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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Just read: 'Batman: Arkham Asylum'

Just read: 'Batman: Arkham Asylum'

Following up The Cult, which is a weird book filled with weird art, with Arkham Asylum is not a good recipe for enjoying Arkham Asylum. I find myself now two books deep into a bunch of "weird art" here, so I'll return to Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth in the future, when my palette is a bit more "cleansed" or whatever. Just a note to get us started.

Anyway, Arkham Asylum is considered one of the greatest Batman books of all time. It's the best-selling graphic novel that DC Comics has ever released, apparently. This is surprising is because you'd think DC's best-selling book would be something that feels a little more representative of Batman as a whole, while this book is decidedly abstract in its presentation of Batman as a being and standalone character, and filled with nuance that requires deep digging to fully understand -- to me, it doesn't seem like a casual "walk into the store and pick this bad boy up for a quick read" type of book. Let's dig into the plot of Arkham Asylum a bit first.

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My favorite albums of 2017, so far

My favorite albums of 2017, so far

Each of the previous three years has come with a certain disclaimer -- that I'm listening to less music than I pretty much ever have in the past. Not the case this year! My music listening has picked up quite a bit this year, though it stills tends to come in waves. I'm spending more time listening to music on the train than I used to, and while my commute time is still mostly devoted to a book, a comic book or a podcast, this alone has increased the amount of new albums gracing my ears. Additionally, I'm spending more time in the gym this year than in years past, which is proving to be the main source of my music listening so far in 2017.

Here's the dang list.

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Just read: 'Batman: The Cult'

Just read: 'Batman: The Cult'

Since I've started reading more, I've quickly come to realize that I am a slow as heck reader. Even books that are engrossing me seem to take forever to get through. This is often due to the fact that I only read during my commute, and I sometimes interrupt several days in a row of reading in favor of listening to podcasts or digesting something else (perhaps my Instapaper backlog or pieces of an audiobook) in favor of sticking with the book on which I'm currently working my way through. 

That was the case with Kavalier & Clay, which I heavily enjoyed, but after finishing that I made my way back to my Batman list. (Side note: I've started a more colorful index of my Batman reading here, mainly for my own enjoyment -- I like seeing all the books I've read laid out this way.) It's much easier for me to keep focus when I'm reading a trade paperback, where I don't let the process drag on for days. The size of these books, which usually chime in under 200 pages, is the primary reason for that ... along with the fact that I simply love reading comics more than I do books right now. My list picked up again (kinda) with The Cult, after most recently making my way through A Death in the Family and A Lonely Place of Dying.

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Just read: Michael Chabon's 'Kavalier & Clay'

Just read: Michael Chabon's 'Kavalier & Clay'

It is a blessing, in that decidedly push-up-your-glasses type of way, to read a book that engrosses you and makes an immediate impact while also letting you know, subconsciously at first and then, eventually, overtly, that you're going to read this again and you're going to enjoy it even more the next time. Not that reading books is this exclusively "nerdy" thing and so this experience only applies to "nerds" -- but that this feeling will mostly come down upon those who are regular readers, or it's the regular readers who will appreciate it most, compared to the readers who might get engulfed in any given book because of the novelty of it, and due to my personal years-long reading drought, it's something I haven't felt very vividly in some time. While not quite yet worthy of a descriptor like "voracious," I have read enough material recently enough to be able to say Kavalier & Clay is a decidedly special novel for me.

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Good as heck digital Marvel Comics sale on Amazon

Good as heck digital Marvel Comics sale on Amazon

Over the weekend I stumbled upon a very large Marvel Comics sale over at Amazon. There are tons of digital titles -- more than I can count -- on sale at extreme discounts. All of the titles are marked as "Kindle Edition" on the Amazon store, but for what it's worth, they will all also deliver to your ComiXology app if your accounts are linked, or if you just use your Amazon account on ComiXology.

I've gravitated toward using ComiXology mainly for titles where I'm not interested in creating lasting physical collections. So the vast majority of my Batman, Star Wars, and Archie reading is done via buying physical trade paperbacks -- but most everything else goes the route of ComiXology app. It's often cheaper to buy these from the Amazon storefront than the actual ComiXology storefront, too, so this sale isn't super surprising.

Since I normally buy trade paperbacks, even on digital, the going price can be anywhere from $8 to $12 and up for a single book. This is fairly reflective, if a little cheaper than, the going rates for physical books. But this sale has books going for an average somewhere between $2.20 and $3.60 or so.

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Mike Mitchell's 'Star Wars' portraits turned into background images

Mike Mitchell's 'Star Wars' portraits turned into background images

I haven't posted in a while -- been a little busy with some wedding planning and some work things. But since last week was May 4 and all of my social media feeds were ablaze with Star Wars appreciation, I took some time to turn a few of my favorite Mike Mitchell portraits into backgrounds on my desktop. Which, side note: All of the Mitchell portraits are amazing and while you may be currently kicking yourself for missing all of them and not having $300 to blow on eBay right now, rest assured they'll (probably) make more. Sign up for the Mondo newsletter if you want to find out when they're released.

Anyway, that Instagram post got enough likes, and enough people asked about the backgrounds, that I decided to turn the rest of Mitchell's portraits into desktop backgrounds as well. Then I made backgrounds sized for iPhone 7 screens and iPhone 7 Plus screens to boot. Here are all of those for download.

I will note that I'm not the best at Photoshop, and I didn't dedicate too much time to any single one of these. If you notice anything odd, feel free to let me know and I'll update the image in Dropbox.

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Just read: Monte Burke's 'Saban'

Just read: Monte Burke's 'Saban'

Seeking out long-form work about a subject I generally dislike isn't really my normal bag. Nick Saban, the head coach of the University of Alabama's football team, is an exception to this usual rule for only one main reason -- he seems like a total lunatic at surface level. His celebrity presence as college football's most successful coach has driven media and fanbases across the country to adopt a pretty agreed-upon stance on him, and that stance is generally that he appears to be an asshole.

Saban's success and seeming lack of happiness to accompany that success is what stands about most about him from a bird's-eye perspective. People always repeat the same things -- he doesn't smile, he wins the national championship then gets right to work recruiting, he doesn't take any vacations, doesn't spend as much time as he should with his family, he's too hard-nosed and businesslike for the college game, which is rife with tradition and character.

Saban: The Making of A Coach, by Monte Burke, sheds a ton of light on how Saban ticks. For me, the book was especially illuminating in two fashions. It takes a deep dive into Saban's relationship with his father, Big Nick, and the circumstances of his upbringing in a coal mining town in West Virginia, and it also fully explains the evolution of his "Process," which he brought to life with the help of a psychology professor at Michigan State University.

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Déjà nostalgia: A whole life, plus two nights, with The Menzingers

Déjà nostalgia: A whole life, plus two nights, with The Menzingers

The Menzingers occupy this specific space in rock music. They aren't the only band that live in this space, but they're one of the best at doing this thing within it. There's no hard definition for this space, no concrete rules or regulations that determine its residents; it's not marked by a specific sub-genre or even a certain execution of a familiar sound. The space they fill is more recognizable by the way a Menzingers song can make you feel.

This feeling was all around me when I listened to "Lookers" for the first time. Released in August last year, the track was the first single dropped from their upcoming album After the Party. Friend of the program Dan Ozzi wrote, in Noisey's premiere of the song, about The Menzingers' affinity for nostalgia within their songwriting. This affinity is of paramount importance to The Menzingers' membership in this space, and that space is where the term déjá nostalgia will apply most directly. He called on the band's past records, On the Impossible Past and Rented World, for their nostalgic vibes and commented that "Lookers" feels like an instant Menzingers classic, which I very much agree with.

Nostalgia is a prominent feeling when listening to this band, especially to OTIP, due to the imagery in which The Menzingers often deal. The scenes from that album are well known by now: American muscle cars, American diners, American waitresses, a non-zero amount of American drunkenness, driving without aim, getting nowhere (the plot does not develop / it ends where it begins), etc. The Menzingers are amongst the few bands that pull this off without being corny, which is the highest risk run by bands who operate in this area, lyrically. And the nostalgia factor comes into play because diners, muscle cars and other settings or objects like those don't feel particularly of this era, though all of them still exist; there's a wistfulness, a vignette tinge, a haze and romanticism to it all. On the Impossible Past feels simultaneously new and old, even on first listen.

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Just read: Nick Offerman's 'Paddle Your Own Canoe'

Just read: Nick Offerman's 'Paddle Your Own Canoe'

Last year, I wrote about three (3) books which I didn't read, but listened to via Audible. The idea was to listen to audiobooks read by their authors, and all the works I chose were by relatively funny people whose work I enjoy as comedians or actors. The first was Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance, which was followed by B.J. Novak's One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories and Tina Fey's Bossypants.

Toward the end of 2016, I transitioned mainly into reading comic books and only a few occasional IRL books outside of my podcast listening. But since I recently discovered a way to better destroy my podcast backlog, I had room for listening to Nick Offerman's Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man's Fundamentals for Delicious Living.

Offerman is best known as the actor who plays Ron Swanson in NBC's Parks and Recreation, which is going to be a show that goes down as having one of the best casts of all time probably. I knew this book was memoir-ish, and subsequently expected some type of detailing of life similar to Fey's Bossypants. Instead, Offerman takes on a single thesis: Tips for how to live a delicious life, as the title puts it. These tips are presented in the context of his own life story, of course, but the driving through-point made the book a remarkably easy and enjoyable listen. As a side note, early on: If you've never seen Offerman's stand-up production, American Ham, it's well worth your while, and serves as a bit of a companion to this book if you're still considering whether to read it.

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'S-Town' takes 'Serial' learnings seriously

'S-Town' takes 'Serial' learnings seriously

It didn't seem to me like S-Town, the new podcast from Serial and This American Life, had an abundance of hype leading into its release. The announcement of a new show from one of the world's most popular podcasts (TAL) and the perhaps world's most recognizable podcast (Serial) was obviously newsworthy, and coverage of it made the rounds across all the outlets that regularly cover podcasting, as expected, and all the outlets that never cover podcasting, but do cover Serial, also as expected.

The end of Serial's first season didn't seem to sit well with listeners who treated it like it was a House of Cards-type drama that would come to a nice, neat, conclusive ending. Of course it didn't -- real-life stories don't end like fictionalized ones. Sarah Koenig's expert narration and hosting ability was almost too good, making the story in that first season feel more like high-budget, dramatic entertainment than on-the-ground reporting. Adding to that, the second season of the show wasn't met with as much fanfare; the result, hypothetically, was that maybe people got burnt out by Serial's flame as quickly as they ignited it.

I was, clearly, wrong. As of March 30th, in iTunes Podcasts, you'll find the following data points that prove me incorrect: S-Town occupies the first banner slot in the Podcasts homepage promotional carousel; it occupies the first slot in the "New & Noteworthy" list; it's No. 1 on the Top Podcasts chart; each of its seven episodes are ranked No. 1 through No. 7, in the order of their chronology, on the Top Episodes chart; Serial is No. 3 on Top Podcasts, which, wow; and This American Life is No. 4 on Top Podcasts. It's safe to say that S-Town will be the most anticipated podcast release of the year. I'm interested to see, come year's end, how highly its seven episodes ranked amongst the most-listened-to episodes of the year in iTunes Podcasts' database, if they provide such data.

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Just read: 'Hatching Twitter' by Nick Bilton

Just read: 'Hatching Twitter' by Nick Bilton

Loving Twitter is a difficult thing to do in 2017. It's no secret the company has been plagued with tons of issues since its initial public offering in November 2013 -- and while some issues are nerdy and technical, like their inability or (seeming) disinterest in truly improving their product, the worst of these issues are basic and human. Twitter still hasn't publicly unveiled a way for users to effectively filter harassment on the service, making any Tweeter (but especially marginalized persons) easy targets for awful online abuse. There are plenty of cases to highlight this, both high-profile and non-, but there's no real need for me to re-hash them now. It seems like there's always a conversation at Twitter about "fixing" this in general terms, but very minimal action to help the average (i.e., non-verified, non-celebrity, non-"famous") user. This is trash.

It's a frustrating place to be in many ways, because the lack of policing and individual freedom on Twitter lends the service to be absolutely invaluable in some aspects -- the best real "coverage" of protests against police brutality have come via first-hand Tweets, as an example. I remember following the protests in Ferguson, MO almost exclusively on Twitter, both via activists like Deray and via civilian reporters who were on the ground to share raw footage of the events. Twitter and Periscope were so effective at enabling people to share their experiences that it seemed like almost every video shown on TV via traditional news networks like CNN were sourced from the service.

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