Merriam-Webster defines “hook” as “a curved or bent device for catching, holding, or pulling” or “something intended to attract or ensnare.” Anyway, here is a bunch of content you should consume in your copious free time.
Historian by Lucy Dacus
I get it: the past year has been rough. Lorde is happy, so much so that her new album is just a big jam fest, but she seems to be about the only one who isn’t still experiencing some kind of low-level despair. Enter Lucy Dacus, one third of indie supergroup boygenius and expert at shoving a knife straight into your heart without warning. Her 2018 album Historian contains tracks of such emotional devastation that you’ll wonder whether you’ll ever recover from a breakup that you didn’t even go through. The loud guitars are pretty cool, too.
The Possessed by Elif Batuman
Named for a Dostoevsky novel whose title is usually translated as Demons, the premise of this essay collection basically boils down to the fact that the author was once in graduate school and has stories to tell about her introspection-laden path to an advanced degree. Sound boring? Well, for some it might be. I, however, an aspiring graduate student, could not get enough of it. If you ever wanted to learn more about the life of writer Isaac Babel or read about someone’s travel escapades throughout Russia and surrounding countries, or just wanted to vibe in the mind of a New Yorker staff writer before she became a New Yorker staff writer, this book is for you.
Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner
It’s reasonable to describe this book as a kind of analogue to The Possessed. Where Batuman’s essay collection concerns a graduate student who spends most of her time ruminating on the intersections of literature and life, Lerner’s novel concerns a poet on a fellowship to Spain. He is ostensibly there to write a long poem, but he ends up passing most of his time ruminating on the intersections of literature and life. That is, when he isn’t spending page after page worrying about his grasp of Spanish. This 181-page novel is so good that I read it twice last year, once in April and again in November, when I wanted to read but didn’t have the concentration for something long or new. I’ll probably read it again tonight, just for kicks.
Sounds like Me by Sara Bareilles
Do you like the music of Sara Bareilles? Same. Do you like the writing of Sara Bareilles? You don’t know? Well, let me be the first to tell you the news that Sara Bareilles, composer of dozens of lyrically rich songs in addition to a whole-ass musical, can also write quite a nice set of personal essays. This news is a surprise to exactly no one. Is she Elif Batuman level? Maybe not quite. But in this memoir-in-pieces, Bareilles weaves the stories behind her songs into the broader arc of her life with grace and skill. A must-read for anyone interested in the mind of a musician. Get the audiobook version, where she sings the lyrics quoted throughout the text. At the very least, the book will send you back to Spotify, having reminded you that you are long overdue for a solo karaoke session of “Little Black Dress.”
“Orpheus under the Influence” by Buttertones
Speaking of, I discovered this song when I was searching for Sara Bareilles’s song “Orpheus” from her 2019 masterpiece Amidst the Chaos. Instead, I found this fun little indie song with a vibe I would lovingly describe as surf-rock adjacent. The artist, Buttertones—described on Spotify as “one of L.A.’s tightest groups”—leaves it all on the court in this 2:14 long ode to every classicist’s favorite musician, in this instance apparently intoxicated. Watch out for that sweet, sweet rhythm change around mark 0:35, lest it take you off guard, cause you to look behind your shoulder, and bring about your early demise.
Pieces for the Left Hand by J. Robert Lennon
Written by the director of Cornell’s Creative Writing program, this collection contains one hundred short stories about life in a New York town, each of which is only a page or two long. Though each story stands alone, a similar tone and feel threads the individual stories into a cohesive collection, if not quite a full-on narrative. Some of the tales are funny and cheery; others are sad or even bleak. The best of them seem to encapsulate whole lives in the span of just a few hundred words. By the end of the book, you’ll be so moved by its contents that you’ll no longer confuse Professor Lennon with everyone’s second favorite Beatle.
High School Musical: The Musical: The Series
Simply put, this show is not good. Trust me, it’s not. Most of the characters fall somewhere on the spectrum of boring to annoying, and the interesting characters claim most of their appeal from their musical abilities. Most of the jokes are not funny, and the arc of the narrative is maddeningly inconsistent. But hear me out! There does exist, nestled in the depths of the show’s twenty-four-episode span, the occasional moment of brilliance. In these moments, we can glimpse the signs of the meta masterpiece that this show could have been. These moments occur just often enough to compel you to continue watching the show, the same way addicts keep hitting their Juuls in search of a miracle buzz long after their addiction has overtaken the power of millennial nicotine. Just like a Juul, this Disney+ series is probably not worth it, but when has that phrase ever stopped a precocious college kid like you?
Hue and Cry by James Alan McPherson
I found this book in Labyrinth last spring, where I always go straight to the sale tables to see what volumes are marked down. There’s no better bookshop experience than happening upon a random book whose title or author you don’t recognize but whose cover you nonetheless find intriguing. You pick up the copy, read the back, see who blurbed it (“Preface by Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Edward P. Jones? Nice!”), and check out the biography of the author. Studious connoisseur of literature that you are, you feel like you should have heard of James Alan McPherson by now, considering he, like Jones, also won the Pulitzer Prize, in addition to a Macarthur Genius Grant. After leafing through some of the stories, you quickly realize they’re the stuff of legend, the kind of stories that manage to talk meaningfully about social issues without neglecting their human center. You reconcile the shame of your ignorance with the excitement that always accompanies your discovery of new literature. Having synthesized these feelings into a newfound urge to log off Twitter completely to focus on your literary exploits, you run straight to the counter, purchase the book, and hole up in Chancellor Green until you’ve turned the last page.
“Spiderhunt” from New Girl
All I will say is that this episode of television is a great thing to watch for people in the state of New Jersey who are aged twenty-one or older and happen to find themselves away from a college campus that receives federal funding. Then and only then could I recommend that you get remarkably stoned before watching six thirty-somethings try to kill a spider they find roaming around a loft that no one on a teacher or bartender’s salary could ever afford.
“True Love Will Find You in the End” by Daniel Johnston
Will it? Such is the age-old question of lovesick youth everywhere. On one hand, it seems like everyone is unlucky in love. If true love is so common, why does the entire genre of country music exist to lament the singers’ amorous woes? Attempting to justify his title’s bold declaration, Daniel Johnston proffers one explanation: “This is a promise with a catch / Only if you’re looking for it can it find you.” Remember that next time you make the trek down to Charter Friday.