Books Read 2011

Books Read 2011

1. The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams – 815pgs
2. City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers -456pgs
3. The Odyssey by Homer – 408pgs
4. How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu – 233pgs
5. Rumo and His Miraculous Adventures by Walter Moers – 688pgs
6. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe – 209pgs
7. Paper Towns by John Green – 306pgs
8. A Wild Ride Through The Night by Walter Moers – 224pgs
9. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – 96pgs
10. We, The Drowned by Carsten Jensen – 675pgs
11. Hamlet by Shakespeare -175pgs
12. The Alchemaster’s Apprentice by Walter Moers – 372pgs
13. Black Boy by Richard Wright – 123pgs
14. The Instructions by Adam Levin – 1030pgs
15. Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch -295pgs
16. Life of Pi by Yann Martel -315pgs
17. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly – 339pgs
18. Everfound by Neal Shusterman – 500pgs
19. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (currently reading) – 280pgs

=7500pgs 🙂

 

Just When I Thought I’d Gotten Over Young Adult Books

I was first introduced to the Skinjacker trilogy when the first novel, ‘Everlost’ was a reading option for my Sophomore high school final project. The storyline sounded absolutely breathtaking. The book follows two children, Nick and Allie, who get into a car accident one day and end up lost in this world between life and death. The three books in the series follow the aspirations of them, as well as those of several other characters along the way. Each character has something that defines them and entwines them with this story.

Nick represents the child who has died, forgets himself in this world of limbo, and works to discover that his real purpose is helping greensouls (newly dead children) to make their way off into the “light at the end of the tunnel”, or the metaphorical afterlife. In the meantime, he transforms into a sort of ‘chocolate ogre’ after he forgets his original appearance. Everything that a person wears on himself transfers into this world of Everlost, and because Nick had a smudge of chocolate on his face upon dying, this insignificant feature eventually took him over and turned him into a beast. For Nick especially, it was interesting to watch how manipulations has a strong impact on him throughout this series, yet up the end, he stayed true to himself thanks to Allie.

Allie is a rather complex character; she is a very independent person who sticks up for her beliefs when attacked. Allie seeks to befriend the beast known as the McGill, who other Everlost children have grown to fear. What is great about Allie is that she transcends all omens or rumors thrown at her about how spooky and scary a place Everlost is. In a Beauty and The Beast Story, the two of them fall in love with one another over time and the McGill transforms back into his original  human state as Mikey McGill and sticks close to Allie for the rest of the trilogy. What is unique about Allie is her possession of the rare power of skinjacking, which is when an Everlost soul can jump into the lives of the living world. This power comes to be very useful in her victory in book three. She discovers that those who can skinjack aren’t really dead, but actually in a coma. Knowing this, she forms the deep wish to make things right before going back and possessing her own body again, returning to her old life. Of course, you may ask why would Allie want to settle disputes in Everlost first, instead of jumping straight back. Well, this is because of the heartless, despicable afterlight (Everlost inhabitant) that you will grow to hate, Mary Hightower.

Throughout this series, I’ve grown to hate everything that Mary stands for more and more. Although her views aren’t necessarily wrong or twisted, which makes her a credible antagonist, they tamper with the forces of the living world. Mary Hightower has the strong view that Everlost souls are in this world to stay in this state of limbo and continue out the same routine for the rest of eternity, instead of going off “into the light”. She becomes a power-hungry, manipulating backstabber, taking advantage of the hearts of many skinjackers, giving them the duty to take over bodies in the living world and mass murder as many people as they can, which is why Allie wants to stay to put a stop to Mary’s scheme. By killing bodies and capturing souls before they go off “into the light” Mary plans to build up an army of afterlights and become the greatest ruler of Everlost. What bothers me the most about Mary is that she has such a polite and innocent façade, yet has dark ambitions of wiping out every living creature on Earth. Just like every other character in this book, Mary is just very complex. When we first meet her in the first novel, she seems to be the greatest source of knowledge and understanding in this unknown world, which is why many, including myself, draw to her, she even writes her own guides to give to new souls on how to “live” in this new land. Her views originally seem so right and just, until over the course of the trilogy we come across a plethora of viewpoints that make Mary seem like a snot-nosed brat.

Throughout the trilogy, I’ve grown attached to these plot changes that Neal Shusterman has thrown into the mix of this delightful read. Nothing in this series is ever predictable, which makes me want to drool over each page like a hungry dog. The main idea that swirls throughout the batter of this entire trilogy is the meaning of time spent in one’s afterlife, which becomes a heated source of debate in this cold lifeless world of Everlost. I would definitely recommend this series to anyone.

Michael

P.S: Happy 200th Post to myself 🙂

Winter Break, Oh Yeah…

Happy Hanukkah to all the Jews of the world! (including myself!) I’m really glad to be finally done with my first semester finals. I came back to my dorm after my last final at 7pm blasted music on my speakers until and RA came and told me to take notice for the 24 hour quiet hours in the building. Whoops! I guess I was just in such a state of ecstasy. I am also very excited because I’ve spent the past couple of months searching and searching for a job for next semester. It’s just so competitive in a place like college to get a job. I’ve been rejected so many times, it’s such a self esteem boost *haha*. But on the day that I was going to leave back home, I got a email saying that I got accepted for a job! I was so happy I just started squealing with joy and staring at my reaction in the mirror (I mean, who doesn’t do that?).

Okay, so recently Food Network Humor posted a hilarious video based on Sandra Lee’s Kwanzaa cake: the most racist and inaccurately represented piece of food on the planet. So, in case you didn’t know Sandra Lee is a klutzy drinking Food Network “personality” who shines little to no genuine personality on television and creates ridiculous and barf-worthy ‘tablescapes’ and themes for each episode. The her entire show just drags on with each 1-hour segment. So for one episode, yep, she decides to celebrate all three major winter holidays by cultivating all of the limited and inaccurate knowledge that she knows about these unfamiliar cultures and throws together some “inspired” cakes for her viewers.Of course, any viewers that she has must be part of some cult of cocktail drinkers that probably get drunk with her in bars. In this episode the “Kwanzaa cake” consists of a angel food cake topped with icing, filled with “African” pie filling, and then drizzled with pumpkin seeds and acorns. This cake just emanates with racism; there is nothing as unsettling as a clueless person imitating the life, breath. and soul of this traditional holiday; I bet her black friends (if they exist) come from all around to share in such a spectacular cake. Oh yeah… if a god-like figure such as Sandra Lee can craft such a vivid representation of the great annual harvest, then anyone can! What’s great is that everything on this cake is fit for human consumption, including the acorns! I can imagine that everyone’s inner squirrel must squeal for joy to finally come across a recipe that consists of acorns. Sandra Lee, you are my hero. This cake is a masterpiece, and you should enjoy this wonderful creation from a devoted fan.

Connor has lately gotten me pretty hyped up about the new movie, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, based on the novel with the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer. The movie follows this boy who has been deeply affected by the death of his father during the 9/11 attack. His father had always instilled in him a sense of adventure and chasing after mysteries, and so when the boy finds a key left in the closet by his father, he feels like there is still a part of his dad that he needs to discover out in the real world. Despite the absurdity of a little boy freely running around New York City by himself (not a forced isolation like in Home Alone 2) there was still a sense of magic from the trailer that was absolutely stunning. I am really curious about the emotional changes and discoveries that this boy makes as he looks for more about his father. I can relate to him, sort of. I mean, I’ve found a key in my closet when I was little, became obsessed with it, and wore it around my neck everywhere I went with the hope of finding what it opens. Of course, that lock ended up being directly adjacent to where I had originally found it *haha*. The point is, I was attached to it and the mystery behind what it opened. Little kids are just so free, they can become attached onto hobbies or other interests so much more than adults. And although these attachments are temporary, the relationships are so intimate that children build their own magical world around them. I am curious to see how the boy’s interest in his father in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is painted throughout the movie.

Also, I’ve been looking back at a lot of my older posts lately, gosh, my writing has changed so much over the past couple of years. I came across this web archive website called web.archive.org that was posted in a previous Club Penguin related post and I am re-realizing now how amazing the website is. It basically makes copies of older versions of web pages and posts them as an array across a timeline. Remember Ask Jeeves? I certainly do: the first search engine I probably ever used on the computer. I sort of miss seeing the old butler on the askjeeves.com website. I discovered using this website that the website was renamed ask.com in 2002 and that he left at the end of February 2006, how sad. I’ve always enjoyed a little bit of nostalgia in my day.

Michael

Top 10 Favorite Artists of 2011

10. Fitz & The Tantrums

Favorite Song: Winds of Change
Favorite Album: Picking Up The Pieces
Source/Date of Most Interest: Lollapalooza/ December 11, 2011

I was never really into soul music. Ever. And so I was a little skeptical at first upon previewing the album since it just wasn’t really me. After getting a taste of several free downloads off of the album for songs like ‘Breakin’ The Chains of Love’ or their famous hit ‘MoneyGrabber’ I really felt like I had stumbled upon some great mood music to add into the soundtrack of my life. The music reminds me of what I used to listen to on the radio with my family when I was little. It sort of has a ‘funky’ feel to it that was great to sing along to (in my head) while doing homework or getting around on the bus. Fitz & The Tantrums was named ‘the band to watch’ by Rolling Stone in April, and I can definitely see why with this amazing album, without a single ‘filler’ song thrown in. I am pretty curious to see where this band goes in the future. Other great songs include the Austin Power’s groovyness of ‘L.O.V.’ or the slow, emotion-drenched ‘Tighter’.

9. Regina Spektor

Favorite Song: The Calculation
Favorite Album: Far
Source/ Date of Most Interest: 500 Days of Summer/ March 14, 2011

Ever since the soundtrack for the movie 500 Days of Summer came out in 2009, I was drawn into the two tracks that were sung by Regina, ‘Hero’ and ‘Us’ because of the innocence in her voice and the incredible piano playing. It wasn’t until this year that I decided to try her other music, after seeing Connor praise her over and over for months on end for her talents. Connor and I usually associated seasons to music, and I would definitely classify this album as winter, because I can just imagine coming in from the cold, bundling up with a mug of hot cocoa and having her music play in the background; its simply reviving, sweet and comforting, especially for songs such as ‘Eet’, ‘Samson’, or ‘Blue Lips’. At the same time, Regina adds such a quirky fun to some of her songs that really lightens up the mood, such as the playful imitation of an orca whale in ‘Folding Chair’ that makes me smile every time it plays.

8. Metric

Favorite Song: Gimme Sympathy
Favorite Album: Fantasies/ Plug-in, Plug Out EP
Source/ Date of Most Interest: Lollapalooza/ September 18, 2011

Connor and I were sort of scared away by the terrible review concerning the editing on the Fantasies album that we stuck originally to the acoustic EP with several songs from the album, which was absolutely incredible. Emily Haine’s voice is so soft and lighthearted when completely stripped of all of the unnecessary techno beats in the background and replaced with a guitar. ‘Gimme Sympathy’ reminds me of being little and sitting around a campfire roasting marshmallows, the movie ‘The Parent Trap’ and of course, The Beatles. Just like Regina Spektor, Emily has her own form of innocence on the EP that is so admirable. On the Fantasies album, the songs give off a completely different vibe, with a more in-your-face kind of electronic rock noise, yet still containing that sweet voice underneath, similar to how I view the inner voice behind all of the jumble of Sleigh Bells. There are still plenty of gems on Fantasies, such as the  delicate and lonely ‘Collect Call’ or the nocturnal pulsating beat of ‘Satellite Mind’.

7. Florence + The Machine

Favorite Song: Drumming Song
Favorite Album: Lungs
Source/ Date of Most Interest: Music Awards Show/ November 5, 2011

Florence + The Machine is a very unique artist that really captured my attention after I had gotten past the hit song ‘Dog Days Are Over’, which I now consider to be one of the lesser tracks on the album. Florence Welch has such a belting voice that isn’t afraid to scream out when the emotional context is right. The instrument choice for each song really complements her voice. On songs such as ‘Drumming Song’ the drums play a role as a sort of pounding heartbeat, which gives me the impression that I’m running off through a jungle and hearing this rather exotic, nature-driven beat in the background that is simply wild and free, just like the rest of the album. Of course, lungs are a major theme on the album, with many songs that although fast paced, really take your breath away. She also taps into several songs, such as ‘Between Two Lungs’ or ‘Cosmic Love’, relating to love on this album and creates such an effect such that you can imagine little birds tweeting and landing on your shoulder. You are lifted off your feet and transported away by a cupid Florence playing the harp. She can truly paint a scene through a set of songs.

6. Foster The People

Favorite Song: Helena Beat
Favorite Album: Torches
Source/ Date of Most Interest: Lollapalooza/ June 16, 2011

When I got this album, it was around the time that I got my first pair of wireless headphones. With music as catchy and cheerful as this, I couldn’t help but dance around my house and listen to these fresh, groovy, jazzy beats that Mark Foster, the lead singer, has concocted. After looking into music for Lollapalooza this year, I was taken aback by this incredible find. I originally thought it sounded somewhat similar to MGMT with its choice of synthesizers, but really, there is nothing truly like this. Although ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ has been the viral song off of this album raiding the charts for alternative music, I really don’t think it is the standout track. Songs such as ‘Call It What You Want’ or ‘Houdini’ will have you bobbing your heard to the beat. I had the pleasure of seeing this band up close live with Connor, and they were all the better and more entertaining. Despite the heat that day and the girls screaming, “take your shirt off!”, Foster kept his composure and delivered the public incredible music, all was good. Overall, if you let it take you away, this band’s music will quench the dancing spirit of your soul.

5. The Decemberists

Favorite Song: July, July!
Favorite Album: The Hazards of Love
Source/ Date of Most Interest: iTunes/ January 18, 2011

In 2010, I had originally looked into music by The Decemberists and was turned away by some of their songs. After their most recent album, ‘The King Is Dead’ was released, I really had a strong foothold to start exploring their music with more confidence. All of their albums are completely different from one another, and so it is difficult to judge the band in its entirety. What I enjoy about each song, whether country, rock, or folk, is how impressive the lyrics are for the music and how amazing Colin Meloy’s vocabulary is. Colin’s voice is interesting, I’ve found that it is almost exactly the same singing live as it is in recorded versions of his songs, which shows how real the music is. Out of the six albums, my favorite is The Hazards of Love because of its cohesiveness and how the album follows a sort of tale that is captivating and entwined with themes and recurring characters. I enjoy the very contrasting style of The Decemberists’ older albums, because they are in the style of sea shanties, such as on ‘Picaresque’ about people who may be weak and unimportant, but are brought into a new and intriguing light by Colin. The Decemberists are definitely an acquired taste for most people; some of my other favorite tracks are ‘O Valencia!’, ‘Rox In the Box’, and ‘Yankee Bayonet’.

4. The XX

Favorite Song: Islands
Favorite Album: XX
Source/ Date of Most Interest: iTunes/ January 1, 2011

The XX music is simple, calming, and smooth, but overall it works amazingly well. As Connor and I have found out, the XX album is effective music to listen to in order to help you get to sleep at night. I discovered this band over winter break 2010-2011 and  could not put this music aside. The two lead male and female “singers” have voices that form a perfect balance with each other. My favorite track is ‘Islands’ because of how Jamie’s, the female singer, voice is just so desperate, it makes you want to cuddle up with this music. This entire album is like an escape from daily life, it reminds me of sitting in a pool of comforting steam that is rising up and cleansing you from all around. I am really curious to hear the new album by this band that is scheduled to be released next year.

3. The Naked & Famous

Favorite Song: All of This
Favorite Album: Passive Me, Aggressive You
Source/ Date of Most Interest: iTunes/ June 24, 2011

The Naked & Famous were very fun to watch live, and that’s when I finally started to grasp onto their music. All the week before Connor was playing their music in the car when I went to North Carolina, and so I started to remember more and more each song by the time Lollapalooza came around. The Naked & Famous are pretty much the most Urban Outfitters style band that I’ve ever encountered, since their music is just the definition of Indie. I started to play their music more on my own time when I got into college, and it really became the mood for my experience during the first month and of school. The Naked & Famous are very summery and “chill” in their own way. I like how the lead singers build up the music in songs such as ‘The Sun’ or ‘Frayed’ getting louder and more tense. You expect an explosion of sound at any second, which is why it made me nervous the first time I played this in the car, but effects like these make this band so intriguing.

2. Freelance Whales

Favorite Song: Generator Second Floor
Favorite Album: Weathervanes
Source/ Date of Most Interest: Lollapalooza/ April 30, 2011

The Weathervanes album was one that after I looked into it, I thought, “why did it take this long  to discover this masterpiece?” Freelance Whales sets a mood similar to the nature theme of Florence + The Machine, minus the anger or strong emotion through voice. Instead, this album is mystical and eerie, sending shivers down my spine. The instruments are very unique; I can’t think of any other band that employs such elementary instruments such as a xylophone, banjo, triangle, and tambourine, and comes out with such beautiful music. What is most notable about this album are the Generator First and Second Floor songs that begin and end this album. The first: a chant of waking up, bringing rise to a rainbow of instruments. The latter: a cheerfully written song about death written in a positive light, painting an intimate afterlife with those who you care most about. The song ‘Broken Horse’ also stands out on this album as a sort of ghostly story that creeps up your back.

1. Bright Eyes/ Desaparecidos

Favorite Song: At The Bottom Of Everything
Favorite Album: Undecided
Source/ Date of Most Interest: Lollapalooza/ June 12, 2011

Conor Oberst is a musical genius: I don’t know of any other group capable of handling and mastering Americana, electronic, emo, folk, and rock music across a spread of several albums and still remain true to their own style. Just like The Decemberists, the band Bright Eyes such a long history that it is difficult to classify the style exactly. I’ve just been magnetized toward’s Conor’s music ever since discovering him when looking at bands for Lollapalooza. I am sad to say that The People’s Key album that came out in February was his last album with the band, which upsets me a great deal. Conor has a sort of weak, struggling voice that shines with raw emotion through music that no other performer can pull off. ‘At The Bottom Of Everything’ is my absolute favorite song by the band, because like straight from a Disney movie, it magically illuminates a comical and lively angle upon an up-and-coming death of passengers on an airplane. ‘Easy/Lucky/Free’ is another of my favorites; the song is like the light at the end of a dark and scary tunnel singing about hope and trying to warm your heart, despite the horrors of the hair-raising tunnel around you. ‘Four Winds’ is my most played by the band; the epic Americana violin starting the song reminds me of the western magic of Woody from Toy Story and every spaghetti western film I’ve ever seen. Bright Eyes may just as well be one of my favorite bands of all time, I have such a connection to this band’s amazing music.

Michael

Insects On Crack

Ever since I’ve been little, I’ve never really paid attention to insects. In my house I would encounter the occasional daddy-long legs spider or see a cockroach creeping across the floor and get the urge to kill it. I’d think, “No, you nasty spider! This is my domain!” and pick up a Kleenex and dispose of that trespasser. I never actually had the ambition to join a club based on something that I don’t really have an interest in. At the beginning of the college year, I was given the task for my Engineering 100 course to join a club or organization and report what you plan to do with such a club in the future. I didn’t really think of it much at first, but then I realized that all throughout high school, I never really ever -not a single time- branched out and stuck with something that was out of my comfort zone and gotten to know other people with strong ambitions in another field. This thought ignited my interest in exploring other options during Quad Day (where all of the clubs join in for an event at the beginning of the year and try to recruit students) and find that one club that would give me a view over that wall. When I saw Club Insecta, I may not have immediately known that that was going to be my outreach group, but after reviewing my other options, I knew it was the one I wanted to “tag along with” and discover what exactly the world is like through the eyes of an Entomologist.

During the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend, I went on a trip with the club to Kennekuk Illinois in western Illinois, and later Turkey Run State Park in Indiana, initially to observe. Knowing me, I was easily interested in how easily these students (mainly seniors and graduate students) know how to collect and identify insects in the natural environment and get to see up close insects that I’ve never heard of. I am absolutely surprised by their amazing ability to spot such small caterpillars, spiders, or millipedes in a field of grass with short a short time-span of observation. I had a lot of fun getting to know these students and learning about entomology. Several members still haven’t gotten over the fact that I am the only engineering major in the club, and lighten up conversations by asking questions about what civil is all about and why I chose it. Despite being the minority of the club, I still enjoy coming in to the meetings of the club. During one, we had a graduate student specializing in the psychology of bees give a talk about his research with these insects.  I never knew that certain varieties of bees only do their dance on a horizontal plane, while others only do theirs on a vertical plane, or that the scientific name of the bumblebee literally translates as nectar carrier, yet as a big misconception, bumblebees actually carry pollen, which is converted into glucose within the hive. Although I didn’t get as “hands-on” in the field as a lot of the other students, I still had fun learning from experts in the field about the tricks-of-the-trade, and of course, taking incredible insect photos. I got to know this one student in the club named Tyler, who is also in Horticulture Club with me, show me how to get an Orb Weaver spider to stay still if you want to get a photo of it. I think it was absolutely hilarious how the web from the spider continued to be spun around Tyler’s hand as he tired out the spider. On the side is my absolutely incredible photo that I took – with a camera phone- of this Orb Weaver, a natural insect of the prarie environment.

Knowing many of my friends, this sort of practice of spending time with insects or learning is rather creepy or bizarre, and the club understands that. We have recently been trying to branch out and get people to be interested in insects. The club sort of lightens the subject by hosting events such as the Insect Fear Film Festival or Insect Day, in which a booth is set up in the middle of the Quad and the club explains the “Wow Box” which is basically a box full of curated insects with pins through them and labels added to help bring in the crowd. I’m not exactly sure if my own outlook on insects has changed due to the club. I definitely think a lot more about them now, investing time in videos such as “spiders on crack” or reading the posts on the Club Insecta blog, clubinsecta.wordpress.com. I’m not exactly sure how I should treat the situation when there is an insect crawling on the floor now. Maybe I’ll play it cool and let it out the window or something, as I would respond in a perfect world. No… not on the twelfth floor of a residence hall building. For now I’m resorting to Kleenex-ing them.

Michael

College

Dear Planet Earth,

Imagine a world (a world part of your amazing vast world, planet Earth!) where the gift of privacy has been smuggled away from your in one fell swoop, where conversations with friends consist of talk about how the friend of somebody’s friend got so wasted last night and was spewing all over the bathroom and partying for hours on end, where if you don’t get to sleep before 11pm on a weekend, you’ve got to wait until at least 4am in order to drift off peacefully to the land of sheep jumping fences, where your entire life is centered around balance of academic life, social life, and of course, sleep, and where every task needed to be accomplished is done by you, for you. Yes, this is life, hitting you on the side of the head, grabbing a megaphone and yelling into your ear: wake up! There can only be one title applied to such a place: college. And most importantly, world, I’ve entered through its gates this 18th of August 2011 in order to be lead to a hopefully successful career path in the field of civil and environmental engineering.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve adjusted pretty well over the past three months to this completely new lifestyle. I’ve gotten involved a pretty great deal with a wide variety of clubs and organizations. I’m on the Outreach Committee for Structural Engineers Association, in which I am helping to coordinate events. I’m part of Concrete Canoe, helping out with preparing mixes of concrete and aggregates in order to prepare a mixture that will have a density less than one and still have the structural integrity to be molded into a boat that will win in competition. I’m part of iInvent, which is an inventing club that works with ideas and tries to actually work its way towards patenting a product. I’m part of Horticulture Club,  where I am given the opportunity to hear talks from experts on gardening and visit orchards and botanical gardens. Lastly, I’m part of Club Insecta, which is an entomology club that goes on trips to look at nature and collect specimens.

I’ve been keeping pretty busy over this time. I’ve been trying to avoid doing any form of drugs or alcohol and keeping away from late night partying. My roommate and I have nothing at all in common, given my many attempts to try and express who I am, nor do we engage in small talk, which makes conversations within the dorm room rather awkward and short.I suppose I can’t have it how I want all the time, but I’m glad that we both respect each others’ space and treat each other fairly well. I’ve gotten to know a lot of my classmates from high school a lot better over the past couple of months, forming stronger bonds. I’m still been more of an independent person, only relying on the slim chance of “bumping into someone I know” to actually hang out and have fun together, it seems like texting or Facebook messaging doesn’t truly work in a setting like this. If I truly need someone to talk to, I would really just end up knocking on a person’s door. I’ve been doing quite of bit of reading in my own time. I finished the massively long 1000 page novel of The Instructions by Adam Levin and have started getting into Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch recently. My campus is located in a micro-urban town, which is basically a huge number of people centered in a small region in the middle of nowhere. Despite the small part of urban, there really isn’t that much to do here. I’ve mainly just been taking trips by bus to the mall area and have spent my time away from the densely packed campus by sticking to calm, peaceful, open atmosphere bookstores to settle down and read or browse. Speaking of buses, the transit system at my campus is absolutely incredible. I don’t ever have to wait more than three minutes at a bus stop during the week in order to get somewhere I want to go. I’ve integrated the transit lines into my memory and have adapted very well to my environment.

College is just another element of life for me. It’s yet another wild beast that I need to tame in order to get on and keep riding.

 I know this post was rather dry, world, I really just have to catch up and gain a sense of comfort with writing on WordPress again before I delve into some deeper subjects.

Michael

A Never-Ending Bedtime Adventure

There’s nothing like cuddling up in bed with an entrancing fairy tale in the middle of the summer, and once again, Walter Moers transports me to such an enchanting story that can any reader can ingest pleasurably to get through the blissful nights. Of all of the books I’ve read this summer, I haven’t been as tightly wound to a delicious and captivating plotline as much as the one in The Alchemaster’s Apprentice. Unlike Bluebear or Rumo, the story is stripped of lengthy, and often unnecessary descriptions of setting, which Moers traditionally weaves into the story to describe a journey. Although the novel is not in first person, the novel was so comforting that I felt like there was an available seat within Echo’s head to grab onto his thoughts. The story follows a crat (a Zamonian version of a cat) named Echo who wanders the streets of the ill and distressed town of Malaisea. Faced with the risk of starvation, Ghoolion, the sole leader and head Alchemaster offers Echo a deal. Echo benefits from a culinary journey through a Willy Wonka-esque buffet of gourmet food and an opportunity to learn the tricks and secrets of the Alchemaster’s trade. In return, Echo’s throat is slit at the end of the month in order to extract his fat and benefit Ghoolion’s sinister plan for complete domination over Malaisea. After Echo signs the contract and spends more time with the Alchemaster, he makes friends with several of the critters, such as the mature and guardian-like owl Theodore T. Theodore, who shows him the essence of love and eternal happiness with a female crat. Echo realizes how little he knows about the outside world and decides that he’d rather remain alive in order to chase after the possibility of happiness. In order to get past the intellectual mind of Ghoolian and escape, Echo taps into the Alchemaster’s hidden emotions and his internal conflicts, such as his affection for his deceased lover from Ingotville. Echo summon’s his  new friend Izanuela the Uggly to portray Ghoolian’s wife and fiddle with his emotions. After gradually growing further apart in companionship, the two emerge into an inconspicuous all-out war of lethal, yet supposedly “thilling and fun” traps triggered by drugs and potions. This nonchalant battle between two superficial companions transforms the novel into a story with psychedelic trips that are reminiscent of Alice In Wonderland. These dream-like states as leathermice or demonic bees are absolutely vivid and have parallels with the physical state of Echo as he gains weight to satisfy the Alchemaster’s contract.  Echo’s final day grew from the facade of a business casual crat and his master to a completely stripped-down and revealing fight between the two forces. I was completely captivated by their growing tension and the ending was a struggle not only for Echo, but the reader as well to digest so quickly. After reading all of the novels in the Zamonia series, the Alchemaster’s Apprentice radiates with all of the incredible and unique writing skills of Walter Moers wrapped up in this “short” bedtime adventure. Let this be the dessert at the end of the day to indulge with every bite.

Top 10 Favorite Artists of 2010

Over the year of 2010, my interest in music has increased tenfold. I had first received an iPod at the beginning of the year, knowing close to nothing about where my music interest laid. Pop? Rock? Alternative? I had no idea how to even classify the music that I found appealing to my eardrums. It took gradual experimentation to figure out the music that was right for me. Here are my top 10 favorite artists:

10. 30 Seconds To Mars.
Favorite Song: Kings and Queens
Favorite Album: This Is War

Source of Discovery: Trailer for the movie, Legend of the Guardians.
One word: epic. Ever since hearing a censored fragment of the song Kings and Queens in a movie trailer, I knew that this band had something unique about their voice. This song, along the rest of their most recent album This Is War, reminded me of the action, suspense, and drama associated with movies. I love how all of the songs tie back to the main theme of the album. Although the screaming voice of the lead singer Jared Leto takes a while to get used to, the mood of the music and voice is so genuine that just about every song paints a picture in your mind as you listen.


9. Motion City Soundtrack
Favorite Song: Pulp Fiction
Favorite Album: My Dinosaur Life
Source of Discovery: Saw most recent album on the homepage of iTunes
Growing up, I had heard music from this band, but it wasn’t until my discovery of the iPod that I started to pay attention to the sound and message of their music. The sound of their most recent album, My Dinosaur Life, struck me as particularly captivating; not only that but the cover art is incredible! I had noticed that the vocalist of the group, Justin Pierre, had more of a matured voice and catchier melody in this most recent album, which lead me towards investigation. Although their songs are mainly explicit and the lyrics are somewhat odd, the emotions associated with each song packs a powerful punch to the listener. This upbeat music is great to listen to when caught in a bad mood.


8. Jonsi/ Sigur Ros
Favorite Song: Grow Till Tall
Favorite Album: Go
Source of Discovery: Trailer for the Disney movie, Earth
What drew me in to this music was the impressive instrumental noise and talented voice of the vocalist Jonsi Birgisson. After hearing nature-inspired sounds in the trailer for Earth, I was drawn into the beauty and peace of this incredible harmony of instruments and voice. Jonsi is Icelandic, and so part of the lyrics of his songs are in his native language. This particular music seems to stand out from every genre I’ve come to be familiar with, which is what drew me towards continuing to listen to it. Their music may take a while to grow accustomed to, but it definitely is worth checking out.


7. Matt & Kim
Favorite Song: Good Ol’ Fashion Nightmare
Favorite Album: Grand

Source of Discovery: Earlier episode of the television series, Community
The duo Matt and Kim attracted me because their music reminds me of diversion and independence. Their rather stunning choice of instrumental backup may make their music sound raw and unappealing, but it definitely adds to their message of a carefree and nonjudgmental commotion. After hearing Matt & Kim play their most popular song Daylight at Lollapalooza in August, my belief was confirmed that these two artists and performers are wild and loose in not just their music, but their behavior, which makes them seem authentic by holding true to the sound of their music. Their new album comes out on November 2nd, so I’m definitely excited to hear their new material.


6. Owl City/ Sky Sailing
Favorite Song: A Little Opera Goes A Long Way
Favorite Album: An Airplane Carried Me To Bed

Source of Discovery: Word of mouth from sister
Owl City was the first -and only- artist under the genre of electronic music that appealed to me. I’ve found that this music eases the labor of doing homework and helps me brainstorm because the overall sound of each song leads at a miraculous opening of the mind.  The calm, passive voice of singer Adam Young adds a key element to why I enjoy this music. My favorite is his non-electronic album, An Airplane Carried Me to Bed, which is the most relaxing blend of instrument and voice I have ever heard. The cover artwork is absolutely stunning, creative, and beautiful. The music video for the song Brielle takes listeners on a peaceful, magical ride through Adam Young’s imagination.


5. Jukebox the Ghost
Favorite Song: The Stars
Favorite Album: Everything Under the Sun

Source of Discovery: Live at Lollapalooza 2010
This relatively unknown band definitely deserves some recognition. Jukebox the Ghost may not have the most powerful of lyrics, but the sound of their music is cheerful, catchy and playful. Every song on their most recent album, Everything Under the Sun, has a unique sound that is a result of the band members’ experimentation with different melodies. One of my friends has noted that their use of the piano is absolutely groundbreaking and shows the far extent of their talent. My encounter with this band live during Lollapalooza sparked something within me. Even without the use of voice enhancers and autotune, this band still creates amazing music unlike a large majority of popular artists.


4. Bruno Mars
Favorite Song: Count On Me
Favorite Album: It’s Better If You Don’t Understand EP

Source of Discovery: Heard on the radio with B.o.B. in Nothing on You
Although he is best known for the popular song, Just The Way You Are, there is another side to the music of this maestro. What I admire about Bruno Mars is that he uses his natural voice and his Hawaiian background in his music. He definitely has a wide range of sounds, from a slower Caribbean reggae to a swinging, fast-paced pop. I love how he approaches and executes genuine mainstream music from a unique angle and adds his own lifestyle to several of his songs, such as with The Lazy Song. Bruno Mars’ voice has reached long distances in only several months with the slow and steady gain of his popularity.


3. The Rocket Summer
Favorite Song: Brat Pack
Favorite Album: Do You Feel

Source of Discovery: Saw most recent album on the homepage of iTunes
After discovering this prized treasure of sounds in the cluttered mess of music on iTunes, I felt like I had hit a jackpot. Bryce Avary, the singer for The Rocket Summer adds a sort of jazz to his music with the smooth fluctuation of his high-range of pitch and usage of his smooth voice. The melody of each of these perfectly rendered songs overflows with soul and flair and made me beg for more. It was interesting hearing how the sounds of his albums changed over the years as he matured. Bryce Avary definitely deserves the success for his creation of such great music.


2. Arcade Fire
Favorite Song: Wake Up
Favorite Album: Neon Bible

Source of Discovery: Trailer for the movie, Where the Wild Things Are
The band has pretty dense and meaningful lyrics for many of their songs and the voice of Win Butler, the lead singer, suits it perfectly. I love how their albums are set to a variety of different themes and their respective songs reflect it. My personal favorite is the dark, depressing backdrop of the album Neon Bible because the emotions profoundly radiate from the overall sound; the realism of their music sends jitters through my body when I listen to it. I can definitely empathize with their most recent album, The Suburbs, since because of my location I can relate to several of the circumstances mentioned in the lyrics of certain songs.


1. The Shins/ Broken Bells
Favorite Song: Australia
Favorite Album: Wincing the Night Away
Source of Discovery: It was featured on the iTunes page for Arcade Fire’s Funeral
If there is any one artist who has one of the most exclusive styles of music, it is without a doubt The Shins. Their music sounds like a mash-up of Caribbean sounds, pirate shanties, and catchy beats. Whenever I turn on my iPod to listen, I’m lost in a sea of imagery. My all-time favorite album is Wincing the Night Away because of not only the awe-inspiring artwork, but because each song makes me feels as though I have transcended the distractions of my surroundings. The lyrics are surreal, just like the music. James Mercer’s voice blends well with this unique genre of music. He more recently began a project known as Broken Bells, which adds more of an electronic aspect to the music. All in all, I’ve been more than satisfied with Mercer’s music, and I can’t wait for the release of the next Shins album, which drops in 2011.

1 Pill A Day Keeps The Nausea Away

September 3rd, 2010
Dear multi-tasking Planet Earth,

Just the other night I had to write my thoughts on the subject of what I believe is the difference between being alive and living. I had instantly drawn my attention to the familiar answer that being alive is simply living at your fullest capacity. After thinking about that for a split second, how can we completely absorb our surroundings and take in the best that the world has to offer? I face this painstaking decision every day. Just little things. Do I go to art club or math team after school on a Thursday? Do I stay after to tutor in math in the TLC or go to the University of Illinois college representative meeting? Do I work more on my colored pencil drawing of a red panda I started over a year ago or read the rest of Rumo and His Miraculous Adventures? By pushing too many activities and plans in front of me, just about nothing gets completed. Sadly, the stress of deciding turns me away from all of those things (and many more in the past) and it is very tempting sometimes to recede back into that immobile state of being at home. I usually look to my laptop as an escape from the plethora of decisions, yet they still haunt me. Do I watch that Youtube video that I was recommended or search for interesting, new music on iTunes? With billions of possible websites to visit, it is close to impossible to experience everything you plan to read or watch online. You become caught up in other peoples’ works and less with your own, which is kind of why internet writing is difficult for me. The truth of the matter is: you guide your life. On that sailboat to your ancient kingdom of gold, you are the captain. Side-tracking happens along the way, but you still eventually head toward that goal by persevering through the rough waves. If not, you are stuck nauseous in the turbulence of the sea. I guess I am trying to say that to fully absorb the wonders of the world, you need to take life one step at a time, which makes sense, right? If you watch television and eat ice cream at the same time, you don’t pay attention that much on whatever program is currently airing, nor do you enjoy the sweet, creamy flavors of the ice cream that you are eating. Life just passes by and your senses continue to ignore it.


Experiment

Catching Up

(July 10th 2010)

Dear burst of hot gas Planet Earth,

It has been about a month since I last blogged, ouch! Well, it is the dead of summer already and I can finally say that I am sick of the heat wave that has passed over your entire northern hemisphere. I had a very non-traditional Independence Day at my friend Nick’s house. I’m pretty thankful to have a buddy like him to goof around with. I’ve been having him drive me places repetitively throughout the summer since he owns a car, so in a way I feel a little guilty. We still have a fun time together. Anyway, on this Independence Day, we basically spent the entire afternoon and evening avoiding all fireworks, which was an almost impossible stunt since there were bursts of explosions outside for three days straight. We blocked it out by watching a couple of segments from BBC’s Planet Earth on the couch and later took a dip in his pool. Who knew seventy degrees for a pool temperature is actually really cold? Unfortunately we couldn’t bring on the heat from the heater since it had mysteriously malfunctioned. We sort of pretended that the hot tub was somewhat warmer than the actual pool even though they were the exact same temperature. Although we were all squirmy the entire time in the ice bath, it was still relaxing to float away on his inflatable rafts in the middle of the night. I’m not quite sure why, but staring up at the stars in the deep, celestial sky makes all of my muscles and bones release all their tension and just fall loosely on the brim of the water. It was a semi-sweet end to a lazy July day.

I feel like summer school adds a more reality-centered element to my drab summer. I’ve grown closer to a group of students who sit at my long art table with me. For four hours we would be talking to one another about the most random junk while completing assignments in art. I really felt the thick outer-casing of a bubble shielding us from the rest of the activities of the classroom. While everyone else worked diligently, we were making the most fun out of our time. I know it’s sad, but I thought it was really funny how we joked with the freshmen about how unexperienced they are dealing with high school and the real world. This one boy thought that you get your social security number when you get a credit card and we just started cracking up. I had a nice time sharing music interests with these two girls who sat across from me. I started bringing in music disks every day to play during class to play on the computer audio speakers. They would always point out parts of some song they liked and compliment me on my good taste in music. I could tell the class favorite (and my personal favorite) was playing Wincing the Night Away by The Shins. We played it around three times in a row during class period. Luckily I wasn’t the star artist during the class. I mainly covered up my skill by talking poorly about my work. There was this one student at my table who worked on making sure every part of his drawing had all of the intricate details. I mainly worked on catching up with everyone else. I fell behind like everyday which means I had to work on artwork 24/7 . Gladly, I survived those three weeks and I felt like I pulled a lot out of it. I recently started with a cooking class, but more of that later!

Michael

 

Top 10 Public Restroom Absurdities

Enjoying a warm dinner on a Sunday afternoon: mom decided it’s Italian night and you really couldn’t disagree with that. After forking down a mound of linguine with a rich alfredo sauce, the feeling comes: maybe not the greatest in all the world, but it hits you with a bang. Your rear end just explodes from within and you yearn for… relief. At this point you start questioning yourself, “why didn’t I use the restroom at home first?” At least all the handles are polished– and clean, the toilet seat in tip-top state you could almost kiss its porcelain coating and stroke its smooth exterior. But no, outside of the house it is a completely different world of restrooms: all different animals to capture and classify, to judge and review. While some are as sanitary as a hospital, the majority are torturous and filthy. Here are some of the devilish attributes that Connor and I love to hate, from mildest to most extreme:

1o. [Connor] Ominously dim lights. I don’t typically come across dim lights in bathrooms. In fact, I hardly ever do. However, I do occasionally get so bored in spanish class that I get the urge to get up, walk out the door, and go to the nearest bathroom to go pee, even if I don’t have to. The closest bathroom to my classroom is in a really old part of the building, so it’s a little dilapidated. My friends and I call the bathroom on that hall, the rape room. Of course, there’s been no instance of rape in there ever; it’s just a catchy name that describes the nature and atmosphere of said restroom. Let me describe this one of many amazing bathrooms of my school. First off, there’s no door. Second, there’s only ONE working light, which is placed by the door. There’s only two urinals, which are almost always being used, so I usually have to go even further back into the restroom to use the stall. It’s like layers of the ocean. The stall is in the equivalent of the bathypelagic zone in the ocean. Almost no light reaches that far. Anyway, it’s really creepy to me to have my most prized possession out of my pants in such a vulnerable place. Anyone could just like sneak in or look over the walls and it’s so dark I wouldn’t even realize it. Basically, that bathroom is the prime place for a rape to go down, hence its nickname.

(the actual “rape room” from my school)

9. [Michael] Stall graffiti. Growing up in an urban environment, I feel I am fully aware of the extent of graffiti on public structures such as trains or buildings. The thing is, it is rather uncomfortable to see that writing be brought into the one place I would like peace and quiet from the outside world: the toilet stall. Can’t I just get a little bit of me time and not have to stare at the portrayals of angst from the lower class? The walls of the stalls are a huge target to carved writing: mainly swears, gang symbols, or numbers to call to have sex. No thanks, I don’t want to think about getting in a prostitute’s pants while I relieve myself. I understand that this may be a way of artistic expression, but there are healthier manners to choose from. The point really is, who sits on a toilet with a knife and just carves words or images while they use the restroom? The only thing I would want to be concentrated on is getting it out of my system so that I wouldn’t have to be stuck in the confines of the stall.

8. [Connor] Those piece-of-crap automatic sinks that won’t work. This is one thing I, Connor, can’t stand! I go into the bathroom to take a tinkle and it’s all good and stuff…until I try to wash my hands and I see faucets without knobs. I automatically think oh crap, it’s one of those sinks! Damn! It’s even worse when I [try extremely hard to] get the last morsels of soap, lather my hands, put them under the nozzle and it doesn’t turn on. So I’m in a gross bathroom with my hands all soapy and still penis-y. It sucks not being able to completely wash my hands. It’s also stupid when I do get them to turn on, but the water only runs for a maximum of oh, I don’t know, around three microseconds.


7. [Connor] Missing soap. This kind of connects to number eight. I mean, I just hate when I take a piss and there’s no soap in the freaking dispenser to wash my hands with! If I can even get the automatic sink to even turn on, then I just rinse my hands. If I can’t get that to work…well, I just eat or whatever with delicious, peenie fingers. Later on, after I’ve eaten like a taco or something with my peenie fingers, I feel really gross. Soap is so important and cheap! I don’t know why so many establishments fail to fill the soap basins. Especially when they only have like one or two bathrooms. It pretty much infuriates me.


6. [Michael] When there’s a row of urinals that are practically on top of each other. What really makes men feel special is when they have the opportunity to use a device forbidden to women to relieve themselves: the urinal. The urinal is most famous for its easy in- easy out approach to letting men let out their lemonade. I truly don’t understand why restroom designers have to exploit this precious gift by putting the stalls directly next to each other so as to have men huddle up close in order to urinate. Finally, architects have listened to complaints and put in a boundary between the two devices. But still, the majority of stalls are truly open to the eye (of the man peeing right next to you). I know that at my school it is a curse to use a stall directly next to another student. The line just piles up with peers waiting for the perfectly positioned stall when there is obviously one available. I’ve been called gay several times by choosing the “incorrect” urinal and it truly bothers me. In order to avoid this problem in public I follow the invisible box method, which is exactly how it sounds. Just box yourself in by looking forward to the wall or at the contents of the urinal. Of course, the second one isn’t the greatest eye candy, but it functions in society. By doing this, you can avoid looking at the creepy mustache, pot belly, or hairy hot dog (eww) of the man next to you.

5. [Michael] When you walk into a stall and BAM! It looks like a tornado went through there. Imagine watching a ghastly, frightening horror movie at night: thunderstorms outside, pitch black living room with the only source of light coming from the massive screen of the tv. All of a sudden, the mutant zombie jolts up from the grave and gives an ear-piercing shriek of fury. It is at that moment where you just jump in twenty directions from shock. This same expression of terror, sadly, can be found in just about any public restroom. There are at times sights (and atrocious odors) you can’t believe emanating from a stall: an erupting toilet clogged and overflowing with paper, discolored from a generous portion of feces and urine. So gruesome and disturbing a sight: as if a crime played out
 such a pity. You just walk out, feeling sorry for the poor janitor, living on minimum wage, whose job it is to deal with this trash, and move on to the next stall as if nothing happened.

4. [Connor] Pubes on toilets. For me, there’s almost nothing at all worse than going up to a urinal or stall, pulling my dinger out, looking down, and seeing a long, thin, curly, black pubic hair on the toilet seat/urinal. It makes my penis want to crawl up and hide like a turtle retreating into its shell. Unfortunately, when I see the pube, I can’t pack up and vacate because I’m already in the process of making delicious lemonade. Therefore, I’m forced to see that curly hair just sitting there for a whole minute and a half. Blech. I mean, come on guys! At least trim your pubes! Not only does it protect others from seeing them on urinals and toilet seats, but they just look better too. And if they do happen to shed, well, at least they’re not long (ewwwwie).

3. [Michael] No locks on doors. Protection is usually a common element of our restroom experience taken for granted. Those cheap locks on the door keeping the outside world from viewing the contents within act as saviors. Sadly, they aren’t always there for us when we truly need them. Some poor sucker has to come along with a bad attitude and kick the door in a bit—unfortunately changing the fortune of future users. Seriously, the maintenance staff doesn’t care if the lock is broken, which is why the problem stays. Forever. The last thing you would want to do while having to push on your bowels to get the inside contents out is to have to lean forward on the door to keep it shut. Isn’t the strain enough already? Paired with that is the fear that possibly someone would to walk in the stall and see you holding on tightly to your water hose (or even texting if you are at school). Ugh!

2. [Connor] The boisterous flush of airplane toilets. Imagine: you’re on your way to an awesome new place to meet with someone. You’re really nervous, but trying to relax the best you can. At one moment, you feel the need to use the lavatory. You unbuckle yourself and walk like a drunk person down the way-too-narrow aisle to pee. You get there and –thankfully– it’s unoccupied. After locking the door and seeing the lights brighten when it locks (this always makes me giggle) you unzip your pants and let the rivulet flow. After you’re done urinating into the tin can of a toilet, you head for that handle to flush. Of course, this isn’t your first time flying, so you know what is coming. You brace yourself…and press it. It makes this extremely obnoxious noise like WHOOOSH BAHBDKNGOIW RNGOWJWRH IONRGWHOOOOOOOSH! Being all perturbed as you likely are, you wash your and head back down the thin aisle to your cramped economic class seat. I think I can speak for about 95% of the population when I state that airplane toilets are one of the loudest, most annoying sounds that can ever be heard. Well, probably not as loud and unsettling as someone farting in your ear, but probably pretty close.

1. [Michael] Poop backsplash. Being a male, it really isn’t that often that I have to use a stall. Thank goodness to that! Public toilets would be such a nuisance to have to use on a regular basis. Imagine being outside on a rainy day, walking blissfully along the wet and muddy sidewalk, sniffing in the fresh, earthy scent of nature, when all of a sudden a car comes by and causes a puddle a couple of feet away to erupt in a frenzy and splash in just about every direction. You are soaked, cold, and most unsatisfying: filthy. That’s basically the feeling I get using a public toilet. Hoping to relieve myself, I sit down on the toilet paper coating I’ve decorated the seam of seat with and let it all out. The thing is, god made it so that while some business comes out smoothly and softly, other business is as hard as a rock and only causes trouble. Well, when releasing the rocks into the pit of yellow liquid below, there is a rather gruesome after-effect that makes me cringe and shake: the splash. The splash is NOT your friend! He just throws at your face every gift you’ve sent him and leaves you sick with a bitter feeling. I just hate when toilets splash back at you. The worst part is its long term effect: having to go about the rest of the day with all that junk in your trunk: a sampling of all the contents of that one toilet. Definitely the most disturbing part of the restroom experience.


Picture yourself standing in the middle of an elaborate labyrinth of a maze. If you get out, you get to have your life back. Now, picture yourself standing on the flat grasslands of Nebraska. If you find a skyscraper five miles away, you get no prize.Which is easier to find? The skyscraper in the middle of Nebraska, or your way out of a labyrinth? Now, let’s analogize. Finding the skyscraper assimilates to finding a gross, nasty bathroom. In contrast, finding your way out of a maze equates to finding a nice, kept-up bathroom complete with soap and door locks. Discovering a gross bathroom yields no reward. Coming across a clean bathroom? The given reward is, of course, being able to walk out with a smile of relief on your face rather than a grimace of distraught.

A Collaborate Post
By Michael and Connor