Tag Archives: books

1001 Books and Movies

A series of books has recently been released, listing the Top 1001 Books, Movies, and Paintings to _____ before you die. Obviously I don’t want to list all of them here, but you can find the complete list of books and movies on various blogs (with the movies list updated every now and then). It’s fun to go through and see exactly how many of these works you’ve read or seen, so that’s what I’m going to do here. Feel free to post your own lists in the comments! Continue reading

The End of Harry Potter: Predictions

Disclaimer: Obviously, I haven’t read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows yet, so what follows are some predictions I’m making on what will happen. I correctly predicted the ending for book 6, so who knows, maybe my strategies and hunches will work again. That said, if you want a clean slate heading into your reading, avoid this post. But if you’re curious and speculative like me, I’d love some feedback. Again, what follows are just predictions, reader discretion advised, so I’m not responsible for totally ruining your appreciation.

I knew Dumbledore was going to die in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince once I took a look at the prominent place he had on the book’s cover. Off the top of my head, every other book in the series features Harry alone, and so Dumbledore’s presence told me that his place was going to be prominent, and given the book’s tone and place in the series, the only logical conclusion would be that he wouldn’t make it to the end. And that turned out to be correct. Continue reading

The Big Twitch

Just finished reading The Big Twitch, by Sean Dooley. Mr. Dooley is a comedy writer for TV shows by day, and a fanatical birder…also by day. I think he just sleeps by night, like most people.

Anyways, The Big Twitch is the story of how Sean Dooley spent one year trying to break the record for most birds seen in Australia in one year, an event creatively known in the birding community as a Big Year. But more than break the record, Mr. Dooley wanted to completely smash the record by reaching the previously untouchable level of 700 species in one year. The previous record was 634 or something. It was an ambitious goal, but Mr. Dooley felt that he had a reasonable chance of accomplishing his goal.

He does a pretty good job of keeping both birders and non-birders interested in his story, mixing in his tales of chasing down rare birds with his absurd adventures on the road. Another major theme of the book is his terrible luck at finding a steady girlfriend, as a fanatical birder, and how this Big Year attempt probably won’t help things any. Not only do the chapter headings give an update on how many species he’s seen thus far, but also how many girlfriends he’s gone through, a number which pretty much stays at zero all the way through the book. Ah, life as a birder, that’s the life I love.

Halfway through, it sorta became apparent that he’d break the record. Why else would he write the book? So then I started to wonder: is this a storybook ending where he gets a girl too? And that’s when I realized: oh no. This is like a romantic comedy! I’ve been tricked! Those scoundrels! I was lured in with the promise of rare birds, and got suckered into reading a romantic comedy! Kinda reminds me of a movie that came out many years back, I think it was called Forget Paris? It starred Billy Crystal as an NBA referee, and all I noticed during the previews was footage of guys like Reggie Miller and Charles Barkley draining jumpshots and making fun of Billy Crystal’s hair, and I almost went to see it until my dad rescued me from the abyss by mentioning that it was actually a romantic comedy, probably advertised as a sports movie to sucker boyfriends and husbands into seeing it with their giddy girlfriends and wives.

Fortunately though, Dooley gets one satisfaction but not the other: he gets the record, but on his first date of the next year, the girl, “with eyes like a Rainbow Pitta’s wings…” thinks he’s crazy and doesn’t follow up with a second date. Sorry Dooley old buddy, that does sorta suck for you, but c’mon, you got to see a Red-capped Flowerpecker! Doesn’t that make it totally worthwhile?! Sad thing is, some would argue that yes, yes that’s totally worth it. Hah.

The unromantic fanaticism of these guys really is quite amazing. Dooley is tortured by the constant struggle of how one can possibly nurture a relationship when an Eyrean Grasswren has just showed up six hours away. But there’s no way he can compromise and bring the two together either; you just can’t drag a girlfriend into a ten-mile hike through odious swamps just to see a small brown bird to add to the year’s list.

That’s the tension that makes the book work so well, the push-and-pull between the birding world and the normal world. The other two Big Year accounts I’ve read (Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman, a great book, and Wild America by Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher, historically important but not as good of a read) probably appeal only to birders; by the end they start reading like a laundry list of birds seen or missed. By contrast, The Big Twitch is a very accessible read that a non-birder could certainly appreciate, and a birder would also approve of. Well done Dooley, best of luck with the birds and the chicks, mate.

Edit: Just noticed something really weird. In the cover photo above, both birds are Red-browed Finches. On the copy I borrowed, the guy is holding what I think is a Rose Robin, and peering off to the right is a Regent Honeyeater or something, I haven’t checked the guide to ID either of them. I wonder if different copies have different birds on the cover? That’d be pretty cool.

………….

So now I’ve moved on to Don DeLillo’s Underworld. The New York Times surveyed a vast array of American literature critics to compile a list of the Best American Novels of the past 25 years, and Underworld clocked in impressively at Number Two, just behind Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I’m a hundred pages in, and I’ve already been taken to the verge of tears. What was the reason, you might ask? Of course: sports. Baseball. The account of Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard ‘Round the World. The joyous players, the ecstatic fans, a city rising together, that kind of stuff just kills me every time. Great book so far. But back to sports: as much as I love those sorts of miraculous moments in sports, I absolutely cannot stand sports movies. Actually, I can’t think of a single one that I actually enjoy. As a kid, I really loved Rookie of the Year and Angels in the Outfield, but I’m way past that point now. Well, in hindsight, those movies were sort of ridiculous, and would probably be entertaining for camp value. Can somebody arrange a viewing? But in general, I don’t like sport movies, because you know what’s going to happen. It’s the unpredictable and unscriptable stuff in the real world that gets to me. Remember the Music City Miracle? Holy cow, I’m tearing up just thinking about that thing. Sports are so great. Tar Heels, don’t let me down.

………….

np: The Smashing Pumpkins – ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’. These are among the most awkward lyrics I’ve ever heard, they’re just laughably horrendous. The music though, woah. The hook in the chorus is incredible. I start air-guitaring and screaming along to it, but then the lyrics I’m singing just crack me up and I burst out laughing. How frustrating is that. This song could’ve been Song of All-Time, but silly Billy Corgan had to slap on angsty goth-poetry that doesn’t even make any sense. The opening line: “The world is a vampire…” and you’re already down for the count, pounding the floor in laughter. Endless lols. I wish I could listen to this song with alternate, better lyrics. Oh man, what if Dan Bejar wrote the lyrics for ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’. Best song ever, or, best song of all-time? Tough question.

Also, I saw that the new Rosebuds albums leaked, haha. Listened to the first song, and was really disappointed it. Shucks, what happened to these guys? They were Raleigh’s great shining hope for indie rock salvation, and after the brilliance of The Rosebuds Make Out, they just haven’t gone anywhere. There were a handful of nice songs on the Unwind EP and Birds Make Good Neighbors, but it doesn’t look like this new one’s going anywhere. In general, 2007 has been a bit of a disappointment, though clearly I’m missing out on a lot by being abroad with very little internet. Can people give some 2007 recommendations, including stuff I’ve already heard but may need to revisit? Much appreciation.

………….

More Australia photos:

A little baby Stinging Tree!!! Adorable.

Whiting’s Fragment, which is the world’s smallest fragment of type 5b ‘Mabi’ forest left in the entire world. My partner and I did some surveys of frog populations in this fragment, and believe it or not, both of us actually got lost in there. It’s some of the densest forest I’ve ever encountered, and blindly hacking through it at night didn’t help. Somehow, we managed to get hopelessly lost.

Whale Rock, at Granite Gorge.

Green ants. That’s the queen in the center. They’re actually edible, and delicious: they have a sharp citrus taste. Unreal.

Getting Through the Former World

Australia

Largely because of its long geographic isolation, Australia has a lot of unique, endemic species, and some of the particularly charismatic ones have become symbols of Australia. Kangaroos, Koalas, Cassowaries, the world knows about all of them, and you’ll find them in all the major zoos (except the Cassowary, which is very difficult to keep in captivity). Some of those charismatic species I’ve already seen, but many I haven’t.

Kangaroos – The Red Kangaroo is the really large one that everyone’s seen in zoos. I haven’t seen that one, it largely lives in the desert interior, so maybe I’ll see them at Alice Springs after the program. But I have seen its smaller cousin, the Grey Kangaroo. I’ve also seen a lot of the other large marsupials, including Agile Wallabies and Mareeba Rock Wallabies, which live in the drier regions. The only one I regularly see in the rainforest is the Red-legged Pademelon, which is cinnamon colored, with brighter rufous-red legs. The cool thing is, they look exactly like kangaroos shrunk down in the dryer, they’re the size of our cottontail rabbits back home, proportioned like kangaroos! During the day it’s really hard to get a good look at them though, they’re extremely skittish, and will hop away long before you know they’re there. But during the night they’re very active and they’re everywhere, you just need to bring a spotlight out into the dark. The other cool ‘kangaroo’ I’ve seen is the Lumholtz’s Tree-Kangaroo, probably the most well-known denizen of the Atherton Tablelands where I’m studying.

Cassowary – pwned

Koala – I have no chance of seeing this in the wild, I’m not going to the right parts of the country. So the only experience I’ll have with these is that scarring experience in Kuranda.

Wombats, Echidnas, other assorted marsupials – probably not likely, but honestly I haven’t done the research to find out.

Emu – on our two trips into the appropriate sorts of habitat, no luck. This may be difficult until I get to Alice Springs, and even then it’s not a lock. I’m crossing my fingers.

Platypus – On the evening of the first of March, we went to a local farmer’s property to learn about rainforest restoration. As a bonus afterwards, we stopped by an overlook on the Barron River to look for platypus. They’re really tough to spot. Two individuals popped their heads above the water for a breath, and were gone a second later. So all I saw was the bill. The things are a lot smaller than you probably think too. But at least I can say that I’ve seen platypus in the wild now.

Hungary

Instead of heading to the pub to celebrate my 21st birthday last night, I watched the film Werckmeister Harmoniak (Werckmeister Harmonies). On paper, it’s about a small Hungarian town, torn apart by a mysterious circus that features a giant dead whale. That makes it sound almost like a comedy, but that’s the furthest you could get from the truth. Werckmeister Harmoniak is slow, tragic, moving. It’s also one of those pretentious art films that looks really beautiful, but whose main point sails over your head. I don’t have a clue what Bela Tarr, or the original novel’s writer, was trying to say. My guesses on the theme range from the Soviet occupation, the false optimism of capitalism, revolution in general, or the dark side of human nature. I really don’t know. I doubt I ever will, even if I watch the film ten more times.

Despite that intellectual confusion, Werckmeister Harmoniak is possibly the most beautiful film I have ever watched, in terms of cinematography. In the Mood for Love doesn’t even hold a candle to Werckmeister Harmoniak, something I didn’t believe was even possible. Shot in black-and-white, every image slowly soaks into the consciousness, and stays there. I could turn off the subtitles, mute the sound, and Werckmeister Harmoniak would still be a powerful film. If you want to see a really beautiful movie, watch this.

Deep Underground

I’m finally on the verge of finishing John McPhee’s Annals of the Former World, a tome which has taken me nearly a month to get through. It’s a collection of five books about American geology, and American geologists. But this is not a geology textbook; I doubt I’ve learned all that much about rocks that I didn’t already know. This is a collection of thoughts, stories, anecdotes, ideas about geology, and the people who study geology. Over the past few months, John McPhee has grown to possibly become my favorite author, fiction or non, and as his supposed masterwork, I had to get to Annals at some point.

Book One, entitled Basin and Range, deals with the series of mountains and valleys found in Utah and Nevada known as the eponymous Basin and Range, and follows Princeton geologist Kenneth Deffeyes through the rock. It started off fairly slow; I honestly wasn’t all that interested in the Basin and Range geology itself. What really got to me was the history of geology, as presented by McPhee, as the book began to wind down. Those portions of the book were among the best writings I’ve ever seen out of him. Unlike the typical McPhee book, which I always feel start off brilliantly but then run out of steam, Basin and Range built to a magnificent conclusion, and is one of the most striking works in McPhee’s catalog. Highly recommended.

Book Two, entitled In Suspect Terrain, follows geologist Anita Harris, and concerns itself with the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and how they came to be. I’ll be honest: this book was boring, slow, and way too long. And that’s all I really have to say. It was by far the worst McPhee book that I’ve ever read, and the only one I really haven’t enjoyed in any sort of capacity. Terribly disappointing.

Book Three, entitled Rising from the Plains, works itself around Wyoming with David S. Love, preeminent Rocky Mountain geologist. I was surprised at how linear the narrative was at times. I generally know McPhee as someone who jumps all over the map, delicately threading a narrative through that you don’t even begin to notice until the end, and that’s the brilliance of his work. In here, a lot of the book follows Love’s biography chronologically, and I’m surprised at how competent of a storyteller McPhee can be. I love his writing for the small details he notes, the absurd humor he discovers in them, and the subtle ways they are tied to the big picture, so it was interesting for me to watch him try his hand at working only with the big picture. I think he largely succeeded. His painting of the landscape around Jackson Hole was especially evocative. This is not representative of McPhee’s usual style, but it’s still a very good read that I’d certainly recommend.

Book Four, entitled Assembling California, follows Eldridge Moores around California, Macedonia, and Cyprus, in a quest to understand how California’s rocks could become so radically different from the rest of the country’s. Like Basin and Range, this one started off quite slow, as a whole lot of rocks and rocky structures were described. That’s the whole point of Annals I guess, to describe rocks, but those were probably my least favorite parts. The conclusion to Assembling California, however, was spectacular, as McPhee described tales from the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989. I have never seen McPhee write so dramatically, and he pulled it off really well.

So now I’m starting on the final book, entitled Crossing the Craton. It’s very short, and from what I hear its only purpose is to settle things down after the fireworks of Assembling California. So effectively, I am finally finished with Annals of the Former World. Hurrah. McPhee won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for his work on this book. In my mind, he undoubtedly deserves a Pulitzer, but maybe not for this book. In general, he spends too much time talking about rocks, when his strength is with people.

Surprisingly, I’ve found one other McPhee reader here, who’s read many of the same books of his that I have. She strongly recommended Encounters with the Archdruid as her favorite, so that will likely be next on my list of McPhee. In the meantime, once I finish Crossing the Craton, I’m moving on to The Big Twitch, the autobiography of a fanatical Australian birder. That shouldn’t take long, so warming up in the bullpen I’ve got Don DeLillo’s Underworld, which should be a good one.

From Tallahassee to the Dark Hillsides

For the first few months of its existence, this site served only as a log of my bird sightings in and around Swarthmore, remnants of which still survive in the address and the archives. This past summer, I made a decision to experiment with opening up the blog, to incorporate more of my thoughts, ideas, and occurrences. My only fear was that this would turn into an emo diary, a scenario which I wanted to avoid at all costs.

I’m not bringing this up because I’m about to go into emo mode; I might indirectly, but that’s not why I brought the history in. I wanted to mention that history because the very first non-bird-related post I ever made on this thing was a first-impression review of the Mountain Goats album Get Lonely.

At the time, I simply wrote that it sounded very different from a typical Goats album, but that I might get used to that new sound, and grow on the album. That never happened. Darnielle mentioned to a Pitchfork staffer that the only people who could fully understand the album were people who had gone through ugly divorces, or rough breakups from other very serious relationships, as those are the lyrical and musical themes which the album addresses. Thankfully I’ve never found myself in any of those kinds of situations, and subsequently the album never did anything for me. I think Pat summed it up well in his WSRN review: Get Lonely is an album that can be appreciated, but it’s difficult to enjoy, and actually, you’re probably not even supposed to enjoy it. I thought that was spot-on.

But now that I’m trying to get through my own breakup (though thankfully it was an amazingly clean one) this album is getting to me hard. I know people who listen only to happy and melodic music because they always want to feel joyful, and people who listen only to chill music because they always want to feel relaxed. I’ve never been the type to do that, I try and find music which matches the mood I’m in, to complement it and make it that much more powerful. So it means a lot to me when I say that Get Lonely is hitting me harder than any other album has at one point in time. Every song on the album, up to and including ‘Woke Up New’, is wrenching my heart apart on every listen, that’s all I can say. To me, right now, at this moment in life, Get Lonely is a perfect statement of how I’m feeling and how my days are going.

I did mention, however, that it’s only true up to ‘Woke Up New’. None of the remaining three songs do anything for me. I have a few theories on why that’s the case. First, ‘Woke Up New’ is unquestionably the emotional climax of the album, and the rest is the come-down that inherently comes off less dramatically. Second, ‘If You See Light’ is unquestionably the worst song on the album, and kills off any potential emotional impact that the remaining songs could have. Or last, Darnielle has sequenced the album chronologically/autobiographically, and the last few songs don’t make sense only because I haven’t reached that part of the recovery process.

In reality, it’s probably a combination of all three factors. I will note that the final song, ‘In Corolla’, sounds like it has to be the conclusion to the recovery, when Darnielle has finally gotten over his breakup, and life is back to normal. Connected to that point, it’s also the song most similar to the traditional Mountain Goats oeuvre and style. But right now, I can’t relate to it at all. Maybe in a few months, I’ll listen to it a few times, move on, and close the book on Get Lonely. But for an album intended for those poor souls coming from dark places, ‘In Corolla’ seems like an awfully out-of-place closer that’s sickening when placed next to ‘Moon Over Goldsboro’ or ‘Maybe Sprout Wings’; it’s not even optimistic enough to serve as some sort of goal or light at the end of the tunnel, it just feels wrong. ‘Cobra Tattoo’ may have been a better closer for the record. Small quibbles aside, Get Lonely is hitting me hard right now, and it’s changed my perception of what Darnielle is capable of as a songwriter.

Back to Australia

A lot of my photos are now uploaded, so I’m going to post them here in a series of short sets. Eventually I’ll get caught up with the present day, and try and post photos continuously from there. The Atherton Internet Cafe was significantly faster this past Friday than it was before for some reason, hence the successful photo uploading. Let’s hope that new speed sticks around.

Paterson Creek, which runs through the property.

Waterfall on Paterson Creek. There aren’t any land trails to this spot, so the only way to get here is by wading upstream a fairly good distance. Even further upstream there’s a few more waterfalls, but none of them are quite as photogenic.

Dan standing among the roots of the Cathedral Fig, whose canopy was posted earlier.

The Kangaroo Cafe in Malanda. Obviously that’s not a real Lumholtz’s Tree-Kangaroo up top, it’s just a sculpture.

Leeches attached: ~85
Leeches that have feasted upon my blood: 4

The Year in Music, I Suppose

Last.fm provides such a great service. For those of you unfamiliar with it, last.fm basically keeps track of what music you play on your computer, and compiles your top-played artists and songs into weekly, monthly, yearly, and overall charts. Sundays are always a joy for me: I bake bread in the morning, watch football in the afternoon and evening, and check my music charts before I head to bed, all the while completely avoiding and/or forgetting about the massive amounts of work I traditionally have due on Mondays, which of course I didn’t get done on Saturday. My own charts are linked to in the sidebar on the right, though I guess I just linked to them earlier in this sentence too.

To close out the year, I was going to post my top 10 albums of the year, but then realized what a pointless exercise that’d be, seeing as how I’ve had the thing constantly updating on my RYM page for the entire year, so what’s the point? Instead, here’s the artists and songs that I listened to the most in 2006 according to last.fm, ignoring the entire month of December for whatever reason. Maybe I’ll go back and update in a few days when we find ourselves in the new year.

Top Artists of 2006

1. Yo La Tengo – When people ask me what my favorite band is, YLT are usually my default answer, so it’s no surprise that they top this list, especially since they released an excellent new album this year which I listened to quite a bit. The band has an incredible talent for being amazingly eclectic while somehow also keeping a consistent high level of quality; it’s really hard to not like them. I’m not sure if they actually are my favorite band, but at least I know that I won’t be embarrassed by that answer in a few months time, unlike…

2. Destroyer – …who I recklessly proclaimed as, “…my favorite band of all-time…” (Shaw, 2006) in a hastily written WSRN review for Destroyer’s Rubies, the new album released early this year. Really, there’s no way that they’re actually my Favorite Band of All Time. There’s just no emotional resonance in Destroyer’s music; it’s all about the clever turns of phrases and general mischief, and though that works fairly often for me, sometimes it’s really not enough. Granted, when I do get on a Destroyer kick, no other band in the world can match Mr. Bejar and his witticisms, hence the high play count, but I should know by now that the high won’t last for very long, and next week I’ll be completely embarrassed by the Destroyer-dedicated AIM/Facebook profile changes, over-exalted album reviews, and, uh, blog names. Hah. I’d feel pretty cheap if I changed the name of this thing just because of my mercurial tastes, so like it or not I think I’m stuck with it.

Those were the top two artists of the year for me by a very wide margin, so in a distant third are…

3. The Mountain Goats – just a consistently rewarding band that I always seem to come back to. ‘Song for Mitch Williams’ is not included in this count, and probably never will be, sadly.
4. Tom Waits – I’m not counting Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards on any of my year-end lists, since I really can’t decide if I should categorize Orphans as a compilation or as a new release. I’m just going to play it safe and count it as a compilation. Anyways, most of this year’s plays came from a Bone Machine and Closing Time kick over the summer, I’ve only been able to slog through the entirety of Orphans once or twice.
5. The Decemberists – At one point The Crane Wife was something like the 5th best album I’d heard this decade, you’d have to dig back into the blog’s archives to find that post for me. In any case, that’s definitely not true anymore, it’s fallen pretty hard. This high play count is an artifact of that initial obsession with the album, and the subsequent revisiting of the band’s back catalog.
6. Pas/Cal – The new Dear Sir EP was a little inconsistent, but I’m still in love with this band, and played their other two EPs in bunches. The forthcoming debut LP Citizen’s Army Uniform is due to be released sometime next year, and so I’m sure this band will show up on this list again at the end of 2007.
7. The Replacements – If Last.fm could somehow include all the times I played Let it Be as I drove around over the summer, this would be much higher.
8. The Toms – I’m very pleased that this band showed up so high on the list. Probably the token ultra-obscure band that I’ll be pimping from this list.
9. The Beatles – This will undoubtedly move up with the December update, so stay tuned. Is there anything else I need to say about this band “The Beatles” ?
10. Teenage Fanclub – I’ll admit, as much as I love the Fannies, I’m kind of surprised that I played them this much. I only have three of their albums, one of which I don’t particularly enjoy, and one of which I don’t recall listening to at all this past year. So have I seriously listened to Songs From Northern Britain that much? Interesting. With the December update, I’m sure that Talking Heads will probably bump these guys down.

Not bad. Now…

Top Songs of 2006

1. The Pipettes – Pull Shapes
Oh my goodness. Completely embarassing. Just look at the band’s picture. Does this band look like something I’d normally enjoy? I really wish my top song could’ve been some black metal band like Drastus; maybe I’ll play nothing but one Drastus song for the rest of today and tomorrow to save my integrity in the December Update. But alas, for now at least, I’m stuck with these women wearing matching polka-dot outfits, singing songs about how much fun it is to dance with cute boys. I’ll grudgingly admit for now that ‘Pull Shapes’ is one of the most perfect pop songs I’ve ever heard.

2. Voxtrot – Trouble
This probably got pushed close to the top just because of two consecutive nights when I had this song on repeat, you know how those nights go I’m sure. Anyways, I don’t think I’ve listened to the song since then. I mean, I still don’t think it’s a bad song, but I probably wore it out on those two long, dark nights (as opposed to the short, sunlit nights of the Arctic and Antarctic regions, I guess).

3. Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out of This Country
Still a great song. Not quite a Study Abroad Anthem like the title would seem to imply, the lyrics are a little screwy, but the song’s music is completely addicting to me. I just wish that I wouldn’t get addicted to stuff that was so fey.

4. The Replacements – Alex Chilton
Songs released in 2006 dominated the top of these charts it seems, so here’s the first ‘oldie’ on the chart, and a fine song it is, probably the only Replacements tune that everyone can agree on, a true stone-cold classic of the rock music canon.

5. Pas/Cal – C.A.U. (Sans Muscle)
Not my favorite song off the Dear Sir EP, but it was the one song I had in advance of its real release, and so I really played the heck out of it, way before the EP proper showed up in my mailbox.

6. The Only Ones – Another Girl, Another Planet
I’ve decided that this is the best rock song ever. I consulted Pat and a few other trusted WSRN tastemakers past and present, and they all agreed. ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ is the best song in the history of rock music, and that’s no exaggeration.

7. Paul Westerberg – Love You in the Fall
This is off Westerberg’s soundtrack to the animated film Open Season. I really like this song for some reason. It’s really MOR and mindlessly fun, and somehow I haven’t gotten sick and nauseous over the syrupy over-production yet. So I feel really guilty for liking this, but gosh guys, it’s so good.

8. Pas/Cal – Little Red Radio

This is my favorite track off the EP, it’s only below C.A.U. due to the aforementioned reasons.

9. Destroyer – European Oils
The ‘fucking maniac’ line and the subsequent rockout continue to slay me without fail, every time I hear this song. One of the best moments in music that I’ve heard in ages.

10. Teenage Fanclub – Speed of Light
Where did this come from? I guess I really have played Songs from Northern Britain a lot, but I would’ve expected a song like ‘Mount Everest’ to appear on these charts, not ‘Speed of Light’, one of the more average tunes on the record. I faintly recall one night where I played this song a lot, but this much? Not sure.

So that’s what Last.fm sez were my favorite artists and songs of 2006. Outside of playcount, the master top albums list is still located at RYM. I also tried to compile a list of favorite movies, but I just realized that I really haven’t seen any movies this year. Unless I’m missing something, I’ve only seen…three. Well, regardless of what else I see, I doubt anything will top The Departed, which continues to slay my mind. I really need to see it again.

I’ve got some other completely separate issues to address. First is my spelling. I’ve always been a great speller. Yet for some reason, this entire semester, I’ve been spelling the words ‘separate’ and ‘correlate’ incorrectly. With ‘separate’, I use an e in the place of the a, while with ‘correlate’ I can never remember if there’s two r’s or if there’s two l’s, or both. I never had trouble with the words before. Strange. I guess it’s part of growing old, you know.

Second, I was reminiscing recently about the infamous Harvard Debate Trip of my junior year of high school. At the time, it was a really miserable experience, in hindsight the whole thing was completely absurd and hilarious, I love laughing about it, and it’s one of my favorite memories of high school.

One thing I remember is that for a good period of that long walking tour in subzero temperatures, The Dismemberment Plan song ‘The Ice of Boston‘ was stuck in my head, for fairly obvious reasons, and I’m pretty sure Bryson was groovin’ to it too. The cover of The Ice of Boston EP features this shot of a building at night, and I always wondered whether or not it was some sort of Boston landmark, and I remember searching for it during our walking tour. I may have even found it, maybe in the Boston Commons area? But at that point I may have gone crazy from the cold, and I probably couldn’t even lift my head anyways, haha. Anyways, I revisited the song just now, and man, it hasn’t aged well. It’s so awkward and emo! How did I not notice this at the time? Probably because I was in high school. Yeah, that’d explain a lot. Anyone recognize this building? It’s probably not even in Boston, I’m sure.

On another note, now that I’m home, I’ve finally got some time for reading, so I’m now working my way through Against the Day. I’m 80 pages in right now, and surprisingly, it’s actually…readable? Coherent? Accessible, even?! I’ve been told that there’s some impenetrable morass to come ahead, but so far, this isn’t Pynchonian at all, it’s quite a breezy and fun read, though some of the language is still distinctly Pynchonian, plus the occasional bursts into song and dance and such. Not sure if I like it so far, but we’ll see, there’s still a lot of pages left to be turned until we reach the end.

And finally, I’m reading my high school’s newsletter right now, which just arrived in the mail, and I see that this year they held a Dark Ages Bazaar, to complement the Renaissance Faire later in the school year. A Dark Ages Bazaar?! The whole concept is incredible. I think they just called it ‘Y1K’ in past years, but I like ‘Dark Ages Bazaar’ a lot better.

Also, I just remembered that back in 10th grade when I was in the Renaissance Faire, I got to play the part of Machiavelli, of all people. Brilliant. I think I tricked the pope into giving me thousands of dollars and being my patron, after Lorenzo de Medici rejected me. I think I also stole some rare jewel from the English queen, and Lorenzo de Medici got beheaded just because he ratted me out, while I got off the hook without a scratch. Seriously brilliant.



I can see them getting along quite well, really.

On with the links, then:

  • A biochemist claims that he’s discovered the chemical basis behind the unique sound of a Stradivarius violin. Legit or not?
  • Noka chocolate is the most expensive chocolate that you can buy, but is it worth the cash? This devastating expose by some chocolate-obsessed blogger is a great read.
  • This Japanese arcade game tests how hard you can kick.
  • Dean Karnazes just ran 50 marathons in 50 days. What.
  • Rob Cockerham of Cockeyed.com discovers how different Omaha is from California. I love these travelogues, another great read, Cockeyed is just a great site in general, mad props.
  • PC Magazine gives out its list of the Top 10 Wired Colleges. Hey, is that…Swarthmore checking in at number four? Funny that they don’t mention our DC++ hub, yet they pimp the SCCS Video Pit, which has never even been used by anyone that I personally know.
  • More people are posting their year-end mixes.
  • I really enjoy Running From Camera

    The rules are simple: I put the self-timer on 2 seconds, push the button and try to get as far from the camera as I can.

  • That’s pretty much it. I hope the past year has treated you all well, and that the coming year proves to be even more memorable for you. Good luck with things.

With Against the Day

Thomas Pynchon’s new novel, entitled Against the Day, was released this week, nine years after his last novel Mason & Dixon. I preordered Against the Day when it first became available on Amazon, but to be completely honest, I almost forgot that it was supposed to come in around this time. Books are difficult to hype up; the critics who receive them in advance will require a lot of time to finish, especially a dense tome such as this; I’m not even convinced that every critic was able to finish the thing before the deadline forced them to toss up a ‘Pynchon is brilliant’ review or a ‘Pynchon is pretentious garbage’ review. Advance copies of books can’t be easily pirated and downloaded like music and movies are these days, and even if they were, even the fastest readers would require some time to hype it up. The final Harry Potter book is probably the only book I can think of which could potentially reach that stage, just because the interest in it is that high. Then again, I read an article somewhere which basically stated that Against the Day is the only other book which could rival Harry Potter in terms of release-date-anticipation and hype. Understandably so. Yet despite this, any hype that existed was largely beneath my notice, and so I nearly forgot that it was supposed to arrive.

Instead, I’ve been expecting something like five or six packages to arrive around the same time, so yesterday morning I checked my mailbox about nine or ten times, each time coming up empty. For some reason though, just before I left for class, I decided to check my mailbox yet again, almost as a conditioned reflex I get from being in Parrish at all. Yet, lo and behold, a package slip sat quietly in my box.

Could it be printer toner? Could it be a replacement keyboard for my busted Thinkpad? Could it be a band’s t-shirt? Or could it be…isn’t Against the Day supposed to arrive around this time? Well…GUESS WHICH ONE IT WAS?!

Wait, I guess that wasn’t much of a surprise. You’re right, it was the printer toner.

No really, here’s my unboxing of Against the Day, performed surgically on the round table in the Underhill Music Library.

Heck yes.

The goods exposed. If you’re curious, I added James Joyce’s Dubliners as a cheap filler to get free shipping. Thanks SlickFillers! Not a bad filler at all, I’ll probably read it on the flight back home or something.

Amazon’s new packaging method, shrinkwrapping your items against a slab of cardboard. I ordered one CD from them, and they did the same thing, and gave the contraption its own large box. Hey, whatever works, the shipping was free I suppose. I’d love to goto an Amazon warehouse and see the machine that performs this shrinkwrapping, it’s probably the best machine ever, I think it would give me beautiful dreams.

The Book. The Book!!! THE BOOK!!!!!!!!!!! By the way, those are actually drop shadows behind the title, not an artifact of an unstable hand on the camera. I’m not sure I like the shadows too much, plain and simple would’ve done it better for me.

Close-up of that stamp/seal on the cover’s lower-right. It also makes an appearance on the cover page inside. Something tells me that it may be integral to the book’s plot. Or, more likely, not. The plot probably has nothing to do with this seal. Or, more likely, there is no plot. Knowing Pynchon, the dude probably found this at some remote monastery in the Cambodian jungle which used to be the home of the guy who invented gunpowder.

The spine, replete with additional drop shadows and a section of the stamp.

The back. Lookin’ pretty good there, Thomas.

You can’t be serious. How much did this hack get paid?

Book appears to be relatively lengthy. Also, beautiful.

That’s my copy of Against the Day. So what are my thoughts on the book? Haha, you thought I might’ve finished it already? Yeah, lol. I’m not convinced that anyone will actually ever finish this book, sort of like Finnegans Wake or something, except three times longer.

No, but seriously, I’ll probably try and make a dent into it on the flight to Australia next semester, since that’s crossing half the globe latitudinally as well as longitudinally. I’m sure it’ll make me look like an obnoxious and pretentious jerk, which I guess is the only problem. Then again, who else would even try to tackle this thing? I can’t blame anyone for the typecasting, maybe it’s even somewhat accurate. Nonetheless, I’ll have to work through it at some point, and a long flight is as good a time as any.

For now, I got through the first page, and it was basically incredible. Quite a contrast from the stunningly poetic opening page of Gravity’s Rainbow, this one opened with this fun, lightweight scene of dirigible enthusiasts heading off in their airship, en route to Chicago and the World’s Fair. I’m looking forward to seeing how the second page matches up. If I had one complaint about The Crying of Lot 49, it’s that the opening two pages are really boring, so I’m glad that Against the Day has avoided that pitfall. Hopefully its quality will continue to arc upwards. I like how I’m micro-analyzing individual pages of Pynchon novels, but that’s sort of given to you by the writing style.

Before I get to the links, just thought I’d point out that I’ve made some changes to the sidebar links, as I doubt that many of you were interested in reading more about Ornithology in Pennsylvania (sad as that is to me, haha). Not that these are any more interesting, but at least they’re more relevant to what I’m doing with the blog now. Also, on the campus birdlist, I’m now noting updates at the top of that page, so that you can actually tell when stuff happens.

On with the links:

  • New Scientist has asked 70 of the world’s most brilliant scientists to offer their predictions on what the next fifty years have to offer.
  • Various surveys have been conducted over the years, but this Wikipedia article compiles the results to rank the Presidents of the United States. Unsurprisingly, Abraham Lincoln and FDR top the list, but where do Bush and Clinton fall? Or William Henry Harrison? Reading this article reminded me of how much I loved history in high school, what in the world happened?
  • If you’re at the store for holiday shipping, and you want to know if you can find a certain item cheaper online, try Frucall, where you can check online prices from your cellphone. I haven’t tried this yet, but it sounds like a great idea, and others have gotten it to work.
  • Forbes has just published its annual list of the 15 wealthiest fictional characters, and this year, they shook things up by taking Santa off the list! After all, he’s not really fictional, amirite. Witness the aftermath by checking out the list.
  • I’ve never watched CSI: Miami before, but this compilation of hysterical one-liners really makes me want to start, one of the better YouTube videos I’ve seen. The Roger Daltrey scream is what totally makes the video. “You don’t spend $1000 on clothes…that you’re never gonna wear…YEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
  • Equally hilarious is the Nietzsche Family Circus.
  • And finally, the Madagascar Pochard has been rediscovered!
  • Have a great Thanksgiving. Enjoy the turkey turkey.