Just revisited: 'Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban'

Just revisited: 'Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban'

After my inability to pace along with Binge Mode while revisiting The Chamber of Secrets, I'm proud to report that I've gotten myself somewhat under control now. While revisiting Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban, I completed my listen of the book after two of Binge Mode's four episodes devoted to it were released! It's still pretty easy to blast through these audiobooks in 2-3 days because of how short they are, but this should become less of an issue now that we're moving into much longer book territory.

All that to say: These audiobooks really are as engrossing and incredible as I imagined they would be when I started The Sorcerer's Stone. I've already said it, but Jim Dale is a master narrator. Once I start one of these, I just can't put it down -- or take my earbuds out, I guess. I'm really happy I went the audiobook route for this journey and, again, would recommend it as highly as possible.

My overall sentiment for Stone was joy; for Chamber it was duty; and for Prisoner it's going to be kinship. Interestingly, since I think this word is most often associated with blood relatives or familial ties, I mean it in this case exclusively in its secondary meaning -- a sharing of characteristics or origins. I mean to use kinship here as a substitute for affinity, or brotherhood, or possibly friendship.

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Just read: 'Gumption' by Nick Offerman

Just read: 'Gumption' by Nick Offerman

This is the current stopping point for me in a little mini-run of listening to audiobooks read by their comedian authors. in 2016-17, I read Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance, B.J. Novak's One More Thing, Tina Fey's Bossypants and Nick Offerman's Paddle Your Own Canoe. This year, I've done Rainn Wilson's The Bassoon King and most recently Amy Poehler's Yes Please, now wrapping up with Nick Offerman's second book, Gumption

The book's subtitle, Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America's Gutsiest Troublemakers, sums up very well what we're getting ourselves into with this read. Offerman hand-chooses a list of 21 people, all Americans, who he views as great in some way. He proceeds to write what amounts to a mini-biography of each person's life, delving most deeply into instances or characteristics that support his thesis of what makes this person great. In many cases, for the folks on Offerman's list who are alive, he was able to sit and do an interview with them for this book, and he describes these conversations with relish; throughout the read, it's clear that Offerman took a lot of joy in writing this book.

In most every chapter, Offerman also applies the greatness of the American currently in question to society in a broader sense.

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Just read: 'Yes Please' by Amy Poehler

Just read: 'Yes Please' by Amy Poehler

First things first: Poehler is perhaps the least talented book writer of the bunch I've read so far, though it's tough to tell with Ansari since his book had a cowriter attached to it. Whatever shortcomings Yes Please has in terms of form or function -- which I'll get to -- are actually made up for a bit by the structure of the audiobook itself.

Poehler speaks directly to the listener at times and has special guests come into the booth to read portions of her book; in most cases, these were portions that were actually written by the special guests. Seth Meyers, Mike Schur (creator of Parks & Recreation) and Poehler's mother and father are guests that have extended portions, and Meyers reads an entire chapter that he wrote for the book. It's fun to hear Meyers and Schur with Poehler, cracking jokes and running through a list of alternative names that Schur considered for the Parks & Rec character Leslie Knope. The result is a feeling that you benefitted from choosing the audiobook medium, like you got a little something extra, which is nice.

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Just read: 'The Bassoon King' by Rainn Wilson

Just read: 'The Bassoon King' by Rainn Wilson

Returning to my 2016 trend of listening to audiobooks read by by their comedian authors (Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance, B.J. Novak's One More Thing, Tina Fey's Bossypants and Nick Offerman's Paddle Your Own Canoe to date), I recently went through Rainn Wilson's The Bassoon King. This is a memoir that falls most in line with Fey's book out of that bunch, but stands out for how deeply it delves into religion, spirituality and fuck-ups.

Wilson grew up learning the ways of the Bahá'í faith, which is a religion that extolls the value and worthiness of all religions, and emphasizes the worth and equality of all people. Bahá'ís believe that there is one God, regardless of whatever name any specific religion assigns to that God. Wilson's walkthrough of the faith is holistic, and he references it in moments of storytelling about his own life to provide insight into his thought processes, or as a pillar to bounce retroactive thoughts off.

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Podcast recommendation: The New York Times' 10-part dive into ISIS, 'Caliphate'

Podcast recommendation: The New York Times' 10-part dive into ISIS, 'Caliphate'

The New York Times has just concluded its 10-part narrative podcast, Caliphate (Apple Podcasts / Overcast), which follows reporter Rukmini Callimachi as she investigates and reports on the Islamic State. Callimachi is the primary reporter here, and along with reporter and producer Andy Mills, they tell a story that begins by trying to answer the question of, "Who are we really fighting?"

While the series begins with that mission statement, it's easy to think while listening that Callimachi and Mills veer off-script at some point. The first part of the series is driven by an ISIS source that the pair travel to Canada to interview; this conversation then gives way to a trip to Iraq, during which they cover the defeat of ISIS in Mosul. They find a briefcase with documents that reveal how self-sufficient ISIS has become, and learn about the insanely real extent to which ISIS is capable of actually governing people. They interview an ISIS official who was captured in the prison where he's held, and interview a girl who is returned to her family after years spent in captivity of ISIS.

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Just revisited: 'Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets'

Just revisited: 'Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets'

Only one book into the series, I've totally gone off the rails. Most of my everyday internal thoughts are imagined in the voice of Harry Potter audiobook narrator Jim Dale, whose Wikipedia page I looked up and learned that he was a pop star in the 1960s; this man is an 82-year-old living legend. The original plan to follow along with Binge Mode's Harry Potter podcast releases is shot, too -- I've finished The Chamber of Secrets before they've even released one episode on this installment of the series. Alas.

Having your mind inhabit the Harry Potter wizarding world is extremely good for the soul and brain. It's made me hungry not just to continue my Potter journey, but to start reading even more than I already have been this year -- I've been on a pretty good pace in 2018, by my own lackadaisical reading speed standards -- and I'm now thinking I'll get through at least 25ish books this year, which would be a real personal accomplishment for me. Three years ago, if you told me I'd ever be reading two books per months, I would have asked you how you managed to secure me a Time Turner. My soul is filled with joy when I'm in this world, and my brain is filled with the relaxed contentment of spending time in a fictional place, flexing the creative and imaginative muscles that much too regularly go unused for significant periods of time in the daily activities of working and living.

My overall sentiment for Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone was joy. Today's sentiment, for Chamber of Secrets, is duty. As I listened to Dale masterfully narrate me through Harry, Ron and Hermione’s inevitable path down through the sink and into the Chamber of Secrets, it became clear on this revisitation that these three second-year Hogwarts students never stood a chance. Not that they never stood a chance to solve the mystery of what lies within or how to gain entry into the Chamber, but that they never had a chance to not take on this dangerous voyage. It was, beyond any doubt, their duty to do this thing, otherwise Hogwarts would close and the Ministry of Magic would never find another qualified Auror candidate.

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Just revisited: 'Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone'

Just revisited: 'Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone'

Inspired by this week's kickoff of Binge Mode: Harry Potter, I re-subscribed to Audible and listened to Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone this week. As I got through the approximately 8.5-hour audiobook in about 26 hours of real-life time, you could say I Binge Mode-ed it myself.

First, a bit about Binge Mode, which is becoming a highlight in my podcast feed. It's the only show I'm currently listening to from The Ringer's podcast network, and it has recently been featuring Mallory Rubin and Jason Concepcion dissecting a recently released movie or TV show each week. These weekly episodes often take on the same format: Mallory and Jason recap the plot of whatever they're discussing, then choose a main theme from the work, then go through and call out specific points to show how the media represents that theme. It's a pleasure to get this type of analysis for newly released films, because it's often much more thoughtful and put-together than the types of podcasts that release show from a more instant reaction-based point of view.

This week, though, they began their jaunt through the entire Wizarding World of Harry Potter. They're going through The Sorcerer's Stone this week with five hour-ish-long episodes all week, with the first four episodes splitting the book up into chapters and investigating the overarching themes in those chapters, and the final episode focusing on the movie. From the first episode, I knew I'd want to accompany this with a revisiting of the Harry Potter series myself.

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Just read: 'The Vision: Little Worse Than A Man, Little Better Than A Beast' by Tom King

Just read: 'The Vision: Little Worse Than A Man, Little Better Than A Beast' by Tom King

Tom King's run writing The Vision for Marvel Comics lasted only 12 issues, collected into two trade paperbacks, but it made a mark in terms of critical and fan acclaim. After hearing enough about it online, I purchased both trade paperbacks -- the first six issues are collected in Little Worse Than A Man, while the back six are collected in Little Better Than A Beast -- during a big Marvel sale on comiXology last year, and I finally got around to reading them when it became a topic during a recent Do By Friday episode.

King enjoyed such positive acclaim with The Vision, along with previous successes, that he ultimately parlayed it into an exclusive contract with DC, where he's currently roughly halfway through a 100-issue run as the writer of Batman. Not a bad gig to jump to following a project that nobody had particularly high expectations for; The Vision was announced right around the time the character was playing a large role on-screen in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, so King's run could have easily been a quick, heavy-hitting action story to expand a bit on the history of Marvel's best-known A.I. character. No one would have blamed King and Marvel for going that route, or for taking Vision on a short journey that followed the events of Ultron

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Just read: 'Friday Night Lights' by H. G. Bissinger

Just read: 'Friday Night Lights' by H. G. Bissinger

The position Friday Night Lights has assumed in the general pantheon of pop culture is pretty remarkable considering it started out as a simple inspiration to write about high school football. H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger's best-seller, written about the 1988 Permian Panthers football season, seems like a far-fetched project in retrospect. Bissinger, a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, was granted a leave from his day job only about a year after winning a Pulitzer Prize there for investigative reporting. His goal was to find a small town and write about big football.

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Just read: 'The House on Pooh Corner' by A. A. Milne

Just read: 'The House on Pooh Corner' by A. A. Milne

After reading through the marathon that was The Stand, I decided to switch gears and get into a book that was a little more on the lighter side, so I downloaded The House on Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne for my Kindle.

Aside from the relief of reading something that dealt very minimally with an apocalyptic world or death in any capacity, the book is extremely enjoyable on its own and I would recommend it as a palette cleanser the next time you need one. It's short, at under 200 pages, and its 10 chapters mostly function isolated from one another so you can read a quick chapter each day, which is what I did.

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Spanish Love Songs - 'Schmaltz'

Spanish Love Songs - 'Schmaltz'

I dove into my first listen of Spanish Love Songs' Schmaltz with a suspicion that I was predisposed to enjoy it. The going comparisons for the album were to The Menzingers, Hot Water Music, and other bands of that gruff pop-punk ilk. Right up my alley, in terms of music I've enjoyed for the last decade-ish.

But many bands putting out music that has been up my historical alley have failed with more regularity lately, in terms of my own enjoyment. Rarely does a pop-punk record come around that really impresses me, or has significant lasting value, let alone a debut. To boot, what was I going to gain from a band trying to reboot Chamberlain Waits when I've been latched onto The Menzingers' After the Party for the past year? It's not that I've moved on from double-time punk songs, but that as I'm getting older, I'm keeping up with the bands who grow with me.

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Just read: 'The Stand' by Stephen King

Just read: 'The Stand' by Stephen King

The Stand is an objectively long book. It clocks in between 1,100 and 1,400 pages or so, depending on whether you purchase on hardcover, paperback, or mass market paperback. Since I had the defined goal of making my way through Stephen King's bibliography, I had my eye on The Stand from the get-go. I figure if I can make it through this book, I can theoretically make it through anything he's written.

The version of The Stand that I read was the complete / uncut edition, and I read it on my relatively new Kindle. The Kindle is new in the sense that The Stand was the first book I read on it, but not-so-new in the sense that I bought it two months before I started reading, and that the book took me about seven weeks to read on its own. This is a beast of a novel in terms of length and ambition (an aside: the uncut edition includes roughly 400 pages of story that King had to leave behind from the original version of the novel; his publisher at the time said the book was too long for their paperback printers), but I am pretty happy I read the this version. While there is certainly more beef in the novel than is absolutely necessary, I tend to enjoy long stories and the rich character development that usually comes with them.

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Year-end 2017 stuff: The Menzingers and other bands I listened to in 2017

Year-end 2017 stuff: The Menzingers and other bands I listened to in 2017

It is now February 15, and despite that being the date, I still have not put a 2017 year-end list on my blog. I will note that no one asked me for this list, so it must not be all that important, and my lateness to the party must not have been noticed. Primarily, I am putting this online so I can refer to it in the future. I've enjoyed having lists from past years to look back on, so that's why I'm bothering with it at all.

This year I mainly listened to The Menzingers, but managed to squeeze in time to listen to other bands as well. 

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Just read: 'On Tyranny' by Timothy Snyder

Just read: 'On Tyranny' by Timothy Snyder

This will be a pretty short blog for a pretty short book.

Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny is a look at the current state of American politics and how it compares to political moments in various countries at various times in the past. Snyder is a Holocaust historian and is especially expert in the history of Eastern and Central Europe, so his knowledge of the rise and power of anti-democratic states in Germany, Russia and Czechoslovakia is encompassing.

At only 125 pages, this book is small enough to fit in a back pocket, and some of its lessons feel important enough to keep them that close at all times -- and it only costs between $4 and $6 on Amazon, depending on whether you prefer Kindle or paperback. On Tyranny promises "20 lessons from the 20th century" on its cover, but I prefer to think of each of these 20 chapters as a full-on, dual-purpose crash-course in How To Not Accidentally Stand Idly By As Your Country Becomes A Fascist State. The first task of each chapter is to introduce a way in which you can visibly see and predict the dissolution of democracy based on how democracies of the past have failed. Each chapter's second job is to tell you what you can do to help prevent that from happening. The book's bite-sized presentation is handy for its brevity; On Tyranny is a quick-paced read, so it serves as a good introduction to historical reading or to critical reading of current American politics (which is an introduction I certainly needed myself).

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Just read (and watched): 'The Shining' by Stephen King

Just read (and watched): 'The Shining' by Stephen King

Continuing my crawl through Stephen King's works, I've just read The Shining, and semi-accidentally watched Stanley Kubrick's film based on it for the first time as well. Knowing it is widely considered to be one of King's most popular books, and knowing there was a classic film accompaniment, this is one of the novels that I was most excited to read during the early parts of my foray into King's bibliography. 

The Shining (1977) is Stephen King's third novel (following Carrie and 'Salem's Lot, both of which I read in 2016), and it seems pretty agreed-upon that it's scarier than either of those first two books. One of the reasons I wanted to start reading King is that I had never really been scared in a horror or terror type of way while reading a book before; there were tense or psychologically thrilling moments in plenty of books I'd read in the past, of course, but I was pretty interested to see how scared I could get while turning pages. Turns out, you can get decently scared if the writing's done right.

King builds a base level of innate tension and fear in The Shining via early character development and narrative descriptions of The Overlook Hotel, which serves as the story's primary setting and a character in itself. The novel focuses on the Torrance family: parents Jack and Wendy and their gifted son, Danny. Jack has a recent alcoholic past, though he's currently sober, and he was fired from his teaching job at a Vermont prep school after he assaulted a student there. Jack's alcoholism makes for a poor cocktail with his short temper -- we get harrowing accounts of how he accidentally broke his son's arm while drunk, when Danny was only a toddler, and of his assault on a high school student who he'd caught slashing his tires in the school parking lot after a fair amount of shared animosity between the two. Jack is described as "seeing red" in these moments, and it seems plausible that his temper could snap with enough build-up, even if alcohol weren't involved.

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Year-end 2017 stuff: A reminder that I'm not yet good at reading books

Year-end 2017 stuff: A reminder that I'm not yet good at reading books

Last year was the first I made an effort to start reading more, and I was semi-impressed with my ability to get through 14 books and 25 trade paperbacks. I know this isn't a lot in the grand scheme of things ... I know plenty of people who try to read a book a week. But this year provided a reminder that I'm kinda bad at reading stuff, and some reflection will prompt me to make some changes in the way I read next year.

It wasn't an infrequent event for me to pick up a book, make good headway through it, then ignore it for a week or two in favor of listening to music or podcasts on my commute. This didn't have anything to do with how much I was enjoying the book, either -- and truthfully I don't have any good reasoning behind this other than I often didn't feel like having a book in my hands if I was standing up on the train? It's a lame excuse when it's typed out.

In any case, I bought a Kindle toward the end of the year so that I could stop adding onto our already-very-full bookshelf with more books that I may or may not finish. Throughout 2017, I ultimately wound up getting through four books and four trade paperbacks -- awful numbers. I am happy to report that I already finished the last half of Stephen King's The Shining in the first four days of 2018, so maybe there will be improvement for me yet.

Here's the full (behold! in its glory!) list of everything I read in 2017. This year, I'm really looking forward to continuing my way through Stephen King's works, taking the next step in the Batman trade paperbacks, and catching up on Marvel's run of Star Wars as well.

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Year-end 2017 stuff: 'Baby Driver,' 'Baywatch' and fun at the dang movies

Year-end 2017 stuff: 'Baby Driver,' 'Baywatch' and fun at the dang movies

Gaining an Alamo Drafthouse in downtown Brooklyn made going to the movies a lot more enjoyable this year. I've always liked going to the movies, but the Alamo won me over instantly for a few reasons:

  • The screen looks better and the sound is louder and more impressive than at most of the Regal / AMC locations that are conveniently located in the parts of the city I frequent.
  • Seats as comfortable or more comfortable than even the fancy new recliner chairs at a lot of those other franchises -- the Alamo seats don't recline but are generally comfy leather chairs.
  • There's beer there and the service system is great, with really nice waiters and waitresses.
  • Most importantly, I think the Alamo is the quietest theater I've ever been to -- they tell you not to talk or text, threaten to kick you out if you do, and it actually works. The end result is less groups of teenagers and more singles / couples / small groups who want to see their movie without a bunch of noise. We went to see The Last Jedi at a non-Alamo location and the entire movie was loud as heck with people talking, clapping, etc. The Alamo really spoiled us to the point where I didn't think clapping as A Thing people did anymore.

So since that Alamo Drafthouse opened, I've only seen like two showings of any movies at other theaters. It's been great. 

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Year-end 2017 stuff: 'Riverdale' is my favorite new TV show in a long while

Year-end 2017 stuff: 'Riverdale' is my favorite new TV show in a long while

Riverdale came back to the CW for its second season on October 11, exactly five months after its first-season run of thirteen episodes concluded in May. The second season is running for nine straight weeks with nine new episodes through next week (Dec. 13), then there's a tenth episode scheduled for mid-January; another five episodes have titles on Wikipedia, but no dates on those just yet. So either way, it's very easy for me to say the ten episodes scheduled for release in 2017 were my most anticipated episodes of television for all of 2017 heading into October.

The first season of Riverdale was awesome. It's very highly overdramatic in a fun way that captures the nostalgia of mid-2000s teen dramas like Gossip Girl, SmallvilleThe O.C., One Tree Hill, 90210, Gilmore Girls, shows like that. This type of high-stakes, semi-artificial-feeling drama translates surprisingly well into the world of Archie Comics. There's a layer of heavily applied, thick mystery and intrigue and #darkness on top of the over-dramatization of the Riverdale world, meaning that of course nearly every episode ends on a cliff-hanger and of course the "next week on" teaser at the end of each airing leaves you breathless.

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Predicting every major college football game in 2017

Predicting every major college football game in 2017

Last August, I published this blog about how I would be predicting every major college football game for last season. I'm doing the same again this year, via a new-and-hopefully-improved spreadsheet for prediction-tracking.

As I wrote this time last year, the goal of this is to predict each individual game in the 2017 season -- this year, I'm predicting every Power Five conference plus Notre Dame:

When the Associated Press released its pre-season Top 25 rankings a couple weeks back, I started to think about what process I would go through if I was an AP voter. It was interesting me to think about how I'd project the season as a whole -- not really a pre-season Top 25, but a projection of the season's final Top 25 poll. So I built a way to do this.

There weren't really any mid-major programs that interested me enough to include this season (though South Florida would have been tops on the list), but most anyone with some past experience in Excel should be able to take my spreadsheet template and expand it to include the Group of Five teams as well if they want. I will warn that putting this sheet together is quite time-intensive, though. It's a labor of love and madness for me. That's why I wound up with only Notre Dame in the "extras" column -- I felt that if I included South Florida, I immediately had to include at least a half-dozen other teams who could be as good as Charlie Strong's Bulls.

Here's the public version of this year's spreadsheet, for those who are familiar with this and want to get right to that.

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