Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: The Year in Reading

This was somewhat of an usual year in reading for me. I read about twenty fewer books than I have in the past three or four years, which I attribute to a combination of being busy at work, starting several books that I did not finish, and subscribing to The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, which occupy my commuting time that, in previous years, was spent reading books. Also, I finished 2010 in the middle of three or four different books, including the bookstop Infinite Jest (not included on any of the below lists because I read most of it in 2010) and it took me most of January to finish them. Still, I read some great stuff this year. These are the most noteworthy books. I would like to thank my friend and blogmigo Ellen W_______, of the excellent literary blog Wormbook, whose idea I am totally ripping off here.

BEST FICTIONA VISIT FROM THE GOOD SQUAD, by Jennifer Egan
PYM, by Mat Johnson
FATHER OF THE RAIN, by Lily King
NETHERLAND, by Joseph O'Neill
THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE, by Haruki Murakami
TRUE GRIT, by Charles Portis
THE TIGER'S WIFE, by Tea Obrecht
THE MAGICIANS and THE MAGICIAN KING, by Lev Grossman

BEST NON-FICTION
ALL THINGS SHINING, by Herbert L. Dreyfuss and Sean Dorrance Kelly
OUT OF THE VINYL DEEPS, by Ellen Willis

BEST MEMOIR
THE LONG GOODBYE, by Meghan O'Rourke
LIFE, by Keith Richards
BALL FOUR, by Jim Bouton
BOSSYPANTS, by Tina Fey

Most Dated Novel Widely Considered To Be A Classic
THE MOVIEGOER, by Walker Percy

Best Novels To Be Overshadowed, Unfortunately, by Their Film Adaptations
TRUE GRIT, by Charles Portis
THE BIG SLEEP, by Raylond Chandler

Best Novel By First-Time Novelist Whose Future Books I Eagerly Await
SWAMPLANDIA!, by Karen Russell
THE ADULTS, by Alison Espach

Best Essays
PULPHEAD, by John Jerimiah Sullivan (Full disclosure: not yet finished)
DON'T GET TOO COMFORTABLE, by David Rakoff

Best Genreless Book By Famous Humorists
THAT IS ALL, by John Hodgman
ZOMBIE SPACESHIP WASTELAND, by Patton Oswalt

Best Short Stories
THE ANGEL ESMERELDA, by Don DeLillo
LIKE LIFE, by Lorrie Moore

Best Endings
THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE, by Haruki Murakami

Books Published in 2011 I Am Most Looking Forward to Reading in 2012
THE ART OF FIELDING, by Chad Harbach
PULPHEAD, by John Jerimiah Sullivan
THE LEFTOVERS, by Tom Perrotta
BLUE NIGHTS, by Joan Didion

ONE LAST THING --

I started Roberto Bolano's 2666 this summer, and really enjoyed it, but it is very long, and work got spectacularly busy this fall, and long story short I kind of lost my momentum in it and never picked it up again. But its real

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

SNL Writer Taran Killam Becomes Gay Icon Overnight, and other news

To alleviate the boredom of a writer's-blocked night at Rockefeller Center, Saturday Night Live writer named Taran Killam recorded this YouTube video, where he re-creates, move for move, Robyn's "Call Your Girlfriend" video. Killam is a hulking, Jason Segel-ish guy with a bit of a gut and an apparent tendency to wear hooded sweatshirts with insufficiently-lengthy t-shirts underneath them; Killam's awkward dancing made me laugh out loud several times, but none moreso than the sequence in which he rolls around on the ground, bearing his potbelly.

Its totally credible that the decision to make this video was (relatively) spontaneous; certainly, as a Saturday Night Live writer, he has the resources to make a more professional-looking video than this, and the contributors to this blog have witnessed -- some might say participated in -- late-night dance parties to catchy pop songs to break up late-night study sessions in college and law school.
The only thing making me happier than Killam's video is this video, in which Killam's video is edited together with Robyn's original, so that you can watch the two of them side-by-side. Its definitely worth ten minutes of your time.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wye Oak Finishes Their Breakout Year With "Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day"

Wye Oak became one of my favorite bands over the course of this year. Their album Civilian was one of my favorite records of the year, with a couple of blow-your-mind outstanding songs, went on tour opening for The National, and hit their two AV Club Undercover performances -- The Kinks' "Strangers" and Danzig's "Mother" out of the park. Lead singer Jenn Wasner's performance and discussion of "Holy Holy" on One Track Mind was absolutely charming.

The holiday cherry on this sundae is their performance of Brenda Lee's "Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day," a Christmas song on which I never previously had a strong opinion, but which they have made into a staple of my future Decembers. I've said before that Christmas songs should either be religious and traditional OR be fully-formed, complete songs in their own right, totally independent of their use of Christmas and its iconography. This song is one of the better examples of the latter.

Wye Oak covers "Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day" by Brenda Lee

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Rick Perry and Sarah Palin Wish You a Happy Hannukah

In the past 24 hours, numerous evangelical Christian politicians, such as Sarah Palin and Rick Perry, both of whom believe that the New Testament of the Bible is literally true, have tweeted "Happy Hannukah," or, more likely, had a junior staffer tweet for them. I realize that there are a small number of very religious Jews who support right-wing evangelical Christian candidates because of those candidates' unwavering support of Israel, but 1) they are very few in number; 2) making common cause with someone is not the same as being friends; those candidates' support is overwhelmingly white protestant. The evangelical candidates who tweet "Happy Hannukah" are only superficially wishing Jews a happy holiday. In the main, they are attempting to show moderate white Christians that they are not anti-semitic.

The candiates doth protest too much. While I would not be so brash as to suggest that they are actually anti-semitic, I do believe that they don't really care one way or another about whether Jews enjoy Hannukah, and using a religious holiday for such a cynical political goal -- and, in their cases, to win an election so that they can enact laws that explicitly favor Christian interest groups -- is pandering of the most disgusting sort. In the words of comedian Rob Delaney, tonight those candidates can suck the first of eight circumcized cocks.

Monday, December 19, 2011

You Knew This Was Coming

Vaclav Havel died today. He led one of the most impressive and admirable lives of the 20th century. Kim Jong-Il also died today. Trey Parker and Matt Stone's Team America: World Police made fun of him and his meglomania so effectively that people who saw the movie basically couldn't look at him and keep a straight face ever again. Because of it, more Americans will probably remember Kim Jong-Il than Vaclav Havel, but I guess that's how it goes.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

In Heavy Rotation

A few new albums have been in heavy rotation at Common Sense Dancing headquarters. Here is a sampling:

St. Vincent - "Actor"


Wild Flag - "Future Crimes"


Real Estate - "Easy"


Real Estate - "Wonder Years" (sadly, not a great recording)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Thank You, Internet! Vol. 2

What I can't even . . .

This cover of "Bad Romance," sung in Mandarin by a group of middle-aged Chinese people, is so hilariously weird that the Fig Leaf Gang from the "Yatta!" video is starting to get jealous. Don't worry, Fig Leaf Gang; these middle-aged Chinese people are still 3,050,000 views away from being a real threat.


Ah, fuck it -- let's watch "Yatta!" again for old time's sake:

You may say its juvenile, but I believe that it will never get old.

Thank You, Internet! Vol. 1

Miss Kentucky. Presented without further comment:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Money Talks, with John Hodgman

The opening credits alone - where Hodgman's face appears on a number of different currencies, including the Yen ("What is this, the eighties?") and the Peso ("Money never siestas"). Hodgman has reached the point where I basically start laughing as soon as he comes on screen, and this bit is no exception. Somewhat selfishly, I like how he introduces nerdy Yale stuff to a wider audience, admitting its ridiculousness while appreciating it for its, well, awesomeness. I wish I had a rich man's megaphone following me around, wearing white gloves and harmonizing.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Men of a Certain Wage - Money Talks
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Sunday, October 30, 2011

We're Back!

Its been a rough couple of months -- a month-long internet outage at CSD headquarters, a couple of out-of-town weddings (which were a lot of fun, but nonetheless had me away from my computer for a few days), followed by consecutive 60+hour work weeks.

During my time away, I've reconsidered my attitude towards blogging. From now on, I will update this blog less frequently, but (hopefully) with longer, more involved posts. But, for the time being, check out this awesome set from Wild Flag, whose self-titled debut album has been in heavy rotation at CSD headquarters since its September release. The band features Sleater-Kinney alumni Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, and is introduced by NPR Music's Stephen Thompson, beloved by us for founding the AV Club, copyediting The Onion's Our Dumb Century, and general all-around awesomeness.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

in which i tell you about something that isn't ironic or about popular culture

I was in transit from one errand to another in the western suburbs today when, in a large roundabout, about 6 cars ahead, A Lexus RX330 (that small SUV), rear ended a motorcyclist and then ran him over, trapping him under the car. I didn't see enough to know who was it fault, but it was gruesome.

Those who saw it pulled over and ran to the site. The motorcyclist was calling "lift it up, lift it up." so we attempted to lift it. Because at the start there were only 6 of us, we could not lift the SUV, but merely succeeded in compressing the springs--lifting the body but not the wheels. But as more and more people assembled, we tipped the car toward the driver's side to about a 45 degree angle (there was some debate about whether to tip it all the way over, but some sort of con census was reached not to do so). by then there were nurses on the scene to remove the man in a safe spinal position. and we lowered the car back down.

by the time the car was down, EMS personnel were there and were clearly in charge. So the crew of 20 or 30 men simply walked away not really saying anything to one another, got into our cars, and drove off, because we were blocking the roundabout.

Normally I would try to extrapolate this experience into something broader because I sort of hate unanalyzed anecdotes as a form of interaction. But none of the frames I can put on it really work. it was both miraculous and wrenching. Both a wonderful show of community and very isolating.

so we'll go with this as a broader moral: this is now the second man I have seen fall off a motorcycle at speed on a road. Jesus, those things are dangerous.

in which i try to seem discerning about sofia coppola

I have recently seen both Somewhere and Marie Antoinette. I like Sofia Coppola movies. They are easy on the eyes and palette, particularly if you are young, and privileged. But I can't shake the sense that all Sofia Coppola movies are about sofia coppola. She has an uncanny knack for showing that being young and pretty and rich is lonely and emotionally nuanced. But because it so clearly looks like she is telling the story of her own life, every time she gives her girls too much credit, it makes her look vain. like when the 11 year old Elle Fannings makes perfect eggs benedict for her louche father in the Chateau Marmont. 11 year olds can't make eggs benedict.

Marie antoinette worked a little better. The emotional similarities between the priveleges american teens and marie antoinette was interesting and empathetic. and the fact that kirsten dunst is pretty vapid totally worked. but it made her maturation into a brave royal at the end seem unearned. anyway, i'd watch another one. and then complain about it to you.

Also, are Sofia Coppola and Charlotte Gainsbourg occupying the same cultural niche? Famous father (Francis Ford and Serge). Early fame/scandal caused by father's placing them in limelight (godfather III and Lemon Incest). not really a bombshell but very beautiful in thier own way. Very cool and tasteful seeming life. Making artistic life for themselves separate from parent. and brunette.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Hold Steady Covers All Sorts of Great Stuff

For this week's edition of "Undercover," CSD favorites The Hold Steady stopped by the AV Club's offices to perform Huey Lewis & The News' "The Power of Love." We've been waiting for The Hold Steady to make an appearance in the "Undercover" series, because the AV Club staff are all outspoken fans of theirs, and, though we didn't expect it to be Huey Lewis who they covered, the results are pretty cool nonetheless.

The Hold Steady covers Huey Lewis & The News
And, when it comes to Craig Finn covering catchy 80's songs, this cover of Elton John and Kiki Dee's "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" that he sang with Frightened Rabbit

Thursday, August 18, 2011

"It's Been A Tough Couple of Years For Condescending Nerds"

As John Hodgman explains, its been a tough couple of years for condescending nerds. He has a point -- all of those bookworm hipster douchebag types who used to work at records stores, then went to work at video stores once the record stores went out of business, then went to work at Borders once the video stores closed and became crystal meth dens now have to find somewhere else to work. Although, its worth noting that Nathan Rabin, Keith Phipps, Josh Modell, Noel Murray, and a number of the other AV Club critics worked in video stores, record stores, and movie theaters before becoming some of the most insightful and influential critics in the country, so maybe there's some hope for those guys after all.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Magicians, by Lev Grossman

Oh, how I loved this book. I enjoyed it so much that I limited myself to a chapter a day, so that I wouldn't get through it too quickly, because this was my only opportunity to read The Magicians for the first time, and I wanted to savor it. After twenty pages, I pre-ordered its sequel, The Magician King, which was released last Tuesday.

I've read very few fantasy novels in my adult life -- other than Neil Gaiman (who I love), I probably haven't read one since high school. This may be the novel that turns me on to the entire genre. Sometimes, when a fantasy novel is reviewed in the mainstream press, a reviewer will make a point of saying that, though it is a fantasy novel, adults can read it, too. In most instances -- for instance, the Harry Potter books, or the His Dark Materials trilogy -- the critics really mean "this young adult novel is so well-executed that adults can read it without embarassment." The Magicians, on the other hand, is a fantasy novel written for adults. Quentin, a nerdy, fantasy-loving know-it-all living in Brooklyn, goes to interview for Princeton University, only to find that the old man who was to interview him had died shortly before Quentin arrived. A paramedic hands Quentin an envelope, apparently left for him by the old man. Quentin opens the envelope, and a note flitters out, deep into a community garden. Quentin enters the garden to search for the note, and finds himself whisked away to Brakebills, a magic school on the Hudson River in upstate New York, inspired by Hogwarts, Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, and other famous fictional magic academies. Quentin's entrance exam, equal parts written and practical, is a gorgeous, laugh-out-loud funny set piece that could stand alone as a short story in a prestigious liteary anthology. Besides Quentin, only two other students pass, out of hundreds sitting for it. That test earns Quentin one of the twenty seats in the first year class at Brakebills. Only then does Quentin realize that the entrance exam was the easy part.

The Magicians is also noteworthy for its dark psychology and attention to detail. How many books attempt to reconcile the bizarre combination of medieval, Victorian, and modern technology found in most fantasy novels? In how many fantasy novels is one of the main characters a self-loathing homosexual? When you encounter a talking bear, should you be surprised that it primarily wants to talk about honey? If magicians did exist, how would they find meaning and avoid depression in a world in almost everything came to them easily, where they could, for example, coax money from an ATM with a simple spell? The Macigians' characters struggle with these problems, the, um, "real world" (?) implications of magic, which I haven't seen a fantasy story discuss in depth. The novel's only drawback is that some of Quentin's friends are familiar "types," but they're all real-world types, and none of them are the sort of pure, virginal teenagers who populate other fantasy novels. I can't wait to see how those characters grow and evolve in the next two books in the series.

Monday, August 15, 2011

In Which I Subscribe to NPR's Concert Series and End Up Falling In Love With Adele

Last week, All Songs Considered hosts and NPR music editors Bob Boilen and Stephen Thompson commemorated the 150th installment of NPR's "Tiny Desk Concert" series. These concerts, held at Bob Boilen's desk in NPR's office bullpen, typically consist of three songs sung without microphones and with spare accompaniment, in front of NPR's employees, who sit in a semi-circle just feet away from the musicians. They are as intimate as any concert you are ever going to see broadcast. Clips of ALL 150 CONCERTS are now available on YouTube.

Some of my favorite groups, like Phoenix and Neko Case, but I most enjoy the concert series for the way in which it exposes me to artists to whom I have never - and probably otherwise would never - listen. One such singer is Adele. I've never disliked Adele; it was more that I was never really consciously exposed to her music; it never seemed like my sort of thing. I probably would never have listened to her without the Tiny Desk concert series, but . . . man. At the risk of throwing away years of hard-earned bookworm hipster douchebag credibility, Adele can really sing. Her voice is a magnificent instrument - even without a microphone, she basically blows the ears off of everybody in the audience. Few singers have pipes like hers; she is in the rarefied company of Neko Case and Alicia Keys. Like Amy Winehouse, her songs have callbacks to classic soul, but without being self-consciously retro. Basically, I think this video will charm your pants off.

Site Update

Over the past couple of days, I've made a few cosmetic changes to the blog. This site has been "optimized" to run on mobile devices, so it should look better on your tablets and Blackberries. Also, for what its worth, we have updated the "Common Sense Dancing Recommends" section to showcase some of the cool things we've read, seen, and heard this summer.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Cut Copy at the Prospect Park Bandshell

Unbeknownst to me when I wrote about them three weeks ago, the Australian dance-pop band Cut Copy played an outdoor concert in Prospect Park this past week as part of the Celebrate Brooklyn concert series.

The videos that have been posted to YouTube are of variable length and quality; unfortunately, most of the videos that show an entire song from start to finish have poor sound quality. This clip, featuring most of "Lights and Music," seems to capture the energy of the show. The enthusiasm and audience participation is good to see -- even in a irony-heavy place like Brooklyn, Cut Copy, like Phoenix and Robyn and a select few others, can inspire the sort of unbridled enthusiasm that the cool kids are normally too self-conscious (-ly hip?) to exhibit.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bob Mould and The Decemberists cover "If I Can't Change Your Mind"!!!

Can a musician "cover" a song that was originally performed by a group of which he was a member? Rock legend and all-around hardcore old guy Bob Mould certainly believes so; he 'covered' "If I Can't Change Your Mind," by his former band Sugar, as part of The AV Club's "Undercover" series. Its good to see that Mould is still killing it well into his fifties.

Bob Mould "covers" Sugar
But that's not the coolest part. AV Club favorites The Decemberists expressed interest in covering "If I Can't Change Your Mind," more or less simultaneously with Mould, and, rather than refuse of the most critically acclaimed bands in indie music, they let the Decemberists cover it, too (which is probably more in keeping with the original idea for the series). The end result sounds more like The Decemberists than it does like Sugar, but that's one of the things about great songs - they open themselves up for any number of interpretations.

The Decemberists cover Sugar

Sunday, August 7, 2011

This Is How You Do It

Long-time readers of this blog know that, in our bright college younger and more vulnerable years, 2/3rds of us rowed competitively for our college rowing teams. None of us follow the sport as closely as we once did, but, from time to time, an extraordinarily cool race or surprising result catches our attention.

Late last month, the United States won the men's eight at the World Under-23 championshpis, leading the race wire-to-wire and finishing in a truly impressive (if wind-assisted) time of 5:24. (By comparison, the world record, set by the United States in the 2004 Olympics, is a wind-assisted 5:19, and has rarely been approached since). It showcased the talents of the next generation of United States Olympians, and was just a kick-ass race from a program that, in recent years, has failed to reach the heights it achieved in the middle of the last decade. You don't have to be a competitive rower to appreciate how bad-ass these guys are.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

If More Prayers Were Like This, I Would Go To Church

Pastor Joe Nelms' pre-race prayer at a recent NASCAR race in Nashville, Tennessee is a classic of American oratory, on par with anything delivered by Jonathan Edwards or Cotton Mather. Okay, maybe not - those guys never publicly thanked God for their smoking hot" wives, and would probably have asked the Lord to bless the drivers so that they could deliver a performance worthy of Him, instead of a performance worthy of "this great track." Even so,

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Best Thing About True Blood

HBO's True Blood, which is about vampires, or Anna Paquin's breasts or whatever, often plays covers of classic pop songs over its final credits. Some of those covers are performed by really interesting combinations of musicians. The first episode of the show's fourth season had two CSD favorites, alt-country songbird Neko Case and bad-ass Australian rocker Nick Cave, singing a duet on The Zombies' "She's Not There." The song is both pretty and creepy (a lot of mid-60's pop songs were like that, when you think about it) and Case and Cave's voices cover the pretty partsa and the creepy parts with equal conviction. Its such an unorthodox pairing that, in a way, I'm surprised somebody hadn't gotten them together before now. In any event, here's the song. Its also available on iTunes.


Here is The Zombies' original:

Friday, July 29, 2011

Very Deep In America

The author Lorrie Moore (who's short story collection Like Life is currently making its way around CSD headquaters) reviews Friday Night Lights in her essay, "Very Deep in America," published in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books. It is the best review of the series (and the movie adaptation of Buzz Bissinger's book that preceded it) that I've read.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Cut Copy Breaks Through at the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival

According to just about every music writer in North America, the big surprise at last week's Pitchfork Music Festival was the Australian electronic pop band Cut Copy. Cut Copy, which is squarely in the tradition of imported techno groups like Daft Punk and Air, has been around for almost a decade, but they've really only gained popularity in the United States over the past couple of years. Since their 2008 album In Ghost Colours, they've been building gaining popularity as one of those bands that critics love, and casual fans either enjoy or haven't heard of. Hopefully, between the popularity of their tour and the success of their recent album Zonoscope, Cut Copy may have broken down the door on which they've been knocking for years. I, for one, hope so - I am almost physically unable to keep my feet from tapping while I listen to this song:

Saturday, July 23, 2011

This Is How You Do Street Art

Its true. Big thanks to Ellen Wernecke at Wormbook for, somehow, finding this image in the far recesses of the internet.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

This Is Outstanding

I don't know what's more amazing - that Steve Johnson had this idea for a birthday cake, that his wife apparently bought it for him, or that she was able to find a bakery in predominantly-Roman Catholic Buffalo, NY to bake it for him. In any event, this is so outre that I have no choice but to tip my hat and say "well played, sir."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"Sleep All Summer," Live from the Tribune Building

Long-time readers of this blog know that four of our favorite things are the AV Club, Merge Records, coffee shop-style love songs, and the city of Chicago in summertime. As part of the AV Club's "Summer Undercover" series, indie-rock veterans Crooked Fingers (who covered other songs earlier in the series) played their song "Sleep All Summer" on the roof deck of the Tribune Tower, in downtown Chicago. The song, from their 2005 album Dignity and Shame, is a beautiful, summer-specific love song that just kills me every time I listen to it.

Bonus Track: Crooked Fingers plays "Sleep All Summer"
As a side note, how great are Crooked Fingers? They've made several contributions to the indie rock canon, and yet they aren't very well known outside of indie rock circles and college towns. I had even forgotten that they were on Merge Records. It says a lot about that excellent record label that a band like Crooked Fingers is probably not among their ten most-influential contributions to the music scene.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Feel the Goosebumps

Megan Rapinoe to Abby Wambach in the 122nd minute of the 2011 World Cup is going to be remembered alongside Montana-to-Clark, Kirk Gibson's home run in the 9th inning of Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, and the other heroic last-second turn-abouts in sports history. I do not believe that this is an overstatement. It was the latest goal ever scored in the history of the World Cup, it came after the United States had been playing ten-against-eleven for fifty-seven minutes, and the pass was, as they say in soccer, centimeter-perfect. I've probably watched it twenty-five times since Sunday, and I'm not done with it yet. A total goosebumps moment.

Monday, July 11, 2011

VSQ FTW

This past weekend, I went to Mysitc, Connecticut, to attend the wedding of an old friend of mine from college. The ceremony was beautiful, the bride was gorgeous, the groom had an ear-to-ear smile the entire night, and the weather was 90 degrees with cloudless skies. It was one of the coolest weddings I've ever attended.

Unfortunately, its hard to really share any of those great wedding experiences with you. The one thing about the wedding that I can share is the procession music, which was by a group called the Vitamin String Quartet (VSQ for short), of whom I had never previously heard. They have made almost forty tribute albums, in which they play pop and rock songs arranged for the string quartet. This sort of thing has been done before, usually with a smirk and a heaping dose of irony. The Vitamin String Quartet's songs, by comparison, are performed with enthusiasm and sincerity that is impossible to mistake. Their albums can be sampled, and are available for purchase, at their website. These are two of my favorites (though they're all good):

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Pleasant Surprise

In the town of North Tonawanda, New York, in suburban Buffalo, there is an excellent bookstore that is simply called Book Outlet. Located in the former headquarters of the Wurlitzer pipe organ company, the Book Outlet is an enormous space (roughly the size of a suburban big box store like Best Buy or Barnes & Noble). Its barely-organized shelves contain books that other stores have remaindered, and of the inventories of bookstores that have gone out of business. Because they only stock what other bookstores are ridding themselves of, there is no predicting what they will stock from week to week. On one visit, they may have the entire bibliography of your favorite author, but come back a week later and they may have none of her books at all. The upside is that every book in stock is at least 70% off, and many are priced at $0.99.

On Wednesday, I bought seven paperbacks for $0.99 each, including books by Colum McCann, Colm Toibin, Shirley Hazzard, Nadine Gordimer, Ann Beattie, and Charles Baxter. Much to my surprise, one of the books I purchased, Emerald City and Other Stories, by new CSD-favorite Jennifer Egan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Visit From the Goon Squad, was signed by the author. There was no indication that the book had been signed; it was for sale for ninety-nine cents just like every other book on its table. I have no idea what its worth, and I'll never sell it, but, as a diamond-in-the-rough among a whole pile of diamonds-in-the-rough, it reminded me of why I love outlets, used book and record stores, and vintage shops so much. Finding a little treasure in the midst of a pile of rubbish is infinitely more rewarding than ordering from eBay the exact item for which you are looking. If for no other reason, sometimes you don't know what you're looking for until its right in front of your face.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Jim Bouton's Ball Four

At the end of Ball Four, Bouton writes: "You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out it was the other way around all the time." This book caused a lot of controversy when it was first published, because Bouton shared with the world the details of clubhouse grab-ass, pranks, and dirty jokes, the life of a professional athlete on the road, and the Catch-22-like absurdity of coaches and general managers. He revealed that Mickey Mantle was a heavy drinker, that Whitey Ford and Elston Howard cheated by doctoring baseballs, front offices took advantage of poorly-educated players, and how any number of other baseball figures from the 60's and 70's weren't the milk-drinking, apple pie-eating heroes that the media had made them out to be. Bouton was ostracized for writing this book, even years later, when Mantle's drinking, Ford's cheating, and the unsavory business practices of team owners had become common knowledge. In spite of all of that, Bouton's love of the game is so genuine that the beautiful epigraph with which he closes the book feels completely earned. If anything, Bouton was trying to rescue the game he loved from the way it was exploited by its management and taken for granted by the vast majority of its players. Bouton's complaints about the life of a major league ballplayer are legitimate - Bouton does an excellent job of making us feel the day-to-day anxiety of knowing that you could be traded, or sent to the minors, and have to uproot your entire family and relocate to a strange city on short notice, through no fault of your own. Also, before free agency, players rarely earned more than twenty-five thousand dollars a year, good money for seven months' work, but not enough that players didn't have to work jobs in the off-season to make ends meet. To Bouton's credit, he always makes those complaints with a grain of salt, because he recognizes that he would rather have his complaints over those of another person almost any day of the week.

Ball Four is organized as a season-long diary, dictated by Bouton as he went from hotel to hotel throughout the course of the season. For much of its first half, Bouton uses the events of his life as jumping-off points to tell anecdotes collected throughout the course of his nine-year career. In the second half of the book, minor characters from the first half reappear in new contexts, there are callbacks to some great jokes, and the book begins to seem like more of a thematic whole, instead of "just" a diary. People familiar with the baseball movies of the 80's and 90's - Bull Durham, Major League, Eight Men Out, etc. - will recognize a lot of types in this book. In some ways, Jim Bouton has a lot of the same attributes of Bull Durham's Crash Davis - he has spent a lifetime in the game, learned its lessons, and wants one more shot at glory before calling it a career and finding a 'real' job. Bouton had an enormous amount of success early in his career, having 20-win seasons and going to the World Series several times with the Yankees, only to injure his arm at age 26 (most likely because the Yankees overused him) and spent the next five years scraping by as a marginal player, eventually getting released by the Yankees and signing on with the Seattle Pilots (later the Milwaukee Brewers) and the Houston Astros. Few players have seen as many different sides of the game of baseball as Jim Bouton, and, in Ball Four, he shows all of them to us.

A lot of the book's negative attention was due to the fact that he pulled back the curtain on the New York Yankees, who, in 1970, were still seen as America's team, a collection of clean-shaven, brush-cutted types who had mainstream-to-conservative politics and represented a simpler, pre-counter-cultural era. There's a reason that Paul Simon chose to reference a Yankee, Joe DiMaggio, in "Mrs. Robinson." In Bouton's telling, the Yankees drank just as much, if not more, than other teams, caroused on the road just as much, if not more, than other teams, and "shot beaver" - the 1960's baseball term for scoping out beautiful women and trying to look up their skirts (if they're at the ballpark) or peek through their hotel windows to catch them having sex (when they're in hotels on the road). With even a few years' hindsight, it seems obvious that the Yankees were doing all of those things, but it was shocking at the time. From the distance of forty years, the take-away is that even the most buttoned-down teams in baseball are still big collections of young men - some barely older than boys - who get paid to do their absolute favorite thing in the world. That, as much as the game itself, is the reason we watch. Who among us wouldn't want to have that much fun?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

They Might Be Giants cover "Tub Thumping"

The AV Club's "Undercover" series is one of our favorite things on the internet, and this week's installment, They Might Be Giants' cover of Chumbawamba's "Tub Thumping," is one of the best yet. "Tub Thumping" became ubiquitous in the summer of 1997 and a punchline shortly thereafter, and forevermore. They Might Be Giants' cover emphasizes fun, and audience participation -- there's no point in trying to be be "edgy" on a cover like this, or in stripping it down -- and reminds us that everybody, even writers who critique music for a living, like to put their hands up and shout every once in a while. If this doesn't put a smile on your face then . . . you probably spend a lot of time reading Pitchfork.

They Might Be Giants covers Chumbawamba

I spent the summer of 1997 rowing at different iterations of the United States' junior national rowing team's development camp, primarily in and around Cincinnati, Ohio and Victoria, British Columbia. Clear Channel must have given its stations particularly short playlists that summer, because Third Eye Blind's "Semi-Charmed Life," Verve Pipe's "The Freshmen," Meredith Brooks' "Bitch," Sister Hazel's "All For You," and OMC's "How Bizarre," are still burned into my brain, fourteen years later. What summers' songs are still stuck in your head, for better or worse?

The Last Fine Time, by Verlyn Klinkenborg

The Last Fine Time is about a bar called George & Eddie's, which was an institution on the east side of Buffalo for 23 years, from 1947-1970. My grandparents on my father's side were regular customers, and good friends with the owner, Eddie Wenzek (they are twice mentioned by name in the book). As a child, my father spent a lot of time playing the bar's back room while his parents and their friends caught up and played pool in the main room.

As a work of social history, The Last Fine Time is more substantial than its200-page length would suggest. Blue collar neighborhoods in the rust belt accounted for a significant percentage of America's population (particularly its "white ethnics") in the years after World War II, before white flight, a changing economy, and the migration to the sun belt contributed to the decline of the great industrial cities of the north. Unfortunately, Klinkenborg's contributions as a social history are undermined by the book's schmaltzy tone, which sentimentalizs seemingly every single aspect of blue-collar life in the 1950's Rust Belt. Furthermore, its arch prose style is off-putting; one adjective rarely suffices when three could be used; the occasionally-arch tone gets wearisome at times, and snow doesn't just fall, it falls on the rooftops, well-kept yards, brims of fedora hats, the dye and coke and steel factories, the freight train cars carrying pig iron up from Pittsburgh . . . and on and on. The East Side wasn't full of Polish-American families -- oh no, that would be too simple. Instead, it was inhabitted by families with names like Chlebowy, Switula, Oleksiak, Kuzniarck, Weclowski, Zajak, Kiffman, Augustyniak, Kuberacka, Wojtowicz . . . and on like that for seven - SEVEN!! - lines of text. He does the same thing for other . . . categories of stuff, including neighborhood business, regular customers, etc. It is tiring. Stop writing, Verlyn. Just stop. We get it.

The book interested me, because it was about my grandparents's close friends, and, in equal measure, about my city, when it was still in its prime, and one of the largest and most important cities in the country. But I don't see much reason why anybody who doesn't have a deep connection to the City of Buffalo would want to read it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Video I Should Have Posted Weeks Ago #27 - Neil Patrick Harris's Opening Number at the Tony's

The 2011 Tony Awards were held three weeks ago, on June 12th. I don't get to many Broadway shows, but this year's Tony's, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris with an assist from Hugh Jackman, were a lot of fun, which makes sense, because its the one awards show that features people who make a living entertaining live audiences. The opening musical number was particularly charming, and informed us -- in case we didn't know -- that Broadway shows aren't just for gays and Jews and out-of-town visitors we have to amuse anymore. Or, I should say, anymorrrrrrrrrre!

Adventures in Un-bookening: June 2011 Edition

This was a really bad month. In my half-hearted defense, both the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe and the Brooklyn Heights branch of the Brooklyn Public Library had really great used book sales, at which all books were $1, and whose proceeds went to benefit AIDS-afflicted homeless people at the Brooklyn Public Library, respectively, so I . . . (enormous rationalization) bought generously?? Book austerity begins again in earnest this month.

BOOKS IN: 23
Borrowed from library
Swamplandia!, by Karen Russell
The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman
Purchased (used)
The Princess Bride, but William Goldman
Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann
Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal, by Zoe Heller
The Way Home, by George Pelancos
Palace Walk, by Naguib Mafouz
The Master, by Colm Toibin
Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase For Lincoln's Killer, by James L. Swanson
The Children of Men, by P.D. James
Spooner, by Pete Dexter
Falling in Place, by Ann Beattie
Secrets and Surprises, by Ann Beattie
Follies, by Ann Beattie
A Sport of Nature, by Nadine Gordimer
The Last Thing He Wanted, by Joan Didion
Ripley Under Water, by Patricia Highsmith
The Book of Evidence, by John Banville
Purchased (new)2666, by Roberto Bolano
My Year With Eleanor, by Noelle Hancock
Swapped
Players, by Don DeLillo

Out: 7
Returned to library:The Moment, by Douglas Kennedy
Swamplandia!, by Karen Russell
Given away:Basil and Josephine Stories, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Pat Hobby Stories, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Earthly Possessions, by Anne Tyler
Crow Lake, by Mary Lawson
The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, by John LeCarre

Thanks to blogmigo Ellen Wernecke for the idea.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

George Plimpton's Video Falconry

In a recent episode of his excellent podcast, Judge John Hodgman, long-time CSD-favorite John Hodgman settled a dispute between two friends over whether using a video game strategy guide constitutes "cheating," or whether they are acceptable ways of helping you play the games more intelligently. Hodgman, who, despite being an admitted nerd for fantasy novels, comic books, obscure trivia, and most other things about which it is possible to be nerdy, professed an almost-complete ignorance of video games, joking that the last video game he played was (the fictional, obviously) George Plimpton's Video Falconry, in the early 1980's.

Because this is 2011 and the internet is awesome, video game programmers seized on the idea, and actually created the game George Plimpton's Video Falconry with graphics, music, and game play reminiscent of early-80's Intellivision, complete with this hilarious fake advertisement, edited together from actual George Plimpton Intellivision advertisements and other weird archival footage. Its not a great game, but its fun, and I just love the fact that I live in a year in which this series of events could happen.

Friday, June 24, 2011

This Is How You Do It

The highlight of the 2011 NBA Draft:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jon Stewart Steps Into the Lion's Den

Jon Stewart went onto Chris Wallace's program on Fox News recently to discuss his role in politics, the biases of the mainstream media, and the political leanings of Fox News. Wallace is one of the few reporters on Fox News with any credibility, and it was interesting to see a thoughtful, non-hysterical conversation on Fox News and a sincere, irony-and-sarcasm-free appearance from Stewart. I wish that there was more stuff like this on television.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Clarence Clemons, 1942-2011

Clarence Clemons died yesterday, at the age of 69, from complications from a stroke he suffered on June 12th. For thirty-nine years, beginning in 1972, Clemons played saxaphone in the E Street Band, which, for my money, is the best backing bad in rock music history. Clemons also played the tambourine and provided back-up vocals, but he was most beloved for punctuating anthems like "Born to Run," "Jungleland," and "The Promised Land" with triumphant, bitchingly awesome saxaphone solos that lasted for up to three minutes, and never a second too long.

Clemons was working as a counselor for juveniles in Newark, New Jersey when he went to check out Bruce Springsteen, then in his early twenties and singing in bars on the Jersey shore. On a stormy night in Asbury Park, N.J., he went to see Bruce play at a place called The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, N.J. The Wonder Bar was, apparently, not the best-built bar in New Jersey, and, when Clemons opened the door to walk in, a gust of wind tore the front door off of its hinges. Everybody inside turned to look at Clemons -- who was 6'4" and 250 pounds or more for most of his adult life -- and assumed that he had torn the door off of its hinges. Clemons walked in to the bar, carrying his saxaphone, and asked if he could play with Springsteen, to which Springsteen basically responded: "dude, anything you want to do." After all, who was he to tell a lineman-sized black guy who had apparently just torn the front door off of a white night club that he couldn't play? Appparently their performance went well; Clemons has said, in interviews, that he and Springsteen fell in love that night. and, having seen them play together several times, all more than thirty years after they met, I believe him.


Here is some of Clemons' best work:

"Jungleland" (Clemons' two and one-half minute solo begins around 4:41)


"The Promised Land"


"Born to Run"


And, finally, "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," the song in which, during live shows, Springsteen introduces his band members. Clemons was always introduced last, and to the biggest applause; the line "a change was made up town and the big man joined the band" line always drew the biggest mid-song cheer of any song in the concert.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

"The Killing Moon," or "Thanks, Shazam!"

I realize that, by writing this, I run the risk of surrendering hard-won music-nerd credibility, but, until recently, I did not know Echo & the Bunnymen's song "The Killing Moon." It is definitely in the 80's college-radio canon, and is regularly used on the soundtracks of indie movies set in the 1980's, like Donnie Darko and Adventureland. It has a great, dramatic lead vocal, and a pleasantly non-pretentious strings section, and just generally rocks. Despite its prevalence, and the fact that I recognize the song immediately, I never knew its title, or the identity of the band that sang it. Then, last week, it played on the jukebox at a neighborhood bar, and I used the Shazam application on my iPhone -- an application I had had on my phone for a year, but had never used -- to find out more about the song. If it helps me find more songs like "The Killing Moon," then I may have a new favorite iPhone app.

Here's the video. (The song itsels is better than its video).

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Guardian's List of the 100 Greatest Non-Fiction Books of All-Time

The British newspaper The Guardian recently published a list of what it considers to be the 100 greatest non-fiction books of all-time.

How many have you read? I was somewhat surprised to find that I had only read four of them in their entirety (The Souls of Black Folk, Good-Bye To All That, The Histories, Homage To Catalonia). Yes, it makes me feel like a Philistine. I had read selections or excerpts from many more, but, I haven't read anywhere near as many of these books as I have some other lists', such as the Modern Library's 100 best non-fiction books.

To be honest, I am surprised that more of these books were not assigned to me in school. I took a lot of history, american studies, and political science courses in college, but apparently did not take enough philosophy or capital-H humanities courses to make a larger dent into this list. Our blogmigo Ellen Wernecke has read 18, which, if I had to guess, is more than anybody I know (with the possible exception of Paul Smecker).

For what its worth, I fared much better on The Guardian's list of the 100 best novels, which I think is a more interesting list, given its parameters, than the Modern Library's, which is kind of on the stodgy side. For what its worth, Radcliffe College's list of the 100 best novels of the 20th Century may be my favorite.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Conan O'Brien's Dartmouth Commencement Address


I've always enjoyed Conan O'Brien. He wrote a disproportionate share of The Simpsons' greatest episodes ("Monorail" foremost among them), and, from high school through law school, I regularly watched his Late Night show on NBC. Without taking anything away from the canonical television he has given us over the years, I think his real genius is in the meaningful, well-crafted addresses he has given us over the years. The commencement address he gave at Harvard in 2000 (Pt. 1 and Pt. 2), the "People of Earth" letter he wrote upon resigning as the host of Late Night in January 2010, his "work hard and be kind" speech during his last Late Night broadcast, and last week's Dartmouth commencement are all intelligent and funny and really well-done; some of them are almost 'canonical' texts for my generation in the same way that David Foster Wallace's "This Is Water" commencement address has, and will, hopefully, endure well after most people have forgotten about Vomiting Kermit and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Emo evening thoughts

Grantland feels very cynical to me, which is doubly sad because it comes from big names who made thier names being honestly excited in large part. Between gladwell, eggers, klosterman,and simmons, we have four aging men who made their bones as fresh informal voices in pieces they wrote a long time ago largely about being young people. I am rooting against this for reasons I am struggling to articulate. Maybe the whole point of the site is because they feel their knees going and want to retire/switch to management. There they can leverage their power into an executive role and the creativity will come from someone else (e.g., Molly Lambert). It feels like the end of the cycle for the informal, internal voice they pioneered (hell, the opening monologue had footnotes. Who knows if DFW would have signed on, let's hope not). The whole thing makes me sad, probably because it causes me to contemplate my mortality.

I am reading Unfamiliar Fishes. Sarah Vowell has that same informal, educated voice I mentioned above. It feels a little stale now. but the book is pretty readable.

I am really trying to make Big Bratwurst happen as a nickname for Dirk Nowitski. I am Lacy Chabert in Mean Girls.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Diamond In the Rough at the Housing Works Street Fair

In the spring of 2002, the Austrialian rock band The Go-Betweens, released their first album in twelve years. That album, The Friends of Rachel Worth, reunited lead singers and songwriters Grant McLennan and Robert Forrester, backed by session work by the members of Sleater-Kinney (another of CSD's favorite bands), was soon in heavy rotation at the coffee shops and used record stores at which I spent so much time that spring and summer. Critics called it "pithy and almost shocking in its casual brilliance," which would sound like hyperbole if it wasn't universally recognized as a return to form by songwriters who Robert Christgau had once described as "the greatest songwriting partnership working today."


Today, The Friends of Rachel Worth is pretty difficult to find. It is out of print, so you can't find it in new record stores, or from Amazon.com. It occasionally becomes available on eBay, but, on those sites, you can never tell who you're buying from, or what condition the CD will be in. It is available to download, but that seems like taking the easy way out; it is much better to find it in person. In 2008, I tried to find it, without success; eventually I gave in any bought it from the iTunes store. Inevitably, my computer crashed a few months later, and The Friends of Rachel Worth was lost, along with the rest of my non-backed-up files. Yesterday, at the Housing Works street fair, I found a copy for $1 in a disorganized bin that mainly contained junk - CD singles by 90's bands, albums by bands that lost the lead singer or singers that made them famous, albums by one-hit wonders that did not contain their one hit, and so on. It felt surprisingly good to find it; for some reason, finding a great CD in a rummage sale is more satisfying than finding one in a regular used record shop, which in turn is more satisfying than buying one new. I am sure that those people who have an eye for second-hand and vintage clothes get a similar kick out of it. I walked away from the Housing Works sale with two shopping bags' worth of books and music, but I enjoyed finding that single CD more than any other. I bet that dozens of other people walked away from the Housing Works sale with similarly long-sought items. It made me realize how much unnecessary clutter I accumulate in the course of a year, and some CD I never play anymore, or a book that I read in college and then forgot about by the second post-exam beer, could be sought-after by somebody else. Clean out your closets! You're not using that stuff anymore! You'll make a total stranger's day when they unexpectedly find it in a thrift store two months from now.

Friday, June 3, 2011

This is Gorgeous

An artist who goes by the handle "Mindrelic" has posted this beautiful time-lapse video of Manhattan. This sort of thing has been done before, but rarely this well:

Mindrelic - Manhattan in motion from Mindrelic on Vimeo.



Thanks to the AV Club for calling my attention to it!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler

The Big Sleep, and Raymond Chandler novels in general, have been on my vague, ever-growing, never-committed-to-paper "to read" list for years; it wasn't until I watched HBO's modern-day detective story-satire Bored to Death that I was inspired enough to actually pick up a couple of Chandler's Phillip Marlowe novels at a used bookstore and check them out.

In The Big Sleep, General Sternwood, a wealthy retiree with two beautiful, party-animal daughters whose social lives have exposed the family to blackmail. Sternwood hires Marlowe to find the blackmailer and investigate how his daughters had been put into an incriminating position in the first place. Marlowe's investigation leads him to a reputable bookstore fronting for a high-class pornography business, and, later, makes him an unwitting witness to a murder. This being a detective story, the blackmail and the murder are related, though in a more complicated way than it would first seem. Its difficult to summarize much more of the plot without filling this review with spoilers, but the complicated plot centers on Marlowe investigating how the blackmail is connected to the murder, and helping law enforcement solve the murder without exposing his clients to any further risk.

The Big Sleep, along with Chandler's other novels, invented many of the detective-story cliches that are still used today: world-weary, cynical, first-person narration, byzantine plots with lots of characters, rainy nights in otherwise-sunny Los Angeles, femme fatales, smartass retorts in the face of imminent violence, world-weary cynicism, jargon-heavy dialogue, blunt descriptions of assaults and murders, and lots of stylized, dated slang (in which detectives are "gumshoes," "dicks" or "snoops"; women are often "dames" or broads"; and guns have too many euphamisms to list. It may be difficult to get over these cliches, because we are familiar with them from black-and-white films noir, Chinatown, James Ellroy novels, and even "Tracer Bullet," one of Calvin's many alter egos from Bill Watterson's Calvin & Hobbes comic strip, but that is, ultimately, the reader's problem, not Chandler's problem. Chandler's novels exist; they haven't changed since the 1930's. Pop culture has changed around his novels, and it should be to his novels' credit that so many other writers and directors have borrowed liberally from them. Once you get accustomed to the rhythms of Chandler's storytelling, and to Marlowe's voice, you forget that you've already seen much of this in one form or another and get caught up in the plot, and the dated-ness comes to seem like a big part of the fun, instead of an obstacle. Lest we forget, these cliches became cliches for a reason: they are very cool. How can you not enjoy a metaphor like, "the General spoke again, slowly, using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work show-girl uses her last good pair of stockings," or "her hand was small and had shape, not the usual bony garden tool you see on women nowadays?" Impressively, Chandler seems to recognize how over-the-top his writing style can get, and even pokes fun at it from time to time, such as when Marlowe says that a woman had "a smooth silvery voice that matched her hair. It had a tiny tinkle in it, like bells in a doll's house. I thought that was silly as soon as I thought of it."

I recommend The Big Sleep as a novel, even to people who do not normally enjoy detective fiction or film noir. It is perhaps the best example of one of America's most distinctive and iconic literary genres, and Chandler's voice is difficult to get out of your head in the best possible way.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Tour of Memphis' Ardent Studios


Memphis: Ardent Studios - Home to Big Star, The Replacements, Isaac Hayes, and moreThis is a great look at Ardent Studios in Memphis, Tennessee may not be quite as famous as its neighbors Sun Studio or Stax Records, but it produced a number of famous records in its own right, including Issac Hayes' recorded Hot Buttered Soul, R.E.M.'s Green, the White Stripes' Get Behind Me Satan, and every album that Big Star ever made. Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, the Staples Singers, and M.I.A., have also recorded there. The "Pop Pilgrims" video series continues to deliver.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Great Cover of "Fell In Love With A Girl"

Of Montreal's cover of The White Stripes' "Fell In Love With A Girl" was spot-on. I generally prefer covers in which the singer makes the song his or her own in some new way, but a straight-forward cover of a difficult-to-imitate band like The White Stripes is impressive, regardless.

Of Montreal covers The White Stripes

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Total Unbookening Fail, Pt. 17

I love reading, and, like most readers, I have a long, loose, and ever-growing mental list of books I would like to read someday. I also love books (related to, but distinct from, loving to read), which makes the aforementined mental list very dangerous. I have trouble walking past a bookstore without stopping to look at the new arrivals, or to see if there are any diamonds in the rough to be found on the remainder rack. Stoop sales are ever worse. As a result, my constant struggle to "unbooken" my apartment, by giving books to my friends, donating books to Housing Works or to my office library, is undermined by my inability to resist paying a dollar for a used copy of Lev Grossman's The Magicians or $5.98 for a hardcover copy of Richard Ford's The Lay of the Land.

In the past two days, I have accumulated seven books. From the Court Street Barnes & Noble, Arthur Phillips' This Song Is You ($5.98), John Hodgman's More Information Than You Require ($4.98), and Francine Prose's, Reading Like A Writer ($4.98). From the Shakespeare & Co. on 69th and Lexington, Terry Gross', All I Did Was Ask ($4.98); Mark Harris', Pictures At A Revolution ($6.98), and, from a pile on Sackett Street that somebody was giving away, two books of short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Basil and Josephine Stories and The Pat Hobby Stories.

Thirty dollars, every couple of months, is not too much to spend on one's favorite hobby, but is it too much to spend when all of those books are available from the public library for free? Is it indulgent? Is it indulgent to ask? Some questions to ponder while I'm reading.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sloane Crosley was on Craig Ferguson

Sloane Crosley was on Craig Ferguson last night. Crosley is always adorable and charming on television and Ferguson is the perfect at the sort of banter and off-the-cuff anecdotes in which Crosley specializes. Unfortunately, last night's appearance hasn't been posted on the internet yet, but her previous appearance, from last September, is online, and is enormously fun.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Ghostbusters Headquarters To Be Demolished

In New York Magazine, friend-of-the-blog and former Yale oarsman Chris Rovzar reported that the City of New York is planning to close a number of old firehouses around the city, including the old-fashioned single-bay firehouse at the corner of N. Moore and Varick Streets in Manhattan, most famously known for being the building where the Ghostbusters made their headquarters.

Ghostbusters is the first film I remember seeing in the theater. Though I don't remember much from the theater, I've watched it, conservatively, thirty times since then. When the Ghostbusters buy the building (taking out third mortgages in the process), Egon Spengler said of the firehouse: "Actually, I think this building should be condemned. There's serious metal fatigue in all the load-bearing members, the wiring is sub-standard, it's completely inadequate for our power needs, and the neighborhood is a demilitarized zone." Twenty-seven years later, the Lower West Side isn't even the Lower West Side any more, it is TriBeCa, and, far from being a demilitarized zone, it is the most expensive zip code in New York City. That building was going to outlive its utility eventually, but it will be sad to see it go. Hopefully, whoever buys it will renovate it and keep the original exterior, which is an irreplaceable part of the neighborhood's history. If it gets torn down and replaced with a new high-rise building of luxury condos, then Gozer has won.

Previously Unreleased New Order Song Hits the Internet

Rhino is releasing a single-disk combination Joy Division/New Order greatest hits. As Sean O'Neal of the AV Club points out, it is hard to see why this greatest hits is necessary, as Joy Division only made two albums, and already has a greatest hits, and New Order, which made five albums, already has two different greatest hits collections. The album does have a selling point, which is that a previously unreleased New Order song, "Hellbent," is being released as a track on this CD. In the age of iTunes, everybody will just download the song and ignore the CD. But the release of any new content from one of the most beloved bands of the 80's.
New Order - Hellbent (Previously Unreleased) by Rhino UK

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Joseph O'Neill's Netherland, Pt. 2

Joseph O'Neill's Netherland is a great novel. Its one of the best novels I've read about New York City, about immigrants, about marriage, about sports, particularly the playing of sports as an adult, and about the differences between the United States and Europe. Though the novel is only about 250 pages long, it is so full of ideas and beautiful set pieces that it provides the reader plenty on which to chew. The themes and characters in the novel gave me so much to consider that, at times, I had to remind myself to slow down and enjoy the language; O'Neill's sentences are stuffed with little gold coins that routinely inspired me to stop and re-read them out of sheer aesthetic joy.

In this passage, the narrator and his wife have, by chance, spotted Monica Lewinsky while out for a walk in Manhattan's West Village, and the sighting prompts the narrator to consider his life in New York and the privilege he has come to take for granted.

But the sighting had served as a luxurious instance of the city's ceaseless affirmation of its salvific worth: even that bizarre class of deliverance fit for poor Monica, it seemed, could be looked for here. And if that were so, one instinctively deduced, then one's own needs, such as they were, might equally be met. Not that we were in much doubt on this score. Our jobs were working out well - much better than expected, in my case - and we'd settled happily into our loft on Watts Street. This had a suitably gritty view of a parking lot and was huge enough to contain, in a corner of our white-bricked bedroom, a mechanical clothes rack with a swooping tail, like a roller coaster's appropriated from a dry-cleaning store: you pressed a button and Rachel's jackets and skirts and shirts clattered down from the ceiling like entering revelers. We had plenty to feel smug about, if so inclined. Smugness, however, requires a certain reflectiveness, which requires perspective, which requires distance; and we, or certainly I, didn't look upon our circumstances from the observatory offered by a disposition to the more spatial emotions - those feelings, of regret or gratitude or relief, say, that make reference to situations removed from one's own. It didn't seem to me, for example, that I had dodged a bullet, perhaps because I had no real idea what a bullet was. I was young. I was not much extracted from the innocence in which the benevolent but fradulent world conspires to place us as children.


I'll post a few more passages in over the next week or so. Hopefully at least one of them will inspire you to run out and buy or borrow a copy of this magnificent novel.

Monday, May 16, 2011

emo environmental thoughts

Recycle aluminum cans. Seriously. It is really important. You get a staggering energy savings from recycled aluminum vs. creating primary aluminum (all that mining of bauxite and smelting and such). It is 95% more efficient. PET plastic and glass aren't anywhere close to the efficient. so if you see an aluminum can, pick it up and recycled it. Obviously if you have the time and energy to pick up and recycle all stray packaging, go for it. but prioritize aluminum.

I think I hate Yelp. Other people just can't be trusted, it seems. They have a lousy record of identifying what is good in the aggregate, and I find trying to search for writing cues that indicate individual non-stupidity to be tiresome and unreliable. When does the next wave of thinking about the shortcomings of web 2.0 happen (did it already happen?) I may also just be a screaming elitist.


rhubarb is delicious. I am pleased it is rhubarb time.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

I Have Way Too Much Free Time On My Hands

A list of terrible band names I have come up with recently:

1) Beard Party
2) Lt. Maverick and the Target-Rich Environment
3) The Peter Pan-Asians
4) Clusterfucktastrophe
5) Prince Gnarls and Lady Die
6) Deerspayer
7) Deersplayer
7) Queef Richards
8) Queef Barzelay

Friday, May 13, 2011

I'm old, and I am starting the bridesmaids backlash

I mean, don't get me wrong, I am excited for Bridesmaids. But somehow claiming that paying for and enjoying a comic movie is significant step in supporting women's equality smacks of the derided ethical consumerism. A movie cannot bear all our desires and expectations about gender equality. And asking it to do so is setting it up for backlash.

I am officially old now, because I skip foods I find delicious because I know they will make me feel gross later. (The primary food in question is costco pizza).

My gym finally got an erg. Nothing makes one feel older than literally being able to measure oneself against the prime of one's youth.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

emo entertainment thoughts

Large-group birthday restaurant dinners are tricky. It seems like no one ever leaves pleased with the fun to dollar ratio

The lilacs cooperated with the Arnold Arboretum's Lilac Sunday celebration. I consider this impressive. as were the lilacs. and the bonsai collection. (of course Harvard has a humbling bonzai collection)

The PBS special on the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination includes way too much armchair psychologizing of James Earl Ray

Monday, May 9, 2011

Scoops Callahan is the Bee's Knees

Yesterday, the Dallas Mavericks eliminated the Los Angeles Lakers from the NBA playoffs. Lakers' coach Phil Jackson, who has coached eleven NBA championship teams over the course of his twenty-year career, held a press conference to discuss the game, and to say goodbye to the press. For ten minutes, sportswriters asked questions, and Jackson answered them in the thoughtful, slightly hippie-ish manner in which he had held press conferences for the past two decades. Then, this happened:


In case you didn't understand the question - and most people didn't - it was "Champ! Champ! Being a Hall of Famer like the legendary Barney "Mighty Mite" Sedran, and having more rings than Douglas Fairbanks even has Oscars, you have to ultimately take a lot of pride in knowing that you in your cager career were nothing but the bee's knees."

I didn't know how it looks when you know what's coming, but, watching it live, the 1920's newsreel announcer voice coming from off-camera to the profound confusion of everybody else in the room just killed me. Apparently the voice belongs to "Scoops Callahan," a fictional 1920's reporter played by Dallas-area sports radio personality Tom Gribble, and he has been at it for years:
Some coaches, like Bill Belichek, are regular Mrs. Grundys, responding to Callahan's questions like they've been given a wooden nickel. Others, like Tom Brady and Sidney Crosby, are really on the trolley; they pick up on the joke and play along as if they think Callahan is the cat's meow. Others, like Eli Manning, did not seem to understand that a joke was being played whatsoever.

Obviously, its a schtick. But its a funny schtick, isn't it? And everybody got the reference. Within minutes of Jackson's press conference - a conference at which Gribble did not introduce himself or his character - Twitter and Facebook had filled up with people asking about the identity of the imitation 1920's newsman who asked the question at Jackson's press conference. The questions he asks are basically good, sportswritery questions, even if you have to sort of translate them into contemporary English in order to answer them. And he's funny - asking Tom Brady to comment on a touchdown pass that he threw to a receiver so wide open that he looked like Brady and the receiver were doing the jitterbug while the Dallas secondary was doing the Charleston is going to make me laugh every time. What do you think - is Scoops Callahan a character whose presence you welcome, or a practical joke that has, or will soon, outlive its capacity to you laugh?

Allergic afternoon thoughts

Nearly 10 years later, it appears that Manu Chao is still the preferred soundtrack of hostels featuring a large number of Europeans

Maybe too much Don Cherry has made my heart into coal, but I couldn't believe the Heat weren't bumping Rondo's arm and/or setting screens on him more aggressively.

My community garden is going to get turned into condos unless Cambridge forks over $1MM. I like my garden, but I am unsure how much value it provides to the community vs. to me. (The squashes/tomatoes/tulips I give to passing pedestrians are nice, but that is a lot of money)

THIS TOTALLY OWNS

ZODIAC MOTHERFUCKER, one of the most beloved personalities on the internet, has finally decided to start his own blog. For years, ZODIAC MOTHERFUCKER and his distinctively enthusiastic, all-caps writing style have made the internet a more enjoyable place, filling message boards, comment threads, and Twitter with hilarious non-sequiturs, profane commentary on local Detroit politics, and unsolicited reviews of action movies, heavy metal music, and junk food. Perhaps the niche he has carved out for himself is small, but it is entertaining, and the CSD staff is willing to read anything he cares to write. As ZMF himself might say, following his blog is "NOT FUCKING OPTIONAL."

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Human League

The AV Club's "Undercover" series is just killing it this year. Rocky Votolato and Matt Pond (we don't know who they are, either) do an interesting cover of The Human League's "Don't You Want Me" with male voices in both parts. This is one of those songs that has entered the canon to such an extent, and been played so many hundreds of times since its early-80's release, that I almost can't hear it on its own terms anymore; its musical DNA has been embedded in too many other catchy pop songs. Hearing the original reworked is a pretty cool things, because it lets you appreciate how good of a song it is, once you can really hear it again.

I'll be honest; I don't know if any of that even made sense. But its a good cover.

Rocky Votolato and Matt Pond PA cover The Human League

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Clem Snide Has a Lot of Cool Ideas

Clem Snide, a band on its way to the as-yet-non-existent Alt-Country and Indie Rock Hall of Fames, participated in the AV Club's "Undercover" series last summer, turning in a great acoustic cover of Journey's "Faithfully" with a bit of a surprise ending.

Yesterday, Clem Snide announced that it was planning to release an entire album of Journey covers, and that they were raising money for its production costs with a Kickstarter campaign. Depending on how much you donate, you may receive anything from a download of their cover album ($7) to an autographed test pressing of the album on LP ($100), to - and this is such a cool idea that I can't believe nobody has thought of it until now - they will cover a song of your choosing and e-mail it to you in mp3 format. HOW COOL IS THAT? I would imagine that serious Clem Snide fans would gladly pay $100 to her Clem Snide cover their favorite song, or a song for their children (anything to make children's music more tolerable) or a song that played at their wedding. Pretty cool stuff.

Clem Snide covers Journey

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Joseph O'Neill's Netherland

I have finally gotten around to reading Joseph O'Neill's Netherland, which has probably been recommneded to me moreso than any book published in the last several years. Ever since I first read The Great Gatsby, I have had a weakness for stylish novels about outsiders living in New York, and, this one is so full of magnificently-wrought passages that make me have to reach down and pick my jaw up off of my desk every few pages. I'll discuss it more after I finish it, but, for the time being, I'll post a few of my favorite passages and see what you think of them.

Exhibit One:
In addition to the generous ceiling heights and the wood floors and the built-in closets, she undoubtedly took in the family photographs and the bachelor disarray and the second bedroom with its ironing board and its child's bed covered by a mound of wrinkled office shirts. I imagine this answered some questions she had about my situation, and not in an especially disheartening way. Like an old door, every man past a certain age comes with historical wraps and creaks of one kind or another, and a woman who wishes to put him to serious further use must expect to do a certain amount of sanding and planing. But of course not every woman is interested in this sort of refurbishment project, just as not every man has only one thing on his mind.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Links for the Week

In The New Yorker, Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower - still the best book about 9/11 - discussed Bin Laden's death.

Friend-of-the-Blog Ellen Wernecke reviewed Tina Fey's Bossypants for the AV Club. Actually, Ellen was on fire this week - on her blog, Wormbook, she previewed this summer's cinematic adaptations, and shared her thoughts on Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad. I read Good Squad at the same time as her, and may share my thoughts later this week.

In New York Magazine, some musicians rate thirteen musicians' beards, and amazingly leave Iron and Wine's Sam Beam off of the list.

To commemorate Steve Carrell's final episode on The Office, The New Yorker re-ran the profile of Carrell that it ran last summer.

The New York Times magazine published its Design and Living issue.

From the public reading series The Moth, Salman Rushdie discusses how a trip to civil war-ravaged Nicaragua helped him overcome writer's block (Thanks to Marilyn for the tip):

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sexism is Tearing Me Up Inside

When I was growing up, my parents watched The Today Show every morning. As you can probably imagine, that quickly drew tiresome; there are only so many pandering interviews, human interest stories, and Willard Scott or Al Roker pandering-to-the-crowd-segments-disguised-as-weather-reports that I could take before writing it off forever. The segments that bothered me the most were the "special report: women today" segments, which claim to be honest reporting about issues that effect women, but which are always heavily sponsored by companies that make women's products, and, not coincidentally, many of the stories tell women that they should worry more, or, most insidiously, appear intended to make women feel inadequate about themselves.

The Onion News Network, as part of its fictional Today Now program, recently ran a parody of one of these segments, "How To Get A Guy To Notice You While You're Having Sex With Him." The main joke, that the story assumes that women have so little self-confidence and are so insecure about their relationships that they feel as if they have to take some sort of extra step to get the men they are sleeping with to pay attention to them, even while they are having sex with them. Its almost Spinal Tapish in the way in which it takes a cliche to its furthest logical extreme, and yet the humor comes from the fact that it is only slightly more absurd than the subject it parodies. I realize that this segment is a joke, but once you start to look for this sort of thing, its prevalence is shockin. It is on so many morning shows, daytime talk shows like Oprah, and every women's magazine (where it constitutes the plurality of their content), that it almost stops registering unless you're actively looking for it.

Here's the video:

How To Get A Guy To Notice You While You're Having Sex With Him

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Walkmen at the Town Ballroom

On Monday night, Jake and I saw The New Pornographers and The Walkmen in a 400-person venue. The Walkmen sounded great; the New Pornographers, unfortunately, didn't really get their levels straightened out until six or seven songs into their set. The volume of the music exceeded what the recorders were able to capture, so the bands sound a little distorted at times, particularly the New Pornographers, who employ more loud, high-pitched sounds than the Walkmen. Fortunately, when you are one of the greatest rock bands in the world, you still sound pretty good, even with a little distortion in the upper registers.

Three songs from the show have been posted to YouTube: two from their most recent album, Lisbon, and one oldie from their first record, Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone.

"Juveniles"


"In the New Year"


"We've Been Had"