Your biweekly pop culture book club.
The Scoop on Black Country Music: Listening for Revolutions with Author and Professor Francesca T. Royster
Francesca T. Royster’s Black Country Music: Listening for Revolutions is a vital read that helps us to understand how country music got whitewashed, stripping it of its distinctly African American origins in slavery and its aftermath, and shows us how embracing that history will only enrich the form. Royster weaves Black, queer, and feminist scholarship into her analysis, but even more compellingly, she brings her own experiences as a Black, queer country fan to bear on her exploration of Black artists in country’s past and present. Through engaging essays, she explores Tina Turner’s country album, Darius Rucker’s Black bro image, Our Native Daughters’ history-steeped banjo music, and Lil’ Nas X’s fight to be considered country.
The DePaul University English professor talks to Pop Literacy about what inspired her book, shares some of her favorite country music memories (like a set visit to Hee Haw!), and recommends some of her favorite country artists to add to your playlists.
Black Country Music: Listening for Revolutions by Francesca T. Royster Little Golden Books pop biographies on celebrities like Carol Burnett, Betty White, Beyonce, Dwayne Johnson, William Shatner, Taylor Swift, Lucille Ball, Simone Biles, Dolly Parton, Bob Ross, Julie Andrews, Tony Bennett, Rita Moreno, Willie Nelson, and Bruce Springsteen Dickens and Prince: A Particular Kind of Genius by Nick Hornby Pop Literacy is proudly sponsored by Libro.fm and Writer's Bone.
Michael Ausiello and the Making of Spoiler Alert
TV journalist Michael Ausiello wrote a 2017 memoir called Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies that detailed his 13-year relationship with his husband Kit Cowan, who, in a devastating turn, was diagnosed with terminal cancer and, as the title tells us, died. Not to sound jaded, but there are a lot of memoirs about cancer and death. This book, however, is special because it’s so specific and true and willing to get into the gory details—the goriest being the details of their living, breathing, changing relationship. The heartbreaking ending aside, it’s one of the best memoirs you’ll read about real adults trying to make a long-term relationship work. This book is so vulnerable, so raw, so specific, it just knocks you out.
In this episode, we talk with Mike about this book and the movie adaptation that just came out starring Jim Parsons as Ausiello and Ben Aldridge as Kit. The movie lives up to the book, hitting just the right tone between dark humor and heartbreaking pathos. It’s wonderfully realized by director Michael Showalter and rendered for the screen judiciously by writers Marshall Grant and Dan Savage. We discuss how Ausiello came to share such a vulnerable story with the world, what it was like to see Parsons play a version of himself (in a word: weird), and how much we need more authentic stories about queer couples, and about adult people with relatable problems.
Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies by Michael Ausiello Michael Ausiello on Instagram Writer's Bone: The Best Books of 2022 Pop Literacy is proudly sponsored by Libro.fm and Writer's Bone.
Life’s Work: A Memoir, from One of TV’s All-Time Greatest Writers
Consider this a Pop Literacy year-end gift: the recommendation of a deeply engrossing read for the average book fan, an extra fantastic read for writers of all mediums and genres, and a round-up of some of the finest dramas to ever unfold on the small screen. All those things come courtesy of Life’s Work: A Memoir, the personal and professional autobiography – and unofficial writing how-to – from Emmy and Peabody Award-winning Deadwood creator and writer David Milch.
Milch, also a former Yale professor and writer and producer of some of the most iconic episodes of seminal cop dramas like Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blues, shares delicious details behind the scenes of all his TV adventures … but is just as candid about life behind the camera, including a traumatic childhood that sparked many of his TV stories, a decades-long gambling addiction that cost him literally millions of dollars, and, finally, his current struggles with Alzheimer’s, prompting fellow legendary writer Susan Orlean to share of the book, “This is David Milch’s farewell, and it will rock you.” And, as always, we share what else has been topping our to-be-read piles.
Life’s Work: A Memoir by David Milch Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing: A Memoir by Matthew Perry Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boys, and the New Realities of Girl World by Rosalind Wiseman "NYPD Blue" on Hulu "Hill Street Blues" on Hulu "Deadwood" on HBO Max Pop Literacy is proudly sponsored by Libro.fm.
And It All Started with The Big Bang (Theory)
The Big Bang Theory ran for 12 seasons, 279 episodes, on CBS, and continues to be a pop culture presence with its frequent re-airings on cable, permanent home on HBO Max, and its spin-off life with the CBS hit Young Sheldon. With its spot in television history firmly secured, the series was due for a comprehensive chronicle of its success, and journalist and author Jessica Radloff’s New York Times bestseller The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive, Inside Story of the Epic Hit Series is just what the Big Bang fan ordered.
Radloff’s coverage of The Big Bang Theory as a Senior West Coast Editor at Glamour earned her the trust of the series cast and creators, which led to this fantastic, exhaustive account. From their memories of the multiple pilots and recastings that eventually brought together the stellar ensemble cast of iconic characters to their sometimes fond, sometimes controversial and divisive decisions as friends and co-workers, stars Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Johnny Galecki, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, Mayim Bialik, and Melissa Rauch, as well as series creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady and showrunner Steve Molaro are among the dozens of interviewees (and hundreds of hours of interviews) Radloff crafted into this tale of on-set romance, million-dollar contract negotiations, Emmy-winning performances, and the classic moments of TV comedy that still have viewers laughing.
The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive, Inside Story of the Epic Hit Series by Jessica Radloff My Trip Down the Pink Carpet by Leslie Jordan How Y’all Doing?: Misadventures and Mischief from a Life Well Lived by Leslie Jordan The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary an Ordinary Man by Paul Newman The Writing Retreat: A Novel Pop Literacy is proudly sponsored by Libro.fm.
Black Hollywood with Carell Augustus
Carell Augustus’s brilliant and beautiful photography book Black Hollywood reimagines, and restages, iconic Hollywood moments from the likes of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Singin’ in the Rain, and Mission Impossible with Black entertainers at their center. The work allows Black people to see themselves as part of the fabric of Hollywood history and also inherently questions American entertainment’s shameful history of erasing and sidelining people of color. The photos include Vanessa L. Williams, Dulé Hill, Karamo Brown, and many others.
The work is probably best summed up by this quote from Carell: "Black Hollywood is not just a book for Black people―it's a book for all people about Black people. About the dreams we were never told we could achieve. About the places we were never told we could go. And now, finally, about how we can get there." As for Carell himself: He is a Los Angeles-based photographer whose career has taken him around the world to shoot some of the biggest stars on the planet. His celebrity clients have included Viola Davis, Beverly Johnson, Mariah Carey, Elizabeth Banks, Pierce Bronson, Meghan Markle, Serena Williams, Snoop Dogg, and more. In this episode, we talk with Carell about the significance of writing Black stars into the narrative of Hollywood history.
Black Hollywood by Carell Augustus Carell Augustus online Like a Rolling Stone by Jann Wenner I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy Thank You for Listening by Julia Whelan Anna by Amy Odell Sho-Time by Jeff Fletcher High Noon by Glenn Frankel Pop Literacy is proudly sponsored by Libro.fm.
The Tragedy and Triumph of George Michael, with James Gavin
James Gavin’s stunning biography of pop star George Michael—simply entitled George Michael: A Life—dives deep into an enigmatic, charismatic figure who dominated pop music in the 1980s and ‘90s, but never seemed to find peace and happiness.
James’s thorough and riveting account of Michael’s life traces how his battles with his own sexuality, his larger-than-life image, tabloid taunting, and his massive insecurities kept him from fully embracing his extraordinary talent and accomplishments.
We talk with James about Michael’s struggle to be taken seriously, his heartbreaking battle with substance abuse, his formative friendship with Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley, and his legacy—and we share some of our own personal connection to the singer.
Read (and listen and watch!) more:
George Michael: A Life by James Gavin James Gavin online “Heal the Pain” by George Michael “Freedom ‘90” video “Heaven Help Me” by Deon Estus feat. George Michael “One More Try” video “Kissing a Fool” by George Michael “Jesus to a Child” video George Michael: Freedom Uncut documentary Pop Literacy is proudly sponsored by Libro.fm.
Pop Culture PhD
I'm a HUGE fan of Pop Literacy! I love the passion and knowledge Jennifer Keishin Armstrong and Kimberly Potts bring to each episode. Their love of all things pop culture related from television to books and movies and music is contagious. I feel like I have a PhD in pop culure after listening to their episodes. I'm addicted and highly recommend their podcast if you enjoy books, movies, television and music.
A new fave?
I stumbled upon this podcast after hearing they did an episode on boybands and their significance on pop culture. I thought the episode was very thorough in its discussion. Looking through their episode archives, it looks like they have a great variety of guests that ranges from authors to screenwriters. Glad to gave discovered this podcast and looking forward to future eps!