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Of Recent Note

For Summer 2004

Of interest lately are special books, catchy songs, lovely clothes, and a slew of other wonderful items we’ve collectively enjoyed the last few weeks, and now wish to pass along for your very own summer pleasure.

Reading

The cover of The Last American Man proclaims it to be the finest examination of American masculinity since Into The Wild. I dunno what possessed me to pick it up, since I tend to mentally throw any volume purporting to describe “masculinity” into the Iron John rubbish pile, but I’m glad I did. It’s a biography of Eustace Conway, a real-life and modern-day Davy Fuckin’ Crockett, who lives in the wilds of the Appalachian Mountains and sees it as his mission to teach Americans how to reconnect with the land. The book is a remarkable balancing act, as the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, skillfully portrays Conway as both a paragon of virtue and an arrogant asshole who could drive you crazy in a heartbeat. Gilbert also manages to cram a host of philosophical topics into a book already packed with adventure and humor.

Matthew Baldwin


We all know the story of Washington’s troops passing copies of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense around from freezing hand to freezing hand, but Scott Liell’s short, friendly, fully referenced history of the pamphlet, 46 Pages: Thomas Paine, Common Sense, and the Turning Point to Independence, puts it into context, explaining just why such a small book had such a big impact. Great politically minded summer read for an election year.

Kate Schlegel


I’m making all my friends read Timoleon Vieta Come Home, and they all love it, even the bitter ones.

Choire Sicha


Not necessarily a recent thing for me, but I want to plug Finder: Sin-Eater Part 1.

Kevin Fanning


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Steve Yarborough’s novel Prisoners of War is a full-bodied story set around a POW camp in the middle of Mississippi during the Second World War. Setting aside some ironies that come to mind in connection with the infamous treatment of prisoners in Iraq, Yarborough deals a full hand of riveting characters faced with some unusual challenges.

Robert Birnbaum


Already read “Babbitt,” “Main Street,” and “Elmer Gantry”? Sinclair Lewis has been maligned in the literary world for decades. But Richard Lingeman takes a fresh look in the weighty biography Sinclair Lewis: Rebel From Main Street, exploring the fastidious research processes and the publishing machine that made this American legend what he is, as well as the drinking problem that practically killed him. (Oh, and if you haven’t read “Kingsblood Royal,” pick that up, too.)

Kate Schlegel


A staff writer at the Chicago Sun-Times, Jim DeRogatis isn’t the flashiest writer, but he knows his music. In Milk It!: Collected Musings on the Alternative Music Explosion of the 90s, his compelling and deeply knowledgeable dispatches on the so-called alternative scene—from Nirvana to Arrested Development—are like a cheat sheet for someone who maybe spent that decade drinking whiskey and listening to showtunes.

Sarah Hepola


Mental Floss is a magazine for the curious. It makes art, literature, and science accessible without being condescending. The authors are smart and wry without ever crossing the threshold into smug. Sample article titles:
“6 Gunshots That Changed the World”

“10 Child Prodigies (Who Actually Ended Up Doing Something)”

“How Tattoos Work”
Buy it, you will like it.

Margaret Berry


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Though many, including myself, have been considering consigning Christopher Hitchens to history’s dustbin, his recent offering on Ronald Reagan, “Not Even a Hedgehog,” is a splendid reminder of his acuity, bravado, and concision.
Year in and year out in Washington, I could not believe that such a man had even been a poor governor of California in a bad year, let alone that such a smart country would put up with such an obvious phony and loon.
Robert Birnbaum

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Also… my friends are all reading Richard Chamberlain’s memoir, Shattered Love, and it’s supposed to be hysterical. Our copy is signed, and we don’t know why!

Choire Sicha


Listening

Lately I’ve been listening to Richard Thompson, folk rock from way back, and these two albums: Shoot Out the Lights, where Linda Thompson’s voice comes in and out of songs and Thompson’s guitar sounds perfect, and Mock Tudor, a more recent album by Thompson alone, with direct, emotional tunes. But don’t believe me, believe David Byrne, who said of Thompson: “It’s somewhat satisfying he’s not yet achieved household-name status. It serves him right for being so good.”

Paul Ford


Dan Bejar is the most off-putting songwriter in the world at times. Almost always, the first time I’ve listened to Destroyer albums, they’ve annoyed the teeth off me. They can sound like Denim, without the jokes. But around a month later, I become obsessed. Hyper-verbal, Destroyer’s Your Blues rebuts the past of pop music through rude allusions. It’s embarrassing to listen to in front of your friends, who will largely all hate it. But it’s an absolutely stupid, super-great, super-hooky little space oddity of an album.

Choire Sicha


Despite my squared-off hipster glasses, I know next to nothing about what the kids are listening to these days. All credit goes to my hip friend Jennifer Robbins, who included the Streets’ “Don’t Mug Yourself” on her yearly South by Southwest mix CD. I find it hilarious. According to the MTV bio, it’s a product of Britain’s garage/two-step movement. I’d describe it as a sort of awkward, catchy, British rap about a guy telling his friend to back off of a girl before he mucks things up with her.

Margaret Berry


The ageless Irish troll Van Morrison’s bolero “Meaning of Loneliness” on What’s Wrong With this Picture makes wading through some worn-out stuff worth the effort. I am even willing to claim that this is an (almost) perfect song and as some of the people we call reviewers have opined, perhaps Morrison’s best since 1971’s “Moondance.” A choice excerpt:
I have to say a word about solitude
For the soul it sometimes they say can be good
And I’m partial to it myself, well I must confess
Nobody knows the meaning of loneliness
Well there’s Sartre and Camus, Nietzsche and Hesse
If you dig deep enough
You gonna end up in distress
And no one escapes having to live life under duress
And no one escapes the meaning of loneliness
Well they say keep it simple when it gets to be a mess
And fame and fortune
Never brought anyone happiness
Robert Birnbaum


If I were a rock star, I’d like to be Ben Folds: smart, witty, self-deprecating, not terribly pretty or primped. Actually, who am I kidding? I’d wanna be Gwen Stefani, who is none of those things. But I suspect I’d turn out to be a dork like Ben, which is probably why I adore his music so much. The Sunny 16 and Speed Graphic EPs, sold on his website, are the stories of someone who doesn’t exactly fit, who probably thinks too much, who wants to be right in the world, who makes music out of pain. Maybe Ben Folds isn’t pretty; his music is beautiful.

Sarah Hepola


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Consuming

The no. 4 sandwich at Debbie’s Kitchen in Albany: egg salad, bacon, provolone, and spinach lettuce on rye.

Tobias Seamon


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If summer has to come, at least we get peppermint ice cream. So sweet, so delicious.

Sarah Hepola


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Snack, in New York, is about the tiniest restaurant you’ll have ever seen, but it packs quite a punch in its lamb sandwich. Served warm on ciabatta with greens, tomatoes and onions, it practically oozes all that is best about Greek food. Take it back to the office at lunchtime and make all your coworkers jealous.

Kate Schlegel


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Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon: Two Buck Chuck, baby. Aww, yeah.

Matthew Baldwin


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Recently I’ve been re-fascinated with an unfinished invention that my old pal Betty has talked about for decades now: the Melitta Gold Cone Lung Filter. Obviously, this reusable and easily washable filter will gently cradle the lungs, protecting them from the input of harsh cigarettes, asbestos, and even pollen. The product is perfect for smokers who wish to live. And just think, if New Yorkers had them during 9/11, we wouldn’t have been coughing up Trade Center crud for weeks and later have had our city subject to cult-associated “cleansing centers.”

Choire Sicha


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Working & Playing

I am seriously pissed that J Crew wedding dresses weren’t available when I got married last October. Simple, classic, lovely, and cheap. When a David’s Bridal polyester monstrosity with butterfly appliqué will run you $800, $200 for a classic silk gown is a gift from the gods. A little veil, a few roses, a good man, and you’re off to the courthouse.

Margaret Berry


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I’m a board-game junkie, and I have more in my collection than you’d probably care to know, but few are as enjoyable as the recent Ticket to Ride from Days of Wonder. The game is somewhat akin to rummy, with players drawing cards and laying down sets. But players also get to claim train routes between cities on a stylized map of the United States, in an attempt to complete “tickets” for bonus points. One person might be trying to connect Seattle to Santa Fe, while another might be working to establish an Atlanta-to-Los Angeles line. But as most cities only have one route between them, the game becomes increasingly tense as everyone jockeys for key connections. Everyone I have introduced this game to—from drinking buddies to family members—has become an instant fan.

Matthew Baldwin


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I’ve been loving Irfanview, shareware for the PC. I have to chew through hundreds of huge images for work, and this is the fastest, simplest tool I’ve ever used to find the image you want on your hard drive, convert it, crop it, and resize it.

Paul Ford


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These aren’t your grandma’s knitting needles—they’re your great-grandma’s. Brittany’s birch knitting needles are made from birches grown in tightly regulated forests or by private owners. Even the thinnest sizes are strong enough to withstand the occasional accidental sit-upon, and the pretty scrolling at the ends is a great touch. Plus, they’ll make it through airport security without any awkward moments, which makes them worth the cost.

Kate Schlegel


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How come I go to Target needing, say, toilet paper, and I leave two hours later with 200 bucks in sparkly earrings and pink plasticware? God bless Cynthia Rowley’s Swell collection at Target. God bless the possibly exploited workers in other countries. And God bless glitter, wherever you are.

Sarah Hepola


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TMN’s Contributing Writers know where to find the purple couch. Long live the pan flute, mini mafia, and Michael Jackson. More by The Writers