Keep yourself entertained at home with this list of five great books, podcasts and documentaries. Each choice is a different genre, meant to pull you out of your comfort zone and engage you in new and interesting material!
My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward, Mark Lukach (2017): This raw, heart-wrenching and refreshingly hopeful memoir follows author Mark Lukach and his family as they navigate his wife Guilia’s struggle with mental illness. Lukach provides an unflinching look at the mental health care system in the United States, the profound impact of mental illness on their family and friends, and the unwavering love between them. I particularly enjoyed how thoughtfully Lukach portrays his wife’s fight to maintain her dignity, independence and sense of self throughout. Bring Kleenex.
The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas (2017): Sixteen-year-old Starr is straddling two worlds: the low-income, predominantly African-American neighbourhood where she grew up and the upscale suburban prep school that she attends with her siblings. The story follows Starr’s changing understanding of the world after she witnesses the shooting of her childhood friend, Khalil, by a police officer. A masterful look at race, poverty and adolescence, this book lives up to its accolades. I was especially drawn to the story of Starr’s older brother, Seven, as he navigates his complicated family dynamics.
The Girl with All the Gifts, M. R. Carey (2014): Set in a post-apocalyptic schoolroom, Melanie and her classmates learn about nature, literature and science. Through Melanie’s eyes, we learn about her favourite teacher (Miss Justineau), her favourite subject (math), and the strange, militarized world that she lives in. As the story unfolds, the world outside the classroom walls comes into increasingly sharp focus. Simply put, this is one the best sci-fi books I have read in years.
Talking to Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell (2019): Using a series of real-life examples – including how Fidel Castro stayed two steps ahead of the CIA and the TV sitcom Friends – author Malcom Gladwell explores how and why humans misunderstand each other. Gladwell uses science and social science to meticulously unpack and explain complicated human interactions. His thesis? We have no idea how to talk to strangers.
The Silent Patient, Alex Michaelides (2019): This psychological thriller tells the story of Alicia Berenson, a gifted artist who murdered her beloved husband seemingly without warning, and Theo Faber, her psychotherapist. Theo is determined to unravel the mystery of Alicia’s crimes, but his patient refuses to speak. Author Alex Michaelides keeps you on your toes with a series of unpredictable twists and turns. While my tolerance for spooky is admittedly low, you’ll want to read this one with the lights on.
Ear Hustle (2017-present): Recorded inside the San Quentin State Prison in California, this Radiotopia podcast explores the daily life of inmates. Hosts Nigel Poor (a Bay Area artist) and Earlonne Woods (an inmate incarcerated at – and later released from – San Quentin) explore the daily realities of prison life. Episodes cover serious and humorous topics alike, including solitary confinement, pets, life sentences, music, death row and more. This podcast is currently in its fifth season, so there are plenty of episodes to keep you hooked.
The Daily (2017-present): The Daily is (as you may guessed) a daily news podcast from The New York Times. Every weekday morning, host Michael Barbaro takes twenty minutes to break down one news story. He explains the history of the story, explores the impact, and hears from various individuals with different takes. The content is fairly American-focused, but occasionally veers into the wider world (including a top-notch spinoff series called Caliphate where reporter Rukmini Callimachi reports on the Islamic State and the fall of Mosul). The genius behind this podcast is that it allows you to develop an actual understanding of important news stories without leading to news fatigue. “This. Is The Daily.”
2 Dope Queens (2016-2019): Hosted by comics Jessica Williams and Pheobe Robinson, this WNYC Studios comedy podcast will have you in stitches. Each episode begins with the hosts’ hilarious musings on life and pop culture, ranging from debates about Harry Potter to bits about long-term relationships. The hosts then introduce a series of comics who perform quick and dirty stand-up routines to keep you laughing. I especially appreciate the show’s focus on providing a platform for female comics of colour. In 2018, the show moved to HBO and into the realm of paid-programming, but the original podcast series is still available on most podcast platforms.
The History Chicks (2011-present): The concept of this Wondery podcast is simple. Women’s history is under-told. Let’s change that. Hosts Beckett Graham and Susan Vollenwider record fascinating deep-dives on women in history. The subjects hail from various historical periods – you can learn about anyone from Julie Child to Joan of Arc. My personal favourite episodes are Zelda Fitzgerald, Harriet Tubman and Annie Oakley. This podcast is a history nerd’s delight, complete with an accompanying website with pictures, reading recommendations and links to outside sources.
The Office Ladies (2020-present): If you loved NBC’s The Office, this is the podcast for you. Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey, the actors who brought you the lovable secretary-turned saleswoman Pam Beesly and ice queen accountant Angela Martin, host this hilarious re-watch podcast from Earwolf. Fischer and Kinsey walk listeners through each episode of The Office, breaking down iconic scenes and providing behind-the-scenes trivia. Special guests include Creed Bratton, Rainn Wilson and many of the other talented people who made The Office a hit.
Twinsters (2015): This film follows American actress and filmmaker Samantha Futerman and Parisian fashion designer Anais Bordier as they get to know one another after discovering that they are identical twins. The women, who were separately adopted at birth, reunite after Anais sees Samantha in a YouTube video and decides to reach out. Together they travel to each other's countries and then to the place of their birth. Written and directed by Samantha, Twinsters is a truly touching story of sisterly love.
She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (2014): This documentary explores the second wave feminist movement and the women who made it happen. Not only does this film show the birth of the women's liberation movement and the issues that they fought for (equal pay, child care, education, contraception, abortion), it captures the determination and humour with which they did it. This documentary is a great way to learn about the women whose tenacity shaped the world that we live in today. The message is clear. You can change the world.
Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993): This poignant film documents the 1990 Oka Crisis, a violent standoff between the Kanien’kéhaka (Mohawk) nation and the Canadian army that catapulted the issue of Canadian indigenous land rights onto the world stage. The situation escalated after the mayor of Oka announced plans to expand a golf course and build condominiums on land with a long-standing Kanien’kéhaka claim. Director Alanis Obomsawin and her crew spent 78 days behind the Kanien’kéhaka lines filming the standoff and its devastating effects. This documentary is available for free on the Canadian National Film Board website.
Tiger King (2020): This seven-episode Netflix documentary explores the crazier-than-reality world of private “big cat” zoos in America and the eccentric people that own them. The documentary follows Joe Exotic, the owner of a tiger park and breeding facility in Oklahoma, and his decades-long feud with breeder-turned-activist Carole Baskin. Tiger King has it all – big cats, cult leaders, drug lords, magic shows, mysterious disappearances and at least one murder plot. This documentary is Blackfish meets The Sopranos meets Us Weekly. You will not be disappointed.
The Hunting Ground (2015): This haunting documentary shines a light on sexual assault on American college campuses. It explores the complex network of college administrations, athletic departments, faculty, law enforcement and fraternities that prevented campus sexual assault from being properly reported and addressed. The film follows survivor-activists Annie Clark and Andrea Pino as they lead the wave of student-led activism that finally brought campus sexual assault to the top of the national agenda. Both the film and its soundtrack are critically-acclaimed. The Hunting Ground is hard to watch and something that everyone should to see.
Author: Anastasia-Maria Hountalas
Anastasia-Maria Hountalas is an associate at Steinecke Maciura LeBlanc, where she advises and represents clients in all aspects of professional regulation. Prior to joining the firm, Anastasia-Maria summered and articled in the litigation department of a leading national law firm, with a focus on health law. Anastasia-Maria completed a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in History at McGill University and obtained her law degree from Queen’s University. During law school, Anastasia-Maria was actively involved in the Queen’s Law community, participating in the Prison Law Clinic and several study abroad programs. Anastasia-Maria Hountalas serves on the YWL Board of Directors as the Director of Marketing & Communications.