Favorites

My Favorite Things
Reference Books
In an age of thoughtless "googling" and fake news, it's worth celebrating good reference guides.  Here are the reference books that I've enjoyed and relied on the most in my life:
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language  [Great word histories and "usage panel" insights on how to use tricky words.  I also fell in love with this book as a teenager because it also included curse words.]
The Colombia Encylopedia [A great one-volume resource.  Wikipedia has its uses, but the Columbia entries have impressive concision.]
Videohound's Golden Movie Retriever [The thematic index with zany categories is still a great way to find movies.  Take that, IMBD!]
The Universal Self-Instructor: A Fascimile of the 1883 Edition [It's easy to mock the hubris of the book's title, but the scary thing is that this book delivers.  If you ever need to apply for a job (Gilded Age style), send flowers with a specific message, or come up with a clever wedding toast, this is the book for you.
What To Drink with What You Eat [Did you know that popcorn pairs well with champagne, and that celery soda gives new life to a pastrami sandwich?  I didn't until I got this book with its amazing two-way indexing that lets you search by food or by beverage.]
 
History Books
These aren't necessarily the best books I've read (though some are); they are just books that had a powerful effect at the time I read them.
• William Appleman Williams, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy
• Michael H. Hunt, Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy
Emily S. Rosenberg, Spreading the American Dream
• John F. Kasson, Rudeness and Civility: Manners in Nineteenth-Century Urban America
• Thomas Frank, The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism
• Annelise Orleck, Storming Caesar’s Palace: How Black Mothers Fought Their Own War on Poverty
 
Fiction
Georges Perec: La vie mode d’emploi (Life: A User's Manual) [So tedious and yet so good!]
Herman Melville, Moby Dick [Another oddly tedious book that I could not put down.]
Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children
Günther Grass, Tin Drum
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
Janosch, Oh wie schön ist Panama [The first book I read in German cover to cover, in my mid-30s]
JK Rowling, Harry Potter series [Normally, when I want to immerse myself in a strange and fascinating world, I will read a good book of history, but I made an exception for these seven fantasy books.]
 
All Other Books
John L. Casti, Paradigms Lost: Images of Man in the Mirror of Science
Paul Fussell, Class: A Guide through the American Status System
Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man [This book has a flawed argument, but I still appreciate the clarity with which Fukuyama applied philosophies of human nature to political systems.  His thesis is silly, but his approach has stayed with me.]
Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
 
Music: Favorite Albums (in rough chronological order)
These albums received lots of playing at the time, or they introduced me to a new genre of music.
Vic Flick, On Top of Spaghetti and Other Songs That Tickle Your Funnybone
Depeche Mode, Some Great Reward
Dead Kennedys, Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death
New Order, Power, Corruption, and Lies
Joy Division, Closer
The Smiths, The Smiths
Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
Fairport Convention, House Full
Duke Ellington, Money Jungle
Laurie Anderson, Big Science
Parliament, Mothership Connection
Phish, Junta
Bill Monroe, Live at Bean Blossom
John Coltrane, First Meditations
OutKast, Stankonia
Yo La Tengo, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out
Café Tacuba, Re
Sufjan Stevens, Come On Feel the Illinoise!
Janelle Monáe, The ArchAndroid
Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
 
Movies

Creepy Movies
Pan’s Labyrinth
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
The Orphanage
Spirited Away
 
Funny Movies (Intentionally or Not)
Some Like it Hot
Troy
Con Air
Pacific Rim
Blade 2
Dr. Strangelove
Playtime (Jacques Tati)
Weekend (Godard)
The Life of Brian
Talladega Nights

Shaun of the Dead

Romantic Movies
The Shop Around the Corner
Amélie
Titanic (sob!)
The Princess Bride
Harold and Maude
My Neighbor Totoro
 
Serious/Dark Movies
Apocalypse Now
The Lives of Others
The Devil and Daniel Johnston
An Inconvenient Truth
The Act of Killing
Lone Star
 
Hard to Categorize
Y tu mamá también
Nashville
 

Cheeses
See pictures of handsome cheeses on this French website.
The best cheese shop I've ever entered is Xavier in Toulouse (France)
Two formidable French cheeses have homepages here: Pont L'Evêque and Livarot.  
California has some pretty good cheese too, as with Red Hawk from the Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes.
My favorite U.S. cheeses come from Vermont.  Besides the classic sharp cheddar, the woodsy, mushroomy smell of a ripe Harbison from Vermont's Jasper Hill Farm offers a taste experience on par with great French funky cheeses. 
Last, but not least in my heart, are the "cheese food products" of my childhood: Cheez Whiz (good on steaks) and Easy Cheese (best on hard pretzels or simply consumed from the tube via a straw connected to the nozzle.)
 

Soccer Referee Websites
The Watch and the Whistle [The advice here on running a soccer game applies to so many other areas in life.  Sample line: "Like cops and the mafia, referees stand by each other."]
Brigade Hartmut Strampe [This German group attends small-scale soccer games with the express purpose of cheering for the poor referee.]