American jazz vocalist Michael Franks at SIR studios in NYC. (Photo: Oliver Morris/Getty Images)

Michael Franks, The Art Of Tea

I was introduced to the music of Michael Franks as a child. My mother, a fan of all things quasi-jazz, played his records regularly, and I hated them. Something about Franks’ disarmingly casual and chatty vocal style creeped me out, and to be honest, I can still hear some of what I was hearing then. That said, I have come to really dig Franks’ music since hearing a snippet of his song in a 9th Wonder beat. It’s not just that it reminds me of my mother and of being a kid, though that’s definitely part of it. There’s a beguiling quality about Franks’ music that sneaks up on you. I’d also put him up there with Morrissey among the artists most skilled at coming up with charming song titles. (“When The Cookie Jar Is Empty,” “Wrestle A Live Nude Girl,” and “In Search Of The Perfect Shampoo” are all on the same album.) The album I’m into now is 1976’s The Art Of Tea. “St. Elmo’s Fire” is a flawless example of jazz-inflected yacht rock. [Joshua Alston]

Keeping word lists

There are two tricks to keeping a word list. The first trick is to never copy a definition when trying to learn a new word. Instead, explain it yourself and write it in your own words. Add your own example of usage if need be. The second trick is to avoid any words that you wouldn’t use in a conversation; English is full of useless, grandiloquent synonyms (e.g., pulchritudinous) that are only there to lure rookie writers to certain doom. I was always a bad student and I don’t have much in the way of a serious education, but I’ve kept word lists since grade school. It’s not a writing thing; our vocabularies shape the way we think, and I’m always interested in having new points of reference. A new word is attractive when you can instantly find a use for it—as a metaphor or maybe a descriptor for something you already know, but wish you could identify more clearly. Personally, I like technical specifics, architectural terms, evocative medical adjectives that don’t have too many syllables, and words that suggest a moment in history. I keep my lists simple and start a new one every month, copying over those new words that I don’t feel I’ve absorbed. Making something a part of your speech is the best way I know of learning; it becomes a part of the way you think. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

Schmovie

Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of games. I don’t sit around playing them in my house, and while I have a few on my phone, I could probably live without them if I really had to. That being said, I am into Schmovie, as it’s the perfect blend of pop culture nerdery and stupid puns. The premise is simple: A player rolls a genre die and picks two cards—a what and a who—and then challenges the other players to come up with movie titles based on those two cards. If a player rolls “action” and then draws “mutant” and “sandwich,” for instance, they might get answers like Despicable Meat and Alien Vs. Breadator. You get the picture. It’s quickly played, and rewards friendly competition and smart thinking. It’s also compact and travels well, making it the perfect game to take along to lakeside cabins or in the car on a long road trip. [Marah Eakin]

Advertisement