Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lies of Locke Lamora Group Read: Week Four

As I mentioned, I couldn't put this book down after last week's challenge was up. As it happened, I finished the book a few days ago. (Maybe I should say that the book finished me. Wow.) This week's group read is hosted by Ashley (@ohthatashley) of SF Signal and spans from Chapter 9 through the Interlude "Orchids and Assassins."

1. In the chapter “A Curious Tale for Countess Amberglass” we learn of the tradition of the night tea in Camorr. I found that not so much fantastical as realistic – how about you?
Definitely a very practical and Realistic thing.  I can easily see women meeting in secret to chit chat and gossip about things.  Men, on the other hand, meet at the bars and docks and talk (foolishly) in the open.  It's a testament of wisdom, these late night tea times.
2. When Jean meets with what will become the Wicked Sisters for the first time, the meeting is described very much like how people feel when they find their true work or home. Agree? Disagree? Some of both?
Completely agree.  The way the text reads it's as if the hatchets were made for him, like he had some gut feeling that they were right.  This was solidified when he threw the blade.
3. Salt devils. Bug. Jean. The description is intense. Do you find that description a help in visualizing the scene? Do you find yourself wishing the description was occasionally – well – a little less descriptive?
I believe intense was the very word I used.  I might have said creepy, too.  I pictured something like Shelob or the frost spiders in Skyrim, but more vague, which added to the intensity.
4. This section has so much action in it, it’s hard to find a place to pause. But…but.. oh, Locke. Oh, Jean. On their return to the House of Perelandro, their world is turned upside down. Did you see it coming?
I did see it coming.  The world around the Gentlemen Bastards was crumbling, and there had to be casualties.  Even so, it was upsetting that the Sanzas had to die, as I loved their banter and humor.  
5. Tavrin Callas’s service to the House of Aza Guilla is recalled at an opportune moment, and may have something to do with saving a life or three. Do you believe Chains knew what he set in motion? Why or why not?
I don't know if Chains knew what he set in motion other than that he knew that being having connections to the various temples and priesthoods would be beneficial.  I really liked the flashback for Jean and the description of the cave, with the deadly balconies and walkways.  Such a brilliant thing.  And I loved Jean's quick promotions in rank and how he ultimately escaped.  I hope to see more of Aza Guilla and the rest of the Thirteen.
6. As Locke and Jean prepare for Capa Raza, Doña Vorchenza’s remark that the Thorn of Camorr has never been violent – only greedy and resorting to trickery – comes to mind again. Will this pattern continue?
The Thorn has never been violent, but the Thorn has never been out smarted, either.  However, Chains trained the Bastards in the art of thieving, not killing.  Nevertheless, the man flat told Locke he would kill him if he had to, and so Locke knows that sometimes a killing is a necessary evil.  So will the Thorn become violent?  Not like Capa Raza, I think, but he will have to perform some violent acts.  And who's to say how many violent acts one must do before he's considered a violent person?    
7. Does Locke Lamora or the Thorn of Camorr enter Meraggio’s Countinghouse that day? Is there a difference?
On the tail end of a great question we come to this one.  Is there a difference between Locke Lamora and the Thorn of Camorr?  Ultimately, I think yes, there is, in that the Thorn is the mysterious thief that plagues and cons citizens of Camorr as the need arises.  Locke is the true mystery of the book, I think.  He's the soft-hearted person that we know very little about.  Locke thinks with his heart; the Thorn with his wits.  They're not mutually exclusive characters, but they're so intertwined it's hard (as of yet) to determine who's who.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Grasping God's Word, a Review

Grasping God's Word is a mammoth of a book. It's used as a textbook for seminarians and other students of the bible. Me, I'm just a Sunday School teacher and a lover of the Word. So why did I read it? I was looking around on NetGalley and found an ARC for the third edition* of the book. I thought it could be helpful for Sunday School, sent the request to Zondervan, and soon I had the ARC on my Kindle.

On the down side, I've rarely had good luck with sending ARCs to my Kindle via NetGalley. Most of the time, the things are shoddy and formatted to a point where I either can't read at all or I would have to exude great effort to do so. This is to be expected some, as the books are ARCs, but they still need to be read-able. In this case, Grasping God's Word is read-able, but there are plenty of graphics that are impossible to decipher. Also, quotes and footnotes don't display correctly.

Besides this, and this stuff really won't affect the final product, I rather enjoyed Duvall and Hays' textbook. Up front, I didn't read the entire thing, but I did read a large chunk of it. For Sunday School my class is doing a "how to read and study the bible" study. Through this we are going through the various types of books (poetry, prophecy, epistles, etc.) found in the bible, and this book is a perfect tool for what my class is doing. I read the first few introductory chapters, setting up the book and how to use it.

I like the authors approach to interpreting scripture. Imagine a biblical city, all walled and dusty. There's a river flowing next to the city. On the other side is a modern city, skyscrapers and all. Connecting these two cities is a bridge. The method describes taking the message from the bible (a la the old city) and applying it to life (a la the new city). Doing this requires understanding the culture of the Old, crossing the bridge, and understanding the New. (There's more to it than that, but this is a simplified preview.)

In particular I enjoyed the chapter on epistles. It was very informative of how letters worked back in biblical times, how Paul's letters are much, much longer than an average letter of the times, and how letters were written, going so far as to break down the mechanics and structure. I personally feign interest in most of history, but this stuff was kind of interesting.

Overall, I felt that Duvall and Hays offer a great resource for reading and understanding the bible. They are passionate about correct interpretation, and they stress context very seriously. There are many different methods for reading and interpreting Scripture, and Grasping God's Word offers tools for applying the bible to our own lives. While the book goes through a somewhat repetitive approach, if you're in any way interested in getting a little deeper in the Word, then it is still a book I'd recommend checking out.

*I'm not sure what changes were made from the previous editions.  Product info is available here.

FTC Thingy: Zondervan graciously supplied me with an Advanced Readers Copy of this book. I wasn't even obligated to right a review, but I enjoy this sort of thing, so I did. I also enjoy cookies and milk, or just cookies, too, though I did not receive any of these along with my book. Such is life.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Hunger Games, a (sort-of) (film) Review

In 1998, the bombing of the World Embassy in West-Northwest Centersville, East Serbia, shook the world to its core.  In retaliation, the Serbian government conscripted all males under the age of 64 into their armed forces and established a quarantine around the entire country, with men at arms standing shoulder-to-shoulder along the perimeter.  After a fortnight of fortnights had passed and no one really noticed, the people of WNWCEB decided to stage a coup d'état and soon all the beatniks and yuppies were crowding the streets.  People complained, loudly, and the world continued to ignore them.

Far away, in the country of Panem, the President decided to start a new kind of Olympics.  Every year he would call up two children from each of the Twelve Districts and invite them to the Capitol to represent their communities.  If they won, they got prizes, usually in the form of a new Game Boy Advance game and sometimes a batch of homemade cookies, baked by the President himself.  If they didn't win, then they died.  It was a brutal sort of Olympics the President thought of.  You see, these Olympics, which he dubbed the Hunger Games, weren't really anything like the classical Olympics of old, but were instead a twisted game he devised to keep the people of Panem held under his oppressive thumb.  He figured correctly that pitting children against other children in a battle to the death would create a country of unrest.  Because of the President's totalitarian rule, people's magazines stopped arriving on time (and soon at all), and if they couldn't get their magazines and newspapers then their understanding of the world around them dwindled.  (This was pre-y2k, so the Internet hadn't yet came into fruition.)  As their freedoms compressed, their fear of the Hunger Games increased, and every year when the President made his phone calls, great tragedy would drop on to each of the Districts.

Or something like that.

I first read The Hunger Games in May 2010 (my review).  I enjoyed it quite a bit, actually, as much as one can enjoy this sort of senselessness.  Not entirely an original idea, but Suzanne Collins made a book with characters I cared about.  Katniss Everdeen was a fascinating heroine, but she was stubborn and a teenager, too.  While I can only guess at the thought processes of a teenage girl, I felt that Collins conveyed the mindset very well.

Keisha & I went and watched the movie rendition of The Hunger Games last Friday night.  The cinema was packed, of course, but everyone quieted down as the movie started.  I had some reservations about the casting of the characters, but shortly after the start I was fine with most.  The exceptions were Gale and President Snow, who I felt was too handsomely cast and too slovenly cast, respectively, if that makes sense.  (It doesn't, as I tried to explain this to Keisha and wound up making a fool of myself.)

Additionally, I, like many others, had issues with the camera work in the film.  I told Keisha during the thing that I felt like I was getting sick.  It reminded me of those roller coaster ride things with screens.  The kind that the People of Serbia no longer get to enjoy because of the problems going on over there, what with the border being closed and the ruffians crowding up the place.

Keisha's main problem was all the time spent outside of the Arena, focused mostly on Seneca and the Game Room.  She thought this pulled away too much, and I agreed.  Maybe those scenes were added to break some of the tension up?  Maybe the director wanted to show off some special effects?  Whatever the case, the wife and I didn't much care for all the Game Room time.  (Honestly, pacing leading up to the Games was a bit off, too.)

The film was tough to watch, especially when the Games began.  I knew what kind of bloodbath was coming, but still yet, wow.  And the tracker jacker scene!  Oh my.  Let's not forget the muttations, either, and how horrible that had to have been.

As I've already said, I enjoyed the movie.  It's been a few years since I read the books, so I had forgotten some of the fine details.  From my recollection, the film was a worthy adaptation of the book, though it could have done better at building up the characters.  No doubt there will be the sequels made, and no doubt they will rake in the money.  I am most interested to see how Mockingjay comes along, considering the way we Americans tend to like our movies.

I am reasonably sure that I've lost my mind somewhere along the way.  The truth is out there, and so is the fiction.  I'm not sure what just happened...

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lies of Locke Lamora Group Read: Week Three

I was a bit too swamped to put up a post last weekend, but that didn't stop me from pressing on.  Here's the third week's questions of this most fascinating book, hosted this week by Bryce of My Awful Reviews.  You can follow other's responses there.

1. This section is where we finally get to sneak a peek at the magic in The Gentleman Bastards books. From what we read, what are your initial impressions of the magic Lynch is using? Is there any way that Locke and Company would be able to get around the Bondsmage's powers?
From how Lynch describes the powers of the Bondsmagi, they're a tough group of folks.  I expect that their power is somehow linked to the Eldren and the ancient stuff, just like I think alchemy is, but I have no idea of its mechanics or limitations.  Can the Bastards get around the Flaconer's powers?  I want to say yes, but I really have no clue.
2. Not a question, but an area for rampant speculation: If you want to take a stab at who you think the Grey King might be, feel free to do it here.
I had no guesses as to who the Grey King would be.
2.5 (since 2 wasn't really a question) Anyone see the Nazca thing coming? Anyone? Do you think there are more crazy turns like this in store for the book? Would you like to speculate about them here? (yes, yes you would)
No, that was a definite shock.  I thought that maybe she had somehow staged this so as to get off the hook and maybe pull a fast one over on her family, but I quickly realized that this was wrong.  Any more surprises ahead?  Yes, I do believe there are, and considering that I'm up to Chapter 12 now, I think I was correct.  Definitely unexpected.
3. When Locke says "Nice bird, arsehole," I lose it. EVERY TIME. And not just because I have the UK version of the book and the word arsehole is funnier than asshole. Have there been any other places in the books so far where you found yourself laughing out loud, or giggling like a crazy person on the subway?
There's been some humor and some funny lines, but none where I've laughed aloud for very long.  I do have a soft spot for sarcasm, though, and that dark humor is rich.
4. By the end of this reading section, have your opinions changed about how clever the Bastards are? Do you still feel like they're "cleverer than all the rest?" Or have they been decidedly outplayed by the Grey King and his Bondsmage?
Oh wow.  And here I was thinking Locke was incredibly smarter than the rest.  I suppose his inability to see the full picture has always been his problem, as the Interludes paint, and it looks like this scenario has not been accounted for.  But how in the world would he have been able to account for it?  So I do think they have been outplayed, at least for the time being, but I see Locke & Co. pulling out ahead.
5. I imagine that you've probably read ahead, since this was a huge cliffhanger of an ending for the "present" storyline, but I'll ask this anyway: Where do you see the story going from here, now that the Grey King is thought to be dead?
How could I not read ahead.  Lynch certainly knows how to string the Reader along, and I am loving it.  I have no idea where the story is ultimately going, and I can't help but feel like everything in this book is only a set up for the subsequent novels that follow.
6. What do you think of the characters Scott Lynch has given us so far? Are they believable? Real? Fleshed out? If not, what are they lacking?
I think they're mostly believable, especially the Bastards.  They're written in a way that I have feelings for them and their well-being, and logical enough that their decisions are Realistic.  The dialogue is especially strong, giving a conversational tone between speakers.  The different priesthoods are also very well fleshed out, where we're given bits and pieces at a time, building credibility and history.
7. Now that you've seen how clever Chains is about his "apprenticeships," why do you think he's doing all of this? Does he have an endgame in sight? Is there a goal he wants them to achieve, or is it something more emotional like revenge?
Indeed, what is Chains endgame?  I do not think it's to bring down the nobility and break the Peace as has been described earlier.  It seems too simple, too less a plan than Chains calculating mind would create.  No, I think Chains had something deeper to instill in the Bastards and unleash on Camorr.  Does it have something to do with the Thirteenth?  Maybe.  I honestly have no idea.  I don't think it's a simple revenge game, but it could very well be, bearing in mind the Interlude "Tale of the Old Handball Players."  (I know, I read ahead, but this isn't a spoiler...)
So overall the book has been highly enjoyable, and I can easily see why Lynch has such a following.  Make sure you go and check out the other blogs on the Group Read.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wrestling With: Alcohol & Liberty

Used to be I was a teetotaller.  Alcohol was bad.  I knew how it affected people, how it enslaved people, how it buried itself deep into the hearts of the weak and addicted and never let go.  In my eyes, having a drink of alcohol was having a one-way ticket to hell.  This extended up through my first year or two of college, my Formative Years, as I like to call them.  These were the years when I decided to "work out my own salvation" (Philippians 2:12) and dig into my faith.

What I found was shocking.  Jesus died to give us freedom from this world, from sin, from shame, from the Law of Moses, and from every thing that binds us down.  Jesus, who had the ultimate freedom of being God, gave up all of His freedoms and became Man.  Not only that, but He completely emptied His Godhood (Philippians 2:7) and became the most humble man to have ever lived.  If Jesus had any freedoms, He gave them up so that sin would be conquered when He rose from the grave.  And He did all of that for you and me.

Paul wrote extensively on this freedom that Jesus died for.  In both the first letter to the Corinthians and in the letter to the Romans, he addressed the issue of eating food and consuming drinks offered to idols (see 1 Cor. 10:23-33 and Romans 14).  These two chapters are still relevant today, especially in regards to a Christians freedom to indulge in alcohol.  Complicating the issue is that Jesus' very first miracle was turning water into wine (John 2:1-12), and that wine was declared "good."  If the Son was there in the beginning and all of creation was made through Him, then I imagine that the wine made at the wedding was indeed very good.  Another complication is God commanding the Israelites in Deuteronomy 14 about their agricultural tithes, especially verses 24-27:

[24] And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the LORD your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the LORD your God chooses, to set his name there, [25] then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses [26] and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. [27] And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you.  (Deuteronomy 14:24-27 ESV--emphasis mine)

Some translations refer to "strong drink" as "beer," as this is likely what is meant.  So here we have plenty of verses pointing to the fact that alcohol isn't implicitly bad, and in fact, Paul says that "all things are lawful" there in 1 Corinthians.  He goes on to point out that one should not offend someone by refusing the wine or the food or whatever, as this could damage the witness.

To my knowledge, the only negatives concerning alcohol in the Scriptures all revolve around one thing: drunkenness.  Drunkenness is mentioned specifically as a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21), which is constantly against the desires of the Spirit.  There are also several Proverbs concerning drunkenness, none of which are positive (see Proverbs 23, for example).

How am I to interpret this?  I have to say, when my bible study leader opened this can of worms as a college freshman, I was completely against him.  I just didn't get how anyone could be so silly.  But once I read the scriptures for myself and thought through them, it was obvious to see the truth.  Nevertheless, just because I could agree that alcohol in and of itself was not sinful, I refrained from drinking.

All of that changed when my best friend struck a deal with me.  He had been drinking for a while (illegally), and I had just turned 21.  He said that he would go to church with me if I would go have a drink with him.  I thought of Jesus hanging out with the prostitutes, tax collectors, and other ruffians.  These were the people He ministered to (in addition to the poor and needy).  I said sure, and he went to church with me for the next few months.  Seemed like a fair trade.  He heard the gospel of Jesus.

My one drink had no real affect on me.  Over the next few years, I may have drank a handful of times.  To me, alcohol was just a waste of money, a luxury I couldn't afford.  Still, the fact that I was a Christian and that I would drink was a witnessing tool that I could use.  Never once did I drink too much, never once have I been drunk, and never will I.  One must be self-aware and spiritually mature in order to imbibe, I decided, and I am blessed enough to be both, though neither were easy to attain.

And then last year I was voted to become a deacon of my current church body.  One of the questions asked during my trials pertained to alcohol.  I based my answers all on scripture.  I was thence trounced and assaulted for my immaturity and ultimately denied the position*.  That shook my faith more than a bit.  I've been in church my entire life and to be told that my faith was immature and weak was a punch to the gut.  I spent the last year reading and studying even more so than normal, and you know what, my opinions haven't changed much at all.  If I'm reading my bible correctly, then everything I've mentioned above is still true in my heart.

I was asked last Sunday again about becoming a deacon.  I accepted, and now I'm preparing myself for another interrogation.  Even though my biblical understanding has not changed, I can say that I no longer am a drinker, either.  Not even on occasion.  Why?  And how did I come to this conclusion?

  • We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. (Romans 15:1)
  • For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Galatians 5:13-14)
  • Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.  (Romans 14:13)

I think about how Jesus lived, about what motivated Him.  He loved people unconditionally.  He was a servant.  He denied Himself in all, ultimately giving His life away.  He commanded us to love and serve and take up our own crosses.  If Jesus was willing and did give up his freedoms, then I can give up one for a people I love, too.  Because even though I think I am in control, I cannot control what other people perceive, and I don't want to inadvertently cause anyone to stumble.  I must be above reproach.  I also don't want my daughter to be exposed to it, and putting alcohol out of my house (save for cooking bourbon, which is simply delicious in a chocolate pecan pie) is just a step in the right direction.  Am I really losing anything by refusing myself?  No, and I fully believe that in Heaven that I will get to enjoy the wines of the Father's vineyards.  Until then, or at least until the Spirit reveals something differently in the Word and in my heart, I am relinquishing this liberty of my own volition.  To God alone be the glory.

*To be fair, this wasn't the only issue, though this was the biggest.  The other one concerned tithing, which again, I gave my understanding of biblical answers and principles.  This issue has changed slightly since last year.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Magicians, a Review

Can you like a book but hate the protagonist?

Quentin Coldwater is an angry, frustrated teenager getting ready to graduate from high school and head off to the best college he can find. From a wealthy but apathetic household in Brooklyn, Quentin's outlook on life is highly cynical and downright depressing. The only thing he's ever found joy in is from a popular quintet of novels called Fillory and Further, written by Christopher Plover. Very similar to Narnia, these were Quentin's refuge whenever life's circumstances grew difficult, even through high school. Because of his love of magical fantasy, he learned how to perform card and coin tricks with some skill.

One afternoon Quentin is walking home and suddenly finds himself heading down a different path. The cool Brooklyn weather is gone and he's standing in an unfamiliar place. Soon he is talking with Dean Fogg, who informs Quentin that he is able to take an entrance exam to a very exclusive college, the Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. Fogg reveals that the magic that Quentin has longed for is in fact real, and that if he passes his test then he will be invited as a student to the school.

Beyond belief, Quentin takes the test, and from there his world forever changes.

Lev Grossman's The Magicians came out in August 2009. I wasn't particularly interested in reading the book, but I wasn't disinterested, either. I didn't really have an opinion about the book, not until I read a couple of different reviews, some praising the book, some criticizing it heavily. This polarizing type of thing attracts me, so I added it to my TBR way back when. This book came up when looking over my 2012 Manifesto and trying to find an audio book to listen to while driving to St. Louis for a concert. It was long enough to last me the entire trip and still have a little left. I checked out the audio and popped it in the cd player once I hit the road.

First off, I have never read a book with a more despised protagonist, and that's saying something. I don't know how many times I complained about Quentin's attitude or stupid choices to Keisha in the reading of this thing. Granted he is in his college years through much of this book, and as a typical college age kid he's going to make some dumb choices. However, by and large, and especially considering his high intelligence, it was frustrating that Quentin consistently made poor decisions, even when he didn't want to. He would feel one way and think of how he would say something, but then he'd go off and say/do something completely different than what he was thinking. Then, afterwards, he'd mourn over his dumb choice. Not only does Quentin make dumb mistakes, but he also acts like a spoiled, pretentious little jerk, one that I wanted so badly to like.
"That's what makes you different from the rest of us, Quentin. You actually still believe in magic. You do realize right, that nobody else does? I mean, we all know that magic is real, but you really believe in it, don't you?"
See, this was the problem. The story and the plot and (most of) the side characters, they were compelling. I wanted to know how magic worked and the whys and wherefores of the side characters. The magic was vague and impressive and interesting. So was Fillory and its mysterious author. And what was Penny's backstory? What are niffins, exactly? Can I really trust this person? And The Beast... wow. There were so many good elements for an entertaining story, but Quentin wasn't one of them. I felt very little sympathy for him, even when he was deserving of sympathy. His anger and personal void was a tainting POV to use for this colorful world Grossman created.

In fact, coming through Quentin's POV I remarked to Keisha that I wondered if Grossman was pushing some sort of nihilistic message. Everything was bad. Everything was worse. Every cloud was lined in jet black and there was no grass on either side of the fence. These poor people had magic, something undeniably wonderful, and still happiness eluded the world and everyone in it.

Being that Grossman is a senior writer and book critic for TIME magazine, he is down with pop culture. In reading the book I was reminded of Narnia, though Lewis' world was never explicitly mentioned. Grossman mentions Tolkien and things from Harry Potter and Dungeons & Dragons and many other things any geek worth his salt would know about. The Magicians is an amalgam of all of these things and more, but it's sprinkled heavily with originality. This, Grossman's creativity, is what kept me going through the book.

I absolutely loved the stuff Quentin was learning at Brakebills. There was the mystery of the Fourth Year students and why no one wanted to talk about it. The professors were unique. The examinations and tests were brilliant. The disciplines were cool, how students had an affinity for certain magics and that was there major course of studies. This was by far my favorite part of the book. A jarring shift happened a little over halfway, one I was completely unexpecting. Quentin graduates from Brakebills and the Reader finds the Q. & the gang now as fully graduated Magicians. I had no idea what was coming, and what did happen I in no way was prepared for. I didn't enjoy it as much as the college years, but there was action and mystery.

If this review paints a mixed picture of Grossman's book, then I'm doing my job. Part of me enjoyed the book a lot, and part of me didn't want to finish. I feel that Grossman made some odd choices with the characters, but he made plenty of right ones, too. Most of the plot was wrapped up satisfactorily, but there were a few small things left unresolved. Unsurprisingly, a sequel, The Magician King, came out in August of 2011. I'm interested enough to find out more about this strange but familiar world of Quentin Coldwater, if only to see if the guy is ever going to change.

The Magicians is a book that any reader of speculative fiction should be able to read and enjoy if one is okay with a relatively stagnant and/or frustrating main character. It's subversive of normal tropes, and at the same time it fully embraces them.  It's definitely an adult novel, as there's plenty of boozing around, lots of drunken times, occasional drug use, and a few Rated R sexy times. As many are wont to say, it's a grown-up Harry Potter novel, but I'd be more inclined to say it's Harry Potter minus the wholesomeness and thrown into a typical college stereotype. I really did like the book, I can't stress that enough, but I really did not like Quentin.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Radiohead Concert (Scottrade Center 3/9/12)

I'm not sure if I can adequately describe just how much I was looking forward to this concert.  Seeing Radiohead live was a dream come true, having been a fan for many years and only growing fonder of the lads with each subsequent release they made.  So when I found out the band was doing a limited North American tour and that they'd be coming to St. Louis, a mere 4-hr drive, I was ecstatic.  I have a good friend that lives in St. Louis, who happens to be a fan himself, and we bought tickets on release day.  What followed was months of waiting and tireless hours of listening to Radiohead's vast catalog.  There have been many a day/weeks when theirs has been the only music I've played.

Finally, the day arrived.  I packed my car and headed West.

Venue: Scottrade Center, St. Louis
Status: Sold Out
Opening Band: Other Lives
Main Act: Radiohead
Time: 7:30pm, 3/9/2012

As it happened, Adam's roommate and father are Radiohead fans, too.  This was to be their fourth time seeing Radiohead, and they were as excited as Adam and I were.  So the four of us pulled into the arena to a vast and eclectic crowd.  Crowd isn't a good word.  How about horde.  There were, in my rough estimate, around 15-20 thousand people there.  We took our seats, above the mass of bodies on the floor, and cozied in.  Other Lives, a band I'd never heard of, soon came out and the night began.

Other Lives reminds me of something like Devotchka or Beirut mixed with some good ole Americana.  Jesse Tabish, lead vocals and some instruments, sounds similar to Colin Meloy of the Decemberists, but the music is a different animal altogether.  Other Lives was big, in number and in sound.  A quintet of multi-talented members, Other Lives made beautiful music so hypnotic and energetic that I would gladly pay to see them as the main act.  If you've never heard them, check out the videos for "For 12" and "Tamer Animals."  Pretty nifty, eh?  And the songs aren't too shabby either, I think.

By 8:30ish we were all ready for Radiohead, and anon the band came.  Bursting forth in applause and glorious lights, they launched straight into "Bloom," a song off The King of Limbs, its outer-space like piano licks reverberating through the air with the steady drums pushing the song along.  "Airbag," one of my favorites, from OK Computer, came up next, even though the official setlist pointed that "15 Step" was to be the second song.  (I notice that I refer to several Radiohead songs as "one of my favorites," which isn't necessarily revealing much, or it reveals a lot.)  As it happened, "15 Step" came third, with the rest of the setlist following as planned.

One of the coolest things about the show was the stage setup.  As you can see from the picture, there were these screens hanging down above the stage.  To me, they looked like pieces of a shattered mirror dangling. There were cameras set up throughout that would capture and display random band members in action.  In addition, these screens were mobile and moved with each song, sometimes reflecting out into the crowd, sometimes flat down on the stage.  Additionally, the giant LED screens as a backdrop looped beautiful, almost psychedelic colors and patterns about, adding an extra layer of complexity to a list of already complex songs.

Of the twenty-three songs played, most came from the band's newer albums.  The entire King of Limbs was played except for "Codex," and while I like this album, it sounded even better live.  I had told Adam it'd be nice to hear "Myxomatosis" and "Idioteque," and I was lucky enough to get both, with the latter being the final song of the evening.  Apparently I am not alone in loving "Idioteque" as one of the band's greats, as the entire crowd seemed to be singing along with Thom through the refrain, offering up a frenetic chorus of definite armageddon.

The possible highlight of the night came with "Karma Police."  This was the song that turned me on to Radiohead.  Something about its wonderful minor piano sounds and the mesmerizing lyrics.  "Karma police, arrest this man.  He talks in maths, he buzzes like fridge, he's like a detuned radio."  As it goes, Thom has probably sang this song thousands of times, and yet on Friday night, he forgot the lyrics.  From the onset he mixed up the order of the first verse, but never fear, the crowd picked up the slack and belted the tune.  Chagrined but good humored, Thom continued, getting to the end of the second verse and singing "This is what you get... when you forget the words."  Needless to say, we all cheered.

One thing that I usually enjoy in live shows is banter between the band or some sort of engaging the audience.  Maybe it's because I wear rose colored glasses when looking at Radiohead, but Thom kept the conversation to a minimum, and I was completely okay with it.  They were there to entertain us, play their songs, and showcase their talents.  There was no need to introduce a song or talk about its history.  The crowd, I think, didn't need this stuff, as many of us were probably very familiar with Radiohead's music.

Alas, the night dwindled down, though the excitement lingered through the double encores.  Once "Idioteque" finished, the stage lights came up and we all exited en masse, moving as independent bodies forming one large body.  My ears buzzed and I had an impression that I was glowing, but we all moved rather silently out of the building, out into the cold, windy breeze of a late Winter's night.  In the car I asked Noel and his dad how they ranked this performance with the others they'd seen.  Both said that this was the best.

I drove four hours to see the band, but I would have driven more.  The show was amazing.  The music was wonderful.  The audience was responsive and lively, but reflective and respectful.  I was a little bummed that "Paranoid Android" and/or "Climbing up the Walls" weren't played, but on the other hand, I now have an excuse to see them again, if they ever come close enough.  I'm glad to have finally saw the band, and I'm ready to see them again.

Note: The images used in this post were all found through Twitter and Google+.  All were shared publicly, and I claim no ownership to them.  If you want to find more, search the #radioheadstlouis hashtag.  Also, there is a 27-minute video of several of the songs is available to watch here, if you're interested.  And one last note.  Radiohead has recorded an Austin City Limits show, but there's no date yet for when it will air.  Keep it in mind.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Apology to a Dead Dog

Dear Unknown Dog,

I am so sorry.  If it's any consolation (which it's not), my wife bawled over you, sobbing unashamedly as I sat in deafening silence, hands clenched tightly around the steering wheel.  I want to be angry at you.  I want to know just exactly what you were thinking when you crossed that busy street.  I want to know whose dog you were and if you lived a good life.  I want to think that your suffering was short and as painless as possible.  I want to go back to yesterday and leave twenty seconds later.

The day was going perfectly well, an uncannily beautiful Sunday afternoon in March, and we were on our way to Bremen for a family get-together to welcome Travis back from boot camp.  Travis would have loved you, I'm sure.  I'm inclined to say that the day was going well for you, too, at least up until the point of contact.  I'm sure you'd been lounging around much of the day, soaking up the soft warmth of the sun, maybe chasing a scent of grilled food or running after a rabbit.  You had no worries, nothing besides finding a little food, a little love, and a little fun.

It's like we were on a collision course predetermined by fate and there was nothing we could do to prevent our meeting.  One second life is well.  And then you flash across the street.  I'm sure you heard the squealing tires as my car hit you.  I'm sure you smelled the burning rubber as I passed.  Did you hear my heart stop?  I couldn't swerve, y'know.  That's how so many people get into wrecks in the first place.  Maybe if Keisha and Avonlea hadn't been in the car then I would have, but I was not going to put them in any more danger.  But know that I tried--I honestly tried--to miss you.  To stop.  To prolong the inevitable.

What I saw in my rearview mirror haunts me.  I'm so sorry.  We prayed that your pain was minimal.  I was upset at our lot in life, that all of creation is tainted because of sin and that we have to deal with death.  I don't know where you were running to, Dog, nor do I know from where you were coming, but I know that you are now running in a majestic field unlike any you've ever seen before.  I'm sorry that I cut your days off short here, and that I took you away from whatever family you belonged, but most of all I'm sorry that I caused you to suffer during your last moments here on earth.  Know that it was not intentional and that I never wish to go through something like that again.



Saturday, March 10, 2012

Lies of Locke Lamora Group Read: Week 1

Scott Lynch's Lies of Locke Lamora is widely regarded as something beyond special to many genre readers.  Released in 2006, the book has been on my TBR practically ever since, waiting for me to pick it up and show it some love.  That time has come, in part because of my 2012 Manifesto, but mostly due to the Little Red Reviewer's Group Read.  This seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to try out Scott Lynch's world.  (Awesomely enough, the Man Himself, Mr. Lynch, has decided to hop on the Group Read, too, and he'll be blogging at his livejournal site.  Sweet.)

For Week One, we read up through the Interlude titled "Locke Stays for Dinner."  I enjoyed the read so much that I'm almost through the Second Week's assignment, too...  The questions for Round One are below, brought to you by Andrea, the Little Red Reviewer (and self-proclaimed Locke Lamora fanatic).

1. If this is your first time reading The Lies of Locke Lamora, what do you think of it so far? If this is a re-read for you, how does the book stand up to rereading?
This is my first time, and I'm fascinated by everything I'm reading so far.  I love the Elderglass stuff, and the whole fact that Camorr is built on some kind of ancient civilization or something is possibly the most puzzling thing to me currently.  I also like the mystery of the shadow-thing that's following Bug/Locke/etc. in the beginning, and as of yet we have no idea who/what it is.  As for the Big Score, I'm really digging it.  See, I had a bit of an obsession in high school with heist movies (Snatch, in particular).  So much so that I, uhm, well, never stooped to stealing, but I did help some friends out in their lifting of a giant world map from the teachers lounge....  I schemed and plotted and ran surveillance before the Big Day, but on when it came down to it, I chickened out and instead served as a Watchman instead, kind of like the Teasers Lynch writes about.  I'm not proud of my choices and involvement, and I in no way condone theft or general skullduggery, but it's still a cool story.  So yeah, suffice it say that I'm loving the Gentleman Bastards business.
2. At last count, I found three time lines: Locke as as a 20-something adult, Locke meeting Father Chains for the first time, and Locke as a younger child in Shades Hill. How are you doing with the Flashback within a flashback style of introducing characters and the world?
I'm a sucker for the frame story, so scratch another mark for Scott Lynch in my book.  His skill at handling the timelines is deft, and I don't think I've been confused yet.  Plus, I am/was a LOST fan, so I've got no problem with this.
3. Speaking of the world, what do you think of Camorr and Lynch's world building?
I touched on this a bit in the first question, but I'm really liking it.  It has a different feel to me than many other SFF worlds that I've read.  I can't help but think that if I went overseas to Italy that this kind of stuff is exactly like what I would see, with the canals and the names and the foodstuffs.  I get the impression that Lynch's world is robust and that there's a hearty history to it that I'm only starting to appreciate.  I also like how Realistic this book reads, from how the characters act/talk to how the world operates.  So far, so good.
4. Father Chains and the death offering. . . quite the code of honor for thieves, isn't it? What kind of person do you think Chains is going to mold Locke into?
Can I answer with "I think Chains is molding Locke into a Gentleman and a Bastard?"  Religion is obviously very important to Camorr, and the fact that the Thirteenth is a denied deity by most (or most are oblivious?) catches my attention.  I'm curious as to the kind of man Chains is, and the kind of man he used to be before becoming the Blind Priest.  He must either be very devoted to his god or very ambitious with his plans.
5. It's been a while since I read this, and I'd forgotten how much of the beginning of the book is pure set up, for the characters, the plot, and the world. Generally speaking, do you prefer set up and world building done this way, or do you prefer to be thrown into the deep end with what's happening?
I love soups.  Chicken noodle.  Potato.  Vegetable.  You name it, I'll try it.  Sometimes I'm in the mood for some homemade soup, and that takes work to peel and dice the veggies, prep the meat, and measure the add-ins.  Once the works done, the soup then has to boil for quite some time before I get to enjoy the fruit of my labors, but it's okay, because not only do I like soup, I like to cook.  But sometimes I pull a can of Chunky out of the pantry and put it in the microwave.  Homemade trumps Chunky every time, but that doesn't mean that the Chunky isn't good and it doesn't hinder Chunky from accomplishing its purpose.

So far I'm very much enjoying the world of Camorr and the life and times of Locke Lamora.  I have no idea where this story is going, but I'm looking forward to making the journey.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Preparations for Radiohead

This is a big week for me.  For all of the Stewarts, in fact.  Keisha's brother Travis graduates from the US Marines Friday, and she and her family are going to his graduation.  Parris Island is a 15-hr drive from Stewartland.  That means that Keisha and Avonlea are fifteen hours away from me.  And when I go to St. Louis on Friday they'll be even farther.

This is the longest I've been apart from my daughter.  I must confess, I miss her.  Quite so, in fact.  She's recently learned how to snarl her nose, and it's the cutest thing I've ever seen.  And she's been laughing and talking/screaming a lot here lately, too, just learning about her voice and how to work it, I guess.  I asked her if she would remember me when she left.  Keisha says she will.  I don't know.  Who really knows how a babies mind works?  Are they existentialists?  I do think she'll break out a gummy, two-toothed smile when she sees me on Saturday.

Avonlea's not the only person I miss, though.  Keisha's gone away, too, as I've said.  And while I don't worry about my wife forgetting my face or my existence, I still can't help but miss my friend as she's away.  It reinforces the blessing that I'm thankful that I don't have a job where I have to travel very often.  These absences aren't ideal.

Meanwhile, life goes on at super speed.  They left last night.  Soon after I was at the tennis courts, trying out a newly strung racket at 8:00pm in Greenville.  My first game of the year.  Fun, that, albeit extremely windy and slightly chilly out.  Wednesday's are always busy, and I'm up and going from 5:30 in the morning until after 9:00 in the post meridian.  And tomorrow night I've got a mentee coming over and we're gonna play some Borderlands for a bit, maybe enjoy a Papa Murphy's pizza.  Then he'll go home and another group o' friends will come over and we're gonna work on some music.  I've been in a songwriting kick, and I'd like to try and see what we can come up with.  It'll be a late night, I'm sure.  And then Friday....

Friday is Radiohead Day.  It's a special day, for certain.  So special that I took a vacation day on Friday, that way I can get to St. Louis in plenty of time.  My buddy Adam told me to bring my discs and we'd hit up his favorite disc golf course, so that should be fun, as the day promises sunshine and warmth.  And that night we'll be at the arena and in awe of Thom Yorke and the gang.  Needless to say, I'm rather excited.

For the trip I'm trying to decide which audiobook to "read."  Keeping with the Manifesto and the library's offerings, I'm limited.  I'm choosing between Catch-22, Stardust, The Dragon Reborn, or The Magicians.   I've not read any of them before, but this seems like a great opportunity to get the jump on one.  But if you look at my sidebar, at the "Currently Reading" widget, you'll notice that I don't necessarily need another book added to the list.

One final note.  We're trying to increase our Coffee Talk ministry, and one thing we've done is created a website (here) as a platform to work with.  I'm a contributor to the site, a blogmaster and general updater.  The site is fresh and brand new, and it was fun crafting.  If you'd like, check it out and let me know what you think.  Any problems with the site?  Any issues at all?

Happy Wednesday!