In Beyond the Books, Book Riot contributors recommend stuff that isn’t about books. From apps to zines, our recommendations are as wide-ranging and idiosyncratic as we are–and as we know you are too.
His Gingerness, Damian Lewis — The Homeland man was great in The Forsyte Saga, which I recommend to Downton Abbey fans as being far better than Downton Abbey.
Coloring Book for Grown-Ups: The Adult Activity Book by Ryan Hunter and Taige Jensen – My favorite page has a big swirl on it and the prompt suggests you “Fill The Void.” Boy, have I been there. This is so my kind of coloring book.
Chinese Checkers – With two small kids, I’ve been waiting seven years, yes, seven years, to play a game without someone stomping off in a huff, or throwing themselves onto the puzzle, but we recently played this old school board game (with dimply surface, and dragon motif – you know you remember it) without losing our marbles. I swear, I thought I heard trumpets, Sweet Lords of Family Game Night.
The Mint app — To keep track of my New Year’s financial resolution to keep track of my money. Now I know where it all goes: to bookstores, and bakeries, and, as they say, knowing is half the battle.
Rebecca Joines Schinsky:
iFly app–I’ve been spending a lot of time in airports lately, and I have been looooving iFly. It lets you track flight status, look up traveler help numbers when your flight home from Christmas vacation gets canceled (not that I’d know anything about that), and has handy guides to a bazillion major airports so you can look for food, the closest ATM, an actual bar, and the best place to buy replacement earbuds. The free version is serviceable, but pro is worth the couple bucks.
Yes-To-Cucumbers facial towelettes–Oh hi, impulse purchase from the Ulta checkout line! I’ve been keeping a package of these in every handbag for the last six months or so, and let me tell you, they make me a nicer person. These little cucumber-infused towelettes are perfect for wiping off a day’s worth of airport grime or city grit or back-to-back meeting exhaustion. When you want to wash your face but it’s not convenient, these are perfect and so refreshing.
Whiskey stones: I like my whiskey neat but cold, and if I order it on the rocks, I hate it when the ice melts and I end up with unintentional water in my drink. Enter whiskey stones–soapstone blocks the size of ice cubes you keep in the freezer and that never melt or water down your beverage. Mine are from Think Geek, but you can find them all over. Highly recommended for a bourbon-licious good time.
Cards Against Humanity — Have you ever played Apples to Apples? Cards Against Humanity is same style of word association game, but for your dirty and twisted mind. AND I LOVE IT. I have never not had a great time playing this game. I have an expansion deck (which basically just adds more gloriously effed-up cards to the already gloriously effed-up original set) that I carry with me just in case. I usually end up playing it at the curling club after a game, but happy hour with Cards Against Humanity is the most fun you’ll have playing a game in a bar. EVER.
Artemis — I won’t sugar coat it: this is the nerdiest game I’ve ever played. Artemis is listed as a spaceship bridge simulator, but basically it’s a collaborative Star Trek-esque role playing game for your PC or tablet device of choice. Each player is given a job on the crew (like Comms, Engineering, Weapons, Helm) and you all work together to defend your corner of the galaxy from invading bad guys. But what’s awesome about Artemis is the game play. Grab a bunch of friends with their laptops or iPads in your living room, through the main display on your TV, and have at it! This game is so much more fun that it has any right being.
Hoop Dance — Sometimes you just have to dance! After watching friends perform, I decided to pick up a hoop. Anyone can do it, even if they can’t get a hoop spinning around their waist, because there are plenty of off-body moves and a lot of room to play and make up your own thing. I love heading out to the park, listening to my favorite music and just bopping around. There’s a lovely feeling of accomplishment once you get it spinning and it’s easy to lose yourself in the movement for hours.
Mermaid Parade – My favorite day in in NYC might be canceled. Each June, Coney Island USA hosts the Mermaid Parade, a day of sparkle and fun costumes as people dress up as jellyfish, sharks, and yes, mermaids to parade down the boardwalk. Recovery efforts from Hurricane Sandy are still underway, but fellow Rioter Ali and I are ready with our “Mermaid Avengers” group – the best looking (and most sequined) set of characters Marvel will ever see!
Ayurvedic Massage – Just as important as working out and eating right, massage is a wonderful way to relax and take care of your body. Ayurveda is a traditional Hindu medicine. Even if you’re not interested in alternative healing, the massages (called abhyanga) are not be missed. The long form, marma abhyanga, focuses on pressure points during the massage. By the end of an hour session I feel so alive and energized. The relaxed muscles last a while unlike with other forms of massage where I start to feel my muscles tense within a day.
Rifle Paper Company– Over the holidays I needed to send a lot of holiday cards and year-end thank you notes. But I wanted to do this in the cutest way possible. Cue Rifle Paper Co. They have cards and stationery for every occasion. You will be so Emily Post sending out all your adorable snail mail with Rifle!
Living Proof Shampoo and Conditioner– I went into Sephora and asked them what shampoo would make my hair the fullest and shiniest and they handed me a bottle of Living Proof shampoo. Apparently it makes your hair strands separate themselves out from each other, hence volume. Whatever it does, it works. Also, all their copy talks about your hair like it’s a science experiment, it’s really silly and fun.
Drybar Blowouts– Drybars are hair salons now that don’t cut or color your hair. The only service they provide is blowdrying your hair all fancy so you look like a moviestar. The service starts around 35 bucks. If you subscribe to Groupon/Living Social, you can usually find discounts. Having blown-out hair is the girl version of wearing Super Mario’s Flying Racoon Cape.
Geek Battle: I grabbed this on a whim for Christmas-with-the-family, and it was just as much fun as I hoped it would be. The best thing about it is that it covers the whole spectrum of nerdy — hardcore nerds will appreciate the Geek Battle challenges in particular, and those of lesser geekdom will appreciate the more general interest questions. Game play is really well designed; you can be kicking serious ass at questions, but that won’t matter if you get sucked into a wormhole and sent back to the outer rims of the board. Highly recommended for everyone even vaguely intrigued by the name!
Watches: I haven’t owned a watch since probably middle school, but I’ve been thinking about getting one for well over a year now, and I finally took the plunge. Why bother when your smart phone will tell you the time? Well, that’s pretty much exactly the reason — I’m trying to get smarter about multitaskers vs unitaskers. Each have a place in an organized life, and how nice would it be to check the time without also worrying about text messages and Twitter alerts? Turns out: so nice.
Oscar Season: The 6ish weeks between mid-January and the end of February. What a glorious time it is in my little world. The focus shifts from book stories to movie stories as I try – much more laboriously than is warranted – to watch every single Oscar-nominated film. This year, there are 52 films up for nods and I am making my spreadsheets and checking it twice. To be fair, this little adventure would be basically impossible in a small town. In DC I get to see the Live Action and Animated Shorts at the local art house theater, the docs at the National Archives, and all the foreign films at National Geographic. A lot of work, yes, but so much fun.
MyTaxi: I’m pretty much a fan of anything that makes my life easier and doesn’t cost a fortune. Even better if I don’t have to call anyone to make it work and I don’t need cash to pay for it. Enter: MyTaxi. Living in DC where the public transportation system shuts down early and is pretty slow when it is running, being able to get from point A to point B can be challenging. Uber has made DC into a black sedan haven, but Mama doesn’t have $30-$40 (at minimum) every time she wants to take a 15 minute ride home from the bar. And cabs in DC do not have credit card machines across the board. MyTaxi has swooped in and solved every one of those issues and more. Request a cab from the app or the online portal – which stores a ton of preferences and even lets you request favorite drivers – and be ferried by a driver that’s been vetted and trained by the professional MyTaxi staff. You can pay through the app, with cash, or with a credit card to the driver directly. The cost is same as if you stuck out your arm to hail a cab the old-fashioned way. Right now the service is just in DC (in the U.S. – they’ve been in Europe for a while), but they’re hopefully expanding to more cities soon.
Things I like that my BR colleagues already mentioned that I am seconding: Cards Against Humanity, Breaking Bad and Omnifocus. LOVE ALL THE THINGS.
Do Not Disturb function in iOS 6: DID YOU KNOW THIS IS A THING? You can make it so your phone stops flashing updates at you all the livelong day! I was keeping it on silent and turned upside down, but my dad’s not been well and I didn’t like the idea of missing an important family phone call. Now my phone SHUTS THE HELL UP unless my husband, parents, or brother is calling. Ahhhhhhhhh bliss.
Joel Plaskett’s Scrappy Happiness: The indie king of Canada. If you haven’t yet listened to Joel’s clever lyrics and stripped back instrumentation, you are seriously missing out. And you can stream the whole thing for free here: http://music.cbc.ca/play/artist/Joel-Plaskett/album/Scrappy-Happiness
Cards Against Humanity: I wish I didn’t love it so much. I wish I wasn’t so good at it.
Run, Zombies!: I just put in my first 5k run (for real, no walking!) of 2013 and I attribute it 100% to the total fun that is Run, Zombies! It’s a smartphone app that tracks your runs, but also immerses you in a story where you’re a runner in a post-zombie-apocalypse world. Basically, it forces you to do intervals by making you think there are zombies after you. Win.
Breaking Bad: I know this is the equivalent of shouting about this popular new beat-combo, The Beatles, but here’s a revelation for you: Breaking Bad is wonderful. I have been so far behind the curve with this that the penny, or should that be fat stacks, only dropped a few weeks ago that Brian Cranston, who plays BB’s sad-sack teacher turned drug overlord, is also the dad from Malcolm in the Middle. How glad am I that the brimstone I invoked upon the latter series never appeared. I’m only on series two, but the darkness is growing. The relentless sunshine of New Mexico has never seemed so seductively gloomy.
Lord Huron: Lonesome Dreams (Music): The emotional opposite of Breaking Bad. The first album from the LA group Lord Huron is suffused with more enough brightness and love-lorn optimism to dispel the midwinter gloom. Tracks such as ‘Brother’ and ‘Time To Run’ sum up their seductive conceit – this is Rhythm of The Saints era Paul Simon jamming with Fleet Foxes. Crank the reverb to 11. This is one dreamier.
Uber: This is not new and I’m sure someone has mentioned it before (possibly even me) – but I must say again how very much I love this service (and app). Am ready for it to expand into some “smaller” cities now. I’m addicted.
VoicePark: I’m in San Francisco a few to several times a year, and parking there can be atrocious. This brand new app has already put sensors in 8 pilot areas of the city (The Financial District, Mission, Marina, and Fisherman’s Wharf included — great for tourists). They’re currently expanding to 30 other cities and say they will be in Europe sometime in 2013. I can say that this honestly works and saved my sanity in a recent visit to SF.
The Gentlewoman: I don’t subscribe to this magazine (hefty price for only 2 issues a year), but you can buy single copies for much less on La Garçonne’s website.
Kiehl’s Creme de Corps Whipped Body Butter: I pretty much want to eat this stuff (I don’t, don’t worry). Where I live is crazy dry, and this junk is a miracle worker and smells completely heavenly. For the dudes or the ladies who hate scent, they have the non-whipped no smell kind too.
Star Trek: The Next Generation– Jean-Luc Picard is my spirit animal, so I’ve recently started watching the entire series (again) on Netflix streaming. I’m deep into season three and it’s just as moralizing (I keep thinking: Dickens would LURVE THIS except for all the casual sex) and perfect as I remember. Except the episodes with Q- I can only watch someone riff on Commander Riker so many times.
Omnifocus– I’ve never considered myself a productivity/life-hacking nerd, or even someone in need of help in that area. Then I had twins and got a creativity/thinking-based job with lots of moving parts, and suddenly didn’t know where I’d left my pants. Omnifocus is a Mac-based task management system (I know, I know, could a sentence exist that sounds nerdier?) that breaks down all your projects into manageable, actionable parts to get them out of your brain and in motion. The best part is the contexts: you can create categories like “stuff to do when you only have 5 minutes” or “errands” or “on my office computer” or whatever, and only look at those tasks when applicable. It’s got a hefty price tag, but it’s beyond worth it if you’re juggling lots of responsibilities.
College basketball is, perhaps, the greatest thing ever. That’s not hyperbole. It is. I feel very strongly about this. And as such, I may be the only sports fan I know who actively looks forward to the interminable football season ending, because that means college hoops now has a much greater share of the spotlight. As a season ticket holder for Marquette University, I look forward to Saturday afternoons in January and February more so than any weekend any time else in the year. Who’s your team?
Hearing about how awesome Homeland is is the new “hearing about how awesome The Wire is.” God forbid you haven’t seen it, and you find yourself in conversation with someone who has — a situation I’d found myself in several times lately. So I finally succumbed and watched both seasons of Homeland around Christmas/New Years time. People are right, the story of the maybe-turned-but-is-he-really-turned prisoner of war is edge-of-your-seat good times. And you cannot take your eyes of Claire Danes. She is brilliant. The story — especially in season 2 — does suffer from a few misstep tangents, but overall, you could do much worse (see: network television dreck) than spending 24 episodes with Brody, Carrie and Saul.
Puzzles: The word holidays can be synonymous with ‘free time.’ While visiting my mother-in-law in North Carolina, I somewhat reluctantly agreed to help work on a 1500 piece jigsaw depicting a cartoon version of the Parisian skyline. I say that I was reluctant because I hadn’t done a puzzle in years and it seemed, well, boring. I stand corrected. I was completely engrossed and have to laugh at myself for how much effort I put into it. If you’re like me and hadn’t worked on a puzzle since childhood, seriously, hit one up pronto.
30 Days of Dead 2012 on Spotify :Let me be clear: I’m not a “Deadhead.” Sure, my favorite incarnation of the band is ‘71-’73, and sure, my favorite moment from my favorite show is that transition from “China Cat Sunflower” to “I Know You Rider” on March 25, 1972 at the New York Academy of Music. But I’m NOT a “Deadhead.” And I usually don’t like compilations made up of songs from different shows. But I have to make an exception for “30 Days of Dead 2012” on Spotify. And whether you’re a “Deadhead” or not, you should check it out.
Sweetie Pies: One of the things I enjoy about going home for the holidays is the home cooking. What’s the point of going out to eat? I found a reason in Sweetie Pies, the St. Louis soul food restaurant. You might have heard about them from their reality TV show on the Oprah Network, and they definitely live up the hype: THE BEST catfish I’ve ever had in my life, shockingly decadent yams, moist cornbread, and savory greens. Sweetie Pies is my new favorite hometown eatery.
Runkeeper/Fitocracy apps (iOS): I never would have guessed how much fun I’d wind up having augmenting my running with technology, but boy is it a blast. It started with Runkeeper, which I’ve been using with pleasure for a couple years now. It tracks my runs and walks, either via GPS or manual entry…but it also talks to a range of apps that I’ve had fun playing with, and one of them is called Fitocracy, which brings an RPG element of points and levelling up to my runs. It also brings social networking to your fitness if you’re into that (which I’m not) (for I am captain reclusive crusty bastard) but I am enjoying my ability to compete via points with other people in my family. Take that, my kids’ grandma!
Star Trek: Deep Space 9: I’m probably required, at this point, to list “Trekkie” on census forms, I’ve been such a fan for so long. Deep Space 9 came along as a formative point in my youth and had a bigger effect on my writing than I can probably understand. I haven’t revisited it since its original airing until now, and I was nervous it wouldn’t age well. It aged fine. Now I’m an adult, the writing is smarter and more nuanced and more clever than I remember. The funny thing is discovering that storylines I thought were massive, multi-season encompassing epics…were only an episode or two, here and there. In my mind, I built vast, vast memories out of this show. Funny what your brain can do, huh?
Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: I can’t believe Skyrim came out in 2011. 2011! That’s OVER a year ago now and I’m still playing. I’m not that high level, there’s piles of stuff I haven’t done…and I still keep dipping back into the game time and again, and never for just a quick ten-minute play. It’s such a vast, detailed, nuanced world, in its way, that I get lost in it for ages. I play an awful lot of video games, but I haven’t been as immersed in one since I played Freelancer, ages ago. (Skyrim had such a resonant effect on me, it inspired a story from my thinking about it. I’ve never had a story arise from playing a video game before…)
Gâteau des rois (king cake): Every January, my sister and I track down one of these flaky, almond-filled cakes and start slicing, in pursuit of the little fève (token) hidden inside. This probably has some religioso-related significance, but our variation is stripped down to the basic competition of “who finds the token and wins the gold paper crown and a dose of good luck?” And it helps make the post-Christmas lull a bit sweeter.
Empire mayonnaise: Just when you thought the Brooklyn artisanal foodstuffs trencher was full, along comes a small-batch mayo maker. A friend just surprised me with the black-garlic variation and I’m curious to try the smoked paprika mayo. Let’s come up with a special noun for this guy’s job: mayonneur?
Freaks and Geeks: An article in the Vanity Fair comedy issue nudged me to finally start watching this. It is so perfectly cast that I found myself cringing and laughing at the same time; it was completely absorbing in a way that TV usually isn’t. Mr. Rosso, help, it will break my heart!