Friday, October 25, 2013


I've been catching up on some television watching and reading lately. There's so much good stuff out there!

First of all, I finally got into watching Downtown Abbey. And I totally see what all the fuss is about. (Although the development at the end of last season did leave me a bit miffed at Julian Fellowes. I get it - contract. But I was still pissed.)

Aside from their great cast (and Maggie Smith's amazing one-liners), I love the dedication to the period. The costumes, the location, the social situations. It's just fascinating and really, really well done. I'm all caught up and cannot WAIT to see what happens next.

I've also finally settled into watching all the back seasons of Mad Men on Netflix. O.M.G. First of all, I think I love this show because it's about the sales and marketing industry. This is very close to the work that I do, and I love seeing what campaigns Sterling Cooper's going to come up with next.

Secondly, much like Downtown Abbey, I love how this is a period piece that reflects the clothing, furniture, behavior, and social attitudes of a very specific time. I also love Don Draper as our antihero. He's interesting precisely because he has so many flaws. And from time to time, he'll do something so decent that the writers of this show convince you to keep giving him another chance. The tension there is fantastic.

I also recently finished reading This is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz. This book is a series of essays about young men and their experiences with love and loss. Some of the characters only appear in one essay, and we visit some of them several times, during different points in their lives. This construct allows us to see how previous experiences (including often turbulent family lives) have shaped their romantic interactions. (AKA "Everyone has baggage.") Diaz also explores traditional masculine and feminine roles, with one of the key through-lines being that we all want to be loved, no matter our past or our posturing. Though there are definitely some raunchy parts in this book (because, well, young men can be pretty raunchy), I really enjoyed it.

I also just finished Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart. Wow. Ok, this one is going to take a second to unpack. I would call is a dystopian futuristic novel, but we're not talking about Hunger Games here. It's more like Shteyngart has taken everything he sees in American society today, sharpened it, and moved it along a few decades.

In Shteyngart's New York of the future, everyone walks around with the apparati (the new smartphone) around their neck. Technological advances have made it almost the size of a pendant. The culture is even more obsessed with sex, youth and money, with data crawlers and algorithms constantly allowing users to compile information on those around them and rate them in real time. (ie. How hot is the girl who just walked into the bar? Not just based on how she looks, but based on everything she's shard about herself online and how the rest of the Internet has ranked her? Horrifying.) Credit poles spaced strategically around town show the world the credit ratings of passersby. Girls parade around in see-through jeans, and companies promise consumers dechronification treatments that can literally offer eternal life and eternal youth. The problem is, the American economy is crumbling. The nation is in hock to the Chinese, and the leaders of other big economic players are decoupling their economies from the United States'. (Not so far-fetched, is it?)

Against this dismal backdrop, our protagonist, Lenny Abramhov, meets Eunice Park. A May-December romance, their relationship gives both characters a chance to reexamine their lives and values. Ultimately, it makes them reevaluate themselves.

The modern day equivalent of an epistolary novel, the story is told completely through direct online messages and journal entries.

What stays with me about this book isn't the characters. (I didn't really like them, and it was hard for me to root for the relationship. It's obviously doomed from the start.) What I walked away with was Shteyngart's vision of America's future. It's completely chilling, and, sadly, it looks as though this is where we could be headed. Yikes. Worth a read.

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