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The Week in Recommendations 5.3.2023
A thought-provoking book of essays, dad rock, scam stories, bougie body wash and stretchy swimwear.
This is the free edition of Rich Text, a newsletter about cultural obsessions from your Internet BFFs Emma and Claire. If you like what you see and hear, consider becoming a paid subscriber. Our latest podcast was about “The Lizzie McGuire Movie,” 20 years later. Rich Text is a reader-supported project — no ads or sponsors!
We’ve been reading…
“The Ugly History of Beautiful Things” by Katy Kelleher, a new book of essays about the inextricable entanglement of beauty and depravity. I’ve loved her writing on aesthetics for years — she had an excellent series of deep dives into colors, like periwinkle and verdigris, for the Paris Review, and the book jumps off of a series of the same name she wrote for Longreads. In the essays, she digs into the murky histories of beautiful objects, starting with mirrors (which have left a surprising trail of human carnage, including mercury poisoning and assassination of mirror-makers). As someone who loves beautiful things, I am particularly compelled by her ability to hold both the value of beauty and the reality of its grotesque underbelly simultaneously; the world is not as sanitized and pretty as it appears in an influencer’s IG grid, but the existence of the messy, rotting, cruel elements of life doesn’t negate the power of aesthetic transcendence either. While social media and curated ads teach us to continually seek that perfectly edited life, where nothing ugly obtrudes, Kelleher prompts us to open our eyes to the mingling of ugliness and beauty, and to embrace the truth of both.
Plus: It’s pub week for our friend Laura Hankin’s latest, “The Daydreams”! We had the privilege of reading it months ago, so I’m doing a fun lil reread to refresh myself for our event with her at NYC’s Book Club Bar tomorrow night. And it’s still delightful! -Claire
I have been re-reading “The Daydreams” as well in anticipation of our event! (If you live in the NYC area, come say hi!) It really is such a fun read, with themes that will resonate for anyone — but especially for those of us who came of age during the early aughts. I unfortunately have not had time to start reading anything else, because I’ve spent far too much time making a master doc on all of the #Scandoval drama so that I can explain it to Claire for an upcoming podcast for paid subscribers. Don’t say I’m not dedicated to my job!!! -Emma
We’ve been watching…
The seventh season of “Workin’ Moms”! A show that I love even though it has rapidly become totally disconnected from the reality of having small children. One of the main characters, Kate Foster (played by show creator Catherine Reitman), has two very young children (including, I believe, a toddler?) who have basically disappeared from view this season, with all her parenting storylines revolving around her challenges with her surprise stepson Nathan, Jr. Do toddlers just go away when you’re kind of over it? Not in my experience! Kate’s focus is more on the “workin’” part, as she struggles to manage her emotional and financial ties to a new pharmaceutical client with a very cute and charming CEO (played by the indisputably dreamy Raymond Ablack), while her bestie Anne is dealing with her spiraling anger issues and their impact on her rebellious teenage daughter, Alice. New mom Sloane is trying to have it all by taking her newborn to work rather than taking maternity leave, only to discover that newborns only act like quiet accessories some of the time. Plus, her colleagues don’t enjoy seeing diapers changed on the conference table during meetings. (Wouldn’t a girlboss like Sloane at least hire a nanny to deal with blowouts at the office so her meetings could continue as usual? Ah, details.) I’m still eager to find out how this all wraps up, as this is the final season of a show that, while imperfect, hilariously dug into some under-discussed realities of being a workin’ mom. -Claire
You mean besides watching “Clueless” approximately 5 times in advance of our Love To See It discussion about the GOAT teen movie? Okay fine, then. I’ve also been making my way through the third season of “Indian Matchmaking,” because I love watching Sima Aunty tell every one of her clients that their standards are too high. It’s a delightful, albeit imperfect, watch, and I will consume every episode for as long as they make it. Next up on the docket? “Jewish Matchmaking”! -Emma
We’ve been listening to…
“First Two Pages of Frankenstein,” the National’s latest dad-rock opus. I’m the bad fan who slowly stops listening to the new albums, because I’m old and I listen to talk radio (podcasts) now. But lately I’ve really been craving the mental and emotional escape of good music, so I was delighted to see one of my favorite bands dating back to college (when I actually did listen to new music all the time) had a new LP. And as lovely as it is to hear them collaborating with Taylor Swift on her constant album drops, nothing hits like a good National album. Where Frightened Rabbit always leaves me in tears, the National always makes me feel like a floating lead balloon, somehow both weightless and heavy with melancholy. And this album has some gems: faves include the dreamy “Once Upon a Poolside,” the old-school National banger “Grease in Your Hair,” and the slow-burn anthem “Eucalyptus.” I’m also a little obsessed with lyricist Matt Berninger’s marriage to writer and former New Yorker fiction editor Carin Besser, which seems deeply important to him creatively as well as personally, and one of the best tracks on the album is named after a phrase Besser coined: “Tropic Morning News,” referring to the grim news doomscroll we’re all so accustomed to these days. -Claire
The two-part “Scamfluencers” dive into Lou Pearlman, the scammy producer who helped create some of the biggest boy bands of the ‘90s — including both the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC! But while Pearlman was churning out stars that elder millennial girls (then in elementary school) would pre-pubescently swoon over, he was also doing things like… wild Ponzi schemes??? It’s a fantastic listen, and I love Scaachi and Sarah’s pod host chemistry. -Emma
We’ve been buying…
Youswim one-pieces! A lovely reader asked about maternity swimwear recs, and honestly this is my only one: crinkle bathing gear that flexes to fit a changing body. I hate buying clothes that will be obsolete in my wardrobe after I give birth, especially items like swimsuits that I tend to only use a few times a year anyway. Youswim makes crinkle stretch-to-fit swimsuits in two sizes, which fit American standard sizes 2-14 and 14-24. I have a Poise high-rise bikini that I love, but the one-pieces are much more accommodating to a pregnant belly. So before our long weekend in Miami last month, I got a black Poise one-piece (classic! can’t wait to wear it to the splash pad under shorts this summer) and a light blue Eva. They fit effortlessly over my sizable bump, and I know they will also cradle my postpartum and post-postpartum abdomen perfectly. The one downside? Crinkle fabric takes forever to dry completely. Nevertheless, I’m a total convert — Youswim has made dressing for the pool ten times easier for me than it used to be, and being able to use the same suit from pre- to post-pregnancy is a big part of that. -Claire
Recently, I decided to treat myself and upgrade my bathroom soaps — both hand soap and body wash. It was one of those things I never would have done in my 20s; a little too indulgent, not a purchase that’s outwardly visible, like a cute new outfit (and lord knows I still love those). But once I did, it felt so good. After being gifted The Body Wash by Nécessaire in Eucalyptus by my friend Katelyn — and absolutely loving it — I re-bought it for myself. I also got Le Labo hand soaps for both of our bathrooms in the Hinoki scent. Every time I was my hands I get happy, because the scent is strong enough that it lingers for awhile. Sometimes little luxuries make a big difference. -Emma
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