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Media Diet – Summer 2017

Jason Kottke has this series he publishes now and then giving short reviews and recommendations of media he has consumed recently. He calls it his media diet. I think it’s a great idea— keep a rough record of things I have previously watched or read to refer to later on. There are a lot of things that I have watched/read this summer that I’d like to write more about, so consider this a jumping-off point for future idea posts.

In no particular order:

Defiant Ones

With the release date of season 7 of Game of Thrones approaching, I decided to subscribe to HBO. It was the first time I had subscribed to the service, despite how much of their content I have viewed previously. Two months in, it’s been one of the better decisions I have made this year. Besides being able to watch the current shows, I can go through previous seasons of Game of Thrones or series to re-watch them or to watch HBO’s documentaries that I likely missed.

One of those documentary series that I watched was The Defiant Ones, a four-part documentary series about Dr. Dre, the hip-hop artist and producer; and Jimmy Iovine, the producer. I knew who they were, and knew how Dr. Dre became well-known through the hip-hop group N.W.A., but did not know how they ended up working together in music and then forming Beats headphones, and Beats Music. The structure of the series really draws you in to the story with the usage of present-day interviews and media clips from the time periods they’re referring to. Several celebrities also make appearances to talk about their connections to both men, including Eminem, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, and Gwen Stefani. Highly recommended.

Game of Thrones – Season 7

The highly-anticipated, penultimate season of the series was a slight disappointment to me. Plenty of people loved it, especially with some of the storyline payoffs that had been built up for years in the books and series. I had been rewatching the first three seasons of Game of Thrones to refresh my memory about how far the characters and storylines have come before watching season 7. That likely influenced my feeling on the season, because I was reminded of how rich the storytelling was in those first three or four seasons. Much of the story in the earlier seasons is shown by secondary characters or common people, which I loved. In the current season, a lot of that flavour to the story is left behind as the producers focused more on the plot, rather than how the story was being told. Still recommended viewing, especially if you enjoy fantasy.

The Story of China

I simply loved this. I’m a bit biased because I have enjoyed the documentary series hosted by Michael Wood in the past, starting with Following the Footsteps of Alexander the Great that I had to watch in high school, and more recently his Story of England. With the Story of China, Wood follows the lineages of a few families through the history of China, from the earliest dynasties several thousand years ago through to the Communist Revolution. I had the broadest notion of the history of China (the Mongolian invasion, British colonization of Hong Kong, invasion by Japan, and the rise of Mao) before watching this series. It helped flesh out a lot of the big missing parts in their history that I was unsure of, such as the opium wars, the spread of Confucianism and Buddhism, and the history behind the Silk Road.

After watching the full series, I had a much greater appreciation for how ancient Chinese history is compared to the western cultures of Europe that I am more familiar with. This series can be watched online, and keep an eye out for his other ones to be replayed. This series definitely makes me want to dive back into Tibet: A History.

Downton Abbey

I am quite late to the party with this series. It’s been on my radar for years, likely since the second season came out in 2011. It took six years after that for me to actually watch an episode, and six weeks later I finished the whole series in true bingemode fashion. Earlier I complained about the lack of richness and flavour in the current season of Game of Thrones. Downton Abbey is absolutely full of it. The setting, the costumes, the language, the plot lines, and how the stories unfold are all quite remarkable. It took a few episodes to get me into the series and then I was on a roll. Fair warning, one of the seasons is Red Wedding-esque— it caught me completely off-guard, grabbed my heart, and crushed it, multiple times. It’s rare when a television show causes me to cry a bit, and this is one of them.

Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday

I mentioned this book previously when the pre-orders were announced. I delved right into it and finished it within a week. It’s a great look at how some works of art stand out from the rest and endure the test of time, while others are a flash in the pan. Like his other books, Ego is the Enemy and The Obstacle is the Way, he pulls from a lot of sources to craft the story to lay out his argument. If you enjoy little snippets and quotes from a variety of sources, you will enjoy his style of writing.

I happened to be reading this at the same time I started watching The Defiant Ones, which helped me identify quite a few of the stages Holiday lays out in his book to make something that lasts. Both Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine were relentless in crafting sounds that were perfect for the songs they were working on. People recalled that Iovine asked for nearly a hundred takes to get a drum sound right for one of Springsteen’s songs, for example. They both treated their work like it was meant to last, they weren’t creating a one hit wonder. They also told stories about how they built their fanbases, promote the records or songs, and build a sustaining business through music.

The book is an easy read and a worthwhile read for anyone with creative juice in their system.

Mussolini’s Arctic Airship by Eva Holland

A novella-size of a journalistic story, a short read of a fascinating story. See my previous blog post to learn more about the book and more about Eva Holland.