On my radar: Curtis Sittenfeld's cultural highlights

Curtis Sittenfeld
·4 min read

Curtis Sittenfeld has written six novels, including the bestsellers Prep and American Wife. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, she studied at Stanford University and earned her master’s degree at the renowned Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Earlier this year, her critically acclaimed novel Rodham – a fictionalised telling of Hillary and Bill Clinton’s relationship – was published, and it is followed this week by a collection of short stories, Help Yourself, exploring class, race, disappointment and celebrity.

1. Album

The Highwomen by the Highwomen

I’m a huge fan of the multi-genre solo artist Brandi Carlile (as it happens, so is Barack Obama – she’s not exactly an unknown talent), and this is her country music group project, along with Amanda Shires, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and some other guests. They’re a kind of feminist reimagining of the classic country male group the Highwaymen. I’m 45, and I honestly never thought that in my lifetime I’d hear country songs about, say, women striving for work-family balance. Among my favourite songs are My Name Can’t Be Mama and Crowded Table, the latter of which now feels like a poignant paean to socialising with other people in a relaxed, non-pandemic way.

2. Cookbook

Black Girl Baking by Jerrelle Guy

A confession: in my household, I do the meal-planning, the grocery shopping, and almost none of the actual cooking. But I’ve enjoyed the recipes from this cookbook made by my family members who do cook, including the maque choux strata and the peaches-and-cream cake. There are a lot of vegan options, and Guy mixes flavours in an interesting way (sweet potatoes and chocolate). My photographer sister recommended this cookbook to me, and, not surprisingly, the photos are beautiful. Maybe one of these years I’ll surprise myself and be so inspired I’ll turn on the stove!

3. Novel

Luster by Raven Leilani

This first novel, which has received lots of buzz in the US, follows Edie, a black millennial who works in publishing and becomes involved with a middle-aged white man in an open marriage. Eventually, Edie moves in with the man, his wife, and their adopted black daughter. Edie is a fascinatingly complex protagonist, and Leilani describes specific moments and scenes with great precision and nuance.

4. Television

Love on the Spectrum (Netflix)

This Australian reality show follows young adults, mostly people in their 20s, who are on the autism spectrum and are looking for romantic love and companionship. The show is warmly compassionate, and the leads and their families are extremely endearing, as is the love expert who offers them tips and strategies. And, of course, though the stars of the show are often incredibly awkward, aren’t we all? It’s painfully easy to identify with them as they struggle to read others’ reactions or to come up with topics that continue a conversation – and as they long for genuine connection.

5. Website/app

Libro.fm

Glennon Doyle, author of Untamed, at Together Live in Indianapolis in 2019.
Glennon Doyle, author of Untamed, at Together Live in Indianapolis in 2019. Photograph: Michael Hickey/Getty Images for Together Live

Did you know that you can buy audiobooks via independent booksellers? Until very recently, I didn’t. You select the specific indie store you want to profit from your purchases. The first audiobook I listened to using Libro.fm was Untamed by Glennon Doyle, which I enjoyed and have discussed with several friends. I don’t listen much to audio fiction – at the risk of sounding like a parody of a novelist, I like to be able to see the paragraph breaks, punctuation, and arrangement of words on the page – but I enjoy listening to nonfiction, especially when the author reads it.

6. Podcast

Wind of Change by Patrick Radden Keefe

Keefe, a longtime contributor of fascinating articles to the New Yorker, heard a rumour years ago that the 1990 megahit song Wind of Change by the German heavy metal band the Scorpions may have been… written by the CIA? As a “soft” method of helping to usher in the end of the cold war? Keefe leads listeners around the world as he tries to determine whether the rumour is true, culminating in a riveting conversation with Scorpions frontman Klaus Meine. Along the way, Keefe thought-provokingly ponders art, propaganda, and espionage.