Culture

Here’s What We’re Reading & Listening to This Month

Lead Photo: Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla.
Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla.

 

These are the podcasts and books we’re glued to right now. 

"On Being with Krista Tippett"

Krista Tippett’s “On Being” is a source of comfort, challenge, and clarity in the most uncertain of times. I first welcomed her ASMR-adjacent conversations into my life by way of a friend who responded to an often-posed question on my IG close friends list: “Has anyone discovered the cure for writer’s block yet?” In came Ocean Vuong’s poetic, goosebump-inducing contribution to the podcast. In “A Life Worthy of Our Breath,” the 31-year-old Vietnamese-American author challenged the violence of the English language and the verity of writer’s block as a whole, linking it to capitalism and the belief that we’re always supposed to be working—even in the chaos of the now. “You’re working,” he says, “but you have to work differently now.”

As the fallacies of many U.S. systems are exposed and we each find our role in building a new anti-racist foundation, Tippett provides a space to learn from the likes of the late, legendary John Lewis and, more recently, “White Fragility” author Robin DiAngelo and therapist Resmaa Menakem. In the latter, the two tackle things like the cost of comfort and the importance of accountability. “What am I gonna do to keep myself uncomfortable?” DiAngelo urges white listeners to ask of themselves. “Because that comfort is really seductive and powerful,” she explains. “And has a cost” Menakem asserts.

In conversation with great minds in different arenas, Tippett allows for deep listening, thinking and reflection. She tackles big subjects with grace and has successfully made The On Being Project a one-stop-shop for the imaginative, restless mind. —Ecleen Luzmila Caraballo

"Hatemonger" by Jean Guerrero

“Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda,” Jean Guerrero’s meticulously-researched biography of Stephen Miller, is a horrifying page-turner. Read it in the broad light of day. Avoid reading it before bedtime. With a reporter’s eye for detail, Guerrero narrates Miller’s climb to the White House, where he currently serves as a senior policy advisor to President Donald Trump. From the first chapter, Miller, whose adolescence is marked by a ravenous hunger for attention, begins losing his hair during his teen years. As his bald spot expands, so does his hatred, and Guerrero explores the circumstances of Miller’s radicalization, which happens in California, a state many mistake for a site of racial and ethnic harmony.

Guerrero traces the development and advancement of Miller’s white nationalist agenda. Upon entering the political arena, Miller aligns himself with like-minded hate mongers and becomes a spokesman for Tea Party Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and also Alabama senator Jeff Sessions—a bigot whose racial politics Coretta Scott King described as “frightening.” As Trump’s advisor, Miller comes to shape the administration’s most cruel, violent and hateful policies, from the Muslim ban to migrant family separations. Understanding who Miller is, and what motivates him, is key to understanding the racial politics that threaten the lives and safety of racially minoritized people living in the United States today. —Myriam Gurba

"Hablemos MMA" with Danny Segura

There’s no denying the popularity of mixed martial arts in the U.S., and it seems to be growing exponentially in South America as well. I’m no fighter, but I’m not at all squeamish. It isn’t the knees to the face, or the open gashes fighters leave under each other’s eyes that have kept me away. Unlike soccer or any of the top American sports, UFC doesn’t have a season. It just keeps going. With the pandemic pause lowering sports’ noise, though, I saw a chance to get into it. “Hablemos MMA” launched this week, as the only Spanish podcast about MMA on a major network. In the first episode, Bogotano host Danny Segura interviewed Irene Aldana—a Mexican bantamweight fighter who was set to become the first-ever Mexican woman to headline a UFC event. She, unfortunately, had to cancel when she contracted the coronavirus. Aldana details her struggles with the virus and urges people to take it seriously.

I’ve found it refreshing to learn about what feels like an American phenomenon in my native tongue. Already, I’ve learned that in Spanish, there are a lot of animals involved in mixed martial arts terminology: peso gallo (bantamweight), for example. But best of all, so far, is the fact that this podcast is a Joe Rogan-free zone. —Francisco Navas

"The Vanishing Half" by Brit Bennet

I’m currently reading The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennet’s masterful second novel. Bennett made her literary debut in 2016 at the age of 26 with the New York Times bestseller, The Mothers. The Vanishing Half has been in the news a lot lately because it sparked a massive bidding war that HBO ultimately won. I think it’s going to get tons more attention when the television adaptation comes, but I’d definitely recommend people read the book before then. The multi-generational story starts in the 1950s with twin sisters from a fictional town called Mallard, made up almost entirely of light-skinned Black people who can often pass for white. The twins mysteriously leave Mallard one day, and the plot kicks off when one of them reappears in town. The book offers a nuanced look at ideas of identity, colorism, passing, and erasure that continue to play a role in conversations about race today. Lisa Page at the Washington Post had a profound way of putting it: “Colorism, racism’s ugly brother,” she explains, “infects their community.” —Julyssa Lopez

"Don't Ask Me Where I'm From" by Jennifer de Leon

Jennifer De Leon’s debut is a modern look at biculturalism, code-switching, Latinx stereotypes, and racism through the lens of Liliana Cruz—a Latina teen living in Boston. Liliana transfers from a diverse, inner-city school to a predominately white and wealthy school where she experiences culture shock and finds herself trying to assimilate. Through that process, she learns to own her story. As the daughter of Guatemalan and Salvadoran immigrants with a father who has not returned home from his trip and a mom struggling to make ends meet as a cleaning lady, Liliana sees the privilege at her new school in stark contrast to the poverty she’s struggling with. It’s a powerful coming of age story that authentically reflects life today for teens of color including the effects of cyberbullying and the importance of community. It also shines a light on the heartbreaking effects of immigration policies and what it means to be both Latina and U.S. American. De Leon is a Boston-native born to parents from Guatemala whose powerful storytelling makes this one of the best books I’ve read this year. “Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From” is out Aug. 18. —Virginia Isaad

"Mexican Gothic" by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I was drawn to Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s new novel, “Mexican Gothic,” after seeing its cover of a woman in a rich maroon off-the-shoulder gown circulating all over social media. Set in 1950s Mexico, the book follows brains-and-beauty socialite Noemí Taboada on a mission to help her newlywed cousin, Catalina, in an isolated mansion belonging to Catalina’s English family by marriage. Noemí arrives to meet the very peculiar Doyles and only hints of the old Catalina.

“Mexican Gothic” is a gripping, dark and captivating read. Moreno-Garcia takes readers on a terrifying ride, chapter by chapter, as Noemí tries to sort through mist and visions to understand what has truly happened to her cousin. Along the way, Noemí begins to have nightmares of her own and unearths secrets about the mysterious family in High Palace. The haunted house the novel is set in is as much a character as the human characters Moreno-Garcia took great care in developing. I recommend this novel for anyone who loves a good scare. —Amaris Castillo

"Night Blooming Jasmin(n)e" by Jasminne Méndez

Few illnesses are as mysterious and frustrating as auto-immune diseases, which can appear seemingly out of nowhere and proceed to wreak havoc on a person’s life; suddenly, one day the immune system decides to attack its own body in what feels like a baffling and horrific act of betrayal. In the United States, auto-immune disease disproportionately affects women of color. In Jasminne Méndez’s wonderful collection of essays and poetry entitled Night Blooming Jasmin(n)e, published by Arte Publico Press in 2018, she deftly explores her complicated relationship with her body as an Afro-Dominican woman recently diagnosed with scleroderma and lupus. There are many stand out scenes in this book, from the way Méndez describes the fear that curls inside of her while as she hopes the receptionist will not notice her insurance has expired to the way she examines the devastating silence around miscarraige. “There is no word in English or Spanish for a parent who has lost a child,” she writes. “There is no word in English or Spanish for a woman who was once pregnant and suddenly is not.” Night Blooming Jasmin(n)e is a powerful and personal exploration of illness, identity, and anti-Blackness in the Latinx community, which showcases Méndez’s talent at facing even the most vulnerable and uncomfortable of truths. —Claire Jimenez