weekly endorsement

Endorsement: Matt Berninger on the Bret Easton Ellis Podcast

Apparently, Bret Easton Ellis has a podcast. I don’t know what you were expecting, but if you were expecting him to talk about himself and shill for 90 seconds at a time about audio book services, you’d be right. 

Though, I wouldn’t want Bret Easton Ellis to be anything but narcissistic and money driven—it’d be like asking a zebra not to be striped. It’s also kind of funny how he just talks about his relationship to his guest’s work instead of asking the guest any questions. 

The other night, I listened to his interview with Matt Berninger of the National. “Boxer” was the soundtrack to BEE’s summer of 2008; “Alligator” was the soundtrack to my summer of 2006. 

They do talk about music some, but  Berninger is remarkably bad at remembering the meaning behind his own songs. (Those looking for context on “City Middle” should look elsewhere.) They also talk a lot about “Mistaken For Strangers,” a documentary Matt Berniger’s little brother made about the band and his own failures. From the trailer below, it seems like a future endorsement. 

Weekly Endorsement: This Fact

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Matilda was published in 1988.

I just found this out yesterday, reading a boring article I don’t endorse. 

I find this shocking. Matilda was such a standard of my childhood, but it didn’t come out until I was 5. It’s kind of amazing to think of my parents reading the New York Times Book Review children’s books issue, and being like, “oh, a new one from Roald Dahl,” and then going to a bookstore and buying it. I knew my parents didn’t grow up reading Dahl the way I did, but I had always lumped him with the classics. I thought his popularity had long been decided on, and was not a choice made by consumers. I actually own a hardcover of Matilda, which I had assumed was just some special edition, but was probably purchased soon after its American release. 

As an aside: Roald Dahl: kind of the best. If you don’t have young children in your life, check out his adult short fiction, much of which was published in Playboy. His adult stories are macabre and fun, just like how you would imagine Matilda to grow up to be. 

Weekly Endorsement: "Kite Whistler Aquamarine"

There was a Budweiser commercial during the Super Bowl, you know, the one about a horse, that reminded me of a Maile Meloy story about a colt. The story isn’t really about the colt, but his birth into freezing weather and his inevitable death structure the piece. “Kite Whistler Aquamarine” is really about a lawyer with bad allergies who is married to a hobby rancher who should stick to his day job. 

As moments go, Maile Meloy is maybe the best there is at capturing them. Her stories don’t fit into a sentence. They’re about that moment when a character’s life, their choices, their regrets, and their failures come into focus. 

Something generally about novels versus short stories: a novel is inherently more of a narrative, about a beginning, middle, and end, about a character who changes, or doesn’t change, in some fundamental way. A short story does not have that hubris; a short story is about a time in a character’s life, not when something necessarily changes, but when something true emerges. 

If you like short stories, you should be reading Maile Meloy. And side note, my favorite piece of trivia is that her brother is Colin Meloy of the Decemberists.  

Other things I enjoyed this week were the Passion Pit performance on Tiny Desk Concert, the Slate Culture gabfest on Steve Jobs, and the sun setting later. I can’t link to the earth’s orbit, but the clocks are going to spring forward in less than three weeks, which means darker mornings and brighter nights. Mostly, it means the feeling of warm evening air on the backside of your arms is coming soon. 

Weekly Endorsement: Best-Selling Author Curtis Sittenfeld Introduced (Roasted!) by Little Brother PG Sittenfeld

 

I’ve been obsessed with Curtis Sittenfeld since I read Prep in 2007. Because of the initial, largely female driven success of that novel, Sittenfeld has been sometimes relegated to chick-lit. She’s not chick-lit; she just writes about the undesired woman. (And sometimes fan-fic about the First Lady.) Any time I see one of her books in someone’s home, I’m optimistic about a new friendship. 

But my fandom has led to some questionable action: years ago, when the fact that two people were on Facebook was somewhat of a coincidence, I befriended Sittenfeld’s little brother, P.G. Though this remains weird, I really enjoy being P.G.’s Facebook friend. He’s a City Councilman in Cincinnati and has more civic pride than anyone I know, online or off. 

Yesterday, he posted a video of himself introducing his sister at a reading at their old school. His speech was equal parts sentimental and jabbing. When Curtis came out, she made some jokes about P.G. having 1.5 suits, and also made reference to getting Skyline chili with her dad, which calls to mind an old segment of This American Life

There’s something humanizing about this video. Here we have a New York Times best selling author having an annoying but lovable little brother and talking about sleeping at her parents’ house and forgetting how to use their shower.  It’s a reminder that creative people are still people. 

Other things I liked this week:

Weekly Endorsement: This Email From My Friend

How was your weekend? I mostly worked. On Thursday I saw Lorrie Moore read at NYU. It was really good. She read something that had been rejected by the New Yorker (and told us she once read something that had been rejected by the New Yorker at a New Yorker festival). The story was bizarre but really very funny, as were her answers to audience questions. She was totally on her game, if not a little buzzed. An undergraduate asked advice on becoming a successful writer and she said forget the “successful,” and just write. Also: learn to get by on very little, materially and emotionally. It all seemed so wise at the time.

In more link friendly news, Simon Rich’s serialized novella, “Sell Out” and the Slate Audio Book Club on Pride and Prejudice were also pretty great this week. 

Weekly Endorsement: The Non-Puff Pieces Surrounding 'The Canyons'

However The Canyons turns out, the promotional media around the Bret Easton Ellis-James Deen-Linsday Lohan vehicle has been great. First there was that hilarious and sort of sad New York Times Magazine piece about Lindsay Lohan, and last week, New York Magazine ran a smart profile of Bret Easton Ellis

I’m not sure if anyone can like Bret Easton Ellis in earnest without coming off a bit like a sociopath. Still, he’s the best there is at describing the superficial, even if he doesn’t exactly condemn it. Vanessa Grigoriadis gets at all the Ellis contradictions, plus she makes a strong argument for the Tweet as the Haiku of our time. 

Weekly Endorsement: "I'm Going Down"

Careful followers of my internet presence will remember in 2011, I posted a Vampire Weekend cover of the Bruce Springsteen’s song “Going Down” to my Facebook wall with the disclaimer, “Who’s the whitest person you know? Me? Great. Now that that is settled, I really enjoy this cover.”

Fittingly enough, this song played over the credits of the season two premier of Girls. What can I say? I like Girls, I like Vampire Weekend. I am of my demographic. 

Along with re-endorsing “Going Down,” I also endorse Shoshanna’s speech to Ray in the middle of the season two premier. For all of Shoshanna’s innocence, she is the only character on the show—and perhaps the only female character on television—who knows what she wants and thinks those wants are valid. 

After being dumped by Ray between seasons, Shoshanna is hurt, but won’t pretend that being friends, in Facebook or real life, was ever part of the deal: “You don’t want to date me, that’s fine, because I don’t want to date you either, because I only want to date people who want to date me, because that is called self-respect, but I do not have to like you. Ok? You were never my friend, you were only my lover, and that is now over.” 

A major, absurd plot point of Sex and the City was Carrie’s need to stay friends with Big after they dated. It has also been a major, absurd plot point in my life and my friends’ lives. But here are the facts as Shoshanna offers them: it’s ok to be hurt by being dumped, but there’s no sense in acting as if less than what you wanted is enough. There’s a lot of talk about courtship ending, but the only way a woman can go on a 10:30 group date offered at 10:15 is to show up. As Shoshanna’s self-help books will tell you, it takes two people to make you feel bad about yourself. 

Weekly Endorsement: Niggle

Niggle, verb: To cause slight but persistent annoyance, discomfort, or anxiety.

You know when you’ve never heard a word before, and all of a sudden you hear it everywhere? That happened to me on Thursday with the word niggle. I’ve been having some cramping below my calf, and my running buddy, who ran track in college, said my recent increase in training was giving me the niggles. Later that day, I explained my semi-injury to another friend, who also ran at a high level, and he used the same word to describe my problem.  

I realize this is not a fantastic story, but as a word, Niggle has a great onomatopoeic quality. It’s also a word that seems to reside completely in the culture of endurance sports. This happens to every subgroup. Being super into anything comes with a language and a set of problems unique to that interest.  Beer people have all sorts of adjectives that make no sense to me; tennis players have to accept asymmetrical muscle mass. Runners have niggle, and this morning, a tender calf. 

Weekly Endorsement: TextEdit Speech

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As a writer, and as a person, I tend to rush. I don’t know how many bruises I’ve gotten on the sides of my legs for thinking I was too busy to walk around the corner of a desk, but it’s been a lot. This rush happens in writing, too. I can’t type as fast as I can think, and I end up losing a lot of small words to bad copyediting. My more patient writing friends have advised that I read everything back aloud, but I rush when I read too, and tend to put the small words back in myself. 

One solution is TextEdit Speech. Obviously, we have the technology to have a machine read something aloud, but I didn’t know where this technology was until last year, and I didn’t start using it all the time until recently. While TextEdit Speech won’t catch their/there/they’re mistakes, it will let you know, in its awkward, passive aggressive way, that the article you thought you had included is missing. It’s also nice to hear your words in someone else’s voice. Even if it’s a voice from the future getting ready to destroy you.

Weekly Endorsement: 'This Is 40'

For a long time, I’ve wanted to make a reality TV dating show called The Tedious and the Mundane, where a newly introduced couple has to shop for groceries for the week and see if there are sparks. Because, helicopter and hot air balloon rides—really, any personal air travel—is not a part of a real relationship. To me, any sound love is based on an initial attraction, a shared sense of humor, and a willingness to do tedious things with the other person. 

Short of a grocery shopping dating show, I recommend This Is 40. Disclaimer: I’m not great at recommending movies because I rarely see them. And even with my ignorance of the field, I can acknowledge that this movie is too long, is concerned with problems that affect only the white and the wealthy, and demands an appreciation of the director’s wife’s ass.

Still. Most movies show the beginning of relationships, when the social differences between a management consultant and a prostitute are endearing, when the energy of the new love between a klutzy woman and a hunky man radiate off the screen. But how these couples will figure out whether to watch Masterpiece Theater or Sunday night football in the future is left to an unmade sequel.

This Is 40 shows what it is to be committed to someone who isn’t perfect, who can be selfish and difficult, and whose home you must, out of will, practicality, and some genuine affection, continue to share. While the central 40 year-old couple in the movie resolves some of their issues by the end, the audience knows, even if the couple pretends not to, that many of these problems will return.

Everyone I know in a relationship is working against something—a husband who drinks too much, a girlfriend who is bad with money, a fiancé who plays smartphone games during dinner—that could be a deal breaker for someone else. But despite intermittent complaining, they have all chosen to accept one set of problems as their own. This Is 40 shows what it means to be in an imperfect relationship, and stay along anyway.

Weekly Endorsement: Bringing Down the Horse, Side A

Though occasionally given as a gesture or as a way to transport stolen music, CDs are mostly obsolete now. But CD players are still common in cars, which makes any automotive collection a bit weird. 

Most of my car CDs come from my friend Jordan’s music buying youth. We stopped at her childhood home on the way west. Since she doesn’t have a car or a CD player, she offered her collection,  once developed in $14.99 increments, to me . Though my old CDs are lame, hers are lame in a way I didn’t grow up with. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t get into the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. So last time I was home, I brought some of my old CDs back to my car in Denver. 

One such CD was Bringing Down the Horse, the breakout album of the Wallflowers, a 90s band headed by Jakob Dylan. Forgetting about the existential crisis of being pretty decent at something your father remains much better at, and also those eyes, I stand behind Side A of Bringing Down the Horse. This album was produced at a time when people bought a band’s music wholesale. With that in mind, the Wallflowers wisely put their best stuff up front. The album starts with their second hit, “One Headlight,” and continues to their first, “Sixth-Avenue Heartache.”  All of their other singles are within the first five tracks. 

Listening to Side A of Bringing Down the Horse feels like opening a time capsule of mid to late-90s pop. I’m sure someone as handsome and related to fame as Jakob Dylan could be popular now. And I wouldn’t even say the Wallflowers best songs changed anything about pop music. I’m just saying, it’s not a bad few tracks, and listening to the album feels like opening a yearbook.  

Weekly Endorsement: Garner’s Usage Tip Email

Do you like learning? Do you like new email? If so, the Garner’s Usage Tip maybe for you. 

The best email I received all week was from them, on the etymology of sour grapes: 

This is one of the most commonly misused idiomatic metaphors. It is not a mere synonym of “envy” or “jealousy.” Rather, as in Aesop’s fable about the fox who wanted the grapes he could not reach, “sour grapes” denotes the human tendency to disparage as undesirable what one really wants but can’t get (or hasn’t gotten). For example, a high-school boy who asks a girl for a date and is turned down might then insult her in all sorts of puerile ways. That’s a case of sour grapes.

I believe Larry David was involved in a movie whose title was a misuse of this expression. I also like the idea of a separate category of bitterness for something wanted and not received. 

Other good things about this email: it comes only Monday to Friday, arrives at a good time in the day (around 10 am MST, right when you could use a new email) and it speaks to the inscrutability of the English language. Like with cooking or running, or really any hobby other than solving basic algebra questions, language is something we can never do perfectly; we can only work at getting better at it. And getting better at things is something I endorse every week. 

Weekly Endorsement: Junot Diaz's Facebook Feed

If you read Junot Diaz, you’re familiar with his omnivorous approach to language. He takes phrases from everything—Spanish, New Jersey, comic books—for the perfect words to tell his story. In The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Lola track friends were ciguapas; in “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” Elvis sits shiva with Yunior as he tries to get over his ex-girlfriend. With such specificity, it’s not surprising that Diaz publishes rarely. But between books, he’s a prolific poster of news to Facebook. And he posts about everything, from happenings in Hispaniola to immigration in Korea. It’s impossible to know how any writer writes, but seeing what this writer consumes is a close second.

Bonus endorsement: The Annotated Oscar Wao 

Weekly Endorsement: The 7 Up! Series

A friend I had met as a 15 year-old in summer camp and then again at an internship at 20 was visiting Denver this week for work. Even though he and I have never been completely out of touch and do not reunite every seven years exactly, our friendship reminded me of the great documentary series 7 Up! I recently rewatched 49 Up! in anticipation of his visit. I suggest you do the same, or if you know nothing of this program, start at 7

The series is based on the Jesuit maxim, “Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.” What started as an examination of the British class system in 1964, has continued for 42 years as an exploration of 12 people’s lives in seven year increments. Of all the cultural experiences I’ve had, I can’t think of one that’s affected me more. Even though I don’t know these people in a real way, I’ve also known them for 42 years. There’s a value in just the length of that relationship, and in some ways, the films made me understand and appreciate family in a way I hadn’t before. 

If you’re curious about people and time, this is a good movie. Plus, 56 Up! will be released in America early next year, so you won’t have to wait seven more years to see how later middle age has treated these people. 

Weekly Endorsement: Duck Fat

My two favorite ingredients for any recipe are time and money. I’m not one for precision, and measuring cups are almost irrelevant when slow cooking expensive meat. So for my potluck Thanksgiving, I offered to make the turkey. 

I used a recipe for duck fat rubbed turkey from New York Magazine. I can’t endorse this recipe because like most New York Magazine recipes—and many New York Magazine articles—there’s some flash to its concept, but little follow through. The instructions are basically rub duck fat on a turkey and two days later, roast that turkey. I’m still not sure if I did the right thing with the head of garlic, which was listed in the ingredients and never mentioned again. Despite the recipe’s failings, the turkey came out amazing because having a turkey sit in duck fat for two days makes for a rich and delicious bird. 

Which brings me to my endorsement: duck fat. As fats go, this one should be used more. It tastes good, is easily acquired at specialty food shops, and is not as expensive as you’d think. Plus, any recipe involving fat from a duck sounds special, even if you’re only using it to replace the butter in a pot of rice. 

Weekly Endorsement: Goodbye, Columbus

imageSince Philip Roth announced his retirement last month, there’s been an appreciation of him that would otherwise accompany his obituary, and I endorse this trend.

Philip Roth has been such a fixture of American Literature, that it’s easy to take him for granted. More than take him for granted, to resent him for his misogyny and anti-Semitism. But when Philip Roth started, the New Yorker wouldn’t print a story that had plot points based around a diaphragm. But since then and now, Philip Roth has been a standby, making gloves interesting, flirting with Terry Gross, writing an entire novel about the decay of the body.

I specifically endorse reading, or rereading, Goodbye, Columbus. It seems like the only way to tell a love story, to get into the mechanics of what works, is to tell its break-up and show what didn’t. Brenda and Neil: they’re attracted to each other, but kind of hate the other, and themselves, too. Their self-disregard matches up nicely with the other’s disdain. And while the first part of the novella feels like a love story, there’s foreboding in the title.

There’s an earnestness to Goodbye, Columbus that’s missing from Roth’s later work. The Plot Against America, for example, is an intellectual exercise—what if America became violently anti-Semitic? In fact, a lot of Roth’s later works are a question: What happened to the Swede? What if you were mistook for a racist? Goodbye, Columbus is the story of a girl from Short Hills breaking a boy from Newark’s heart, not the question of what it would be like if that happened.

As for the charges of misogyny and self-hatred go, as anyone who has ever been through a break-up knows, or as The Lumineers put it, the opposite of love is indifference. I’m not saying that Philip Roth’s characters are sweet on women or are abstaining from pork. But their complicated relationships with women and their faith show the significance of both in their lives. 

And just as an aside, my friend whose last name is Roth briefly lived in the same building as Philip Roth. Once Friend Roth said to him, “You’re my favorite writer,” to which the Writer Roth replied, “In the building?” “No,” Friend Roth said. “In the whole world.” Then some time passed, and dry cleaning got delivered to Friend Roth’s apartment, which he accepted, thinking the pants were his stepfather’s, though they are really Writer Roth’s. After the pants were returned to the rightful Roth, Writer Roth acted as if the dry cleaning mix-up were some Larry David-esque attempt on Friend Roth’s part to build a relationship. 

Weekly Endorsement: Undergrowth With Two Figures

I have been listening to the Slate Culture Gabfest a lot lately. Well, a lot being every week, since that’s how often the podcast comes out. I wouldn’t say the Culture Gabfest is my favorite podcast, but it is the easiest to listen to. Each episode is like a smart person’s dinner party where no one talks about their children or their dogs. And like a dinner party, if you miss any conversation to the sound of washing dishes, it’s not a big deal. 

At the end of each episode, each host endorses something, usually cultural, occasionally esoteric, they have enjoyed in the past week. I think it’s a good practice to recognize one good experience weekly, and I’m going to start. 

My endorsement this week, along with the Slate Culture Gabfest, is “Undergrowth With Two Figures,” a 1890 Van Gogh painting that is now on display at the Denver Art Museum. I had never seen that painting before I went to a lecture on the exhibit. Even though purple on the bark of trees is rare, I know what Van Gogh means. Trees in twilight feel purple. I also like how the two figures sort of seem like trees, how they have the same verticality. Plus, and maybe most importantly, the walk those two figures are going on seems like something they’ll remember, like it’s the moment they fell in love or fell out of it.  

To see this painting, you have to live in Cincinnati, where it is normally shown, or visit the Becoming Van Gogh show at the Denver Art Museum. And for that, I endorse making reservations online and going early.