Saturday, December 1, 2012

Quarterly Book Post

My last post was in August and I have been too busy working at my actual job and not reading as much, but here is the update of the books I've been reading:

1) The Life of Pi - Yann Martel (318 pages) - B-
I read this book a few years ago and was completely blown away by it.  I absolutely loved it, and this book was even one of those books that was talked about so much that it helped me and a few friends to decide to start a book club.
I decided to re-read it because of the new movie version that is coming out and I had also found my copy somewhere randomly.  So, I read the book in under a week and as much as I loved it the first time I read it, the second time I was a a little underwhelmed.
Maybe it's because of knowing the ending and that not being as much of a HOLYSHIT moment the second time, but for some reason it felt much more cold on a second read-through.
I would love to discuss this with someone else, but after reading it this second time I have less excitement about seeing the movie version (also because I don't really love anything Ang Lee has ever done except The Ice Storm).
I also got Yann Martel's second novel on audio book, and reading this a second time made me decide that I probably won't be listening to it anytime soon, especially since the reviews for that book are pretty terrible.

2) The Eye of the World - Robert Jordan (782 pages) - C-
The Wheel of Time is one of the most well-loved fantasy series ever written.  People talk about it like a better version of Lord of the Rings.  Now, surprisingly, I'm not a HUGE fantasy fan.  But, when I read The Song of Ice and Fire series last year, I absolutely loved it and thought maybe I like fantasy more than I originally thought.  One thing that has kept me away from this series is that it is 15 books long, and each one being about 1,000 pages each, so it is a little intimidating. (It also doens't help things that the author died before finishing, and they had to get someone to ghost-write the ending)
I had a good friend start this series and he was on book five last I talked to him and he was enjoying it, and then while in Arizona my soon-to-be mother-in-law had the book lying around.  She gave it to me to read, so I thought I'd give it a whirl.    The book had its moments of fun, but for the most part I was disappointed.  The characters weren't that fleshed out and the story was more childish than I was expecting.  I hear the books get better, and I will probably at least try book two eventually, but so far I'm not sure if this series is for me.
I am very excited to write that last line and post it here, just in case this series becomes my favorite and I end up going to Wheel of Time conventions, this will be etched on the internets.

3) The Last Policeman - Ben H. Winters (316 Pages) - B
This was our latest Book Club book chosen by my friend Michael.  This book has become pretty popular and the best part is the author is Michael's Brother-In-Law.  Since the reviews were good, we chose to read this book.
This book has an honor of being one of the 10 or so books that I read in one day.  I had gotten the book right before we were supposed to meet for our book club and I only had a little bit of time to knock it out before and Aubrey had to read it too.  After my trip to work and reading over lunch then coming home, I was on page 180.  Aubrey was going out that night so I opened the book and just kept reading.   It's a lot of fun reading an entire book in one sitting.  It is a different experience, and this book was a very simple story, told in a conversational tone that I was able to keep reading.  Also, since it's a mystery, it makes you want to keep reading.
The story takes place in the near future and NASA has found out that there is a comet heading towards earth and will hit within the next year and they are preparing for all life on earth to be killed.  As a result, all of society has changed and broken down.  Some people are killing themselves to go out on their terms, while  others are looking to live out their last days to the fullest.
The main character is a cop who is the policeman called in on a suicide.  But he starts investigating this suicide because something doesn't add up and he thinks it may be murder.  The bigger question is: So what? Even if it is murder, who cares?  The world is ending soon anyway.  Those are the questions that plague Hank and us as readers.
The best thing about this, is the author actually Skyped into our book club meeting to join our discussion for about a half-hour since he is married to Michael's sister.  He was a super-nice guy and very personable and excited that we were reading and discussing his book.  This book is the first in a trilogy that I'm sure I'll be reading when they come out.

4) 1Q84 - Haruki Murakami (925 pages) - A-
I was so excited to read this book and it did not disappoint.  I've read a bunch of Murakami books and they are always so strange and visceral that I get excited whenever I start a new one.  Hearing that this book was a smash in Japan and knowing it employs all his usual themes and the fact that it was about 1000 pages of insanity made me even more excited to read it, but had to find the right time.
I went to the library a week before my birthday wanting to have an awesome book ready for that time.  My only problem is I didn't anticipate not only the page count, but the weight of the book.  There were times that I wanted to read more of the book, but it was not an easy read.
Describing the plot is pretty much impossible, but the book follows two seemingly unconnected stories throughout, with two unconnected narrators: Tengo and Aomame.  These two characters are living completely separate lives and the chapters flip back and forth between what's going on with both of them.  As you keep reading, you recognize some small parallels between them and as you keep reading the lines of the stories are on a path that seem like an eventual convergence.  Both stories deal with the mundane and the weird at the exact same time.  I had times when I looked more forward to one character than the other, but in the end this entire novel was an amazing example of slow build up with great writing that I almost never wanted it to end.  There was a large section of this book where a character literally does nothing but sit in an apartment alone, and I was completely absorbed.  I love Murakmi's writing (I've probably written that a few times in these past few paragraphs, but it's true) that it takes all my will power to not run out and buy all his books and just read him.  But I still have a good amount of his books still to read, and on top of that, there is the fact that the man is still alive and writing and I'm hopeful that we can expect more of these strange dream-novels in the future.

5) Sacre Bleu - Christopher Moore (403 pages) - B+
Christopher Moore is hit or miss for me, but even his bad novels have some elements of fun attached to them.  He is a fun writer that actually has some thoughts behind his idiocity.  The back of this book called Christopher Moore the "Impatient reader's Tom Robbins" and I think that is one of the best descriptions of his writing I could come up with.
This book is a little different than his normal modern day tale, but it still has his stamp of humor included.   Sacre Bleu takes place in the late 1800s Paris and it starts with the murder of Vincent Van Gogh (not the suicide).   From there we meet some of his peers including Degas, Monet, Manet and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.
The main character is a fictitious baker that wants to be a painter named Lucien.  The book is kind of all over the place, but Moore is able to take some facts and shoe-horn them into this story of the color blue and its importance in history.  It also explains why all the great impressionists died of syphilis in a very comical way.
I am not a huge art fan, but this was a fun book that even a novice like me could understand.  He also interspersed some pictures of the artwork in question which helped explain some of what was being described in the book.

6) Ransom - Jay McInerney (279 pages) - B (NOTE: this is not the version I read)
While walking my dog last week I cam upon a bunch of boxes filled with books outside someone's home.  Naturally, I stopped and went through these boxes and pulled out about five books that I decided I needed.  Besides The Cat in the Hat Comes Back,  this is the first I have read of that group.
I had read a few other Jay McInerney books and have liked most that I have read (and I still have the theory that him and Brett Easton Ellis are actually the same person, but that's besides the point).
This novel follows a 20 year oldish guy named Christopher Ransom.  Ransom lives in Japan after fleeing America and his family after having some major disagreements with his father.  He comes to Japan eventually and we learn he has a high moral code and is seriously training in Karate.  He is very dedicated and rarely does anything but train.
The story is intercut with stories of Ransom back in the states and with a character defining trip he took in Pakistan and Afghanistan before making his way to Japan around 1975.  Now it's 1977 and he's training and it seems like he's changed his life in penance for something in his past.  Along with the Yakuza and a few other Americans that Ransom is friends with along with a Vietnam refugee and his Karate class mates, this book really was strange and fun and sad all at once.  Not bad for other people's garbage.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Yet Another Book Post

It is the first week of August, and since my last post in June, I have read five really good books, one not so good and a few great comic books.  For those that care, here they are:

1) Devil In The White City - Erik Larson (396 pages) - B
This seems to be one of those books that everyone you know has read.  It is marketed as being a "Non-Fiction book that reads like a Fictional one".  That seems to be what everyone says about it.  I disagree.  For me it is a non-fiction book that reads like a pretty well-written non-fiction book.    So don't believe the people that say that.
BUT, the book is quite good.  It's not great, and there are parts that are boring as sin, but the plot of the book follows two separate trails:  1) The trials and tribulations of the city of Chicago trying to build and put on the greatest World's Fair in history with minimal time and no ideas as to how to make it as great as the previous World's Fair in Paris which introduced the Eiffel Tower.  2) While this is going on, there is a charismatic business man that has the unfortunate hobby of killing young, single women in a house that he built with specific intentions of carrying out his plan.

Parts of this book are great and hearing about the history of Chicago, and by extension America, at the turn of the Century when America was trying to claim its dominance on the world-stage are fun to read about.  The famous and influential people that went to this World's Fair seem impressive, but my biggest problem with the book is that the two story-lines only had a loose connection and didn't tie together as well as I would have preferred, or how they probably would have had this book been Fiction.
This book also had that strange sub-culture that seems to happen with some books:  I actually got stopped on the street and around the city at least six times from strangers who were very enthusiastic that I was reading this book since they seemed to love it.  This happens rarely with books, but when it does, I find it interesting that this book affects some people so much that they have to stop me and let me know they too have read that book and enjoyed it.  I wonder why that seems acceptable for some and not others.   Not that I mind, but it's an interesting phenomenon.

2) The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest - Steig Larsson (655) - B+
There have been a bunch of books on my list for a while that I hadn't gotten around to for various reasons that I was able to catch up on this month (I guess that's what summer is for) and this was one of them.  I have been excited to read the concluding book in this trilogy for a while and since I had some time I decided to finally go for it.
The first 100 pages or so, I thought I made a mistake.  Maybe it had been too long since I read the last one (almost two years), or maybe this one just wasn't as good since the author died soon after he finished writing it.
But once a pseudo-main character was shockingly (to me) killed off, the book really picked up speed.   It ended up being another great page-turner and a pretty good conclusion to this trilogy. 
I'm sad we will never get another story about Lisbeth Salander since she will truly go down in the annals along with other great literary characters/anti-heroes.  My only problem with the entire series is whenever a new woman is introduced it is really just a matter of time before they are in bed with Mikhail and it gets to be kind of stupid.

3) The Color Purple - Alice Walker (288) - B+

 I have always read more than the average person, but when I graduated college I specifically started reading a lot in order to continue by education on a personal basis.  This meant reading anything and everything I could get my hands on including all of the books that I didn't read in High School that most people did.  The Color Purple was always on that list of books. Side note: I remember seeing the movie version of this story in the theater when it came out with my mother.   She has a famous story that while walking to the car I told her "That's how you feel about your sister" and she started crying. (yeah, I was a damn cute kid).
While at my neice's 3rd birthday party in January, I saw this book in a "give a book-take a book library" and took it.  This summer I finally got around to reading it after having not seen the movie probably since the mid-80s and barely remembered the plot.
My initial thoughts was how graphic it was since I know many students read this book in Junior High School and I think I would not have been mature enough to deal with many of the issues of incest, bisexuality and abuse (I barely am now).
My other critique is that although I understand the writing style was done on purpose to show the differences in education between Celie and Nettie, and it was executed flawlessly, I get annoyed by writing styles that take how people talk and translate them into broken english.   I understand that this technique must be well-respected (Mark Twain did it with Huck Finn) and literary people must loe it, but I like to read good writing.
However, even with these small critiques, this was a beautiful story about strength and love.  I also have to say, I was a little surprised by the happy ending.  I haven't spoken to an English Teacher about this, but I'm wondering if the last chapter may have been made up in Celie's head in order to cope better with her sister's death and instead she made up the last chapter of Nettie eventually coming home.  But maybe I'm just jaded.

4) The Walking Dead: The Rise of The Governor - Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga (308) - D+
I'm a huge fan of the comic book The Walking Dead.  I also enjoy the TV show it is based on, although probably a little less than the average viewer since I feel the source material is so much better.  So when I was in the bookstore and saw this novel about a lost chapter in the Walking Dead universe, I thought it could be fun.  I was wrong.
The book is slow, and boring.  I saw the "twist" on page 2 and had to wait 300 pages for the pay off.  I understand that a bit of the point of this book was to show how boring this world can be at times.  There are no people and once you find shelter from the zombies you can get into a monotony that can drive you crazy.  But that doesn't make for interesting reading.

This book also was supposed to be the story of how The Governor got to where he was when we met him in the comic book as one of the most sadistic characters I've ever read about and this book did not show that at all.  Instead it was a bout a weak character and how he eventually came into his own a little bit, but this book really didn't go far enough.
I have heard there is a sequel out now to this book showing more how the Governor became "The Governor" that we know, but after reading this book and its style, I am not that excited to give it a whirl.

5) Destiny of the Republic - Candice Millard (260) B-
 Another Non-Fiction book (I've read a ton this year) was selected as my latest Book Club offering.   This was an account of the president selected in the 1880 election and his assassination.
I have to say, I was not excited about reading this book at all.  I didn't care and just picked it up at the library and tried to burn through it as quickly as possible.  It ended up being a well-written, great story about a historical figure that I knew nothing about and seemed to be someone that may have been good for our country, had he had more time to make a difference.
I was mostly taken aback by all of the changes our country has gone through in 130 years (I write this as I watch Mitt Romney choose his running mate on TV).  I was mostly amazed how well-spoken and eloquent our leaders used to be while today they seem to have to dumb their speaking down in order to seem more like the masses.
There are written testaments to James Garfield's fear at being the president, his desires to make changes and differences that are better written than most novels I read.  By that, I was impressed.
This book also had a lot of similarities in tone to Devil in the White City with how famous people were a factor in his shooting and recovery.  How Alexander Graham Bell and Joseph Lister tried to help him but the common practices of the time did not make their "new" science as attractive as what was being done to him.
This is a book not only for History buffs (although it helps), but for anyone that is curious about America and how things used to be.

6) Fables: Inherit The Wind - Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham
The latest trade paperback in the wonderful Fables comic book.  I have even gotten my friend Bridget (who has never read a comic in her life prior to this) to hunger for the next chapter.
This one is mostly a bridge book and focuses mostly on the fall-out from the death of a major character last book and who will take over that character's roll.
This is not the greatest of the Fables books out there and reads more like the calm before the newest storm to hit our lovable cast of characters.  But it is still a great book, with great characters and art.  I look forward to the next installment once again.

7) Locke and Key: Clockworks - Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez
I can't believe there is only going to be one more installment of this book after this one.  Joe Hill has created a world (and numerous keys) that I get happy to read about every time.
This chapter took us into the past to understand how and why many of the keys were made.  This told the history of Dodge and the demon.  We also got to fill in a lot of the missing pieces and got answers to some mysteries that I never really expected to learn about, mostly about the kids father, and his group of friends from when he was a kid.
It also gave explanations as to why the house and the keys seem only to reveal themselves to the youngest children.
Right when I finished reading this book I wanted to go back and start over from the first book and absorb everything that happened.  But I may wait to do that until just before reading the final chapter in six months time.

8) Bel Canto - Ann Patchett (318) B+/A-
 My co-worker gave me the book Run by this author earlier in the year and I really enjoyed it.  I did some research on Ann Pratchett and found out Bel Canto was her "best" book according to most.  It sounded interesting, so that same co-worker brought in this book for me.  I finished it yesterday and agree that it is amazing.
Again, I can't explain why this book is so good.  But it all comes down to how strong of a writer Ann Pratchett is.
The story follows a Japanese business man that gets invited to a nameless South American country that wants his business to invest in them.  To goad him into coming, the government hires his favorite opera singer to sing for him knowing he can't resist.  A bunch of militants hear about his and decide to crash the party in order to kidnap the president who is supposed to be there.  Unfortunately for the militants, the president decides not to show up because he wants to watch his favorite soap opera that night.
Instead, the militants decide to keep the entire party hostage instead of the president.
What follows is an amazing situation where hostages and kidnappers are together for months  and must learn to live and love together.  It is a beautiful story made even more beautiful by the writing.  I think I can recommend this book for virtually anyone.  But I cannot say why I enjoy it as much as I did.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Mid-Year Update on What I've Been Reading

It's unfortunate that I've been extremely busy at work and training my new dog that I have no time to watch TV, or go to movies.  But I have been listening to tons of music (blog to follow), and still reading a good amount.  The last book I wrote about was a Life by Keith Richards which I finished in early April.   Since then I have read 8 new books.   I will update them here:
1) Animal's People - Indra Sinha (366 pages) - D+
Not much for me to write about this book.  It was the latest book club book and I'm not saying it was bad, but it happened to come into my life when I wanted to read many other things, and I had to read this.   It never grabbed me.  I didn't care about the main character, I could not get into his voice and all I kept thinking while reading it is that I didn't want to read it.  I tried my best to enjoy it, but it just wasn't for me at that point in my life and that's unfortunate since it had a chance to be good.    Sometimes your mood really has a bigger affect on how you enjoy a book than you'd like and I think this time it was me and not the book.

2) Run -  Ann Patchett (296 Pages) B+
This book was almost the opposite as the previous one.  Here's the back-story to this book.  My co-worker started talking to me about an author and I was kind of tuning her out as she mentioned she would let me borrow her copy of it.  I said OK, not thinking she would actually follow through.  When she brought the book, I felt bad since I was not excited to read it based on the description.  I saw how short it was and decided to just try and knock it out as quickly as possible.
To my surprise, the book was just amazing.  I cannot really explain why it was so good.  It is not the type of book I would normally read, but the writing was so engaging and the characters were all so endearing that I couldn't put it down.
The book follows an ex-Senator from Massachusetts (think a less famous Kennedy) who adopted two black brothers when they were children.  The story unfolds that sheds light on those brothers now that they are young men and their history that they didn't even know about.
I was so surprised by this book and its description of a less-than-normal family that it made me want to read more of Ann Patchett's books and I think I will since I've read all of her books are this good.  I would say she reminded me a lot of John Irving, but without all the strange sexuality that always seems to run underneath his writing.    I cannot stress how pleasantly surprised I was by this and think all my readers should give her a try.  I may even suggest Bel Canto as my next book club suggestion.

3) Wizard and Glass -  Stephen King (699 Pages) - A

 Stephen King's epic Dark Tower story is one of my most favorite things ever written.   I started a re-read of the series about 18 months ago when Stephen King announced that he was going to be returning to this series.
Some history:  Stephen King wrote a 7 book series and completed the story, but found later on that he had more to write of the characters he created.  He announced he was going to write a new book that would basically be book 4.5 and would fit between some of the other books.  We already know how the story ends, and this will not change the ending, but new stories are new stories.  I decided to reread the series in preparation (for the 4th time...).
I was actually dreading this book.  This book goes back and tells the story of the main character when he was a young man and does not really progress the story as a whole much.  The only problem:  This may be the best book Stephen King has ever written.  This is not an opinion.  He has gotten much acclaim for this book, but it is very inaccessible to the novice reader since it is sandwiched exactly in the middle of this series.  No one wants to read JUST book 4 of a seven book series (but they could and would be a little confused, but very happy).  And no one wants to read three books just to get to this book (even though they should since books 1-3 are DAMN good.
Well, this was the fourth time I've read this book, and was as engaged as all the others times.  The story of this book is a simple star-crossed-lovers tale, but told so well that it can really be recommended for anyone.   I implore anyone to read this book and to tell me "I don't like Stephen King".   This is not a horror book.  It is a simple, beautiful love story that anyone can relate to.

4) The Wind Through The Keyhole - Stephen King (307 pages) - B+
I read Wizard and Glass because the newest one (book 4.5 as described above) finally came out.  It has been 7 years (I think) since there was a new Dark Tower book and I was very excited.  I am giving this book a B+, and I admit that is a high ranking for this book.  I would give anything that even mentions Roland a B, and returning to visit some old friends of mine, and read new stories of theirs was great.
That said, this book was not great.  It was boring at times and the majority of it was a retelling of a "classic children's tale" from Mid-World.
It was still good, and fun.  But I would have preferred more time with the original Ka-Tet then to read about the new hero of this book.
My hope is that Stephen King finds his way back to this world a few more times so we can have more stories featuring some of my favorite characters ever.   If this book was just a start of more stories from Mid-World, I would be ecstatic.  Either way:  The tower is closer........

5) The Devotion of Suspect X - Keigo Higashino (440 pages) - B-

 My friend Alice gave me this book at a party at her house.  She had just read it and thought I would enjoy it.  Nothing makes me happier than someone reading a book, thinking about me and giving it to me.  As you can tell by this blog post alone, I will always try and read the book no matter what it is.
This is another type of book that I never would have read.  I don't read many Japanese authors, and this is not a very famous book here in America.   But, I have to say I didn't love it.
It was definitely a page-turner and a very quick read.  But I think I've read many books in a similar vein as this and this one didn't really bring anything new to the table. 
Also, the writing style was very simple (admittedly, this could have a lot to do with the translation) and spelled out and the twists weren't very twisty since they were very slow to develop so you could see where they were going.
But in the end, I enjoyed the book for what it was.

6) Frankenstein - Mary Shelley (256 pages) - B+
At our last book club meeting we all agreed to read a "Classic" next.  Someone finally decided on Frankenstein.  I had always wanted to read this book, but for whatever reason never pulled the trigger.
I read this on my phone (which I do not really enjoy, but it was free), but I cannot believe how much I loved this book.
I can't give it an A grade simply because of some of the slow parts it had and I had a few parts where I was bored.
But, the writing of this book is absolutely beautiful.  I enjoyed the style of the multiple narrations and really loved the eloquence of The Monster.
Of course, being someone that consumes pop-culture, the only Frankenstein I knew was from the movies.  My only question after reading this book is: How could they get that iteration from the novel I just read???  It barely resembled the story we all know.
This was a story about the responsibility one has to their off-springs/creations.  And a struggle of like and what we are all owed/deserve.    The book really was nothing like what I was expecting or could fathom.
A few years ago, I read Dracula and although that wasn't what I expected either, it had most of the same ingredients.  Not so with this this gorgeous novel that I look forward to rereading in the future.

7) Under The Banner of Heaven - Jon Krakauer (365 Pages) - B
I was up at my friend Bridget's house reading Frankenstein and saw I only had a few pages left.  She had a bookshelf of books just sitting there. I grabbed this one since I just bought tickets to the musical The Book of Mormon and am fascinated by most religions and how people can blindly follow a set of arbitrary rules on how to live their lives.   Also, since there is a chance our next President may be of this faith, I figured I should at least be relatively knowledgeable about what he believes in.
I grabbed this book also since I have read a few other Krakauer books and enjoyed them.  Under the Banner of Heaven tells the history of the Mormon church as well some of the more recent controversies that have plagued it.
The book itself has some slow parts (as most non-fiction accounts do), but it is an interesting assessment of the struggles the Mormon people have had and how they have grown over just about 150 years.
Of course this book is skewed to paint the Mormons in a less than favorable light, but some of the facts are purely fantastic.  The only thing I believe about Mormonism is that Joseph Smith was probably one of the most personable and charismatic people to have ever lived to have pulled off what he did.  Much like L. Ron Hubbard, he seems to have simply created a story that tapped into something and got people to believe him.  It seems crazy to a rational person, but these influential people are around all the time and always are able to gain followers, for good or for bad.

8) The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Grove - Christopher Moore (320 Pages) - B+
I've read a few of Christopher Moore's books and enjoyed them, but after the last one I read I thought I was done with him.  I thought of him as a wannabe Tom Robbins.  I still think this, but since the odds of me getting another Tom Robbins book are slim, I figure he may be what the doctor ordered from time to time.
I found this book in my office while we were moving.  It was in the "give-a-book, take-a-book" section and I grabbed it while we were moving.  I think it came to me just at the right time.  I needed a book like this after all the non-fiction I've been reading in order to just make me giggle and get excited to see how silly/stupid the next page could get.
The story revolves around a small town where an ageless monster shows up at a time when everyone is susceptible to its charms.  The characters include, but are not limited to a Dude Lebowski type, an aging ex B-Movie star, a Blues musician, a dog, a psychiatrist, and a pharmacist obsessed with aquatic life.
I do not want to give anything else away for anyone that wants to read this.  But it really was one of the funnier books I've read in quite some time.  If you're in the mood for something really ridiculous, give it a try.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

New Batman Plot?

I've been reading comic books pretty regularly for over 20 years.  Now that they've become kind of mainstream with the popularity of Avengers and the awaited conclusion to the newest Batman trilogy I feel vindicated in my love for "kiddy books".

But something that is kind of fun for a comic fan is to try and figure out how the stories are going to be adopted before they even come out.   Like comic fans and non-fans, I enjoyed Batman Begins and The Dark Knight and now the last chapter is being released in a few months and although the studio has released some teasers about the story, they have been pretty secretive about what the story is actually about.  I figured this would be a fun place to put my guestimate about what we are all in store for with one of the biggest movies of the year a month before it comes out.

From what I can tell, this story seems like it is going to be a combination of the classic Batman stories Knightfall and No Man's Land.

In the comics during Knightfall, a new villain named Bane broke all of Batman's villains out of prison and exhausted Batman by making him fight all of his old villains and exhausting him before breaking in to The Bat Cave and fighting Batman himself and beating him by breaking his back, but not killing him.  This forced Batman to find a replacement for a while as he recovered and then eventually coming back and beating Bane and the new Batman who went a little overboard with his new power.

A few years later, there was another epic storyline in the comics called No Man's Land which showed a huge earthquake hit Gotham City and the city was so crime-savaged and the damages became so expensive that the US government decided to let Gotham City exist on its own and they declared Marshall Law and blew up all the bridges going to and fro Gotham City and Batman and his co-horts (Robin, Huntress, Batgirl etc) were the only people to keep order.

If my guess is correct from what they are showing in the trailers the movie will start with Batman being on the run from the law after the events of The Dark Knight, but although he's a vigilante in the shadows, he has a pretty strong grasp on the crime element in Gotham City and crime is not a huge problem in Gotham anymore since all criminals fear Batman.
I expect Bane to come to Gotham City early in the movie with a challenge to himself to find and beat Batman.  Bane is a character that enjoys challenges to perfect himself since he is a criminal genius as well as a drug addict who is addicted to a steroid called Venom.
I believe within the first hour of the movie, Bane will fight Batman and beat him, most likely because Batman has not had a big challenge in some time, and in this fight Bane with break Batman's back and claim Gotham City as now his instead of Batmans.

The next half-hour of the movie will feature Bruce Wayne and Alfred trying to figure out if he will ever walk again and Batman dealing with his fear of Bane while we also see Bane take over and raise up a new Underworld.

Eventually there will be an earthquake which will force Marshall Law on Gotham City and this will also force Batman to come out of retirement and face his fear of Bane.

This is of course a rough outline and I am not sure of how Catwoman will fit in. (Will she be a lackey of Bane, or someone that is out for her own? My guess is the latter)    Also, the studio is heavily hinting that Batman may die at the end of this movie.  I think it's possible this will be true, but not in the way that they are hinting.  I think what may happen is Batman will beat Bane somehow (most likely by turning his Venom feed against him in some way and making him OD), but then the movie will end followed by a flash into the future of showing an old man Bruce Wayne living in a utopian Gotham City that he helped create with Batman's form of protection.  This way we will see an old man at peace with what he did for the first time and he will die old and in peace.

This is at least all that I would like to see, and understand I may be way off.

If I'm close, or wrong, I am excited for this movie and am hopeful that it will be entertaining either way.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What Have I been reading in 2012?

As my loyal reader knows, I was on quite a reading kick in 2011.  I challenged myself to read 52 books in 52 weeks and surpassed my expectation by reading 54 instead and starting my 55th before year-end.
So far this year, I have not been as active on the reading circuit mostly because I have been working a ton and generally busy with living (mostly all good things).   But since I'm not dead, I am still reading some books and now that the first quarter is up and at this time last year I had already consumed 16 books, I am happy to report I am on pace to read half of my output from last year and have finished 8 books as of yesterday.  Surprisingly, many of them have been Non-Fiction. They will be listed below with commentary followed by my reasons for reading this book at this time:

1) Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell (306 Pages) - B+
I have now read all of Gladwell's books.  I am always amazed by his ability to take mundane statistical analysis and compose them in an interesting and engaging narrative.  He explains certain aspects of society that make perfect sense after his explanation but I had never thought about in that way before.   This book explains how and why certain successful people became so good at their craft and happened to be at the right place and the right time to innovate, excel and change our world.  He comes up with a 10,000 hour theory, where if you do something for 10,000 hours you will become an expert at it.  This includes such skills as playing an instrument, sport, writing computer code and flying a plane.   This theory explains how people were able to put in those 10,000 hours in niche industries (like computer coding in the early 1970s) and as a result had the unique ability to be pre-qualified for those industries when they exploded.  It also explains why certain stereotypes of people exist, where they came from and why they may, in fact, be true.  Over all, this was a fun, engaging book that makes you feel better about yourself for not being as successful as you wish you were simply by saying you weren't in the right place at the right time.

This book came to me by my friend Bridget just bringing it over for me and Aubrey to enjoy.

2) Ready Player One - Ernest Cline (374 Pages)  - A-
This is a book written by a nerd for nerds.  This novel takes place in a future society where a Mark Zuckerberg/Steve Jobs type creates this fictional on-line game that becomes more popular than the real world called the OASIS.  Think about it as an online World of Warcraft/Facebook place where everyone goes to school, socializes and does their shopping.  As a result, the rest of the country has kind of gone to hell since everyone is always online instead of living.  But this creator dies and creates a contest where whoever can figure out where to find an EGG that he hid somewhere in the OASIS, they will inherit his entire fortune.  The twist is this creator was a product of the 1980s and everything has to do with old movies, music video games and basic 1980s pop culture.  This makes all of society obsessed with that decade since everyone in the world is trying to crack this code to win this contest.  It sounds insane, and it is, but this book was truly the most fun I've had reading in a while.  It was engaging and because I got most of the references, it felt familiar.  Ernest Cline is not the best writer, but he obviously loves his pop culture.  He made this book which could have been insanely confusing into something that I can honestly recommend to anyone of my generation.

I actively searched for this book since I had read about it on a number of message boards and websites.  I reserved it at the library and when it was made available to me, I devoured this relatively large novel in days.

3) The Social Animal - David Brooks (376 Pages) - D
 Sometimes it's easier to review and to discuss books that you hate more than what you like.  To tell what's good, I would have to give away a plot that I would genuinely like other people to be surprised by and enjoy.  This book was a selection for my Book Club and I could not have hated anything more.   The concepts were very similar to what was discussed in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, but the presentation and the writing was the main difference.   David Brooks decided to tell a Non-Fiction book through the narrative of a fictitious couple and how they went through life together.  This decision was obnoxious and did not add to the story.  He spent so much time explaining what these people did and their careers but there was no point to their story.  The book would have been better (and shorter) if he took these fictitious people away and just explained the science and social differences between people.  I could write more, but that would mean giving David Brooks more time than he deserves.  I hated this book with a passion.

This was a book club book that I had to read.... Unfortunately

4) 11/22/63 - Stephen King (850 Pages)  - A-
After the disaster of the Social Animal, I was excited to read the newest Stephen King novel about a man who travels back in time to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing John F. Kennedy.  As everyone knows, I am a rabid Stephen King fan, but I truly believe this book is one that anyone can enjoy.   It is not a horror book at all, and although the plot revolves around this Science Fiction plot, it is really more about the characters and about a man living out of time and making the most of it.
There is a sweetness to Stephen King's writing lately and although I do not want to ruin anything with this book for anyone that wants to read it, I will warn you there is an undertow of sadness within this book.

 I got this book as a Christmakah present from Aubrey.  It was only a matter of time before I found I had the 2-3 weeks required free to read this book.  Once I started hearing positive reviews for it, I knew this book would be the cure to my Social Animal blues


5) The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway (251 Pages) - C+

My friend Bridget is in the process of reading all of Hemingway's novels as a challenge to herself this year.  I was interested in reading him too since I am not as well versed in the classics as I probably should be.
or the most part, I was not very impressed with this book.  It reminded me of the Great Gatsby which makes sense since it was written around the same time and Hemingway and Fitzgerald were friends.  But the basic plot of spoiled rich kids traveling around Europe because they're disassociated from The Great War and their place in the world just seems very shallow.  (Yes, I understand how that sounds coming from a Blog who's sole purpose is to share ones insights, but I do not have any delusions of being considered a Hemingway).
Overall, I was kind of bored by the book and although I realize I probably am missing a ton of symbolism and impressive writing style, I can't say I enjoyed this book much and instead was thinking about when it would be over.

I almost read this before reading 11/22/63, but Stephen King always wins out.  I tried this afterwards.  I'm curious if most books after a King book pale in comparison.  Simply because for me, he is one of the best in the field.  This will have to be pondered over as I continue reading Stephen King (Including next month's Wind Through The Keyhole)

6) Steve Jobs - Walter Isaacson (571 Pages) - A

I then read the Biography of Steve Jobs.  This book impressed me more than I expected.  Although he seemed to have been a difficult person to work with, it was inspiring to read about someone who had a vision that most others disagreed with and used his influence and drive to create a product line that he thought was the correct way.  His idea of closing off his computer systems went against the "Hackers Code" where they wanted an open source where people could poke around and innovate, but it turned out to be a better business model than almost all others.
There was a lot I didn't know about Steve Jobs before this book and this book also opened up the idea of reading Biographies to me, which I never really considered before.  As long as the character in question is interesting, I am excited to read more biographies, including some by Walter Isaacson since he also wrote well respected ones on Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin.

I got this book for Aubrey for Christmakah.  She had yet to read it and I decided to be the guinea pig.  Also, I was curious to know more about Steve Jobs since I only knew the bare minimum of anecdotes.

7) Kill Alex Cross - James Patterson (365 Pages) - C+

As I've written before on this blog, I have read all the Alex Cross novels.  They are not so much good, as they are fun and easy reads.  I guess I'm stuck coming back to every one of these (since I've already invested 18 books of this character).   I will always be curious about what will happen next to my favorite DC Police-Man/FBI Agent.  I will always be curious about if Nana Mama will ever die, and what may happen to his kids or his friend Sampson.

This book follows about three distinct story-lines that actually did not really converge, but instead one was wrapped up well, one appears to lead into the next book and develop a new major villain in the series and one establishes something new for the Cross family.

These books are like Soap Operas to me, and everyone loves a good Soap Opera.

8) Life - Keith Richards (550 Pages)  - B

Aubrey's sister left this book at our house and since I am open to biographies now, I decided to try my hand at an autobiography.   I would not consider myself a Rolling Stones fan.  I firmly park my car in The Beatles garage, but after reading the book and loading up my ipod with Stones CDs while reading, I feel I understand the band much more.   The Stones were an English band copying what they were hearing coming out of America, mostly the Chicago and Southern Blues scene.  Keith Richards is a true guitarist and musician vs. The Beatles who are more pop-oriented and song-writers.
Reading the book is a lot like what I would imagine being with Keith Richards would be like.  Fun, a little disjointed with stories jumping around from one thing to the other with only a loose narrative, but interesting.

If you only know The Rolling Stones hits like Start Me Up and Satisfaction, then that's really only scraping the surface of the band.  They really thrive at their simple blues which are backed by Richards's strong guitar skills. Since I play a little guitar and this book also appealed to me by him explaining how he learned, and his migration over to 5-stringed Open G tuning and why he felt that helped him develop his and The Stones distinct sound over time.

 I was not expecting to read this book at this time, but it dropped into my hands and although it may be a little long, I was glad to have read it.

I am now caught up in my readings through April 10, 2012.   I am now reading another Book Club book that I am not excited about, but will muscle through so I can get to some others I'm more more excited about, as well as some that I'm not that were recommended to me by people that I trust. 
We will see what happens throughout the rest of the year.

Friday, April 6, 2012

My Private Concert For Myself

I don't know how to write about music.  How can one express in words the feeling you get from a great song?  And how can you explain in words what distinguishes a good song from a bad one?  I have never been able to say why I like a song or a band.  But I do have bands that I love and I understand not many people like everything I do so for me music is a very private thing.  And since I rarely have time to really listen to music, it is rare for me to really rock out and enjoy music fully. I have found that the times that this is most likely to happen is during solo road trips where I can listen to whatever I choose and scream (mind you not "sing") along with my stereo. 
This most recently happened in the last weekend of February when I had a chance to drive by myself from my house in Vermont back home to Queens.  It started out during a pseudo-blizzard in the middle of the mountain when I decided to brave the elements and try and get home to my beautiful girlfriend.   The first thirty minutes of this drive is through the mountains and were frankly quite scary.  It was a white-out and I couldn't see more than 20 feet in front of me.  The roads were windy through the mountains and I wasn't even paying attention to what was on my ipod.  After 45 minutes of driving I finally reached the highway and the snow stopped almost at the exact moment that this song came on randomly from my 1000+ loaded songs:

This started off my private 3 hour concert.

Below I will list a selection of the set list that happened in my car.  If you can, please feel free to picture me screaming at the top of my lungs to all of these songs.   As I write the set-list, I will warn you 1) it is possible you do not know many of these songs, and if you do, it is quite possible you don't know these specific songs by this band.  For example:  Not many people know the song "It's Late" by Queen, but it has all the elements of a classic Queen song, but for whatever reason it is not as popular as some of their worse songs.   2) I will simply list the songs as they come, and perhaps add an anecdote from time to time if I feel the need.  3) I just got into the band My Chemical Romance.  I think they are actually pretty good.  But do not know them very well.  However, on this specific trip, they were my ipod's favorite band.   That said, I was happy when they came on because since I don't know the songs very well, but do like them, when they came on I was able to get a much-needed reprieve from my singing work-out.

The set list was (with my notes in italics):
1) It's Late - Queen
2) Little Acorns - White Stripes
3) Land of Gold - Shawn Smith
4) Skylines and Turnstiles - My Chemical Romance
5) Luna Park - ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of the Dead  - Here's another band that really should be a lot bigger than they are.  They have been making some great music for over a decade and everytime I listen to them (which isn't often) I am surprised by how good they are.  I recommend them for anyone.
6) Go To The Mirror - The Who - Yeah, I like The Who!  So shoot me!
7) Seen Your Video - The Replacements
8) Ashes to Ashes - Faith No More - What an amazing song!!!!  Faith No More is just an amazing band.   Oh yeah, I forgot to say, this set list got a little heavy....

 9) To Live is to Die - Metallica - Surprisingly, I have JUST started to get into Metallica recently.  I always thought they just weren't for me. 
10) New Cannonball Blues - TV On The Radio - Their new album has not quite grabbed me like their first and third did.  They may be an every-other album band for me.  We'll see.
11) Communication Breakdown - Led Zeppelin - This is where the wheels started to come off of my road trip.  I think I was going horse by now, but I was only in Springfield Massachusetts with a lot more road to cover.   This song made me go 90 MPH.   Sometimes you forget how good some songs are.
12) Guns of Summer - Coheed & Combria
13) Southern Girls - Cheap Trick -  Another Great band that I am just getting into again (like The Rolling Stones)
14) Ghost Woman Blues - The Low Anthem
15) You - TV On The Radio
16) At Least That's What You Said - Wilco
17) Pop Is Dead - Radiohead
18) Palo Alto - Radiohead - Do you sometimes kill bands for yourself for a while?  I go in phases where I listen to a certain band for days/weeks on end until I am sick of them.  This happened for me with Radiohead last summer and as a result, I only have a few unreleased tracks of theirs on my ipod.  Don't worry, I'll come back.  I always come back to my greatest loves
19) Try It On - Interpol - When I'm in the mood for Interpol they are amazing.  When I'm not, I can barely listen to 20 seconds of their stuff.  I've been into them lately though.
20) We're All Gonna Die - Slash - He has a new solo CD with different singers.  I'm not going to say it's good, but I can listen to slash do anything, so I know my judgement is skewed.
21) Keep Your Heart - TV On The Radio
22) Fields of Coal - ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of the Dead -- This song sounds like an updated Irish Drinking Song.  And I think this may be the song that caused me to get back into my concert after a few songs where things looked like they were slowing up:  
23) Take a Bow - Muse - Over the last 2 years, I think Muse has been my absolute favorite band.  They always seem to shock me.  This song never really grabbed me fully until this night while driving.   It is a great driving song the way it builds up and sucks you in.
Take a listen:
 24) What is and What Should Never Be - Led Zeppelin
25) JellyBelly - Smashing Pumpkins
26) I'm One - The Who
27) 48 - Sunny Day Real Estate
28) 47 - Sunny Day Real Estate - I swear on all that is holy that my ipod decided to randomly play these two songs back to back out of all of the 1000+ songs loaded on it.  I need to understand the logic that Apple put into their products because sometimes it's just insane.  How many times have I been thinking of a specific song and then it comes on next?  I can't even count. 
29) Rock & Roll - Led Zeppelin - One of the absolute greatest songs ever recorded.  And really, a perfect title to a perfect song.  I listened to the studio version, but this is pretty good too:

30) We Are The Waiting - Green Day - A song that gets better the louder you play it.
31) Guiding Light - Muse
32) Rhythm and Soul - Spoon- Another great band that only gets credit in Indie circles
33) We Almost Lost Detroit - Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr  - A band that I picked up at the library simply because their name made me laugh.  But I was pleasantly surprised by their music
34) Exogenesis: Symphony Part 2 - Muse - At the end of their most recent album, Muse included what they call  a three part symphony to close out the album.   Yes it is amazing.  Hauntingly beautiful and amazing.   It's amazing that this is a three piece band.  Feel free to listen to the entire thing: 
35) If I needed Someone - The Beatles
36) Lies Of The Beautiful People - Sixx AM
37) Got To Get You Into My Life - The Beatles - Another band that I have recently killed for myself, but started listening to Rubber Soul and Revolver instead of the staples of Abbey Road and Sgt. Peppers.  This helps keep things fresh.
38) Glorious - Muse - Yes, I love them!
39) Exhausted - Foo Fighters
40) Faded Beauty Queens - The Thrills
41) A Quick One While He's Away - Green Day

This concluded my Road Trip.    I was riding a natural high that is difficult to reproduce.  I hope even one person in this world decides to try some or all of these songs out for themselves.  I know it's my dumb taste in music, but I truly think these are great bands and some great music.  Given: They're not all home runs, but most are.

Enjoy.  And I hope to be writing more than just this one post.