Latest Lists I Felt Like Writing, February 2015 Edition

The First Draft of My Top Ten Billy Joel Songs, Written After Vulture Published a Ranking of Every Song in Billy Joel’s Catalog (Which I’m Not Linking Here Because I Trust You to Find It Yourself if You Really Care)

“Summer, Highland Falls”
“Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)”
“Only the Good Die Young”
“Goodnight, Saigon”
“And So It Goes”
“Lullaby (Goodnight My Angel)”
“Everybody Loves You Now”

Questions I Might Have Asked Nick Hornby at His Book Signing, Given More Time

“Who inspired the character of Tucker in Juliet, Naked? Cameron Crowe identified the inspiration for Russell in Almost Famous so I want you to do that now, too, although that might ruin my current visual of Tucker—basically Neil Gaiman with glasses—so never mind, don’t tell me. I love that book, by the way. It’s my favorite novel. I mean it.”

“Do you have any idea how funny that bit you wrote about The Road in one of your Believer essays was? So funny! The funniest! I read it out loud to Scott—that’s my husband—and had to read it in fits and starts because I’d start laughing or he’d laugh over my reading. Anyway, good job on that one.”

“Is it weird to you that there are people here wearing Arsenal gear, and that they call their jerseys ‘kits’? [The author realizes that’s what they’re called.] Is it wrong of me to judge them? What is judgment, anyway? Look, to be fair to me, when I got here, one of them was directly behind me, and an employee asked if we were together, and he said, ‘Not yet.’ That was gross. I read About a Boy when I was 12, by the way. That was probably too early. You’re great!”

The Question I Actually Asked Nick Hornby

“Have you read the sequel to Death and the Penguin?” (He hasn’t, and he asked me how it was, and I said that I was hoping he had so I wouldn’t have to. The first book, as I’ve mentioned, is so, so good, and I was ready for that story to be over, kind of like how I haven’t read anything Rowling has released post-Deathly Hallows. So it goes.)

Progress on New Year’s Resolutions

Listen to Judge John Hodgman: nailed it. I haven’t heard that many, but I find them absolutely delightful.

Whine less: could be better, could be worse. I’ll keep working on that one.

Exercise more: I rowed for the first time since October today, and it was so good. I didn’t do it for very long, or for much length, but it’s very reassuring to know that my body (my knee in particular) can handle it without any pain. So, yeah, I’m feeling decent about how frequently I’m exercising, and I have actual goals in mind regarding physical fitness, so this resolution? Pretty good.

Some Things I Keep Meaning to Read, and When I Assume I Will Actually Read Them

The first two books in the Fairyland series; the five days before they’re due back at the library (I did get through a substantial chunk of the first. It’s really good!)

The first two volumes of Preacher; about three days before the Oscars since one of the people I’m watching those with lent them to me

“Shouldn’t You Be in School?”, the latest book in Lemony Snicket’s All the Wrong Questions series; next time my NOOK is charged all the way and there are no other books in my line of sight

Funny Girl, the book Nick Hornby was signing; as soon as I take it off the shelf, which could be tonight or tomorrow but will probably be Tuesday

Some Things You Should Read

“If Channing Tatum Were Your Boyfriend,” a piece Nicole Cliffe gifted to readers of despite being on maternity leave (The Toast)

Sarah Seltzer’s close-reading of the vocabulary used in EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey (Flavorwire)

Nathan Rabin on the Ghostbusters reboot and how much it, and other reboots and re-imaginings, won’t actually ruin your childhood entertainment (The Dissolve)

This take on the anti-vaccination movement from the perspective of an autistic person by Sarah Kurchak (Medium)

Latest Lists I Felt Like Writing, January 2015 Edition

How I Would Reimagine a Few of the Movies I Watched in 2013 and 2014 (with Spoilers)

American Hustle: Shift the focus to Louis C.K.’s character almost entirely. Cut 50 percent of the scenes because maybe then the movie would make more narrative sense (doesn’t matter which scenes, just, you know, try it). Definitely leave in the part where Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) vamps around the kitchen to “Live and Let Die” but maybe extend it to 10 minutes. This means “Live and Let Die” will have to loop three times and then begin playing a fourth time for about 15 seconds. Even if this guarantees that “Live and Let Die” will be playing on a semi-permanent loop in your head (just as it is right now), these changes would still make for a better viewing experience than the original cut of American Hustle.

As an aside, I just looked up Louis C.K.’s character’s name in American Hustle because, in the time since I’ve watched it, I’ve forgotten it. Instead, I’ve come to think of that character as “the only truly sane person in this entire film aside from Carmine Polito’s [because of course I remember Jeremy Renner’s character’s name, and his hair, and his sad face] wife, and the only one who seems to understand how dreadful everyone around him is.” As it turns out, his character’s name is Stoddard Thorsen. The more you know!

Interstellar: Remove Topher Grace. That man’s presence is very distracting.

Josie & the Pussycats: Nothing. Change nothing. It is magnificent as is. (The last time I watched Josie & the Pussycats was at a summer singalong at Videology, a video rental store/bar/screening room in Billysburg, Brooklyn. The first time I watched Josie & the Pussycats was almost certainly in 2001.)

Pacific Rim: Reimagine it as a buddy comedy starring Ron Pearlman as a man who engages in senseless violence with some frequency but is actually a big ol’ softie and Charlie Day as Charlie Day but with glasses. Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) should still be there. So should Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). Everyone else can go, with the exception of a single kaiju. This one’s affectionately dubbed Deleteri, her tail and tongue and toes are forked, and she has a lot to tell you about her backpacking trip through western Europe last spring. Still workshopping who would voice her; Jennifer Hale is a very talented voice actress, but she seems a bit sultry for this particular role. Not that a kaiju can’t be sultry. I’m sure it has the capacity to be sultry, but not “voiced by Jennifer Hale” sultry. Wait. I got it. Sarah Vowell. She’s a great disaffected teenager in The Incredibles, so she has the potential to be an even better too-earnest, slightly judgmental kaiju. Right? Nailed it.

Real Steel: 95% less family drama, 95% more robots fighting.

Snowpiercer: After Curtis (Chris Evans) delivers his mini-monologue about eating babies, have him break the fourth wall, turning to the camera and giving it a saucy wink.

The Wolf of Wall Street: Retitle it The Wall Street Wolf because that sounds funnier. Extend the scene in which Jordan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is on Quaaludes to about 90 minutes. Remove literally everything else.

Books I’m Reading Right Now and How Much Progress I Have Made

Outlander: According to my e-reader, Outlander has 822 pages. I’m a little more of an eighth of the way through, and I’m loving it.

Bird by Bird: If you have any interest in writing but don’t care for how-to guides related to writing, then this is the writing guide for you. I never feel like Ann Lamott is giving me hard-and-fast objective advice. It’s more like there are suggestions peppered throughout her stories of her own experiences—unique, but all kinds of relatable—with the frustrations and anxieties and occasional feelings that something you’ve done is right.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making: I’ve read two pages of this. It seems like fun, but that’s a pretty small sample size of pages.

1 Corinthians: I just finished Acts Friday and this was the first book that came to Scott’s mind when I asked which one I should move to next. I’ve done 1 and 2 Corinthians a couple times before, but it’s always worthwhile to have another go. I’m starting it tonight.

Really Good Names for Pets I Would Consider Using in the Future Based on Characters from Fictional Properties, Plus Which Animal They’d Best Fit

Renly (A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones): a betta fish, preferably a golden one, taking into account his house sigil.

Frohike (The X-Files): a wide-eyed tabby.

This Reading Wasn’t Required But I Did It Anyway

According to my Goodreads profile, which I do my best to keep current, I’ve read 30 books this year. As of next week, the number should rise to 32, which was my goal for the year. (Well, my goal as of October. Before that, it was lower. Sometimes, my reading habits get a little out of control.) Here are some selections from that list, annotated.

The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero & Tom Bissell. If you’re even a little bit interested in how Tommy Wiseau crafted his fascinating fiasco of a movie, then you should—nay, need to read this book. Sestero (who starred in The Room and was heavily involved in the production process) and Bissell explore Wiseau’s inner psyche as they take readers through the movie’s short but tumultuous history, and they do it in a fairly evenhanded but entertaining manner.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill. I briefly quit reading books after finishing NOS4A2. The content was that disturbing to me. I don’t recommend it. Read Horns instead. The editing is better, and it’ll stick with you, but not like this guy.

Divergent by Veronica Roth. I couldn’t stop reading this book and assigned myself to the Nice Faction (I literally don’t remember what the Nice Faction is actually called, sorry). Apparently, its appeal didn’t stick, because I haven’t read the sequels. But I’m glad you probably have!

Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares. Remember how magical the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series was? No? Well, I assure you, it was very magical. This—a novel featuring the same characters several years down the road—is the opposite of magical. It’s like the worst kind of Muggle in book form. This book is Marge Dursley. There. I said it. You’re welcome.

Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov. This Ukrainian novel was mentioned in one of Nick Hornby’s essay collections (essay collections I’ve read and reread and would probably reread again). It’s about a man who writes obituaries for a living and has a pet penguin that’s probably depressed. I don’t want to say more for fear of ruining it or making it sound any weirder than it already does, because yes, the premise is unusual, but the storytelling is oddly sweet and the dystopian elements (yes, they’re there) fit in nicely with the surface narrative of a man and the family he accidentally builds.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Fangirl is endlessly relatable if you, like me, dabble in the world of fanfiction and have some difficulty articulating your feelings despite writing all the ever-loving time. Rowell’s one of my favorite writers these days.

Going Clear by Lawrence Wright. If you’re in any way interested in the history of scientology, this is a must-read. It’s pretty exhaustive but it’s relentlessly fascinating at the same time.

The Witches by Roald Dahl. I used to read Matilda every year. It’s one of my favorite books and features one of my favorite protagonists. I tried to read The Witches as a kid but got distracted. At 27, I can’t understand how that could possibly happen. It’s so delightfully strange and eerie and involving, and it’s every bit as good as Matilda.

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion. I described this book—a book club pick—as a real bummer in the best possible way. That’s still the most succinct, accurate description I can give.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. I put off reading the last chapter of this book for a little while because I was enjoying it so much. The narrative structure is brilliant, with characters in each chapter connected—however closely or loosely—to previously mentioned characters. It’s essentially a concept album with words instead of music. Just wonderful.

The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman. I have A Lot to Say about these books. I’m saving that for a blahg entry that will probably never happen.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. I’ve never met a graphic memoir I didn’t love, from Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis to Craig Thompson’s Blankets to this. On Goodreads last month, I said Fun Home is poignant without being overly emotional. That’s a delicate balance when you’re writing about your father’s death. But Bechdel handles it beautifully.

Hawkeye: LA Woman by Matt Fraction. I’m still savoring the third volume of Hawkeye, which focuses on Kate Bishop’s misadventures in LA. I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it again: everyone should read this series. Really. Everyone.

Nathan Fillion, Vampires, and Coming Around on Pop Culture

It took me a really long time (apparently over two months, whoops!) to think of something I wanted to write about. A number of ideas floated through my head—current podcast power rankings, my growing obsession with Thrilling Adventure Hour, that time Scott and I watched Twister because he jokingly suggested it and I jumped at the chance—but none of them stuck till this morning, and that’s all Nathan Fillion’s fault.

Up until recently, I never fully understood Nathan Fillion’s appeal. Fully embraced by geek culture for his Whedon pedigree and a bit of a heartthrob even outside those circles due to his charming “Aw, shucks, I guess I am awesome” act on Castle, he’s an undeniably likable guy. But his personality has always struck me as outsized, and that has a tendency to leak into his onscreen personae; I have an especially hard time with this on Firefly, and I realize that’s blasphemy, but it’s not my favorite Whedon property and it never has been. Malcolm Reynolds is a decent character, a big damn hero, even, but he’s no Buffy. So, before I became an avid Thrilling Adventure Hour listener, my view of Fillion was charitable at best. I liked him in Buffy, I liked him in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and I could take him or leave him in any other case. But then, I heard him play Cactoid Jim.

Thrilling Adventure Hour—a new-time podcast told in the style of old-time radio, as the introduction informs us—features regular segments ranging from staples “Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars,” a space western, and “Beyond Belief,” an ongoing tale of an alcohol-loving married couple who happens to see ghosts, to “The Cross-Time Adventures of Colonel Tick-Tock” and “Amelia Earhart, Fearless Flyer,” time-traveling yarns with plenty of puns and humor picking apart the very concept of shifting through time. A few months’ worth of episodes into the podcast, a new character is added to the “Sparks Nevada” cast: Cactoid Jim, an almost absurdly Good Guy played by Fillion. And no one could do it better than he does. He’s an ideal counterpoint to Marc Evan Jackson’s Sparks and a surprisingly dynamic love interest for Busy Phillips’ Red Plains Rider, with a knack for oratory greatness and helping his fellow man. Or robot. Or alien. Once I got into this role of his, I remembered how much Fillion added to Buffy when he was added to the cast in season seven. As Caleb, an inarguably insane preacher working with the Big Bad First Evil, Fillion was one of the show’s most memorable villains by far—compelling from the start, and deeper as the season progressed. And I’ve always loved Fillion in Dr. Horrible, if only because he seems like he’s playing a parody of himself, a self-important but entirely harmless hunk. So I’ve come around completely on Nathan Fillion, and that got me wondering if there are any other circumstances in which I’ve done the same

The most obvious is my recent turnaround on Joshua Malina, who I’d previously only seen in The West Wing. I don’t care for Malina’s West Wing character at all; the less said about that, the better, because I may start weeping over the loss of Sam Seaborn again. But once I heard an episode or two of Thrilling Adventure Hour featuring Malina as the barkeep at Sparks Nevada’s favorite saloon, I grew to really like the guy. It reminded me of the time he was on Jordan Jesse Go!, an occasionally terrific podcast, and how endearing he’d been there. And then he started singing, and I needed no more convincing that Joshua Malina was A-OK.

Of course, these things can go the opposite way. The first time I ever remember this happening was nearly ten years ago now. I was a fairly insufferable teenager, a fan of pseudo-intellectual literature and the films of Wes Anderson (which I probably called “films,” ew). One of my favorite authors was (ugh, this hurts) Chuck Palahniuk, the man behind the debatably well-done Fight Club and the kind of awful Lullaby, Invisible Monsters, and, now, many other pulpy novels chockfull of the kind of hedonism that is not in any way appealing. Nymphomania! Rampant drug abuse! Esoteric references to Radiohead! At some point, this got to be too much for even 17-year-old Christy, so I gave up on the guy and haven’t touched a Palahniuk book since. (Also, I wrote an editorial for my school newspaper lambasting his body of work. Please do me a favor and never, ever find this.)

TV is a harder medium to pin down in terms of varying tastes from season to season. That’s because the nature of a show is to evolve, and sometimes, if you’re particularly attached to the way a show was going, that can feel more like devolution. I’m not sure if that’s what happened with The Vampire Diaries, but I know I haven’t seen 75% of last season, and before that, I was a staunch defender of the show. Sure, it went down the love triangle road too often, a character dying meant essentially nothing, and the montages set to weepy postmodern love songs were cringe-inducing, but it also had a lot of heart, a great cast of characters, and, on occasion, surprisingly strong writing. That might all still be true, but I wouldn’t know, because I just got over it. Let me know if I should return to the show, because at one point, I really did love it.

Can this situation of love-to-ambivalence or vice versa happen to the same thing twice? This year, I found out that yes, it certainly can. I so disliked the How I Met Your Mother finale that I literally couldn’t watch it in syndication for months on end. But I just picked back up with it, and guess what? The episodes that were endlessly charming and sharply written and, often, truly resonant still are! I don’t find myself picking apart interactions between Ted and Robin, looking for hints at what was to come. Instead, I’m just laughing and saying out loud to Scott, “This is a really great episode.” So maybe I’ll come back to The Vampire Diaries, and maybe I’ll decide to dislike Joshua Malina again. (Just kidding about the latter. Probably. Probably kidding about that.) In the meantime, I will marvel at my own shifting opinions, and I will write that marveling down, just like all good blahggers should.

Some Frivolous Lists Ranking Frivolous Things

Things You Should Know About The Goldfinch

  1. The Goldfinch is a ludicrously lengthy novel, clocking in somewhere around 750 pages in the version I read (eBook, because no way was I hauling that many pages onto the subway). About 650 of those pages are worth reading. More on that last 100, and some spoilers, later in this list.
  2. The Goldfinch features Theo, a Jesse Pinkman-style protagonist, by which I mean after a while, every action he takes forces you to think to yourself, “Oh, Theo, no.”
  3. Theo suffers from intense attachment issues. They are not subtle, and over time, they become progressively less interesting.
  4. They hit their uninteresting fever pitch when the narration begins including phrases like “as if anyone will read this.” I hate that kind of pseudo-self awareness. Why? We know we’re reading a novel, and it’s not like it’s meta or something! It’s not like it’s a clever narrative decision!
  5. At some point, Theo kills a guy. It’s around when you really start disliking him for more than the attachment issues.
  6. Probably don’t invest the time in this novel unless you love something that starts strong, stays strong, then is suddenly not very strong at all.

Olympic Sports I Find Duly Entertaining

  1. Figure skating. Obvious.
  2. Biathlon. Less obvious, due largely to the overly enthusiastic commentary.
  3. Aerials. People on skis flipping over? Tell me more!
  4. Slope style. People on skis flipping over on a course? Tell me more!

Things I Think You Should Probably Get Into

  1. The Marvel Now! Hawkeye comic. Since I’ve gotten into the wonderful world of Avengers fan fiction, my affection for the delightfully sarcastic, largely enigmatic Clint Barton has resurfaced, and now, with the comic, it’s definitely increased. Plus, you have this strong, feisty heroine in Kate Bishop, the other Hawkeye, who remains devoted to helping Clint no matter how ridiculously he’s behaving. PLUS, you have Lucky/Pizza Dog. What more could you want?
  2. If you do want more, then Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga remains awesome.
  3. Is the Hold Steady coming to your city? Go see them! I did last week, and it was quite possibly the best show I’ve ever been to. Granted, this had a lot to do with it being an anniversary show and thus very long and very personal. (22 songs. That is not an insignificant number of songs.) It was totally worth staying up way past my bedtime and extremely sore feet, because you know I was fighting for the front most of the show.
  4. Did you forget about Community? It’s good again! Tell your friends.
  5. I love that Archer completely remade itself this season, and you probably would, too. Of course, if you haven’t seen what came before it–and why haven’t you? Come on, shape up!–then you’ll want to check out the first four seasons and get really into the spy spoof format. Then you’ll love the turn it takes in the first episode of season five. I promise.