Best books and podcasts for the month of January
The following list is a collection of book and podcast recommendations from The F-Word members. As the world steps into 2021, we hope that everyone can find something on this list to help them start the year on the best right note.
“This is a mad dope book about female desire, amorous projection, marriage, infidelity, agency, and illusion,” Our Blog Staff Writer Liwa Sun says, “Her feelings is her discipline!!! Desire as a generative art!!”
In this epistolary mix between memoir and fiction, married artist and filmmaker Chris falls in love with Dick, writes him 120 pages of letters, and realizes that this has been her most galvanizing project in decades. She proceeds from there and takes on a study on women’s place in art and more. Since its publication in 1997, the book has gained a cult following and been lauded as a feminist staple.
The Guardian also suggests that, if you enjoyed shows like Easy on Netflix or One Mississippi on Amazon Prime, you might want to check out this book’s 2017 eponymous adaption from Amazon Prime, starring Kathryn Hahn and Kevin Bacon.
Yes, we know that this book has been on so many people’s to-read lists since it was published two years ago. But Becoming—Michelle Obama’s biography—provides such an interesting, private look into such an incredible public figure, that we have to recommend it here again if for those of you looking for some good memoirs over break. The book is split into three sections, starting from her childhood and education, then her relationship with Barack Obama and his early political career, and ending with the Obamas’ time in the White House. And as our Copy Editor Rebecca Avigad suggests, “If you love the book as much as I did, you can then watch the Netflix documentary film that follows Michelle on her book tour!”
The 2020 holiday season might not have been like any other, but if you find yourself missing all the possible joy, stress, and chaos of past holiday gatherings and adventures, check out this collection of essays and short stories by acclaimed humorist David Sedaris. With an extra dose of his typical dark wit, the book has got everything from a sharp and hilarious account of Sedaris’ experiences working as an Macy’s elf in ’90s New York City, to a fictional holiday newsletter that becomes just a little too cheery as it goes go.
Ultimately, maybe the book will provide the tiniest relief that this global pandemic had given you the perfect excuse to avoid certain all-American holiday traditions this year.
If you feel like curling up with a classic, this is an underrated favorite. With an insider’s look into upper-class New York during the Gilded Age, Edith Wharton—whose cousin Joseph Wharton founded Penn’s Wharton School—has written many acclaimed novels critiquing the lives and morals of high society. She became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Price in 1921 for The Age of Innocence, a careful look into the trappings of the rich. Other novels, like The House of Mirth and Ethan Frome, also delves sharply into the limited options available for women at that time.
In the lesser-known but no less well-written The Custom of the Country, Wharton follows the beautiful and selfish Undine Spragg as she climbs the societal ladder. Ruthless, cunning, and shamelessly materialistic, Spragg is a memorable anti-heroine in the veins of Becky Sharp and Scarlett O’Hara. As she moves from the Midwest into the heart of Manhattan, her story oscillates wildly between relatable and repulsive, but feels familiar and cautionary all the same. Like The New Yorker describes, “If Undine Spragg […] were alive today, she would have a million followers on Instagram and be a Page Six legend.”
Although we hesitate to recommend a post-apocalyptic pandemic novel right now, Station Eleven is so much more than your typical survivalist narrative. As the book jumps between before, during, and after the arrival of a civilization-collapsing flu, it tracks a curiously entangled web of characters through an entrancing, persistent lens. From an airport during the end of the world to a Traveling Symphony performing Shakespeare in a wasteland, Mandel focuses not so much on the apocalypse as much as on using it to pay tribute to our world today, to the beauty of connectivity and resilience.
Finally, while the novel’s premise may feel uncomfortably close, it can also be a welcoming reminder of how lucky we are when it is still possible to alleviate a pandemic through simple measures like staying home, social distancing, and wearing masks.
Our Blog Staff Writer Liwa Sun says that Hava has consistently put out “excellent memes and other forms of content regarding feminism, mental health, relationship, social media, pop culture, capitalism, etc.” And as she is one of our residential Gen-Z meme experts, we will trust her evaluation.
Another new podcast hosted by Instagram content creators, this time @sighswoon Gabi Abrão and @goteamjames James Francis. Described as, “Two LA-raised spiritualists candidly observing passing phenomena,” the podcast has covered everything from the recent Utah Monolith to the illusion of expectation.
Abrão’s content focuses on spiritualism, self-reflection, wellness, digital life, and more. Our Blog Staff Writer Liwa Sun finds her page to be one of the most soothing and grounding places on Instagram, with threads like “how to have a positive experience on Instagram,” “how to heal a heartbreak,” and “things you can pretend to be when you are feeling uncentered.”
10/10 would recommend.
Hosted by Jad Abumrad—creator of podcast Radiolab and More Perfect—this 9-episode podcast came out toward the end of 2019, when it strove to understand the all-around popular American icon Dolly Parton in an increasingly divided country. Since then, the world has only become more divided, but Dolly Parton has also been welcoming a new generation’s love for being the real life Hannah Montana as well as funding the coronavirus vaccine. Featuring family, friends, Dolly experts, industry insiders, and the country music superstar herself, this podcast is the perfect deep-dive in this Tennessee legend.
“I just listened to it and it is so good!” Our Design Staff Tess Jones says, “It really sucks you in! Couldn’t stop listening to it when I first started it.”
Whether you are a frequent listener of The Daily—the daily news podcast of The New York Times hosted by Michael Barbaro—or you have never heard of it before, I wanted to bring this recent episode to your attention. Released just a few days before Christmas, The Daily opted away from its regular format of recent reporting and interviews with The New York Times journalists. Instead, inspired by Megan Thee Stallion’s new album “Good News,” it put out a call to all of its listeners for anything good that might have happened to them in 2020. Out of the hundreds of responses came this beautiful compilation of good news, big and small. And really, it is those small moments that are the most wonderful to hear—and the most important after a year like this.