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If I Could Just Get It On Virtual Paper

Monday, October 31, 2005

Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance

So far in 2005, my video game playing has been fairly slack. There haven't been a lot of games to capture my attention. Earlier this year, I played Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, and like the first Fire Emblem for the Gameboy, I really enjoyed it. The RPG/strategy games are among my favorite (with Final Fantasy Tactics Advance being probably my most-loved game of all). Fire Emblem is no exception, so I was pretty excited when plans were revealed to do a version of the game for the GameCube - my console of choice. I spent the weekend with the game, enjoying it so much that I'm already pretty much at the halfway point.

It's not going to be a game for everyone. There's a *lot* of battle, which is really what these games are all about. The story is almost secondary to the tactical strategies that you must develop. For the most part, the story is revealed via scrolling conversation, which admittedly can get a bit tedious. The cut scenes, though, are gorgeous (even if they're way too few and far between). The graphics are terrific, too. Really, for anyone who's been a big fan of the tactical-style games, I can recommend this one without hesitation. It very much lives up to the quality of the past entries in the Fire Emblem series.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

NFL Picks:

New York Giants vs. Washington:
New York Giants

Cincinnati vs. Green Bay:
Cincinnati

Dallas vs. Arizona:
Dallas

Carolina vs. Minnesota:
Carolina

Houston vs. Cleveland:
Houston

Detroit vs. Chicago:
Chicago

Oakland vs. Tennessee:
Tennessee

Jacksonville vs. St. Louis:
Jacksonville

San Diego vs. Kansas City:
San Diego

New Orleans vs. Miami:
New Orleans

Tampa Bay vs. San Francisco:
Tampa Bay

Denver vs. Philadelphia:
Denver

New England vs. Buffalo:
New England

Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore:
Pittsburgh

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Book 60: The Angel of Forgetfulness, by Steve Stern

This book was the fall reading pick for the Litblog Co-Op. The book is told in three separate narratives that ultimately find themselves to be quite connected. The first story is that of Saul, tracing his hippy existence in the late '60s and early '70s up to his solitary life of the present day. Nathan's story goes a little further back, as he's a Jewish emigrant living in New York City around 1910. And finally, we have Mocky, an angel who chose to leave his heavenly existence to enjoy a relationship with a woman. We switch between these characters as we see various slices of their tales.

I really enjoyed the first portion of the book and the final section. It was the 200 pages or so in the middle that gave me some trouble. After getting thoroughly attached to the characters early on, both Saul and Nathan find themselves hitting hard times, and this part of the story was exceptionally difficult to read and dragged as far as tempo. I can't wholeheartedly recommend the book for this reason, but am intrigued and engaged by Stern as an author in general.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Someone's at the door

Today is a great day. Why, you ask? The simple answer is that American Gothic, a show you probably never heard of, is released as an outstanding DVD package today. The show aired on CBS way back when (1995), and much like any number of Fox programs, CBS simply didn't know what to do with this one. It was sinister and extraordinarily dark, willing to take its characters to places that few shows would even consider. The show's centerpiece was Gary Cole, whose is-he-or-isn't-he-Satan performance was by turns funny, insidious and over-the-top in a good way. Of course, he couldn't have pulled it off without the off-setting counterpoint of Lucas Black, a young man who has grown up into a fine performer in films like Friday Night Lights. Sarah Paulson, another particular favorite of mine, is here as well, as this show was really her breakout performance that got her some notice.

The show was created by Shaun Cassidy, a fact that was made much of at the time it began airing - primarily because few people could believe that a former teen idol could go so far over to the dark side. Executive producers of the series were Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, which goes a long way toward explaining why I gave it a chance in the first place. If you haven't seen it, at least rent it. You won't regret it.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Book 59: An Unfinished Season, by Ward Just

This book takes place on the North Shore of Chicago in the years following World War II. It's a time when union workers rise up against their employers to the point that things can get ugly, and also a period in history when Communists were actively sought for their treason to this country. In the midst of this is our protagonist, a young man who is just about to enter college, and the summer before he does so is filled with debutante balls and parties. His father's business is one of those affected by union strikes, which brings violence into the home. Once that situation settles, our young hero meets the girl of his dreams and becomes fascinated by her mysterious father - a situation that glides along easily until tragedy strikes.

I particularly enjoyed the setting of the book, as I grew up in Illinois myself and can readily identify with the propensity to find cornfields and flat horizons pretty. The story was a little bit stark and bleak for my liking, but that's just personal preference, really. I liked Just's writing style, and would be interested in trying some more of his works.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

NFL Picks:

As David mentioned on his blog earlier on Friday, we both picked Kansas City over Miami. Whoo! Now, on to the rest.

St. Louis vs. New Orleans:
New Orleans

Philadelphia vs. San Diego:
Philadelphia

Washington vs. San Francisco:
Washington

Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh:
Cincinnati

Indianapolis vs. Houston:
Indianapolis

Cleveland vs. Detroit:
Detroit

Seattle vs. Dallas:
Seattle

Oakland vs. Buffalo:
Buffalo

New York Giants vs. Denver:
Denver

Arizona vs. Tennessee:
Arizona

Chicago vs. Baltimore:
Chicago

Atlanta vs. New York Jets:
Atlanta

Friday, October 21, 2005

Book 58: The Third Policeman, by Flann O'Brien

I first became intrigued by this 1967 novel when it was mentioned in some articles as a book that would supposedly be "prominently featured" on the television show Lost. When I read more about the book and saw that it is published by Dalkey Archive Press, an indie publisher that is housed at my alma mater, I immediately became even more interested. Dalkey is rather famous for books that are experimental and unusual in nature, and honestly, I'm a little disappointed that it took a TV show to introduce me to the author. His work is right up my alley.

It's practically impossible to describe The Third Policeman without giving away pretty major plot details. Unfortunately, stories about the book, a blurb on the cover and an introduction also give away its secrets, so if you do happen to pick it up and want to be truly surprised on the final page, don't read any of those. With that said, knowing the book's surprise took absolutely nothing away from my enjoyment of it. It's an absurd and hilarious story that is so engaging that I'm already wanting to read other works by O'Brien. In fact, I give the book a rare A+.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Book 57: How to Eat Fried Worms, by Thomas Rockwell

I hadn't read this kids' book since, well, I was a kid. Now that Walden Media has a film adaptation in the pipeline, I thought it was a good time to re-familiarize myself with the material, which I remembered fondly. I was happy to see that it holds up extremely well. It's still hilarious, icky and perfect reading for youngsters. And with the way the book is structured, it does lend itself quite naturally to movie format. I'm honestly a little surprised that no one thought to film the story prior to this point. It's really a simple little plot - a boy bets one of his friends that he can eat a certain number of earthworms for a certain amount of cash. He and a friend (and his family) come up with different ways of preparing the creatures so that they are palatable. And as our young hero gets closer to his goal, his nemesis, worried about what his father will say if he finds out about the bet, devises ever more ingenious ways to thwart him. It's a boy story to be sure, and it'll sure be difficult to mess up.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Book 56: Flush, by Carl Hiaasen

September was a great month for book released by my favorite contemporary authors. As I mentioned a few posts ago, Neil Gaiman had Anansi Boys, and Carl Hiaasen also returned with his second kids' book. Flush, his second book for the pre-teen/teen set after Hoot, is likewise centered on a kid with a mission. Where Hoot's focus was the preservation of tiny, endangered owls, Flush also has the environment as its primary concern. This time around, a casino owner in the Florida Keys appears to be "flushing" the waste from his boat directly into the water to save money on legal disposal. This waste winds up floating to one of the local beaches - one of the few truly nice ones in the Keys. Not only is the practice disgusting, but it has the potential to make kids and the sea turtles who live in the waters to become quite ill. After our young hero's father is arrested for sinking the boat (it is quickly raised and back in business), things take off. The book is funny as always, and perhaps a bit more prone to the scatalogical than I might like, but I'm obviously in the minority on those sorts of things anyway. There's even a Skink-like character (if you've read Hiaasen's adult books, you know who I'm talking about), which made me consider how much I would enjoy it if Hiaasen would bring Skink into the kid-inhabited world.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Book 55: The curious incident of the dog in the night-time, by Mark Haddon

This charming novel is the most unique of mystery books. It's told from the perspective of an autistic teenage boy, and gives the reader intriguing insight into the way the mind works. All of the characters in the book are incredibly human, and I can't say that the book is positively uplifting. Instead, it's presented in a very matter-of-fact manner, showing our young protagonist as he works through his questions, problems and personal preferences in a way that is very distinct from what we're typically used to seeing. The author has spent a significant amount of time working with autistic children, and I appreciated his attempt to present the tale from that singular viewpoint. Highly, highly recommended.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Book 54: Fateless, by Imre Kertész

This book by the Hungarian Nobel Prize winner is no easy read. The story is semi-autobiographical, as the author himself spent some time in various concentration camps during World War II. The novel begins with a young man's eyes-wide-open observations of his father's departure for a labor camp. After his father leaves, the teenager is allowed to cross city boundary lines in order to work in a local factory. Before long, though, he and the boys with whom he works are taken aside and themselves loaded on the trains that are transporting numbers of Jews to the concentration camps.

Once he arrives, our narrator describes the conditions with a frankness that can be disturbing. Even so, the main character has an odd optimism and acceptance of what is occurring around him even as he is seeing death, illness and abuse. When he returns home to Hungary, the situation isn't necessarily an improvement in his eyes. Look for a movie adaptation of the book to be released in theaters in 2006.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Week Six NFL Picks:

Pittsburgh/Jacksonville:
Pittsburgh

Chicago/Minnesota:
Chicago

Tampa Bay/Miami:
Tampa Bay

Dallas/New York Giants:
New York Giants

Baltimore/Cleveland:
Cleveland

Detroit/Carolina:
Carolina

Cincinatti/Tennessee:
Cincinnati

Kansas City/Washington:
Kansas City

Atlanta/New Orleans:
Atlanta

Buffalo/New York Jets:
Buffalo

Denver/New England:
Denver

San Diego/Oakland:
San Diego

Seattle/Houston:
Seattle

Indianapolis/St. Louis:
Indianapolis

Friday, October 14, 2005

Book 53: Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman

Anyone who has read this space for any period of time should be fully aware that Neil Gaiman is one of my four or five favorite authors working today. September was quite a month for him, as his new book was released and MirrorMask, the movie for which he wrote the screenplay, hit theaters all in the same week. While MirrorMask's numbers have been a little slight (sadly), his new novel Anansi Boys was number one on the New York Times best seller list - a first for Gaiman.

And the book is incredibly enjoyable, right in line with the great stuff he's written in the past. It's sort of a follow-up to his previous novel, American Gods, though it stands on its own with no trouble. It's set amidst the mythology of Anansi, the spider trickster god, which makes for plenty of laugh out loud moments and some high adventure as well. The characterization in the book is really sublime, with central character Fat Charlie being someone I'll remember and cherish for a long time to come. I particularly enjoyed the raucous, almost celebratory nature of the novel, and as always, look forward to what Gaiman does next.

Also, I should point out this terrific interview with Gaiman and Susanna Clarke, who wrote the outstanding Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. The two are great friends, with Gaiman being the person who helped Clarke's novel along to the publisher. It's a fun read about the fairy tales and mythologies of England, as well as an engaging look into the creative process.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Book 52: The Finishing School, by Muriel Spark

This slim little novel brilliantly examines the sorts of jealousies that occur between creative sorts. The book is set, as the title suggests, at a European school. It is managed/owned/maintained by a husband-wife team who basically accept just enough students to stay in business. The husband handles the teaching of creative writing, while the wife is more or less responsible for…everything else. When one of the husband's writing students emerges as a potential talent with a book in progress and the potential for a deal with a publisher, the school's headmaster becomes almost insane with envy. His behavior begins to tend toward the self-destructive - so much so that it begins to cause problems with his wife and some of the students. The book's ending, while not a real surprise, is a nice, tidy little bit of resolution. Spark has a gift with words and is able to impart a surprising amount in a book that is so brief. It's particularly relevant for anyone who has ever felt themselves to be in competition with other artistic individuals.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

2005 National Book Award Nominees

Fiction
The March, E.L. Doctorow
Veronica, Mary Gaitskill
Trance, Christopher Sorrentino
Holy Skirts, Rene Steinke
Europe Central, William T. Vollman


Non-Fiction
Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion, Alan Burdick
Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius, Leo Damrosch
The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers, Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn
Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves, Adam Hochschild


Poetry
Where Shall I Wander, John Ashbery
Star Dust: Poems, Frank Bidart
Habitat: New and Selected Poems, 1965-2005, Brendan Galvin
Migration: New and Selected Poems, W.S. Merwin
The Moment’s Equation, Vern Rutsala


Young People's Literature
The Penderwicks, Jeanne Birdsall
Where I Want to Be, Adele Griffin
Inexcusable, Chris Lynch
Autobiography of My Dead Brother, Walter Dean Myers
Each Little Bird That Sings, Deborah Wiles

Book 51: The 9/11 Commission Report

A long, long, long time ago, I made a deal with myself that I would read all of the nominees for the 2004 National Book Award (with the exception of the poetry books - I'm fairly picky when it comes to what poets I choose to read). Well, today brings the announcement of the 2005 nominees - and also the day that I finished my final book of last year's reading assignment. I had put off The 9/11 Commission Report for awhile, actually, worrying that it would just be too difficult to take. And in a lot of ways, it was a rough read, but since I spread it out over a couple of months (always reading other books at the same time), it was better than it might have been. With all that said, I don't plan to try to read all the nominees again this year. Unfortunately, the fiction selections weren't to my taste for the most part (though I loved Christine Schutt's Florida) and I just prefer novels to non-fiction in general (though all of the non-fiction titles nominated in 2004 were quite compelling). I'm looking forward to seeing if this year's nominees can come anywhere close to raising the controversy that last year's did.

Monday, October 10, 2005

2005 Man Booker Prize announced

In a bit of an upset (at least in literary circles), John Banville's The Sea was named the winner of the 2005 Man Booker Prize. Julian Barnes's Arthur & George had been the odds-on favorite, and I was kind of thinking it might be Kazuo Ishiguro for Never Let Me Go. Anyway, they missed out on Cloud Atlas last year, so draw your own conclusions.

Book 50: Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville

I'd just like to note before I start that with my completion of this novel, I officially reached my goal of 50 books read in 2005. I'd say that I'll try to increase that number for 2006, but I'll wait until the new year rolls around to re-evaluate.

I became intrigued by China Miéville as an author when I read an interview with him in The Believer magazine. As he talked about the fantasy worlds he has created in his various novels, I found myself ridiculously excited to read his second novel, Perdido Street Station. Many aficionados of the fantasy genre have noted that this book is singular in its creation of a dystopia that is chock-full of monsters and unique races, but also brimming with intelligence. And indeed, even though I actually finished Perdido Street Station a few weeks ago, it's still on my mind. The characters that populate the book are so thoughtfully designed that it's hard not to become attached. Frankly, I'm a little disappointed that Miéville's follow-up, The Scar, doesn't continue their story (though it is set in the same world - New Crobuzon). That's probably not fair, though, because given the book's length and detail, he did an outstanding job of vividly covering all of the various lives involved in the story.

The most compelling thing I can say about the book is that the story's monsters are perhaps the most fascinating characters in the tale. They are subtly introduced into the story as what seems to be a tertiary side-plot, but I found that as other portions of the storyline were unfolding, I kept wondering what was happening with these…beings. And in the end, I was thrilled with the direction Miéville took them. I absolutely recommend Perdido Street Station to readers who enjoy their fantasy *extremely* dark and hyper-smart.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Book 49 - Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell

This book has been all the rage on the non-fiction bestseller list throughout the year. Malcolm Gladwell broke through a couple of years back with The Tipping Point, and this follow-up examines how frequently it is that first impressions tend to stick with us - and oftentimes, they're correct. There are a lot of pretty interesting discussion topics, and the book is never boring for a minute. With that said, I don't completely buy into the premise, but I do think there's some value in having awareness of the ways our consciousness works.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Naruto

I've mentioned this show before in my blog, but now that it's officially playing on The Cartoon Network, I wanted to elaborate some more. The show is, at its very essence, about teenagers who are training to be ninjas. Naruto is the central character, obviously, but he's also on a squad with a brilliant up-and-comer named Sasuke and an intelligent girl called Sakura. The trio is led by Kakashi, who is their teacher and guide. The story starts out fairly goofy and silly (and I'd forgotten about that as I've actually seen a couple of seasons and the tone definitely sees a shift from the first few episodes to the middle of the first season, where things take a turn for the dark). Although you will have missed a few episodes, it's only just now getting down to the really good stuff. The kids are about to set out on their first mission, and it is a lot more interesting than it appears on the surface. The show is exceptionally written, and once season two rolls around you'll find yourself emotionally invested in what happens to these kids - and potentially worried to death that one of them might be headed down a path of evil.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

NFL Picks for the week of October 2nd

Tampa Bay/Detroit:
Tampa Bay

Washington/Seattle:
Seattle

Cincinnati/Houston:
Cincinnati

Jacksonville/Denver:
Jacksonville

Indianapolis/Tennessee:
Indianapolis

New England/San Diego:
New England

Buffalo/New Orleans:
New Orleans

New York Giants/St. Louis:
New York Giants

Baltimore/New York Jets:
Baltimore

Atlanta/Minnesota:
Atlanta

Kansas City/Philadelphia:
Kansas City

Oakland/Dallas:
Dallas

Arizona/San Francisco:
Arizona

Carolina/Green Bay:
Carolina


 
     


 
 

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