Sidereal ramblings

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Best of 2005 - Comics

Here as promised are some of my favorite comics of the year:

Best comic book -- ongoing series: Gotham Central (sadly now cancelled). Honorable Mentions: Fables; Runaways; Y: The Last Man; Captain America.

Best comic book -- mini-series or one-shot: Villains United (the surprise hit of the Infinite Crisis preludes). Honorable Mentions: Grimjack: Killer Instinct and Green Lantern: Rebirth.

Best new comic book: Young Avengers.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Best of 2005 - Books

Unlike music, movies, or television, my criteria for best books of the year is slightly different. No, strike that. My criteria for best books is the same -- it's simply my favorite one of the year. However, my criteria for being "nominated" for best book of the year is radically different. With music, movies, and TV, I stayed exclusively with works that were first released/broadcast during the year 2005. My list of books to chose from is simply a list of the books I read in 2005. Most of them were not published in 2005 -- in fact, only a few of them were. You see, I don't normally read new books. I love books. I love reading books. My downfall over the last couple of decades is the one thing I loved more than reading books was buying books. I bought books by the sackful (quite literally). If you were to glance around my house, you would see shelves and shelves of books, and piles and piles of books, mostly unread. For years, I added to this ever-increasing pile of books, until I finally decided not to buy any new book unless I planned to read it right away. A few times I've done that. I continued to buy used books (which is my preferred method of purchasing books) and those stacks of books continued to grow. (Unfortunately I don't find nearly the time to read like I used to, or want to. I didn't take any college courses this year, either, which was always a source of lots of interesting literature for me.) Finally I decided to stop buying most used books (for myself) until I had greatly narrowed down the stack of several hundred unread books I had built up. In addition, as some of you know, I've been trying to make my way through the list of "100 greatest English language novels of the 20th century" published a decade or so ago by the editors of Random House. Most of those books I've been getting from my local library. (I'm currently reading #38, Howards End by E.M. Forster.) So, anyway, that's all a roundabout way of saying that the books on my "2005 books" list are not necessarily books published in 2005, but ones I read in 2005. I read a lot (or at least a handful) of non-fiction books this year, which is very unusual for me, so I decided to split this year's best of into two separate categories.

Best book (fiction): Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. Surprise, surprise, a book that was published in 2005. Honorable mentions: Requiem by Graham Joyce; As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (I'm changing my long-held disregard for Faulkner.)

Best book (non-fiction): Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (it'll change the way you think about food). Honorable Mention: Superstud, or How I Became a 24-Year Old Virgin by Paul Feig (I literally had to leave a room at one point while reading this memoir of Feig's early dating so that my laughter wouldn't disturb other people).

Tomorrow: what you've all been waiting for, the best comic books of 2005.

Post 100

Back in July, I started this little blog adventure, with no real goals, no higher purpose, just a bit of a lark, really. I wrote daily (or almost-daily) posts for quite awhile, until school started up this fall and I found myself, as always, swamped and far too busy to engage in this frivolous little pursuit. I considered abandoning the blog altogether, but decided against it, though my posting has decreased a lot since then. However, according to the good folks at, my last post was #99, making this my one hundreth blog post! Quite a milestone, eh? If it were a TV show, I could sell it off into syndication now.

We now return to our previously scheduled, best of 2005 series, already in progress.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Best of 2005 - TV

Television tends to get kind of a bad rap. A lot of times, people who are a bit snobbish, even people who are real movie fans, denigrate television. TV is a different medium than film, and one that has its own unique strengths and weaknesses. There are some things TV can do better than film, and some things it doesn't do as well. One of the problems with TV is that there is a lot of it, and I certainly believe it follows Sturgeon's Law (90% of anything is crap). So I want to present my choices for the best of TV 2005. Since TV programs tend to start in the fall of the year, and often end in the spring (though many end at other times as well), picking the best of a particular year involves looking at the "new fall programs" of 2005, as well as what was on "last year" in the winter, spring, and summer. Here are my picks:

Best TV show: Lost. Without a doubt, consistently from week to week. One of the things that most impressed me this fall was the introduction of another group of characters. About the third or fourth episode, these new characters were featured without any sign or reference to the characters we'd been watching over the past year. And it was still fascinating.

Best new TV show: Threshold. The success of Lost (and it amazes me that a show this good can be this popular) of course spawned numerous clones, take-offs, and shows "inspired" by it. Some were good, some not so much. Threshold was by far my favorite of those, but as I suspected from its beginning, a far too intelligently written and designed show to capture a mass audience. And, yeah, it's already been taken off. Too bad.

Honorable mentions: My Name Is Earl and Everybody Hates Chris. Two distinctly different but hilarious comedies. Proof that there's still life in the sitcom format. I'd be hard-pressed to pick between the two, but if I had to, I'd give Chris a slight edge.

Tomorrow: the best books of 2005.

Best of 2005 - Movies

Unlike music, I keep a pretty close relationship with the current movies showing at my local cinema. Unfortunately, my local cinema is pretty poor about getting many good new movies. And don't even think about anything outside the realm of mass popularity -- an independent, art film? Never gonna happen. I do make occasional trips to the metropolis of the Twin Cities for those.

That said, I did see 34 movies in the theatre this year. (36 if you want to count the two movies I saw twice -- Batman Begins and Fantastic Four 'cause I knew you were wondering.) There was some pretty decent stuff out this year, in comedies (The 40-Year Old Virgin was very funny), indie dramas (Palindromes, Sideways, Thumbsucker are all recommended), and sci-fi (Serenity was a delight and a surprise). Living where I do, I'm still waiting for Brokeback Mountain to make its appearance. Capote? Gonna have to wait for the DVD (I missed my chance to catch it at the Uptown). Here are my picks for the best films of the year:

Best Movie: Walk the Line. Without a question, and without any close contenders. This held my attention all the way through. I'm a big Johnny Cash fan, and I learned some things I hadn't known. I'm not a big Joaquin Phoenix fan, but I thought he was outstanding in this role. My mom liked it, too.

Honorable Mentions: Mirrormask. I'm not sure how this will look on a smaller screen, but check out the DVD when you can. On the big screen, I'd never seen anything quite like this before. Also, Batman Begins. Definitely the best Batman movie ever. And the closest to the comic book source material. Coincidence? I think not.

Up next: the best TV shows of 2005.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Best of 2005 - Music

Back in the days before I became a teacher, I spent 10 or 12 years working in what I sardonically like to call the "music business." At the time, I compiled running lists throughout the year of new releases that I really liked. By the end of the year that list often filled a full page, probably 50 or more titles easily. (In fact, for awhile, I had my employees at Face the Music in Winona put together a "top five picks" list that we changed every month.) Nowadays, I don't hear much new music, and what I do manage to hear doesn't impress me too much. I mostly stick with the tried and true names I know I can depend on. I do branch out for some newer music now and then, but I usually just wait until I find something used that I can pick up cheaply in case I really don't care for it. So if I do listen to "new" music, it's usually a year or two old by the time I get to it. So with that huge caveat hanging over my head, I present my list of the best new music of 2005, limiting myself to CDs that were actually released during this year.

Best CD: Prairie Wind by Neil Young.

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order): Speechless by Bruce Cockburn; Master of Disaster by John Hiatt; Bareback at Big Sky by Poco; Solo Acoustic Volume 1 by Jackson Browne; and Besterberg: The Best of Paul Westerberg by Paul Westerberg.

It's a somewhat sad list, especially if you consider that the Cockburn and Westerberg titles are compilations, and the Browne and Poco discs are live, acoustic versions of well-known older songs.

Is it just me or is music really sucking these days?

Tomorrow: the best movies of 2005.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Into the Night

When I left Winona this afternoon around 1:00 p.m., I headed north on highway 43 toward Wilson and I-90. The hills were covered with a thin layer of white snow which made the bare branches of the trees stand out in stark contrast to their background. As I climbed the hill, the higher I got toward the ridge, the foggier it became. As is not unusual, I was playing what was essentially a mix tape on my car’s deck as I drove. As I was ascended the eerily cool-looking hills, a song by Julee Cruise, from the soundtrack of Twin Peaks, started. It was a moment. I almost expected to see a backwards-talking dwarf appear along the side of the road. Or even better, Sherilyn Fenn in a red dress.


While driving to Winona on Saturday, and to a lesser extent, driving back to Fairmont from Winona today, it was very foggy. On Saturday, for most of the drive, the visibility was between a tenth and two-tenths of a mile, I'd say. Since there's not often a lot of traffic on I-90 out here on the prairie, there were moments when I couldn't see any other cars either ahead of or behind me, and very little off to the sides of the interstate, since it was mostly flat fields anyway. It created a very eerie feeling, almost like, given enough imagination, I could see myself as the only person existing in the universe. It was pretty cool, actually.

Post-Christmas card

One arrived today from my friend Joe, featuring a clever and cool picture of his delightful children. I actually ran into Joe, quite by chance, in Winona yesterday, and he told me he'd sent it.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Shut out

Well, it's the last day possible to receive mail before Christmas, and I didn't get any more Christmas cards today. We'll see what happens after Christmas (eh, Stix?). And on that note, since it's Christmas Eve today, I'd like to wish my thousands of regular readers "Happy Holidays!" Yeah, that's right, Happy Holidays.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Twas the night before Christmas (eve)

About a week ago, I wrote a post asking about sending a return Christmas card if you get one from someone you didn't expect to and didn't send one to. Here's what my brother, known to one and all as Bro, had to say in reply:

This is why you should always send your Xmas cards out late enough in December so that no one who isn't already planning on sending you a card can, upon getting one from you,add you to their list and get you a card before "The Big Day".

Apparently taking his own advice to heart, Bro, who wrote Christmas cards with Bill and me on the 9th, didn't mail his until much later. I received one today. HOWEVER, if I hadn't already sent one, I could've written one out quickly, driven down to the post office (my mail arrives pretty early in the day), and sent it out, and it quite possibly would arrive tomorrow. You might want to wait one extra day next year, Bro.

When I got home this afternoon from doing some final shopping (I was gonna say "last-minute shopping" but is it really last minute when there's a whole 'nother day yet to go?), I found another card had been slipped through my mail slot and was lying on my floor. This was from my friend Bob, who lives in Sherburn and teaches in Fairmont (as opposed to me, who lives in Fairmont and teaches in Sherburn) and his new wife, Anna. They were married three weeks ago today.

One more mail-receiving day before Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A few more..., that is. One from my cousin Tricia and her family, with the requisite family picture and Christmas letter. One from my friend Steve and his wife. And today, one from my friend Mary and her family, also with a picture of the kids and the Christmas letter.

I also got a couple cards from kids at school. One from Emily, who is my t.a. this year. And one from an exchange student from Thailand. In the past few years, we've hosted a number of exchange students from the "far east." These girls (and oddly enough, they've all been girls, though we do have a boy from China this year) have all been very generous, and many of them have given gifts during the year. Besides the card, our Thai student also gave me an elephant key chain, and our exchange student from Hong Kong gave me (as well as other teachers) a really nice pair of chopsticks. Cool gift.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Old friends

I don't have a lot of friends from my college days that I still keep in touch with. In fact, if it weren't for Christmastime, there probably wouldn't be any. (My old high school friends are another story altogether.) I am reminded of this by the Christmas card I got from my old friend P.J. today. He and I were pretty close friends back in our early days at the U. In fact, there was a group of probably five or six of us that were, but he's the only one I still hear from. And that's only at Christmas. That's not his fault; I'm the same way. Even though we've exchanged email addresses, there's still not much contact there. The last time I saw him, I think, was probably when he helped me move from Laurel to the first apartment I shared with Bro (Ashland?) back in, what was that, about 1991? Yeesh. I miss the guy and I'm sure if we got together, we could pick up like old times again. I hope that'll happen soon.

I also got a card from my friend Mo and his family. It was just a signed card, and included a picture of the family (but not one of those family picture postcards that are sent in lieu of an actual card). Perfect. Way to go, Mo. The family gets better looking all the time, too. Well, at least Christina does.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The professor

When I first started my own Christmas card list, back in1986, I suppose the big question was who to include on it. Looking back at that list (yeah, I still have it, what's odd about that?), I see it's mostly friends, a few close relatives, and co-workers. Within a few years, the list expanded slightly to include parents of close friends. Just a couple, really, for families that I felt really close to or even part of, in some sense. Families that included me, along with their own children (my friends) in certain gatherings. I was reminded of that yesterday when I received a card from Stix's dad and his wife.

Friday, December 16, 2005

a great expression

Overheard the other day: "She's one of a kind -- well, I guess she's not really one of a kind, but she is unique." I had a hard time not snorting milk out of my nose when I heard this (it was during lunch). Sadly, it came from someone who teaches English for a living.


I got just one Christmas card yesterday (and none today). It was from a cousin of mine who I see occasionally in Winona, but from whom I've never received a Christmas card before. Which, of course, brings up the ever-present question: if you get a card from someone who's not on your "list," do you automatically send one out to them, as well? There are a lot of people to whom I send cards who never send me one. Most of those people don't send out cards, I assume. I'd be interested to hear what other people might think about this.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

4 Cards

Four Christmas cards (or, in honor of Bill O'Reilly, holiday cards) today. One from my good buddy K and his wife, Ellen. A festive picture of a large greyhound-like dog on the card (you know some people go on and on about their kids, but those without kids and with dogs can be even moreso) -- nice touch. A "generic" type Christmas letter, but coming from two writers, a very fun and witty one. I especially liked the line about K being 46 but reading at a 48-year-old level. Got one from Bill's son Louie, who was writing cards with us the other night. The cool thing about it was that it was addressed with my street address and city, but only said "Uncle Kootch" for my name. Gotta love the post office for delivering that (on the other hand, they continue to deliver catalogs addressed to the person who owned my hosue before me). Also got one from Bill, one of the traditional family picture cards, and one from my very own Mom and Dad (though I'm guessing that Dad might never have even seen it).

Monday, December 12, 2005

Greetings update

I thought I'd keep an online record of Christmas cards received, because...well, I don't really have a reason. Since my last report, I have received two. Sort of. A while back, I got one from my cousin Jean and her husband (though I doubt he had much to do with it). It was one of those Christmas letters that I'm so fond of (insert ironic emoticon here). No card, even, just the letter. So far, I've only made it about halfway through it. On Saturday I got one from my old college roommate Cros and his wife Jill (an old high school and college friend of mine; sadly, I find myself responsible for their coupling). They're traditionalists: always include a picture of their two kids (now 17 and 14) and a Christmas letters. Jill's are better than most, however, 'cause she has long cultivated a creative, cynical, and ironic tone to her writing.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Christmas cards

I wrote out my Christmas cards this weekend. Though I am unmarried, basically living as a family of one, and considered somewhat unusual that a "bachelor" would even send out Christmas cards, this is not for me a solitary activity. My good friend Bill and I have for some time been getting together and writing our Christmas cards at the same time. And the phrase "for some time" translates into twenty years. We began this tradition in 1986, so this year was our twentieth year of doing it together. When we started, we were both divorced men in our mid- to late-20s. The reason for getting together was to get through this task in a more pleasant and less lonely atmosphere. At least, that's how we remember it today. As the years passed, our lives changed in many ways, his probably moreso than mine. A few years after we started our tradition, Bill remarried and started a new family with three delightful children. One of the advantages of the Christmas card writing party these days is that while we write out cards, Bill's wife Judy bakes Christmas cookies with which we stuff ourselves. (I must've eaten a dozen at least Friday night.) It's a time-honored tradition and one which I look forward to every December. There are others who join us at times, and Bill's family is of course around now (his oldest son Louie has been writing his own cards the last couple of years), but it all started with just the two of us, sitting around, writing out and addressing cards, and just enjoying each other's company.

Friday, December 02, 2005


And Happy Anniversary to me. It was 30 years ago today that I passed my driver's test, and got my driver's license.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

It's December

And thus it begins. I received my first Christmas card today, from my eldest brother.