Feel Good

6 x 25

This had me feeling awfully tender; not solely because I recognise everything the main characters experience, but mostly because the camera never turns away. You never get a break from emotions, fights and awkwardness.

Feel Good posterFor a show that’s easy to summarise, it’s not easy to review. I liked it, a lot. The story of a young woman struggling with gender identity and addiction, romance and family and being a comedian in the way that Hannah Gadsby is one – way too honest. Protagonist and creator Mae Martin added (some) biographical elements to the show as well, which might another layer of discomfort.

It’s the lack of heaviness that just makes it all more genuine and heartfelt. No musical clues about how to feel, not a lot of explanatory dialogue, just Mae and her girlfriend stumbling through life while you try to get them into a different direction.

Still, it’s sweet, and funny. There’s not fanfare or shoulder-pats about showing and discussing Big Subjects – they just happen to be the elephants in the room that have to be discussed.

Maybe not for everybody, but definitely for those that are always interested in the human connection.

Feel Good, Netflix 2020

 

Wanda Sykes: Not Normal

66 min.

I’m not a fan of comedians and their shows. Usually it’s too long, and there’s too much secondhand embarrassment to balance out the funny parts. I rejected several of the recommended shows on Netflix: some I couldn’t even handle for ten minutes. But I was cleaning up my list, this was the last remaining one – okay, I’ll try it.

Wanda SykesThe last comedian show I watched on Netflix was Hannah Gadsby’s. There’s barely no comparing here, which is good for both parties involved.

Wanda Sykes is about American politics and her personal life as a wife, a mother and a woman going through menopause. It’s stone cold sober with a large amount of questions: not very strange considering the subjects.

My biggest relief was that she doesn’t do the thing most male comedians do: wait for laughter. Sykes doesn’t go out with the aim of Being Hilarious – it’s her story telling and her subjects that make you snort.

And talking about length? I only checked how much time I had left once.

Wanda Sykes: Not Normal, Netflix 2019

This is Going to Hurt

In 2010, after six years of training and a further six years on the wards, I resigned from my job as a junior doctor.

There’s very little joy to be found here, but heck – even the title tells you that. Besides that, it’s non-fiction and about the NHS (Britain’s national health). Even if you don’t know anything about that subject, the sum of these must ring a small alarm bell.

Adam Kay isn’t a doctor anymore, and these are his diary notes that have led up to that decision. Mostly it’s terribly politics and how hospitals deal with it, but patients don’t go scot-free either. This way even the awkward giggles feel bad because there’s lives at stake here and only those that can’t do anything about it, seem to care.

There are bits when Adam sounds a bit too full of himself, and maybe some more background would be nice, but this is a man’s personal story. Use it as motivation to do your own background research. If you’re sure that you want to know more about the state NHS is in, anyway.

This is Going to Hurt, Adam Kay, Picador 2017

Invisible Women

Most of recorded human history is one big data gap.

Good gravy, just when you thought you already knew, things turn out to be so much worse. Next to a sexist gap in pay, safety and health there is a huge one in the thing that drives pretty  much all of society: data.

Why is the default ‘he’? Why is there still a riddle about a doctor whose husband died, and why do too many people involved with design viewing women as ‘men with boobs’? Well, because societies worldwide have made it so, and not enough people in powerful positions protest it. And it turns out to be lethal for women.

Invisible Women isn’t particularly uplifting material: there’s just so many numbers and anecdotes on things that went wrong and are going wrong and men not giving a damn about it. How do we rally for change when the entire history of humanity is against us?

Because in some cases and in some countries things have changed and are changing. And you can never change something you don’t know anything about. And because it might save your life to know.

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Caroline Criado Perez, Abrams Press 2019

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Let me begin again.

Golly gosh, how to explain this? It’s a memoir, it’s a fever dream, it’s an obituary – maybe? And did I like all of it, any of it, only the parts that I read at night? It was, in a way, beautiful, though. A kind of experience hard to put into words.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is one of those titles that seem to be singing around in ‘Serious Reader’ circles for a while. It’s not loud enough to feel like it’s been hyped, nor is a celebrity book club attached, but there is the vibe of “Haven’t you read it yet?” around it. To me, anyway.

Ocean Vuong wrote poetry before, and it shows in his descriptions, his look on life, how it feels like he weighed every word before putting it down. It’s in juxtaposition with the subjects he writes down: the suffering of his grandmother and mother, the lack of family, being an immigrant child, being the only different one while growing up. All of it feels absolutely anchor-less.

Can you have an opinion about something that runs through your mind like sand through your hands? I’m sure you can, but I’m just going to stick with ‘an experience’ and a weird feeling of honour that Vuong allowed you in.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong, Penguin Random House 2019

Year of Yes

When it was first suggested to me that I write about this year, my first instinct was to say no.

Hmmmm…

I kind of feel like I have to approve of this book solely because of the achievements of the person that wrote it. And Shonda Rhimes achieved a lot, and well done to her and I hope she keeps on carrying on.

And maybe I should have been less surprised about the tone of the story with such a title. I mean, this is the second time this year I’ve been cuckolded by a book title. This isn’t completely a memoir, but it comes close it. Combine that with the subject (saying yes to more things, daring to live (a little)), and honestly – I could have seen this coming.

Of course, it’s interesting to learn about how much work Rhimes puts into everything, how determined she is and how she recognises what has to be done to get where she wants to go.

It’s kind of a chicken-or-the-egg thing: is she ‘American Dream rah-rah’ because of what she accomplished or did she accomplish what she did because she’s ‘American Dream rah-rah’?

In the end, have I decided to be infected by her yes-saying? Maybe. Temporarily. Mostly I’m still stuck on all the ways in which she describes herself, her thoughts and her actions.

Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes, Simon & Schuster 2015

The Square

108 min.

Het is alweer bijna tien jaar geleden dat Egyptenaren Tahrir square overnamen in de hoop op een revolutie die naar een betere samenleving zou leiden. In deze documentaire wordt zichtbaar hoe dat ging, en hoe dat fout ging.

the square posterWat ook nadrukkelijk zichtbaar wordt, is wat wij hier allemaal maar aannemen als gewoon, en dat niemand van de gefilmde protesteerders om veel vragen. Men wilt geen basisinkomen, gratis elektrische auto of luxe appartement in het centrum van de stad. Nee, de Egyptenaren vragen om brood, gelijkheid, de kans om als een eervol lid van de maatschappij beschouwd te worden, in plaats van steeds maar weer omlaag getrapt te worden. Ze vragen om een einde van corruptie.

Naarmate de revolutie verloopt, zie je ook de naïviteit langzaam verdwijnen. Zó’n verenigd blok zijn de mensen ook weer niet, en sommigen kiezen de makkelijkste weg in plaats van de meest hoopvolle. Maar ook hier het punt: makkelijk oordelen vanuit onze veilige invalshoek.

Mensen zijn vermoord door de overheid die hen zou moeten beschermen, omdat ze om beter vroegen. Maar een klein beetje beter. The Square draait daar niet omheen en weigert ook andere partijen de schuld kwijt te schelden. Het is een verlammende documentaire; deze geschiedenis is nog zo recent en alweer zo ver vergeten door hen die er geen onderdeel van zijn.

‘Viva la revolucion’ wereldwijd, zolang ze maar te behappen is. Want wie weet nu hoe het tegenwoordig in Egypte is?

The Square, Netflix 2013

Ons soort Amerika

Ik heb de verkeerde kinderwagen gekocht.

Pfwa, maar weer bewijs dat je niet altijd de recensies moet geloven. Aan de andere kant: props voor de recensie die dit boek zo aantrekkelijk maakte. Net alsof niet iedereen het kan (ij .red).

Nu is elke recensie persoonlijk, hoe professioneel dan ook. Misschien was het niet meeslepend voor mij omdat ik geen witte man en vader ben, en zelf ook onderdeel van het Amerikaans dagelijks leven ben geweest. Misschien heb ik over de delen heen gelezen die ik verwachtte (lekker Amerikaanse aapjes kijken) omdat ik op den duur een beetje ‘zoned out’ raakte door weer een hoofdstuk dat begon met hem achter de kinderwagen.

Aan het einde van het boek vraagt Anton zich niet af waarom hij niet meer heeft gedaan, en ik ook. Met twee jonge kinderen is er niet de vrijheid om á la Leaving Las Vegas los te gaan in de VS, maar deze man is niet verder gekomen dan de koffiezaak.

Ik vermoed dat de ‘ons’ uit de titel de witte bevolking van Cambridge is. Wat zij van Amerika vinden – op wat wegwerpzinnen na – is na 200 pagina’s niet bepaald uitgediept.

Ons soort Amerika, Anton Stolwijk, Prometheus 2018

Spotlight

129 min.

Great fun, a film about child abuse in the catholic church! And it’s based on true facts, yay! It’s a crude introduction to a subject one doesn’t enjoy thinking about, which was precisely the problem in this real life case: too many people shoving it under the carpet.

film poster spotlightEven the Boston Globe, the newspaper that unearths the story and publishes it, isn’t free from blame. The catholic church is a powerful monolith, Boston is a catholic filled city, churches are everywhere. To stick to the theme: Goliath was easily found, but was David even going to show up?

Spotlight isn’t a quick, bright film, it shows how (research) journalism and a newspaper work(/used to work) and how much time such a thing takes. As a retired journalist it was bittersweet to watch, for those that don’t have that connection it might be a look behind the curtains of what so many people already view as history.

I watched it in two parts, you could even watch it in four if your life is so serialised. Either way, it’s a story worth remembering or discovering. Both for the subject and the process.

Spotlight, Anonymous Content 2015

Ananas

In mijn herinnering ging het als volgt.

Een non-fictie boek over ananas omdat de auteur liefdesverdriet heeft. Het is dat de recensies zo positief waren.

Want wat weet je nu eigenlijk van ananas en wat zou je willen weten? Hoe vul je er een paar honderd pagina’s mee? Vrij eenvoudig, blijkt. Lex Boon besluit door een ananasplant de wereld rond te gaan reizen, en zo leer je niet alleen over de plant maar ook over verschillende culturen en werkomstandigheden.

Daarnaast passeren zijn romantische avonturen, die enigszins het tempo uit zijn reisverhalen halen. Misschien was de auteur te grondig, en heeft hij alles verteld over ananassen dat er te vertellen is. Dit doet hij wel op een aantrekkelijke manier; er is amper het gevoel van ‘studieboek’ dat nog wel eens met non-fictie kan begonnen.

Ik kan me moeilijk voorstellen dat iemand echt heel graag alles wilt weten over ananassen, maar voor hen – zoals ikzelf – die van tijd tot tijd graag een toegankelijk non-fictie boek leest, is Ananas een frisse optie.

Ananas, Lex Boon, Meulenhoff 2019