of mice and men

Ben Pearson Read John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men

Not long ago, my wife and I went to The Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles (a super cool place you should check out if you’re ever in town) and bought a stack of classic novels we’d never read. We’ve since been steadily making our way through them, and one of the books I recently finished is John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men – which, yes, is technically just a novella, but gimme a break, will ya?

I won’t recap the plot points in case, like me, you’ve somehow managed to avoid it for all these years, but I’ll just say that I wasn’t expecting it to be such a profoundly sad story. The whole thing is only 107 pages, so it shouldn’t take you long to read it if you’re interested. But if you want to spoil yourselves with the quick version, this clip from an episode in the sixth season of Lost should do the trick and summarize it for you.

Hoai-Tran Bui Has Been Listening to Utada Hikaru’s Newest Releases

I don’t think I’ve ever loved an artist as much as I have loved Utada Hikaru. You probably know her as the person who sang “,Simple and Clean” or “Sanctuary” for the Kingdom Hearts video games, and that’s how I did at first too. In that way, she has been intrinsically tied to my childhood — but she was also a huge part of my life growing up. More than just looking forward to her next Kingdom Hearts theme song, I fell in love with her entire discography – and followed her career obsessively from then on. (I could also summarize her entire Wikipedia biography, but that would probably be too much.) To say she is my favorite artist would be an understatement.

So I was devastated when she decided to take a hiatus from her career and stop making music in 2012. Her reasons made sense. She had been in the music business since she was 15 years old, with a career stateside (she was born in New York) and in Japan as arguably biggest J-pop star of all time. But then — a miracle. She came back last year with her first album in 8 years, Fantôme. Sadly, it was through a sort of grieving process — her mother had passed away from suicide a few years ago and the album was less a triumphant comeback than it was a way of grieving the loss of her mother, while learning the ropes of becoming one herself — as she recently got married and gave birth. But through loss comes great music: Fantôme was one of her best, most vulnerable achievements yet, and I still listen to on repeat it today. The song that perhaps best exemplifies the haunting album is perhaps “Hanataba wo Kimini,” which roughly translates to “A Bouquet of Flowers For You”, a melancholy, wispy song backed by simple strings and percussion and featuring Utada crooning, “I’ll give you a bouquet/The things I want to say, what I want to say/ There are surely a mountain of them/So many only God knows them/I’ll give you a tear-colored bouquet today.” What sounds at first like a hopeful love song is in fact a mourning song (the bouquet here can either be the one given to a loved one, or one placed at funerals). You should also listen to “Boukyaku” (“Oblivion”) featuring KOHH, who appeared on Frank Ocean’s last album Blonde, because it is absolutely heart-wrenching and dark R&B track like nothing I’ve ever heard Utada do before.

Fantôme is a tough but cathartic listen, though not a sign that Utada was coming back permanently to the music industry. That’s why it’s so encouraging that she so soon released a new single this week, “Oozora de Dakishimete,” a springy and childlike jingle for a Suntory commercial. It’s not really that remarkable, but it still has that trademark brand of Utada wistfulness, and is a pleasant return for her as she gears up for yet another single release later this month, Forevermore. I’m getting inundated with so much Utada Hikaru content right now and I couldn’t be happier — except perhaps if she did go on to do the Kingdom Hearts 3 theme next.

Christopher Stipp is Watching First We Feast on YouTube

I abhor and cringe at most televised interviews with celebrities who have a project to hock to the general public. I don’t fault the celebrities themselves – having to promote something is just part of the job. Honestly, as someone who’s been on the other end of the interview table dozens upon dozens of times, I completely fault the interviewer for not being more engaging. That’s why I am enamored with Sean Evan’s interviews on YouTube.

I wish I could say I was there at the beginning when this bizarre but brilliant concept of interviewing all manner of celebs while eating progressively spicy chicken wings first came to be. Evans is an astute interviewer who himself eschews the normal interview dance and has reinvigorated the medium by adding a wildcard into the process of finding out answers to questions you wouldn’t normally get on a talk show with the added bonus of seeing the interviewee slowly grow increasingly uncomfortable, a lot of times ornery, in this process. Every episode has been a gift in some way and has broadened my own appreciation for not only chicken wings, but for the other content that Evans puts on the channel. Whether that’s a deconstruction of what makes a good bodega (apparently, you at least need a cat?) or why the Jamaican beef patty is a NYC staple, Evans is experimenting with different kinds of content. In a landscape littered with hyper happy YouTubers that are watched by 12-year-olds everywhere, First We Feast is a welcome and delicious alternative.

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