February 17, 2013
Here's one of my occasional lists of nine things I've liked lately.
1. "Dear Life" by Alice Munro. If I had to name a favorite writer, Munro would be it. Widely revered as the living queen of the short story, she's 81 now. This collection, her most recent, may not be her best, but it's really good. With strong, clear language, she tells stories of young women navigating the obstacles of adulthood. The final stories, she has said, are not quite stories, but instead, "the first and last — and the closest — things I have to say about my own life."
2. Open windows. In Chicago, we tend to close the windows in October and leave them shut until May. This winter, no matter what the temperature, I've slept with the window open every night. Every now and then I throw the other ones open wide for a few minutes. Fresh air cleans the brain.
3. "Slings and Arrows." I don't like to explain the premise of this Canadian TV series because based on the premise alone, I wouldn't have watched it. But the critics rave. A friend with good taste recommended it. I got hooked. Do you like "Saturday Night Live?" Shakespeare? Excellent acting and clever writing? Rachel McAdams? Flawed characters who make you laugh and cry? If you said yes to two of the above, you'll like this. Its three seasons are available on Netflix and elsewhere.
4. Trader Joe's Rice Medley. These foolproof pouches of brown rice, red rice and black barley cook fast and taste great. Three minutes in a microwave or, for those of us who refuse to microwave, just a couple more in an old-fashioned pot.
5. "The Motherf***er With the Hat" at Steppenwolf Theatre. Jimmy Smits is the star power ("He has a nice body!" whispered the woman behind me as he took off his shirt), but all the actors are powerful in this tale of urban people struggling against the economy and addiction. Even deep into its run, when I saw it, it had fresh heat. It plays until March 3.
6. A Kuhn Rikon serrated knife. The perfect all-purpose knife is hard to find. This comes close. It has a wide five-inch blade and a good grip. Slices tomatoes, apples, bread and pizza with equal ease. Costs about $25 and comes with a nice sheath.
7. "Go On Ahead and Go Home" by Iris DeMent. DeMent's piercing voice may not be to everybody's taste, but her best songs are genius. She packages life's big questions — where do we go when we die? — into catchy melodies and tight lyrics. This song, on her new album, "Sing the Delta," is about giving someone you love permission to die: "The spirits of the dead will meet you up ahead, and you won't be alone." You can find it here: tinyurl.com/dementsong.
8. Winter birds. When you leave the windows open, you can hear them.
9. A good poem by Marie Howe. The other day when flipping through a poetry collection, I stumbled on a poem I'd never heard, "My Dead Friends." If you've lost a friend or parent, or anyone, it will speak to you:
I have begun,
when I'm weary and can't decide an answer to a bewildering question
to ask my dead friends for their opinion
and the answer is often immediate and clear.
The rest is online here: tinyurl.com/howepoem.
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