The Entertainment Getting Me Through the Pandemic

Four works and voices that bring me cheer

Photo by Myke Simon on Unsplash

There are many books, movies, songs, and streaming services that have been a balm to me in the last year, but a few rise above the pack for their therapeutic value. The common denominator: they forced a change of perspective.

There is nothing surprising or alternative about including Adriene on this list; her yoga videos have been on many a greatest-hits-of-the-pandemic list. But that does not stop me from recognizing her, because to paraphrase Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird, greatest hits are the greatest. And Adriene, with her gentle encouragement to show up the best way you can for yourself and others, really is the greatest.

I’m a former book critic who likes to read things when they’re new and in the conversation, but sometimes, if I miss a novel when it first comes out, I skip it altogether. I put it off even more if it becomes wildly popular. This is very silly.

Such was the case with Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow, which I toted around for years, through three different apartment moves, before finally plucking it off my bookshelf at the very beginning of the pandemic. I was struggling to get through a more serious novel that left me feeling too bummed, and I wanted something uplifting, entertaining. This did the trick.

Our protagonist, Count Alexander Rostov, is placed under house arrest by the Bolsheviks in 1922 for the crime of being an aristocrat. But he happens to live in a luxurious hotel, with plenty of intriguing people coming and going and various dining facilities—a much more glamorous and sociable version of the lockdown we’ve all been living through. The Count takes a marvelously glass-half-full approach to his constrained life, a reminder that we cannot always choose our circumstances, but we can choose how we respond to them. I couldn’t be happier that I read this book when I did.

As a city dweller, I haven’t driven cars much in my adult life. But since the summer, I’ve been living in the ‘burbs, with access to a car that — critically, delightfully—has SiriusXM.

The serendipity of radio listening after years of Spotify is a revelation. Best of all is the deep nostalgia of my favorite channel, 90s on 9, frequently hosted by Downtown Julie Brown. I was actually too young to watch her host Club MTV back in the day, but the songs she plays are woven through my childhood memories, and every time I hear her introducing the next song in an accent that is so reminiscent of the Brit-pop Girl Power era, the synapses of familiarity start firing. I am both soothed and entertained.

If it is not too grand to say, I think this music reminds me of my own life cycles, of the truth that this too shall pass. So give me Sugar Ray. Give me Alanis Morissette. Give me Downtown Julie Brown.

I love old movies and foreign films, two categories that my husband doesn’t care for quite as much, so on Tuesdays we go our separate ways: he to play online poker with friends, and me to my Criterion queue. (I highly recommend a ritual like this for anyone cohabitating through the pandemic.)

What I love about the movies I watch on the Criterion Channel is that they make me feel like I’m traveling—and time traveling—in a phase when I’m actually stuck in one place. Yi Yi brings me to Taipei at the turn of the 21st century. Hiroshima Mon Amour takes me to World War II-era France and post-war Japan. Bacurau brings me to a speculative future Brazil. I change my perspective, and I feel free.

Director at Medium working with authors and books. Formerly a staff writer and editor at Time.

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