Friday, February 12, 2010

"I lettered in shot-put." --danny zuko

Dudes, I hate the Olympics. I hate the nationalism, the capitalism cloaked in sportsmanlike conduct, the feats of strength, the heartwarming tales of overcoming adversity, the drug dogs at the airports (okay I guess that last one doesn't really affect me, but still). The fact that I have to be subjected to this garbage during the darkest of dark winter months makes me want to barf and then die. Hyperbole be damned: I hate them so much. I treat them as a personal affront. Any televised sporting event brings back repressed memories of not being able to do a somersault in gym class and of being asked to manage the field hockey team instead of actually playing (although that one was actually a blessing in disguise--time off school without physical exertion!). I can't handle this kind of emotional pain right now, folks. It's just too much for me.

With that in mind, here are a few things you should watch instead of watching people hit each other with sticks (that's a sport, right?). I've tried to think of the least sporty programming of all time. It wasn't hard.

1. Big Love. I am currently addicted to this show. The weirdness of polygamy and Utah/Mormon society hooked me, but the amazing character development has kept me watching. Also, not a sport in sight, since the FLDS crazies believe women's menses may be interrupted by physical activity. Furthermore, any reason to listen God Only Knows over and over again is fine with me.

2. Me and You and Everyone We Know. While Miranda July, the writer of this zany, hipster orgasm of a film, once penned a short story about secretly offering swimming lessons to the elderly in her living room using a bowl of water to simulate immersion in a pool (you must must MUST read it, and you can find it in her book No One Belongs Here More Than You), this movie is a sports-free zone. This is the story of an artist/cab driver and her alternately boring and ridiculous life, which spokes out like a bicycle wheel into the worlds of the people around her.

3. Casablanca. Much as I despise Valentine's Day, I always get a little bit sentimental around this time of year. I saw this movie for the first time in a highschool English class, but I don't think I really appreciated it till I saw it on the big screen for the first time a few years ago. I'm always surprised at how funny it is. Bogart is fucking dry, man. And who doesn't love a good unrequited love story? If you don't get a little weepy hearing As Time Goes By, you have no soul.

Now let's never speak of the Olympics again.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Give a hoot, read a book.

Oh hey, are you interested in an audiobook you can listen to in your car without developing a paralyzing fear that a cult member and/or murderer is on your tail all the way home at night?

Then Survivor, by Chuck Palahniuk, is probably the worst possible choice for you.

Someone whose tastes I occasionally appreciate, and who begrudgingly uses the library even though he is convinced we are tracking him everytime he checks anything out, returned this book on CD awhile ago and told me he'd listened to the whole thing in one sitting. The other night, as I was searching for something to bring home with me, slim pickin's on the shelf meant it was basically a choice between Norah Roberts and Palahniuk, and when in doubt, I always try the darker, hipper option. I haven't slept much since.

Seriously, this book is terrifying. It opens with the narrator inexplicably telling his life story into the flight recorder of a plane he's hijacked, and if you can believe it, the story plummets downhill (downwind?) from there. He's one of the lone survivors of a Waco-esque cult. He's obsessed with death. He's routinely abused by the people he works for. He advertises his phone number as a crisis help hotline and advises the people who call to kill themselves. He quotes highschool home ec minutiae ad nauseam to the point where you will pick up seventeen different home remedies for blood in your carpet.

Wow, you're probably thinking, what a feel-good story.

And yet, I cannot stop listening. This book on CD is the audio equivalent of rubbernecking at a car crash (which, frankly, is not the best jumping off point for something you're going to be listening to while at the wheel of your car). Like all Palahniuk, there's something strangely hilarious about the morbid, morose, hopelessness of it all. This book isn't for the faint of heart, but if you feel like something wildly different and wildly disturbing, check it out. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll maybe feel queasy. It'll be better than Phantom of the Opera. (Not really, though.)

I don't recommend listening to it all at once, though. You will probably need frequent music breaks between tracks of insane confessional. I recommend this song as your first pause.

Cute as a bug's ear, that one.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Lorrie Moore, you have my heart.

Can we talk about Lorrie Moore for a second?

I've devoured most of her short story collections (try Like Life to start) and was so incredibly and nerdishly excited when she published a novel late last year, A Gate At The Stairs. It finally came in at the library for me, and I've spent the last couple of days wishing I could just unplug the phone, hunker down, and do nothing but read it. It's the story of the ludicrously named college student Tassie Keltijn (this name alone nearly threw me off but don't let it get to you, seriously), who takes a nanny job for a couple in the process of adopting. This incredibly simple premise spirals out into a really remarkable universe of troubled characters, social tension, and amazingly hilarious turns of phrase. Moore is one of those writers whose command of the structure of a sentence is just so perfect, so poetic and so clear, that you find yourself reading bits over and over again. A Gate At The Stairs is part post-9/11 satire, part bildungsroman (how long have I been waiting to use THAT word?), part strange, dark, psychological study. Okay okay, it drags a little at some points, but the dizzying linguistic highs totally compensate for the occasional forays into over the top socio-cultural commentary.

So just so I can prove it, here's the best passage in the book, between Sarah, Tassie's boss and a new adoptive mother, and Tassie. The first part is Sarah's reminiscence of a favourite food:

'"When I was little Dannon made this delicious prune yogurt that came in a waxy brown eight-ounce container. Well, now they don't make any of those things. Completely gone. Although I was in Paris last year and found some there."

'I nodded, trying to imagine the very particular sadness of a vanished childhood yogurt now found only in France. It was a special sort of sadness, individual, and in its inability to induce sympathy, in its tuneless spark, it bypassed poetry and entered science. I tried not to think of my one excursion to Whole Foods, over a year ago, where I found myself paralyzed by all the special food for special people, whose special murmurings seem to be saying, "Out of my way! I want a Tofurkey!" '

My god, the woman is a genius.