BYBG Newsletter

Random Recommendations

In each issue of my Be You Be Great Newsletter, I 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! 💫 #BYBG
Photo Credit: Grace Rivera (@__gracerivera)

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 — 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 Céline Sciamma; Starring Noémie 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 César 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 “Well done, pedophilia!” — she was joined by Céline 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 “What 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.

Volume 1 Issue 12

What: Music League
Who: Friends (whose music taste you trust) with Spotify
Where: Click here.
Why: One of my best friends, Ethan Tomas, is a brilliant producer, DJ, curator, and overall musical guru. Throughout the pandemic, he’s been DJing on Twitch, and in addition to the public sets he does, he’s created a group chat of friends who can zoom together during his sets. It’s been a real joy every week to “party” with good folks from all over and who all appreciate Ethan’s skills. Then, Ethan introduced us to the Music League App through Spotify and whew, it is fantastic. (And you don’t have to download anything!)

Here’s how it works: you create a league, choose how many songs each player will submit, then select the number of upvotes and downvotes each player gets to use each round. Then, you can pick a prompt for the round — one of our prompts was “Rap + R&B Linkup: Songs that feature both hip-hop & r&b artists, but it cannot be the same artist doing both.” You pick a deadline for submissions, then everyone votes and you get your winners. The best part, though, is it creates the playlist on Spotify automatically for you to easily listen anytime. It works with up to 25 people. Check it out, and let me know how you like it!
Cost: Free.99 (you do not need Spotify Premium)

Volume 1 Issue 13

What: Palm Springs
Who: Starring Andy Samberg
Where: Hulu
Why: Ok so I can’t tell you what the movie is about. Trust me, it’s better that way. It’s not some creepy, weirdo, disturbing storyline, though, so no need to worry. Plus, you trust me. (Right?) All I’ll say about the story itself is that it’s a modernized version of a movie I practically grew up with and love re-watching to this day. Palm Springs has been added to the list of movies that I can watch basically anytime anywhere and be perfectly content.

While I can’t reveal too much else, what I can tell you is that it’s clever and funny and poignant and certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously. Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti are a lovely pair. They each have some quirks, and they complement each other nicely. Honestly, just go watch it. Thank me later. Enjoy!
Cost: Your friend’s Hulu login.

Volume 1 Issue 14

What:The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Who: Stieg Larsson
Where: Check your local bookstore before going to Amazon.
Why: This Swedish book and the series of novels that came after are among my favorite fiction books ever. They are phenomenally written – the pacing is perfect, the characters are compelling, and the story is just off the wall enough to be quite plausible. The series follows two main characters: Lisbeth Salander (a super badass and mysterious punker with unbelievable tech skills and lots of secrets) and Mikael Blomkvist (a savvy investigative journalist who’s on a bad luck streak it seems). In this first book, they work to solve a 40-year-old murder. As you can imagine, things go left!

Yes, they made a movie adaption with Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig, which was very good but did not go beyond the first book. There’s also a full film Swedish adaption of the trilogy, which is probably better than the American movie. Definitely worth watching them all once you’ve read the books.

P.S. – The author was not actually known during his lifetime for being a fiction writer. He was a magazine editor and “a leading expert on anti-democratic and right-wing extremist organizations.” If you’re interested, the histories and current dynamics in many Scandinavian countries regarding right-wing extremism are fascinating (though upsetting, of course).
Cost: Approximately $7 depending on the bookstore.

Volume 1 Issue 15

What: Country of Liars
Who: Reply All – Hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman, from Gimlet.
Where: Wherever you listen to podcasts: Spotify, Apple, their website.
Why: If you are not familiar with QAnon at all, that’s ok. I’d read this article for a brief and useful overview. The podcast episode covers some of the substance of what QAnon is, but it is primarily focused on the people involved with the origin and spread of the conspiracy theory. What it got me thinking about was the way in which many people still do not understand how the internet actually functions as a social and cultural space. There is still so much dismissal of something as not real simply because it exists primarily on the internet. With conspiracy theories and violent hate speech, though, that’s a dangerous oversight as we are seeing with QAnon now.

I’d never listened to Reply All before, but I liked this episode so I checked out some others. There’s a good one about the origin of the INVCEL community. I’m not a huge podcast person, but this is definitely a well-produced and well-researched one with cool topics. Enjoy! (And thanks, Zicky, for putting me on.)

P.S. – The QAnon extremists have tried to “steal” certain issues and tie them to their extremism. For example, QAnon people talk a lot about “saving children and women from trafficking” but that’s not actually what they are talking about. It’s gotten so bad that actual non-profits have had to push back against the hijacking of their work by conspiracy extremists. Be careful with what you share online.
Cost: Free.99.

Volume 1 Issue 16

What: Raised by Wolves
Where: HBO Max
Why: Ok so boom: 2 androids land on a new planet with the goal of raising a family to save humanity after a devastating war that ruined Earth forever. The war was between a religious group and atheists with androids being used by both sides (sorta) as servants/weapons. How the androids came to possess the human fetuses, who programmed them to raise the children, and what really happened on Earth are all mysteries. Everything seems more or less fine until a spaceship of the religious humans from the war arrives on the planet — that’s when things get messy.

It’s a really thorough and well paced science fiction story with strong visual effects. I binged all 10 episodes in about a week after the first 2 episodes got me hooked. Recent sci-fi shows have frustrated me because they’ve felt way too heavy handed, but this one strikes the right balance between good ole fashioned melodrama and refined subtlety. Plus, androids and fight scenes and super technology! The show is already lready renewed for season 2, I’m already ready to inject season 2 directly into my bloodstream.
Cost: It depends on your current HBO subscription if you have one and your cable package if you have one. When in doubt, share accounts!

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