June 2020 Playlist

The past few months have really taken a toll in innumerable ways, especially this past month. I hope the rest of the year has some better things in store for us, but while we wait, here’s some music to fit the BIG MOOD. (Either my personal mood or my interpretation of society’s mood as a whole… Not sure, actually.) Listen below or on my Spotify page. For more summery (and less moody) tunes, check out a previous June playlist here.

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Juneteenth Films

In honor of Juneteenth, I’ve put together a list of ten extraordinary films dealing with racism that are free to stream this month. Each is powerful, a cinematic achievement in its own right, and conveys important views about race in this country. Celebrate this weekend by continuing to learn about the Black experience.

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Somehow I hadn’t watched Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay (who also directed 13th and When They See Us on Netflix), until two weeks ago. Truly inspiring dramatization of the protest marches that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This movie is a good example of how art can be used to give the audience a new perspective. You can read about all of the events that occurred in this movie, but it’s hard to imagine much more than the result. Seeing those events acted out really emphasizes the endless cruelty and setbacks Black people had to endure at the time, which provides a better reflection on what Black people still experience today. I liked how MLK was portrayed as not just the hero he is, but as a regular human who had faults, doubts, and fears. This movie was another reminder of the importance of voting. People actually died fighting for that right. (And some continue to do so.) Free to rent on Amazon Prime through June 30.

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The Last Black Man in San Francisco follows a Black man reclaiming his childhood home, a now expensive Victorian house in a gentrified neighborhood of San Francisco. Gorgeous cinematography and powerful storytelling. Difficult to compare it to other movies. Gentrification has been increasing at such a high rate that many of us probably don’t think about it that much. But this movie forces us to consider the real effects it has on Black communities. Streaming indefinitely on Amazon Prime.

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In the Heat of the Night was one of the first major Hollywood films to feature a Black hero. Sidney Poitier plays a detective who must solve a murder and overcome prejudice in rural Mississippi. The film won a bunch of Oscars and remains on the American Film Institute’s top 100 list. I have a soft spot for movies from the 60s, but they obviously show hardly any diversity, so this one definitely stands out. Though the hero is a detective, the plot treats law enforcement as the complicated system it still is today. Most millenials probably don’t know that the quote “they call me Mister Tibbs!” comes from this movie and not The Lion King. Streaming on Amazon Prime through June 30.

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I generally despise YA books, but I have to give credit to The Hate U Give for teaching me something new and not completely annoying me with the first person teenage narrative. The protagonist witnesses the death of her Black friend at the hands of a police officer, and the story follows her fight for justice and reexamination of her own place in life. It prompted me to watch the movie version, which also does a great job of conveying the grief and confusion. What makes this most unique is probably the fact that it features a young, black, female perspective, which unfortunately is still uncommon in mainstream literature and film. Free to rent on Amazon Prime through June 30.

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American Son was based on the Broadway play, featuring the same four-person cast. (Wish I’d gotten to see the show live, but unfortunately it ran before I moved to NYC… Otherwise you know I would’ve seen it!) Kerry Washington plays a mother waiting at a police station, trying to locate her missing son. The movie feels a lot like a play, with essentially only a single scene, allowing for a more nuanced perspective on the struggles involved in raising a half-Black son in the U.S. today. The tension builds to a predictable ending, but the frustration, regret, and helplessness she portrays are the movie’s biggest takeaway. Streaming indefinitely on Netflix.

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Moonlight, a coming-of-age story about a gay Black man growing up in Miami, was the first film with an all-Black cast to win the Oscar for Best Picture. (Remember the awkward mix-up with La La Land…) It’s a little more “indie” than most of the others on this list, but undoubtedly beautiful. And A24 has been killing it lately, both in the mainstream and independent crowds. Streaming indefinitely on Netflix.

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I almost didn’t watch Just Mercy because the trailers alone made me cry every time I came across one, and I felt like I already got the gist from Googling the true story. But I’m glad I did because it was extremely inspiring, though also completely heartbreaking. The plot follows a Black man on death row, who appeals his murder conviction with the help of a young defense attorney. Highly recommend for lawyers, but also everyone else. Michael B. Jordan stars (along with Jamie Foxx), and I want to mention another important movie he is in, Fruitvale Station, which I couldn’t find for free, but is honestly worth renting. I also want to mention that the death penalty still exists in some parts of the country, and that is absolutely barbaric. This movie confirms that. Free to rent on Amazon Prime through June 30.

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Mudbound follows a white family and a Black family living on the same land in the Mississippi Delta post-WWII. As you can imagine, racist drama ensues. In addition, the story challenges preconceived notions about race and our role in tolerating or even encouraging racism. Though all of the movies on this list contain some level of violence (no surprise, considering everything that Black people have suffered through in American history…), this one has the most explicit scene. I guess that is a warning, but we are now at the point where if you don’t like seeing or thinking about it, imagine having to live it. Streaming indefinitely on Netflix.

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Blindspotting is the funniest movie on this list. But still pretty intense, since the plot follows a Black parolee with three days left on his sentence, who witnesses a police shooting and also has to deal with his white friend who is out of control in every sense of the phrase. A unique take for those who are interested in thinking more about the relationship between law enforcement and Black America. Free to rent on Amazon Prime through June 30.

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Written and directed by Barry Jenkins (who also directed Moonlight), If Beale Street Could Talk is based on James Baldwin’s book about a young expectant woman who tries to prove her lover’s innocence when he is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. Another film with excellent cinematography. Really makes you wonder who the “American dream” was actually meant for… Streaming indefinitely on Hulu.

March 2020 Playlist

I’m very fortunate in that my biggest personal concern regarding corona is all of the shows that have been canceled as a result. This may not seem like a big deal to some, but since I love music more than anything else in life, this is a huge blow. So here’s a playlist comprised of artists whose concerts I’ll be mourning. Listen below or on my Spotify page. For more spring tunes, check out previous March playlists here and here.

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In Good Hands

Corona’s got everyone washing their hands much more than usual, which is a good thing! But if you’re struggling with super dry skin as a result, here are my recommendations for the best hand creams, HANDS DOWN:

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The Yu-Be Moisturizing Body Lotion has been my go-to for years. It absorbs quickly and smells medicinal for about five minutes, which in my mind means it’s legit. There are other forms of Yu-Be that I haven’t tried, but I assume all of them work well.

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Cult classic Weleda Skin Food has recently gained popularity in the U.S., but it’s been a favorite in Europe for a while. This one’s amazing for dry skin, but I would classify it as a night cream. Super thick like cream cheese, so it takes a while to rub in. It also leaves the skin greasy, so I wouldn’t apply it right before leaving the house. I used to use it as a daily moisturizer on my face, since it’s cheap and hydrating. Smells somewhat herbal.

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L’Occitane Hand Cream is probably the most ubiquitous of the semi-luxurious brands. They claim that one tube is sold every three seconds around the world. Can’t go wrong with 20% shea butter and a nice, light scent.

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In my opinion, Eucerine Intensive Repair Lotion is the best drugstore brand. It heals a bunch of different skin issues, including very dry skin. I feel like pharmacists always recommend this. Used to keep a travel-size at my desk. Fragrance-free.

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The shape of this Chanel La Crème Main bottle is so cute. Would expect nothing less from the brand.

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This eos Intensive Hand Lotion is the more affordable version of the Chanel egg. Though it might be discontinued in drugstores…

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Once went through a phase where I only bought Yes To products, and I still use Yes To Coconut Hand & Cuticle Cream. Contains coconut oil, so it’s rich in nutrients and smells delightful.

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Randomly bought this Charleston Tea Plantation Glycerine Hand Therapy at their gift shop because the idea of a hand cream with tea leaves in it seemed unusual to me. But it actually works well as an overnight treatment, and I really like the scent.

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Imagine pulling this TONYMOLY Banana Hand Milk out of your purse!

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If you have an emergency situation on your hands (hehe!), I would double down with a “mask” therapy, such as these Aliver Hand Repair collagen-infused gloves. Wear them for 20 minutes and prepare to be amazed.

Stay Home and Read

While practicing social distancing by staying home, many people are reading more than they normally do, which I love! It was sad to see libraries close their doors (appropriately), but fortunately for our modern world, ebooks and audiobooks are easily accessible here (or through your local library’s website). Of course, fewer copies for a larger number of patrons means that you’ll probably need to wait a while for the most popular books. So here is a roundup of ten of my favorite older books. I checked several of the eight library systems I have access to and made sure that these books are readily available. Also, I excluded classics because most are in the public domain and available for free here (or somewhere on Google). If you haven’t already, add me on Goodreads!

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Come to the Edge by Christina Haag

Starting off with one of my favorite books of all time. This is a memoir by a woman who grew up with John F. Kennedy, Jr. before they dated seriously for five years. Her writing is incredibly eloquent, and she does an exquisite job of showing readers the complicated nature of their relationship, as well as their growth and self-discovery. I might be slightly biased because I love any story set in 1970’s New York. It always feels magical to me.

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Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

This is a modern literary masterpiece. An epic story with a fittingly nonepic quality (or maybe the other way around) from the points of view of two people in a marriage. It examines the many layers of relationships and solitude through flawless prose. I’m a slow reader, but this novel took me almost a year to finish because there was just so much to analyze in the details, not to mention the great emotional weight this book naturally projects. Prepare to be moved. I’m biased again because much of the story is set in New York and one of the protagonists is a playwright.

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Memories of my Melancholy Whores by Gabriel García Márquez

Not surprised that Love in the Time of Cholera is completely checked out everywhere, since “Love in the Time of Corona” is trending! Fortunately, everything Gabo writes is gold. I’m recommending this short novella, an elegantly written reflection on time, aging, and purpose. Márquez’s trademark magical realism brings characters and the setting to life. I found the translation stylistically perfect. Another stunning novella by Gabo that might be available through your e-library is Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

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The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank

Haven’t read this one in a while, but it used to be designated my “favorite” book. These short stories capture what it’s like for a young woman to come of age in the U.S. (specifically New York… again). Some would argue that The Girls’ Guide started the “chick lit” genre, but as a low key book snob I disagree. The writing is amazing, and I found the narrator to be hilarious. I used to feel deeply connected to the main character–curious, smart, and insightful, though now I think I should revisit the book just to make sure.

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A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

This novel is definitely the darkest and heaviest in subject matter, but equally rewarding. It’s a haunting story about the power of love during the Chechen-Russian conflict. Made me wonder if I could survive such difficult times without losing my own sense of humanity. Captivating language and richly fleshed-out characters. Honestly, I sometimes think my long-term memory is going down the drain because there are tons of books I’ve read from which I can’t remember a single detail… But there are several unforgettable scenes from this book that I remember vividly and think about often.

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My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

The more popular Rebecca is likely always checked out from e-libraries, but if you’re looking for a similarly gothic, romantic, psychological thriller, this novel is just as gripping. A grief-stricken young man meets the beautiful, mysterious widow of his recently deceased cousin who always wears black. What could go wrong? This sometimes dreamy, other times nightmarish, Downton-Abbey-meets-Hitchcock world kept me on my toes until the end of the story.

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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This is one of those books that every single person should read. I can’t recall an author who better describes the struggles of being black in America in a way that readers can relate to or at least understand. Coates weaves his personal experiences into a letter to his son that attempts to explain their historical burden. Not only is the subject matter timely, but the prose is equally captivating.

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The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

I’ve read this book a few times because it’s a quick read, but it always blows me away. There are several elements of surprise, so I won’t go into the plot. Just trust me when I say that this story of love, secrets, horror, and compassion in postwar Germany is compelling. The writing (translated) is simple, yet subtly pushes the boundaries of readers’ comfort in a brilliant way.

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American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

This is one of my favorite authors, and you might’ve read her more popular books, Prep or Eligible. But I think this novel is just as good, if not better. Sittenfeld researched historic First Ladies to inspire the complex protagonist of this story–a FLOTUS with secrets of her own. As usual, Sittenfeld’s writing is gorgeous as she creates a tale of class, race, and fate. I’d also recommend her most recent short story collection, You Think It, I’ll Say It, which might be available through your e-library.

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The Girls by Emma Cline

This novel lives up to the hype and the $2 million advance Cline scored as a result. In sum, a girl joins a cult similar to the Manson family, but incredibly, the sensational narrative doesn’t overwhelm the heart of the story–the protagonist’s curious, unceasing, strangely weary mind. There are so many ideas here that should’ve been difficult to carry out, but everything, from the language to the themes, feels very organic and never forced. I can’t think of a book that better portrays the endless nuances, subliminal influences, and quiet tragedy of being a young woman, both in the 70’s and today.