ZYZZYVA Staff Recommends August 2022: What to Watch, Read, & Listen To

ZYZZYVA Staff

We’re wrapping up the dog days of Summer with a Staff Recommends column. We hope you’ll close out the season with whatever books, music, or movies that catch your eye. So here we go:

Isabelle Edgar, Intern: I had never seen a movie that felt so much like a poem until I saw Petite Maman (2022), directed by Céline Sciamma. Like a poem, the movie is quite short –at just seventy two minutes– and quiet, with only one song in the whole movie (a trademark of Céline Sciamma; think Portrait of a Lady on Fire). Like a poem, Petite Maman’s silence is as meaningful as its words. You have to lean in, kneel down, and listen closely: a whisper from a child’s lips. As the lead in the movie says to her father and perhaps more broadly to the adult ear, “you don’t forget, you just don’t listen.”

The movie, in French, is about a young girl named Nelly who is cleaning out her late grandmother’s house with her parents. Nelly plays in the woods around the house, where her mother used to play. When she is out in the woods one day, she comes across a fort made of sticks and a young girl who looks remarkably like herself, introduced as Marion. The two girls play and we quickly learn that Marion is Nelly’s mother–when she was Nelly’s age. The two head to Marion’s house, down a different path than Nelly came from. It is the same house Nelly came from, however, this house is filled with life, as well as her grandmother. The two become close friends and spend a great deal of time together. At least until Nelly has to go home with her father and present day mother.

Petite Maman portrays child logic better than any media I’ve seen–with an abundance of depth and intelligence interwoven with belief in magic. These qualities are not mutually exclusive in Sciamma’s world of youth unlike many others. Instead of a child growing into something bigger and better, she invites us to see that maybe children are the most disinhibited yet deep we can be. We watch the two girls make pancakes and draw flour mustaches on each other’s faces and we also hear young Marion tell Nelly with utter sincerity “you didn’t invent my sadness”. There is space for both. 

Even the acting mirrors this sentiment. I kept thinking about the crossover between acting and make-believe. When you watch children play pretend they are simply in the world as opposed to an actor, acting as though they are in the world. Actresses Gabrielle Sanz and Josephine Sanz (Marion and Nelly) have an earnestness and ease that comes with incredible imagination. And because of it, their acting was some of the best I’ve seen in a long time. Perhaps actors should make believe a bit more.

When Nelly and her present day mother meet again in the last scene of the movie, they sit cross legged on the floor together. Though here they are different in age unlike the rest of the movie, they look remarkably similar. Nelly, a bit like an adult, and Marion, a bit like a kid. Perhaps they both just look like full people. When you watch Petite Maman, you’ll feel like a child again. Like a child who wants to go to sleep sooner so tomorrow can come more quickly, a child who makes islands out of the cocoa in her hot cocoa, a child who laughs when it starts to pour rain, a child who sees creatures in the shadows at night, a child who wishes she could say goodbye to her grandmother again because the last time wasn’t good enough, a child who wonders why her parents are sad and if it is her fault. And maybe you’ll feel that you aren’t all that different from that child now.

Danielle Shi, Intern: Like a gold nugget found at the mouth of a river, I discovered during a trip home a Carpenters CD buried deep in my divorcée mother’s home, concealed in the crevices of a piece of old cabinetry my father had built: a family heirloom. Never had I heard of the duo of brother and sister glory, our little nuclear tribe having been more favorable to silences accompanied by Richard Clayderman piano lounge music and smooth jazz renditions of Bryan Adams. Karen Carpenter’s signature butter-smooth vocals, the soothing maternal aura conjured by her contralto range, her prodigious drumming talent, even the tragedy of her much-publicized anorexia: until my discovery of her latent presence, she and Richard had remained entirely foreign to my conception of my family’s listening habits—I was a complete newcomer to how they’d rocked the seventies in style with their sad guitars, their recognizable bodies speaking feeling.

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And how The Carpenters would become my longtime obsession, though, until even now. I upgraded my wares to a Japanese-pressing LP and sat around doing as college kids did, hoisting my portable Columbia GP-3 over my shoulder for “record-listening parties” downstairs in my co-op’s game room. These shared moments, set among a small listening society, were our sacred opportunities to revel in Karen’s mellifluent voice. Pushing back against an era of irony, our acceptance of the sentimental journey of their pop felt rebellious in its sincerity. Their songs spoke to a kind of innocence and wonder we’d mislaid or forgotten somewhere along the way to adulthood, but could easily recover through a replay, again, drop the needle, now again, of evocations of heartfelt love. Together we welcomed their overtures to the spirit of romance, surviving within the textures and words of their lyrics’ warmth: their pure, common motion, and the shared basis for humanity they revealed through universal themes of earnest longing, desire, and melancholia. Feeling, or sensibility, was elevated as a value—suddenly, a careful listen gave us the ability to feel acutely, to use that heightened sensation as a way to make sense of the world, just as the songwriters had at their prime.

I recommend revisiting the 1994 tribute album If I Were a Carpenter, conceived by producer Matt Wallace and music journalist David Konjoyan, which isfilled with alternative rock covers of The Carpenters’ biggest hits by bands ranging from Sonic Youth (“Superstar”) to The Cranberries (“[They Long To Be] Close To You”). They offer a harder, if eclectic, take on these classic love anthems, with more distortion and heavier basslines. 4 Non Blondes of “What’s Up?” renown sing an impassioned “Bless The Beasts And Children” that ends with a roar eclipsing Karen’s own gentle preamble of piano and horns. Japanese band Shonen Knife at one point introduces a bouncy purity that complements well the original vibrant “Top Of The World,” and American Music Club’s “Goodbye to Love” ripples with new layers, even a wistful harmonica accent that takes the cake.

As for myself, I’ve recently purchased a piano songbook and have been picking at the timeless “We’ve Only Just Begun” that Grant Lee Buffalo gives his best to:

And when the evening comes, we smile

So much of life ahead

We’ll find a place where there’s room to grow

And yes, we’ve just begun.”

The Carpenters’ (and their cover artists’) ode to perennial youth, to recovering that child’s attraction that lies within even the weariest of us, hints at an excited anticipation of what lies around the next corner. With a stockpile of hope and a gentle sense of upwards verve, they urge us to be “Watchin’ the signs along the way,” to remain open to the little miracles, the synchronistic details, the intentional wanderings that take us to where we are to go, as we get to where we’re going.

Grace Bartosh, Intern: I’ll be the first to admit that I never understood the hype around TikTok. As shocking as it sounds, the app, if anything, annoys me due to how popular it has become over more deserving platforms. Because of this—along with my stubbornness—I have refused to ever download it.

However, TikTok videos have found their way to appear on my Instagram for you page. When I see one on my feed, I immediately scroll past it, but there are certain videos that I am drawn to: videos from BookTok, of course! BookTok is a subcommuniy on TikTok where creators recommend and review different types of books, typically YA, dystopian, fantasy, and romance. Because dystopian and fantasy happen to be my favorite genres, I always feel obliged to watch these videos and discover more series, even though they originally came from an app that I don’t like. It it thanks to BookTok that I have discovered so many fantastic stories, such as A Court of Thorns and Roses, Six of Crows, and Shatter Me.

However, there is one book that kept showing up on my for you page over and over again, to the point where it was getting aggravating; I wanted to find new books rather than see the same one every single time I opened Instagram. Although it seemed like your typical romance novel centered around a love triangle, I ended up buying it anyways back in December. I didn’t have very high expectations, and I never felt compelled to actually read it. It just sat on my bookshelf for months.

Two weekends ago, I finally decided to pick it up. And wow. That’s all I can really say about this novel; I’m at a loss of words. It’s heartwarming and heart-shattering at the same time. At first, it cuts deep, and then it just cuts even deeper. If you are looking for a real novel that teaches you about life, about love, about loss, and about everything in between, then this is the book for you. I don’t want to tell you too much about it so you can go into it without any expectations, but what you do need to know is that you must read this book immediately.

The novel is titled It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover. You may have read it already—which I wish I had done sooner—but if not, then what are you doing? Go get it now! Because of it, I’m forced to feel grateful that TikTok exists, or at least BookTok…

Zack Ravas, Assistant Editor: As someone who considers themselves a longtime fan of Hideo Kojima, I was surprised when I walked into the bookstore a couple weeks ago and found that the revered game developer had authored a book in 2019, one that was translated into English and published Stateside. For those not familiar, Kojima is one of the few video game creators generally regarded as an ‘auteur’ and someone who is invested in furthering games as an artform; he’s most known for the Metal Gear Solid series, a stealth action franchise that has touched on relevant topics such as shady private military contractors, genome research, and the global war economy; and Death Stranding, his look at a near-future America crippled by a supernatural disaster and which unfolds with the measured and immersive patience of an Andrei Tarkovsky film. Beyond his accomplishments in the game world, however, Kojima is known as both an unabashed cinephile and voracious reader, which is precisely where his book The Creative Gene comes in.

Released by Viz Media, The Creative Gene collects several of Kojima’s essays on his favorite pieces of media—you might even think of it as Kojima’s very own Staff Recommends. These essays were published in magazines across Japan and some date all the way back to 2007. Kojima touches on classic films like Blade Runner and Elevator to the Gallows, and even the music of English post-punk band Joy Division. But the vast majority of these essays consist of Kojima discussing what is clearly a central passion of his life: the written word. In the introduction, Kojima describes in detail his daily ritual of visiting the bookstore:

“I go to a bookstore, pick out books, take them in my head, buy the ones that call to me, and lose myself reading them…Picking out books and reading them is more than a habit I’ve maintained through life; it’s part of who I am.”

For someone who’s globally respected in his field, Kojima has been known to keep a low-profile; he’s always struck me as a very private individual, perhaps even shy. Which is why it’s endearing just how much Kojima shares of himself in these essays about his favorite books—from the loss of his father when Kojima was just a teenager to his relationship with his own aging children. “Sometime, the day will come when I will pass my torch, my memes, on to my children,” he writes.

The notion of ‘memes’ is something that Kojima has been exploring in his work for at least twenty years, well before the idea was cemented in popular culture. While most internet users tend to think of memes as funny images or slogans that become popularized on the web, by Kojima’s definition they’re more like the personal experiences and cultural lexicon that connect us to other people and which we pass on to the next generation:

“This selection of works—rather, the broader context they represent—formed who I am, and therefore my own creations. The memes these stories communicated to me provided the energy I use to create, and to live.”

What’s more, Kojima rarely recommends books you’ll recognize from class syllabus or bestsellers’ list; many of them are esoteric or originally published in Japan. (Fortunately, most of the Japanese novels that Kojima selects have since been translated into English). Not only does The Creative Gene offer a ready-made reading list with titles across a number of genres, from science-fiction to mystery and beyond, it also serves as a candid portrait of a highly esteemed but elusive artist.

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