Can I Keep My Jersey?: 11 Teams, 5 Countries, and 4 Years in My Life as a Basketball Vagabond by Paul Shirley
A highly entertaining reminiscence of the author’s life as a professional basketball player. Interesting insights into what it’s like to be among the best 1 percent in the world at what you do and still not be “good enough.” We’re not even finished with the book yet, but nevertheless we eagerly recommend it.
Abita Purple Haze
This is beer, raspberry-flavored, sort of. The taste is more suggestive than literal and lives only briefly, somewhere toward the rear of the tongue, after each swallow. Pour it into a glass instead of drinking it out of the bottle.
Documentary-style show tracking the king-crab season on the Bering Sea. “Deadliest” is not a misnomer for these fishermen, which makes this tough watching on occasion.
A mystery writer of Swedish nationality. All of his books are translated into English, so that makes things easier for most of us.
Television show on A&E. This is actually very tough to watch, as it follows substance abusers as they hit bottom and are then confronted by family members in a final intervention. We haven’t done the math, but we’d say fewer than half have “happy” endings. (“Happy” meaning that you feel like the addicted person has at least a shot at getting clean.)
Far more versatile than a ruler and they make that satisfying “whinging” noise as they retract back into the case.
We didn’t think this was so good at the beginning, but now, quite good.
Laugh all you want, but it actually took us decades to come around to this stuff. And now we can’t let it go. It’s like, you can just eat one for a snack. And it tastes good. And it’s all over the place; everybody’s selling yogurt. Might we suggest you shy away from custard-style, though?
The D chord on guitar
How pleasant to play. How charming to hear.
A luxury for sure, but did you know they even get your earlobes?
The Last Waltz
We’re talking about Martin Scorsese’s film of the Band’s 1976 Thanksgiving Day farewell concert, though the associated soundtrack is also recommended. Let’s just get the debate out of the way by us saying The Last Waltz is the best concert film ever, and you saying, no, Stop Making Sense is the best concert film ever, and us saying, no, The Last Waltz is what made Stop Making Sense possible, kind of like how without Richard Pryor there would be no Eddie Murphy or Chris Rock, so shut up with your nonsense. Let’s also set aside the whole discussion about how the movie shows an era when it was about the music, man, and not about the slick, corporate packaging. Instead, let’s focus on a couple of other things, like Van Morrison joining them for “Caravan,” during which even the notoriously grumpy Van the Man can’t help but grin as the sound absorbs him. Let’s reflect on how, when Eric Clapton’s guitar comes de-strapped, Robbie Robertson jumps in and solos like a motherfucker. Let’s talk about how Levon Helm had one of the top five singing voices of all time. And, finally, let’s remember a guy many of you have never heard of, a guy named Rick Danko, the bass player and one of the singers, and how it’s so apparent that he put every ounce of himself, every ounce of—dare we say it?—his soul, into playing and singing with that band. There’s a scene in the movie where Danko and Scorsese are sitting at a mixing board in the Band’s hangout and Scorsese asks Danko what he’s going to do now that the last waltz is over, now that the Band is done, and Danko just kind of stares into the middle distance and barely answers, mumbling something about just making music, and it becomes apparent that this fucker is doomed, that this beautiful, talented fucker is not going to make it. (And he didn’t.) But there’s a shot in the movie, during the performance of “Stagefright,” of Danko, from behind, the single spotlight outlining his form, and when you see that shot you realize that Scorsese has never done anything better.
Anyway, watch it, it’s good.
Turns out there’s something better than stacking books on tables and desks.
It’s not about wrestling. Quite the contrary, and it’s likely the best film of last year. Plus, it breaks the record for the difference between its super-low-quality-sounding synopsis (“druggie teacher befriended by student”) and its actual high-quality nuance (subtle and sharp at once). Queue it up again, oh lovers of Netflix.
Hands down, these remain the best children’s toy they’ve come up with. Hands. Down.
Kleenex Tissue with Lotion
Don’t use it to clean your glasses, but it really does cut down on chafage.
Maker of fine red lipstick. Our favorite shade: Captain Rum. The only drawback to Napoleon’s high-end cosmetic line is that it’s not available at Walgreens.
Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!
We hope this show will stay on for the rest of our lives.
Kasugai gummy candies with muscat (green grape) juice
Gourmet gummies straight from Japan. The bag boasts that they have the gentle taste of a graceful lady. It’s true.
Seems like everyone but us has seen this. You know, with the dentistry. A great thriller. They don’t make them like this anymore. Or maybe they do. Do they?
Friday Night Lights
We’re talking the TV show here, though the movie and book aren’t bad, either. Special recommendation to observe the acting and interplay between Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, who play coach and coach’s wife.
The books of David Lodge
Small World and Changing Places recommended in particular. Hilarious.
Breyers Double Churned Light Ice Cream
It really does have less fat and doesn’t taste too crappy.
Bacon of the Month Club
You haven’t known pleasure until a full rasher of applewood smoked bacon shows up in the arms of the UPS man just as you’re prepared to give in to the forces of healthy living and eat yogurt, or some crap like that.
Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Squares
They come in caramel, plain, and raspberry varieties. Antioxidants!
Not showering for a day or two
Sure, you’re a bit grungy if you do this one, but after you do shower you realize you’ve really been taking being clean for granted.
Not recommended after not showering for a day or two, because then you’re just kind of steeping in your own filth.
Ignoring the NBA regular season
You know what? It really doesn’t matter. The players even know it. Have you seen what the Heat and the Pistons are up to this year? Unless they’re on national television, they just phone it in.
Don’t do what we did and treat this show with reflexive scorn because it’s buried on basic cable. It’s way better than most of what passes for entertainment on the big networks.
We are the type to get this nifty little gadget as a Christmas gift and then enjoy it enough to recommend it to others. Watching the process is even more enjoyable than seeing the end result. We could do worse than have an army of sentient SpotBots rise up and seize control of the government.
Man vs. Wild
On this Discovery Channel show, host Bear Grylls drops into the most inhospitable places on the planet and makes his way out using nothing but the clothes on his back, his wits, and a really kick-ass knife he keeps in a sheath on his leg. In one episode, to keep cool, he pisses on his shirt and wraps it around his head.
He’s the “other guy” in the Raconteurs. Power pop of an updated Matthew Sweet kind.
Taking a couple weeks off from the Internet every so often
We’re not saying to drop off the grid entirely, but, really, is there anything here that you can’t live without for at least a little while?
The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford
Ford’s third book featuring Frank Bascombe. The first two were The Sportswriter and Independence Day. This one’s every bit as good as those, which is plenty good.
Figuring out some way to have leaves change to their fall colors but then not fall off the trees
We like the fall landscape, but not so much the raking or even the leaf-blowing. Seems like something the science types could figure out.
Rock goodness since, like, 1976.
Place all your bets on this magical number. We did not like the slots, but we are now faithful to the mighty and forgiving roulette table.
Evil Twin Publishing has created a weird anthology of feline stories that your mom won’t like one bit. We love, love, love this book.
Kayaking in the mangroves in the middle of the night with 30 strangers will get your heart pounding, but add in the mysterious glowing plankton—well, Mother Nature will fucking freak you out. Do this as soon as possible.
Back to the nonrocking music recommendations. Believe it or not, we first heard Hem as the soundtrack to a commercial for insurance. When a song that’s part of a commercial for insurance sends you Googling for “Who the hell is that group on that life-insurance commercial?” and in that Googling you realize that, like, 1,000 other people have asked the same question, well, then that’s some music you should probably check out.
Hope in a Jar
This is face cream. Something like $6,800 an ounce, but, to our surprise, worth it.
Bringing back the word “lickspittle”
Superior to “ass-kisser,” “suck-up,” and “brown-noser” any day. Second choice: “toady.”
Holiday television marathons
On Thanksgiving we caught, like, 10 hours straight of The Closer, starring Kyra Sedgwick as a space alien who speaks in a Georgia accent and solves crimes in Los Angeles. Best space-alien crime show this side of Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
We’re talking both literal gravy, the brown stuff that goes over starches of all varieties, and metaphorical gravy, something good that’s extra and unexpected. That’s gravy, baby!
Not twisting your ankle
Hobbling, not good.
That’s right, we’re recommending Judging Amy—what of it? Sure, it’s often contrived and melodramatic, but we love the repeats airing twice every weekday on TNT.
Jackets with pit zips
Overheating can often cause you to freeze later. These little guys allow for proper venting.
Sticky roller lint pickups
We remember the older lint pickups, the ones with the semi-velvety surface stretched across an oval head. Those didn’t pick up shit. These do. (If by “shit” you mean sweater fuzz and dog hair and the like.)
Mexican meatballs. Not as tender as their Italian cousins or as gravy-smothered as their Swedish nieces, but at least three times more fun to say. Albondigas. Albondigas.
The invisible hand behind MTV Jams
There’s a gratifying sense of continuity and purpose in this channel’s programming, and only partly because it is an unremitting stream of hip-hop videos. Watch it for several hours while reading the Sunday paper to appreciate the segues, the asides, the visual puns. Someone has deftly pieced together the disparate miscellany of widescreen Hype Williams-isms and streetwise advice into an imposing mosaic, so thanks to him or her.
It’s a delicious, underrated treat disguised in a tomato costume.
Some people prefer the breed-specific variety, but we’re partial to the ones where you don’t know what you’re going to get on any given day: a basket of cattle-dog puppies, a bulldog trying get a basketball in its mouth, an unidentified mutt peering through the slats of a wooden fence? All good, every day.
A brisk early-morning walk
Best started at exactly sunrise. Not a jog or a run, a walk where you spend some time looking around.
Everybody’s right. The show’s amazing. We forgot to say so earlier.
Diane Rehm (of The Diane Rehm Show)
Striking to think it, but she’ll save the world, she will. That’s good radio.
Lost Mountain by Erik Reece
Damn, this is some book. About mountaintop coal removal. Formerly of Kentucky, Lost Mountain over the years shrank and disappeared. Reece had the definitive article-length version in Harper’s a few years ago, and here we get it full out.
Stouffer’s French-bread pizzas
You probably abandoned these around the time you left middle school, but it’s time for a reappraisal. Crunchy, zesty. A nice sauce/cheese mix. Wethinks they’ve been up to some fine-tuning in the Stouffer’s kitchen.
Not being threatened with a lawsuit
You have no idea how blissful a lawsuit-free life is until your life is no longer lawsuit-free.
The Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs is estimable in and of itself, but Mike Rowe, the host, is the deal. You want him at the party. He’s sitting on the back balcony, cracking jokes about the tool who brought his own snifter of port, giving you the laugh line on other setups, because he’s that cool. Who knew? Turns out he was an opera singer before that. Bodes well for opera.
The Swearing of Jeremy Piven
In two or three decades, this will be the name of a documentary about Piven’s career (sure, with lots of Entourage footage), at which point the main debate will be between those who favor Samuel L. Jackson’s swearing capacity and those who favor Piven’s. Shocking, yes, but we might be leaning toward Piven. More nuance, we think.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
It’s the new Aaron Sorkin show, which is a lot like the other Aaron Sorkin shows, except this one is set at a late-night television show instead of at the White House or at a cable sports network. If you like those other shows, you’ll like this one.
South Beach Peanut Butter Breakfast Bar
The best of the low-carb breakfast bars in that it tastes the least like pencil erasers.
My Mentor by Alec Wilkinson
As a young man, Wilkinson decided he wanted to be a writer, and ended up getting writing lessons from his dad’s best friend, whose name was William Maxwell. Maxwell knew a thing or two about writing: during his 40 years at the New Yorker, he edited the work of J.D. Salinger, Vladimir Nabokov, John Cheever, and many other great writers, and he was a highly accomplished writer himself. This is a beautifully written book about a wise and generous man.
His poems, in books such as Memoir of the Hawk and Return to the City of White Donkeys, read like brilliant, surreal short-short stories.
Everything she writes is smart and engaging. Her book about a medical culture clash between a Hmong family and a California hospital, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, is a masterpiece.
Last year, Roger Ebert couldn’t stop raving about this movie. We finally saw it, and it’s amazing. In it, Amy Adams gives one of the best comic performances we’ve ever seen.
Master of the breezy comic tale. His writing is incredibly sure-footed: he does exactly what he means to do with every sentence, every word. Start with the Jeeves and Wooster stories and go from there.
We’re talking the original 1967 film, written by and starring Peter Cook. Eric Idle, of Monty Python, has said that Peter Cook was “the funniest man in the world and all funny people know that.” Bedazzled is his funniest film.
Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for Those Who Love Books and Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose
It’s simply madness to not read this book if you fall into either category of person defined in the subtitle.
Television show on NBC. Frankly, we haven’t seen it, but the commercials give us a good feeling about this one.
High-school football players struggle under the weight of a winning streak, girlfriends, and a coach straight out of Clichéland.
Fred Kaplan’s “War Stories” column at Slate
Brilliant at cutting through the latest B.S. spewing from whatever side of the political spectrum. He’s our choice for the Defense Secretary if Rumsfeld ever does the right thing and resigns.
A Disorder Peculiar to the Country by Ken Kalfus
Wow. This book is a motherfucker.
Led Zeppelin DVD
Wait until you’re home alone, pop it in, crank up the surround sound.
A Bit of Fry and Laurie
Fry is Stephen Fry, whom we recommended a while back, and Laurie is Hugh Laurie, aka Dr. House. These guys are far smarter than they need to be, and their playful use of the English language is dazzling. This hilarious sketch show, which debuted on British television in the late ‘80s, has finally been released here on DVD. So far, just the first two seasons are available, but it’s a start, and we are grateful.
The Hold Steady
A band that is, like, this close to being a novelty act, but there’s something in the riffage that makes it work. Obsessed with “hoodrats.”
For years, there was no drinking of white wine, because we were only familiar with Chardonnay, but ultimately red-wine hangovers drove us to new varieties, and this one appears to be working out pretty well.
The North Woods of Wisconsin
They’ve got some kind of special air up there. Very breathable.
Howard Stern on Sirius
A while back we recommended satellite radio in general and said it didn’t matter if you chose XM or Sirius. That was a mistake. Sometimes gross, sometimes distasteful, most often funny, Howard Stern makes choosing Sirius worthwhile.
Fiasco by Thomas Ricks
A while back we also recommended Cobra II, the inside story of the nitty-gritty behind the invasion of Iraq. After a quick recap of that material, Ricks picks up the ball and exposes the absolute, unconscionable botch-job perpetrated by Bush, Rumsfeld, Bremmer, Cheney, Wolfowitz, et al. Perhaps the most depressing realization one gets from reading this book is how avoidable all of this would have been had our highest-ranking leaders not been absolutely consumed by hubris. We almost couldn’t finish reading it because it gets so depressing, but you need to know what happened, and Ricks serves it up for real.
Kashmere Stage Band
Is it really possible that the best big-band funk of the late ’60s and early ’70s was played by a bunch of Texas high-school students? Find out for yourself.
The grocery-store scene in Nine Lives
As she pushes her cart past the Cap’n Crunch, Robin Wright Penn spots an old boyfriend, and over the course of the next several minutes we watch her world unravel. Shot in just one long take. We believe this is what is known as virtuoso acting.
Old used paperbacks that fit in your pocket
It’s usually those old Bantam ones, like Hermann Hesse or Faulkner or Sherwood Anderson, but really any will do. So portable, you can have it right there, if you’re in a waiting room or something. Or pull it out on a bench, wherever.
For example, J. Robert Lennon’s Happyland running in Harper’s. It reminds us of our younger days, when we’d run home to get the new installment of Dickens’s Pickwick Papers, or of good old Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov.
Not a 100-percent-reliable substitute for ground beef, but, truthfully, we like our chili better with this stuff.
What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller
Funny, tense, sneaky.
Television show created and hosted by Morgan Spurlock, the Super Size Me guy. People spend 30 days in an atmosphere they either don’t understand or think they loathe, e.g., a Minuteman spends a month with a family of illegal aliens. Consistently demonstrates that understanding, empathy, and grace are possible between human beings.
Adult recreation leagues
We’re talking soccer, hockey, softball even, anything other than golf.
We’re talking a band here, not the nutrient-free vegetable. Don’t really know much about them other than they’re some kind of funk jam band supergroup, but we found them because they covered an old Herbie Hancock song we were looking for and we really fell for the groove. Baby.
Shouldn’t we have some kind of national holiday for whoever invented this?
We had a chance to lay eyes on the most recent issue of this little journal, and it’s really great-looking. The stories weren’t too shabby, either.
Black-and-white wedding photographs
You know that stress-induced breakout that cropped up on the eve of the big day? Turns out you can’t see it if you’re photographed in forgiving and lovely black-and-white.
Very independent mockumentary film by Jenna Fischer, of The Office, and her husband, James Gunn. Not every minute is gold, but at least three laugh-until-it-hurts-to-breathe moments are guaranteed, presuming you find clueless narcissists joking about the Holocaust funny, which we do.
Lindsay Wagner in The Paper Chase
Sure, she’s best remembered as bionic woman Jaime Sommers, but catch her in a supporting role as the daughter of Professor Kingsfield (John Houseman) in this 1973 semi-classic film.
Star of both Hell’s Kitchen, on Fox, and Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, on BBC America. We don’t know if he can cook, but he makes us giggle.
A basil plant
When you’re making spaghetti or pizza, you just grab some leaves from your back-deck plant. Or we could put it this way: Fresh basil is to a jar of crushed, store-bought basil as ketchup is to catsup.
Spaghetti sauce on corn on the cob
Serendipity strikes. A classic case of the accidental—providential?—discovery. Man, is it good, with just a few dabs, not smothered. Another bonus: It doesn’t matter if you go typewriter or scroll style. Same great taste.
The Brand New Heavies
N’Dea Davenport is back with the band. Those of us who are fans know what that means. Those who don’t should find out.
This is the Laguna Beach spinoff starring Lauren (L.C.) as she tries to navigate the treacherous waters of a Teen Vogue internship. The cinematography should be studied in film schools across the universe, but the real pleasure is in seeing awful people behave in ways you didn’t know were possible.
Listening to that CD you haven’t heard in a while straight through
It seems like, in the era of digitized music, you never listen to a whole album straight through. Try it with something you haven’t heard in the last three years. Sounds fresh, doesn’t it?
The Dick Cavett Show: Comic Legends
We never thought we’d see Bill Cosby and Jack Benny—who, it turns out, were good friends—chat with Joe Frazier about what it’s like to get punched. Nor did we suspect we’d ever see Groucho Marx interrupt Truman Capote to praise the work of Ring Lardner. But now we’ve seen both, and we have this terrific DVD boxed set to thank. These shows, which are presented in their entirety, transport you back to the days when Nixon was president and Woody Allen was known, first and foremost, as a brilliant comedian. Woody appears on two of the shows included here: one from 1969, on which there is only one other guest (the very entertaining Ruth Gordon), and one from 1971, on which there are no other guests. There are 12 shows in all, and each one is both funny and fascinating.
The American version of The Office
This show really snuck up on us. At first, we were maybe a bit dismissive, suffering from the vertigo that comes from comparing it with the original, but the recently aired season finale demonstrated that this is not only the best comedy on television (RIP, Arrested Development) but one of the best dramas as well.
Gomez, How We Operate
A little while back, we specifically recommended all of Gomez, but, at the time, this album was not yet released, so just to tidy things up we felt the need to point out that this is as good as anything they’ve ever done, which is very, very good indeed.
The West Wing
The end of the television season always makes us a little bereft, and the permanent ending of this show makes us feel even sadder. Bravo has plenty of reruns, so if you haven’t caught it you’re in for a treat.
“Discovering” a writer who has already published a bunch of books
We recently became acquainted with the work of Eric Kraft, who is highly recommended, but what makes it even better is that he’s published like 10 books, none of which we’ve read, which means we’re pretty much guaranteed a bunch of great reads in the coming months. Same thing happened with Steven Millhauser a few years ago.
Girl on the Bridge
This is Patrice Leconte’s sexy black-and-white film about a knife thrower (Daniel Auteuil) and his assistant (Vanessa Paradis). It has a sly wit, and its knife-throwing scenes are dizzyingly sensual. Also recommended: Leconte’s equally sexy The Hairdresser’s Husband.
U.S.! by Chris Bachelder
Mr. Bachelder is a friend, so take this recommendation for what you will, but his new novel, U.S.!, centered around a perpetually reanimating Upton Sinclair, could be the best book we’ve read this year.
Jenna Fischer’s blog
She plays Pam on The Office and gives inside scoops and anecdotes about what is rapidly becoming our favorite show. Just as charming in print as you’d think she’d be, which is very charming.
Staring at Sound: The True Story of Oklahoma’s Fabulous Flaming Lips by Jim DeRogatis
Really just recommended for fans (or maybe fanatics) of the Lips, but if you are a fan, this book is great fun.
Down by Law
We’ve been looking for the best angle on this—cinematography (excellent), mood (raw), pace (admirably patient)—but let’s just say Jarmusch’s film is good the way Led Zeppelin is good: an early work that’s refreshing and deceptively bold.
Led Zeppelin (I)
People aren’t recommending this album as much as they used to. We’re here to pick up the slack.
Love and Death
Woody Allen’s funniest film.
Any artist’s early stuff
Maybe you saw this one coming. Later stuff is good, too; we’re not saying you should be exclusive. But try a few of the first half-dozen Chicago albums, check out pre-“Legs” ZZ Top, reread In Our Time, watch Bottle Rocket again.
Cobra II by Michael Gordon and General Bernard Trainor
A “contemporary history” of the planning and execution of the Iraq war. Resolutely nonpartisan (the back blurbs for a previous book by the same authors come from Dick Cheney and Clinton cabinet member William Cohen). Basically proves that the fucked-up situation was caused by Donald Rumsfeld and Tommy Franks’s piss-poor management and the complicity of Vice President Cheney and President Bush. Also demonstrates that the actual soldiers who see combat are incredibly brave, flexible, and intelligent. If we’d listened to them, the country wouldn’t still be in this God-awful mess.
Anything written by Michael Ruhlman
We previously recommended his book Walk on Water, which is about an elite pediatric surgical unit. We’ve since read more of his books and they’re all good. Even when you think you might have no interest in the subject, it turns out you do.
Protection from bugs and rain while still getting the benefit of the fresh air.
This is an actress who has recently appeared in Walk the Line as Johnny Cash’s first wife, and who is now co-starring in HBO’s Big Love as Wife No. 3, Margie. There is a scene in the second episode where Ms. Goodwin’s character has been feuding with Wife No. 2, Nikki (Chloë Sevigny), prior to sitting down for a few rubbers of bridge. In a four-way relationship, Margie seems to feel like a fifth wheel, and Nikki seems to enjoy reminding her of this, including during the bridge game when Margie makes a poor bid. Annoyed, Nikki picks at Margie, exclaiming, “What are you trying to do to me?” The camera cuts to a shot of Ms. Goodwin’s face as it morphs from wounded over the harsh words to a sly, secret pleasure in seeing Nikki twist. A small but incredible bit of acting.
We get occasional grief for our music recommendations not “rocking” enough. We were recently introduced to this British band and we’re pretty sure these guys rock. The best thing is that they have, like, five albums out already with another one coming summer 2006, so there’s plenty of exploring left to do. We’re sure that people have reasons why this band “sucks” also, but we can’t hear them because we’ve got this Gomez shit cranked up loud.
Oxidants and histamines
It seems like we’re always against these two things, with all kinds of products trumpeting their “anti-oxidants” or people taking “anti-histamines” during allergy season. We don’t know what either oxidants or histamines do, but we’re sure they can’t be all bad.
Jennifer Government and The Company by Max Barry
Perhaps not soul-shattering “literature,” but deeply entertaining and sharp satires both. We especially hope that Jennifer Government is on deck for a film version.
Jon Stewart hosting the Academy Awards again
It seems like the people in the auditorium weren’t digging him, and neither were the television critics, but in our household, filled at the time with a range of demographics, everyone was laughing. Shows how much critics know.
Countdown With Keith Olbermann
Keith can, on occasion, be a bit smarmy, but it’s really the best newstainment show around. Let’s hope MSNBC does the right thing and ditches the 7 p.m. repeat of Hardball so Countdown can move up an hour so as not to interfere with other prime-time programming.
I know we’re not the only ones swept up in the Olympic curling fever. Catch it! It’s cold!
The Dan Patrick Radio Show
We’re sports fans, but generally not fans of sports talk radio, except for this show.
Very late to the game on this one, but much better than America’s Next Top Model. Particularly recommended is the episode where they had to make a polo outfit out of fruit.
This 1979 Albert Brooks film is a brilliant, hilarious send-up of what is now called reality TV. (Be sure to check out the film’s trailer, which is included on the DVD. It’s the funniest trailer we’ve ever seen. It doesn’t show a single frame of the movie it promotes, and is presented in 3-D so that, according to Brooks, “you can literally feel the excitement.”)
The hockey play-by-play of Mike Emrick
Those of you who have been watching the Olympics know how tremendous Emrick is at calling the toughest play-by-play of any sport. It’s like the guy doesn’t have to breathe to keep speaking.
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
Great book. A page-turner plus more.
Comfy and stylish in both the slip-on and lace-up varieties. Leather.
Better than People magazine because it only covers celebrities and not people who make throw pillows out of dog hair. Better than Us because it actually has words to go with the pictures.
Number 1 Single
This is the show where Lisa Loeb goes on dates looking for a husband. That someone like Lisa Loeb, who is talented, smart, beautiful, and eager for a relationship, still remains single is clearly a sign of societal breakdown. Single men of New York between the ages of 32 and 40, let’s get on the ball here.
Sia, “Breathe Me”
She sang that song that played in the final moments of the finale of Six Feet Under, and though we’ve found that episode to be polarizing, there’s no denying the song.
A decent desk chair
No particular brand is recommended, but it really does make a difference in your life.
The Lady Eve
We recommend all of Preston Sturges’s films, but this one—a sexy, hilarious romantic comedy starring Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda—is our favorite. Pitch-perfect, smart as a whip, and immensely charming.
Eat on them. As a backdrop, these bad boys, like red walls at a restaurant, double the excellence of your meal. Don’t slight the eyes. They’re right up there in terms of sensory perception, you know.
We’re giving this one away. It’s either a band name or a name for a recording label. Or that club that doesn’t have a sign. It’s textured and you can think of maybe a dozen possible logos.
Blue Angel by Francine Prose
We’re a sucker for campus novels and this is right up there with Lucky Jim and Small World. Funny funny funny.
Flip This House
There are a lot of house-flipping shows out there, but this is our favorite. It’s on A&E and follows a Charleston, South Carolina, real-estate company (Trademark Properties) as they makeover houses in, like, a week without needing Ty Pennington.
Spicy noodles. Yum.
Measuring twice to cut once
Saves an extra trip to the hardware store, if you know what we’re saying.
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
We’re talking the book and not the forthcoming movie—nor, for that matter, the 1949 movie—though maybe the movies are good as well.
A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley
Funny, sad, humane. But when it’s all said and done, sad in that satisfying sad way where you feel blue, but not too blue.
Best part: the little shreds of real bacon. Second-best part: the warm, sweet dressing. Third-best part: the spinach.
Makes you think twice about reaching out and calling, because it takes so long to dial and is genuinely taxing on the finger. We think this is probably a good thing.
Nobody gives it any love, but this may be the purest of the weekdays. The most shit gets done on Tuesdays. No hassles, no pressure, no image to live up to.
Aimee Mann’s old band is a good listen still. But don’t confuse them with T’Pau, as we, in party conversation, once unwittingly did. That was embarrassing.
Sirius, XM—not much difference, but for those of us who live in the smaller markets, having access to something other than the latest abomination from Nickelback is a blessed thing.
To our more rural audience, we say, Give us a subfreezing temperature, some of these tiptop coveralls—more than overalls—and any length of time you want, and we guarantee warmth. They’re the real deal.
Declining by Degrees
It’s a documentary about the shifting ethic of American higher education since World War II. Crisp, tight, provocative, compelling. Watch it, talk it up, others will be interested.
The best NBA commentary available (except maybe Wizznutzz, depending on your priorities). Like Bill Walton meets Stephen A. Smith, except without either of them.
Not quite a Recommendation, but we ate these last night and they weren’t as bad as you would expect.
Tom Waits, Rod Stewart, Everything But the Girl—this song must be unbreakable.
Mission to America by Walter Kirn
Sort of on the sly, Kirn has been churning out very sharp, very humane satirical novels. Up in the Air was great and Mission to America is even better.
Vault soda drink
Frankly, we’ve never had such a pleasant high, including that time in ‘67 when we were hanging out with Jerry and rest of the Dead at their pad in Mendocino. Maybe it’s just that caffeine, but we suspect that this stuff was whipped up in the forest by some high-level druids. Seems to be available in individual servings only at this point. Stick with the 12-ounce can. The 16-ounce bottle is probably more than anyone could handle.
Fanny May Mint Meltaways
In a crowded small-chocolate-morsel field, this little classic is a standout.
This astonishingly beautiful film is time-machine-like in its re-creation of the 18th century. Though it won four Academy Awards, it remains Stanley Kubrick’s most underappreciated film.
Music From the Heartland
Everybody knows dirtbags and nerds rock harder than academics and dilettantes, and yet we keep allowing Brooklyn bands to claim their ’home’town as a measure of credibility. I recommend a 180. Turn, coast; peer inward. Forget, even, Detroit, valedictorians of NME Charm School. Check out Akron, Cleveland, Youngstown. Gil Mantera Party Dream slips you a sexy mickey. Machine Go Boom sounds like the way Romper Room felt. Houseguest is simply the best pop band in the country. That’s where you should be.
I have a good feeling about this guy.
This is a movie, a small fun one. Campbell Scott, Stanley Tucci, Lili Taylor, Steve Buscemi, etc. Best if you don’t know anything in advance.
Go ahead and see where, like, 92.3 percent of Phish’s music comes from. With the “Mothers” more highly recommended than without.
Kicking Television − Wilco Live in Chicago
If possible, the Ghost Is Born songs sound even better on this live CD.
Law & Order: Criminal Intent
The television ads for this installment indicate that some critic called this “the best of the Law & Order franchise,” and we’re inclined to agree. Even better now with the tradeoff of leads between Vincent D’Onofrio/Kathryn Erbe and Chris Noth/Annabella Sciorra.
Making “The Shining”
When Vivian Kubrick was 17, she made a documentary about the making of the film her dad was then shooting. The result is fascinating, full of candid moments and illuminating details. Plus, the interviews with little Danny are supremely charming. (This documentary is an extra on the Stanley Kubrick Collection DVD of The Shining.)
We’re talking physically and mentally. Every so often it helps to know the exact quantity of SpaghettiOs Sliced Franks in the cupboard as well as the state of your psyche.
Brad Mehldau Trio, Day Is Done
OK, third time we’re recommending Brad Mehldau and his piano trio, and it would be logical to wonder if we’re just going to recommend everything he does. The answer is yes, as long as the music is this good. There’s a new drummer who rocks, or swings, or whatever jazz drummers are supposed to do. When the rhythm section kicks back in after the piano break during “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” your heart will skip a beat.
It’s a hand-soap flavor. Surprisingly pleasing. No joke.
The Who’s “Boris the Spider” as a children’s song
You can kick “Free to Be You and Me” to the curb. “Boris the Spider”? That’s the gig. Fun deep bass, catchy refrain − the kids go nuts with it.
Fire of Love by the Gun Club
When you add a lot of records to iTunes all at once, it’s easy to forget you even have many of them. Months later you discover one and listen to it 11 times in two days. It’s like an inheritance that you left to yourself.
Granted, it wasn’t until I elicited a hippie lady’s ardent gratitude by wearing—disingenuously, I guess—a Cars-R-Coffins T-shirt that I was really shamed into giving it up entirely, but even driving infrequently can feel great, like not eating meat for a week.
This is an 18-minute Cat Power song, which does not bode well. And the music basically repeats itself 20 or so times. But somehow this is my very favorite song of the moment.
Gilbert Arenas, Washington Wizards
I don’t even have to mention this to anyone who’s been paying attention, but this guy is a tremendous player, and a uniquely strange individual, and seemingly a sweet guy as well. And he’s only a week older than Dwyane Wade.
Kristin visited old flame Stephen in San Francisco a few episodes ago; she stayed, chastely, in a hotel. He responded, while dropping her off, by handing her an empty Chinese-takeout container found (planted?) on the floor of his truck and gruffly suggesting that she throw it away. Ineffable gestures like this one abound. Why watch The O.C., really?
The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Vladimir Nabokov
Every chapter includes an absurd tour de force of some sort, as when the narrator circumvents his reluctance to disparage a man’s face by brazenly slapping a weird mask on the guy for several pages—a great idea and a nested recommendation to writers everywhere.
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter
Granted, by now I can believe it. But still, this is by far my favorite margarine-type product of all time.
The TV spots for Jarhead
Haven’t seen the movie, haven’t read the book, but this trailer is so good it needs to be taken on its own as a freestanding work of art. Highlights include the bumping military-gospel-hip-hop cut, Gyllenhaal and Sarsgaard’s chilling talking heads, Jamie Foxx diving into the fray with supertitles announcing his Oscar nomination hovering over him, and several subliminally brief shots of women screaming or laughing. A+
Refrigerating Fresh Grapes
The crunch of a good crisp grape is made more delightful by the cool temperature of the juice inside. Get them out of there before they lose their freshness, however. Because a cold squishy grape is the saddest grape of all.
Holding a Soft Baby Chick
Form a ball with your hands and leave a hole in the top for the chick’s head to pop through. That makes them feel secure and makes you feel wonderful. Try to arrange this if you can. If you have a connection with a farm or a preschool, see if they can set you up. The hen won’t mind, but don’t let the rooster see you.
Just listen to her sometime, will you?
Don’t Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, the Torment of Low Thread Count, the Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems by David Rakoff
So, so funny, wise, and humane. Buy this book in traditional form, but also get the audio version, in order to enjoy Mr. Rakoff’s unique delivery.
As a guest vocalist on the Postal Service song “Nothing Better,” she makes admonishment sound both alluring and convincing while she discusses the charts and graphs she’s prepared to demonstrate why a romance must end. “Don’t you feed me lies about some idealistic future,” she warns, with both empathy and firmness. “Your heart won’t heal right if you keep tearing out the sutures.” On her own records, she sounds like a highly sensible ghost.
Shaving without shaving cream when you first get out of the shower
Few men are aware of this option, which, if broadly implemented, could bring Big Shaving Cream to its knees. Right out of a hot shower, your face is warm and soft. Wrap a towel around your waist, grab a razor, and go to work. No cream means you can see exactly where the whiskers are. No shirt means you stay clean. And, most important, it ends up being a better shave anyway.
The pride of Milwaukee, these guys still write and perform some of the solidest rock-and-roll music out there. Their live show is highly recommended. The recently released live CD, Homebrewed, is an acceptable substitute.
By far the funniest of the silent-film comedians. Nearly all of his pre-MGM feature films are brilliant. Our personal favorites are Sherlock, Jr. (1924), Seven Chances (1925), and his epic Civil War comedy, The General (1927). This guy makes Charlie Chaplin look like Jeff Foxworthy.
Wolfgang Puck canned soup
I’m predisposed to feel guilty about canned soup, and probably for good reason. And somehow Wolfgang Puck seems like something to be ashamed of, too. But this soup is extremely decent, far better than Chunky.
Spaniel Rage by Vanessa Davis
I could have also recommended Destined for Dizziness by Souther Salazar—everything from Buenaventura Press so far has been real good.
David Patrick Kelly
This guy brought majestic, twitchy, repulsive energy to the role of Luther in The Warriors. Apparently, he recently played Unger in the remake of The Longest Yard—anyone see this?
“All These Things That I’ve Done” by the Killers
Frankly, we thought a lot of the talk about “Mr. Brightside” was hype, but this song has lodged in our brain and made a happy home. “I’ve got soul / but I’m not a soldier.” An incredible lyric.
Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson
Admittedly, we’re a sucker for this kind of nonfiction: a true yet incredible story about recreational wreck divers trying to identify a World War II U-boat sunk off the New Jersey coast. It’s out in paperback now, but would’ve been worth a pickup in hardcover if we’d been more on the ball.
Owning your own washer/dryer
After countless years of coin-op laundry, we’ve discovered that the newer generation of in-home washers have dozens of settings, including one for smaller loads where you don’t have to use gallons of water just to wash a few unmentionables. The soft whirring of the dryer while you watch TV in the living room is oddly soothing as well.
Illinois by Sufjan Stevens
Can you feel the glockenspiel and vibraphone? We can and it feels good. An enjoyable tribute to one of the backbone states of the country, including a lovely song on the creepiest birthday-clown serial killer of all time, John Wayne Gacy.
Mr. Clean Magic Sponge
Magic indeed, because only some form of necromancy could have possibly removed those marks from the walls using only a magic sponge and water, not to mention how it obliterated the soap scum from the shower. Let’s just hope the Russians don’t get wind of this.
Beauty and the Geek
A third-tier reality game show co-produced by Ashton Kutcher makes good. Some of the beauties aren’t all that beautiful and the geeks aren’t all geeky and the “competitions” are ludicrously stupid, but the human “drama” got us big time. This show is actually sort of life-affirming, believe it or not.
“Superhero” by Jane’s Addiction
This is the theme song to HBO’s Entourage (also recommended). We think the guitar riff in the verse could be accurately described as “muscular.”
What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain
The very readable result of many years of research into what makes good college teachers good. Teachers, administrators, students, parents, and even woodland creatures could learn something from this book.
Sturdy. That’s it, just sturdy.
Baseball on the radio
A rich experience exceeded only by baseball at the park, in which case, we also recommend listening to the radio broadcast with an earpiece in the left ear as you watch from mid-lower level, left field. Funny, too, that the rise of radio and the rise of baseball were concurrent. Timely then, timeless thereafter.
The Criterion Collection
You’re looking for a 1960s Italian documentary about the paparazzi and Brigitte Bardot? Commentary on the politics of postwar French cinema? An intern’s view of a Wes Anderson production? The best of Kurosawa, Peckinpah, Bergman? You go here. (Bloopers from Jackass? Go elsewhere.)
We’re going on a decade with people still blathering about “double-you double-you double-you,” while the ease and patter of “triple dub” is out there. It’s available. We realize other countries are already working on this—“treb” and whatnot—so come on already, America. WWW is pronounced “triple dub.”
Cape Cod Morning by Edward Hopper
There’s just something fulfilling about this otherwise unremarkable 1950 portrait. Claiming the least smidgen of art-historical cred, we’re nonetheless enchanted by this one.
Bar none, the best television journalism in existence. Are we exaggerating? Nope. TiVo it if you’re not there. That’ll learn ‘em. (If you’re TiVoless, don’t panic. Most of the Frontline programs from the past few years can be seen for free online.)
Opening Up a National Dialogue on Garrison Keillor’s Singing
We say this with not a shred of disrespect for the guy. The Wobegoner’s been around for a real long while, singing throughout. We just want to ask, why? Our point is, we should be talking about this more openly.
“B.Y.O.B.” by System of a Down
The first single of their new album. The lazy funk-shuffle breakdown parts are impossible not to start grooving to. Plus, the band looks legitimately scary in the music video.
Sportskids Moms and Dads on Bravo
A sequel to last year’s Showbiz Moms and Dads with almost identical parent/child relationship archetypes, including the mother of an 8-year-old cheerleader/dancer/Britney Spears wannabe who must be seen to be believed.
Mike Doughty, Haughty Melodic
We’ve been waiting for this album for a long time, and we’re very happy that it has arrived. These songs are clever, fun, joyful. Particular favorites are “Unsingable Name,” “American Car,” “Tremendous Brunettes,” and “Madeline and Nine.” Oh, who are we kidding, they’re all great.
Michael Bérubé (michaelberube.com)
A professor of literature and cultural studies at Penn State, Bérubé maintains an addictive blog where he comments and riffs on current events in culture, politics, academia, and the Nittany Lions intramural hockey league.
Tom Dowd & the Language of Music
Quick, name a legendary musical artist. Aretha Franklin? Eric Clapton? Ray Charles? John Coltrane? Allman Brothers? Black Oak Arkansas? Tom Dowd either produced or engineered their records. Fascinating documentary on the man who pioneered eight-track recording.
Dead Kennedys, “Holiday in Cambodia”
Every now and again we need to refresh ourselves, and this is the kind of thing that refreshes ourselves. Those DKs pack a lot into this song. You probably already knew that.
Swimming to Cambodia
Spalding Gray’s 1987 movie-ish thing about experiences making The Killing Fields. Worth a watch, rewatch, or an “Oh, yeah, that was fine.”
Have you done this lately? It’s just like jogging, except in water, basically horizontal, arguably more refreshing, more tiring, wetter, there’s that, often requiring eye protection, and leading to the possibility of Marco Polo. You can’t listen to your iPod, but you can lean on the side when you’re finished and look up at the sky and shake the water off your face and float. Different density than air. That’s nice.
Rookie guard for the Chicago Bulls. Cool, fearless, born in England. Everything you look for in a sixth man.
Ben Folds, Songs for Silverman
A few weeks ago a kind correspondent wrote in to our letters inbox remarking that our music recommendations tended to not rock and were, frankly, kind of wussy. Maybe so, maybe so. Still, don’t let the absence of guitar steer you away from this album, because it’s great. It rocks, in its own way.
Ben Kingsley (Sir)
I know we’re not the only ones who figured he was done after Gandhi, shooting his acting wad on a sprawling historical drama (F. Murray Abraham anyone?). But have you seen Sexy Beast or The House of Sand and Fog? We have. He’s really good.
Sure, these movies never seem to turn out all that well, but the show is great. This year, they’re trying to make a horror film, only the studio wants to spend about a 10th of what it would take to film the script they chose. Also, the director wants to cast his family members in all the major roles. It’s on Bravo now.
Jorge Drexler, Eco
Drexler won the Oscar for best original song for “Al otro lado del rao” (from The Motorcycle Diaries). Eco is his most recent album, available only as an import and totally in Spanish, so we only catch, like, every fifth word. One of the songs is either about shirt buttons or bottle caps, as far as we can tell. Doesn’t matter. This stuff grooves. Extra props to Drexler for managing not to hurl during the sacrilege that was Antonio Banderas’s performance at the Oscars.
Signing That Petition to Ban Anthropomorphized TV-Commercial Characters
So yeah, where is that petition? Isn’t it enough already with the talking bears, and the talking used cars, and the talking furniture, and the talking oven mitts? We’re uncomfortable with it.
The classic Pilgrim at Tinker Creek goes without saying, but really nearly any nugget from Dillard is worth a read. They come, with varying degrees, as poetic, profound, and palatable.
Italicized Garamond Ampersand [&]
This is absolute brilliance. And it’s like a process, a delightful process: you have to make the style (italic), the font (Garamond), the character (ampersand). The queen of conjunctions, rendered with a perfect harmony of power & elegance (see?!), and henceforth shall be referred to as such.
Rachel Cohen’s A Chance Meeting
There is nothing dull about this book. It is fascinating. She contributed part of it to the Quarterly Concern a few years back (Issue 4), so we might be suspected of bias, but the whole book, all told, is too interesting to neglect just because we had forewarning of it.
When you were flailing about, you used paper clips. Now that you’ve made it, you use binder clips. They signify maturity and skill. Paper clips are j.v.; binder clips, varsity.
Who among us does not have a preferred pasta style/shape? We favor the mini penne because, with its fluted grandeur, it has enough bulk to hold the sauce, spinach, and Gorgonzola, while still allowing a good four to five pieces per forkload.
With or without Special Sauce, G. Love, or “Glove,” for the unknowing, is above reproach. We can’t think of a bad G. Love album. We can think of lots of good ones—Yeah, It’s That Easy may be tops—but no all-out bad ones.
Very tasty stuff. Good in any variety, but best in the glass bottle varieties from IBC or Stewart’s. On occasion, we’ll tell people to close their eyes and that we’re going to give them a soda and ask them if they can tell whether or not it’s Coke or Pepsi and then slip them the root beer. Often, they say, “Mmmmm,” afterward. Caffeine free.
Karaoke Revolution for Xbox
We didn’t know how hard it was to sing “Tracks of My Tears” until trying out this interactive karaoke game, but trust us, it’s really hard. On the other hand, we nailed Norah Jones’s “Don’t Know Why,” and the animated crowd went wild.
We’re told they’re part of the “chill” music movement. We don’t know who else belongs to this movement, but these guys are good. They don’t rock in the slightest, but the music for sure rolls. On a very turbulent flight where drinks were launched through the air and the flight attendant hit the deck, we put these guys on and felt instantly calmer.
The Philadelphia Independent
Perhaps the best local newspaper in the country.
Perhaps the best Bullets/Wizards bblogg in the country. (Perhaps the best website, period, but only if you know/care who Phil Chenier is.)
A young Jet Li, actively strange gender-bending, the Essence Absorbing Stance—truly one of the classics.
Plays, 1996-2000 by Richard Maxwell
A little like David Mamet, except without the cursing or the action, and with occasional songs. Realist surrealism, or maybe vice versa.
Askew Chair Placement
When away from your desk, for five minutes or two weeks, leave the chair askew to suggest a merely temporary absence. Sally and Tim walk by, see your computer on, papers about to fall from the desk and, the clincher—which is the key, which seals the deal—your chair slightly askew. It’s like a shadow, that negative space in front of the chair, where you must’ve departed, but the departing, by all appearances, couldn’t’ve been more than, like, three minutes ago. That space is saying, “Hey, Sally, I’ll be right back. Tim, hold me a seat at the quarterly safety meeting?” Time-honored techniques are honored by time for a reason. In France, they’d call this la perruque.
Running into Peter Noone at the Las Vegas Airport
You know, the Herman’s Hermits guy. He’s charming, and it’s bowls more fun than if you’d run into, say, Donovan. Apparently, and maybe this is the best part of it since he clearly doesn’t care, he still has lackeys advising him on how to leverage his fame.
The season has passed for most of us, but these suckers, basically mini-oranges, are easier to peel than their larger citric brethren, easier to manage as a snack, and easier to store in your pocket without fear of oozage. And, needless to say, their taste is superb.
Chocolate cake with vanilla butter-cream frosting
Is it frosting or icing? Are they the same thing? Either way, this shit’s good. We tend to only see it trotted out for office birthday parties, but let’s not forget that chocolate cake with vanilla butter-cream frosting needs no occasion, and it really isn’t that disgusting for one or two people to exist entirely on a 13-by-9 sheet cake for a few days.
University of Illinois basketball team
We wrestled over this one, not wanting to jinx their brilliance, but a team built on tough defense and sharing the ball needs less luck than most. No matter what happens the rest of the way, they should be the model for other college basketball teams, and perhaps high-school and middle-school basketball teams as well. They are the poster children for why college hoops is so superior to the pro game. Plus, because they are Midwestern, they are significantly less hateful than Duke.
You Are a Dog by Terry Bain
We’ve been remiss in not recommending this book earlier, because it is awesome and made us laugh many times, and even cry once or twice. (OK, several times.) We recommend reading it in the presence of your dog or dogs, because you will read a passage and then look at your dog or dogs and say to them, “So that’s what you’ve been thinking,” and, if possible, you will love them even more.
The Columnist by Jeffrey Frank
We went to a David Sedaris reading where he recommended this book, so we bought it and read it and saw that it was short, brilliant, and hilarious, just like he said. We thought about not recommending it because many people will already know that he’s recommending it, but then we began to think about recommendations and that the point is to keep passing them on. Just so it’s clear, though, he was first. All credit to Mr. Sedaris on this one.
Rachael Ray, from The Food Network
Oftentimes spunkiness is just straight irritating. But in this case it’s endearing. And in this case we forgo skepticism of false TV-personality genuineness and believe that she’d be equally joyful playing Scrabble or a character in an Ionesco play. Verve is good, right? She’s got verve. She’s a clear star on the rise. She makes great salads.
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
We suppose this is from the “classics revisited” department. Now 35 years old, it can be at once unbearable for the brutality it documents and enlightening for the sense of who we have been. Not academic, not needless, not on as many of the must-read lists as it used to be. But maybe it should be.
“The Monster in the Mirror,” sung by Grover
In the pantheon of Sesame Street musicology, this one stands alone. “Wubba wubba wubba wubba woo woo woo.” It’s not like we’re saying go get some kids, watch PBS, and then buy the soundtrack. But we are saying this is the best of its class.
Privacy by Charles Pfahl
This is a painting. Pfahl is an artist. It’s beautiful. Try to find it.
Sincerity and Authenticity by Lionel Trilling
Those public intellectuals can’t make it into today’s “media”-mediated world. We are sensitized and cranky about them. Trilling was one. This collection of lectures is refreshing, even if clearly from a moment long gone. Or maybe because of that. Oh, what the hell do we know, just saying it’s interesting.
The Hard Way by Owsley
Akin to Jellyfish or Jason Falkner. Poppish rock with hooks that are airy instead of leaden. (I’m looking at you and your ilk, Yellowcard.) Fun to sing along to in your car, but remember, when you are singing along to music in your car, those things are called windows and people can see you.
American Idiot by Green Day
We resisted this album for some time. Sure, the title song was a catchy little ditty, but we managed to tire of it after a few listens, and come on, we’re talking about Green Day! But this album is really pretty brilliant, just like so many people have told us. Especially recommended is “Jesus of Suburbia,” a mini rock opera within the rock opera, which is the greatest song of its kind since The Who’s “A Quick One While He’s Away.”
Like Mystery Science Theater meets vintage ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Hosted by the Sklar twins, whom we previously thought of as not that funny. Turns out they’re funny, as is this show.
Air travel during the holidays
Yeah, not really. This shit really sucks if you had to do it. Let’s move Christmas to May and New Year’s to September so we never have to do this ever again.
Stephen A. Smith
Sports columnist and ESPN talking head. Some people find him annoying. We can see their point, but we find him entertaining. You know how all of the current era of Sports Center anchors are basically imitating Dan Patrick, Keith Olberman, and Chris Berman, and not always well? Someday, all of the ESPN commentators will talk like Stephen A. That will be annoying.
50 First Dates
Lots of strikes against this movie. Oldest premise in the book, Rob Schneider in a supporting role wearing too-tight clothes, and that God-awful version of The Cure’s “Love Song” by 311. Still, this movie is very charming. Seriously. And Drew Barrymore is cute!
Waking the Dead
This flick from 2000 stars Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connelly, who, wow, besides actors making a really great movie, make a good-looking pair. Two ideals of public service, wrapped in a flashback to tragedy, with overtures to the future inside the present, and all that. Really, Jennifer Connelly is recommended in general.
Marimba as the background layer
Basically, take any solid music (devoid of electronics), lay a marimba line behind it, and you’ve got yourself good listening. Not talking Herb Alpert stuff, and it doesn’t just have to be Cuban or Latin or whatever kind of jazz or Violent Femmes. Nothing specific. Just a nod to the pleasures of marimba accompaniment.
Your local library
They have almost all the books you want anyway. And they’re getting lots of DVDs these days too. And remember how it’s free? This is one of those things that was a good idea when they hatched it (thank you, Benjamin Franklin) and is still a good idea today.
We remembered these guys as sterile ‘70s studio wonks, and who could really bear another spinning of "Rikki Don’t Lose that Number" on the classic-rock station? A fresh look reveals plenty of grit and soul beneath the lock-tight arrangements. Dig past the usual suspects for “The Boston Rag” and “Any Major Dude …”
Durable, versatile, inexpensive, and doesn’t show the thumbtack holes. A friend of ours had his whole basement paneled in this stuff and it was really cool.
Tavis Smiley, weeknights on PBS
Now that Tavis has somewhat inexplicably folded up the Tavis Smiley NPR program, the late-night PBS show is the best source of his delightfully edifying positainment.
An East Texas pasture
Among the herd of grazing cattle, you may see a donkey. Do not be confused; it is a sentinel donkey. The rancher has put it there to spook area wolves. Watch this donkey as you go about filling your basket with delicious wild blackberries.
Penny Hardaway, New York Knicks
He comes off the bench. It’s dynamism.
This is the best zine to come out of the Kankakee River region. Edited by the enigmatic C. Shoup.
Turns out they don’t have to be gross.
Says Believer webmaster Max Fenton: “A bottle of Southern Comfort, some ice, some friendsÂ—you’ve got yourself a party.”
Hang On Little Tomato by Pink Martini
Intoxicating songs of romance in French, Italian, Japanese, Croatian, Spanish, and English. As passionate as a thunderstorm. As precise and delicate as a porcelain teacup. China Forbes’s voice is the audio equivalent of honey. Do your ears a favor and listen to this album.
The Sundial Bridge in Redding, CA
Startling by day, Santiago Calatrava’s new searingly white, 217-foot “sundial” bridge is positively, gorgeously alien at night, with its glass, granite, and steel all glowing up in spotlights. There is also a full bar.
Bags Unlimited sells “Polyethylene Sleeves, Mylar Sleeves, Polypropylene Sleeves, Archival Storage, Corrugated Backing Boards, Archival Supplies, Collector Storage Boxes, Mat Board, Shrink Film Machines, Archival Shrink Film, and much more.” Forget collecting comic books, vinyl, or century-old figurines, the mere existence of this company makes us want to become collectors of the accoutrements of collection itself.
Destroyer, Your Blues
Some people probably hate this album. The song titles include “Notorious Lightning” and “The Music Lovers” and that’s pretty much how it sounds too. But I’m eating it up. John Darnielle meets Todd Rundgren?
Blowing gently on the face of a baby
Some babies, not all, but some, seem to enjoy the sensation of gentle breezes flowing across the fluff of their soft heads. If it is that kind of baby, you’ll know instantly by the fluttering eyelashes and the light-bulb smile. Weeping or reddening, however, are signs of an entirely different sort of infant, one you should stop blowing on at once.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, out on DVD
Some people kind of hated this movie, citing its lack of sex-chemistry or disappointing ending, but those in an accepting and well-fed state of mind might just find it inspirational, insightful, and pretty. Plus, Jim Carrey’s face looks almost normal for full minutes at a stretch.
The Arcade Fire, Funeral
Pitchfork loves it. We like it. One hit after another. Canada just won’t quit with the rock-and-roll music.
The parking-spot pull-through
You see the spot, you pull your car in. Then you see the pull-through opportunity. The spot in front of you, usually already occupied by someone who parked facing you, is open. It’s not just sensible logistically to go right through and park facing out. It’s plain good karma. A sign of good things to come.
Dick Gordon, Host of WBUR’s The Connection
Gordon is not only a superior—insightful, curious, generous, balanced—radio-talk-show host, but he’s great to share a kebab with, trade stories about your days on the range with, or practice skeet shooting with. He’s highly recommendable.
Pumpkin chocolate-chip muffins or cookies
That’s right, we’re recommending muffins. Or cookies. Seriously, these are it. This is a run-don’t-walk situation. And now they’re seasonal, which reminded us.
Devil in the Details: A Memoir of an Obsessive Girlhood by Jennifer Traig
We are, admittedly, biased when it comes to Ms. Traig, one half of our Shut-In Detective duo, but this book is really quite wonderful and deserves much attention. Out-loud laughs are available on every page. Please buy two copies and give one to a friend.
Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism by Cornel West
In this book, which is billed as a sequel to West’s Race Matters, West exposes the diseased parts of the current state of the Union. Just read it, brothers and sisters.
Green vegetable soybean. Comes either in or out of the husk. Boil, salt, enjoy.
Band of Brothers—HBO miniseries
OK, we’re what?—three, four years late on this, but we caught a marathon over Labor Day weekend on the History Channel and canceled the barbecue so we could watch the whole thing. Should be out on DVD, we imagine.
You Remind Me of Me by Dan Chaon
Gripping from the first line to the last. Sad, hopeful, deeply satisfying. Read this novel.
Because, if there’s ever a problem, it’s at an intersection. We’re mostly smart adults, right? We can find the back alleys, the side streets. We don’t even need the freakin’ intersections.
Actor, director, comedian, novelist, screenwriter, aviator … Talentwise, Stephen Fry is like a one-man Cirque du Soleil. Known both for his big brain, which is roughly the size of Saskatchewan, and for his kindness (also Saskatchewan-sized), Fry is a top-notch human being. Hugely famous in England, he is almost unknown here in the States, which is a shame, because it means that A Bit of Fry and Laurie—the hilarious sketch show he did with his pal Hugh Laurie—is not widely available here. Fortunately, Fry’s memoir, Moab Is My Washpot, is available here. Read it. It is brilliantly funny, achingly sad, and wise.
The Man Without a Past
We may be on a Scandinavian kick (see Show Me Love, below). Probably not. But this is a good flick. It’s Finnish, being the second of a trilogy by Aki KaurismÃ¤ki. We laughed. Interesting soundtrack too, strangely enough.
Hot tea with honey
Any type will do, but what you have is a spoon, some honey, and hot tea. The real deal is, it’s a double delight: not just that honey is a fine, fine additive, but that the spoon used to stir the honey is removed with the slightest layer of residual sugar, and that Darjeeling-basted sweetness is pert near joyous. And that thing about local honey being good for allergies? Seems legit.
Small pads of paper, maybe 4 inches by 4 inches
Lots of times, there are things we want to write down. These do the trick.
Because have you ever had to pack your stuff? As if there were ever a more obvious recommendation. We’re embarrassed we had to say it.
A Ghost Is Born by Wilco
Sure, no risk here, recommending Wilco. It’s cool to recommend Wilco, right? Wait, maybe it’s uncool to recommend Wilco. Is it time to break bad on Wilco? You’ll let us know, right? We’ve heard this album described as “weird,” that some of the songs are “indulgent.” Whatever. Listen to the album. It’s a motherfucker, beginning to end.
The sound a large book makes when snapped shut
Satisfying to those who know it’s coming, scary to those who do not.
Hershey’s Sundae Pie
So far, we’ve only seen these available at Burger King, but if someone sees them somewhere else, please let us know. A bed of chocolate graham crust layered with a chocolate-mousse pie filling, topped with whipped cream, and drizzled with chocolate. Comes in a perfectly pie-shaped container with a reusable fork. (Spoons available upon request.)
King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents the Steve Miller Band
Yeah, you read that title correctly, we’re recommending the Steve Miller Band. A pair of recently unearthed recordings of early Steve Miller Band live shows, one from 1973, the other from 1976. Sure, today we think of him as that guy who wrote slick ’70s rock like “Rockin’ Me,” or “Take the Money and Run,” or—one of the more annoying songs of the ’80s—“Abracadabra,” but these recordings (the ’73 one, specifically) showcase why, during the early part of his career, Miller was known as Stevie Guitar. The eighteen-minute jam of “Livin’ in the U.S.A.” into “Fly Like an Eagle” is worth the price all by itself. Sounds like live albums should, with amplifier hiss, screwups, and everything else intact.
Many hours of daylight
These longer late-spring and summer days make us think that maybe having a home in each hemisphere might be a champion idea.
Have you seen these things? It’s like the introduction of the Walkman all over again. Very exciting.
Made on MTV
Low self-esteem solved through dedication, hard work, and professional guidance/support. The complete inverse of the really gruesome I Want a Famous Face.
Punching it in
When something good happens or someone says something you firmly agree with, invite them to bump fists with you, knuckle to knuckle. All the fun of giving five, but less dorky. Addictive.
Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? by the Unicorns
Official McSwys Band of the Month for February, March, and probably April too. The awesomeness of this album should not be underestimated.
Directed by John Carpenter, starring Rowdy Roddy Piper. Most famous for a legendary line involving ass-kicking and bubblegum, but even beyond that this movie is actually really good, for real.
Anything Goes by The Brad Mehldau Trio
We’ve recommended Brad Mehldau once before, but it’s really time to get on the stick and start buying some of his records. This is the brand-new release from this jazz trio, a studio album of covers ranging from standards like Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” to “Everything in Its Right Place” by Radiohead. Drummer Jorge Rossy blows minds on the latter track.
House of Dreams on A&E Television
A sleeper reality series where contestants work in the south Florida swamps to build a house together, with the last man or woman standing (one contestant is evicted Survivor-style each week) taking possession of the house. Until recently, the show featured an adulterous coupling between contestants. Hosted by George Wendt.
PaperMate Clickster .5 mm mechanical pencil
Comfortable in the hand, with excellent lead advancement via index-finger clicking. Very little wasted lead. Top notch.
Derrida, the Movie
First, we were thinking, this is a little fawning. But then we were thinking, this guy’s really approachable; it’s the filmmakers who are fawning. He says the same things he writes, but when he says them they are nearly comprehensible. At least, we’re made to think we understood.
Kashi Seven Whole Grains & Sesame Cereal
But not in isolation. Mix like two or three kinds together. They’ve got ones that are Cheerios-esque, ones that are like trail mix, and some that are clearly from the rabbit-food outlet store. But, if properly mixed, it somehow works. Synergy, right?
The Scottish Enlightenment
Big shout out to those Scots who usually get subordinated to the Frenchmen. Who cares if we agree with them or not? We’d put Hume and Smith against Diderot, D’Alembert, and Condorcet any day of the week. Bonus, too: none of them lost their heads (wink, wink, Mr. Four-Egg Omelet Condorcet?).
Bands Reunited on VH1
We didn’t know we cared this much about whether or not Kajagoogoo would reunite. Ditto for Dramarama, whom we didn’t remember in the first place. For those of you who have seen the show, Nuno Bettencourt is a fun-ruining punk, is he not?
Theater of the Unheard by Darrell Scott
Darrell Scott is best known as the songwriter behind mainstream Country hits, including the Dixie Chicks’s “Long Time Gone.” Here, Scott performs a set of songs recently released from a more-than-a-decade-long purgatory of record-label contract bullshit. Awesome.
Love and Hydrogen by Jim Shepard
Let’s just come out and say that there will not be a better short story collection published this year. This is the most alive and red-blooded collection you will find in this decade, in this country. In these stories, people actually do things—they run and fly and do things, and things happen. These are great stories and you will love them.
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Written as letters from a woman to her estranged husband after their teenaged child has committed a Columbine-like act of violence, this novel makes your breath short.
Austin City Limits
The coolest music-performance television show, and it’s on PBS, and they don’t just feature country music. Beck w/ the Flaming Lips, Gillian Welch, Neko Case, and the Jayhawks are all recent guests.
Television Shows That Are Primarily the Product of a Single Person’s Creative Vision
West Wing doesn’t exactly suck now, but it sure seems like it was better when Aaron Sorkin was pulling most of the strings. We also cite Curb Your Enthusiasm, Alias, Angel/Buffy, The Sopranos, The Office, and all kinds of other things as proof of our little theory here.
This is a pinball game from the early eighties. You try to shoot balls into the mouth of a ventriloquist dummy, who taunts you when you miss. When you get three balls in there, his eyes roll back and he vomits it all up and multiball madness ensues.
The Wall-Rebound Counterattack in Prince of Persia: The Sands Of Time
It’s the most effective way to deal with the Blue Ogres. You can’t jump over their heads, so don’t even try. Also, stick next to the woman. There is safety in numbers.
Not the kind you wear. The kind with meat, potatoes, and onions. You know, gold-mining food.
Heidi never thought it mattered, but now she knows: it really brings a room together. 2004 is the year of made beds.
Hands down the best personal home page ever created. From the bumping MIDI tracks to the photos of Sam with his “wild Icelandic girls” at an after-party for the 1972 Fischer – Spassky chess match in Reykjavik, this is why the Internet was invented. Sam Sloan is more fun to follow than sports and more fun to watch than television.
Power forward for the Portland Trailblazers. Already the best player on the team (hear that, Rasheed?), and he’s only 22.
A1 sauce, Tabasco, and vegan Parmesan on aglio olio
Make some standard aglio olio pasta. Set it aside. In an empty pasta bowl, combine the A1 sauce, the Tabasco, and the vegan Parmesan cheese. Pour in the pasta. Stir, adding more A1 and Tabasco, depending how mad at your stepdad you are. Enjoy. SERVES 1.
Sam Cooke, Live at the Harlem Square Club
Cooke without the slick sheen. Ecstatic, desperate, and driving the ladies wild. One of the greatest soul albums of all time.
Chilling the fuck out
Chilling the fuck out is the way to go, actually. Just take a couple of deep breaths and go for a walk. Exercising is a good idea, too.
Hey Ya, Andre3000
We say this only for the six of you who don’t already know: this is the song of the year, if not the decade.
Hard-hitting solutions for all your discount magazine needs. “Beauty may be only in the eye of the beholder. But magazine print can be read by nearly everyone’s eyes!”
Storm Stories on The Weather Channel
These are prime-time, predictable, chilling, and a tad underproduced. But that’s just right. Oftentimes someone dies, but always a lot of people get rescued. T4 tornadoes from the sixties? Floods in Appalachia from the nineties? Runs the gamut, and never patronizing or disrespectful.
The Master of Go, by Yasunari Kawabata
We’re ubernovice Go players ourselves, but this book transcends the mere game it describes. A sort of report on a classic six-month match, it has the changing of the guard between old and new, patience, austerity, suspense, all the elements of twentieth-century tension.
These Are the Vistas by The Bad Plus
Yes, once again we are recommending contemporary jazz (see Brad Mehldau below). Frankly, we’d been closed-minded about this stuff, but no more.
It really is the season for this timeless treat.
Live video of Matchbox 20’s “Bright Lights”
(Insert caveat so audience makes sure that we would never actually “like” a band that’s so earnest and cheesy here.) It’s hard to articulate why we, honest to god, find this video emotionally moving, but there’s something very cool and genuine about the way the band is filmed performing together for an audience that clearly loves them.
We suspect we’re late to the game on this guy, but for those who don’t know, he’s a contemporary jazz pianist who makes very interesting and engaging music. He even covers Radiohead!
Another jazz pianist, though this one died in 1980.
Zatarain’s Jambalaya Mix
Makes Tony Chachere look like an impotent little punk. Use turkey sausage to save some calories, but beware the high sodium content. You’ll need to drink like a gallon of water to rehydrate.
Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line by David Kirp
A balanced, fascinating, and even frightening look at the influence of corporations and corporate thinking on higher education.
This BBC show has gotten a lot of press, but we still know people who haven’t yet seen it. It’s easily the best and smartest British comedy since Monty Python.
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
Specifically, Bob Dylan’s can-label-reading scene. Check out the several minutes of Dylan’s character (named "Alias"—how cool is that?) reading the labels off cans at the General Store (offscreen, mostly) while Pat does some sheriff-ing at the table (center screen). Say “high qua-li-ty to-ma-toes” phonetically, and you’ve got the spirit. Beans. Red beans. Succotash. Beans. Beans.
This spice is accessible, feels good if you get it on your hands, and is perfectly fulfilling. We recently walked into a kitchen after a cumin recipe had been prepared, and it just hit home. Almost better than recently-baked-chocolate-chip-cookie scent.
Fables of the Reconstruction by REM
We know that REM has a greatest hits album out, but really, their best work demands that you listen to a whole album straight through. And remember when “albums” were less than forty minutes long? This is one of those.
Well past its prime, formulaic, and missing all but one of its original stars. Maybe it’s the whole life and death thing, but the show remains very compelling television, features some excellent acting, and Maura Tierney (Nurse Abby) might be the most beautiful woman on television.
The Photography of Richard Misrach
His landscapes were the first ones that we were able to believe. We are usually suspicious of people who shoot photos of deserts, but his have a special purpose.
“Los Angeles, I’m Yours” by The Decemberists
Yes, Jeff Johnson already recommended this band during his week one picks. And sure, last time we recommended a single song rather than a whole album or even something wholly different and new like a certain neighborhood pool or specific type of vinyl. But, seriously, this song is just fantastic.
“Sometimes” by My Bloody Valentine
This song is either nearly perfect and pleasing in its near perfection, or completely perfect and we are too dumb to know it.
There is a T-shirt designer out there who has reimagined Che Guevara as a London bobby. That pretty much says it all.
It’s not that we have a thing for Italy, or for films in which Italy is featured, but… we do. For those who think Italian film begins and ends with Fellini, please, do yourself the hugest favor and watch Il Posto tonight.
A friend sent us an e-mail with little more than this URL. We are now hooked on searching. So far, we have received more recommendations for the Anna Kournikova Moulded Multiway Sports Bra than any other item.
The Minnesota Timberwolves
Garnett, Sprewell, Cassell, Szczerbiak, Olowokandi, with Troy Hudson off the bench. Sure, Olowokandi is a big question mark, and nobody likes Szczerbiak, but this will be a team to watch.
Any of the Various Flavored Potato Chips Available in Canada and Not in the U.S. (Specifically Ketchup and Dill Pickle, and Trust Us, the Various Ones Available in the U.S. Do Not Compare)
When will these make it over the border? We’re dying here.
Recently, we were moved to watch this movie again, in memory of Gregory Peck. We found it, as always, supremely charming.
Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star
Just when it seemed like hip-hop was going to be all about ice and women in thongs, Mos Def and Talib Kweli helped restore our faith in the form.
Brined Pork Chops from Bi-Rite
Dave Kneebone introduced us to these, and by golly if he wasn’t right on the mark. Slowly grilled along the edge of the grill rack, these are the finest cuts of pork we’ve ever eaten.
Rainy Day Music by The Jayhawks
We heard that this band was once in debt for a million dollars to their record company which is a shame, if true, because this album, like all of their albums is simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking and should be listened to by everyone with ears.
Champion Brand Gray Sweatshirts
We know it’s summer for most of our readers, but because of that, this winter favorite is likely to be on sale. Warm, comfortable, incredibly durable, we have one of these with “Duke” emblazoned across the chest that dates to 1986 and still is acceptable for wearing in public.
Show Me Love
The cutest Swedish teenage lesbo movie you’ll ever see. And there’s a lot of competition for that title.
Too lazy to sit through a two-hour game of Scrabble? Ditch the board, flip all the tiles upside down and take turns with one or more friends turning over tiles. Whenever you can make a word of three letters or more using the available tiles, call out the word and form it in front of you. Steal your friends’ words (or fortify your own) by adding at least one letter to existing words to make a new word (example: add an “S” to PAN to make SPAN or SNAP, but not PANS because it is a form of the original word). Okay nerdy nerds, have fun!
Walk on Water: Inside an Elite Surgical Pediatric Unit by Michael Ruhlman
Before the invention of the heart-lung bypass machine, the earliest open heart surgeries were performed by hooking the patient up to another person whose heart and lungs would pump and cleanse blood for the both of them.
Diva by Annie Lennox
We haven’t heard her new album, but this one, better than ten years old now, surprises at every listening.
Diet Dr. Pepper
Hands down the best diet soft drink available. In the ads, where they say it tastes like real Dr. Pepper, that’s no lie. Not recommended if you don’t like Dr. Pepper, though.
The best word-nerd movie ever. April DeGideo, we love you.
The Winter Zoo by John Beckman
This book is frightening, intense, sorrowful, and totally awesome.
The State was also awesome. We loved The State. When The State went off the air, we sobbed, and cursed in public. And then came Stella. Now, life is good again.
Autumn in Southern Indiana
As usual, you have to trust Dave Kneebone on this one. He says, “Don’t knock it ’til you try it.”
“Rush” by Big Audio Dynamite II
Just thinking of it got us dancing.
You can put a hamster in a microwave, publish a paper written by a meteor, and appease a green tentacle with a bottle of Pepsi.
Soul Rush by Nicolai Dunger
The easy comparison is a Swedish Van Morrison. He is a handsome man, with a great voice, though weak album titles.
Rivers and Tides
A documentary about Andy Goldsworthy, an artist who does amazing things with ice and twigs and the like. Simple and hypnotic.
Settlers of Catan
Apparently, this is a board game combining Risk with Monopoly. You get to build your own little village. Dave Kneebone says it’s great. We’ll just have to trust him.
Make Up the Breakdown by Hot Hot Heat
Is this the Next Big Thing or the Current Big Thing? Either way. Doesn’t matter. “Oh Goddammit” is Song of the Year.
Tuba City Truck Stop
A restaurant on a Navajo reservation in Arizona. When I was there, the waitress got locked in the bathroom, but it was fantastic even without that.
The Beginning Stages Of… by The Polyphonic Spree
Twenty-three Texans in white robes. We are going to see them on April 24 and we are already about to pee in our pants. (Because we are excited.)
Brushing Your Teeth in the Shower
Saves time and water if you do it right.
American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore
Some of it’s like “Wow! That’s a thirty-foot-tall whirligig!” and some of it’s like, “Oh, that’s a self-portrait carved from an single apple tree,” and some of it is food like no other.
Unplugged by Jay-Z
The Roots, some rock, and a complete lack of reggae. We’ve yet to meet somebody who can resist the charms of this MTV production.
Nothing fancy, but gets the job done in all directions: sweet but not too sweet.