Inventory of a Stolen Purse

Black leather purse.

Portable battery charger.

4″ lightning cable.

Small, rectangular, metal plate stamped with La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre. Recovered from my grandmother’s home in Miami after her death.

Magnet spelling out “DENVER,” decorated with the “C” of the Colorado flag. Airport souvenir for my Dad.

Plastic pill container with emergency stores of ranitidine, ibuprofen, and diazepam.

Diamond stud earrings, one back missing. Given to me by my mother. Belonged to my grandmother and her mother, who brought them from Spain.

Small, rectangular mirror. Skeleton playing the ukulele on the reverse side. Found in a shop in the Mission in San Francisco. Mirror sheathed in a blue rubber sleeve, featuring a trolley and the words “San Francisco,” from another souvenir store.

Small, purple, Moleskine notebook. Blank.

Black leather wallet.

Pearl. Found in an oyster I ate in an Orange Beach restaurant.

University of Alabama student ID. Photo taken upon starting master’s program in 2015, replacing the ID featuring an awful photo taken upon starting law school in 2010.

Bounds Law Library card. Expired 2013.

Gift certificate to the restaurant Little Savannah. A gift from my brother and his wife to my dad and his wife. A gift from my dad and his wife to me.

Alabama State Bar ID cards from 2015, 2016, and 2017. Never used.

Membership cards to Barnes and Noble, the Jefferson County Library Collective, The Nick, the ACLU, Pie Five.

Canvas pouch, black cats on white. A gift from my mother, purchased at a fair in Washington DC.

Pink lipstick.

Pen I received the first day of my internship, featuring the logo of my host firm.

Red lipstick.

Cloth jacket, light blue, from Gap. Comfortable lightweight covering when worn, but insufficient for hiding valuables in car floorboard.

2017: First Quarter Note

The first fourth of 2017 is mercifully behind us. Thanks to the recommendations of friends, strangers, and society-at-large, my weeks have been full of new music of all shapes and sizes. Every Sunday I choose an album to which I’ve never listened, and throughout the week I listen to it at least five times (to give it a fair shake). Here is how I’ve been struck by albums in 2017 so far.

N.B. My rating system is not based on objective quality, but on the likelihood of me ever choosing to listen to the album again. It’s personal to me, so don’t take it personal.

★★★★★ I love it, and it’s already a regular listen.
★★★★☆ I like it a lot and will definitely play it again.
★★★☆☆ I like it, but I may not listen to it often.
★★☆☆☆ If it comes on I won’t turn it off.
★☆☆☆☆ I’m not interested in hearing it again.

Week One

The Jam – In the City (1977)1 The_Jam_-_In_the_City
★★★☆☆

A punk band with interesting chord structures and actually meaningful lyrics, I started off the year hot and hopping with The Jam. Especial favorites are “Away from the Numbers” and “I Got By In Time.”

Bonus Tunes: Talking Heads – Little Creatures (1985)

I have listened to Little Creatures more than any other album all year. I can’t get over how much I like Talking Heads.

Week Two

2 Outkast-atliensOutKast – ATLiens (1996)
★★☆☆☆

For reasons I cannot quite identify, ATLiens had a depressive effect on me. Of the many clever rhymes, my favorite is from “Elevators:”
Yes, we done come a long way like them slim-ass cigarettes from Virginia
This ain’t gon’ stop, so we just gon’ continue

Bonus Tunes: Kanye West – “Monster” (2010)

I wanted to know what all the fuss was about w/r/t Nicki Minaj’s verse on this song. I understand now.

Week Three

Sleigh Bells – Treats (2010)3 Sleigh_Bells_-_Treats
★★★★★

This album is exactly why I started this project. I had never heard of Sleigh Bells, and if I had, I am sure I would have dismissed them as “not my kind of music.” Thanks to a friend’s recommendation, I get to enjoy this fresh, high energy, positive, killer album.

Week Four

4 Dead_Kennedys_-_Fresh_Fruit_for_Rotting_Vegetables_coverDead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (1980)
★★★★★

Folks, this is what it’s all about. With relentless rock and righteous lyrics, Dead Kennedys condemn you, your mom, and your worst enemy. Everybody can go to hell equally. I’m in.

Bonus Tunes: Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3 (2016)

This album is the reason I signed up for Apple Music–I was tired of hearing about popular releases but not experiencing them. Now I know I love Run the Jewels.

Week Five

Emmylou Harris- Roses in the Snow (1980)5 Roses_in_the_Snow_(Emmylou_Harris_album_-_cover_art)
★★☆☆☆

The problem with covering “The Boxer” is it’s probably better than anything else on the album (see also: Mumford & Sons’ Babel bonus tracks). “Root Like a Rose” and “Miss the Mississippi and You” are very strong, and I always like a Wronged Woman tune. Crazy to think this album and Fresh Fruit were released in the same year.

Week Six

6 WallflowersBringingDowntheHorseThe Wallflowers – Bringing Down the Horse (1996)
★★☆☆☆

Like many albums of the 1990s, I am convinced I could make Bringing Down the Horse better by cutting three songs, and 30-90 seconds from most of those remaining. If anyone would like to pay me to do this, please contact my agent.

Bonus Tunes: Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (2013)

There are a few verses on this album that make me bona fide bowled over. Specifically, Killer Mike’s Tyson lines in “Job Well Done” and his description of taking Molly in “No Come Down” are incredible.

Week Seven

Broadcast – Tender Buttons (2005)7 Tenderbuttons
★★★★☆

Another electronic rock album that I would have never chosen on my own. Tender Buttons crept under my skin and stayed there.

Week Eight

8 Cheap_Trick_One_on_OneCheap Trick – One on One (1984)
★☆☆☆☆

This is probably a very exciting album for 14 year old boys.

Bonus Tunes: The Kinks – The Kinks Are the Village Preservation Society (1968)

In a world of British bands pretending to be American, The Kinks proudly sing about the Village Green and the Sherlock Holmes English-Speaking Vernacular. “Picture Book” is a Grade-A fantastic song, and this album is a joy.

Week Nine

Television – Marquee Moon (1977)9 Marquee_moon_album_cover
★★★★★

I know I like a band/album when I enjoy the 10-minute song with a five-minute guitar solo. I can’t stop singing “Prove It” and “Torn Curtain” to myself.

Week Ten

10 The_Pirate's_GospelAlela Diane – The Pirate’s Gospel (2004)
★★☆☆☆

Nice songs, like a B-grade Rhiannon Giddens.

Bonus Tunes: Migos – “Bad and Boujee” (2016)

I wanted to know what all the fuss was about w/r/t every single person on earth talking about this song. I understand now.

Week Eleven

The Mountain Goats – Sunset Tree (2005)11 Themountaingoatsthesunsettreealbumcover
★★★★☆

This album continues to grow on me. I am strongly reminded of The Decemberists, with less death and more drugs.

Week Twelve

12 Licensed_to_illBeastie Boys – Licensed to Ill (1986)
★★★☆☆

This album goes down easy, like a meal of Budweiser and White Castle.

Bonus Tunes: Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2 (2014)

RTJ2 might include the most obscene song I’ve ever heard. Doesn’t stop this old prude from enjoying it! My personal RTJ ranking: 1, 3, 2. Can’t wait to see them this summer.

Week Thirteen

The Sundays – Reading, Writing & Arithmetic (1990)13 Sundays-readingwritingarithmetic
★★★★★

Sometimes I pick an album because I’ve been eyeing it for years; other albums I pick because I hear people on an old podcast raving about a band I’ve never heard of. The Sundays are very The Smiths-y, and I’m grateful I listened to that episode of Do You Need A Ride? I’m so excited to have this album, and The Sundays’ other albums, to listen to.

Second Quarter Projections

Kicking off Quarter Two with some long-overdue Prince. I have a lot of albums ready to go, but I’m still accepting recommendations. If you have a favorite album, an album you want everyone to hear, or just an album you think I would like, please send it along!

Queen Harvest’s Top Five (5) Albums of 2016

This year was not my most musically adventurous. I spent a lot of listening time on podcasts (SSDGM), lecture series (Russia, Ulysses, Ireland), and Hamilton (again), and made minimal efforts seek out new music. I have decided to take action against musical malaise next year. I will listen to a new album every week, at least four times to make sure they get a chance to sink in. I crowdsourced a long list of albums (some new, all new to me), and I am excited to get started. Until then, here are the albums that I enjoyed the most in 2016.

5. Rocket to Russia (Ramones, 1977)

Favorite Song: “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker”

ramones_-_rocket_to_russia_cover

Listening to Rocket to Russia, I can almost hear the crowded New York club, filled with rollicking girls and  rowdy boys. The songs are not meant to be played cleanly into a silent space (like my car), but played with living energy and breathing motion, directly into the bodies of the listener. Once I got over the impression that the album was made of two songs, each rewritten several times, I found joy in the simple lyrics and driving beats. The repetition and pace are hypnotic. On the downside: I can’t imagine why they included “Surfin’ Bird.” The Clash would never do that.

4. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (The Flaming Lips, 2002)

Favorite Song: “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell”

theflaminglips-yoshimibattlesthepinkrobotsOne impression of Yoshimi: So this is what all those indie bands are trying to do.

Though I was initially wary of the musical interludes (I am a lyrics-first person), I soon found the melodies crawling under my skin, making themselves a backing track to my day. Once the lyrics broke through, they hit me squarely in the chakra. The Flaming Lips’ new age philosophy (which is really old age philosophy) in catchy rhythms with just a touch of science fiction makes for a fun and beautiful album that grows on me more with every listen.

3. Sail Away (Randy Newman, 1972)

Favorite Song: “Sail Away”

randy_newman-sail_away_album_cover

Any communication folks have had with me this year has probably included some version of me melting into “Randy Newman is a genius.” Randy Newman is so good at satire, you can love and know every word of his songs and not even know they have meaning beyond

their face value. The title track of Sail Away feels like freedom–sail away, cross the ocean, stop running, take care of your home–but it is a lie coaxing someone to surrender themselves into bondage. “Political Science” is one of the funniest songs I know. At the same time,

it simply relates a terrifying endpoint of American exceptionalism (they’re of no use to us, drop the big one). Newman is not a religious man, so you know his two songs on God, “He Gives Us All His Love” and “God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind),” mean more than meets the eye. Then there is “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” which is just a jam.

Each Newman album has a handful of gutpunches. Standouts to me are “Jolly Coppers on Parade” and “Baltimore” on Little Criminals and “Rednecks” and “Kingfish” on Good Old Boys. I have not begun to crack the all nuts that are Randy Newman songs, but there is a whole barrel worth gnawing on. Because I don’t know if you realize this, but Randy Newman is a genius.

2. The Modern Lovers (The Modern Lovers, 1976)

Favorite Song: “I’m Straight”

the_modern_lovers_albumThis album is a gem. I am grateful for John Hodgman’s continual pushing of “Roadrunner” that finally brought The Modern Lovers to me. Jonathan Richman sounds like a self-aware teenager doing an impression of a regular horny teenager. “Pablo Picasso” is the comeback of a rejected adolescent bemoaning the injustices of life and love. “Government Center” is a ‘60s garage band playing a ‘50s dance number. Great music, great lyrics, great delivery. Richman loves the Old World but wants to live in the Modern World, and I want to live in the Modern World with him.

1. Blackstar (David Bowie, 2016)

Favorite Song: “Girl Loves Me”

I may not have listened to Blackstar much this year if David Bowie had not died; perhaps I would not feel the weight of its greatness under different circumstances. Nevertheless, Blackstar is inseparable from Bowie’s death–the themes of age, illness, legacy, and life are felt in every song. Bowie knew he was leaving and he gave us Blackstar as a parting gift. The man who once had Friday on his mind is now wondering “where the f*¢k did Monday go?”

blackstar_front_coverTechnically, Blackstar is not “my kind” of music. But there are only two kinds of music: good music and bad music. Whether it is folk, funk, metal, or jazz, David Bowie makes good music. Like a symphony the title track carries the listener from movement to movement, and somehow drops you off where you started with no memory of the return. “Sue (or In a Season of Crime)” is a slow ballad sung over a breakneck jazz beat in a triumph of musical engineering. “Lazarus,” “Dollar Days,” and “I Can’t Give Everything Away” are mesmerizing, haunting, heartfelt reflections in peak Bowie style.

There is an old monk in a Robertson Davies novel who laments that since Jesus died at 33 he did not have the opportunity to teach the monk how to be old. There is no end of music describing the pleasures and sorrows of youth, but many of us will grow old and all of us will die. In his final months Bowie turned his inner state into art, as he had so many times before, and we are all his beneficiaries.

Honorable Mentions

Little Creatures (Talking Heads, 1985)
The only reason Little Creatures didn’t crack my top five is because I only started listening to it in the last week of 2016. “Stay Up Late?” Are you kidding me with this? Of course.

Hamilton Mixtape (Various Artists, 2016)
I’m not as Hamilton-crazed as I once was, but the Mixtape mostly nailed it. Kelly Clarkson’s “It’s Quiet Uptown” is magnificent. The original tracks “Immigrants” and “Say Yes to This” have convinced me that I need to listen to more rap (please don’t laugh at me).

Elephant Power (MC Yogi, 2008)
I cannot stand Christian rock, but Hindu rap I am 100% in favor of (I asked you politely not to laugh).

Here’s to 2017!

May I have 52 entries on this list next year!

Queen Harvest’s 2016 Reading Recap

I’m now in my second year of prioritizing reading as an adult, and I don’t know how I let all those years before slip past. I used to have four or five TV shows in regular rotation, but I have spent the last three months just slowly rewatching Mad Men because TV isn’t as important to me. I recently (¯\_(ツ)_/¯) got a library card, so my reading is no longer hampered by costs (as if that stopped me before) and has expanded to serendipitous selections, rather than premeditated purchases. Once again I can justifiably define myself as a bookworm, and I’m happy to be back.

Of the 44 books I read this year, only one was an audiobook. I am also making my way through a One Year Bible, which gives a daily reading from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs (hence the misplaced Gospel). I won’t count these as whole “books,” so they get their own numbering system because I want to keep up with my thoughts on them.

1. 100 Best-Loved Poems, Philip Smith, editor

I use my phone as my alarm clock, so I literally wake up with my phone in my hand. This has resulted in the negative habit of looking at Twitter first thing in the morning. What a terrible start to the day! I wanted to change this at the same time that I realized that I rarely read poetry. I claim to enjoy poetry, and I read a lot of books, but I rarely sit down to a book of poetry. My plan to kill two birds with one stone was to read a poem every day as soon as I wake up. Certainly, I don’t always remember what I read, but I like starting my day with some nourishing brain food instead of bad jokes and worse news. This collection hits all the high points of the Western canon; easy on the sleepy eyes.

2. Ulysses, James Joyce

james-joyce

Why are the Js different??? Scholars may never know!

Much of my 2015 reading led up to Ulysses, and all the preparation was worth it. It is as good as [the people who have actually read it] say it is.

3. Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor

Wise Blood is like a nightmare that feels real and sticks in your gut even after you wake up. The characters in this novel struggle with seemingly every level of human consciousness: spiritual, faux spiritual, anti-spiritual, faux anti-spiritual, man reduced to artifact, man as animal, thinking man, impaired man, and certainly others. Even though I don’t quite speak the language, the message is powerful.

4. The 158-Pound Marriage, John Irving

This novel of intertwined wrestlers and relationships shines a light on the instability of a polyamorous lifestyle. Expecting the emotions of several individuals to line up without conflict is a pipe dream. You can tell that Irving is bursting at the seams with stories to tell. His novels are stories within stories about stories on top of stories.

5. Henry V, Billy S

While reading Henry V, the mood of the play felt heavy and solemn. I read somewhere that a high-profile mock trial found the titular King guilty of war crimes, which further colored my feelings toward the play. Then I saw a production of Henry V that framed it as essentially a comedy. I was impressed by the humor the actors brought out in both the goofy bit parts, and also the more serious schemers. I’m sure that other troupes could perform the play as a tragic piece. Ah! The majesty of The Theatre!

6. The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia, Michael Booth

Everything I know about the Nordic nations (which remains very little) I learned from this book. Booth takes the reader country by country (i.e., Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland) and discusses each nation’s history and culture–what they do well and what they do poorly. He also explores how they see themselves and each other, and how they fit into the present day. Booth is an informed outsider with a lovely sense of humor, so he makes ignorant Americans like myself feel right at home.

7. The Victim, Saul Bellow

The Victim feels like more than a novel. It feels like a play. Or like reading someone’s dream journal, specifically an entry describing a nightmare he had after reading The Trial.

8. The Comedy of Errors, Swan of Avon

The Comedy of Errors is another Shakespeare play I had the good fortune to see performed live soon after reading. There is no question this one is a comedy, and the actors certainly brought out more humor than I could deduce from the writing (which is flawless itself, obviously).

9. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

I am very impressed by Robinson’s thoughtful, literary writing. In an age where religion often comes with hostile connotations, Gilead is a lovely example of the complexities and beauties of living with Christianity at the center of your world. I look forward to reading Robinson’s previous lauded novel, Housekeeping.

10. The Moviegoer, Walker Percy

The Moviegoer is about two people who face death and then have to learn how to face life. Personally, I did not pick up on what I needed to understand while reading it. This novel is one I can imagine angsty teens relating to, but after reading about it I am more aware of what I missed out on.

11. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

On my to-read list for a long time, The Handmaid’s Tale is an incredible read. The Handmaid’s Tale fits into the rich adult literary tradition of 1984 and the later The Road with a focus on the experience of women–a point of view found more often in the Young Adult dystopian novels that are so common these days.

12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë

This was one of those that I enjoyed in img_2094high school, but couldn’t justify claiming to have read it since I didn’t remember a thing about it. The mixing and matching of names is hard to keep up with, so I used my index card bookmark to make a family tree (my habit for all Victorian and Dostoevsky novels). I read the same copy from all those years ago, and late in the game I found the bookmark I had used then–I have not changed.

13. A Concise History of Germany, Mary Fulbrook

I read this book to prepare to read Simon Winder’s Germania (which I have on hand but have not begun). It is remarkable to realize that the united nation-state of “Germany” as we know it was only created in 1871, and the “Germany” my generation grew up with has only existed since 1989, having been expanded and contracted and divided and united many times in the interim. Germany is at once an ancient land, and a nation technically younger than the United States. “Concise” is the right word for this history–all facts, no fuss.

14. Everything Is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foereverythingisilluminated

I have heard this novel described as a “Holocaust book,” and I would like to make that description a little clearer. Everything Is Illuminated does not deal with concentration camps, but it does involve an anti-Jewish pogrom. Despite the heavy subject matter, this book is written in a light, humorous hand. Foer combines the absurdist energy of Catch-22 with the magical generational narrative of One Hundred Years of Solitude and creates a beautiful, engaging novel I am grateful to have read.

15. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

The first half of Dorian seems to confirm every stereotype about Oscar Wilde. The characters are pretentious to the point of exhaustion; I found myself questioning whether I even wanted to finish it. The second half, however, is some of the most thrilling storytelling I’ve ever read, and I couldn’t finish it quickly enough. At that point, I realized (doofus that I am) that Wilde knows exactly what he is doing. Gray and company’s highfalutin speech and behavior are creating a world that Wilde goes on to utterly destroy. I love it when a Classic holds up.

16. The Master Classics: Poems I, Doubleday, Page & Company c.1927

My next morning poetry collection was this tiny hardback volume, purchased secondhand and without much identifying publication information. The world of poetry changed dramatically in the last century, and these old collections are beautiful little time capsules of the world that came before. The reader gets to read poems that might have otherwise been removed to make space for Robert Frost (who, of course, deserves the space he takes up).

17. Ulysses, James Joyce

I read it twice, so I get to count it twice. Sue me.

18. James Joyce’s Ulysses, Stuart Gilbert

As discussed here, I alternated between this book and the corresponding episode of Ulysses. Gilbert discusses plenty of symbols and meanings that I had not been aware of, but I was also aware of meanings he does not discuss. Ulysses is a novel that requires multiple additional books to cover every possible interpretation and meaning (and there are probably still many uncovered). For every reading of Ulysses, I can look forward to the help of a different Joycean scholar.

19. Blonde, Joyce Carol Oates

After reading this fictionalized account of Marilyn Monroe’s life, I feel like I know her. It is difficult to see her image used in commercials and movies and elsewhere without feeling a deep sadness for her and the difficult life she lived. Blonde was the first book I’d read in months that had me desperate to keep reading.

20. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me truly changed the way I perceive and understand many events, institutions, and relationships. Coates describes the world as I have never had to experience it. He wrote this book as a letter to his son, but the lessons therein are meaningful for any of us willing to listen.

21. God Knows, Joseph Heller

godknowsIn God Knows, the Biblical King David retells the story of his own life, speaking as an old man looking back on his deeds and accomplishments and considering the world he is about to leave behind. Heller delightfully brings David out of his historical setting; David talks like a man of the 1960s, and freely quotes Jesus and Shakespeare, as well as poets and politicians. My knowledge of the Old Testament is limited, and I know I would get so much more out of God Knows (and all of Western literature) if I were more familiar with the Bible. It was this book that convinced me to pick up a One Year Bible and start reading.

22. How to Read Novels Like a Professor, Thomas C. Foster

Even though it is the subject about which I am the most passionate, I have never formally studied literature. I love to read about novels after I complete them and have scholars tell me the symbols, themes, and other facets that I didn’t pick up on. Slowly but surely I am educating myself on how to identify the elements of the craft for myself. I had never given much thought to the novel as a distinct, and relatively new, branch of literature.

23. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

Foster’s How To book left me itching to ingest some classic novels, and Huck Finn is as Great American Novel as they get. Often while reading I was struck by how modern Twain’s sense of humor is, how unlike the humor of his English contemporaries. Then I would remind myself that Twain pretty much invented American humor; he isn’t just like David Letterman–he caused David Letterman.

24. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K.Rowling

I took the release of Cursed Child as an opportunity to reread the Harry Potter series beginning to end, which I’d never actually done at one time. Reading Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time in over a decade, it hit me: This book was written for children. The series quickly advances in complexity and reading level, but Sorcerer’s Stone is definitely for young readers (as it should be).

25. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K.Rowling

Many years ago, my neighbor recommended and lent the first few Harry Potter books to me. I read Chamber of Secrets first because she told me it was the better book. I’ve long wondered how I was able to enjoy it, since I lacked knowledge of setting and events from the first book. Reading it now, I see that the story and characters are fully reset. Everything that occurs or is explained in Sorcerer’s Stone is retold in Chamber of Secrets as needed. The first few Harry Potter books stand alone and can be consumed in any order, like a multi-camera sitcom. The final, more serious Harry Potter books require understanding and knowledge of the entire series and must be consumed consecutively, like a single-camera drama.

26. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K.Rowling

The Harry Potter series can be classified within several different categories of fiction: Young Adult, fantasy, adventure, coming of age, and British fiction all at once. At the heart of each novel is a category not immediately associated with the Harry Potter name: Mystery. Amid the adventures and lessons learned are unknowns pondered and clues dropped until the denouement when a mystery is solved (usually: who is Voldemort hiding behind this year?). Like Agatha Christie, Rowling shows the reader all the cards, but she never tips her hand. Christie will reveal a character has changed her name and is living among those she is plotting to harm. In Prisoner of Azkaban Rowling reveals that Scabbers, a quiet presence in the first three books, is more than just a pet rat.

27. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K.Rowling

Goblet of Fire (the best Harry Potter book) is a masterpiece of mystery. The intricate plot weaves countless clues into multiple mysteries, ending in a spectacular resolution. I’ve always thought Goblet of Fire, and specifically the death of Cedric Diggory, carries the series across the boundary from children’s stories into serious fiction.

28. The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle (Audiobook)

This was perhaps the fourth time I have listened to this book, as read by the author. I revisit it from time to time when I become particularly anxious or discontented. Before The Power of Now I literally did not understand the meaning of “peace” or “enlightenment.” It is not hyperbole to say that the teachings of Jesus only began to have meaning for me after learning from Tolle.

29. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K.Rowling

Order of the Phoenix is the least good Harry Potter book. I understand that Harry is dreaming of a real family, but he is never around Sirius enough to be so attached to him. Also, he is awfully whiny this year.

B1. Genesis, King James Version

Pretty much everything I have ever heard of from the Old Testament (except Moses) happened in Genesis, evidently. It is not a new piece of business, but I must point out here: There are two (2) creation myths right at the top.

  1. Eve made from Adam’s rib.
  2. Adam and Eve made from mud.

Literal readings of the Bible are in conflict with the Bible.

30. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K.Rowling

Half-Blood Prince is incredible. So much of what you wished would happen in the first five books finally happens: Harry is good at Potions; Snape teaches Defense Against the Dark Arts; Harry and Dumbledore hang out all the time. And then the ending, of course. There is a circle of hell reserved for anyone who spoiled this ending for another reader.

31. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K.Rowling

Deathly Hallows is about seven books in and of itself, and they are all great. Each escapade and battle and explanation (wrapping up series-long mysteries) is satisfying and worthy of the Harry Potter finale. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Harry Potter is the mythical hero of my generation, and I couldn’t be more proud to have grown up with him.

32. Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow

Lin-Manuel Miranda says that he read this biography and could not believe a musical had not already been written about Hamilton’s extraordinary life. He is not exaggerating. From birth to death and at every age in between, Hamilton led a life of adventure, tragedy, and accomplishment worthy of wonder. There are several wild biographical details that are not represented in the musical–Hamilton was simply too much.

33. Watchmen, Alan Moore

I had never read a graphic novel before, but I am usually willing to read The Best writing of any genre. Watchmen lives up to the hype. After reading it I better appreciate what a graphic novel is capable of–what it can do that a written novel or film can’t do.

34. A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson

I enjoy Bryson’s writing because we share a fascination with origin stories. Not like Batman’s origin story, but like the origin of a particular English phrase or the origin of an idiosyncratic ritual. In Short History, Bryson writes the origin story of science itself–of concepts, facts, and fields of study that we citizens of the 21st century take for granted. Bryson covers everything from the age of the earth to the size of the universe; how life began and how extinction events will wipe it out. A Short History of Nearly Everything is a trivia player’s dream, and like a dream I forgot each fact as it passed through my brain.

35. The Adolescent (aka The Raw Youth), Fyodor Dostoevsky

the-adolescent

There is a lot to keep up with.

If Dostoevsky’s titular narrator were living in 21st century America instead of 19th century Russia, he’d fit right in with all the other 19 year old guys with half-baked philosophies and father issues. The first half of The Adolescent is mostly set up–there are many characters and tangled relationships–but the second half is meaty, funny, and worth working for.

36. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

This year’s superstar pop fiction. I appreciate that there are no real heroes and no loose ends. A satisfying little thriller.

37. The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison

Beautiful and terribly sad. My heart breaks for the little girl, and also for her parents who were once little children, too.

B2. Exodus, KJV

Moses murdered a guy and had to skip town! That didn’t get much airtime in my early religious education. Also, at one point I was reading and (out loud) said “Oh!” because I realized I was reading the Ten Commandments. My edition of the Bible doesn’t come with a lot of fanfare.

B3. Matthew, KJV

This Gospel gets right to the point. It cuts through a lot of Jesus’s childhood and we quickly find ourselves in the Beatitudes. A note here: I had not realized that at least some lines of the Beatitudes are directly quoting Psalms. It makes sense that Jesus would be using existing Jewish holy texts to get his message across, I just didn’t know it. It was like when I read the Tao te Ching and came across the Beatles song “The Inner Light.”

38. The Joke, Milan Kundera

Like his well-known novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kundera frames The Joke around the political and social upheavals of mid-20th century Czechoslovakia. This setting is at once familiar (e.g., ‘60s cultural revolution) and foreign (e.g., Moravian folk festival), so that it can feel like a fantasy novel. None of the characters are without blame or blemish, or are particularly likeable, but that is not why The Joke is worth reading. Kundera’s effortless reflections on people and society stopped me in my tracks. He may be writing in another language about a faraway land, but he exposes universal truths of timeless quality. His writing reminds me why I read.

39. The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

fabritius-vink

The titular Goldfinch.

I had my eye on this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel for many months, but upon reading it I was ultimately disappointed. The Goldfinch starts off with a bang, but most of its hundreds of pages are drawn out and boring. This review expresses a lot of my feelings about this novel. In addition to the tedium, I found the lack of consequences–personal, physical, or legal–suffered by the main character to be unbelievable. By any metric, he should have been in turn expelled, debilitated, sued, arrested, and rejected by his friends and society. Instead, this morally bankrupt narrator is free to offer his banal and contradictory philosophy as the “moral of the story.” No thank you.

40. How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Thomas C. Foster

How to Read Literature Like a Professor provides an excellent foundation to do-it-yourself literary criticism. Foster gives straightforward explanations with plenty of illustrative examples. He leaves the dense theory to other books, at one point saying outright, “I like to keep things fairly simple. I’m no fan of the latest French theory or of jargon of any stripe.” Right up my alley.

B4. Leviticus, KJV

I spent Leviticus thinking, “Hey! That’s where that rule comes from!” Seeing the lengthy list of sins and abominations brings into stark relief just how much folks who “adhere to” the Bible pick and choose.

41. A Pocket Full of Rye, Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie does not waste a single word. Every action, every line of dialogue, every off-hand detail is a purposeful thread in her tapestry. To finish the book and see the all the mysterious pieces resolve into focus is incredibly satisfying. Did you know Christie is the best-selling author of all time? Even though every single TV show seems to feature a knock-off Poirot or Holmes, they cannot match the suspense and resolution of the genius at work.

42. Jack of Spades, Joyce Carol Oates

This thriller is narrated by an established mystery author as the dark side of his psyche, which pseudonymously writes less-reputable noir fiction, takes over his thoughts and actions. Jack of Spades moves swiftly from a natural inner monologue into an unsettling insanity.

43. The Variety of Poetry: An Anthology, Edward A. Bloom, et al.

Another poetry collection, read one morning at a time.

44. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo

Perhaps I am predisposed to her way of thinking, but by page three I had bought in 100% to the KonMari method. One notion I’d never heard before Kondo was striking to me: We receive instruction on how to cook, clean, buy, and organize, but when it comes to decluttering and discarding our possessions, we are all self-taught. I am naturally sentimental and genetically predisposed to hoarding, so I value Kondo’s guidance and the chance to develop my discarding intuition.

B5. Mark, KJV

The Pharisees feel threatened by Jesus and are looking for any reason to kill him. Because he violated the laws of the Old Testament, he must die. I can’t imagine anyone using Mosaic Law as a reason to ostracize and punish a peaceful citizen today….

Epilogue

I reached all my reading goals this year. Instead of an overall number of books, I specifically wanted to read at least 12 books written by women. I read 19 (including seven Harry Potter books :P) by 12 different women. Reading Ulysses was another major goal for me. I was pleased to not only accomplish that goal but also truly enjoy the novel.

The following are my top five books on the year:

  1. Ulysses
  2. Everything Is Illuminated
  3. Blonde
  4. The Handmaid’s Tale
  5. Alexander Hamilton

Next year I want to up my percentage of books by female authors to at least 45%. I also intend to read more works by authors who aren’t white. I recognize a lack of minority voices in the culture and history I consume, and I am working on remedying that disparity.

2015 was for Infinite Jest, 2016 was for Ulysses, and 2017, in my effort to become The Biggest Literary Snob In The World, will be for Finnegan’s Wake. As is my policy, if the book can be read by literate English speakers, I won’t be convinced I can’t read it. Joyce has become one of my favorite authors, and I won’t feel complete if I don’t take the time to wade through the Wake.

Until next year, Happy Reading!

Queen Harvest’s Top Five (5) Albums of 2015

Since my groundbreaking Top Five of 2014 album chart last December, my loyal readers have been waiting all year to learn what were the hottest jams of Queen Harvest’s 2015. Let me tell you, this year did not disappoint. Every album was new to me, and some were even new to normal people. I laughed; I cried; I learned; I loved; I lived; I died; I came back from the dead; I terrorized Tokyo; I cried again—Whatta year! My Top 5 albums of 2015, in a very particular order:

5. Bossanova (Pixies, 1990). Favorite song: “Is She Weird”Bossanova

My guiding principle in music is that an artist or album will reach me when I am ready for it, and not a moment before. I received Bossanova for Christmas circa 2000 and did not listen to one note until early 2015. (My ignorance was so complete that i imagined the Pixies were a female ensemble until about track 3.) The time was on the money for this fun and freaky album. The space rock sound is engaging and unlike any other music in my library. The far out lyrics match the offbeat music flawlessly. I don’t understand a single song, and that thrills me. The mystery does not dissipate with repeated listenings. The eerie feeling evoked by Bossanova is comparable to watching an episode of The Twilight Zone or reading an H.G. Wells novel. It took 15 years, but Bossanova was worth the wait.

4. Blue (Joni Mitchell, 1971). Favorite song: “All I Want”

BlueFolk music had its heyday in the early 1960s, and singer-songwriters exploded mid-way through the decade. In 1971’s Blue, Joni Mitchell puts on a clinic showcasing the highest form of both simple folk music and personal songwriting. In both arenas, Mitchell’s work is at once acoustically clear and structurally complex, easy to grasp and deeply profound. Her voice rings with an uncommon unity of delicacy and power, delivering the words of a master poet. The highs of Blue are high, but the lows drop you down like stone in still water. Mitchell lives out the truth Khalil Gibran wrote, “The selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.” Within the song “My Old Man,” the presence or absence of her love brings the singer from “the warmest chord I ever heard” to when “me and those lonesome blue collide.” She has lived so much, and through Blue I feel more life. Blue set the standard for all breakup albums, and I don’t know if it’s been matched yet.

3. Thunderbitch (Thunderbitch, 2015). Favorite song: “Very Best Friend”Thunderbitch

Take a trip with me, friends, back to late August 2015. Sound and Color has been burning up the charts for months. Alabama Shakes’ second album demonstrated their flexibility and development, and relieved any fear of them being a one-trick pony. Two weeks earlier I got to see Brittany Howard putting all of herself into live show in Tuscaloosa, inducing a high from which I had yet to come down. Then, one average afternoon, Howard on her strangely under-followed Twitter account tweets “curious about thunderbitch?” with a Youtube link. Two or three mystery clicks later and I’m downloading an album that sounds more 1978 than 2015.
Howard is frequently compared to Janis Joplin because no one can name a true equivalent among female vocalists. Her power and rawness are more like Jerry Lee Lewis. He is a wild man; Brittany is a self-described “Wild Child.” Thunderbitch sounds more like New York Dolls than Pearl. Like their bio states, Thunderbitch is about pure rock and roll. Every song is infused with the energy that comes from love of the music. Sometimes the energy is bounding outward, like “Eastside Party;” sometimes the energy is just barely pinned down, like “Closer.” The lyrics nevertheless express the honest emotion that characterizes Howard’s writing, culminating in the forceful finale “Heavenly Feeling.” Other people celebrate a Beyonce midnight release or a U2 mass distribution. Thunderbitch is the most exciting album release I’ve ever personally experienced and an album worth the fervor.

2. Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast, 2015). Favorite song: “Wait For It”

HamiltonThe cast recording of Hamilton has been a blessing and a curse. I am blessed to live in a world graced by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece. I am cursed by the obsession that sweeps over every listener of Hamilton like a contagion. Hamilton is a pandemic, and I am stricken. So much more than a hip-hop musical, Hamilton spins a historical narrative into full-scale drama. The cast is chock full of unique personalities, each with his or her own voice and motivations. Miranda humanizes Aaron Burr, transforming a faceless historical name into a complex tragic figure. The brilliant Thomas Jefferson is snappy and sassy. Hamilton, Washington, the Schuyler sisters—everyone is alive and sympathetic, intelligent and mortal. All the facts and drama are communicated through masterful literary technique. Verses and phrases that are plenty moving in one context are then repurposed in a different context to elicit an entirely different set of emotions. I get goosebumps from the recurrence of “Satisfied” in “The Reynolds Pamphlet,” and I choke up hearing Hamilton mirror Eliza’s words in “It’s Quiet Uptown.” Musical themes are also employed and repeated to great effect. I don’t pretend to know anything about rap, but I know I love “Guns and Ships” and the whole dang show. Hamilton is breaking down the door of a new era of musicals, while embodying everything that traditionally makes a musical great. Lyrics, music, characters, drama, humor, and like any musical worth its salt, the second act of Hamilton is terribly sad. After all this, I have to remind myself that I’ve never even seen the show, and likely won’t for a long time. I am cursed with the longing, but blessed by the hope.

1. Talking Heads: 77 (Talking Heads, 1977 [of course]). Favorite song: “Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town”Talking Heads- 77

In record time, Talking Heads rose to join my personal pantheon of favorite musicians/bands. Talking Heads: 77, the band’s first album, I will say is my favorite, primarily because I don’t yet grasp “Drugs” or “The Overload.” Every time I listen to Talking Heads: 77 the sound is fresh, the pace is brisk, and the lyrics pack a punch. “Psycho Killer” takes you into the mind of the man who is so annoyed at everyone that he takes a hands-on approach to the problem. One questions whether David Byrne identifies with the titular killer, since “No Compassion” speaks from a similar irritation at people who are “in love with [their] problems” and talk to him instead of their analyst (“isn’t that what they’re paid for?”). This curmudgeonly attitude, which I often share, is countered by the upbeat and offbeat positivity of several other songs, like “Pulled Up” and “Don’t Worry About the Government.” The vocal parts in many tracks, particularly “Tentative Decisions” and “Happy Day,” benefit from the playfulness of someone who is supremely creative but not a top-rate vocalist. Singers treat their voices as wind instruments, but Byrne uses his as the rhythm section, too. Listening to Talking Heads: 77 fills me with joy, and so does listening to More Songs About Buildings And Food, Remain In Light, and The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads, but who wants a Top Five that is all Talking Heads and Hamilton?

Honorable Mentions:

a. Book of Mormon! (Original Broadway Cast, 2011). I was lucky enough to see this show when it came to Birmingham early 2015. BOM! has all the humor, smarts, and filthiness one expects from the South Park guys. The storyline is truly inspired, and the end is arresting. My favorite moment on the soundtrack is probably in “Man Up” when Elder Cunningham keeps singing “Time ta time ta!”

b. Sound and Color (Alabama Shakes, 2015). As mentioned above, I love this band, and I love this album. Brittany Howard’s voice on “Guess Who” is hypnotic. “Future People” and “Don’t Wanna Fight” should be instant rock standards. Howard explained in concert that “This Feeling” is about her happiness in achieving success in music, and now it makes me cry. “Gemini” is “Over My Head,” you might say, but a little experimentation never hurt anybody. I believe Howard when she sings, “I never meant to be the greatest; I only ever wanted to be your baby.” Well, too bad! You are the greatest.

c. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, 1976). I’ve loved the TPATH hits since I was tiny, but I first listened to some of their albums this year. Their first album is energizing and every track is solid. “Luna” is a haunting song I’m glad to finally hear. I didn’t know “American Girl” well, but now it has to be a favorite of mine. Nothing is more fun than “Rockin’ Around (With You)” and “Anything That’s Rock ’n’ Roll.” Good stuff!

Queen Harvest’s 2015 Reading Recap

Learning that a friend read over 200 books last year compelled me to reevaluate my reading habits. A voracious reader as a child, I had let various distractions take priority over my time, even though reading continued to bring me joy and satisfaction. I read maybe five books in 2014, and I found that unacceptable. So I set a goal: 30 books in 2015 and hopefully knock out a handful of those classics I never got around to. This decision has been very gratifying.

Ferris Reading

An asterisk indicates that I listened to an audio recording of the work. I recognize that listening is not the same as reading, but my goal was to absorb great literature in the place of podcasts and other brain candy. There are certain writers and works I have avoided reading for whatever reason, and listening to audiobooks is certainly preferable to a dramatization or not reading altogether.

The following are listed in the order in which I finished them.

1. *The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
After several years of knowing I should read Hemingway but not actually bringing myself to read Hemingway, I decided to just get it over with by listening to an audiobook version of this novel. I enjoyed the hell out of it and will happily consume my next Hemingway novel with my eyes.

2. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
I began this book in the fall of the previous year and finished it in January. I wrote about it here.
tl;dr Too long. Don’t read.

3. Hamlet, Shakey
I reread this play as a follow-up to Infinite Jest. It is always striking to see just how many phrases and quotes that we take for granted are packed into this, and many other, Shakespeare plays. While reading this one I decided to read a Shakespeare play a month for good health.

4. Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson
I loved Bryson’s books on the English language (especially Made In America and The Mother Tongue), so I was really jazzed to get into this travelogue. Turns out, as inferred from his self-reported interpersonal interactions, he’s kind of a prick.

22 Jump Street

Not the title of Catch-22, but tell that to my brain.

5. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
Catch-22, Slaughterhouse-5, and Fahrenheit 451 make up the Should Have Read In High School Word Plus Number Triumvirate. I did not expect the war novel Catch-22 to be as funny, playful, and engaging as it is. I see what all the hype is about, and I dig it.

 

6. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
This novella had me crying by the second page. There is little to say about the classics that doesn’t sound trite and unoriginal. Every sentence of Of Mice and Men is necessary and gorgeous.

7. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
The film captured the tone, rhythm, plot—everything but the English accents. I enjoy the ego boost of a music snob liking some of my favorite music; I shouldn’t.

8. Much Ado About Nothing, The Shakester
No modern movie rom-com comes close to the hijinks and goofiness in Shakespeare’s comedies. Reading this play helped me get a LearnedLeague answer, and much of Mumford and Sons’ “Sigh No More” comes from the final act.

9. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Marquez wrote this novel after he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. It’s like, leave some literary genius for the rest of us, Gabe!

10. The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell
This book opened my eyes to the world when I first read it a few years ago. I reread it this year as a refresher and so I could more confidently defend the Harry Potter series as the great mythology of my generation.

11. A Kid’s Matinee, Joseph Britt
This compelling story of YA fiction is due to hit bookshelves any day. Buy a copy for your tween. It’ll grow hair on his knuckles.

12. Richard III, Shakeman
Gilmore Girls references this play more than any other, so after my TV binging I knew it was high time to read it. Holy smokes, this is a good one. My reading happily coincided with the reinterment of the King’s bones, so I could take a greater interest in the most interesting archaeological find of recent years.

Esmeralda

This is a photograph of me.

13. The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo
I am not familiar with the Disney movie, so I didn’t have any unreasonable expectations of happiness for this book. Nevertheless it is bleak. Exciting, beautiful, wonderful, but bleak.

14. Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), Tom Vanderbilt
This book makes me want to evangelize to the people: Read it! Absorb its lessons! Write your Congressperson! Also, it is nothing but traffic talk, so reading it has the effect on your nerves of sitting in traffic. Worth reading regardless.

15. What to Listen for in Music, Aaron Copland
I’ve been meaning to read this book since I bought it as a gift for someone who never read it 10+ years ago. It is best read as a companion to the pieces discussed, which is not how I read it.

16. Julius Caesar, The Shakinator
I had not remembered just how much action occurs after fall Caesar. Very exciting play where 87% of the characters have names beginning with “C.”

17. The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende
Like Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Allende moves through several generations of families, with names and old mistakes repeated. The handful of Latin American or Spanish novels I have read share similar themes in the style of magical realism. Thinking about this further, I realized that I absolutely think about the Latin side of my family in terms of generations repeating patterns and the influences each makes on the next generation’s life. There must be something in the water.

18. Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire that Rescued Western Civilization, Lars Brownworth
I read this history of the Byzantine Empire both to prepare for a LearnedLeague quiz (I got 8/12) and because I’ve always wanted to know more about it. Western centrism lets us ignore the fact that the Roman Empire lasted for another thousand years in the East, and it was a pretty interesting millennium.

19. Othello, Shakenbake
Will doesn’t hold back when it comes to the racial insults, though I’m sure those included are tame for the time and of course they are necessary to the disposition of the characters. This play beautifully imparts the universal emotions of love, jealousy, sadness, and anger; it breaks my heart.

20. Notes From a Dead House, Fyodor Dostoevsky

Pevear and Volokhonsky

Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear. I would like to be them.

I snap up every Dostoevsky I come across translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky, the fabulous duo that is not afraid to deviate from long-accepted title translations. I was a little disappointed that this book really is a collection of notes, rather than a true narrative. It is, nonetheless, often gripping, poetic, and illuminating.

 

21. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
Classics of a certain stature (especially the ones many people read in school) usually have their most distinctive scenes become common cultural knowledge. I know how Anna Karenina ends; I know Leo Bloom’s wife steps out. I was not expecting the final image of this book one bit. Also: what a fantastic novel.

22. Will Not Attend: Lively Stories of Detachment and Isolation, Adam Resnik
I had high hopes for this collection of humorous essays, but the author’s overwhelming cynicism and misanthropy did not entertain me.

23. We Were the Mulvaneys, Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates’ long and prolific career has touched many generations, and I’m proud to be part of the new wave that got into her through her Twitter account. #Millennial This story of a family unit that crumbled to pieces crumbled me to pieces.

24. The Martian, Andy Weir
The Martian bandwagon was definitely worth jumping on. This quick read has just enough science to be believable, but not so much that galoots like myself get bored or bogged down. The movie version is fun, but loses the sense of individual struggle that is the heart of the novel. The globe unites to bring him home, but he survived months of Mars’s desolation completely alone.

25. Twelfth Night, Slick Willy
I have observed that many men think homosexuality is very funny, especially when a guy is tricked into feelings for another man. This is exploited in cases where a man is attracted to a man he thinks is a woman (see: Some Like It Hot, White Chicks, Tootsie) and where a man is doesn’t understand why he is attracted to a woman he thinks is a man (see: Twelfth Night, She’s The Man).

26. Success Through Stillness, Russell Simmons
All meditation books are the same: 98% explaining why you should meditate, medical/health/happiness benefits of meditating, meditation success stories, etc; 2% how to meditate. (This is because meditation is very simple and can be done without the help of books NOTE TO SELF.) Simmons really wants you to know about all the drugs he’s done, women he’s chased, and money he’s earned, which is not the usual spiel of enlightened teachers. Of course, he can speak to an entirely difference audience, not just folks who are already crunching it up at yoga and sipping on home-brewed kombucha.

Danubia

Look at how gorgeous this cover is!

27. Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe, Simon Winder
I picked up this history of the Habsburg family after hearing their name peppered across centuries of history lessons. Winder’s approach to their story is delightful. I would have appreciated it more if I had a better working knowledge of European history—a a goal Danubia inspired me to pursue.

28. Dubliners, James Joyce
These stories are so simple but rich in character and emotion. As each story ends I’m sure something has transformed, but I can’t put my finger on what.

29. *The Iliad, Homer (translation by W.H.D. Rouse)
It’s kind of hard to sympathize with Achilles and Agamemnon’s beef. They cannot stop whining about who gets to keep a sex slave for himself—not relatable. Clearly Achilles is in love with Patroclus, anyway.

30. Happy To Be Here, Garrison Keillor

Katie Reading on the Beach

My father’s daughter.

Listening to A Prairie Home Companion with my family was a sweet part of my childhood. Reding the stories from Keillor’s prime felt like a cozy return.

31. Macbeth, The Bardman
To continue my series, So That’s What That Play Is About?, it does not take much at all to get Macbeth to murdering.

32. Areas of My Expertise, John Hodgman
My brother gave me this almanac of fake trivia several years ago and started me on a path of wonder and joy that is John Hodgman. Hodgman is the kind of humorist I most admire, relate to, and aspire to be. Well-educated, but not pedantic; clever, but not mean; proper but not prudish.

33. I, Claudius, Robert Graves
Read on Judge John Hodgman’s orders, I devoured this book like nothing else this year. Graves breathes life, with all its dreams, failures, and murderous relatives, into the Julio-Claudian dynasty. I, Claudius was published in 1934, and every piece of historical fiction written in the last 80 years has only tried to match its greatness.

34. More Information Than You Require, John Hodgman
The second in Hodgman’s trilogy of COMPLETE WORLD KNOWLEDGE, we get to see his transformation from a former literary agent into a minor television personality. Also useful as a page-a-day calendar. Note: I was Hodgman-heavy during this part of the year in preparation for seeing him perform live. He’s the best.

35. *The Odyssey, Homer (translation by W.H.D. Rouse)
Contrary to the impression given by the dramatizations I’ve seen, the adventures of Odysseus take a small part of the total poem. I love the characterization of Penelope. It is lovely to see a foundational work of Western civilization portray women as strong, wise, and level-headed.

36. The Tempest, William Shakespeare
A wonderful play that I would very much like to see performed. Somewhere along the line I learned that the words “Caribbean,” “cannibal,” and “caliban” are all etymologically related, which is just interesting.

37. The Leftovers, Tom Perrotta
The most exciting part of this book happens before the narrative begins. The rest is paperback-poor dialog, unsympathetic characters, and unnecessary action. Maybe the TV series is better.

38. Ishmael, Daniel Quinn
The telepathic gorilla is something I never quite got over, but I appreciate the message. I was genuinely surprised by some of the positions advocated. The message does not follow the save-the-world party line, which was interesting and provoking.

39. Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
What Birdman did with unbroken continuity in film. Mrs. Dalloway did first. Like Dostoevsky, Woolf is one of the few authors who can capture the erratic, insecure, fluid nature of human thought. Perhaps that is revealing of my personal stream of consciousness, but I see great truth in her characters’ inner monologues. (For reference, I think Hal’s “stream of consciousness” toward the end of Infinite Jest is god-awful.)

40. Why Not Me?, Mindy Kaling
There is an interesting contrast between post-Office Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Mindy and superstar Why Not Me? Mindy. Both Mindys make me laugh hysterically, but I’m afraid Mindy’s officially gone Hollywood. To be fair, she covered much of her pre-star life in the first book, so this one had to present the world as she lives it. Please keep writing, Mindy. I love you.

41. As You Like It, Big Boy Bill
The titles of Shakespeare’s comedies are often so vague it’s infuriating. Lots of silly name-changing and gender-bending in this one, but very enjoyable.

42. The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language, Mark Forsyth
I am so grateful to the friend that recommended The Etymologicon to me. One of the great blessings of my life is to be a native speaker of English, and this book brings out dozens of the wonderful, colorful, meaningful relationships and associations shared by English words and phrases. Truly a delight.

Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 4.53.04 PM

That face.

43. The Lyre of Orpheus, Robertson Davies
The final installment in Davies’ Cornish Trilogy, The Lyre of Orpheus seems to have more plot lines and characters than necessary. Nevertheless, the novel wraps up the trilogy satisfactorily, with a full measure of Davies’ unfailing wisdom and mirth.

 

44. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
The second of the Should Have Read In High School Word Plus Number Triumvirate, I am alarmed by how similar this dystopian America is to present America. The dream of constant entertainment is more feasible than ever, and the dumbing down of art is rampant. I can also see how an angsty teenage boy could focus his identity on this novel.

45. King Lear, The Pride of Stratford
Lear and his selfish daughters break my heart. Also, how dare Gloucester name his sons Edgar and Edmund? As if I didn’t already need a family tree cheat sheet.

46. The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
While Atlas Shrugged is certainly political, The Fountainhead is about the strength of the individual to honor the abilities and desires and truth within, instead of acting and thinking at the pleasure of other people. At its core, The Fountainhead echoes the often misinterpreted exhortation of Joseph Campbell to Follow Your Bliss.

47. The Making of Modern Ireland 1603-1923, J.C. Beckett
Published in 1966, you better know your English history before going in because there will be no stopping to explain. This book focuses in painstaking detail on over three hundred years of Irish parliaments and political leaders. I learned a great deal about the politics of Ireland (which of course involves religious issues), but I will need to look elsewhere for its cultural history.

48. A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man (twice), James Joyce
There are only two books I have ever restarted the day I finished them: this and Notes from Underground. What they have in common: nontraditional structure that is only visible in hindsight, layers of meaning and symbolism that reward additional readings, very short.

49. *Moby-Dick, Herman Melville
After starting and stopping this behemoth a couple of times on paper, the audiobook helped me power through the more technical digressions without giving up entirely. I really do love Melville’s writing, and I am always pleasantly surprised by his humor. Writers like Melville make me proud to be an American.

50. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
Coming in just before the deadline, I completed the Should Have Read In High School Word Plus Number Triumvirate with great success. Horrifying, darkly humorous, and educational in a variety of areas, Slaughterhouse-Five was more similar to Catch-22 than I actually expected. Where Heller communicated the incommunicable realities of war as absurdities, Vonnegut treats them as science fiction. Each effectively convey the psychological effects of war in ways gritty military tales and histories can fall short.

51. Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton
A tale perfectly told. Wharton’s prose conveys the desperation and despair of the poor who cannot afford to live out their dreams.

52. The Awakening, Kate Chopin
This December, I was much more worried about the ending of this novel being spoiled than learning the twists of Star Wars. That The Awakening was published in 1899 is incredible; that Chopin could barely publish afterwards and that the novel was “rediscovered” in the 1960s is very believable. Between this one and Ethan Frome, I’ve learned that being heartsick in the late 19th century had one particularly drastic solution.

The five that I most enjoyed and am most likely to read again are Catch-22, The Etymologicon, Richard III, I, Claudius, and Mrs. Dalloway.

Reading more and watching less enriched my 2015. Only seven of the works on this list were written by women, and that is a bias I intend to work on in the coming year(s). My to-read list is long and ever-growing. On to the next one!

Queen Harvest’s Top Five (5) Albums of 2014

Twenty Fourteen (2014) was a lousy year for the music industry, but it was a great year for my music collection. Allow me to recap the year with my Top Five Albums of 2014.

5. Day and Age (The Killers, 2008). Favorite song: “Spaceman”images

I bought this album after years of listening to Hot Fuss and muttering, to no one in particular, “Is ‘Jenny Was a Friend of Mine’ the greatest rock song of all time?” I heard “Human” on the radio like everyone else but withheld judgment thereon until I knew the song better. In the context of the full song and album, I’m now comfortable saying that it is a captivating, sweet song. I can say the same of the rest of the album. The Killers know how to put together a big sound, interesting chord structures, and stimulating lyrics. Day and Age has been my go-to gym album of 2014. It has the driving dance beat that befits physical activity, with more substance than your typical top 40 dance music.

  1. War (U2, 1983). Favorite song: “Seconds”

U2_War_album_coverUntil about twelve months ago, I knew exactly three (3) facts about U2:

          1. Their lead singer is Bono.
          2. They do a lot of charity.
          3. Bono wears big sunglasses.

When Adam Scott Aukerman began their comprehensive and encyclopedic compendium of all things U2, U Talkin’ U2 To Me?, I hopped on board as a chance to learn about the band. I now know many more facts (e.g. the names of the other band members, their history of collaboration with Ol’ Sourpuss Brian Eno, when Paul F. Tompkins first heard of them) and even became interested in listening to their music myself.

I now own seven second-hand U2 albums (including Songs of Innocence, which was regifted by Tim Cook), and War is the stand-out. I like the loose energy of “The Refugee,” the hypnotic rhythm of “Drowning Man,” and the driving chorus of “Two Hearts Beat As One.” Each song has something special that catches my ear, whereas their other albums are made of less distinctive, more derivative tracks. War will stay in my rotation, but I don’t see U2 becoming a favorite any time soon.

  1. Little Shop of Horrors (Original Off-Broadway Cast, 1982). Favorite song: “Feed Me (Git It)”LittleShopAlbum

While the rest of the country was lamenting the lack of a true Song of Summer, I beat the heat with this musical soundtrack. I saw the Rick Moranis movie version of LSOH years ago, but the reason I wanted this album was hearing Ben Schwartz and Scott Aukerman sing “Skid Row (Downtown)” on an episode of Comedy Bang! Bang! last summer. I felt an intense desire to sing along with their spontaneous duet, and pounced on this CD when I saw it at a second-hand store.

I love songs that tell stories, songs with clever lyrics, and songs that are funny, and LSOH is all of those things from top to bottom. The Greek chorus that guides the story is everything you want in a wise-beyond-their-years doo-wop trio. The evil bass of the conniving Audrey Two gives me chills, while the kewpie voice of Audrey prime makes my heart break. The Eastern European-sounding number “Mushnik & Son” perfectly captures the shopkeeper’s greed and Seymour’s naiveté, with devilish lines like “So, say you’ll incorporate with me.” Great story; great songs; great performances. N.B. This production contains the original, unhappy ending. I respect that.

  1. Fear of Music (Talking Heads, 1979). Favorite song: “Cities”

Talking_Heads-Fear_of_MusicI was in Austin, Texas for the first time last month, where I visited Waterloo Records. Visiting a cool shop in a cool city with cool people, I had to find something appropriately cool to purchase. I’ve known for some time that I would like the Talking Heads, and I figured ATX would be the place to jump into this cool band.

Fear of Music is better than I could have hoped. I’m crazy about David Bowie, and this album sounds like a sister to the later Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). The sound and the mood give me chills, and the lyrics are funny, interesting, and meaningful. David Byrne’s emotional speak-singing portrays frustration, anxiety, exhaustion, desperation, or whatever else the song calls for, with believable intensity. Little moments, like Byrne’s grunts in “Animals” and his emphasis on “peanut butter” in “Life During Wartime,” make listening to Fear of Music feel like watching a well-acted play. This music makes me smile, and I cannot wait to press play on my next Talking Heads album.

  1. Armed Forces (Elvis Costello & The Attractions, 1979). Favorite song: “Senior Service”Armed Forces cover

I have been moving slowly through Elvis Costello’s discography and landed this year on album three. Album one, My Aim Is True, hit it out of the park for my tastes. I love his lyrics and the punk speed of his classic rock ‘n’ roll sound. Album two, This Year’s Model, was a stumbling block for me. Most of the songs blended together in my head, and the liberal use of his trademark sneer was distracting. Armed Forces brought me right back into the fold.

Armed Forces is immediately engaging and exciting, with lyrical and musical layers that demand listening on a loop. Costello’s lyrics tell whole stories and contain little clever nuggets that reward closer attention. His sound is bright and colorful, as in literal visual colors. I do not have synesthesia, but listening to this music stirs an energy that I can only describe in blues and yellows and greens and oranges. At the same time, this album makes me want to roll down the windows, crank up the volume, and belt out the songs while driving.

The spell of Armed Forces led me to revisit This Year’s Model. For whatever reason, I found This Year’s Model much more enjoyable after Armed Forces than after My Aim Is True. Armed Forces even enhanced my enjoyment of another performer this year, when the inimitable John Hodgman referred to and later played “Oliver’s Army” at his Birmingham show in September. Knowing the song was like a little gift; a small smile of fortune making my night sweeter. Armed Forces topped my chart this year because I listened to it more than any other album and because it made my life better.

Honorable mentions:

a. Vauxhall and I (Morrissey 1994). Delightfully macabre, with several classic-Morrissey admonitions of people who like sunshine.

b. Dead Man’s Bones (Dead Man’s Bones 2009). My new October favorite.

c. London Calling (The Clash 1979). Nearly topped the list until I remembered I got into it in late 2013.

d. Gypsy (Tyne Daly, et al. 1989). Can’t say this album was a favorite, since I mostly skipped every song that didn’t feature Mama.