‘The Underground Railroad,’ ‘Bad’ Food, Jamila Woods, and More: This Week’s Recommended Reading


Here at Flavorwire, we pride ourselves on not only writing some of the best content on the internet, but keeping an eye on all of the great writing that other folks on the ‘net are doing, too. This week the announcement that the publisher would release The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead early to mark its selection as Oprah’s Book Club pick has led to some wonderful writing about America’s evil past, race and literature, and this book specifically. There’s an obligatory and lovely profile in the New York Times, which is running an excerpt this weekend. There’s an article on the seeming surging interest in “bad” food. Stranger Things is still a central part of the TV conversation. Read it all in the links below:

Putting Whitehead’s book in historical context at The New Republic, novelist Brit Bennet explores the history of slave narratives by the likes of Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglas and the pressure they were once under to make their case to a broad audience, asking whether Whitehead novelistic’s blending of realism and imagination can rewrite the rules of that genre:

This is one of the biggest tragedies of the slave narrative: the pernicious belief that those closest to an experience are somehow the least authoritative. The ex-slave narrator was expected to condemn his oppression yet maintain a nuanced depiction of his oppressor, and to recall the events of his life in a manner that was clear, neutral, and devoid of any contradiction, lest he be accused of falsifying the past.

In another literary world that’s not actually so far away, The New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino notes that books about wealthy white people and their status and money woes by Ramona Ausubel and Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney are a form of writing about race, too:

The subtext, both with Trump supporters and in these two novels, is whiteness—and the sense of entitlement, the powerful claim to earning power, that whiteness in America often brings. Both “The Nest” and “Ease and Plenty” serve as good reminders that even stories with few characters of color are, in their own way, very much “about race.” The worlds of these books are sketched in differently—bright shades and fine lines for Sweeney, watercolors for Ausubel—but in both books the non-white characters figure as pieces of emotional curriculum, casualties that help teach the white protagonists about their own luck.

Irina Dumetrescu writes for The Atlantic about the reasons for a surge in cultural enthusiasm for culinary disasters, and how through gastronomic “perfectionism” a rebellious id seems to be awakening:

There appears to be growing interest in food that breaks rules. On blogs, in Facebook groups, in listicles and Tumblrs, people are celebrating “bad” food—dishes that are disastrous, unattractive, or just unhealthy. Some poke fun at the mishaps of chefs, bakers, and cookbook authors, like the website Cake Wrecks, with its pictures of tragically ambitious professional cakes. Other online collections, like theGallery of Regrettable Food and Vintage Food Disasters, are filled with scans of disgusting-looking concoctions from old cookbooks. Websites like Someone Ate Thiscelebrate the failures of home cooking in triumphantly unappetizing photos. Even Martha Stewart, who made a generation of homemakers feel inadequate, has been tweeting revolting photos of her meals, to general delight and horror.

In TV, people still (understandably) can’t stop talking about Stranger Things, but that also means there have been a fair share of absurd hot takes circulating about which character really had the most ’80s taste in snacks, or what have you. But one thing that hasn’t gotten annoying yet are interviews with the cast, and A.V. Club got to do a joint interview with both the show’s current and ’80s breakout stars — Millie Bobby Brown and Winona Ryder. Read it here.

Chance the Rapper collaborator Jamila Woods (whose voice is prominent on the lush and unforgettable Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment track, “Sunday Candy”) recently released her debut album, HEAVN. Adrienne Samuels Gibbs did an interview the artist for Pitchfork, asking at one point whether she considers the album “protest music,” to which she says:

When you hear the term “protest music,” it might feel like it’s supposed to sound one way, like maybe super militant or super strong, or with chants. I definitely do that, but I also think of “protest music” [differently] because I was in the Chicago Children’s Choir. We sang a lot of gospel music, because the founder was a preacher and believed in bringing together kids from around the city to sing. We always sang “Precious Lord” and [artistic director] Josephine [Lee] would be like, “This was Martin Luther King’s favorite song, and so whenever he got tired of marching, he would sit down and ask the choir to sing this song so that he could keep going.” So, in that sense, my music is protest music—not just the music that you march to, but also the music that you rest and refuel to.

In politics, two videos each make a more resonant point than any article could. The first is a video of Hillary Clinton being asked about her likability over the course of 40 years:

And a New York Times video showing uncensored voices from a season of Trump rallies. It carries a content warning for a good reason, but it’s an important look into the hearts of some of the people who have carried the candidate on their shoulders.