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Staff Picks: 8/1-8/5

What The Daily staff is watching, listening to, reading, and otherwise enjoying this summer

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What we’re watching

Joshua Lee, writer (@theleejoshua)

In my continuing summer malaise of novelizing, ruminating, and Letterboxd cataloging, I found myself at the good mercy of director Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 adaptation of “Little Women,” starring Winona Ryder as Jo March. “Little Women” is a story that almost needs no introduction — it’s a timeless piece of American literature about family, love, and sisterhood, warts and all.

I’m sure most people our age are more familiar with the much more recent 2019 adaptation, directed by Greta Gerwig. I thought it might be fun to compare these two editions to see which is the definitive version.

When it comes to author-insert and protagonist Josephine “Jo” March, Ryder and 2019’s Saoirse Ronan give different but equally electric performances, and frankly, the same can almost be said when comparing Christian Bale and Timothée Chalamet’s interpretations of Theodore “Laurie” Laurence, as well as the performances of the rest of the cast.

Perhaps the greatest differences between the adaptations lie in the depictions of the characters and themes. “Little Women” is a feminist story, but the times in which it was published prevented what I believe to be a proper actualization of Jo’s arc.

In an emotional turning point of the story, Laurie proposes to long-time friend Jo, which she declines, citing her independence and their constant feuding to support her decision. Jo states that she does not believe she will marry, which Laurie rebuts (in the 1994 edition): “One day, you’ll meet some man, a good man, and you will love him tremendously. And you will live and die for him.”

In the ending of both the original novel and the 1994 adaptation, Laurie is right — Jo meets an old German guy named Friedrich Bhaer and marries him. In the 2019 version, Jo’s perspective and loneliness is the central focus of the final act of the film, amazingly portrayed in a scene that probably earned Ronan her Oscar nomination.

By the end of Gerwig’s adaptation, Jo and Bhaer’s marriage is nothing more than an appeasement for Jo’s book, with her and Bhaer ending as friends, teaching together at a school for boys. It’s a much more sensible ending for Jo, one that’s consistent with her journey of self-actualization.

For that notion alone, I’d recommend giving 2019’s “Little Women” another watch.

What we’re listening to

Natalie Roy, General Sections Editor (@nataliedroy)

Almost two years ago, in the trenches of the pandemic lockdown, sitting in my childhood bedroom in a semi-fugue TikTok binge, I came across a song that immediately grabbed my full attention. It was different from any song you’d think of as a “TikTok song” — it was a slow and melodic ballad, with carefully crafted lyrics which constructed a complex and detailed story.

The TikTok, I soon learned, was a cover of Joanna Newsom’s “Sawdust & Diamonds” from her 2006 album “Ys.” Curious how the original sounded, I opened a live concert recording of the original, and shortly after, my music rotation became exclusively her discography. While my playlists have now regained their variety, I still find myself listening to Newsom whenever I can.

The indie folk singer’s lyricism is packed to the brim with metaphors and imagery. Newsom takes her time crafting her ballads; many of her songs are well over five minutes, with the longest clocking in at nearly 17 minutes. The intricate lyrics and length, along with Newsom’s classically trained harp instrumentation, makes each song a massively impressive feat.

I could talk about each of her songs for hours at a time, but to abridge my thoughts, here’s a few of my favorites.

“Monkey & Bear” is a cautionary tale of an abusive relationship told between a circus bear and her monkey caretaker, while “Baby Birch” is a slow, yet simmering piece about the grief associated with losing a child. Despite their thematic differences, the final few minutes of both are a raw and explosive recitation of emotion.

One of Newsom’s favored niches is detailing obscure histories and folklore — “Sapokanikan” is a whirlwind of references ranging from Ozymandias to old New York mayors, “Have One On Me” is a heart-wrenching song told from the perspective of dancer Lola Montez, and “Go Long” is a retelling of the French folktale “Bluebeard,” recounting the painful realization of a toxic relationship.

Newsom has a gift for collecting tales and elevating them through music. She’s an artist I truly never get tired of listening to, and I can’t recommend her enough if you have any appreciation for folk music and unique songwriting.

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What we’re reading

Megan Matti, writer (@megan_matti)

This week, I ventured out to the University District branch of the Seattle Public Library for one of my favorite days of the week: the day my holds come in. Scanning the shelves and finding my last name and the barcode is like a personalized scavenger hunt that consumes my mind until I find the book I’m looking for. This week, the book that finally was off hold was “Detransition, Baby” by Torrey Peters.

This book was an impeccable reflection on womanhood, personhood, and motherhood. I found myself on the edge of my seat, in tears, and smiling as the story progressed.

In “Detransition, Baby,” Peters takes the reader into the lives of Reese, a single transgender woman in New York City who desperately wants to be a mother, Ames, Reese’s ex-girlfriend who has since detransitioned, and Katrina, Reese’s now-pregnant boss and girlfriend. Trying to fulfill his role as a father, make the women in his life happy, and “queer” the notion of parenthood, Ames proposes that the trio become a new type of family and join in the effort to raise the baby. In between, the reader is introduced to pieces of the past when Amy and Reese were together, Reese’s life before meeting Amy, and Reese and Katrina’s budding friendship.

The story takes on a remarkably intimate angle, making the reader feel as though they are truly a fly on the wall in Reese, Katrina, and Ames’ life.

In addition to the subject matter, Peters’ writing style is jaw-dropping. With lines such as "those minor-wound-dwelling brooders with no particular difficulties," and "maybe instead of saying what the inevitable outcome is, just make a f—-ing leap," it felt like I was able to really connect with Peters' story and could place myself in this narrative so far outside of my own reality. These brief sections, while fragments of the larger piece, reflect the rawness of the entire novel, and the powerful personal nature of Peters’ novel.

Peters' beautiful writing style and unique subject matter make it easy to understand why the novel won the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel and why it was longlisted for many other awards, including the 2021 Women's Prize for Fiction.

Four of Peters’ novellas will be published in 2023 by Penguin Random House in a collection entitled “Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones.” I am excited to see how this collection mirrors and grows from her explosive debut of “Detransition, Baby.”

I would strongly recommend placing a hold on the book –– though it may take a while for the University District branch to get my copy back.

What we’re doing

Luke Amrine, News Editor (@amrine_luke)

One of the things that I have really come to appreciate is a good meal. I’ve come a long way from exclusively ordering chicken strips when out on the town — although I do consider myself to be something of a chicken strip gourmet.

Something I enjoyed most about spending some time out of Seattle this summer was that it forced me out of my food comfort zone. As one of the most diverse cities in the world, London enjoys a cuisine selection that borders on overwhelming for someone trying to pick a spot for dinner.

One of the last meals I had before heading home, the Iranian-Indian mix from Dishoom: From Bombay With Love, was by far one of the highlights of the whole trip. Eating chicken in some of the most sumptuous sauces I’ve ever tasted, while observing some of the authentic anti-imperial colonial graffiti brought over from Bombay was not something I had on my 2022 bingo card, but is an experience I’ll never forget.

Located in the trendy Coal Drops Yard area of King’s Cross, Dishoom was built in a very impressive warehouse from the Victorian era in 1850. While it originally housed coal to be shipped in and out of nearby King’s Cross Station, today the building houses restaurants, boutiques, and an especially tasty cocktail bar.

Perhaps the factor that made this meal a particular standout was Viktor, the Polish bartender. Not one to let his customers go thirsty, the old fashioned he made was one the best of any I’ve come across. One of the benefits of eating at the bar was that Viktor could point us in the right direction, with the garlic naan being a particular standout of the night.

The only downside of the evening was the fact that it came at the end of an amazing trip. I guess that means it’s another reason to get back to London soon.

Reach writer Joshua Lee, General Sections Editor Natalie Roy, writer Megan Matti, and News Editor Luke Amrine at arts@dailyuw.com.

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