Wednesday, December 31, 2008

piss off, 2008 + December media update

I'm so glad that 2008 is almost over; what a shitty year. In the past, though, whenever I've had a really bad year, it always seemed to be followed by a really good (or at least tolerable) year. Whether that's karma or just a case of the new year looking damn rosy by comparison, I don't know. But I eagerly await 2009, especially because I definitely have something awesome coming up near the end of January:

Ten days in Costa Rica.

I planned and paid for this trip way back in September; otherwise, thanks to the unexpected expense of a new car, I probably wouldn't be able to go. Good thing I like ramen, because that's all I'm going to be able to eat for a while. (I can already picture myself piteously tugging on G's sleeve every weekend, begging him to take me out for Mongolian BBQ.) But it's going to be so worth it. Rainforests! Hot springs! Cocktails on the beach! Volcanoes! Sloths AND monkeys!

I gotta say, though, this warning in my brochure gave me pause:

As a reminder, when visiting the banana plantation, DO NOT WEAR SHORTS OR OPEN-TOED SHOES. There are deadly snakes that live in the plantations., those cocktails on the beach are looking better and better.

The holidays + nothing good on TV + football= lots of reading.

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; your mileage may vary.


1. Fault Lines* by Nancy Huston: This compelling novel is told in reverse chronological order, and each chapter is narrated by a six-year-old child from a different generation of the family. It begins with Sol, a whipsmart California boy with a horrifying penchant for masturbating to bestiality porn and pictures of war atrocities, then switches to his father, his grandmother, and finally his great-grandmother, whose story reveals the truth behind the family's ancestry. Disturbing and beautifully written, although the narrators all sounded far too mature for their age. (Then again, considering some of the things they go through, maybe not.)

2. Your Heart Belongs to Me by Dean Koontz: After receiving a transplant, a dotcom millionaire starts getting creepy gifts from a stalker who wants his heart in the most literal sense. As usual, Koontz occasionally strays into painful prose ("Needles of rain knitted together scattered scarves of thin fog, which then unraveled through whatever tree or shrub next snagged them"; seriously, Dean?), and then the plot takes a turn into WTF Land. Not a good turn, either. Pass. (Also, not that this is Koontz' fault, but the cover, showing a woman holding a lily that obscures half her face, is so freakin' inappropriate. It looks more like a romance novel than a thriller!)

3. Time of My Life by Allison Winn Scotch: A woman gets a massage to unblock her chi and winds up seven years in the past, where she tries to decide between her old flame and the man who would eventually become her husband. About as goofy as it sounds, but better than you might expect.

4. Escape from Amsterdam by Barrie Sherwood: A Japanese college student, deeply in debt to a loan shark, discovers that he and his sister have just inherited a group of very valuable paintings. Unfortunately, he can't collect the money without his sister's signature too, and she's been missing for a while. His search takes him to a weird theme park called Amsterdam, where he gets tangled up with the yakuza. Unusual and fun.

5. The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling: What, you thought I wouldn't read this?

6. The Sweet In-Between by Sheri Reynolds: Kenny is a teenage girl who binds her breasts and obsesses over the victim of an accidental shooting next door. When she's not worrying about her gender identity, she's worrying that her Aunt Glo (who's actually the girlfriend of her jailed father) will get sick of her and kick her out. There's no real plot to this book, but I enjoyed it anyway because the writing is so vivid.

7. Scarpetta by Patricia Cornwell: When a little person insists that he’s being framed for the murder of his girlfriend, Scarpetta is skeptical, but then things start getting too weird to dismiss. Infinitely better than Cornwell’s last couple of books (which I didn’t even finish), but still a far cry from her best work.

TOTAL READ IN 2008: 47


1. The Customer Is Always Wrong: A collection of essays about working in the retail industry. The best one was "The Bad Call" by Clay Allen, in which he details his stint working at Minneapolis' most notorious porn store, Sexworld, and the night a group of mentally challenged adults came for a visit.

2. American Shaolin by Matthew Polly: Tired of being scrawny and still tormented by memories of childhood bullying, the author traveled to China to study kung fu with Shaolin monks. An entertaining chronicle, especially the chapter about the man he calls Monk Dong, whose specialty was pulling a 500-pound stone roller with his penis. (And there's a picture!)

3. I Live Here*: This is actually a collection of four books enclosed in a foldout case. Each one covers a country in crisis: Chechnya (war), Mexico (the hundreds of young women being murdered in Juarez), Burma (ethnic cleansing), and Malawi (AIDS). The books combines journal entries, illustrations, photographs, short stories, poems, and comics from different contributors. As beautiful as the presentation is, it's certainly not all style and no substance; these books are heartbreaking and extremely unsettling.

4. Up For Renewal* by Cathy Alter: At 37 years old, the author was feeling stuck in a rut. Sick of getting her meals from the vending machine and having meaningless sex with a jerk in her office, she decided to see if she could turn her life around using advice from popular women's magazines. I loved this insanely funny (and occasionally thought provoking) book.

5. Creating Myself by Mia Tyler: A memoir about growing up as the daughter of Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, drugs, cutting, her contentious relationship with her mother, and her career as a plus-sized model.

6. Gastroanomalies by James Lileks: Horrifying photographs of disgusting recipes from old cookbooks, spiced up with snarky commentary from the author.

7. Comfort* by Ann Hood: A memoir about dealing with the unexpected death of her 5-year-old daughter Grace. Beautifully elegaic, and quite possibly one of the saddest books I've ever read in my life.

8. Everything But the Squeal* by John Barlow: Pork! Who doesn't love it? Well, I'm sure there are plenty of people who don't, actually, but I'm not one of them...and neither is the author of this book, who decided to spend a full year in Spain eating "everything but the squeal". In addition to lots of food anecdotes (some mouthwatering, some nasty), he also throws in interesting tidbits about everything from Spanish customs to a festival called Dirty Days, where one of the highlights involves pelting pedestrians with clumps of ant-infested soil. Now I'm determined to try iberico ham, which is basically the pork equivalent of kobe beef in both decadence and price.

9. Wishful Drinking* by Carrie Fisher: A bitingly funny memoir about everything from her parents' acrimonious divorce (after Elizabeth Taylor was widowed, Eddie Fisher "consoled her with his penis") to her struggles with addiction and mental illness to the fact that her husband "forgot" to tell her that he was gay. Way too short for my tastes (less than 200 pages, including lots of photos); I hope she writes another, longer memoir soon because this one was frickin' golden.

TOTAL READ IN 2008: 59


1. French Milk* by Lucy Knisley: An utterly charming account of the author's trip to France with her mother.

2. Short-Tempered Melancholic by Arina Tanemura

3. Love Com vol. 5 by Aya Nakahara

4. Arkham Asylum: Living Hell by Dan Slott and Ryan Sook

5. The Greatest of Marlys* by Lynda Barry

6. Laika by Nick Abadzis: Oh, sure, graphic novel about the first dog in space, you can have my heart and break it into a million pieces. I wasn't, you know, USING it or anything.

7. Mixed Vegetables vol. 2 by Ayumi Komura

8. Sugar Princess vol. 2 by Hisaya Nakajo

9. Re-Gifters by Mike Carey, Marc Hempel, and Sonny Liew

10. The New York Four by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly

11. Clubbing by Andi Watson and Josh Howard

TOTAL READ IN 2008: 103


1. Tropic Thunder: Wow, this totally wasn't as good as I thought it would be. I loved the fake trailers, Tom Cruise was hilarious (especially his dance at the end), and there were some great lines, but overall it was very disjointed and went on way too long.

Also, how has Robert Downey Jr. not won an Oscar yet? I mean, seriously.

2. Milk*: Speaking of Oscars, just go ahead and engrave Sean Penn's trophy now, because he sure as hell deserves it for his amazing portrayal of gay rights activist Harvey Milk.

3. The Incredible Hulk: I didn't have high hopes for this movie, but I actually enjoyed it. The CGI effects of the Hulk's face weren't particularly good, though.

4. The X-Files: I Want to Believe: A convoluted flick about everything from missing FBI agents to pedophile priests who cry blood to...two-headed dogs. There are a few good lines, but only the most hardcore X-Files fans need bother, and even they should probably just rewatch a couple of their favorite episodes.

TOTAL SEEN IN 2008: 70



1. "How It Ends" by Devotchka: AKA the song in the Gears of War 2 trailer that haunted me until I was forced to track it down.

2. "Goodbye Horses" by Q Lazarus: AKA the Silence of the Lambs song that Buffalo Bill dances around to while tucking his wang and saying "Would you fuck me? I'd fuck me."

3. "In Dreams" by Roy Orbison: AKA the song that Dean Stockwell lipsyncs to in Blue Velvet.

4. "It's Over" by Roy Orbison: AKA...well, nothing. I just like it.


When a distress call comes in from the Ishimura mining ship, space engineer Isaac Clarke is sent to check it out. He and his crew don't expect to find anything more than a mechanical problem.

What they find is much, much worse.

Turns out that the ship has been overrun with Necromorphs, nasty creatures who reanimate and mutate human corpses. They want nothing more than to make a tasty snack of Isaac and his crew, and Isaac must try to repair the ship and GTFO. He’s got an extra incentive, too: he keeps receiving holograms of his girlfriend Nicole, a crew member on the Ishimura, begging him to make her whole again.

Sound creepy? Yeah, you have no idea. The tag line should have been “In space, no one can hear you shit your pants”. It's not the scariest game I've ever played---that would be the original Silent Hill---but it's in the top ten for sure. Take a gander at this trailer:

This game is frickin' awesome. The sound design, from disembodied whispers to monster noises, is top notch, and the visuals are stunning. There are some really innovative levels, like zero gravity areas where corpses float around, streaming blood that drifts away like smoke. (I had to pass the controller to G for these areas, since the constant camera shifting made me nauseated.) You have access to a wide array of cool weapons that make short work of those ugly bastards. Isaac's health bar is displayed as a glowing blue "spine" on the back of his spacesuit, which makes it easy to tell when you need to use a med pack immediately, even in the heat of battle. The map isn't particularly helpful, but there's a great feature where you press the right joystick and a blue line points you in the right direction. And the plot gets deeper and darker as the game progresses, climaxing in several clusterfuck fights, an epic boss battle, and a stunning ending. I think I forgot to close my mouth for the last hour or so.

So if you like survival horror games, you must pick this one up. Just be sure to put a dropcloth down before you play; you wouldn’t want to ruin your couch.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

SM seeks saucy minx for fun times

Helloooo ladies!

Let me introduce myself. My name is Ginji, and I was named for my beautiful silver skin. I'm looking for a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it! I enjoy unleaded gas, long drives, and the feel of chamois against my body. My turnoffs include smoking, fast food smells, spills, and patchouli scented air fresheners.


I'm pretty open to new adventures, but I don't let just anyone into my gas tank!


I hate to brag, but I've been told that I have a really nice rear end.


I bet by now you're wondering about what's inside of me, and I'm confident that I have the goods to keep anyone satisfied. Don't believe me? I'm a bit embarrassed, but here's a picture.


Mmmm, yeah...look at that gearshift. You like that big shaft, don't you, baby? You want to palm that knob...feel it throb under your hand as you put me in gear over and over again.'re a bad girl, aren't you? want to pull on that lever and

[The remainder of this ad has been removed by Craigslist due to terms of service violations]

Monday, December 15, 2008

out with the old, in with the new

June, 1996.

I’d been living in Minnesota for three years, and I still didn’t have a car. I hadn’t been in any huge rush to get one, because I was almost always able to borrow my brother’s or get a ride when I needed to, but suddenly I was craving independence. Plus I had just gotten over a prolonged illness, and I knew that I’d need to get a job in a couple of months.

So my parents and I went to a local dealership that had a sweetheart deal with MegaCorp, Daddy-O’s employer. No haggle, no fuss, just walk in, pick out a car, and get a preapproved discount. I fell in love with a teal-colored Chevrolet Cavalier, and after a test drive, I signed the paperwork, forked over the money, and drove her home. I named her Ariel, and if I wanted to be totally pretentious, I’d tell you it was after the Sylvia Plath poem of the same name. But no, it’s because with its color and sleek lines, it looked like something a mermaid would drive.

Ariel was special to me. I’d never really had a car of my own before; the closest thing was the 1979 Ford Futura that my mom, brother, and I shared back when we lived in California. I barely drove her during the first five years of her life, because every job I had during that time period was within two miles of my home. But every once in a while, I’d take her out on the back roads and let ‘er rip. One of my favorite things to do during the fall was take her through a small town called Lake Elmo. The trees would be changing colors, and I’d admire them as they whizzed by my window. Then I’d go home, park in the garage, and give her a loving pat on the hood before going inside.

Then came June 2001, and it was time to put her to the test: a 2000+ mile drive from Minnesota to my new home in California. Aside from blowing out a couple of tires in Utah, which wasn’t her fault, she performed admirably. And, despite a drastically increased commute that included driving up a very steep hill, she stayed reliable. The air conditioner died long before its time, and a cassette got stuck in the tape deck and could never be removed, but for the most part, I didn’t have any problems with her. As long as I got her oil changed and filled her up and washed her once a month, she was happy.

But these last few months have been hard on us. The last time I took her in for an oil change, the mechanic told me that the oil pan was rusting through and would probably need to be changed before the end of the year…to the tune of $500. (I said I’d take care of it the next time I came in, which wound up being a good decision, as you’ll see.) The muffler started rattling. The trunk would no longer open from the outside. The grill over the passenger side air vent fell out. Half the time, I felt like serenading her with “Your Little Body’s Slowly Breaking Down” from Evita.

Now, all of those things were annoying and/or inconvenient, but I could live with them. Recently, though, things started getting a bit scary. There were a couple of times when I couldn’t put her in reverse. Once, I was stopped at a light when she began making a chugging sound and the lights on the dashboard started flickering on and off rapidly. And, worst of all, the brakes started feeling really strange, and I had to adjust my braking distance because it took about two seconds longer for her to come to a complete stop.

That was the final straw. I knew I would miss Ariel, but there was no way I could, or would, put thousands of dollars into fixing a car that was almost thirteen years old.

As much as I hated to deal with the expense and hassle, it was time to get a new car.

So I did my research, picked out a car, and found a dealership that had a similar sweetheart deal with the Cube Farm. G and I went there on Saturday, I drove the car around the block, and that was it. I was in love. The salesman sent Ariel back for inspection by their mechanic, and we chatted while waiting for the verdict.

They were willing to give me $100 for her.


Still, it was better than nothing, and I just wanted to get everything over with. I said I needed to go get some things out of the car, and when I unlocked Ariel, I slid into the driver’s seat and caressed the steering wheel.

It was hard to say goodbye. My mom had ridden in that car, for god’s sake, and Sprite. Ariel had carried me to jobs and the mall, bookstores and libraries, fast food drive-throughs and the ocean. She spirited me safely from Minnesota to California. Not once did she ever leave me stranded.

“Thank you for that one last ride,” I whispered.

Tearfully, I filled up a Target bag with the contents of the glove box, gave her one last fond pat on the trunk, and went back inside. I had to stop by the bathroom to wash my face before returning to the salesman’s office. I smiled brightly, handed over the keys and title, and then I signed a ream of paperwork. He handed me the keys to my new car, and G and I followed him outside, where he showed me how to adjust the seats and the steering wheel, and where to plug in my iPod, and the emergency roadside assistance card. Then I thanked him and shook his hand, and G and I were off.

Yes, Ariel, you will be missed. But oh my god, your successor Ginji is freakin’ SWEET!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

this entry not suitable for maimouphobes

Thanksgiving vacation was not without its challenges, but there were some great things about it too: spending time with G and his family, getting my feed on hardcore, and a glorious day at Monkey Jungle.

I was afraid the place would reek of shit and despair and contain only a few cages of sad, mangy monkeys. My fears only increased when I saw the people in the parking lot; I don't think there have been that many mullets in one place since a Billy Ray Cyrus concert, circa 1992.

But once we'd paid the exorbitant entrance fee ($30 for adults, and since they considered children over the age of 9 to be adults, that meant $150 for all of us to get in, plus money to feed both ourselves and the monkeys) and stepped through the doorway, I was pretty much in heaven. Monkeys and apes are my favorite part of any zoo, so this was like the best zoo ever for me.

Quick note before I begin: all of the following pictures were taken by Padre. He's a professional photographer with a camera that's only slightly smaller than my car, and I only had my cell phone camera with me, so I decided to leave the picture taking to him. I'm glad I did, too, because some of these pictures are gorgeous. All photographs copyrighted to Padre under his real name, all rights reserved, etc. They're kind of big, but I tried making them smaller and lost a LOT of detail.

The park's whole schtick is "Where humans are caged and monkeys run free", which basically translated to large wire enclosures for people to walk through as monkeys scampered overhead. At regular intervals, you'd find a food bowl hanging from a chain, which you could fill with raisins. The monkey would then pull the bowl up and retrieve the treats.

A mama macaque shows her baby how it's done.


Why yes, little cotton-topped tamarins, you can has raisin! He touched my finger when he took it from me, and I just about swooned because I am a monkey lovin' FOOL.

There was a big swimming hole where the monkeys congregated, and a guide threw fruit and hardboiled eggs into the water for them to eat.

Homage to Rodin.

Voracious squirrel monkeys. There were dozens of them scampering on the wiring above our heads as well, so we were really careful where we stood. Nobody in our party got crapped/whizzed on, but some other dude did. He was wearing a Travis Tritt shirt, so it was funny.

Much to our surprise, Monkey Jungle didn't reek at all...except for these mandrills. They were uber-funky.

Mei the orangutan. She blew kisses, did pull ups, and signed "I love you".

King the gorilla. He did a couple of tricks for us, and as a reward, his trainer threw him a bottle of iced tea. I expected him to bite off the cap, but he daintily untwisted the cap, drank the contents down in one gulp, and threw the bottle over his shoulder.

G's favorite animal: the ring-tailed lemur.

There was also a cage full of gibbons, but they were swinging so enthusiastically around their enclosure that Padre didn't get a good shot. One of them was just a baby, and occasionally he'd stop, climb onto the wire, and make a hooting noise that had me chewing on my knuckles to keep from screaming with glee. He was so cute you'd think the Japanese made him.

So, in conclusion, if you find yourself in Florida and you like monkeys even a little bit, Monkey Jungle is well worth the money. That shit was bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S, and we all loved it.

Ah, there anything you can't do?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

best of 2008: fiction, nonfiction, and movies

Okay, this isn’t the monkey entry I promised, but the pictures need to be resized and work has blocked Photobucket, so you get this instead. I know the year isn’t over yet, but if something comes along between now and December 31st that begs to be included, I’ll update this list accordingly.

A few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first released in 2008, but since that’s when I first read/saw them, they go on this list.
  • Except for the first entry in each list, these aren’t in any particular order.
  • There's no worst book listed for nonfiction, because I'm much more likely to toss aside a nonfiction book if it doesn't instantly grab me.
  • As ever, your mileage may vary.


1. The Book of Dahlia by Elisa Albert: When I saw this at the library, the cover made me think it was a chick lit book. Nothing could be further than the truth...and thank god for that, because it's actually a blackly comic, heartbreaking novel about a 29-year-old slacker whose world of VH1 marathons, pot smoking, and toaster pastry binges is rocked when she's diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. And Dahlia is no saintly sufferer; she's PISSED. A blurb on the back from Publishers Weekly asks, "Should we mourn a wasted life?" I'm still not sure of the answer to this question, but I am sure of one thing: I absolutely fucking LOVED this book. It knocked my socks off, put them back on, and knocked them right back off again.

2. Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain: Gretchen Lowell is a beautiful and charismatic serial killer; Archie Sheridan is the cop she tortured to the brink of death before turning herself in. In this followup to Heartsick, Archie is trying to find a new killer, but when Gretchen escapes from prison, he is determined to stop her for good. A real nailbiter with some truly tense and unsettling scenes.

3. Money Shot by Christa Faust: In this prime example of pulp fiction, a former porn star is lured out of retirement when a friend calls and begs her to perform in his latest film. When she gets there, she discovers that her friend was forced to call her by a gang of mobsters who are looking for a briefcase of stolen money. She doesn't know anything about it, so they shoot her and abandon her in a seedy part of town. She vows to get revenge, and things quickly turn into a bloodbath that would make Quentin Tarantino proud. Juicy hardboiled fun with an awesome lead character and some snappy dialogue; I loved it.

4. The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson: A woman wakes up one night and sees the ghost of her daughter's best friend standing by the window. When she finds the girl's body floating in her swimming pool, she asks her estranged sister to help her uncover the truth. Part ghost story, part family drama, completely riveting. I seriously did not want to put this book down.

5. Fault Lines by Nancy Huston: This compelling novel is told in reverse chronological order, and each chapter is narrated by a six-year-old child from a different generation of the family. It begins with Sol, a whipsmart California boy with a horrifying penchant for masturbating to bestiality porn and pictures of war atrocities, then switches to his father, his grandmother, and finally his great-grandmother, whose story reveals the truth behind the family's ancestry. Disturbing and beautifully written, although the narrators all sounded far too mature for their age. (Then again, considering some of the things they go through, maybe not.)

6. The Observations by Jane Harris: In 1863, a young Scottish girl begins working as a maid for a woman who insists that she keep a journal of her daily activities and private thoughts. Eventually tiring of this, the girl plays a prank on her mistress that has horrifying consequences. I'm a sucker for good historical fiction, and this one certainly fit the bill. As a bonus, there was a scene that freaked my shit out and made me sleep with the covers over my head.

7. Beautiful Children by Charles Bock: Holy freaking wow, is this good that I don't want to spoil it by giving away too much. I'll just say that this funny, sad, and scary book, in which a 12-year-old boy disappears in Las Vegas, is one of the best debut novels I've ever read.

8. Out Backward by Ross Raisin: I picked this up on impulse, and I'm so glad I did. It's a British novel about Sam, a teenage boy who starts working on his family's farm after he runs into trouble at school. A pretty teenage girl moves into the area, and they become friends, but things eventually take a disturbing turn. It's a short (just over 200 pages) and utterly compelling book, but it took me quite a while to read because of the dialect. No matter; I didn't want it to end for more reasons than one. Sam reminded me of Jacob Cullen, the protagonist of As Meat Loves Salt (not that I loved this book as much as that one; hell, I don't love my grandmother as much as I love AMLS), because he wants so desperately to love and be loved, but he doesn't know how to go about it. A small masterpiece.

9. City of the Sun by David Levien: A 12-year-old boy disappears during his paper route, and after the police give up on the case, his desperate parents hire a private investigator to help out. Eventually, he uncovers some truly horrific information that leads him and the boy's father to Mexico. A powerful and disturbing debut.

10. Fractured by Karin Slaughter: When a woman comes home, she finds a man with a knife standing over her teenage daughter's bloody body. Crazed with grief and adrenaline, she strangles him to death with her bare hands. There's more to the story, but I don't want to spoil it because it's a doozy and a half. Karin Slaughter is required reading for anyone who loves tightly crafted mysteries.

WORST: Candy Everybody Wants by Josh Kilmer-Purcell. I just ranted about this in my November media update, so I won't go into all that again; suffice it to say that the suck was epic. Runner up: Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult. A shameless ripoff of The Green Mile, with the notable exception that it blew.


1. An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken: The author was living in France when her son was stillborn; slightly over a year later, she had another son who lived. This is a heartbreaking memoir, although there are moments of grim humor, and the writing is beautiful. For example, here she describes the way her son's hands move as he sleeps: "They underscore closing arguments in dream-baby court; they hail dream-baby taxis." A powerful exploration of grief, love, and hope.

2. Helping Me Help Myself by Beth Lisick: The author spent a year taking advice from various self-help books and seminars. It's hysterically funny and occasionally quite moving (such as when she goes on a Richard Simmons "Cruise to Lose" cruise, expecting it to be stupid and campy, and finds herself surprisingly touched by the experience).

3. Her Last Death by Susanna Sonnenberg: When the author received a phone call saying that her mother was on the brink of death after a car accident, she decided not to visit her; this memoir explains, in brutally honest detail, why. Exquisitely written, painful, and redemptive.

4. Have You Found Her by Janice Erlbaum: The author spent time in a homeless shelter when she was a teenager (as detailed in her previous memoir, Girlbomb) and, when she got older, decided to volunteer there. She met a brilliant teenage junkie named Sam, and eventually they became very close. But then, as Sam became sicker and sicker, she discovered something truly shocking that forced her to reevaluate everything she thought she knew about her friend. A heartbreaking and infuriating story.

5. A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs: In his third memoir, the author describes life growing up with an unpredictable, deeply disturbed father. I still have doubts as to the veracity of some of the anecdotes, but this book is so melancholy and beautifully written that I almost don't care if it's completely true.

6. When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris: A collection of humorous and occasionally poignant essays. My favorites were "Solutions to Saturday's Puzzle", about an unpleasant encounter on a plane, and "The Smoking Section", in which the author goes to Japan in an effort to quit smoking.

7. Dandy in the Underworld by Sebastian Horsley: Inside the back cover, there's a picture of the author winking and the words "There comes a time in every person's life when they realise they adore me. Yours has come." Well, it certainly has, because this alternately glamorous, gross, and gritty memoir about the author's experiences with art, drugs, crucifixion (yes, really), and prostitution is alarmingly obscene and screamingly funny.

8. Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach: A lively, uproariously funny, and wildly entertaining look at everything from vibrators to "panda porn". Roach's book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers is one of my favorite nonfiction books of all time; this one's going on the list too.

9. The Night of the Gun by David Carr: A harrowing, occasionally funny memoir about the author's battle with drug addiction. There are some anecdotes in here (like the time he left his twin daughters in the car while he visited a crackhouse, and during a Minnesota winter, no less) which might cause the cynical reader's bullshit radar to ping. In a smart move, considering the recent revelations about James Frey, JT LeRoy, and that chick who claimed she grew up in foster homes with gangbangers when she actually lived in the suburbs with her family and went to private school, Carr interviewed dozens of people who knew him during this time period to get their side of the story. He also includes corroborating evidence in the form of police reports, photographs, and even a scan of his welfare ID card. Disturbing stuff to be sure, but ultimately redemptive.

10. Moose by Stephanie Klein: An alternately funny and heartbreaking memoir about the author's stay at a fat camp when she was a teenager. I knew I was going to love this book when she referred to this time in her life as the "Thunder Years".


1. The Dark Knight: I'd been waiting for this movie for what seemed like forever, and once the rave reviews started pouring in, I was even more excited. I didn't want to get my hopes up too much, though, for fear that I'd be disappointed. Well, you know what? I was not only NOT disappointed, but I was fucking ENRAPTURED. It's probably the darkest popcorn flick of all time, and Heath Ledger is absolutely chilling as the Joker. I loved this movie so much I wanted to take it behind a middle school and get it pregnant.

2. Eastern Promises: A midwife accidentally gets tangled up with the Russian mob when she tries to track down the family of a dead teenage girl. A smart, engrossing drama with typically excellent performances by Viggo Mortensen and my eternal girlcrush Naomi Watts.

3. In Bruges: After a job goes horribly wrong, two hitmen are sent to Bruges by their boss while things calm down. There are some great lines in this, and the acting is superb; I must grudgingly admit that even Colin Farrell (who I normally dislike, although my white-hot hatred for him has cooled down considerably over the years) was good.

4. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead: In desperate need of money, two brothers scheme to commit the perfect crime. The taut script is amazing (although I'm still not sure how I feel about the last five minutes or so), and Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance really stands out in a uniformly stellar cast. It's a great movie, but be forewarned that it's almost unrelentingly grim.

5. No Country for Old Men: A man stumbles across a drug deal gone wrong, and when he finds a briefcase full of cash, he takes it. This gets a very, very bad man (the utterly terrifying Javier Bardem, who more than earned his Oscar) on his trail. A fantastic movie, although the ending gave me a serious case of the WTFs.

6. Choke: In this adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel, Sam Rockwell plays a sex addict who pretends to choke in restaurants and then hits up his rescuers for money. Meanwhile, his mother is dying of dementia in a nursing home, and he tries to find out about his father before it's too late. Raunchy, very blackly funny, and surprisingly touching. Sam Rockwell (who I've had a thing for ever since Box of Moonlight, one of my favorite movies) is terrific, too.

7. Shoot 'Em Up: Now THIS is a rollicking action film! Clive Owen (excellent as always) plays a mysterious man who helps deliver a baby and then tries to protect it while evading a group of hitmen (including Paul Giamatti, who looks like he's having a blast). Along the way, he recruits a lactating hooker to help out. It's improbable as hell, so if you insist on realism in your movies, don't bother. But if you're in the mood for a bloody, audacious, stylish bullet orgy, this is a must-rent. It's the best movie John Woo never made, and much better than Wanted, which has a similar feel. (Fun fact: Shoot 'Em Up can be anagrammized as Upset Homo.)

8. The Bank Job: When incriminating photos of Princess Margaret are hidden in a safe deposit box, a group of criminals is dispatched to steal them back. Based on the true story of London's most famous bank robbery, this is an exceptionally clever and well-written movie. Jason Statham turns in a good performance, too, although I was disappointed by his lack of nude scenes.

9. The Orphanage: A woman moves back to the orphanage where she grew up, and her son starts talking about his imaginary friends. Turns out they're not so imaginary after all. This movie is unbelievably freaky---at one point, I actually started chewing my knuckles and moaning "Oh my GOD"---and surprisingly poignant.

10. Forgetting Sarah Marshall: Devastated by a bad breakup, a man goes to Hawaii to try to get over his ex...only to run into her and her new boyfriend. This movie is not only hysterically funny, but it's also refreshing to see a romantic comedy in which the main male character isn't a total prick or a cardboard Prince Charming fantasy.

WORST: It's a tie! First up, we have P2. On Christmas Eve, a young woman is trapped in a parking garage with an obsessed security guard. This idiotic, poorly acted, bloody mess makes The Eye remake look like The Shining.

Next, we have Untraceable, about a serial killer who broadcasts his crimes on the Internet. It has its moments, but there are a couple of unintentionally hilarious scenes, and an instance of foreshadowing that's so obvious it might as well just spell it out on the bottom of the screen for you. Also, note to filmmakers: there's no better way to turn me against your movie than starting out with a kitten being graphically tortured to death. Judging from the comments I heard leaving the theater, I'm not the only one.