Wednesday, December 27, 2006

ten *words*

books, books, books. I'm surrounded by them everywhere I go. They are squatters in my apartment, quite literally they have no homes--not enough bookshelves line our walls. And yet 2006 was not a banner year for me and reading. There are several reasons for this, the inclusion of Croftie's car taking away sunday CTA commutes (2 hours a week right there), netflix, etc. This is not to say my literary world wasn't rocked, say, 10 times or so if not more. And on that note, drumroll please...

10. My Name is Red, Vintage Books (2002) by Orhan Pamuk.
Wish I could say I read this before he won the Nobel, but no, I'm just another literary bandwagoneer. Glad the award forced my hand though. A thriller and a treatise on 17th century turkish painting, who woulda thought that was even possible?

09a. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Mariner Books (2006) by Jonathan Safran Foer
09b. Black Swan Green, Random House (2006) by David Mitchell
kids sure can write these days. These two youngins (youngens? younguns? damn you colloquial English!) turned out concise, devastating tales of youths discovering the world is big and bad and full of hurt. Both novels have their problems (and their fair share of detractors) and both authors are in line for something really huge down the line. a fine place to sit and rest along the way tho.

07. In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, Penguin Books (2005) translated by James Grieve.
originally published in french by marcel proust in 1919.
i will now always associate Steve Carell in Little Miss Sunshine as the greatest living proust scholar and his character is not far off the mark when he says In Search of Lost Time may be the most important piece of writing since shakespeare. He's also right when he says next to nobody reads it, possibly because each of the six parts is close to 500 pages long and reads like one huge sentence. fans of Lost complain after every episode that things are moving too slowly and nothing is happening with the plot. that simply isn't so. 30 pages of the young narrator waffling whether or not to go walk the promenade and maybe, perchance, just maybe, gasp, possibly catch a glimpse of vacationing nymphets, then finally deciding not to, that's slow.

06. the Invisibles, Vertigo Comics, (1994-2000) by Grant Morrison
heady, trippy, hella smart Situationist style comics. Morrison scripts the lives an underground resistance movement trying to stop the world from giving itself up completely to shadowy corporations and sinister conspiracies. The first Trade collection is flat-out unbeatable.

05. At Swim 2 Birds, Dalkey Archive Press, (2005, originally 1939) by Flann O'brien

04. the Man Without Qualities, Vol. 1, Vintage Books (1996) by Robert Musil, translated by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike. originally published posthumously in 1930, in German (never completed)
dense philosophy that mostly went over my head. i'm smart enough to realize that this is a novel that influences the Influencers, though i wouldn't be able to tell you the finer points as to how. Lots of folks will tell you this ranks right up there with modernist literature's top cows Mann, Joyce, and Proust. it is certainly as bulky as its brethren at 725 pages. definitely followed each chapter with a chaser of spiderman though, just to get the 'high art' aftertaste out of my noggin.

03. Europe Central, Penguin Books (2005) William T. Vollmann
I like my novels long. 500 pages minimum. I like something i can sink my teeth into, that buries an anchor in me and just keeps dragging me along turning up all kinds of stuff along the way. something with scope and heft. Like the Pynchon i'm currently reading this novel is epic in scale, literally continental in plot. The characters are all rich and wonderful (and sometimes biographical *cough cough,* Oline, *cough*) and every few pages a sentence just lands with a kind of floral gravity only a handful of living authors can produce. and i learned me some history too.

02. the Tin Drum, Vintage Intl, (1990) by Gunter Grass, translated by Ralph Manheim. Originally published in german in 1959.
long, unwieldy, bizarro, seriously, what's not to like. Another 'road' war novel (see #3), another masterpiece. all of a sudden i'm a germanophile or whatever german lit readers are called (probably nothing since all three of us have never met). just realized only 2 titles on this list have nothing to do with war or terrorism (#7 blissfully bourgeios and uninvolved with that sort of thing and #5, blissfully convoluted and metafictionally absent from that sort of thing) and the next title is no different...

01. Fables, Vertigo Comics, (ongoing series begun in 2003) by Bill Willingham.
the single most imaginative thing i've read in years. imaginative in that it scoops up all these existing stories and completely re-invents them, re-interprets them and re-positions them into something masterful and new. If the Sandman and Frank Miller got me back into comics, Fables made sure I'm going nowhere fast. and why should I? with art this beautiful, sharp, and politically aware who needs your Canon? Not I good sirs! well that was rather melodramatic. guess i'll just go quietly now.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

ten *film*

i know, i know. cap't listy mclisterson was so excited about this week in lists and what has he thusfar delivered... one lonely music list (I'd hyperlink to it but, um, just see below, like, the next post down). but fear not. more are on the horizon like a fleet of pirate ships ready to despoil your treasure-trove of preconceived notions. To tide over those poor souls stranded on a desert-blog island with nothing to do: top ten films I saw this year regardless of vintage. it appears i just don't go and see that many motion pictures these days. I wanted this to be an '06 films list but looking back on things I had to open up the netflix-ian floodgates and include a few choice rentals to round things out. a winner every one. enjoy.

10. Nacho Libre 'o6
Nacho disappointed me but nevertheless bounded his way onto this list ending up as the 10-spot, or caboose. with Nacho clad in those form-fitting spandex, i gotta admit this list has one strangely attractive posterior.

09. Kung Fu Hustle 'o4
another film that initially put me off. Yet the more i watched the greater it became, a send-up and homage all at once--and a gorgeous one no less.

08. Batman Begins 'o5
best comicbook movie ever? maybe not but my man crush on Bale deepened (further proof below) and it didn't hurt that Gotham was conceived and filmed in Chicago. chi-town represent or something.

07. Good Night, and Good Luck 'o5
short, intense, and completely revelatory. just now realized the last three films i mentioned were all a) rentals, b) terrific, and c) croftian slumber inducers extrordinaire.

06. the Prestige 'o6
I don't buy the accents but the premise is unbeatable: dueling magicians --flawless! the tone and scenery and all are pitch perfect and there's a David Bowie in the cast might i add. As I read Pynchon's Against the Day (700 pages down, nearly 400 to go) I'm finding the novel and this film may be kindred spirits. and that ain't bad.

05. Little Miss Sunshine 'o6
no movie this year left me feeling happier.

04. Pan's Labyrinth 'o6*****
*****okay, so I haven't actually seen this one yet. But i'm so sure it will so totally rock my world I'm giving it the 4-spot, my favorite number and bringer of good luck. Just watching the trailers is enough to send me into delirious fits of what my mother would call 'ants in my pants.' and since i shall be seeing it on december 29th it so counts for this year.

03. Stranger than Fiction 'o6
excuse me while i gush. the characters of this film are so well-thought-out and well acted that a potentially hokey conceit is transformed into a stroke of, well, not quite genius, let's say greatness. The movie's strongest acheivement? Will Ferrell's mortal struggle to prove his 'real-ness' is so effective it leaves most everyone else looking more and more fictional, and that I believe is the whole point. Stranger helped me to realize that in some pretty significant ways I behave quite fictional-ly and scripted to the point where made up characters would probably make much better human beings than I do. and that is not a value judgement, there's absolutely nothing wrong with this. In fact it makes life richer just as good art does. also it proves e m forster is a complete jackass.

02. the Departed 'o6
if i hear this is the best 'movie-movie' one more time I might plunge my head through this computer screen. forget for a minute that this implies that there are movies out there which are somehow tortoises or accordions or mathematical equations. but "people who like movies will really enjoy this movie." no shit. so will just about everyone else.

01. the Fountain 'o6
and now for a film that most certainly won't be celebrated nearly as much. divisive, over-wrought, wince-inducing--not things you generally want your masterpiece to be described as. And yes, I winced, yes I laughed at moments so awkward only the director could love them, and yes half of you out there (maybe a whole lot more than that) will completely disagree with me and pan the damn thing. but i loved it. loved every single flaw and triumph and will defend it with a flaming sword against anyone who wants a spirited discussion of why its so great. pared down to an essential hour and half this film struck some very key chords inside me. hell, it might have even manufactured, sounded, and broke the damn things. i'm not one for grand summations but in the end its all about fighting off everything and everyone (including ourselves) for those we love. and if you are saying to yourself right now 'that old theme? i'm so tired of that' you are not only dead inside but probably (slowly or otherwise) killing off everyone else around you.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

ten *music*

before the gogol-ing on friday, Oline and i had a chance to discuss year end listing. I mentioned that was planning on doing a series of lists to close out 2006 on my freshly ressurected blog. She has already obliged us with her ten most listened to albums of 2006 (regardless of year of release) and I plan on doing the same in the space below, with a small amount of annotation where annotation is due. In the next couple of days my list of favorite books, films, concerts, and perhaps a few other odds and ends. enjoy.

10. Sufjan Stevens
ome on Feel the Illinoise! 2005 (asthmatic kitty)
fave track: John Wayn
e Gacy, Jr.

09. Comets on Fire
Blue Cathedral 2004 (subpop)
loud and raucous an
d messy. My best friend as an undergrad summed up my musical proclivities by those very same three words. not much has changed since then.

08. Islands
Return to the Sea 2006 (equator)
an album actually relea
sed and purchased in 2006. how cutting edge am I?

07. Beatles (first disc of)
White Album 1968 (capitol)
and now to the other end of the timely spectrum. oddly enough it took me 26 years to discover the Beatles. Between Croftie and
myself I have now absorbed Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's, and the first half of the White album (because Croftie bought it dirt-cheap used, and missing its second half).

06. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
CYHSY 2005 (self-released)
fave track: In This Home
On Ice

05. The Advantage
Elf-Titled 2006 (5RC)
because how can one wash away all lingering doubts as to my complete and utter geek-dom than by listening to a california math-rock band c
over original Nintendo game songs over and over and over...
fave track/moment: Wh
en Castlevania III's "Boss Music" transistions effortlessly into Megaman 2's "Bubble-man theme." Genius.

04. Mastodon
Leviathan 2004 (relapse)
i'm such a metal poseur bu
t jesus h. these guys kick ass.

03. Pelican
The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw 2005 (hydra head)
everything the famil
y of Sigur Ros and Godspeed leave me wanting more of, i.e. darker, louder, even more devastating sound.

02. M.I.A.
Arular 2005 (XL)
Bombsy clinched it. Was leaning toward picking this gem up then Bombsy said it was a must. Requested it for X-mas, received it and the rest is history. probably listened to this album twice as much as everyone else on this list up to this point c
ombined. p.s. that link in the first sentence is supposed to go to Bombsy's blog but i can't seem to locate said awesomeness.
fave track(s): every fuckin
g one.

01. Wolf Parade
Apologies to the Queen Mary 2005 (subpop)
i've listened to this album so much that it has now fused to my d.n.a. Got to see them in concert and learned thay have not one lead singer with remarkable range but 2 lead singers of divergent song-stylings. This was definitely my 2006
Aeroplane Over the Sea.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

things i learned (and re-learned) on the train-ride to work

a) cakes are really hard to travel with on crowded public transportation

b) my man pynchon can really turn a phrase. I am only halfway through Against the Day (a review of which I've promised JBB
on completion of the novel... eta early january) and i've already encountered sentient tornadoes, anarchist miners, time-travel conventions, cities buried under oceans of sand, zeppelin riding 'hardy-boy'-esque boy detectives, bird-dogging archdukes, and attempted homicide with mayonnaise as the murder weapon du jour.

c) i'm coming to terms with the fact that yes, I do dance like Snoopy. This morning i kick-started my day with some OTC and when "Sunshine Fix" came on I was all Charles Schultz's beagling it all over the place.

d) cakes are really easy to eat after a crowded ride on public transportation. Croftie, my work approves!

e) Gogol, tomorrow. be there or be devoid of insanely intense fiddling, caberet dancing, awkward ukranian rapping, and gypsy-punk-tacular rock'n'roll stylings.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Make Believe? Of Course.

To say that I am a fan of lists is to do me a disservice. I am a list fiend. How much do I love lists? let me count the ways....

1. seriously, i hope you did not just think I would go and abuse a word structuring device purely to prove a point, did you? I'm not a monster. Anyhow back on track, December is a Listophile's dream month. As we humans have decided to aribitrarily divide the small amount of time allotted us into 12 month fandangos, everybody and their mom with a pen or a keyboard is busily scurrying about collating Year End Lists. And no Year End List is quite like a Year's End Best Albums List.

The Onion, which like other venerable institutions such as the Simpsons has aged gracefully, isn't quite as culturally relevent as it once was, makes people mutter to themselves "That old thing is still around, I used to *love* that site," has recently gone and posted its 25 best albums of 2006 list. For the most part it is an exceptional collection of music, placating audiophiles, snobs and elitists so far removed from pop-music that they feel obliged to include at least a few albums which real people have actually listened to. As for me and the rest of us indie music-heads, we will be happy to see such artists as the Holdsteady, the Decemberists, the Pernice Bros, Neko, Destroyer, and the like present and accounted for. I nearly wept for joy when I saw the Thermals in the top 12. but then there was no. #14. and it ruined everything.

.14 Make Believe Of Course.

Now why does this name sound familiar, I scratched my head. Oh wait just a minute! No they couldn't be? No, the Onion couldn't have? Could they? They just did! This inclusion was way worse than any ommision ever could be. This band was responsible for the single worst performance I have ever seen, possibly the world has ever seen. Doubt filled my foolish Onion trusting mind, swirling up out of my brain fog into, what else, a list.

1. Was any other band on this list safe from being lumped together with Make Believe's suck-itude?
2. Is my taste in music hopelessly warped so as not to agree with this?
3. Did Oline, Bernination and myself have a collective hallucination as to Make Believe's incredible lack of anything desirable in music or otherwise?
4. Why hadn't Man Man killed and eaten their opening bands and worn their hides atop their matching white tennis outfits and saved the world from such unbridled terribleness?
5. Why did I now know not only the name of the band that most strikes fear into my heart but the album title as well?

and the questions kept coming but I ran from them. The last one haunting me every since, will lists ever be the same again?


Monday, December 11, 2006

Last Night I Broke the Meatman's Heart

I can't say I know many people who can be accurately described as jolly but the guy who works the deli at the local Mom and Pop is one of them. Jolly takes commitment. Your laugh needs to boom, be heard from across the store, down the street. Your eyes need to have a manic glow approaching but never actually arriving at insanity. You need a certain stature, a large frame, either hieght or port or both. You also might need to be male though I'm not quite sure that is an absolute requirement. Is Jolly exclusively masculine? Who knows. But Jolly is a not a hobby, it is a lifestyle and Meatman is the jolliest guy i know.

He has greeted the Croft and I every time we've come in without fail. His "how are you doing?" followed by a deep round of laughter is the stuff of legend. Purchasing lunchmeat has never been so much fun. About a week ago Croft and I were stumped as to what to buy for dinner. We asked Meatman if he had any suggestions and a sombre, almost dour expression crossed his perpetually smiling face. He was deep in thought and it was unnerving. Croftie and i looked at each other thinking, 'what have we done?' After about 10 seconds he brightened back up and told us without a hint of waver that we must purchase the pork-chops and then proceeded to tell us how they should be prepared. Thing is he was right. Spot on. And Croftie executed his dinner plan with panache. It was a feast, a glorious feast.

Last night we wandered back in to the Mom and Pop in search of dinner anew. In addition to Sunday Dinner we decided to go and get meat for our weekly monday fajita extravaganza. Meatman asked how the chops went and Croftie and i gushed. Meatman was pleased. Customers wandering in from outside looked back at the deli counter with trepidation for surely no man or beast could laugh like that. Yet when i asked Meatman for the ground sirloin for our monday night fajitas he shook his head and frowned. "You need to go with the skirt-steak for fajitas. You see you just cook it up all nice and then slice it with the grain..." but this time we were not having it. We've made fajitas lots of times and enjoyed our speedy method and non-vegetative ingredients. Cooking a steak just for fajitas? Impossible. I interrupted the man, "Maybe we'll just have some of the ground sirloin..." It was a mistake. Meatman's face fell into one of the saddest expressions it has been my displeasure to know. The light went out in his eyes and there would be no more laughter that evening. It was then and there that I realized and gone and broken the Meatman's heart. And I'm sorry.