I imagine some of you have gift cards for the iTunes Music Store, Amazon, or other entertainment/book stores burning holes in your pockets. Since I’ve burned through a lot of music and books over the past year, here are some recommendations for some ways to spend that virtual cash one some real gifts to yourself.
Really you can just look at my Favorite Songs of 2010 list and pick up the albums those songs are on. To save you a trip to the archives, here are a few that stood above the rest.
The Winter of Mixed Drinks – Frightened Rabbit. No surprise here. A fine follow-up to their ’08 instant classic The Midnight Organ Fight. If you want well-crafted, painfully honest music, this is where to look.
The Archandroid – Janlle Monae. One of the most surprising, interesting, audacious albums to come along in ages. It doesn’t matter what genre of music you prefer; chances are you’ll find something to like on this. She was 23-24 when she wrote and recorded this album. Who knows what she’s capable of.1
Body Talk – Robyn. Get the full version, which pulls together all three EPs that were released over the course of the year. And prepare to shake your ass.
Contra – Vampire Weekend. Feel-good music that will help you get through the bitter cold of winter.
As I write this, I just finished book #53 for the year. That’s right, twice in three years I’ve exceeded the magic Book-A-Week pace. I’m pretty pumped. I’m thinking about getting myself a trophy or printing up shirts.2
This year was obviously a big transition as I purchased a Kindle in May. Thus, I bought more books this year than in any time in recent memory. I also dipped into the free book world and read a few classics along with a handful of contemporary novels that were free. If I had to select five books to recommend, though, I don’t think you could go wrong with any of these.
This Is Where I Leave You – Jonathan Tropper. Our fearless protagonist finds his wife in bed with his boss, and resolves the situation in a completely understandable and ridiculous manner. Shortly after, his father dies and he and his dysfunctional family must sit in Shiva for seven days to mourn. Things quickly spin out of control. Everything about this novel is hilarious and outrageous, but the writing is so good that each twist and turn seems completely realistic. This is the funniest serious novel I’ve read recently.
A Visit From the Good Squad – Jennifer Egan. A lovely, multi-perspective novel tracing the lives of a group of friends, and the people around them, over a 40-year span. The first half is as well written as anything I’ve read in a long time. The second half doesn’t quite match that opening, but is still quite good.
The Imperfectionists – Tom Rachman. SImilar to Goon Squad above, a book that is closer to a collection of related short stories. But each is perfect, and moves the overall story forward nicely despite the constant changes in focus.
Dark Places – Gillian Flynn. Dark and twisted and terrific.
The Crowd Sounds Happy – Nicholas Dawidoff. This was marketed as a baseball book. In fact, baseball plays only a part of this memoir, which tells of Dawidoff’s life with a mentally ill father, as an outsider in his school, and about the search for identity we all go through.