Book Love

A Little 2015 Love

I once dated this guy who said he hated the concept of favorites.  He said trying to choose one favorite song or book or ice cream flavor was too hard, too much pressure, and usually not even true since our tastes ebb and flow and our enthusiasm for different music or style or food changes from season to season.  The thing is, he's right.  Sometimes favorites can stick and become constant and defining (see: my lifelong love affair with Sesame Street), but other times favorites are shifting and changeable, like the time when I was ten years old and I spent a solid month listening to nothing but a cassette tape of Cher's Love Hurts over and over again.

But, whether whim or constant, the fact remains that I am a collector of favorites - both mine and others - because I think Salman Rushdie is right about books and more broadly, about all our loved things: they make us feel more like us.

Now that we're solidly into 2016, I'm writing a little roundup of my own 2015 favorites here for two reasons: 1) I've discovered many of my own most loved things by watching or reading about the favorites of others, so it seems like the right thing to participate in the practice myself.  And 2) I love the idea of being able to look back and see a little polaroid of the things that made me feel like me last year, which was a year filled with lots of change and transition, grounding and settling and digging in.

Let's get into it.

Listen Up

Johnnyswim Diamonds. I'm not afraid to commit fully and say that this is my favorite album of 2015. I actually feel like I owe quite a bit to this husband and wife duo and their soulful sounds for fueling momentum into my work days and adding calm to my downtime. So, thanks Johnnyswim, for all that gorgeous vocal sexiness. I appreciate it so much.  (P.S. Their live album, recorded at my beloved Rockwood Music Hall in New York City, comes out TODAY and it is giving me life.  Get yourself some of that).

Ana Tijoux Vengo. To be fair, this one extends back a bit further to 2014, but it was still in heavy rotation during my writing days last year (and now), so I think it belongs on this list.  It's hard to find a concise way to describe all the good things to be found at the Ana Tijoux party of awesome, so I'll just say this: Vengo is layered and rhythmic and it doesn't pull any punches. If you haven't listened to it all the way through, you should do so immediately.

Mystery Show. Here's the interview with Mystery Show host Starlee Kine that made me download the first episode:

Host: "What kind of detective are you? Are you kind of like a Nancy Drew or are you like a Philip Marlowe? Are you a Sam Spade?"

SK: "Columbo."

Host: "Columbo?"

SK: "I'm very rumpled. I have a dog.  And Columbo's whole thing was that he, like, asked a lot of're always like, there he is asking another question about my life. And that's what I do, too."

So.  If that answer also intrigues you, this amateur sleuthing podcast is probably your kind of fun.  For me, Mystery Show hits a real sweet spot that's been lacking in my podcast roster: light-hearted, but enough substance to not feel mindless.  I have a few pure-silly-fun comedy podcasts in my subscriptions, but the truth is, sometimes podcasts that are largely populated by white, male comedians can be heavy on crass humor (which is fine, but can turn oppressively anti-woman/racist on a dime) and shoddier production value, which makes for a stress-filled listening experience (i.e. the opposite of what I'm looking for).  Mystery Show hits that note of lightness and fun, but still delivers interesting, well-produced content.

Obviously, you can do what you want because we make our own decisions in this world, but if you haven't yet listened to Mystery Show, I'd recommend skipping the pilot episode and going straight to Britney.  Then, Source Code.  I feel like starting things off with a bang, and then going back to the less punchy episodes once your loyalty is established is the way to go.

(P.S. Mystery Show is also sponsored by my beloved KIND Snacks, which makes me feel like I must be squarely in their target demo.  Next they'll be running promos for Milagro tequilas and West Jet airlines.)

Feel Good

Yoga With Adriene. My friend Bobbi introduced me to this YouTube channel last January (see? sharing favorites!) and I have never looked back.  To be honest, I've always sucked at yoga.  Who can say why (Classes too long? Too many feelings of inadequacy? Too expensive?), but Adriene's low-pressure, non-shaming approach won me over.  These free YouTube videos have become a favorite part of my daily routine. (Also, her voice is really soothing and it calms me - I don't care if that's weird.)

L'Occtane Shower Oil.  Real talk: how come no one ever told me that oil could be used in lieu of soap to cleanse the skin?  Actually, that's a lie. Gregory Maguire told me.  But truly, I thought he made that up.  It turns out he didn't.  It's totally a real thing, and it's awesome.  I got this almond shower oil as a sample from Sephora in August, and now it's like I've banished the memory of what my showers were like before this amazing scented, soft-skin stuff came into my life.

Read Well

I've already talked A LOT about some of my favorite reads from 2015 (check it: here, here and here), but I cannot possibly write a 2015 favorites post without tossing a few more on the pile. (Full disclosure: all three of these books were published prior to 2015, I just didn't get to them until this year. There are so many books in the world, guys. I do what I can.)

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.  Here's what author, academic and social activist Cornel West says about Michelle Alexander's impeccably researched exploration of mass incarceration in the United States - "we are witnessing the unique union of a powerful and poignant text with a democratic awakening focused on the poor and vulnerable in American society....Once you read it, you have crossed the Rubicon and there is no return to sleepwalking."  I agree with him.  This book and its reality are important.  A highly recommended read.

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld. This book is a little bit meta in that it's as much about writing and publishing young adult novels as it is an actual YA story.  The toughest challenge to writing a book with two parallel plots is making them equally compelling so that one doesn't drag behind the other.  Scott Westerfeld, whose novels have given rise to many passionate YA genre fandoms and who has something to say both about YA stories and their industry, is in perfect fighting shape to take it on.

A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return by Zeina Abirached.  This stark and gorgeous, black and white graphic novel manages to achieve a scope that is paradoxically intimate and broad at the same time.  It takes place almost entirely in an apartment building on one side of a divided Beirut during the civil war in Lebanon.  Zeina Abirached's art is detailed and textured and sensory in a way that brings you in close and invites you to look out at the world from the windows of this building.  One of my favorite favorites last year.

Keep Watch

Ex Machina. First of all, I just love writer/director Alex Garland so much.  For whatever reason, I always seem to find myself reading his novels when I'm traveling. They're interesting and smart with little bits of levity, which makes them easy to read in transit.  His movies are equally smart/funny/interesting in that he takes on established genres (like horror or sci-fi) that are traditionally pretty decadent and elaborate and strips them down until only the barest, most visceral elements are left.  He's not afraid to start quiet and let things build.  Ex Machina is a perfect example of this approach.  It's not a perfect movie, but it was one of my favorites this year because I would always prefer to watch something that is reaching high and maybe falling slightly short than something that plays it safe and hits all its unambitious marks easily.

Sidebar: the love I cherish for my movie boyfriend Oscar Isaac has totally been rewarded in the mushroom cloud of long overdue attention his career has gotten this year.  Welcome to the party, everybody. 

John Wick. Javi and I watched this movie on Christmas Day in a double feature with an Oscar screener of Spotlight (Yeah. I know. The unintentional theme of our holiday movie viewing was EMOTIONAL JUSTICE.)  John Wick is a stylized, anime and martial arts-inspired revenge movie directed by two former stuntmen, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch.  I don't know why this fun fact fascinates me so much - maybe because one of the strengths of the movie is its visceral sense of physicality, which is an aspect of movie-making that stuntmen probably understand better than anyone.  John Wick is brutal and bloody, but simultaneously quite beautiful in its execution.  I loved it. 

Home.* Guys, for real, this movie is so sweet.  True story: I watched Home in its entirety three times in a two day period with my three year old niece, and each time we both enjoyed it just as much if not more than the time before.  We spent the whole rest of the week shutting each other in the closet and saying things like, "You cannot come into the out now" and then laughing hysterically.  Good times.

Happy new year, my lovelies. xo

*Adapted from the middle grade novel, The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex.
Images via: Johnnyswim,, Gimlet Media, YouTube, Goodreads, and

The small, the quiet, the stripped-down things

"And whenever a few people would pass, she would shoot her eyes over at me really quick hoping I wouldn't see her looking.  But I caught her every time, because I was looking at her too." 

- Jason Reynolds, The Boy in the Black Suit

There's this thing that happens sometimes when I'm reading a book, and the author lands a moment.  It's usually not a big moment.  Maybe one or two lines.  It's small and it's quiet and it's stripped-down to almost nothing.  It's not complicated.  Maybe there's no adjectives involved.  It just a moment that seeps in and feels deeply and wholly true.  Something I can picture exactly and in full sensory detail without any of those details added.  Something that can and does take less talented writers pages to describe.

The thing with being great at these quiet, stripped-down moments is that you know when to just let them be.  No explanation needed.  No follow up summary of emotions.  We get it, and it's enough.  But, I think great writers also know when a quiet moment of truth works in tandem with a equally brief exposition in a jab-right cross that takes your head off.

Here's another pair of lines from The Boy in the Black Suit.

"It's amazing how you know when a room has light in it, even when you have your eyes closed.  Light always wins."

Sometimes you can let it lie.  But sometimes, you can spell it out too - just a little - and watch the ref count it down on the mat.

P.S. More Jason Reynolds here and here.