Saturday, February 13, 2010

Tips 24 and 25: Movies and books

Bad news, ladies and gents: Today marks the start of National Public Radio's annual winter membership drive. This means it's time to change the station and consume other media this week. Time to focus on movies and books. Let's start with movies.

Tip 24: Use the Sunday paper to update your movie queue.

Here's how you can use the Sunday paper:
  • Look at what's currently in theaters, and add the movies you're interested in to your queue. Yes, they won't be available for some time, but it's a nice surprise when they're ready.
  • Look at the Best Buy circular (this one is all Matt's idea). See what is coming out this week on DVD. If there are movies you'd like to see that you haven't already added to your queue, add those there.
  • Matt also reads Entertainment Weekly, and he'll update the queue based on his findings in there as well.

I have to explain this post by saying that Matt and I own two giant TVs, and we justified this purchase by deciding to rarely if ever go to the movies again. So, we broke that rule in December when we saw Avatar in 3D, but up until that point the last movie we had seen in the theater was Borat in 2006 (I guess we ended on a high note??). We're partial to our Blockbuster online account, mostly because we started our queue years ago, and the queue has been growing ever since. We used to take advantage of the option of having in-store returns and pick ups as well, but that was back when I was trying to get caught up on Lost and couldn't wait for the disc to arrive in the mail to satisfy my 12-hour TV marathons. Now, we're down to one rental at a time all through the mail, so we have to be picky about the queue.

Here are the movies we've most recently watched from the queue:
  • The Hurt Locker -- we would both recommend this one for its intensity (with a girl-power nod to the female director).
  • The Hangover -- funny, but not as funny as a movie we could keep watching over and over, like Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
  • In the Loop -- witty political satire, ridiculous characters, and the resurrection of Anna Chlumsky of My Girl fame (but sadly no Thomas Jay).
  • Star Trek -- I begrudgingly watched this one, but I actually really enjoyed it.
  • Up -- hands down one of the best movies I've seen in a long time, and perhaps my favorite Pixar movie (at least tied with Wall-E).
  • Away We Go -- sure to please the ladies who like Jim from The Office, or anyone who appreciates some dry humor

And, this ties in nicely with keeping track of books...

Tip 25: Make a spreadsheet of books you've read and books you want to read. Save that spreadsheet to your Google Docs.

In June 2007 I decided to start tracking my reading. I would read a book and then want to recommend it to a friend, but then I could never remember the title. I know there are plenty of Web sites that allow you to do this (and yes, I have the Facebook WeRead application) but I like a plain old spreadsheet. Much like the movie queue, I keep this updated when I hear about a new book on the radio, read a book review, or get a recommendation from a friend. I also do this so I can put books on reserve at the library rather than shell out big bucks for books, most of which I'll read only once. The bad news about my library's reservation system is that, unlike with Blockbuster, I can't reserve books in my account before they're in the library's system, so this does require more effort on my part in terms of visiting the library Web site more often than I'd like. (But the library is free, so I will accept it).

Here's how I've set up my books spreadsheet:
  • Page 1 is titled Read It, and it's divided into Fiction and Nonfiction selections. I try to divide my time equally between both. I also keep track of authors.
  • Page 2 is titled Want to Read, with the same fiction/nonfiction division and space for authors.
  • I have a Page 3 titled People Who Have Borrowed Books. So yes, if you've "borrowed" a book from me, I know who you are, what book you borrowed and when you borrowed it. And while I assume I'll never see that book again, I like to know who I can blame for its loss. I'm still waiting for you to return my copy of Life of Pi. Grrrrr.

I like keeping this as a Google Doc because then I can access it anywhere and update it at any time. If you don't subscribe to a movie service such as Blockbuster or Netflix, a movie spreadsheet set up in a similar manner as this book spreadsheet would be a fun way to track your viewing, plan your future viewings and share suggestions with friends.

Here are some of my favorite books from my book spreadsheet:
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao -- Junot Diaz. About a geek from the Dominican Republic. Award-winning and deserving.
  • People of the Book -- Geraldine Brooks (actually, I would recommend anything she has written). A rare-book expert uncovers mysteries layered in an antique Jewish text.
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain -- Garth Stein. A book told from a dog's perspective. Even though I love animals, I hate books about them, but this one surprised me and has stuck with me.
  • Digging to America -- Anne Tyler. Two families adopt children at the same time, and their lives keep intersecting.
  • Let the Great World Spin -- Colum McCann. A post-9/11 book primarily set in New York before 9/11 (actually, in 1974 when the World Trade Center was being completed).

  • One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding -- Rebecca Mead. Great if you're like me and amazed by the ridiculous nature of the American wedding industry.
  • A Year of Living Biblically -- A.J. Jacobs. The author conducts an experiment to take the Bible 100 percent literally for one year. Hilarity ensues.
  • One Nation Under Dog -- Michael Schaffer. Just like our weddings are out of control, so is our spending on our dogs (and other pets), but we love them anyway.
  • Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time -- Rob Sheffield. Don't read this too close to Valentine's Day. A music enthusiast suddenly loses his young wife. Heartbreaking but still pretty.
  • Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman -- Jon Krakauer (I would also recommend any of his other books, especially Under the Banner of Heaven). This is another heart-breaker about the pro football player who enlisted and died fighting in Afghanistan and the military cover up that followed.


  1. is another fabulous book tracker.

  2. You and Matt are geniuses! I never know what is at the movies anymore because we tivo everything is forward through all the commercials and previews!

    I loved the art of racing in the rain too.