Distractions: September Edition

A review of all the pop culture media I watched and heard in September Twenty Fifteen.*


Books

The Book Of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (2015)
What would it be like to send missionaries to another planet inhabited by aliens? That’s the premise of Michel Faber’s newest novel. Unlike many other missionary tales (like “The Poisonwood Bible” or “At Play In The Fields Of The Lord”) the story doesn’t skewer religion as the blunt object that homogenizes the natives, but the transformation of a man confronted with proof that belief isn’t exclusive to humans. A good, not great, read if you’re inclined toward “soft” science fiction.

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch (2008)
In 2007 Randy (professor of computer science, human-interaction and design) gave his final lecture to his class at Carnegie Mellon. Randy has pancreatic cancer and was given 6–12 months to live, so he decided to give one final lecture about the things that meant a lot to him and what he’s learned about life. The video of that lecture was a huge internet sensation, so Randy decided to go more indepth into what he’s learned by writing a book. Full of wisdom and whimsy, this isn’t about looking at with regret at your choices, questioning decisions, and bemoaning his fate, but embracing every of life and finding the positives. It is a short, moving, encouraging, empowering, and devasting book that I think everyone should read.

Banvard’s Folly: Thirteen Tales of Renowned Obscurity, Famous Anonymity, and Rotten Luck by Paul Collins (2015)
Sometimes the most famous people of a certain time period will be forgotten to history (e.g. Kim Kardashian). This book explores 13 fascinating people who were at one time the most famous people on the planet.

The Paradox Of Choice: Why More Is Less by Larry Schwartz (2005)
Exploring the reasons we do what we do and don’t do what we don’t do seems an monumentally impossible task, but Larry aptly explores the various mechanisms at work in our daily life of choosing with thorough case studies and analytics. Fascinating and informative read.

Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers by Nick Offerman (2015)
I’m a fan of Offerman, and not just because he played Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation. I enjoy his vulgar and eloquent view of the world (usually). In this book Offerman explores the lives of 22 people who have influenced his life and work, such as George Washington, Jeff Tweedy, and Frederick Douglas. To my surprise and delight there is an entire chapter dedicated to one of my favorite authors, Wendell Berry, which alone made the book worth reading for me. Nick was able to to Berry’s farm and spend time with the solitary and private man and gives insight into his life unlike anyone has before. Delightful.

TV Shows

Narcos (Netflix)
Most everyone has heard of Pablo Escobar — the most successful, wealthy, and powerful drug lord in history. At the height of his power he made $60 million a day. A DAY. He also was responsible for killing thousands of people (who got in his way). The series manages to make Pablo sympathetic and compeling, pitting his ambitions to help his poor country (Colombia) against the political mandate of American interests in the FDA, in a mix of equal power-hungry violence and “win at all costs” machismo.

How We Got To Now (PBS/Netflix)
Sometimes the smallest and most mundane discoveries create an avalache of innovation. Steven Johnson helps narrate and lead us through those small moments that have lead human civilization to where it is today. A wonderfully fascinating and well-produced show.

The Last Man On Earth (FOX, Season 2)
If you haven’t watched this show. Stop reading and watch Season 1. One would think that being the last human alive would be depressing, but the show manages to always be hilarious and somewhat meloncholy as it follows the lonely life of Phil (Tandy) Miller as he survives in Tuscon.

Music

White Reaper, Does It Again

White Reaper: Does It Again
After watching “Difficult People” and loving the theme song (Half Bad), I then went on to find the awesome work of Louisville band White Reaper. This album is a really fun, lo-fi, energic, rock/punk album. Favorite track: On Your Mind

The Kickback: Sorry All Over The Place
I’m biased because this is a band that has roomed in the basement of our home several times as they toured the midwest. These guys from Chicago have put together a wonderfully diverse and melodic album of their song catalog in their first full album release. Favorite track: Sting’s Teacher Years

Ryan Adams: 1989
Everyone is talking about this album. Unlike most people, I’ve never listened to Taylor Swift’s album of the same name, so this was my first experience with the songs. In many ways this is everything you expect from Ryan Adams, nothing groundbreaking or unexpected and at times very underwhelming. Favorite track: Bad Blood

Widowspeak: All Yours
Somber, ethereal, and atmospheric pop music from this Brooklyn based duo. Favorite track: Stoned

Low: Ones and Sixes
This is the best album Low has released since Trust, staying true to their somber aesthetic while exploring new sonic territory. Favorite track: No End