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totally top five 2k13: books

It’s time to talk about books! Like last year, this was inexplicably difficult to do? I read a decent amount but when it comes time to talk about what I’ve read, I seem to just go totally blank. I stare into the ether, hoping something magical will work it way around my head and I’ll suddenly be really good at talking about books, but it just never happens. We all suffer for it.


5. Grounded by Kate Klise — previously

I read Grounded as part of the Casual-Ass Internet Book Club and Ms. Klise was kind enough to actually email me when she saw the post saying that I’d chosen her book which I thought was just incredibly sweet.

It immediately panicked me, however, because what if she came back to check out my review and I ended up hating the book?! Luckily for me, she’s an incredible writer and Grounded was an absolutely delight. I thought it was really engaging and intriguing and exactly the kind of book I would have absolutely loved when I was a kid. My casual-ass review of it is one of my favorite things I’ve written this year and one of the only times I feel like I’ve ever managed to really convey what I wanted to about a book. It was a joy to read and a joy to write about.

4. Make Lemonade & True Believer & This Full House by Virginia Euwer Wolff

I first heard of/read Virginia Euwer Wolff’s Make Lemonade trilogy way back in 2008 when I was substitute teaching. I always showed up to work with at least two books so that I’d have something to do while my students were, inevitably, watching a video/taking a test/whatever but one fateful day, I’d already read through everything I’d brought with me. Luckily, I was subbing an English class, so there were books all around me and, conveniently, True Believer was sitting right in front of me on the teacher’s desk. I used the last couple periods of the day to read through it and was so, so impressed and moved, even though it’s the middle of a trilogy.

I’d had all three books on my Amazon Wishlist since that fateful afternoon, but finally got the urge to buy them early this year. They were a truly remarkable read. They’re complex and hard and written in free-verse that is at turns agonizing and artful. LaVaughn is one of the strongest characters I’ve ever experienced in fiction and what she is able to learn and overcome is unbelievable. She makes you want to fight for her and alongside her and even more importantly, she makes you want to fight every single one of your own battles until you can’t fight a second longer.

These books are beautifully rendered and filled with engaging characters who are exceptionally well-fleshed and honest. What a painful joy to experience.

3. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews — previously

I really loved Me and Earl and the Dying Girl when I read it in September and it’s held up as one of my favorites for the year. Though I love it largely for its humor, I also think it’s a story with a good heart that touches reality in an honest way, even when it’s hard. I like Greg as a narrator and his good heart carries the story much farther than a different narrator might have. Earl is bombastic and exciting to read about and Rachel is nicely drawn and feels really genuine. I particularly like Greg’s realizations that surround her illness and the unfair — to her — role it takes on for him and Earl. Greg’s self-awareness never seems phony and is really refreshing to see in a young, white, male narrator.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is also unique in that it has the best cover design I’ve seen in forever and also made me laugh out the loudest and most frequently. It was also an unhappy ending that I not only didn’t hate, but admired. And it has one of the very best teacher characters I’ve ever read in a book.

I still think about Greg and his regretful polar bear noises frequently. Such a delight.

2. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt — previously

I loved Tell the Wolves I’m Home when I read it back in August and I spent a lot of time thinking about it after I finished and even long after I’d already given it a glowing review. It’s a smart and painful book that hurts in all the right places and hits you with the immense weight of youthful awkwardness in ways that you could’ve never even imagined. It’s funny and raw and the language is just transcendent in places.

June is a remarkable narrator with a gift for observation and articulating heartache in ways you’d never think to and she grows and changes and learns from her mistakes right in front of the readers’ eyes. There is so much heart in this and so much complexity about family and siblingship and the struggle to do the right thing for the people you love. It’s exhausting and tearful and wonderful.

I was worried about reading this one — hype is deadly — but I am so, so glad that I did.

1. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell — previously

Eleanor & Park was like a gift from the book gods this year. It was another one that hype tried to drive me away from — that tricky bastard! — and another that I am so, so glad I read anyway.

Eleanor & Park is rich and funny and filled with wonderful characters, thoughtful narration, and great dialogue, which is something I can’t say for most of the books I read this year. Both Eleanor and Park are fantastic narrators who wear their hearts, thoughts, and observations on their sleeves. It is so, so nice to be deep in the heads of characters who have things to say and see the world in ways that are interesting and engaging and fresh.

It does such a great job capturing what it’s like to be young and scared and unsure and enamored of someone new and an even better job of precisely and evocatively encapsulating the thrill and torture of new love. Eleanor & Park is romantic as hell and sexy in a way that feels true and acutely age-appropriate. It is a wonder of a book and I am so glad that 2013 brought it to me.

Honorable Mentions

Previously: 2K12 | JAMZ | MOVIES | ALBUMS | TV

casual-ass winter tales


I want to talk about Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares first because I read it first and because it made me angrier/more annoyed so I probably have more to say about it.

I did not like Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares. I found it readable-ish and compelling-ish just enough to pull me through, but otherwise really kind of lazy and smug? The writing was good enough and there was some nice placemaking but the characters were both pretty bland and well, I wouldn’t normally say cliché because I think it’s a cheap criticism generally, except for how Dash really was and Lily verged real close to it. The entire book somehow managed to bemoan hipsterism while having two leads who would be classified by the general public as being kind of hipstery*. It wasted my time on multiple tirades about how terrible everything about Christmas is — boring! done a million times! who cares! — and made the character that likes Christmas sound like an infant? And even in the end, I don’t understand why these characters end up together/feel that they only do so because they just don’t know each other at all. Dash is a whiny, angsty pain in the ass who hates Christmas fundamentally. Lily is a mollycoddled crybaby optimist who thinks Christmas is the greatest. Neither of them change significantly enough to warrant mention and yet somehow I’m supposed to believe they’ll ever get along because they… saved a baby kind of and got arrested? I just do not get it.

Plus the little things! There is a fundamental misunderstanding of Pixar movies from both Dash and Lily in totally different ways and it ends up reading like neither Levithan nor Cohn has ever actually watched one, which is a shame as it’s some of the best storytelling going on in pop culture right now. Cohn calls Hermione Granger, Hermione Potter which is so egregious on her part and the part of every single person who let it go through to print that I cannot even start talking about.

I’m going to be totally real and say that I did not really enjoy Let It Snow but that after how irritating Dash & Lily was it was a straight-up relief.

I liked Maureen Johnson’s section/story quite a bit. I thought the Flobie stuff was really funny/cute and Jubilee’s a good narrator. She’s funny and a little bit clever and a lot honest, which makes for a nicely entertaining narrative. I thought the rambling about Jubilee being a stripper’s name and the sort of shame-y talk about strippers was weird but then she cut it with a kind of vague “I don’t mind strippers!” and it felt slightly better? But then she spent a lot of time hating cheerleaders (like most of the girls in the book) and it was just such a bummer. It’s the least awful in this section though, so I’ll take that for what it is. I like Stuart and his family — especially his mom, despite her weird trying-to-get-my-son-laid vibe — even though I am so, so deeply creeped out by any teenage girl deciding to go home with a stranger? Like, get back on the train or stay at the Waffle House! Don’t get murdered!

I didn’t enjoy the other two sections even like, 1/10th as much as I like the first and that’s not saying all that much, since I wasn’t that impressed with it either. I thought John Green’s section was really, really gross and relied on so many miserable stereotypes that I don’t even really want to start. I know a lot of people really love John Green and I think that he can tell a good story, but I think that his depictions of women are often super sexist and rely heavily on that tired “I’m not like other girls” trope and his story in this collection was just rife with it. Gross, gross. Lauren Myracle’s section didn’t fare much better and I found almost every character in it unbearable. I also don’t understand the way people treat Addie? I know we all have That Friend who is super self-absorbed and dramatic, but I don’t really feel like Addie is like that? At the very least, we don’t see enough of it in the story. She’s just gone through a break-up and that’s when everyone is at their worst! And everyone around her seems deeply unsympathetic. You can say “She is always like this” as much as you want, but when your readers don’t see it and you’re in the dramatic characters point of view, we just end up thinking other characters are jerks.

Happy Boxing Day! Sorry I hate everything. Kind of. ♥

*: “Hipster” is neither a criticism nor a judgment coming from me. It’s 2013, hipster 1. has almost no meaning whatsoever, and 2. could describe pretty much every person I’ve ever met under the age of 40. I just mean, you know, people who are a little disaffected and cool while pretending they’re not trying. Everyone is trying. It’s okay, guys.

happy holidays!

jolly jingles: 2k13



listen @ 8tracks.com

totally top 5: christmas movies

I have been promising to write an updated list of my top five holiday movies since, oh, late 2011? When I posted my first version before I endeavored on my 31 Days of Festive-Ass Flicks project. And since, you know, Christmas is, like, the day after tomorrow and it’s now 2013, I thought: why not?! Or something.


5. Meet Me in St. Louispreviously

I am not into musicals. Not at all. I mean, I break out in song on a daily basis, but I just can’t accept it happening fictionally unless it’s caused by demonic intervention. That said, Meet Me in St. Louis still manages to be glorious. Judy Garland is flustered-charming and beautiful. Lucille Bremer is so wonderful and so underrated. She’s not the star — who could be with Judy Garland nearby — but she holds her own fabulously. The songs are so good. It looks and feels like a great big classic MGM production and even though the romance is typical and the plot sort of draggy — really just because it covers a decently large chunk of time — it’s just so fun.

Meet Me in St. Louis is also super notable because it birthed a classic — and my personal favorite — Christmas song in “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which is basically way more than, like, any other Christmas movie can say.

4. A Christmas Storypreviously

A Christmas Story was on the list the last time I did a Christmas top five, though it’s dropped considerably in its ranking. It’s not that it’s not still great, it’s just that I’ve watched a lot more Christmas movies in the interim.

A Christmas Story feels like the epitome of holiday movie making and I believe firmly that it deserves its 24 hour airing on TBS every year. It’s a movie with a kind heart and beautiful holiday visuals and great laughs. It’s a period piece that still feels relevant. It’s got great characters — and great, great kid actors — and truly enduring one-liners. Almost everyone loves this one and for good reason. It’s 100% a feel-good holiday classic.

I do, however, stand by my irritation that no one knows how to deal with a kid’s tongue getting stuck to metal. No one needs no fire department nonsense to handle that ish.

3. The Preacher’s Wifepreviously

I really, really love The Preacher’s Wife. I hadn’t seen it before the Festive-Ass Flicks project of 2011 and it is another, like Meet Me in St. Louis, that I am so glad I watched. It’s really charming and hopeful and it’s got the cutest, most adorable child friendship, like, ever put to film. It’s the first movie that ever put me on the Denzel Washington boat and it’s because he is charming as hell and frankly, I’d have left my preacher husband for him in a heartbeat, angel or not.

Whitney Houston’s show-stopping performance of “Who Would Imagine a King” is a serious highlight as is the charming and flirtatious erotic angel ice skating sequence. I usually prefer secular Christmas stuff, so I never expected to even like this one, but I ended up totally loving it. Number three loving it.

2. Love Actuallypreviously

I saw — vaguely — on the internet that everyone was having some sort of meltdown about liking vs not liking Love Actually? I don’t know what the deal is and I’m too lazy/disinterested in other people’s opinions to do any googling about it, but, like, what? How do you not like Love Actually? I don’t mean that in a “Oh god, how dare you!” way, but like, it’s pretty inoffensive as movies ago.” Like, who is going to engage in a passionate takedown of Love Actually of all things?

Anyway, I do actually love Love Actually* because — as I find true of all the Christmas movies I really love — it makes me feel warm and happy and pleasantly at ease. I love each of the stories — Billy Mack and Joe’s friendship! Daniel’s bang-up job raising Sam! Sarah’s heart-breaking and powerful love for her brother! Mark who is in love with a woman and doesn’t think he’s entitled to her! Emma Thompson’s killer gentle crying to Joni Mitchell! Colin Frissell Does Milwaukee! Hugh Grant! — and as a whole the experience is super satisfying.

I am particularly fond of Rowan Atkinson’s turn as the sort of cupid-by-way-of-delay-and-distraction because there’s just enough of it to be endearing and it also strikes me as being particularly British. My favorite favorite bit though is Jamie’s nieces’ exuberant cheers and quick turn of “I hate Uncle Jamie!” We’ve had ten years of Love Actually now. Aren’t we lucky?

1½. Miracle on 34th Streetpreviously

Okay, so I’m cheating a little tiny itty bitty bit by including six movies in a Totally Top 5 list, but really, my top spot is being split between two favorites and for the sake of fairness and formatting, I thought I’d give them equal time. Like Meet Me in St. Louis and The Preacher’s Wife before it, I had never seen Miracle on 34th Street before It became a Festive-Ass Flick in 2011. I don’t know why, really, probably just obstinance about “old shit” since that’s a thing I can sometimes be stupid about.

Miracle on 34th Street is super iconic and really and truly lovely. It’s got a complex mother-daughter relationship that can be hard at times — I think Doris does Susan a deep disservice by discouraging her imaginative leanings — but that is so obviously full of love and the desire to do right by each other. It’s got a mischievous and charming Kris Kringle who never veers so far as to seem creepily omniscient, something that happens far too often in Christmas stories. It’s got great secondary characters in Mr. Macy, Mr. Gimbel, Judge Harper, Fred and particularly Alfred. It’s got an iconic New York Christmas setting and a gentle moral that’s about the power of possibility and belief in the remarkable. It is heartwarming as hell and a holiday classic for a reason. It’s worth the little bit of the cheat.

1. Elfpreviously

Elf has so much going for it as a movie that I honestly don’t know where to start. It’s got a killer soundtrack — Ella Fitzgerald! Lena Horne! Leon Redbone! — and another gorgeous New York backdrop and a cast so phenomenally assembled that it’s infuriating. It’s got great, funny one-liners that are sold with this pitch-perfect delivery over and over again — Will Ferrell’s delivery is sometimes so agonizingly good that I just get mad, such a great mix of naïveté and goofiness — and a great big heart filled with characters who are good or learn to be. Buddy butting up against a world he doesn’t understand — an often cruel one full of double-meaning and sarcasm he cannot parse — drives the story without ever resorting to meanness at his expense and in that friction, the world gets better instead of Buddy getting worse.

It is just truly great. It’s joyful and kind and it tells a story about Christmas spirit without ever devolving into a tirade about commercialism. Elf is a gift that just keeps on giving.

Honorable Mentions

*: You have no idea how satisfying it was to type that sentence. And then speak it aloud like fifteen times. Glory.