Recommendations, 3/1

Some things we like right now include: George Eliot, Bunheads, screaming goats.

Jonathan Gourlay

I’m reading George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda to prove to myself that I can still read a massive novel like Daniel Deronda. I used to think nothing of tackling an incredibly long novel. Of course, I was also living on a small island in the Pacific and had oceans of time to lay about and engage with nineteenth century authors of Great Books. (Read about the island in my ebook!) No streaming shows, no smartphone, no accounts and passwords and “online presence” to maintain. This is a situation so strange these days that it is a kind of wacky adventure to cut the internet and ignore the phone for any length of time. (Paul Miller has been writing about being offline, using a pen and paper, over at The Verge for nearly a year.)


Back on the island, I read Eliot’s Middlemarch, my favorite among the many classic tomes I devoured. (Well, it’s a tie with Halldor Laxness’ Independent People.) Middlemarch is wonderful, incredible, human, beautiful, and any number of adjectives — the book is also, depending on the typesetting, somewhere between the size of a brick and a well-fed pit bull. Since moving back to America and plugging in, I have lost the desire and, I feared, the ability to enjoy this type of book.

So here I am, slowly (much more slowly than before) making my way through Daniel Deronda. At the same time, I am binge-watching all five seasons of Fringe and dedicating hours to defeating the Ceph and CELL in Crysis 3. Out of this hyper-media milieu, I am carving out some precious media time to steep in the incredible offline intellect of George Eliot. Fringe can be disgusting in a thrilling way, Crysis 3 is appropriately kinetic and gross, but Daniel Deronda is emotionally eviscerating and, for that, is much more dangerous and memorable. I recommend silencing your phone, making an island of time for yourself, and delving into Daniel Deronda.

Ben Bateman

After a recent “I’m still young!” bout of weightlifting without stretching, I threw my back out. Three excruciating days later I finally understood that I’m in a body that will destroy itself and I should be ready for it. Step one (after physical therapy) is to put my personal finances in order. This is actually fairly easy — a weekend’s worth of tedious setup and planning will get you most of the way there — but is accompanied by a “holy shit I am terrible with money” epiphany.

The bite is softened by the attendant self-righteousness. Suddenly I’m one of the people that *has their shit together*. Better than the fleeting feeling of superiority is the knowledge of what I’ve theoretically avoided: an old age of eating gruel and begging neighborhood cats to kill me.

If you’re interested in chasing the same dream — or let’s be honest, running from the same nightmare — it’s easy to start. Mint is a great tool to track and manage your finances, but it’s fairly dry, and if you want to stay encouraged try coupling it with a charming personal finance blog like Budgets Are Sexy, The Billfold, or my personal favorite, 20SomethingFinance. Even a quick look at 20SomethingFinance’s great article on money-saving products might spur you to research, save, and avoid that gruel-laden old age.

Kevin Nguyen

I was going to talk about a couple new literary sites I had recently discovered, but really, my favorite thing right now are the new “goat edition” videos, which takes pop songs and adds screaming goats to them. The best example is the most popular: “I Knew You Were Trouble (Goat Edition),” skewering the melodrama of Swift’s “ooohhhs” with the disturbing voice of a goat. I love the original, but it’s hard to argue that the song is not enhanced by screaming goats.

I spent an evening this week watching every goat edition I could find, giggling maniacally to myself in my apartment and emailing it to everyone I knew.

The goat edition concept is flexible enough to produce many variations and iterations (there are other goat editions — most notable one for Justin Bieber’s “Baby” and Usher’s “Scream”), but I’m not sure if goat editions have the legs to transcend its status as a viral video to a full-blown meme. Is the joke deep enough to survive another week?

Maybe, maybe not. But at least it’s been a pretty funny week.

Nick Martens

So, there’s a new game from Vlambeer, which means you need to drop whatever else you’re playing and pick it up. This one’s called Wasteland Kings, and you can get it as part of the current Humble Bundle. Sadly, it’s Windows only, but I promise it’s worth firing up Boot Camp to play.

Wasteland Kings is a retro top-down shooter, so it looks and plays like the free-roaming stages in Contra or Bionic Commando. And it’s a roguelike, like FTL or The Binding of Isaac, which means its levels are random and when you die you have to start over from the beginning. That may sound frustrating, but it’s actually diabollically addictive. The first few times you play it, you’ll die within a minute. After you get the hang of it, you’ll make a deep run into the game, seeing a bunch of new stuff. Then you’ll try over and over again to surpass that run. It’s like a vicious cycle, but, y’know, fun.

The game holds together by virtue of Vlambeer’s mastery over old-school action gameplay. When I first fired up Mercenary Kings, I started blasting like crazy because a lifetime of gaming has apparently trained me to react that way. Then I realized that I had limited ammo, so I couldn’t constantly fire my gun at nothing. The game uses this tension beautifully, sometimes making you carefully peek out of cover to snipe at a lone baddy, while other times forcing you to cut through a huge swarm with the triple machine gun. And because each stage is random, you never know which to expect. The game nevers stops being exciting.

Jane Hu

There’s been an upswing in efforts to save Enlightened, with persons such as Patton Oswalt and, like, all of TV criticismland pitching in (HBO, r u listening?). But don’t forget Bunheads, which also hasn’t yet been renewed for a next season. You don’t watch Bunheads either? STOP. Stop right now and watch this closing dance scene for the finale, and tell me that it just can’t end there.

Darryl Campbell

We run quite a few personal essays on The Bygone Bureau, so despite the genre-lamentation-piece treadmill — doesn’t it seem that every genre everywhere is on life support? — it’s hard not to take an active interest in personal-essay retrospectives.

Every personal essay modulates between true confesisonal and performance piece. But lately, argues Adam Kirsch of The New Republic, personal essays have veered towards the latter, thanks to writers like Sloane Crosley, Davy Rothbart, and John Jeremiah Sullivan. By calling something an essay, Kirsch argues, a writer implies that he or she is writing for the sake of confessing some true feelings, of creating a window into their soul — or at least into one person’s take on some kind of platonic Idea. But this generation of “essayists” follows in the tradition of the patron saint of comic inventiveness masquerading as reality, David Sedaris. And, through surrounding themselves with little white lies and invented comic details, they deflect readers away from true revelation in the name of being that funny guy at the party who is just a shade too outrageous.

Call me old-fashioned for believing in the essay as belonging firmly in the truth-telling camp, but in an age when the need for truth itself in art is an open question (see: John D’Agata), maybe there is something to the idea that the formal essay just ain’t what it used to be.