Monday, December 31, 2012

My 12 Favorite Shows of 2012

As I said in my music post, I am again making no claims to "best" here. These are the shows I loved the most this year, the ones that made me happiest and saddest and most thoughtful. They're the ones I most looked forward to week to week or marathoned in feverish gulps. Above all, these are the shows that made me love watching TV in 2012. (Warning: any plot details that aired in 2012 or earlier may be mentioned here.)

1. Borgen - This drama about the first female prime minister of Denmark and her staff and family, her rivals, and the press is the show I watched this year that came closest to being perfect. The political issues are intriguing, the interpersonal and workplace conflicts are compelling, and the personal and family dramas are heartbreaking, and these threads are all woven together virtually flawlessly. Borgen also has the most nuanced look at issues of women, work, family, and power of any show I can think of. The show is so incredible that after a while I practically stopped noticing that I was watching with subtitles, though now I want to learn Danish.

2. Homeland - I came late to this show and actually watched both seasons in 2012, but I'm trying to separate them out in my mind. I understand why some critics did not like the second season, and there were definitely some flaws and ridiculous plot elements that drove me a little crazy. But to be honest, I don't watch TV for plot; I usually watch for characters and themes and ideas and moods and writing, and for me, all those elements were strong enough in season two of Homeland to far outweigh the negatives. Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, and Mandy Patinkin are all such fine actors with such superlative chemistry that watching them together is constant joy and heartbreak.

3. Fringe - This is another show with which I understand and agree with a lot of the criticisms I've read, but still think it's better than practically any other show out there. The timeline reset in season four didn't bother me as much as it did many fans, I assume in part because I marathoned most of the show over the summer and so didn't have the years of attachment to the original timeline and the months of waiting for Peter to return. And while I'm still not entirely certain how I feel about the time jump in season five, and especially some of the things we missed because of it, I love many of its results, especially Etta and her story, Peter's struggle with his humanity, and Nina's heroic end. And above all, I love these characters and the way they've come to love each other. (This show also has one of the most underrated casts on television; why doesn't John Noble, especially, have all the awards??)

4. The Newsroom - When Aaron Sorkin speaks as himself, he says all sorts of things I disagree with. But when he writes TV shows, his writing feels like it has a direct connection to my heart and my brain in a way that no one else's does. As I said above about both Homeland and Fringe, I know the flaws. I've read the reviews. I don't even disagree with a lot of the individual points. But for me, none of them are fatal flaws, and none outweigh my love of these characters and this writing. The show's framing in the very recent past has been controversial, but it's one of the elements I really enjoy, and I don't think the show would be anywhere near as powerful if it used invented news events. The cast is great, and John Gallagher, Jr. was one of the breakout stars of the year for me.

5. The Good Wife - This show has an astoundingly good cast, both in its regulars and its recurring guest stars, and the writers are very good at playing to each actor's strengths. Julianna Margulies! Chris Noth! Josh Charles! Archie Panjabi! Christine Baranski! Matt Czuchry! ALAN CUMMING. They really have more than their share of great actors. It is in some ways a straightforward legal drama, but there are a million things going on in every episode, and it almost always feels effortless (which certainly means that people worked very hard to make it happen). Even when the plot doesn't go the way I want (I really liked Alicia and Will together, for example), the show does a good job of persuading me to go along with whatever it's doing. The one exception to this was Kalinda's ridiculous storyline this season; if that hadn't happened, the show would have probably been even higher on my list.

6. The Killing - I did not at all mind the slow pace of this crime drama; it was like the television equivalent of reading a complex novel rather than a series of interrelated short stories. Having one case last for two seasons allowed for figures who would be one-episode guest spots on most crime shows become fully fledged main characters, which I found fascinating. Sure, it was convoluted and got a bit hard to follow, but I'm willing to put up with that for the chance of getting a different kind of mystery show, and I thought the ending of the season did a remarkably good job of tying everything together. I loved the tone of it, so dark and lyrical and bleak all at once, and the reluctant friendship between Linden and Holder was one of my favorite relationships on TV this year. (Also: Sweaters!)

7. Ben and Kate - Simply put, this was the most delightful show of the year; each and every episode made me happy while watching it, even if I was sad or stressed in general. I love the combination of blood relatives and created family, and the way the show focuses on people who are flawed and problematic and yet love each other and would do anything for each other. Plus, it makes me laugh more than most comedies do, and Maggie Elizabeth Jones does a remarkable job of walking the "adorable but not obnoxiously twee" line that so often trips up child actors.

8. Scandal - When I heard Shonda Rhimes was doing a show about a DC fixer, I figured it would be Grey's Anatomy but about politics, and honestly, that would have been enough for me to enjoy it. But Scandal turned out to be so much more than that. Conspiracy! Murder! Fraud! And it has my all-time favorite set-up: damaged people teaming up to work toward a common goal and saving each other along the way. (See also, from this list, Fringe, Elementary, The Newsroom, The Killing, and to some extent Borgen, The Good Wife, and Homeland.) One more thing: It's not really a positive, but the show's ability to get me to root for an adulterous couple certainly speaks to its power.

9. The Hour - The second season of this historical drama about a BBC news TV program in the 1950s still has one more episode to air (on January 2), so it's possible that my opinion will change drastically then. As it stands, though, I still love this show but have had a harder time getting into this season. I know the spy stuff was widely ridiculed last year, but what they've replaced it with is harder to follow and takes time and energy away from the characters I love doing their jobs and interacting with each other, which is why I love the show in the first place. But Romola Garai, Ben Whishaw, Dominic West, and Anna Chancellor all remain incredible, and I am happy to follow Bel and company wherever the ride takes us.

10. Elementary - I am an enthusiastic Sherlock Holmes fan but by no means a purist, which makes me probably the ideal audience for this modern take on the great detective. I love Jonny Lee Miller's portrayal of Holmes as a modern addict. I love Lucy Liu's take on Watson. (I love that Watson is female!) I love the way they play off each other and the way the show isn't making it a romantic thing, at least not immediately. The show has a firm grounding in the original stories, and references them frequently, but it's a loose enough adaptation that it's felt very much like its own thing from the start, which makes it a show I want to come back to week after week for its own sake, rather than a clever parlor trick that I admire but don't love, which is how I often feel about the other modern take, Sherlock.

11. Arrow - Arrow was probably the biggest (positive) surprise of the fall season for me; I don't particularly seek out superhero stuff as a rule, and I knew virtually nothing about the source material going in. I was hoping for no more than fun CW fluff with pretty people but found it to be surprisingly compelling and actually good. I've been a Colin Donnell fan since I saw him on Broadway, so he's a particular treat each week, and this show has clearly made some sort of deal with the devil that allows them to cast every geek favorite ever in guest starring roles.

12. Cougar Town - This is another show that I caught up on from the beginning in 2012, and I'm very glad that I was convinced to give it a try. Yes, the name is dumb, and the premise - some friends in a neighborhood in Florida talk to each other, basically - is simple, but the show is both hysterically funny and surprisingly moving. My favorite comedies are those that make me cry regularly as well as laugh regularly (yes, I have issues), and this is a perfect example. Season three dealt with a lot of changes in the characters' lives, which were necessary but always a bit hard for a show to navigate, and the show did remarkably well at dealing with these changes without losing what makes it good to start with.

Honorable mention: Bomb Girls, Don't Trust the B---- in Apt 23, Game of Thrones, Girls, Magic City, Suburgatory

NYE Music Break: The Beach Boys do "Auld Lang Syne"

Morning Coffee (12/31/12)

Happy New Year's Eve!

If you're stuck at work today, obviously you need to admire these Top Ten Ultimate Tiaras.

The 30 Most Inspiring Interspecies Friendships Of The Year

Several of EW's 13 Ways to Get Ready for '13 are actually on my to do list.

The Times has an interesting multi-part look at this year's Formula One season. Start here.

This 50 Shades of Grey course sounds fascinating, actually.

Here are Forever Young Adult's Books of the Year.

I'm not saying the world needs a TNG reboot, but this dream cast is pretty incredible.

Photos of Famous Authors Playing in the Snow

Sunday, December 30, 2012

My 5 Favorite Albums of 2012

First: I am making no claims that these albums are the best, by any artistic or technical standard. Or that my choices are in any way interesting or sophisticated. These are all mainstream pop, but they're the albums this year that I listened to over and over, that I kept coming back to, that got me through happiness and sadness and stress and lots of long car rides. I've included my favorite song from each so you can get a taste.

1. Red by Taylor Swift
I unapologetically love Taylor. Speak Now stayed in my car CD player for 99% of the time until Red came out. Her early songs played like perfect tiny young adult novels, and I'm delighted by the way she's moving into adult subject material.

2. Some Nights by fun.
This was hands down the best "listen to during those afternoon hours when I have to keep working and don't want to" album of the year.

3. Overexposed by Maroon 5
And this was the best dancey, energetic, "must clean the house and bake cookies even though it's midnight" option.

4. The Truth About Love by P!nk
This one doesn't feel very cohesive as an album, but it has a lot of songs I love on it, and it's great for singing along in the car.

5. Babel by Mumford & Sons
This sophomore offering didn't grab me in quite the same way Sigh No More did, but it's still extremely good.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Recipe: Oreo Balls

I wound up making these sort of accidentally because I had extra Oreo cupcake filling, and a few people on Twitter asked for the recipe, and seriously, SO EASY.

Oreo Balls

1 package Oreos
1 block (8 oz) regular cream cheese
Colored sugar or sprinkles for decoration

1. Take out the cream cheese an hour or two in advance to let it soften.
2. Put the Oreos in a food processor and process until they're fairly even crumbs.
3. Dump out into a bowl, add cream cheese, and mix. (It's probably easiest to just use your hands.)
4. Roll the mixture into balls about 3/4" in diameter, and roll each ball in sugar, sprinkles, or other decorations.
5. Keep in the refrigerator until you're ready to serve!

Morning Coffee (12/26/12)

Happy Boxing Day!

Here are GQ's 25 Most Stylish Men to ease you back into your week.

Oooh! The Dead Sea Scrolls are now online.

I reeeeally want these Penguin Drop Caps Classics.

Mormon Women Set Out to Take a Stand, in Pants

9 Joyful Ways to Demolish Your Favorite Genre

Aww, an illustrator proposed marriage in his book's acknowledgements.

50 Best Literary Insults

Friday, December 21, 2012

Why I Want to See The Following for Myself

It's not surprising that a lot of wildly different reactions and opinions and theories have appeared in the aftermath of last week's tragedy in Newtown. But one in particular did surprise me: a small chorus of TV reporters and critics are calling for FOX to cancel its upcoming drama The Following, which is set to premiere on January 21. For those who haven't heard about it: It's a show about a serial killer (James Purefoy) forming a cult of serial killers, and the FBI agent (Kevin Bacon) trying to stop him. Yes, by all accounts, it is very violent and includes lots of murder, for obvious reasons. But it's worth noting that it focuses neither on guns nor on killing children, and it will be premiering over a month after the events in Newtown.

First, a small issue: Some of the people saying this have seen at least one episode of the show, but others (by their own accounts) have not. (For the record, I have not seen it yet. I've heard wildly differing opinions, but people whose taste I trust have loved it, so I'm looking forward to trying it. But until I do so, I HAVE NO OPINION. That's how this works.) Publicly condemning a show without actually watching it strikes me as completely irresponsible. It frustrates me when people - especially people who viewers look to for advice on what to watch - give uninformed opinions. Saying you don't find the trailers for a show appealing so you don't want to watch it? Sure, that's fine. Saying, based on trailers and buzz, that you think a show should not be on the air? That's problematic.

And really, that gets at the larger issue. There are absolutely things in this country that should change in the wake of Newtown. But I really don't think banning violence from TV is one of them. To be fair, people are saying that FOX themselves should pull the show, not that the government should force them to do it, so it's not quite censorship. But saying "This awful thing happened in real life, so this unrelated violent show being on the air is insensitive" seems like a very dangerous path to go down. If individuals decide not to watch The Following because they don't want to voluntarily put more violence (even fictional) into their lives or worlds, that's COMPLETELY understandable and fine. But saying that no one should have the option of watching it puts them in the company of parents who want books pulled out of libraries so that NO children (not just their own) can read about gay characters or sex or eating disorders.

Both my personal inclinations and my library training lead me to firmly believe that no one should decide what media anyone else should consume (with the exception of things whose production harms people who cannot consent to participation, such as child pornography). As Ranganathan's second and third laws of library science state, "Every reader his book. Every book its reader." I believe the same goes for TV shows. Those who object to the violence shouldn't watch. But this is a business. If enough people feel that a show is outside the bounds of taste, or just not what they want to watch, the show will fail. Does this mean that many things I personally have no interest in seeing wind up on the air? Of course. But I don't want any person or group deciding what content I'm allowed to consume, and so I wouldn't want to impose my beliefs or tastes on others.

Is The Following any good? Does it glorify murder? Is it in poor taste? Is actually brilliant? Is it more violent or scary than I'll be able to handle, watching alone in my apartment? I have no idea! But I want the chance to find out.

Friday Music Break: "The Christians and the Pagans"

Happy Solstice!

New Gatsby Trailer!

Want want want want want RIGHT NOW PLEASE.

(Can anyone ID the version of "Happy Together"?)

Fans should also check out these gorgeous character posters.

Morning Coffee (12/21/12)

The New Yorker Robert Bork obit pulls no punches.

Check out this nifty etymological map of the United States.

I love BMJ's holiday tradition.

Discovering an island is one thing, but . . . undiscovering one? Wow.

At NPR, Maggie Stiefvater has 5 Young Adult Novels That You'll Never Outgrow.

I desperately want these Mythic Beasts Travel Posters.

Here's an interesting read on Tolkien and Auden.

Christmas Carols as Resistance Literature

Thursday, December 20, 2012

More on Vikings!

Here's the embeddable version of the teaser:

(I feel like I should point out that there is not actually an exclamation point in the title of the show. I'm just excited.)

I've got some more information on the cast and plot over at TheTelevixen, so head on over!

Trailer: To the Wonder

"Impressionistic love story" is a phrase that would usually make me run screaming, but on the other hand, I looooved The Tree of Life, so maybe I'm a Malick fan? I do not know.

Come back to us, Homeland!

Now Showtime is just taunting us. (via Give Me My Remote)

Morning Coffee (12/20/12)

Yesterday President Obama was named Time Person of the Year, and you absolutely must take a look at this profile of his photographer, Pete Souza, and accompanying slideshow.

!!!! Bradley Whitford is guest starring on Go On, which of course stars his Studio 60 costar Matt Perry. !!!!

Check out the Fug Girls' 25 Best Red Carpet Moments of the year.

You must read Sarah Rees Brennan's parody of The Hobbit.

BBC America has picked up a whole season of the Nerdist TV show. Whee!

Literary gingerbread houses!

That Indiana Jones package mystery was solved.

They're making an Irish-language version of Cheers. Awesome.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The End of Gossip Girl

(Series finale spoilers starting in the second paragraph.)

Gossip Girl ended this week, and . . . I'm sadder about it than I expected. Yes, the show got completely ridiculous, in a bad way rather than a fun way, in later seasons. And yes, some of its plotlines (especially the treatment of Chuck and Blair's relationship) were incredibly problematic. But it used to actually be really good - I swear - and the retrospective preceding the finale was so warm and fuzzy, and it probably had more literary references than another other show on TV. And really, when a show has been part of your life for so long, it's sad when it goes away, even if it's had its ups and downs.

I saw the finale late last night, and I still haven't decided exactly how I feel about it. First, let's get this out of the way: The things that were terrible (again, specifically Chuck and Blair's relationship, but also a lot of other people) remained terrible. I held out hope for way too long that the writers were deliberately portraying an abusive relationship and were going to do something with that eventually, but . . . nope. So. Yes. The way that ended was awful. I'm not necessarily thrilled about MOST of the endings, except maybe for Nate's. (As I've been saying for a while, I love how seriously he takes Being An Adult.) The whole Sort Of Murder Thing was also ridiculous and overwrought, even for this show. And don't even get me started on Ivy and William and all the layers of THAT mess.

But what I'm somewhat conflicted about - but mostly like - is the Gossip Girl reveal. (Though I completely loved the cameo-filled sequence of people reacting to it - hands down my favorite part of the finale.) I absolutely wish that the writers had had a plan (or at least the identity) from the beginning, because at this point, there was literally no solution that would have worked perfectly. But I think that given the corner they'd painted themselves into, Dan was the best option. And the fact that he'd constructed this entire thing as a ploy to get Serena is kind of brilliant. As my friend Marisa Roffman remarked, "[the reveal]'s so ridiculous that it actually circles back to awesome." Dan says in his confession that the Upper East Side is like something out of Fitzgerald, and he himself is clearly Gatsby, with the Gossip Girl blog as the virtual equivalent of Gatsby's parties. I love that. (I would have loved it more if the ending had been more similar to Gatbsy's ending instead of "and they all lived happily ever after.") Even though there are some continuity errors, the fact that the solution basically works and simultaneously reframes the entire series is pretty great. It made me want to rewatch the series from the beginning, which, in a way, is the best thing for a finale to do.


Maybe I'll watch The Voice.

I generally don't watch reality TV. I have nothing against it philosophically or anything (in general; certain shows are despicable in various ways), but I have to draw a line somewhere, and I just watch so much and reality stuff usually just interests me less so I ignore it. But I've been thinking I should watch a season of a music competition show, because they've become such a cultural thing. I guess I want to know what I'm missing. And I think that show will be The Voice, which ended last night but starts up again already in March, because a) a completely unscientific skimming of my Twitter feed suggests that people are general more positive about it than its competition, b) I have a few friends who cover it regularly so I might as well understand what they're talking about, and c) all else equal, the music show that puts Adam Levine's face on my TV seems the logical choice. (No, I actually like his music, too. Seriously.)

And hey, here's an adorable promo for season 4! Warning: This will earworm you.

The Ultimate 2012 Earworm

I cannot even imagine the work that goes into making things like this. I am in awe. (This is floating around everywhere; I originally saw it via Marisa.)


I can't find an embeddable version yet, but Entertainment Weekly has the first exclusive trailer for the History Channel's new historical drama, Vikings. And the trailer includes a premiere date: March 3! Whee! My thought process as I watched the trailer:
  1. Well, this could be pretty terrible. But it doesn't look DEFINITELY terrible yet.
  2. There will be SO MANY HISTORICAL ISSUES to nitpick!
  4. SOMEONE wants to look as much like Game of Thrones as possible, huh?
With shows like this, I usually want them to be either actually good or so terrible that they're hilarious to watch. Fingers crossed!

Morning Coffee (12/19/12)

Here's a handy resource to check whether your senators support an assault weapons ban.

If you're feeling badly about being single for the holidays, Patricia Steffy has some good reasons why it can be a positive thing.

Taylor Swift and the Eurozone Crisis

This article about the history of Barneys is long but really fascinating.

Game of Thrones beer! I repeat, GAME OF THRONES BEER.

Scandal at the OED!

Fringe fans should really check out the Fringe Benefits Project and vote!

This Doctor Who/Winnie-the-Pooh mashup cake is ridiculously adorable. And that is a sentence I never thought I'd type.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A thought on last night's HIMYM...

(Sorry for the vague title. This is your spoiler warning!)

I've known for a while that I care about Barney and Robin's relationship on How I Met Your Mother much more than I do about Ted and the mother, but last night's huge episode got me thinking about why that is. And I know this is ridiculous to say in the wake of an episode focusing on an elaborate, impossible scheme, but Barney and Robin just feel more real. I suppose this is yet another way of saying that, after years and years of Ted's interminable mother-meeting story, it just feels like a gimmick, rather than an important thing in the life of a character I care about. On the other hand, even given all the artifice of Barney's scheme and proposal, Barney and Robin have had plenty of character moments that feel completely genuine, up to and including the rooftop scene.

I actually loved the way that played out, because I thought making "The Robin" Barney's last big play was the perfect way to let his character move on to the next stage of his life - because his schtick was getting thin - while remaining true to the character and not changing him too much too quickly. (He had, of course, been changing gradually for years.) And "The Robin" also left room for Barney to use his lying and scheming skills in the future toward ends other than making strangers sleep with him. Ted and Marshall considering un-jinxing him to get him to lie them out of a bad situation was another nice nod to this potential future. Sure, Barney's single antics are over. But I'm looking forward to seeing what antics Barney and Robin can get up to together.

I also, by the way, love this song that played over the end scene.

Morning Coffee (12/18/12)

Going to split this in two sections because I know some people are avoiding reading Newtown stuff when they're not specifically looking for it. That will be at the end.

Here's a good profile of Tim Scott, just appointed to Sen. DeMint's seat by Gov. Haley.

Sen. Dan Inouye passed away yesterday. Read about his experiences in World War II.

Check out the Fox Holiday Card Maker.

HitFix's First Annual Television Critics' Poll is pretty fascinating.

Coming Soon: Nielsen Twitter TV Rating. That . . . that kind of scares me.

Norah Gaughan has some suggestions for TV knitting.

The Beatles, live in Hamburg.


JetBlue Delivers Cousin's Goodbye Letter to Newtown Child's Funeral

That Woman Is Not Adam Lanza’s Mother, and She’s Distracting Us From the Real Issue

Monday, December 17, 2012

New Taylor Swift Video - I Knew You Were Trouble

Okay, sure, it's ridiculous and overwrought and randomly post-apocalyptic, but that's what things feel like sometimes. And I kind of love it.

Morning Coffee (12/17/12)

Today's links will all have some relation to the shooting in Newtown. I grew up about fifteen miles from there, and spent the weekend in my hometown, and with every connection, the tragedy became more heartbreaking and closer to home. My brother's friend teaches at the school; he managed to keep himself and his students safe, thank God. There were other, more ancillary connections, because these towns are small, but I did not personally know anyone who was lost. My thoughts are with those who did, and with the whole town.

I'm sure you all know where to find the latest news on the investigation. Here are a few other related links I found interesting or important.

How The Newtown Bee is covering Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting

My mother, a pediatrician, recommends these resources to help parents, teachers, and students cope.

Aurora survivor Stephen Barton: How Much Worse Does It Have To Get?

Gail Collins: "Every country has a sizable contingent of mentally ill citizens. We’re the one that gives them the technological power to play god."

Coincidentally, Friday was the twentieth anniversary of a deadly shooting at my alma mater. The father of one of the victims wrote this after Newtown: "Children will continue to pay for a freedom their elders enjoy."

And here's another good read about the aftermath of the shooting at Simon's Rock.

Programming note: One of the scheduled posts I pulled down on Friday will go up this afternoon. Normal posting will resume tomorrow.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday Music Break: The Monkees do "Riu Riu Chiu"

I promise what you didn't even know your Friday afternoon needed was the Monkees singing Renaissance Spanish a cappella harmonies in front of a Christmas tree. This is great.

The CW's Game of Thrones?

Ever wonder what Game of Thrones would look like if it were a CW show? THIS. Ha ha ha. I will never stop laughing.

Morning Coffee (12/14/12)

Hey, it's my dad's birthday. Happy birthday, Dad!

Here are the Golden Globe nominees.

Have you preordered your copy of The Madness Underneath yet? It comes with nifty gifts! You should go do that.

The 7 Most Ridiculous Things About Calling Out Fake Fangirls

A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector is one of my favorite Christmas albums, and this is a nice appreciation of it.

For the first time, a video game soundtrack was nominated for a Grammy.

Wow. Bone-encrusted churches are fascinating.

It's Friday. You probably need the President being adorable with adorable children.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Avril Lavigne Covers "How You Remind Me"

This is . . . surprisingly interesting. And it makes me want musicians covering their significant others' songs to be a Thing. Can we make that happen?

(via Marisa)

How to Shop for Your Favorite Knitter

Every year, the superlative Yarn Harlot writes a series through December giving ideas for holiday gifts for non-knitters to buy for the knitters in their lives. This year's starts right here, and you should definitely check it out. (Continue to click through all the posts for the month.) But this combined with a few conversations I've had recently made me want to say a bit about buying knitting-related gifts in general.

First, let me say that wanting to buy your knitter yarn or other knitting implements is a VERY NICE impulse, and they will be delighted that you thought of it and wanted to get them something so specific to their interests. But here's the thing: All knitting stuff is not created equal. Even if you get really nice knitting stuff... well, your knitter certainly has preferences, and loving yarn doesn't mean loving (or wanting to work with) all yarn. It's like if you know someone likes music, and you go pick out a CD with a really pretty cover, but it turns out that it's classical and they like rock. Both are good! But it's just not necessarily what they want!

So what you should do? A few ideas:

1) If you can pay a lot of attention to what your knitter knits - it helps if you live with them - you might be able to pick something out. It helps if your knitter has predictable taste. For example, if you know they like to knit socks (and know they're not allergic to wool), you could go to a yarn shop and say "I want some really nice sock yarn for my knitter" and they'd totally be able to hook you up.

2) Ask your knitter's friends! They'd be delighted to help make sure another knitter gets awesome presents, I promise. They could probably point you in the right direction, or give a yes/no on a particular idea you have. Or if your knitter is going to a shop or fiber festival or something with friends, you could sneakily ask a friend to report back if there's anything your knitter clearly wanted but didn't buy. OR you could say that if there's anything in that category up to however much you want to spend, the friend should go ahead and buy it and you'll pay them back. (It helps to arrange this in advance so you're not, say, texting to arrange it DURING the shopping trip. Not that I've had that happen recently or anything.)

3) If your knitter has a favorite local yarn store, get a gift certificate! I know it might not seem like as much "fun" to open, but I promise, every knitter has a mental (or actual) list of things they want to buy at the yarn store but haven't because it's too expensive or decadent or whatever. The "permission" to spend money on whatever they want is AMAZING.

4) If you don't know of a good local store, go for online. I have personally ordered from these three companies and can vouch that they're decent:
The Loopy Ewe - Lots of smaller and international yarn companies as well as some of the big ones.
Knitpicks - Great solid, dependable basics.
WEBS - HUGE selection, everything from basics to fancy stuff. And they have discounts when you order at least $60, so your knitter could potentially get more for their money.

Hope this helps! Any questions? Let me know!

Morning Coffee (12/13/12)

Guess who's behind the @SergeantBrody parody Twitter account? Aziz Ansari. Amazing.

Hey, have some SAG nominations!

Well, this is horrible: Kansas City Star Tells Two Reporters to Decide Which One Gets Laid Off

No. These are not awesome gifts for librarians. Every librarian I've heard from on this says: Please no.

A manifesto I can get behind: Fuck You, Slow Walkers

I was ranting about my issues with red velvet cake yesterday, and a friend sent me this secret history. Interesting! But I still think it's basically gross and unnecessary.

If you're interested in writing or in learning more about your favorite authors' writing processes, you must read Holly Black's post on how she wrote The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.

This Star Trek history book looks awesome.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas Cookie Recipe: Butterballs!

This is an old family recipe (only slightly adapted) that I make every year; I made it for a cookie swap last weekend and posted this picture, and a few people on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram asked for the recipe. So here you go!


1/2 cup confectioners sugar, plus more for coating
1 cup butter*
2 cups flour
1 cup pecans, finely chopped**
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla

1. Cream the butter and sugar.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
3. Form the dough into a ball and refrigerate for at least an hour.
4. Preheat oven to 350.
5. Roll the cookies into one-inch balls.
6. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for 10-12 minutes or until slightly golden.
7. While the cookies are still hot, roll each one in confectioners sugar to coat.

Makes about four dozen.

* I know the default for baking is unsalted butter. But I also know that my mom has always used salted, so that's what I use for this recipe.

** Okay, I no longer actually chop the pecans, because I don't have one of those nifty nut chopper things like my mom does. I now grind them instead, into something somewhere between a meal and a paste, and my brother and I actually like them better this way - the pecan flavor is more infused throughout the cookie. I've done this with both a food processor and a stick blender; both work but the food processor works better.

Morning Coffee (12/12/12)

Today's my mom's birthday. Happy birthday, Mom!

If you, like me, have been frustrated by attempting to make the new iTunes do any of the things iTunes is supposed to do, you should check out my friend Faythe's illustrated solution.

Other people's Christmas letters could be a good Tumblr to follow this season.

Last night a friend and I were discussing Mrs. Rachel Lynde, as you do, and I realized there is a new book on knitted counterpanes coming out! I want it desperately.

The Go Fug Yourself Gift Guide is a delight, as always.

You must read author Scott Tracey on loss and grief and inspiration.

Oooh, Love, Actually drinking game!

Aspiring authors should read this and MEMORIZE IT. Please.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Ooh, promo for new Showtime shows!

I would like both Masters of Sex and Ray Donovan NOW, please. Via Give Me My Remote:

All I want for Christmas is agency for Elena.

The Vampire Diaries has always revolved to a certain extent around people doing things to and for and because of Elena, but the show is at its best when it lets her make her own decisions (for better or worse), when it lets her be an actor instead of merely the object acted upon. Therefore, I'm not thrilled with the way the other characters are treating her sire bond with Damon. They are fixated on removing his influence at any cost rather than respecting her own wishes or feelings.

If the sire bond had given Elena new, false feelings that were not her own, that would be one thing. But the show made it very clear that that was not how it worked. The bond merely amplified her feelings, and it would not have existed in the first place had Elena not loved Damon. Again, the feelings are real. But it seems obvious to Damon, Stefan, and practically everyone else that the "right" thing for Damon to do would be to order her to leave him behind - even though that is the opposite of what Elena herself would choose, with or without the sire bond.

Look: There are no good options here. But deliberately going against Elena's wishes and choices is not the better option, just because other people in her life think it might be better for her. The better option would be for everyone to continue to treat Elena as an individual with agency, rather than reinforcing the bad aspects of the sire bond by expecting Damon to make decisions for her (even if those decisions are supposedly against his own self-interest). But Damon has a fair amount of self-control; this should be obvious to the audience even if not to some of the characters. And he wants - he has always wanted - for things with Elena to be real. He could have compelled her to sleep with him many times in the past, but he didn't. There's no reason to think he would start acting that way now.

Therefore, by far the preferable plan here would be for him to continue the relationship they both clearly want at this point, while being very careful not to (accidentally or intentionally) direct Elena's actions. Will this work perfectly? No, assuredly not. It will take a lot of thought and consideration and trial and error. But is it more respectful of Elena's individual identity and agency to try that rather than immediately jumping to the point of forcing her to act against her own wishes? Absolutely.

(An aside: This is all closely related to issues of consent in this show, which is probably a post for another day. But related to this episode, since it's been much discussed: as far as I'm concerned, Caroline never, ever has to give Damon a break. But I also find it completely believable that Elena doesn't want to [or can't] see that, and she is absolutely allowed to be angry with her friends for trying to tell her what to do, regardless of their reasons.)

Morning Coffee (12/11/12)

It Matters If You’re Black or White: The Racism of YA Book Covers

A Saving Francesca movie? YES PLEASE.

Cassandra Clare, Maureen Johnson, and Sarah Rees Brennan are teaming up to write stories about Magnus Bane. Eeeeeee.

Solving the Broken Crossword Puzzle Economy

Ooh, here's an interesting feature on costume design in The Hour.

HALLMARKGATE: Or, A Lesson On How The Internet Works

Monday, December 10, 2012

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

(Sorry. I couldn't resist.)

We've known for a while that NBC was doing a one-time live broadcast of The Sound of Music, but now the first casting news is out: Carrie Underwood will star as Maria von Trapp. I've known this for ten days and still haven't decided how I feel about it, though I think I'm cautiously optimistic. I honestly don't know whether she can act, but at least she can sing. A lot will depend on who they cast opposite her, which is quite a puzzle. I've discussed it with a few friends and none of us can come up with any obvious candidates. (If you were the network who already had Matt Bomer in your employ, and you were going to stage a musical, wouldn't you pick one with a major role for him? But I digress.) Scandal's Tony Goldwyn played the Captain at a benefit recently, and . . . I would not object if they went with him. But we'll see.

In general, though, I've seen a lot of outrage about this adaptation, and I just don't share it. That realization sort of surprised me, since The Sound of Music is my favorite movie ever. But the movie is an adaptation of the stage show, and there have been countless productions of that. (And, of course, the show itself was an adaptation of a real person's memoirs.) This NBC version (which, for the record, is being billed as a production of the show, not a remake of the movie) is just another in a long line. It doesn't take anything away from the movie. Julie Andrews will still be there on your DVDs, I promise. So while I think there are a lot of ways that this version could go wrong, I don't think the fact that it's based on the same show as my favorite movie is in itself a negative. I am in favor of more things being like the things I like! So I'm eager to give this Sound of Music a chance.

Morning Coffee (12/10/12)

How is it almost mid-December already? How?

Make sure you check out today's Google doodle. Ada Lovelace! Whee!

Terrifying: The Truck Stop Killer

The Mad Men of Dallas

I miss Google Reader's social side so much.

I love codes AND secret societies.

How Do You Raise a Prodigy?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Best Music Performance You Will See This Christmas

I know it's a little early in the season to be making such a sweeping claim, but, I mean, SERIOUSLY.

Suburgatory's Horrifying Christmas

I've been catching up on Suburgatory recently, and I like it quite a lot in general, but I thought last night's Christmas episode was almost a total misfire. The whole thing was tonally weird and felt like some sort of bizarre fever dream, from Ryan's freak-out to Dalia's music video.

But it was the Carmen plotline that made me go from "bemused and perplexed" to "staring at my screen in horror." They wrapped up a person and gave her as a gift. AFFLUENT WHITE PEOPLE LITERALLY WRAPPED UP A LATINA DOMESTIC WORKER AND GAVE HER AS A GIFT. I mean, I know they made clear that where she worked was her choice, but I still cannot get past the optics of it. And her choice was not exactly good: Did she want to work for the mean racist or the clueless racist who claimed to love her?

Now, the show has done similar things in the past in order to skewer the characters' oblivious white privilege, but when they've worked, it's because Tessa or George or Lisa or SOMEONE objects or at least looks like they're aware of how completely awful the other characters are being. But in this case, George was an active participant and enabler - GEORGE! - and no one else was there to be horrified. I'd like to give the writers the benefit of the doubt here, because they have made this sort of device work in the past, but whatever self-awareness presumably existed in the framing of this story did not come across in the episode itself at all.

I'm certainly not writing off the show as hopelessly racist or anything; every show has its missteps. But this episode did not leave me with warm fuzzy Christmas feelings toward the Chatswin crew.

Trailer: Star Trek Into Darkness

Eeee! (But that title... is there supposed to be punctuation? Star Trek: Into Darkness? Does that make it better? Slightly?)

Morning Coffee (12/6/12)

Grammy nominations!

I couldn't find a whole story about this, weirdly, but the New York Times is revamping the children's bestseller list. One notable difference: YA and middle grade will have separate lists. Good!

People seem upset about this new Cosmo/Harlequin joint imprint but I honestly can't figure out why.

I adore Taylor Swift, but . . . heh.

"If caring about the mother of your child includes killing her, then the word 'care' has no applicable meaning."

The Rise of the Backdoor Fantasy Story

This book is actually on my Christmas list - and I ALMOST NEVER read self-published books - but the headline just cracks me up: New York Times Reviews Self-Published Book

“Person of the Year” Nomination for Higgs Boson Riddled with Errors

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Let's talk about Homeland.

There's been a ton of talk about this past Sunday's episode of Homeland - a lot of people thought it was the worst ever, potentially jumping the shark in a fatal manner, while a few loved it. And I . . . I don't know, I was going to say my feelings are mixed, but that sounds more conflicted than I feel. I suppose I mean that I thought it was okay! Certainly not the best episode. But I didn't hate it. Real-world plausibility is always an issue with this show - with the vast majority of shows, really - and I think that's something that either bothers people or doesn't. Personally, if things make sense within the universe of the show, I don't tend to care whether they would make sense in the real world. (There are, of course, exceptions, usually when a show deals with subject matter I know well and implausibilities or errors just become distracting.) Todd VanDerWerff makes this case in his review.

Far more interesting, though, is the discussion of whether the week's plot worked within the show itself. I see why people thought it was ridiculous. But I also don't really care, because when it comes down to it, plot isn't that important to me. Todd, again:
Watching TV for plot is a fool’s game, and it’s just going to end with you being disappointed. But watching TV for long-term character arcs can be very rewarding, particularly if you’re in the hands of writers who keep an eye on the characters in a way that keeps them more or less consistent. It’s all but impossible to blow through plot at the level Homeland does without running out of room (and I think the show is probably screwed next season if it tries to keep the Brody storyline going without a major reboot), but it is possible to keep the big character moments coming, and the show has done an excellent job of that this season.
So. Did it work on a character level? I thought it did. Much as I love Emily Nussbaum's conspiracy theory, and I do, I'm not convinced that it's necessary, not convinced that Brody was acting out of character at all. I think he does love Carrie, though I don't think that's the most important thing in his life or anything. (In general, I think they both have real feelings and are both playing each other all the time, which is a fascinating dynamic to watch, especially with such skilled actors.) But we've been watching this man quietly unspool for two seasons, and when you're unspooling, the thing that pushes you over the edge into a full-out meltdown doesn't have to be the most important thing in your life. It can just be one more thing.

And one more thought on Emily's theory: I love her idea of Carrie killing Brody in a Buffy-like way in a theoretical sense, but Damian Lewis leaving the show would make me very sad. He is so phenomenal, and his chemistry with Claire Danes is so fascinating, that I'm not entirely sure the show could work without him.

Morning Coffee (12/5/12)

Time magazine has named John Green's The Fault in Our Stars its best novel of the year. Congratulations! It completely deserves it. (And yes, for those playing along at home, that IS a YA novel at the top of a list of all novels.)

Westeros, Westeros, What Are Your Houses? is one of the best things I have ever seen, and if it were a real book, I'd buy it.

Interesting: Why American Television Needs A Break From Violence, Conspiracies, And Maybe Even Serialized Storytelling

NH Produces Weirdest Political Story of 2012, All Time. Is anyone surprised?

Unicorn lair 'discovered' in North Korea

Ooh, here's a trailer for NBC's upcoming drama Do No Harm.

A Twitter friend pointed me to this documentary series (free on Amazon Prime) and it looks amazing: The Story of the Costume Drama.

Ann M. Martin picks her top ten Baby-Sitters Club books. They're all . . . very early in the series.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

TV Trailer: Da Vinci's Demons

Because what the world needs now is hot Da Vinci. (I tease, but obviously I will watch every episode.)

Tell the Wind and Fire!

Sometimes, news comes out that seems like it was written JUST FOR ME. Like that day last week when a bunch of networks all ordered historical dramas. But this is real, I swear! My friend and one of my favorite authors, Sarah Rees Brennan, is writing a modern retelling of A Tale of Two Cities with magic and doppelgangers and, if I know Sarah at all, more agency given to the female characters. I LOVE A Tale of Two Cities. And magic. And doppelgangers. And Sarah's writing. We have to wait for 2014 for this, but hey, that gives everyone time to read/reread the original! I AM SO EXCITED.

Morning Coffee (12/4/12)

SO excited about the royal baby. But this makes VERY GOOD POINTS: Kate Middleton's pregnancy: 10 stories I don't want to read

Ashton Kutcher actually looks... pretty good in the role... but are we really going to call this thing jOBS? Really? Are we sure?

Suzanne Collins's next book will be an autobiographical picture book about the Vietnam War, which . . . sure, actually, whatever she does will be under such a microscope that she might as well do something that's important to her.

Speaking of, J.K. Rowling's first post-Potter novel, The Casual Vacancy, will be a BBC TV show.

I'm not even particularly into Tolkien, but oh my gosh, this Bag End dollhouse is amazing.

Lauren Graham is writing a novel.

Here, have some pictures of famous writers and their pets. Why not?

Quidditch beer pong. That is all.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A few belated thoughts on Gone Girl

I know everyone's pretty much over talking about Gone Girl by now, but because of all the hype, the waiting list for it at my city's library was very long and so I only just finished it this weekend. So if anyone still cares about my opinion of it at this point: It was okay, I guess? It was certainly cleverly constructed, and I think that was basically my problem with it. It felt like the form and the author's cleverness were foregrounded, and the actual characters and plot were almost incidental. At a certain point, I just kept thinking "Sure, Gillian Flynn, you're smart. Is that what you want to hear?" It read very much like the literary equivalent of a parlor trick, and it was a good parlor trick, but as a novel it seemed pretty mediocre.

I might have liked it better were it not marketed as a mystery. (Important point: I have no idea if Flynn herself thought of it that way, just that that was how it was sold.) Because it was . . . just not very mysterious. The details of how the whole thing was executed were interesting to read, but the basic "solution" seemed transparent from the beginning. (It did make me wonder whether people who found it more surprising/compelling have read fewer mysteries in general. That might explain some of the "This is so unique and shocking!" hype. And that's fine! I don't expect people to have read the same things as me. I'm just trying to figure out why my reaction was so different from many of the reactions I read.)

I am curious to see what the movie ends up being like, because I can't imagine how the trick of the book could possibly be pulled off on screen - mostly because of that specific text that figures so largely in the book. But maybe they've figured this out. We'll see.

Oh, one more thing - a lot has been said about the unlikeability of the characters, but I don't think that was the main thing that made me fairly cold to the book. As usual, I care much more about whether characters are interesting than whether I like them.

Morning Coffee (12/3/12)

Ah, Monday, here we are again.

I desperately want a geeky skirt or six.

Jane Austen Bandaids!

This story about INTRIGUE and SCANDAL at the 1962 National Book Awards is completely fascinating.

Well. THIS is quite a voice cast.

Apparently Flavorwire wants to drive people nuts, because they rated New York's 100 Most Important Living Writers.

Should Missy Franklin be allowed to continue on her school's swim team?

Not good: Greeks turn to the forests for fuel as winter nears

Remains Of World War II Military Pigeon Ignites Code Mystery