On my radar: Ira Glass’s cultural highlights

The US radio journalist on a bold coming-of-age movie, Elle King’s singing, podcast Reply All and George Saunders on Donald Trump

This American Life host Ira Glass was born in Baltimore, Maryland and studied semiotics at Brown University. He has worked in public radio since the age of 19, when he started as an intern at National Public Radio, and has since worked in a number of roles including writer, editor, producer and reporter. Since 1995 he has hosted and produced radio show This American Life, which became a podcast in 2006 and attracts more than 4 million listeners every week. In 2014 it launched its wildly successful spinoff show, Serial. Ira Glass will be in the live show Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host – which he describes as “like This American Life, plus dancing” – at the Southbank Centre on 16 August.

1 | Film

Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)

the diary of a teenage girl film still
Kristen Wiig, Bel Powley and Alexander Skarsgård in The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Photograph: Sam Emerson/AP

In the opening moments of this film, a 15-year-old girl declares that she’s had sex for the first time and feels great about it, which, for starters, bravo, in our somehow-still-slut-shaming culture – you don’t see that every day on screen. Then within minutes you learn that the person she had sex with is her mother’s boyfriend. At every point this film felt very real and utterly surprising and when can you say that? The girl keeps an audio diary on cassette tapes and I really couldn’t tell if they’d be discovered by her mom (who’s played so convincingly by Kristen Wiig in a non-comic turn). Stuff happened. I cared. I thought about it a lot later. What else do we want from our films?

2 | Music

Elle King

elle king on stage in milwaukoo
Elle King on stage in Milwaukee: ‘She wails out her heart and it feels like she really means it.’ Photograph: ddp USA/Rex/Shutterstock

I know nothing about her, but I instantly liked her, from the first time I heard her big hit Ex’s and Oh’s. I know this sentence just means I’m old, but I like what a throwback she is. She does soulful, old-fashioned songs where she wails out her heart and it feels like she really means it. I yearn for that more in pop music. I mean, obviously Taylor Swift and Beyoncé make their living off that too, but hearing the rough, whiskey-soaked grain in Elle King’s voice reminded me how the 1950s version of that genre still slays.

3 | Podcast

Reply All

reply all podcast logo

This is my favourite new podcast.They find great stories no one else has covered, narrative stories with interesting plots and compelling characters. Beautifully thought out and edited, charmingly written, often funny, with two appealing hosts. It’s journalism about the culture of the internet, which might not sound like your cup of tea but believe me, they make that world completely fascinating. Good episodes to start with: In the Desert or the not-as-typical-but-revealing What It Looks Like.

4 | Book

Being a Beast by Charles Foster

author charles foster in woodland
Make like a badger: Charles Foster. Photograph: Felicity McCabe/The Guardian

What I love about this book is that it’s an utterly sincere attempt to try to understand what it’s like to be an animal. As a boy, Charles Foster would stare at a blackbird out the window of his home, wondering what it knew that he did not. He trained to be a veterinarian but that did not get him close enough to the beasts. He decided to live like animals, took his son to survive for a few days like badgers. They slept in a dirt hole and ate worms. But what’s great is that throughout these adventures, Foster – an Oxford academic – is deeply rigorous as he parses what we can and cannot know about animals’ thoughts and feelings and perceptions. Honestly, the badger chapter alone is worth the price of admission.

5 | Web series

Horace and Pete

a barroom scene from horace and pete
Unfairly overlooked: Aidy Bryant, Steve Buscemi and Louis CK in Horace and Pete. Photograph: Handout

Like everyone I know, I’m a super-fan of Louis CK’s astonishing and refreshing television show Louie. This web-only series somehow got overlooked by the world and I think unfairly so. I’m only a few episodes in but I’m impressed already by how many great and memorable scenes are in each show I’ve seen so far, with wonderful performances by Edie Falco, Aidy Bryant (who plays Horace’s daughter and could not seem more real), Jessica Lange and Alan Alda (who I guess got tired of playing nice guys after M*A*S*H and is so fun to watch playing dicks, like his character here, a racist, mean-spirited, insensitive asshole uncle).

6 | Political writing

George Saunders on Donald Trump

a donald trump supporters baseball cap covered in badges
These colours don’t run: a young Trump supporter at a rally earlier this year. Photograph: Chris Keane/Reuters

Hello foreigners! Like so many Americans, I’m obsessed with Donald Trump. Some days my first act on waking is to search his name on Twitter. My favourite bit of writing about him was done in the New Yorker by the fiction writer George Saunders. He takes as his premise that Trump supporters live in a different information landscape than his liberal readers and then documents truly thoughtful conversations where he looks for common ground and shared values, though even to say those words makes it sound corny and dull. What he notices is original and alive.

7 | Theatre

Sense & Sensibility

a scene from sense and sensibility new york 2016
Exceptional work: Sense & Sensibility at the Gym at Judson, New York. Photograph: Ashley Garrett

I go to a lot of theatre in New York where I live and this is one of the best things I’ve ever seen here. For one bedroom scene, the couple stand side by side in front of a mattress, sheets pulled up to their chins, as if we were on the ceiling looking down. I’d never read the Jane Austen novel and was astounded that the question at the heart of the story was “aren’t you better off if you never show your feelings?” I know, Observer readers, that’s part of your national character and whatnot, but I had no idea people wrote novels debating and mostly defending the practice of not expressing feelings. We really are very different countries.


Kathryn Bromwich

The GuardianTramp

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