Archive for December, 2011

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 🙂

 

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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