2014-10-23

Well. That's another scariest-movie-of-all-time over and done with.

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And, alas, like Night of the Living Dead, The Shining was a disappointment.

Look: heckuva lotta Filmmaking going on here. No question about that. And no doubt it stressed me out. But it was just too much. Which may seem like a funny thing to say, me being a wild Wes Anderson fan, but you don't want a silly scariest-movie-of-all-time, do you? No. Of course you don't. Then it wouldn't be the scariest-movie-of-all-time, would it?

Does that music get you scared? Sure. I guess. It's better than most Halloween sound-effect tapes, for sure.

Does that almost-symmetrical-but-not-quite framing keep you off guard? Yep. Sure does.

How about Danny riding his bike around and around and around?

How about the All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. manuscript?

How about the lady in the tub?

How about the running through the hedge?

The use of mirrors?

Yes, yes, yes. All very well done. The sudden cuts made me jump almost every time (although the last one to the iconic image of frozen Jack just made me snort), but aren't you wasting tension, making me jump just to tell me it's Tuesday?

Sigh.

I can see where the influence of this film has shown up in everyone from my boy Wes to Twin Peaks, but come on. The slow build of terror was so slow it finally fell apart and collapsed. The sudden death of Dick provided no payoff or release. Having Mom see ghosts got in the way of the true source of the terror. The room of skeletons just made me laugh out loud. And that photograph at the end? Oh yeah. Very artsy. Whoopdefreakindo. That does nothing for me, Kubrick. Stop patting yourself on the back.

Some great acting from the leads, though! Even though the direction included lots of needless pauses. Jack Nicholson was born for this role. I'm glad other people like it....

I know I'm grumpy. Sorry. But really. For all it's merits, when you add them all up, the film kind of sucked.

There it is.

2014-10-14

Rejected books: YOU by Caroline Kepnes
#WhosReadingYou? Erm. Not me.

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[NOTE: I received this book as a Klout perk with the presumed hope of the publisher that I would love it and tweet that love with the hashtag #WhosReadingYou. I wish that had been the case.]

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YOU is the tale of a man who thinks he is not merely rational and good, but better than you or I---less degenerate than the rest of us, smarter, kinder---the only man with his head screwed on straight in the whole damn world. Which naturally leads to stalking a pretty girl and locking her up and heroically trying to save her from herself for himself.

Which is fine. This sort of thing can be done well. Joyce Carol Oates's Zombie is arguably of this genre and is the most terrifying novel I've ever read and is fabulously written. Largely, the book works because I believed that I was actually experiencing the inside of Quentin's head.

Compare that to a story I wrote for an undergrad writing class. I don't remember the title anymore, but I think of it as the cockroach story. In that one too, the lead is a creepy fellow who's not so bright and has never grown beyond the solipsism of youth and who only kills because it's necessary and sensible and kind, given the circumstances. When my professor returned my portfolio, for all the love she had for my work in general, she was disappointed in the cockroach story as a generic piece of crap. I hadn't known this character was a tired trope, a cliche much in need of execution, but since then, yeah, I've seen it many many many times. It's worn out and almost impossible to do well, even if you only try to maintain it for ten pages.

YOU is 422 pages and, I'm sorry to say, much much closer to my cockroach story in execution than it is to Zombie.

This is not to say that Kepnes can't write. She's clearly talented. She's just written a kind of bad first novel.

Now look: I'm definitely in favor of ambitious failures. And this novel thinks it's ambitious in the same way a teenager who asks "How do I know that what you see as red is what I see as red?" thinks she's deeply philosophical. Kepner's book is called YOU to emphasize that the bulk of the narration is Joe's internal thinking as aimed at Beck---he's talking to her at all times within his head.

First paragraph:
YOU walk into the bookstore and you keep your hand on the door to make sure it doesn't slam. You smile, embarrassed to be a nice girl, and your nails are bare and your V-neck sweater is beige and it's impossible to know if you're wearing a bra but I don't think that you are. You're so clean that you're dirty and you murmur your first word to me—hello—when most people would just pass by, but not you, in your loose pink jeans, a pink spun from Charlotte's Web and where did you come from?
She's clearly meant for him and he begins to court her by following her around and learning everything about him. And not in a cute way like in The Fisher King.

It's pretty easy while reading this novel to see the balancing act Kepnes is attempting. If Joe starts seeming too legitimately cute she has him say something utterly misogynistic or to talk about watching Beck masturbate (which she seems to do all the time), and when he starts seeming too creepy it's time to talk about movies or chivalry again. The real issue comes not that Joe is ambiguous (something he should be) but that he's actually not ambiguous. She doesn't seem able to make him chivalrous and dangerous at the same time, so he's one then the other then one then the other. He's never a good guy, mind, but his character is inconsistent in terms of what sort of bad will he actually be, even though it's obvious pretty quickly that he'll be locking her up ala Room and, thanks to that violent cover, she'll die.

The sloppy execution though made it so that I couldn't get past page sixty. I skimmed a bit here and there through the end and it was pretty much exactly what I expected. Nothing impressed or surprised me.

Which is where the marketing confuses me. Is it possible that no one at Simon & Schuster realized that calling it "a perversely romantic thriller that’s more dangerously clever than any you’ve read before" just isn't true?

Unless. . . .

Here's my theory: This book is aimed at a younger, Millennial audience who maybe hasn't actually seen this before and thus might actually be impressed by it. An young audience the suits hope might be suckered into thinking this is hip stuff because it has Twitter and Smartphones and Cool Stuff Like That. Also, it has sex and young people like sex. I mean---the way this girl grinds her c**t against that pillow! Gracious.

Looking at the Goodreads reviews, I think the suits mostly guessed right. It appears that the novel is coming off as something new to many readers, and so they at least are getting the experience this #WhosReadingYou campaign has promised them. Lucky kids.

Anyway. I know I'm coming off like a bit of a hater here, but I'm bummed that the book wasn't better than it was. Although it was obvious almost immediately that it wasn't going to work for me, I kept forcing myself to read just one more chapter until I couldn't anymore.

I hope that Kepnes keeps writing and keeps being ambitious. And I hope someone's upfront with her the next time her ambition takes her down a tired road. Someone did me that favor once, and I'm still grateful.

Keep reading, Kepnes. Keep writing.

2014-10-13

Dead supermodel on down

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084) The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith, finished October 11

This was recommended to me by a former student now working at my local library. I think he'd read it as a duty, being a grown-up member of the Harry Potter generation (Galbraith now revealed to be a pen name for Rowling).

Having been reintroduced to detective fiction of late by reading Sue Grafton, I tend to think of her pacing as the standard. The Galbraith novel's mystery is about the same size as those in the Grafton books I've read, but it's much, much longer. The swift conclusion arrives about the same distance from the end---absolutely, not proportionally---which is to say it seems a bit too long to get too. I found the twist a little too obvious in the sense that I didn't think THAT person could be the murderer because all the misdirection made THAT person impossible.

Anyway. I think the most important part of these sorts of novels is whether or not we grow fond of the the hero[es] to come back on another adventure with them. In this case, Cormoron Strike is compelling and ultimately likable. His assistant Robin Ellacott even more so. Their love histories and presents are still to be fully explored. (Although choosing to introduce Robin's fiance as a wonderful person and then spend the rest of the book undermining that was an odd choice.)

Yeah. Anyway, the point is it was enjoyable, too long, not remarkable really in any way, wonderfully British, and---because we already know---tastes a lot like JK Rowling. Just with more swears.
two or three weeks



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083) Non-Essential Mnemonics: An Unnecessary Journey into Senseless Knowledge by Kent Woodyard, finished October 8

Apparently these originally appeared on McSweeney's, and in many ways, that's a better place for it. My favorite part of the collection is the final chapter in which every mnemonic is something said at his ten-year high-school reunion. The random things which these are made to signify is the undercurrent of humor but the contrarily directed undercurrent of deciphering a "true" story simultaneously makes the whole gag more successful.

Ultimately, this is the sort of book in which a sequence of mildly humorous antijokes set up the more largely funny antijokes.

In other words, hard to imagine that most people won't hate it.

But it's a pleasant humor book of the sort I thought they stopped publishing in the 90s. So if you like these---or enjoy giving them as gifts---it's a solid choice.

[Review of gratis copy from publisher.]
four days



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082) Superman: Earth One by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis, finished September 28


I may someday finish this other loooong comic I'm reading whose name I can't be bothered to look up right now, I may not. I mention it because the introduction talks about how its creator is the creator of Babylon 5 and his genius shines through in comics form as well. Now, I've never seen Babylon 5(and after the good-ideas/holey-execution of that comic, I've no real drive too), but the reason I bring it up is because I just discovered this book is also by that bloke.

I liked a lot about this reimagining of Superman's coming into the public eye, but, at the same time, it did a lot of things that didn't make sense. I'm forgiving those flaws because I liked the parts I liked, but let's face it: no way was this good enough to turn me on to Babylon 5.
two days



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081) Usagi Yojimo 20: Glimpses of Death by Stan Sakai, finished September 28

Incredibly, I've never read any Usagi before. Just never happened. I'm always a little leery of martial-arts stories (the oft-repeated trauma of watching Karate Kid is no doubt to blame) and there are sooo many of these books. But I was stuck at the library and looking at the comics in the teen section and they had two, one of which was a standalone. I decided to take that one home, but in the meantime, I read the first few pages of this one. A few turned to forty and I took this home instead. And I loved it. I don't even care that I'm in the middle of some longer tales. Each of these short stories satisfies---and in different ways.

Man, I've wasted a lot of time not reading Usagi.
two days





Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-10-03

True or False: Theric's exhuming things that's better left alone
lost songs

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I can't think of a song more suitable for the Lost Songs series than Randy Travis's "Diggin' Up Bones" which is, after all, about "resurrecting memories."


Travis's is one of the memorable voices of my childhood and this particular song is one of many permanent tracks in my internal jukebox. It has also, for reasons I cannot explain, recently been placed on Constant Rotation alongside current popular songs and new favorites.

This particular song is about a fellow up late one night taking out old photos and love letters and like paraphernalia of a lost love. He puts on his old wedding ring and then gives hers a fling (a nice bit of wordplay), then slips into the chorus:

Yeah tonight I'm sitting alone, diggin' up bones
I'm diggin' up bones, I'm diggin' up bones
Exhuming things that's better left alone
I'm resurrecting memories of a love that's dead and gone
Yeah tonight I'm sittin' alone diggin' up bones

I think I liked this song a bit better than some of the others when I was a kid because there was no hint of infidelity---I liked songs about broken hearts, but infidelity was too much. The closest thing to sex here is "the pretty negligee that I bought you to wear."

In short, though, this songs was an excellent choice for exhumation. I think it captures much of what is typical about Eighties Radio Country---melodic hooks, cheery pop background singers, over-the-top metaphor---and grounds it in some simple guitar work and the hyper-masculine-yet-vulnerable voice of Mr Randy Travis.

I've played this song maybe a dozen times while writing this post and I still feel no regret about my decision. That's impressive.

2014-09-30

2014: Third-quarter movies

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In theaters:


Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, John C. Reilly---my goodness. Many of my favorite Hollywood men. (Clearly I have a type.) The movie did not disappoint, though I was never quite able to suspend my disbelief re the durability of that cassette tape. I passed up some other great options to be part of the zeitgeist. Yes, I let my expectations get a little too high, but I choose no regrets. Largely because I have faith in this incredible Marvel machine to keep paying dividends.

Ghostbusters (1984): Although the cartoon and the soundtrack are pivotal parts of my childhood, I'm not 100% sure I've seen the movie straight through before. It's not flawless, but I found it very satisfying. I laughed, I jumped, it was worth it.



At home:


Brick (2005): A great noir that manages to also be one of the better high-school movies I've seen---even though it goes in for the high school = drugs thing that I'm sick to death of. The details of set and character, and the clever moments of character work really make the film sing. I picked this up on reputation and the author's other work and the fact that he's tapped to take over Star Wars Episode VIII. Based on what I've seen, I'm intrigued at the choice.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971): One of the most rewatched movies of my childhood has just sent my children rolling on the floor in conniptions. And they even sat through "Portobello Road"---so I call this a great success. Personally, I'll always enjoy this more than Mary Poppins. (And, of course, waaaay more than Pete's Dragon.) So even if I would never watch this based on its concept were I hearing of it for the first time today, I recommend it to you all the same.

The Secret World of Arrietty (2010): This was pretty good. Another awesome female character from Miyazaki. Anyone who thinks it can't be done needs to sit down with his oeuvre. Not one of my favorites, but when I said that, Lady Steed was shocked. Of course, I liked The Wind Rises much more than her.

The Green Mile (1999): Loved the book and this is a terrific adaptation. Some of the layers are missing and you'll find some clever additions for make it more cinematic, but this really is one of the great adaptations. It captures the book and is a terrific movie at the same time. Also, it's not as gruesome as the novel which is good---otherwise it wouldn't be watchable. I've been wanting to see this movie since reading, before it came out, that it broke the studio's record for best responses from test audiences. It's taken me a long time to get around to it. Worth the wait.

In a World . . . (2013): The script's a bit choppy at places (especially with chronological clarity) but the important moments hit. The cast is strong and the acting is good. As is the dialogue they're acting. Good stuff.

Somebody Up There Likes Me (2012): A plethora of half-clever ideas do not a good movie make. But, you know, it was watchable.

Up in the Air (2009): This is a movie that threatened to resolve into typical cliche several times, but then veered away. I'm not sure quite where it did end, but it was a satisfying ambiguity. And what a cast, what a cast. The filming was such an important part of the storytelling, I often had times imagining the screenplay. (Imagining screenplays is a large part of my moviewatching experience these days.)

Napoleon Dynamite (2004): I've seen this movie more times than you have (guaranteed) and I've impressed with how this picaresque hodgepodge is ultimately so tightly constructed with such a large emotional payoff. Love it.

American Hustle (2013): It pulled a scene-from-the-middle-then-lengthy-flashback on me, but it was more forgivable than usual because the information revealed still made sequential sense without repeating things. Still my biggest complaint though. The acting was great and the twist both surprised me and would not poorly affect rewatching.

Little Secrets (2001): I first saw this when it was new and was surprised by the quality. I always wanted to someday show it to my kids. And now I have---to the oldest at least. Though not quite as good as my memory (no element of surprise this time), it does have a worthy payout and it makes surprisingly wise comments about secrets (then attempts to spell them out, which is what makes it kid-friendly, I suppose). Also funny to see Sam Cardon and Kurt Bestor heralded as the great artists of their generation. Truly a made-in-Utah film.

Bottle Rocket (1996): This was Lady Steed's first time seeing this movie. And though I wouldn't place it at the top of Wes Anderson's oeuvre, it's funny and pleasing. Totally bombs the Bechdel Test though, if you're keeping track.

Ginger Snaps (2000): One of the great B-movies of the 21st century, they say. One of the great movies about teenage girls, they say. One of the better horror movies of recent history, they say. You know what? I think they were right. It's a not a bad example of body horror either. Color me impressed. Wish I'd watched it a long time ago.

Better Off Dead... (1985): My first time seeing this movie. I'm so sad of this. It's a movie I could have enjoyed over and over. I still can enjoy it more than once, certainly, but I don't rewatch films so much anymore. And I would love for the chaos of this film to infect me. I mean---even more than it probably has. Children, live your lives such that you do not have regrets such as mine!

American Grindhouse (2010) Not much I didn't know, but interesting and free on Crackle and a good movie to put on in moments since, you know, it's just history---not plot.




Elsewhere:


Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012): A lot about this movie seemed impossible to pull off. The trailer was great, but I didn't see how to make is succeed as a film. A comedy about the end of humanity? How can a comedy end in a marriage AND a funeral? It didn't seem likely. And perhaps it wasn't perfect. But the humanity of the characters and the pleasure of the details made this movie work. The end shares DNA with many bad romcoms, but it comes from a more honest place and it works.

2014-09-22

Rape, murder, theft, and murder

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0##) Lolita: The Story of a Cover Girl: Vladimir Nabokov's Novel in Art and Design edited by John Bertram and Yuri Leving, finished September 20

I forget what I was doing. Perhaps it was when I had bumped into the Chip Kidd book for kids. Anyway, I was linkfollowing on Amazon and saw this book. I have a general interest in cover design, but this caught my eye in particular. Perhaps it was a student presentation in June on Lolita. Perhaps it was my own reading of the novel (stopped cold about fourteen months ago when Humbert first laid eyes upon "his" "nymphet". Perhaps it was my own cover struggling with a short novel called Perky Erect Nipples. I don't know. Anyway, I had it sent to my library from another system.

I had expected just a book filled with other designers attempts to design a good Lolita cover (the bulk of which range from hmm to egad). And that does make up about eighty pages in the middle. And most of them are hmm at best. The real value of this book is the essays. Granted, I ended up skimming two of them, but even though I don't have a large and abiding interest in Nabokov, scholarly looks at paratext (new word for me) were delightful as it's a topic I've been thinking about my entire reading life and have rarely had anyone to talk to about. (It's a shame I don't get on better with Dave Eggers.) So that was great. And stories about the times and how people read and misread controversial texts (or manipulate the public re said texts) and the thinking of designers---etc etc etc---ranged from the mostly interesting to the pretty great.

If any of those things interest you, might as well give this a heft.
a couple weeks



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079) Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, finished September 18

My experience with The Shining was that the alcoholism was more terrifying than the ghosts. With its sequel, much of the same. Alcoholism is still terrifying. But the True Knot is scarier than the ghosties of the Overlook Hotel. And yet---the book overall packs less of a punch. I think because King pulled some of his. The good guys stop dying about halfway through the book. I kept guessing who would die and how and no one ever did.

Even worse, he kept pulling the camera away to keep me the reader in ignorance, hiding bits of the plan and so forth for suspenseful effect (and affect), which is a bit dishonest if not done right. Frankly, he seemed a bit lazy about hiding the strings in the last quarter of the novel.

All that said, I greatly enjoyed it and hope King lives long enough to write a second sequel starring Abra in her middle age.
a couple weeks



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078) "B" Is for Burglar by Sue Grafton, finished September 11

Wowee. The first one was good. This one was better. I need to keep my eyes open for a free copy of C.

This one, a couple chapters from the end, built me up to that compelling point of can't-stop-reading that my jaded self hardly ever manages to reach these days. Loved the mix of truth and lies and identities. Granted, hard to accept this sociopath sudden change, but hey---when you're a PI, you only are part of these lives for a brief time. You see what you see.
about nine days



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077) "A" Is for Alibi by Sue Grafton, finished September 2

I've been watching these books come out my whole life. I've had them recommended to me in essays by authors I admire (Stepehn King and Orson Scott Card). I picked this one up free, and you know what? I really liked it. Slow burn---seemed to be going nowhere, but the meantime the clarity of description and the cleanness of character kept the story moving forward. Then it all blew up at the end. Very satisfying.

I think I may keep reading these things. What better way to relive the '80s?
two weeksish





Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-09-03

On the nudity of Jennifer Lawrence

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Nudity is so prevalent on the Internet, I hardly even register when I happen upon some in my, of course, purely innocent travels. Most of that nudity---whether it started out as porn or Game of Thrones or some idiot's selfie---was intended for public consumption. And okay, whatever, roll your eyes and move on.

When Jennifer Lawrence's name was trending Twitter yesterday, I clicked because I think she's one of the most compelling actors working in film and I'm interested in anything she's attached to. Maybe some new flick'd been announced. Instead, it immediately became quite clear that private, nude photos had been leaked. Of course, my prurient interest was engaged, but I didn't do anything more than read the tweeted headlines and dumb comments. Then, all of a sudden, there were four photos embedded in the stream. I closed the window.

Unlike other accidental naked people, these photos have stuck with me. And not in the sense of "people cannot erase pornographic images from their brain" but in the sense of I feel equally awful today that I was part of this invasion of privacy as I did yesterday. Maybe worse.

A couple ancillary thoughts:
1. I suppose my feelings may be stronger because this is someone I like and whose work I admire. And who hasn't done nude work. I might have already forgotten had I bumped into leaked, personal nudes of Kristen Stewart.

2. Although the don't-take-photos-you-don't-want-leaked argument is not empty, I don't like it. And not just because it's victim-blaming. Although I don't own a phone myself, most of you reading this are, by any reasonable measure, human/phone cyborgs. Phone photos aren't much different anymore than looking in the mirror or being in the room with someone. I'm too old for this to be internalized, but I'm bright enough to know it's true.

3. Something alchemic about the combination of details in this case has not only made me sick, but it's altered my behavior. I've been a lot more careful online these last two days. Even your ad with the sportsbra-clad model advertising vitamins is making me ill. I feel like everything is exploitative. Maybe it is.
Look: This is a new, photo-drenched world we live in. Photos of anything and everything have already been taken. Me, I'm too old to take photos of anything I don't want the world to see. But my film-born view of photography is not what a photograph is anymore. I lived before the word selfie---a time when a photo of yourself that was clearly taken by yourself was laughably gauche and fit for mocking.

But that's not the world of today nor the world of tomorrow. Seeing digitally is now as ubiquitous as seeing someone through the air. And so photos need to be as private as our bedroom, if that's what we're taking them for.

Yes, old boyfriends can make a memory stored on a phone public easier than a memory only in the hippocampus, but that's not the point. The point is, seeing and being seen are not what they were.

But peeking in on someone when they're alone with a lover is just what it's always been.

I'm glad I feel awful. It means I'm still a decent human being.

I hope you feel awful too, no matter how not surprised you may be.

2014-08-28

20 best albums of 2014 so far

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All the music mags have been releasing lists of the best albums so far. And some of my favorite albums have been getting snubbed. Plus, everyone like the Beck album more than it deserves. (Sorry, Beck.)

Since getting Spotify, I've been listening to lots more new music And so I'm going to inflict upon you my own opinion of 2014's best 20 albums so far. My criteria are that the album is on Spotify (sorry Natalie, Hannah-Lou, Trevor), that it is an album (sorry Nerina, Broods), that Spotify lists the album's release as 2014 (which cuts off some great albums on other lists because Spotify says they're 2013), that I've heard the album more than once (which means albums I just discovered looking at these other lists---did you know Norah Jones has a new band with a new album?---aren't eligible), and that I think the album is good. Some of these I think are terrific. But by forcing myself to choose twenty, I'll get to include some that are good but I haven't yet decided whether or not they are terrific. For your information, this is this my current 2014 list. But albums come on and off this list all the time. You may be looking at a different list than what it was when you first read this article last week. It's a living document.





Terrific ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

1

Nicole Atkins

Slow Phaser
Every song on here is perfect and catchy and says something. I can't pick a favorite. Her album is so good, I refuse to listen to "Sin Song" because I know I will lose my soul. Seriously. This album is effin ineffable.

2

Rosanne Cash

The River & The Thread
I should grant this list is biased towards albums I added earlier in the year. Easier to get to know an album when it's not on a list 29 hours and 48 minutes long. But regardless, Rosanne Cash's new album deserved all those extra listens. I really admire this album. She's the best at what she does.

3

Sarah Dooley

Stupid Things
Fun and charm and cleverness and more more more love love love. But I've already written about this album.

4

Jonatha Brooke

My Mother Has 4 Noses
She sounds a bit like Emmylou and writes songs to match.

5

Marissa Nadler

July
Compelling without yelling.




Certainly very good, might be great, highly recommended ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

6

Katie Herzig

Walk through Walls
Herzig's found a new way to use her unique voice and the songs on this album compel with both serious-face and a clean beauty.

7

Bombay Bicycle Club

So Long, See You Tomorrow
I don't like this album as much as I did earlier in the year, but it's young, international vibe is still charming.

8

Hurray for the Riff Raff

Small Town Heroes
Gritty girl-and-guitar country-rock.

9

Margot & The Nuclear So and So's

Slingshot to Heaven
Twee when you want it.

10

The Secret Sisters

Put Your Needle Down
Their clean harmonies sharpened over lyrics worth listening to.

11
Screw eleven!

12

The Colourist

The Colourist
This is the best pop album I've heard in a long time. And yeah, it seems too perfect not to be manufactured, I can't help loving it. If Death Cab for Cutie was happy---it Brandon Flowers shared vocals with a woman. It's basically all that's fun about rock and roll from the last ten years wedded to the sort of vocals I'm naturally drawn to. It's not fair. I surrender. I love you.

13

Hospitality

Trouble
Maybe if I called it the Yeah Yeah Yeahs only they crush you instead of stab you, then would you understand?




Like a lot but haven't decided how much you should take my word for it ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

14

Tori Amos

Unrepentent Geraldines
It's a solid Tori album. Couple songs that will become fan favorites. Not the best first-Tori-album for the neophyte probably, but you wouldn't regret it.

15

Lana Del Rey

Ultraviolence
Essentially, my initial impressions have solidified.

16

First Aid Kit

Stay Gold
It's Swedish chick singing folk. Please, sir. May I have some more?

17

Jenny Lewis

The Voyager
It's Jenny Lewis. Haven't decided what else needs to be said about it yet.

18

Various Artists

I Saved Latin! A Tribute to Wes Anderson
Some of the songs on here are among the best of the year. None embarrass.

19

Angel Olsen

Burn Your Fire for No Witness
Like a lot of the other folkie countrified girls on this list, only lower and darker.




Clearly good but either I haven't listened to them enough to determine quality or I'm just really conflicted ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

19½

Sharon Van Etten

Are We There
I loved her previous album. Haven't given this one enough attention yet, but so far this one seems equally deserving of love.

19¾

Temples

Sun Structure
Sort of late Beatles, sort of Moody Blues, sort of new age, sort of awesome, sort of WTF. I've almost cut it from the list many times, only to have a song shuffle in and make me think I love this album. So that.

19⅘

Lykke Li

I Never Learn
Haven't heard all the songs yet, but a couple of them are simply extraordinary. Start with "Gunshot."

20

Neon Trees

Pop Psychology
I'm not sure this is saying, musically, much they didn't say last time. But they say it so well.

2014-08-22

Aliens, monsters, tigers, convicts

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076) Nonsense Novels by Stephen Leacock, finished August 20

I've used the parody of courtly-love romance to teach courtly love. I've used the utopian parody to talk about the history of utopian literature. I'm considering how best to employ the Xmas-story parody. And don't forget the parody of Horatio Alger! Or od detective tales!

I can't remember anymore how I came to download this, but I'm glad I did. Some of the stories don't keep their quality or consistency throughout (and some moments have not aged well), but all of them have genuine lol moments. Emphasis on the latter L. "What are you reading, Theric?" people ask. Stephen Leacock, I answer when I stop laughing.

(Since I began reading, one of the stories has been included with the new Lemony Snicket reprints, and a confused person wrote the introduction to a recent reprint of this volume?)
many months maybe over a year or maybe even two years



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075) Yukon Ho! by Bill Watterson, finished August 16

This is the only one of the square Calvin & Hobbes books we didn't own when I was a kid; we got this copy for Little Lord Steed's birthday last week. I've read them all before, but doesn't matter. Best strip of its decade. One of the best of all time. The only strip I would definitely place above it is Peanuts. Lofty company, that.

For the record, I read Calvin & Hobbes all the time, but rarely do I sit down and read a full book cover to cover. It's pages here and there of whatever's been left out by my kids. Good taste, them.
two days



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074) Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell, finished August 16

I got talked into reading this again. Same complaints as last time, but I think I actually liked it more.
morning



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073) Dangerous by Shannon Hale, finished August 11

I've heard mostly terrible thing about her adult novels and mostly ecstatic things about her YA novels. Since I"m trying to get a jump on the Whitney's and she seems like a sure bet, I picked up her new novel.

I found the first ninety pages utterly tedious. Were it not for the Whitneys, I would have quit around page forty. I kept going because in the 90s I found something to write about (see AMV), but I never did fall in love with the novel. Which makes me sad. I really thought I was going to like it. Maybe I'll still pick up Goose Girl or Princess Academy one of these days, but I'm not feeling the drive I once did.

Anyway. Click on the AMV link.

Here are some things that didn't fit in that review.

So many YA books feature multiple characters who quote great poetry. I HAVE NEVER SEEN THIS IN REAL LIFE. GIVE IT UP, YA AUTHORS! Not that I don't frequently enjoy it, mind, but please. It's absurd. In this case, it's three of five. That's not realistic.

She does this weird thing where she's skip the expository dialogue only to have characters who BOTH heard the expository dialogue sum it up for each other. This makes no sense.

The suicide in the novel was a bit frustrating for me even though I think the ultimate reasoning all made sense, I was awash with skepticism through the whole thing. A shame, really, because it could have been the novel's great shock.

The book had some nice lines: "Are you only capable of talking to me as if an audience were listening?" (40) Shark! . . . Then I remembered who I was. And I ate it. (177)

Why aren't the aliens interested in, say, dogs? Or salamanders?

At times, the comedic aspects of the aliens reminded me of Smekday.
two or three weeks



Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-08-21

Fiction from Dialogue 47.1 (Spring 2014)

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"Acute Distress, Intensive Care" by Karen Rosenbaum
This slice-of-life is perhaps more painful in its matter-of-fact sadness while observing loss of faith than in its observation of death and interfamily failure. Which is interesting because the narration certainly does not judge or condemn those who have lost their faith. And it's doesn't make the faithful seem more happy or full or honest, with the possible exception of an autistic teenager who encounters the sublime while saying the sacrament prayer for his congregation.

Whether faithful or faithless---whether seeing answers where they might not be or failing to see answers where they might be---each of us has some untouchable core of isolation and sadness and decay as entropy slowly claims us all.

Which sounds like a downer, but Karen's work always maintains a certain beauty and purity no matter how uncheerful it's subject or execution.

"Two-Dog Dose" by Steven L. Peck
A technique I'm losing patience with in general is the in-media-res-then-let's-go-back-and-surprise-the-beginning-was-actually-near-the-end. I can't deny that Peck uses it to terrific effect here, but I think that's largely due to how dang corporeal and shocking it is rather than any need for the story to have had that shape. Not, anyway, if it had had a different title.

(Incidentally, what is it with Peck and killing canines?)

Anyway, story is a powerful one about the decline of age and the decision to choose one's own moment of death and friendship and love and trust and faith. As in Rosenbaum's story, the p-o-v has lost his faith while remaining close to those who remain close to faith. And both story's share redemptive elements for the faithless character, without returning them to the community of faith.

Anyway, it's a moving tale and an significant addition to those keeping a lists of Mormon stories about male friendship.

2014-08-18

Heading back to the old alma mater

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I need 13.4 upperclass or postgrad credits to get to the highest paygrade with my district. The pay difference will pay for itself in about half a school year (based on BYU Independent Study costs) so it would be foolish not to plow through. Here are the classes I'm considering, ranked in two categories (an * notes classes I have [or may have] taken before and thus might not be eligible to take---excepting, of course, R[etakable] classes):

My Personal Edification / My Students' Edification

Persuasive Writing*
ENGL 312
••••••••••

Writing about Literature*
ENGL 314
•••••••••

Writing Poetry
ENGL 319R
••••••••••

Writing for Children and Adolescents*
ENGL 320R
••••••••••

The Bible As Literature*
ENGL 350
••••••••••

American Literature 1865–1914*
ENGL 362
••••••••••

American Literature 1914 - 1960
ENGL 363
••••••••••

Studies in Poetry
ENGL 366
••••••••••

British Literature 1789 - 1832: The Romantic Period*
ENGL 374
••••••••••

British Literature 1603-1660: The Late Renaissance*
ENGL 385
••••••••••

Modern American Usage*
ELANG 322
••••••••••

The Grammar of English*
ELANG 325
•••••••••

Writings of Isaiah
REL A 304
••••••••••

The Pearl of Great Price*
REL A 327
••••••••••

I have decided, selfishly I suppose, to take the poetry-writing class first, and use that as a gauge for future decision-making. Thoughts and advice welcome.

2014-08-14

Where is 2014's Alfred Hitchcock?

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I'm not talking about Hitchcock the film auteur or television fantabulist. I'm talking about Hitchcock the literacy promoter.


Before I ever saw my first Hitchcock film (which, incidentally blew me away---scared the crap out of me in broad daylight), before I had any idea who Hitchcock was, I was reading books with his brand. I've since read several and have just begun another. In general (maybe always), Hitch's involvement in these book projects was minimal to the point of nonexistent. But hey---his name and face and imprimatur sold books and got people to read.

So here's my question: What celebrity could recreate this in 2014?

Honestly, I don't know. Steven King comes to mind, but choosing an author seems a bit cheaty. Who from another field could sell books? I don't think Spielberg could do it. Wes Anderson maybe but not to mass audiences. I wonder of Abrams or Whedon . . . Nah.

Obama, after he leaves office, could sell some copies of interesting collections no one would read.

Really. I can't think of anyone who, by virtue of saying This Is Good could sell a jillion cheap volumes.

Can you?

2014-08-12

So many pictures in so many panels

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072) Tale of Sand by Ramón K. Pérez from the screenplay by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl, finished August 9

Pérez was given the challenge of adapting a screenplay that has the same sort of visual chaos seen in Henson's Oscar-nominated (and really truly terrific and really truly strange) Time Piece. One method he employs is bringing in parts of the screenplay's actual printed and scribbled-upon pages. The story is wild and wonderful and nutty. It ends in a loop just after pulling the kind of prank I used in Armageddon Burning and Hell or that you see at the end of V for Vendetta.

It's fun and dreamlike and nonsensical---sort of an Alice for grownups---and I'm absolutely unsurprised it never got funded. But we now have the next best thing. We have the comic book.
evening



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071) The New Yorker Book of Literary Cartoons edited by Bob Mankoff, finished August 9

This 2000 volume has some real gems that made me laugh out loud, but the more trendy cartoons have not aged well. Even for a collection from 2000, some of the gags seem based on a literary world that barely existed then, if, indeed, it ever existed. But the gems, man. Worth it for the gems.
five days



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070) Liō: Making Friends by Mark Tatulli, finished August 9

Liō is better is small doses. The repetitious nature of the gags gets obvious in collected form.
out for ice cream



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069) Paying for It: a comic strip memoir about being a john by Chester Brown, finished August 9

This is the great thing about libraries: I never would have bought this book. Probably no one would have ever lent it to me. I've read some Chester Brown and been underwhelmed. I didn't really care for the subject matter. But it sits next to other books I'm checking out and it ends up coming home with me. (And, unexpectedly, ends up being the fourth book with prostitiution from that pile.) And I read it. And if I had an audience who cared more about my opinions on this particular topic, I could write a long time about this book.

The first thing to say is that other people who've said this book is not erotic are right. For a book entirely about sex and which features the depiction of lots and lots of sex acts, this comes as a bit surprising, perhaps, but it's true. I did not find Paying for It to be at all erotic. I'm not sure why. Maybe because it's manifesto as much as memoir? I don't know.

Anyway, the main point of Brown's book is to convince you that prostitution is better for humanity than marriage, which he calls evil probably four or five times. His tirades against romantic love provide my main issues which I'll get into in a moment (but not in great detail because, as I said, I don't think my audience cares what he thinks), but his arguments for prostitution are actually pretty compelling. Prostitution fits in the category of Things I Don't Like But Will Always Exist. That category breaks into three subcategories and currently prostitution is in the subcat with murder (things we try to stop and punish) instead of sharing space with alcohol (things we regulate in order to minimize the damage) or flipping people off (we support your right to be a knave). Brown is for no regulation of prostitution at all and I think he may have convinced me. Although he also thinks prostitutes shouldn't have to pay money on their earnings which is stupid. If someone makes their living that way, then income is income. Tax it like my freelance editing is taxed. But I'm not getting into that.

Brown's philosophy is grossly materialistic, by which I mean that he thinks the only things that matter are property and that all things that exist are property and the only meaningful definition of morality is respecting other people's property. That's important to know, but I'm not going to engage with that philosophy. Just know that's where he's at.

When it comes to longterm relationships, Brown believes that entropy is inevitable. That shared experiences don't lead to deeper love. That all relationships gradually lose their frequency of sex which leads to resentment which leads to fighting and bitterness and breakup. Needless to say, I find that cynical and immature. But I do suspect that our serve-me-first culture is moving in that direction sexually. In the appendix he describes a utopia in 2080 (assuming prostitution is decriminalized posthaste) where people have kids if they feel like it and no one's trapped in exclusive relationships and people charge for sex or give it away as they please. I imagine he's like my students who find Brave New World a utopia as well.

Brown's spent a lot of time honing his arguments and I would no doubt lose a public debate with him, but he's not logically or philosophically consistent. He has his conclusions already and fits the evidence to them. For instance, he finds an Asian culture that looks like his utopia and uses it as proof that he's right. But cultures that don't match his ideals (say, mine) don't have anything worth thinking about. He behaves similarly toward historical evidence. This wouldn't bother me so much if he wasn't so quick to call things he disagrees with "evil." I have one of these religious backgrounds he's so disapproving of, and I'm much less likely than he is to whip out the e-word. His property-based libertarianism seems a bit evangelical in that it provides him somewhere to stand as he preaches to and condemns the world around him.

Anyway, it was an interesting book. Certainly loosened up my own thinking on the subject, though I'm not about to encourage you to get (or become) a hooker. So don't ask for my approval. Brown would call me puritan no doubt, but we're not even starting from the same axioms, so whatever. We can be civil.
midnight and morning



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068) Richard Stark's Parker: The Score by Darwyn Cooke, finished August 9

Cooke is a fascinating artist. This book is black and white and orange and he exploits the full potential of that simplicity. One example: an explosion. The next page hurt my eyes as the black disappeared and the splash was nearly all white with just enough orange to delineate the basics of what was happening. Astonishing bit of art.

I also like how this is essentially an Ocean's 11 story, but the inherent risk of violence is more real. That's crime, buddy. It feels more honest because it's less fun. It's a darker look at that great American antihero, the outlaw.
one night



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067) Ghosts and Ruins by Ben Catmull, finished August 8

This Goreyesque collection of drawings and words about haunted spaces is a delight to peruse. And it reminds me of a project I never got around to executing a few years ago. Now it's resurrected that idea in my mind and set it off in a new direction. Thanks, Catmull!
one day



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066) The Plot: The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion by Will Eisner, finished August 7

I never thought about the Protocols before. I mean: I knew they were crap and had caused some problems. But I didn't realize how their falseness and their evil were so casually intertwined. If people can deny the Holocaust, of course they can believe in this nonsense.

This is a comedy of horrors.

Eisner did an adequate job of balancing his goals of teaching and stretching out the yarn. Ultimately, his simple characters can carry you through even the long sections of textual analysis (though I did do a bit of skimming). He was a master. I don'n know if this is his best work, but it certainly must be one of his most important.
two days



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065) Unterzakhn by Leela Corman, finished August 6

I knew Unterzakhn when I saw it because of BAC2013. The excerpt there wasn't really enough to catch my attention, but when I saw it on the shelf at the Berkeley library, I grabbed it as part of my large stack comics I was taking. (It also ended up being the third of the first three we read which featured prostitution. I certainly have a type.)

The story of two sisters (twins as it ends up, though this is not clear until the final pages) in early 20th-century New York City---the children of Jewish immigrants (the story of their father is told in an extended flashback that should have been cut) who take different paths through the backwaters of sexual mores and the hypocrisy of others.

This book, like Grandville below, does a good job of casually complicating characters. I'm reading another book that fails even when using seemingly identical techniques. I need to think more about this.

The ending is suitably tragic and understated.
two days



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064) Grandville Bête Noire by Bryan Talbot, finished August 5

I knew I recognized the author's name, but couldn't place it until the story ended and his bio identified him as author of the punchlineless joke, Alice in Sunderland. This story too, "A DETECTIVE-INSPECTOR LEBROCK OF SCOTLAND YARD SCIENTIFIC-ROMANCE THRILLER, plays fast and loose with history, but its anthropomorphic animals remind constantly that this is a work of fiction. Even if that chimp is clearly Toulouse-Lautrec. But fiction or not, the story is clearly against robber-baron capitalism. But it's just as clearly against abstract-impressionism as a tool of the rich to control the rest of us. And I don't know whether I'm meant to take that argument as seriously. It seems like it. But am I really?

Anyway, what I like most about this book is its casual character development. I didn't know until I sat to write this review that this is the third in a series, but it didn't even matter. The variations in the protagonists' backgrounds and bearings and attitudes and reactions simply felt developed and real. Not explaining properly is a task many writers never master. This book teaches how it's done.

On top of all that are the little gags (a Q-like scientist saying "This is not a pipe"---a drunk Paddington staggering down a Paris street) that add pleasure to the reading. To say nothing of Roderick's terrific slang.

(Roderick is Watson to LeBrock's Holmes---except their relationship is much more evenly balanced.)

two days


Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-08-04

Hemingway and Dave Barry do not write about travel in the same ways.

.

063) Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, finished August 4

I can see why people like this. On the surface, it pretty much appears the same as any fantasy/scifi hybrid. But somehow it tastes entirely different. I wasn't excited or impressed enough to run down What Happens Next, but it was good.
at library and a couple parking lots



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062) Bubbles & Gondola by Renaud Dillies, finished August 4

Cute and symbolic, but not very deep. In fact, it's that pseudo-arteest bull#### about the tortured soul needing to chill out so he can make great art. If that's something you need, you might actually be better off reading Dave Barry's really terrible advice to aspiring authors listed below.
at library



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061) You Can Date Boys When You're Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About by Dave Barry, finished August 3

Dave Barry is to prose what Calvin & Hobbes is to comics: the most enjoying and inspiring things in the newspaper during my boyhood. This book was a blast of that pure Barry wonder. Moments of absolute hilarity and excellent execution of the tricks ever humor writer since is trying to emulate. One of America's great humor writers. Though the Israel section, though frequently brilliant, ultimately shied away from importance. So it goes.

But you can take his how-to-be-a-professional-writer advice straight to the broker.
three days



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060) We Were Gods by Moriah Jovan, finished August 1 or 2 (it was midnightish)

I have a LOT of thoughts about this novel, but they're not really congealing into anything like coherency:

Etienne gets two monomythic journeys in the first hundred pages, before even meeting his Penelope---and their meeting is this novel's real story.
"Tess!" he croaked. "Don't you see? We have to be gods together. That's the goal of this life, right? To become gods in the eternities. We can't do that separately, but look---we were there As mortals. And our work will stand for generations, making us immortal before we die."
My reading of this novel ultimately was so personal it's difficult to write about without talking about my own marriage and perhaps making things public that, for sake of my marriage, should not be.

Architecture in Jovan's universe demands consideration of Randian ideals. But this time it adopts them and shatters them simultaneously.
He changed from a roll to a thrust, to fill and then empty her, to stroke her the way his engines stroked her buildings, to draw the wind and collect the sun, converting it into energy that would light her body up bright against the night and heat it up warm against the winter.
Sex used for important plot and character-building purposes. But weird third time just after realizing the first two not legitimate.

The good and bad from their own lives repeated in the lives of their children.

Allllll the Labyrinth quotes.

Variants in What's Important to Mormons differ so much from character to character, book to book, that she seems to capture something of the real variety in Mormonism that I'm becoming more aware of all the time.

Chad:
"I know that," he answered crisply. "And that's okay because I did the right thing. The only approval I need is mine. And the Lord's." He paused. "Crap. Should've put him first."
Chapter with motherly flashbacks overdone. Falls into caricature and melodrama. Or maybe my complaint is that the explanation for Tess's issues do not quite match those I would expect were she based on my own wife and so I am dissatisfied from the turn away from my autobiography.

A very familial and warm and satisfying ending which may not have been possible without so many books, giving us close looks to so many characters. Valedictory. Almost don't want her to keep writing any more. We have a happy ending now! Look away! Look away!
under a month



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059) The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, finished July 27

I can see why the Lost Generation is romantic and attractive to so many people. Read in large chunks, this book is romantic and attractive as well. But it's impossible to escape the ultimate hollowness of these people and their lives. Midnight in Paris is lovely, but night is enough. Wouldn't really want to live there.

Hemingway's prose is everything everyone says it is, but when I wasn't reading it in large enough chunks to get swept away in it, it read like self-parody at times.

For as much as Moriah's characters knock Hemingway, one thing he is unquestionably superior at is helping us see the bull as beautiful and magnificent and worthy of idolatry.

Ultimately, that Jake's genital injury---the thing preventing him from fully moving ahead with Brett---is ultimately the only thing that keeps her his, is a beautiful, romantic bit of horror and disappointment. And that's a feeling the never-quite-fully-adult will always need literature that speaks to.
two weeks



Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-07-30

More fun with musical sexism.

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A few months ago I looked at the balance of male and female voices at a local radio station and was disappointed. I thought that maybe one of the other radio stations I listen to might have better stats. So this time, I pulled the information from 8am to 2pm on July 29 from Live 105 and KFOG (but not BIG 103.7, which only tells you the last twelve songs---they did have 25% female voices though which makes them above address). I also added Alice which Top Hat suggested might do better. I don't listen to Alice all that often because it's on the second layer of the car's presets and because the music just ain't as good as KFOG. You'll see.

First, just the overall numbers (percentages rounded to the nearest half percent):


(All these can be clicked on if you want to view them more legibly.)

As you can see, Top Hat was right. They play lots more women as a percentage. Still not near half, but, you know, closer. As you can see however, they tend to play the same people over and over again. Here are the actual artists (first chart is total songs by artist, the second list is simply artists played regardless of repeats):


KFOG and Live 105 had virtually the same male/female breakdowns, but the variety of women played by Live 105 is laughable. Let's look at Live 105's charts first:


KFOG, by my reckoning, has the most listenable mix. And unlike Live 105 they even play women back-to-back sometimes. But it's still pretty pathetic. Does the average radio listener really have that low a tolerance for the female voice? Frankly, I doubt it.

Anyway. Let's look at their breakdown:


And here I thought HAIM was supposed to be the next big thing.....

2014-07-11

Rachel Rising × Three

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058) Rachel Rising Vol. 4 : Winter Graves by Terry Moore, finished July 10

Though it would be gorier than most movies I sign up for, I would love to see this as a film. It's reliance on women characters, the smartness of the dialogue, its ambivalence in defining good and evil people (its people never being that simple)---this is what we need in film, methinks.

Anyway, volume four ends this story arc. Not everything has been quite explained (which is fine) and some major things remain unresolved (a second story arc has begun, so that's fine too), but I am utterly satisfied. My worries in volume two that it might fall into old storylines proved unfounded. This is a book that just kept on giving. Can't wait for volume five so I can read them all again.

two days



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057) Rachel Rising Vol. 3 : Cemetery Songs by Terry Moore, finished July 9

It's getting more complicated and further away from expectations. It might be messing with chronology which is throwing me a bit, but I'm excited to see what happens next. This is great stuff.

officially three days



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056) Rachel Rising Vol. 2 : Fear No Malus by Terry Moore, finished July 8

This second volume is every bit as perfectly crafted as the first although I'm a bit bummed to see the strangeness of it all normalize a bit into demons and witches and Lilith. That said, it's still unlike anything I've ever read before and I admire how normalized everyone is. The quirks of each person exist without comment. This may be a world of fantasy, but the people are as human as any I've seen. This is must-read comics.

one night


Previously in 2014 . . . . :