Special installment of Stuff We Liked. Detailing what our Epilogue contributors liked about 2009.
Rebecca Katherine Hirsch, writer, Epilogue contributor
Best Physical Injury: Benign Tumor of the Left Forefoot
Best Cat: Lamington Augustine Jelinek, my two-year-old tabby
Best Use of Adversity: Like the toad, the rocky road... to agency
Best Humiliation: Letting them use your shower then letting them leave without banging you
Best Repudiation: Non-communication in the face of roiling passion
Best Book: A Practical Guide to Racism by C.H. Dalton
Best Youtube Sensation: SUNSET TELEVISION
Best Youtube Video I Discovered In an Otherwise Disheartening Situation:
Best Quote I Read: Nothing fails like success, and sometimes nothing is sadder than comedy.
Best Quote I Said: I seduce with my sadness. I ejaculate with my tears.
Matt Marsaglia, writer, Epilogue contributor
Best Album: Up From Below, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros; Veckatimest, Grizzly Bear.
Best Book: Manhood For Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son, Michael Chabon
Best Movie: “A Serious Man”, Joel and Ethan Coen; “The Hangover”, Todd Phillips
Best News Story: The Beer Summit
Best New Story If, Hypothetically, It Didn’t Affect the Immediate Friends and Family of It’s Subject: Mark Sanford’s South American trysts
Best Comedy: “Curb Your Enthusiasm” Season 7
Best State: Colorado
Best Representation of a State: The Dallas Cowboys’ sixty-yard HDTV
Best of Best Ofs: The Best American Nonrequired Reading in 2009, Dave Eggers
Cutest Vocalist: Angel Deradoorian
Best Rejection Note: I know a character like Carmen too. We’ve been married for eight years. I’m afraid she might think you’re my alias so I’ll have to pass. I liked it though. Keep writing us and watch out for those Carmens.
Best Year for A Word Used in Music Journalism: Polyphonic (Coalesce and supine were close behind).
Best Article not from Epilogue: A Subtextual Reading of Your High School French Textbook by Sarah Smallwood (http://www.mcsweeneys.net/2007/10/3smallwood.html)
What to Watch for in 2010: Beach House, literary classics infused with zombies, unethical people with nothing to lose and Steve Stricker (too soon?)
Arna Hemenway, writer, Epilogue contributor
Best Essays of the Year:
Lawrence Wright, “Captives”, on Gaza, Israel and the kidnapped Israeli soldiers, in the New Yorker magazine. Online here.
Reading about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is hard. Reading about it from liberal Western media outlets like the New Yorker is usually even worse. This is mostly because few reporters even manage to get the facts, let alone present them without an agenda. This piece by Lawrence Wright, besides being informative, entertaining, objective and relatively well researched, more importantly leaves you with a little bit of the bewilderment that, I can tell you, is a daily occurrence while living there.
Zadie Smith, “Novel Nausea”, owning David Shields in response to his attack on literature itself, in The Guardian book section. Online here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/nov/21/zadie-smith-essay-guardian-review
David Shields is a dick. Well, I mean, I know I shouldn’t say that because A.) I don’t know him and B.) he was, in the distant past, a respected writer. Luckily for me, we have Zadie Smith to calmly and completely pwn Shields’ recent over-hyped essay collection that argues against the need for novels or any fiction at all. Her eloquence in dispatching this latest pseudo-intellectual nonsense is a sight to behold, and demonstrates the difference between those actually contributing to the world of art, and those seeking to undermine it. This essay is one of those separating-the-grownups-from-the-children moments.
D.T. Max, “The Unfinished”, a thorough and beautiful final word on what happened to David Foster Wallace, in New Yorker magazine. Online at: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/03/09/090309fa_fact_max
Is it just me or does David Foster Wallace’s being dead just get sadder and sadder as time goes on? This piece finally fills in a lot of the blanks his death left many of us with. It is thorough, too; Max did his research and gained unprecedented access. But it is the humane way he writers of that most humane of all writers that sets this piece above all others. In it, David Foster Wallace the man breathes in front of us, even if only for a brief, tortured minute.
Rick Moody, “Did Ronald Reagan Force Steve Winwood to make ‘Higher Love’?” on The Rumpus blog. Online at: http://therumpus.net/2009/11/swinging-modern-sounds-17-higher-love/
This very odd, very awesome essay by the fiction writer Rick Moody on that greatest of terrible eighties songs (Bring me a higher love! just try to get that out of your head), really opens a window to the kind of new age cultural criticism that is going to be most effective for my generation. While he turns his lens to the confusion of the 80s, this article is almost more valuable for the way it gives us to think about the 90s. Also, the comments section alone on this piece could’ve itself made this list.
Dave Cullen, Columbine.
This whole book, released in April of 2009, is the best nonfiction of any kind I read this year. Cullen spent the decade since the shootings doing exhaustive research, and talking to people involved. The resulting work is a masterpiece of American trauma. The shootings at Columbine were almost completely misunderstood. Here Cullen sets the record straight while granting both shooters and victims the humanity the numbing exposure of the national press could not.
Best Fiction Not Good Enough To Really Be On a Best List But That Demonstrated Some Really Great Things This Year:
Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr.
While the premise and the first half of this book is some of the best writing I read all year, the novel’s wild second half lost it the attention and discussion of the literary highbrow. For what it’s worth, however, it’s fresh eyed approach (the main character learns on the day of his birth when, exactly, the world will end and goes on to spend much of his life informed by a mysterious, omniscient “we”) is exactly the kind of thing that we should be looking to new voices to do, in order to formulate a response to our disillusioning modern times.
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
This happy little novel by the famous Nick Hornby (he wrote About a Boy, Fever Pitch, High Fidelity, the script for “An Education” and some songs with Ben Folds), is only really particularly remarkable in its central message about the troubling relationship between the artist, popularity, and fandom. I don’t know how anyone would ever translate this into fiction better than this story, and it seems particularly pointed in this new universe of music “celebrities”.
9/11 Fire Dispatch Recordings
Finally made available for free to the public (via audible.com), these recordings offer a completely unique, striking primary source for the events that defined the beginning of the new millennium. This recording is just what it says it is, without even any editing. Listening to these real time radio communications of the NYPD will change how you think about everything. While it may seem a grim task, it is one I would recommend for anyone wanting to be a human in the age of terror.
Will Ferrell’s “Man vs. Wild” episode, with Bear Grylls
There is nothing more tired and played out than cable TV series. And, while I know this was probably a desperate ratings ploy, this is just good, entertaining television. Also, the following: Will: “Hey Bear?” Bear: “Yeah?” Will: “When it’s time to drink our own urine, you just give me the hi-sign ok?” And: Bear (voice over): “We stop at this snowbank to take a break, but it seems that Will has misplaced a piece of equipment” Will (taking a leak): “Hey Bear?” Bear: “Yeah?” Will: “I think I lost my penis.”
“Drunkest Guy Ever Goes for More Beer”
This could stand in for almost any awesome, hilarious, strange viral video that was the obsession for any given week this year. I like this one. It seems unusually honest. After a while, it kind of looks like he’s doing an organic modern dance.
“Ricky Gervais Reads From the Book of Genesis”
Dear America: this is what comedy is supposed to be.
Bob Fosse + Billie Jean (Bob Fosse as the snake in The Little Prince (1974)
If you don’t know who Bob Fosse is, please find out so we can be friends again.
The Poem Films of Zachary Schomburg online at: http://www.youtube.com/user/zacharyschomburg#g/u
The future of art. Especially: “Love Is When You Build a Boat Out of All the Eyelashes in the Ocean”, “River of Lava or River of Blood”, “I’m Sorry I Missed Your Birthday”, “The World”, “The Black Hole” and “I Am On An Airplane”.
Kermit Re-Enacts Suicide Scene from “The Royal Tennenbaums”
I’m not sure what to say about this one.
What Paprika Wants, by Anna Krutzik
Sometimes, what you find yourself enjoying on the Internet makes you feel uncomfortable about yourself, but in a way you can see yourself eventually being cool with. This was one of those times for me.
The Levi Jeans Commercials (“Go Forth” and “O Pioneers”) feat. Walt Whitman
Here, an advertising agency and commercial director stumbled into two great Walt Whitman poems about America (plus the only known recording of Whitman’s voice reading) and ended up with two great, great works of art. It is popular right now to say that commercials cannot be art because of a dubiousness of intent, but I think these trouble that argument. I want to buy a pair of Levis just so I can keep seeing these in the movie theater and on television. Like suddenly realizing you’re alive.
Best Things For People Still Mourning David Foster Wallace
Posthumous short stories in the New Yorker, online at newyorker.com
These are actually all excerpts from his unfinished novel “The Pale King”. Some of them (“All That”) are better than others (“Wiggle Room”), and while most of them don’t really stand alone, one notable exception is “Good People”, which is startlingly fresh, vivid, and humane, especially concerning matters of faith. All are definitely worth the read.
Interview with Deborah Treisman on editing Wallace before and after his death, online at: http://www.gq.com/blogs/the-q/2009/12/yes-we-are-still-missing-dfw-part-ii.html
This interview, from GQ of all places, touches on Treisman’s (New Yorker fiction editor) relationship and experiences with DFW and his work.
Zadie Smith on DFW, from Changing My Mind (2009)
Smith, an ardent fan and reader of DFW (she once negotiated to have his famous bandana for the afternoon), brings her considerable intelligence to bear on DFW and his work, particularly the excellent short story collection Brief Interviews With Hideous Men.
THE PLANET TRILLAPHON AS IT STANDS IN RELATION TO THE BAD THING in Tin House
Earlier this year, for their 10th anniversary, the venerable magazine Tin House published this short story, a story DFW wrote while just beginning college as an undergraduate. Not only is it a great story about depression, but it is a window into a uniquely personal struggle DFW would carry the rest of his short life.
DFW Eulogy by Jonathan Franzen in Best American Non-required Reading 2009
This short, terse, troubled remembrance is both striking and startlingly honest.
Honorable Mentions: Partial Brief Interviews audiobook with recordings of DFW reading about a third of the stories, Brief Interviews movie, written and directed by Jim from The Office
Best Things I Saw Linked To On Twitter
Verne Lundquist lowlights from the Alabama v. Florida game: http://bit.ly/4AaSSt
Iraqi detainees harass Wisconsin soldiers about Brett Favre: http://bit.ly/5UZyjL
RNC employee insurance plan covers abortion: http://bit.ly/2c9nUt
Fully functional rabbit penises grown in the lab: http://bit.ly/lxoCA
Sankebetsu Giant Bear Incident: http://bit.ly/FIoEw
"N+1 [the magazine] is to thinking as a Renaissance Festival is to warfare": http://bit.ly/342GDO
Do You Dream of This Man?: www.thisman.org
Animals with lightsabers: http://bit.ly/XSGxX
How do you find out if a girl really likes you? (Wikianswers): http://bit.ly/GeM3s
Best Short Story of the Year
“A Tiny Feast” by Chris Adrian, from the New Yorker, online at: http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2009/04/20/090420fi_fiction_adrian
This is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read. This is literally what it is about: Titannia and Oberon (the fairy king and queen) live inside a hill in New York City and have adopted a human boy. The boy has developed cancer and the story is about his suffering and eventual death. I can easily say that this is the most moving short story I have ever read and it is also one of the most original. I could try to explain more about it; I could say something about how this story is what the English language was meant for (funny, tragic, startling). But I’ll just say this: It’s free online. Go and read it, and see if the world doesn’t change before your eyes. As these lists show, there are lots of other things you could be doing with your time, but nothing as valuable.
Corban Goble Epilogue editor
Best Albums (in no specific order)
Grizzly Bear Veckatimest
The-Dream Love Vs. Money
Dirty Projectors Bitte Orca
Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavilion
Smith Westerns Smith Westerns
Phoenix Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Bat for Lashes Two Suns
Bear in Heaven Beast Rest Forth Mouth
Real Estate Real Estate
Flaming Lips Embryonic
Raekwon Only Built for Cuban Linx 2
White Rabbits It’s Frightening
Atlas Sound Logos
Best Meme: Keyboard Cat
Best IPhone App: Words with Friends
Best Fragment from a GMail Draft: do you like sports (da da doo doo da doo)
do you like drinking? (woop woop yeah)
Dumbest Debate: Bar stool economics
Best Rock Type: Igneous
Best Wikipedia Page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_conspiracy_theories (honorable mention: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haunted_locations)
Best Sitcom that’s not “30 Rock”: “Parks and Rec”
Best Articulated Support of Tiger Woods: Ron Artest’s blog post (http://www.ronartest.com/blog/?p=74)
Dream Career of 2009: Rapper’s ghost writer
Best Word: Ridicky
Best Obsession: “Friday Night Lights” on Instant Netflix
Greatest Thing of All Time: Instant Netflix
Best Series of Articles: Jonathan Miles’s series on interesting bars and drinks http://query.nytimes.com/search/sitesearch?query=jonathan+miles&srchst=cse (Dream Job 2010)
Worst Idea I Had: Bar run by chimps
Best Idea I Had: Bar MANAGED by chimps
Biggest Ongoing Pipe Dream: Getting into Harvard’s worst graduate school so I could write for the Lampoon, work at “SNL,” and marry Abby Elliott.
Best Wave: Chillwave
Marshall Rake Epilogue editor
Best Joke SNL Stole From Me:
My joke (scroll to bottom of link)
Worst Accusation: See above.
Best new form of communication: Gchat.
Best Celebrity Crime: Delonte West- arrested on a motorcycle while carrying two loaded handguns and a loaded shot shotgun in a guitar case.
Best casual greeting: West coast slap & bump.
Favorite temperature: 65 F
Most rewarding trend: Short sentences.
Worst thing to ever happen to free time: iPhone
Best thing to ever happen to free time: AT&T's limited coverage in every major market.
Stuff We Liked: 2009