Wednesday, November 29, 2006

pw best of 2006

Many of you have probably seen this already, but I just thought to check out Publisher's Weekly's best of 2006 list, and I was impressed! Not necessarily with their choices--I've only read three on their fiction list, and only really liked one of them--but with the fact that they have so many categories! Genre fiction! Children's books! Most importantly, comic books and graphic novels! I really liked their selections for that last category, and was thrilled to see the latest Scott Pilgrim and the new Locas book on there. I have Curses coming to me in my next shipment from Chapel Hill Comics, and now I'm even more psyched to read it.

Anyway, I figured I'd point it out for those who hadn't seen it . . . it definitely beats the stodgy and predictable NY Times list.

(My own list, as always, will appear after the year actually ends.)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

another holiday-related rant

As someone who's co-hosted a radio show with a Chrismukkah theme for the past few years (sigh, it's the end of an era now that I live ten hours away), I've always bemoaned the lack of Hanukkah music to play. I'm not even really talking good Hanukkah music, but any Hanukkah music.

So as I was happily knitting away while watching a Law and Oder: CI marathon, I got my hopes up a little when a commercial came on for a new Bette Midler holiday cd. "Sweet!" I thought to myself. "She's Jewish! Maybe if I ever get to do another Chrismukkah show, I'll have more than three songs to play!" I mean, I'm not a die-hard Bette fan or anything, but she's got plenty of camp value, and it's better than not having any Hanukkah songs. Or just that Adam Sandler one.

But check this cd out. It's ALL Christmas songs! And I guarantee her version of "Mele Kalikimaka" won't come anywhere near Bing Crosby's.

What gives, Bette? Where's your Hanukkah pride?? I am aiming the tsk-tsk finger at you! Shame!

At least the Leevees are trying to make fun Hanukkah songs. Good for you guys! "How Do You Spell Chunnukkahh?" is destined to be a holiday classic.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

2006 book 135

William Styron's Sophie's Choice
Oh my god, can you believe I'd never read this?? I think I figured there wasn't a point, having gleaned what Sophie's choice was through my endless absorption of pop culture knowledge. Anyway, this book predominantly isn't about the titular character's experiences in Auschwitz, but her largely platonic relationship with the young Southern Duke alum wannabe writer of a narrator, whose desperate quest to get laid in 1947 encapsulates way too much of the story. Her troubled Jewish boyfriend is also a large part of the picture. Interestingly, I know I wrote recently that Holocaust stories often seem like a calculated attempt to tug at heartstrings, but Sophie's experiences really were not portrayed as powerfully as they could have been--whether as a result of the narrator's self-obsession and inability to understand, or due to Styron's own choices as a writer. Either way, I'm giving it a B. It'd have been graded higher if it wasn't so friggin' long. Was Styron too famous to receive editorial guidance at the time he wrote it, or were descriptions of the narrator's sexual frustrations in vogue at the time? My reaction to these was often, "Oh, shut UP already, and get to the part where Sophie makes a choice!" (at which point, the choice was surprisingly anti-climactic).

Friday, November 24, 2006

2006 books 132, 133, 134

Hey, whaddaya know? I've read some books in the past few days. Briefly, b/c the kitten is reacquainting himself with the keyboard:

Harry Shearer's Not Enough Indians
Shearer's first novel involves a small town in upstate NY that declares itself an Indian tribe so it can start a casino. Unfortunately it's completely devouid of any depth; the most one can hope for while reading is the occasional smirk at a one-liner. C.

Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility
I finally decided to give Austen a chance, and actually I enjoyed this, for the most part. Why did it end so abruptly though? It was a little odd. Also, I am now intrigued with several of the choices made when transferring these characters to screen in the Emma Thompson version. No grade; it's weird grading a classic.

Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner
This is our next book group book, and I totally get why it's a bestseller. I also get that protagonists need some shades of grey to be entertaining, but this narrator was pretty appalling throughout much of the book. Also, the first half was really familiar--is there some other book about two growing-up boys, one of whom is the other's servant? Eh, A-, whatever.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

2006 book 131

J. Robert Lennon's The Funnies
This novel--more than a little inspired by the dullest of dull, cloying-est of cloying comic strips, Family Circus, is all about what happens when the eccentric cartoonist patriarch of a very dysfunctional family dies, leaving his strip to his artist son. It was pretty good, so I'll give it a B. Oh, I forgot to grade those last two books, so let's give the first a B+ and the second an A-.

Friday, November 17, 2006

2006 books 129 and 130

Hey! I'm in DC! My amazing sister booked me into the hotel that's the headquarters of the conference (unbeknownst to me) and that's right across from the convention center. Plus it's totally swanky, AND I saw three people I know within fifteen minutes of checking in!

On to the books:

Scarlett Thomas' Dead Clever and In Your Face
Scarlett Thomas is one of my favorite authors (Popco was in my top 15 last year, and The End of Mr. Y will be on my top whatever list this year, for sure) but for a long time I didn't realize she was the author of the Lily Pascale mystery trilogy (of which these are the first 2/3). For some reason she seems to keep her genre books away from her literary fiction books--there are no mentions of these on her official site, and the bios in the backs of these note that she's written several novels, including the other two Lily Pascale books. And yet similar elements crop up in both sets of books. Isn't that weird, and worthy of further investigation? Yes, and yes.

But anyway, these two mystery books center on Lily Pascale, who has an MA in contemporary fiction with a specialization in crime fiction. So of course in the first one she ends up teaching at a small college where a grisly murder has just occured, and where more mysterious events suck her in and she solves the whole thing. The first was, I thought, a little weaker--the killer's identity is revealed to the reader too early on. The second was a little scarier and a stronger story in general; in that one, Lily goes to London during a school break after a college friend calls her up begging for help in relation to ore grisly murders.

I think I probably would have read these both in one sitting even if I hadn't been hanging out in airports all day; Thomas is a very engaging writer and I love that so many of her characters are these sort of intellectual types. I know I don't usually go for genre fiction, but Thomas manages to throw in a lot of twists and turns that make things seem less formulaic than some other mysteries I've read. I'm definitely looking forward to the final book in the series--I hope the public library can get it to me soon after I'm back in Florida! Which won't be for a week--I'm off to Pittsburgh after the conference!

They make a Christmas version! They're round and colored green, white, and red instead of the usual pastels. I got a bag at CVS--they're called "solid milk chocolates with a crispy candy shell". Just in case you can't wait till the Easter candy goes out in January for your fix. :)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


One more reason the Holocaust Museum is amazing: they're projecting images of Darfur on their walls from November 20-26 to draw attention to contemporary genocide.

I'll actually be in DC the opening night of this event and will definitely do my best to get there.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

2006 book 128

Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale
OMG! I read a bestseller! I'm actually kind of surprised this made the bestseller lists, but it was pretty good. If I was a blurb writer I would describe it thusly: "Margaret Lea, a young(ish) book shop clerk, is suddenly summoned by the reclusive writer Vida Winter, who has decided to finally tell her life story. As her tale unfolds, dark secrets come to light, and Margaret must confront her own mysterious family secret." Or whatever. I'll give it a solid B--it's a fast-moving story, but the writing is occasionally a little too stilted and/or flowery and/or wannabe Bronte-ish.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

stranger than fiction

Everyone must go see this movie RIGHT NOW. It is REALLY GOOD. All of the main actors--Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, and Queen Latifah (who is slightly underused)--were AMAZING. The whole story just works perfectly, and it's very, let's say, grabbing. I actually was sobbing during one scene--tears running down my neck into my shirt, etc. Also, I think it goes without saying (although apprently I'm saying it anyway) that I want to be Maggie Gyllenhaal's character. The soundtrack is really great too--the whole time I was trying to figure out why it seemed so familiar, and it was b/c it was done by Britt Daniel. Anyway, the whole thing was AMAZING. A+. Seriously. See it.


Originally uploaded by wordnerdy.
Mmmm, check out this apple cake I made (the recipe was a modified version of one Ms. Pinky gave me). Don't you want to just tear off a hunk and shove its sweet still-warm goodness into your mouth?? I know I do, but it's for a potluck thing I'm going to later, so I just have to sit here and be tortured by the smell. It's currently locked in my bedroom so neither I nor the kitten (who has recently developed a taste for sweets, apparently) can get to it. :)

Friday, November 10, 2006

2006 book 127

Suzanne Berne's The Ghost at the Table
Not to sound like a kiss-ass, since I'm vaguely acquainted with several past and present employees, but Algonquin books is putting out some pretty great stuff these days, including this book, which centers on a woman who joins her somewhat dysfunctional family for Thanksgiving (timely reading!). Their past hurts and estrangements are somewhat paralleled with the main character's book-in-progress on Mark Twain's daughters. I am giving it an A-, because I liked it enough to read it all in one sitting, but I had some mixed feelings about the ending (mainly the feeling that I didn't like it that much).

Meanwhile, RIGHT NOW is the Audubon Park/Erie Choir cd release party. I am sure that it is an amazingly rockin' good time, and I am sad not to be there--though the antics of the kitten trying to bring down all the hangers in my closet are pretty entertaining.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

living in a christian nation

This would make me want to boycott Wal-mart, if I wasn't already boycotting Wal-mart on general principle. So maybe instead I should go to Wal-mart and tell their employees "Happy Hanukkah"?

Hey, American Family Association! It's ok to be inclusive! It's called being NICE. But I'm pretty sure you're from the wing of Christianity that thinks I'm going to hell, so maybe I'm not worth being nice to.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

2006 book 126

Kate Muir's Left Bank
It's being marketed as a satire of French intellectuals, and the local public library has it classed as "Married People -- Fiction", and I guess both of those categorizations are accurate enough, but really it's a story about family. More specifically, a French family, headed up by a famous French philosopher and his glamourous actress wife. They seem like the perfect couple but of course their marriage is a shambles, and things start to break apart after their daughter's sudden disappearance from a EuroDisney-like amusement park. It's a solid story, and even educational--I figured out during the course of reading this that Birkin bags are named for Jane Birkin! I'm going to give it a B+, because I enjoyed it a lot but it wasn't like a masterpiece or anything.

hey knitters!

And/or people with friends who knit: I'm selling some handspun yarn on etsy. Probably I'll list some more yarn soon, and I am also happy to take color requests/commissions (though not necessarily to complete them in a very timely manner). Anyway, just an FYI. You all are under no pressure to give me money. :)

hey pittsburghers!

My very own neighborhood (the aptly named Squirrel Hill) is getting its own cupcake shop in December! Looks like I'll have to schedule another trip home this winter. :)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Proof that comic books are totally prophetic: check this out! This is very reminiscent of a Superman comic (or possibly "Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane") from the 70s where Superman for some reason has a machine that can change people's race, and Lois goes through it to experience life as a black woman for a day. It also magically turns her hair into an afro, if I recall correctly.

Note too that, at least when this article was written, the machine is on display at my old private all-girls school.

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Originally uploaded by wordnerdy.
I was the 15th voter in my precinct this morning! I was pleased to note that they still use paper ballots.


exciting knitting news!

My friend Stef (who taught me how to knit freshman year of college) is going to have a pattern in the next Stitch 'n' Bitch book!!!!!

Monday, November 06, 2006

obligatory kitten picture

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Originally uploaded by wordnerdy.
Kittens love paper! More specifically, they love hiding under paper waiting to ambush me! (At least, this one does.)


Well, election day is tomorrow, and I'm pretty worried about the results for my new state of residence. The local paper (in a county that skews blue!) endorsed the goofball Republican running for governor, claiming he's a moderate. I found such characterization to be pretty amusing; I've been watching this douche's attack ads for months now, and during the primary he painted a pretty ugly picture of his supposedly liberal opponent, and also talked about how only he would keep up Jeb Bush's family values. Yeah, real friggin' moderate. Stupid local paper. At least they didn't endorse Katherine Harris . . .

In other news, check out this awesome upscale chocolate sushi. I am obsessed with upscale chocolate lately!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

2005 book 125

Markus Zusak's The Book Thief
I'll start by saying that this book was heartbreaking--I was straight up sobbing at certain parts, as opposed to my usual tearing up a little. With that caveat, I can recommend it pretty strongly. The protagonist is a young German girl (with a penchant for stealing books) who goes to live with a foster family in a smallish town during WWII. There's the usual growing up angst, and there's Nazi angst, and there's the whole hiding a Jew in the basement angst. Normally I'm wary of stories set in Nazi Germany--it's like a cop-out of sorts, since the times are already so emotionally charged that the writer doesn't have to do as much to write a powerful story--and this book did start out a little slow, but by the end I was absolutely engaged, and like I said, sobbing. It didn't elicit the level of despair that, say, Grave of the Fireflies does, which is of course not a bad thing. I actually would re-read this book, whereas you could not pay me to ever watch that movie again. Anyway, we're going to give this one an A-, only because some of the narrative stylings annoyed me a little (Death as a narrator worked for me, but some of his little notes were just a tad over-the-top).

it's official

Sacha Baron Cohen is a genius. I give the Borat movie a solid A (it'd have been an A+ except I'm a little squeamish). It's especially entertaining in light of this thread on Ask Mefi--I wonder which asshole that kid was?

Friday, November 03, 2006

good news

The show I saw tongiht was WAY better than all the books I've read recently! Hooray for Pony Up!(a poppy girl band from Montreal--I like to imagine their merch festooned in My Little Ponies) and Tilly and the Wall (the tapdancing was awesome, in the literal sense of the word, and not the way I generally overuse it). In case I haven't said it, let me state for the record that Club Down Under is by far the best college campus venue I've ever seen. I'll be back again Monday for the Mountain Goats! (It doesn't quite make up for missing the Audubon Park/Erie Choir cd release show, but it's still nice to get some local music love.)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

2006 book 124

Heidi Julavits' The Uses of Enchantment
Here's another book that's garnered a lot of critical attention. It was ok, I guess. The story, about a girl who may have been abducted, is told in three alternating parts: 1999, after her mother's funeral; 1985, when she disappeared ("What might have happened"), and 1986, her therapist's notes. The therapy thing is a major part of the story as it unfolds; there's a whole what's-the-truth thing, and there's a lot about Freud's Dora, and the Salem witches even come into it a bit. The fact that her therapist writes a book about her reminded me of the Six Feet Under Charlotte Light and Dark plotline--this book still haunts the main character fourteen years later.

If my comments sound disjointed, I think that's b/c they're an accurate representation of the book. If I had to grade it, I think I'd go with a B-. Should I give books grades from now on?