The 25 Christmas Songs You Never Listen To, But Should

tree-decorations-511716_1280

“Silent Night,” “Joy To The World” and “O Holy Night” are the most popular Christmas songs, according to TIME. There’s definitely something to be said about traditional music and the oldies but goodies.

But what about all the songs not playing on the radio? This holiday season, let’s think outside the box and add some new tunes to the Christmas playlist. You can start with these suggestions. Some are original songs, both old and new, and some are lesser-known renditions of classics.


LOVESICK

“(Christmas) Baby Please Come Home” by KT Tunstall

“30 Days” by Never Shout Never

“Winter Song” by Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson

“Just For Now” by Kelly Clarkson


FOLKSY

“Sparrow in the Birch” by Crofts Family

“Once In Royal David’s City” by Sufjan Stevens

“The Brightest Star” by Jim Avett

“White Winter Hymnal” by Fleet Foxes


SILLY

“I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas” by Blazer Force

“Dear Santa” by Jay Brannan

“Present Face” by Garfunkel & Oates (Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhome)

“Elf’s Lament” by Barenaked Ladies feat. Michael Buble


JUST PLAIN SAD

“The Heartache Can Wait” by Brandi Carlile

“Blue Christmas” by Bright Eyes

“I Want To Come Home For Christmas” by Marvin Gaye

“River” by Sarah McLachlan


TRADITIONAL WITH A TWIST

“O Holy Night” by Martina McBride

“I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day” by The Civil Wars

“Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Jack Johnson

“Silent Night (Lord Of My Life)” by Lady Antebellum


BONUS TRACKS

“Love Is Christmas” by Sara Bareilles 

“Tiny Tree Christmas” by Guster (this version is by Ryan Miller) 

“Snow Globe” by Matt Wertz 

“Hang A String Of Lights” by Great Lake Swimmers

“That’s Christmas To Me” by Pentatonix 

The 25 Christmas Songs You Never Listen To, But Should

All the Songs of 2014 in Just 2.5 Minutes

unsplash_52c319226cefb_1

It’s almost a week into December. Cue the top lists — Top 10 novels of 2014, 5 worst movies of 2014, Top 15 albums of 2014 and the Top 100 most repetitive and personal questions your extended family will ask you when you’re home for the holidays.

Instead of reading a list of the top songs of 2014, just listen to this lovely mix to hear what 2014’s pop music sounded like and reminisce about the time “Happy” was on every single radio station all the time.

Us the Duo seamlessly covered this year’s hits like Taylor Swift, Meghan Trainor, Clean Bandit, Pharrell, John Legend, Maroon 5 and more. The husband-and-wife team, Michael and Carissa Alvarado, started covering songs on Vine in #6SecondCovers and are the first Vine artists to sign with a major label.

Any other hits they should have included?

All the Songs of 2014 in Just 2.5 Minutes

9 Novels You Should Have Read By Now

While this list is somewhat subjective and absolutely should be much longer, here are 9 novels you need to read if you haven’t already. (I’d also recommend a reread, since stories can mean different things to you at different times of life as you have different experiences and perspectives.)

Perhaps you were too busy in college to actually do the reading, or you were the snoozer of your high school lit class or maybe you were a lazy middle schooler who thought books were lame. Regardless of your past, it’s time to start a new chapter of your life — pun intended — and become a reader. Start with these novels, which are considered classics for a reason.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Yes, there are film versions, but nothing compares to the story as penned by the great American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. His tale is set in the Roaring Twenties, but the exploration of money, love, ambition and obsession are ever relevant today.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This is also a timeless tale, told in a certain setting, but with application throughout time. In his only published novel, Harper Lee poignantly explores racial injustice and right and wrong. It’s chock-full of wisdom like this statement: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Marie Remarque
This novel reveals the atrocities of war by illuminating the suffering of German soldiers and civilians. You won’t be able to forget that there are real people — fellow humans — on both sides of the battles we face. (The book is even better in German.)

Native Son by Richard Wright
While we’re on the top of racial injustice, let’s talk about Richard Wright and his 1940 novel. It’s impossible to ignore the issues of poverty and racial tension in America when you read this violent protest novel. It’s graphic and it’s real and it’s raw, and you need to read it.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Certainly this novel is not without controversy, and everyone has different reasons for thoroughly enjoying or detesting the story with themes of adolescent angst and alienation. However, you’ll learn a lot about yourself as you struggle with Holden Caulfield through feelings of identity, connection, belonging and loss and as you grapple with the idea of adulthood.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
You should read this classic bildungsroman, or coming-of-age novel, as an adult, even if you already read this in school. It’s quick, smart, and more entertaining than you remember. Charles Dickens thought it to be his best work — only one more novel would follow — but you can be the judge.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
It’s the best first paragraph you’ll ever read, and the story will chill you to the bone. If you’re easily scared or disturbed, maybe don’t read it right before you go to sleep. Side note: You should also read her short story called “The Lottery” — also unnerving.

The Chroncles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Check this out from the library for a wonderful tale told through fabulous storytelling. It’s not just for kids, and the movies don’t do the stories justice.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
How do you feel about ambition and science and humanity? Read “Frankenstein” and you might think differently. This story, written by a teenager, is told with unforgettable prose and surreal imagery. Maybe you read it in high school, but a reread without the idea of a paper to write looming over your head will reveal an even more powerful story.

Other good reads you should put on your bookshelf:
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
in our time by Ernest Hemingway
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

9 Novels You Should Have Read By Now

How to Write Like Famous Authors

It’s NaNoWriMo, which means you might be trying to write a novel this month. Any type of writing is difficult, and the worst part is getting started. After that, it doesn’t get much better. What better way to try your hand at writing than to emulate your predecessors? Here’s how the greats, with all their quirks, got through the arduous task of writing and produced wonderful work.

Write a lot. Stephen King says he writes 10 pages every single day. Anthony Trollope aimed for 250 words every 15 minutes and paced himself with a watch.

If volume is intimidating, write meticulously. James Joyce took his time and considered three sentences a good day’s work.

Be comfortable and focused when you write. Ernest Hemingway woke up early to write 500 words a day before it got hot and noisy. He also said he was always sober when he wrote, even though he suffered from alcoholism. Vladimir Nabokov found a parked car to be a great insulator from distractions.

Leave your desk and take a walk. The French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau disliked working at a desk and went on long walks to come up with ideas. American author Philip Roth paces while he thinks and says he walks half a mile for every written page. Wallace Stevens walked and composed poetry on slips of paper as he did.

Write in a shed. Roald Dahl and Philip Pullman did.

Truman Capote lying down in 1977.

Lie down. Truman Capote, author of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1958) and “In Cold Blood” (1966), wrote lying down in bed or on a couch, cigarette in hand. Throughout the day, he’d drink coffee, then sherry, then martinis. Other supinate authors: Marcel Proust, Edith Sitwell, Edith Wharton, Mark Twain and William Wordsworth.

If writing horizontally doesn’t work for you, stand up. Nabakov, author of “Lolita,” did all of his writing standing up. He also wrote on index cards, so he could rearrange scenes. Other authors who preferred to write vertically: Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Virginia Woolf and Lewis Carroll.

Be inspired by an aroma. Friedrich Schiller purposely let apples rot in his desk drawer because the smell inspired him. Schiller’s spouse said he “could not live or work without it.”

Undress. John Cheever wrote in 1978 that “a great many of the stories in my current collection were written in my underwear.” Don’t want to write your skivvies? At least get comfy. Francine Prose, author of “Blue Angel,” writes while wearing a T-shirt and her husband’s flannel pajama pants.

Flannery O’Connor with her peacocks.

Get a pet. Flannery O’Connor loved her childhood chicken and collected pheasants, ducks, turkeys, quail and peacocks. Edgar Allan Poe referred to his tabby, Catterina, as his literary guardian.

Be disciplined and thoughtful. J.G. Ballard prepared very long outlines. Walter Benjamin put off writing as long as possible, so his ideas could mature.

Munch while you mull over ideas. Agatha Christie ate apples in the bathtub. O’Connor snacked on vanilla wafers. Nabokov enjoyed molasses.

Be prepared. John Steinbeck always kept 12 sharpened pencils on his desk. Woolf created a writing board with a tray for pens and ink so she wouldn’t run out of materials and have her writing disrupted.

Consider color. Alexandre Dumas used blue paper for fiction, yellow for poetry, pink for articles. He said his fiction suffered when he ran out of blue paper while traveling and had to write on cream instead. Woolf used green, blue, and purple pens, the last of which was used for letters.

Take transportation. Sir Walter Scott composed poetry on horseback. Joseph Heller said the ending of “Catch-22” came to him while he was riding on a bus. Woody Allen wrote down ideas while standing on crowded subways to New York.

Now go forth and write!

How to Write Like Famous Authors

Probably Meryl Streep is the Best

She has been nominated for 18 Oscars (and somehow won only three). She rocks clogs. She looks fabulous on the red carpet. She loves chocolate. She’s fluent in Italian. She swims a mile a day. She worked her way up with both innate talent and hard work.  And most of all, she earned her notoriety through stunning, haunting and raw performances.

Meryl Streep.

From Vassar College and the Yale School of Drama to the New York theater, Streep made her way to Julia, her first full-length film. Throughout her career, she has told us important stories as she graces the stage and screen.

Because a definitive ranking of all her roles is too daunting, here are some must-sees that highlight her chameleon-like quality in front of the camera.

Joanna Kramer in “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979)

Streep won an Oscar for her portrayal of Joanna, whom Streep completely saturates with pain as she tells the story of someone abandoning her family. Streep has the ability to say so much without saying anything at all.

Sophie Zawistowski in “Sophie’s Choice” (1982)

In an emotion-steeped role, Streep plays a woman enduring a horrifically tragic event and just looking for love. It’s a painfully perfect performance. And on top of that, Streep has a flawless accent.

Helen Archer in “Ironweed” (1987)

Streep and Jack Nicholson are a homeless couple in this heart-wrenching story that takes place in New York during the Depression.

Julia in “Defending Your Life” (1991)

In between heaven and Earth, Streep’s character meets Daniel and shares her infectious passion for life as they fall in love.

Clarissa Vaughan in “The Hours” (2002)

This is the story of how Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway” affects three generations of women dealing with suicide in their lives. Streep gives her character such pain and sadness (but also love) that you can’t help but feel the feels.

Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006)

Streep’s Oscar-nominated performance in this one is precise and punchy. She plays an icy fashion magazine editor who can say so much with soft muttering or by simply pursing her lips.

Sister Aloysius Beauvier in “Doubt” (2008)

Streep plays a strict nun who accuses a priest of molesting a student. Her ability to combine Sister Aloysius’ moral superiority with her anger pays off in the powerful final scene when her character is unable to get over self-loathing after getting her way.

Julia Child in “Julie & Julia” (2009)

It must be daunting to pull off such an iconic role, but Streep does it with seeming ease in her portrayal of Julia Child, complete with Child’s signature voice.

Margaret Thatcher “The Iron Lady” (2011)

Telling the story of yet another iconic character, Streep proffers an Academy Award–winning performance of an uncanny likeness of Margaret Thatcher in both her younger and later years. Streep absolutely envelopes the characters she plays and this is no exception.

Up and coming: Streep plays a menacing witch in “Into the Woods,” a Stephen Sondheim musical and modern twist of Brothers Grimm fairytales that will hit theaters on Christmas Day. Streep is currently filming for “Ricki And The Flash,” in which she plays a hard core, but aging, rock ‘n’ roller, who tries to reunite with her estranged children. (Jonathan Demme is directing the movie set to come out in June 2015.)

Probably Meryl Streep is the Best

Who did it best — Aretha or Adele?

Aretha Franklin covered Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and absolutely killed it. Sure, she’s 72 and her voice has aged a bit, but damn, that woman’s still got it. Hear for yourself.

The magnificent cover became available Monday and is a track on her new album, “Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics,” which will be released Oct. 21.

As if her performance weren’t life-fulfilling enough, Franklin adds an interpolation of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” near the end, which demands your R-E-S-P-E-C-T. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

Some of the songs are old classics like Etta James’ “At Last” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” which will incorporate some of Destiny Child’s song — can you guess? — yep, “Survivor.”

Other tracks are more contemporary, such as Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman” and Alicia Keys’ “No One” and Adele’s major hit. If I were Adele and the Queen of Soul herself wanted to cover my song, I’d be feeling pretty good about myself. Adele’s diva score just shot up 200 points.*

Now go listen to it again. I know you want to.

*The diva scale isn’t a consistent means for measurement, and the 200 points were arbitrarily assigned by myself.

Who did it best — Aretha or Adele?

Happy Birthday, F. Scott

F. Scott Fitzgerald was a novelist and short story writer during the Jazz Age, known best for his novel, “The Great Gatsby.” His fame came mostly posthumously, however, and 44-year old Fitzgerald died of a heart attack believing he was a failure.

To celebrate his life and all the ways he wasn’t a failure, on this his 188th birthday, here are some of Fitzgerald’s nuggets of wisdom — for both literature and for life.

1. Life’s tough. We learn this from his biography and from his writing. Fitzgerald’s gravestone has this on it: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” I think that’s likely how Fitzgerald viewed life. But the point is that we beat on.

2. Success — and money — won’t last forever. His first novel, “This Side of Paradise,” made him famous and opened many doors of opportunity, which lead to even more success and prosperity. Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, lived extravagant lives as aspiring socialites, which soon turned to be unhappy, disorderly lives of debt, alcoholism, mental illness and infidelity. Save your money, folks.

3. Don’t always follow others’ advice. In Fitzgerald’s short story “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” socially hopeless Bernice is tricked by her cousin, Majorie, into thinking a bob would make the boys like her. It doesn’t. Moral of the story? Just be yourself. The boys were starting to like her before the new hairdo. (Side note: those boys were probably shallow and not worth her time anyway.)

4. Characters matter. In all of Fitzgerald’s stories, it’s his well-developed and interesting characters that illuminate life’s complexities and explore turbulent ideas. Focus on the characters, and the story will tell itself.

5. There are more things to not worry about than there are to worry about. In 1933, Fitzgerald wrote a letter to his young daughter away at camp. He said to worry about courage, cleanliness, efficiency and horsemanship. Then he listed four times as many things NOT to be worried about:

Don’t worry about popular opinion
Don’t worry about dolls
Don’t worry about the past
Don’t worry about the future
Don’t worry about growing up
Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don’t worry about triumph
Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don’t worry about mosquitoes
Don’t worry about flies
Don’t worry about insects in general
Don’t worry about parents
Don’t worry about boys
Don’t worry about disappointments
Don’t worry about pleasures
Don’t worry about satisfactions

Happy Birthday, F. Scott