What to Watch, Listen to, and Read While Coronavirus Self-Quarantining

Now is the time to stay inside as much as possible and do your part to flatten the curve, yet it’s equally important to give yourself a break from the news. Here are some suggestions from New Yorker writers and artists to ease the stress of isolation.

Each year, Emily Nussbaum wildly fails at selecting just ten television shows for her not-top-ten list. Here are three selections from 2019:

“Dickinson” (Apple TV+)—A dreamy show about weirdos, for weirdos. The premise is that Emily Dickinson speaks in modern teen-age patois, scored to Billie Eilish. It sounded gimmicky, but, a few episodes in, this stoned, surprising début got under my skin.

“BoJack Horseman” (Netflix)—The sharpest response to #MeToo on television, a satirical interrogation of antihero art, and also a rich meditation on addiction (to everything, including TV).

“Couples Therapy” (Showtime)—Reality show or horror movie? Either way, there was something riveting about this peek into other people’s marriages, especially the sessions with the manipulative narcissist who made me fantasize about performing a citizen’s divorce.

Troy Patterson’s thematic list of the best in television nominated John Mulaney as class clown. Check out his recent spin on “Saturday Night Live.” And, according to Troy, there are really no further excuses not to watch “Succession” (HBO). Doreen St. Félix doesn’t think “The Goop Lab” (Netflix) is a great show, but it’s worth streaming to further savor her surgical takedown of the “magical thinking” that powers the Goop brand.

Richard Brody is also a prodigious listmaker. His “Twenty-Seven Best Movies of the Decade” reaches to all corners of the cinema. Here are five films from American directors (that should be easy to find on streaming services) to get started:

“Somewhere,” 2010, Sofia Coppola

“Margaret,” 2011, Kenneth Lonergan

“An Oversimplification of Her Beauty,” 2013, Terence Nance

“The Wolf of Wall Street,” 2013, Martin Scorsese

“Red Hook Summer,” 2012, Spike Lee

Brody also has a Facebook movie group where he is recommending new films to watch.

“He dreamed, drew, pondered, probed, and agonized on film, and what resulted, more often than not, bore the grip of a thriller and the elegance of a waltz,” Anthony Lane wrote about the “immortal world” of Ingmar Bergman for the Swedish filmmaker’s centennial, in 2018. There is really no wrong place to start watching—perhaps “Cries and Whispers”—since, as Lane points out, “all these movies pass each other in orbit, sometimes decades apart. The more of them you observe, in wonder, the greater their gravitational pull.”

Sarah Larson’s best podcast list from 2019 contains many gems. (Please, please listen to Season 2 of “In the Dark” if you have not already.) One of her less well-known picks is this series from the BBC:

Tunnel 29” tells the story of Joachim Rudolph, who, in 1961 and 1962, as a young engineering student, dug a tunnel between West and East Berlin and helped twenty-nine people escape Communist East Germany. The smartly structured, elegantly written series, narrated and produced by Helena Merriman, makes use of several strengths, among them evocative sound design, uncommonly naturalistic audio acting, and extraordinary footage from the tunnel escape itself. Merriman’s evocation of the night the Berlin Wall went up is particularly stunning—houses divided in half, families on opposite sides.

Katy Waldman’s best book list of 2019 had ten selections, including “Trust Exercise,” by Susan Choi, who was once a fact checker at The New Yorker. Here is Waldman’s recommendation of the novel:

Sarah and David, teen-agers at a prestigious performing-arts high school, conduct their love affair under the watch of a manipulative and charismatic drama teacher. The students are all sweat, hormones, and painful self-consciousness. The novel, tense and lovely as a dancer’s clenched muscle, explodes into a mid-act twist, which brilliantly foregrounds questions of authorship and appropriation.

Back in 2016, Vinson Cunningham took a long train ride with Maggie Nelson’s “Bluets”:

Sometime in June I took an Amtrak from Penn Station to Rochester, New York. The ride takes seven river-guided hours: north along the Hudson, then west on the Mohawk, and between naps and tepid attempts to write, I read Maggie Nelson’s slight, beautiful “Bluets.” I think of summer reading, I guess, as slow and playful, and the form of “Bluets”—a series of numbered paragraphs, some connected explicitly to the book’s several narrative strands, some almost totally epigrammatic—fits these criteria perfectly. My eye flitted between the numbers on each page, dragging me happily ahead and behind of what was, for me, the “present” of the text. (At one point, sort of restless, I started reading backward from the end. It was fun.) “Bluets” is one of those books that I’d been meaning to get to for a while, but when I finished it I didn’t regret having come to it late. What Nelson describes so excruciatingly well in its pages—love, helplessness, horniness, loss, obsession, fear; the act of writing, and of arranging, as a salve for these conditions, and more—is stuff that only experience can bring, and which only distance can help make coherent. The book offers and asks for something like wisdom. I almost wished I’d waited another decade to pick it up, but I guess I can read it again.
On the Internet

The archive of the Berlin Philharmonic is free right now. (Alex Ross wrote about classical concerts without audiences.)

The author and illustrator Mo Willems has been doodling at lunch for kids.

If you need some innocuous and pleasant headphone music for working and relaxing, try the wildly popular YouTube channel run by Chillhop Music.