Did You Hear? Hit the Ground Running

New music! Sometimes old music. Music that we love!

As soon as this song came on shuffle I felt like I had to share it. Depending on your tastes, I’m pretty sure one of these things will entice you to listen: First, the album cover appears to have a house cat in a lighting storm, like a really bad shirt you wore in junior high school. Second, there’s a children’s choir. So now you pretty much have to hear it, right?

– Brook Reeder

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HITTING SHELVES #18: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen comes out today!

It’s the story of a South Vietnamese army captain during the Vietnam War whose allegiances are irrevocably torn. For one thing, he’s spying for the Communists. For another, his two best friends from childhood are on opposite sites of the war, and he’s doing his best to keep them alive. With twists and betrayals worthy of Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke, Viet Thanh Nguyen has written THE novel about the fall of Saigon and its aftermath, a novel that puts Vietnam at the center of the Vietnam War. Part espionage, part existential crisis, and part Hollywood farce, The Sympathizer humanizes and complicates our understanding of one of the most vivid conflicts in history.

We asked the author one question.

How are you celebrating the publication of The Sympathizer?

12:01 AM Still awake. Can see toddler sleeping peacefully via the monitor. Break open the Lagavulin instead of the Johnny Walker Black and pour a double. It’s a special day.

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The Boomstick Film Club: Children of Heaven

Children of Heaven

The Boomstick

Watch it with us: Netflix streaming

I’ll be honest, I’ve been putting off watching this film for a long time. All I knew was the plot summary—a brother and sister in present-day Iran are forced to share one pair of shoes when he accidentally loses hers—and based on that, I was afraid this movie would be preachy or depressing. Instead, it’s a charming family film that follows the everyday adventures that both siblings get into as a result of the shoe mishap. The sister, Zahra (Bahare Seddiqi), is self-conscious about wearing boys’ shoes until she finds that they give her an edge over the girls in dress shoes when her class at school has to practice long jumping. After school, she has to run to meet Ali (Amir Farrokh Hashemian) so he can put the shoes on and run to his own school. (He’s often late even when they both run the whole way.) Zahra eventually finds out who her shoes ended up with, and she has to decide what to do about it. Ali comes up with a plan to win a new pair of sneakers for Zahra by coming in third place in a boys’ long distance race.

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They’ll Get Theirs

Go To Hells

Dante’s Inferno was written in the 14th century.

“Since then,” as the authors of Go To Hells kindly remind us, “there have been no new updates.” To our understanding of the geography of hell, that is.

When you put it like that, this book seems incredibly necessary.

Internet Trolls, ATM Lurkers, Reply All-ers, Cable Company Executives—none of these people existed in Dante’s day. Where in hell are we supposed to put them? Kali V. Roy and Jesse Riggle made it their mission to find out. In light verse accompanied by grimly comical illustrations, the creators of Go To Hells expand the layout of the fiery pit, and even tidy the place up a bit.

Roommates who eat all your soup? They’ll spend eternity eating Irish Spring soap. People who recount their boring dreams? They’ll have to listen to Ben Stein read Ayn Rand’s books aloud—forever. “Baby Puppeteers” whose idea of humor is making a baby wave her arms? They’ll have Satan’s hand up their ass as his own private marionette. Continue reading

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Quanta of Aging

The Physics of Sorrow

I’m not talking about old age. I’m talking about the first signs. Not about night, but about dusk. About its irresistible incursions and the first fallen fortresses.

*

Once, when Aya was three, she came home from kindergarten in tears, because a boy had told her that fathers get old. Fathers get old, she said, sobbing. She glanced at me for a second, fully expecting to hear me disavow this and since I couldn’t think of anything—I’m terribly slow-witted when I have to lie—she burst into tears again, even more hopelessly.

*

There is some sort of grammar of aging.

Childhood and youth are full of verbs. You can’t sit still. Everything in you is growing, gushing forth, developing. Later the verbs are gradually replaced by the nouns of middle age. Kids, cars, work, family—the substantial things of the substantives.

Growing old is an adjective. We enter into the adjectives of old age—slow, boundless, hazy, cold, or transparent like glass.

*

There is also a mathematics of aging, a simple set theory.

We change the world’s proportions over the years. Those younger than we are grow ever more numerous, while the number of those older than we are declines menacingly.

Aging requires a certain audacity. It may not be audacity, but resignation.

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Hitler’s Mustache

hitler-moustache

Denise hadn’t even been at Maize High three months when the rumors began. I was in a mandatory physical education class, second period, the first time I saw her. She was in the class right after mine and we brushed shoulders in the hallway a few times. She was pretty enough, I’d say, with long wood-burnt hair down her back in waves and an olive complexion like a Greek. She was in the middle ground on fashion which told me all I needed to know about her life at home. I was in the same boat myself. My parents never could afford to make me a popular walkabout with their conservative clothing purchases. It’s like my dad used to say, You take what you can get. Then later, when you’re all grown-up, you’ll thank god you didn’t have enough.

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Did You Hear? Sweet Mama Janisse

New music! Sometimes old music. Music that we love!

Taj Mahal can always put a smile on my face, especially when he really leans into a horn section.

This song features at least 2 trombone players and a tuba just killing it the whole way through. I especially like how the beat jumps in and attacks after that acoustic intro, and just rides the upbeat the whole way through. This song is a mess, but it’s a total head-nodder!

Want more? Check out one of my all-time favorite Taj Mahal songs, “She Caught the Katy.”

– Brook Reeder

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The Boomstick Film Club: 13 Sins

13 Sins Boomstick

The Boomstick

Watch it with us: Netflix streaming

The idea behind 13 Sins is a cool iteration of one of my favorite movie tropes: the impossible ethical quandary. Elliot (Mark Webber) is your average Joe Niceguy. Strapped for cash, he has a pregnant fianceé (Rutina Wesley), a disabled brother (Devon Graye), and a horrible elderly dad (Tom Bower) all depending on him. While driving around and fretting, he gets a mysterious phone call offering him a thousand dollars to kill a fly buzzing around the inside of his car. He does it with no hesitation, and the money is immediately wired into his bank account. Then the caller offers him $3,266, the exact balance on his fianceé’s credit card, to eat the fly. The caller explains the rules of what becomes known as simply the Game: Elliot will be given thirteen tasks of increasing difficulty to complete. Each task is worth more money, and the last will be worth a fortune. The hitch is that he has to complete all thirteen tasks or he loses everything he’s won so far. He’s also forbidden from telling anyone else about the Game or trying to interfere with it.

What I like about this twist is that it explains immediately why Elliot is so committed to seeing the Game through and completing all thirteen tasks. If he had the option to walk away at any time and take his winnings with him, it would be easy for us as viewers to think “I’d never do that, I don’t care how much money they offered me.” He’s clearly not a guy who’s driven by avarice. But even the second task, eating the fly, is unpleasant enough that you understand why he’s committed after enduring it. So he has no choice but to keep going, even as the tasks go from uncomfortable to horrific.

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