Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Books I've Read Recently And Books I Want To Read

So, looking back over the past few months, I've read a number of books, some I wanted to read, but a number were suggested by a friend, who probably will read this and knows who he is...

* Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh I blogged about that one here: LINK

* An Anthropologist On Mars by Oliver Sachs This was the first non-fiction book I'd picked up in a long time. It covers a number of cases the author (who is a doctor) has studied and interacted with the subjects. Each case is an odd one: a painter goes colorblind, a blind man has his sight restored but can't really see, and a surgeon with Tourette's Syndrome. There's a couple chapters about Austic people that I had trouble getting into. The book is enjoyable and highly readable, though there is an over abundance of footnotes. I also remember finishing the book at the library.

* Boy by Roald Dahl I was told I'd finish it in a day. I did it in two. The book is Roald Dahl's autobiography, covering his childhood, ending abruptly during his military service. If Dahl was a master storyteller, he certainly knew how to tell his own. The book is engaging, and even when he stops for exposition, he manages to make it sound interesting. He even brings up points that explain inspiration for his books, though he doesn't point it out, with the exception of a story where he told about tasting new Cadbury chocolate bars and giving them feedback on it.

* It by Stephen King One of the longest books I've read in three weeks. And the first book by King I've read. Was it good? Well, the story is, if you ignore the part where the kids have sex in the sewers... My problem with King is he fills pages with details that end up having no bearing on the story. The copy I was reading was 1090 pages long. (I was surprised the library didn't have a hardcover edition.) Basically, the story is about unnatural brutal murders of children in and around the town of Derry. The story switches from 1958 to 1985, with the same characters who find out what is causing the murders and put an end to it once and for all.

* Porno by Irvine Welsh I blogged about that one here: LINK

* Lucky Man by Michael J. Fox Fox's memoirs, mainly about his life (including his acting career, though he doesn't do a lot of reminiscing over filming anything), and his discovery, coping with, and eventual acceptance of Parkinson's Disease. Well-written, and easy to read! I was actually glad he didn't do a lot about his acting, because I've seen biographies that focus more on the person's work and then their life becomes secondary. (Try From Prince Of Splatter To Lord of the Rings, a biography of Peter Jackson.)

* A Lion Among Men by Gregory Maguire I just returned this to the library today. I blogged about it here: LINK

Now, here's some books I want to read, but don't own, and the library doesn't have copies.

* Picnic At Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay I love the movie, I hope I love the book. I tried getting it through interlibrary loan, but it was unavailable. And when I look for copies to buy, they're either too pricey for me at the moment, or at insane prices.

* Filth by Irvine Welsh Another recommendation, though the two other books I read by him weren't...

And someday, I'll have to finish The Silmarillion, The Unfinished Tales, and The Three Musketeers.

Monday, January 26, 2009

I Almost Missed The Bus

Today is the first day I can remember where my underwear was one of the last things I put on.

I have to leave to catch the bus to work at 7 AM, but at 7 AM, I was just putting on my deodorant. I'd showered, shaved, and then heard the alarm telling me to leave, and there I was, standing in front of my bathroom mirror, completely unclothed.

I ran, pulled on some pants, a shirt, some socks, my shoes, and a jacket (sadly, not my heavy one, but I was in a rush!). I then realized I hadn't put on any underwear. I threw a pair in the bag I carry to work (books, umbrella, gloves, in warmer weather a light jacket in case it rains), then hurried out the door, locking it as I left.

I'm lucky the bus driver knows me and saw me hurrying across the lot of the gas station across the street. He stopped the bus and waited for me to cross and pay my fare.

When I got to work, I hurried into the bathroom and got the underwear on.

Memo to self: ALWAYS make sure you're heading out in time!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Fan Art vol. 1

Here's a Nintendo fan art I got inspired to do:

This is the video that inspired it:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bush is Out, Obama is In

So, yeah. The United States now has their first president of African-American descent.

And the backlashing on Bush has yet to stop... People, Bush screwed up, get over it. It's not like continually talking about it is going to help the situation.

I seriously just watched a video on YouTube that said it was an inaugural poem for Barack Obama, and seriously, the whole video just ripped into Bush and his cabinet, blaming Bush solely for oil prices and the bad economy, and calling him a "fascist pig."

Well, guess what, people, while Obama may have plans that might help the situations we're in, he's not a miracle worker. I'm betting that by 2012, a lot of people will hate Obama as well, and probably for things that are not really in his control. Every president has gotten backlashing, ever since George Washington. And while we don't hear about the very old ones that much, I bet all of them screwed up sometime.

Another video I watched, the guy hosting it said, "This is probably going to be the peak point of Obama's approval rating, because so many people think he'll have everything fixed by Thursday. Welcome to the real world." (sic)

Very true...

So, even though I didn't vote for him, I will support our President, Barack Obama.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Story Ideas I've Been Toying With

Yeah, here's some stories I've been toying around with:

The first one involves a young man who has lost his memory. He is taken to live in the country with his grandparents, who try to help him remember his life. They don't baby him or treat him as if he's handicapped, so he gets plenty of hints that start unlocking his memories. A big twist is hinted at by nightmares he has, which lead to the reveal that he had actually lost his memory twice, the first time not recovering, and becoming more of an unsavory person.

The second story is a bit of a sci-fi parable about a woman who finds a CD-ROM marked simply "Design Program." She takes it home, puts it in her computer, and discovers that it is the design program for the entire universe. She decides to use it to fix the annoying characteristics in her husband. After she finalizes the changes, the world around her alters, and she is living in a wooden cabin. The idea is that her husband's characteristics were genetic, and they were passed on from great men who brought on the Industrial Revolution and other advances. By removing these characteristics from him, she removes them from everyone he got them from. My only problem is how to end it. Do we leave the world like this, or is there some way she could restore the characteristics, or does the world come to an end, or does God come in and say, "THIS is why I didn't want you people messing around with these things," and then proceeds to correct the world?

Now to take the time and work these out fully...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

With The Windows Down

Yesterday, I got my copy of "With The Windows Down," the latest (and much-anticipated) album by Chapter 6. If you don't know who they are, visit chapter6.com. I've seen many performances by them live (though it's been over two years since they were last in my area), and I really liked them, in fact, they were the first band I really got into. So they've been my favorite ever since.

First thing I noticed about the CD was that it was packaged differently from all the other albums they've released: instead of a jewel case, it is in a Digipak. The main color in the packaging is yellow, a mustard shade with some line art and text in dark red, white, and black. Opening up, we reveal a photo of the group, which they're also selling as a print (and being the ever-supportive fan that I am, I bought), with credits listed over it. ("All sounds produced by the human body." Wow!) Other liner notes include the basic story behind the album, acknowledgements, and lyrics for only original songs, of which there are four. (But that's a whole third of the album.)

First up is Pinball Number Count, a cover of that song from Sesame Street where an animated pinball would roll and bounce around a psychedelic pinball machine. The cover is very jazzy, and it's hard not to like it, particularly with, in a few spots, some members have a few words like "What?" and at the end, they're heard laughing, and arranger Mark Grizzard asks, "Is any of that usable?"

Now, the rest of these songs I've never heard before. Second is a cover of Change the World, which is also well done, though the recording sounded a bit odd at the beginning of the track (maybe it's my player), but it eased off.

Up next is Elanor Rigby from... the Beatles? Oh, wait, I have heard this one! It was in The Yellow Submarine, which I exposed myself to a few years ago. With Jarrett Johnson taking the lead, it has a nice jazzy tune, and I think it sounds a bit brighter than the original.

Next is Holly Oak, which features member Chuck Bosworth's wife Lisa Bosworth. The mix of the guys and a female voice is pleasant! Very enjoyable, and it works very well.

There I Go is the first original track. It sounds a bit like a choral piece, with Luke Menard (who you may have seen on American Idol last year) in the lead. This is a slow song, and it's a little thought-provoking as well. (A bit similar to It's About Time on the last album.)

Their cover of Marvin Gaye's Mercy, Mercy, Me is a nice pick-up from the last song, while not feeling saccharine. The jazzy tone is done on a great performance.

Next is the other three original songs, which are all in a row. First is I've Known You All My Life, commissioned from Little Horse's song writer Joachim Horsley. This one makes a transition from a jazzy tone to more of a pop-rock style. And it's pretty fast-paced and an enjoyable listen.

Highway was likely written on a long trip. A bit of slow, monotonous song (which fits the subject), but definitely not a bad one.

Nathan Pufall's I Wanted To Say is performed by Jarrett, and is likely the most Christian-themed song on the album. Returning to a jazzy theme, it's another enjoyable track.

We get to a cover of Peg that gets in with a beat, and is a great lift in tone. A very fun, lighthearted song.

Hot Fun in the Summertime is a collaboration with group Chinua Hawk. Though there is definitely energy and soul in the song, for some reason, I couldn't get into it, but that could be just me on my first listen.

Last of all is Clocks, which feels like a nice ending to the album. I rather liked this song.

Overall, I'm glad I bought the album, and give it four out of five stars. There isn't a lot of high energy songs here, but it works. It has a more adult, mature theme, which feels appropriate. It's a good album, and I hope we don't have to wait another four years for the next one.

Monday, January 12, 2009

My Reading of Irvine Welsh...

Okay, so in the past few months, I've read two books by Irvine Welsh: his first book Trainspotting and it's sequel Porno. (Yeah, it was fun making people do double takes when I told them I'd got Porno in the mail.) I read three other books in between the two, but they weren't by Welsh.

Trainspotting isn't exactly a novel. It's a series of narratives of varying length (several pages to about one page), told from varying perspectives. It takes place chiefly in Edinburgh, Scotland, and follows a wide variety of characters who are more or less acquaintances of each other. Many of the stories follow Mark Renton and his close friends. Mark is a heroin addict, in the opening, content to live in the stupor he's in, but as the novel progresses, begins to want to break free from the rut he's in.

While several of Mark's friends are drug users, there are other issues dealt with. Several characters have contracted HIV, and yeah, some people die. There is also focus on the music scene, especially rock and Iggy Pop.

Welsh is not squeamish about dealing with details anywhere. In an early scene, an illegitimate baby dies of neglect, and her mother is offered consolation in heroin. This vivid realism makes the novel disturbing, sickening, and engaging.

An odd thing about the book is how much you get into the characters, even though they do nothing you'd probably approve of. Especially as most of the book is written in phonetic spellings of the Edinburgh accent.


Trainspotting ends with Mark and his three main friends, the junkie Spud, the perverted Sick Boy, and the psychotic Begbie (who, after seeing the film adaptation, you will always imagine as Robert Carlyle) doing a drug deal. Mark takes the money on the sly and leaves the country, breaking away from his old life forever.

So, later, we get into Porno. It takes place about ten years later.

Porno is rather different from Trainspotting, in that the book revolves around a smaller group of people who are more directly related to each other's plots, and there isn't so much of the Edinburgh accent being spelled out, with the exception of chapters narrated by Spud and Begbie, and when it's being done to show how a character speaks.

In fact, the book only has five "narrators," the story being told from their perspectives: Sick Boy, new character Nikki, Spud, Begbie, and Mark Renton.

Sick Boy believes he has re-invented himself, become a better person. He even resents the old nick name of "Sick Boy" and wants everyone to call him "Simon," his real name. He inherits a pub, where he tries to make himself seem an impressive citizen and businessman.

Nikki is a girl who has become bored with her standard "good girl" image, and is becoming perverted, working at a sauna where the girls who work there are allowed and encouraged to give sexual favors to customers. She eventually becomes the star of a porn film that some new acquaintances of her, including Sick Boy, are producing, but she eventually sees how degrading and sickening it is. She has two roommates, the feminist Lauren, and Dianne, who Mark met (and shagged) in Trainspotting.

Spud is still a drug addict, but is trying to get over it. He has a wife and son, but despite loving them, he still has troubles. Throughout the course of the book, he writes a book about Leith that gets turned down by a publisher, a close friend dies, and the only friend he can depend unfailingly on is his cat, Zappa.

Begbie is getting out jail for manslaughter (actually, a murder made to look like manslaughter), and looking for the person who's been sending him gay porn in jail (Sick Boy). He keeps committing crimes, and even manages a murder or two. Eventually, his single goal becomes getting back at Mark Renton...

...who has been living in Amsterdam, co-owns a night club, and has been training in martial arts. It is revealed he did send Spud his share of the money he stole at the end of the first book, and he gives Sick Boy his share in the book. Sick Boy gets Mark to co-produce his porn film, but Mark gets wise to the fact that Sick Boy hasn't really changed and is just waiting to use Mark for his own purposes, then leave him at the mercy of Begbie.

In Porno, you really find yourself hoping that the characters could just settle down and live more honest lives. You want Spud to kick the drugs for good and all and be a good father to his son. You wish Sick Boy would just content himself with running his pub. You wish Nikki could find a good boyfriend to live happily ever after with. You wish Begbie would calm down and think. And of course, you want Mark and Dianne to live happily ever after. Well, one of those things happens, of sorts. But of course, things don't turn out all happy, and when they don't, you still enjoy the story.

But really, the two big themes here are revenge and reconciliation. At the close of the novel, we're left wondering if Begbie and Mark are reconciled. Mark gets major revenge on Sick Boy for trying to set him up.

Really, I was surprised how much I enjoyed these two books, with their heavy uses of profanity, and vivid descriptions of sex and drug use. These two are a wild ride not everyone is suited for.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I'm Out

Last night, I had half-volunteered (and had half been drafted) to run onscreen lyrics for my church's annual Youth Rally. People who've read my earliest blogs here know that I was a Youth Worker with the Youth Ministry (DYM - Dayspring Youth Ministry) until March 2008, when I was asked to leave when one of the Youth girls visited me while I was alone.

I just want to say that I took full blame for that. I was the adult in the situation, and although nothing inappropriate happened, the appearance of the occurrence (young girl, single man alone) wasn't appreciated by Dayspring's leadership. I can understand this, given that not too long before that there had been a scandal with another local church where the pastor's wife had an affair with a Youth Group boy. Really, I took a hit for the church's image, but I had been alerted about this, so I took full responsibility.

Anyways... Seeing the youth in action after almost a year made me realize how much they'd done without me. Really, the only things I could criticize them for was:
  • Some of the singers on the Youth Worship team were singing songs that were out of their range.
  • The drama between worship and the message had a bit too wide of a range and it was difficult to follow. Either it needed to have a smaller group, or there should be one person in each section performing the "solo" lip-synchs.

I had fancied the idea of someday returning to work with DYM, but last night made me realize that my work with them is now a closed chapter in my life. Maybe someday I'll return full-duty, but not in my foreseeable future.

It doesn't mean that I've completely turned my back on the kids there, though. A lot of them are still my friends.

But DYM is closed for me. Even if they asked me to return, I'd turn them down. I wouldn't want to just do it without my heart being in it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Church Signs...

You've seen these, fellow Americans. I don't know if they're in other countries, but the churches that have a sign out front with plastic letters on them? And the letters spell some kind of saccharine-cute message? Some are funny, some are silly, but some are plain ridiculous and can be misconstrued.

Like take this one I saw once while I was going home from work:

Heh, yeah. Like Jack the Ripper gave some ladies a free trip to Heaven?

This next one was plain ridiculous:

Have these people read their Bibles? Nothing would make God happier than to be closely intimate with His Creation. I mean, I guess that could work for God if you wanted to make Him sound playful, but I kind of think that's not what they meant. (And don't get me with that "God being playful is disrespectful" garbage. Didn't Jesus party with the social pariahs?)

I'm glad my church doesn't go for these stupid gimmicks. Not to say my church is perfect, none is, but we don't resort to that. Though once they ran some funny anecdotes in the bulletins. (Not for long, though.) One that I remember well is:
A chicken and a pig were at a church fundraiser. They were getting in the spirit of things, and the pig says, "Hey, we should really contribute to this!"
"Yeah!" says the chicken. "How about we donate ham and eggs?"
"Whoa!" replies the pig, "That's a gift from you, but a commitment from me!"

It was followed with a note saying "Never be afraid of commitment," but I couldn't blame the pig for not wanting to die to donate money to the church. After all, if the pig could talk...

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Disney Abandons Ship On Narnia

Last Christmas Eve, visitors to NarniaWeb.com were greeted with the news that Disney had opted out of making The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader", and Walden Media was looking for a new partner.

As long as Walden can find a new partner soon, I'm all right with this.

But honestly, Disney really screwed up the second installment of the Narnia series, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Trailers featured scenes from the grand scale finale battle, the frightening Werewolf and Hag were not hard to miss in the Super Bowl TV spot, making this not look like a family film. Also, many clips from the movie were shown on television and online, so much, about a month before the release, fans had already pieced together how the movie would adapt the story.

The movie hit theaters May 16, 2008, the release sandwiched between the releases of Iron Man and Indiana Jones: The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, two other summer action movies that were heavily anticipated. Between these two contenders, and although it had a built-in audience of thousands, if not millions, of dedicated fans, Prince Caspian didn't stand a chance.

It was also not a good idea to have the release over two years after the first movie. Even if the extended DVD version of the first film could be counted as the end of the buzz over the series, it was a whole year and a half before we got the next installment. In that time, we had the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Spider-Man 3, 300, Transformers, and many other movies to get excited about.

In addition, Prince Caspian's bloated budget didn't help. This story is considered by many fans to be the weakest of all seven of C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. So, of course they made big changes to the plot line. Whether these were good or bad changes, and whether they improved the story or not, I can't definitely say, but it did make for a good movie, though.

Disney has mis-marketed a movie then declared it a flop after release before. It happened back in 1985 when Return to Oz, advertised as a fun family film, didn't do very well. (Today, Oz is a cult classic.)

In all, Prince Caspian made much more overseas than it did domestically, but apparently, this return wasn't good enough for Disney.

Fan rumors (fanned on by a reputable Disney news site) spread that Disney would gauge the DVD sales of Prince Caspian before deciding to greenlight The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader". While it remains unclear if Disney intended this or not, the fact is it took ten days to sell as many copies of Prince Caspian as it did to sell as many as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the first Narnia film, sold on it's first day.

While many people must have bought the DVD for Christmas (I bought a copy of the 1-disc edition for a younger brother, and was given a copy of the 3-disc edition), the Christmas sales push is not a good time to put such stakes on a DVD. Even worse, much more so than in May, everyone was concerned over the United State's poor economy. (Here in Springfield, Missouri, many businesses have closed or made severe cutbacks, leaving many people unemployed.)

And now, Walden Media is trying to sell The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" to another studio. Many fans wish Disney had greenlit this one, and suspect that it will, if made, do much better than Prince Caspian, due to the story's popularity and being one of the fan favorites of the entire series.

Really, Dawn Treader is excellent film material. We have an ocean voyage, with a young king on a mighty quest, complete with enchantments, dragons, strange creatures, and even retired stars. Throw in three children from our world, and you've got a winner.

So, really, if another studio picks up Narnia, I have high hopes for Dawn Treader and the other memorable titles in the series.

Only question is, does another studio want Disney's leftovers?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Wii'ing in the New Year

Yeah, Aaron got a Wii from Jessica's family for Christmas. Wow, he got some GREAT in-laws! At least my delayed gift for him can wait. (If it's not here by the end of the week, SOMEONE is getting a nasty e-mail!)

Audrey and Shaun came over to help clear out a corner in the room where most of their belongings are stored, so tomorrow, when the maintenance man comes in to fix the ceiling, he has clear access to the damaged corner. (Dang leak... But hey, it's not my fault!) Since Aaron had already invited me over, I just caught a ride over with them.

I did get to see my niece, Amber (who had been spending a week from Christmas to yesterday with her mother), open her gift to me. She seemed to like it, a copy of The Random House Book of Fairy Tales. Of course, everyone else gave her toys and DVDs... I can at least say I attempted to bring some culture in her life. (I checked, their "Snow White" ends with the sadistic ending where the Wicked Queen is made to dance in red-hot iron shoes. Nice!)

Shaun and I did some rounds on Mario Party DS, and he, Audrey, Jessica, and I attempted to do a multiplayer on the version of Crash Burnout for the DS. Let me tell you, the XBox version makes more sense and is more fun! (What other game has the objective of crashing into cars and trying to make the most damage?)

So, we had some Papa Murphy's pizza, which is always good, along with some cheesy bread, chicken wings, and some kind of caramel bread. Seeing as it was just six of us, we had PLENTY of leftovers of EVERYTHING.

Then, we hit the Wii!

Seriously, with Audrey and Shaun over there, Aaron and Jessica's place is full of gaming systems. Between them, they have four Nintendo DS systems, two Gamecubes, Aaron's Wii and Playstation, and Shaun's XBox and Playstation 2.

Up first was Mario Kart Wii, with Audrey and Shaun using Wii-motes attached to Wii-wheels, and Aaron and I using Gamecube controllers. I actually did pretty well sometimes, commenting, "I'm in 2nd place? That's not natural! But Oak Express is!" (I'd link to one of those commercials on YouTube, but there's none on there.) The control took some getting used to, and Wario's Mines and the SNES Ghost track are HELL, but it's a fun game, and a nice step up from Double Dash!

Aaron also has Super Smash Bros. Brawl, but we didn't play, as we only had two Wii-motes. (I commented they needed more, and was met with, "They're about $40 each, want to buy them for us?")

We soon went over to Wii Sports, where we did two rounds of bowling, and after the second round, Shaun left for work. (I actually won the second round! That is NOT natural!)

After that, we did Wii Play, which Aaron was using for the first time, and we had to unlock the next game by playing Shooting Range, which pretty much Duck Hunt for Wii, except there's only one or two ducks per round, and most of the time, you're firing at balloons, targets, clay pigeons, empty soda cans, and UFOs. After Aaron and I did that, we turned it over to Audrey and Amber, who did a round of a game where you matched look-a-likes in a crowd.

The last game we put in for 2008 was Game Party 2, where we did "Ping Cup" (which I stunk at), "Darts" (which I stunk at the first round, but won the second round!), and "Bean Bags," which Aaron and I won two minutes before the new year!

Then we switched over to footage from Times Square (which I realized was recorded, as New York is one hour ahead of Missouri, knowing these time zones takes some fun out of life!), and shared some sparkling, non-alcoholic grape juice. (We had Amber with us...)

Nice New Year's Eve!

Quick person key, if you're confused:
Aaron - Oldest brother
Jessica - Aaron's second wife
Audrey - Younger sister
Shaun - Audrey's fiancee
Amber - My niece, Aaron's daughter from his first marriage