Friday, October 15, 2004

Chang-Rae Lee

I know it's a little early for another book, as I just dropped one on you a few days ago. Sorry. I spent the whole day wine tasting yesterday and didn't really have time to think of what I'd like to talk about in this space. If you want to read about my wine tasting experience, go here.

Going forward, Chang-Rae Lee is a special author. He's new, too, which puts this blog right on the cutting edge. Chang-Rae is a Korean-American author who, until recently, had written a couple of books about the Korean-American experience. He's fairly young, and judging by his latest work, daring.

The first book of his I read was Native Speaker, which details the plight of Henry Park, an unassuming detective who is as aloof in his private life as he is at work. His co-workers are a conglomerate of immigrant/nationals who get into the private lives of supposedly dangerous people to gain some shred of evidence that can be used against them. His life has gone terribly wrong thanks to the accidental death of his son. The book travels back and forth between work and life, using both to expound upon and remedy his deficiencies. If you're looking for a "plot" book, go somewhere else. The ultimate point of this book is to lay bare ideas about loneliness, love, and language...not to surprise you with some shocking conclusion. The surprises and plot elements exist, but I hope that's not all you get out of it.

I liked Native Speaker so much, I went ahead and read Aloft, a book about a white guy. That's where I have to start out, because on the surface it's awkward. I read his first book with the understanding that I was listening to a Korean-American narrator. That was some of its charm. For Lee to cross over and become an American narrator was a very difficult task, one that I think achieved some mixed results. The story is fabulous, and the white guy, Jerry, was married to a Korean-American woman. Again, the story is not so dependent on the outcome as the way it gets there, which is very nice. Jerry Battle is, like Henry Park, aloof and detached from everyone in his private life. He must come to terms with all of this and reconcile himself to his life. By the time I'd read for a little while, I was no longer concerned with the lack of an authentic Long Island voice because the story took over.

That's a very quick synopsis of two books by Chang-Rae. The third book, A Gesture Life, I haven't gotten to yet. Chang-Rae Lee is definitely worth your time and reads very easily. 'Til next time...


Wednesday, October 13, 2004


Now presenting...the greatest rock band you've never heard of. My friend introduced me to these guys around 2 years ago. This is a guy who once told me that maybe he didn't so much like music as "misery, in a song." Fair enough, talking about Elbow, if you're simply looking for radio pop. Please, if you can't deal with melancholy, stop right here and go buy the second Coldplay CD. Those guys try REAL hard.

Elbow is fantastic. Brilliant. Unfortunately, their website is not. If you want to listen to clips from their latest album, go here. Elbow's first album, Asleep in the Back, was basically a greatest hits of their first 10 years as a band. They spent plenty of time refining their craft and compiled a great group of songs...but if you've ever listened to a greatest hits CD, you know they often come off a little disjointed. Coming around for a second dose thanks to the wonderful (and fairly underground in the U.S.) reception to their first album, Elbow has produced an absolute masterpiece.

The first track, Ribcage, is an excellent song...until the chorus chimes in with

And then the sunshine
Throwin' me a lifeline
Finds its way into my room
All I need is you
...then the song takes it to another level, one that we may not have descriptors for yet. At this precise moment, you should know that you are experiencing greatness. The album doesn't let down from there. The songs were written in a "pressure cooker", so they have a coherency and unity unlike the first album, yet each song retains its own uniqueness. There's not a "skip over me" song anywhere in sight.
Guy Garvey is sufficiently disinterested in bringing the listener any particular highs with his vocals. He's more than content to hold you in his world, in which he reacts maturely to real life disappointments and finds a way to get up and put his pants on, one leg at a time, the next day. The rest of the band is full of the same sort of business, with the exception of the occasional full-band instrumental version of a scream, which defies logic but grows on you after about the 10th listen. The variety of background instrumentation is excellent and worthy of your attention, meaning you have to sit down with this CD in a quiet room or on headphones.
John Cusack always talked about his "desert island top-5" records in High Fidelity. This album is a different kind of desert island CD. If you're stuck on a desert island, at least it will keep you from going crazy while you're waiting to die. In a lot of ways, these guys are waiting right there with you, but they don't let it get to them. Do whatever you can to get this CD. The next time you're in a lousy situation, spend it with the guys from Elbow. They'll go get a pint with you and help you forget about your troubles.
~MTB Posted by Hello

Tuesday, October 12, 2004


Shaun of the Dead is, for a moment, my favorite movie. I'm not even letting other movies hang around this movie right now. It's that good. It may not be good in the Hollywood comedy or Hollywood horror sense, but it has all of those elements and will easily become one of the greatest cult movies of all time. If you don't like cult movies, get into them. More importantly, stop going to see anything put out by Hollywood. If there's a Hollywood movie you really want to see, whether it be mindless action, a stupid comedy with too many crude jokes, a chick flick, or a cookie-cutter suspense movie, you can rent it. It's not worth paying $8 or more to walk out of a movie and say, "I thought it was good. There was this one part..." Use your money wisely. See Shaun of the Dead in theaters.

The plot of the movie goes something like this: Shaun is 29 and a college graduate working at the London equivalent of Radio Shack. He hangs out with his incredibly lazy roommate Ed and also lives with a corporate ladder-climber named Pete. He has a girlfriend, Liz, who hates the fact that all he ever wants to do is go to the Winchester for a pint. Liz dumps him and Pete turns into a zombie. Heck, pretty much everyone turns into a zombie, which is no big deal because the first 15 minutes or so of the movie are dedicated to showing how zombie-like everyday life is. Shaun and Ed think the first few zombies they see are actually just drunks...until the zombies try to eat them. They proceed to try to kill them with Shaun's record collection, which a) doesn't work and b) destroys some pretty choice records of Shaun's. Eventually, they settle on some blunt objects from the shed. They then make a plan to go outside (against the news anchor's warnings) and save his now-ex-girlfriend and his mum from the zombies and hole up in the Winchester and have a few drinks 'til the whole thing blows over. Great plan, right?

Sorry, it's been over a week since I saw the movie. I don't even remember offhand what moments sent me into pound-the-seat fits of laughter and made my girlfriend snort. The movie doesn't stop at zombie comedy, however, as it gets real serious at the end when Shaun and his band have to kill the zombies of people they knew and loved. The movie has everything. Action, suspense, humor, sorrow...if you don't get it, I feel bad for you, because "The Emperor has already won." Fifteen and a half stars, based on the movies the Hollywood critics give the Hollywood films that they're paid to advertise. Have a nice day, and remember, they can be stopped "by either removing the head or destroying the brain."

Rotten Tomatoes Shaun of the Dead site.

~MTB Posted by Hello

Monday, October 11, 2004

Brave New World

It's neither obscure nor new, rather, it is a classic of a strange sort. I would not waste my time talking about something that everyone has already read, except that it appears that almost no one has read it.

Everyone, and I mean everyone read 1984 by George Orwell in school, which was a great piece to brainwash kids about the ills of Communism in an era in which it was very abusive and dangerous as a military enemy. Not nearly as many people are familiar with the book Brave New World, which is understandable due to the way in which sex is talked about in the book. It's a little closer to our society's methods than those of Huxley's world, where sex is primarily recreation instead of procreation. I don't really agree with this, and I don't think Huxley does either. Kids don't really need to read this, but if you're an adult, you can't really afford not to.

Brave New World is a story about a society that embraces free love, a drug that is both psychiatric and recreational with no side effects, and uses its technology to prevent people from aging. Sound good? It's not. The people are deprived of that which defines life, which is sadness, pain, anger, suffering, and with them joy, excitement, love, and all the other positive emotions that come as a result of having the negative ones. The sad thing is, our society is not too far from this one. Time and time again, I find myself responding to some lament someone has about society with "It's a Brave New World, bub." Orwell's book was okay, but not too telling of the future save for maybe the Patriot Act. Brave New World gives us all manner of insight into the positive reinforcement method for making everyone stupid and subservient. If you have any questions about its relevance, just look at the Hillary Duff phenomenon. Kids are being trained at a young age to think that bad is good. YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK OR YOU WILL BECOME LIKE ITS PEOPLE!

I'm not writing reviews here, just telling you what entertainment you need to waste your time on. I'm not too pleased with this one, but I'm devoted to putting something new up here every day. Soon enough, I might have a post up here that sufficiently describes the work. Until then, take my word for it.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

The World Series of Poker

I never expected television would be the first corner of popular culture you'd see here. From June '02 thru May '04, I lived on my own and didn't pay for cable. I've been back in my parents' house for a couple of months now, supposedly to save money although I keep finding ways to lose that which I save. They have cable. Here we go.

The World Series of Poker is today's pick because of its educational value. If you've ever played cards before, you can learn not only the rules, but also some of the nuance involved in Texas Hold 'Em. Heck, after watching a few shows, I even understood Omaha Hold 'Em, which is a little trickier. Poker is an excellent game that requires you not only to calculate your odds on the fly and judge the practicality of your wagers, but also to read your opponents' faces and moves for signs that they either have a scary hand or an empty one.

The cast of characters is great. There's a guy nicknamed Jesus with sunglasses, long hair, and a cowboy hat. You can also find a dude whose last name is Moneymaker. Whether that's his real name, I don't know. A lot of foreign players make appearances, too, which adds to the intrigue as players need to learn to read reactions across cultures.

You can learn a lot from TV. You just need to know how to look. I learned the dating essentials through television and the movies a lot more than I learned by doing. When my mom's video camera was still working, I learned a lot about my golf swing by having someone film me. I don't even have to start talking about The History Channel here. Take caution, however, and don't watch TV any more than you have to. About the only thing worse for you is sitting in front of your computer writing meaningless reviews of semi-obscure pop cultural phenomena that no one will ever read anyway. By the way, I took second out of 8 in my first ever (5.5 hr long) game of Texas Hold 'Em tonight. Not bad, eh?

Interested in playing? Tournament Info

Good night, world.