A Little of This, A Little of That

Instead of writing a full review this week (i.e. I couldn’t figure out what to write about), today I’ll be sharing a few of the things I’m reading and watching right now.


Kinsey Millhone Mystery Series by Sue Grafton


Sue Grafton started her alphabet mystery series in 1987 with A is for Alibi.  She published Y is for Yesterday in 2017, a few months before she passed away.  But all the adventures of Kinsey Millhone, the private investigator at the center of the series, take place entirely in the 80s. This is by Grafton’s design, as she often said many of the detecting techniques Kinsey would employ to solve mysteries would be unnecessary in the age of the internet.  


I’ve been reading Grafton’s mysteries almost as long as she has been publishing, putting them down and picking them up again over the years.  I’ve always enjoyed Kinsey’s clear-headed competence, tenacity, gentle rule-breaking, and love of quarter pounders with cheese.  I just started “X” and with only one more book to follow I feel like I should pump the brakes so I don’t burn through that last couple of installments too quickly.


I wouldn’t classify these books as“cozy” mysteries, because there is definitely some violence, but nevertheless I do find it comforting to spend time with Kinsey, her neighbor/landlord Henry and greater Santa Teresa (fictional) where they live.  Throughout all the books, Kinsey is snarky but not too cynical, and that makes her good company.  Although there are a few loosely ongoing story arcs, you can generally pick up any of these books as a stand alone.  And while not the first in the series, I think B is for Burglar* is a great place to start.  That book really cooks.


Anti-Diet:  Why Obsessing Over What You Eat is Bad for Your Health* by Christy Harrison, MPH, RD


I’m about halfway through this read and am finding it fascinating.  Harrison’s premise is that diet culture is “...a system of beliefs that equates thinness, muscularity, and particular body shapes with health and moral virtue...”.  Diet culture is so pervasive (especially in Western society) that it can be almost invisible in its influence.  And this is all despite the fact that studies have shown that “...well over 90% of people who manage to lose weight regain it within five years.”  So why does diet culture persist? Harrison outlines a number of compelling reasons, not least of which is the fact that the diet industry is worth over $70 billion annually.  


I got hooked on what Harrison had to say pretty early on, when she described her work environment at Gourmet magazine.  “There I was surrounded mostly by people who had peaceful relationships with food...”. (!!!!)  I had never looked at the way we eat and relate to food through that lens, but of course for so many people it’s like a war, charged with constant value statements like “I’m trying to be good today so I can’t have that cupcake”.  So far this book has offered some valuable ways to reframe this conversation, and I’m looking forward to finishing and potentially writing a full review in the future.


The Great (An occasionally true story) on Hulu.


Before the opening credits of each episode, you see that The Great is rated TV-MA, for mature audiences only. And they aren’t kidding.  This mostly fictional, ten-episode series about Peter III (emperor of Russia) and the woman who will become Catherine the Great, is profane, crude, occasionally violent and darkly satirical. I’ve watched a LOT of cable television through the years and still I often found myself gasping in shock at something said or done on this show.  It is decidedly not for everyone.  I’m hooked though - the show is full of complicated characters (both female and male), political intrigue and a lot of surprised laughter from the audacity of the players’ words and actions. The series is also anchored by two outstanding performances.  Elle Fanning (of the Maleficent movies and many other credits through the years, starting in early childhood) plays Catherine as romantic and naive, growing more cunning but not less optimistic as time goes on.  As a woman trying to upend the patriarchy, she spends a lot of time concealing her true emotions behind a smile or a compliment, and somehow Fanning manages to do so with a million different, often hilarious, expressions. Nicholas Hoult (who also started as a child actor, and has recently been in several X-Men installments as well as The Favourite, written by the creator of The Great) plays Peter as an unfiltered, uncensored id most of the time. I’d credit him with some of the most shocking lines on the show and, not coincidentally, some of the biggest laughs. He’s primarily in an antagonistic role here, and behaves appallingly for much of the run time.  And yet Hoult manages to create some depth and layers to Peter which I would have considered impossible based on the first episode.  


Episodes are about 50 minutes each in its first season, and The Great has been reviewed for Season Two.  I’d compare it to pieces like Avenue Q or Book of Mormon. It’s full of outrageous behavior, “I can’t believe they did that” moments, and is thoroughly, brilliantly entertaining.  If you want to know more to decide if The Great is for you, hit me up at winpopcultureconcierge at gmail dot com.


Hair Love (2020 Oscar-winning animated short film)


This film is only five minutes long and it’s fun to just watch it unfold so all I’ll say is that it is a mostly wordless vignette showing a dad trying to help his daughter do her hair.  It is charming, and the story continues over the closing credits.  You can watch it for free here.


I’ll be back with a full review on ...something...  next week.  In the meantime, I’ll be watching “Guns and Ships” from Hamilton over and over until I can perfect Lafayette’s table jump.  

*Disclosure:  I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org  and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase of the books I've linked to here.