What I’m reading: July 2022

Some bite-sized thoughts and reflections on the items I’ve been reading, listening to, or watching this month.

Also: Did you read, watch, listen to, play something this month that you particularly enjoyed? Feel free to share in the comments! I’m always looking for recommendations.

Note: This post contains potentially spoiler-y information for the Who? Weekly podcast and the Normal Gossip podcast, and major spoilers for Thor: Love and Thunder, Obi-Wan Kenobi (TV series), and The Summer I Turned Pretty (TV series).

What I’m reading

Okay, so I spent some time on vacation recently and while I did do some reading for fun, I’m not far enough along in any of those books to write about them yet. I’m also still doing some reading for my research on creative writing pedagogy and there are a few things I might talk about next month. But for this month, my focus was more on listening and watching things for fun, so that’s most of what you’ll see here.

What I’m listening to for fun

Who? Weekly podcast: A few months ago, I became a bit obsessed with a new podcast called Normal Gossip. If you’ve never heard of it, Normal Gossip is basically what it says on the tin: low stakes gossip from normal everyday people, told in anonymized form by the show’s host (Kelsey McKinney) to a rotating roster of guests, who react to the gossip in real time. Two of McKinney’s guests in the most recent season were Bobby Finger and Lindsey Weber, the hosts of Who? Weekly. I’d heard of Who? Weekly in the past and even tried to listen to it a few times, I think back when it was just starting out. I never got into it then but a craving for further gossip while waiting for the next season of NG paired with an enjoyment of Lindsey and Bobby as guests on that show led me to check it out again. The premise of Who? Weekly is basically that it’s gossip about (or, sometimes, a primer on) people who are famous but, like, not that famous. The first episode I listened to recently, for example, covered Jeremy Allen White (formerly of Shameless, currently of The Bear) as one of its subjects. Personally, I’m not someone who likes knowing too much about the famous people whose work I like. Like some people deliberately avoid spoilers, I deliberately avoid information about the personal lives of the celebrities I like because this information always interferes with my ability to enjoy their work for its own sake. Which is to say, inconsequential but mildly interesting trivia about them is okay but I avoid gossipy celebrity news and celebrities’ social media like the plague because I really just don’t want to know what they’re like as “real” people. So you’d think when it comes to a show like Who? Weekly, I’d be running in the opposite direction. Sometimes I do learn things from the show that I kind of wish I didn’t know but it’s also kind of fun to get a little too involved in some of these celebrity dramas, some of which are not low stakes for the people involved but feel low stakes to me because I am not a famous person with famous person problems. For example, the recent recasting of the main role in Funny Girl on Broadway is a story I would have paid almost no attention to before coming to Who? Weekly (I had seen the headlines but not thought anything of them) but I still got pretty wrapped up in listening to the hosts of Who? Weekly react to the news in real time. I’m not sure that it’s necessarily a good or noble thing that I suddenly have opinions about a Broadway show I will almost certainly never see, but I feel like Who? Weekly is a good way to feel like a part of the drama while also avoiding getting sucked into the outrage machine that is social media. It’s a fun listen that is helping to tide me over until Normal Gossip comes back.

What I’m watching for fun

Thor: Love and Thunder: After watching Our Flag Means Death a few months ago, I spent some time working my way through Taika Waititi’s acting/directing/writing/producing oeuvre, including Boy, the movie version of What We Do in the Shadows, The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Jojo Rabbit, and (because I was extremely bored one day and it was streaming on the app I happened to have open) Free Guy. I have also taken the time since then to watch Flight of the Conchords and the first season of Reservation Dogs. So while I wouldn’t call myself a Taika Waititi expert at this point, I am much more familiar with his body of work now than I was when I watched Thor: Ragnarok. (Or Our Flag Means Death, for that matter.) Based on this information, you could say that my expectations going into Thor: Love and Thunder were a little more fully formed than they were going into the previous Thor movie. Which I knew ahead of time was going to prove to be kind of a bad thing because the whole reason Thor: Ragnarok worked as well as it did was because it was so unexpected, especially when taking into consideration the first two Thor movies. It would have been pretty amazing if Thor: Love and Thunder was able to pull off the same trick. The fact that it didn’t is something I have a hard time holding against the movie itself, which is fun and dumb and filled with humor that works as often as it doesn’t. (The screaming goats killed me, though. Every time. It’s entirely possible that I’m alone in that.) I did like that the movie is reasonably coherent/cohesive in terms of plot: it’s easy to understand what the villain’s motivation is and (at least in a basic sense) why the heroes are going after him. I also liked that this movie got to showcase Waititi’s apparent enjoyment of/talent for working with child actors, who are often a big part of his other movies. My main complaint with the movie has more to do with a theme I’ve been noticing in a lot of MCU stuff lately where partnership and/or parenthood are portrayed as a non-negotiable requirement for a complete and/or meaningful life. The fact that this entire movie ultimately builds up to Thor solving all of his problems by becoming an adoptive parent to Gorr’s daughter just seems so…I don’t know. Regressive. Especially when considered in the context of the second Doctor Strange movie where Wanda, an all-powerful witch, is reduced to a crazy bitch who just wants to be a mother. And, of course, the classic infertile woman = monster equation from Avengers 2.(1) And I’d be lying if I said some of my feelings about this weren’t tied up in the whole recent Roe v. Wade thing, which I recognize is not entirely fair to the movie. But still. Is this my favorite Thor movie? No. Is it my favorite Taika Waititi movie? Hell no. (That’s Boy, in case you’re wondering.) Is it better than Free Guy? Yes.(2) Am I ecstatic that Our Flag Means Death(3) is getting a second season even though it couldn’t possibly be as good as the first? More than anything.

The Summer I Turned Pretty on Amazon Prime: When the first To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before movie came out on Netflix a while back, I was among the many adults who got swept up in the story even though I knew I was too old to be watching movies about teen romance. I’ve watched it a few times since then and I still kind of love it. (The sequels, a bit less so.) So when I read a review of The Summer I Turned Pretty that said it was based on a different YA book by Jenny Han, the same author who wrote the book version of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I thought it was at least worth checking out. Plus, I was already mentally shifting into vacation mode ahead of some out of office time in early July and thought this would be good for that purpose as well. So I watched the series and, well. I’d read the reviews so I knew the general tone of the series was different from To All the Boys but where To All the Boys is sweet and funny and romantic, this is much more a coming of age story about what you slowly start to understand is likely to be the last summer of the main character’s childhood. The plot is that Belly (short for Isabelle) spends each summer at a massive beach house with her parents and her brother and the family of her mother’s best friend. Her mother’s best friend happens to have two sons. Historically, the boys and Belly have always had something of a sibling relationship but a few years ago, Belly developed an unrequited crush on the older one, Conrad. This summer, as the title suggests, Belly has gone through something of a transformation. (Meaning she got rid of her braces and started wearing contacts because all stories like this must equate having glasses and braces as being ugly or not confident.) Her hope is that Conrad will now notice her but in the time since she saw him last, Conrad seems to have turned into kind of a brooding jerk. Meanwhile, the younger brother (Jeremiah) has developed an interest in her and there’s also a local boy named Cameron sniffing around. If this was a sweet and funny story like To All the Boys, I would have no complaints about any of this. But the tone is more sentimental and sometimes even melancholy and the interactions between Belly and all the other kids her age gave me bad flashbacks to actually being that age, which I did not enjoy. There’s also a reveal at the end of the third episode that I personally could have used some warning about ahead of time (see note 4 below for more info, if you’re not worried about spoilers). Frankly, I probably would not have chosen to watch the show if I knew about this plot development ahead of time and once it happened, I had to seriously think about whether or not I wanted to keep going. I did and I don’t regret it but I felt like from that point onward it was necessary for me to hold myself at a bit of an emotional distance from the show and from the characters. This definitely wasn’t the light, romantic summer fun that I was expecting (or that the show is being marketed as) but if you know that going in, you might enjoy it more than I did.

Obi-Wan Kenobi on Disney Plus: Star Wars: The Phantom Menace came out when I was in middle school and I remember going to see it in the theater with my family, seeing Ewan McGregor playing Obi-Wan Kenobi and being like, “Ooh, who’s that?” I went home and immediately devoured pretty much everything he’d ever been in up to that point, much of which (e.g. Trainspotting and Velvet Goldmine) I was probably a little too young for at the time. What followed was a years-long crush that resulted in not one but two separate groups of people who do not know each other making, at separate times in my life, framed, poster-sized collages of Ewan McGregor pictures printed from the internet in full color. That crush eventually faded and my interest in Star Wars has definitely waned in recent years thanks to the toxic fandom surrounding it and the extreme feeling of “meh” that every single one of the newer movies and series produced during the Disney era of Star Wars has inspired in me. Still, I tuned into Obi-Wan Kenobi and I have to admit that at least for the first episode, it was kind of a fun trip down memory lane. Which is to say, I actually really liked the first episode. I thought it did a great job of conveying the loneliness and precariousness of Obi-Wan’s existence on Tatooine, watching over Luke as he’s growing up. And for the two seconds I thought the plot was going to be Obi-Wan having to help a fellow former Jedi stay hidden during a time when they’re being hunted by the Empire, I was all for it. Then that guy quickly got dispatched and we were introduced instead to Baby Leia. I was still intrigued because the show does make a point of calling out Obi-Wan for spending so much time protecting Luke when Leia is just as important. And the actress who plays the young Leia does a good job of conveying “young” versions of the qualities later exhibited by the adult Leia. But then the show turned into yet another Star Wars story where yet another grizzled guy has to protect yet another special young person from yet another Empire bad guy and frankly I lost interest. We’ve seen this before. So many times. It’s literally the same thing over and over again. Doesn’t Star Wars have any new or different stories to tell? I hope so, because I’m pretty interested in the Cassian Andor series starring Diego Luna that’s supposed to be coming out at the end of August. But I feel like that’s probably the last chance I’m going to give this universe which seems to have sacrificed creativity and imagination for the sake of making money off of familiar IP. You could say the same thing about what Disney is doing with Marvel but at least Marvel takes risks every now and then, some which pay off and some which don’t (see above take on Thor: Love and Thunder). Despite the rich possibilities in its vast universe, Star Wars is starting too feel too much like “content” and not enough like story. Say what you will about the prequels: at least there was a story there.


1. I know. That bit of dialogue is part of a larger conversation that’s not actually about that but the point is still made, even if it’s unintentional.
2. A movie Taika Waititi neither wrote nor directed but still appears in as a douchey villain whose crime is…intellectual property theft. He’s the type of character you know is a genius because the other characters in the movie constantly remind you that this is the case even though he is never seen doing anything remotely smart. I would classify both Thor: Love and Thunder and Free Guy as dumb fun but would differentiate by saying Thor: Love and Thunder is more fun than it is dumb and Free Guy is more dumb than it is fun. That’s it. That’s my whole take.
3. Which was actually created by David Jenkins, in case you thought I didn’t know that since I’m talking so much about Taika Waititi here.
4. One of the moms is dying of cancer and she spends most of the series hiding it from everyone except the other mom. I have a very hard time with stories about dying parents and even though it was obvious something was up with the mom in question from the start and that this was the cause of Conrad’s brooding angstiness (because he knows what’s going on even though he isn’t supposed to), I felt a bit betrayed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s