Most Memorable Pop Culture of 2013

It’s time once again for my list of my most memorable pop culture experiences of 2013. As you may recall from last year  this is not a top pop culture list. I’m not ranking anything nor even saying these are necessarily the best pieces of pop culture from any given category. They simply are the one or two things in each category that have stuck with me the most from the past year for whatever reason. You can argue artistic merit until the cows come home on your top 10/20/whatever lists. I’ll be here writing about the things that touched me enough in some way that I want to share them with you.

Movie I Saw in a Theatre

There are still a few movies I’m hoping to see in the theatre before the end of the year if time allows, so maybe I’ll have to amend my choice here before all is said and done. This is the problem with posting these things before the year is completely over I guess. Up to this point though I was going back and forth between 20 Feet From Stardom and Before Midnight, two movies I saw this summer that I absolutely loved. Since one is a documentary and one is a film I feel like I can easily include both without violating any non-existent rules about choosing only one item for each category. 20 Feet From Stardom, which I wrote about earlier in the year, is a delightful documentary about backup singers. I really can’t recommend it highly enough especially if you are a fellow lover of music. Of course I still recommend watching it even if you don’t consider yourself a music aficionado because it is a great film in its own right.

I don’t think I anticipated the release of any movie this year as much as I did the movie Before Midnight. It’s the third in a series of films, the first two being Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. The first two films were so beautiful and lovely in letting us spend a few hours with these characters at certain points in their lives just popping in and out to see where they are and what kind of relationship if any they still have. This film had a slightly different sensibility than the first two expanding the universe of characters slightly such that we spent more time with them in a group setting as opposed to the previous films in which for the most part they were the only two characters. It felt completely perfect for where these characters would be 9 years after the end of Before Sunset. As with each previous film was happy with the time we got to spend with them and don’t necessarily feel like they need another film in 9 years, but I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to it if they decide to add a fourth movie to the series.

Movie I Watched at Home

I either didn’t watch very many movies at home this year or none of the ones I watched were very memorable as I had really hard time coming up with a single movie to list in this category. I finally remembered that I watched Pitch Perfect on the plane home from ALA Midwinter. I remember being extremely delighted by that movie and grinning a whole bunch while watching it. So even though it really is literally the only movie I can remember watching outside of a movie theatre at this point I feel strongly that it is probably also the one I would put on this list even if I could remember any other ones. I wrote a full review of the movie after watching it that you can read if you want. 

Fiction Book

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell was an easy pick for my favorite fiction book of the year. Going back through the list of books I read this year I realized I actually read a lot of really good books in 2013. I can’t always say that. I adored Fangirl though and distinctly remember literally not being able to put it down. I was reading it the same day as my annual Preakness Party and instead of getting ready for the party like I should have been I was sitting on the couch glued to this book. I know everyone is citing Eleanor and Park also by Rainbow Rowell as one of their favorite books of the year, and even though I did enjoy that as well there was something about Fangirl that I liked even more. You can read my full review here if you want.

Non-Fiction Book

Teaching the Cat to Sit by Michelle Theall was the non-fiction book I read this year that I loved the most. I’ve become disenchanted with memoirs in recent years, but this one was fantastic. The writing was some of the best and most engaging I’ve read in a long time. It’s not something you often find in memoirs, which if you’re lucky have halfway decent writing to along with what is hopefully a compelling story. In this case the story itself kept me interested and the writing was superb and left me unable to put the book down. I had a galley of this book, so perhaps it’s cheating a little bit to include it here since it’s actual publication date isn’t until February 25 of 2014. I did read it in 2013 though, so I’m including. Just go ahead and pre-order yourself a copy and get a nice surprise when it shows up for you in a couple months.

TV Show

2013 was the year of excellent shows with the word black in the title. I was unable to choose between Orange is the New Black and Orphan Black. Of the Netflix original programming that I’ve watched, which also includes House of Cards and the new episodes of Arrested Development, Orange is the New Black is by far the best show. Based loosely on the memoir by the same name it begins with a focus on Piper, who is a well off white woman sent to prison on a drug trafficking charge from long ago in her past. The early episodes are about her adjustment to prison, but they quickly shift to focus more on the other characters in the show providing stories for them in prison as well as providing glimpses of their back stories. I flew through the 13 episodes of season 1 and am now eagerly awaiting whenever they release season 2.

Orphan Black was another delightful surprise of a television show. Its first season aired after Doctor Who in the spring. I figured it was at least worth checking out, but little did I suspect how much I would love this show. It revolves around a series of clones all played brilliantly by Tatiana Maslany. The characters have all recently figured out that they are clones and are trying to find out who created them and who is potentially trying to kill them off. The first season was excellent from start to finish. I hope that they manage to keep it up in the second season. I always worry a little with shows like this because plotlines start to get convoluted as writers continue to try and keep of suspense and play out the story. I will give them the benefit of the doubt at this point though and look forward to what will hopefully be an equally as excellent season 2.

TV Episode

My pick for most memorable TV episode of the year is far and away from anything that would probably ever be considered the best TV episode of the year. If I was going on artistic merit and all out brilliantness I would probably like every other person in the world choose “Ozymandius” from Breaking Bad. Unlike everyone else on the planet I didn’t really care much for that show, but even I recognize how amazing that episode was and would count it as the best of the series. However, I am not a television critic and I don’t have to judge the things I like based on artistic merit or how brilliant they were in the grand scheme of the television landscape. Instead I can choose things that I enjoyed watching, made me happy, and that I’m inclined to rewatch. Based on that criteria I’m choosing “In the Wind”, White Collar Season 4 Episode 16. This episode is still sitting on my DVR and I’ve watched it more than once. I admit of all of Neal’s love interests over the years Sara was my favorite so I love the proposal scene in this episode even though it wasn’t really for real. Or was it? At any rate this episode presumably saw the last of Hilarie Burton playing Sara Ellis, which makes me sad because I liked that character and her relationship with Neal so much. I am not sold on Rebecca his new love interest for this season. So I’ll just keep rewatching this episode and think about what could have been.

Song

A few weeks ago I did a list of my top 10 songs of 2013. If I was forced to choose one song from the list to put here I would probably have to go with “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Unlike the rest of the songs on my list “Can’t Hold Us” was the one pop song and thus the one song that got played over and over again on commercial radio not to mention the advertising and television shows it was used in. For a song to get so much play such that you can’t escape hearing it usually means even if I once liked it I eventually get so tired of hearing it I can’t stand it anymore. So far that has not happened with this song, which means it has great staying power. Because they are so ubiquitous I can more easily identify pop songs with certain years and events that were going on in my life at the time. When I hear this song down the road in future years it will be the song that reminds me of 2013 for sure.

Album

I knew back in the summer when this album came out that Southeastern by Jason Isbell was going to be my album of the year. Many wonderful albums that I loved have come out since then, but I was right that nothing was able to unseat Southeastern as the album I loved the most this year. I have definitely listened to it more times than any other album I purchased during 2013. Isbell sings what I would probably categorize as alt-country, but musical categories get very fuzzy to me so I could be wrong. He was the lead singer of the Drive-By-Truckers for awhile and has also released some previous solo albums, but none of those are as poignant and as wonderful as this album. Many of the reviews I’ve read of this album over the year say things like Isbell has finally grown up with this album or something to that effect. This is the first album he has written since recently becoming sober and it shows. There is an openness and clarity to it that don’t exist in his previous albums. The songs are beautiful stories that make me well up when I hear them. The whole album is nothing short of a masterpiece in my view. Often even on albums I really like there is a song or two that I don’t care for that much. Not so with this album. Every song is brilliant. I would be hard pressed to choose a favorite song off it, but if I had to I would probably pick “Traveling Alone”, which includes vocals and fiddle by his now wife Amanda Shires. I got to see them play together at the Newport Folk Festival, which was lovely. I doubt she’ll be backing him in January when I see him at the 9:30 Club because she’s touring for herself right now so I’m glad I got to see them play together earlier this year. If you have yet to listen to this album I can not encourage you enough to do so now.

Artist

I included this category last year because I had a musical artist that I felt like I need to mention, but who wasn’t behind either my choice of song, album, or concert of the year. I wasn’t really sure who to include here at first, but wanted to stay consistent with the categories I included last year. After thinking about it though The Lone Bellow seemed the obvious choice. They are a Brooklyn based folk rock band that I first became aware of when the Newport Folk Festival started rolling out their lineup one by one towards the beginning of the year. They were either the first or second band announced so I immediately checked them out on Spotify and fell in love with their music. Shortly after that WXPN named them their Artist to Watch for the month just doubling up on the fact that this was a band I should be paying attention to. Then I kept hearing about them on NPR’s All Songs Considered. Soon it seemed they were being talked about in all the places I turn to for new music.

This actually leads perfectly into my next category of most memorable concert of the year. The Lone Bellow is amazing in concert. They are by far the band I saw the most live in 2013 having seen them 4 times over the course of the year. The first time was at WTMD’s First Thursdays concert, the second time they were opening for Brandi Carlile at Wolf Trap, the third time was at the Newport Folk Festival, and finally at Baltimore Soundstage.

Concert

I saw a lot of amazing live music this year and of course could easily list either Firefly or the Newport Folk Festival as my most memorable concert since they encompass lots of acts, but that feels disingenuous. Thus I limited myself to thinking about those festivals in terms of individual sets. Once I did that there was no doubt that my most memorable concert was The Lone Bellow at the Newport Folk Festival. Their set was everything I love about live music. They had the crowd completely into it. Parts of it seemed spontaneous. They were obviously extremely excited to be up on the stage. They played some fun covers as well as all of their own music that I love. I wrote a lot more about it at the time, which you can read if you want. There’s really no way to adequately describe the powerful feelings evoked by an amazing live show in words, so just know that it was the best experience I had in live music all year.

Broadway Theatre Production

I really thought that I saw more shows on Broadway than I actually did this year. Partly I guess because one of the times I normally would have seen a Broadway show we saw Sutton Foster do cabaret at Cafe Carlyle instead. Even though its a Broadway actress singing mostly show tunes in New York, I don’t think it really counts. I did love it though. Thus I was limited to choosing between First Date and Pippin. Now I know the easy choice here should be the much acclaimed production of Pippin and while I did love it I’m going to go with First Date here. I went in to that show with very low expectations. The reviews had all panned it, and even before that I wasn’t really expecting it to be anything great. I enjoyed it so very much though. It definitely isn’t high art, but it delighted me throughout. I think it got somewhat of a bum rap so I am here to defend it even though it’s closing so I’m far too late for that I guess. Besides it was great fun seeing my TV boyfriend Zachary Levi in his Broadway debut. Hopefully he’ll do more theatre in the future.

Baltimore Theatre Production

This was an easy one. In the spring of last year Centerstage produced what they called The Raisin Cycle, which were productions of Bruce Norris’ play Clybourne Park and Kwame Kwei-Armah’s Beneatha’s Place playing in repertory. The Tony Award winning Clybourne Park is a response to Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. In response to both of these plays Centerstage’s artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah wrote Beneatha’s Place. Both plays were wonderful and in combination extremely poignant. PBS even did a documentary film based on the production as part of their Fall Arts Festival. Centerstage always puts on great productions, but in large part to the Raisin Cycle I thought last season was one of the strongest I’ve experienced (the only show I didn’t really care for was the one about Edgar Allen Poe).

Podcast Episode

Picking my most memorable podcast episode was easy as well. Hands down it was the return of Extra Hot Great. I loved this podcast and was super sad when they ended it when Dave and Tara moved from New York to LA. They said at the time they didn’t envision a great podcast experience if they tried to do something with Joe remotely. Fast forward a little over a year and despite what the previously said they rebooted the podcast in support of their new website Previously.tv. They added a fourth host in Sarah D. Bunting who guested frequently on the original podcast and who is one of the fellow Previously.tv editors. In addition to adding Bunting to the roster the focus of the podcast shifted slightly from covering all of pop culture, which was mostly movies and television, to strictly focusing on television as a tie in to their television based website. That was actually a welcome change to me in some respects given that I just don’t make it to see that many movies, so often in the original version of the podcast they were discussing movies I either hadn’t seen yet or was unlikely to see. I am much more of a television junkie so this shift suited me nicely. The podcast has already changed a little bit with the loss of Joe as a regular member of the podcast team. I’m happy for him in that he now has a regular day job and isn’t piecing together a living doing freelance work, but I miss his regular presence on the podcast. I still love it though, and am super happy that it’s back.

I also feel like I need to mention Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance on the Nerdist podcast as well. I don’t care that much about My Chemical Romance, but there was just something about this conversation with Gerard Way that I loved. I remember listening to it and thinking this is one of the best podcast episodes I can remember. I can’t even really pinpoint why, but I wasn’t the only one. My friend Lindsey, who also listens to the Nerdist podcast, asked me if I had heard it yet shortly after it came out because she too loved it so much.

Christmas Book Club

Last night was the December meeting of one of my book clubs. Normally we try to read a Christmas themed book during December, but that didn’t happen this year. Our assigned month timing got pushed off a month when our fundraiser meeting that was supposed to happen in October didn’t get pulled together until November, which pushed everyone back a month in their hosting duties. The person who was originally supposed to host November and thus wound up hosting December is new to the book club and no one told her that we try and pick a Christmas book. Plus she may not have been thinking Christmas thoughts since she was originally supposed to host in November not December. We wound up reading Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling). Opinions on the book were mixed. I personally didn’t care for it that much and thought it was slow, but some people really liked it. You can look for my full review on my book blog at some point in the near future.

In order to add a little Christmas cheer to book club since our book wasn’t holiday themed I suggested that we do a white elephant book exchange. I thought it was fun at least and will suggest we do it again in future years even though I came home with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, which I read long ago. Hopefully some other people went home with a book new to them that they will enjoy reading. Since we wound up eating at Rocket to Venus, which is right across the street from the big Christmas lights display on 34th Street I also suggested we go walk over and look at the lights after dinner. Unfortunately I think because of said lights as well as the Ravens game the restaurant was packed even on a Monday night and they were not really prepared for it. Service was lousy and it took forever for us to get our food. Then it didn’t come out all at the same time. I apologize to the other Danielle in book club who has apparently acquired my bad restaurant luck by name association. I am always the person whose food goes missing or gets the wrong order. We were speaking as the royal Danielle last night though, so perhaps that was the problem. We were sitting in what we dubbed the Danielle corner of the booth. Also after a discussion of how good the Brussels sprouts are at Rocket and both of us saying we don’t like them, I proclaimed that “The Danielles do not like Brussels sprouts.” I realize all of this probably falls under the only funny if you were there category, but I’m amused so that’s all that matters.

Thanks to dinner taking so long we pretty much lost everyone in regards to looking at the lights because people wanted to get home. Even though they’re only a couple blocks from my house I hadn’t bothered to walk over and see them yet. I know I’ll be down there on New Year’s Eve for their ball drop, but it’s always so crowded it’s not like you can really see the lights at that point, so I figured this was my one chance. My friend Tracie was parked on the other side of them so I walked through with her on the way to her car before I turned around and walked home. There seemed to be a number of new displays this year so I don’t know if new people moved in to those houses or if the people living there just decided to update.

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Extended Birthday Weekend Celebration — Sunday Edition

 

Sunday I hosted on of my book clubs at my house. This book club is currently doing a theme of books based around food. For my selection I chose Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley. I read about it on NPR Books shortly after we had settled on that theme for our next go around of books and it seemed perfect. The book is a graphic novel, which appealed to me being somewhat different than our normal selections. Everyone really enjoyed the book and the food I made from the recipes in the book was all quite delicious. It’s not a very good picture, but here’s what we ate.

2013-06-16 13.34.52Tortellini topped with homemade pesto. Salad made with a homemade dijon vinaigrette, shitake mushrooms, homemade chai, 2 types of cheese whose names I don’t remember, bread, and homemade chocolate chip cookies. All the homemade recipes came from the book. One thing I learned from the book was that I have been cooking mushrooms wrong my entire life. I’ve been crowding them and not just leaving them brown but stirring them way too much. I’ve always liked mushrooms, but cooked the proper way it turns out they’re even better. The chocolate chip cookies were also a big hit both at book club and at the party I took them to the day before. They’re nice and moist and have a good flavor. I look forward to trying out some of the other recipes in the book.

After book club I spent the rest of the day being lazy, which was nice because the rest of my time off I’ve been on the go pretty much non-stop. After spending the entire past TV season seeing my Twitter feed blow up over Scandel I decided I would catch up with it before season 3 starts in the fall. It took me all of season 1 (which was only 7 episodes) and the first 6 episodes of season 2 to really get into it. I kept waiting to figure out what everyone had been raving about. I still don’t know that I’m as in love with the show as everyone else, but I’m definitely getting more into it. It’s way more over the top melodramatic than I care for. Though I’m not sure why this show feels like that way to me when I loved something like One Tree Hill which was even more melodramatically ridiculous and yet never bothered me in the way this show does sometimes. I’m going to keep watching though. One thing is definitely true that this show burns through plot like nobody’s business. It reminds me of the first couple of seasons of  The Vampire Diaries that way.

 

New Book Review Blog

Back in 2004 I started a blog on LiveJournal, which eventually devolved into essentially nothing but restaurant and book reviews and finally nothing but book reviews. Eventually I decided to start blogging about more personal things again and this blog was born. I liked having my separate book review  blog but decided it really didn’t make any sense to keep it in the space it was sitting anymore. Instead I have reinvigorated it, given it a new name, and moved all the book review content onto WordPress where it can live along side this blog. Those of you who actually visit this blog on its site and not through an RSS reader may already have noticed the new menu link along the top, which will take you to my new book blog, Around the Year in 100 Books. You can now visit me there at http://booksmorebooks.wordpress.com to keep up with what I’m reading and to find out if I will indeed be able to read 100 books this year. We won’t talk about how long it took me to find a WordPress address about books or reading that wasn’t already taken.

The Most Memorable Pop Culture of 2012

Best of lists are flying around hot and heavy this time of year. I decided to do something slightly different here. I am obviously not a critic, and I don’t specialize in any particular area of pop culture. I could throw together lists of things like top 10 movies, tv shows, songs, etc. but that just sounds exhausting and not fun. Instead I’m going to pick one (or maybe two) things in a number of categories that I’m calling the most memorable of 2012. I’m not even doing a real best of list because that would involve work like actually going back and looking at all the pop culture I took in this year and figuring out the criteria by which I was rating it, etc. That would be way too difficult for anything but books, which are the only thing I keep strict track of during the year as I read them. Instead, I am going with most memorable, in that I’m choosing whatever has stuck with me through the year. Unfortunately this does unfairly give advantage to stuff from the last half of the year since it’s fresher in my mind. Deal with it, but also feel free to remind me of things I may just be forgetting.

So without further ado here are the things I found most memorable in 2012:

Movie I Saw In a Theater

I don’t make it to movies as much as I once did, but out of the handful I saw this year I’m naming Argo as the most memorable. It’s the one movie I can think of that I have actively recommended to people since seeing it. The fact that I was sitting on the edge of my seat during a good portion of it despite knowing the outcome going in points to what a stellar job they did making it. If you haven’t seen it yet, please do. You won’t regret it. Though far from the best movie of the year I have to give a special shout out to Magic Mike, which gave me the best experience leading up to actually watching the movie. If you only knew the number of Twitter conversations I had with my friends Jenny and Sarah over the 6 months before that movie was released.

Movie I Watched at Home

I also don’t watch nearly as many movies at home as I used to either. Netflix is probably thrilled with the fact that we pay them every month for the privilege of having the same DVD sit on our TV stand. The existence of the DVR and back seasons of TV shows on DVD and streaming has allowed us to watch so many more TV shows than was ever possible before that I tend to choose those over movies. I have probably watched more movies at home than I am remembering, but the one that popped into my head when I thought about what to include under this category was Friends with Benefits. I’m not even entirely sure that the movie was released on DVD during 2012, but it’s when I watched it so it wins. As I have mentioned many times before on this blog, I love a good romantic comedy. Sadly, there is a dearth of them being made right now. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of them being produced period, and the few that have been released for the most part have been either duds or outright horrible. Though I wouldn’t rank it among my favorite romantic comedies of all time, Friends with Benefits was definitely the best romantic comedy I’ve seen in several years. It was smart. It was funny. The female protagonist wasn’t a complete idiot. A highly enjoyable film all around.

Fiction Book

This one was easy. It’s Pamela Ribon’s You Take It From Here. Since I do review all of the books I read, I did in fact go back through the 103 books I’ve read so far this year (I’ll probably hit 105 or 106 before the year is over) and see what books I rated the most highly. There were a couple other fiction books that I rated the same as You Take It From Here, but this is the book that I definitely thought about the longest after reading it, and the only one I felt compelled to write about on this blog previously.

Non-Fiction Book

Non-fiction was a bit harder. I rated a good number of non-fiction books I read this year 9 out of 10. It was a good year for non-fiction book choices for me I guess. Usually it’s pretty easy for me to go through and pick out the one or two books I rate that highly. Ultimately I’m going to go with The Revolution Was Televised:The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever by Alan Sepinwall. You can read my actual review of the book here. I chose this over the other books because for one it feels a little meta to make my non-fiction choice in my most memorable pop culture things of 2012 be a book that is itself pop culture related. It also has the extra bonus for making me happy that a writer whose work I’ve long admired is getting such ringing praise for his book. Finally, it’s a fascinating look at how self-publishing can really work for someone who already has a built-in following.

TV Show

It is no secret that I watch a lot of TV, so choosing which TV show to slot in here was a bit of challenge. In some respects it feels weird to do a best of TV thing on the calendar year since that isn’t how TV seasons run. So if I’m just looking at 2012 then for most shows I’m covering the end of one season and the beginning of another at least for network shows. Some cable shows manage to fall within one calendar year, but then there are others like those on USA that split their seasons up so bizarrely that I’m never really sure when I’m actually watching a new season or just another half of a season I already started. This can change how I think of things dramatically. For instance at the end of the last season of Vampire Diaries I loved where the show was at and spent all summer excited to see where the story was going to go next. Boy has that show squandered my love for it this season. On the other hand, although Parenthood has always been a show I’ve enjoyed this season they have really kicked things up a notch and made this an outstanding show.

Ultimately I’m going to cheat and choose two shows here. First, I’m going to go with Castle, which has long been a show I look forward to watching every week. Any show that I put on the top of my too watch list when it’s time to figure out what to watch each night automatically stands out. Castle has always been that show on Monday nights. They were in tricky territory this year with finally getting Castle and Beckett together, but so far they have handled it outstandingly. The show is just as fun as ever and taking away the will they or won’t they element has actually added to my enjoyment of their relationship, which is not always something that happens on TV shows because the writers so often screw that up. I do hope this also puts to bed the stupid Moonlighting curse theory that if you get the couple together the show loses all of it’s magic. As someone who actually went back and watched all of Moonlighting about 5 or 6 years ago, trust me the fact that Maddie and David briefly got together was far from what killed that show.

I’m also going to include Parks & Recreation. I did a binge watch of the first seasons of this show over the summer in order to catch up to the current season. It’s definitely one of the best sit-coms currently on television (and now that I say that I no longer feel bad about picking two shows because one is an hour long drama/comedy/procedural hybrid and one is a half hour sit-com). It makes me laugh every week, and the characters are delightful. I start smiling every week when I hear the theme song.

TV Episode

Though I had a hard time picking a TV show, I had no problem picking a specific episode of a TV show. That honor goes to Episode 3 of Girls, “All Adventurous Women Do”. This is the episode that sold me on the show for good, and it was mostly all due to this closing scene.

My early twenties resembled the lives these girls are living pretty much not at all, but despite that I remember the feelings of being entirely lost and confused during that time of my life. Though those feelings were born out different situations they come across in the same way to me. Anyway, there was something magical in that scene that just captured the life of a person in their young twenties for me that I loved.

Song

When I thought about writing this the song I intended to write about was Ho, Hey by The Lumineers, and yet now that I’m writing this the only song I feel like I can honestly put down is Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me, Maybe. If I was doing best song or favorite song then yes Ho, Hey would definitely win, but since I’m going most memorable it has to be Call Me, Maybe. It was the perfect summer anthem, and unlike most overplayed pop songs I never really got tired of it. I was happy to jam out to it every time I heard it on the radio unlike the other two majorly overplayed songs of the year Gotye’s Somebody That I Used to Know and fun.’s We Are Young, neither of which I can bear to listen to at this point. Call Me, Maybe also had so many fun internet videos attached to it. It really was the song of 2012.

Album

My Head is an Animal by Of Monsters and Men clearly wins this category. It the album I probably listened to the most this year, and it is a fantastic debut. I look forward to hearing much more from Of Monsters and Men in coming years.

Artist

It feels a little off to have my most memorable artist be a band that is not my choice for either album or song, but I’m going with The Lumineers for this one. As I mentioned under the song category, Ho, Hey is certainly one of my favorite songs of the year. Their second single Stubborn Love is probably the song that most competes for that title. Ho, Hey is a much happier feeling song though. I’m also digging the third single off their album, Submarines. Though my attempts to see them play live this year have been foiled numerous times, I will finally remedy that come February when I shall see them in concert in Philly. I am very much looking forward to it.

Concert

This was probably the hardest category to choose from because I saw some truly fantastic concerts this year, so I’m going to cheat and list both Florence + the Machine’s concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion and Brandi Carlile’s concert at The Lyric. Both of those concerts were full of so many elements that make a great show for me that I can’t choose between them. They were both wonderful.

Broadway Theater Production

I had the pleasure of making it to a number of shows on Broadway this year. They were all great, but my absolute favorite was seeing Sutton Foster star as Reno Sweeney in the revival of Anything Goes. Now that she’s off doing Bunheads on TV I’m glad I got the chance to see her perform on Broadways because she is fantastic. I’m sure she’ll be back one day, but for now I’ll know I didn’t miss it. Plus the amazing tap dance at the end of the first act was one of the best things I saw all year. I still grin thinking about it or watching versions of it on YouTube, which I still do. And hey, I saw this all the way back in January of 2012, so I managed to pick at least one thing that didn’t happen in the last half of the year.

Baltimore Theater Production

I have season tickets to two theaters in Baltimore, so I also saw a lot of theater in Baltimore this year as well. It was hard to choose in this category because I’m comparing the much smaller but wonderful shows of Centerstage with the large touring productions at The Hippodrome. Ultimately I’m going with Memphis because it was the first new musical I’ve seen in awhile that I loved.

Podcast Episode

I only regularly listened to three podcasts during 2012. Sadly that is now down to two since one of them no longer exists. RIP Extra Hot Great. I still miss you. While I adored that and still do adore Pop Culture Happy Hour, there was no real fair competition in this category. I was going to wind up picking an episode from the Nerdist podcast. It’s not necessarily that I enjoy any of their episodes that much better than Extra Hot Great or Pop Culture Happy Hour, it’s just that the fact that most of their episodes are interviews which makes it much easier to remember specific episodes compared to the segment discussions on the other two podcasts. I chose Nerdist Episode #267 in which they interview Tom Hanks. Everything about this episode was absolutely delightful from the way they got Tom Hanks to come on the podcast to Tom Hanks just being the best guest. I remember listening to this podcast episode during a particularly trying time for me at work this year, and it was just the best thing at the time to help calm me down and give me some smiles.

You Take It From Here by Pamela Ribon

I usually don’t review books on this blog since I still post them on my old blog and in Goodreads, but I loved this book so much that I wanted to post about here too. Plus I don’t think to many of you actually read my reviews in other places so you won’t have to see it twice (or thrice).

You Take It from Here by Pamela Ribon

I loved this book so much that I have anxiously been awaiting the chance to even sit down and write a review of it. I’ve enjoyed Ribon’s previous three books, but I definitely think this one is my favorite.

Before I get into the review indulge me in a metaphorical tangent about why I liked this book. This book can be classified as women’s fiction, which is generally an indication to me that I should avoid it as far too often I find that it means I’m getting a romance novel or so-called “chick lit”. I’ve never cared about romance novels in which the whole story revolves around a girl getting a guy. It’s just not my thing. The only romance novels I read are the ones written by my mother. Filial obligation and all that. “Chick lit” books seem to either be about girls mooning ridiculously over guys and shopping like in Bridget Jones or spineless girls who can’t stand up to horrible bosses/friends like in The Nanny Diaries or The Devil Wears Prada. Either way they make me feel stabby. None of this is to condone people who enjoy these books, they’re just not my bag. I do however enjoy a good romantic comedy movie. I only bring this up because my mother doesn’t understand how I can hate romance novels and chick lit but like romantic comedies. I’m not sure I have a good explanation, but I can tell you that You Take It from Here, despite not actually being a romantic comedy, pushes all the same buttons for me.

You Take It from Here is not a high work of literature, but it is completely satisfying. I liken it to the Dairy Queen ice cream cone I insisted on getting for dessert following the fancy pants meal at the restaurant where I got engaged. The meal was reading a Pulitzer Prize winning novel while You Take It from Here is the equally as satisfying but for completely different reasons DQ dessert.

The story (hey look at that I’m finally actually going to talk about the book for real) revolves around long time best friends Danielle (whose name I have a surprisingly hard time remembering given that it’s my own) and Smidge. When Danielle returns home to Louisiana from LA for the annual trip she and Smidge take together she finds out that Smidge has terminal lung cancer and would like Danielle to take over her life, raising her teenage daughter and marrying her husband after she dies. The book is written as a letter to Smidge’s daughter Jenny detailing the decisions Danielle made to try and honor what might be her best friend’s final wish, which I thought was a lovely detail.

It’s a wonderful story about friendship and family. There were some scenes that were so realistic that they almost took my breath away. The characters in this book felt so real that even a week and half after reading it I can’t stop thinking about what is happening to them. I definitely didn’t always agree with the things they did or the way they acted to the point that I wanted to slap both of them at various points, but the characters are so well written that even when their behavior bordered on outlandish I was still able to find it believable. I initially wasn’t entirely happy with the ending because I wanted to know more about what happened to the characters, but I got over that very quickly and decided it was in fact the perfect ending to the story.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Go read it now. You won’t regret it. I rate it a 9 out of 10.

An Anna Karenina Book Club Feast

Yesterday I hosted one of my book clubs at my house. For this particular book club the host usually chooses the book and then prepares food that is somehow thematically related to it. We’re doing a series on classics at the moment, so I chose Anna Karenina because it something I have always wanted to read but have never quite been able to force myself to sit down and do until now. Despite it’s length there wasn’t much talk of food in the book and looking through traditional Russian recipes did not leave me very inspired, so I got a little creative. Here is a picture of the meal just before we ate.

Clockwise from the back left corner:

  • A simple salad of lettuce, tomatoes, and carrots. It is neither Russian nor something mentioned in the book but I decided we needed a vegetable given the rest of the menu. I briefly considered serving Russian dressing with it, but as it is both gross and not actually Russian I decided against it.
  • Vodka to drink, of course.
  • A strawberry tart and some whipped cream on the side, which is sadly very hidden in this photo. It’s a shame because it was probably the most picturesque thing on the table.  They mention eating a raspberry tart in the book, but since strawberries are currently in season and abundantly available at the farmer’s market I made a strawberry tart instead. I used this recipe, but added a glaze made from apricot jam and Grand Marnier. http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/strawberry-tart
  • Pan fried halibut with a lemon butter sauce. In the book they mention eating turbot, but I was unable to find that particular fish. Recipes I looked at suggested halibut as an alternative. I used this recipe, but had to cook it much longer than indicated because halibut fillets are much thicker than turbot fillets. http://www.openfood.com/recipes/pan-fried-turbot-recipe/
  • The wine glasses were for some white wine that does not appear to have made it to the table at this point. I couldn’t find a Russian wine, so I went for an Italian Pinot Grigio because Anna and Vronsky spend some time in Italy.
  • Raspberry iced tea to drink because they mention drinking tea in the book and raspberry flavored because they mention eating raspberries. It was made with some raspberry tea I got on our Alaskan cruise a few years ago.
  • Bread and goat cheese from Firefly Farms, which is a creamery in Accident, Maryland who sell their wares at my local Whole Foods. I’ve had several varieties of their goat cheese and can’t recommend it highly enough.
  • Last but not least cheese blintzes with a blueberry sauce on the side, my one sort of real Russian dish. I used this recipe for the blintzes. It suggests having a helper to fill the crepes while you are cooking them. I’m sure I would have managed by myself, but must say that it was convenient to have my friend Alison there to help me assemble the blintzes. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/pacificnw/2008766325_pacificptaste22.html I used this recipe for the blueberry sauce. It had a great flavor, but I’m not sure if I cooked it too long (I still cooked it for less time than the recipe suggests) or if I should use less cornstarch in the future but it wound up more like jelly than like the sauce it was supposed to be. No matter, it was still tasty. http://www.mybakingaddiction.com/homemade-blueberry-sauce-recipe/

I was trying all these recipes for the first time, but they’re all something I intend to keep in my arsenal for future use because everything turned out really well I think. Hopefully my fellow book club members thought so too.

2011: A Year in Books

I love to read. As a librarian, people often think all I do all day is sit around and read books. I wish this was my job. How awesome would it be to get paid to read books all day. In fact my job rarely involves me ever even touching a book, which is something I think boggles the minds of people who aren’t librarians and who don’t actually understand what most librarians actually do all day. This post however is not about that. Even though I don’t get paid to read all day, I do read a lot. I don’t normally write about books here that much because I already post my reviews on my other blog and on Goodreads, so if you’re interested in what I’m reading and what I think about it you can follow me in one of those two places.

However, since reading is such a huge part of my life and something that makes me very happy I thought I would do a highlight post about the books I read during 2011 (note these are not all books that were written in 2011).

I read 109 books during 2011. I gave my highest ratings of the year (9 out of 10) to three books: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, Working in the Shadows by Gabriel Thompson, and Don’t Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon. 2011 was also the year I finally managed to read anything by Stewart O’Nan, whose books had long been sitting on my to-read list. I am so glad I did as the four I read were wonderful. He is definitely earning a place on my list of favorite authors. Luckily I still have a number of books in his back catalog to read. I also finally read the three novels written by Pamela Ribon, whose writing I had long been a fan of on her blog as well as her recaps on Television Without Pity. She has a fourth book coming out in 2012, which will be at the top of my to-read list once it’s published.

Now on to 2012 where there are many more wonderful books waiting to be read.

Curling Up with a Good Book

I spent 5 hours of my day glued to my couch reading the book One Day by David Nicholls. One of my book clubs is reading it and then going to see the movie together. It’s rare that I have the opportunity to sit and read a book in its entirety and even rarer that if I do have the time that I am reading a book engaging enough that I can’t put it down. Today was a happy convergence of those two things. It was quite a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. I’m not going to review the book here because I still review books on my old blog and also on Goodreads, so if you’re interested in my book reviews you can follow me in one of those places.

Book Clubs

I’m actually in two book clubs. One is a fairly casual meeting with a group of my friends. We meet once a month usually at a restaurant and have drinks and dinner while discussing our book of choice…kind of. In this book club we usually spend only about a quarter of the time actually discussing the book and the rest of the time just enjoying a night out together. There is invariably always someone there who hasn’t finished the book or sometimes even started it. It’s my casual book club.

My other book club was started by one of my coworkers and is composed of mostly her group of college friends plus a few add-ons. It’s been great getting to know more people through this book club. This is my serious I feel like I should have been an English major book club. It meets every other month at the host’s home where that person has usually prepared a lovely spread of food that is somehow thematically tied to whatever book we read. It’s always fun to see what people come up with especially when mentions of food are entirely lacking in the book. As I mentioned this is my serious book club. We pretty much spend the entire time discussing the book in some form or fashion and often get deep into the kind of things you have to think about when analyzing stuff for English classes. It’s always a good discussion and I often leave with a new respect for the book even if it wasn’t something I particularly enjoyed.

One of the things I enjoy about being in book clubs is reading books that I otherwise wouldn’t read. Since we take turns choosing what books to read and people have different favorite genres this often means I wind up reading books I don’t like, but sometimes it means I wind up reading an excellent book that I never would have read. My serious book club is getting ready to start a round of classics, which means I’ll wind up reading a bunch of books I feel like I should have read buy probably would never bother picking up on my own. It will be fun.

If anyone in the Baltimore area is interested in joining a book club we’re always open to new members.