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.