BYBG Newsletter

Random Recommendations

In each issue of my Be You Be Great Newsletter, I’ll make a recommendation for something I think is worth your time. It could be a movie, a book, an album, a specific episode of a show, or even a must-eat food.

This page is the archive of all Random Recommendations featured in the newsletter.

Remember, you can always find every BYBG Newsletter issue in full here on the website.

Subscribe to receive new issues every other Wednesday.

Enjoy the recommendations! đź’« #BYBG

Volume 1 Issue 1

What: Pancake Bread
Where: Trader Joe’s
Why: It’s downright delicious. The secret is to microwave it for 8 seconds.
Cost: $3.99

Volume 1 Issue 2

What: The Two Popes
Who: Anthony Hopkins & Jonathan Pryce
Where: Netflix
Why: Based on a true story, the movie tells the story of Pope Francis’s rise to the Papacy and the relationship he develops with his predecessor, Pope Benedict. While there is certainly artistic liberty taken, it reminded me why I enjoyed studying Catholicism. There is beauty in exploring religious & philosophical questions, and that beauty shines brightest when leaders are not just for the people but of the people. I’m a staunch critic of the Church, but it is the Catholicism of people like Pope Francis that I deeply respect. I hope he continues to lead by example, and I wish him well.
Cost: Your friend’s Netflix subscription.
Bonus: Jonathan Pryce was nominated for Best Actor for this role.

Volume 1 Issue 3

What: Evil Apples
Who: People who make you ugly laugh.
Where: Apple App Store & Google Play
Why: This game is set up exactly like Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity, but this is the only option I’ve found to play online and with your friends. (You can play with strangers, but I don’t.) I played with my friends and family on my Quarantined Birthday, and it was everything I needed. We’ve been playing a bunch ever since. It’s a perfect way to get the pandemic off your mind and laugh til your stomach hurts, but warning: the game is definitely Rated R. Oh, and be a little patient because the game can run slowly sometimes.
Cost: Free.99
Bonus: Start up a Google Hangout or Zoom while you play. It’s not the same without it!

Volume 1 Issue 4

What: Baby Cobra
Who: Ali Wong
Where: Netflix
Why: This is Wong’s debut stand up special from 2016. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to. Wong is hilarious. She talks about pregnancy, sex, marriage, feminism, and growing up as an Asian American. Especially with the endlessly frustrating circumstances of the quarantine, we all could use an hour of escapism and laughs.
Cost: Your friend’s Netflix subscription.
Bonus: She did a 2nd stand up with Netflix in 2018 called “Hard Knock Wife,” which is definitely worth a watch. And she’s pregnant in that one, too!

Volume 1 Issue 5

What: Everyday Matters
Who: Danny Gregory
Why: I’m not going to lie to you, the premise of this graphic novel is sad. Danny’s wife is seriously injured after being run over by a subway train, and this is the story of their family in the aftermath of her accident. However, it is a profoundly honest & uplifting story â€” one that brought me much more joy than sadness despite an opening that in undeniably heartbreaking. I was new to non-superhero graphic novels, but this book enthralled me. The illustrations remind me of Roald Dahl (minus the Nazism, of course), and it finally made sense to me why some folks swear by graphic novels. The visuals perfectly complement the prose.

These past 2 weeks were some of the toughest of my quarantine experience. There was a lot of sadness, and there are no two ways about that. I found myself thinking about this book and how it made me feel, and I hope it brings you some of the comfort it brought me. I first read Danny’s story about a year ago mostly during my now sorely missed rides on the subway (ironic for this book, I know). In the age of COVID-19, with all the depressing news and equally daunting uncertainty about the short and long term future, I’m reminded of Danny’s family, their struggle, and the grace they shared.
Where to Buy: Check your local bookstore before going to Amazon.
Cost: Approximately $10 depending on the bookstore.

Volume 1 Issue 6

What: Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Who: Written & Directed by CĂ©line Sciamma; Starring NoĂ©mie Merlant & Adèle Haenel
Where: Hulu
Why: Simply put, it’s a love story like I’ve never seen before. The premise is this: a wealthy woman in 18th century France is set to be married off by her mother. In advance of the arranged marriage, the husband-to-be wants to see his future wife, so the woman’s mother commissions an artist to paint her portrait. Then, they fall in love. It’s not a story with wild twists and turns. Rather, it’s one that dives deep into the two characters and tells their story of forbidden love with the grace and thoughtfulness that gay love stories are too often deprived of. Instead of sensationalization and fetishization, there’s honesty and beauty.

The pace is methodical, the dialogue is calm, and the cinematography is stunning. By the end, I found myself fully invested in the love these two women shared. Certainly enhanced by the fact that I’m a mush, the next few days had me thinking a lot about love, companionship, and the millions of gay love stories that were never allowed to blossom because of homophobia. It’s a story that I imagine will push some folks outside of their comfort zone, but that’s ok. That’s a good thing. Enjoy!
Cost: You know the drill. Hit up your friend with Hulu.

Bonus: At the 2020 CĂ©sar Awards (which is the French equivalent to the Academy Awards in the U.S.), Roman Polanski received 12 nominations and won in 2 categories. Polanski is a sexual abuser, rapist, and pedophile who has been a fugitive of the U.S. since 1978 after raping a 13-year-old girl. Obviously, there was widespread disgust at Polanski’s nominations. When he was announced as a winner, Adèle Haenel walked out in protest and shouted â€śWell done, pedophilia!” — she was joined by CĂ©line Sciamma. Haenel has been very public about the abuse she suffered as a 12-year-old girl at the hands of a man in the film industry. It’s gross that Polanski was honored, and it’s enraging that survivors like Haenel are forced to see such reminders that their abusers are protected.

Volume 1 Issue 7

What: An Anti-Racist Resource Guide
Who: Everyone’s contributions are sourced and credited.
Where: Click here.
Why: The recent iteration of protests against police brutality and the entire system of racism and White Supremacy in this country is on a huge scale. While the tactics used by police, the injuries suffered by protestors, and the entire system itself are hardly new, there are a few things about these protests that stand in contrast to previous iterations like those that took place in Ferguson, Baltimore, and elsewhere. One of those contrasts is the massive increase in the number of White people and non-Black people of color who are (for the first time) engaging with these issues.

As a result of this influx of newcomers, there has been a matching increase in the number of digital resources created by anti-racists across the country. These resources have come in the form of guides, graphics, articles, and videos. Ironically, with so many people putting together such great resources, I saw folks scrambling trying to figure out which ones to share. I’ve gone through and scoured the internet for these resources — individual materials as well as lists of materials — to make it easier for these folks’s hard work to be shared and used. All those who compiled their own lists are credited here. Be sure to credit them yourself. Teamwork makes the dream work.
Cost: Free.99
Photo: Captured by TAYOJR.

Volume 1 Issue 8

What: An American Marriage
Who: Tayari Jones
Where: Check your local bookstore before going to Amazon.
Why: I remember when a slew of my friends read this book back in 2018, and when they told me how good it was, I added it to my ever-growing list of books to read. I’m glad I did. Tayari tells the story of a middle-class Black couple, Roy and Celestial, struggling to deal with Roy having been incarcerated for a rape he did not commit. The chapters are all told in the first person, which allows you to more fully walk in the shoes of each character and feel the rawness of what they are going through. It’s not a long read, and I found myself quickly invested in the characters and grateful for the way Tayari chose to end the book. Don’t worry, no spoilers here.

When I was done with the book, I realized it reminded me of Toni Morrison in a subtle but important way. (No, I’m not trying to put this on the level of anything Morrison has written.) Morrison wrote and spoke often about how her work was designed to speak to Black people, not White people. She never wanted her stories to feel racially voyeuristic, and she candidly critiqued Black authors who she felt wrote too much for White people, whether they were doing it on purpose or not. Anyways, long nerdy story short: Tayari wrote about a Black couple featuring a dynamic Black woman and did so for a Black reader. That’s not to say White people can’t enjoy it — I certainly did — but it’s that Tayari didn’t write the book for me, which is perfectly fine. In that way, she wrote in the spirit of Morrison, which remains a noble and brilliant endeavor.
Cost: Approximately $12 depending on the bookstore.

Volume 1 Issue 9

What: Frederick Douglass’ Descendants Deliver His ‘Fourth Of July’ Speech
Who: Produced by NPR
Where: YouTube
Why: Every Fourth of July, there’s a brilliant speech by Frederick Douglass that makes the rounds on the news and social media. Delivered by Douglass on July 5, 1852 in Rochester, New York, the speech is titled â€śWhat to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” Douglass asks what independence is there to celebrate in a country that is founded on the enslavement of Black people and the genocide of Indigenous people. Especially with the fervor around racial justice in 2020, the questions he poses remain unanswered, and his critique of American Independence Day remains potent. This country has yet to reckon with our foundation, and the vestiges of slavery are alive and well in modern systemic racism.

NPR brought together Douglass’ descendants to read his speech as the living embodiment of his work. The video is under 10 minutes and well worth the time. The speech is, of course, a worthwhile read — and not just the short excerpts that make it to Twitter — but this is a particularly great way to learn about the speech if you’ve never engaged with it before. All that said, I’ll let them do the rest of the talking.
Cost: Free.99
Bonus: If you are a non-Black person who is having some difficulty in your conversations with non-Black friends and family, this is a great video to share with them. It’s a subtle and effective way to personalize the words of someone easily written off as just another historical figure from a long time before any of us were around. 

Volume 1 Issue 10

What: Disclosure
Who: Featuring so many amazing trans people, including the ever incredible Laverne Cox.
Where: Netflix
Why: The premise of Disclosure is simple: most of what people know and think about trans people is shaped by what depictions of trans people they see in the media. Therefore, it’s imperative to understand the history of Hollywood’s portrayal of trans people so trans representation can continue to improve. This is a necessity in the fight for trans rights and gender equity.

What I found so powerful about the documentary is how effortlessly it weaves together trans voices addressing their personal stories and the history of trans people in America at large. There are parts of the film that are deeply distressing and difficult — the story of trans people in this country is fraught with pain & anti-trans prejudice — but it’s absolutely necessary to engage with this pain so we can learn and grow as cisgender people. I certainly learned a lot, and I’m grateful to everyone who shared their story. I felt my eyes well up a few times watching this documentary, and I’m as committed as ever to speak up for trans people.
Cost: Your friend’s Netflix subscription.
Bonus: One of the people interviewed is Trace Lysette, who I met awhile back in LA. She’s an incredible actor and activist. Check her out!

Volume 1 Issue 11

What: Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?
Who: Frans de Waal
Where: Check your local bookstore before going to Amazon.
Why: Cutting edge science can often be unapproachable and difficult to understand. It often feels like there are only two options — either it’s way too complicated to understand without a graduate degree in the field or it’s been simplified and dumbed down into a catchy headline. Frans de Waal offers a middle ground with this book. The science is not dumbed down, but it is presented an explained in a way that anyone can feel comfortable approaching it.

This is a book I pick up now and then to read a chapter or two because it’s not (for me) what I’d like to read non-stop. However, I find it absolutely fascinating every time I pick it up. The extent to which these scientists have gone to carefully and ethically explore animal abilities is inspiring. And, to be frank, it’s just downright amazing what various animals can do. So yes, your dog that you think it’s actually brilliant probably is!
Cost: Approximately $13 depending on the bookstore.

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