint from item 1, that it was only POC characters who were sexualized. “… their bodies are starkly eroticized where white women’s are concealed in order to preserve their putative modesty.”

    Jenji Kohan is iffy on race but better here than in Weeds, I’d say. I feel like as you go on, if you go on, you may find that people are fleshed out beyond their original presentation. There is in fact some suggestion that the show’s presentation of people evolves with Piper’s shedding of some preconceptions, but I may be making too much of it/giving too much credit.

    One criticism I don’t really get is how the lesbian scenes are shot for straight white guys. Mostly I’m excited to see a popular, mainstream show with a sympathetic portrayal of a transgender person played by a really appealing trans actress. It seems to address some real concerns of what it would be like to be married and then transition, perhaps a little clumsily but I think not pruriently.

  14. Godfree says:

    Hey GF, Swells and I discussed that likelihood — that the characters would evolve and become more complex as Piper’s understanding of them evolves. This is why I will continue to watch.

    As for that first point, I don’t get it at all. If memory serves there were three or so shots of topless white women within the first 10 minutes of episode one. Perhaps I’m misremembering because I was wearing my captain prude goggles…

    I do like the TS character a lot; in fact, her relationship with her wife is by far the most interesting that I’ve seen thus far. And she is sympathetic… maybe I’ll drop that criticism.

    As for the lesbian scenes, I guess I’d just like to see a scene in which two women are together and it isn’t so ‘sultry.’ But whatever… it’s fucking ‘TV,’ right? I mean one of the very first scenes is Piper and Alex making out in the shower. It did seem like that was placed to hook a certain demographic. But perhaps I’m over analyzing all of it…

    I Love you, GF

  15. T-Mo says:

    “captain prude goggles” Ha! Very nice.

  16. Godfree says:

    OK, so I watched numbers 4 and 5… getting much better. Many of my initial criticisms are eroding…

  17. GF says:

    (I don’t care THAT much about the show, but having weekend rec’d it, I have a certain investment in people not hating it.)

  18. Bryan says:

    Read most of Dog Stars on the flight back from Seattle. Liking it, a lot even, but it’s no The Road — esp not prose-wise. Glad I got it though.