2014 Roundup

Standard

Books (me)

  • Oz Reimagined: New Tales from the Emerald City and Beyond, John Joseph Adamds and Douglas Cohen, eds.
  • Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History, Simon Winder
  • Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, Maryanne Wolf
  • Halfway House, Ellery Queen
  • Big Money, P. G. Wodehouse
  • The Red Notebook, Paul Auster
  • And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible’s Original Meaning, Joel M. Hoffman
  • The Sundial, Shirley Jackson
  • The Night of the Hunter: A Biography of a Film, Jeffrey Couchman
  • How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music, Elijah Wald
  • We Need to Talk about Kevin, Lionel Shriver

Summary: Not a great reading year; I even had a two- or three- month period where I read nothing at all before bed—just burned out, I guess. (In addition to several policy and annual reports, I copyedited three poetry anthologies, one 464-page issue of Gargoyle magazine, the 460-page novel Roughnecks, and the 100,000-word Rutgers 250th anniversary volume.) The nonfiction I did read was uniformly fascinating: Germania has a delicious tone, presenting much scholarship most lightly and delightfully. And God Said is a wise book, clearly demonstrating the perils of taking anything literally in the Bible, given the huge gap in language and culture that separates us from then. How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll has far too subversive a title; it is a sober, fascinating study of popular music, concluding that the current methods of creating and marketing pop music mitigate against the commingling of artistic styles that characterized earlier eras—another way in which our society is becoming increasingly fragmented and segmented. And the The Night of the Hunter is terrific. In fiction, the standout was the tiny Paul Auster book. The Shirley Jackson was something of a disappointment: her tone was there, but it did not work in concert with the story. Lionel Shriver is an excellent author; I will look to read more of her, and I plan to post separately about Kevin.

Books (Steve)

  • The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
  • A Most Wanted Man, John Le Carre
  • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, John Le Carre
  • Where I’m Calling From, Raymond Carver
  • The Red Notebook, Paul Auster
  • The Brooklyn Follies, Paul Auster
  • The Houdini Specter, Daniel Stashower
  • Our House in the Last World, Oscar Hijuelos
  • Play Pretty Blues: The Life of Robert Johnson, Snowden Wright
  • Had a Good Time, Robert Olen Butler
  • Halfway House, Ellery Queen
  • The Beautiful Cigar Girl, Daniel Stashower
  • The Teapot Dome Scandal, Laton McCartney
  • Who the Fuck Is Linda Chorney?, Linda Chorney

Summary: Steve read a wide variety of books, many outside his usual norm, including The Sound and the Fury, which he still is working to understand. He really, really enjoyed Paul Auster.

Dance and Concerts

  • Healing Wars, Liz Lerman
  • Willie Porter at the Saint
  • Steve Forbert at Woodbridge Middle School

Summary: All of these were most enjoyable. Willie Porter was a pleasant surprise: very energetic, very skilled, very talented. The Lerman piece was thought provoking and in places profound. However, I am not sure the combination of speech and dance always worked: the dance and music put you someplace ethereal, heightened your thoughts and sensibilities; the words tended to bring it all down, earthbound and moribund. And Steve Forbert is always a delight, particularly in a small, attentive venue. We had been very very disappointed when we saw him at Tim McLoone’s Supper Club, where a raucous party ruined the performance. This appearance at the middle school more than compensated.

Theater

Summary: I reviewed several of these this year; I have provided links where available, and will post the others elsewhere. The last four listed here are productions by my girls: Julie’s theater company, No. 11 Productions, puts on Mythunderstood as a primer on Greek mythology for elementary school students; Friends Call Me Albert, about Einstein and featuring puppets, is in development. Sarah wrote Limbo Land and Master Matthew. I cannot pretend to be objective; they were all wonderful. It’s hard to pick a standout from among the other plays. The Broadway and off-Broadway shows were all well produced and entertaining on the whole, but not superlative. Of the indie and Fringe productions, I was most taken by The Pink Unicorn, which is about a small-town, conservative Texas mother coming to terms with her teenage daughter’s “gender queer” status. It is funny and heartfelt and compassionate and should be required viewing for everyone as a lesson in tolerance and acceptance and love. Read more about it (or buy it) here.

Movies

  • Monuments Men
  • Love Is Strange
  • A Trip
  • Boyhood
  • Words and Pictures
  • Ida
  • About Time
  • Lunch Box
  • Kill Your Darlings
  • Oscar Nominated Live Action and Animated Shorts
  • Inside Llewyn Davis
  • Philomena
  • Nymphomaniac Vol. 1
  • Magic in the Moonlight
  • Dance of Reality
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Finding Vivian Maier
  • Chef
  • Fading Gigolo
  • A Hard Day’s Night
  • The One I Love
  • Enemy
  • Venus in Furs
  • Like Father, Like Son
  • Two Faces of January
  • The Zero Theorem
  • Pride
  • Gone Girl
  • St. Vincent
  • Birdman
  • Only Lovers Left Alive
  • Whiplash
  • Foxcatcher

Summary: Steve’s top picks are Grand Budapest Hotel, Birdman, and Boyhood, all of which he found to be thought provoking and thoroughly entertaining. My top picks are Grand Budapest Hotel, Pride, and Dance of Reality. I have never seen a movie like that last: crazy, wild, erotic, erratic, indelible, gorgeous, horrifying, fascinating. I loved it. I also loved Pride, which to me was the year’s best in terms of conscience, heart, and soul: positive and life-affirming. But I agree with Steve in picking Grand Budapest as best all-around good movie. It creates a wonderful little world, and I did not want to leave it: I loved its details and its tone and its look and its people. An utter delight with no false notes. Looks like we only saw one documentary this year: Finding Vivien Maier; it was spellbinding. Most disappointing films were Monuments Men, which I thought was hypocritical; St. Vincent, which was an extended Bill Murray SNL sketch and without any heart; Inside Llewyn Davis, which was very flat and uninteresting for a Coen brothers flick we’d been looking forward to; and Gone Girl, which was just not twisty enough! Intriguing also-rans: Chef, Fading Gigolo, Lunch Box, and Nymphomaniac, all of which greatly exceeded our expectations. Two Faces of January was forgettable; of all the movies listed, we couldn’t even remember what this one was about without checking online.

 

Food

One exceedingly lovely new restaurant (new to us): the Ragin’ Cajun in Belmar. A thoroughly unpretentious, friendly, tiny, happy place. Other places we tried and especially liked this year were Pho Le in Red Bank and Ming in Edison.

Our shopping find came late in the year, when we were searching for a fresh turkey in late December. The Long Branch Poultry Farm provided a most excellent turkey—possibly the best we’ve ever had—for a most excellent price.

As to new recipes, the big find was lentils. Steve created a lovely lentil side dish lightly sauteed with onions, carrots, and garlic: very easy and an excellent accompaniment to almost anything.

Field Trips

Very few field trips this year beyond numerous trips to the city and a few to Rutgers. We did go to the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton in time for the Seward Johnson retrospective, which was great fun. And we went to the Neue for the Degenerate Art exhibit. And the Magritte exhibit at MoMA, which was just terrific: funny and perverse and wild.

And another late year find: a field trip for office furniture on December 31 brought us to E. J. Schuster Furniture, quite the nicest furniture store imaginable. We got two new chairs, had a most knowledgeable and friendly salesman, and learned about the store’s history, as it is also the site of Schuster’s Poultry Farm, a local egg producer.

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