Sunday, December 31, 2006

Eye Candy










Books

I'd like to take a moment to talk about science fiction. It can be fun! It is not, however, to be read all the time. This is the domain of nerds. Here's a few very enjoyable sci-fi reads. Just get out of the sci-fi section once in a while. I like to visit "Transportation". Lots of hot dudes looking at car books there.
Anyhoo, if you're new to the site, here's how the rating system works. It's based on how tough a read, not how good the book is. The books are all good.

* <-----------> ** <-----------> *** <-----------> **** <----------> *****
Easy - - Pretty Easy - - Moderate - - Pretty Challenging - - Challenging

Wild Cards 1: Ace In the Hole, edited by Robert R.R. Martin
$4.95 at Bn.com ISBN: 0743423801
*** (moderate)
A virus unleashed over the planet gives some people super powers, but makes other people into hideous monsters. These are their stories. It's all so fascinating: one fellow changes every time he falls asleep. Another makes a living selling out other mutants. My favorite story was the first: in which the hero, Jet Boy, tries to save the planet and dies in the attempt. His last words, "I can't die yet, I still haven't seen The Jolson Story." This book is an anthology, a collection of short stories
by different authors. Usually a bad idea, in my experience, but this book was a blast!
Daughter of Regals and Other Tales, by Stephen R. Donaldson
$6.99 at Bn.com ISBN: 0345314433
*** (moderate)
Stephen Donaldson is best known for his Chronicles of
the Unbeliever, in which the hero is a leper who finds himself in the sort of bizarre fantasy world you might find in Lord of the Rings. Sound awful? It's not! It was actually a really good series, and I may write about it someday. For now, this is a collection of his short stories. My favorite involves a police officer in the future who investigates a hunting club where people hunt armed, mutant animals. In another, a man gradually changes into a unicorn. You're sure to find at least a couple stories you really enjoy, and I promise you'll never forget it.
Ender's Game
, by Orson Scott Card
$6.99 at Bn.com ISBN: 0812550706
** (pretty easy)
Set in a bleak future, Ender is a child trained to kill as humanity fights a war on alien "Buggers". The fact that the hero and most of the other characters are young children gives this whole novel a very weird vibe. Imagine Lord of the Flies played out on a spaceship fleet. This has been a cult-classic turned real classic over the past 25 years. Many school districts have started including it on summer reading lists because it's just so enjoyable. You'll never find a main character you'll route for more. The whole thing is exciting and the ending is satisfying.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Eye Candy










Books

Here's a little light reading. I used sports as a theme, but they're all also pretty easy reads. Dig in!

* <-----------> ** <-----------> *** <-----------> **** <----------> *****
Easy - - Pretty Easy - - Moderate - - Pretty Challenging - - Challenging

Stotan!, by Chris Crutcher
$6.99 at Bn.com ISBN: 0060094923
* (easy)
Four boys from their high school swim team spend a week testing their physical and emotional limits at sports camp. Against this backdrop, our heroes deal with issues like an abusive father and a band of racist neo-Nazis. The issues the
book deals with are kind of deep, but the athletic competition and sometimes jokey style keep it light and fun. This book is from the "Young Adult" section, although I'm in my early 30s and enjoyed it immensely. Coming-of-age with boyhood friends, sexuality, loyalty and love all intertwine beautifully in the locker room and in life. And in case you're wondering, a Stotan is a cross between a Stoic and a Spartan: a serious, feel no pain dude who works through the pain and doesn't whine about it. The world could use more guys like this.
Friday Night Lights, by H. G. Bissinger
$14.35 at Bn.com ISBN: 0306809907
** (pretty easy)
Set in a high school in Western Texas where the whole town takes football way too seriously. Good sportsmanship starts to eclipse education in the school system, and creates nothing but heartache for the all-American teenagers who just want to play some ball and maybe get some money for college. The characters could all be
people from your own neighborhood, and Bissinger writes conflict with impressive urgency. It's an old story: when does commitment to excellence become mania? How serious is too serious? It's just a game, after all.
Moneyball, by Michael Lewis
$19.96 at Bn.com ISBN: 0393057658
*** (moderate)
Professional sports have been under a lot of heat lately, and rightly so: multi-million dollar salaries and performance enhancing drugs have replaced the ideals of athletic excellence. Plus the players often (not always) seem like such a**holes. So how does one succeed in a game filled with cheats where money gets you everything? How can you hope to win a game without steroids when every other player in the game uses them? We may never be able to return to the golden age of professional sports personified by the '55 Dodgers, but Lewis proposes that there are limits to what teams can do to win the game. It's an intriguing question: what to do when everyone seems to be cheating but you.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Eye Candy




Music

Hopefully everyone had a nice holiday. Here's a few ideas in case you got a Bn.com or iTunes gift card.
Sam's Town, by the Killers
$12.58 at Bn.com UPC: 602517026759
Pop is so hot these days, it's nice to know that there's still a place for hard rock on the New Releases table. This band from Las Vegas made a hit in 2004 with its last album Hot Fuss. Has being famous changed them? Reviews have been mixed, but I think Sam's Town is awesome. It comes on hard, should be
played loud, and won't get old after you listen to it a few times. Most songs start with a wicked electric guitar and drum solo. When We Were Young is awesome (the one on the radio right now about how he doesn't look a bit like Jesus), but this is no one-hit wonder.
Under the Iron Sea, by Keane
$11.18 at Bn.com UPC: 602498568279
The first track got me to dance, alone in my apartment. By track 3 my eyes were beginning to mist up with emotion. This album is fast, with a good, hard beat that never stops thumping. Yet the sadly satisfying lyrics and minor chords cast a dark shadow over the whole experience. Fans of The Smiths ought to give this a try. Surprisingly versatile, I found myself listening to this on-the-go in the morning, headed for work, and again the following evening chillin' on Christmas night with some friends, family, and beer. Perfect ten!

Ganging Up On The Sun, by Guster
$9.08 at Bn.com UPC:
093624996521
Sort of like the Beatles, only it doesn't take itself so seriously. This guitar-singing combo album is half up-beat and bubbly sounding, with a splash of psychedelic. The other half has a folksy, twangy sound, with soft songs that would sound great at a campfire. Manifest Destiny sounds like it's be fun either in a piano bar or on a beach trip. All this comes together beautifully in 50 minutes, the only drawback being that it's kind of short.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Eye Candy






Books

A couple more books. I've been finding lots of good books to read lately, after coming down from a long fry spell. Here's a couple that are fairly deep and brainy, yet quite easy to read.

* <-----------> ** <-----------> *** <-----------> **** <----------> *****
Easy - - Pretty Easy - - Moderate - - Pretty Challenging - - Challenging

The Simpsons and Philosophy, by William Irwin et. al
$14.95 at Bn.com ISBN: 0812694333
*** (moderate)
Each chapter is written by a different philosophy professor on a different subject. Naturally, some are better than others. If you watch the show, as I do, you'll find the way the autho
rs illustrate heavy ideas with Simpsons clips helpful. It also helps give the book a light, funny tone where it otherwise might be too dry to pick up. The chapter on Plato was very good, and Bart Simpson as Nietzche's Uber-mensch is novel and fun.
The Wit and Wisdom of Quentin Crisp, by Quentin Crisp
$11.95 at Bn.com ISBN: 1555834078
** (pretty easy)
This funny and mostly unappreciated 20th century British philosopher wrote a lot about style, which he is always careful to distinguish from fashion. Quentin proposes that the public image we give people of ourselves is actually more important th
an who we are inside. He illustrates this with humorous stories involving everyone from singer-songwriter Barbra Streisand to Argentine first-lady Eva Peron. This is nota fashion magazine, it's a serious sociological study that's just damn funny.
Getting Stoned With Savages, by J. Maarten Troost
$11.65 at Bn.com ISBN: 0767921992
** (pretty easy)
The author, a former commodities trader from W
ashington DC, and his wife move to the remote island nation of Vanuatu. Leaving it all behind to live in the South Pacific sounds like a dream come true, but it includes getting parasites, giant man-eating boa constrictors, and drug dealers who use the island's de-regulated banks to launder illegal money. This book is fun, hard to put down, and concerns a very common fantasy: chucking the life in the big city to lay on a beach somewhere. I was so excited to find this book because it looked so promising, and once I picked it up I couldn't put it down.
Becoming a Man: Half A Life Story, by Paul Monette
$13.95 at Bn.com ISBN: 0060595647
** (pretty easy)
There was a time, just after I came out, when I read a lot of "gay" books. I can now tell you that most of them suck. There's just not a lot of interesting things to say about homosexuality, I guess. Monette's beautiful and sensitive autobiography is the exception. Most of this involves his childhood and youth. Gay folk will love this: you'll keep thinking, "yes, it was just like that for me." Straights will be able to really understand what it's like to grow up different in "that way". The charming setting in 1950s New England, and Monette's self-deprecating humor are enjoyable for everyone. His mastery of the language are probably what I most admire: every page is a masterpiece, each chapter more heart-wrenching than the last.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Eye Candy






Books

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I haven't given up, though. In fact, here are three of the best books ever I've been thinking about all this time. Enjoy!

* <-----------> ** <-----------> *** <-----------> **** <----------> *****
Easy - - Pretty Easy - - Moderate - - Pretty Challenging - - Challenging

The White Mountains, by John Christopher
$4.99 at Bn.com ISBN: 0689856725
* (easy)
Part one of the Tripod Series. I read these as a kid and found them more exciting than I can describe to you. The hero, Will, and his friends are on the run from giant, mind-controlling robots and their masters: disgusting green aliens intent on
making humanity into their slave race. John Christopher writes so suspensfully about this weird, post-apocalyptic world, and the boys around whom the story revolves seem like the perfect boyhood friends. All three books in the series are a real treat for the young reader or for adults who like a fast-paced adventure.
Invisible Monsters
, by Chuck Palahniuk
$12.55 at Bn.com ISBN: 0393319296
** (pretty easy)
Palahniuk is probably most famous for Fight Club, made into a movie with Edward Norton and Brad Pitt. Good movie, good book. This ghoulish story revolves around a famous super-model whose jaw is shot off, making her a hideous freak for life. Non-linear storytelling (where you pop back and forth in time) keeps the pace fast and surprising at every turn. Easy to get into, difficult to put down, and always creepy and spooky.
Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden
$13.45 at Bn.com ISBN: 0679781587
*** (moderate)
The touching story of a little girl orphaned in a small village in Japan, taken to a strange city to work as a maid and be trained as a geisha. No matter how rough things get for our heroine (very, very rough, at times) you never lose the sense that she's got what it takes to triumph. Set in the strange world of pre-war Japan, and involving the Geisha culture largely misunderstood in the west, all wrapped in a woman's point of view. Recently made into a mediocre movie that proves what we all know is true: the book is always better.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Books

* <-----------> ** <-----------> *** <-----------> **** <----------> *****
Easy - - Pretty Easy - - Moderate - - Pretty Challenging - - Challenging

Forgotten New York, by Kevin Walsh
$17.95 at Bn.com ISBN: 0060754001
** (pretty easy)
I became aware of this recently published guidebook when the publisher sent me an advanced copy. It's terrific if you're planning a trip to New York City and want to hit up a few interesting sites in one neighborhood. There's a lot of cool stuff in here. Not really something you'll read from cover to cover, more a book of reference to flip through and, if you are planning a visit, to stick in your backpack to refer to while trolling the city streets. Roosevelt Island hosts a few interesting spots I wasn't aware of: a lighthouse, an abandoned Smallpox Clinic, some weird railroad bridges. Take it along if you've already seen the big "tourist" spots and are ready for something a bit more off-the-beaten-track.
The Lost Language of Cranes, by David Leavitt
$14.95 at Bn.com ISBN: 1582345732
** (pretty easy)
I'll be the first to admit: gay fiction is usually pretty terrible. Here's one of the rare exceptions. Two young gay men start to feel a connection, set against the backdrop of their parents' lives: one raised by two gay men, the other by loving yet traditional and repressive "red state" folks. In neither case are the parents all that they seem. Leavitt creates characters who seem very natural, and has a knack for weird environments, like one when thousands of lab mice escape onto the New York City streets. Light, fun, and very sensitive. And just enough spicy sex scenes to k
eep you reading without turning into something degrading.
Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
$7.99 at Bn.com
** (pretty easy)
SH5, Vonnegut's darkly exciting story about the bombing of Dresden during the last phase of World War II, has been a staple for troubled high-school boys since my day and beyond. The chapters are nice and short, the story easy to follow. Vonnegut was a prisoner of war: an American soldier captured in a German city as the Americans bombed it. He was one of a few survivors who took shelter in a slaughterhouse. Man's inhumanity to man is the theme. Parts deserve to be read and re-read. Highly influential in the lives of a lot of guys my age (20s-30s
). This might make a good stocking-stuffer this holiday season for the punk kid in your life.
Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse
$5.99 at Bn.com ISBN:
0553208845
** (pretty easy)
Hesse's fictional account of the life of the Buddha asks a timeless question: what's it all about? Young Siddhartha wants to know where enlightenment can be found: in the pursuit of scholarship under his father's watch, with the ascetic Samanas, a sect dedicated to meditation and self-denial. Naturally in the end Siddhartha realizes that the answer he's been looking for was in himself all the time. Very easy to read, an entertaining story that makes a good introduction to eastern thought. You don't need to know anything about Buddhism to follow along, enjoy, and discover a few new ideas of your own.