Just read: 'Batman: Birth of the Demon' Trilogy

Just read: 'Batman: Birth of the Demon' Trilogy

This portion of the trusty Batman reading list is extremely hard to place when it comes to the chronology of the Dark Knight's career. It's arguable that I read it too early, and I probably did -- but of all the mistakes I could make, this one doesn't seem to be damaging in any way. Birth of the Demon is a collection of the Demon trilogy: Son of the DemonBride of the Demon and Birth of the Demon. To put it as simply as possible, these stories provide an introduction to Ra's al Ghul and his daughter, Talia al Ghul; not only to we get to know them as characters, but we get Ra's' proper origin story as well.

That quick explanation is hardly enough to describe these stories, though. While far from my favorite Batman tales so far, this trilogy is exceptionally written and drawn, and the three stories told within this trade paperback each function as well on their own as they do together. Son of the Demon sees Batman / Bruce Wayne already extremely familiar with Talia; you're going to have to read this one with the mindset that these two characters are very friendly, although you may not have seen Talia at all yet.

Batman and Talia are in enough of a relationship for her to know his true identity, and for Ra's al Ghul, described even here as a dangerous enemy of Batman's, to know it as well. During this story, Talia and Batman get "married" and Talia becomes pregnant with a child. Meanwhile, Batman and Ra's al Ghul team up to destroy a common enemy. There are a couple of weird plot points in this one, but the action sequences are great and, most importantly, you get a strong feeling for the time/place/era/feel of these stories. It's pretty important to read this before Birth of the Demon for purposes of getting into the mindset that book is told in, though I would argue that Birth is the only part of this trilogy to be truly essential in the Batman chronology. You're introduced to the Lazarus Pit, a gaping hole in the ground filled with bad-smelling chemicals, which is the mechanism by which Ra's keeps himself youngish and effectively immortal.

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Five months into Blue Apron

Five months into Blue Apron

Katie and I signed up for Blue Apron in February, when it was cold as heck toward the "end" of winter in Brooklyn and we got tired of the pretty limited produce supply at our local spots. You can only make chili so many times before you become annoyed by the lack of ready-to-eat avocados.

Blue Apron costs $60 per week, and for that price you get three meals big enough to feed two people. So, $30 per person, for three dinners. More physically, what you get for that price is a large box delivered to your door that contains all the ingredients you're going to be putting too much salt on that week (seriously, if you used as much salt as Blue Apron tells you to use, you'd mainly be eating salt). It also comes with directions for each recipe printed out on a piece of paper, and two ice packs which you now have to be annoyed about throwing away every 7 days.

This is a great deal for us. Sometimes I think it's an unfathomably good deal and I have to remind myself that it isn't this good of a deal for everyone. Most Blue Apron ingredients are organic or locally grown, and that stuff costs a lot of money in New York City. It's especially difficult to find decently priced organic beef, chicken and pork where we live, and fish is also quite expensive here. The regularity with which a Blue Apron meal contains some type of meat or fish is very high; at least two of the three meals will normally have a meat/fish component unless Katie has selected all-veggie options for us (we do this every few weeks). Being forced to eat three dinners at home also obviously cuts down on the likelihood that you'll get lazy and either order Seamless or eat out, which saves some cash.

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Just read: 'Robin Year One' & 'Batgirl Year One'

Just read: 'Robin Year One' & 'Batgirl Year One'

We're not getting too far off the beaten path here, by any means -- I may have just read a few Star Wars books, but I'm super excited to continue on the Batman path I've laid out. The most recent trade paperback I picked up was a combined volume of Robin: Year One & Batgirl: Year One; the two stories together made for the longest trade I've read so far (though it's still not going to compare to the Knightfall trilogy when I get there!).

These two collections, which outline the beginnings of their respective characters, are both wonderfully put together and a blast to read through. The characters are tied together by nature, perhaps Batman's two closest allies finding their way into the service of the Dark Knight, and the combined book treats it just right. Robin's story is farther along than Batgirl's by the time these volumes start; we saw him meet Batman and join forces with him for the first time in Dark Victory, then saw him earn his stripes a bit more in The Gauntlet. So Dick Grayson's Year One story is really all about him settling into his role as Batman's crime-fighting partner and balancing that with a normal life -- we see him in school, talking to girls, etc. It's real easy to otherwise forget that he's a teenager.

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Just read: Marvel's 'Star Wars' & 'Darth Vader'

Just read: Marvel's 'Star Wars' & 'Darth Vader'

Over the past few months, I've started chronicling my foray into comic books by blogging about the Batman trade paperbacks I've been reading. In an effort to keep myself from blowing through my Batman list too fast, though, I branched out and picked up a few other titles as a breather between Batstories. 

I picked up the first two volumes of Marvel's Star Wars title -- Skywalker Strikes and Showdown on Smuggler's Moon -- in addition to the first two volumes of their Darth Vader title -- VADER and Shadows & Secrets. Additionally, I bought Vader Down, which is a crossover event between these two titles and fits nicely at the end of each of the first two volumes. In total, these five trade paperbacks comprise about 15 issues from each of the runs.  

The decision to pick these up wasn't as easy as it might seem for a big fan of the movies. I love Star Wars more than just about every other media property, and I felt myself really, really taking a liking to comic books as well -- I've yet to be disappointed by any of the Batman volumes I've read, and I've been enjoying those much more than I anticipated -- but the Star Wars books seemed super iffy to me. Obviously, Marvel's got as good a track record as any other publisher, but the idea of putting the ginormousness of Star Wars onto a colored-and-inked page seemed potentially underwhelming (for reference, I've never read any of Marvel's past Star Wars work). I equate Star Wars with grandiose shots of star destroyers rumbling overhead, and just as much with booming soundtracks that make your seat shake. In fact, I just bought tickets to see a marathon of the original trilogy in a huge, fancy theatre mainly in search of the loudest viewing experience possible.

On top of that, how would an artist depict a Han Solo smirk or Princess Leia scowl or Luke Skywalker shoulder shrug the way we'd seen Ford, Fisher and Hamill do it on the big screen? And how would the writers be able to come up with novel storylines that take place between the lines of the existing films and other canon publications? All in all, it seemed like a tall order and I wasn't sure any comic book would be able to live up to the huge expectations I will forever place on any official piece of Star Wars-related media.

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Mid-Year Albums of the Year

Mid-Year Albums of the Year

On Friday, Jason and I published a new episode of Encore during which we delved into our top albums of 2016 so far. Here's a link to that episode, and my mid-year list is below.

  1. Modern Baseball - Holy Ghost
  2. Pinegrove - Cardinal
  3. PUP - The Dream Is Over
  4. Chance The Rapper - Coloring Book
  5. The Hotelier - Goodness
  6. Parker Millsap - The Very Last Day
  7. Kanye West - The Life of Pablo
  8. JANK - Awkward Pop Songs

I really, really love the first five albums here and I'm sure they will be around the top of my EOTY list when 2016 is over with. My sixth, seventh and eighth selections don't inspire the same passion, but I enjoyed them enough to rank them. Thinking through this list, I realized I haven't listened to many albums this year overall -- probably only to about 20 or so, at least enough to consider them for a list like this. 

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Suburbia I've Given You All and Now I'm Committing This to Memory

Suburbia I've Given You All and Now I'm Committing This to Memory

I saw Motion City Soundtrack play a show for the final time on June 16.

Motion City was never my favorite band, but they were consistently amongst the groups I listened to most often in high school and throughout my first couple years of college. They have at least three albums (I Am The MovieCommit This To MemoryMy Dinosaur Life) out of their six studio releases that I would place in my own library of personal classics, and another record (Even If It Kills Me) that stands as an underrated off-course maneuver during a time when pop-punk bands were zig-zagging all over the place; it's interesting as a time capsule of post-radio/post-MTV era pop-punk and an even more interesting LP to revisit.

All this to say, the "death" of Motion City Soundtrack seems like it should really bother me. They were meaningful to me and released multiple albums that are securely lodged in the way I will retrospectively identify myself, from a musical vantage point, as a young adult. Yet their breakup doesn't bother me much, which I am somewhat surprised to realize. I got semi-emotional for a moment during "Make Out Kids" at their show, and I got shivers during the end of "Let's Get Fucked Up and Die" like any normal person would, but other than that, I was totally fine. I didn't "prepare" for my farewell to the band in advance and I didn't mourn losing them as I took the train home. 

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Just read: Tina Fey's 'Bossypants'

Just read: Tina Fey's 'Bossypants'

Bossypants is the third audiobook I've listened to (following Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance and B.J. Novak's One More Thing), following the theme of listening to funny people read their books to me. Tina Fey is very good at this, better than Novak and at least as good as Ansari (who I thought was really, really good at it). 

Fey's book is a more traditional autobiography (albeit an extremely sharp, witty and overall hilarious one), telling her story from growing up in Pennsylvania to getting her start in improv at the Second City in Chicago to her early days at Saturday Night Live ("Only in comedy does an obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity") and finally her success with 30 Rock. She is extremely humble and honest throughout the book, discussing low points with transparency and letting readers in on intimate moments through her life. Equally as intriguing are the sometimes silly, yet thematically revealing, chapters on family, work/life balance (or lack thereof, when you're in charge of a whole TV show), and mundane things like driving across Pennsylvania for the holidays with your parents or in-laws.

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Just read: Chuck Klosterman's 'I Wear The Black Hat'

Just read: Chuck Klosterman's 'I Wear The Black Hat'

This statement may be extremely obvious, but also the most accurate, summation of Chuck Klosterman's I Wear The Black Hat: It's a book that's written by Chuck Klosterman. So if you've read his work previously, you know what you're going to get. This is the first Klosterman book I've read, but I've ingested enough of his writing in other formats to have an idea of what I was diving into. 

I Wear The Black Hat is a collection of essays / rants / ramblings with a general backdrop of villainy, and exploring how we observe and remember villains. Klosterman uses this curtain of villainy to generally write about totally unrelated topics from one chapter to another, and frequently jumps around semi-unrelated ideas within single essays. Featured characters include Kanye, LeBron, Darth Vader, Perez Hilton, Kim Dotcom, Batman, this guy, O.J. Simpson (who is dissected alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and many more (including Hitler, who Klosterman acknowledges is included in the book mostly out of obligation). 

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Just read: B.J. Novak's 'One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories'

Just read: B.J. Novak's 'One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories'

B.J. Novak's One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories is the second title in my recent Audible quest of listening to books written by funny people, read by the funny people who wrote them. One More Thing is a collection of short stories (64 of them, to be exact) from Novak, who is best known for his writing and his portrayal of the character Ryan on The Office. This is Novak's first book, and it balances the expected humor with occasional, surprisingly cutting pieces of insight and depth. 

The average running length of each story is probably somewhere between three and five pages (tough to fully gauge when you're listening, but I can guess); some are extremely short, while there are a few that run quite long. The lengthier stories are amongst his best work here, and they're peppered in throughout so if you're reading the book in order, there's plenty of variation from story to story in terms of length, seriousness and tone. Here's one of my favorite stories on the way shorter side of things, presented in full, below:

The Walk to School on the Day After Labor Day
I was sad that summer was over. But I was happy that it was over for my enemies, too.

This quick turn of phrase manifests itself often through Novak's short stories. One semi-frequent trick of his is putting a new spin on old fables, like in the story that opens the book ("The Rematch"), which sees the hare absolutely obliterating the tortoise after training for months to beat him in a rematch. "Slow and steady wins the race, 'til truth and talent claim their place," he writes.

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Just read: 'Batman: The Long Halloween,' 'Batman: Dark Victory' & related stories

Just read: 'Batman: The Long Halloween,' 'Batman: Dark Victory' & related stories

This is why I wanted to start reading comic books. The Long Halloween and Dark Victory are widely regarded as two of the best Batman collections ever -- the former is considered by some to be the finest story you can buy in trade paperback format, and the latter is generally a consensus top-10-ish choice -- and I knew this going into these stories. But, given that I haven't been reading comics for very long at all, I wasn't sure if I'd grasp the gravity of these titles on first reading. I figured that maybe I'd enjoy them, but come to appreciate them more after reading several more Batman books down the road.

I'm sure this is true; I'm sure I'll love The Long Halloween and Dark Victory even more when I read them over and over in the future. Because I'm already very sure that I'm going to keep these books for an extremely long time. Right after I watched Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I had a relatively recurring itch to start reading Batman comics again; I wasn't sure why that happened, but after reading these two books, I understand it now. I was looking for Batman stories that would satisfy me in the same way Christopher Nolan's trilogy of movies did. Nolan puts you in the world of Batman in a way no other filmmaker ever has; you're not just rooting for the hero, but you're in the shoes of all his supporting characters, too. From Alfred to Lucius Fox to all the enemies Batman faces, to Catwoman, Ra's and Talia Al Ghul and Bane, the Dark Knight films leave everyone from the most casual to the most diehard Batman fans happy in the story they just experienced. 

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Just read: Aziz Ansari's 'Modern Romance'

Just read: Aziz Ansari's 'Modern Romance'

Well, I'm putting this under my "just read" moniker but... I have to admit that I didn't actually read this book. Aziz Ansari read it to me and I listened. A while ago, I realized that I stopped listening to books on Audible (after having gone through a few late last year) and that I'd amassed something like nine credits without paying attention. So I canceled my subscription and used up all my credits on one specific type of book:

  1. Aziz Ansari - Modern Romance (read by Aziz Ansari)
  2. Tina Fey - Bossypants (read by Tina Fey)
  3. Neil Patrick Harris - Choose Your Own Autobiography (read by Neil Patrick Harris)
  4. B.J. Novak - One More Thing (read by B.J. Novak)
  5. Nick Offerman - Paddle Your Own Canoe (read by Nick Offerman)
  6. Nick Offerman - Gumption (read by Nick Offerman)
  7. Amy Poehler - Yes Please (read by Amy Poehler)
  8. Rainn Wilson - Bassoon King (read by Rainn Wilson)

I theorized that listening to books by funny people, read by those funny people, would be not just funny, but funnier than reading their books on the printed page in my own little voice in the back of my head. So far, this idea has a perfect, 100 percent hit rate (currently one book in). Listening to Aziz Ansari read Modern Romance was enjoyable and funny, as expected -- and beyond the surface level enjoyment, hearing an author read their own work lets you notice emphases, pauses, etc., where the author wants you to notice them, which affects the way you digest their work (in a positive way, IMO). 

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A Day To Remember - "Bad Vibrations"

A Day To Remember - "Bad Vibrations"

A Day To Remember released a new song today, "Bad Vibrations," the title track from their new album, which drops on August 19. This band has been pretty interesting to cover over the past six years: Their last LP release in 2013 was marred by all the lawsuits that were going on with Victory Records, and they still managed a career-high debut sales week of 93,000 copies amidst all that. Pretty impressive considering there was almost no proper lead-up to that album.

I'm not saying that ADTR is a terrific band, but I do feel there aren't many groups that are as consistently good at doing their thing. They occupy a specific space, and are one of the only bands in that space -- whatever space is defined by radio-rock-ish songs that include Actual Screaming. They aren't quite friendly enough for the pop charts, but each album has enough pop-rock on it to deliver a successful alt-rock or heavy-rock radio hit or two, and each release has seen them explore more extreme ends of their poppy and heavy sides. When they get heavy, like they do on "Bad Vibrations," it's usually balanced out by going really, really poppy on another song. I wonder if this new album will continue that formula. 

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Just read - Hunter S. Thompson's 'Hell's Angels'

Just read - Hunter S. Thompson's 'Hell's Angels'

After enjoying both The Rum Diary and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I was very excited to dig into another book by Hunter S. Thompson, Hell's Angels. Thompson was embedded with a gang of motorcycle outlaws called the Hells Angels in/around Oakland for over a year, and this book tells his stories with the Angels and sees him commenting on their wild popularity in the mid-'60s.  

Perhaps it's the more straightforward tone or the mostly/totally nonfiction-ness of Hell's Angels, but this book was much harder for me to get through than the previously mentioned ones. It felt poorly paced by comparison, and sometimes dry despite a pretty interesting subject matter. You can tell that Thompson didn't have his full voice about him yet, but unlike The Rum Diary, where that was easily masked by a decent fictional narrative, Hell's Angels doesn't keep your attention as efficiently.  

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My 'Star Wars' Funko POP! Collection

My 'Star Wars' Funko POP! Collection

Soon after watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December, I got the semi-nostalgic itch to buy toys of my new favorite characters. I had action figures from the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy when I was young, and I had a desire to find some cool collectibles of Rey, Finn, Poe, BB-8 and Kylo Ren at the very least. 

It didn't take too much searching to decide that Funko's POP! bobbleheads were the coolest Star Wars toys on the market, for my money. These POP! collectibles are super popular and I already had a couple of them, so I immediately went ahead and bought the aforementioned characters as well as Captain Phasma, Chewie, and some retailer-specific exclusives of Rey and Finn. I was luckily to get in on the first wave of availability for these characters; not too long after the movie came out in theaters, it became really difficult to find Rey anywhere. 

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Google made my favorite iOS keyboard

Google made my favorite iOS keyboard

I've been using Google's new Gboard for iOS, and it's quickly become my keyboard of choice on my iPhone. The success rate of third-party keyboards varies widely (Swype proved to be useless to me, and I don't use the Copied keyboard as much as I imagined I would), but Google has combined a bunch of powerful features into what feels like a keyboard that fits modern texting, Tweeting and emailing habits. 

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Just read - Stephen King's 'Carrie'

Just read - Stephen King's 'Carrie'

Carrie isn't a drop-dead horrifying book, but it is pretty gnarly overall. The writing talent is obvious, front-and-center, even in King's first published novel. He uses multiple narrative voices, telling the story as a series of clippings from various (fictional, obvs) sources. There are clippings of books about the prom night where Carrie destroys the town, written by survivors and by people who have studied Carrie's telekinesis; there are wire reports and newspaper stories about the incident; there are transcripts of Congressional hearings about the matter; and there is a third-person narrator as well. This depersonalizes the events of the story at times, but the matter-of-fact tone inherent in some of these voices also makes it seem more horrifying because it seems more realistic.

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Modern Baseball: Still with us the whole way

Modern Baseball: Still with us the whole way

A friend of mine recently asked me for a recommendation on an up-and-coming pop-punk-ish band for her to check out. There are no shortage of pop-punk-ish bands, duh, but this came with a specific context. Being 26 years old now -- and my friend is slightly older -- finding a band in that genre that also keeps pace with your interests / hopes / desires / worries / general mindset becomes a fair challenge. 

I'm a Modern Baseball fan, but their first two albums struck me at a specific angle. Their appeal was rooted more in the past than the present, and I viewed the band in a semi-nostalgic light even at first listen. The first time I saw Modern Baseball play, at Run For Cover's CMJ showcase a few years back, they were laughing on stage at how bonkers the crowd was going as they played "The Weekend." That moment is a bit frozen in time to me; I saw a band that seemed genuinely curious about what the heck was going on. Why do so many people know these words? Do all of these people own our album? Wait, where are we? Etc, etc...

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PUP is the punk band we need rn

PUP is the punk band we need rn

PUP is a great band to me. They play that type of rowdy-sounding punk rock that is inherently dirty and crunchy, historically confined to basements and other forms of cramped venues which are required by law to have a mysterious layer of grime on the floor, usually performed through amps that are loud enough that guitar distortion becomes its own instrument, and prone to having cans of cheap beer thrown into the air at any given moment. Listening to them reminds me of watching The Menzingers play at The Atlantic in Gainesville, or seeing Red City Radio play at Fest, or being with Less Than Jake when they do weird stuff like play on a boat in the Hudson River that is too crowded and you fear for drunk young people being flung overboard.

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Just read: 'Batman: Year One' & 'Batman: The Man Who Laughs'

Just read: 'Batman: Year One' & 'Batman: The Man Who Laughs'

As I wrote recently, I decided to get into comics by reading Batman stories in chronological order at first. I went the way of trade paperbacks, which are the heftier books that collect quite a few issues of one or multiple characters, rather than seeking out individual issues or going the route of a digital subscription and reading individual issues that way. The first trade I read was Frank Miller and David Mazucchelli's Batman: Year One, which is the definitive modern-day telling of Bruce Wayne's origin story; I moved from there to Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke's Batman: The Man Who Laughs, which introduces the Joker, who obviously has a rich history as Batman's most compelling and sinister villain. 

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Julien Baker - "Rejoice" - Audiotree

Julien Baker - "Rejoice" - Audiotree

I could share this video on the web every single day, but that would be pretty annoying ... even if I did that, though, there's no guarantee that everyone who follows me on Twitter would click the link, which is really troubling. And even if everyone who follows me on Twitter clicked it, most of the people on the planet don't follow me on Twitter ... but, realistically, they need to see it too. 

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