Thursday, May 16, 2013

Week the Fourth: Recommendations

Wow, is it Wednesday already? I don't know where the week has gone, but it must be because I'm back once again with a post on a vintage topic for the Introvert Social Hour.
Today's topic is book, music, and film recommendations and, like everyone else, I could go on about this for a very long time. I do, however, have some ideas that I hope you'll find interesting. This is going to be super long no matter what because I'm going to list quite a few items, but I'll keep the commentary to a minimum. Let's get started with...

I'm going to stick to artists that I think some of you might not know, with one major exception which I will explain below. I won't comment on most of them other than just a vague idea of what sort of music they play. It's hard to describe music in words, at least for me.
Medium to hard-ish rock, not always a hard beat but largely electronic:
* As Fast As (AKA Rocktopus) - Sadly, on "hiatus" (if you can still call it that after so long) since 2008 so they're tough to find.
* The Black Keys (Twitter)
* Dr Noise (YouTube, Twitter)
* Jack White/The White Stripes/The Raconteurs/The Dead Weather - I know lots of people know these artists; I mention them only because I'm not sure whether everyone knows that they all revolve around Jack White. If you like one, you'll like them all. Go get it!
* Modern Day Zero (AKA Mesh, Mesh STL) - Also on a "break" since 2008. The only thing they're "breaking" is my heart!

Softer/more acoustic-ish rock:
* Ben Folds (Twitter) - Often nerdy lyrics
* Gary Jules (Twitter)
* J.B. Dazen/The Postponers (Twitter)
* Mikey Wax (Twitter)
* Paul Turner (YouTube, Twitter)

Show tunes, torch songs, etc:
* Mandy Patinkin - This is mostly for Jill because I know she loves musicals, but others might enjoy him too. Beautiful voice, sings great songs. Check him out.

Hard to classify:
* Squirrel Nut Zippers (Twitter) - Swing, blues, jazz, whatever, but with a cool modern twist.
* Steam Powered Giraffe (Twitter) - You really have to hear this to understand. Great, but nearly impossible to describe.
* Rock Sugar (Twitter) - Live, performed (not electronically created) mashups of 80s pop and '80s metal. Sounds weird, I know, but it's fantastic. I have yet to find a person who likes any style of '80s music who doesn't love Rock Sugar.
* Molly Lewis (YouTube, Twitter) - Mostly ukulele based, mostly nerdcore, 100% fun.

Picture books:
* Love You Forever by Robert Munsch - Some people find this book to be creepy, and I understand their perspective, but I just don't see it like that. To me it's just beautiful and wonderful and it makes me tear up Every. Single. Time.
* ANYTHING by Kevin Henkes - If you like picture books AT ALL, you MUST check this author out. His books are sweet and adorable, but also have a lot to say to and about the lives and minds of young children. I cannot recommend him too highly.
* ANYTHING by Jon Scieszka (Twitter)- Scieszka writes for somewhat older kids than Henkes does (mid-elementary to maybe early teen vs preschool to early elementary) but his books are equally inspired. He takes the things we all tell our children about -- everything from fairy tales and time travel to math, science, and art appreciation -- and puts his own very special twist on them. Absolutely priceless.
* Heidi by Johanna Spyri - A book that is well deserving of its status as a classic, and the first book that ever made me cry. Enough said. 

Middle grade/young adult:
* The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - As much as I love John Green, Maureen Johnson, and a few other young adult authors, I seriously think this is one of the best books ever written for teens and young adults (and I'm pretty sure John Green agrees with me). It took my breath away and I think it will do the same for you. Absolutely beautiful.
* An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (Twitter) - I like all of John's books a lot but I specifically mention this one because I think it's fantastic (it's actually my favorite of his published books) and I think it gets ignored a lot. I love it for several reasons, not the least of which is that the main character could totally be me. If you haven't read it, please do so. You won't regret it. 

Important books that are also very good stories:
* Roots by Alex Haley - In addition to being a great story, Roots has a lot to say about the United States and, more generally, about all people in all times and how we relate to each other. It's an epic narrative that carries the reader from mid 19th century Africa to mid-20th century America while showing not only how we got from there to here but also the path that's still ahead. A wonderful book.
* Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm by George Orwell - Both are very good stories, though admittedly Animal Farm may test the patience of readers who aren't into fantasy and/or allegories. But I think everyone should read them and learn from them. They both speak volumes about what happens to a society in which people fail to educate themselves as broadly as possible, pay attention to what's really happening, and take action to protect the things they believe in. Written in the World War II era but just as relevant today. 

Books that are so much better than the movie that the entire filmmaking industry should be ashamed:
* Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell - I made the terrible mistake of reading this book before I ever saw the movie and now I can barely stand even to think about the movie. Seriously, the only reason that film is considered a classic is because not enough people have read it. It's a hefty read but if you're up to the challenge (and don't mind learning to hate the film), I recommend it.
* A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving - One of my favorite books of all time. I almost NEVER re-read books because when I think of all the books that remain to be read, I can't bear to waste my time on repeats. I've read this book three times and I'm seriously considering doing it again. It's Just. That. Good. (The film, by the way, is called Simon Birch and is so terrible that John Irving wouldn't let them associate it with his name or the title of the book.) 

* ANYTHING by Ogden Nash or Shel Silverstein - Both are wonderful, fun modern poets who write mostly short, pithy poems. Their work is often enjoyed by children, but some pieces can be fairly dark or bizarre and may not be suitable for young kids. It's all great stuff though.
* ANYTHING by John Donne - Donne's poetry is somewhat more "serious" in the sense that it was written in the early 1600s and therefore uses pretty archaic language, forcing the reader to think harder and maybe even look up some words (the horror!!) in order to understand it fully, but it ranges from riotously bawdy soft porn (in the poets younger days) and hilarious satire to poems with powerful Christian themes (after his conversion in his late 40s). He's my favorite poet. 

Amazing books that you may not have heard of for various reasons:
* Memoirs of an Invisible Man by H.F. Saint - A fantastic story of a man who becomes invisible as the result of a weird magneto-nuclear accident and his struggles to maintain some semblance of a normal life thereafter. Very well received by critics and the public, but for some reason that I've never understood (unless it was the horrific film adaptation with Chevy Chase that tried to turn it into a comedy), it has been out of print for many years. It's kind of tough to get your hands on a copy, honestly, but if you can, do. It's worth the trouble.
* If on a winter's night a traveler... by Italo Calvino - This is a postmodern, metafictional story written primarily in the second person as the book interacts with the reader. Unless you're already into this sort of thing, I can pretty well guarantee it's not like anything you've read before, but it's absolutely fascinating nonetheless.
* Hidden Things by Doyce Testerman (Twitter)- This is the first published book by this author and I may possibly be biased by the fact that (full disclosure) I've discussed the story extensively with him, but I think it's fantastic. A fantasy novel like none I've ever read before, blending several different mythical creatures and traditions into one very modern, quick paced mystery story. Absolutely have a look if you like fantasy or mystery of any kind.
* The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult (Twitter) - This is the last book I read, chosen by my local book club on a whim because it happened to be #1 on the New York Times bestseller list the night of our last meeting. I'd previously read one book by Jodi Picoult (Lone Wolf) and I liked it ok but my socks weren't knocked off by any means, so I didn't expect much more from this one. Oh, how wrong I was. An amazing story that forces the reader to ask him/herself lots of hard questions while the author rips our collective heart out with a harrowing story of a young Jewish girl and her close encounter with a Nazi officer. Yet another book that I may very well re-read.

As with music, I'm going to try to stick with things that some of you might not already know. 'Cause I'm cool like that. 

This and that:
* Trapped in Paradise and Mixed Nuts - If you like A Christmas Story, you'll like these too. Weird, funny Christmas movies for the win.
* Truly, Madly, Deeply; The Last Kiss; High Fidelity - Three unconventional love stories that feature as many tears as laughs, but all three end on the right note. I love 'em. (Note: TMD is very hard to find, but well worth the search.)
* The Usual Suspects - Probably the best known film on this list, but I couldn't resist including it. Super cool plot and possibly the best acting Kevin Spacey has ever done (and that's saying something!).
* The Majestic - A sweet film that makes its point quietly and delivers a very different ending from what you expect at the start. Controversial in some ways, but I like it a lot.
* Defending Your Life - I'll be honest: The first half of this film is slow and hard to get into. But the rest of it literally changed my life by helping me to recognize how much fear I was carrying around with me and how much it was hindering me. A solidly good (but probably not great) film that I recommend mostly for its message.

The best of the best:
* Cyrano de Bergerac (1990 version, in French) - Very hard to find, but possibly my favorite movie of all time. Even if you've read the play and/or seen other film versions, you need to see this one. After all these years, its beauty still leaves me stunned and breathless every time I watch it.
* Galaxy Quest - This makes the third post in a row in which I've mentioned this movie. Please watch it so I can shut up about it! Don't worry about the cover art. It looks cheesy on purpose because it's parodying ACTUAL cheesy movies. It's hilarious and fun and I think you'll enjoy the heck out of it.
* Waking Ned Devine - One of the funniest movies I've ever seen, and it's all about a dead guy. I can't possibly overstate the hilarity of this film. You just have to see it.
* Mary and Max  - Aaaaand at the other end of the spectrum, possibly the saddest movie I've ever seen, but the painful tears are mixed in equal measure with tears of love and hope. A beautiful animated film that you'll never forget.
*Joe versus the Volcano - Some people don't like this movie but I honestly cannot understand how. It's very funny but also makes you think about how you live your life, plus a love story that will "make your heart swell and burst". Just lovely.

And that's it, at last. Whew!

Remember, if you have questions or comments please feel free to leave them below. I'd love to hear from you! And if you're interested in such things you can also find me on Twitter.

Thanks again for reading! If you've somehow landed here from some other source and haven't seen the videos that go along with this post, they are: 

Jill, Kristina, Frieda & Amy

And that's it from me on this Wednesday. Best wishes! <3

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