If I Could Just Get It On Virtual Paper

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Velvet Underground Live MCMXCIII

While The Velvet Underground might not have been a band that was able to boast of much radio airplay or massive album sales, they are nonetheless known as one of the most seminal and influential acts in rock history. Referencing the aforementioned album sales, the comment was occasionally made that though they didn't sell huge numbers of records, almost everyone that owned one was compelled to start their own band and create their own music.

The group didn't stay together terribly long. They started out in 1965 with a demo that never amounted to much but played clubs until one Andy Warhol became their manager. He suggested that the German-born Nico join the group, and Warhol's reputation helped The Velvet Underground gain in stature.

For those unfamiliar with the group, the best-known members are Lou Reed and John Cale, with Sterling Morrison on guitar and Maureen "Mo" Tucker as the innovative percussionist. The band with through several iterations over the years, but essentially came apart for good in 1970 when Reed decided to depart.

Velvet Underground Live MCMXCIII is the result of a reunion tour that took place in 1993. Of course, even this tour didn't last long. Despite plans to tour the U.S. with U2, the band once again broke up before that could happen and this DVD is a remnant of their final time together. In 1995, Morrison would die of cancer, and Reed and Cale would reunite one final time for a concert at their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

As for the DVD itself, it feels simultaneously intimate and huge. The songs performed include Pale Blue Eyes, Sweet Jane, Femme Fatale, Heroin, Hey Mr. Rain, and I'm Sticking With You, where Mo Tucker lends her sweet, almost childlike voice to the lead vocals. The Velvets put on a magnificent show, full of energy and excitement. It's a thrill to watch Cale in all his multi-faceted talent. One minute he's playing the bass guitar, the next he's switched over to keyboards, and then he's playing the Viola.

For aficionados of the band, additional songs include Venus in Furs, White Light/White Heat, Beginning to See the Light, Some Kinda Love, I Heard Her Call My Name, I'll Be Your Mirror, Rock 'n' Roll, I'm Waiting for the Man, and a new song, Coyote. Of all the songs, my particular favorites were Hey Mr. Rain, White Light/White Heat and I'm Waiting for the Man.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

50 Book Challenge

Book #3: Magic for Beginners, by Kelly Link

I'm still completely enamored of this book of short stories even though I finished it a week and a half ago. It's full of fantastical stuff that deals with such subject matter as zombies, haunted houses, witches, cats (or the notion that cats are actually people who have become very comfortable in cat suits), all-night convenience stores, and people who live inside a handbag from whence they emerge only once every several years.

My favorite tale of the bunch was Magic for Beginners itself, a story about characters whose lives revolved around catching their favorite television show - The Library. This show, which has all manner of mysterious and creepy events taking place, is not on any regular network, nor does it appear at any set time. Viewers must constantly search to find the show, where one of the characters is played by a different actress (or actor) each time.

Along with Magic for Beginners, I was also extremely fond of Stone Animals, the haunted house story (though the haunting "infestation" seems to spread to other things) and Hortluk, which follows the adventures of two young men who man the counter of a 24 hour convenience store. They're trying to change the very idea of "retail sales", which includes trying to figure out how best to serve the zombie population that lives in the area.

That's really only scratching the surface, too, as there are numerous entertaining flights of fancy. Link has a talent for fantasy, to be certain.

Friday, January 20, 2006

50 Book Challenge: 2006

Book 2: Birds Without Wings, by Louis de Bernières

After starting off the year in fine fashion by reading Ian McEwan's Atonement, I next moved on to another modern British novelist, Louis de Bernières. Best known for the well-loved novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin, he is a writer with an obvious propensity for vast amounts of research. I can't even begin to imagine how long it might have taken to get the details just so in Birds Without Wings. The story is set in a small Anitolian town called Eskibahçe in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. This small town is unique in that its residents are composed of a wide variety of people - from Greek Christians (who nonetheless speak the Turkish tongue), Muslim Turks and Armenians of both faiths. The cast of characters that inhabit the village is huge, yet each one has a distinct personality and the various stories are easy to follow. As the story moves forward, the reader is also treated to the rise of real-life historical figure Mustafa Kemal (aka Kemal Atatürk), who ultimately established Turkey as a modern, secular nation.

The novel itself is huge, which might make it a daunting prospect for some, but it is such an engrossing, sweeping combination of tales that the time investment is entirely worthwhile. Although there are a multitude of characters to know, it's certain that each reader will find him or herself attached to one or two in particular. For my own part, I was constantly looking forward to more news of Rustem Bey, the Muslim landlord. Early in the book, he does something that his conscience is never able to reconcile, but his search for redemption, happiness and love is consistently engaging and tender.

I've had a passion for modern British novelists since I took two courses on the subject during college (thank you, Dr. Stanley Renner), and authors like McEwan and de Bernières will certainly keep that spark alive.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

50 Book Challenge: 2006

Now that I've finally gone through and wrapped up my 2005 reading journal, it's time to begin 2006. A lot of folks who take up the challenge have upped their goal to 75 this year. I think that's a fairly lofty goal (I have a full-time job, this Web site, and a video game habit to support), so I think I'm going to aim for 52, which is a book per week. I'll keep the 75 ideal in the back of my mind, though…just in case.

Thus far in 2006, I've gotten through three books and am well into the fourth. I'll spend the next couple of days reviewing the ones I've read to date, and then I'll be ready to stay on track with regular updates for the remainder of the year.

Book One: Atonement, by Ian McEwan

After reading McEwan's Enduring Love, a book which I consider practically perfect in every way, I decided that he was an Author Whose Work I Wanted To Read. Since I have a long-term list of books that I try to get through, it took awhile before I got to a second book by him (though Saturday is coming up quickly in the queue). Atonement is even better than Enduring Love and is a book that definitely qualifies for the "I'm keeping this to read again" shelf. McEwan is simply a marvel at utilizing language. There are times when I read his sentences and despair of ever being able to write something so elegant, so masterful, so wonderful in my entire life. There are times when he enters the human mind - whether it be a 13-year-old girl or a 20-something young soldier - that make me wonder how he can have such depth of experience that he is able to describe scenes and emotions in such vivid detail. The story is a complex tapestry, but can be broken down to a simple description: it details the devastating consequences that come about as the result of a young girl's lie. The story begins in the early part of the century, right as Britain is about to enter World War I, and goes all the way through to present day, where the impact of the girl's "crime" still resonates.

For fantastic reading, it was an ideal way to start the year.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

2005 50 Book Challenge Wrap-Up

I never finished posting on all the books I read for the 2005 50 Book Challenge, and since I'm already underway on my reading for the 2006 version, it seemed a good time to tie up the loose ends so that I can move on into the new year, which is now a mere 11 days old.

61. Epileptic, by David B.
This graphic novel is emotional, turbulent and engrossing. It's also fairly lengthy, especially given the detailed artwork that accompanies the tale. Epileptic is the story of David B.'s childhood and family life, particularly as it pertains to his brother's epilepsy. The family attempts many different types of cures, from medical treatments to pychiatric hospitals to holistic efforts, but none of them have a long-lasting effect. And the author, as a youth, doesn't always understand the need for his brother to take away all the attention. It's a remarkable, unique memoir.

62. Batman: Year One, by Frank Miller
This isn't the first time I've read this particular comic book. It's one that I find myself returning to again and again. The artwork is so masterful and the story, as told both from the viewpoint of Commissioner Gordon and Batman himself, is gritty and tough. Recently, Frank Miller has made a return to the Batman canon with the All-Star Batman and Robin series, which has left many critics unhappy. Perhaps it's a bit unfair to compare it to such seminal stuff as Year One and The Dark Knight Returns, though.

63. Maus I: My Father Bleeds History, by Art Spiegelman
Continuing the graphic novel kick for the year's end, I picked up this book that I'd long been intending to read. It's a depiction of the persecution of Jews at the hands of the Nazis during World War II, and it can be very tough to read. The artist draws the Jews as mice, while the Nazis are cats. (There are also some pigs and other assorted animals scattered throughout the tale.) You'd think that using animals to tell the story would dilute it somewhat, but that's not the case at all.

64. Maus II: And Here My Troubles Begin, by Art Spiegelman
A continuation of the first book, written several years later. Spiegelman found himself so affected by various events, including his father's own death, that it was ultimately difficult to continue. Book II is every bit as traumatizing as the first, but a well-told story that I would particularly recommend to teenagers learning the history of the Holocaust.

65. Dragonlance Chronicles: Dragons of Autumn Twilight
I do enjoy books of the fantasy genre a great deal, and people who love similar stuff seem to universally recommend the Dragonlance series - with my husband being one of them. I found the first book of the group to be a fun read, and particularly liked the slow development of the dark mage character, Raistlin. I think the stories would make for outstanding video games in the RPG arena, to be honest (and realize that there are non-video games centered on the subject matter already).

66. I Am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe
I wish I had written my thoughts on this book as I was reading it, because I've lost a lot of the closeness to it that made me genuinely angry. It's a vile book that uses stereotypes for characters and is groan-inducing at almost every turn. The title character is a sweet, brilliant girl from the mountains of North Carolina, where her poor family resides. It's unimaginable that *anyone* from such humble trappings could ever be smart enough to earn a scholarship to an Ivy League-type school, and yet she overcomes! How wonderful! Trouble is, when she arrives at the school, people treat her terribly due to her insufficient circumstances.

Now, I attended college some years ago and I didn't go to an Ivy League school, but I cannot imagine real-life people acting in any way close to the characters in this novel. It's a soap opera, pure and simple. If you can enjoy it on that level and try to forget that Wolfe was once a lauded writer whose books were cause for great anticipation, it's adequate. If you're looking for something insightful, however, avoid it at all costs. You'll be rolling your eyes every third paragraph, I guarantee. And considering that the book is a massive 688 pages, that makes for some tired eyes indeed.

67. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer
Just as I wish I had expressed my ire during the reading of Charlotte Simmons, I similarly am sad that I didn't discuss my admiration for this young adult novel soon after I finished reading it. Set in the Pacific Northwest, the story centers on a high school student named Isabella who moves to the area to live with her father in a sort of self-imposed exile. She soon meets a mysterious young man named Edward, who makes her swoon even though he seems to have an inexplicable hatred for her. She soon realizes that she's misinterpreting his emotions, and also that his family harbors a deep secret. For anyone who ever loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer when it was good, this is a definite must-read.

68. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
What a dark vision of Batman this is. I'm not a particular fan of the "Robin" character here, but the story is solid and the Joker is horrific. So is Batman, in many ways.

69. Tsotsi, by Athol Fugard
Set in South Africa, this book is the story of a young street thug (tsotsi literally means "thug") who undergoes a crisis of conscience that causes him to change. The book can be very difficult to stomach at times - realizing that people lived in appalling conditions and had to resort to desperate means makes me feel very fortunate to have been brought up in the country where I live. Tsotsi is not a particularly likeable character, even when he undergoes his change. I'm looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation, which received raves at the Toronto Film Festival, to see if I feel differently about the whole thing.



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