Spaghetti on the Wall’s Best of 2017
Of everything I read or watched in this past year, these are my top recommendations.
As someone who has not been to a movie theater since “Deadpool” came out in Feb. 2016, I can’t claim to be any kind of authority when it comes to pop culture. Except maybe a non-authority. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t done my share of Netflix-bingeing or dodging all responsibilities for a weekend in order to finish a good book. So I thought it would be fun to share my top-3 favorite books and TV shows from 2017 as well as (what I imagine would be) Joss’s. While these aren’t necessarily books or shows that came out in 2017, these are all books/shows that we encountered for the first time this past year.
1. “Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicholson” by Louise Rennison
Oh look, I’m already cheating. So I did read the first few books of this series years ago, but I finally got back on the Angus train after a birthday trip to Gardner’s. Thankfully, they usually have a full selection of high schooler Georgia Nicholson’s confessions in their Teen/YA section, so I was able to add three more to my collection (although I have several more books to go!).
“Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging” was first published in 1999, with the last title of the series (“Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me?”) published in 2009. Other titles include “Luuurve is a Many Trousered Thing” and “Stop in the Name of Pants!” which probably give you a better idea of the tone of the series than any descriptive service I can provide.
Georgia is pretty shallow in that her primary concern is boys, attracting boys, snogging, etc., and she usually prioritizes her own romantic problems over her friends’ troubles. But she is also hilarious, and every one of these books makes me laugh out loud on nearly every page. Plus, the way she abbreviates words reminds me of P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster (P.G. Wodehouse being the author of the novella in which I discovered and fell in love with the name “Joss”). For example, Bertie might call bacon and eggs, b. and eggs. Georgia also invents phrases like “red-bottomosity” (lust, basically) and periodically breaks out into French, proving, of course, that she is quite sophisticated, really.
Bottom line, if you’re looking for a book series that makes you laugh till you cry, you can’t go wrong with the Confessions of Georgia Nicholson.
2. “Looking for Alibrandi” by Melina Marchetta
Josie Alibrandi, the protagonist of “Looking for Alibrandi” reminds me of Georgia Nicholson to some extent. In the first couple of pages, she gets reprimanded by a Sister at her Catholic high school for reading a magazine in class. When asked to explain herself, Josie responds, “Well, Sister, this magazine is a common example [of how today’s influences affect our Christian lives.]…It’s full of rubbish. It’s full of questionnaires that insult our intelligence. Do you think they have articles titled ‘Are you a good Christian?’ or ‘Do you love your neighbor?’ No. They have articles titled ‘Do you love your sex life?’ knowing quite well that the average age of the reader is fourteen. Or ‘Does size count?’ and let me assure you, Sister, they are not referring to his height.”
This kind of quick-witted, combative relationship with authority figures is reminiscent of Georgia, but throughout “Looking for Alibrandi,” Josie confronts some truly difficult situations (trigger warning: suicide) and learns a lot about who she is and how to appreciate her family in the process. For example, after complaining for most of the book about having to spend time with her Italian grandmother, Josie finally listens to her grandmother’s stories of growing up and moving from Italy to Australia. Although her grandmother is difficult to get along with, Josie realizes she has led a fascinating and difficult life and becomes her champion. Georgia never seems to mature in the same way (at least, as far as I’ve read).
3. “Code Name Verity” by Elizabeth Wein
“Code Name Verity” has the distinction of being the first book I purchased at Magic City Books, where I may never be invited to again because what I imagined would be a nice half-hour of reading lovely picture books on comfy cushions with Joss turned into a “Don’t hurt the book! Don’t hurt the book! No! No! No you may NOT touch that!” panic session. Only (ha!) two employees peeked over to check on us, and no, no books were hurt in the process. Regardless, I soon dragged him away from the children’s book aisle to the YA section and picked up “Code Name Verity.” That was Saturday morning; by Sunday evening, I had finished the novel.
“Code Name Verity” is a World War II spy novel centered around the friendship of Queenie (a.k.a. Verity), a young woman who has been captured by the Gestapo in France, and Maddie Brodatt, the pilot who flew her there from England. The first part of the book is Queenie’s written confession to the Gestapo, which she tells in a meandering, literary style that threatens to get her in trouble with those in authority. She begins by saying she is a coward, that after a few days of torture she agreed to reveal everything she knows about the Allied resistance in England in exchange for getting her clothes back. She explains that the other prisoners hate her because they are still undergoing torture, refusing to give up anything, but she just couldn’t take it.
Despite Verity’s self-deprecation, her story is told with humor and you quickly get the sense that she is not just a coward who would sell out her country in exchange for clothes, and the desire to know the truth behind Verity’s confession is compelling reason to let your child make a mess of your living room so you can keep reading!
1. “Merlin” (BBC)
Just a little “Merlin” merch (alternate caption: I need to dust the windowsill!)
“Merlin,” as you could probably guess even if you’ve never heard of the series, tells the story of Merlin’s meeting and subsequent friendship with Prince Arthur when they are both in their late teens/early twenties. Merlin is played by Colin Morgan (aka my current celebrity crush), who also stars in “Humans,” a current show that examines the question of what it means to be human in a multitude of ways and is quite interesting.
If you’re ever looking for a show that the whole family can enjoy together, I highly recommend “Merlin.” I can see Joss enjoying this in a few years–it is full of adventure, dragons, and humor (the episode where Uther Pendragon falls in love with a troll is one of my favorites!)–but Daniel and I loved it, too. You can’t take it too seriously, as it gets seriously cheesy at times, but overall it’s just a lot of fun. Some of the episodes will make you laugh, and some will make you cry, so it’s a nice balance of serious and humorous.
And if you’re looking for baby names, after watching this show, Arthur Emrys remains near the top of my future-possible-baby-names list. (Emrys is Merlin’s druid name–so pretty!). Feel free to steal this charming name–if I don’t know know you too closely. 🙂
2. “Murdoch Mysteries”
Who doesn’t love a good murder mystery show? “Murdoch Mysteries” differs from others in that it is a Canadian show set in the 1890s. Detective William Murdoch is a man of science and an inventor in addition to being Toronto’s greatest detective. What I love about this show is how they capture the feeling of excitement around the turn of the century (in addition to Murdoch’s scientific inventions, characters also become elated by the invention of the hamburger and the introduction of pizza) and also how it enlightens the viewer about the state of various social issues at the time, such as contraception, the education of women, homosexuality, divorce, abortion, etc. Watching this show made me so grateful that people, especially women, have more options today and for the women who fought for freedoms that we enjoy. For example, Dr. Julia Ogden was (if I remember correctly) one of the only women in her medical class. It’s revealed that more and more women are following her example and that many of them look up to her as their inspiration, fighting for their right to education no matter what the obstacles are.
While there may be some gory parts–the corpse has to turn up at some point!–I’d say that overall this is a family friendly show.
3. “The Good Place”
“The Good Place” is more recent, so chances are, you’ve been hearing about it already–but if not, allow me to be the first to make the recommendation. Starring Kristen Bell, “The Good Place” is about a selfish woman who quickly realizes she’s been mistakenly sent to “The Good Place” rather than “The Bad Place” after her death. She tries to keep a low profile in order to avoid getting sent to The Bad Place but enlists the help of her so-called “soul mate,” an ethics professor in his lifetime, to help her become a good person. The question the show asks is “Can a bad person become a good person?” and “What does it mean to be a good person?” While this may seem pretty cerebral, the show is hilarious, and I can’t wait to watch the second season!
If you’re looking for more toddler-friendly fare, these are the books that really captured Joss’s imagination this year (I’m skipping TV–you can learn more about his favorite shows in this blog post):
1. “The Very Cranky Bear” by Nick Bland
One of the fun things about having Joss in school is that I learn about so many things from him! “The Very Cranky Bear” (aka “Cranky Bear”) is one example. When Joss kept talking about “cranky bear,” I had to ask his teacher what he meant. It turns out, this book is one of the class’s favorites. In it, a bear’s slumber is disturbed by four card-playing animals, a moose (with impressive horns), a lion (with a great, golden mane), a zebra (with stripes!) and a plain sheep. The first three animals try to soothe the bear by dressing him up with horns, a mane, and stripes–which does not go over well with cranky bear. Finally, the sheep shaves off half of her wool and turns it into a pillow for the bear. The bear is so comfortable, he falls back to sleep, and the four friends return to their game. In addition to just being a fun book, it teaches that even the plainest among us have something to offer.
2. “Wolf’s Coming!” by Joe Kulka
Earlier this semester, Joss became obsessed with “the big, bad wolf.” And as with the previous listing, it turns out this is because “Wolf’s Coming!” a retelling of the Three Little Pigs, is another classroom favorite. In this book, forest animals scramble around, hiding and avoiding the big, bad wolf. The twist is that (spoiler alert!) they’re throwing him a surprise party! If you’re looking for a lesson, I’d say that it is: don’t expect the worst of people. Or, to put it another way, don’t judge a book by its cover.
3. Dr. Who books by Adam Hargreaves
We (TulsaKids) received several of these Dr. Who books from their publisher, and somehow they ended up at my house. I’ll be honest, I don’t quite understand the appeal–how can you capture a Dr. Who episode in a 32-page, 5×5.6-inch picture book?! You can’t: the stories are full of plot holes. And yet, they’ve grown on me, primarily because Joss refers to them as “The Blue Zombie book” “The Green Zombie book” etc. and because they’ve taught him such impressive vocabulary as “sonic screwdriver” and “yeti” and “dead battery.” He enjoys filling in the words and elaborating on what is happening in each picture, even if he still has no real idea who Dr. Who is. And of course, any book that gets Joss even more excited about reading is a good book in my book.