In an endless cycle of trying to make myself seem smarter than I really am, I’m perpetually oscillating between trying to read/watch the newest releases and catch up on all the classics I’ve completely missed. Couple that with a total inability to keep records and the attention span of a ferret on the tail-end of a five-day meth-bender, and a Year’s Best Books post would be both inaccurate and short. So in order to avoid looking like a jerk I figured, fuck it, I’ll just list the awesome things I’ve read/watched/consumed/found over the last year.
Best Series to Binge On: Breaking Bad.
For the last couple years, everyone has been gushing over Breaking Bad. I’m not immune to ignoring something based on popular opinion, but with BB I really hadn’t had time to watch it. I don’t have cable or Netflix, either, so tracking it down took some time. But good Christ, once I did? Obsessed doesn’t begin to describe it. For me, Breaking Bad takes all the best aspects of The Wire and substitutes Jim Thompson’s pulp sensibility for the Greek tragedy bits. Someone (Megan Abbott, maybe?) posted an article about the negative aspects of our series-binging, but it was my favorite way to watch the show. I could see these people I’d come to know disintegrate before my eyes. It’s a fascinating dissection of character and gave me a whole new set of ideas to rip off.
Best Fish Taco in Baltimore: Sal’s Seafood.
I was big on Tortilleria Sinaloa for a long time. They had Coke with actual sugar, several flavors of Jarritos, their $2 fish tacos were worth a forty-minute walk and no one spoke English. It was heavenly. I moved away for a few years and by the time I got back, I heard some gringos bought the place and their fish tacos were now $5 each. Still excellent, but it’s the principle. Anyway, Sal’s Seafood recently opened up in Broadway Market and they play ESPN Deportes all day and the dudes sing behind the grill sometime. Their green sauce is smoky but is still hot enough to make my eyes water. The tacos have enough cilantro to make it fresh, but not overwhelm the fish. And you can get three tacos and a drink for $10.
Let’s put it this way: Were he to live in Baltimore, Boone Daniels would eat here. That should be enough.
Best Band to Remember I Love: The Explosion, specifically FlashFlashFlash.
Listening to this record is being twenty again and diving endlessly from Baltimore to Philly or Richmond in my shitty green Saturn with the windows down and cassette tape shredding my speakers. The Explosion sounds like Cocksparrer if they were from Boston in 1999 instead of London’s East End in 1972. They were part of the rebirth of Boston punk back in the late 90s/early 2000s. They came up with bands like American Nightmare, Cave In, Converge, The Suicide File and all those people. I think half the reason that scene was so vibrant was there were ten main people that just switched back and forth between bands. I can’t help but give an Oi fist when I listen to this band.
Best Sequence of Books I Read on my Hammock While my Son was Napping: Fun and Games, Hell and Gone, Savages, The Dawn Patrol, The Song is You, The Gentleman’s Hour.
It was a combination books I had on my shelf since NoirCon in 2010 and books I’d just heard about. Nice, too, that an author pops up a few times in a row. There are few better things than reading about sunny southern California (it’s actually just now occurring to me that they’re all set in CA) while swaying in my hammock and not having to grade any Freshman Comp papers.
Best exercise in Self-Restraint: Me, talking with Shannon Clute at a bar during NoirCon.
I listen to the Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir and Behind the Black Mask: Mystery Writers revealed podcasts religiously. Yeah, they haven’t done many new ones in the last four years, but by the time I get through the writers I’ve read and films I’ve seen, I want to listen to the earlier ones again. This podcast lets me geek out on the stuff that I have no one around me to geek out with, because none of them have any idea what I’m talking about. So, needless to say, when I met Shannon Clute and Richard Edwards at NoirCon this year, I almost got all schoolgirl, but restrained myself. It was, after all, a big room filled with a lot of people and shrill giggling would’ve just been embarrassing.
Fast forward a couple hours and we’re at the bar for Kent Harrington’s book release party. Liam Jose, Cullen Gallagher and I discover that it is actually an open bar, and so we fill ourselves with free beer and delicious hors d’oeuvres in place of a proper mean because we’re traveling or poor or both. A couple free beers later and I’m talking to Shannon Clute about normal everyday things like a normal everyday person. He tells me about working for TCM and I commend him on the wonderful podcast and then continue talking like a sane person. Neither of them will never know how much I listen to their podcast. Until now, of course.
Best Comedy Routine by Non-Comedians: Duane Swierczynski interviewing Lawrence Block at NoirCon.
Duane Swierczynski has to be one of the funniest people I know (well, sort of know, through Twitter and Facespace, like everyone knows everyone.) Lawrence Block has to be one of the coolest motherfuckers this side of Elmore Leonard. I could watch the two of them talk for hours. It’s one of those pairings that’s not just endlessly informative (I mean, have you read their books?) but effortlessly funny, as well. The only thing I specifically remember is Block talking about Terry Gross saying he was the last of the great lesbian writers, but I remember laughing almost the whole time and being really bummed when their interview wrapped up. I saw a video camera at NoirCon, so I’m sure there’s footage of it somewhere. If you can find it, you should also watch Robert Olen Butler’s keynote address. Watching it makes you realize how worthless your MFA is because your professor wasn’t him.
Best Adaptation: F*ckload of Scotch Tape (Julian Grant) from two short stories from Jed Ayres’s.
If you’re reading this list and don’t know about FLOST and Jed Ayres, you shouldn’t be reading this list. You should be buying F*ckload of Shorts and watching FLOST. If you do know both of them, you know why it’s on this list.
Best Cocktail in Baltimore: Old-Fashioned with chipotle simple syrup, mole bitters and bourbon-soaked cherries.
If you could make a burrito alcoholic, this would be what happened. It sates my craving for booze and beans, makes me sweat and gets me drunk, and it’s fucking delicious. Need I say more?
Best Internal Soundtrack: The Moses McGuire Novels
The Moses McGuire novels a combination of listening to my iPod and reading a killer hardboiled novel. And Josh Stallings can write a hell of a sentence.
Best Actual Soundtrack: Boardwalk Empire.
This series has spawned no less than ten new Pandora stations for me. It also makes me want to drink whiskey, but that’s for another column.