Non-Required Reading: Justin’s List

Another week another list of books that distracted my friends from their homework in high school. This week we get picks from my friend Justin, who is now a singer, tutor, and teaching artist with Chicago Opera Theater.

The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (I CANNOT agree more wholeheartedly)

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon


The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (which I’ll admit I didn’t know was a book)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Also recommended by Sam


As always feel free to send me your list of your favorite books that you read instead of studying! E-mail it to


Word a Week Challenge: Parade

Much like “Action” all of my pictures for this week’s word “Parade” seem to be pretty blurry. I apologize, but most of them were taken with older cameras that weren’t great.


Crosswalk - a procession through Chicago against gun violence (click this picture for more info)

Crosswalk – a procession through Chicago against gun violence (click this picture for more info)


Northwestern Marching Band at my first Homecoming parade as an alum - Evanston, IL

Northwestern Marching Band at my first Homecoming parade as an alum – Evanston, IL

NUMB in the Homecoming Parade, Evanston, IL

NUMB in the Homecoming Parade, Evanston, IL

Seth Meyers and his friends laughing at me out of the Grand Marshall car at the NU Homecoming Parade, Evanston, IL

Seth Meyers and his friends laughing at me out of the Grand Marshall car at the NU Homecoming Parade, Evanston, IL

Red Moon Theater parading through the Hideout Block Party, Chicago, IL

Red Moon Theater parading through the Hideout Block Party, Chicago, IL


The "Parade of the Tims" at the St. Tim's Day Party at The Hideout

The “Parade of the Tims” at the St. Tim’s Day Party at The Hideout


Minnie Mouse in the Michigan Ave Lighting Parade in 2007 (wow I've been in Chicago a long time)

Minnie Mouse in the Michigan Ave Lighting Parade in 2007 (wow I’ve been in Chicago a long time)


Classics from the Queue: Singles

As it has been a long time since I’ve had one of these (awards season and Girls took over my Netflix time), I’ll explain that I don’t necessarily always mean “classic” literally in these posts. Generally the real title should be “movie I’ve told people in the past that I’ve seen, even though I hadn’t.” Which brings me to Singles, which is Cameron Crowe’s 1992 exploration of being young and unattached in Seattle in the 90s.

I adore Cameron Crowe, Say Anything, also set in Seattle and featuring cameos from many of the background actors in Singles, is my favorite movie of all time. I have seen it far too many times. So I’m not sure how I managed to go this long without seeing Singles, but I’m glad I waited till now, as I’m the exact age of the most insipid of the characters (Bridget Fonda’s annoyingly desperate Janet.)  I found her incredibly frustrating at first – I mean, raise your standards, a guy saying “bless you” is not a sign of the fact that he can suddenly handle an emotionally mature relationship, but she does grow up which is nice. Crowe is not known for his subtlety, or his realism, but I think he conveys emotion better than most directors. Sure, when you break up with someone and have a bad meeting at work, your cubicle doesn’t literally fall down around you, but it feels like it could.

More than anything this movie is a time capsule of the early nineties, and for the fashion and huge phones alone it would be worth watching, but what will make me watch it again is the amazingly Cameron Crowe-esque romance between Kyra Sedgwick and Campbell Scott, complete with contrived tragedy-induced break ups and tearful answering machine messages. I don’t know why Fonda and Matt Dillon are on the cover of this DVD, this is a Sedgwick/Scott movie, and it totally charmed me.

Word a Week Challenge: Action

So my interpretation of “action” shot, seems to be “blurry,” but I found a few, not too awful examples. (And some of them are even recent – I’m actually taking pictures again!)

Drummer in the Chicago Pipe Band - Opening for Gaelic Storm at the House of Blues, Chicago, IL

Drummer in the Chicago Pipe Band – Opening for Gaelic Storm at the House of Blues, Chicago, IL


Cab in the West Loop, Chicago, IL

Cab in the West Loop, Chicago, IL

"Purple Man" Playing Pong in Evanston, IL

“Purple Man” Playing Pong in Evanston, IL


Andy with a Yo-Yo in Austin, TX

Andy with a Yo-Yo in Austin, TX

Haymarket Reanactor in Chicago, IL

Haymarket Reenactor in Chicago, IL

Non-Required Reading: Katelin’s List

Today’s list of books we loved to read to avoid our homework in high school comes from my friend Katelin, who is very close to finishing up law school in D.C. and warned me at the beginning of her e-mail not to laugh at her. Though some of these books may be silly, I could never laugh, because I also read most of them obsessively.

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas by James Patterson

A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks

The A-List Series by Zoey Dean

The Gossip Girl series by Cecily von Ziegesar

As always I’d love to hear your list! You can send it to or my actual e-mail if you actually know me.

Five Star Book: Running the Books by Avi Steinberg

I apparently love books with long subtitles, but the “accidental” nature of Avi Steinberg’s adventures are what made them seem relatable to me. Not that anyone really thinks they are going to grow up to work in a correctional facility, but Avi really stumbled upon it. He, a Harvard graduate, formerly observant Orthodox Jew, stumbles upon a Craigslist ad while taking a break from his job writing obituaries for the Boston Globe. And then without really processing why, he finds himself as a night shift prison librarian, even though he has no training in library science or prison work.

If you’re expecting a Hollywood tale of the nerdy teacher that inspires his prisoners to reform and in the end they all meet up on the outside and cry about how inspirational life is, then you will be sorely disappointed. But you’ll also be disappointed if you are looking for a moralizing tale about the danger of criminals. In fact if you’re looking for real cohesion of any kind, this really isn’t the book for you. Steinberg, can’t seem to make up his mind about the experience, his own motivations and the role of prison libraries in general.

I read this book with my book club, and almost everyone but me found this lack of cohesion very frustrating. At times so did I, but in retrospect I think it was refreshing to read his raw emotions about an incredibly complex experience. If he had come to the grand conclusions my fellow book club members seemed to crave, it would have cheapened the narrative. This book’s power is in its ambiguity. Steinberg is filled with questions about the power and limitations of narrative and words, and concerns about the way we treat criminals in this country. If he doesn’t seem to make up his mind about the issues he raises, maybe that’s because we have a culture can’t decide how we feel about punishment vs. rehabilitation. We, and I am completely including myself in this category, prefer to avoid thinking about this, and I get the impression that Steinberg did too before he found himself in this unusual job. By writing this book he forces his readers to confront this world we would rather avoid, but somehow he does this without preaching.

And Then THAT Happened: Season 2 Finale of Girls

I’m really glad I wrote about that other episode last night, just so you could all see how bad I am at predicting the plot of this show. Literally the opposite of everything I mentioned in my last post happened in the finale episode, but somehow I still loved it. (It didn’t quite rise to the level of brilliance of last year’s finale, but there was no Chris O’Dowd, and she can’t just have one of them throw a surprise wedding at the end of every season no matter how hilarious that would be.)

I will start by eating my words from last night. I know that I was asking for Shoshannah and Ray to work things out, but their break up scene was actually the most satisfying scene in the finale for me. I’m so glad that Lena is just letting Shosh grow up without massive dysfunction. Her points about Ray’s negativity were so spot on, and he should want to finish his ridiculous PhD or take over Colin Quin (once again with the amazing guest star casting)’s coffee shop, for himself, it is way too much pressure for her to be “the only thing that [he] likes.” And I almost wanted to cheer when she made out with that blond guy in the bar at the end, but I didn’t, because I was watching in the library and I don’t ever want to be mistaken for one of the actually mentally ill people that are often using the computers with me.

Now onto Charlie and Marnie – I have to admit that I knew after the last episode that they were going to get back together, but I was hoping against hope that Charlie’s new backbone would have shown up instead of new sexual skills. I don’t want to rail against Marnie as a person, I completely understand why she’s longing for the security she felt with him after the year she’s had. I just think that Charlie is way too good for her, mostly because she has spent so long thinking she was too good for him.

OK now Hannah. As hard as so many of the sex scenes, and friend fights, parental meltdowns have been too watch, nothing has disturbed me the way Hannah’s unraveling did over the course of the end of this season. Lena said in one of her Youtube mini-commentaries that her goal with the OCD story arc was to show Hannah not as a “TV neurotic” but a real person dealing with actual mental health issues, and mission accomplished. That horrible haircut, which reminds me a of a wig that someone dressing up as Friar Tuck might wear, was such a stunning visual metaphor for just how far she had unraveled while no one was watching.

And in that way I thought the rom-com running through the streets shirtless finale, with Adam coming into tell her she wasn’t alone, was really hopeful and beautiful. Except, he’s not a romantic hero, he’s still the person that degraded a perfectly nice, clearly not 100% willing girl just last week. And I think it was cheap storytelling to just show him having sex with Natalia again, like there was no interaction between last week’s horror show and that encounter. I get that Natalia isn’t one of the main characters, but she is still a person within the world of this show, and honestly I expect more of Lena.

At the end of last season Lena said that she wanted to leave viewers with the sense that even if we never saw these characters again they were going to be OK. I think it’s pretty clear she didn’t have that goal this time, because Shoshannah’s the only one I feel good about right now. (Who would have seen that coming?)

I Really Didn’t Like That: Episode 9 of Girls

I’m sorry about the delay in posting this. I try really hard to get each week’s Girls post up before the next episode airs, but I was really busy last week, and then I was really tired from being busy, and everything I was seeing on the internet was telling me that last week’s episode was not something to see when you are tired and trying to figure stuff out in your life. And they were right, because that was the darkest episode, not only of this show, but maybe of any show I watch. (And I watch Shameless people, shocking me is a high bar.)

I don’t really want to debate whether what Adam did to Natalia was rape, I think that has been discussed better than I could here, here, and here, but that scene was also this episode (and in many ways this season) in a nutshell. Lena, and the still spectacular Adam Driver, took the character Adam Sackler, who I began loathing and slowly came to love (in a complicated way) to a twisted, sad place I really don’t think she can ever really pull him back from completely. Am I meant to see that Adam and Hannah are tortured by not being together? Is that why his truly awful treatment, of run of the mill nice girl Natalia, was counterpoised with Hannah’s horrific OCD induced ear gouging? I know he had been drinking, but he didn’t seem drunk, but was that my misreading, was this supposed to be about the darkness Adam has under control only when he’s living in a sober way? (Which I understand from my, admittedly cursory, knowledge of AA to be more about general living than specifically intake of alcohol.) Am I just over thinking this, because I respect Lena so much and I don’t want to be mad at her as a show runner for ruining Adam as a character for me? As you can see I have a lot of questions and no answers, maybe last night’s finale will be a help. (I’m watching it right after I finish typing this, so expect a post tomorrow at some point. I was just going to combine the two episodes, but I have too many feelings about the penultimate one and I don’t want the posts to be unmanageably long.)

On to other (slightly) less depressing things. Shoshanna’s half confession was charming, but still sad as Ray so clearly wants to see her a the naive child that would get that worked up over “holding hands” with someone else. I really want those two to work it out though, because I still think their conversation in the subway from earlier this season is one of my favorite romantic moments of all time.

Onto a couple that does not need to be working anything out other than a plan in not seeing each other anymore. Charlie and Marnie. I know it is realistic that they would keep coming together despite the complete lack of sense that it makes, and I really appreciated someone telling Marnie to “get her shit together” because her “journey” is getting really pathetic, but why did that declaration have to be followed up with desk sex? Also I admit that I skipped past a lot of Alison Williams’s “Stronger” cover, I got the point three seconds in.

Based on some e-mails from my girlfriends with HBO in their fancy apartments, I have some reason to hope that I will be OK after last night’s episode in way that I am not right now. Also in unimportant news – I adore both John Cameron Mitchell and Amy Schumer – Lena continues to read my mind when it comes to guest star casting at least.

Weekly Adventure: Gaelic Storm at the House of Blues

As I wrote about last year, I’m obsessed with Ireland, and Gaelic Storm (I’m not so obsessed with sidewalks full of people in Tri-Color Viking hats and blinking plastic necklaces, but I live in Chicago so what can you do?)

I won’t go on and on again about my love for Gaelic Storm except to say that the show they put on at the House of Blues this past Saturday night, was probably my favorite of their performances. Here are a few reasons why:

1 – They led us in impromptu sing-a-longs of the following songs:

2 – And a more predictable sing-a-long of this one:

3 – They have a new fiddler – who can really play and had a really pretty dress:


Her name is Kiana Webber, and she’s amazing.

3 – The Chicago Pipe Band and Trinit Dancers were there:



4 – Lead singer Patrick Murphy is (inexplicably) a Packers fan. He brings it up every year and it breaks my heart, this year he lost a bet and had to wear this:



5 – They finished their extended encore by climbing up on one of the side bars and playing “Tell Me Ma,” which was amazing, a nice send off till next year…



Ten Songs I Can’t Stop Playing

In the spirit of my last playlist (of songs my friends and I were playing so often our neighbors must be sick of them) I’ve decided to make this a sort of regular feature. I’ve been keeping a list at my desk of the songs I’m loving right now and when it gets to 10 I’ll post them up here to spread the love.

San Francisco – Foxygen

recommended on Sound opinions (you’ll see that most of these come from podcasts)

Love Don’t Keep Me Waiting – Glen Hansard

recommended by Youtube when I was watching Kelly Hogan’s npr Tiny Desk Concert (which I also wholeheartedly recommend)

Wild Wild Live – Talking Heads

This was playing in a Starbucks a couple of weeks ago and I remembered how much I adore it

Right Moves – Josh Ritter

About a month ago Madison and I were at the Heartland Cafe in Rogers Park about a month ago and the guy playing that night sang this song, which I had forgotten somehow.

Saturday Night – Sam Cooke

I am ashamed to admit that until this came up recently on my Buddy Holly Pandora station I thought that Cat Stevens wrote this song, I still love Cat, but you can’t beat Sam Cooke.

Wild Nights – Van Morrison

Someone on some podcast mentioned that this was the only Van Morrison song they liked, I love him, but I took the excuse to put this song back in heavy rotation.

Nothing But the Taillights – Clint Black

This was a childhood favorite of mine, another recent Pandora rediscovery (this video was filmed in Millennium Park too, so that’s cool).

Just To Make Me Feel Good – Adam Green & Binky Shapiro

This one is courtesy of Too Beautiful To Live (TBTL) which is my favorite podcast that you should definitely listen to if you like this blog at all.

Emmylou – First Aid Kit

Highlighted on Sound Opinions’ Swedish music show (yep that was a thing), and then also mentioned on the Slate podcast. I can’t get the chorus of this one out of my head.

You Ain’t Dolly and You Ain’t Porter – Ashley Monroe feat. Blake Shelton

For those not in the know – Porter and Dolly

Following the theme of name-dropping country legends, this duet just makes me smile. (I think I heard Ashley on Fresh Air.)