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All Pop Culture Coverage

There’s nothing more exciting than standing among a throng of strangers listening to live music or watching the lights go down in a movie theater when the show is about to begin. But these six books certainly come close.

The Art of Bob Mackie

Bob Mackie is a member of a very small club: Hollywood costume designers whom regular folks (meaning, not ex-theater kids) know by name. Throughout his storied career, Mackie has designed gowns for Marilyn Monroe, Carol Burnett, Cher, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Madonna and, well, anybody who was anybody on TV, the silver screen or Broadway. The Art of Bob Mackie by Frank Vlastnik and Laura Ross is an authorized trip down memory lane, featuring brightly colored sketches and photos of over-the-top creations from Mackie’s 60 years in fashion, from his big break designing for Broadway star Mitzi Gaynor in 1966 to his costumes for The Cher Show, the 2018 jukebox musical based on the actress and singer’s career. Fans of “lewks,”divasand Hollywood gossip will have lots to enjoy. 

The Motherlode

Hip-hop has never been a man’s game, but male rappers have gotten more attention, money and respect since the beginning. Former Vibe and Jezebel editor Clover Hope sets things straight with The Motherlode, an encyclopedia dedicated to the women of hip-hop. Going all the way back to the 1980s, Hope leaves no woman out, from MC Sha-Rock (hip-hop’s first prominent female emcee) to Cardi B. Each rapper is honored with an essay, a minibio and funky artwork by Rachelle Baker, meaning your giftee has no excuse not to kill at a Women in Hip-Hop category on “Jeopardy!” Present this book with your own playlist of hip-hop’s fiercest ladies, and it’ll be a gift to remember.  

Colorization 

Journalist Wil Haygood’s Colorization traces the experience of Black artists on and behind the screen through 100 years of film history, demonstrating that racism hasn’t always been this bad in Hollywood. It’s actually been a lot worse. This meaty analysis of Black film history spans everything from The Birth of a Nation (1915), which glorified the Ku Klux Klan, to Gone With the Wind (1939) and its infamous whitewashing of slavery, to Get Out (2017) and its memorable portrayal of “post-racial” liberalism. Haygood has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and his research skills are as impeccable as that honor implies. He is also such a descriptive writer that you need not have seen every single movie he writes about in order to understand his analysis. Don’t be surprised if Colorization ends up on film studies syllabi for years to come.  

Art Boozel

We could all stand to freshen up our cocktail repertoire, and that’s where Art Boozel comes in. The book pairs dozens of artists with cocktails based on their work and/or personalities. For example, the Keith Haring is made with pear cider, lemon juice and a brandied cherry (among other ingredients), so it’s as bright and colorful as Haring’s art. Author Jennifer Croll has an endlessly creative mind for unique cocktails (her previous book, Free the Tipple, is also a compendium of cocktail recipes), and each artist and their drink is delightfully illustrated by Kelly Shami. Come for the recipes, stay for the contemporary art history lesson you never got in school. 

Mental Floss: The Curious Viewer

Mental Floss: The Curious Viewer, “a miscellany of bingeable streaming TV shows from the past 20 years,” is a reminder of just how many hours of prestige TV there is to watch. (There’s a lot.) Jennifer M. Wood, an editor at the pop culture blog Mental Floss, unearths everything you ever wanted to know about beloved shows like “Friends,” “Sex and the City,” “Downton Abbey,” “Friday Night Lights” and other shows worthy of a binge-watch. She shares fun facts and behind-the-scenes gossip from each show but somehow doesn’t make you feel like you’ve read them all in a Buzzfeed article. The Curious Viewer might just be the book that pulls the couch potato in your life away from the TV (and helps them dominate at trivia night). 

Fun City Cinema

At a certain point, everyone who lives in New York City stops seeing movie sets as exciting and instead sees them as a nuisance. That’s because the streets of Gotham have graced so many films. In Fun City Cinema, film critic and former film editor of Flavorwire Jason Bailey revisits the films that tell the story of NYC’s history and, in some cases, America’s history. The city changes so frequently that many films are “fascinating artifacts of cinematic archeology,” he writes in his introduction. It may be jarring to see photos of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and controversial ex-mayors such as Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg in the same book as, say, The Muppets Take Manhattan. Alas, these are contradictions New Yorkers live with every day. 

Got a film fanatic or art aficionado in your life? Give them one of these books and watch their eyes light up.

It’s impossible to overstate just how famous Sharon Stone was in the 1990s. After the phenomenon of 1992’s Basic Instinct, the legendary beauty earned further acclaim for roles in Casino and The Muse and became one of the highest paid actors on the planet. As a result, her every move was scrutinized. She would have broken the internet—if that had been a thing back in 1996—when she wore a black turtleneck from the Gap to the Oscars.

In Stone’s generous new memoir, The Beauty of Living Twice, she writes about it all, starting with her loving but fraught childhood in blue-collar Pennsylvania, where her family laughed hard and fought loudly. “They did a horrible, beautiful, awful, amazing job with us,” she writes of her parents. “They gave us their best. They gave us everything. All of it. The full Irish.”

Stone also reveals in this memoir that she and her sister were sexually abused by her maternal grandfather. That portion of the book is understandably vague and brief, but it’s clear this betrayal impacted the family irrevocably.

In fact, The Beauty of Living Twice alternates between vague summarization and incredibly personal recollections. Stone writes in detail about the massive stroke she suffered in 2001, which left her in financial and physical ruin that took years to recover from. She dishes on her experiences with some of the biggest stars in Hollywood and her philanthropic efforts around the world. But she only briefly talks about her experience of adopting three sons, one of whom became the subject of an acrimonious custody dispute with her ex-husband Phil Bronstein.

Overall, the book reads like an oral history, as if someone were typing furiously while Stone reminisced about her exceptional life. (“Remind me to tell you about James Brown,” she writes late in the book. She does not, unfortunately, tell us about James Brown.) Somehow, this old Hollywood narrative style works, and Stone delivers a bighearted, wonderfully rambling story full of wisdom and humor.

It’s impossible to overstate just how famous Sharon Stone was in the 1990s, and in her generous new memoir, she writes about it all.

Native Americans have had an image problem for as long as non-­Native people have had a say in it, from the Pilgrims to P.T. Barnum to Andrew Jackson to Hollywood movie producers. In the media, Indigenous people have been cast as savage, ignorant and unfunny, except as the butt of jokes. There is a sad logic to that: What would Native Americans have to laugh about? White settlers tried to vanquish them, denied them their culture, language and tribal lands, portrayed them as caricatures of their authentic selves and trapped them by systemic racism that fosters roadblocks to work and education. As the groundbreaking stand-up comedian Charlie Hill once said to a white audience, “For so long you probably thought that Indians never had a sense of humor. We never thought you were too funny either.”

Richly researched and told through the vibrant voices of the comics themselves—including Cherokee citizen Will Rogers and his son Will Rogers Jr., Osage member Ryan Red Corn, Kiowa member Adrianne Chalepah, Oneida member Charlie Hill and more—Kliph Nesteroff’s extraordinary We Had a Little Real Estate Problem: The Unheralded Story of Native Americans and Comedy chronicles a legacy deserving of inclusion in the history of comedy in the U.S. and Canada. Supporting players include Olympian, actor and member of the Sac and Fox Nation Jim Thorpe, who protested stereotyping in Hollywood Westerns in the 1930s and ’40s, demanding “only American Indians for American Indian parts.” Thorpe’s list of acceptable Native American performers, however, inspired the U.S. government to investigate whether those listed were truly Indigenous or if they were immigrants who were in the country illegally, according to Variety: “Italians, Mexicans, Armenians, and other swarthy-skinned foreigners have been passing themselves off as Indians, figuring no one could then question their entry.”

With the arrival of television, Native comedians-­to-be, inspired by shows like “The Tonight Show,” began learning their craft at far-flung casinos and truck stops in the middle of the night. Pay was pathetic, and audiences were sparse and unsure of how to react to a funny Native American, though fellow Indigenous people had no trouble relating to their own. In the 1970s, Charlie Hill, David Letterman, Jay Leno and Robin Williams shared the sidewalk line for a spot on the stage of the Comedy Store, a famous comedy club in Hollywood where scouts would come to spot new talent who, in turn, would help other aspiring comics—as Letterman did when he invited Hill onto his show as his first Native American guest.

Richly researched and told through the vibrant voices of Native American comics, Kliph Nesteroff’s extraordinary We Had a Little Real Estate Problem chronicles a legacy deserving of inclusion in the history of comedy.

Think of The Sprawl: Reconsidering the Weird American Suburbs as an idiosyncratic road trip through America’s suburbs. Your guide, Jason Diamond, grew up in suburban Chicago but has lived much of his adult life in New York City. A recurring question during this excursion is whether or not Diamond will live in the suburbs again.

He tells us he has recently read everything he could find about suburbia. This includes fiction by John Cheever, who shaped our experience of suburban New York, and work by Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury and Celeste Ng. And let’s not forget William Gibson, the speculative-fiction writer who founded the cyberpunk genre and grew up in suburban Charlottesville, North Carolina, which he once described as “like living on Mars.”

There are movies, music and TV here, too. Who could forget Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candle or "Leave It to Beaver"?  Or the work of David Lynch, whom Diamond credits with darkening our simple notions of the suburbs with a haunting idea that “there’s darkness hiding in the corner of the [suburban] room or standing on the nice lawn.” Music? Yes! We park for a time along grassy streets to listen to garage bands rouse the neighbors. We imagine other garages where teens tinker toward new technologies.

“I like to seek out places connected to movies and shows I love,” Diamond writes. Thus we travel to Seaside, the real-life location of Seahaven Island from Jim Carey’s The Truman Show. More out of curiosity than love, we visit Celebration, Florida, Disney’s planned community, which Diamond says is pretty creepy in its near-perfection. We’ve already visited ur-suburbs like Zion, Illinois, and Llewellyn Park, New Jersey, would-be Edens founded by confused or saintly hucksters to escape the evils of city life without actually going back to hunting and gathering. And of course there is Levittown, New York, the very image of suburban regimentation. Finally, we pause in a cul-de-sac to briefly consider the changing demographics of suburbs in the age of movements like Black Lives Matter.

Like all road trips, The Sprawl has its lolling moments. Diamond’s suburbs are lonely and boring places in need of a sense of community or at least a trip to the mall. Our attention wanders, and we focus on what Diamond reveals about himself, his boyhood bouncing from suburb to suburb to be with one or another of his divorced parents. But then a thought rouses us: The very blandness of these burbs is at the root of an ongoing restless, creative explosion. Diamond, as promised, lets us see “just how much the suburbs have influenced our culture.”

Think of The Sprawl: Reconsidering the Weird American Suburbs as an idiosyncratic road trip through America’s suburbs. Your guide, Jason Diamond, grew up in suburban Chicago but has lived much of his adult life in New York City. A recurring question during this excursion is whether or not Diamond will live in the suburbs again. He tells […]

Why choose between the page and the screen? These books are great for culture vultures who want to enjoy the two together.


Binging With Babish by Andrew Rea
Food on film can be as memorable as any character. What would Harry Potter be without butterbeer? Or “Seinfeld” without soup? In the vast universe of YouTube chefs, Andrew Rea stands out with his unique conceit: cooking dishes from TV and film to eat in real life. 

His channel’s millions of subscribers watch him prepare dishes like the Krabby Supreme from “Spongebob Squarepants,” cheesy blasters from “30 Rock” and even “the grey stuff (it’s delicious!)” from Beauty and the Beast. Rea’s new cookbook, Binging With Babish, compiles many of these recipes for the home cook. It includes serious dishes, such as creme brulee from Amélie and cannoli from The Godfather. But there are also plenty of not-so-serious recipes, such as Buddy’s pasta from Elf (spaghetti with M&Ms and a crumbled fudge PopTart, anyone?). Each recipe comes with Rea’s tips for preparation and a verdict on its edibleness.

Movies (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano
We all know one film aficionado who remembers bits and bobs about movies long after everyone else has forgotten them. This person can be tricky to shop for, as they’ve seen every movie already and have plenty of opinions about them. Enter Movies (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano, author of The Rap Year Book. Over the course of 30 essays, Serrano dives deep into topics that movie nerds love to debate, with a focus on famous films since the 1980s. Who are the members of the perfect heist movie crew? Who gets it the worst in Kill Bill

Movies is illustrated by Arturo Torres and, as a whole, feels internet-y in its composition, as it contains charts, listicles, a yearbook and even a script. There’s a distinctly masculine feel to the essays, with only a handful addressing films starring women. Nevertheless, any cinephile will find this a fascinating read—and for everyone else, it’s a fun coffee table book.

Why choose between the page and the screen? These books are great for culture vultures who want to enjoy the two together.

From lowbrow to highbrow TV, from comic books to rock ’n’ roll, here are five audiobooks to feed your pop culture diet. Whether your ears are tuned to licentious behind-the-scenes stories or erudite critiques, there’s something for anyone who hasn’t been hiding under a rock for the last century.


Bachelor Nation, written and read by Amy Kaufman
This is an absolute must-listen for anyone who’s ever watched “The Bachelor” and wondered what goes on behind the scenes, and for anyone curious about the tricks employed by reality TV. We learn how producers use editing to tell whatever story they want to tell, no matter what was really said. Any casual viewer knows how petty the contestants can be, but this book reveals just how ruthless the people behind the scenes can be, too. If you ever audition for the show, never reveal your fear of heights, unless you want to be the one selected for the sky-diving date. Whether you love the show or love to hate it, the juicy, tell-all nature of this audiobook makes it hard to press pause.

I Like to Watch, written and read by Emily Nussbaum
Emily Nussbaum, TV critic for The New Yorker, shares a collection of essays that treats television with respect, acknowledging it as the art form it has become. Twenty years into what many call TV’s second golden age, this is the perfect time to look back on the pivotal shows like “The Sopranos,” “Sex and the City” and even “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” all of which set TV on the path it’s on today. She delves into the difficult question of the #MeToo era: Can we still consume art by bad men? I found myself nodding along to the whole audiobook. It’s a thoughtful, opinionated collection of essays and a masterclass in critical writing.

Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine, written by Joe Hagan, read by Dennis Boutsikaris
Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner’s life makes for a fascinating lens through which to view the changing music- and magazine-publishing industries in the later half of the 20th century. He created legends, cementing John Lennon’s legacy as a rock god and building up the mythology behind rock ’n’ roll and the 1960s as a magically creative time. He lifted up the careers of Annie Lebowitz, Cameron Crowe and Hunter S. Thompson. He’s also a total narcissist, and this book pulls no punches. He puts profits over friendship time and again. He’s a successful business mogul, but at what cost? Joe Hagan had incredible access for this book and doesn’t hold anything back.

The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture, written and read by Glen Weldon
This book tracks the history of Batman from his origin as a Shadow knock-off, created to compete with Superman, and through all his permutations in comics, movies and cartoons. Author Glen Weldon posits that the most essential part of Batman is his pledge: When his parents are murdered, he vows to defend the defenseless. The adaptations that have ignored this part of his character are the ones that fail to connect with readers and viewers. Weldon draws a distinction between male and female fans: Male fans complain, make death threats and beg creators for the version of Batman they most relate to; female fans create their own versions, with stories they want to hear, using the characters they love in fan fiction. Weldon is a dynamic narrator, adopting New York and Scottish accents when quoting comic book authors. His “mad fan” voice is particularly skewering.

My Life as a Goddess, written and read by Guy Branum
Writer/comedian Guy Branum uses pop culture as a framing device for his memoir. As a kid, he watched old TV shows to learn about the world. His essay “The Man Who Watched The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” is a beautiful portrait of his relationship with a father who didn’t quite understand him but was proud of him. He does a line-by-line breakdown of “Bohemian Rhopsody” by Queen, interpreted as a coming-out tale that shines a whole new light on the song. Branum’s repeated line “and then I remembered, I am a Goddess” is an inspiring mantra that will boost any listener’s self-confidence. He has a way of throwing out biting asides that make this audiobook that much more fun than the book.

From lowbrow to highbrow TV, from comic books to rock ’n’ roll, here are five audiobooks to feed your pop culture diet.

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