Staff Picks: Flavorwire’s Favorite Cultural Things This Week

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Need a great book to read, album to listen to, or TV show to get hooked on? The Flavorwire team is here to help: in this weekly feature, our editorial staffers recommend the cultural object or experience they’ve enjoyed most in the past seven days. Click through for our picks, and tell us what you’ve been loving in the comments.

Björk’s Vulnicura

When Vulnicura was surprise-released yesterday, I was as ecstatic as I was apprehensive. Björk did science on Biophila (and I actually thoroughly loved aspects of its lullaby-ish scientific pedagogy) and sort of did politics with Volta, but I was pretty damn ready for her to return to pure, Vespertine-y personhood (though, sure, science, politics and personhood are indivisible — shut up). So when she released a statement saying she initially worried the album was “self-indulgent” but then realized that might actually make it “more universal,” the promise of an awesome album seemed even more palpable. And Björk didn’t misguide: the album is, as our Tom Hawking wrote, her most blatantly personal, and probably, despite its mercurial melodies, her most accessible. Also, I hope that after this, fuckers, AKA potential future Björk suitors, will, as “Stonemilker” admonishes, “show [her some fucking] emotional respect.” — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor

Once Upon a Time

Hello, are you sick? Then you should spend your weekend recuperating with ABC’s goofy and entertaining series about a bunch of people in the small town of Storybrooke, Maine, who are really fairy tale characters of legend (Snow White, the Evil Queen, Mulan, even the princesses from Frozen) from another land. It’s got the satisfying flashback structure of Lost, the silly world-building of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the two words are secretly total matriarchies and that’s kind of amazing. (On the other hand, women only exist to have babies and “family is everything” in some ways, too, so one hand washes the other.) If only all the actors on the show were having half the fun that Robert Caryle has as Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold (Prince Charming remains bland, serious, and generically handsome), but nevertheless, I’m having fun with the show’s fascinating and ever-changing universe. — Elisabeth Donnelly, Nonfiction Editor

Paddington

The concept of guilty pleasures can go to hell. Paddington, which my boyfriend and I saw in a theater full of children and their parents, is the best moviegoing experience I’ve had in months. I’ve seen a slew of the 2015 Oscar nominees, and not one of them matched the joy of Paddington — not even The Grand Budapest Hotel, from which Paddington takes great visual inspiration. The film, which has been roundly praised, is fun and sad and smart and fast, and the animation of Paddington is astounding. The little guy’s wit and determination, not to mention his marmalade heart, make for one of the most touching and easy films of the year. I know there’s a distinction to be made between “great” and “fun” films, but when it comes to Paddington I couldn’t really give a single damn. I laughed. I almost cried. I pondered, briefly, buying a blue toggle coat. — Shane Barnes, Editorial Apprentice

Becoming Richard Pryor by Scott Saul

There’s an abundance of Richard Pryor biographies out there, and precious few of them are any damn good—take it from me, I’ve spent the past few months reading them all, in preparation for my own (non-biographical) book about the comic legend. So when you’re in the midst of a process like that, a volume like Scott Saul’s Becoming Richard Pryor is like manna from heaven: a painstakingly researched and crisply written biography with an eye on clarification and demystification. Smith delves into the Pryor mythos with a historian’s attentiveness to documentation and detail, tracking his family history, early years, and (most valuably) his legendary yet often simplified departure from mainstream entertainment and exile in Berkley, where he made the titular transformation. But it’s not just aimed at us completists; Saul injects enough of Pryor’s own voice, and energy, to keep from getting too overtly dry or academic. In other words, he strikes a balance between biography, commentary, and history—and in the case of this unique performer, that’s harder than it looks. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor

Outline by Rachel Cusk

I’m about halfway through Rachel Cusk’s eighth novel, and it is confounding in the most compelling way. At its most basic level, Outline is about a woman who travels to Athens to teach a writing seminar. But the novel defies traditional narrative structures: its characters appear, unload their sorrows onto the near-silent narrator (who hasn’t been named, at this point in my reading), and then vanish. Through these lopsided dialogues, we learn a little about the cryptic woman at the center of the book: she is divorced, she has two sons, she is grappling with a great loss. But facts in Outline are muddled by interpretation, and each sentence of Cusk’s taught prose is a revelation about the truths that remain unknowable. — Brigit Katz, Editorial Apprentice

The Vaselines at the Bell House, Brooklyn

Scottish indie-pop bands have always been more dirty-minded and foul-mouthed than their stateside (or English) brethren — a fact I was reminded of when I showed up to see The Vaselines at the Bell House Friday night, just in time to witness four or five middle-aged men being hauled away by bouncers who, at times, had to physically restrain them. The band’s central ex-couple kept the rudeness alive with playfully nasty, generally sexual, and consistently hilarious digs at each other, in between energetic renditions of both brand-new and classic songs. The Vaselines aren’t just great for an ’80s reunion act; for my money, they’re one of the best bands touring now, period. — Judy Berman, Editor-in-Chief

Stoner by John Williams

With Belle and Sebastian and Sleater-Kinney’s new albums on loop, I have been reading some mid-century American fiction. Stoner, John Williams’ novel that I call a “cult classic,” is a sort of quiet misery epic about a farmboy-turned-professor in the World War I and Depression years. No, it has nothing to do with weed, which may be its biggest flaw. It’s dark, it’s fatalistic, it’s beautiful in language and its insistence on its primary character finding interior happiness despite the really absurdly awful machinations of everyone around him. The language is so heartbreakingly clear that one keep reading despite the cringe-inducing scenes fated to come in the ensuing pages. — Sarah Seltzer, Editor-at-Large