Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Year In Words

I read 37 books this year - 23 novels, 4 other works of fiction, and 10 non-fiction. Far too few of them were library books.

Best Fiction I read in 2008

Libra, Underworld and Falling Man by Don DeLillo
Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
The Sportswriter and Independence Day, by Richard Ford
Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Saturday, by Ian McEwan

Best Non-Fiction I read in 2008

The Third Chimpanzee, by Jared Diamond
The Year of Magical Thinking and Political Fictions, by Joan Didion
The Looming Tower, by Lawrence Wright
The Mother Tongue, by Bill Bryson

Most Underrated
Richard Ford's The Sportswriter and Independence Day, about novelist turned sportswriter turned real estate broker Frank Bascombe, stand beside John Updike's Rabbit Angstrom novels in the way they capture the nuances of everyday life for a regular guy in changing times. Set in New Jersey, one might say that they are the literary answer to middle-period Bruce Springsteen. I mean that in the most complimentary way possible.

Books That Feel Our Pain
Joshua Ferris' Then We Came to the End and Ed Park's Personal Days may be two of the short-list best novels ever written about work - imagine Catch-22, set in mid-sized 21st century offices - but they're more than that, they're finely observed and fully realized renderings of how young professionals live.

Prose Poetry
Marilynne Robinson's Gilead should be taught in every high school in the United States. Like The Great Gatsby, or The Catcher in the Rye, every word serves a purpose and not one word is wasted. Its just a beautiful novel, from start to finish.

Books Writers Should Read

I'm convinced that Joan Didion writes the best expository prose of any living American writer. Political Fictions and The Year of Magical Thinking are both depressing, but full of clear thinking expressed in stylish prose.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ra Ra Riot

For your consideration: A bunch of my friends are hooked on a (relatively) new band called Ra Ra Riot. Friend of the blog Crash Davis reports that they are great to see live that and that everybody at the show - including his wife - fell in love with their violin player. Here they are playing Letterman earlier this fall.

grandparents

When I visited my grandparents over the holidays, we talked about their being discriminated against as Jews in the 30s and 40s.

My grandfather talked about how, growing up in baltimore, he didn't know people hated jews until he got to college. my grandmother talked about going out on dates in college with men who would say "you can always tell a jew girl by the dark circles under her eyes" or some such. She would then inform them that she was jewish and didn't want to see them anymore.

I told them not to worry, we now had muslims as the religious minority to be suspicious of and exclusionary towards. they laughed.

Tribond

There is a single block of broadway (in somerville, you new york-centric dolts) that contains Woody's Liquors, Pini's Pizza, and Wang's chinese. It is known to a few acquaintances as "the cock block."

This is the second amazing confluence of stores in greater boston. As you drive south down the lynnway into Revere, you encounter the Wonderland Dog track (soon to be closed by fiat of the people), then a veterinarian, then a chinese restaurant. In the sustainability world, we call this "downcycling."

We gotta make our own fun up here.

(N.B. This post is not meant to imply that all chinese restaurants serve dog, all chinese people eat dog, or, frankly, that either of the previous concepts is a problem. They are made of meat, afterall)

Little Frustrations

Barnes & Noble.com delivers to addresses in New York City the business day after you place your order. This is true even if you use their 'super saver' shipping, which is free on orders above $25.00. This is very convenient.

Unfortunately, Barnes & Noble uses obscure carries (has anybody heard of "Lasership?") which require you to sign for your packages. Typically, they come to your home three days in a row during the hours you are guranteed to be at work. Then, they return the package to their warehouse, which is always located in unreconstructed Hell's Kitchen, or East New York, or across from the Marcy Avenue Projects. This is enormously inconvenient.

Have you ever been to the southern end of Hell's Kitchen? Dumpsters everywhere, windowless buildings, boarded up doors, a scattering of sketchy townhouses dropped in between warehouses and old factories, rat-filled intersections you need a Ghostbusters proton pack and a hoverboard to safely cross. What's the point of express delivery if you try to deliver it when your customers aren't home, then make them trek out to an obscure location to sign for it in person? It doesn't make any sense to me.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

An Exercise In Redundancy

The Celtics-Lakers basketball game on Christmas Day featured the Toyota Halftime Show, brought to you by Toyota, which was advertising its "Toyotathon of Toyotathons" clearance sale.

Today, UNC is playing West Virginia in the "Mieneke Car Care Bowl." The Flo-Max halftime report is brought to you by Flo-Max.

Weekend Links

A couple of links to relieve the post-Christmas boredom:

1) Blogs have been understandably slow this week, but Rubber Buns and Liquor (where the haterade flows like wine) is back from its long hiatus, with excellent posts "Murder, She Wrote" and the Jason Mulgrew-esque "Aperture For Destruction."

2) Noelle Hancock, a former classmate of several contributors to this blog, recently landed a book deal with Harper Collins. Her blog Just Putting It Out There is always good for some chuckles.

3) NPR's poll of the best albums of the year is pretty good. I may be risking my indie/blogger/Brooklyn credibility by saying this, but I think that Coldplay's album got shortchanged by a lot of critics this summer. Vampire Weekend are friends of friends of mine, and I think they're very promising, but I can't say that their album is the second-best that I've heard this year. But the Flight of the Conchords is deservedly in the top ten, and the now-legitimately released, once-bootlegged Bob Dylan live album is excellent.

4) According to preliminary reports, retail sales are down about 8% this year, and are down as far as 20% in the areas of clothing and electronics. Do you know what that means? If you have a gift certificate - ANY GIFT CERTIFICATE AT ALL - use it ASAP because it is only a matter of time until everything is going out of business. Well, with the possible exception of Target.

5) In these anxious times, a good possible use for a gift certificate is Personal Days, a workplace comedy by Buffalo native and former McSweeney's editor Ed Park. It gets the CSD stamp of approval. While you're at it, check out Joshua Ferris' Then We Came To the End.

6) In the NBA, both games nationally televised on Christmas day were outstanding - Spurs-Suns and Celtics-Lakers. I am an outspoken fan of the Spurs, but, at this point, every NBA fan should love the Spurs-Suns rivalry - the teams hate each other and always elevate their level of play in the other team's building. In Thursday's game, the Suns scored a tough basket in the paint to take a two-point lead with seconds remaining. The Spurs called a timeout, inbounded the ball to Tony Parker, who penetrated and kicked out to an open Roger Mason for a game-winning 3-pointer. You couldn't draw up a better ending than that - both teams scored tough baskets in the last ten seconds of a closely-fought, physical game, and Shaq and Tim Duncn both played like much younger versions of themselves. Just a great game all around. Here are the (unfortunately rather heavily pixelated) plays of the day:

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Walkmen

2008 wasn't a great year for new music, but one album which has recently caught my attention is The Walkmen's You and Me. They've been around for a few years, but this is the first time I've ever really paid attention to them. You and Me is an excellent record, and if their future albums sound anything like it, they can count me as a new fan. Here's a video:

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

Here's a little piece of New Jersey to help you get through the holidays:
To our "readers" and co-bloggers of the gentile persuasion, Happy Christmas! Nothing says Yuletide like an old hymn sung by Ms. Carey.



And for those in our "audience" who prefer some masculine vigor instead, the equally sultry opera basso Giorgio Tozzi sings the same. Comfort and joy indeed!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Weird Christmas Duet

Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks team up to sing "Silent Night." I keep waiting for a Saturday Night Live skit to break out, but it never happens. Merry Christmas.

The Tribe Has More Than Just Klezmer!

They also have hip-hop! Orthodox Jewish rap and reggae star Matisyahu spent the first night of Hannukah rocking the East Village under the light of a large, mirrored, rotating dreidel. He has more shows planned this week in the East Village and in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. How cool is that?

When Matisyahu first hit the scene a couple of years ago, Bill Maher joked that he should form a Jewish rap super-group along with his fellow Jewish rap singers "My Son, the Doctor Dre" and "Fifty Cent, But For You, Forty-Five." I'm still eagerly waiting for this to happen.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Hanukkah to all the little Yankels and Yoseles out there. We don't have carols, but we do have... Klezmer!



And Jokes!

Four Jews are sitting in a restaurant in the Lower East Side. For a long time, nobody says a word. Finally, one man groans, "Oy."

"Nu?" shrugs the second man.

"Oy gevolt!" says the third.

At this the fourth man gets up from his chair and says, "Listen, if you guys don't stop talking politics, I'm leaving."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Worst Band Names of the Year

Kyle Ryan of The Onion A.V. Club has recently published his third-annual list of the worst band names of the year.

'A Nickel Bag of Funk' is a pretty bad band name. 'Coup de Ska' is worse. 'Natalie Portman's Shaved Head' is probably the worst. But 'Sega Genocide' is just corny.

Just Like the Prodigal Son, They Return

Waiting the subway station to take the train home from work today, I took a seat next to a guy wearing headphones who can only be described as looking exactly like what I expect Brother Mouzone looked like as a fifteen year old. He was blasting House of Pain's "Jump Around" on his headphones loud enough for me to hear him two seats away. The thought that House of Pain is still being taken seriously sixteen years after their debut is sort of startling to me.

Full disclosure: In seventh grade, I bought House of Pain by House of Pain. Jake and the Inspector could tell you about a few other poor decisions I made in record stores in the early nineties. Fortunately, blackmail is a two way street.

Random thought: If "Jump Around" had been the first track on the CD, how many people would have ever made it to the second track? Twenty percent? Ten percent? Less than that?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Brooklyn Bars and Pubs

Since several of this blog's contributors live in Brooklyn, and a disproportionate percentage of its readers live here, I figured this was worth sharing: a website called Shecky's has a fantastic listing of Brooklyn bars and pubs, with solid reviews of each. Check out their listings for Park Slope, Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, Greenpoint, and Prospect Heights.

Friday, December 19, 2008

NBA Ramblings

1) Chris Paul is the best player in the NBA right now. He destroyed San Antonio two nights ago - by scoring a momentum-turning lay-up at the end of the first half, winning a jump ball over the 6'6" Manu Ginobili late in the fourth quarter, and throwing a painfully subtle alley-oop over Tim Duncan to Tyson Chandler after a baseline drive that I am not a good enough writer to describe. His team is outscoring their opponents by 28 points per 100 possessions while he is on the floor. Most seasons, Michael Jordan's teams outscored their opponents by about 20 points per 100 possessions while he was on the floor. (In fairness, LeBron is currently leading the NBA with a +/- of 29 per 100 possessions, but I think he's getting more help.)

2) The Boston Celtics are very, very good. Rajon Rondo has developed into a legitimate star in his own right, taking other teams out of their offense by getting the basketball out of their point guard's hands, and picking up the slack when Allen or Pierce is having an off-night offensively. But most importantly, his development as a ballhandler and passer has turned the once-stodgy Celtics into a running team, allowing them to get easy baskets in transition, which was their only real weakness during last year's championship run. There's a good reason why they are 24-2 at the moment.

3) Paul Millsap is really good. Jake and I have considered him to be a diamond in the rough since he entered the league three years ago, but this season Millsap has exceeded even our expectations, having posted nine consecutive double-doubles since taking over the starting power forward position from the injured Carlos Boozer. Millsap led the country in rebounding all three years he played in college, and yet he wasn't drafted until the middle of the second round, because NBA teams considered him to be too short. The fact that he was 'too short' to be a college star, and yet led the country in rebounding three straight years, outrebounding much taller players, should have been a tip-off.

4) Devin Harris is really good. This comes as a surprise to everyone except a) people who watch the University of Wisconsin and b) people who understand Avery Johnson's coaching style. Devin Harris can play.

5) David Lee is really good. Another entry in the "he puts up great numbers, but everybody writes him off because he's an inch shorter than the ideal height for a player of his position" See also Chris Paul, Elton Brand, Carlos Boozer, Brandon Roy, Paul Millsap, Luis Scola, Charles Barkley, Dave Cowens, Wes Unseld, etc.

The Year in Music. Or,the Year in Music?

I'm a little confused - was there a year in music this year? What albums were released in 2008? Almost every working band that I listen to - The Arcade Fire, the National, Radiohead, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the New Pornographers, Rilo Kiley, Spoon, The Stars, LCD Soundsystem, the Shins, the Decemberists, Bloc Party, Interpol, the White Stripes, Of Montreal, etc. - released a new record in 2007. But in 2008, I made only four cd purchases - Jenny Lewis' Acid Tongue, Elvis Costello's Momofuku, TV On the Radio's Dear Science, and Yes, Virginia, The National's collection of B-Sides and live recordings.

All of the above-mentioned albums were very good, but I don't believe there was as much good music made in 2008 as there was in 2007. What did I miss? Does anybody have any recommendations?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

rock and roll all night, and make memos every day

Actually got off my butt and went out to a show last night.

went to see The Sunsets Quick, a band including one of springydog's classmates. I had been too lazy to listen to thier myspace tracks, and I was worried that they might be raw. But they were very tight and quite fun. The influences of of Weezer, Wilco, and to a lesser extent Pixies were very apparent. I actually mistook one of their original songs for a Pixies cover which I think speaks highly of them (or poorly of me, but let's not think too hard about that). The make good use of a horse-galloping cadence from drumming on the rim of drums that gives several songs a catchy, driving sense. I can give them an unbiased solid thumbs-up, worth the money, fun time.

We stayed for the first few songs of the next band Forsythe. They opened with an accordion/acoustic guitar duet featuring the lead singer, Emily Forsythe. This woman has an honest-to-goodness big time voice. She is maybe a little too enamored of Regina Spektor's current success using expressive vocal modulation, but she is the kind of voice you can hang a dream on. Their next song featured accordion, horn, guitar and drums that created this big, lush, strident sound reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel. It was excellent. Sadly then, the accordionist, Amelia Emmitt (who is listed as a member of Mister Sister, but that seems to be a Peoria, Il. rock septet), left the stage and the remaining members arranged themselves into a standard guitar,base, drum outfit that wasn't nearly as fun or interesting.

And then I turned into a pumpkin.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Seriously?

an expose opinion piece about hooking up? seriously. in 2008? I was going to try to ignore this, but it has been on the "most beloved" list for several days. Hell, an authority figure gave a speech about the dangers of hookup culture at my college's graduation when I was a sophomore. She gave it again when I was a senior and I thought it was tired then in 2003. I guess this is just one of those "go to the well" topics that people will always be excited to read about because it combines the prominent themes of "sex" "the world is going to hell" and "kids today." I am surprised it doesn't tell me that those who date in college (rather than hook up) are more likely to land prestigious jobs and live on the upper east side. that would have been an editorial grand slam.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

tea

I drink tea at my office. several cups a day. Coffee gives me too strong a jitter spike. tea keeps me alert without being too wired to concentrate. and managing hydration is easier. It took about 4 months for my superiors to stop giving me the hairy eyeball for drinking tea instead of coffee. There was a decidedly gendered bent to the teasing.

I drink mostly red rose black tea. I started because it was on sale once, but then I discovered that red rose comes with these lovely little china animals (hawk, fish, dog cat, duck). I collect them on my desk. They mark these nice, adult blocks of time. I finish a box every couple of months so I receive the present of the new one at just about the right interval where it is still exciting without being unattainable. I always wait until I used the last bag before taking the animal to my desk.

when I am feeling whimsical, I arrange them. sometimes I arrange them by ecosystems (who would live near whom), sometimes into food chains (who would eat whom). I might try to do phylogeny next.

I recently finished a box and had to start casting about into the other derelict tea boxes.

I had one cup of lapsang souchang. it was like drinking barbecue.

I am currently drinking oolong, which seems perfectly fine. but I really would like to get back to my animals.

bad things

holy cow was yesterday a lousy trip home on the indie music front. Due to fundraising, I left my beloved WMBR (88.1) to venture over to WERS (88.9). I was hit with the double whammy of Vampire Weekend's "one (blake's got a new face)" and the decemberists's "valerie plame." jesus, what a pair of hideous, self-satisfied, nasal bricks. and I love the decemberists. I am one of the twee-est motherfuckers I know. man, it was terrible.

If there hadn't been a stooges tribute morning show complete with uncle tupelo's version of "i want to be your dog", I might have had to switch back to audio books.

And don't get me started on AIG's "retention payments." A grossly overcompensated industry is not helping its public image.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Everything Old Is New Again

Saturday Night Live channels the Pet Shop Boys. So what if the Flight of the Conchords got there eighteen months ago? This is still pretty funny.

Wassup

1) I am currently about 500 pages into Don DeLillo's Underworld. It is amazing. People often compare Don DeLillo to Thomas Pynchon, which is bullshit. Underworld is the novel Thomas Pynchon would have written if he had more self-restraint, emotional intelligence, and compassion for his characters. Be sure to pick it up whenever you have the time to read a 900 page novel. One drawback - it isn't a very good book to read on the subway (which is where I do the lion's share of my reading these days.)

2) Tonight, as I was leaving my subway station, I observed an unwrapped condom lying right in the center of the staircase. I take it that no two people actually bonked on the subway station staircase, which suggests, in the words of David Cross, that there is some sort of sick, urban Johnny Appleseed who is walking the streets of New York, dropping used condoms, trying to grow a chud baby. Everything about this paragraph makes me want to throw up.

Friday, December 5, 2008

library

I was at the public library last night. returning an audio book of "I married a communist" and checking out "bonfire of the vanities." I hate myself for liking Philip Roth and Tom Wolfe. They tell lurid tales about the way adult white men fear that the world actual works disguised as tales about how the world actually works. It is a base kind of story-telling, and horribly engaging. I think that they have actually made me a worse person.

but then the guy behind me in line was checking out "atlas shrugged" and I didn't feel so bad about myself anymore.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

This Brings Me Back to 1994

Always keep in mind that a big crab can literally flip you out of the boat.