I thought that it might be fun and a bit ridiculous (and therefore totally on brand) to create a “Monthly Favorites” series of posts like the ones that all of those way-too-put-together beauty gurus upload on their blogs or YouTube. But instead of the best new makeup or homeware line, it will be historical, literary, nerdy things that I invariably end up bursting to share and pass along to total strangers.
My obsessions usually number in the hundreds but I thought that I would show some uncharacteristic self-control and limit each month to five items. However, I have my whole life to catch you up on for this first post so I’m allowing myself ten lifetime obsessions.
I hope this gives you a better sense of the person who is locking elbows with you and leading you in a do-si-do through the history of epic women.
Please note: Most of what I love does have to do with history, specifically women’s history. However, I do have broader, equally nerdy, entertainment interests that these posts will highlight.
ONE: “Michelle Obama: A Life”
Written and carefully, thoroughly researched by Peter Slevin, “Michelle Obama: A Life” manages to capture the depth and inspiration of its powerful subject. It is my go-to read whenever I need a pick me up or I feel like I am lost or not good enough. Michelle’s journey from the South Side of Chicago to the White House is enthralling and makes you believe that whatever you set your mind out to do is possible.
Also, I heard about her new memoir, “Becoming,” on Sunday and preordered it within a minute. November 13 can’t come fast enough.
TWO: “To Kill a Mockingbird”
I feel like this is on EVERYONE’S favorite book list but the way that Harper Lee writes is a huge part of what made me want to become a writer. The way she manages to capture history in the periphery of a woman’s childhood evokes, for me, a more meaningful rendering of an era steeped in fear, doubt and guilt. It’s a classic because there will hardly ever be anything close to it, one of the many reasons I try to reread it every year, falling more and more in love each time.
THREE: “The West Wing”
Just in the way I reread “Michelle Obama: A Life” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” I’ve rewatched the first several seasons of Aaron Sorkin’s masterful television series countless numbers of time. The witty dialogue always makes me feel smarter and reminds me that history is constantly being made; it’s not just in the past. The humor is endearing and the poignancy is striking. And the acting…just remarkable. Most people I recommend it to believe it will be too outdated. On the contrary, I think that, as more and more of the complex dynamics of government come to light as they have recently, sinking into a simulated look at how the sausage should get made is downright enlightening.
FOUR: “Who Thought This Was A Good Idea?”
Following my obsession with everything “West Wing” comes a real life story of what it is like to work in the White House. Alyssa Mastromonaco served as the deputy chief of staff (essentially Josh Lyman) under the Obama administration and, in her book, she describes all of the highs and lows of her demanding career in a way that makes you both laugh, think and understand the lengths that a passionate person will go to in order to be a part of something that she wholeheartedly loves.
FIVE: Billy Collins’ Poetry
I never thought poetry could make me laugh until I read Billy Collins’ “Another Reason I Don’t Keep a Gun In the House,” in which Collins is robbed of his chance to enjoy a Beethoven symphony by his neighbor’s barking dog. He paints portraits of real life and makes the ugly and mundane beautiful merely by acknowledging them in a way never considered before. His poems are vivd and cynical and quietly heartbreaking. Before any person completely swears off poetry, give Collins a try. He just might surprise you.
SIX: “Call the Midwife”
This BBC series based on Jennifer Worth’s memoirs captured my interest because of the immersive way the show presents the East End of London in the decade after World War II. Each episode shines brilliantly by capturing the euphoria of bringing a new life into the world and the staggering grief of losing the dearest of hopes. Written in a wonderful way that makes you appreciate the ultimate gift of human care and empathy, the series will make you cry but ultimately make you feel good and tingly all over thinking about life’s magical moments. Also, as a person who almost exclusively listens to music from this time period, the soundtrack is STELLAR.
Okay so I know, again, this is an immensely popular favorite for many people but, as a dear, dear lover of both history and musicals, the combination of both in such a unique, intriguing way had me listening to this and LITERALLY nothing else for a full year (with the exception of breaking for Christmas music in December.) I can quote, as I’m sure many other people, can the entirety of the show, INCLUDING “Guns ‘n’ Ships” at the original breakneck speed of Daveed Diggs. It’s my own special parlor trick. But seriously, I could not stop crying when the cast performed at the White House and I got the most intense chills of my life when Christopher Jackson sang “One Last Time” and extended his arm directly below Gilbert Stuart’s Lansdowne portrait of Washington in the exact same pose. CHILLS.
EIGHT: The Republic of Tea “Comfort and Joy”
I’m a tea nut. I love tea. Every post that will ever be uploaded to this site will be fueled and powered by tea. My favorite tea of all, however, is Republic of Tea’s “Comfort and Joy.” It’s Christmas in a cup and I enjoy it all year round. I’m drinking it right now. ‘Nuff said.
NINE: “Peanuts” comic strips
I wrote a whole essay on my love and passion for Charles Schulz’s wonderful world of “Peanuts” but I will try to make this brief. As you may recall from my About page, I would go to the public library once a week as a child and pick up a book on history, one on dogs, and a collection of “Peanuts” comics. I own four stuffed Snoopys and the only music I still attempt to play on the piano is Vince Guaraldi’s masterful themes for the various specials. My all-time favorite album is “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and the Christmas special itself is among my top ten “films.” However, my favorite movie of all is:
TEN: “A Christmas Story”
It just makes me happy. The nostalgia and silliness of childhood radiate from every scene and fill me with a wonderful splendor for not only the holiday but for the simple joys of life. I realize this is an enormously deep approach to a movie about a boy on a mission to receive a toy gun but I’ve given a lot of thought to why I’m so endeared to it and I don’t think I’ll ever figure it out beyond the fact that it just makes me happy. And I hope that everybody has something like that in their life that, for whatever reason, just makes them happy. That would make me even happier.