Tag Archives: Junot Diaz

2013 Q1 Reading Report

Another year, another batch of books. Already, 2013’s reading has been spectacular.

January

Long After Midnight At the Nino Bien, Brian Winter – This one was recommended to me by a tango friend last year. I struggled to get interested in it for the first section or so, but once I did, it was a really quick read, amusing and informative. It’s the story of Winter’s time in Buenos Aires, learning tango and getting enmeshed in community there, and has a lot of political and tango music history. Sadly, I just heard through my own tango community that the Nino Bien may have closed recently.

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green – I’ve loved John Green since I read An Abundance of Katherines in 2007. I’ll admit I was a bit put off by the grim subject matter of this book, but I knew it would be lovely in his hands. And it was. He writes about misfits so wonderfully and it makes sense that he’s so embraced in a world of Glee and It Gets Better because he’s been a voice telling teens to let their freak flags fly for a long time. I was already adult-ish when I first read him and I still appreciated the message. Anyways, this is one of those books that sticks with you long after you read it and you find yourself recalling it at odd, perfect moments.

Visions of Sugar Plums and Eleven on Top, Janet Evanovich – These books do not stick with you after you read them. I’d be hard pressed to tell you any specific thoughts about them a few hours after I finish them, but they are entertaining and distracting as you read. Evanovich has created a fun character, which is no mean feat, but the rest is fluff.

The Lost Heir, E.G. Foley – I won a signed copy of one of Gaelen Foley’s books, so I asked her to send me this one, a middle readers book she wrote with her husband. I already had a copy, which I gave to a friend’s son and we read the book together, talking frequently about the characters and the story. It was a really fun experience and we both loved the characters and the twists the story took. It’s a steampunk adventure in Victorian England, complete with magic and fantasy creatures and demented villains. Fans of the Dave Barry/Ridley Pearson Peter books will love this series, which continues with Jake and the Giant.

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn – I mostly picked this one up out of curiosity, to see what all the hype was about and then I was just sucked breathlessly under the surface of the story and I didn’t come up again till I was done. I’ve rarely read such a brave, smart book that messed with my head as much. Maybe never. It was a phenomenal exercise in perspective and psychology.

February

A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin – Okay, okay, I’m sure you’re tired of me reading books because I like their t.v./movie counterparts, but it’s not something that’s gonna stop anytime soon. Friends of mine have been telling me to read these books for more than a decade, but I just never thought I’d get into them. Same with the HBO show. I must’ve checked the first season out from the library three times before I finally watched it. But then I was obsessed with seeing every minute of the second season, counting down to the third and reading all the books. Talk about an exercise in perspective. Epic is the only word and it hardly seems enough. I read the first book in about a week and would’ve read it faster if I hadn’t had to sleep or work.

I Saw You…Comics Inspired by Real Life Missed Connections, ed. Julia Wertz – This book has comic artists illustrating selected missed connections ads. I saw through a Goodreads update that a friend was reading it and was intrigued. It’s a mixed bag. Some of them are very poignant and well-executed and some are less so, but the book is definitely worth checking out.

Twelve Sharp and Plum Lovin’, Janet Evanovich – I think I’m only reading these books at this point because I hate leaving stories unfinished. I like to know what happens. Plus, I had a loan request for the next Song of Ice and Fire book and then ordered it online and it was taking forever for me to get a copy, for some reason. Had to read something.

A Clash of Kings, George R.R. Martin – Finally! I got my hands on this book. One of the things that most impresses me about the series is how well-developed the characters are, how thrilling it is to see the story from so many varied and contradictory perspectives. Everyone’s a villain and everyone’s a hero. The political intrigue and maneuvering is absolutely incredible. This one took me only about a week to consume as well.

March

Girl Land, Caitlin Flanagan – This is a hard book to define. A treatise (with an agenda) on the nebulous period of time between girlhood and womanhood, with research about proms and diaries of old, as well as pop culture references (but none past 1980), and a bit of a memoir aspect as Flanagan relates her own experiences. The book was fascinating, though I thought it was less successful when Flanagan started preaching to parents of modern girls at the end, making some good points, but very deluded about modern social communication and how to help girls kids interact with it. Also, she blithely says she’s the mother of boys and doesn’t have to worry about much of the danger she’s outlined, missing the significant point that parents have as much to teach boys about Girl Land, this period of female development she’s defined, as they do girls. Boys need to learn the lessons of respect for others and critical thought as much as girls do. What will change if we teach half our population something that we neglect to teach the other half? This is the same basic point Caitlin Moran missed when she defined ‘feminist’ in How to Be a Woman and left out men in her definition. Still, I’ve referenced both books constantly in conversation since I’ve read them. Here’s one review that says a lot of what I think better.

A Storm of Swords, George R.R. Martin – One of my friends, a huge GRRM fan, called this the “WTF?” book when I told her I’d started it and that is pretty much the best summary I can imagine. This book is wild and everything you assume will happen doesn’t and things you’d never imagine happening do. This is also the book that the current HBO season is based on, so I’m excited about what’s to come, while dreading a bunch of it as well.

The Devil in Her Way, Bill Loehfelm – My review of this one will be forthcoming, is out in 225 Magazine. Meanwhile, you can buy a copy and get the author to sign it at Garden District Book Shop April 30th, at Maple Street Book Shop May 14th and at Octavia Books May 21st.

This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz – Junot’s brilliant. These stories were quick little literary snacks, evocative and powerful and weird. But they ring true, as everything I’ve ever read by him does, and they feel so personal you have to call him “Junot,” as if you know him, like you’ve just had a really long conversation with him.

Out of the Easy, Ruta Sepetys – I read a bunch of write-ups about this one, especially in Entertainment Weekly, and despite the glowing review, I was thinking it was going to seriously suck. There’s a something about seedy historical New Orleans that intrigues people, so much so that it becomes almost fetishized. But I was pre-judging the book based on two things: the author doesn’t live in New Orleans and the title refers to the city as “the Easy.” The book, in reality, is wonderful. I love that it’s a YA title, but talks frankly about sex and crime in its historical setting. I’m not promoting gratuitous sex and violence in any medium or setting, but I absolutely appreciated that the book doesn’t condescend to its readers or cater to the group of YA-censors who do condescend to teen readers. Sepetys had a story to tell and she told it. Pretty freaking well.

Are You My Mother?, Alison Bechdel – A member of my writing group recommended Bechdel’s Fun Home, which is called a tragicomic and blew my mind when I read it last year. So, I was completely on board when I heard she had a new book out, this one a comic drama about her mother and psychotherapy. On paper, Bechdel and I have completely different biographies, yet I felt like she had already written my memoir. If that makes sense. Or, at least, she’d already done the psychology research for my memoir. But perhaps that’s the power of her narrative ability, matched with her visual artist instincts. Her books make you live in them until they are your stories, too.

Requiem, Lauren Oliver – This is the last book in the Delirium series, which I’ve been eagerly anticipating. Or is it the last book? It really didn’t feel like it. I liked that the book alternated between perspectives, between Lena and Hana, and I liked that we got a bit of Alex’s perspective in a separate short story. But. But, the story did not feel complete when the book was finished. I ran out of text, but I still had so many questions. I don’t need everything resolved and I didn’t even necessarily [SPOILER! STOP! SPOILER!] need the romance to be resolved cleanly, but Oliver has built this world and has given us no idea where it’s going after she stops writing about it. We need another book.

So I know my reviews aren’t strictly reviews in the traditional sense. They’re random thoughts about why I decide to read books and what I think of them after I’ve read them. Sometimes, I’m grumpy when I write them and maybe a bit rude (sorry, Janet Evanovich and Iris Johansen) and sometimes I’m still a little euphoric and obsessed (too many examples to name one). But, I think they say something about the person reading them, where I’m at at a given time or moment and the world around me as I’m reading. I hope you find that interesting. I love talking books, so feel free to share your thoughts too, even–especially–if you disagree with me. I find that interesting.

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Filed under books, Quarterly Reading Report, what I'm reading

Personal change and political change, a recap and celebration

Where in the world has Emilie been?

So I fully intended to write a blog responding to the inauguration, was super excited about so many things that day. However, in addition to that good kind of excitement, the rest of the day was devoted to a lot of personal emotional highs and lows. It seemed like drama and emotion was coming at me from every angle and all at once. I did get to cap the evening with a drink to toast President Obama with some friends and that was nice, to come back round to that excitement.

I’m kinda surrounded by President Obama at the moment. I’ve been reading Dreams From My Father for some time now. It’s a brilliant achievement in and of itself, but reading it while knowing that the author became America’s president a few years later is pretty cool. I’m consistently amazed at Obama’s storytelling ability, impressed as a writer studying another writer. And I’m fascinated at how troubled and conflicted he is in the book, that he’s brave enough to demonstrate that. And awed at how fluently he describes things I feel every day and struggle to capture.

Additionally, he’s been on pretty much every cover of Newsweek and Time Magazine lately, or at least it seems so. C., my out-going roommate subscribed to both of those, so I got to peek at his copies when they came in the mail. I believe he was even prominent in EW, which is the mag I subscribe to. A few days after the inauguration, I remember grabbing several magazines and DFMF and laying them out on my desk, suddenly struck by the fact that Obama was featured in and on every one. Luckily, I’m happy to be so surrounded. But it’s gotta be tough to be so exposed. I think this is going to have to subside a bit or we’ll all get a little overwhelmed, even and especially President Obama himself.

Right after the inauguration, I planned to break down my favorite portions of his speech, to discuss my feelings and opinions quite leisurely and completely. But since some time has passed, I’ve come to feel that words are largely inadequate to describe everything I’ve thought since the inauguration completely. There will be no completeness – I can’t blog once and finally about this. It’ll crop up later, I’m now quite confident.

In an opening summation, I feel like the speech hit all the right notes. We need to celebrate Obama’s historic presidency, but we also need to get to work right away. So many of us have such faith in him, faith that he can bring about at least some of the change that we need. But for that faith to work, we need to give him time and have patience and he needs to roll up his sleeves and begin immediately. His speech delivered a confidence that he knows this and is ready, while also celebrating what we have already achieved just by choosing this man for the job. His election stands already as a vote of confidence in our future, a willingness to embrace change and each other.

I was rapt for the entire speech, but my favorite parts were mostly toward the end.

– “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.”

– “As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.”

– “And so to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.”

– “For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass…”

– “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” [By far, my favorite moment of the speech.]

– “Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.”

Read the entire text of the speech here.

Newsweek‘s latest issue commemorates the inauguration and I very much enjoyed the quotes at the end from artists, actors and writers. “What Obama Means to Me” in the Voices section is a must read. Here are some of my favorite parts.

“The United States, a country that (to borrow from Kanye) never really cared about black people, has elected a positive, liberal, non-self-loathing black man to the most powerful office on the planet! WTF?! Who besides the science-fiction writers and the producers of 24 and the most optimistic among us could have imagined this? …. I grew up in a world where people in power didn’t look anything like me. I grew up in an America that didn’t reflect me at all, where I was therefore a ghost. …. India and Matteo, though, will grow up in a world where the most powerful man reflects them back, at least in part. This might mean nothing. It might mean everything. But for the first time in human history we’ll have a chance to find out.” – Junot Diaz

“He is a person whose head and heart are connected, who sees people as linked rather than ranked…” – Gloria Steinem

“The world can put faith in our elections. We finally picked the most qualified man.” – Wynton Marsalis [Despite my desire to someday have a woman president, I actually think we finally picked the most qualified PERSON this time around.]

“…and for the first time in the lives of a lot of white Americans, and maybe even Latino Americans and Asian-Americans, there is going to be a black person in their midst on a daily basis. And over the course of time, gradually, they’re not going to see his color, and certainly won’t focus on it. They’re going to see him as Obama. His race is going to disappear. And in and of itself, that’ll be a tremendous revelation: that, to quote the Muppet movie, ‘people is people.'” – Scott Turow

“He’s a very smart guy. I’m sure he will eventually get that his beliefs should not infringe upon my rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The same way he fell in love with a beautiful woman and had the right to marry her, I should be able to do the same.” – Wanda Sykes

“He is not a black man. He is a black man and a white man. That’s running in his blood, and this is important. It’s a symbol of the bringing together of two sides…” – Nadine Gordimer

“When we look at Obama we see our own possibility. When we look at ourselves in the mirror of our new leader, we aren’t looking for a single simple narrative to take our differences away. We know that’s not real. We know how complex we are. Maybe we didn’t realize how ready we were to accept our complexity.” – Anna Deavere Smith

“Obama means a world I never thought would come to pass. At least not with me here to see it.” – Sidney Poitier

“I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on earth is my story even possible.” – Barack Obama from his “A More Perfect Union” speech (near the end of the Newsweek issue).

For the record, I couldn’t find any of the Commemorative Inaugural Edition online so I could link to it – I think Newsweek‘s trying to keep it special so people will buy the issue to commemorate the event. I recommend you do so, cause I only selected partial quotes and there was a lot of cool stuff in the issue.

Right after the inauguration, I was talking with anybody who’d listen and started musing over an Obama/Superhero analogy. Because he’s become an important historic figure and such a pop icon (so relatively quickly), I think it’s important that we keep things in perspective. I’m not so worried about President Obama himself – anyone looking at his family can see they’ve got that covered. Now for my superhero comparisons, let’s take the various movie editions because they’re the ones the greatest majority (including me) are more fluent in, because they’re the pop culture result of another pop culture entertainment format that often embodies a lot of psychology and philosophy.

Batman – At first, I thought Obama and Batman are only shallowly related because of the Chicago/Gotham City aspect. Batman is essentially a vigilante and that goes against my vision of Obama. But then I found this blog discussing Obama and politics in relation to the newest Batman movie and I thought it was interesting. It made me think maybe they do have more in common. Batman has no powers and has to use the resources he does have to compensate in order to protect Gotham – intelligence, cleverness, money. And then I remembered an EW piece I read where Obama and McCain were asked their favorite superheros and Obama said, “‘The guys who have too many powers, like Superman, that always made me think they weren’t really earning their superhero status. It’s a little too easy. Whereas Spider-Man and Batman, they have some inner turmoil. They get knocked around a little bit.”

Which brings us to Superman – Superman is iconic of America and though he grew up here and protects America, he’s from elsewhere, Krypton. He was sent here in order to give him the opportunity to survive and thrive, but he remains an insider/outsider. Though American, Obama was raised in Hawaii (at the time a new addition) and Indonesia, his father and many of his family members are from Africa. Like Superman (Kansas), Obama was influced by the midwest (Illinois/Chicago). As Superman can treasure and come to embody American ideals, Obama is an insider who has the perspective of an outsider, who can truly value America because he can see it for what it is, both positive and negative.

And finally, Spider-Man – Remember when Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man gets full of himself from all of the acclaim and attention? Remember how he is brought low? Sometimes the public depicts him as a villain himself. The lesson this should teach us, President Obama included (though I suspect he knows it), is that Spider-Man is a man who does great things. Sometimes he messes up, sometimes he saves us. Despite a superhero’s superhuman status, the essentially function to remind us about human qualities. We need to allow President Obama his humanity, value and respect him, appreciate all that he has done, is doing and will do for this country and our global community. We need to have faith and give him time and we need to keep this pop-frenzy in check so that we do not lose sight of the man within the image, the legend.

So I smile when I see Barack Obama’s face everywhere, but I worry too. We’ll get it right, I know. When it’s hard to have faith, I have faith in President Obama’s humanity and in his awareness of ours.

The economy is troubled and rapid, vast change is underfoot. Ironically but probably appropriately, my life mirrors this. Whenever change happens in my life, it usually comes from all directions and all at once. That is the case now. I was a little preoccupied the past few weeks, but I hope to be writing here regularly again.

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Filed under politics, pop culture, random rant

Emilie’s 2008 Best List

What a crazy year this has been. It’s the year that my big appetite for music became voracious and I sought out friends and resources to feed it. It’s the year that I “discovered” audio books as a natural result of driving for work – a lot. It’s the year I didn’t go to the theater as much as I used to, but everything came to DVD so much quicker. It’s the year I hoped to finish my book. It’s the year I started this blog.

This is a very personal best list, so the things that I’m highlighting as my favorites of 2008 may not have been released in 2008, just discovered by me in this year that’s soon to be past.

Books – 2008 is the year I read more nonfiction, romance and thriller than ever before, not to mention almost all of Jennifer Weiner and Jennifer Crusie, Spiderwick and Neverland and a lot of David Sedaris. Out of the almost 150 books I’ve read this year, my 15 favorites in roughly the order I read them:
1. His Dark Materials (3) Philip Pullman
2. Gregor and the Code of Claw, Suzanne Collins
3. When a Man Loves a Weapon (this will be released in 2009), Toni McGee Causey
4. Things I’ve Learned from Women Who’ve Dumped Me, Ed. Ben Karlin
5. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (about halfway through the year now), Junot Diaz
6. The Rescue Artist, Edward Dolnick
7. The Ruby Key, Holly Lisle
8. To Kill a Mockingbird (finally read this!), Harper Lee
9. Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician, Daniel Wallace
10. Calumet City, Charlie Newton
11. Finn, Jon Clinch
12. A Very Long Engagement, Sebastien Japrisot
13. Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl
14. Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri
15. The Wolfman, Nicholas Pekearo

Notables: Continued reading some of my favorite series – the “Alice” books by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Louise Rennison’s Georgia Nicholson books, and Fourth Comings by Megan McCafferty. Also was blown away by a trio of historical romance writers – Gaelen Foley, Sherry Thomas and Suzanne Enoch, who gloriously re-invent the genre and write freaking well. Agnes and the Hitman and Faking It made me laugh myself hoarse. And I’ve been crazy about the Twilight series, of course, really impressed with how things wrapped up in Breaking Dawn.

Movies – I used to go to a movie by myself every Sunday, but that habit sadly went away. However, as a three year + member of Netflix, I still saw over 100 movies this year (and I did get to the theater some, of course). I’m going to try to approximate the order I saw them in.
1. Stardust
2. Once
3. Juno
4. Shoot ‘Em Up
5. Across the Universe
6. Wanted
7. Live Free or Die Hard
8. Dear Frankie
9. I’m Not There
10. Persepolis
11. Dark Knight
12. My Blueberry Nights
13. The Brave One
14. Penelope
15. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
16. Mamma Mia!
17. Wall*E – in some ways, my favorite of the year
18. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist
19. Twilight
20. I Could Never Be Your Woman
21. Rachel Getting Married
22. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Notables: Much, much better than I’d heard/you’d think – Speed Racer, Good Luck Chuck and The Cutting Edge 3. 21 and Atonement almost made my list, so I guess that makes me a big James McAvoy fan.

TV – This was the year my t.v. became largely decorative. When I forgot how to hook the cables and wires back up after Gustav and relied almost entirely on watching t.v. on my computer. But the shows I love, I love all the more for it. No particular order here.
1. How I Met Your Mother
2. Bones (NOT happy it’s moving to Thursdays)
3. So You Think You Can Dance (Cat Deely’s the bomb, Joshua wasn’t my fav and we need DVD)
4. Survivor (yes, I still love this show)
5. In Plain Sight
6. Top Chef
7. Moonlight (NOT happy this got canceled)
8. Pushing Daisies (NOT happy this got canceled)

Notables: Big Bang Theory surprises me, whenever I manage to catch it, with how funny it is.

Music -This was the year of music. I’ve never been such an avid music listener and collector.
Singles –
1. Wagon Wheel, Old Crow Medicine Show (most listened to song in my iTunes)
2. Forever in Blue Jeans, Jason Castro (he wasn’t my favorite, but this stuck in my head)
3. Toxic, Yael Naim (cover of Britney, haunting and freaky)
4. Fake Is the New Real, Alice Smith
5. Johnny and June, Heidi Newfield
6. Be My Husband, Lisa Hannigan and Damien Rice
7. So What, Pink
8. Another Way to Die, Alicia Keyes and Jack White
9. American Boy, Estelle and Kanye
10. Just Like a Woman, Charlotte Gainsbourg
11. Holding Out for a Hero, Frou Frou
12. Are You Strong Enough to Be My Man, Sheryl Crow
13. You Got Growing Up to Do, Patty Griffin and Joshua Radin
14. Echo, Cyndi Lauper
15. Comes Love, Billie Holiday
16. Whatever Lola Wants, Ella Fitzgerald
17. Love Song, Sara Bareilles
18. See You Again, Miley Cyrus (say what you want, but this song is catchy and cool)
20. Missed Me, Dresden Dolls
19. Hide and Seek, Imogen Heap
20. Arms of a Woman, Amos Lee
21. Lilac Wine, Katie Melua
22. Do I Move You, Nina Simone
23. Hurt, Johnny Cash

CDs –
1. Across the Universe soundtrack (oh glorious TV Carpio, put out a cd already! Dana Fuchs!)
2. Juno soundtrack
3. Once soundtrack
4. Acid Tongue, Jenny Lewis
5. Volume 1, She & Him
6. Black Snake Moan soundtrack

Performers, period –
1. Patty Griffin – I’m delirious over Patty Griffin
2. Jenny Lewis
3. Lucinda Williams
4. Emmylou Harris
5. Allison Moorer
6. The White Stripes, Jack White notably
7. The Dresden Dolls
8. Roisin Murphy
9. Katie Herzig
10. Sugarland
11. Krista Detor

Notables: My love for Nina Simone, Johnny Cash, The Magnetic Fields, Cake and The Beatles, always vibrant, has been renewed. I grew to really appreciate Kanye West (though my first love for him came after his infamous quote after Katrina). And I learned that, as amusing as I find it when my neighbor M. sings the lyrics to “Ding, Ding, Dong,” I am NOT a fan of Gunther.

Websites – These are the websites I checked every day in 2008, once I knew about them!
1. Post Secret
2. I Am Fuel, You Are Friends
3. Living With Music – writers blog about music!
4. GalleyCat – how could I leave this one off?
5. Wikipedia
6. imdb
7. cdbaby
8. Amazon
9. Craigslist
10. YouTube

My Favorite Things – What I’ve been loving this year
1. Favorite Home Away from Home – Cheers, my coffeeshop
2. Friends – you know who you are and likely, you’ve introduce me to a lot of great music and food this year. I love you for it, this year and all years.
3. Family – for the pictures, the drama and the support.
4. Local Music – The Zydepunks, The New Orleans Bingo! Show, Loose Marbles and Gal Holiday
5. Food – the roast beef po’boy at Parkway just may be my favorite thing I’ve eaten this year
6. Lessons – dancing, parallel parking, how to be a better writer (friends again, thank you)
7. Libraries – Nola and BR, so very excited about having multiple library cards
8. Writing – NaNoWriMo, PerNoWriMo, Write or Die, Jamey
9. Epiphany – being excited and finding others who’re also excited about the same things.
10. City – New Orleans. Of course and always.

That’s it, Emilie’s Top List for 2008. Enjoy. Argue. Applaud. Whatever. 🙂

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Filed under family, Friends, movies, music, New Orleans, pop culture, t.v., weirdness