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Of Recent Note

For Fall 2004

Books, movies, shows, albums, artists, clothing, writing instruments, online “services,” ways to cook, things to eat, and more things to digest.

Reading

In April 2003, New York artist Steve Mumford traveled on his own to Iraq and began recording his experiences and impressions in words and in watercolor-and-ink wash drawings. He had returned several times since, riding on patrol with U.S. troops, visiting ordinary Iraqis, meeting local artists, and venturing into Baghdad, Sadr City, Tikrit, Samarra, Baqubah, and other war-torn spots. His images and words are powerful and moving. He is living out a fantasy I have had since the conflict began but unfortunately lacked the balls.

Danny Gregory


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I thought of Call of the Mall: The Author of Why We Buy on the Geography of Shopping as a stolen enemy notebook. That way I didn’t get offended when the author used offensive terms to describe people, and took the instruction on how shoppers are reeled in as a cautionary tale. If you’ve seen the other team’s playbook, after all, aren’t you a savvier player?

Leslie Harpold


I love big, bold imaginative fiction, and when everyone’s already read Edward Jones’s The Known World, it’s time to turn elsewhere: Birds Without Wings by Louis De Bernieres (famous States-side for Corelli’s Mandolin) and Philip Roth’s stunning The Plot Against America. Both have gripped me from the first few pages and left hangovers afterwards. I also finally read (long overdue) The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch and wanted to rip out all the pages and use them for wallpaper in my living room.

Rosecrans Baldwin


A book that further reaffirmed my faith and hope in American fiction writing, Jim Shepard’s Love and Hydrogen is a collection of brave adventures and doomed trajectories. A man descends into the lonesome deep in a precarious bathysphere. Another character searches for a giant shark in the Arctic. One plays baseball against Fidel Castro. Shepard’s imagination is astounding. I couldn’t help but be awed.

Pitchaya Sudbanthad


A first novel, The Etched City by K.J. Bishop, is lyrical fantasy from the U.K., now out in the States. No Nimbus-brand flying broomsticks or chattering dragons—a doctor and criminal go from one part of an imagined world to another. Short on plot, but the characterization, and the imagery, which is equally beautiful and grotesque, make up for that. As do the fights, explosions, and weird theology.

Paul Ford


Listening

Aleksandr Bashlachev was a Russian “rock poet” who killed himself in 1988. He sounds like a cross between Nick Drake and the Mountain Goats. I’ve been listening to Bashlachev I and Bashlachev II over and over. I have no idea what he’s singing, but an awful lot of intense emotion gets through.

Paul Ford


The band Edison Woods makes layered songs that are quiet and haunting. I played their first album after a recent dinner party at my apartment. It was late at night, and my guests and I were down on the carpet, swirling cheap vodka and juice in our glasses. After talking for a while, we just sat there, listening to this.

Pitchaya Sudbanthad


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With David Bowie releasing 30th-anniversary editions of his catalog of albums—so far we’ve seen Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and Diamond Dogs—we’re still about two years out from hearing the new, expanded versions of my favorite era of his career, the trio of albums he recorded with Brian Eno in Berlin in the latter half of the ‘70s: Low, “Heroes,” and Lodger, some of the most groundbreaking experimental-pop music of that or any other decade. If you’ve already worn out your copies of the three Eno-Bowie albums, and you’re as excited and can’t-hardly-wait for the forthcoming reissues as I am (sigh), then you should look toward somebody who made that very same trip to Germany as well: Iggy Pop. His two 1977 releases, Lust for Life and The Idiot, were part of the very same Berlin collaboration, and if you’re still hungry, there’s also a fantastic bootleg album out there (ahem, look to file-sharing services for this) of Bowie, Iggy, and Hunt and Tony Sales playing Stooges and then-new Iggy songs, including “China Girl,” that can often be found as The Mantra Sessions.

Andrew Womack


I’m loving Dealership, a San Francisco-based band with a fun, video-gamey synth-pop sound. Their music is a good substitute for big-pharm happy pills.

Pitchaya Sudbanthad


If you can wait until October 26, pick up Please Describe Yourself by Dogs Die In Hot Cars. I got my hands on the import in August, and haven’t been able to stop listening to these jangly indie-pop Scotsmen. The domestic release will carry with it a bonus track, and more of a good thing is always a good thing. I was going to suggest you get into Iron & Wine post haste as well, but I know you’re already there, right? Right?

Leslie Harpold


Watching

A fantastic movie that recently came out on video, The Holy Land, features unforgettably intense performances and stunning cinematography that balances the beauty of the region with the ceaseless wars and heartbreaks—all imbued at every quarter with a quiet, menacing air that the ending more than lives up to. A beautiful, very tragic, very human love story.

Tobias Seamon


My mind (or what I think is my mind) has been blown by a movie (or what I or what “I” refer to as “I” “think” “is” “a movie”) called What the Bleep Do We Know?

Danny Gregory


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While the Star Wars trilogy’s recent long-awaited release on DVD has been met with much hoopla over it finally being here and controversy over Lucas adding 20 percent more Ewok, there’s a real treat in the package, and that’s the Star Wars Special Edition Bonus Disc. Watch film from the original casting calls, a handful of deleted scenes, and Carrie Fisher recall her worries over wearing that bikini. Plus, there are bloopers, and there’s arguably nothing better than seeing R2-D2 fall over with a thud, an absent-minded Stormtrooper fumble down a set of stairs, or a Rebel commander flubbing a key line—”May the Force go with you.”

Andrew Womack


Like many silly Americans, I’ve always secretly thought I could make a movie. Not that I know how to edit, use a camera, light a scene, or even talk about Jean-Luc Godard while using grand hand gestures. But I’ve seen a lot of movies, which I figure makes me qualified (fortunately, pilots don’t have similar grandeur). IFC’s new reality series, Film School, disillusions me of this puffery. Not that the NYU film students documented here look that much more qualified—they are patching together their short films with little more than prayers and credit cards—but the whole thing just looks so hard. Funding falls through. Actors act out. Relationships crumble. And if it rains that day, you can just forget the whole thing. Makes me glad I’m a writer. Sure, it makes you crazy, but at least it’s free.

Sarah Hepola


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Richard III is usually played with a hunchback or a crutch, or a big amount of sneering. Right now at the Public Theater, Peter Dinklage (from The Station Agent) is playing him straight, albeit short, and the impact is overwhelming—you root for the death of any decent person in his way. There’s also not a bad actor in the group, and some superb ones. The lighting goes a bit over the top at times (it’s not a production frightened of big gestures), but I was captivated by most scenes, particularly Richard’s seduction of Lady Anne. (The one major false note was when Richard screams for his horse, and the scream is rammed down the audience’s throat). All around outstanding.

Rosecrans Baldwin


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If you were one of the folks who hopped on the Jeopardy! bandwagon last spring and then got distracted by a summer of reruns and various “Tournament” episodes, get yourself back on board! Ken Jennings, the encyclopedic Utahn, is back with a vengeance, slaying new challengers each and every week night (so far), sustained by a new rule that lets winners keep coming back (and coming back and coming back) until they lose. Will Jennings make it all the way through the season, proving wrong the naysayers who spread a rumor last month that his demise was in the “near future?” Will Alex run out of cutesy things to talk about after the first commercial break? Will Jeopardy chuck that new rule once Ken’s gone? Come watch, and cheer Ken, or his would-be successors. Plus, it’s free!

Kate Schlegel


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Galaxie 500 is a lot like caviar—you either love it and really relish its nuanced tastes, or you just don’t get the hype. For fans, the double DVD set, Don’t Let Our Youth Go To Waste 1987—1991, containing a mix of professional and fan footage also offers up some unreleased tracks and an interview with the whole band by Yo La Tengo’s James McNew.

Leslie Harpold


Consuming

Fall and Winter mean it’s time for braising and cooking meats very slow. Lamb, short ribs, big mounds of beef—anything storing fat and bone-marrow nougat is made ultra-delicious after eight hours of stewing in red wine, carrots, rosemary, and mustard. Slow cooker, I love you. (Plus almost any braising recipe can be done more delicious by adapting it for a crockpot.) I like my wide (vs. tall) model because it can bathe big legs of meat.

Rosecrans Baldwin


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First Beard Papa’s delicious Japanese cream puffs will take Manhattan. Then they’ll take Berlin.

Pitchaya Sudbanthad


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It’s difficult to find truly great Tex-Mex food in New York, but before anybody takes offense at that—know that Tex-Mex is an awfully specific cuisine, and that it’s just as difficult to find truly great bagels in Texas. (I once had one in Austin that was, I swear, white sandwich bread in the shape of a bagel.) Why you can’t find perfect Tex-Mex much outside Texas? Because it’s near-impossible to convince most people that stuffing an enchilada with Velveeta is, yes, what you’re supposed to do, and that lard is actually a healthful alternative. The Tex-Mex Cookbook: A History in Recipes and Photos by Robb Walsh is a great resource for explaining all this, and also does an admirable job toward drawing distinctions between the “authentic” Mexican-food rage and the processed deliciousness that is Tex-Mex.

Andrew Womack


Working & Playing

A penny per megabyte works out to about six cents or less per song. That’s why I buy my music (legally, through a loophole in copyright law) from Russia, via the internet. AllOfMP3.com is the perfect cassette backup service: I’ve decided to love Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd again, and yet I don’t want to spend $200 to replace my flaking, heat-damaged cassettes, just so that Jimmy Page can have another mud shark adventure. Also, when I’m hungry for guilty pleasure (think Falco), it’s a terrific feeding trough.

Paul Ford


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The tough, stainless-steel Zebra Pocket Pen fits inside my wallet. It is my sword, my lifesaver. Sad, I know.

Pitchaya Sudbanthad


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Walk around Central Park now and imagine what it will be like come January when environmental artist Christo installs The Gates—7,500 gates along the 23 miles of footpaths for 16 glorious days. Since public art takes on its own meaning when installed, the most interesting consideration of its meaning is something even Christo hadn’t considered when he conceived it: The project will launch almost simultaneously with the next president’s administration, so this fall is a good time to ask yourself if they’re holding us in or setting us free.

Leslie Harpold


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TMN’s Contributing Writers know where to find the purple couch. Long live the pan flute, mini mafia, and Michael Jackson. More by The Writers