Sunday, August 25, 2013

On the Media OTM Staff Picks, Volume 55

NPR News (click here).

These are a few of our favorite things.

Katya Rogers
My staff pick is the character Steven Holder from the AMC show "the killing."
He's a lanky, kind of dirty looking cop with a heart of gold who can be weirdly menacing and yet at times totally cuddly.

He has this gravelly drawl of a delivery and a way of putting things that is uniquely Holder-ish;

I don't even care that season 3 isn't very good: I heart Holder and that's all that matters.
Sarah Abdurrahman:
would pick this anytime of the year, but especially now that it is Ramadan, I gotta give a shout out to the delicious, sweet, nutritious date. This is a super fruit if there ever was one, and that is especially apparent when eaten at the end of a day-long fast. During Ramadan, it is traditional to break one’s fast on dates before having whatever main meal is being served, and as soon as you eat that first date, you are immediately energized and satiated. My favorites are the large, chewy, sugary Medjool variety. Forget chocolate chip cookies, Medjool dates are the best companion to a cold glass of milk I’ve ever had.

Alex Goldman:
This weekend, I got a Cookie Puss. Cookie Puss is an interplanetary ice cream cake (the C.P. also stands for “celestial person”). It’s delicious. Cookie Puss is also a pre-License To Ill Beastie Boys song.

Jamie York:

Some books are perfect for their place and time and I couldn’t have been luckier then to find English, August: An Indian Story by Upamanyu Chatterjee to read while traveling in India. English, August was first published in India in 1988, it was released here in 2006, and it’s described alternately on the jacket as “India’s Catcher in the Rye” and, by one admirer, “the ‘Indianest’ novel in English that I know of’.

I can’t speak to the latter but the former is misleading. The novel tells the story of Agastya Sen, recent college grad, decidedly middle class, and his deployment in the civil service to an isolated town called Madna. Sen is woefully unprepared for the grinding inanity of being a low-level bureaucrat, he finds rural life stultifying, his pot smoking, music listening, masturbation and late-night runs are his only solace. And yet Sen doesn’t know what else he’d rather be doing. Lucky for us he’s funny and sensitive, a keen observer of all the contradictions and absurdity of millions of people like him perpetuating an inherited system that kind of works, but just barely.

It probably goes without saying that it’s a coming of age story, as much for India as Sen, without any of the resolution or cliché that that descriptor implies. Highly recommended for when reading about someone else's desultory days make yours seem more purposeful by comparison

And this is just rad. Samba by Les Amazones de Guinee. Thanks internet.

Brooke Gladstone:

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson is exactly what you need right now: A profound and transportive novel that’s riveting enough for the beach. No kidding.

Its hero is a very young North Korean everyman (worse, an orphan who’s not an orphan) who find himself in crucial places at decisive moments and does crazy things, or nothing, in ways that only make sense if you live in the North Korea, or East Kafka, depicted with the horrific humor of Gogol.

Prepare, from the very start, to experience torture, starvation, and murder. We follow our hero’s adolescent adventures in kidnapping and spying, his assumption of another’s identity, his trip to Texas (!), all the self-deceptions and moral compromises on which his life depends, and finally, his encounter with an “autopilot” torture machine. Here, an interrogator explains how it works:

“We ramp up the pain to inconceivable levels, a shifting, muscular river of pain. Pain of this nature creates a rift in the identity — the person who makes it to the far shore will have little resemblance to the professor who now begins the crossing. In a few weeks, he will be a contributing member of a rural farm collective, and perhaps we can even find a widow to comfort him. There’s no way around it: to get a new life, you’ve got to trade in your old one.”

In all its richness, you can’t quite tell the real from the fictional in The Orphan Master’s Son, and that’s the point  .“If a farmer is declared a music virtuoso by the state, everyone had better start calling him maestro. And secretly, he’d be wise to start practicing the piano…. If a man and his story are in conflict, it is the man who must change.”
What is real, what is invented, and what is immutable, those are the questions that Adam Johnson confronts and even, somehow, satisfyingly, contrives to answer.  But you are so busy turning pages it doesn’t hit you right away.  (If my endorsement doesn’t suffice - and why should it? - last year this novel won the Pulitzer Prize.)

Chris Neary:
I’ve been going back to The Sopranos since James Gandolfini died. I skipped ahead to the last episode and watched the famous/infamous last scene again. The first time I saw it I thought it was a little too English major-y. Note: I was an English major. Seeing it this time, I liked it. It’s sad and exhilarating. I forgot how tense it was. Have another look at it even if you’ve seen it once.
Here’s an incredibly detailed explainer of the last scene.

PJ Vogt:
My staff pick this week is Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett. It’s about a hostage situation in a Vice Presidential home in an unidentified South American country. It made me cry on an airplane.
I recommended it to a friend who told me she’d avoided it because it’s a book that all the Moms read in their book clubs 10 years ago. To which I say, I really wish more Mom’s would invite me to their book clubs.

Bob Garfield
Just drop whatever you are doing and get a hold of The Imposter a 2012 doc by Bart Layton. It's an utterly improbable and entirely gripping story about a French con man who persuades a Texas family -- and the U.S. Government -- that he is a San Antonio teenager who 3 years earlier had disappeared, presumed abducted and murder. The plot keeps thickening until brittle. The movie is available on Netflix. Watch it RIGHT NOW, even if you have to skip dialysis or quit your job..

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