Thursday, October 31, 2013

Rory Gilmore and the Sage of Baltimore

I'm kicking off November with a new episode of Friday Night Dinner: A Gilmore Girls Podcast, available via iTunes and Podbean. This week Scarlet and I continue to watch as Amy Sherman-Palladino and David Palladino (though this episode was written by neither) build the world of Stars Hollow. In Episode 3: Kill Me Now, Rory gets closer to Richard and Emily, which creates tension with Lorelai. Meanwhile, there's a big wedding at the inn that keeps the gang busy.

We might have to pick up our review pace so that we can get into the thick of things!

This week's pop culture homework is to read up on H.L. Mencken, known as the Sage of Baltimore. This journalist and essayist was one of the most well-known cultural critics of the early 20th century. Toward the end of episode three, Richard invites Rory into his study to see a copy he found of A Mencken Chrestomathy. Do some of Mencken's views seem a bit Gilmoresque?

Search Friday Night Dinner on iTunes and subscribe to the podcast!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Oh to be as wise as Wendell Berry


“It may be that when we no longer know which way to go that we have come to our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.” ― Wendell Berry

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

That's What She Read, Episode 7: Wherein we go from wine to Roth to Rice to Pessl to Harrison and more

bookshelf re-org, unread titles
My recently re-organized unread shelf

Episode 7 of That's What She Read (TWSR) is live! This marks the second installation of what we're calling the TWSR Supper Club, wherein we invite friends over (or out) for dinner and discuss our latest reads with them. Ravena's friend, Kalen, joined us this month, and we had the best conversation.

If you haven't tried the podcast since the first few episodes, I urge you to give it another listen. We're getting better, and I think these last couple of episodes are our best yet!

You can search iTunes for That's What She Read, listen right from our podcast page, or listen below. You'll also find a full list of the books we discuss and links to where you can find out more about them.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

My future tiny library

future tiny library

This is my future tiny library.

It sits deserted along a major thoroughfare in Fairfax, taunting me. I've had my eye on this abandoned ATM building for the last two years and have gone so far as to call the bank and look up tax maps in an effort to track down the owner. His name is scrawled in one of my many notebooks. Getting my hands on his phone number and/or email address has not been as simple. This requires a letter or a visit, all time-consuming things for a busy girl who works when people who own real estate work.

I just want to borrow this space for a few months. Throw up a cute sign. Build shelves out of pallets, and throw open the door for people to borrow, take and trade books. Maybe the books each month will be curated around a particular theme--purple covers or mysteries by women or novels set in D.C.

I'm motivated. It will happen. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Behind the Bookshelf: Interview with a bookseller, Steven Darling

Halloween awesomeness
Halloween 2008 :-)

Meet Steven, one of my favorite people. I first met Steven when we were both working part-time at Barnes & Noble and spent many an evening closing down the store and thinking up crazy activities to maintain our sanity. While Steven no longer sells books, he still offers up some sage advice. You won't find him hanging out on social media, but if you're into the local classical music scene, you might see this Fairfax County music teacher playing in one of the local orchestras.

What are you currently reading? Thoughts on it?

Lately, I’ve been reading the Percy Jackson series. I’ve always liked mythology, and I like how Rick Riordan incorporated the ancient myths into the modern world. When I started reading the series, I didn’t realize there were actually two series within the series. The first set was okay, but felt a little young. This second series I like a lot better. It’s just a little bit more grown up, which is silly considering they are young adult books. That said, if you’re going to read them, I recommend reading all of them. The second series references a lot of stuff from the first series, and I like to know the back story. The one I just finished was The Son of Neptune.

What books are you most looking forward to this year?

I’m not usually very informed about books that are soon to be released. I did pre-order Allegiant (Veronica Roth) since it was on sale for my Kindle for pretty cheap not too long ago. I guess that’s one to look forward to.

Did you set any reading goals for 2013? If so, what are they?

I never set reading goals. I tend to go through periods of voracious reading and periods of almost no reading at all. Since this past summer, I’ve been reading a lot. I attribute this to figuring out how to borrow library books on my Kindle from the comfort of my couch.

What three characters would you invite to the bar for a drink?

Hmm. I’m not really sure. A lot of the books I read are young adult books, and I don’t know that it’s appropriate for those characters to drink. Maybe some of the characters from Christopher Moore’s books?

If you could convince any two authors to write a book together, who would it be? Why?

Another tough question. Maybe Christopher Moore and J.K. Rowling? Hogwarts with a sense of humor?

What's the most annoying book you see flying off the shelves?

Not having worked in a bookstore for a while, I’m not sure what’s flying off the shelves. That said, and even though I haven’t read it, I don’t see the fascination with 50 Shades of Grey.

If you could give people one piece of advice to prep them for entering a bookstore, what would it be?

If you’re going in for something specific, know what you’re asking for. I was never good at the questions like, “Well, I want this book… I think it’s about a kid, maybe the cover was red with this weird little clovery thing on the front? Maybe the kid’s name was Charlie? Or Albert?” If you don’t know what you want, at least have a little direction. I remember that people would come in and say, “I like nonfiction. Where is that section?” That’s a really, REALLY broad topic. Finally, to keep the booksellers happy, a friendly attitude goes a long way. Also, remember that they have to put away everything you take out and leave somewhere else.

What’s your catnip, that familiar plotline or genre you can’t help but pick up and devour?

I’m a sucker for end-of-the-world and/or dystopian novels, especially if they’re young adult. They’re easy to read, and usually quick. I love imagining what a changed world looks like. If there’s a map of the new world, even better. I just went to check which series are on my Kindle. Among the more popular things like The Hunger Games and Divergent, I’ve got the Legend series by Marie Lu, Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness, Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne, Maze Runner by James Dashner, Extinction Point by Paul Antony Jones, Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, Stung by Bethany Wiggins.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My story as told by water, part VII

I loved fishing

Some memories are more like apparitions lingering in the corners of my mind, all a bit transparent and hazy*. 

There was the flurry of activity that surrounds any kind of departure. Hugs and goodbyes to my mom and grandmother with, I believe, the promise to cook anything we returned with. Sitting on the banks of Lake Nasworthy, fishing pole in hand, I remember the waiting, the waiting and the worms. Perhaps there was conversation, adolescent rambling on my part, but those are the details that have been wiped clean. Left in its wake is simply the feeling of sharing a moment with someone you love, that moment where they share with you something they enjoy. There was the fish, small and covered in scales, not worthy of a meal but destined to become one. My grandmother, bless her heart, may never have cleaned a fish in her life, but she tried. Two bites. That's how long it took for me to slowly pull a fish bone out of my mouth and the number of bites for me process how wrong the taste was. I'll never know if the fault lay with my grandmother or the fish, but to this day, I don't eat much seafood.

*Have you seen Stories We Tell? Really good! I'll write a bit about it next month, but one of the themes very much touches on this idea. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Drunken Botanist Book Club


It's been forever since I've participated in any kind of book club. I'm generally not good with any kind of organized book reading. However, when my friend Sarah emailed to say that she'd won a charity auction that included copies of Drunken Botanist and the opportunity for the author to participate in a book club discussion, I jumped at the chance.

Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Greatest Drinks by Amy Stewart is a charming, intelligent compendium of the plants (herbs, flowers, trees, fruit, etc.) behind the alcohol and liquors enjoyed by many. Its combination of history, botany and chemistry is blended with keen storytelling and will appeal to more than your average garden nerd. It is the kind of book you leave on your nightstand and read a new entry from each evening before bed. It's the book that makes you feel better equipped to handle witty, cocktail party banter.

I found Drunken Botanist to be thoroughly delightful, and it turns out that Amy, the author, is equally awesome. At one point in the evening, she managed to succinctly hit the nail on the head of why I'm not just inherently uncool because I often sit at a bar and struggle with what drink to order. I'm paraphrasing here, but "you wouldn't expect to walk into a restaurant and find all of the ingredients on display before you, the waiter asking you to select what you'd like to eat for dinner."

The evening carried on in much that manner, the ebb and flow of conversation moving from cocktails and drinking stories to the ability to order liquor and wine over the internet to Loki's delight in creating chaos. Sarah made, as she put it, an apple cider ginger booze punch and later whipped up a batch of cucumber martinis, many of the ingredients coming from her own garden. You can nab the recipe for the cucumber martini pictured above on Sarah's blog.

The book itself should come with the warning that you may suddenly find yourself with Evernote open, gleefully adding "Clear Creek Distillery", "cassis" and "thick, rich, French liqueur, made from the fruit of the black currant bush, turns an ordinary glass of dry white wine, sparkling wine, or hard cider into something wonderful" to a list of things to hunt for.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday Night Dinner: A Gilmore Girls Podcast, episode 2 is live!


"This whole plaid skirt thing? My idea?"

Join Scarlet and I as we break down Episode 2: The Lorelais' First Day at Chilton. In this episode, we're introduced to Tristan and Paris, discuss the outfit Lorelai runs out of the house wearing, and some of the life lessons she passes along to Rory.

To extend your listening experience, check out Aisha Tyler's (second) conversation with Jared Padalecki on Girl on Guy once you've listened to Friday Night Dinner. He's incredibly funny and charming.

Have you subscribed yet?!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

House of Leaves

Justin Fetters
Continuing the theme of amazingly creepy books is House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski. Your reading life is not complete until you've read this book. You may think I'm being overly dramatic, but this book changed the way I think about books and writing.

I drank the Koolaid, and it tastes good.

I picked this book up back in 2007 at the behest of Marie (sidenote: always trust Marie), and I set it aside pretty quickly, making it no more than a few pages in. I mentioned this to Marie a couple of months later, and she convinced me to give it another chance. Her primary advice was to follow the footnotes and to do everything they said. It's six years later, and it still ranks among my favorite books.

House of Leaves presents two interwoven narratives. The main body of the book is Zampano's tale as told through his critique of a documentary by filmmaker Will Navidson. Navidson and his family move into a house that is mysteriously larger on the inside than it is on the outside. The house seems to shift and morph around them, adding never-ending passageways that creak and groan, seeming to have a life of its own. Navidson pulls together a team of explorer filmmakers to plumb the depths with him and to discover what is waiting on the other end. Narrating Zampano's critique (and the book) is Johnny Truant, the one who discovered Zampano's document and notes after he passed away. As each work their way through the materials and the story of this film and house, their grasp on their own reality grows evermore thin.

What Danielewski does with narrative and layout is nothing short of amazing, dragging you into the confusing depths of the human psyche. I want to take you inside Danielewski's House, dissect it and tell you why it was so groundbreaking at the time, but I know I'll never be able to do it justice. Just do me a favor. Pick up a hard copy of the book (it's not available as an e-book and would just never really work anyway), and give it a chance...a real chance. You'll want to quit, but this one is worth a little sweat.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Night Film

The beginning of Fall and approach of Halloween always makes October feel deliciously spooky. When I picked up Night Film by Marisha Pessl, I didn't set out to read a macabre, dark tome. However, I was delighted to discover that, between Pessl's web of intrigue and the gray, sullen weather hovering over the D.C. area, I got just that.

Let's back up. Night Film is the story of a haunted (mentally, not literally) investigative journalist, Scott McGrath, drowning in self-pity after his obsession with the secret life of a cult horror movie director, Stanislaus Cordova, torpedoes his career. When Cordova's daughter appears to commit suicide, McGrath is pulled back into Cordova's world as he tries to figure out what dark forces may have contributed to her death. Along the way, he picks up a couple of strays--lost souls also adrift in the world and seeking their own sort of resolution--who become Bernstein to his Woodward.

Night Film, however, is so much more than that simple summary would lead you to believe. Pessl weaves articles and other investigation ephemera throughout the book, pulling her readers into the search for clues and as a way of creating richer, better developed characters. The story is full of mysterious characters whose reality may be interwoven with the horror flicks Cordova creates. Pessl does an amazing job building tension and suspense, leaving the reader wondering where psychic fantasy ends and reality begins. It's been quite a while since a story has scared me, but elements of this world infected the weaker parts of my brain, festering until I finally finished the book. I'd sleep fitfully, only to wake up with bloodshot eyes and thoughts of the Cordova mystery.

Even if you don't have time to curl up with Night Film this October, I recommend picking up a copy sooner rather than later. Once you've read that, check out Pessl's first book, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, which is equally entertaining and literary.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Thoughts on 'The New 52' Wonder Woman reboot

I promise I'll stop playing with my new photo app soon.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned how I used to identify with Wonder Woman, which was really just a set up (that got a little long winded) for how I wound up deciding to start reading the DC Comics Wonder Woman reboot. I managed to snag the first five issues (the series started in 2011) at the Annapolis Comic-Con earlier this summer, and I've been picking up a few issues here and there ever since, a pretty clear sign that I'm into it.

It is so much easier to understand what is going on when you start from the very beginning. Picking up a series mid-stream was like deciding to read a book on page 127. The clarity that comes from starting at the beginning made it possible to approach the story and art with a more open mind, which is kind of essential for me. I pick up so many new things only after I arm myself with the skeptic's shield. Not good.

"The Gods walk among us. To them, our lives are playthings. Only one woman would dare to protect humanity from the wrath of such strange and powerful forces. But is she one of us--or one of them?"

With this loaded question, DC sets up the premise for the new series. I'm drawn to the artwork and physical portrayal of the characters almost immediately. The lines are strong with just enough detail to keep the panels interesting without being overwhelming. I appreciate the color palette Cliff Chiang, current illustrator for the series, has chosen. Wonder Woman, herself, is illustrated in a way that fits the Amazonian she is. Chiang has created a character that is both strong and feminine. She is tall and built solidly with defined muscle tone and broad shoulders, and yet, we still get that long, raven hair and (what any girl wants
) the ability to fill out a cute costume. I know there are huge debates about the portrayal of women in comics, and I'm not going to get into that now*. However, I do think that (for the time being) this series manages to avoid those pitfalls.
I'm also into the current story arc and am really enjoying the tie into Greek mythological figures. I've also yet to be annoyed by the writing, which, if you'll recall, was a huge stumbling block when I tried to read the Avengers. Oh, did I mention that she totally kicks ass?

*I reserve the right to debate this out later.
The Gods walk among us. To them, our lives are playthings. Only one woman would dare to protect humanity from the wrath of such strange and powerful forces. But is she one of us – or one of them? - See more at:
The Gods walk among us. To them, our lives are playthings. Only one woman would dare to protect humanity from the wrath of such strange and powerful forces. But is she one of us – or one of them? - See more at:

Monday, October 07, 2013

End of the world movie club

Photo from Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

You may have noticed that I have a (*cough*) minor interest in dystopian, apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic stories. When it comes to books, I try to stick to the more literate* of the bunch--Jim Crace's The Pesthouse, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood, Justin Cronin, etc. However, all bets are off when it comes to movies. I tend to take the broad view and consume pretty voraciously. This runs the gamut from the '83 cult classic The Day After to Armageddon (love) to made-for-TV originals like the 12 Disasters of Christmas (a real low point...even for me). The only movie genre I may get more excited for is a good dance movie!

You can imagine the giddy thumping of my little doom and gloom heart when the summer previews started hitting the streets. I began preparing my mental list of all that I'd try to see. I have to say that I didn't do too badly given how busy the summer was. As of this week, I've managed to see the following (in order of viewing):

Hands down, for me, the surprise of the summer was This Is The End. I went into this star-filled movie (headed by James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson) with massive amounts of skepticism, pretty much assuming I'd find it boring and stupid. I didn't expect to be laughing, loudly, throughout the entire thing. Yes, it was silly, but I enjoyed the premise of the stars playing themselves as portrayed by the media. I also didn't mind the heavy-handed nod to Revelations.

World War Z and Pacific Rim were kind of no-brainers for me. I'm a big fan of the book by Max Brooks (World War Z) and love robots and Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim)...sold. The World's End was also one of the movies that I eagerly anticipated. It's the third in a very loose trilogy, known as the Cornetto Trilogy, by Edgar Wright, which includes Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead. While I think Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead are better, funnier films, The World's End was the perfect cap to Wright's loose of thread of the man-boy who finally pulls it together and accomplishes life-saving feats. 

I always feel like I have to justify why I'm into these kind of movies. I feel like most critics focus on the disaster porn angle and assume the public pays to see bigger explosions, cooler effects. These people don't speak for me. I find a bit of beauty in the fight for survival. I need to believe that there is a good to humanity and that, no matter how depraved things may get, there are those who will risk themselves to help the weaker among us. The struggle to survive, to persevere, is why I keep watching. 

The last film on my summer list was Olympus Has Fallen. I'd heard from a couple of friends that it was pretty awesome, but after the folks (my people) on Pop Culture Happy Hour derided it with such vim and vigor, I began to question myself. Luckily, I moved past the doubt pretty quickly and tracked down the movie. Believe it or not, it was a bit of a hunt. Basically, Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down are the same movie. Hot guy saves the president, a child, and America from bad guys of foreign origin while the White House is destroyed around them. Were they the BEST THING EVER? No, but I enjoyed them. They were pretty effective, brainless entertainment at the end of a long week.

Linda Holmes, I think you're awesome (and am pretty sure we'd be fast friends), but you can keep your Deadly Spa and Hallmark Channel romance movies. I'll take triumph of the human spirit any day.

*This isn't always 100%.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

That's What She Read...the one where we introduce ourselves

Ida Cajetti  (LOC)
If you aren't following the Library of Congress's Flickr stream, you should hop on that.

A new episode of That's What She Read is up!

In this episode, we actually introduce ourselves and give you a bit of a peek into our typical reading habits. We also talk about quite a few books--everything from Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell to The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion to the Dark Hunter series by Sherrilyn Kenyon (book 1, book 2, book 3). There's even a mention of Lonesome Dove and Larry McMurtry's bookstore, Booked Up.

Full episode notes are available at the podcast website.

P.S. I'm still doing a happy dance over being on iTunes!

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Come to Friday Night Dinner, a new Gilmore Girls podcast


We're live! I know thousands of people all across the world figure out podcasting on iTunes, but it felt so good to set this goal and finish it. So...what's Friday Night Dinner all about?

Friday night dinner without all the Gilmore familial obligations. Join Scarlet and me every other Friday. We’re recapping Gilmore Girls episode by episode and answering the age-old question…what would the Lorelais do? Email, Tweet, or comment with your questions, and we'll be sure to offer up Gilmore-certified advice on the next episode.

You can pretty much bank on us talking Fall, food, fashion, boys and a few life lessons each episode!

You can find us on iTunes a few different ways. Click on the photo above or the links to be taken to the iTunes feed. You can also search for "Friday Night Dinner Gilmore Girls" in iTunes or the Podcast app. Finally, you can listen or subscribe on our Podbean page

Scarlet has also been kind enough to create a Facebook page for us, if that's your bag. :-)


(I also managed to transition That's What She Read over to iTunes. Yay! A new episode will be posted over the weekend, so I'll save more "official" fanfare for then.)

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Thom Yorke Zumba and Flea Thrashercize

Let's just get this out of the way now. The Atoms for Peace show last night at the Patriot Center was awesome. And, while I appreciated the room to move and breathe, it's a bit of a travesty that there were so many empty seats.

It's the mark of a good show that my internal dialogue of earlier in the evening (too tired, too old for a weeknight show) evaporated as soon as they hit the stage. I was on my feet and dancing my ass off, afraid to sit down lest Yorke or Flea catch my eye. These guys are 40+ years old and leaving it all on the floor. It's my job as a concert goer to give it back, to feed the beast, and I was not about to let them down.

Yorke's moves are all over the map, each one weird, inspiring and so very, very perfect. He's the nerd's dancing hero. As I looked out across the stadium, I saw them (us) channeling his energy, dancing with a reckless freedom and confidence (maybe less with the confidence on my part). Thom Yorke is life affirming.

Flea radiated energy. He dominated the stage, his bass and the skirt he wore. This man is 50, and he.did.not.stop.

The music, itself, was other worldly. Layers and sounds and beats...I can't write about music without sounding like a tool. It got me moving, got me thinking and made me happy...all of my favorite things.

I'm writing this at 1AM on my phone while trying to go to sleep. If it doesn't make sense, let's blame it on that.