We Are the Best!
By all rights, we should do a blanket recommendation for all Lukas Moodysson films. (Can we? Someone check on that.) This is the Swedish director’s latest, and it’s already two years old at this point. If you only have time for a triple-feature — and you somehow remember that we adored Show Me Love (1998) a very long time ago — then add Together (2000) and the far less feel-good but probably most significant Lilya 4-ever (2002) to this newer one and call it a weekend.
Garrett Dillahunt and Sam Elliott in Justified.
Last season’s lackluster villains left Justified, one of TV’s best shows, feeling a bit stale. Much like The Wire, the series has always been just as much about the antagonists as it’s been about the protagonists. Thankfully, the show’s final season has gifted us a couple of more than worthy foils. Dillahunt and Elliott (mustache-less, no less!) are natural fits: cool, congenial, and conniving. Perfect Elmore Leonard-esque bad guys.
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
A haunting, austere, crisp, and memorable novel.
Frazey Ford’s Indian Ocean
Ford’s brand of singer-songwriter folk/soul music has been done over and over again, but here it feels fresh, thanks to her spellbinding vocals. The Memphis horns throughout don’t hurt either. Fans of Laura Nyro, Maria Muldaur, and Tracy Nelson will feel right at home. We will break Spotify listening to this album over and over again.
Constance Wu in Fresh Off the Boat
An out-of-nowhere brilliant comic performance. Wu plays a strict, hassled, and loving mom in this wonderful new ABC sitcom about an Chinese-American family trying to make it in Orlando in the ‘90s. We can’t take our eyes off her.
Putting that amaryllis right on the heater over winter
It’s not that we were botany averse, but sticking the new amaryllis (hippeastrum) your neighbor gave you last fall right there on the heater is a whole science experiment out in the sunroom. Half inch a day, that thing’ll grow. Feels like we should’ve already known this.
Mozart in the Jungle
This Amazon show hasn’t received nearly the buzz that the service’s other recent show Transparent (which is also great) has, but it’s worth checking out. Be forewarned, it takes a few episodes for the series to find its legs. But once it does, it’s a fun and enlightening look at what it’s like to be a working musician in a big-time orchestra.
As time-sucking as it is enormously entertaining. Great graphics, a sly sense of humor, and ridiculously addictive play make this, possibly, the best tower-defense game ever. Hail to the King, baby!_
Re-watching tons of Human Giant sketches
They’re just so good.
This Comedy Central show stars Andy Daly as “everyman” TV host Forrest MacNeil. He reviews various facets of life by experiencing them firsthand, from eating lots of pancakes, to traveling to outer space, to getting a divorce. With each new episode Forrest’s life further unravels, thanks to the outcomes of his reviews. Absolutely hilarious. Five Stars.
Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia
If Agatha Christie went to band camp this is the novel she would have written. A great summer read.
Spencer Wiggins Radio on Pandora
A treasure trove of lost soul classics from the 60s and 70s, including Wiggins’ “The Power of a Woman,” Richard Cook’s “Love is So Mean,” and James Carr’s “I’m Going for Myself.”
We went ziplining recently and were pleasantly surprised our bowels did not uncontrollably vacate at any time. It was actually fun. And we usually hate heights, too. Man, the things you learn about yourself when you take some risk.
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
This has been our to-do list for quite a while. Glad we finally got around to it. Read it before the HBO series based on the novel premieres later this month so you can act all all high and mighty like those people who’ve read all the Game of Thrones books.
The Hampton Inn
Long have we waited to recommend a hotel chain. The wait is over. It maybe feels like we’re supposed to talk up Airbnb (we won’t) or some Victorian B&B in your hometown (we haven’t stayed there), but though our college roommate from Hampton, VA thought they only had these in Hampton, VA, this is always a sure bet when you roll into any town.
This sitcom might never win a Peabody Award, but its capacity for laughs never fails to surprise us. If you grew up during the ‘80s and now have kids of your own who are the age you were back then, The Goldbergs will be in your wheelhouse.
Pressure washing anything
We borrowed our neighbor’s pressure washer a few weekends ago and spent a good hour pressure washing the crap out of our deck umbrella. Time of our lives. For our birthday last year we didn’t know what we wanted, so some family members bought us a bunch of Home Depot gift cards. That was nice, but we had no idea what we’d buy from Home Depot, as we aren’t particularly handy when it comes to building or fixing things. But now we know what we’ll use the gift cards for: We’re going to buy a fucking pressure washer.
Chad Finn’s Touching All the Bases
This blog by the Boston Globe’s sports media columnist never fails to be an engaging read. Funny, nostalgic, and levelheaded. Finn is one of the few voices of reason in a sports landscape that is increasingly populated with reactionary blowhards.
NBA Finals MVP. Check it.
This is the best movie you’re likely not to watch, for its poorly marketed title and poster. But watch it. By Joe Swanberg, it’s one of the more amazing films of attraction, longing, and connection and, oh shit, is it well acted. Then let us know how we’re supposed to deal with the ending scene. We’re all in tatters arguing over it.
We finally got a chance to watch this French mini-series about residents in a small town in the Alps dealing with the sudden reappearance of many of its long lost residents. It’s slow and the plot occasionally wavers off the rails, but the show is so beautifully shot and acted that it’s easy to look past that stuff.
Stories We Tell
Sarah Polley’s fantastic documentary about her mother, who died with a family secret. One of the most affecting films, documentary or otherwise, of 2013.
Whole Foods’ Chicken Salad
Yes, yes, we know, we know. Whole Foods is a corporate giant masquerading as a crunchy beacon of organic sustainability. But have you tried their chicken salad? It’s the best chicken salad we’ve ever had. Throw it on a bed of lettuce or between two slices of bread, or, fuck it, just grab a fork and eat the stuff right out of the carton. Get to business! You won’t be disappointed.
“The Mother We Share” by Chvrches
This Scottish synth-pop band’s record makes us feel like we’re seventeen again and we just bought our first pair of Doc Marten’s and are heading to our friend Etienne’s house because he’s the only one who has MTV.
The latest mobile puzzle game that has us simultaneously loving and cursing our smartphones.
Remembering the smell of summer air at dusk from childhood
Try it. Just for a moment, try it.
These small, quiet movies, they’re doing something grand, like miniature furniture or origami or a single-panel Calvin and Hobbes. This set piece by David Gordon Green has Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch precisely drawn as they paint yellow lines on a post-forest fire Texas road. But it’s not precision in a Wes Anderson way. They’re softer, they’re not as geometrical, it’s a theater precision more than a drawing with crisp lines. You know what we’re saying? You know what we mean, right?
You know how it’s mid-afternoon and you want to actually read something and pause from the drone of the infinite scroll and, yes, longform.org helps, you can hang out there for while, but where else, where else? This place: theappendix.net. It’s a journal of narrative history, an aesthetic delight, an eminent new place to pay attention.
Eleanor & Park
Rainbow Rowell’s nostalgic YA novel captures the awkward joy and madness of first love in a way we can’t remember a novel doing in a long, long time.
This National Geographic TV show is like a headier, less headache-y version of those Magic Eye books. Science is fun!
Phosphorescent’s “Song for Zula”
We’re older now [INSERT HEAVY SIGH HERE] and our eagerness to hear and learn about new music as soon as it’s released has waned. There’s just too much else going on these days. [INSERT ANOTHER HEAVY SIGH HERE] So instead, we wait until the end of the year for all the “Best of” lists to come out, and then we seek out the artists and songs listed that we think we might like best. After hearing a few things we kind of like, we come upon a song such like this one (which made quite a few year-end lists) that reminds us of our younger days when we were eager to hear new music, and then we listen to it over and over again, and sigh and sigh and sigh.
A documentary, which somehow wasn’t nominated for an Oscar this year, about how Sea World and other ocean theme parks acquire and mistreat their killer whales. Devastating.
Letting Lemony Snicket be your guide to poetry
He edited part of the September, 2013 issue of Poetry magazine, a section that culled poems relevant for children but not necessarily written for children. In the process, you get some good advice. Such as this, after two poems with “monster” in them: “The word ‘monster’ automatically makes a poem more interesting.”
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Entertaining, well-paced, funny when it needs to be, a treat to watch—great scenery, nice effects, a sharp and bright vision—we’re a little disappointed this hasn’t gotten the praise it should.
Duct tape bookmarks
These may well mark the end of the dog-eared page. They’re a brisk business for the 10-and-under set and a colorful complement to any household’s shelf of books. If your household also has scissors (a scissors?) then you’re in luck—made-to-order bookmarks of every size, usually yours for the taking at a price point of a nickel to a quarter. Provided you also have one of those 10-and-unders around, we mean.
Punch by The Punch Brothers
We’re several years late to the game on this, but this debut album is a serious artistic statement. The centerpiece is a 40-minute suite, “The Blind Leaving the Blind,” an accounting of the failed marriage of mandolinist/bandleader Chris Thile’s failed marriage. It opens with the most beautiful melody you’ve ever heard on the violin and then turns jarring, discordant, challenging and beautiful. Bluegrass instruments making avant garde art.
The cupcake sandwich
The only way to eat a cupcake. Believe.
Pacific by Tom Drury
The third of Drury’s books set in the fictional Grouse County, IA (following The End of Vandalism and Hunts in Dreams) Pacific catches up with characters Drury fans have come to cherish. It’s just a beautiful book of quiet power that deserves recognition as a contemporary classic, with Drury one of our living masters.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Some might applaud our bravery for recommending a movie that routinely sits in the pantheon of greatest films ever, but no, we’re no heroes. We’re just slow to see John Ford’s (1962) Jimmy Stewart/John Wayne masterpiece. A movie from a different time, about human political tensions for all time.
We, the Pizza
We want to be above the tired conceit that you can put one person’s “favorite pizza” over another’s, since that just never works. But we can’t. We can’t rise above it because We, the Pizza in Washington, up there on Capitol Hill, is better than any pizza, yours included. Unless yours is We, the Pizza too, in which case, dilemma resolved.
These are the best ones.
This is an Aussie’s website, where the guy illustrates quotes, and the back catalog is chock full and the quotes are well chosen and the comics are appealing and we thus recommend it.
Radio Music Society by Esperanza Spalding
Who can beat a bass playing singing bandleader pulling from jazz, blues, funk, and rock. There was a month or so where we thought we may never need to listen to another album again.
How is this actress not a household name? It’s a shame on the pop culture industry that you had to Google her just now, and probably find Nurse Jackie on the IMDB page, and now you have to go watch Nurse Jackie? Yes, so you can see Merritt Wever in action, because she should be a household name.
Will Sasso’s “Lemon” Vines
Short-form videos featuring lemons—a whole lot lemons—and Sasso’s hilarious slapstick humor. Great Vines are all about timing, and here it’s perfect. It’s as if the Three Stooges had been directed by Buñuel.
The eyebrows of Al Madrigal
Pair these with Betty Davis’s eyes and you got yourself a superhuman.
Ian Chillag and Mike Danforth
They host NPR’s How To Do Everything podcast. We probably know how to do about 11% of things, which is up almost 8% since we started listening to them. They’re casual wit defined. That’s why we learn.
Where Do You Start? by Brad Mehldau Trio
An album mostly of covers, with the trio in full flight. The best of the bunch, believe it or not, is the propulsive opener, “Got Me Wrong” by classic American composer, Jerry Cantrell, otherwise known as the lead guitarist and chief songwriter of Alice in Chains.
Borsari Seasoned Salt
We sprinkle this stuff on everything: meat, poultry, pork, our tongues. You name it. Salty-tangs-up anything. Sex for the taste buds.
This Close by Jessica Francis Kane
The stories in Kane’s new collection are a revelation. They’re somehow solemn and mature in one turn while smiling and ennobling in another. There’s a quiet realism in them, the kind you read on your patio at twilight, the kind with a humanity that accepts how hard it is to trust people and know people and be near people but then also keeps love and fulfillment right there within grasp. It’s good to find these.
Hang Up and Listen podcast
Slate’s sports podcast, hosted by Josh Levin, with Mike Pesca and Stefan Fatsis. The wit both Pesca and Fatsis show on NPR is let loose a bit more, which gives the show a sharper, funnier edge.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
One of the funniest books we’ve read in the last year. Semple used to write for Arrested Development and it shows. It’s an acerbic, oddly moving, and cleverly told novel.
A 1980s KGB/CIA action/drama, except the good guys are the Russian spies who’ve lived undercover as suburban Americans for years. Now suddenly, uh-oh, who should move in across the street, but a smart CIA agent (played by the fine character actor Noah Emmerich). Four episodes in and the show just keeps getting better and better.
Wallets might go the way of the beeper soon, but until then Bellroy is our wallet maker of choice. Its sleek, slim design helps you keep from stuffing the thing with every unnecessary discount card and receipt you collect. Our pants’ pockets are very thankful for this.
“Picking Up the Pieces” by Paloma Faith
Faith doesn’t have the classic pipes of Adele, but “Picking Up the Pieces” is as good a blue-eyed soul pop song as Adele has ever recorded.
Great burger/sandwich joint on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, just be sure to add fresh avocado, which they aren’t shy about piling on. Delicious. Being just minutes away from some of the best surfing in the world doesn’t hurt either.
Our newest favorite IOS word game. It’s basically Boggle with some subtle twists. Instead of playing against a few opponents at a time, you play against thousands from all over the world. As an added bonus, the game tracks your stats and you can see how you measure up against your friends each day.
NCAA’s OnDemand Channel
This YouTube channel features network broadcasts (we miss you, Al Maguire!) of pretty much every meaningful moment from the NCAA tournament in the last 35 years. March Madness can’t come soon enough.
Keyhole Factory by William Gillespie
If you’re worried that too many of the novels you read sound kind of the same, this is the book for you. It’s dystopian, sure, but that doesn’t really tell us all that much by itself. Inventive, unusual, worth your time.
YouTube videos of The Faces performing live
If they’d stuck together, we’d talk about The Faces (Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, Kenney Jones, Ian McLagan, Ronnie Lane) in similar breaths as Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones. There’s some YouTube videos out there of the band captured live in their prime playing on some television show, and they’re just awesome.
This is a program that blocks the internet for people who indeed have no self control. Set the timer for as few as 15 minutes or as long as a whole day, and watch just how much more work gets done.
The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman
While not really a self-help book (Burkeman is highly skeptical of the genre), it offers more practical (and funny) advice on how to be happy (or better put, how to appreciate being happy) than any talk-show “Dr.” ever could.
“La Espina del Cardenche” by Algodón Egipcio
Our favorite song of the year. Hands down.
Entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to successful millionaires in hopes of getting their businesses off the ground. On its face, the show seems like a boring exercise in free enterprise. But the millionaires (the “Sharks”—led by the anti-Trump, Mark Cuban) are so invested (an unavoidable pun, regrets) in their roles that it makes for smart, savvy and engaging television.
His poetry is sneaky, pithy, and sometimes a discovery. His style is somehow both out of time but placed right there in the twentieth century. It makes you want to ride a bike by a creek and throw a twig in the current. Watch it swirl and flow.
Where do you think we got all that stuff about Stafford?
Beasts of the Southern Wild
We finally got around to seeing this indy hit from this past summer. Glad we did. Its last five minutes might be the best five minutes of film this year.
Rock bands named for states or cities, but not continents
Sorry Europe and Asia.
It’s a good show, and look, there’s the guy that was in Barney Miller, the late Steve Landsberg. He nails it.
They have a whole stable of podcasts, do what you can, but Strangers is an intrigue. Maybe try the Debbie Jhoon and Sam Feirstein episodes as a starter, maybe wonder what we’re supposed to do with this crescendo of on-line audio art, maybe help us make sense of it all.
Waiting for the new frozen yogurt bubble to pop before committing to a favorite
Market research by our interns shows between 400 and 750 new frozen yogurt franchises, and that’s in Coastal Florida alone. Those pay-by-the-ounce jobbers, all the toppings you want—and, if we might say, live it up with the low-weight/high-goodness whipped cream—that make old TCBY turn in its grave. Like home brewing and dot coms in the ‘90s (and TCBY), this too shall pass. Wait until then before declaring your franchise allegiance. Three or four will likely remain.
Have a new gadget, computer, television, kitchen appliance, or nose-hair trimmer to buy? The Wirecutter saves you lots of time with its recommendations. It’s like Consumer Reports’ hip cousin.
Because she’s great.
Bread and butter jalapeño peppers
Our mom jars these, so there’s not a whole lot of objectivity here, yes, yep, we know. But man oh man, they’re good! More sweet than spicy. Perfect on chicken salad sandwiches. And all other sandwiches. And foods.
Not having a chondral defect in your knee
This the best! Not having the cartilage under your patella look and feel like leftover linguine that’s been in a tupperware container for a week is really the way to go when it comes to not having substantial issues with the cartilage behind your knee. Not having this rocks! You should totally not have this! Trust us!
Storm King Arts Center, Mountainville, NY
This is a sculpture park in the Hudson River Valley, maybe 50-odd miles north of the city. This is a phenomenal outdoor garden of art installations, landscapes, and environmental vision. This is a place you want to go so you can sit for a time, so you can get past any vestige of skepticism about public art, so you can wonder about serenity, space, scale, and what majestic might mean.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
It’s a novel about the Iraq War that’s mostly about America, the worst and best parts of our American selves. This is the kind of book people will point to when they want to describe our present age.
Emily Hearn writes and performs music that makes you feel good just listening to it, but at the same time isn’t weightless. Check her out if you enjoy tapping your toes.
Short comedy films, posted daily, set in a generic office workplace kitchen starring the hilarious Eddie Pepitone as a sad-sack manic everyman. Plus cameos by Patten Oswalt, Robin Williams (who’s featured in a fine sequel to Dead Poet’s Society), and others. Ridiculous. Sophomoric. Perfect.
Red Sox beat writer for the Boston Globe. A voice of reason in Boston’s forever overblown and fatalistic sports’ media. He’s a huge Springsteen fan, too. That never hurts.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Another great mystery by Flynn, who’s appeared on this page before. This one’s about the disappearance of a transplanted New Yorker in suburban Missouri. You’ll be wise to stick with the book, and its largely unsympathetic characters, until halfway through when the surprising and brilliantly written twist is revealed.
He’s an indie pop violinist. For us that’s enough to at least check him out on Spotify, but we should also mention that his new album 151a is full of sublime hooks. Start with “It All Began With a Burst.”
Hilarious Twitter of Karl Welzein, a fictional guy from Michigan who, despite usually being down his luck, remains upbeat and ready to party.
The Chris Gethard Show
Public-access variety television at its finest. He’ll have his own late-night network show eventually. Mark our words.
A collection of the worst, most nonsensical customer reviews on Amazon.com. You’ll check it out for a second and then an hour later you’ll find yourself still there, reading away.
A new music app, in the mode of Pandora and Spotify, except this one matches playlists to the time of day and the type of activity your doing. Is it Sunday afternoon? Are you working out? Reading the newspaper? BBQ-ing in the backyard? Songza has a playlist for each and every of these occasions. May sound gimmicky, but the song choices are pretty spot-on. Our favorite playlist so far? ‘70s Pool Party.
There’s nothing wrong with music being earnest and heartfelt, especially when it grooves like this. The drummer, Darren King, duct tapes headphones to his head during concerts. Just thought you should know that.
A sharp, silly poke at Washington from the makers In the Loop (recommended way down below). Julia-Louis Dreyfus plays the struggling Vice President, desperately trying to overcome the inconsequentiality of her job. While the show doesn’t quite reach the heights of the film (or, for that matter of The Thick of It, the British TV show that inspired it), it still provides for a funny, F-bomb-laden 30 minutes.
Stacey’s Pita Chips
Just baked chips of pita with a little sea salt, nothing revolutionary. You will eat a minimum of 32 of them in one sitting. Mark our words.
Yes, another word game app. This one has supplanted W.E.L.D.E.R. (see below) and Puzzlejuice (another great word game app that we didn’t recommend for fear of word-game-geeking-you-out). SpellTower’s elegance and difficulty are the main draws, plus it offers multiple ways to play. (We prefer RUSH MODE. Our current high score is 10,679.)
Conversations under umbrellas
This combines a few pretty good things all at once. There’s this: it’s like sitting on a porch in the rain, since you get the joy of the pling-pling over your head but stay dry and alert; and this: it’s bound to be a chat with someone you like, else why would you even be out in the rain, right?; plus this: the awareness that you’re clearly about to part ways makes those final comments all the more meaningful, both of you getting the privacy you’d want even though you’re out there in public, since everyone else is scurrying to stay inside.
D by White Denim
If someone told you there’s such a thing as Prog-Pop, you’d say, “get the heck out of here!” because those two things don’t go together, except here they do in awesome ways. If you like hooks, grooves, and shifting time signatures (and who doesn’t?) White Denim is for you.
Rachel Getting Married
Who says we can’t recommend perhaps flawed four-year-old movies? Films don’t have to be perfect to be endorsed. And with June coming up and friends getting hitched, the title keeps ringing in our heads. Happy weddings, everyone.
Dexy’s Midnight Joggers
After spirited in-house debate over whether this or “Dexy’s Noontime Runners” was the better option, we’re giving this one away for the name of your next ’80s cover band. Just send us any YouTube links if you ever get a gig.
Bruce Springsteen’s keynote speech at SXSW
A pop music history lesson like no other. We love the parts about Elvis, Roy Orbison, Do-Wop and the changing landscape of American culture in the 50s and 60s. And his bit about how he ripped off the riff from The Animals’ “We Got to Get Of This Place” to write “Badlands” is wonderful too. Plus great stuff about Dylan and James Brown. Curtis Mayfield! The Sex Pistols! Hank Williams! Woody Guthrie! We could go on and on.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
John Green’s bestselling YA novel is a charm fest that never feels manipulative, even with its kids-with-cancer plot.
A ham sandwich on challah
Cognitive dissonance? Yep. Talmudic violation? We couldn’t say. Delicious lunchtime fare? You’re damn right it is.
A Sleep & A Forgetting by Islands
Sublime, catchy indie pop. We’ve had “In a Dream It Seemed Real” on repeat for the past week or so.
Sitting in the emergency exit row on an airplane
Sure, there’s the burden of potentially having to, you know, help people safely flee a wrecked airplane should a terrible disaster occur, but, oh the legroom! It’s like First Class-size legroom in the emergency exit aisles. This allows you to stretch out and enjoy your complimentary cup of water. We are enormous fans of legroom.
Our favorite college basketball analyst. With his trademark expressions (“And, Verne Lundquist, Kentucky comes out in the man-to-man,” “With a kiss!” “Onions!”) are broadcasting genius. He skillfully balances just the right amount of bombast and informed analysis. We only wish CBS teamed him with Sean McDonaugh and Jay Bilas. The three make the best announcing team in sports.
“Emmylou” by First Aid Kit
We’ve sung the praises of First Aid Kit before on this page but they’re worth mentioning again, particularly for this song off their new album, which references two of the greatest partnerships in country music to a sentimental and joyful result.
Sure, 50 years from now when we’re all under water we might long for a blizzard or two like in the olden days, but not having to shovel or deal with the threat of slipping on an icy sidewalk has been sort of fantastic this year.
Key & Peele
A hilarious new sketch show on Comedy Central that smartly pokes fun at race, gender, and class.
Store bought egg whites
Yes, yes, they look like snot when poured from the carton, but egg whites soon fry up to an appetizing silky white puff. Add mushrooms, onions, braised spinach and some light cheese, and you have what we’ve been eating for breakfast the last month or so.
Watching an entire season of a TV show over the course of a long weekend
We did this with Homeland recently, watching all 12 episodes of its fantastic first season. Knowing that the entire arc of the season’s plot and subplots were just a click away helped make it all the more enthralling.
The ultimate fan blog for Philadelphia 76ers fans, written with all the wit, neurosis, trepidation, cynicism and hope of a typical Philly sports fan.
Max Greenfield on The New Girl
Greenfield’s great timing and awkward swagger makes his character, Schmidt, easily the most likeable douche in prime time.
The Whore of Akron by Scott Raab
A wholly subjective chronicle of LeBron James’s final year with the Cavaliers and first season in South Beach that’s much more about Raab, a lifelong Cleveland fan, and former addict who invests all he has in his home city’s chances for an elusive major sports title. Profane, hilarious, and worth it for the insults to Art Modell alone.
Word-based game apps are a dime a dozen and often redundant and derivative. While W.E.L.D.E.R could be accused of being the later (think Boggle + Tetris), it most certainly isn’t the former. Addictive, challenging and fun.
Look up at the sky tonight. Jupiter is that enormous, beautiful bright thing just below the Moon. Dazzling.
The Alabama Shakes
A 21st century band that pays tribute and, at the same time, expands on 1960s Muscle Shoals-era soul music. Ethereal stuff.
Slow cooking anything
We brought our slow cooker up from the basement a couple months ago. Hasn’t returned. Throw some meat, veggies, and herbs in the thing before you head out to work, then come home 8-9 hours later with a tasty dinner waiting for you.
Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney
For anyone currently struggling with their New Year’s resolutions, this book will help you understand why holding to them is so difficult (you need to train your willpower like it’s a muscle), while giving tips on how to see them through (diet and moderation, for starters).
We’re late on this one having just seen it (a good six months after its release in theaters), but we’re hard pressed to name a more engaging and lovely film of 2011.
A crowd-sourced GPS app. Works like a charm. And it’s free!
We’re talking the TV show here, though the movie is also recommended. Created and run by the same team that was behind Friday Night Lights, you can see the similar DNA in the naturalism of the dialog. Not groundbreaking, just deeply satisfying television, which is worth a lot in our book.
Peanut butter cookies with mini M&M’s from Publix bakery
The overall quality of the in-store Publix baked goods is high, but these are the best. The cookie itself is moist and salty-sweet, when combined with the finishing chocolaty kick of the M&M’s makes for a gobbleable treat. Comes in a baker’s dozen package, which is nice.
Brad Listi’s Other People Podcast
There’s only like nine episodes as of this writing, but somehow this is good from the word go. It’s like listening to Marc Maron’s podcast, only with kickass writers, instead of comedians. Funny, pointed, thought-provoking. If there’s any justice in the world, this will become huge.
Embracing the new era of whistling in songs
No longer in the pale shadow of Andy Griffith or G’n’R’s “Patience,” we are over-blessed with a wonderment of these. From Alexander’s “Truth” to Andrew Bird (“Scythian Empire,” for one among many) to Wilco’s “Red Eyed and Blue” to we better stop or this’ll have to go over on the lists page, the whistle-as-instrument is once again effective and admired.
Roadside America, Shartlesville, PA
You will someday find yourself in central Pennsylvania, driving I-78 to find notice of “Roadside America: The World’s Greatest Indoor Miniature Village.” You will stop. You will enter. You will be wide-eyed, astonished by the intricacies and joyfulness of the very many little scenes set so carefully about this vast tiny world, not leaving, as instructed, until you witness the night pageant that runs every half hour. You will write to thank us.
The middle distance
Indisputably the best place to stare.
Revisiting Freaks and Geeks
We field-tested this. See if you can work it into an 18-24 month rotation. Wait for that one mid-season episode where Bill (Martin Starr) is eating grilled cheese and watching Garry Shandling. Revel in bliss.
Some revolutionary kind of ice cream container, a tub or box or firkin or whatever, but something where you don’t get the ice cream on your knuckles when you get the damn ice cream out
Invent this. Please.
The hand-written love letter
Some recommendations are self-evident, lord knows. But at least this one comes with the chance for a tender word, a thoughtful turn of phrase, an honest and living thanks for the affection of another, all embodied in the smudgy, organic handiwork of pen to crispy paper.
Revelator by Tedeschi Trucks Band
You could call it a supergroup since husband/wife Trucks and Tedeschi have had solo succes, except that you haven’t heard of most of these players because rather than being big-time famous, they’re just awesome. An amalgam of soul, funk, gospel, and blues and when the whole band is in the pocket, your breath will catch.
The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
Funny, charming, moving, and written with a deft touch. This book is worth your time.
Much has been made of this BBC America show’s similarities to Mad Men, (the late 1950s setting, the ever-present cigarette smoking) but we find it’s the acting and storytelling that really compare. Consider us hooked.
Our card game of choice this summer. Play against two others or work with a partner in a game of two-on-two. Add a deck or rooftop, some fru-fru drinks and chips and dip, and you have yourselves a party.
The Cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki
You’re right if you think this is a backdoor way to recommend Tree of Life. We don’t usually know our cinematographers from our best boys. But holy Jesus, the visual masterpiece of that movie, of Lubezki working with Malick, regardless of whatever else anyone might say of it, the aesthetics make you appreciate that we live in a time when such things are still possible, that such beauty is still there to be found and made.
The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson
Fascinating and hilarious. This book will make you reexamine everyone you know—particularly the jerks.
“Changing” by The Airborne Toxic Event
Yes, yes, the song is minor-league Modest Mouse, but just the same, it’s three and a half minutes of fun, sunny, tap-the-steering-wheel indie pop.
We are entirely, completely on this bandwagon. Charm, wit, character and all.
Describing a singer’s voice as “serrated”
A friend of ours recently used that word, so perfect, so right, before which we too thought it was solely applicable to knife teeth. Go back and listen to, oh try this one, John McCauley, the Deer Tick guy, and you’ll see. It isn’t gruff or gravelly or raspy, or whatever Pitchfork will go to. It’s serrated.
My New American Life by Francine Prose
A pretty sharp satire of the America we live in that also manages to engender a good bit of sympathy for the characters inside.
Bond: The Paris Sessions by Gerald Clayton
A young jazz pianist, who has some Mehldau and McPartland in him. The tunes map a wide swath, but he’s at his best when the whole trio attacks simultaneously, everybody swinging without getting in each other’s way.
These Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales
An oral history of ESPN filled with insider gossip and intrigue. Juicy and fascinating. If you are the sort of person who can and will watch the same SportsCenter three times in a row (and we are legion) this is a must read.
The Willow Rest in Gloucester, Massachusetts
Sandwiches. Order the sandwiches. You really can’t go wrong with any of them. The “Annisquam Delight” (turkey, brie, mixed greens, cranberry horseradish sauce and mayo)? Delightful! The “Riverdale” (black forest ham, swiss, lettuce, tomato and honey mustard)? Riverdance-able! “The Route 127” (tomato, mozzarella, fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil and drizzled with balsamic glaze)? Route-127-sational!
The Yale Digital Commons
Yale is the first Ivy League university to open its digital image archive to the public. The collection’s 250,000 “digital assets” include over 8,000 images of ancient globular bowls, 4,000 photographs of historical scientific instruments, 900 maps of Tanzania, and 20 paintings of donkeys.
Skiffle was a 1920s popular music genre with a jug-band ethos and roots in New Orleans jazz. Homemade instruments were essential to the skiffle sound, from comb-and-paper kazoos to cigar-box fiddles. The term disappeared from the American scene in the 1940s but returned in Britain with the 1950s folk revival.
John Goodman’s screen debut
It’s come to our attention that Goodman first appeared in a film called Jailbait Babysitter. IMDB sets the scene: “Vicki is seventeen and her older friends call her ‘Jailbait.’ Her boyfriend Robert is frustrated because Vicki doesn’t want to do the wild thing, but he’s willing to wait…” We’ll stop there. Thank god for Raising Arizona.
Electric Warrior by T. Rex
This is T. Rex’s best album, and we rank “Girl,” “Cosmic Dancer,” and “Life’s a Gas” as its standout tracks. We’ll never stop listening, no matter how many ridiculous stunts Marc Bolan is rumored to have pulled (we heard he named his son Rolan Bolan).
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Did we forget to mention how much we dig this novel? It won the Pulitzer Prize this year, sure, but for the record we loved it first.
It’s a “National Preserve of Documentary Films About American Roots Cultures.” You can browse by subject (women, music, rural life) or region (Pacific Northwest, Appalachia, Southwest) and you’ll find over 150 instantly streamable films with titles like Sadobabies: Runaways in San Francisco; Fishing all My Days: Florida Shrimping Traditions; and I Ain’t Lying: Folktales from Mississippi.
My Korean Deli: How I Risked My Career and Mortgaged My Future for a Convenience Store by Ben Ryder Howe
A laugh-out-loud memoir by a former editor of The Paris Review that details his experience owning and operating a Korean Deli in Brooklyn with his wife and mother-in-law. This book is the very definition of delightful.
“Price Tag” by Jessie J
About as infectious as a pop song can get.
Richard Lawson’s American Idol recaps
It’s relatively easy to be snarky, especially when American Idol is concerned, but Lawson gets so much hilarious mileage out of the show that he raises the ubiquitous TV-recap genre to a new comic level.
Put it on anything: sandwiches, seafood, pretzels. You won’t be disappointed.
The Patterns of Paper Monsters by Emma Rathbone
Rathbone’s narrator is a seventeen-year-old boy in a juvenile detention center. It will be called a coming-of-age story, good ole Bildungsroman, and it is. It’s also fun and funny (remember that books are entertaining, and possibly, in cases like this, more so than a movie?), with the author giving impressive attention and care to every paragraph.
It doesn’t really take any longer to cook than microwaved popcorn. Admittedly, we weren’t aware of that before. It also doesn’t have the god-knows-what chemicals of that microwave bag. Plus, more new information for us, it tastes all kinds of better.
The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard
Some of you will be familiar with Ms. Pittard’s particular magic from the pages of our print journal. This is a stunning first novel told in the first person plural with devastating results.
Highway Rider by Brad Mehldau
Longtime readers of the Recommends recognize our general fondness for Mehldau, and here, he steps out of the comfort-zone of the trio and gives us a fully-realized album-length composition that leans heavily on the trio (with additions from Joshua Redman on sax) and a full orchestra on others. The album demands that you listen to the entire thing every time you play it.
Another smart, crass, and captivating British dramedy about disaffected youth (see our rec of Skins below), but with a supernatural twist. Saying too much about it would risk ruining the show’s many surprises, so just watch the thing (all 13 episodes of its first two seasons are available for viewing on YouTube). You won’t be disappointed.
Early Girl Eatery in Asheville, NC
Unpretentious, fresh ingredients, great specials every day. The sweet potato scramble is especially recommended. After eating, wander down the street and around the corner to spend some time at Malaprops Books.
A recently launched website for endlessly insightful contemporary lit reviews and author interviews. From their “About” section: “Full Stop is a new site committed to an earnest, expansive, and rigorous discussion of literature and literary culture. Despite the popular critical sentiment that the ‘death of the novel’ is upon us, we submit that the opposite is true and refute the fatalism inherent in a narrative that threatens to ignore the diversity and quality of contemporary fiction.” A site after our own heart.
Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle”
We might’ve recommended any number of remarkable Redding hits, but this one—perhaps put in a playlist against The Black Crowes’s remake and thus shaming it—is top shelf. Hey, why not go big money, buy the whole posthumous The Immortal Otis Redding and revel.