Review of ‘Almost Famous Women’ on ‘Fresh Air’

Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air:

The concern with a collection like this one is that it's going to be continually genuflecting before these women, turning those who were only historical footnotes into minor female deities and sacrificing complexity for reverence. It turns out, though, that author Megan Mayhew Bergman is not just a worshipper.

As a Fresh Air listener, and as a writer, I pay particularly close attention to Corrigan’s book reviews. I couldn’t help but be downright giddy to hear that my friend’s new book a. got a review and b. got such a terrific review. You should read Megan’s stuff because she’s a great writer, sure, but also because she’s one of the nicest people I’ve met in the writing world. After you listen to the review, why not buy the book?


The Eternal Greatness of ‘Illmatic’

James Guida:

After repeated listens, it’s clear how ingrained the theme of tribute is throughout: the talk of park jams, the samples of past emcees, the bit in “Represent” that begins, “Before the BDP conflict with MC Shan / around the time that Shanté dissed the Real Roxanne,” as though time unfolds according to a New York hip-hop calendar. But, wait—wasn’t this some gangster-reportage rap, all crack vials and artillery? It was, and it was partly that content that made the eighties love unobvious. The beats were of their moment, while Nas’s rhymes, even as they drew from un-shouting veterans like Kool G. Rap and Rakim, meant a whole new level of writtenness for the genre.

I still don’t know that I’ve ever heard another hip hop album that sounds like ‘Illmatic’. ‘Good Kid, M.A.D.D. City’ maybe comes the closest. And a totally undermentioned aspect of what makes ‘Illmatic’ great? The length—or lack of it. 10 tracks, 9 songs. No room for weak tracks or throwaway skits. And really, at the end of the day, how many hip hop albums have a 13,500 word Wikipedia article?


‘Welcome to The NightLight, a guide to the very best stuff for your baby—and you.’

The NightLight:

Brought to you by brother-and-sister team Joel Johnson—from Consumerist, Gizmodo, and The Sweethome—and Rachel Fracassa, mother of four and doula, with contributors from Parenting, Babytalk and more, The NightLight takes the hand-wringing out of buying baby gear, with in-depth reporting and research that determines the single best product that parents should buy.

As a parent of a young child, you’re plenty busy already. The NightLight‘s team of writers and researchers will help you pick the best strollers, carriers, bottles, diapers, car seats, monitors, breast pumps, and—yup—nightlights. We spend between 20 and 40 hours researching and testing on average for each guide, and in ongoing review to make sure our recommendations are always correct.

If you’re familiar with The Wirecutter or The Sweethome, you know the deal here—no star rankings, no advanced metrics; just real people testing real products and at the end, telling you which is “the best.” I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that out of their first 15 product categories, I only own three of their recommended items.

Full disclosure: I put my name in the running several times to test products/write reviews for The Nightlight, but never actually did.


The Dissolve’s Top Ten Summer Blockbusters

The Dissolve:

By now, you should know the deal: 12 critics narrowed down a list of more than 650 movies, all released between May 1 and August 31 between 1975 and 2013, to arrive at the 50 greatest summer blockbusters. Here are the 10 that topped the list.

Pretty good list. I haven’t seen four of the ten. It’s always so funny to think of Die Hard as a summer blockbuster, since I’m pretty sure that everyone thinks of it as a Christmas movie; I know I do. Also—I guess we’re just not ready to admit that Jaws is way overhyped?


Your Weekly Mad Men HW: Season 7, Ep. 4

There is always—and should always be—room for personal interpretation in art. Sure, there’s usually, although not always, a “correct” answer as to what a scene or a shot or a wardrobe choice”means,” but what we make of the combination of all of those individual choices is uniquely our own.

I get nervous any time an episode of Mad Men (or any cultural object, for that matter) is universally praised or panned. A variety of reactions—some panning, some praise, some right in the middle—is what usually signifies that something went right because it means we were given the tools and left to build on our own. Be wary of anything two dimensional that you can wrap a bow around.

I say all this because, “The Monolith,” this week’s episode of Mad Men, seems to have touched everyone differently. Some didn’t care for the at-times overt symbolism. (It’s a monolith! It’s literally taking over the space the creatives used to occupy!) Some didn’t believe the character choices. (A partner! Taking orders! C’mon!) Personally, the biggest weakness for me was Elizabeth Rice’s acting during the admittedly heavy scene when she finally lets her hypocrite father have it with all of Mother Earth’s soldiers looking on. While I don’t necessarily disagree with her reaction from a character choice perspective, those in-need-of-an-exorcism Daddy’s were way, way overdone, especially in an episode that featured Jon Hamm boring two holes in the back of Elizabeth Moss’ head without a sound, using nothing but cheekbones and eyeballs.

As usual, people more practiced in the ways of critiquing have better things to say than me. I’ve included more than usual this week; remember: that’s a good thing. There’s Alan Sepinwall, of course; and Tom & Lorenzo’s “Mad Style,” as well as their day-after recap; and Ashley Fetters and Chris Heller from The Atlantic (they tend to be pretty Peggy-heavy on a week-to-week basis; this week it was actually warranted); and Molly Lambert, who weaves this week’s story lines together better than the actual show did; and in the power position for the first time (it isn’t a coincidence that this was the first time I remembered how to spell his name), Matt Zoller Seitz, whose analysis knocked it clear out of the park. Of course, I’m biased; he went heavy into the Kubrick parallels.


Andrew Kim Reviews the First Sony Walkman

Andrew Kim:

Sony intended it to be a trendy product for consumers under 20 but it became popular regardless of demographics. The Walkman went on sale in 1979 at ¥33,000 which equates to roughly $500 today. Sales were predicted to be 5,000 per month but Sony sold upwards of 50,000 in the first two months of sales.

If you read Kim’s site, Minimally Minimal, regularly, you probably, like me, go for the design/fabrication details and for the photography. This review doesn’t disappoint in either respect.

As for the product itself, I think he makes some great points about technology and about people not knowing what they need until you show it to them. And of course there’s the design of the Walkman, which looks right at home in 2014. Before I was hooked on Apple, I was hooked on Sony. I think this review of the Walkman TPS-L2 captures why.


True Detective; False Females

Emily Nussbaum, writing for The New Yorker:

On the other hand, you might take a close look at the show’s opening credits, which suggest a simpler tale: one about heroic male outlines and closeups of female asses. The more episodes that go by, the more I’m starting to suspect that those asses tell the real story.

Thanks to a tip by a friend, my wife and I have been making time to watch True Detective and we’ve really been enjoying it. Emily Nussbaum, on the other hand, has not. I’ve got a firm rule that whenever the vast majority of people dislike something, I examine it and myself to find reasons to like it. So the reverse should be true—with all the critical acclaim for the show, it’s worth giving Nussbaum’s piece some thought. And while I consider myself cognisant of the issues surrounding the portrayal of females in pop culture, I think Nussbaum has it all wrong here.

Her premise seems to be that Nic Pizzolatto and Cary Fukunaga, writer and director, respectively, of True Detective unknowingly created “wives and sluts and daughters—none with any interior life.” And she gives example of shows that do more with their female characters. But why compare one show to another? Or, why not compare every aspect then? And the even bigger problem is this—what if the wives and sluts and daughters choice was an intentional one? Isn’t her understanding of them as such indicative of success then? Is Nussbaum saying then that only shows that include non-stereotyped females characters can be viewed as successful? (And bad news for her; as I tell my writing students, “All characters are types.”) I doubt she would believe in such a litmus test.

The line between appreciation and resentment is thin, especially when it comes to art. Nussbaum is a fan of The Americans; I couldn’t make it through one episode. Her piece goes on to poke at Matthew McConaughey’s character:

Rust, who is a macho fantasy straight out of Carlos Castaneda. A sinewy weirdo with a tragic past, Rust delivers arias of philosophy, a mash-up of Nietzsche, Lovecraft, and the nihilist horror writer Thomas Ligotti.

I understand her frustration with his character; I’ve rolled my eyes at him, and at the show’s dialogue, which is overly written, no doubt about it, from time to time. But overall, I’m in on him and the show. I plan on writing about True Detective once the season has finished, so I’ll pause here, but I thought this Nussbaum piece, like most of her writing, is worthy of some time and thought.

And for those who aren’t completely caught-up, the piece contains some spoilers.


Duplicates and Individual Components and Things Missing

Does music (or art in general) owe it to the listener to explain everything up front? Is outside research necessary? Should it matter if part of your enjoyment depends on knowing something that isn’t explicitly supplied?

There have been reviews of Arcade Fire's latest album, Reflektor, that hail it as a triumph and others that mock its mere existence. It appears to be destined to become one of those albums that, cliché be damned, you either get or you don’t.

But what happens if the album, like other albums from them in the past, winds up meaning more to you than even the band could have imagined?

Two weeks ago, I decided to write a review of Reflektor. I wound up writing an essay about art and criticism and my life and the soundtrack that accompanies it and death and birth and even a little bit about Arcade Fire’s music.


A Toast to Several Beginnings: A Review of Stanziato’s Second Craft Beer and Food Pairing

When it came time for my wife and I to go out on our first Date Night since having a baby, it seemed thematically appropriate for the outing to double as our third anniversary celebration. We’re both very efficient people. And as a bonus, because of the venue, every drink over the course of the evening would serve as a toast to not one, but several beginnings.

Our decision to attend an event at a local restaurant that we've come to love since moving to the woods of Connecticut—Stanziato's Wood Fired Pizza—brought into focus how much our life has changed since our wedding three years prior.

But was it a change for the better?


I Miss the Comfort In Being Sad: A Very Specific Review of the In Utero Reissue

Nirvana was my first favorite band, my first musical obsession. When I discovered them in 1995, Kurt Cobain was dead, the band was no more, and I was left with nothing but their music.

20 years later, their final album, In Utero, has been reissued—remixed, remastered, and repackaged. After several listens to twelve of the songs in particular, I sat down to try and figure out what it all meant, to decide if this was just another attempt to squeeze blood from a stone, and most importantly, to hear if there was anything new left to discover.