Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Three New Men in My Life

Uh, so, in case you didn't know, I'm a total book dork. Yeah, yeah, I got a couple of lit degrees, but that doesn't even matter. Books have been my thing since I can remember. My Uncle Tobin used to get me a book for every birthday. I though it was SO lame. That is, until one year he got me a sweater and I was like, "Um, where's my book?"
And now I'm a book dork. Deal with it.

So, in true book dork fashion, here are the new libros I'm super excited about:

Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.
Murakami is such a find. He's Japanese but he super loves American culture. That's probably why he translates so well, but has an air of mystery that reels in the readers. Actually, that's downplaying his talent. The guy just has a way with words -- that timbre and rhythm that's nearly impossible to achieve unless you're Nabokov or Capote. But get this: Murakami books are page turners -- so much so that I almost feel guilty reading them. In a cage match with the ever-popular Twilight, I'm standing in my boy Haruki's corner.

The cool thing about this book (I think -- I haven't read it yet other than an excerpt in the New Yorker) is that it's both a memoir (what is Murakami really like?? Devoted readers all want to know) and it's about running, which I'm sort of obsessed with (or was when I had time to run distance races, at least). I can't wait to find out if Murakami has the same mystique as his characters. From what I've read so far, he does -- and maybe more.

[Dude, check him out! Wouldn't you want to hang out with him?]

Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close Up
I just finished Foer's first book, Everything is Illuminated. I didn't want to read that book when it came out, simply because I was jealous. Why can't I be a 23 year old prodigy novelist? And plus, EVERYONE loved this book, which already made it annoying. Blah blah blah, Jonathan Safran Foer, yeah yeah, whatever. But, on a serious recommendation from a friend with very good taste, I finally tried it out and...

[Awesomeness in paperback.]

IT WAS FREAKING AWESOME. Seriously, it's so good. The stuff he thinks of seems so random but is so well planned -- and so heartbreakingly brilliant. Case in point -- take the following gorgeous passage about two lovers, one a Jew, one a gypsy, in 1941:

"They exchanged notes, like children. My grandfather made his out of news clippings and dropped them in her woven baskets, into which he knew only she would dare stick a hand. Meet me under the bridge and I will show you things you've never seen. The "M" was taken from the army that would take his mother's life: GERMAN FRONT ADVANCES ON SOVIET BORDER; the "eet" from their approaching warships: NAZI FLEET DEFEATS FRENCH AT LESACS; the "me" from the peninsula they were blue-eyeing: GERMANS SURROUND CRIMEA; the "and" from too little, too late: AMERICAN WAR FUNDS REACH ENGLAND; the "er" from the dog of dogs: HITLER RENDERS NONAGGRESSION PACT INOPERATIVE...and so on, and so on, each note a collage of love that could never be, and war that could."

I may be a book dork but I don't gush easily. Even so, there were lines in that book that were so beautiful they honestly made me tear up...and then run out and buy his next book. I hope I'm not disappointed.

[I'm ready to get all dorkygushball again.]

[Jonathan Safran Foer -- so cute, so brilliant, but not smart enough to get new glasses]

And finally, an author who comes highly recommended by several of my reader buddies:

Denis Johnson, Jesus' Son
I have a feeling Johnson may be my new Murakami. Or my new Foer. I'm giving his short fiction a whirl because I hear it's great. I'm a little cautious of reading short fiction as my entree, but it worked for George Saunders (who I LOVE). I highly doubt I'll be disappointed.

It's been hard for me to get back into reading but I'm PUMPED to be back. When you read and write for your job sadly the last thing you want to do is read and write when you get home. But when you've found a great book or a great way to ramble (ahem, BLOG!) it's such a welcome relief. I think it's how my Dad must feel -- he's a chef and doesn't want to bring work home. But when he's cooking for his family it makes him happy. I guess it's similar -- when I find something I truly love, like the brilliance of Foer or a place to write whatever I want, it's satisfying in a way that certainly doesn't feel like work.

Moleskine, My Love

My friend over at The Cloud recently posted an entry about Moleskines that inspired me to write my own tribute to this beloved notebook.

[The beloved Moleskine]

When I was in my 20s and living in Providence I got my first Moleskine -- just your basic blank pages with the all-important secret back pocket. The first page is marked 3/22/03, Austin, Texas, and reads:

["Matel's one-room schoolhouse closed down and is now a Christian radio station." Hilarious!]

For me, the Moleskine was a catch-all for silly thoughts, story ideas, phone numbers, errant grocery lists, profound one-liners -- you know, the usual stuff. But, the idea was also to get others along the way to contribute to the book and my Moleskine followed me on my adventures throughout New England and the greater Northeast, namely New York and Boston. As my friends and I drunkenly met strangers or caught up with old friends I'd ask each to write whatever they wanted in the book. You could tell a lot about a person by what they chose to pen. Here are a couple of my favorites:

[Dave Attell -- That's not an act; he really is an asshole.]

My friend Matel and I randomly met the comedian Dave Attell at a bar in Times Square. We partied with him and his friend Ben (now the host of Cash Cab) until after the bar closed (and in NYC, that's LATE, so I had a lot of time to see the real Dave). All along I figured Attell's surly stage presence was just an act, but after spending several hours with the guy let me assure you, he really is an ass. When I asked him to write in the book all he could think to write was, "suck it." Then he ran off to make out with a chick who had just barfed.

["Hey drunk chick! Let's make out."]

Ben, on the other hand, was awesome.

[If Ben were a real cab driver, I'd give him a big tip.]

Okay, in all fairness, Dave penned two entries. Here’s the first one:

“Dave Attell. I’m drunk.” Very clever. You can see why he's a professional comic.

My other favorite entry is from Chris Gaffney, a musician and a friend. This one was from a night Matel and I went to see Chris play with Dave Alvin in New York, then hung out afterwards. Chris writes, "If you take this to EBay I will have to ride you like a tiger." If that's not Gaffney's humor, I don't know what is.

Chris died suddenly last year. I can assure you I won't be selling that page on EBay.

[Miss you, Gaff.]

Those are only a few of the entries in my very first Moleskine. The rest are one-day story characters, forgotten memories, and images of me in my mid 20s being both smartly adventurous and stupidly wild. I'm tamer now, and hopefully a little less stupid, but the Moleskine -- it's awesomeness will never change.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hello. Please Stop. (Vol. I)

Hello guy at the gym. Please stop smelling.

Please, I beg of you. When I'm on the elliptical machine I'm required to breathe -- heavily. And that, in turn, requires me to smell heavily, which is very, VERY difficult when you smell so, SO badly.

Listen, I was three machines away from you and yet your stench was undeniable. It was so bad the heavy fog of odor settled into the fibers of my otherwise freshly-scented clothing, and stayed with me until I hurriedly drove home and showered away your scent.

[Jude Law -- Smelly Gym Guy?]

Smelly Gym Guys, please do your fellow gym patrons a favor; consider this three-step approach:

1. Check out that thing you heard about called deoderant. Pick your favorite scent, then apply it before you leave the locker room.

[I still love the smell of Brut.]

2. Trim up your pits. No, this will not make you look like a chick. Think of it this way: Would you wear a shirt that absorbed and subsequently disseminated odor? I think you get the picture.

3. Wear a shirt with actual sleeves. Sleeveless shirts are neither attractive nor conducive to preventing your odor from traveling to unwitting noses.

[Oddly, this man says "no" to Smelly Gym Guys but "yes" to sleeveless shirts.]

Smelly Gym Guys, please consider this important three-step method. Not only will it improve my quality of life, but taking these measures can also improve your love life by up to 72%.*

*This is not an exact figure but has been anecdotally proven to be accurate by the Shut-In.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Hazelnut Hajj

I never used to be much of a coffee drinker, but these days I find myself in grumpy mode until the caffeine has done its very important work. Then again, that's usually just on weekdays, so maybe it's not that I need the actual drug -- perhaps it's just that the drug helps me deal with the first stressful hour of work. Hmm.

In any case, my coffee habit started in Providence, RI, where, if you don't like Dunkin' Donuts coffee they take away your driver's license. It's just unamerican. So, being good patriots, someone at work would make a Double D coffee run every morning. Back then I drank iced coffee -- you know, the training wheels for the casual coffee drinker.

We don't have Dunkin' Donuts in Nebraska (for shame!) so after I moved to Omaha I gave up coffee altogether. But then I discovered an amazing thing -- you can order DD coffee online. Miracle of miracles! I love the internet.

So, the addiction began again. I set up a coffee subscription, ordered two pounds of hazelnut and it was on. Where once I was drinking iced coffee with milk, now my morning travel mug carries 16 ounces of black power.

But my addiction isn't my real concern -- it's my drug of choice. I've noticed lately that my beloved Dunkin' Donuts hazelnut roast has lost the taste I've always known and loved. Has the economy forced DD to cut corners? Is the new packaging causing a chemical reaction that dulls the formula? Or maybe it's the saddest thing of all -- maybe it's me. Perhaps, like any addict, I'm seeking more and more from the same formula. The drug hasn't changed; rather, I now demand more from it, forever seeking the magic of that first taste much like the addict strives to recatpure that first high.

I think there are two courses of action:
1. Immerse myself in the Dunkin' Donuts love, accept it for what it is, and remember I still prefer it above all other coffees. How will I accomplish this? Easy: win free coffee for a year.

2. I need to get back to my roots. Home-brewed DD will never match a cup straight from the source (although, note that the home brew does offer the "what-is-that-homeless-guy-doing-in-the-corner?"-free option). It's time for my pilgrimage to Mecca -- I need to get myself to Dunkin' Donuts. Thankfully, I'll be in Providence in May. You might want to buy DD stock now...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Shut-In Speaks

Okay, so I was SUPER pumped about blogging and then...nothing. Maybe that's because I was drunk on wine when I started the blog, or maybe it's because I've been working ungodly hours (like, maybe 65 or 70 in five days last week? Ouch.) But, now that they've unchained me from my desk AND I'm two glasses of wine in, it's time to begin anew.

So, no poetic prose, no witty insights, just...a start (again).

And when I have nothing witty to say, that means it's time for the first official Mass for Shut-Ins ALBUM REVIEW! Some great stuff has come out this month, namely:

Ladyfinger (ne) -- Dusk
In the interest of full disclosure, I know these guys socially so I may be a bit biased. Nevertheless, knowing any member of a band has never made me listen to their album non-stop since its release. Ladyfinger's sound is a little heavier than the discs that I typically obsess over, but these guys are good. And now they're growing into their sound and, despite some seriously rockin' tunes in the past, have found their stride. That -- and no amount of booze communally guzzled -- is why I can't stop listening to this album. Give "Little Things" a listen and you'll know why. Chris Machmuller's voice has the perfect amount of gravel, weight, and subtlety, paired with the little bit of pop Ladyfinger, I think, has secretly longed for. The song "Plans" kills me, too. In fact, it even made me a little teary the other day (for reasons I'd have to be a lot drunker to disclose than I am now). Since when has a hard rock band made a song that can do that? Okay, maybe if you know what Metallica's "One" is about, but still... If you're a Ladyfinger fan you can tell instantly that this song is different. That's not always a good thing for a band whose sound you've known and loved, but here it works. Really well. In fact, if I were putting the album together, this would have been the first track.
Those are the songs (in addition to several other Ladyfinger classics) that make me keep going back to this album, despite other long-awaited discs that came out this month, like...
Lily Allen - It's Not Me, It's You
This is Lily Allen's second release and it's decent. I can't say I'm in love with it, but it also hasn't weathered my patented "Five Listens in the Car" test yet. I always criticize reviewers who don't truly listen to albums (ahem, see above patented technique) before reviewing them so we'll consider this a "first listen" review. So far the album sounds great. But, like one reviewer said, when did Lily Allen start with the "serious" social commentary? It doesn't seem to jive with her brand. Nevertheless, the sound of the album is the light and airy Lily we all love and her voice is at the same time precocious and cutting, which is really what made me love her to begin with. I'm sure I'll warm up to this one in no time and, work permitting, will give a full review later.
And now to my boyfriend, M. Ward.

M. Ward - Hold Time
I've been waiting a long time for this record to come out. M. Ward's voice slays me with every dusky tremor. M. Ward has my love so he gets three stars going in (even though, okay, he's not really my boyfriend) but I have to say I like what he's doing here. The album has a little more pep than his previous releases, which should garner him more plays in my iTunes library. Despite the fact that I frequently proclaim my love for Mr. Ward, he doesn't get a lot of air time, simply because you have to be in the right mood to truly enjoy him. But, with this development he may see more action on my personal juke (my lonesome desktop that is used only for music, having been trumped by my lovely "Shelley Green" Dell, which currently -- literally -- resides on my lap. But, I digress...). Hold Time needs another three listens before I can give it a true rating, but Matt, you'll always have my three stars. And, my mom loves you, so there's another half star, at least.

Okay, what started out as a short blog is now not-so-short...but, like I said, it's a start. So before my bottle of cab franc is empty (it's dangerously close for a weeknight) I'll call it quits (on the blog, at least -- I make no promises in regard to the wine).

Friday, February 6, 2009

Thanks Steak and Cakes

Piper inspired me to start my blog. Hangovers and bunny ears inspired my blog name. And so it begins.