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totally top three: april 2020

Remember how March was approximately 12.5 years long? Remember how April wasn’t even like, its normal number of days long? What the hell is that about?


In March, even before isolation started, I changed the configuration of how I use Spotify on my desktop computer at work and home so that I could see the little Friend Activity tab while I was doing other things and started sort of paying attention to what people were listening to, partly because I’m p voyeuristic by nature, partly because I thought it might be funny (I feel about 97% confident that I know a complete stranger’s sex playlist now!) and I ended up getting super into it and playing Spotify Chase while dicking around on the internet and half-assing something I’m supposed to be doing.

By Spotify Chase, I mean, hitting the songs that people are listening to that I don’t know and adding to them my queue and seeing what’s what. I canNOT recommend it enough as both a way to get to know friends and strangers better, but also because you will find some jams! And a lot of them will probably not be anything you would have found otherwise! Unless all your friends are boring or have identical taste to you, I guess, but that’s a You Problem, so sort that shit out on your own time.

ANYWAY, I have discovered a lot of jams this way!

The first album it gave to me is 070 Shake’s Modus Vivendi which is not something that the algorithm could have served me, so big thanks to the kid I went to high school with but only interacted with maybe twice and I don’t think liked me AT ALL, but for some reason has been my friend on various internet platforms post-graduation all the way back to like, XANGA. Also, I’ve seen Ryland Blackinton listening to it like, three times now, so that’s got to be a good sign.

The album is great, chill and artful and with a nice pace from beginning to end and it’s somehow something that I can both put on and forget about and something I can pay attention to the entire way through. That’s magic, man.

It also gave me Atoms for Peace, AMOK, which is a Thom Yorke fronted ~supergroup project from 2013 that I don’t think would have ever reached me algorithmically based on how much I don’t listen to Radiohead. This is also a well-paced album that I can drift with or focus on, but the real star is “Ingenue” which I have listened to on repeat for long stretches of time more than once.

My last album for the month — because I truly didn’t manage to do… anything in all of April except listen to music and write 50k words that will never actually go anywhere — was not served to me by either the Algorithm or Spotify Chase, but instead is an old fave’s new one I was greatly anticipating. Pokey LaFarge’s Rock Bottom Rhapsody is so, so, so good and satisfying. It feels almost like a movie score except it also feels like it’s telling a story. we were supposed to be seeing Pokey in June in Minneapolis, but it’s been rescheduled for 2021 already, which seems so far away as to be impossible, while also seeming so soon as to be hopelessly optimistic about the state of things. Life and art in quarantine, eh?


And three to look forward to…

the half of it   mia mercado, weird but normal   valley girl

totally top three: march 2020

Ho-ho-holy shit what a fucking month! I know there was like, absolutely no way to anticipate what 2020 would be like, but like, good god damn, what the hell, you know? Whooeee.

Here is some stuff that I managed to enjoy despite of or in fact possibly because I’m not currently leaving my house very often and don’t like, have much to do besides work and consume media, just like before except now I waste less time getting dressed and I’m always with my dog. I hope this finds you safe and healthy and as sane as you can be. <3


I had a great time plowing through Roni Simunovic’s Little Warlord which was just fast and fun and easy to read and sweet and satisfying. I said in my review that it’s like if mob movies were made for someone other than white guys and I stand behind that almost a month later. There are a lot of really likable characters in this and a lot of gentleness for a universe that could just have easily disposed of it entirely. Glad I found this when I did.


The highest compliment I can give I Am Not Okay With This is that we haven’t finished it yet, despite there being only a single season, because we like it so much and didn’t want to rush through and then just be out of it. Sophia Lillis, Wyatt Olef, and Sofia Bryant are all really great and I love the place-making and especially the set-dressing, the way everything feels a little out of date and the only difference between it being in a good way or a bad way is how the characters compose themselves around it. I love the music a lot and the dialogue is fantastic and the second highest compliment I can give it is that Crystal and I have both paused it to scream about how much it sounds like something I would write, which is narcissistic probably, but also true.


We also started watching Letterkenny, which we have also been savoring as slowly as possible and which we also pause to scream about constantly, but for entirely different reasons, the first of which is that we live in in like, American Letterkenny Lite (though the people of Letterkenny are consistently better people than I’ve ever experienced here) and the second of which is that every fucking thing about it is weird and hysterical in a perfect way. If you had told me in February that I would sometimes pause a sitcom about Canadian hicks to yell about the way they’ve staged a particular shot for Maximum Art, I would have scoffed. It’s also really funny to watch something that’s really stylized and goofy and feel weirdly represented and safe as a queer person. Everyone is so good at embodying these really weird, extreme characters and they all seem like they’re just committing every second they’re on screen. Every thing that comes out of Jared Keeso’s mouth is the funniest thing I’ve heard in my life. It’s also masterful at knowing exactly how hard to push a repetitive joke so that it always sails through the funny-too much-funny again-hysterical track every freaking time. I finally upgraded to ad-free Hulu to be able to watch this without interruption: I six-extra-dollars-a-month love it.


And three to look forward to…

grady hendrix, the southern book club's guide to slaying vampires   pokey lafarge, rock bottom rhapsody   promising young woman

totally top five 2019: watching

Let’s talk about some stuff I watched in 2019 now, yeah? Yeah!


Man, I LOVED Umbrella Academy. I liked it when we watched it initially, but we’ve rewatched quite a bit since and it’s just grown on me even more. I like that it’s a little dumb — as all ‘superhero’ properties should be — and that it doesn’t really look or sound like anything else I’ve seen recently. I like that it’s a story about a family surviving against the odds of their shitty upbringing under deeply suspect circumstances and having to reunite both because of and in spite of those circumstances and all the great ways that allows the characters to interact. I love all of the characters here, even the bad guys, and found myself surprisingly emotionally attached in the kind of fictional environment where I don’t normally do that. I’m interested to see where it will go in season two!


Rhett & Link put out a three part documentary [ONE | TWO | THREE] about a trip they took to their hometown to return to some of the places that inspired their new book, The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek and it was charming as hell. I like Good Mythical Morning for a variety of reasons — gross food! spicy food! great guest interactions! the crew! the comedy! the LAUGHTER! — but one of the things I like the most is the fact that it is extremely clear that Rhett and Link have been friends for an unbelievably long time and are still laughing at each other like they did when they were kids. Their friendship is palpable and that makes the chemistry of the show so, so much better because they know both how to play off of each other and how to play together off of other people. Seeing them in their hometown was very sweet and it was nice to see them so emotionally reflective on what they’ve done together and how important that youth is to it.


I haven’t truly binge-watched something in a long, long time. Not since before I started working full time in 2014, so when I sat down at my desk at home while in a hideously hard, bad mood and hit the second episode of Roswell, New Mexico on Netflix (I had watched the first shortly after it aired, but then like, life, you know?) I didn’t expect to finish it and then watch the next eleven in a row without any breaks except to pee. I mostly watch things in hopes of having a good time, but I also really like to FEEL things while I’m having fun and this just hit all the marks for me. Everyone is so, so beautiful and there is so much remarkable emoting. The dialogue is fun AND human AND emotionally resonant without ever hitting eye-rolling melodrama. Both the emotional and plot stakes are pretty high and the characters react and respond to them in ways that feel appropriate and real. It has a gay character! A bisexual character! There’s same-sex sex! And it made me care about straight romance because the characters are so likable! And I am deeply, deeply amped for season two.


Call Me By Your Name broke me in such a wonderful, satisfying, lovely way that I am still thinking about it often. I said quite a bit about how much I loved it previously, but the longer I’ve lived with it, the more deeply satisfied I am with it. It’s such a beautiful love story, such a beautiful coming of age story, such a beautiful heartbreak story, and it’s absolutely wildly lovely to look at, too, dreamy and summery and nostalgic. A near-contemporary period piece with great music and beautiful people and a lovely story with a deeply profound narrative moral that is spoken aloud, right out loud, for the people watching who are likely to need it the most. Such a lovely gift of a movie.


The Haunting of Hill House really emotionally destroyed me this year in a way I did not expect and also really enjoy thinking about. I loved the characters and the movement through time and the spooky and gruesome elements and the beautiful and terrifying house and that, at its heart, it’s a story about family and the ways that we sometimes inflict indelible damage on one another without ever thinking we are being callous or cruel. I really liked this one right from the jump and I stand by those things I loved: the gripping, creeping tension of it and the way the familial relationships tangled and stretched. It was also so beautifully designed and lit and shot — that long take during “Two Storms,” GOSH — and I hope the team behind it makes something else I can love again. Soon.


Honorable Mentions

unicorn store   tuca & bertie   rocketman   good omens   captain marvel


Previously

2K12 | 2K13 | 2K14 | 2K15 | 2K16 | 2K17 | 2018

totally top five 2019: reading

I read 42 books in 2019! Let’s talk about the ones I liked the most, yeah? In no particular order!


Drew Magary’s The Hike was the absolute weirdest book I read in 2019 and I had such a great time doing it. It was one of my three favorite things in June and I’ve been babbling about its weirdness since I finished it. It really helped me realize that the things I like most in the world are often things that are allowed to just be weird without extensive reasoning. The Hike sets up the rules of the universe as it goes and never forces itself into an explanation. It just is and I really love that about it. The biggest reason it’s on the list, however, is that I have been totally unable to stop thinking about it. I think about it whenever I am confronted by the idea of crabs, obviously, but it also just pops into my head randomly and I get that nice, satisfied feeling you have when you bump into an old friend and that’s got to be sign of a book I really loved.


Mary Renault’s The Charioteer was really beautiful and stunningly written with the kind of concision and delicacy that makes tiny motions into unbearable romantic (and sometimes erotic!) gestures. I had a lot to say about this one when I finished it and I stand by everything I said. It has beautiful writing and engaging characters and a lovely, painful sense of melancholy that didn’t feel hopeless. I was so invested in this book that I actually left my house under false pretenses while we had someone staying with us so that I could sit somewhere quiet for thirty minutes and finish it. If a willingness to abandon your loved ones in order to read isn’t a sign of a good book, I’m not sure what is.


Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August absolutely kicked my ass intellectually and emotionally and I would not have had it any other way. It was one of my favorite things in May and thinking about the book makes me feel completely unhinged in a way that I love. (If I think too hard about the conceit, my head starts to hurt, but I kind of like it.) It was one of the books I thought the most about this year after I’d finished it. The world North creates is brain-breaking for me, but also really engaging and interesting, and I still can’t believe how much I loved spending time with Harry and his friends. Her writing is beautiful and Harry is a wonderful narrator and also, to reiterate, the line “He enjoyed toying with me, and, in my way, I enjoyed being toyed with.” is still one of the horniest things I’ve ever read.


C.S. Pacat’s Captive Prince Trilogy was so, so, so unbelievably good and fun and satisfying and an unbelievably good distraction while we were dealing with a family medical emergency. These books had the ability to drag me away from fear, anxiety, frustration, even sobbing misery, and to put me into a completely different place where I could just focus on a story and disappear into it until I had to deal with real life again. I read these really, really fast — all three in less than a month — and they make a really nice, solid set with a nice-sized story and a really satisfying arc. I love these characters and she even managed to engage me with the political maneuvering of the “actual” “plot” of the story behind the romantic entanglement and extremely good sex. Also, it’s the only thing I read this year that inspired the text message, “THIS IS WHY I AM ALIVE ON THIS EARTH!!!!!!” and that’s hard to beat.


Andre Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name was so good that as soon as I had finished it, I went to Ebay to order a hardback copy to put on my Favorite Books Shelf. The characters are incredible, the atmosphere is dreamy and sensual, and the writing! God! Infuriatingly good. Like most of the people I know who read and loved it, I, too, wish he had quit while he was ahead re: where to land the ending, but even when I look back on it now, I don’t actually feel like it disappointed me in any way. This felt like being seventeen and in your own head about your feelings, constantly convinced that you are the only person who has ever felt this way, except if your seventeen-year-old thoughts were really beautiful and articulate and also taking place in a breathtaking version of Italy that probably doesn’t actually exist.


Honorable Mentions

philippe besson, lie with me   sj goslee, how not to ask a boy to prom   jessica knoll, luckiest girl alive   kj charles, band sinister   amy spalding, the summer of jordi perez


Previously

2K12 | 2K13 | 2K14 | 2K15 | 2K16 | 2K17 | 2018

totally top 3: june 2019


Holy crap did I love Good Omens. I read the book in college (200…4? I think) and loved it and have spent the ensuing years recommending it to lots and lots of people. A solid adaptation FULL!! of all the queer angel-demon love I could have dreamed of. I will miss the internet obsessively fan re-casting the story every few years and I maintain that they CERTAINLY could have casted it less white-ly, but we liked it enough to almost immediately watch the entire thing a second time anyway. I thought the narrative and the dialogue did a good job pulling the funny charm from the book into a visual medium and I thought the visuals and placemaking and costuming were ultimately very cool. I also thought it did a nice job of breaking the book up into episodes, though I could have watched a thousand more minutes of Aziraphale and Crowley begrudgingly becoming friends. I will be haunted by “You go to too fast for me, Crowley” for the rest of my life and I will love it.


I didn’t know anything about Drew Magary’s The Hike before I bought it (I have probably made it clear that I don’t ever know anything about what I read before I read it and yet I cannot stop repeating myself.) and even if I had, I don’t think I could have accurately imagined the off-the-charts level of weirdness in here. The writing in this is really solid and, as previously mentioned, really reflective of the passage of time and changes in the narrator. Ben is a solid narrator, but the stars here are really the secondary characters and the general bizarre nature of the story. The willingness to lean in to the strangeness of the premise and follow through with it was really refreshing and reminded me a lot of Unicorn Store, actually, and I thought the ending was similarly satisfying.


We were able to squeeze a viewing of Rocketman into a quick trip to the cities in June and I am SO GLAD. It was so big and fun and moving — making it a big fantasy musical was brilliant and fun and so fitting for Elton John’s music — and I ended up crying like, five times which I hadn’t really expected?? Taron Egerton is so, so, sooooooo unbelievably good. He makes acting look like it’s just having feelings on camera, right there all over his beautiful face, and he really drags you through them with him in the most satisfying way. Also, I had no idea Jamie Bell was in this before he popped up on screen and I kind of yelped in the theater and terrified all of the middle-aged couples that were there with us. As always, a beautiful, talented bitch. The “Your Song” bit is so good — two extremely talented actors just meaningfully, facially emoting at each other over a song I already loved so much — and I’m just going to think about it forever and ever.


And three to look forward to…

stranger things season 3   rory power, wilder girls   spider-man: far from home