Our pop culture blogger Linda Holmes went to BookCon this past weekend, and she has some thoughts a fascinating and important cultural force: the Book Girls.

On the young end, they may only be 10 or 11; they remain demographically Book Girls at least through college. And they do, on a broad scale, seen in large groups, seem to emerge as a type that is in a sense unfair to all of them but feels like a weighted average: They dress for comfort; they pull their hair back. They move in groups, they drink iced coffee, they talk about podcasts, I secretly suspect as I eyeball their earbuds that all their music is playlists, and they read all the time. They have The Fault In Our Stars shirts that say “Okay” and “Okay” in word balloons, they are very glad Harry and Hermione never got together because that would have been terribly reductive, and they consider power and individuality to be topics for books that are at least as important as kissing.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I want to be Linda Holmes when I grow up.

– Petra

This wasn’t just a story about Peggy getting a boyfriend; it was a story about Peggy getting free of trying to emotionally connect with Don Draper, which she’s been trying to do since the pilot. It was a story about Peggy stepping away from a relationship from which she gets nothing to make room for a relationship from which she gets something. Stan started out as a jerk, but Don stayed a jerk. Learning to stop throwing good emotional money after bad is one of the most important elements of adulthood; despite its cinematic-swoon elements, this was more than met the eye: it wasn’t just a story about getting what you’ve always dreamed of. It was just as much a story about when to give up.

Every year, there is a capricious quality to the nominations that makes it difficult to draw any particular meaning from them, but there are likely to be a few discussion points floating around today in the wake of these announcements.

  • Even for the Oscars — even for the Oscars — this is a really, really lot of white people. Every nominated actor in Lead and Supporting categories — 20 actors in all — is white.
  • Every nominated director is male. Every nominated screenwriter is male.
  • Shall we look at story? Every Best Picture nominee here is predominantly about a man or a couple of men, and seven of the eight are about white men, several of whom have similar sort of “complicated genius” profiles, whether they’re real or fictional.
  • Particularly in light of these two points, the lack of a Best Director nomination for DuVernay (nominations went to Alejandro González Iñárritu for Birdman, Linklater, Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher, Wes Anderson and Morten Tyldum) is a disappointment not only for those who admired the film and her careful work behind the camera, but also for those who see her as a figure of hope, considering how rare it is for even films about civil rights to have black directors, and how rare it is for any high-profile project at all to be directed by a woman. Scarcity of opportunity tends to breed much lower tolerance for the whimsical sense that nominations normally have, so that even people who know better than to take Oscar voting to heart feel the sting of what seems like a deliberate snub. (While the film has been criticized for the places were it takes liberties with facts, that issue doesn’t comfortably explain any challenges it faces with voters, given the welcoming of The Imitation Game and Foxcatcher, both of which have been criticized for substantial alterations to the stories of not supporting characters but principal characters.)
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At The Oscar Nominations, It’s A Good Year To Be An Idiosyncratic Man

Photo credit: Atsushi Nishijima/Fox Searchlight


We love Slaughterhouse 90210 – and Monkey See’s Linda Holmes is here to tell you why!

This book is a real live cultural argument and, for me, an important one, inventively made. It is an argument, presented with blunt evidence rather than explanation, that works of what we consider high and low culture can not only be appreciated by the same people (a tiff we’ve been having in the cultural criticism world for quite a while now), but can be placed in direct conversation with each other.

Find the rest of Linda’s excellent essay here.

– Petra


Congratulations to Gene Luen Yang on being named the Library of Congress’s new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature! Comics critic (and Pop Culture Happy Hour panelist) Glen Weldon has Thoughts about his, and they are Weighty and Fascinating:

Yang’s selection signals an important shift in a decades-old war over the role of comics in education in general and literacy in particular.

Every since the 1930s, when they first burst onto the American literary landscape in all their gleefully garish four-color glory, the battle lines over comics were clearly defined.

Kids loved ‘em; teachers and parents hated 'em. (See also: television, rock and roll, rap, video games, emojis.)

Gonna go re-read American Born Chinese, because it is SO GOOD.

– Petra

If you watch the film The Martian, you’ll see Hollywood explosions and special effects galore, but you’ll also see some serious science.

“The Martian has almost all of its technical details correct,” says Robert Zubrin, the head of The Mars Society, which advocates sending people to explore the planet. Zubrin, who has written nonfiction and fiction books about going to Mars, points out there have been many other accurate books written about missions to Mars. What makes The Martian special he says, is its simple man-versus-nature plot. “It’s about one person, one human mind, one human heart,” he says.

How ‘The Martian’ Became A Science Love Story

Photo: Giles Keyte/EPKTV

Before he made it big in Holloywood, actor, writer and comedian Patton Oswalt was a junkie — addicted to movies, as he explains in a new memoir, Silver Screen Fiend.

The word addiction gets thrown around a lot, but Oswalt tells NPR’s Arun Rath that his relationship to movies was downright pathological.

“If you’re looking at the definition of addiction, it controls your schedule, it controls your life, it affects your relationships, it affects your job, it affects your career,” Oswalt says. “My compulsion to go see every single movie that I possibly could operated exactly the way that an addiction does.”

One year in the 1990s, he saw over 250 films just in theaters — plus more on videotape and on Turner Classic Movies. “It was really biting hours and days out of my life,” he says.

Our own Linda Holmes has this to say about Silver Screen Fiend:

Perhaps it’s surprising that one of the best things about Silver Screen Fiend is that Oswalt doesn’t always seem very likable in it. The easiest way to enjoy a memoir, at times, is when it makes a famous person seem like an awesome best friend you’d love to have. Patton Oswalt, on the other hand, in his own stories, can seem not just prickly, but full of explanations of things he’s learned to rise above: hack comedy by people who are successful but untalented, inferior art, boring people, uncool venues (“giggle-shack” is his most devastating putdown). The book is not an argument for his personable nature, as books by famous people often are. 

You can find Oswalt’s interview with Arun Rath here, and Linda’s essay here.

– Petra

The Wire involved just as much death, and was just as brilliant and just as brutal. But The Wire was largely uninterested in the morality of individuals; it was interested in the morality of systems: How do schools do violence? How do prisons? How do governments and economies? If anything, The Wire believed that the morality or immorality of the system was always both more socially important and more narratively consequential than the morality of any one person. Even a good boy became a killer; even a good cop became corrupt.

Breaking Bad is the same kind of intense examination of right and wrong, but on a personal level, and the deaths do a lot of the work. Over the course of the series after he kills these two men, Walt will sit with his conscience again and again, and he will find its leaky valves again and again, and he will give himself permission to ignore it, then conclude it’s a weakness, then stop hearing it speak at all.

My daughter is seven, and some of the other second-grade parents complain that their children don’t read for pleasure. When I visit their homes, the children’s rooms are crammed with expensive books, but the parent’s rooms are empty. Those children do not see their parents reading… By contrast, when I walk into an apartment with books on the shelves, books on the bedside tables, books on the floor, and books on the toilet tank, then I know what I would see if I opened the door that says ‘PRIVATE–GROWNUPS KEEP OUT’: a child sprawled on the bed, reading.
—  Anne Fadiman, Ex Libris

Tina is weird. She’s a nervous, idiosyncratic teenager, visibly experiencing the miseries of puberty. She likes horses and describes her relationship with zombies as “complicated.” She sports thick-rimmed glasses and plain clothes. At first glance, Tina might not seem all that unusual. But Tina has a lot going on. When she isn’t working in the restaurant or looking after her younger siblings, she might be pursuing the affection of Jimmy Pesto, Jr., penning another volume of her signature “Erotic Friend Fiction,” or daydreaming about men’s butts.

Most animated sitcoms have ugly histories when it comes to female characters. Women are frequently there to be mocked or to represent men’s sexual desires. But instead of using Tina as an arbitrary tool for cheap laughs, the writers of Bob’s Burgers –– several of whom are women –– have given audiences the opportunity to see adolescence through the lens of a central female character. The show, in fact, embraces Tina’s own sexuality for all its uncomfortable awkwardness.

In the show’s four seasons, Tina has become a fan favorite — and she’s in good company, too. Bob’s Burgers features a number of well-rounded female characters who are clever, strong and entertaining. And in that, the show is progressive without being straightforwardly political.