Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at email@example.com.
Do you have any New Year’s pop-culture resolutions? Is there a genre you finally intend to get into, an artist you want to explore, a book you haven’t read yet but plan to, a movie or filmmaker or movement you’re overdue to experience?
I have an entire bookshelf that could amount to one big resolution to actually finish the things I’ve started, or better yet, the books I brought home from work or borrowed from friends and never started at all, like every book Gene Wolfe has put out over the past decade, or Jonathan Lethem’s Fortress Of Solitude, or Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came To The End. (We’re going to do that last for Wrapped Up In Books in January, so there’s a reading resolution that should be easy enough to keep.) That to-read list aside, this will, by damn, finally be the year I watch Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy, three famous Bengali films I’ve owned for years now. Every time another cineaste mentions them with reverential wonder, I wince at my own failure to catch up. And this year, I had no excuse—hell, I watched Crank and Crank 2 back-to-back, so clearly I had time to delve into Ray’s tender coming-of-age saga. In 2010 for sure!
Can I just say “read more” and “try not to watch too much crappy TV”? Those were actually my resolutions last year, and I mostly stuck to them. Reality TV is no longer part of my rotation at all, though I took one for the team and watched one episode of Celebrity Sex Rehab, or whatever that piece of shit was called. I also finally quit Heroes about a month ago—all it took was a few episodes piling up in the TiVo (sorry, I mean “shitty Comcast DVR”—I miss you, TiVo) for me to finally shrug my shoulders and ask myself “Why bother?” (Usually I stick with series until the bitter end—I’m talkin’ to you, Prison Break.) The second part shouldn’t be too hard, though I tend to gravitate toward crappy books sometimes, too. I’m currently in the midst of re-reading Catch-22, but also giving a first read to And Party Every Day, the seamy bio of record-industry mogul Larry Harris. Final resolution: If they make a Crank 3, I resolve to see it.
I keep meaning to get into Mr. Show, since we own all the seasons, so maybe 2010 will be the year to do that. For some reason, I never really watched it until this November, when my husband brought seasons three and four with us on Thanksgiving vacation, and I realized that I have hours of untapped entertainment just sitting there in our living room. I’m also toying with the idea of writing a screenplay—not something serious, but just so I can say I’ve done it. I’m tempted to make it a rom-com, since I hate on them so much without even seeing them, so perhaps before I open my big yap again, I should see if they’re as easy to toss off as I’ve suspected. But my main pop-culture resolution is to not be online so much. I always feel so much more relaxed after a period where I’m offline (or have limited online access) and swear that this time I’ll be better about not checking in on Twitter and Facebook and whatnot. It’s a delicate balance when you want to spend more time unplugged, yet you make a living via the cruel online mistress.
My original answer to this was going to be “read more books,” because in the last few years, my reading pace has slackened considerably. Upon reviewing the numbers, though, it turns out that the last half-decade or so has merely seen me move from reading an freakishly huge number of books per annum to a number that merely borders on insanity. So instead, aside from the usual personal writing goals that I will hate myself this time next year for not accomplishing, I’ve decided to focus on movies. Since moving to south Texas, I’ve discovered the intense frustration of living in a city of 2 million people and no independent-movie scene whatsoever; movie writing—something I’ve always really enjoyed—has become an almost nonexistent part of my critical arsenal, because most of the movies I want to see don’t play anywhere near here. Thus, my resolution is to a) make the best of my Netflix subscription and catch up on all the old movies I’ve always wanted to see and the new releases that skipped San Antonio, and b) get to more film festivals, both foreign and domestic.
Like Josh, I watched way too much crappy TV in 2009. Still, over the past few years, books have slowly but surely superseded all other forms of entertainment for me. So in 2010, my main goal is to whittle down the mountain of must-reads that are piling up in my spare room. First up: I figure it’s time to try taking Stephen King somewhat seriously, so I’ve got his Dark Tower series all lined up and ready to go. Of the random stories of his I’ve read over the years, it’s his more fantastic stuff that’s resonated—and The Dark Tower seems just mythic and imaginative enough to rope me in for real. Another couple of fantasy classics I plan on finally diving into: Robert E. Howard’s Conan books (specifically the un-fucked-with, three-volume Conan Of Cimmeria volumes that Del Rey put out earlier this decade) and Mervyn Peake’s gothic opus, The Gormenghast Trilogy; I’ve skimmed through both many times, but never committed to them. Of a more current vintage, Jeffrey Ford’s lauded urban fantasy The Well-Built City Trilogy has been sitting in my stacks and crying for attention for months. For something a bit more classic, I’ve had G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday and Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock lingering on my nightstand for way too long. I’ve also—not without laughing at myself, I’ll admit—started stocking up on used copies of two adolescent favorites of mine in an attempt to someday indulge in a little light, nostalgic reading: namely Piers Anthony’s ridiculously pun-riddled Xanth series (or at least the first dozen installments of it, which might take a whole weekend to read) and, um, the early Dragonlance books. A harmless second childhood, or the early onset of senility? I’ll have to get back to you on that one. Oh, and finally: Moby-Dick. For real this time. Fuck, I’ll audiobook the damn thing if I have to.
By this fall, I was already exhausted by the prospect of 2010: I’m writing a book that’s due in September, and there’s a chance I could go on a rock tour of Europe/Russia and the Pacific Rim in the spring/summer. Beyond that, my pop-culture resolutions are pretty mundane: I need to be better about keeping up with my subscriptions, both of the RSS reader and magazines-via-snail-mail variety, and I need to finish Infinite Jest. I started slogging my way through it this summer, but other projects derailed its completion. (Its overwhelming density doesn’t help matters, either.) And as always, I’ll keep trying to reduce my pop-cultural blind spots—though that’s gonna take a lot longer than 365 days.
Since before my kids were born, I’ve been planning to get all my CDs and DVDs properly stored away, so that they’re not cluttering up every corner of the house. I’ve bought special cabinets and special jewel sleeves, and bit-by-bit, I have been culling, selling, and filing. But the DVDs keep coming in force, and doing Popless last year—which was supposed to help me get my music organized—actually put me further behind. A month or so ago, I turned a corner, such that I can actually see daylight on this project. In 2010, I hope to get it squared away once and for all. And then maybe he can have dinner parties again—something we haven’t done in our house in almost five years.
I recently moved, which meant I had to get rid of a lot of books I’ll most likely never read again, but it did make for a good reminder of what I’ve been putting off for years. I’d like to finally read some Don DeLillo—got a copy of Underworld that I hope to crack open soon. Oh, and I really need to try Dostoevsky. My copy of The Brothers Karamazov isn’t great (the translation is mediocre, and the binding makes it difficult to read the ends and beginnings of some sentences), but I can always try and pick up a new one. There are a lot of movies to see; last year, I was relatively caught up, but I can think of a dozen films from this year that I’ve missed that are absolutely crucial. And while it may not be quite as weighty, I’ve owned Grand Theft Auto IV and Fallout 3 for nearly a year, and I haven’t spent the time to beat either game. That drives me a little crazy, seeing both games on my shelf, knowing I enjoyed them, and knowing they aren’t really “complete” for me. Because then I just buy new games to distract myself from the old ones I haven’t finished, and before you know it, I’m playing the same level of Katamari Forever for the 30th time and trying not to make eye contact with that gas-mask dude who stares at me from the TV stand, not saying anything, just judging me for abandoning him so long ago. So yeah, I want to take care of that. Lots of stuff to do!
This year, I would like to spend considerably less time on the Internet. For years, I was addicted to television. It was always on. I would watch just to watch; it was the white noise in the background all the time, until I realized that I didn’t particularly like television, and watched it more out of habit and dependence than anything else. Now I only turn on the television if there’s something on I genuinely want to watch. I like the Internet, but I get itchy and twitchy if I spend more than a few hours offline, and I do have an unfortunate tendency to check up on things constantly (The A.V Club, Twitter, things of that sort). I don’t think that’s healthy at all, so this year, I am going to do my best to unplug and try to enjoy the world around me, instead of spending the vast majority of my time in cyber-space. I’d also like to read more fiction and get better at returning e-mails.
In order for me to follow through on any of these resolutions, there’s going to have to be a magical eighth day of the week that takes me away from the obligations of work and family, because I’m way behind on everything and have no chance of catching up. But should this fantasy come to pass, I resolve to spend the lion’s share of my eighth days plowing through TV on DVD: Completing partially viewed seasons of Breaking Bad and Mad Men; picking up where I left off on Lost (or, more accurately, where Lost left me); and checking out the recommended but unseen likes of Party Down, Eastbound And Down, and Sons Of Anarchy. I also resolve (and this is slightly more realistic) to participate in Wrapped Up In Books every month, rather than at the 50 percent rate I’ve contributed to so far; this means not falling asleep one night after a paragraph, then falling asleep the very next night reading that same paragraph as a refresher. And finally, I fake resolve to devote more time to older classic films, foreign films, and cult items I haven’t seen, regardless of whether or not I’m on assignment. The old me used to spend every afternoon in the college library, plumbing through its vast VHS and laserdisc collection. I miss the old me.