Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Goodreads: Notes from a Small Island

Notes from a Small Island Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
I first tried to read this one a few years ago, before I lived in England. It quickly became clear to me that it was written as a love letter to Britain for British people to read; not at all for Americans. But now, having lived here a year, I get all the jokes, I sympathize with the ways Bryson pokes fun at them as an American at heart. Basically, Bryson travels around Great Britain complaining about all the things that are going wrong with it and how old buildings are being replaced with new ones and so forth, and yet all of this complaining is in fact pandering to his (equally crotchety) audience. This being Bryson, of course there are moments of laugh-out-loud funniness, but I grew tired of the book at times. In every town he visits (including mine; he lived not 25 miles from here before he moved back to America) he sees a few lovely things and then moans and complains about some building ruining the skyline or something. Which can be a bit tiresome. But none of that changes the fact that it really is a love letter.

I'd have trouble recommending this book to anyone who hasn't lived here a while, unless they are true Anglophiles.

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(note: I read this a while ago now and just didn't review it till now)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Goodreads: Carry on, Jeeves

Carry On, Jeeves Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Having seen several episodes of the BBC adaptation of the Jeeves & Wooster stories, it was difficult for me to read Jeeves without invoking Stephen Fry's portrayal of him; likewise Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster in all his exasperated cluelessness. Wodehouse is of course exceedingly clever - one wonders what it might do for the verbal talents of a generation if they were required to read Wodehouse in school instead of ghastly classics like The Scarlet Letter.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Goodreads: Mouse Guard - Fall 1152

Mouse Guard Volume One: Fall 1152 Mouse Guard Volume One: Fall 1152 by David Petersen

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
What's not to like? Beautifully drawn, well scripted adventure tale. It's a fantasy tale in that they're up against huge, foul beasties, but these are things we all know like snakes or crabs. No sign of "magic", which is fine - totally unnecessary here. If it were all humans, the plot might be a little flat, but they're mice! And that makes up for it. In a few years (when I'm sure they won't rip anything) I'll happily let my kids read it.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Goodreads: The Right Stuff

The Right Stuff The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
My friend Ty is a big fan of both the movie and the book. When I happened to mention that I hadn't seen or read either, he was aghast, and loaned me the movie immediately. I enjoyed the film quite a bit, and so he insisted I read the book. The stories themselves and the people involved are quite interesting, and make for compelling reading. Wolfe's style is a bit grating at times - he picks a few themes and then mentions them and points them out OVER and OVER ad nauseum, as if the reader might not be able to connect the dots without his big pointing finger to tell you that here's yet another example of "flying and drinking and drinking and driving." Still, it's worth knowing a bit about the men involved in the beginnings of our manned space program. I've always leaned towards unmanned projects, partly because my grandfather was heavily involved with them at JPL and partly because I never understood what was so important about having people be there. Reading this helped me understand the viewpoint of those who love manned space flight (although it does nothing to change my position on the subject).

If I were in a book club with my former workmates with whom the subject of manned vs. unmanned space exploration was a common subject of discussion, this would be an excellent book for us to read & discuss. I am with the Chuck Yeagers of the world who thought that the Mercury astronauts were little more than payloads, and that truly piloted flight (of planes that reach space flight) is more impressive. But I still question the enterprise at all at this point - now that the cold war is over, what is the point of, say, working towards putting a single person or few people on the surface of Mars? It is inspiring as a human enterprise, but more than anything it is a colossal way to burn money. No doubt you have some thoughts on the matter; feel free to share them.

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Monthly Mix: Midnight in Istanbul

Istanbul at Night, by Yoav Lerman

Years ago, I made a mix for my sister called "Nightfall at the Arabesque" full of songs that were at least mildly Arabic-sounding. I never gave her a playlist. But a few months ago I had her describe each song, and it was an embarrassment. Dreadful stuff. Like reading 'poetry' you wrote in high school. I won't go into details - it's too horrible. Anyway, I'd been jonesing to put together a new middle eastern mix, but I only had a few bits and pieces of stuff I liked hanging around. I finally decided I would do it in a manner that allowed me to fill gaps with some instrumental scoring, and therefore it became a movie soundtrack in my head.

Now, this sort of thing isn't unusual for me. As in that conversation I had with Patriate Jeff (read about it here), it comes back to the fact that I am, at my core, an Ideas Man. The potential artwork is quite often more beautiful than the finished work. That's why I make random generators - they are little idea seeds floating past in a river of entropy, and they are often as beautiful as the other seeds that grow up to be trees, albeit more ephemeral. I brainstorm ideas for web applications I'd like to see all the time, but rarely am I interested in the work necessary to bring them to completion. I have an idea for an intensely interesting TV series, but I don't think I'm capable of writing a script I'd accept. Likewise, this month's mix is a soundtrack for a movie that I'm not sure could be made at all. It certainly couldn't be made by me. But I can come up with a soundtrack.

Elevator pitch goes like this: A tale of youth, drugs, hip-hop music, and violence, but not set in LA or Chicago - this is mainly in Istanbul, with occasional narrative side trips to Algeria or elsewhere in the Maghreb. It could only be made (to my satisfaction) by a brilliant, angry, young Turkish filmmaker, probably living in Berlin.

I'm not going to tell you who does the score tracks here, but I will give you their original titles.

1. Ceza - Araturka Fasli
2. Revenge
3. Ayben - Benim O
4. A-500
5. Fuat - Okyanuslar
6. Zara - Kesik Çayir
7. Kolera - Irtifa Kaybi
8. Shadows
9. Ceza - Yerli Plaka
10. Refinery Surveillance
11. Cartel - Cartel
12. Bakara
13. Sagopa Kajmer - Al 1'de Burdan Yak
14. Rumble City
15. Ceza - Shinanay
16. Rachid Taha - Barra Barra

Get it here or, if that doesn't work, here

I hope you can picture it.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Monthly Mix: Vote!

So, dear readers/listeners, for April's Monthly Mix would you rather have:

1) "Just Don't.", a mix in which we brusquely offer you all sorts of advice on what not to do, and then finally remember to say "Please" in the last song. Lots of 80s goodness like "Dont Forget Me (When I'm Gone)", but some great songs you probably don't know as well.


2) "Midnight in Istanbul", which is a mix of Turkish rap, foreboding soundtrack scoring, and French-Algerian-Arabic electronica, and is intended as the soundtrack for an awesome Anatolian/Mahgreb gangster epic - Boyz in the Hood meets The Battle of Algiers meets The Long Good Friday.

Voting closes Saturday at 7PM EST/Midnight Harrogate time. The loser will probably feature as another month's mix.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Goodreads: Body of Lies

Body of Lies: A Novel (Movie Tie-In) Body of Lies: A Novel by David Ignatius

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
The movie was pretty good - one of the best spy films I've seen lately. The book was better in some ways and worse in others for me. Ignatius definitely knows his stuff, and you have no trouble visualizing the places he's talking about - he clearly knows them well. Likewise, he seems to have a decent hold on the modern business of espionag e. All that stuff is good, but the love story in the book is just not compelling for me - the girl, Alice, is a little too plainly allegorical for the "just-show-the-Arab-world-we-care-and-they-will-love-us-back" point of view, and so the whole story of their relationship and the dissolution of the main character's marriage to a "true believer in the War on Terror" becomes political commentary to beat the reader over the head with. The spy stuff is good, though.

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Goodreads: I, Robot

I, Robot I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
Groundbreaking at the time, to be sure, but the fact that it was written in the 40s & 50s makes its vision of the future not just wrong but completely silly. Not to mention all the "swell" lingo we all use in the year 2003 on Venus. Aasimov does well at poking holes and finding loops in his own three laws of robot behavior, which is an interesting ethics/logic exercise; it's just buried in story that I had trouble caring about.

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