AlRawabi School for Girls, season two

After a strong first season, I had high expectations for the second season—always a bit of a trap. I thought this season was very inconsistent: I suspect the central problem is it simply tried to cover too many topics and as a result felt patchy, uneven and that it didn’t do any one of the plotlines the justice they deserve. As a cultural study, I still think it is worth watching: both for the exploration of what it is to be a young woman in Jordan society, but also to be a young women in today’s social-media hellfire landscape.

Skip and Loafer, season one

I am a sucker for this sort of gentle, warm slice-of-life/light-romance type anime. I found this one, though, especially charming and loveable. It allows its characters to be imperfect, it shows growth, and it has trans-representation. The art work is just wonderful, too: warm soft pastels. It hits familiar beats (trip to the beach! culture festival! choosing a school club!) but has enough new to say to make it a real delight.

American Mermaid, Julia Langbein

What an intriguing debut novel! I found this quite slow to read, and often wondered where it was all going. Langbein’s writing, however, is often quite witty: there are some great lines throughout this sometimes meandering, curious novel. 

The Art of Reading, Damon Young

Young writes so well, yet the premise of this book feels quite uncertain: is it about the joy of reading? Is it about novels and stories themselves? Is it a vehicle for the author to explore the thoughts of various other philosophers? I spent a nice time with this book but could not recommend it. 

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, season one

I was initially quite excited about this—I thought it was going to explore what life would be like in a world where monsters have not only arrived, but made themselves comfortable—yet I was quickly let down by ChatGPT levels of plotting and exposition and some younger actors who struggled to convey anything other than pure petulance. I sincerely hope they get a second season and can improve upon a rocky foundation.

The Power of Fun, Catherine Price

A book that rightfully reminds us that having fun is, in many respects, the point of life. As the pressures of late-stage capitalism conspire to make us think the only thing that matters is productivity, Price (and others) are leading the vanguard of arguing for a better, more fun life. 

Pluto, season one

A real triumph of story telling, art, and philosophy. It also feels incredibly timely given the modern explosive growth of AI tools: no matter how advanced we may become technically, we remain, in many regards, angry, confused, scared primates. Pour one out for North No. 2, a real one.

Society of the Snow, JA Bayona

A lot of tears in this one. Hard to watch, but infused with hope, love, courage and humour. Inspiring, truly, as all stories of survival against the odds—that is, human resiliency—always are. Many fascinating details in this interview about how it was made: the challenges of getting funding for a film in Spanish; working with new actors (who are uniformly amazing); that some of the actors lost over 20kgs; and that the surviving survivors (and their family) endorsed the film.

The Brothers Sun, season one

A lot to like about this show—yes, aside from the transcendent Michelle Yeoh—but sadly really let down by crummy writing, peak performances from others in the cast. Still, more Asian-American representation please!

Babette’s Feast, Gabriel Axel

An incredible gentle movie about grace, care, community and the life-affirming powers of a jolly good meal. And perhaps a call against ascetism, no matter how tempting it might be.

Infinite Craft, Neal Agarwal

This took me by surprise; a simple game where one combines basic elements (fire, earth, wind, water) to get to increasingly absurd places, like Super Drow Jesus. I love the energy and fun of this game, from such simple set up so many surprising things happen. The little dopamine hit of making the first discovery. Play it!

Killers of the Flower Moon, Martin Scorsese

Beautiful and distressing; a languid story of man’s lack of humanity. The lack of justice is incredibly frustrating, but sadly falls part of a broader story about mankind. I just wish it wasn’t so very, very long.

Your Head is a Houseboat, Campbell Walker

A refreshing and novel way of exploring mental health. Some of the suggestions and parts of the approach feel a little dogmatic, or at least contrived to fit into the houseboat metaphor, but nonetheless I imagine for a lot of people this would be a useful way to  begin exploring their mental health. 

Best Wishes, Richard Glover

I read this in a state of disbelief; it was exactly every Boomer trope you’ve ever heard, one right after the other. The definition of failing upwards is this book. 

Cold People, Tom Rob Smith

The book is very much something you might buy at an airport, and so long as that is what you expect going in, you might have an OK time: I found the book pretty uneven and the ending was unsatisfying. Nonetheless, there are some genuinely interesting ideas about survival and humanity. 

The Book, Alan Watts

Watts is a special mind indeed; writing about philosophy in such a clear, accessible way is a genuine triumph. So much of this book resonated deeply with me, I feel repeated readings will be required to full absorb Watts’ ideas. I think, at its core, this book is an attempt at a cure of our modern pathology of seeing ourselves as lonely, disconnected and minor. 

The End of Reality, Jonathan Taplin

A frightening and clear look at the power and malign influence of Musk, Zuckerberg, Thiel et al, as well as a consideration of the failure of neoliberal economics and the rise of the angry far-right, MAGA types. All in all, this only fuelled my fear as to the grossly irresponsible actions of big tech and the urgent need for strict regulation.  

Mr and Mrs Smith, season one

This started off really fun—an intriguing blend of spy hijinks with slice of life goodness—but the back half was uneven, a little rushed, and unconvincing. Glover and Erskine are perfectly cast, and their house will feature in my dreams. I’m torn between wanting more and feeling reasonably content with how things ended.

The Madness of King George, Nicholas Hytner

Want to watch an excellent British film? One that speaks to everything that is powerful about UK cinema? This is an excellent candidate. It has a little something for everyone, and I think is quite interesting in the context of modern politics where we are often choosing between the lesser of two evils: the mad King or the useless prince?

Pokémon Concierge

Pokémon Concierge, season one

The single best thing to come from the world’s most valuable franchise since the first iconic games. Incredibly charming, thoughtful, warm and just delightful. When was the last time a piece of corporate IP branded media left you wanting more? Perfect.

Number Go Up, Zeke Faux

Number Go Up, Zeke Faux

I wanted a really trenchant and forensic analysis of the odd world of crypto and instead I got more of a journalistic process story/gee, bitcoin bros sure are tacky/awful gossipy thing. There is enough that is genuinely concerning about crypto (which, to his credit, he touches upon, although not nearly enough) that we don’t have to make fun of the individual participants.

The Librarianist, Patrick deWitt

A new book from one of my favourite authors. A lot less witty than his earlier books (intentionally so, I presume, given his command of language), and I liked it a little less.

How to Cook a Wolf, M.F.K. Fisher

one of the most impressive pieces of food writing I’ve ever had the pleasure to enjoy. Fisher writes with such incredible width, humanity and grace. The revised edition is sprinkled with parenthetical comments that make the experience of reading the book almost like a witty conversation with the author. Delightful from tail to top.

I Want to Die but I Want to Eat Tteokbokki, Baek Se-hee

I’ve long been interested in how media depicts mental health; and, in particular, fascinated at the differences between its treatment in the East and West (not that these two groups are of course meaningfully homogenous). This book gives you a fly on the wall perspective of someone receiving therapy, which oftentimes paralleled my own mental health journey. While I enjoyed the transcripts, I think the short essays were a little less meaningful for me. The title is really a bit of throwaway, there’s no meaningful discussion of the author’s love of food (or tteokbokki in particular).

Four Thousand Weeks, Oliver Burkeman

Burkeman is one of those writers who is capable of distilling such weighty and significant philosophical concepts into actionable and practical advice. As brilliant as his earlier book, The Antidote, and required reading for everyone seeking to navigate a finite life.

Midsomer Murders, season eight

A confident season, let down only really by one episode I did not particularly enjoy (an episode which seemed really quite dark in a way that Midsomer, despite its premise, often is not). As they take away, they also give: this season had one of my all time favourite protagonists: a retired Russian spy. I’ll say no more.

The Curse, season one

more from the very special mind of Nathan Fielder who is one of the most interesting voices in TV. I found this show really unusual; it was certainly confident in its decisions, only I was not always sure those decisions landed for me. The ending blew my mind. It’s a slow, lingering affair that sticks with one and I find it hard to rate as a result. But as I’m still thinking about it days after finishing it I have to then recommend it.

Demon Slayer, Mugen Train arc

On paper, Demon Slayer is not the sort of anime I’d naturally gravitate towards, but this kinetic show just works for me. The character art and animation are both strong, although the show uses this sort of early CGI (think Alex Mack-tier) type effect for the demon sometimes and it just throws me off. I’ve already moved on to the Entertainment District arc and am enjoying it. 

Baldur’s Gate 3, Larian Studios

It’s a big game, a very big game to misquote the ad from the early 2000s. A steep learning curve if you’re not familiar with how to play D&D, like me, but a joyful, sprawling, engaging adventure for those who persist. A real maximalist delight and a success at that.

Authoritarian Century, Azeem Ibrahim

Exceptionally cogent and concise analysis from a rare mind; profoundly frightening in its implications, especially given the increasing possibility of a second Trump Whitehouse. A powerful call to bolster and support liberal democracies by moving away from the death-grip of neoliberal free market thinking; it has failed people, and these people are now turning to radical populist authoritarians. Some useful thinking on China, Russia, social media and conspiracies and the Far Right and Radical Islam, too.