These people are behind many of my favorite things of August. From left to right: Lana Del Rey, Julio Torres, Jia Tolentino, Kieran Culkin. Illustration by me.

Here’s what I’ve been hard at work consuming in August!

  1. Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

I recently read Slouching Towards Bethlehem for the first time, and as I read Trick Mirror, comparisons to Joan Didion’s journalistic essays kept coming up in my mind. Both Didion and Tolentino are brilliant thinkers who bring a female gaze to news and pop culture criticism, spanning both the high and low, the personal and the political.

Being about the same age Tolentino, I found each one of her essays a very useful “mirror” for myself, especially as I think of corporate-fueled feminism and how it has shaped my sense of self. Her ultimate “trick” is the precise way she deconstructs irksome phenomena, like the performance of “imperfection” on Instagram or the brave, then bitter, female characters we’re given to emulate. This book is whip smart and vulnerable, as Tolentino’s critical eye does not stop at her own choices, which makes it all the more relatable.

2. Succession on HBO

Season 1 of Succession was a classic King Lear-inspired plot about a media empire dad getting old and deciding which child to leave his legacy to. In season 2, the patriarch himself has started recovering from his stroke and becomes more of a character in his own right. As a consequence, the show is better than ever. Brian Cox as Logan Roy delivers the most stunning moments of the show, parading out frat boy-style hazing techniques in meetings and spewing off hilarious one-liners like, “this is about as choreographed as trying to fuck a dog on roller skates” or “why don’t you take your library card and … fuck off?” Will Ferrell is an executive producer on the show, which may be why every episode has a solid undercurrent of left-of-field laughs. As the family aims to become a complete media monopoly, the stakes are raised, and the show rises to the challenge.

3. Bon & Viv Hard Seltzer

Hard seltzer is like the third sibling in a family. Many people didn’t demand it, or expect it to ever exist. We knew we liked beer, and we knew we liked wine. In fact, we felt great about both of them. Did we need another drink? But then hard seltzer shows up, and it’s so different, so light and carefree, so refreshing and unburdened. So we start putting it in our bags for every social gathering, liking the lighthearted feeling it gives us, and we’re so glad it came into this world. (I’m writing this all as the third child. I’m totally the White Claw of my family.)

My current favorite seltzer is Bon & Viv. It has zero sugar and only 90 calories, and the flavors are a bit more delicate than some of its skunky cousins. I am a convert.

4. What We Do in the Shadows on Hulu

I loved Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s take on vampire / werewolf culture in What We Do in the Shadows. Then, Hulu brought it back as a TV show, and it’s even better than the movie. Each character is more lovable than the last, and it even includes my favorite newish actress, Beanie Feldstein. This show is 10/10 delightful.

5. The Illustrations of Ana Hard

Illustration by Ana Hard

I follow so many amazing illustrators that I’m regularly paralyzed by jealousy. My latest favorite is Ana Hard, who draws scenes of modern life and pop culture with a precise eye and a carefree pastel color palette.

6. Julio Torres “My Favorite Shapes” on HBO

I’ve been a fan of Julio Torres ever since he was on the amazing Las Culturistas podcast. Then I discovered his magical Twitter, where he weaves gothy, imaginative tales about Melania Trump and other celebrities who captivate or trouble him. An SNL writer, I can see his influence in the show’s dark pop-culture humor and understanding of non-white-male culture. His HBO comedy special is truly a work of imagination, featuring props and set design he collaborated on with his mom and sister, mixing a childlike sense of play with a cutting ability to criticize culture. It recalls Demetri Martin’s work that I loved back in high school, in a totally unique new way.

7. Norman Fucking Rockwell by Lana Del Rey

Suddenly, the critical sphere is recognizing Lana Del Rey. I was not shocked to find out it was a female reviewer (Jenn Pelly) who gave her a glowing review from Pitchfork, calling her “one of America’s greatest living songwriters.” I’ve been a huge LDR fan since 2012, but I think there are nuances of her lyrics that men might miss. Her new album is a bit less poppy and sparkly than her others, and maybe that’s what people need from her right now. To me, it’s another great example of her ability to play on the contrast been tone and content to tease out a sense of latent dissatisfaction with the power dynamics of modern culture.

8. Trader Joe’s Hold the Cone!

My friend Emily took out a box of these for her son when my cheese club friends were at her house, and we must have looked hungry, because she shared one with each of us. I was quite tickled by these tiny little cones, which are delicious and fun in their own right. Trader Joe’s, how do you keep surprising me with new reasons to love you?

9. Book Marks Book Reviews

I recently stumbled on Lit Hub’s aggregator of book reviews, and I keep it open on my browser at all times. I’ve long wished for a simple way to find amazing new books, and this is the simplest, best-designed destination for just that. It gives me a gleeful feeling, like walking into Barnes & Noble as a teenager. Life is short, so why spend it reading meh books?

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