I'll accept a late pass for this one, but this month I finally read The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution by Dave Kusek and Gerd Leonhard. Every serious music fan needs to read this book. It's all about how people who love music can - and will - take music back from big business and turn it into a service (like a utility payment) rather than a static product (see: overpriced CDs).
Record sales may be plummeting, but people are listening to more music now than ever before. As Kusek and Leonhard explain, the time is ripe for entrepreneurs to give music consumers exactly what they want - all the digital music they can listen to, anytime they want, for as little money as possible. Convert the millions of file-sharers into paying customers with a low service fee and incredible soft/hardware that makes music easy to find and share. Even if the flat fee is as low as $1 a month, the result will be an immense pool of money that reflects just how important music is to us.
Kusek and Leonhard cover a lot of ground with The Future of Music, and it's inspiring to imagine the possibility of "music like water." That is, music that surrounds us as a readily available resource that we hardly think twice about consuming. If I was part of the antiquated and uncompromising record industry, the ideas presented in The Future of Music would haunt my dreams. They'd also motivate me to sign any flavor of the week that just might turn a quick buck. But that's part of a rapidly dissolving present; it's time to look to the future.
I'm surprised I haven't done this before, but I thought it would be cool to take note of the books I read in one year. I kept track of everything I read in 2009 (reserving a special space on one of my bookshelves) so I could compile the titles in 2010. Since I graduated at the end of 2008, I was somewhat burned out on reading, so this list isn't too grand. Some of these works are old favorites of mine that I decided to revisit (including Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies).
Margaret Atwood - The Handmaid's Tale
Ray Bradbury - Fahrenheit 451
William Golding - Lord of the Flies
Lois Lowry - The Giver
George Lucas - Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Richard Matheson - I Am Legend
Cormac McCarthy - The Road
Walter M. Miller, Jr. - A Canticle for Leibowitz
George Orwell - Animal Farm
Georges Simenon - The Blue Room
Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming - Powers Vol. 1: Who Killed Retro Girl?
John Byrne - Superman & Batman: Generations, An Imaginary Tale
Peter David, Dale Keown, and George Perez - Hulk: The End
Robert Kirkman and Phil Hester - The Irredeemable Ant-Man
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons - Watchmen
Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely - JLA: Earth 2
Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada - Daredevil Visionaries Vol. 1: Guardian Devil
Various Artists - Star Wars Omnibus: Tales of the Jedi, Vol. 1
Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra - Y: The Last Man, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5
Short Story Collections / ETC
Rosario Ferre - The Youngest Doll
Harvard Student Agencies Inc. - The Official Harvard Student Agencies Bartending Course
Ana Menendez - In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd
Maurice Sendak - Where the Wild Things Are
Jerry Seinfeld - Seinlanguage
Luisa Valenzuela - Symmetries
Jeanette Winterson - Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery
"This is what the good guys do. They keep trying. They don't give up."
We have blasted the earth and destroyed its life. The sun is hidden behind endless haze. Ashes cover all. A father and son journey south to avoid freezing to death. But death takes on other forms as they travel along the road.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy is heartbreaking. It is a dismal tale of survival that takes place years after a catastrophic flame deluge, and its mood brings to mind stories written by those who endured the Holocaust. This is jarring fiction, and it's important fiction. The Road fits alongside classics like 1984 and Lord of the Flies in all their disturbing glory - it shakes us awake and warns us of the dreadful capacities we possess. Read this.
Given I'm a huge fan of Stephen King, I'm immensely surprised it took me this long to read some of Richard Matheson's work. King has referred to Matheson as the author who influenced him most as a writer, which makes complete sense after reading I Am Legend. This is great for me, because I think I found a new favorite author. The first few sentences of Matheson's novel easily hooked me:
"On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back."
Intriguing, I know. I Am Legend is the story of Robert Neville, the last man on earth, who walks the streets by day while vampires assail his house by night. If you are a fan of the recent movie adaptation (an adaptation I do enjoy, even with its alterations to the source material), you really should read this story. At only about 170 pages, it's close to novella length, and the writing has plenty of suspenseful moments and plot twists to keep the reader interested in what happens next -- Stephen King definitely appreciates this writing style, and you will too.
Marvel Comics is celebrating its 70th anniversary, and the company has been encouraging fans to vote for the best Marvel characters, single issues, etc. I played along by voting for the best comic book covers in Marvel history, though I only voted for 30 rather than pushing the 70 limit. I think these are all pretty great:
I came across this comic book cover recently at Marvel.com and I'd like to share it here:
Ms. Marvel #38 (Wolverine Art Appreciation Variant)
The Sentinels, monstrous constructions, signify the oppression mutants face in the X-Men universe. They are built to capture and control the mutant population, and they echo real human ignorance. But this cover art shows more than the terror of these machines. It shows an individual protecting his fallen comrade and friend. It focuses on the defiance of a few versus the unyielding authority of the many.
A great X-Men movie (there haven't been any thus far) would convey these emotions.
I cannot believe I don't own a Dr. Seuss book. It's times like this I take a look at my life and realize something is missing. Oh well, I'll correct this glaring error someday. If you're a fan of the good doctor, or like to fill your mind with fun tidbits of information, check out the article "10 Stories Behind Dr. Seuss Stories." It's full of information like this:
If I Ran the Zoo, published in 1950, is the first recorded instance of the word "nerd."
Now someone cook me up some green eggs and ham, please.
I knew this was going to be a great read before I looked at the first panel, but truly great works will still rise above high expectations. Though I read at a slow and steady pace at first, the last few chapters hooked me into page-turning more often, school work be damned. Then the climax hit, and I was floored. This is not a normal sensation, but it was only after I studied the final panel and thought over all that I had read that my appreciation for the first chapters of the book really grew. The symbolism, character development, and intriguing spin on the "superhero" genre found in Watchmen is unparalleled. I could gush about this graphic novel (which was originally released as a 12-issue limited series) for a long time, but there's a quote on the back of my copy that sums my thoughts up nicely:
This is the book that changed an industry and challenged a medium. If you've never read a graphic novel, start with WATCHMEN. And even if you have, it's time to read it again.
In reference to the quote above, it should be noted that if you begin reading graphic novels with Watchmen, be prepared to feel let down while reading subsequent graphic novels - most will fall well short of Watchmen. My more knowledgeable comic book buddies are in agreement: this is the best comic book series ever. Don't believe them? Let's look at the credentials - Watchmen was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Best Novels, and it is the only comic book to win a Hugo Award.
By the book's close I realized I had inadvertently developed a strong attachment to an anti-hero named Rorschach, a vigilante who follows his own sense of justice no matter what the cost to himself or others. Some people would call him deluded or downright crazy, and others, myself included, view him as heroically uncompromising in attempting to save the human race and defend truth. As of this point, Rorschach is right up there with Spider-Man as one of my all-time favorite comic book characters. Those who know me realize how much of a compliment to the character that statement is.
If you have never read Watchmen and have at least a passing interest in comic books, buy it now. Rorschach is ready.
There are two big reasons for me to love April already.
One, Grand Theft Auto IV drops April 29.
Anyone who knows anything about video games knows the Grand Theft Auto series is huge. I've been playing since the original back on the PlayStation (remember the top-down view?), and the games have just been getting better and better. Seriously, the voice acting on San Andreas was some of the best I've ever heard in a video game. The voice actor behind lead character CJ did a fantastic job, and freaking Sam Jackson was cast as the corrupt cop. It's going to be difficult to top San Andreas, but if anyone can do it, it's Rockstar Games. I'm going to channel Mr. Beringer and dub Grand Theft Auto IV a game of the year contender already.
The second reason to be excited is this man:
The Office is making its triumphant return today, April 10. I'm so happy this show is on the air. I jumped on the bandwagon a bit late (though the commercials for season one always made me smile), so every new episode I see is a joy. I heard a new Creed quote today for the first time just a few minutes ago - check out nbc.com for extra Office footage to whet the appetite for later tonight.
"Good news - turns out I have grandkids. And kids."
I'm going to try using my Facebook page more. There are some cool people on there with whom I'd like to keep conversation flowing. Plus, I'm totally too low on Jason's "top friends." I need to jump up the ranks to compete with my buddy Anton.
Hobbits are wonderful little creatures. Just about everyone today has heard of The Lord of the Rings trilogy thanks to Peter Jackson and his immensely popular movies based on J. J. Tolkien's books of the same name, but The Hobbit is a little more under the radar. That's going to change very soon when The Hobbit is given its own box office treatment, but for now, the written story of Bilbo Baggins and his dwarf companions creates a much more vivid and exciting picture than a movie ever could. Bilbo, who enjoys leisurely pipe smoking and as many meals as his heart desires, never fancied himself a hero and adventurer. His lack of grand aspirations makes sense, since hobbits are small in size and at home with peace. But after essentially being tricked into joining thirteen dwarves on a mission of revenge and gold, Bilbo and his new singing companions embark on a journey to destroy a dragon and reclaim the dwarves' rightful inheritance. There are plenty of adventures along the way, and every trial that befalls Bilbo serves to show his growth into a person he never imagined he could be. Bilbo's tale originated as a bedtime story Tolkien recited to his children, and those origins show in the work. Though it does become progressively darker in tone (and literally in surroundings at one point), this fairy story is the sort that appeals to readers with an active imagination, something found in abundance in younger people. Someone recently told me they preferred The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and after re-reading this book, I don't find that hard to believe at all.
"Arrow!" said the bowman. "Black arrow! I have saved you to the last. You have never failed me and always I have recovered you. I had you from my father and he from of old. If ever you came from the forges of the true king under the Mountain, go now and speed well!"
I re-read Animal Farm this week. Trent (takingbackrufio), I know you have to have read this one. For those who haven't read or heard of it, pick it up on the double. It's a very short read, easy to follow, and can be quite shocking. The animals of Manor Farm dislike being the slaves of man, so they overthrow their owner Mr. Jones, and begin to govern themselves. They base themselves on the grounds of equality for all, but as it's soon revealed, equality is a sliding slope. George Orwell was strictly against Soviet totalitarianism, and the animals' system of government clearly reflects this. Like Orwell's other work 1984, this tale of fantasy bears too much resemblance to contemporary society for comfort. After all, how many times in recent memory have politicians been heard squealing the importance of a more powerful government due to the "constant threat" of terrorism?
"'Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink the milk and eat those apples. Do you know what would happen if we pigs failed in our duty? Jones would come back! Sure, comrades,' cried Squealer almost pleadingly, skipping from side to side and whisking his tail, 'surely there is no one among you who wants to see Jones come back?'"
"[Animal Farm] probably has a good chance as any contemporary work of winning its author a place--unacknowledged of course--among Shelley's [poetic] legislators or the world. And even if the chance does not come off, Orwell has, anyway, two strings in his bow: he is the author of 1984 as well as Animal Farm. If the worst comes to worst and he fails as a legislator he is then virtually certain of immortality as a prophet."
-C. M. Woodhouse The Times Literary Supplement,
London, August 6, 1954
I finished reading Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer this week. Man, what a story. Here's a short caption from the cover for those who have never heard of it:
"In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself..."
Jon Krakauer painstakingly researched Chrisí life for this book for three years, retracing the young manís steps as best he could. He feels a connection to Chris and his steps to spiritual enlightenment.
Chris chose to displace himself from the norms of society and become a vagabond, touring North America on a solo trek. He was happiest when he felt immersed in the natural world. But, that doesn't mean he was antisocial. Those who speak of him are quick to remember how his intelligence, respect, and good natured manners won them over and led to memorable moments with the youth. Chris has also been chastised due to his seemingly reckless actions, but I'm personally inspired by the journeys he undertook. Upon graduation from college, he broke off on his own and made his way into the world on his own terms. It's that kind of courage I'd like to adopt into myself. Here's to Chris and his happy life.
John Grisham - The Rainmaker
I completed this book months ago, but I put off writing about it due to my ignorance. See, The Rainmaker is a work of fiction in the legal drama subgenre, an area Iíve never explored before. So no matter how much I enjoyed the novel (though itís true I enjoy just about everything I read), I have no other work to compare it to. But even if Iíve never delved into the fictional world of lawyers before, The Rainmaker does not strike me as a novel that will go down as a classic. It reads like a work of Michael Crichton (Timeline, Jurassic Park): the literary equivalent of a good popcorn flick. It's somewhat entertaining and easily marketable, but will readers remember protagonist Rudy Baylor for years to come? Probably not. In fact, other similar works of Grisham (A Time to Kill) have received much more mainstream attention than this novel.
Still, Baylorís noble (and vengeful) quest to punish a greedy insurance company for the untimely death of an innocent youth should strike a chord with a wide range of readers. Baylor is a young underdog, severely outmatched and taking on years of legal experience in the form of pretentious and insanely priced legal eagles. Thankfully for Baylor, Judge Kipler, whoís presiding the case, hates insurance companies and takes pity on the naÔve lawyer. Itís immensely satisfying to see Baylor receive assistance from Kipler, who doesnít hold back in taking control of the case and striking down Great Benefitís group of bumbling representatives. Though the actions that unfold are predictable, the reader never stops cheering for Baylor and his client.
The Rainmaker is a quick read with little confusing legal jargon. Grisham definitely knows just how much technical legal speak a wide audience will tolerate. Though itís not a must read, The Rainmaker is recommended to anyone eager to cheer for a legal underdog fighting on the side of humble Americans who suffer under corporations.
I finished this book at about four this morning that is meant to instruct one on the rules of writing. Here are the top three things that I've learned from Rules of Thumb: 73 Authors Reveal Their Fiction Writing Fixations:
3) Give your characters professions. Most everyone has one.
2) Garnering the reader's interest comes before metaphor, simile, or any other literary tool.
1) To become a better writer, one must write, write, write!