“Are You Not Info-Tained!?” Cheap, (and edifying) pop culture for the long, hot summer

You me and A/C. Let's make a summer of it. Via Flickr's Azinck.

You me and A/C. Let’s make a summer of it. Via Flickr’s Azinck.

From trashy beach reads to ice cream binges in front of an open refrigerator, summer is a time for guilty pleasures— especially when it comes to pop culture. Luckily, since leaving Brooklyn (and Brokelyn) in 2011, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how we can turn our guilty pleasures to account. I even wrote a book about it! It’s called Super Pop!: Pop Culture Top Ten Lists to Help You Win at Trivia, Survive in the Wild, and Make It Through the Holidays, and Tim was kind enough to invite me back to make a list especially for Brokelyn. So check it out and if you like it, buy the book! (“It’s really good!” says my mom—and some other people too.)

Essential Entertainments for a More Productive Summer (Even If Spent on the Couch)

10. “Julia Child Remixed
Cost: Free as hell.
Benefit: You’ll be inspired to cook more/better/Frenchier!

All of these PBS remixes are incredible. But the joy of watching Julia Child “keep on cooking” might just be the thing that inspires you to cook for your own damn self! Pennies saved = pennies earned!


9. Tell No One
Cost: Your elder sibling’s Netflix subscription
Benefit: Two of the most entertaining hours you’ll ever spend – plus maybe you’ll become more responsible?

Do you feel like you should probably be more responsible? Of course you do! And are you also wondering how to escape the tyranny of Netflix recommendations? All signs point to yes. Tell No One solves both those problems by tracking the movements of François Cluzet as he attempts to solve the mystery of his wife’s murder, keep himself out of jail, put the bad guys into jail, and find a way to love again—and it also includes one of the greatest chase scenes in movie history (and one of the greatest sidewalk splats at the end). It’s the perfect Netflix movie that Netflix forgot to tell you about.


The Hang Up And Listen Podcast crowd.

The Hang Up And Listen Podcast crowd, starring WNYC’s Mike Pesca.

8. The podcasts… all of them
Cost: The nothing (in a good way). In capitalist America, podcasters pay you!
Benefit: You’ll become a literal know-it-all.

Radio is the future and the future is now all about podcasts. They pave the way for more pleasant commutes and make us sound way more smart — about sports, culture, pop culture, politics, the economy, the personal trauma of comedians, history, this American life, science-ish, and the Elizabethans. (And seriously, that last Shakespeare podcast is the most unputdownable thing since the inverse hot potato.)


7. Nanook of the North
Cost: This movie is in the public domain and therefore free as ice (which is frozen water, so pretty free).

In 1922, “Nanook” (not his real name) was a  human being living in the Arctic, and Robert J. Flaherty was the man filming him—and making what we would now call a “documentary” (even though much of the film was staged). But Nanook really does know how to build an igloo and that is a crazy thing to see and/or think about. (PS: Nanook’s house has windows made of frozen water. PPS: The frozen North is real, and people really live in it.)

And if you prefer more “realness” in your reality films, check out Happy People, Werner Herzog’s similarly insane account of daily life in Northern Siberia.


6. Deliverance
Cost: A used copy can be purchased for a very small amount of money indeed
Benefit: Very useful in planning your eventual escape from nature/banjoists.

If you’ve finished plowing through the collected works of Gillian Flynn and you’re looking for the next big thing to take to the beach, then look to the past. James Dickey wrote the ultimate “hunted-by-country-folk” novel (one of my favorite genres) in 1970—and you can’t ever be too prepared for that eventuality.


5. Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
Cost: A library card
Benefit: So many insights into city life and human waste!

If there’s a better way of learning history than by plumbing the depths of London’s poop basements, fecal closets, and shitty, shitty sewers, I certainly can’t think of one. (There’s also a briefer TED talk on the subject in case you hate words on pages.)


Cry me a river, Sita

Cry me a river, Sita

4. Sita Sings the Blues
Cost: About as free as shit gets under current American copyright law
Benefit: Great jazz and great literature in one tidy package!

It’s a personal memoir, a primer on The Ramayana, and an introduction to the public domain-ish vocal stylings of Annette Hanshaw. And it’s all compelling, all free, and all made with basic animation software. (And it’s great.)


3. “A History of the English Language in Ten Minutes

Cost: Zero bitcoins.
Benefit: You can tell people why we use French sounding words for the food we eat but German sounding words for the animals on a farm. Good story!

So many linguistic fun facts in such a small amount of time. Good in preparation for dinner parties. And a great use of the time you would normally spend waiting for the pasta to cook.


2. Either Veronica Mars or Red Riding or Parks and Rec or the original Prime Suspect or The Fall or whatever else from HBO
Cost: Your friend’s Hulu or Netflix or HBOgo account
Benefit: So many hours get frittered pleasantly away.

When it becomes literally too hot to trot you have to have something you can fall back on. You have to have enough entertainment lined up for a few days (spent at a home, with adequate air conditioning). These are just a few ideas. But think how much money you’ll save when you’re not doing anything else.


The Good One Robot!

The Good One Robot!

1. Live by Tig Notaro
Cost: Less than five dollars, more than $4.98. You do the math!
Benefit: You maybe become a better human being

It may cost more than zero, but that seems fair enough given it’s already a legendary comedy set — and anyway, it’s an investment in your own emotional development! In her roughly 30-minute set, Tig discusses her mother’s death, the dissolution of a longstanding relationship, and her recent diagnosis of cancer after surviving a life-threatening case of pneumonia. It was not the best few months, but it is the best performance. Laugh, cry, cringe, and gain some perspective all for less than a KFC Double Down meal deal.

Now go buy the book? Okay!

Daniel Harmon is the editorial director at Zest Books and the author of Super Pop!, which Kirkus called “weird, witty, endlessly entertaining” and Booklist identified as a “go-to resource”). You can listen to him talking about the book here, and if even that isn’t enough, his twitter handle is @TheOtherHarmon.