Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Most Awesome 90s CD Ever

Okay, kids, after I did the 80's mix plus the post to go along with it, this was inevitable. The 90's are still my favorite decade for popular music, particularly the late 90's, a fact that is NOT AT ALL related to the fact that that is the era in which I went to high school.

The Philosophy: I made no attempt to balance the mix in terms of when the songs were released. This mix is heavily weighted to the late nineties. I made some attempt to represent various movements in popular music, but in no way attempted to balance by genre. I tried to make a mix where anyone around my age would recognize most of the songs, but the songs selected aren't all the most obvious choices.

Without further ado, here is the CD, featuring bonus capsule reviews of every song.


1) Eve 6 - "Inside Out" (1998)
REVIEW: This song was selected to lead off the CD out of spite, as my friend Rich hates the song. But screw him, this song rules, with a really catchy hook in the chorus plus a memorable music video. 8/10.

2) Monica - "The First Night" (1998)
REVIEW: Still my favorite R&B hit of the 1990's, by my favorite R&B singer of the 1990's, and one of my ten favorite singles of the decade. I guess, in keeping with the general idea of this, I should have included one of her lesser known but still awesome hits, such as "Before You Walk out of My Life" or "For You I Will", but I love this song too much not to include it. 10/10.

3) Counting Crows - "A Long December" (1997)
REVIEW: The Counting Crows were the headliner of the first concert I ever went to (That Dog, Wallflowers, and The Counting Crows). I never really liked them, and I still don't, but this is definitely their best single in my opinion, and one of the better late 90's rock hits. 7.5/10.

4) Better Than Ezra - "Desperately Wanting" (1996)
REVIEW: Maybe not the best song, but it's a fun song and my buddies and I in college liked it. Good enough for me. This was the last song to make the cut. 7/10.

5) Lisa Loeb - "Stay (I Missed You)" (1994)
REVIEW: This was one of the better number one hits of the early nineties, and the sound of the song just basically defines the period. A no-brainer. 9/10.

6) Shania Twain - "You're Still the One" (1999)
REVIEW: Once again, I should have included one of her other hits like "That Don't Impress Me Much" or "Man, I Feel Like a Woman" that has more of a sense of humor. But, I have a huge blind spot for this song. I wanted a representative of country crossover music, and you really can't go anywhere other than Shania for that. 9/10.

7) Madonna - "Secret" (1994)
REVIEW: I'm amazed by how much I love this song, given that it comes during about a 10 year stretch where I didn't like any of Madonna's singles at all and that it comes off of what would otherwise be the worst album of that stretch. Nontheless, it's probably my favorite Madonna single. 9.5/10

8) Jane Child - "Don't Wanna Fall in Love" (1990)
REVIEW: Well, this definitely would have been on my 80's mix if it had been released just one year earlier, but as it is, it can represent the extension of 80's music that ruled the charts for 1990 and 1991. And quite a good representative it is. 8.5/10

9) Sixpence None the Richer - "Kiss Me" (1999)
REVIEW: Screw Sting's "Fields of Gold", this is the best song of all time which mentions barley. I will never understand how Sixpence None the Richer wrote such a brilliant pop song. I have heard many of their other songs, and I can tell you that it's no coincidence or injustice that the only other hit they ever had was a cover song. What a gap between the quality of best and second-best song. Since they were a Christian band, I chalk it up to a genuine miracle. 10/10.

10) M2M - "Don't Say You Love Me" (1999)
REVIEW: Okay, this was cheating. But it did reach #21 on the Hot 100 so that's popular enough to land it on the mix, and there's no way I'm gonna leave out a teenpop hit. Forget Avril, the trend of "confessional rock" teen pop started with this band and this song. One of the most influential teen pop songs of all time. 9.5/10.

11) Aaliyah - "Age Ain't Nothing But a Number" (1994)
REVIEW: The breakout hit and possibly best single of one of the better R&B acts of the nineties. I've always thought she was a bit over-rated by the hipster crowd, and I've always preferred Monica, but I do like Aaliyah, and I do like this song. 8/10.

12) Marcy Playground - "Sex and Candy" (1997)
REVIEW: One of the weirdest top 10 hits of all time, and one of the weirdest videos of all time, but hey it all works. I think most people could have predicted they would be a one-hit wonder after this song, but, hey, it is a good song and a deserved hit. 7.5/10.

13) Jennifer Paige - "Crush" (1998)
REVIEW: Hell, at least Marcy Playground had a couple other songs that made a bit of impact on Modern Rock Radio, even if they had no more mainstream hits. Jennifer Paige is like the ultimate one hit wonder. Storms on the scene with a really good pop song that becomes ubiquitous hit, but then just fades away completely. And it's not like her one song was a novelty song or anything either! She never had another song reach the Hot 100 at all, although she did have one song reach #6 on the Dance/Club Play chart and one reach #34 on the mainstream top 40 chart. Yeesh. Still doesn't take away from the brilliance of this song. 9/10.

14) Reel Big Fish - "Sellout"(1997)
REVIEW: Sorry to all the Mighty Mighty Bosstones fans out there, but this is definitely the best hit of the ska revival, in my opinion. The ska revival wasn't really big enough a movement that it needs a selection on this mix, but this was a great song and I couldn't bring myself to leave it off. 8/10.

15) Ini Kamoze - "Here Comes the Hotstepper" (1994)
REVIEW: Yeah, this song is amazing. While it's admittedly not my favorite genre, this is still my favorite reggae/dance song of all time. 9/10.

16) Janet Jackson - "That's the Way Love Goes" (1993)
REVIEW: Janet is by far one of the most popular acts of the nineties, and I'd be kidding myself if I left her off this mix. And anyways, though I'm not a big fan of Janet's music, this is definitely her best song. 8/10.

17) Natalie Imbruglia - "Torn" (1997)
REVIEW: Oh god, did I love this song when it was out, and I still do. Natalie was probably the most unexpected one-hit wonder in my experience of following the charts. Natalie's still been a great singles artist since this came out, and I'm disappointed that some of her excellent singles that have come out since this ("That Day", "Smoke", etc.) never broke through. "Smoke" in particular is probably one of my five favorite singles of the nineties. "Torn" is the rare case of a cover being far superior to the original, apologies to all Ednaswap fans reading. 10/10.


1) Christina Aguilera - "Genie in a Bottle" (1999)
REVIEW: Well, if you thought there was any chance I wasn't gonna include an example of the late nineties teen dance pop revival, and you thought there was any chance it wouldn't be this song, well, you don't know my tastes that well at all. I gave this song a 10/10 in my review of the number one's of '99, and my opinion on the song has only changed to the extent that I like it even more now than I did then. My favorite music video of all time, and the second best single of the decade. 10/10.

2) Savage Garden - "I Want You" (1997)
REVIEW: Well, Savage Garden's amazing breakout hit doesn't seem to be as well remembered as their dreary ballads which were much bigger hits. For this reason, they have a bad reputation in America now, but they did have some damn fine songs. And this is the best one. 9.5/10

3) The Cardigans - "Lovefool" (1996)
REVIEW: I love The Cardigans. If this was an open mix, where I could include any song, I would have had it be "Erase/Rewind" or "Carnival" or "Never Recover" or any of their several other songs that are superior to their lone hit, but this is a good song, and I'm only including popular songs here. 7/10.

4) Duran Duran - "Come Undone" (1993)
REVIEW: Best single of the decade, absolutely no way was I gonna leave this off. 10/10.

5) Cracker - "Low" (1993)
REVIEW: Early-mid 90's rock is my least favorite movement in music for this decade. Nonetheless, I had to include some song, and it sure as hell wasn't gonna be grunge, so this will do. 6.5/10.

6) LeAnn Rimes - "How Do I Live?" (1997)
REVIEW: Probably reduntant to include both this and "You're Still the One" on this mix, but it bears noting that there is absolutely nothing country about this song except that it is sung by LeAnn Rimes. Well, like the Shania one, I have a huge blind spot for this song, and it made the cut towards the end of the process. 8/10.

7) Len - "Steal My Sunshine" (1999)
REVIEW: A few people from Canada come down, make a song and video that absolutely personify SoCal better than any actual SoCal band ever did, then just ride off into the sunset. I hate the male singer on this song, but I really love the female singer. Once again, having heard a few other Len songs, it's no coincidence this band was a one hit wonder. But this song rules. Also I appreciate the deep lyrical content. 8.5/10.

8) Linear - "Sending All My Love" (1990)
REVIEW: I wanted a representative of early 90's dance on this list. There are other better ones like "Groove is in the Heart" or La Bouche's "Sweet Dreams", but this one is the most underrated. 7/10.

9) Seal - "Crazy"(1991)
REVIEW: This was another easy choice, an absolute classic. Maybe a bit obvious for this project, but I couldn't bring myself to leave it off. 9/10.

10) Green Day - "Basket Case" (1994)
REVIEW: This is still my favorite Green Day song, I remember listening to this with my older brother all the time, back in the day. 8/10.

11) Sarah McLachlan - "Building a Mystery" (1997)
REVIEW: I felt the need to include a Lilith Fair song on this mix, and this one was a no-brainer. This is by far my favorite song by any of those Lilith Fair artists. What a great song, and I was always a big disappointed that none of her other later hits seemed to be nearly as good to me. 8/10.

12) Mariah Carey - "Someday" (1992)
REVIEW: The most underrated Mariah song. This isn't actually my favorite Mariah Carey song, as I prefer "All I Want for Christmas Is You" (second happiest song of all time behind "Walking on Sunshine"), "Emotions", and "Always Be My Baby". But those songs are all still widely beloved, while this one seems to have fallen through the cracks, and I wanted to rectify that in my own small way! And she only oversings it a little bit too! 8.5/10.

13) Annie Lennox - "No More 'I Love You's'" (1995)
REVIEW: Not much to say about this song, except that it's another cover that I far prefer to the original. 7.5/10.

14) B*Witched - "C'est La Vie" (1998)
REVIEW: If you are wondering where my current teen pop/tv/movies fascination has come from, in many ways it is directly attributable to this song as follows. I loved this song when it was out originally, then totally forgot about it for 7 years. Then I was in a hotel room for a Scrabble tournament flipping through the channels when I heard this song. Having not thought about it for a while, I listened to it, and rocked out a bit. Then I decided anything cool enough to have this song in it, was worth watching. That movie was Life-Size, which as previously documented I ended up loving. It's because of that song I watched the movie, it's because of that movie I started watching the Disney Channel, and it's because of such DC stars as Aly & AJ and Hannah Montana that I started listening to teen pop. So, you see, it's all B*Witched's fault. 9/10.

15) Third Eye Blind - "Jumper" (1998)
REVIEW: I really, really want somebody to do a cover of this song, put in proper verses, and cut out the tuneless instrumental rambling. Because, dear God, this song has an amazing chorus. One of my favorite choruses of the nineties. A good enough chorus to land it on this mix. I wish they would replace the rest of it with a better song though. 7/10.

16) Spice Girls - "Say You'll Be There" (1996)
REVIEW: I have really mixed feelings about the Spice Girls. On the one hand they have this song and "Wannabe", and on the other hand they have "Spice Up Your Life" and "2 Become 1" (one of my least favorite songs ever). But the Spice Girls were a big enough phenomenon that they really need a song on this mix, this song is my favorite of the Girls' hits, and it still stands up pretty well today. 8/10.

17) The Verve Pipe - "The Freshmen" (1996)
REVIEW: Kind of a dreary song, but it features a good video, a catchy hook, and, of course, the most difficult to play guitar part of any song ever. I'm ending the mix with this song because it is quite possibly the most "nineties" song there ever was. 7/10.

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Movie Review - "Read It And Weep"

I'm really nervous to do this review, because it seems like my blog is becoming somewhat of a shill for the Disney Network. Nevertheless, this movie was high on my anticipation list for months before it came out, due to my love of Danielle and Kay Panabaker, and anyways I'm gonna blog about what I'm interested in, which at the current time is (sadly) teen pop/movies/tv shows, etc. And it so happens that Disney has a monopoly on that market.

THE FILM: Read It and Weep
STARRING: Kay Panabaker and Danielle Panabaker
ORIGINALLY AIRED ON: The Disney Channel, July 21, 2006.
PLOT OUTLINE: Jamie Bartlett (Kay Panabaker) is basically a normal girl, with three best friends (two girls and a guy: Lindsay, Harmony, and Connor). Like the stars of most teen movies, she is continually dumped upon by her brother and her classmates. In order to cope, she keeps a journal; however, unlike other journals, it does not simply chronicle her day-to-day activities. Rather, her journal is a piece of fantasy fiction, populated by caricatures of the people she knows, and a main character named Isabella (also known as Is [Danielle Panabaker]). Is reacts to all of the people the way Jamie wishes she could, she zaps the popular girls who torture her out of existence, and dates the hottest and most popular boy in the school. Due to a series of comic mishaps, Jamie accidentally submits her journal to a class creative writing assignment. The teacher is so impressed, she gets it published in a newspaper, a publisher gets wind of it, and next thing you know it, her journals are being published as a novel. Needless to say, the novel becomes a bestseller. And what happens is what you would expect happens, she becomes consumed by fame, too busy for her friends, gets the hot guy, etc.
Throughout this whole time, she has visions of, and converses with Is. Is advises her to basically do the things that Jamie would always want to do, and advises her to always do what is best for herself. Ultimately, this gets her in a lot of trouble, as Is starts to take over her life, and turns out Is is just a selfish bitch. The scenes where Jamie and Is are talking together are really weird.
The film takes kind of a nasty twist when all the classmates find out that the characters in the book are based on them, and everybody turns on Jamie. What happens from there, I will let you watch the movie to find out, but I doubt you'll have too much trouble guessing.

AND THEY ALL LEARNED A VALUABLE LESSON: Well, Jamie is really the only one who learns a valuable lesson, that being to appreciate her friends and her situation as it is.

LET'S DISCUSS THE PANABAKERS, SHALL WE: I have been a big fan of the Panabakers for some time now; actually, I was a fan of each of them independently before I ever learned they were sisters (not twins, Danielle is older by two and a half years). I find both of the Panabakers to be really charming and cute. Danielle was the best part of the very good 2005 teen movie Sky High and Kay was excellent as Debbie Berwick in Phil of the Future. I'm happy to report both were cast perfectly in this movie. Danielle seems to really be a good actress, having appeared in a variety of roles in various teen movies as well as acclaimed HBO miniseries Empire Falls. I've been realy impressed by her performance in everything I've seen, and I believe this is the first time I've seen her play an antagonist/evil character, which she totally pulls off. Kay on the other hand really only comes in one flavor, that being ridiculous over-the-top comedy. A lot of people don't like that, and find Kay annoying, but in the right role I find her crazy facial expressions and ridiculous delivery to be very funny; Debbie Berwick and this movie were both great roles for this. I'm a little skeptical of her long run chance of success unless she can display a bit more range than she has so far, but if she can keep pulling roles like this, she'll be OK. Even though they may not be everybody's cup of tea, I found that the Panabakers were definitely the best part of this movie. So cute!

OVERALL COMMENTS: On the whole this movie was a lot darker and less cute than I expected it to be. Not that it was a really dark movie, or not a cute movie, but just that it was a lot more dark and less cute-oriented than the average Disney Channel Original Movie (DCOM). The scenes that featured Jamie and Is together were of particular interest. The directing and dialogue in these scenes went to great pains to ensure that we realized that Jamie had a great deal of internal conflict over what she's doing. Whereas in the average teen film throughout the eighties and later, the main character would abandon their friends for the popular crowd at first possibility, without regard for their friends feelings, Jamie is painfully aware throughout the movie of how her actions are impacting her friend and family. She sees it herself, and has intense internal dialogue (in the form of conversations between her and Is), but yet the rush of fame, and the positive aspects of how it's impacting the family business and her new popularity...she knows it's wrong but just can't stop letting the internal Is take over. Hey, we've all been there. I thought that aspect of the movie was the most interesting part, the reflection on doing the wrong things, and becoming just the type of person we never wanted to be, but being unable to stop ourselves. Like I said, a pretty much universal human condition, I think most of us go through that at some point or another. Moreso than any other supposedly "real" high-school movie like Mean Girls or The Breakfast Club, this is the film I'd recommend any 8th/9th grader to watch to prepare yourself for high school.
A lot of teen movies have tread the ground of expressing the dangers of selling your friends and your values out for popularity. Ultimately, the main characters in those films don't really seem to have as much at stake as Jamie does. Seriously, she totally screws up her life almost irreparably, to the point where it seems like she should just move to a new city and totally start over again. I think that gives the lessons in this movie a lot more depth than they would otherwise have. Which leads us to...

THE ENDING: What a copout! I was so disappointed. It's cute enough I guess but it just wraps everything up way too patly and simply, and seems to abandon all of the previous depth and previous events just for a simple cute happy ending. She got back in everybody's good graces way too quickly. I wish that just once there would be a teen movie that expresses the truth that our actions have real long-lasting consequences, and you can't get back to being everybody's hero again by making one cute speech and doing a good deed for your friends. In fact, it was so pat that it makes me think that my brilliant analysis above attributes way more depth to the movie than the filmmakers ever intended.

THE NEGATIVE ASPECTS: Of course, the film is not perfect, and the negative aspects are so obvious and numerous I'd be remiss not to point them out. First off, other than Jamie and Is, none of the characters in the movie are even there, I never even really learned the name of the other characters in the movie because they are oh so inconsequential. Mainly though, when you are going for a bit more depth, like this movie is, you open yourself up to a deeper level of analysis (never a good thing for a Disney movie). The dialogue and storyline were very cliched, the acting wasn't anything special apart from the Panabakers, and like I said the ending sucked.

FINAL RATING: Yes, like all the best DCOM's it was cute and fun and camp and ridiculous, but it legitimately made me think too. Maybe that wasn't the intention, and the whole thing worries and frigthens me, and makes me think that maybe I watch a wee bit too many lighthearted teen films and a wee bit too few movies with actual depth, but it is what it is. And I do think this film can be enjoyed with a bit more depth than the average teen movie. 8.5/10. RECOMMENDED TO WATCH. Not going to give high recommendations; you aren't going to like this if you aren't a fan of teen movies. Makes me want to read the book it was based on.


I wanted to conclude this post with some general comments on Disney Channel Original movies. I've now done reviews of three DCOM's: Life Size, High School Musical, and this movie. All three movies were rave reviews. Thus, any reader of this blog will think that I really love all DCOM's or something. Let me assure you, this is not the case. There is a serious selection bias at work here, being that I only review the Disney Channel movies that I enjoy. Sure I could do a review that trashes the crappier ones such as Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior or Get a Clue but that seems kind of pointless. I'd say that those three that I've reviewed are definitely the three best DCOM's I've seen (and I've seen many). At least 75% of these movies are pretty much impossible to watch all the way through.
Attentive readers will note that I've given this movie an 8.5, whereas Life-Size and High School Musical both got 8's. Thus, this is my favorite DCOM of all time? Really I've decided that I underrated HSM, it deserved a 9/10. My real list of the three best DCOM's of all time, in order is: High School Musical, Read it and Weep, and Life-Size. The only three DCOM's that I would be willing to legitimately defend as good movies.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Fave TV Shows of All Time, Vol 3


Status among my favorite shows of all time: Sliders, I would say, would rank as somewhere in my top 20, but not likely in the top 10, possibly towards the bottom. I'd say something like between 12 and 18 or thereabouts.

First time I saw an episode: God, I barely even remember. It was when it was still airing on Fox. Some quick internet research reveals it must have been some time like 1996 or 1997, right when I was starting high school which seems right.

Favorite episode of all time: I'd have to say, "Post Traumatic Slide Syndrome", in which the sliders appear to have returned to their home planet, but Quinn doesn't believe it's really home. And everybody is exploiting the sliding experience for their own personal gain. Solid episode. Also the one where they travel to an alternate world where Rembrandt Brown is the king of rock and roll, that was definitely the funniest episode ever.

General plot description: In his basement in San Francisco, boy-genius Quinn Mallory unlocks the doorway to an infinite number of Earths. During a test run, Quinn invites co-worker Wade Wells and his teacher Professor Maximillian Arturo to see his new invention. But an increase in power and an early departure leave all three, plus a washed-up soul singer named Rembrandt "Crying Man" Brown, lost in a parallel world. Now they must "Slide" from world to world, not only adapting to their changing surroundings, but also trying to get back to their world. Will they ever make it home? [Cribbed from]

Even though I'm writing this up for my (very occasional) Favorite TV shows of All Time series, and deservingly because it is one of my favorite TV shows, this is the first ballot inductee into my personal "What Might Have Been" Hall of Fame for TV shows. Given the concept, characters, and actors, this easily could/should have been one of my top five or so favorite TV shows of all time, but horrible inconsistency (partly their own fault, partly the fault of the network) prevents it from scaling higher.


The first two seasons of Sliders were such great TV. They really were. The four main actors on the show, Jerry O'Connell (Quin Mallory), Sabrina Lloyd (Wade Wells), John Rhys-Davies (Maximillian Arturo), and Cleavant Derricks (Rembrandt Brown) were all very good actors, very capable of the drama, action, and comedy that the show required. Plus they had great chemistry and worked so well together. Plus also Sabrina Lloyd was/is really cute.

Not that they didn't have their problem, mind you. The way that the Fox network totally screwed over this show is well documented, but for now let it suffice to say that regardless of the order the shows were produced or intended to be aired in, Fox aired the episodes in essentially a random order. This meant that every episode had to be totally episodic; after all, if they tried to work in a multi-episode storyline, there's every possibility the network would show the conclusion before the set-up, thus destroying the point of the episodes. Probably because of this, the episodes lack the kind of depth in terms of character arcs that you would hope to see in a show. Plus, I was disappointed sometimes by their lack of exploring some of the more philosophical and psychological aspects of the central plotline to the series. Despite all this, it remains an shining example of excellent TV, in my opinion, because despite the general lack of depth, the episodes were just so damn entertaining.

Then something funny happened. The third season started off well enough, still producing plenty of entertainment, but you could still tell that the tone was different. The season seemed to emphasize the action elements of the show as opposed to the comedy and drama elements of the show far more than the previous seasons. But, still, there were lots of great episodes this season, such as "The Guardian" wherein the Sliders enter a world where time has passed 12 years slower than normal and Quinn tries to prevent a tragedy in his younger self's life. That was a great episode. Then, the unthinkable happened. They killed off Arturo, and replaced him with Kari Wuhrer, a hot but generally vapid actress. AND THEY TOTALLY CHANGED THE SHOW. Instead of being just a fun show exploring all the different worlds they travel to, they added in a larger villian, Colonel Rickman, who the Sliders tracked to and from various worlds. A boring action show. Despite the hotness of Sabrina Lloyd and Kari Wuhrer in the same show, this half-season is totally unwatchable.

Then, for the fourth season they dropped Sabrina Lloyd, but added Charlie O'Connell, Jerry's brother who is a terrible actor. But funnily enough, the show briefly had an extremely unexpected, hail mary, comeback. I don't think anybody saw it coming, and I certainly didn't, but the last half of season four was very entertaining. Not quite up to the par of the first two seasons, but in my opinion, far better than the season and a half that preceded it. Then they dropped Jerry and Charlie and picked up two random people for season 5 and produced one of the worst seasons of any show in television history. It's best that this not be talked about at all.

Ultimately, what this show has is the first two great seasons to recommend it as one of the greatest shows of all time. If it could have kept this going for another season or two, this would be one of my top 10 or possibly top 5 TV shows of all time. In addition, at this point, it's probably worth it to mention that the first two episodes only comprise a total of 23 episodes, about the length of one normal season of the typical tv show.

In summary, what makes this an all time great is:

1. Exceptional cast for the first two and a half seasons.
2. Very interesting concept is generally played out in an interesting way.
3. Good dialogue

Buy the DVD of this show that compiles the first two seasons, and I bet you won't be disappointed. It's one of my very favorite DVD's that I own. But then just forget that the rest of the show ever happened. Trust me, it's best that way. Ultimately, in my opinion, no show in TV history ever faced a decline as abrupt and disappointing as this show did.


So now, three posts into this series, lets assess where we are. The first two entries in this series were published in April of 2005 (Joan of Arcadia [and no matter how embarrassing it is, I still mean every word]) and January of 2006 (Strange Days at Blake Holsey High). I guess ranking right now, my favorite 10 TV shows of all time list would go like such:

1. Joan of Arcadia
2. Boy Meets World
3. The Adventures of Pete and Pete
4. Sports Night
5. Freaks and Geeks
6. Home Movies
7. Strange Days at Blake Holsey High
8. Monk
9. Digimon
10. House

The top 3 are incredibly close and could be ranked in almost any order. I've gone with Joan here due to how it emotionally effects me, and due to the fact that I can obviously enjoy it on a deeper level than the other two. But on the other hand, no show has more consistent career value than Boy Meets World, and no show makes me laugh more at it's peak than The Adventures of Pete and Pete. So, like I said, it's close.

There's two current shows on that list, and they have a chance to move up, but I doubt either will move up by more than a couple spots.

And ultimately, Sliders doesn't have nearly the peak of the short-lived shows and doesn't have the consistent awesomeness value of the long running shows. It's a tweener, which leaves it off a list like this. Another "What Might Have Been" that had a great beginning but fell off with an inconsistent later seasons was Upright Citizen's Brigade.


Saturday, July 01, 2006

From Greg's Bookshelf - Highly Recommended Books

In this post, I will go through my bookshelf, and make high recommendations for all the best books. In the spirit of the blog, however, rather than recommend novels or historical non-fiction works, I will recommend some of the more offbeat entries in my book collection.

1. Judith Martin - "Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior: Freshly Updated"

WHAT IS IT?: This is a coffee-table book, hardcover, that compiles questions and answers from the Miss Manners column over the years, as well as republishing some of her best essays. Not just about table manners, like her name would imply, Miss Manners is really mostly a writer on social etiquette, though there is obviously plenty about table manners in here.

WHY?: This book is so much fun to flip through. And educational too! I learned from this book, for example, that Thank You notes should never start with the phrase "Thank you for the...". Ultimately though, this book is not intended for primarily etiquette lessons, although I usually find myself strongly agreeing with Miss Manners essays on the decline of social etiquette in today's society. Ultimately, you are going to read it for the novelty and humor value, and I do have to say that this book is very funny. Miss Manners is in many ways just primarily a humor writer, and the humor comes through in spades here. The question and answer/short essay format also makes this book ideal for flipping through idly to pass the time, and there is a detailed index in the back in case there's a specific question you want an answer to. Keep in mind this index has about 30 entries spanning the entire book for "Thank You" notes, the decline of which are Miss Manners primary pet peeve of today's society.

IN SUMMATION: The Miss Manners column is my favorite syndicated column, and this is a perfect compendium. Leave it out on a coffee table, and all who stop by will want to flip through it, and they will not be disappointed. Miss Manners is a great writer, who is able to use humor effectively, and makes great points without coming off as haughty or old-fashioned. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED FOR ANYONE.

2. Irwin Chusid - "Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious World of Outsider Music"

WHAT IS IT?: This is a book about musicians who, though they lack conventional musical talent, make earnest and very unsual musical recordings. These recordings often come off with more charm and legitimate entertainment value than the genuine ones. This is a reference source on some of the more famous of these artists, detailing exactly how these albums came to be and who were the people who made them.

WHY?: The stories behind how these seemingly alien albums came into being are usually highly entertaining. The chapter on the most famous of these bands, The Shaggs, is one such example. They were young girls with absolutely no musical talent who were nonetheless forced to take musical lessons by their father. Convinced anyways they would be successful, their father forced them to make a record that's one of the most odd and terrible, yet eminently fascinating albums ever produced. Stories like this abound in this highly entertaining book. Every story in the book is great, and it closes with short capsule summaries of various other outsider records. This guy clearly knows his stuff and writes with a passion and enthusiasm that's apparent and infectious.

IN SUMMATION: Very funny and interesting book, this is a brisk read. If you are in the mood for some less serious reading, it gets no better than this. Please also note that there is an accompanying CD to this book that contains several of the songs discussed in the book, and that the CD is also excellent. The re-read quality on this is excellent as well, as the stories hold up to multiple reads. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED TO ANY MUSIC FAN.

3. Bernice Kanner - "Are You Normal?: Do You Behave Like Everyone Else?"

WHAT IS IT?: For this book, the authors polled people across the country and across demographic groups on behavioral questions, and then record the answers in book form. And by behavioral questions, I mean like "How many cereals do you have in your pantry?" and "If given an extra $500 what fraction would you spend on clothes".

WHY?: This is a very interesting book to read through to try to compare yourself to others. 20% of men have cried at work, what babies! 56% of people think they laugh more than average! That's not even mathematically possible! Also reading through this book was the first time I ever learned that some people don't eat their corn methodically row-by-row or column-by-column, but just randomly eat chunks! Pigs! Yeah, this is one that in high school I would bring around to my friends and we would sometimes like to read this. Okay, we were nerds. I can't really vouch for the accuracy of the statistics in this book, but overall a very entertaining read. Some negative things: It's very short, the advertisements on the cover specifically pick out it was featured on Oprah and in Ladies' Home Journal, some of the questions are out of date.

IN SUMMATION: A very fun read, this makes a worthy addition to any library. Not essential, but HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, IF YOU CAN FIND IT FOR CHEAP.

4. Bob Longe - "World's Best Card Tricks"
WHAT IS IT?: Like the name implies, it's a book of card tricks. It contains 41 easy to perform tricks inside the book, explains exactly how they work and how to perform them, and even has a suggested patter/performance style for all the tricks.

WHY?: Most of the tricks in this book are "no-brainers", that is, if you have the cards set up properly, and know what to do, they require absolutely no skill to pull off. Even the ones that do require skill do not involve significant or complicated sleight-of-hand. The bottom line is that even my ten year old self could perform every trick in this book, and some of them still amaze people. Once again, several of the tricks are very stupid and can easily be spotted, but there are a few winners in here, and they are guaranteed to fool your friends. Bob Longe is a good writer, and he clearly lays out the tricks in easy to read and follow format, and the suggested patter he puts in there works. Ultimately, it's not about the quality of the tricks even, it's how you sell them!

IN SUMMATION: I've read a lot of reviews of this book on, and this book, and Bob Longe in general, doesn't have a good reputation in the real magic community. I see their point, that these tricks are stupid, and there are much better trick books that spell out better and more mystifying tricks. But, whatever, this book is fun and cheap, the tricks are easy, and you'll find a few good ones. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, FOR PEOPLE NOT SERIOUSLY INTERESTED IN MAGIC.

5. Doug Moench - "The Big Book of Conspiracies"

WHAT IS IT?: The best entry into the classic "Big Book" series, like the other ones, this one takes famous stories and puts them in a comic book format. In this one, they highlight some wacky conspiracy theories.

WHY?: This book is the most entertaining read of any on this list. It contains information on some of the most famous conspiracy theories (several chapters on JFK), and some of the not-so-famous ones (Bush was behind the bay of pigs invasion!) . All of the chapters are very readable, and very interesting. Even if you don't believe in conspiracy theories, and don't believe anything written in the whole book (like me, more or less), you'll still get a big kick out of these stories. Yeah, the "evidence" presented for all the conspiracies is very selective and very shaky, to say the least, but just enjoy it for what it is! The book doesn't take itself too seriously, which could be a problem with a book like this, and just lets the weirdness flow.

IN SUMMATION: I actually can personally recommend all the books in the Big Book series, but most especially this one (and also "The Big Book of Losers"). HIGHLY RECOMMENDED FOR ANYBODY.

6. Sean Hepburn Ferrer - "Audrey Hepburn: An Elegant Spirit"

WHAT IS IT?: A glossy, full color coffee-table book about Audrey Hepburn, written by her son, that kind of briefly goes through her life, but mostly contains lots and lots of never-before-seen and previously-seen pictures (though most of the pictures are black and white, given the obvious timing of the pictures).

WHY?: Okay, I absolutely love Audrey Hepburn, as I've noted on here several times before, so I'm not even gonna pretend to be unbiased on this. But flipping through this book is absolutely breathtaking for me. The writing by Sean Hepburn-Ferrer, while not of a professional quality is very good, as you can clearly see the love he had for his mom. Ultimately, of course, it's not about the writing, it's about the pictures. And I'm happy to report that there are literally hundreds of pictures in this book, and they are of uniformly high quality. Audrey Hepburn was one of the most photographed women of all time, and it's easy to see why: She's extremely photogenic, and just comes off looking fabulously in these pictures. The picture that adorns the cover is one of my absolute favorite pictures of all time, I love the colors! Behind the Miss Manners book, this is the second most frequently flipped through of all of my coffee table books.

IN SUMMATION: If you are a fan of Audrey Hepburn, you have absolutely no excuse not to own this book. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED FOR ANYBODY WITH ANY LEVEL OF INTEREST IN AUDREY HEPBURN.

7. Fred Bronson - "The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits"

WHAT IS IT?: This book goes through all of the number one hits on the Billboard singles charts, staring with "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock" and ending with Clay Aiken's "This Is The Night", in chronological order. Every hit gets one full page devoted to it, where they tell the story of the artist, or of how the song came to be, or of some interesting chart trivia about the song, or anything like that.

WHY?: This is the most "flippable" of any of the books on this list. There are 933 songs in the book, and most of them have interesting stories. Often if I have a few minutes of free time during a day, I'll open the book to a random page and just start reading. In addition, I've learned about lots of great songs from this book, as there are many number one songs I had never even heard before! Stupid static oldies radio! This is really an incredibly interesting book, all of these songs have interesting stories and it's an absolute joy to read. Fred Bronson, who wrote the book, is an excellent writer and is the foremost expert on chart trivia. His Chart Beat column, published online every Thursday, is an absolute essential read for anybody with the slightest interest in the charts.

IN SUMMATION: Extremely entertaining. I just got my book last Christmas, and it is already starting to get worn from over-use, as I am constantly flipping through it. I realize not everybody is as into chart trivia as I am, but HIGHLY RECOMMEDED FOR ANY MUSIC FAN.

8. Joseph Rosenbloom - "Biggest Riddle Book in the World"

WHAT IS IT?: As the name would imply, it's a huge riddle book. Like seriously, 250 pages of jokes. Literally thousands.

WHY?: I don't even like jokes, but I love this book. Not just for kids, but for anybody who can appreciate a terrible joke now and again, this book is an absolute classic. A lot of these jokes are out of date, most of them are not funny at all, some of them don't even have any discernable joke, but overall this is a very fun book to read with a group of people, or even by yourself. Another very "flippable" book, this is one you can just go through and read off jokes from for an hour at a time, or more. Although obviously intended for kids, this one will entertain those of all ages.

IN SUMMATION: This is the only joke book you'll ever need, and it sells for very cheap. HIGHLY RECOMMEDED FOR ANYBODY WITH ABILITY TO APPRECIATE A STUPID JOKE.