Favorite music of 2018

As a music buff, and one who still buys CDs, I like to pick my favorite new releases of the year. I pulled all my 2018 CDs, played them, ranked them, photographed them on Jan. 1…and promptly forgot the whole thing. Hey, it was a holiday. Then I saw my photo on my camera roll the other day, thought “yikes” and am now writing this post a bit belatedly.

I am not up on pop currents and at my age have no need to be. Features in the LA Times on their critics’ Top 10 picks left me bemused as I had not heard any of the songs or albums. Ditto for the Coachella lineup; I recognize only three or four of the names and don’t know ANY of the music. I don’t think that’s ever been the case before.

So I don’t know that this list of mine is going to prove useful to anyone, containing as it does some indie rock, world music, folk, country, Bob Dylan covers (No. 3) and tributes to English music hall (No. 2) and the co-leader of the Fugs (No. 1). Nevertheless, I persisted.

10. Wussy: “What Heaven is Like”

9. Ry Cooder: “The Prodigal Son”

8. Bombino: “Deran”

7. Ellen Harper: “Light Has a Life of Its Own”

6. Rolling Blackouts CF: “Hope Downs”

5. Willie Nelson: “Last Man Standing”

4. Parquet Courts: “Wide Awaaaaake!”

3. Bettye Lavette: “Things Have Changed”

2. Linda Thompson and various: “Linda Thompson Presents: My Mother Doesn’t Know I’m on the Stage”

1. Jeffrey Lewis and the Deposit Returners: “Works by Tuli Kupferberg”

Look that up in your Funk & Wagnall’s. If by chance you liked any 2018 music yourself, feel free to comment.

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Restaurant of the Week: Vita Italian Bar and Grill

Vita Italian Bar and Grill, 3101 W. Temple Ave. (at the 57), Pomona; 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

For many years the off-ramp from the 57 Freeway at Temple Avenue was notable for only one thing: It was home to the Inland Valley’s only Wendy’s. (The chain had evidently contracted; it’s since expanded again.) But since last March it’s also been home to a newly renovated DoubleTree, and also Vita, an ambitious hotel restaurant.

It’s mildly challenging to access. Basically, you use the driveway for Wendy’s, then take the fishhook driveway up and around to the restaurant entrance.

It’s modern Italian, served in an airy, stylish space with repurposed wood, brick and metal. That’s meant to reflect our rustic heritage but basically just reflects contemporary design. There’s expansive indoor seating and a large patio, which for obvious reasons wasn’t in use on the blustery December afternoon a friend and I visited.

The menu has small plates, soups, sandwiches, salads, pastas, pizza and dinner entrees ($32-$48) like cioppino, pork chop and N.Y. steak. (You can also get, to quote the menu, a “spice rubbed baby lamb.” I’m picturing it being led to my table, where my party would ruffle its wool, lick the spices from our fingers and then send it bounding back to its mother.) There’s a full bar, happy hour and wine.

Complimentary rosemary ciabatta bread was served with olive oil.

My friend got the roasted porchetta sandwich ($17), with pork, spinach, smoked cheese from Pomona’s Di Stefano and chili aioli on a Tuscan roll. He called it the best sandwich he’d had in some time. It came with a basket of housemade potato chips.

Knowing that Vita sources its produce from Cal Poly Pomona’s farm, I ordered the farmers market vegetable lasagna ($18), with housemade pasta, local cheeses and (ooh-la-la) vodka sauce.

Lasagnas come in all forms, and this one, rather than the usual cake-like layered block, was more horizontal, heavy on the sauce and cheese. The taste was fine, and there were vegetables amid the sauce, zucchini most recognizably, but the dish wasn’t as vegetable-intensive as I had hoped for.

Service was welcoming, attentive and not overbearing. We were seated by a window, which provided natural light. The scenery below us left a little to be desired. “There’s a view of three gas stations,” my friend remarked dryly. There were, I suppose, the promised “sweeping views of the San Gabriel Mountains,” but with a lot of clutter in the foreground. That’s hardly Vita’s fault. The patio views of the San Jose Hills to the west are probably more inspiring.

Vita — it’s pronounced vee-tah, by the way — is one of our valley’s better dining experiences and well worth a visit. It’s almost too good for us.

I only wish the restaurant’s website were seemingly less embarrassed by its location. Taking a broad view of things, the website is vitalosangeles.com, and you have to go to the Contact Us page to learn the city and address.

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Books read, 2018

In 2018 I read 47 books. My reading tends to be of older books, many of which have languished on my shelves unread for years. My total is never enough, but it’s something. (One friend suggested I stand next to my pile, but really, it rises only a little above my knee. My stack and I would both feel diminished by the comparison.)

Here’s the full list in the order I finished ’em, as drawn from my monthly Reading Log posts on this blog. (I’ve done this annual list a few years now; here’s 2017’s.)

  1. Pale Gray for Guilt,” John D. MacDonald
  2. “The Shadow of Fu Manchu,” Sax Rohmer
  3. “Glimpses,” Lewis Shiner
  4. “Beginning to See the Light,” Ellen Willis
  5. “The Left Hand of Darkness,” Ursula K. Le Guin
  6. “Gather, Darkness!” Fritz Leiber
  7. “Lest Darkness Fall,” L. Sprague de Camp
  8. “A Scanner Darkly,” Philip K. Dick
  9. “The Harlan Ellison Hornbook,” Harlan Ellison (duh)
  10. “Edgeworks Vol. 3,” Harlan Ellison (and RIP)
  11. “Tricky Business,” Dave Barry
  12. “Hollywood Station,” Joseph Wambaugh
  13. “How to Find Old Los Angeles,” Kim Cooper
  14. “The 20th Century’s Greatest Hits,” Paul Williams
  15. “The Fifties,” David Halberstam
  16. “Land of 1000 Dances: Chicano Rock ‘n’ Roll from Southern California,” David Reyes and Tom Waldman
  17. “The Complete Humorous Sketches and Tales of Mark Twain,” Charles Neider, ed.
  18. “We Can Build You,” Philip K. Dick
  19. “The Baker Street Letters,” Michael Robertson
  20. “The Treasurer’s Report, or Other Aspects of Community Singing,” Robert Benchley
  21. “Make Room! Make Room!,” Harry Harrison
  22. “The Door Into Summer,” Robert Heinlein
  23. “Knockin’ on Dylan’s Door,” the editors of Rolling Stone
  24. “The Glass Key,” Dashiell Hammett
  25. “Re-Enter Fu Manchu,” Sax Rohmer
  26. “Housekeeping,” Marilynne Robinson
  27. “The Seven Lost Ranchos of Our Inland Valley,” Bob Smith
  28. “As You Like It,” William Shakespeare
  29. “Addicted to Americana,” Charles Phoenix
  30. “Selected Tales and Sketches,” Nathaniel Hawthorne
  31. “The Ganymede Takeover,” Philip K. Dick and Ray Nelson
  32. “The Dream Detective,” Sax Rohmer
  33. “The Feral Detective,” Jonathan Lethem
  34. “The Trial,” Franz Kafka
  35. “The Sheep Look Up,” John Brunner
  36. “The Maltese Falcon (Film Classics Library),” Richard J. Anobile
  37. “Cats, Dogs and Other Strangers at My Door,” Jack Smith
  38. “The Perfect Horse,” Elizabeth Letts
  39. “The Doom That Came to Sarnath and Other Stories,” H.P. Lovecraft
  40. “Echo Round His Bones,” Thomas M. Disch
  41. “Banking on Beauty,” Adam Arenson
  42. “O Pioneers!” Willa Cather
  43. “The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage,” Todd Gitlin
  44. “Haircut and Other Stories,” Ring Lardner
  45. “Ritchie Valens, the First Latino Rocker,” Beverly Mendheim
  46. “Janis,” David Dalton
  47. “Bob Dylan: Performing Artist, the Middle Years, 1974-1986,” Paul Williams

I reflect on my year in reading in Wednesday’s column. You can reflect on yours, or mine for that matter, in the comments below.

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Favorite films of 2018

Critics are saying 2018 was the best year for film in years, maybe even in this century. That may well be true. They get paid to see a lot of films. As a private citizen with a busy life that included turning out a book, I saw fewer films than ever.

Also, a few of them stunk.

“Ocean’s 8” gave me a sinking feeling, ha ha.

I made a point of seeing “Let the Sunshine In” after strong reviews and a fizzy trailer. I disliked it and its confused and annoying lead character, and was in disbelief when in the final few minutes 1) Gerard Depardieu showed up out of nowhere and 2) the scene just kept going, with the credits on one side of the screen and more yakking taking place on the other. (The SF Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle put this movie in his Top 10. Even the great are allowed to falter.)

As if this hadn’t put me off enough from spending two hours in a theater, I came back from a vacation to find the well-reviewed, right-up-my-alley “Hearts Bead Loud” already on its way out of theaters. I drove to Brea to catch a matinee. What a disappointment. Somehow the main character was selling vinyl records in hipster Brooklyn — and failing? But he was. In all the scenes in the shop, there was rarely even one customer, which may have said more about the low budget for extras than about record selling.

This sourness is what happens when you feel pressed for time and see a dud: It’s harder to take it in stride. It puts you off the whole enterprise of moviegoing. Still, “Green Book” cheered me at Thanksgiving, and I rallied for three strong movies in the waning days of 2018.

This is all to say that this year’s Favorite Films list is a bit wan and underdeveloped. But here it is. Take a look and then tell me in the comments what you saw and liked, or hated.

Incidentally, and for posterity, I wish I’d seen the October 2017 release “Faces, Places” in time to include it on my 2017 list. It would have been No. 1. It may have been the best movie I saw in 2018, but I don’t list it below since I can’t credibly call it a 2018 movie.

10. Black Panther

9. Death of Stalin

8. The Post

7. Vice

6. RBG

5. Green Book

4. Leave No Trace

3. Roma

2. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

1. Shoplifters

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Column: Getting a vintage Ontario P.O. box could be a red-letter day

I wrote my latest column New Year’s Eve, but it’s appearing the day after New Year’s. Is it my last column of 2018 or my first of 2019? Probably the latter. Anyway, it’s an assortment of items, stuff that’s been hanging around waiting to be written or already written and waiting to run, and it makes up Wednesday’s column.

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