Staff Picks: Flavorwire’s Favorite Cultural Things This Week

Need a great book to read, album to listen to, or TV show to get hooked on? The Flavorwire team is here to help: in this weekly feature, our editorial staffers recommend the cultural object or experience they’ve enjoyed most in the past seven days. Click through for our picks, and tell us what you’ve been loving in the comments.

how to win

How to Win at Everything by Daniel Kibblesmith and Sam Weiner

This charming little how-to guide by Chicago-based comedy writers Kibblesmith and Weiner makes a great gift for the clueless and unaccomplished friends in your life (let’s face it, you have plenty of those!). Before you have the chance to gift-wrap it for them, it’s worth thumbing through yourself. For example, you’ll find advice on how to do all sorts of things, such as pest extermination (“Silverfish: Leave them be. Six months from now, these drain-dwelling creepers will have metamorphosed into much more valuable goldfish”), oral hygiene (“Swirl [mouthwash] around in your mouth, but don’t swallow — spit it back into the bottle to trap your germs”), and childbirth (“Count the contractions. If your doctor uses more than four contractions (e.g. can’t, don’t, shan’t) he (or she!) is obviously uneducated and unqualified to deliver your baby”). —Tyler Coates, Deputy Editor

The Desert Places

The Desert Places by Amber Sparks and Robert Kloss

The Desert Places by Amber Sparks and Robert Kloss, with its illustrations by Matt Kish, is one of the most intriguing, best looking, and overall best releases from an indie press that I’ve read this year. In this case, Curbside Splendor should be loaded up with heaps of praise (but I’m sure they’d settle for just taking your money if you wanted to give it to them) for putting out this little book that takes its cues from the Bible, amplifies the Good Book’s violence and darkness, and then smashes it together with modern times. —Jason Diamond, Literary Editor

rin-tin-tin-paper-med

Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean

Because my reading stack is permanently a year-plus behind, even on books related to my beat, I just now got around to reading Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the LegendSusan Orlean’s straight-up wonderful look at the legendary movie and TV dog. When I first heard about the book last year, I was skeptical; why would a writer of Orlean’s skill devote so much time and energy to a biography of a German shepherd? But because Rinty was an American cultural icon for so long, he becomes Orlean’s entry point for several other worthwhile topics: silent movies, the early days of television, dogs in World War II, and the changing attitudes of people towards canines, from worker animals to companions. It’s a warm, entertaining, and fascinating read. —Jason Bailey, Film Editor

stereolab

Stereolab, Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements

Some friends and I were recently talking about My Bloody Valentine, and the conversation quickly turned into a long, appreciative discussion about Stereolab. I don’t know if you noticed, but some of the best songs on MBV sound a lot like Stereolab, and Stereolab 20 years ago, at that! I realized I don’t listen to them enough, and my friend recommended Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements. The almost 20-minute krautrock-esque “Jenny Ondioline” made me understand why. If you liked MBV, you need to listen to this album. —Sarah Fonder, Editorial Apprentice

Sylvia Fein, Surreal Nature

One of the underrated female surrealists, Sylvia Fein is having a solo exhibition spanning the past 70 years. Surreal Nature at Krowswork Gallery, which opens in January, will also feature her recent paintings — cosmic, natural forms (forces, even) that make up dreamy landscapes with hidden figures (many representing her husband, who recently passed away). Robert Beier created a short documentary about the 94-year-old artist’s life and work, which is inspiring. —Alison Nastasi, Weekend Editor

flame

The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner

I’ve been catching up on books that I meant to read this year but hadn’t gotten around to, chief among them Kushner’s critically beloved, National Book Award-nominated second novel. By now, you probably know that it’s a stylish, gripping novel of art and politics in the 1970s, so I won’t go into the plot. What I will say is that it astounded me that a book with such an immaculate surface, that moved at such a quick pace, could also constantly be working on so many levels, integrating and interrogating ideas about creativity, radicalism, and the self that suffuse every page with meaning. The Flamethrowers‘ young protagonist, in particular, is a delicately crafted masterwork, a narrator who is unreliable not because she’s dishonest but because she’s still learning to understand the world she inhabits — and Kushner wisely resists the temptation to make her misapprehensions prematurely clear. This may be the only book I read in 2013 that I know I’ll read again; I hope that the few critics who missed half of what was going on it will do the same. —Judy Berman, Editor-in-Chief

EMA — “Satellites”

This week I am rejoicing in the return of EMA, who just announced a new album for 2014, accompanying the news with a new single — which is ace. Past Life Martyred Saints was one of my favorite albums of 2011, and one that I’ve kept returning to since. If the new single’s anything to go by, her new material promises to be very different, and I can’t wait to hear it. —Tom Hawking, Music Editor