Ramy Youssef in his self-titled Hulu show

Image: Courtesy Hulu

This stressful year shows no signs of stopping, with reasons to panic so myriad we're not even gonna get into them here. One thing's clear: we all need places to put our eyes and brains that distract us, soothe us, and ready us to engage with the scary stuff more effectively. To that end, here's the stuff filling our queues at Portland Monthly this week, from Eater to Edith Bouvier. 

Caste

You may not feel like picking up Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. And yes, this book documents some of the worst of human behavior, so don’t expect some sweet distraction from our current ills. But if you have to read one book this year, I posit this should be it. Caste brings together so much of what we already know about the spine-chilling history of racism in America and gives us a new framework with which to examine it. From Nazis taking their cues from America’s Jim Crow laws to MLK’s welcome in India as one of our country’s “Untouchables,” Wilkerson brings global comparisons and perspective to our national shame, reshaping the story in a way that denies resignation.

Even if you don’t agree with her reframing of our racist systems as a caste structure, there is power in her nomenclature: people are not white here, they are from “the dominant caste.” And her crisp academic argument does not avoid the deep, human cost of the systems she describes. There is intellectual rigor here, and there is deeply empathic witness. The New York Times’s Dwight Garner described Caste as a book that “changes the weather inside a reader.” Be a reader. —Fiona McCann, senior editor at-large

Eater's Guide to the World

Maybe this is cheating, but who cares? Hulu just dropped this seven-episode series, produced by food news site Eater, which begins in Portland and expands in scope to Casablanca and beyond. Beautiful food, gorgeous landscapes, and narration by Maya Rudolph—what more could a girl ask for. The show kicks off with a day in the life of PoMo's own Karen Brooks, and it winds around the world to satisfy both our collective wanderlust and our yearning for a time when bars were not a potential death sentence. Top-shelf escapism. —Conner Reed, arts & culture editor

Grey Gardens

To celebrate this very strange and relieving week of 2020, I give you something stranger: the 1975 documentary Grey Gardens (now streaming on HBO Max), which follows the lives of Jackie Kennedy’s aunt and sister, who have willingly quarantined themselves in their decaying mansion. Follow it up with Fred Armisen and Bill Hader’s version in Documentary Now! on Netflix—season 1, episode 1. —Ainslee Dicken, editorial intern

Ramy

Admittedly, I was inspired to watch Ramy (now streaming on Hulu) after a video of him losing the Emmy award went viral on Twitter. But I was hooked after just a couple episodes of the series, which follows the life of a late-20s Egyptian-American Muslim man living with his parents in New Jersey and trying to navigate dating (which proves equally difficult cross-culturally and within his own culture), religion (to drink or not to drink in an alcohol-fueled America?), how to find a job he doesn’t hate, and just grappling with a general sense of belonging. It’s all tinged with a hint of surrealism, which is especially welcome these days.
 
I’m only midway through the first season, but already the show has provided some compelling looks into how gender, age, and disability can very differently shape our experiences of the same world. And from a food writer’s perspective, I’m also in awe of how Ramy’s mother churns out plates of koshary and baklava night after night—and how Ramy continues to snub her home cooking in favor of scrambled eggs and burgers at his friend’s diner. —Katherine Chew Hamilton, food editor