Favorite reads of 2011

It’s the first day of the new year, and I may have missed the time for year-end lists, I wanted to first compile a list of my favorite articles and blog posts of 2011. Living in a foreign country and having a baby isn’t conducive to reading books (something I’m hoping to change in 2012, regardless of baby or country), but I do read a lot of blogs and online media. Getting an iPad this summer was the best pre-baby gift ever, since it means I can read in the dark during the many middle-of-the-night feedings, and I also recommend the Instapaper app for offline reading.  Thanks to the new Facebook timeline, I was able to review a lot of favorite links that I’ve posted, along with a search through Google chats, sent mail, and other archives.

In no particular order, these are the stories that I found most interesting, funny, thought-provoking, and forward/Twitter/Facebook/Google+/conversation-worthy:

TRAVEL/TURKEY
The Art of the Deal: I’m still rather delighted by the fact that former heartthrob Andrew McCarthy has turned out to be such a formidable travel writer, among other things. This Moroccan essay was funny, relateable, inspiring, and transportive: all the things a good travel piece should be.
VICE guide to Russia Every Russian I know confirms this list, which makes me admire and fear Russia, and gives me a bit of insight into my husband’s Soviet-born soul. Also, I really need to stop saying blyad.
The long life of Homo sovieticus See above.
7 Ways to Ruin Your Travel Writing I’ve adored Mike’s writing ever since poring over his wonderful list of 50 Amazingly Acheiveable Things to Do Before you Die (sample item: use a leaf as a bookmark), and continue to love his “fevered mutterings.” While I would enjoy him writing about a trip to the mailbox, I especially loved his what NOT to write, and in fact, found each example of “bad” writing to be clever and captivating.
The art of airplane safety cards Fascinating “review” of airline safety cards from an art criticism perspective, makes me nostalgic for a time well before my own. Also must add the author’s book on his time as a prison librarian to my must-read list.
The Chinese Grand Tour This article kept me company through a very long test for gestational diabetes (I passed) where I couldn’t eat or drink for hours, no mean feat for a 6-months-pregnant lady. Now every time I see a Chinese tour group, I wonder where they are going for lunch.
The Bosphorus trash can There are infinite stories in this inventory of trash found in Istanbul’s water ways. How did a police cart get down there? Or a park bench? None of it shocks me at all, really, but some fascinating finds.
The new Young Turks  Some of the Turkish youths in here can be dismissed as poor little rich kids, but still interesting to learn of the tough job market in a so-called booming economy. Curious about this Occupy Istanbul event, did they camp outside a TechnoSA?
What happened to Osmanbey? Osmanbey was our original neighborhood here in Istanbul (we’ve since moved down the hill a few blocks to posher Nisantasi, where we have a Prada store rather than a fabric wholesaler close by), this details the past cache of the area and how it’s changed.
The great Italian can opener conundrum Technically, I read this in 2010, but I’ve returned to it often in 2011 as an example of how great writing can elevate even the most mundane subject. Like McCarthy’s piece, I found myself nodding along frequently, wishing I was in Italy, yet feeling I’d been there just by reading about Farley’s quest.
Condiments from around the world (and why they matter) Jodi is perhaps an even better connoisseur and curator than I, regularly posting wonderful finds on Twitter, Google+ and through a Google group that many of these here links have come from. Jodi regularly writes great posts with gorgeous photos, but I particularly liked this one for the research (and eating!) that went into it, I learned a lot!

POP CULTURE
America’s Next Great Restaurant recap I enjoy reading TV reviews and recaps, and stumbled upon this one by the brilliant David Rees on the recommendation of a friend. I even started watching this silly reality show in order to maximize the enjoyment of these recaps, which made me laugh embarrassingly loud on the metro. You don’t need to have seen the show to read this first post, which he wrote at a dinner party. One of my favorite bits: ‘May I suggest a motto for POT BELLY? Here it is: “Hello Jesus, I’m glad I believed in you all my life, because I am obviously now in heaven, because I am eating a potpie made out of a cheeseburger.”’
Glee “Hold on to Sixteen” recap I’m an on-and-off again fan of Glee, which can be in turns as fun as a musical to watch and as annoying as musical theater nerds. Instead of a traditional recap, this review takes a surreal form of narrative, inside the mind of a supporting character’s father. If you’ve watched the show for better or for worse for three years, you’ll enjoy this. Also, saying CHORD OVERSTREET! never stops being funny.
Once upon a time in Anatolia review: My friend Ali Arikan here in Istanbul reviews films and has a grasp of pop culture, humor, and swearing in multiple languages that puts most of us to shame. I loved this review really for the personal details of his military service in Turkey, something that’s wholly foreign to me and deeply fascinating.  Here’s another excellent/bordering on TMI review and essay of Ali’s on summer movies and evolution.
The Hunt for the Worst Movie Ever: Eat, Pray, Love I have lost hours reading through the Video Gum archives, especially this series which reviews the worst movies ever. While I abhorred the book Eat, Pray, Love, I thought the movie was kinda okay, perfect for an airplane. Still, it totally deserves every horrible thing this writer slings at it, including the screen grabs of Julia Roberts thinking about herself.
Charles Grodin’s affair with Miss Piggy Through my mother, I’ve always known that actor Charles Grodin is a gifted writer, and I’ve enjoyed several of his books (It Would Be So Nice If You Weren’t Here deserves a read just for the title). This essay about his role in the 30-year-old Great Muppet Caper, is particularly inspired, and makes me want to re-watch the movie.
Generation Catalano I was born in 1980, which makes me a tetch too young for Generation X, but too old for Generation Y. I like to call my generation Gen Saved By the Bell, in honor of the great show which unites us (at least Americans), but I can get behind this essay’s arguments as well.

INTERESTING PEOPLE/MISCELLANEOUS
The “disco stick” problem One of those things you never thought about until you read about it: how do sign-language interpreters translate nonsense words and concepts in pop songs, particularly for a Lady Gaga concert?
Cookie Monster explains Occupy Wall Street  Living outside of the US, it took me longer to wrap my mind around the OWS movement; this random guy on the internet summarizes it perfectly, in the tone and voice of Cookie Monster. Just read it.
Loving the outmoded paper calendar While I love my various Apple-made devices, I still use an old-fashioned paper diary, and look forward to buying a new one each year. MUJI used to have blank calendars so you could start anytime you liked, and this year I got a strangely-charming Istanbul-themed agenda that took the better part of a day to create with stickers and such. Something very satisfying about making lists and plans in pen, and having a paper record you can look back on at the end of the year.
The sale of “loosies” My favorite kind of human-interest story: an inside look at an odd profession and its underworld; in this case, loose cigarette sales in NYC. Especially fascinating to read what the loosies man has learned about human behavior.
Police lineup casting director  Another great human interest story about a job I never knew existed and a process I’m fascinated by.
New York Marathon in drawings  Christoph Niemann is a genius, and live sketching a marathon is especially amazing.
Inside the fake vomit industry Not sure I’ve ever bought fake vomit, but I remember a time when going to a novelty store was a huge thrill (do they still exist?). I loved reading the history of this gag product and the oddballs who were part of its creation.
The Warren Jeffs trial I heard bits and pieces about the whole Warren Jeffs polygamy case, but this laid out the whole story in a really absorbing way. As a fan of the now-over HBO series Big Love, I couldn’t help but picture Roman Grant while reading.
The New Yorker cartoon caption contest Funny not just to learn how hard it is to come up with a good cartoon caption, but to read celebrities’ attempts. Still, it did miss the mark of including Michael Neal, whose absurd rejected captions often make me snort with laughter.
Indian inventor disrupts the period industry This guy is amazing, period, I mean, full stop. Here is all you need to know to agree he deserves a Nobel Prize: “Fashioning his own menstruating uterus by filling a bladder with goat’s blood, Muruganantham went about his life while wearing women’s underwear, occasionally squeezing the contraption to test out his latest iteration.” A good note to end on.
I’m sure I’m leaving some out, including many great photo blog posts and slideshows, but those are some I don’t want to lose to the bowels of the interweb. Happy New Year and Mutlu Yillar from Turkey!

One response to “Favorite reads of 2011

  1. Too kind, Meg. Thank you. :)

    And I definitely hope it isn’t too late to do end-of-year lists, as I haven’t written mine yet. ;)

    Now if you’ll excuse me….I’ve got a ton of quality reading to do, courtesy of you.

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