The Week In Recommendations 2.7.24
A new Dolly Alderton novel, millennial "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," cute cushions and cool jeans for shorties.
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Claire has been reading… 📖
“Good Material,” Dolly Alderton’s enjoyable latest novel about the dating travails of a 30-something Londoner. Her first, “Ghosts,” was a smash hit, and while there was a lot to like about it, I also found it mildly infuriating (mainly due to the terminally not-like-other-girls protagonist). But I decided to give her another shot, and I actually rather preferred her take on a male 30-something and his dating travails. Andy is a bit of a sad sack. A 35-year-old standup comic who makes a living doing sets at weddings and store openings, he’s blindsided and heartbroken when his girlfriend Jen dumps him after four years. He can barely afford to rent a room in London, his career is circling the drain, he’s begun to notice a bald patch, and he can’t stop thinking about his ex. “Good Material” follows him through the stages of grieving for his relationship. Most of the book involves the sort of antics that make you want to grab him by the collar, shake him, and shout “Get your life together!” He drinks, he complains to his friends, he flirts with a 23-year-old he meets after a comedy show, he lets any hope of advancing his career slips further and further away as he flails about. And yet… I did get invested. I came to like Jen, as I got to know her through his eyes. I thought I understood why she dumped him, and yet I sympathized with his pain. The book ends with a twist that doesn’t feel quite as novel or satisfying as it would have a few years ago, but it ultimately brings things to an unconventionally happy ending.
Also, as I mentioned over onlast week, I got my hands on Leslie Jamison’s “Splinters,” the book from which her recent New Yorker essay on divorce and new motherhood was based. I have my critiques of the book, as I mentioned there – Jamison has a tendency to lean into her particular writing quirks (teeth furred with sugar, fingers that smell like apples, etc.) until they pall – but if you want a visceral and poignant account of divorce and/or having a baby, I recommend it.
Emma has been reading… 📖
I’ve also been reading Dolly Alderton’s “Good Material.” I understood Claire’s frustrations with “Ghosts,” but unlike Claire, I absolutely loved it. There was just something about Alderton’s wry, comic, writing about the experience of being a 30-something single-and-dating woman that made me feel seen. So I was eager to get my hands on “Good Material.” I’m not done with the novel, but thus far I’m very invested. 35-year-old dumpee Andy feels fully rendered in Alderton’s hands — an imperfect protagonist who you root for even as he falters. His ex Jen is equally compelling, and it’s interesting to see the ways in which someone’s perception of their romantic partner shifts over time alongside the way they see themself. I was sold on “Good Material” right from opening pages, a list of reasons that Andy is glad he is no longer with Jen, which included: “Would take an hour to go to bed, no matter what time she got in, because she’d do a seven-step skincare routine, browse shopping apps, and listen to podcasts.” (Relatable queen!) My boyfriend was equally taken by the book’s comic tone, so now we’re both reading it.
Claire has been watching… 📺
The first episode of the final season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the HBO show about the various grudges, pet peeves, and feuds of Larry David (in which the actual David plays a version of himself). I still only get the appeal of the show about 30 percent of the time, but that 30 percent of the time is superb, so I always acquiesce when Greg suggests it. The first episode brought back one of my favorite bits from last season: the unlikely and strongly resented casting of amateur actor Maria-Sofia Estrada, who was given a major role in “Young Larry” so that Larry David could resolve an unrelated dispute with her father. Plus, there’s a bit with Larry in silly glasses and even a little commentary on the draconian voting laws in Georgia. Back with a bang, baby!
Emma has been watching… 📺
The TV remake of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” Donald Glover transformed the steamy 2005 action-comedy which launched Brangelina into something far more interesting. Glover and Maya Erskine (“Plus One,” “Pen15”) star as the titular characters, two 30-somethings unmoored by children, longterm romantic commitments, or careers they are passionate about. (Inkoo Kang calls out the new show’s “distinctly millennial sensibility” in her essay for the New Yorker, and that really crystallized part of why it works so well for me.) They are recruited by a shadowy company, given a brownstone in New York City, and told that they are now married. (An inverse of the original, in which Mr. and Mrs. Smith are rich Gen-Xers in Connecticut who are married for years before discovering that they are both contract killers.) John and Jane — their assigned new names — are then left to work together and live together. They end up navigating the bumpy journey towards real intimacy, and the conflicts that inevitably arise. Plus, there’s some mission-of-the-week action. They are trained spies/killers/agents taking orders from anonymous higher-ups at “the company” via a digital chat box, after all.
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Claire has been listening to… 🎧
An Endless Thread episode on TikTok’s “tunnel girl” — actually, “tunnel woman,” if you please. I had stumbled across her story on Twitter over the holidays, and was gripped. If you missed it, the tunnel woman calls herself Kala and she rose to viral infamy for her hundreds of TikToks about her DIY attempt to build a tunnel system under her house. In her videos, she documents herself walking through the tunnel, excavating dirt and pumping out water, and making tunnel walls out of rebar and concrete. At first, viewers watched in awe and admiration; then, questions began to emerge about the safety of what she was doing (for herself and for her neighbors) and whether she had acquired the proper permits. This episode provides more context than I was able to glean from my initial Twitter reading, and also provided some updates: she has received a stop-work order, though she remains confident (per her TikToks) that she will be able to proceed with proper permits. I also learned that reporter Aura Bogado has been looking into the story, and she has even more updates.
Emma has been listening to… 🎧
Since her surprise cameo at The Grammys, I have been listening to Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” on repeat. “Fast Car” is one of those formative songs; one that I can remember being part of the soundtrack of my childhood, always on in our living room when I was growing up, along with “Talkin’ Bout A Revolution.” So it was a real thrill to watch Chapman perform with Luke Combs on Sunday night — and it was lovely to see how (appropriately) in awe of her he clearly is. Chapman is not only one of the greatest lyricists out there, but her voice is so beautiful and rich. It’s the kind of voice that can bring you to tears as soon as you start to hear it. Tracy forever.
Claire has been buying… 🛍️
Chair cushions for our kitchen table. For the past few years, our kitchen chair cushion situation has been steadily devolving. About a decade ago, when we moved in together and my now-in-laws kindly bought us this dining set from Bob’s Discount Furniture, I got a set of off-white cushions for all six chairs. By the time of the pandemic, things had changed. Years of use (and occasional spills) had left them pancake-flat and dingy. Plus, we were using them more than ever – we didn’t have a desk, so we did all our work sitting at the table. Greg decided to get us two thick black memory foam chair cushions. This wasn’t enough for all the chairs, so we just put them on whichever chairs we were using most, and haphazardly double-stacked the white cushions on other chairs. As the toddler got older, he found great amusement in intentionally knocking all the cushions off, and then we would hastily toss them on whichever chair was closest. Are you getting the picture? Our chairs were covered in mismatched mounds of old cushions. The effect was demoralizing. I finally broke and impulse-ordered four navy cushions, to match our dining area rug. (Also, we are down to four chairs, as one spot is for Max’s booster seat and one is for the baby’s high chair.) These cushions have a very effective grippy bottom AND ties to keep them in place; they’re thick, comfortable, and look quite attractive. I’ll take it!
Emma has been buying… 🛍️
As a 5’2” lady, nearly every pair of pants I purchase requires a tailor. (Unless they are meant to be cropped, in which case they are full-length on me.) Even when you do hem your pants, the proportions often just feel a little bit… off. Enter Nelle Atelier, a brand dedicated to creating high-quality jeans for short gals. I was curious how much of a difference for-petites jeans would really make, and I was shaken to my core by how well the Léa Jeans in Onyx fit me. I guess I had just never really considered how most of my pants are simply designed for tall people? The knee on the slightly flared pant of the Lea actually hits me at the knee!!! A revelation!!! And I certainly don’t have to go to the tailor. I will absolutely be going back for a pair of the Claire or Emily styles next. I am officially a Nelle Atelier devotee.
Claire has been making… 🧶
Yossy Arefi’s miso-honey sheetpan chicken, which is cooked under a broiler and marinaded in a mouthwatering sauce made with miso, honey, soy sauce, garlic and ginger. The recipe calls for asparagus, but this time I used green beans and carrot sticks (my toddler’s preferred vegetables) and they did just as well under the broiler. My husband’s favorite trick for zhuzhing up leftover chicken is to chop it up and reheat it in a pan with a little sauce, so last night I used the leftover miso-honey sauce to make a stir-fry version of the original, which tasted as good as a freshly cooked dinner. My toddler mostly ate rice and green beans, but the chicken is heartily endorsed by everyone else with teeth in our household.
Emma has been making… 🧶
Kay Chun’s Chicken and Mushroom Bulgogi Lettuce Wraps. I’m much less comfortable cooking meat than I am cooking vegetarian meals, so this was a little outside of my kitchen comfort zone… but we persevere! I didn’t have a cast iron pan, so I cooked the chicken on stovetop and then put it into the air fryer to crisp it up a bit, and it worked fairly well. The recipe also made more than enough for two people for dinner, with a bunch of leftovers, which I love.
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