Saturday, May 19, 2012

One Man's Spring Cleaning Is Another Man's Bounty

Spring cleaning season is one of my favorite times of year in downtown Brooklyn. Because there are so many writers, book reviewers/bloggers, and just generally literate people in neighborhoods like Park Slope, Fort Greene, and Cobble Hill, spring cleaning season means that people give away a lot of excellent books. Thrift stores like Housing Works discount their books to keep their shelves from overflowing, there are great stoop sales every weekend, and large stacks of books are left in give-away piles people's front stoops. The last thing I need is more books with which to clutter up my apartment, but some things are just too good to pass up. I've added these seven books to my library for a grand total of six dollars:
Zone One, by Colson Whitehead This book was released late last year to fantastic reviews. Bookrageous, my favorite literary podcast, recently had a book club-type discussion about it, for which the author, Colson Whitehead, joined them, and Glen Weldon of NPR's pop-culture happy hour also raved about it. On more than one occasion I almost bought this book in hardcover.
The Great Night, by Chris Adrian Another Glen Weldon recommendation; another book I almost bought in hardcover at full price.
Gotham, by Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace Okay, so this book is more than 1,300 pages long, and those pages are considerably larger than regular paperback pages. Along with Robert Caro's The Power Broker, it is one of two phonebook-sized books about the history of New York that every resident of the five boroughs tells themselves they will read some day, but will probably never get around to. But considering that it costs $35 in paperback, and hardcover editions are collector's items that sell for $100, picking up a copy for $1 seemed like it was too good of a deal to pass up.
Essays of E.B. White, by E.B. White Every person who endeavors to write serious non-fiction needs to have a copy of the Essays of E.B. White within reach, right?
Until I Find You, by John Irving For me, John Irving exists at the sweet spot at which literary fiction and popular fiction intersect. At his best, Irving does just about everything well - beautiful sentences, three-dimensional characters, intricate plots that resolve themselves in satisfying ways. Unfortunately, Irving isn't always at his best, and, in fact, some people would say that he hasn't put it all together in a single novel in a couple of decades. Still, you're not going to bring Faulkner or Tolstoy to the beach with you; Irving will definitely be accompanying me to the beach this summer.
American On Purpose, by Craig Ferguson I've always enjoyed Craig Ferguson's humor, just . . . not quite as much as I enjoy Conan O'Brien and Stephen Colbert's humor, so I haven't watched his show very much. But Ferguson is a gifted storyteller -- one who keeps your attention even when he isn't trying to be funny -- so this is definitely worth a dollar.
Love In the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez Perhaps the best book I have ever picked out of a stoop-give-away pile -- or, at least, it is in the conversation alongside Tobias Wolff's books and Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping. It should make for a great summer of reading -- if I don't trip over one of my piles of books and kill myself.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Dear Reader

Dear reader, I bet that you, like me, have never heard of Trampled by Turtles before. You may find their beards and flannel provide fodder for you to make jokes and generalize about hipster bands. You may suspect that two or more of the musicians in this band have a home distilling and/or cold brew operation to earn a little scratch on the side. But please acknowledge that Arcade Fire's "Rebellion (Lies)" is a difficult song to cover, and they pulled it off with aplomb and panache. Because this is awesome:
Trampled By Turtles covers Arcade Fire

Sunday, April 22, 2012


The Lucky Ones, a romance based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, which features teen heartthrob Zac Efron in his first "grown-up" role, opened nationwide this week. Opinions on the movie are varied: POINT: "Fate moves in mysterious ways, especially when writers need it to move mysteriously to keep their plots churning along." -- Keith Phipps, AV Club film critic, giving the movie a "C" grade COUNTERPOINT: -- Sara Schaefer, comedian on Twitter

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Its Not the Perfume That You Wear

Before they appeared on AV Undercover, I knew the Punch Brothers only by reputation -- a talented group of indie-ish bluegrass musicians from the United States and the UK who mix covers of contemporary rock and pop songs in with more traditional bluegrass fare. Admittedly -- and this may be an I've-lived-in-Brooklyn-too-long prejudice of mine -- when I saw their half-casual wardrobe of t-shirts and slacks, sportcoats with knit wool hats, corduroy coats with short-billed Irish caps, I thought, "these guys look like a bunch of dirty hipsters; they'll probably end the song with a fiddle-banjo duel or something stupid like that." They may well be hipsters, and I was half-right about the duel at the end. But once they reached the end of the first verse of "Just What I Needed," and their banjo player stepped forward and nailed the synthesizer part from the Cars' original, I dismissed whatever concers I had and just enjoyed the ride.

Punch Brothers cover The Cars

Sunday, March 25, 2012

$5 MP3 Albums of the Month

Inspired by Wormbook's Kindle Sale Books of the Month, here are the MP3 albums Amazon is selling for $5 this month which I recommend you check out:

Highly recommneded:
Helplesness Blues, by The Fleet Foxes
Wild Flag, by Wild Flag
Within and Without, by Washed Out
Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, by The National

On Avery Island, by Neutral Milk Hotel
Undun, by The Roots
The Rhumb Line, by Ra Ra Riot

Legitimate classic:
Hunky Dory, by David Bowie

Overrated classic:
In the Wee Small Hours, by Frank Sinatra

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Two for Two

Readers, work has been really busy for the past several months and I haven't posted as often as I would like, so the least I can do is to continue to post links and videos I think are terrific. This one qualifies on both counts -- one of the best songs of the 00's, covered by an indie band of white and Indian guys who totally kill it. The 2012 Undercover series is off to a great start.
Young The Giant covers “Ignition (Remix)”

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


The AV Club's "Undercover" series -- one of my favorite things on the internet -- kicked off its 2012 with a bitchin' Sharon Van Etten and Shearwater cover of Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks' "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around." In her prime, Stevie Nicks had one of the most original and authoritative voices in rock music, which did not seem an obvious match with Van Etten's college town coffee shop sensibility, but she pulls it off with aplomb. If the rest of the performances this season are as good, we're going to be in for an entertaining few months.

Sharon Van Etten and Shearwater cover “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”

Sunday, March 11, 2012

"Springsteen Week" on Jimmy Fallon Was Pretty Much as Awesome as You Hoped it Would Be

Although I was out of the country for it, Jimmy Fallon's "Bruce Springsteen week" on Late Night was outstanding. On both Monday and Friday nights, Springsteen and the surviving members of the E Street Band played two songs from their new album, Wrecking Ball, and the rest of the week, Elvis Costello, John Legend, and Kenny Chesney showed up to cover Springsteen songs while backed by The Roots. Fallon devoted the entirety of Friday's episode, with the exception of the musical performances, to one extended interview with Springsteen.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

February Unbookening -- Mixed Results

This month I bought nine books, which is simply inexcusable. I am able to rationalize book-buying to a really disgusting degree. But Housing Works just had so many good books this month! I've been looking for a cheap copy of this one book for years! I've admired this one author's blogging for years, and he is also a friend of a friend! Oh hey the author is having a reading in my neighborhood, I should buy a copy to get signed! These short story collections are practically homework for the short story-writing workshop I'm taking! And so on. Fortunately, I gave away or returned eleven books this month, so my shelves are marginally less over-stuffed than they were at the start of the month. I'll

Gave four to a friend
Gave two away through Paperback Swap
Loaned out one
Returned five to the library
Total:11 books

Bought Nine
Raymond Carver, Where I'm Calling From
Nathan Englander, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank
Steve Hely, How I Became A Famous Novelist and The Ridiculous Race
Austin Grossman, Soon I Will Be Invincible
Chang Rae-Lee, The Surrendered
Roger Ebert, Life Itself*
Drew Magary, The Postmortal*

*Ordered in early January with a Christmas-present gift certificate, but due to a shipping error they did not arrive until this month

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Inevitable Drive/Vice City Mash-Up Is Surprisingly Cool

Granted, any video set to this song would have been cool, but this was particularly surprising:

Monday, February 13, 2012

Lady Mary Goes On Dave

Michelle Dockery, one of many beautiful women in the case of Downton Abbey (but the one who gets to wear by far the most beautiful clothes), was a guest on The Late Show with David Letterman on Thursday night. Wouldn't you be terrified of her, too, but in the best possible way?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Alabama Shakes on Conan

The Alabama Shakes are a little-known band from the south whose major-label debut is not being released until April. For months, NPR's All Songs Considered has been promoting them on the strength of their self-titled small-label release, and predicting them as one of the break-out bands of 2012. If their performance on Conan Monday night is any indication, NPR's prediction may come true.

"Hold On"

"I Ain't the Same"

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Watchin' Downton

I wish I could make a snarky comment about this, but this is basically how every Downton Abbey watch party that I've ever been to has gone. With perhaps a few more comments about the MILFiness of Lady Cora/Elizabeth McGovern.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Now Tell Me Are You Down With It?

The A.V. Club's Nathan Rabin sits down with Naughty By Nature to discuss "O.P.P." It is every bit as awesome as it sounds.
Naughty By Nature discusses and performs "O.P.P."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hump Day

Although its only Wednesday, it has been a long week here at CSD headquarters. Some weeks, you need something silly to cheer you up. These non-sensical Spongebob Squarepants overdubs of classic scenes from Casablanca, Singin' In the Rain, and The Godfather lifted my spirits; hopefully they will lift yours as well.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Craig Finn Discusses the Unreleased Song "Jackson"

As long-time readers of this blog know, the Hold Steady is one of our favorite bands. In 2010, the band, minus long-time piano player Franz Nicolai, released Heaven Is Whenever, a solid album with a couple of great songs that was nonetheless by far the weakest and least consistent album the band had ever released. Late last year, Craig Finn, the band's lead singer, announced that he was releasing a solo album in 2012; news that fans took with no small amount of skepticism. Franz Nicolai's solo albums sucked so much dick that Stoya got a little envious, and no fan of The Hold Steady wanted to see Finn release a legacy-destroying solo project that would make his early records like Almost Killed Me and Separation Sunday seem like lucky flukes instead of the product of one of the greatest bands of their generation.

Fortunately, Finn gave the internet (and visibly star-struck music critic Steven Hyden) a sneak preview of one of his solo songs, "Jackson." It sounds exactly like Craig Finn without sounding too much like The Hold Steady, which is to say that he seems to have hit it out of the park. Hopefully the album will have five or six more songs like this:

Craig Finn discusses and performs "Jackson"

Monday, January 2, 2012

Red Flag!

NBC has turned off embedding on this video, but Saturday Night Live's "Red Flag" is the best fake advertisement they've done since the legendary "Schmitt's Gay." I love the male leads' reaction shots, particularly the way that Jason Sudekis spits martini back into his glass after hearing that Kristen Wiig lived in Las Vegas for eleven years. Also, like the "you know how I know you're gay?" scene from the 40 Year-Old Virgin, the signifiers of craziness they pick are clever and funny and show first-hand experience with meeting women in night clubs. I just loved this skit.

Thanks to Jake Taylor for recommending the clip.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Reading Resolutions for 2012

1) Finish Roberto Bolano's 2666 - I may have to backtrack a little bit to refresh my memory about some of the characters. This novel is long, and not a quick read, but the spiffy three-volume set I picked up at a library sale should make it easier than the 900-page behemoth I lugged to the office and back all summer.

2) Read four or five more books off of The New York Times' 25 Best Works of American Fiction of the last 25 years - The list of the 25 best works of ficiton actually contains thirty novels; I have read twenty of them, and hope to get to twenty-five by the end of the year. This list, in its entirety, was my reading resolution a few years ago, but there's only so much Philip Roth and Cormac McCarthy one can read in a calendar year.

3) Read at least one volume of a fantasty novel franchises - This year, I read, and loved, Lev Grossman's Brakebills franchise, and it has inspired me to start another one this year. George R. R. Martin's Song of Fire and Ice and Patrick Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicles are at the top of the list

4) Read more classics, particularly 19th-Century classics. Anna K, Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone, and George Eliot are at the top of the list. They're all free on the Kindle!! How difficult can this really be?

5) Read more books I already own. This has two components - buying fewer books, and going to the library less. I love the Brooklyn Public Library, but the more I patronize it, the longer my books sit on my shelves, unread.