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.

Questions Regarding Captain America: The Winter Soldier

(Here be spoilers.)

  • Why was the Captain America exhibit in the Air and Space Smithsonian rather than American History? He has little do with either and everything to do with American History.
  • Why was there voiceover in the Captain America exhibit? I’ve been to several Smithsonia (the plural of Smithsonian) and never heard the dulcet tones of Gary Sinise or some such narrator as I wandered around.
  • Regarding The List in Steve’s tiny notebook (which was a delightful concept), is Steve actually putting off finding out about the Berlin wall? That seems like it would’ve come up by now. He’s been back for a little while.
  • Why can’t Steve slip into his Brooklyn accent more often? My husk of a soul reconstituted itself when he used it to talk to Peggy for all of seven seconds.
  • Does Sam Wilson own a straightener? Nat’s hair looked very smooth mere seconds after turning wavy post-shower.
  • Can DC Pierson get a haircut?
  • What’s the percentage of audience members who believed Nick Fury was actually dead? If SHIELD’s going to resurrect my spirit animal Phil Coulson, you know they’re bringing back the guy who’s one step up, and his injuries weren’t as severe as Phil’s. (We’re on a first name basis.)
  • Why isn’t Bucky in this movie more often? I have far more praise for The Winter Soldier than complaints, but I would’ve loved to have seen both more Sam and more Bucky. Sebastian Stan’s a fine actor, and he was downright wrenching here–when he got the chance to be, which was not often.
  • Can Natasha quit wearing that arrow necklace? I understand that the natural coupling among Avengers is Clint and Natasha, but by Whedon logic, a Happy Couple must be torn apart by death, and he’s not going to kill off his Strong Female Character, so Clint’s days are numbered, and I love the Hawkguy. I’m the only person you know whose favorite Avenger is Hawkeye. Don’t do this to me, MCU.
  • Are we not allowed to call Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch “mutants”? Are they only to be referred to as “miracles” in MCU since the X-Men series has its grubby yet capable paws all over the term “mutant”?
  • Borrowed concept that I really wish I’d thought of: can we get a series of images of Bucky looking, contemplatively and longingly, at other Smithsonian exhibits? Bucky Stares at the Kermit Puppet, Bucky Admires the Dresses of the First Ladies, et cetera?
  • Where does this fall in the order of MCU movies from best to worst? I still think The Avengers can’t be beat, and though I don’t think my opinion is shared by many anymore, I’d put Iron Man 3 ahead of this. It’s certainly better than Iron Man 2 and Thor, and I’d also say it’s better than Iron Man, though the first Captain America is so solid and so fun and does such a great job of establishing Steve as the hero he is. As it stands, I’d give this a very slight edge over the first, because the emotional beats ring true and I love the addition of Black Widow and Falcon. Steve can carry a movie, but it’s nice to see him get some help, especially from such strong performers. (Also, Cobie Smulders! Am I right, folks?)
  • Am I the only person in the world who literally bounced up and down, flailed, and squealed when Danny Pudi appeared onscreen?
  • Is this a satisfying movie? Yes. Am I now looking even more forward to Guardians of the Galaxy and Age of Ultron? Certainly. And am I feeling fine without any of these questions answered? Of course.

Ranking Every Episode of Sherlock A Couple Months Late

It’s odd how little I’ve talked about Sherlock on this blahg, given that it’s one of my favorite shows with one of my favorite casts. Because every episode plays a bit like a movie, I really enjoy comparing them against each other, if only in my head. Now I’m going to write the comparisons down, though, because I haven’t written anything here in quite awhile, and that should be rectified.

Before I start, though… If you haven’t watched Sherlock, it would be very silly to read this, and you should go watch Sherlock right away, because it’s quite wonderful. There are nine episodes, each 90 minutes long, and all are loosely inspired by some Holmesian story or another. But you don’t have to have read any Arthur Conan Doyle to enjoy these beautifully crafted, wonderfully acted, intricately written mysteries. For me, the mysteries have never been the most important part; for me, there’s nothing better than the unusual friendship between Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and John Watson (Martin Freeman), one of my all-time favorite relationships on TV.

So go boldly forth and watch, or stay right here and read. You will almost certainly disagree with everything from 6 till 9, so have fun with that!

Sherlock Episodes from Least to Most Loved by Me

  1. “The Blind Banker.” I don’t recall much of this episode, which is a bad sign, because I can vividly remember all the others on this list, and some I haven’t watched in literally years. (Most, actually–I knocked out the first six episodes in maybe twice that many days in 2012, if memory serves.) I just know that it wasn’t much of a character study, which all Sherlock episodes should be at least a little, and no one did anything particularly quirky or endearing. Failure on all accounts. But since it’s Sherlock, it’s probably still better than 90% of other TV.
  2. “The Hounds of Baskerville.” It’s kind of a bummer, putting this so low on the list, because it’s one of Mark Gatiss’ contributions as a writer, and that makes me want to like it a lot more. (Gatiss is the show’s co-creator, and he plays Mycroft Holmes.) Pity it’s written a bit like a B-grade X-Files episode. BUT it does feature one of my favorite “John and Sherlock are BFFs” moments, and it includes more laugh out loud moments than your average episode, so it’s still got a lot on “The Blind Banker.”
  3. “The Empty Hearse.” Now it gets tricky, because everything from here on in, I love, at the very least. But I do think “The Empty Hearse” is a weaker opener than the series premiere or “A Scandal in Belgravia” (duh), if only because Sherlock’s return from alleged death doesn’t quite pack the punch you’d expect. (John does punch Sherlock in the face a few times, though.) Still, the mystery’s a very fun one, and it’s great to learn that we’ll never really know how Sherlock faked it. I find it much more satisfying not knowing.
  4. “The Sign of Three.” This is an exceptionally goofy episode. You get to see John and Sherlock very drunk, and it’s terrific. You get to see Sherlock ruin Lestrade’s night and, later, get his name wrong, and it’s delightful. You get to see Sherlock flirting, and John being in love, and that kid who played Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter movies nearly die, and all of that is just splendid. But there’s nothing truly remarkable about this episode. “The Sign of Three” is just a solid hour and a half of deductions and fast-paced dialogue and flashbacks, so it seems like this should be right around the middle.
  5. “His Last Vow.” OK, so I can see where there might be some controversy here, seeing as Sherlock shoots a guy point blank. But man, isn’t it great to see Sherlock care about another non-John person? I liked Mary from the start, and I liked learning that there was more to John’s wife, however sinister her past may be. (And we’ll never know about it, which I appreciate, because there’s no need–that’s not her character anymore.) I liked seeing Sherlock interfere, because it really was in John’s best interest, and Sherlock had faith that things would be resolved, and of course they were, because he’s always right. I liked Mycroft’s disgust over Les Miz, and I loved seeing a certain familiar face at the very end. 8/10.
  6. “A Scandal in Belgravia.” Just wait a second, OK? “A Scandal in Belgravia” might be the best episode of the series. Everything about it is mesmerizing. But … it’s a Sherlock episode. And while I love Sherlock, and I understand that this is his show, I like when the focus is more divided. This one’s all him, all about his emotions (or lack thereof) and motivations and what makes him tick. It makes for a great story, but it doesn’t make for something I would put above, say, 90 minutes of John, Mycroft, and Lestrade drinking coffee. (Slight exaggeration. But the point remains.)
  7. “A Study in Pink.” This episode is just such a good hook. Immediately, you want to know more about the clearly insane consulting detective and his new unassuming acquaintance. You think you’ve already met the series’ ultimate villain, but no, it’s just Sherlock’s posh older brother. And you get introduced to Lestrade (Rupert Graves) and his and Sherlock’s wonderful dynamic. (Also, his hair. You get to see Rupert Graves’ hair. And fall madly in love with it.) And John, oh, John is just perfect in this episode. I don’t know if I ever like him more than I do when he’s enthusiastically agreeing to continue on with Sherlock. And thank goodness he does.
  8. “The Great Game.” Oh, Moriarty. Moriarty, Moriarty, Moriarty. Andrew Scott takes dialogue that could sound absolutely ridiculous and makes it terrifying, and by the time Sherlock shows up at that swimming pool, you’re so excited to meet him even though you shouldn’t be–this guy might be Sherlock’s undoing, and his shadow will hang over the rest of the series till there’s some kind of confrontation. But he’s just so fun to watch, and he brings out the fiercest (and, to some extent, most fear-fueled) sides of John and Sherlock. Also, his ring tone. How can you not love that?
  9. “The Reichenbach Fall.” For me, this is Sherlock at its most watchable. You have the series’ best villain all but taking over London with his sheer insanity. You have Sherlock falling apart at the seams and John unable to calm him. And you have every other recurring cast member–chiefly Mycroft, Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs), and Molly (Louise Brealey)–in the spotlight at some point or another. This one’s truly an ensemble piece, though ultimately, Sherlock, John, and Moriarty steal the show in what look to be Sherlock’s final moments on earth. It’s deeply emotional and truly shocking, and John’s conversation with Sherlock’s gravestone is some of the best writing and acting on the show. I think I’m going to bed now. But I’d rather rewatch Sherlock instead.