25 books, 25 albums & 10 places to eat for 2014

I’m back for another roundup of books, albums, and eats that I would highly recommend you experience for yourselves.  Per usual, these lists are of things that I personally experienced for the first time in twenty-fourteen, and not strictly books, albums, and places to eat that debuted this year.

Please enjoy.

books | albums | eats

25 books for 2014


st lucy's home

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell (2006)


safety of objects

The Safety of Objects by A.M. Homes (1990)



Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison (2001)



The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker (1988)



10:04 by Ben Lerner (2014)


elect mr robinson

Elect Mr. Robinson For a Better World by Donald Antrim (1993)


wise blood

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor (1952)


rachel papers

The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis (1993)



Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace by David Lipsky (2010)



Birds of America by Lorrie Moore (1998) *


rise and fall of great powers

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman (2014)



Lucinella by Lore Segal (1976)



The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon (1988)


vampires of the lemon grove

Vampires in the Lemon Grove and Other Stories by Karen Russell (2013)


one more thing

One More Thing: Stories and More Stories by B.J. Novak (2014)


who will run the frog hospital

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore (1994)



Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle (2014)


cant and wont

Can’t and Won’t (stories) by Lydia Davis (2014)


countdown city worldoftrouble_final

Countdown City (2013) & World of Trouble (2014) by Ben Winters


dud avocado

The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy (1958)


your fathers where are they

Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by Dave Eggers (2014)


third policeman

The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien (1967)


magic christian

The Magic Christian by Terry Southern (1959)


dept of speculation

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill (2014)

25 albums for 2014, with audiovisuals

NOTE: 2014 was my second year as co-proprietor and curator of my own donation-dependent traveling library.  We had several hundred albums donated to us this year, and I (at least cursorily) listened to most of them.  So while I did do my fair share of music exploration independent of that, several of the items on this list are a direct result of the kindness of my community.


st vincent

St. Vincent by St. Vincent (2014)

* In an interview with Salon, Annie Clark explicitly stated that she read Birds of America while creating this album, and phrases like “birth in reverse” and “bring me your loves” were lifted directly from those stories.  Learning this (not to mention seeing St. Vincent live twice this year) enriched this album for me, as well as my reading of Birds of America.  Both, obviously, are highly recommended.


salad days

Salad Days by Mac Demarco (2014)



Here Come the Warm Jets by Brian Eno (1973)


black moon spell

Black Moon Spell by King Tuff (2014)



Sunbathing Animal by Parquet Courts (2014)



Marry Me by St. Vincent (2007)



Taking Tiger Mountain by Brian Eno (1974)


they want my soul

They Want My Soul by Spoon (2014)


tom petty and the heartbreakers

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (1976)



Nikki Nack by Tune-Yards (2014)


held in splendor

Held in Splendor by Quilt (2014)


hit vibes

Hit Vibes by Saint Pepsi (2013)



Shotgun Willie by Willie Nelson (1973)



We the Common by Thao & the Get Down Stay Down (2013)


real estate atlas

Atlas by Real Estate (2014)



The Milk-Eyed Mender by Joanna Newsom (2004)



3 Feet High and Rising  by De La Soul (1989)



The Unseen by Quasimoto (2000)



The Private Press by DJ Shadow (2002)



Run the Jewels 2 by Run the Jewels (2014)



Logos by Atlas Sound (2009)


meters rejuvenation

Rejuvenation by The Meters (1974)


mumps etc

Mumps, etc. by WHY? (2012)


rising down

Rising Down by The Roots (2008)


red headed stranger

Red Headed Stranger by Willie Nelson (1975)

10 places to eat for 2014




My love for the guys behind The Bird House (and H-Town StrEATs) is nothing new, but Bird House gets the number one spot due to the sheer volume of fried chicken I’ve eaten since they opened.  “Fried chicken & badass sides” indeed.  Where else are you going to get shrimp and grits balls?




I implore you to leave Cuchara in a worse mood than when you walked in.  Great food, vibrant atmosphere, incomparable art, and (at least both times I’ve gone) roving live music.


urban eats


I recently celebrated my (twenty-ninth) birthday at Urban Eats on the second day of their soft opening.  It was probably the single best dining experience I have ever had in my life.  And while that experience will be difficult to replicate, I fully intend for Urban Eats to become one of my go-to places to eat around town.




pita bites


Everything I’ve ever had from Pita Bites has been amazing, but the chicken shawarma and grape leaves lead the pack.  And the husband and wife who run it are two of the nicer fellow truckers I’ve encountered.




Go for the pizza and Friday night flights.


wokker tx ranger


ninfas on navigation


local foods




Thanks for reading.  2015’s lists should look a little different, so make sure to come on back.  Hell, I may even write something else between now and then.



Moustache-Less – A Piece on My Elephant Room Experience.

I thought I was having the best day of my life.  And maybe I was.

My November 30, 2007 went a little like this*.

I woke up refreshed.  Two weeks shy of graduating from college, I had found myself with relatively little to do in the way of schoolwork.  In fact, the only traces of school on my mind were remnants of our in-class viewing of Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, but I wasn’t going to let the applicability of a film released in 1989 to the current state of race relations in our American society dishearten me.  Not today.

I also woke up anxious.  Two weeks shy of graduating from college, I had found myself an avenue for entering the real world by applying for a technical writing position with National Instruments.  On this particular day, I had an afternoon interview with two women, both fairly recent Southwestern alums, to become part of their department.  My résumé had passed the initial test.  It had made me look good.  In fact, it probably made me look too good.

So anyway, I spent most of my morning and early afternoon fretting over this interview.  I studied the company.  I studied the position.  I studied my cover letter and résumé, remembering how I had sold myself.  I even showered.

Eventually, I dressed in my most formal wear – my black Van Heussen outlet suit, my secondhand white button-up, my black payless dress shoes, my stepdad’s tied that I had to have my roommate John tie for me.  White undershirt.  Black socks.  A clean-shaven face to round out the commitment left me feeling severely uncomfortable and looking surprisingly sharp.

My first job interview.  And I looked the part.

I got there ten minutes early because – I don’t know – I felt like that would put a good taste in their mouths – the Starlight Mint of arrivals.

We just started early.

We went through the motions.  I was a nervous wreck with my signature nervous wreck reddened face.  They introduced themselves.  Through their questions, I kind of introduced myself.  When they had finished grilling me with hypotheticals, I asked them questions about life at National Instruments.  Their answers effectively made me eager to embrace adulthood, as a functioning and helpful member of our society.  This was, I had decided, the job for me.  I was a twenty-minute editing activity and a Christmas break away from a dream job.  I could feel it.

Somewhat less of a nervous wreck, I completed the twenty-minute editing activity, shook their hands and left, fairly confident in my chances.

I went home, my roommates sitting on the couch, immediately curious of the shenanigans my suit and I had gotten ourselves into.  I answered them, extremely confident in my chances of getting this job.  It had nearly become a certainty in the ten minutes that had passed since the interview had ended.

Prior to my November 30, 2007, my roommates, the tie-tying John and Rubin (who can also tie ties), and I had decided to look for a decent bar to go to in Austin.  We’d all been over twenty-one for at least five months and had failed to really embrace what that actually means. Residing near the Austin area, where conventional wisdom equates Sixth Street with twenty-one-and-up heaven, we were slowly realizing how near-fatal this mistake had been.

For proximity’s (and drunk driving’s) sake, we tried out this bar on the Georgetown Square called The Loading Dock.  But the Shiner Bock and twenty-four inch flat-screen televisions glowing with images of football fields and basketball courts could not save this bar.  The experience was dominated by bad service, worse music, and that eerie feeling that we just did not belong, that nobody else thought we belonged either.

So we looked elsewhere, semiconsciously humming the theme song to Cheers.

What we found was wonderful (Thesis alert!).

Through an extensive search that delicately involved alcohol and music, with a preferred concentration in the Austin area, we came upon The Elephant Room, a seemingly quaint little basement jazz club with full bar.  Though the website engineer obviously had little training in HTML formatting, there was enough there to convince us that we should go.  And soon.

I listened to music samples and wrote down potential dates to venture down there.

Nov. 30 – Django’s Moustache and the Kat Edmonson Jazz Quintet.

Dec. 1 – Beto y Los Fairlanes.


November 30 was upon us, and I was wearing my suit.  And I was feeling festive.  Why not take a celebratory trip to Austin?  How can you not be excited to see a group called Django’s Moustache anyway?  The roommates agreed.  Our significant others consented.  We had tentative plans to do something in Austin together for the second time in our eleven-month roommate history.  The first?  The Peter Pan Mini Golf place on Barton Springs.  If you haven’t gone and enjoy frustratingly difficult mini golf courses, or worn-out concrete obstacles, I strongly recommend it.

John had an obligation, working ‘til close at The County Seat on that cursed (pronounced cur-sid) Georgetown Square.  To our understanding, the music at The Elephant Room started at 9:30.  To our understanding, The County Seat would close at 9:00.  Perfect, right?


9:00 rolled around, and Rubin and I spent a good deal of time playing foosball, with two balls, mind you, waiting to hear from John.  We were to take two vehicles, John his own, Rubin and me rock-paper-scissoring for it.  But it was our first time going to The Elephant Room.  And three is a more comfortable traveling pack than two.  So we waited for John.

9:30 rolls around.  No word from John.

10:00 rolls around.  No word from John.

10:30 rolls around.  No word from John.  Paper covers rock.  Rubin starts driving us to Austin. Fifteen minutes into the drive, John dials Rubin up.  He’s just gotten off work.  He’ll meet us there.

The Elephant Room is located at 315 Congress Avenue.  Naturally, we tried to park on Congress, between 3rd and 4th Streets.  Failing, we then drove concentric circles (or, should I say, squares?) around our focus.  After twenty minutes or so, I suggest we try the street byMoonshine, off of 3rd and Red River, towards the highway.  Perhaps I shouldn’t inform the reader of this, but after around 10:30, this is a surefire bet for a place to park in Austin.

By that time, for some odd reason, we both had to piss like proverbial race horses.  I know a place.  We walked into the lobby of the Hilton Hotel, which is pretty much made for (1) stragglers, (2) people that have to pee, and (3) people that have to wait on people that have to pee.  We were both #2.  We both went #1.

Coming out of the Hilton, who do we see but John, who is, incidentally, walking from the street by Moonshine.  From there, we, a comfortable traveling pack, make the rest of our way to The Elephant Room.

We got there sometime around midnight.  We walk downstairs.  A basement jazz club.  We’re greeted by a loveable bouncer – backwards cap, thick-rimmed low-hanging glasses, a copy ofThe Austin Chronicle under his arm, cover charges filling his hands.  We show him our IDs, give him five dollars apiece, and walk into The Elephant Room for the first time in our lives.

We are not in love with it.  There is no music, no open tables, and a bartender who doesn’t really want to deal with bar rookies.  Overwhelmed, I order a seven dollar beer called Chimay – they have neon signs, coasters, and special mugs advertising Chimay, so I figured I’d give it a try.  But seven dollars?  My god.

Rubin buys the first round.  A table becomes available.  This place is looking better and better. Still no music, no Django’s Moustache.  But the twenty beers on draught, low black basement ceiling and candlelit tables make me feel more at (bar) home than my previous experience (singular) had.

12:30 (??!) rolls around, and the band returns to the stage.  This is not Django’s Moustache! This is a woman!  This is The Kat Edmonson Jazz Quintet, and within five minutes, I could not be any happier.  Her voice is entrancing.  Her backing band crafts a beautiful sound, working together harmoniously.  None of the quintet is overbearing.  They are all perfect.

I require a Long Island Iced Tea.  I request a Long Island Iced Tea.  This round’s on me.

At some point, Kat covers The Beatles’ Michelle.  Around this time, I decide to break all three of us from our respective unflinching gazes and conclude that “this may be the best day of my life.”

At about 1:30, to my dismay, The Kat Edmonson Jazz Quintet calls it a night.  We had caught the last of three sets.  We had loved every minute of it.  We seemed to make some sort of unspoken agreement to become regulars at The Elephant Room, got up, and left.

The good thing about parking a distance from a bar is that you can walk off your drunk a little bit before starting to drive home.  If you are a driver and ever intend on driving anywhere near me, I strongly recommend it.  The street we parked on is perfect.  It’s not so far away that the walk is exhausting, but it’s far enough away to have you thinking marginally straighter than you were before you started walking.  Another good thing about a designated surefire parking area is that it makes it nearly impossible to forget where you parked.

Again, please do not park here.  It’s ours.

My uncertainty in my declaration of my best day ever proved necessary.  Four days later, I declared Tuesday, December 4, 2007, the day after my twenty-second birthday, to be the worst day of my life.  My interview did not go as well as I originally thought.  I did not get the job, and I did not take it well.  On top of that, I got a message from Best Buy informing me that I needed to replace the motherboard of my laptop and, to do so, I would have to give them something like nine hundred dollars.

I know what you’re thinking.  Wow.  This guy must live a pretty good life.

I do.  I really do.

But, while part of my exhilaration on my November 30, 2007 was, well, unfounded, the exhilaration that The Elephant Room brought me that night stuck with me and, I hope, will for a long, long time.

We went back the next two Fridays.  We got there earlier.  We like to stay for two sets.  On December 7th, we saw Elias Haslanger, a fairly decent saxophonist that was fun to listen to. We had four rounds:  White Russian, Shiner Bock, White Russian, Live Oak Big Bark.  Though I drank twice as much, Eli wasn’t half as good as I thought Kat Edmonson was.  December 14th, John and I saw Beto y Los Fairlanes, a fun group with eight players, four horns, and an overall understanding of music as a whole.  I rank them this way:  (1) Kat, (2) Beto, (3) Eli.  We had three rounds:  Live Oak Big Bark, Christian Brothers & Coke, Newcastle.  I rank them this way: (1) Live Oak Big Bark, (2) White Russian, (3) Newcastle, (4) Long Island Iced Tea, (5) Shiner Bock, (6) Christian Brothers & Coke, (7) Chimay (for spite, and symmetry).

Same bouncer.  Same bartenders.  Good music.  Good aura.  Good friends.  Comfort.  Love.

Selfless as I am, I have recommended the hell out of The Elephant Room to people.  When my family was in town, I tried to convince them to overcome their sleepiness (and drunkenness), go have some drinks at The Elephant Room, and listen to The Kat Edmonson Jazz Quintet. They just would not.  Their loss.

I also recently wrote a letter to Chuck Klosterman (author of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, et cetera) that, among other things, suggested we hang out at The Elephant Room.  I am heterosexually in love with Chuck Klosterman and have dismissed the idea that he would actually go with me.  These two statements may or may not be related.  So, if you ever see Chuck at The Elephant Room, convince yourself that it is my doing, and tell him that Grawl says hello.


(*I use the phrase “a little like this” for two reasons:  (1) because it’s a pretty great phrase and (2) because I don’t remember every aspect of the day.  Asking me to do so would be absurd.  Also, I recognize the “best day of my life” surpassed the midnight hour, and the technical part (read:  most) of me argues with this subtlety.  If you find yourself appalled by this misdating, (a) thank you and (b) get over yourself.)


(NOTE:  written December 2007, published 19th July 2008 for CA Jottings.)