The poetry of Wislawa Szymborska
She’s Polish, she’s a Nobel Prize winner, her poems are humane, grounded, and wise. We finally caught up with the octogenarian and her work. Apologies for the tardiness.
Abner Jay’s album One Man Band
Aber Jay was an eccentric ragtime-y multi-instrumentalist of recent (sadly postmortem) acclaim. On this album you’ll find songs about cocaine addiction, depression, Vietnam and venereal disease. You’ll also find jokes, plenty of them, sung and spoken, filthy and clean. An engrossing and sporadically deranged mosaic of earnest weariness and meandering humor.
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
A funny, smart, and poignant time travel/existential crisis/father-son-themed novel.
It means “newspaper wood” in Dutch, and that’s what it is. It’s wood made from compressed newspaper (which, in case you’ve forgotten, is made from wood). It was designed by Mike Meijer for design company vj5 and it’s cheap, sustainable and crazy-looking, as you can still see bits and pieces of celebrity mugshots in the grain.
The chorus to Alan Jackson’s country hit “Chattahoochee”
This part of the song is about driving down to the river after the working week is over and drinking a lot of beers, so many beers that you can build a pyramid of empty cans, which you can only see by moonlight because you’re deep in the wildwood, on the far side of a threshold beyond which artificial light is forbidden to pass. Jackson’s got it right—the sun reflecting off the moon reflecting off your pyramid of silver cans is truly a miraculous thing.
The snowplow plowing snow toward the other side of your street
Out of our control, but when it happens, especially given all the snow this season, it’s like Christmas for our backs.
Jonathan Richman differentiates between lesbian bars and regular bars thusly: “In the first bar things were so controlled, but in this bar things were way way bold—I was dancing in a lesbian bar, ooh!”
TV shows inside TV shows
Think “Sick Sad World” from Daria and “Cookie Party” from The Sarah Silverman Program. I would like to see these fictional shows turned into real shows.
You have to get your browser dirty to uncover this site’s treasures, but they’re worth it. Consider the post “Creepy Children’s Playgrounds,” which features photos of horrifying, neglected Soviet-era play structures with captions like “Elephant addict,” “Sadistic inclinations,” “Mutated turnip,” “Decapitated monkeys,” “Sinister hare from a children’s camp,” and “Impious playground.”
An elegant, gentle film about a rural Mexican Mennonite who weighs lust and romance against lacerating guilt as he repeatedly betrays his faithful wife with another Mennonite woman. The perfectly restrained dialogue is spoken in both Spanish and Plautdeitsch, or Mennonite Low German.
Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach
Roach has written yet another entertaining and witty science book, this one about the basic logistical problems of space travel (food, sleep, hygiene, waste). After reading the chapter on space toilets we have a new appreciation of what it means to be an astronaut and a hero.
Truffettes All Natural Chocolate Truffles
We’ve only see these at Costco, and even then mostly during the holiday season, but maybe they’re available elsewhere as well. Dusted in cocoa powder, the first taste is perfectly bitter followed by a melting sweet chocolate goodness. You’ll want to eat more than you should, but we don’t recommend that.
“Staring Out the Window” by Fulton Lights
A dazzling, churning, all-encompassing piece of indie pop.
La Maison en Petits Cubes
This one is better left recommended without overwrought commentary. Except to say that clearing your desk for a clean 12-minute time slot to google and then watch this animated Japanese short is about right.
The orange properties in Monopoly
We’ll go to our grave defending this Monopoly strategy. Obviously you buy St. James, Tennessee, and New York if given the chance. Low-investment, high return. But also make any deal necessary to secure this Orange trinity if some hack ends up buying them before you. Negotiate, trade, connive, whatever, just get them. So many people go to jail, there’s more traffic coming up that side of the board than others. Orange always wins the game.
RSA animated lectures
These are something else. The RSA is the London-based Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. These animated lectures are visual companions to fuller lectures hosted by the RSA. So, you know, you don’t have to be a David Harvey acolyte or a Slavoj Zizek student to keep up.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
About as highbrow as a third-person action and adventure video game can get. Set in early 16th-century Italy (mostly), you walk the streets and hop the roofs of Rome, trying to take the city back from the evil control of the Templars. There’s plenty of killing to do, but we instead often find ourselves collecting famous artwork or climbing towers for grandiose views of the city. Oh, and Leonardo da Vinci is your best pal!
The so-called “godfather” of Zam-rock, Zambian funk rock that first came of age in the 70’s. It’s funky, it’s bright, it’s joyful. It’s available in a box set from NowAgain Records, but Ililonga solo, and with his band, Musi-O-Tunya.
This British TV show is like a cross between Freaks and Geeks and American Pie. It’s not perfect (the adults are cartoonish and the storylines occasionally fall victim to melodrama), but every episode we’ve seen so far (Netflix streaming!) has at least one or two “wow” moments.
Use these for just about any delivery. Those white boxes, with brown unbleached interior. A thin string or solid-colored ribbon to tie it all up is okay, but we’re surprised it took us this long to realize that the sharp simplicity of un-paper-wrapped boxes has an elegance we usually can’t pull off.
You Lost Me There by Rosecrans Baldwin
This is a smart book. Baldwin, co-editor of The Morning News, tells a love story, a loss story, a meditation on memory and marriage and the mind and science. It works. Plus, it helps our larger argument that this is a great year for first novels. Holiday shopping should be pretty easy this time around. Deliver it in a small baker’s box, why not?
Trader Joe’s Trader Potato Tots
We know: it’s hard to ruin a tater tot. We still fondly remember the ones our school’s cafeteria dished out in the 4th grade. With that said, Trader Joe’s Potato Tots are kind of special. Crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, and not too salty. Load ’em up with ketchup, or dazzle ’em with vinegar. Recess time!
Acknowledging the new reign of British comedians
Listen, we’re right there with you a little crook-eyed on the overuse of the adjective “silly,” but don’t let that obscure the brilliant level of English and Scottish comedy in our day. Gervais, Coogan, Iannucci, Chris Morris, Susan Boyle, the list goes on.
The Imposter’s Daughter by Laurie Sandell
A graphic memoir about the author’s sordid relationship with her con-man father. Heartfelt and honest. What every memoir should be.
Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky
When you pick up this book, make sure you’ve left yourself enough time to read it in its entirety because there’s no putting it down. The most seductive first person narration we’ve read in a long time.
Not getting worked up about raking
Just let it go. Does the yard need to be raked? Sure. Does it need to be raked right now? No. In the meantime the leaves will keep falling. And that’s OK. You’ll get to them eventually.
This BBC revamp of Sherlock Holmes, set in the present day, is a lot of fun. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman make for a decidedly more manic, yet less stuffy version of Holmes and Watson.
Brian Wilson, San Francisco Giants’ Closer
His pitching is solid and his dyed beard is perfectly ridiculous, but the sense of humor he displays during post-game interviews is what we like best. His comic delivery and timing are Ferrell-esque.
Kurt Cobain: About a Son
The thought of listening to a teenage idol talk for 100 minutes about what makes him angsty, sounds excruciating embarrassing for everyone involved. But for all his flaws, Kurt comes across well and his frustrations with the world are still real and valid. It was moving enough to get us rifling though our dust-gathering CD collection for Bleach.
Buying new duvet covers
Is sleeping becoming a monotonous bore? Are you waking up feeling like you’ve achieved absolutely nothing? Maybe it’s time to change your duvet cover! We picked up something bright and jazzy-patterned and it’s like being in a whole new home. Alternatively, try sleeping with your head at the feet-end for a night—it feels oddly like camping.
The Financial Lives of Poets by Jess Walter
The best novel of the financial meltdown was published over a year ago (as of this writing), a testament to Walter’s clear-eyed view of who we are and how we live today. That he manages to mine humor and light verse from the ashes of our economy is even more amazing.
Six hours of pro football with no commercials. Hard to beat. Granted, if you are fan of commercials and not of football, the RedZone probably isn’t for you. Otherwise, it’s totally worth the extra eight bucks a month.
Graham cracker crust
What doesn’t it make better?
Mentor by Tom Grimes
A kind of memoir of Grimes’ time at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and his ensuing friendship with the workshop’s director, Frank Conroy. The dynamic between these two is fascinating, but for our money, the best bits are about Grimes’ own journey to publication and beyond.
The Black Stallion
We recently watch this film for the first time in nearly 30 years and were pleased by how well it holds hope. What struck us even more was the performance by Cass-Olé as the title character. Considering what this poor animal had to do (freak out in a fire; swim in the ocean; hangout with Mickey Rooney—who, we should add, is also great in the film), we can’t help but wonder why Cass-Olé didn’t get some some sort of Oscar for his work.
The Report by Jessica Francis Kane
A well-paced, flowing, accumulating novel, this one could be called historical fiction—it’s a fictionalized account of a real 1943 wartime disaster in a London shelter—which would be okay. But friend-of-the-site Kane’s brisk book is a great deal more, a subtle meditation on memory and inquiry, family, reckoning, and, yes, truth. Plus, check out the design element inside the cover flaps, a nice added touch for a well-realized first novel.
Leaving the tofu on some paper towels to soak up some excess moisture
Maybe this is totally known within the tofu cooking industry, but it was news to us and it makes the end result way, way better.
“Remembrance Day” by Frally (feat. Teddy Thompson)
First heard this haunting, beautiful song on Friday Night Lights, during that terrific scene where Riggins brings Becky over to the Taylor’s house and she tells Connie that she’s pregnant, and if we go on about this any longer we will get teary so we’ll stop.
Hosting a ‘70s-themed disco party for your spouse’s birthday
Yes, it may be a little cliché, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Seeing all your friends decked out in ’70s fashion and dancing to the music of Chic is a, uh, trip, man. Dig it.
This is an iPhone game where you try to keep a whole bunch of places from crashing into one another at various airports while a pleasant, Lawrence Welk-like music plays in the background. There’s not much more to it than that, yet we keep playing and playing and playing.
Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
Long, totally involving novel set in a prestigious preparatory academy. Somehow Murray makes his title a spoiler and still keeps you edge-of-the-seat-eager to find out what’s next. Heartbreaking, funny, worth every moment spent.
It’s liquore di limoni, made from sugar, water, lemons, and grain alcohol—sorry, zucchero, acqua, limoni, and alcool. You generally get this from southern Italy and it comes in small, decorative glass bottles. Keep it frozen and have a taste upon occasion. The lemon zest is so perfect against the almost-thick, not-frozen-but-cold alcohol. Not to be outdone by foretaste alone, it comes with a delightful, tiny kick right after.
Storycorp’s animated stories
The Rauch Brothers have animated several installments of NPR’s much-loved Storycorp series, which will be featured on the PBS documentary program POV over the next couple of weeks. The audio is powerful enough alone and we worried adding visuals might lessen their effect, but thus far the two shorts we’ve seen, Q & A, and the tearjerker to end all tearjerkers, Danny and Annie, are pretty much perfect.
Mason Jars as drinking glasses
Didn’t you know these make beverages taste better? How about some limencello blend to test it out?
The trailer for Nights and Weekends
This is one of those Joe Swanberg, Greta Gerwig movies, the so-dubbed “Mumblecore” genre that’s all afoot (but without any Duplass Brothers). The trailer is silent and stirring, rightly layered and compelling, a smart short film right there. Some might argue better than the movie. We’re not going out on that ledge, but odds are some might.
A website featuring photographs of owls who appear hungover. If that’s not sufficient enough information to make you follow our recommendation then we’re afraid we cannot help you.
“South Dakota” by Magic Man
An ethereal electronic anthem that sounds like the past, present and future all at once.
AMC’s new political/conspiracy theory drama is very slow, and the lighting in most of its scenes is very dim, so we don’t even bother trying to watch the program at its regular time at 9 p.m. on Sunday night. No, we prefer viewing it during the daytime hours when there’s less of a chance of a sleep attack. So why bother recommending it? Well, it’s clearly a well-constructed story in the same mold as other novel-as-television shows, like The Wire and Mad Men. _Rubicon_’s ad campaign keeps beckoning us to “connect the dots” and now that a few said dots have started to connect (at last!), we are confident that we’re being taken on, what will be in the end, a smart and satisfying ride.
“Loin du 16e,” from the film Paris, je t’aime
In an eminently recommendable movie made up of eighteen short films, this one—the fifth one in—distills modern class consciousness, or lack thereof, in just a few minutes with a nanny, a baby, an immigrant against the image of privilege, the privilege itself, and then that city, Paris, France.
Online user-generated trivia games on every subject imaginable. Don’t go unless you’re prepared to waste an afternoon.
The clever soccer jargon used by British and Scottish announcers during the World Cup
Our two favorites: question, for when one team or player makes a strong play against the opponent, as in, “Messi has a rather pointed question for the South Korean defenders”; and collector’s item, as in, “David Villa’s wonderful goal is certainly a collector’s item.”
Stoner by John Williams
A relatively recent reissue of a novel first published in the ‘60s. Tells the life story of William Stoner, a professor of English at the University of Missouri during a period roughly between WWI and WWII. Quiet and powerful and haunting long after you’ve finished it.
Day & Night
This animated short appears before Toy Story 3. While the main feature is another satisfying romp with Woody, Buzz, et al., Day & Night has lingered with us far longer after viewing. It’s everything we’ve come to expect from Pixar: funny, poignant, and beautiful—and in just five minutes, no less.
Capturing your nine-year-old’s game-winning home run on video
Yes, there’s the issue with all the hours of wasted video on base on balls, strikeouts, and pop ups to first base, but our resilience won out in the end. The 58-second clip is an instant family treasure.
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
There’s a lot of outstanding literature on the subject of the Vietnam War. This book belongs in that group.
Open-mic stories told by ex-cops
We may be living in a golden age of podcasted open-mic stories. Some of the better of them, like The Moth—hosted by our friend Dan Kennedy—set the pace here. Look for the ones featuring stories by ex-cops. It seems they never let you down.
The series finale of LOST
We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one. When Vincent showed up there at the end, a smoke monster of tears came streaming down our faces.
A point guard who thinks pass first. Imagine that. Nevermind that he can’t really shoot, Rondo is unlike any player in the NBA. He’s redefining what it means to be a playmaker.
First Aid Kit’s The Big Black & the Blue
This Swedish teenage folk duo (and already we fear we’ve lost you, but please stick with us here) wears their inspiration on their guitar and mandolin straps, so yes, they can, at times, be the very picture of derivativeness. Still, for anybody who loves the McGarrigle Sisters or Joni Mitchell or Neko Case, we happily recommend them. Start with “Hard Believer” and “I Met Up with the King”. Each is a strong candidate for our favorite song of the year thus far.
Red Dead Redemption
This video game is for anybody who ever wanted to feel what it would be like to be immersed in a Sergio Leone western. We would play this all day long if we could.
It’s a photo-manipulating website, tiltshiftmaker.com. The site’s particularly good if you want to make your backyard pictures look like scenes from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Which you might. We don’t judge.
Check it Out! With Steve Brule
John C. Reilly’s blitzed out local-TV-news doctor has always been our favorite character on the also worth recommending Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! Now he has 15 minutes all to himself, and so far he has not disappointed. For your health!
This is a stop-action animation film directed by Tatia Rosenthal, based on stories by Etgar Keret. It may be uneven, but somewhere later in the film is this line, one that makes the whole thing worthwhile: “He said he was an angel, but he was just a liar with wings.”
Kapitoil by Teddy Wayne
Teddy is one of our most frequent contributors so take this with as much salt as you like, which shouldn’t be any because this novel is flat out top-notch. Kapitoil makes you see America and the English language more clearly than ever before, and Karim Issar, the book’s protagonist, is one of the most interesting characters we’ve had a chance to spend time with.
12 Bones Smokehouse in Asheville, NC
President Obama went here, but we went first. The blueberry chipotle ribs and fried green tomato BLT are especially recommended.
Taking a break from listening to sports talk radio
Highly recommended. Makes your brain feel fresh and new. Clean, even. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you’re not subjecting yourself to overheated arguments about batting orders, coaching mistakes, and ridiculous trade scenarios. Plus no more nine-minute commercial breaks!
Hot Springs by Geoffrey Becker
Tin House is not so quietly putting out some awesome fiction and this is yet another example. Emotionally complicated, funny, page turning.
Survivor Heroes vs. Villains
We’re late to mention it (the finale airs in a few days), but without question this has been one of the most entertaining seasons of this “granddaddy” of reality television programs. While we’re still mourning Boston Rob’s early ouster (sigh), we have our fingers crossed that somebody figures out how to keep Russell away from an immunity idol long enough to finally (finally!) vote him out (please let it be Sandra!).
We’ve grown this annual flower in our garden the past few years now. Pretty! Its tiny petals come in blues and purples, and other Miami Vice-ish shades, but best of all it’s really, really hard to kill.
So Much for That by Lionel Shriver
The great thing about Shriver is that her novels are filled with ideas, but not at the expense of compelling characters and a gripping story. Could be the first novel ever about the American health care system. If it’s not the first, we have a hard time imagining a better one.
Going to a Major League Baseball game early for batting practice
We did this for the first time in ages last week. Not only do you greatly increase your chances of catching a souvenir foul ball or homerun (bring your glove), but the concession lines are nonexistent, so you don’t have to wait forever for your hot dog, beer, and Crackerjacks.
The Weather Fifteen Years Ago by Wolf Haas
This is a German translation of a novel written in the form of an interview about a book called The Weather Fifteen Years Ago. The interviewer and the interviewee, “Wolf Haas,” discuss the intricacies of the book, so that we, the readers, only know what it is through their conversation. Yes, it’s experimental fiction. And yes, it works.
Clarke Peters on HBO’s Treme
We’re slowly warming to David Simon’s new show, which is set in New Orleans three months after Hurricane Katrina. While we knew it wasn’t going to be another version of Simon’s previous show, The Wire, it’s taking time to adjust to Treme’s different moods and rhythms. The cast, though, is terrific. The standout performance is Clarke Peters’ portrayal of an Indian Mardi Gras Chief who’s returned home to pick up the pieces. A part of us thinks the show would really hit its stride if it narrowed its focus a bit more on him. Peters is a brilliant enough actor to pull it off.
The films of Ramin Bharani
These are artful but unpretentious, deliberate but not grandiose. Goodbye Solo received much deserved acclaim, but even Chop Shop before that, with its understated thoughtfulness, makes it clear Bharani has a gift.
Getting together for breakfast
Meeting people for breakfast solves two problems at once: it gets you out of the house and it forces you to hone your biscuit v. toast decision-making skills.
Daytrotter’s iPhone App
All of Daytrotter.com’s (the website for Illinois-based recording studio Horseshack) wonderful music archive in your pocket. Best of all: it’s free!
Meanwhile by Jason Shiga
An at times perplexing but in the end captivating and fun (children’s?) graphic novel. A sort of Choose Your Own Adventure book for the new millennium, except with way better illustrations.
It’s time. It’s okay, it’s time. Trying to summarize what this Derek Waters-created set of shorts is, we can’t really do. Here’s what we can offer, though: the view that it’s worth devoting one of your thrice-weekly YouTube outings to the run of them. (Then try Muppet Show clips to cleanse your eyes.)
The Ask by Sam Lipsyte
Lipsyte’s first novel since Home Land is just as funny and despairing as its predecessor. All the positive buzz about this book is deserved.
The Gus Johnson Soundboard (www.gusjohnsongetsbuckets.com)
Just in time for March Madness comes this audio clip collection of our favorite sports announcer’s classic lines. Yes, he can be more than a tad over the top, but his enthusiasm for the events he covers is endearingly authentic. We’ve pressed his “The slipper still fits!” clip thirteen times in the last ten seconds.
Cornell’s men’s basketball team
While we’re on the topic of Cinderella’s slipper, we can’t go without mentioning one of this year’s surprise success stories of the NCAA tournament. For those who have followed this squad (which includes eight seniors who all live together off campus and watch episodes of Friday Night Lights for added inspiration before games), their rise into the Sweet Sixteen is not really that surprising. The Big Red have what every great tournament team must have to win it all: veteran leadership, a poised point guard, great shooters, and a 7-foot center. They play #1 seed Kentucky next, an exciting team with more talent, but not nearly as much experience. We can’t wait.
This is based on only seeing the pilot episode, but this FX series looks to be awesome. Great action. Fantastic dialog. The pilot does something rarely seen in television these days, which is let two characters have an extended scene where different subtexts weave in and out of the conversation. Plus, Timothy Olyphant.
Next by James Hynes
Hynes is a flat out great writer and this is his best book yet. Wholly absorbing. The end will make you not want to read anything else for a while so you can just let it echo through you.
The kitchen in The Good Wife
The show’s plot is too often a Law and Order rehash, but the backsplash is to die for.
Peter Gabriel’s Scratch My Back
This is an album of covers arranged for chamber musicians and sung by Gabriel. You get the sense that Gabriel’s range has narrowed over the years, but there’s a beautiful sadness/melancholy to the vocal tones that is also uplifting to hear.
The Farm and Garden section of Craigslist
Seeds, chickens, chicken coops, tomatoes, peppers, bricks, cow shares, ropes, fresh produce, garden plots, dirt, rain barrels, hay, Japanese maples, wood stoves, definitely something made by Husqvarna, mulch, a Palomino or Arabian or Walker, grass, straw bales, a Scott push mower that’s a whole lot heavier than you’d think, pasture-raised pork, man, there’s crazy good stuff to be had, at least around us. Try it out.
If we haven’t been very productive as of late, this dangerously addictive and entertaining game for the iPhone is probably to blame.
Tommy Craggs, sportswriter
Currently something of the token in-depth analysis and meta-sports journalism guy at Deadspin.com, though he’s also had great material elsewhere. He was twice in Best American Sports Writing before he turned thirty, and his most recent non-Deadspin piece, for Boston magazine about Dustin Pedroia, was somewhat infamous.
Saving a lucky chestnut
Ages well, appears plausibly powerful.
Stopping at a scenic overview to take in the scene
We’re not as jaded as you think. Some of those overviews are pretty damn scenic.
Not all the time, and not Cool Ranch, but most people would probably be happier if they ate at least a single Dorito per year. Don’t be a hero.
Charlie Brooker of the BBC
Take a spin around YouTube and see how this guy strikes you. His show Newswipe is worth a look. We’re not over the moon about him and haven’t gone much past the YouTube versions yet, but we’re near the moon, or going to the moon, or, what’s a good metaphor here, taking a longer look at the moon, about him.
Pesto pizza, pesto wraps, a pesto omelet, pesto biscuits, pesto on pesto, you can’t go wrong.
Model Home by Eric Puchner
The only conclusion to come to after reading this novel is that Eric Puchner is a massive talent who has already hit his stride and it’s great to realize that he’s got a lot more books in front of him. The story of one family dissolving, and then trying to come back together against the backdrop of ’80s California. Funny and sad, each character is perfectly drawn and deeply interesting. Go read this book.
Also known as “fibre.” Doesn’t seem like that big a deal when you’re young, but as you age, for sure, make sure to ingest a healthy daily allowance.
Alberta Cross’s Broken Side of Time
Sort of like an alt-rock version of The Band. Also kind of Gomez-ish. Not necessarily earth-shattering, but we’ve kept going back to it over the course of the last few weeks and it feels fresh each time.
The Twitter feed of comedian/musican Dave Hill. He’s always"on," and by that we mean “hilarious.” We admit to be being a little bitter and jealous about this.
Playing Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” on Rock Band with your family
This ‘70s rock classic’s stature had faded a bit for us, largely due to overexposure. But recently it’s come back into favor—through the magic of video games, no less. It’s the quintessential Rock Band song. We suggest youngest child on drums, oldest child on bass, less-musically-inclined parent on guitar, and more-musically-inclined parent on vocals. Five stars and new gigs in Amsterdam, here we come!
We used to think that when it came to bird-based deli meats, chicken was like the poor, sad cousin of turkey. We blame the power of Thanksgiving propaganda. Get chicken breast instead of turkey breast next time you pop by the deli. It’s tender, more flavorful, and, if properly wrapped, lasts a little longer in the fridge.
Sade’s Soldier of Love
When listening to Sade’s first album in ten years we can’t decide whether we want to make out or take a nice long nap. Either way, we love it.
In the Loop
The funniest movie we’ve seen in years.
“I Make Windows” by Forest Fire
For a rainy day when there’s nothing to eat but toast, and all you want to do is play your twangy guitar along to this song, but you never learned how to play guitar, twangy or otherwise, so instead you just stare out the window, strumming on a wooden spoon, pretending. So many wet squirrels. Oh, will the sun ever return?
It isn’t a compromise, it’s a blessing. It allows the most flexibility. You tamp down the jitters but leave the opportunity to amp up if need be. Put yourself right in the middle, look both ways, reap the rewards.
The Human Spark
This Alan Alda-hosted three-part series on the nature of human uniqueness ended last week, but it’s worth your time to check out its rebroadcasts on PBS. As with his prior series, Scientific American Frontiers, Alda is the star of the show. But he’s not some famous actor simply running through the motions, he’s fully immersed and invested in the subject matter, and his enthusiasm charms. Plus learning how we are different from chimps is cool, too.
Joseph Gordon-Leavitt’s “Here Comes Your Man” in (500) Days of Summer
Spot on, that was it. The whole movie, that too, we were smitten. But karaoke of The Pixies stellar work, set rightly amidst the plot, sung in the right spirit, that was good.
Getting a window seat on the red eye flight
There are risks to this, known risks, but the benefits outweigh them. You have the wall to lean against, you have the view of lights below (should you want them to mark the journey), you don’t get your knee knocked by the inexplicable 4 a.m. coffee cart run down the aisle that a row seat will get you. There’s just no chance of sleeping otherwise. Of course, fly first class and all recommendations are off. But live like us and rue the day you get the aisle or, lord help you, the center seat.
Charles Pierce’s blog on Boston.com
For a long time Pierce has been our favorite sports writer. And now he has a blog, which thus far he’s been updating at a pretty high clip. We are giddy about this. http://www.boston.com/sports/columnists/pierce/
A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
Got some mixed reviews when it came out. Only the ones that said how absorbing and charming this is are right.
Vampire Weekend’s Contra
Sure, sure, roll your eyes. Of course we’d recommend Vampire Weekend. Of course! You’re so smart. At any rate, their new album was released this week and we’ve been listening to nothing else. Paul Simon references be damned—this is fun, engaging music. (And for the record: we will always love Graceland.)
Typical story: boy meets salsa; boy doesn’t try salsa because it’s green; girl tells boy that green salsa is “actually really good, don’t be dim”; boy listens; tomatillo salsa changes his outlook on life. It’s green. It’s superior.
At first, you start watching this show, two people talking in therapy sessions, one of whom is always played by Gabriel Byrne (the therapist) and think, there’s no way this could be consistently engaging, but damn if it doesn’t suck you in. Originally broadcast on consecutive nights, this seems the best way to watch it, each episode on top of each other to better catch the nuances in the telling from character to character. We’ve only watched the first season, so we can’t vouch for season two, but we suspect it’s pretty damn good as well. We’ll let you know if it isn’t.
“The Waking” by Kurt Elling
Contemporary jazz vocals are not usually our thing with all that scoobie-dooing and bip-boddle-be-bopping, but this is an amazing song. The lyric is taken from a Theodore Roethke poem of the same name and arranged for voice and stand-up bass. Elling’s voice is amazing, the melody completely haunting. We like to put it on and listen to it over and over.
Napping in the park
Like a beer at lunch (see below), this one comes with the qualifier that more is not better and that you have to pick your park smartly. But sometimes, once or twice a season, sometimes, putting out a blanket on the park grass and dozing for 45 minutes in open space, that’s alright, that works, that’s the promise of a better America.
Buying holiday presents for strangers
Adopt a family in need this year instead of giving presents to your relatives that you aren’t sure you even like. You won’t even miss the Sharper Image toothbrush.
A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein
A domestic drama that somehow also reads like a mystery. Involving at every level: character, plot, language. One of the more complicated portraits of a father’s love for his son we’ve ever read. Obviously everything on this page is recommended, but this one is highly recommended.
Out of Place
This documentary chronicles the few Cleveland crackshot surfers and outlanders that find solace in surfing on Lake Erie in the dead of an Ohio winter. You may want to discount their irrational and dangerous efforts; but these super heroes of the Northeast know something we don’t. It’ll make you homesick for the true blue and the earnest.
A beer at lunch, just every once in a while
Have a lager, no an ale, no no: a lager. Every once in a while. It adds character to your meal and definition to your day. Try it at a sunlit table away from the bar and looking out to the corner intersection. Take a gentle sip when you see that woman with the stroller cross the street. Set it down and grab another forkful of salad, another bite of pickle-topped burger, another ketchup-dipped fry.
They make normal (i.e. really great) books too, but it’s Featherproof’s mini books that have our imaginations cooking. It’s short stories + origami. Or, if we were writing a Wall Street Journal piece: They’re a publisher who crowd-sources their printing and binding!
Making a mixtape/CD for your dad
He will actually listen to it. And lord knows, you are sick of driving around to “Ramble On.” It is time to put the Led away.
Grizzly Bear’s version of “While You Wait for the Others” featuring Michael McDonald
We understand that this iteration of the song originally on Veckatimist is polarizing, but there’s something about McDonald’s vocals that just take this song to another, wholly enjoyable, place.
Grilled Cheese with Chutney
Can we recommend something we’ve never actually tried? We just think it might taste good. We are probably right. Yes, absolutely right.
There’s a temptation to break bad on this because it’s become such a critical darling, but the show is every bit as funny and charming as everyone says.
Them Crooked Vultures
Supergroup of Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters), and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin). Described aptly as “caveman rock,” but Grohl and Jones still give the music plenty of swing.
The large bin of butter, cheese, and caramel popcorn the in-laws send us every year during the holidays
Our bin came early this year. It’s still just as enormous and delicious as ever. We have the five extra pounds of back fat to prove it.
The Bear Went Over the Mountain by William Kotzwinkle
A Maine bear finds a manuscript under a tree and becomes a publishing sensation. Satire that’s sharp without being mean.
Rick Moody’s essay on “Higher Love”
A superb examination of a truly dreadful song. The reader comments are great too. http://therumpus.net/2009/11/swinging-modern-sounds-17-higher-love/
30 For 30
These ESPN sports documentaries produced to celebrate the network’s 30 years of broadcasting have been up and down, but the ups, like Albert Maysles’ brilliant Muhammad and Larry, have been enthralling.
This recently defunct Austin group spangles as much as it is smokes. Their best track is a grimy ballad entitled, “Calm Before the Storm.” The lead singer has the heart of Charlie Brown, the voice of a parking lot raven, and likely the body of Paul Bunyan. The Hunnies howl with the soul-crushing anguish of a hundred horribly brutalized Romeos. And so we ask, what’s not to want?
A tiny designer, aptly named Lilliput, who designs even tinier necklaces is aptly named We are a fan of minutiae and an even bigger fan of anything miniature (muffins, dogs, etc.) Things that are smaller than a thimble or happen to be a choking hazard cannot be beat. Lilliput’s necklaces make Barbie’s hands look like hulk fists. Dreamy!
We are so tired of being teased about loving this show. It’s great. The jokes are solid and the actors (Dulé Hill and James Roday) are Tiger Beat material. Maybe we’re being middle-aged Midwesterners about this and maybe we are middle-aged Midwesterners, but this show has chops. And we know that you totally TiVo’d that marathon of The Closer so can it already. And give Roday an Emmy, for God’s sake.
Brown wax paper
It’s very versatile. It’s always there and has always been so. It’s better than plastic. You get the workaday feel when you unwrap that sandwich. We found this, too: it’s superior for wrapping cookies and slices of apple bread and the like.
Moments by Will Hoffman
We recommended WNYC’s Radiolab not too long ago (see below). Now comes this, a four-minute film by Will Hoffman hosted over at the Radiolab blog. Better to leave our recommendation unadorned and withhold the effusion it deserves. Instead we gently insist/forcibly suggest you experience the joy of watching the film. Go, go on. Watch. We’ll wait.
Watch out for this lady. She’s got funny down to science and she’s taking over the Internet, one hilarious article at a time. Her recent piece called, “How To MakeYour Husband a Nice Dinner” pleased us to no end. Keep writing, Ms. Zimmerman. We want more.
Parks and Recreation
This show has finally hit its stride. Yes, the constant comparisons to The Office (which is also having a stellar season) are justified, but to dismiss Parks and Recreation as a retread is unfair. The cast is great (Nick Offerman, as grumpy boss Ron Swanson by day and sexy jazz saxophonist extraordinaire Duke Silver by night, is a particular favorite) and the writing is getting funnier with each new episode.
We feel a little funny recommending a website that prides itself on showcasing all things terrible, but we’d be lying if we said we didn’t check it out daily. With adept and hilarious editing, EIT proves that there is art in everything, be it a bad infomercial, music video or B-movie. Watch “All Things Beanie” if you don’t believe us.
Doesn’t matter what brand. A frozen pancake is a frozen pancake is a frozen pancake. But as frozen breakfast items go, they are the best. Almost smell like the real thing too. Highly recommended for sleepy parents looking to make a fast and easy breakfast for their cranky first graders. Just remember to turn off the toaster oven!
“Holland, 1945” by Neutral Milk Hotel
It’s hard to believe this song is over ten-years-old. Still just as great and sad and glorious as ever. Also relevant again given the new footage of Anne Frank that’s popped up.
This movie was unjustly dismissed. It maybe isn’t the best film Judd Apatow is going to make, but it’s very very good.
The Miami Dolphins’ Wildcat Offense
There are many who think this offensive formation is a slap in the face to “real” football, but if our memory of The Knute Rockne Story serves us correctly, Wildcat-type offenses were quite the norm back in the day. And what style of football is more “real” than Knute Rockne’s? What makes the Dolphins’ system all the more impressive is that other teams can’t seem to replicate the Wildcat with the same proficiency, never mind that most defensive coordinators can’t figure out how to stop it. For the first time in years pro football is fresh and exciting.
The Beatles: Rock Band
No surprise that it’s awesome because the music is so damn good. “Easier” than traditional Rock Band, but unlike other play-along music games, The Beatles: Rock Band invites attempts at “perfection” as opposed to mere survival. Almost as much fun to just sit and watch and listen to as to play. Now it’s time for Led Zeppelin: Rock Band.
Trader Joe’s Gummi Vites
The perfect dietary supplement for the child who only eats bananas and grilled cheese sandwiches. They’re loaded with vitamins and taste just like Gummi Bears. Way to go, food science!
“Hi-Fi Goon” by Throw Me the Statue
Don’t ask us to recite the lyrics—we haven’t a clue—but who really cares? Our fingers and toes can’t stop tapping. This is happy music. We think so, at least. (Again, most of the lyrics are beyond us.) There’s an elephant in the video. What’s happier than elephants?
Butternut, Acorn, it doesn’t really matter the variety. Halve it, roast it face down in a pan of butter, salt liberally, and you’ve got a meal.
A movie that probably suffered from the marketing campaign trumpeting the director’s previous hit, (Superbad). Best coming-of-age film we’ve seen in years.
Hurry Down Sunshine by Michael Greenberg
Spare and unsparing memoir about his daughter’s first bipolar episode. Has an “I can’t believe he’s saying this” feel that speaks to Greenberg’s fearlessness as a writer.
If we sat around lamenting about all the book or magazine ideas we wished we’d thought of, this one would be tops. We should pick huge topics; topics that intimidate us with all their possibilities—we would’ve said had we thought of this—and then we’ll compile all the best writing on these topics going back to ancient times. Then we’ll add some amazing contemporary writers and make it all one huge narrative spanning the breadth of human existence. And we’ll do this every three months.
Coronating the poppyseed bagel
For it truly is the king of all bagels.
We only know Ms. Carr’s work from her performances as the mother in those AT&T rollover minute commercials, but if this role were the only one of her career, she would still be worthy of high praise. She is the master of the exasperated-mom glare.
Real Estate Intervention
Mike Aubrey hosts this reality/real estate show on HGTV. He’s the assistant principal we loathed but secretly knew was always right. We need discipline, and he gives us what for with his resigned posture and disappointed eyes.
End of summer letters from your teacher
As children, we may have been guilty of taking the annual letters we received from our upcoming teachers for granted. But now, as parents, we look forward to them with the same excitement and anticipation as we do the Oscars or cake. The letters are so chock full of reassurance and optimism that you can’t help but think that this upcoming grade will surely be the BEST GRADE EVER.
The Sound of Young America podcast
This is the kind of show people listen to in a more perfect world. We feel better after an episode. The fact that we just found it and that they have an immense back catalog bodes well for everyone.
She’s smarter than us. And more creative. And her songs are crazy.
All right, we surrender. We resisted this HBO vampire soap for as long as we could, and after viewing the first few episodes of season one it seemed for good reason. But now, well into season two of the show, it’s become one of television’s most ridiculously fun hours of programming.
“The Reeling” by Passion Pit
We worry that we are too old to like this record, but they are from one of our hometowns and, well, have you seen the video? It’s beyond neat. So, like: kids today, right?
The perfect food. Don’t bother arguing with us on this one.
Theroux hosted one of our favorite shows in the last ten years (Weird Weekends with Louis Theroux) and it’s good to see him back. He’s producing hour-long documentaries for the BBC (many are available online). Theroux (the son of author Paul and the cousin of actor Justin) is quite likeable, and his disarming interview style puts his subjects at ease, be they drug lords, cultists or white supremacists.
I Love Movies, with Doug Benson
You don’t have to love movies like Doug Benson loves movies to dig this podcast. But if you do, you’ll go from Foul Play to Woody Allen to Reality Bites in a matter of a few conversations (with anyone from Patton Oswalt to David Cross to Sarah Silverman to new comedians we’re glad to have met).
Everything Matters! by Ron Currie Jr.
Awhile back we recommended Currie’s story collection, God Is Dead, and now we have a novel from him that is being justifiably hailed as Vonnegut-esque, or Vonnegut-ish, which, while apt, is an unsatisfactory shorthand that doesn’t give full credit to Currie’s own unique vision.
Bringing a full-on garden shovel to the beach
If you’re heading to the sand, and at least one in your party is under 9, then you’re making a sand castle. Bring a real shovel. Square-headed are best, but no matter, stop dicking around with the little plastic ones. You’d be surprised how few come prepared, and how many want to borrow yours.
This irregularly occurring radio program from WNYC is a sort of This American Life for science. The show is always informative and engaging. If only we found science this much fun in high school.
“Push and Shove” by The Sub-Dudes
It’s hard to believe that this song off the New Orleans-based roots rock band’s album Lucky is nearly twenty-years-old. We listened to it for the first time in ages the other day and were glad to hear that, despite its slightly schmaltzy message about social change, the song still holds up quite well.
Castle by J. Robert Lennon
It is rare to find a book that creeps you out so badly that you find it hard to sleep, but this is one of those. Psychologically penetrating and completely gripping novel from one of our underappreciated greats.
We’re not sure how it’s different from regular yogurt, but it just tastes zestier. Best with fruit in the bottom so it all mixes together into a tart, tasty slurry.
Lost in the Meritocracy by Walter Kirn
Kirn has become quietly one of our consistently most satisfying novelists, but here he’s in the realm of a kind of loose memoir tracing his rise up the academic ladder from rural Minnesota to the Ivy League. Funny and scathing. Our only wish was for more.
Klondike Bars − Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups flavor
It’s got the milk chocolate coating you look for in a Klondike bar, but then inside just a hint of peanut butter that lingers on the palate. More art than science.
Doug Glanville’s Op-Extra Column for the New York Times
Glanville is a former major league ballplayer who writes about sports in general and baseball in particular with insight and care. We understand that he’s got a book coming out in 2010, which is good news for all of us.
For whatever reason we can’t get enough of these. We’re talking Ocean’s Eleven, Heist, The Italian Job, The Thomas Crown Affair (the original with Steve McQueen), that one with Robert DeNiro and Edward Norton where Norton pretends to be mentally challenged to infiltrate the security at a museum, The Bank Job.) No matter how cheesy or convoluted, you give us a heist movie and we’re happy.
The Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca
Believe the hype. Album of the year so far. By a mile.
Expedition Africa: Stanley & Livingstone
This reality show on the History Channel is Survivor for scholars, which makes sense given that the program is produced by Survivor creator Mark Burnett. Four explorers (each one a walking example of the Type-A personality) and their team of porters (yes, the racial dynamics are kind of a concern: the explorers are Anglo; the porters African) follow the same route (all 900+ miles of it) Morton Stanley did to find Dr. Livingstone way back and 1871. As guilty pleasures go, you can’t get much more highbrow than this. Twende!
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
This is what they call a novel of suspense and it’s plenty suspenseful because it’s grounded in a great character (the now grown only survivor of a mass murder) and rendered in wonderful prose.
If Werner Herzog made a Disney film. Strange, sad, funny, charming. Plus talking dogs. Top that, Transformers.
“Doomsday” by Elvis Perkins in Dearland
Don’t let the title of this song fool you: this is party music. This is bang on pots and pans and stomp around the kitchen until we all hug it out music. Also, there’s a trombone.
Chaperoning elementary school field trips
Yes, we dread them beforehand, but once on board a school bus full of 2nd graders we quickly remember our youth and succumb to the joys of sudden pothole-induced bumps and impromptu sing-a-longs.
Lush Life by Richard Price
Every bit as good as Clockers, which is plenty good. Surprising that this didn’t come in for more attention during awards season last year.
Buying fresh, non-processed bread and freezing half the loaf
If you’re like us, you’re often at the crossroads of a bread conundrum. On the one hand, you love the fresh-baked bread, but on the other, you don’t eat enough to get through the loaf before it turns into something out of a science experiment. On the other hand, you have some name brand supermarket stuff from the Nixon administration that’s still “fresh,” but un-tasty. We’re slow on the uptake, but freezing the fresh stuff works better than fine. Just make sure to wrap it up tight before socking it away.
Films about films
For a sampling, try these: Contempt, 8½, Stardust Memories, The Player, Lisbon Story (1994).
Let it go, let it rocket you backward, feel the release, don’t bring it up short. Hot damn, it feels good.
“The Big Picture” at the Boston Globe
This photo blog on the [Globe]‘s website is a Life magazine / National Geographic kind of thing, curated by Alan Taylor. It’s beyond stunning.
The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead by David Shields
A funny, poignant, and horrifying memoir about aging that details all the ways you’re slowly but steadily deteriorating. Though the physiological facts it dispenses are depressing (example: your brain starts shrinking when you’re 25), the book still manages to inspire, largely due to Shields’s 97-year-old father, who exhibits a level of vigor we can only hope to have when we’re 47, let alone 97.
Whistling rarely works, and often does more harm than good.
Some of our favorite songs of 2008:
“Frankie’s Gun!” − The Felice Brothers
If the Band and Bob Dylan returned to the basement, we think it would sound very much like this.
“L.E.S. Artistes” − Santogold
It’s 1987 and we’re wearing docksiders and white jeans and three layers of different-colored Oxford shirts and the world is ours for the taking.
“Always a Friend” − Alejandro Escovedo
We fear Bon Jovi will cover this song any minute now. Hurry and hear the original before it’s too late.
“I Am Nothing” − Withered Hand
A little self-pity every now and then never hurt anyone.
“Dance Dance Dance” − Lykke Li
We now can relate to those who throw their underwear at Tom Jones, for we feel compelled to do likewise for Lykke Li. Sigh.
“Song of Home” − Van Morrison
Van steps into a time machine and turns out something that would fit right in on his 1970 album His Band and the Street Choir.
“Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” − Beyoncé
We tried so very hard to resist this one, but quickly discovered that doing so was impossible. Please take our ring, Miss Knowles.
Standing near a teapot just before it boils
You don’t even need to wait for the whistle. You feel this change in pressure in your midchest right about when the water gets to boiling. It stays with you.
You’re in some scene—under an awning outside a café for a friend while it’s raining, say; or perhaps you’re sitting at the kitchen table after dinner, reading on your laptop; then again, maybe you’re standing at the train station one evening, awaiting the arrival of the 8:07—and it’s a fair situation, comfortable enough, nothing special. Then imagine the same scene, except someone gave you a gingersnap. Boom—everything is better, everything is sharper and more poignant. That’s what gingersnaps add. We recommend them.
Nights of Cabiria
Yes, a Fellini film, from 1957. There’s something almost too intense about the understated ending. We’re still debating it.
Going to that new place just down the block
They opened up recently, and it’s a young couple. They’re making a go of it with sandwiches that are actually pretty damn good, or pastries or books or local art that, true, you don’t usually find around here. They probably have their 2-year-old either napping in the back or rolling around behind the counter in an ExerSaucer or something. People still have these places; we should check them out.
Stuffing with raisins
The idea of raisins in our turkey stuffing used to cause our foreheads to crinkle in deep concern, but now we’re disappointed when we’re served stuffing without them.
This thoroughly captivating new reality series on Animal Planet documents the crew of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as they harass a fleet of Japanese whaling ships in the Antarctic. Many of the group’s members are so maniacal and self-righteous about their cause (particularly Sea Shepherd captain Paul Watson and his occasionally incompetent first mate, Brad Dourif look-alike Peter Brown) that at times we find ourselves rooting for the whalers.
Stretching your hamstrings before any physical activity
We wish we recommended this to ourselves a couple of weeks ago, before we tweaked our hamstring while playing in an especially ho-hum game of pickup basketball. We shouldn’t have even been there, as there aren’t too many things less inspiring than playing in a ho-hum game of pickup basketball. Lesson learned the hard way.
World of Goo
This physics-based puzzle video game (now available for the Wii) is as charming as it is clever. Play it with young children watching you. You’ll feel like a superstar.
The Terror by Dan Simmons
A historical supernatural thriller set in the Arctic Circle in the 1840s. The book follows the British vessels the Terror and the Erebus as their crews search for the Northwest Passage, while enduring brutal weather conditions, diminishing rations, and increasingly psychotic crewmates. Oh, and there’s an ice monster out there killing everyone, too. It’s the fastest 766 pages you’ll read all year.
Heluva Good! French onion dip
For far too long we abstained from trying this because it seemed so lowbrow. We like to think we have moved on from chips and dip and the sort. But recently we were at a party with minimal appetizer offerings and reluctantly gave Heluva Good! French onion dip a shot, and are we ever glad we did. Now we’re toying with the idea of using it as a substitute for mayonnaise on our next turkey sandwich.
You’re going to, right? Just do it. It will feel good. Trust us on this one. Yes, it might be cold and rainy, and you may have to wait in line awhile, but, still, power through it. You can do this. If you have children, bring them along. Show them democracy in action. Yes, they might not have much patience for waiting in line, or for the kind old people handing out ballots who ask them what grade they’re in and say nice things about how handsome or pretty they are, but your children’s presence when you pull that lever or touch that computer screen or jab that chad will make the voting experience all the more satisfying and (dare we say it? — yes) patriotic.
Inducting Rush into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
VH1 Classic dubbed this year’s Jewish New Year “Rush Hashanah” and celebrated with two full-length concert videos, shot in Rio and Frankfurt, respectively, on the band’s 30th-anniversary tour. Sure, the music’s a little ridiculous and the Ayn Rand-inspired lyrics are dumb, but both those facts are beside the point. Rush is completely and totally itself, if not sui generis, then something close. Seriously, Bob Seger is in and Rush isn’t? Is progressive rock not rock?
The Dart League King by Keith Lee Morris
A dark and deeply involving novel with a haunting moment on just about every page. Suspenseful, gritty, great.
The “seasonal” sugar cookies from Barnes & Noble cafés
You can get these sugar cookies year-round, but the sprinkles change with the seasons: green and white at Christmas; red, white, and blue in the summer; and so forth. They have a crunchy outer rim giving way to a soft, but not doughy, interior. We like them with a hot chocolate and an Us magazine.
Pizza night makes things so much easier. Just pick a night of the week. (We prefer Fridays.) It’s as simple as that. Everyone is happy. Pizza’s here! So wonderful.
Who doesn’t like a little overlap?
A Few Seconds of Panic by Stefan Fatsis
Fatsis, a writer for the Wall Street Journal, spent the summer of 2006 trying out as a kicker for the Denver Broncos. This entertaining book documents his experience, while at the same time exposing the often brutal business of professional football. We’ll never look at kickers the same way.
Greg Stones’s watercolor paintings
At first glance, a painting by Mr. Stones might appear to be a sharply rendered landscape or portrait, but look closer and you’ll spot a shark fin or a flying dog or a penguin aiming a revolver. Lyrical, lovely, and funny work.
“It Only Takes a Minute” by Tavares
We heard this 1970s hit on the radio the other day and for three minutes we bobbed our head and believed to our core that it indeed only takes a minute, girl, to fall in love.
The Summer Olympics
Yes, for many they may seem less relevant than ever, but we still have a soft spot for the games. Those few seconds before the starting pistol fires in the 100-meter dash will always be electric.
Welcome to My Study
Mitchell Magee is lonely and he collects things. These video shorts, which can be found on YouTube, feature him sharing the contents of his study desk’s drawer, from crabs to an avocado to a rubber boot. If only our study desk’s drawers were half as enthralling.
The Blue Star by Tony Earley
This is a sequel to one of our favorite books ever, Mr. Earley’s Jim the Boy (which features what is possibly our favorite last line ever). The Blue Star doesn’t quite hit the quiet, emotional heights of its predecessor, but the story is just as beautifully told.
Mac’s Seafood in Wellfleet, Massachusetts
This modest restaurant features fine seafood fare, but we go mainly for the soft-serve ice cream and the scenic views of Wellfleet Harbor. We once ordered a brownie hot-fudge sundae and the kind young woman at the counter told us that they were out of brownies but that she would be happy to substitute a chocolate-chip cookie if we liked. When we said that sounded like a fine alternative, she graciously offered to warm the cookie for us. We love Mac’s.
This six-part documentary on ABC about the doctors and patients of Johns Hopkins Hospital is riveting, even with its distracting and cloying Grey’s Anatomy-like soundtrack.
A small (in a good way) movie about a number of big things: music, healing, what it means to belong. We found the film all the more remarkable when we learned it was written and directed by Thomas McCarthy, the actor who played the smarmy, lying reporter on the last season of The Wire.
Alouette Light Garlic and Herbs Spreadable Cheese
The “Light” is key here, because it doesn’t taste like it’s light at all. This makes us feel less guilty when we’re cramming the stuff into our mouths.
51 Birch Street
This documentary, by Doug Block, is not only about how “parents are people, too.” It’s also about how struggles for identity and for a normal American life lurk behind the calm facades of our parents’ biographies. Though a little uneven, a little errant in structure, 51 Birch Street sneaks up on you. It’s an effective and graceful film. Did we say graceful? We did.
Fields of cut hay
On a country road, after the cutting but before the baling, these are good for the beauty, the smell, the world beyond the street, the parable potential, all at once, every time. Drive slowly. Even better, bike and stare and absorb.
George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass
When George was a Beatle, he came up with a lot of songs that never found their way onto a Beatles album, so, after the Beatles broke up, in 1970, he released this, the first triple album by a solo artist. A couple of songs on the album were written as early as 1966. Listen again. It only gets better.
Duff from Ace of Cakes
This guy Duff has a cake bakery in Baltimore and a show on the Food Network. Maybe you know the show. Our sense is that if everyone were like this guy, and if every show had this joy, we’d be all good.
Watching your son pitch his first-ever Little League baseball game
Never mind those four walks and two earned runs in his one inning of work. That little fist-pump he gave himself after striking out the final batter tells us that he is going to be more than all right, and we are terribly, terribly proud.
Rapture Ready!: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture by Daniel Radosh
A fascinating and funny exploration of exactly what the title indicates, leavened with empathy. Radosh seeks to understand, not merely to mock, which creates a deeply engaged and interesting study of a subculture many are likely to be unfamiliar with.
Pretty. Odd. by Panic at the Disco
We thought their first album was pretty bleh, but these guys have been hitting the ‘60s-orchestrated-pop pipe pretty heavily and the result, while maybe a little kitschy and ersatz Beatles, is tons of listening fun. Don’t overthink things. Just go with it.
Weight Watchers Giant Latté Ice Cream Bars
We’re usually pretty resistant to low-fat desserts, but after much coaxing from a family member we tried these, and we’re glad we did. Best of all, they’re only 90 calories each, so you can have, like, four of them at a time.
Explosions in the Sky
Apparently, there’s something called “post-rock,” and Explosions in the Sky is a member of this particular genre. We were familiar with many of the bands people like to put in this category; we just didn’t know they needed their own genus or phylum or whatever. Point is, it sounds like rock to us, though sans lyrics and very heavy on the dynamics.
The Gentle Leader Easy Walk Harness
This is for walking dogs, and, unlike the traditional harness, the leash connects in the front rather than in the back, which as the product claims keeps the dog from pulling. It’s actually a bit of a miracle.
Free streaming video of all kinds of shows: St. Elsewhere, Hill Street Blues, Buffy, WKRP in Cincinnati, Picket Fences. The video looks pretty good, and, like we said, for now, it’s free.
What I’d Say to the Martians and Other Veiled Threats by Jack Handey
You know him, you love him. We know him, we love him. This is a collection of Mr. Handey’s published humor pieces, along with a smattering of his favorite “Deep Thoughts” and TV sketches. A national treasure, this guy.
This 10-hour documentary on PBS about life on the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier is a huge but satisfying commitment. At times, it feels like a recruitment video, as it looks something akin to The Hills Goes to the Navy. But, over all, it’s a compelling look at the men and women of the United States military, and not nearly as jingoistic as we initially feared.
Volume One by She & Him
Take this recommendation for what it’s worth, given that we’re fans of pretty much anything the actress Zooey Deschanel does. She could release a CD of herself taunting kittens and we’d think it was the best thing ever. This collaboration between her and the musician M. Ward features little to no kitten-taunting. Instead, it’s a lovely collection of old-timey-sounding songs, delivered earnestly by Ms. Deschanel’s imperfect but nonetheless alluring vocals. For us, “Change Is Hard” is the album’s highlight.
The Remington ShortCut
If you cut your own hair and like it really short, this is the Jesus Christ of hair clippers.
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis
Yes, looking at things objectively, progressive rock is kind of ridiculous. The songs are bloated, the lyrics dumb, and concept albums … forget about it. Still, every so often we come back to this album and listen to it straight through.
Despite what your spouse or loved ones or arteries tell you, there’s no shame in eating one of these every now and then. Just be sure to toast the bread.
Not watching the commercial for the forthcoming movie The Strangers, starring Liv Tyler
Nightmare City. We’re thinking of starting a campaign to keep them from releasing this movie because it violates some kind of law against spookiness.
College Hoops 2K8
We’ve been playing College Hoops 2K8 for about a month now and, quite honestly, we don’t know how we lived without it. It’s terribly addictive. You start out as a bright-eyed coach at a small university (we began with the Big Green of Dartmouth) and work your way up the coaching ranks. Yes, we tend to cheat from time to time in recruiting (you can create your own blue-chip recruits, and if you play it right you’ll have a 7-foot-5-inch power forward with an above-average outside game leading your team to the conference championship), but it’s not like that’s not the norm in real life, right?
More not-rocking music. Ben Folds meets early Elton John. Remember, it doesn’t rock.
Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan
With the economy tanking and all, we figured we should recommend a very readable and relatable book about economics that isn’t Economics for Dummies so much as Economics for People of Normal Intelligence Who Can Grasp Things If They Aren’t Treated Like Dummies.
Amy’s organic frozen pizzas
They’re a couple bucks more than the average frozen za, but they somehow seem a bit fresher and there’s a pleasant wheatiness to the crust that we think you’ll enjoy.
The Jeannie Tate Show
A series of webisodes featuring Liz Cackowski as Jeannie, a suburban housewife who interviews celebrities in her minivan while taking her sons to karate and trying to keep her delinquent teenage stepdaughter out of trouble. Very, very funny.
Desktop Tower Defense
This is a Flash-based game playable in your browser. Maddeningly addictive. Zombie-free.
“My” by Okay
Sounds like Sparklehorse, only more accessible. Sad and transcendent. Our favorite song of the year thus far.
You can even make chocolate ones (just add cocoa).
Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo
Typical Russo, which, to us, is a good thing.
Fastpasses for rides at Disney’s Magic Kingdoms
We wish there were Fastpasses for other things in life, like grocery shopping and graduate school.
This is a magazine of nonfiction short-shorts that comes out but once a year. It’s not only the most aptly titled magazine we know of all − the short-shorts are about 400 words long − but it’s sincere and pocket-sized, too. They’ve published two issues so far, both of which contain a good percentage of pieces that are in some way endearing.
West Indian Girl
Wikipedia tells us that this is the street name for a type of LSD, which we’re definitively not recommending. Instead, we’re recommending the band, which has taken its name from said drug and employs synthesizers.
Sledding with your 6-year-old
We defy you to find an activity more fun than sledding with your 6-year-old. It’s the very definition of delightful.
You Suck at Photoshop
Each one of these short how-to videos not only makes us laugh but also makes us realize that, yes, we really do suck at Photoshop.
Battlestar Galactica (the newer version)
Way behind the curve on this one, but this is a great, great show. Now they just need to release Season 3 on DVD.
Backing up your computer
Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
The story of the genesis, apex, and end of Mr. Martin’s standup career. This book has been justifiably praised.
Laura Linney doing aerobics in The Savages
Despite only two brief glimpses of her in action during the film (which is easily one of our favorites of 2007), there’s something so determined and focused about the way Ms. Linney does aerobics that we can’t help but fall in love with her a little. We could watch her do her aerobics forever and ever and ever.
Not having Internet access for a few days
Have you tried this? It’s scary and awesome. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you aren’t checking your e-mail every five minutes. Highly recommended.
Comparing apples and oranges
With one, you eat the skin; with the other, you likely peel it. One is generally red or green; the other, almost always its eponymous orange. One is crunchy when you bite it, and can be mashed into sauce or squeezed into juice or made into cider or put into “jack” form for the purposes of cereal; the other isn’t crunchy, but can also be turned into juice. Besides all that, we’re comparing stuff like this all the time, so why act like it’s a deal-breaker in a debate?
One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash
A tense, emotional mystery that’s a whydunit and a howdunit, rather than a whodunit.
The candy of the future. These are unstoppable.
An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke
Kind of a crazy-ass novel that’s funny and page-turning but also really dark in a totally satisfying way.
A new show on the CW (check your local listings). Kid’s parents sell his soul to the devil and the devil comes calling on the kid’s 21st birthday, tasking him to recapture souls that have escaped from Hell. Has a Buffy-ish vibe about it. Caused us to cancel our House TiVo season pass and replace it with this.
FruitaBü Organic Smoooshed Fruit
Organic fruit roll-ups for adults as well as kids.
Giving up hope for your favorite sports team
Truth be told, we’re going to have a hard time sticking to this one ourselves, but recently we made a conscious choice to schedule something else during the big game, and, upon arriving home and learning our team had lost, felt much better for it.
“Dirty Dishes” by Deer Tick
A song that feels old and new all at once. There’s a video on YouTube of Mr. Tick (aka John McCauley) singing the song in somebody’s bathroom. It’s a must-see.
Skinless, boneless chicken thighs
Skinless, boneless chicken thighs have long been frowned on by the diet-conscious elite. We think it’s high time that chicken thighs made a comeback. They’re so much tastier than their breast counterparts it isn’t even close. Love handles be damned.
Ritalin Reading Series
Every month, at Mo Pitkin’s House of Satisfaction, in New York, an assortment of goofballs and prodigies gather and each one presents four perfect minutes of original material. The host and hostess are uproarious and remarkably attractive.
These toothsome flavor-rings, Entenmann’s tip of the hat to autumn, come round but once a year. The search begins now.
The movie Once
We’ve seen it twice. We can’t remember the last movie we’ve paid money to see twice. It may have been Under the Cherry Moon, and, if so, that was a huge mistake. Once, however, is definitely worth seeing twice – for the scene in the music shop alone. That’s the scene of the year.
The perfect summer drink: limes, sugar, strawberries, vodka, and ice. Given that summer is almost over, we’re ready to declare it the perfect fall drink as well, and, while we’re at it, winter better watch out, too.
CDs from the public library
Check ‘em out, load ’em into your computer, take ’em back. Depending on how nimble your public-library system is, you can sometimes even reserve the ones you want online and have them brought to the library nearest you. The only problem, of course, is guilt, but there are ways around that: tell yourself you’re more likely to support the artist in other ways, rationalize something having to do with the taxes you already pay, convince yourself you used to own this album and this is merely a replacement for something you sort of already own. Regardless, free music. Do the next person a favor and return it quickly once it’s loaded up.
Losing a few pounds
Losing a few pounds makes everything easier: walking, running, jumping. Losing a few pounds even makes sitting easier. We’ve always been fans of sitting. Before we lost a few pounds, we didn’t think sitting could get any better, but we’re happy to report that it can. It really can.
It seems her debut CD is available everywhere in the world except in the U.S. and Canada, so we’ve only heard a few of her songs here and there on the Web, but each one has pretty much dazzled us. “Before I Knew” is just over a minute long and it’s so good that after its first few notes we get disappointed because we know the song will soon be over. And then there’s her cover of the Strokes’s “Someday,” which sounds like the demo that it is, but nevertheless is lovely and different, and reminds us why we still have a soft spot for the Strokes.
Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann
Our German readers, if any, realize we’re bandwagoning here; it’s been a best seller in Deutschland for a while now, with Rowling-like sales. But no matter where you happen to live, this novel about scientific exploration, two scientists (Humboldt and Gauss), and a world gone by is brisk and witty and fluid.
There’s a battle going on out there: the Wrap and the Panini are at each other’s throats as they struggle for middle-class-eatery dominance. We side with the Wrap.
It only took three episodes for us to succumb to this AMC original drama. Ostensibly a show about the American advertising industry circa 1960, it’s really much more than that: it’s an examination of family, identity, adultery, and the shifting values of that era.
Laying off the firecrackers on July 4
Seriously, they terrify the dog.
Famous Fathers and Other Stories by Pia Z. Ehrhardt
Readers of the quarterly know Ms. Ehrhardt’s stories from Issues 14 and 16, and now there’s a whole book of them together in one place, which is very convenient. So emotionally honest you almost want to flinch while you’re reading.
God Is Dead by Ron Currie Jr.
This is one of those “linked” story collections. Linking these stories is the question What if God died and people found out? Each story burrows into you and rolls around for days, possibly even weeks, but it hasn’t been that long since we devoured the book, so it’s hard to say that for sure.
National Geographic magazine
You remember this one. Yellow border on the cover. Great photography. Insightful, colorful articles. That’s all still true, we’re saying.
Patton Oswalt in a guest supporting role on any show
His minor guest roles make everything better. Always. Reno 911, there’s a good example. We’re saying this for our audience, but we’re asking P.O. to keep at it, too. Funny face, that one.
Microwaving cake for 20 seconds before eating
Doesn’t matter how powerful your microwave is − you put the cake in there for 20 seconds. Remove. Add a dollop of vanilla ice cream (chocolate generally doesn’t work in these cases, probably because of some kind of microwave-induced molecular rearrangement). Use a spoon. Do that mmm-mmm-wow moan-noise thing. Thank us later.
Colored kitchen glasses, if you have a toddler
If said toddler were to drop one of the glasses onto the floor, shattering it into thousands of microscopic fragments, you could at least see where they were to clean them up. With glasses made of clear glass, you don’t stand a chance. Even if you sweep four times, use a mop, get on your hands and knees, shine a flashlight over the floor, and test the floor out with your own life-hardened bare feet, even then you’ll be cursing the impossibility of how far and how wide and how high (yes, how high! Countertops, tables! How does that happen? What the?) they all go. But, see, if the glasses were maybe red, or green, or blue, you’d stand a chance of finding all those demonic little shards.
Getting along famously
Has to be the best way to get along with someone. Try it.
The BBC really outdid themselves with this astonishing documentary series about our planet and the animals that live on it. It’s full of rarely seen things: the two-humped camels of the Gobi Desert; lions killing an elephant; a snow leopard lunging after its prey on the rocky slopes of the Himalayas as glistening snowflakes fall. As beautiful as it is fascinating, this series provides more wows per minute than anything else currently available on DVD.
She’s good. Not all of her movies are good—that’s a different point—but she is.
Sure, there’s a risk, the inevitable “Why the hell did you tell me to try that / see that / listen to that / drink that? − you must be some kind of idiot” response, but from our experience the rewards outweigh the risk.
The Complete Prose of Woody Allen (aka The Insanity Defense)
Collects three collections of short funny things into one volume. Worth anyone’s time.
Straight Man by Richard Russo
A “campus novel.” Funny. Should be made into a movie.
Meat loaf, but with ground buffalo. Lower fat, cooler name.
Taking the first flight of the day
Sure, you have to get up unreasonably early, but there’s less chance of a delay and the airports tend to even smell a bit better.
Now that it’s wrapping up, those of you who haven’t watched this should start investing in the DVDs, or using Netflix, or stealing the shit from the Internet, or whatever it is you people do, and watch the best television series of all time.
The Zero by Jess Walter
A really fantastic novel that is hard to describe. Part mystery, part lots of other things, this book is, along with Ken Kalfus’s A Disorder Peculiar to the Country, among the best “9/11 novels” we’ve read.
This is a Chicago-based funk group. Back in the late ’90s, there were a bunch of funk bands in Chicago—Bumpus, Nubile Thangs, Liquid Soul, Cassius Clay—that were really, really great. Most of them are no longer around, but Bumpus continues on. Their albums are now available on iTunes, a boon to those of us who are no longer able to see them live. Stereoscope is most recommended.