Monday, August 24, 2009

Summer Reading (and Listening, and Watching)

Hi any and all, welcome to The Mark Story. Many years ago, in high school German class, a fine gentleman by the name of Adam Schreiber suggested that title for my autobiography. It will work for a blog, though.

Right then. Summer reading.

1. World War Z by Max Brooks

Most recently and most highly recommended is World War Z. I've never seen zombies approached in such a well-thought out, literate, and fascinating manner.

The book is narrated by a UN inspector, charged to write a report on the Zombie Wars. After having his report mercilessly cut down to the cold, hard facts, he protests to his boss, arguing that the human elements of the story are the most important. His boss responds, "Write a book."

The book is told through interviews, although the narrator has hardly any lines. Interviews with a Chinese doctor in the earliest identification of the zombie virus, a US soldier about the military's first and unsuccessful stand against the zombies at Yonkers, a refugee from India during the Great Panic, are just a few of the stories told in this book.

Read it, it's excellent. There's an audio-book, and the production is good, but it's abridged.

2. Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin

While I'm not a big fan of Martin's Song of Ice and Fire books, this book scratched an itch for me. What itch, you ask? I'm glad you asked. Warning: Incoming Rant.

Twilight is a blight on American culture. I haven't read the books or seen the movie, but I've seen their impact. As a result of Twilight, the image of the vampire has been wimpified. Yeah, I can make up words. If I remember correctly, vampires are supposed to be creatures of darkness and violence. Vampire stories should be bloody and frightening, not sparkly versions of the latest teen drama.

That's where this book comes in. It's about vampires, humans, and a steam boat. It's bloody, full of suspense, and a fantastic story of friendship. It's a great antidote to the poison that is Twilight, and worth a read.

3. The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

Beginning with Storm Front, The Dresden Files tell the story of Harry Dresden, Chicago's only professional Wizard. Thus far there are 11 books in the series, and I've only read 4 of them. Those 4 have been fantastic, and I look forward to the rest of them.

The first, Storm Front, begins with a mysterious, gruesome, and obviously magic-related death. Dresden is hired by the police as a consultant. The second, Fool Moon, is about werewolves. The third, Grave Peril, is about ghosts and vampires. The fourth, Summer Knight, is about Fairies. These are gross simplifications. Read them, they're very enjoyable.

Perhaps I'll write more on these later. They're a lot of books, and I haven't read them all, but I most definitely want to. Give them a shot, I doubt you'll be disappointed.

Right then, on to Music.

1. The Killers - Day & Age

Not a bad album, but I could listen to Spaceman on loop for a very long time.

The Killers haven't always been a band I'd recommend. They've had the odd good song here and there, but the majority of their previous music just isn't all that great in my humble opinion. Well, that's not entirely accurate. It's more accurate to say I haven't liked their previous singles. I dislike the entire concept of singles. It annoys me that a band will work hard on an album, and the radio will play one song from it.

One of the things I miss was a few years ago when a local radio station, Q101, went "on shuffle." They played a very wide range of Alternative, and it was rare that you'd hear the same song repeat itself during a day. Unfortunately, that's no longer the case. Oh well.

2. Mahler

Gustav Mahler is my Dad's favorite composer, and he's my favorite too. He wrote 9 completed symphonies, and there is not a one of them that does not stand the test of time and repeated listens.

A few years ago, a friend and I went to see Symphony no. 2 in C minor, also known as the Resurrection, performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Before this point, while I was fine with symphonic music in theory, in reality, I didn't have the patience or the desire to sit still for an extended period of time and just listen. It was Mahler that ended up changing that.

If there's one word I would use to describe Symphony no. 2, it would be "glorious," or maybe "majestic." I remember turning to my friend after the show and saying, "If I went deaf now, that'd be ok."

I recently listened to Symphony no. 9, which is quite different than no. 2. My father describes it as "a peaceful death." I don't know if I would have come up with that on my own, but you never know. The sense of longing at the end is nearly overpowering. Good stuff.

There's more music that I've listened to, but nothing that really sticks out right now. On to movies and stuff. Well, one show, really. I watched quite a few movies this summer, but they all pale in comparison to...

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann

Gurren Lagann is, without exaggeration, one of the best things I have seen in years. I don't know how I missed this when it was coming out, but I've been kicking myself for not finding it sooner. Words that describe it include awesome, manly, epic, and many others.

It's far from your typical giant robot anime. Yes, there are giant robots, and yes, giant robots are cool, but the show isn't about robots. The show is about people reaching for the impossible. Living their entire lives underground, they reach for the surface. Finding the surface an inhospitable place filled with giant robots driven by beast-men bent on their extermination, they don't just reach for safety or a hiding place, they reach for a world where they don't need to hide, smashing through obstacles with pure willpower.

The thing that makes Gurren Lagann so enjoyable is its charm. This is a hard thing to define, but I'll try. All of the characters are likable, even when they logically should not be. If I put a name to it, I'd call it "Isaac and Miria syndrome," after the two characters in Baccano! who by all rights should be terribly annoying, but end up being one of the most fun and memorable duo's I can remember. The characters are all over the top, all with exaggerated quirks and what should be almost obnoxious personalities, but they all have a sort of charm to them that manages to resonate with the viewer. Combine this with very stylized artwork, the joy of battle, and the raw ambition of the show, and you have an end product that I don't mind calling my favorite show of all time.


  1. I've been wanting to read World War Z for a long time now. I need to, and I think I will sooner now that people I know have read it.

    Also holy carp an Adam Schreiber reference. wow. damn.


  2. Told ya gurren lagann was serious business. Other more current notables:
    bakemonogatari - supernatural dark romance comedy. Extremely high production value, also quite cracked out at times.
    Canaan - action adventure. Excellent animation, intense emotions, and extremely memorable characters, and several interweaving stories make this one a truly standout effort.

    I would say, based on what I remember you liking, these two shows are right up your alley, man.