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.