2013: My Literary Journey

I look so ditzy in this picture.

I look so ditzy in this picture.

At the beginning of this year I made myself a list of goals. I failed most of them. However, one of them was to take the Goodreads reading challenge, which is a feature on the aforementioned website where you challenge yourself to read a certain number of books in a year. I wasn’t sure what number I should go with, as even though I own a great amount of books, I’m kind of a slow reader. My initial pick was 30 books, but at the last minute (being minutes ago) I changed it to 20, and realized I had actually already reached my goal! Is it an empty victory because I kind of rigged the system to fit my needs? No, because I still read 20 books, and just like on virtual pet sites, reading books increases your intelligence. Usually.

And here are the books I read in the year 2013.



Dead Until Dark
by Charlaine Harris

This was an easy read, and an absolutely ridiculous book. The author has kind of made it clear in interviews about the series that a large part of why she writes the books is money, and it really shows. A telepathic waitress falls in love with a Civil War veteran who also happens to be a vampire. She’s also being courted by a shapeshifter who stalks her as a dog. Good things about this book: it was cute, it was fantasy, and it was interesting. Bad things: the stereotypes were drawn with magic marker. There are two gay characters in the book: the first one we meet is a man infected with AIDS who is trying to infect a vampire with it and kill him. The second is a flamboyant drug dealer who sleeps with vampires and steals their blood. Both of these stereotypes (the AIDS-spreader and the drug-dealing slut) have been bad images that have been superimposed onto gay people for decades, and I find it extremely ironic that this woman has won some kind of award for gay rights because she includes gay characters in her books. Don’t get me wrong, there are gay villains in the world, but I don’t think you qualify as a gay rights activist if your gay characters are harmful stereotypes and your supposedly accepting protagonist basically says several times in the novel that she just overlooks the fact that the gay people she knows are gay, as opposed to actually being an accepting person.

In addition to this, the novel is a parody of everything southern, and unfortunately it seems to take itself totally seriously. The character development is lacking, as there are something like thirty characters in the book and apart from the main four or so, each gets about two lines of dialogue, and once Sookie and Bill sleep together, they never have another conversation for the rest of the novel, they just fuck on every other page. I find it very disturbing that Sookie reveals to Bill that she was molested by her uncle (oh look, more fun stereotypes), and Bill’s immediate reaction is to get all turned on and force himself on her, before leaving her asleep to go and murder her uncle. It’s just… really ridiculous. And I will finish my thoughts on the book thusly: Elvis Presley is a character in the book. The real, actual Elvis Presley. He is a vampire. I am not making this up. Moving on.


Sense and Sensibility
by Jane Austen

Ah, now onto something a lot more classy. The first Jane Austen novel I read was Pride and Prejudice, and I was surprised by how hilarious I found it and how extremely enjoyable it was to read. I was expecting the same experience from this book and I got it to a lesser degree. The story was basically structured the same way as Pride and Prejudice: a woman meets a man who seems perfect, he turns into a complete jerk and breaks her heart, and then comes back to redeem himself, all while a wise elder sister wags her finger from the corner, before she herself falls madly in love with some charming devil herself. Well, it’s mostly the same thing here, but my issue is that the story is not as witty, the characters are not as funny or interesting, and the jerk who comes back to redeem himself actually proves himself to be even more of an asshole that we thought. For some reason, only the reader understands this, as the characters all forgive him his terrible behavior for no real reason. In the end, some marriages are thrown together for the sake of getting everybody married off and they all live “as happily as can be managed.”

Don’t get me wrong, this is actually a fantastic novel, it’s just not as good as I was hoping after having read Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen’s writing style is engaging and fast-paced, she doesn’t bother with minute details and entire months can pass in a paragraph; she gets on to the action and the dialogue and in every chapter there is a clear event that changed the characters or progresses their story in some way. Sense and Sensibility is a great novel, just maybe not the greatest Jane Austen novel. Still, I recommend it for someone interested in getting started with classic literature, although I might think Pride and Prejudice would be a much better starting point.


City of Bones
by Cassandra Clare

And here we go. I was roped into reading The Mortal Instruments by people who worked with me at my old job. Let me simplify it: City of Bones is cute. It’s even interesting and entertaining. It is also completely unoriginal. Every single plot point is ripped from Final Fantasy and other video games, anime and manga, and other fantasy novels. It’s a hodge-podge of fairies, vampires, werewolves, and angels, thrown into a boiling pot. It made for an okay read, but I was very dissapointed by the lack of originality, and I saw every plot “twist” coming a mile away. It incorporates such overused favorites as: the best friend becomes a vampire, the brooding sexy guy is violent and abusive, the female protagonist is an idiot, and that old favorite, the villain is the protagonists father. Let’s also mention that there are cringe-worthy names like Lucian Greymark, the werewolf, Raphael the vampire (a direct rip in appearance and personality from Armand of Anne Rice’s vampire chronicles), and of course the evil demon-hunter amassing an army of nasty creatures to wipe out humanity Nazi-style: Valentine. It’s just… yeah.


City of Ashes
by Cassandra Clare

And then I kept reading! Shame on me, I know, but by this point it has been revealed that the two main lovers are actually siblings, and now their passion has become the incestuous love that dare not speak it’s name. What bothers me isn’t that they’re siblings, it isn’t that they continue to make out after they learn that they’re siblings, it’s that the description of the back of the book describes Jace as Clary’s sexy newfound brother, and kind of says up front: “Oh yeah, you ready for some steamy sibling love?” It’s just… unusual. “Unforseen” plot “twists” in this edition: the bad guy is gathering not one, not two, but three instruments of great power to summon forth the armies of hell and take over Hyrule, I mean the world, the best friend vampire becomes a SPECIAL vampire that can go out in daylight, and yet oddly after months, his mother notices no change in him whatsoever, and the main character is a magical savant with like, seriously extreme UBER ANGEL POWERS you guys, and they come from her talent as an artist, because she’s like, really misunderstood and stuff, like for real. Oh, and did I mention there’s a gay warlock who literally shits glitter? Like, glitter actually flies off of him every time he blinks or gestures or walks across the room. It only gets more predictable from here, folks!


City of Glass
by Cassandra Clare

And here we go, the third installment! Will all of the loose ends be tied up? Will the girl finally fuck her brother/lover and get it over with? Will we hurry up and kill the Hitler/Voldemort-style fascist enslave-everyone-to-do-my-bidding bad guy and go whee whee whee all the way home? Well, yeah. Pretty much. We learn that the protagonist is in fact NOT related to the love interest, who was born into one family that was killed so adopted by another who was killed and raised by the villain and given the same name as his real son who he kept in a cave around the corner who actually DOES want to fuck his sister and who is supposedly “killed” but will CLEARLY be coming back. Confusing? It’s alright, don’t think about it too hard, no one else did. The bad guy summons the power of the Triforce Mortal Instruments to get his one wish granted, and in a “surprising” twist the protagonist gets there FIRST! and she of course wishes for the bastard to die and for her loverboy who he just killed to come back to life. Both happen. There’s a party, we dance we kiss we shmooze we carry on we go home happy, whaddya say? As far as I’m concerned the series ends here. It ties up nearly every loose end, and any continuation of the series from here is clearly a marketing campaign. Though it was riddled with trite cliches, these three books were actually alright reads, just don’t go looking for any serious fantasy or deep, thought-provoking writing.


The Order of the Poison Oak
by Brent Hartinger

Here we go! The first winner of the bunch. Like it’s predecessor Geography Club, I read this book in one sitting, and it made me cry just like the first one did. The lovable gay protagonist of Geography Club goes to summer camp and of course meets a buncha hot boys he’s crazy for, but the first one turns out to be a total player and in the end he not only helps a group of kids who are burn survivors to regain their self-confidence but he actually falls in love with fellow camp counselor and they have nice happy fool-around time on the lake. It’s all very sweet, and I really, really enjoyed it.


Double Feature: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies & Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies
by Brent Hartinger

Unfortunately, though the second Russel Middlebrook installment was as great as the first, the third one totally nosedives into barely interesting. There are some standard gay teen lit moments: parents being cold, unfeeling homophobes, priests trying to turn gay kids straight, and a love triangle between the ex-boyfriend and the new boyfriend, but for the most part this book was just boring. I wasn’t moved, I was barely even interested. The romance between Russel and his new boyfriend just disappears, he has a dramatic moment with his ex that we don’t get an explanation for, and the book is divided into two stories: the filming of a low-budget zombie film and all the teen drama that entails from Russel’s point of view, and the same thing from his best friend Min’s point of view. After you read the climax of the story less than halfway through the book, you have to go right back through the exposition again from another character’s perspective and claw your way to the other side of the climax to see what really happened. I almost couldn’t get myself to finish it, it was that much of a let-down.


Pendragon: The Rivers of Zadaa
by D.J. MacHale

I have really loved the Pendragon series since I read the first five installments as a teenager, and I was very interested to know what happens next. It seems to be the consensus that this book is less intense and more formulaic than the ones before it: the main character, a dimension-traveling hero arrives in a strange new world, undergoes the trials therein, uncovers a plot that will lead to the worlds destruction, has a Rocky-like training montage, and goes to save the world, all while tiny bits of the overarching storyline are peppered in. At the end of this book though, I just didn’t feel like I could handle waiting four more books and going through countless, ultimately pointless sidequests, just to figure out what the hell the real story is, and what’s underneath everything, so I spent about another hour or so just flipping through the remaining books in the series to see what the hell is really going on and how things end. For the record, it was a little dissapointing, but I doubt I’ll ever return to this series to read the fully fleshed-out versions of the final four installments.


A Lion Among Men
by Gregory Maguire

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West is one of my favorite books. It literally touches on every single aspect of what it is to be a living being: it covers sexuality, religion, politics, and the dirty underbelly of who people really are, all with a lot of really fun and witty wordplay. Well, after the success of the Wicked musical, Maguire returned to write a sequel called Son of a Witch, which, apart from having some legitimate gay romance, no matter how fleeting, was very lukewarm and felt like it was riding on the coattails of Wicked rather than continuing the story. I think the premise of writing sequels to Wicked almost ruins the point of the book itself, because it ends when the Witch dies. We know she’s going to die. We know the story of her life is a tragedy. There isn’t a happy ending tied up with a bow, there are huge existential questions and an ending that really makes you think. The sequels kind of ruin this atmosphere.

That being said, A Lion Among Men wasn’t bad. It’s centers around two characters: Brr, also known as the Cowardly Lion, and Yackle, an enigmatic figure from the original book who hovered around the edges of Elphaba’s life. I won’t give away the ending, but all of the parts about Yackle were very interesting and gave a broader view of the events in Wicked. As for Brr’s life, it was mostly his self-indulgent soul-searching travels across Oz (like Liir in Son of a Witch) and some kinky cat sex. It kind of sets up for a big finale in the final book, and yet it also kind of drops off right as soon as the action ends. An enigma of sorts, but interesting nontheless, and hopefully the final installment will make all this buildup worth it.


The Queen of the Damned
by Anne Rice

As with A Lion Among Men, this novel is a sequel to one of my favorite books ever: The Vampire Lestat. Anne Rice’s style is mostly unchanged: vivid, gorgeous descriptions of old castles and echoing cathedrals, intense, blood-soaked, heart-pounding passion, and the ocassional run-on chapter describing how frickin’ wonderful New Orleans is. We get it Anne, you really, REALLY like New Orleans. That being said, this book is actually the origin story for the rest of the Vampire Chronicles, it explains how the vampires came into existance and reunites a lot of lost loves with one another. Though there is a sense of danger in the terrifyingly powerful Queen Akasha, the most interesting parts of the story are the flashbacks to the origin story of the vampires, which takes place in ancient Egypt. Though I didn’t love this book as much as The Vampire Lestat, and I am STILL upset that there’s an entire character arc that takes place in one chapter, introducing a character, explaining her life, and then killing her at the end, it definitely feels like the missing chapter and the final piece of the puzzle laid out in Interview With the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat.


Beauty’s Punishment
by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)

This is the sequel to The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, a sadomasochistic erotic take on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. I feel compelled to mention, however, that the Sleeping Beauty tale is only used as a jumping off point for the story, because after the prince awakens the sleeping beauty with a kiss and a few impassioned thrusts into her virgin sex, the story has nothing whatsoever to do with the fairy tale, that I can tell at least. In fact, there really is very little plot in the Beauty books, it’s mostly a series of intense erotic fantasies brought to life in an ornate sexual dreamworld, kind of like an endlessly pounding orgasm that goes on for page after page, with very little over-arching story. As such, it was a good read for those qualities, but not because of a strong narrative and a deep back story; like with the first Sleeping Beauty book, this is more of an exploration of the human psyche, emotions and sexuality. There are metaphors for the human experience aplenty, particularly that of losing one’s virginity and growing as a sexual and emotional and living being. It’s a beautiful book, but it’s also grade A masturbation material, and I think it’s meant to be such.



Let’s Pretend This Never Happened
by Jenny Lawson

This is the hilarious life story of Jenny Lawson, who you may also know as the Bloggess. To put it simply, I frequently laughed so hard that I couldn’t hold the book still and had to stop reading just so I could laugh. The woman is hilarious, and she not only talks about her insane upbringing but also about the realities of dealing with severe, crippling anxiety, death, family, and growing up. Also there are some taxidermy animals and a proposal story that involves both suspicion of murder and kneeling in broken glass. Enough said.


by Tina Fey

Tina Fey’s autobiography was unfortunately not nearly as entertaining as Jenny Lawson’s. It describes Tina’s childhood and career as an actress and writer, the development process of Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, with a few hilarious anecdotes here and there. Unfortunately the hilarious anecdotes get fewer and fewer, and though the tone remains light and funny throughout, I stopped laughing after the first half of the book and was just ready to be done. But it was still funny, and I’ll definitely give her that. Also, there’s an example of a “racy joke” somewhere in this book that is the most horrifyingly funny thing I’ve read in a while.

Graphic Novels

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The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Parts 1 & 2)
by Arika Himekawa

873 868

Fullmetal Alchemist (Vol. 2 & Vol. 3)
by Hiromu Arakawa

Sonic Genesis

Sonic: Genesis
by Ian Flynn

1696_400x600 25099

The Sandman: Vol. 1 – Preludes & Nocturnes
The Sandman: Vol. 2 – The Doll’s House
by Neil Gaiman

I’m not going to go into detail about all of the graphic novels I read, because frankly they are what they are. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time parts 1 & 2 were just slightly altered versions of the story of the original Nintendo 64 game, the second and third volumes of Fullmetal Alchemist were exactly the same story that you may have seen in either version of the anime, and Sonic the Hedgehog was, well, Sonic the Hedgehog. He got the Chaos Emeralds, transformed into Super Sonic, and beat Doctor Eggman, what else is there to talk about? I do want to mention Sandman by Neil Gaiman though, because this is a story I’ve wanted to read for a long time, and I finally got the chance to start. It is downright terrifying and extremely interesting, it builds a huge cosmology of gods and fantasy creatures that actually manages to be completely original while still borrowing heavily from various mythologies, and eventually I’m going to get to the character who shares a lot of personality traits with Tori Amos. I highly recommend Sandman, and I look forward to continuing the series, but as for the rest, I could take them or leave them, to be honest.

I mean, I've really gotta start reading some of these goddamn books.

I mean, I’ve really gotta start reading some of these goddamn books.

And there it is! The twenty books I read in 2013! Yeah, I know six of them were graphic novels but frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. I’m just proud of myself for having gotten so much reading done this year. However I really feel that I didn’t gain all too much from reading so many books, I was mostly just trying to rack up numbers for my year end score, and it felt more like a marathon or a competition than the actual experience of sitting down and reading and immersing myself in a story. As such, I think I will take the reading challenge again next year, but lower it to perhaps 12 books, one for each month, or even something lower, so that I can take my time and really absorb what I’m reading. I enjoy reading, but not enough to constitute reading 30 books in a year, at least not yet.

It Gains The More It Gives

I’ve had somthing of a musical epiphany. Or more appropriately, a repeat of a musical epiphany. If you’ve been following the blog or reading up to this point, you’ll have noticed my recent interest in Tori Amos. I went all out like I always do, browsing her catalogue, learning some songs on the piano, reading and watchin interviews, and all that’s very well and good. The thing is, I’ve been having some problems lately and I’ve really needed something uplifting.

I can’t make a judgement on Tori Amos having only heard a good deal of material from about four of her eleven albums, but for me personally, so far I’ve found that while her music can be intense, it’s just so dark. I mean, really dark. And I think part of what makes it so dark is how off-center it is; any normal music you would refer to as dark probably has a lot of mention of the words “death,” “crying,” “lies,” etc. Tori Amos’ music is very abstract, particularly on the albums I’ve been listening to: Boys For Pele, American Doll Posse, Under the Pink, and even on Little Earthquakes. Her songs make abstract, nearly nonsensical lyrics into something so dark and depressing. Honestly, I don’t really understand anything in many of her songs, and that’s not necessarily so bad, because in many ways the songs communicate more feelings than they do literal message when the lyrics are so personal and difficult to understand. For instance, one of my favorite Tori Amos lyrics is in Caught a Lite Sneeze,

“The spire is hot and my cells can’t feed
And you still got that Belle dragging your foots, yes
I’m hiding it well, Sister Ernestine
But I still got that Belle dragging my foots, yes.”

I don’t know what that could mean literally, but it evokes so many images, the words just sound so good together, it’s like it’s crafted from the subconcious, and that’s really what’s probably magical about it. I think I’ve really just answered my own question: why are Tori’s lyrics so mystifying and obscure? Maybe it’s because they’re from such a deep place, that they don’t have to make coherent sense. The lyrical passage above proves that point, when I hear that section of the song, it just brings so many feelings up, conjures so many mental images.

The thing is, as depressed as I’ve been lately, and as really weak as I’ve been, I’ve needed something uplifting, and Tori Amos’ music hasn’t exactly made me giddy with excitement.

 And then, like a gift from Heaven, I just happen upon a few Imogen Heap collaborations and Frou Frou rarities I didn’t know about before. I heard a Frou Frou B-Side called Deal With It, and I found it absolutely hypnotizing. It was filled with this sadness, but it was so otherworly, and I really enjoyed it. Though I discovered Imogen Heap at about the beginning of this year, thanks to hearing Hide and Seek on accident, I really haven’t given much leg room to Frou Frou. I even bought Frou Frou’s album (currently the only one), Details, a few months ago, but at that time I didn’t really care for it, and I set it aside. In fact, though it be shameful to admit, Frou Frou made it to the very bottom of my CD collection (I often organize my CDs by rank: for instance, Imogen has been first place since I discovered her, and recently Tori has been number two). I mean, being put on the spare shelf with Kanye West and The Used is pretty embarassing.

But the thing is, I don’t think I was ready for Frou Frou. I was still primarily interested in all of Immi’s instruments, her method, and her personality, but I don’t think I was ready for her music. I don’t know that I am now. Her talent is so extreme that sometimes it’s like you have to be blessed with an incredibly adept musical ear to understand it. The thing is, the album that jumped out at me the easiest so far has been I Megaphone, but I’d listened to so much of Speak For Yourself with my ears instead of my heart, and I found Ellipse to have little backbone; but the reason for all of that was because I wasn’t prepared for Immi’s music. I’ve known about her for months, but I didn’t really begin to understand her style until I discovered Frou Frou. And discovering Frou Frou is not the same thing as buying the album.

A couple of nights ago, when I posted lyrics from The Dumbing Down of Love, that was really the night that I started to be digested than Frou Frou. That’s really the best way to describe it; I often describe my musical process as “digesting” an album, but with Frou Frou it was the reverse: I was being taken in by the music, rather than taking it into myself. That’s really how you know you’ve stumbled upon something special.

The thing about Details is that there isn’t a bad song on the album. Every song is special, and The Dumbing Down of Love struck an emotional chord in me that isn’t struck often. I’ve also got some B-Sides, rarities, and bonus tracks: Close Up, a rock-oriented B-Side from the It’s Good To Be In Love single; Deal With It, which as far as I know has never been released on anything official, at once reflective and otherwordly; Holding Out For A Hero, a cover of the original Bonnie Tyler song for the Shrek 2 soundtrack used as a bonus track on some editions of the album, it’s very Frou Frou and still a bit of a dance song; Old Piano, another bonus track on certain editions, which is mostly instrumental. Old Piano is actually my least favorite B-Side at the moment, it didn’t quite jump out at me like the other songs did, but it’s still Frou Frou. While I enjoy the B-Sides, I really feel that the album is complete in it’s original eleven track format; Let Go is perfect at the beginning and The Dumbing Down of Love is perfect at the ending.

Frou Frou is a very special musical project, and anyone can clearly see the influence Guy Sigsworth had on Immi when you look at her later albums, particularly Speak For Yourself. Frou Frou really puts Immi’s music in perspective. It makes Ellipse and Speak For Yourself so much more enjoyable.

I’m just happy that I’ve discovered Frou Frou. Really a great project, and maybe one day we’ll see another album; with how much Imogen has grown, and surely Guy has, I would have no idea what to expect from another Frou Frou album. Imogen’s albums are all drastically different, and her catalogue right now (I Megaphone, Details, Speak For Yourself, and Ellipse) is diverse as can be. I expect it would be something very new, I would expect no less from Imogen. I honestly don’t know too much about Guy Sigsworth, but I always wondered why I enjoyed In The Zone so much more than Britney Spears’ other albums, and after learning that Guy Sigsworth produced it, and had some help from Imogen Heap, it makes a lot more sense.

Really, after going through so much lately, even if it has all been mental, the last thing I need is to be constantly listening to music that offers me no comfort, and in fact causes me even more stress. Frou Frou and Imogen Heap just have this joy about them; when I hear Immi’s music I just feel so refreshed, so inspired, so new, and happy. Frou Frou and Immi really have done a lot for my mood in the last couple of days, I’ve honestly felt a lot better.

I don’t know why I often find it necessary to have an obsession, be it a musician, a video game, a TV show, but I usually need to have something to be engrossed in. Musicians offer themselves to this very easily, because there’s always more to discover, and there are usually lots of rare tracks, live performances, and interviews to hunt for. But I kind of consider Immi a role model; since I started watching her vBlogs back in January, I just find her to be inspirational, not just as a musician, but as a person. She just has this positive energy buzzing about her. Tori just doesn’t quite lend herself to being a role model for me personally. I’m not saying she isn’t talented, but compared to Imogen she just doesn’t offer me the inspiration to live my life with a smile on my face. Immi makes me want to play new instruments, explore new types of music, create create create. Tori has raw skill on piano, but I often find her music very skewed and not quite my style often, and as I mentioned, there’s so much darkness and negativity in her music.

There is one another little thing, and I don’t want to be offensive or anything, but I do want to mention it. Tori is a perfectly beatufiul woman, but at some point she started having plastic surgery. That I know of, she’s never commented on this, and for all I know it was necessary plastic surgery, how do we know she wasn’t in a terrible accident and she had to have plastic surgery to recover her face? But I seriously doubt it’s anything like that. Anyway, she just looks… absolutely alien now. In some of her more recent pictures, especially for her 2009 album Abnormally Attracted To Sin, she just looks sweaty and shiney, her face looks like it’s been pulled back and stretched over her bones, it’s really scary and sad. I’m not the only person to mention this either, I see a lot of comments from people saying that they’re still Tori fans and always love her music, but that they’re very surprised and dissapointed with what she did to her face. I guess it’s not my place to tell anyone else what to do, and if she wants plastic surgery, she’s absolutely as entitled to have it done as anyone else, but in my personal opinion, I think she messed up her face quite a bit. Alien is really the best way to describe it, she just looks completely strange, and I still almost can’t tell they’re the same person looking at her back in the beginning of her career andcomparing it with now, that’s how different she looks. Like I said, she’s free to do what she wants, but I think it was a bad decision.

Imogen is just a really good role model, and a good person to have at the forefront of my music collection. It’s funny how something like who I listen to can so greatly effect my life, but during my Tori phase I was just steeped in this darkness, this unsureness, this anger at the world. She’s certainly talented, but I’ve felt from the beginning that she might not be my cup of tea entirely. That’s not to say I dislike all of her music, but it is somewhat askew for me. I suppose it just has to do with what strikes you. Right now I’m really happy that I’ve found Frou Frou, and found so much joy in it. It’s not often I find music that truly touches me. The joy I’m feeling right now, thanks simply to this music, is just taking me back to other places in my life where I’ve been happy. It’s really unexpected, but truly, Frou Frou is helping me to recover from so much mental stress, and honeslty making me feel happier. That’s really something special.

I mentioned in an earlier blog (my first link to another entry! Milestone, anyone?) that after doing a live improv at Pop Tech, Imogen later performed another live improv later titled The Shepherdess at the Great Ormond Steet Hospital in Sheperds Bush Empire, London. The Shepherdess was made available for download, at the cost of at least one pound, and all of the proceeds went to the Great Ormond Street Hospital, where as a child, after being diagnosed with Osteomyelitis, a surgeon operated and saved her leg. At the beginning of this improvised piece, the key, time signature, and tempo had been chosen by the audience.

On her North American tour, Imogen did the same thing, improvising a piece every night of the tour, with the key, time signature, and tempo chosen by the audience, and making it available for downlaod, for at least one American dollar. At each stop, Imogen picked a local charity and set a goal, based on the maximum capacity of the venue, and all of the proceeds are donated to each respective chairty. 

All 23 of the improvs are now available for download on her website, in the charity section, and have been compiled in album format for 20 dollars or more, with all of the proceeds divided equally amongst the charities. The album, howevr, containes the “trimmed versions,” where each individual download contains the “trimmed” version, or the actual improv itself, and the full version, which contains Immi talking with the audience, their participation, and Heap getting the song in order. I actually will probably try to get them all individually, because I really enjoy anything with Immi talking and being her spritely self, besides it’s just fun to hear the audience partcipate.

So, now that Immi has pretty much been moved to my musical front burner, I’ve decided I’m going to get I Megaphone. I’ve gotten the album from the internet, but I don’t have the actual CD, and besides I’d like to contribute to Imogen’s continued work. I might actually order it from the manufacturer instead of eBay just for that purpose, but don’t quote me, because last time I tried to order a somewhat old CD from Barnes and Noble (where I usually buy things), it literally took about a week, instead of the maximum three or four days. eBay is cheaper, and the delivery time is usually quicker, but I suppose I could just go to Amazon. I’m pretty sure the proceeds would go to the appropriate places.

I Megaphone is really a cool album. Though it’s very much Heap, it’s primarily piano driven; the piano shows up on most tracks, and always provides a very solid and powerful foundation. Sweet Religion starts out with this brilliant jumpy arpeggio that had me on the hook immediately. I think it’s a really special album; it’s a little more approachable than her newer albums, and that’s really a testament to her skill, because if Ellipse were easy to approach after listening to mainstream music, it wouldn’t show off Heap’s talent. Her new albums are so much more uncategorizable because she’s grown so much. She just keeps making her own music; it’s whatever she decides to do, whatever she loves, there is no formula, there is no telling what the next album or even the next song will sound like. I Megaphone is very much a piano-driven rock ballad, with it’s soft moments. Details is truly a soundscape, absolutely brimming with emotion and brilliance. Speak For Yourself is probably the hardest for me to categorize of them all, and that might be because it’s where I began with Heap, and I wasn’t really ready for it. I need to take some time experience it again.

Ellipse is a rainforest. That’s really the best way I can describe it, it is at many times a rainforest to me. It could be because of the album art and the generally green, wooded theme, but it’s very elemental. I feel rain, soil, the sky. It really feels like nature. In fact, a good deal of it feels like the creation of the world. I know I’m speaking very abstract, but many of the songs, 2-1 especially, just feel like the world’s creation. The feeling of the album is many times that of creation in the dark, mystifying, organic. The visual theme of the album goes perfectly with this.

And there it is. There is much Imogen Heap in my life at the moment, and I really feel uplifted thanks to this. It’s funny how music can change the way you perceive the situations around you, and I think at first Imogen Heap’s music helped me to rediscover myself, and now it’s helping me to appreciate my life, and most importantly the people who live in it.

Along with the huge creative buzz I get from listening to Heap, I’ve been enjoying reading Pride and Prejudice. While admittedly I’m probably less than fifty pages in, the book is absolutely chock full of storyline and dialogue. You really have to keep up, I’m sometimes afraid that I’ve forgotten or skimmed over a character or situation I should have been paying more attention to. Chapters are brief, but full of important details. It’s a really interesting style of writing that’s very much to-the-point, and gives the dialogue a lot of room to be the centerpiece, while still keeping the narration moving the story along. I’m beginning to see why Jane Austen is such a renowned writer.

I’ve listened through details almost four times while writing this, if not more, and I feel I’ve sufficiently got out everything I wanted to. I’m feeling very creative, and a lot more positive, since discovering Frou Frou and rediscovering Heap. Go check out the live improvs on Immi’s website, and c’mon, you can buy just one can’t you? The audience participation is really a lot of fun, so I suggest buying one individually, so that you can have the full experience, see if you like it, and you only have to spend a dollar. I personally reccomend the very first one, in Detroit, Michigan. It’s the only improv I’ve really heard all the way through, and I found it really good, plus it has some vocals (they all do, but Immi actually sings a little in the middle, and even though her lyrics are kind of funny, it’s still so passionate and beautiful). Also, at this moment, it’s the one closest to reaching the target, and the page says that improvs are only available for two months after their release, and I imagine the reason all of the improvs are still available is because they haven’t yet reached the target. So hurry!

The Benefits of Traveling With A Shapeshifting Sharpshooter

Okay, we have a lot to cover today. First, we have some Lady Gaga news. A few months ago, The Remix, an EP of remixes of various Gaga songs including all of the singles up to that point, was released. The international version was released first, this contained remixes of all of her radio singles, two or three each, more for the newer songs, presumably because the newer remixes are just better in general. The cover art was one of Gaga’s shots from her David LaChapelle photo shoot, where she’s completely naked, but covered in scraps of paper with words written on them.

The Remix was then released in the UK with an alternate cover featuring Gaga in a nice white-and-pink lace outfit (these two covers are two of my favorite Gaga pictures) and a new tracklisting, containing some songs that weren’t singles, and some that weren’t yet singles (a remix of The Fame from the first album, and Alejandro and Dance in the Dark, neither of which were released as singles yet, and the latter of which is considered to be the next single from the Fame Monster. I think Alejandro should have been Monster or even So Happy I Could Die, but that’s just my two cents). Well, The Remix is now set for a US release date, which I’m surprised I didn’t anticipate, I guess I just assumed it was an international thing. The US cover art will be the same as the UK, pink-and-white Gaga, which I personally like more at the moment.

At any rate! The US release has notably the shortest tracklisting so far, and unlike the previous two releases, contains one remix of each song. I’m now going to give you the tracklisting and some of my thoughts.

One night, Gaga sat idly at the dinner table, looking for inspiration, when she thought she'd try putting the doily on her head. The results were fantastic.

1. Just Dance (Richard Vision Remix)
2. Poker Face (LLG vs GLG Mix Remix)
3. Lovegame (Chew Fu  Ghettohouse fix featuring Marilyn Manson)
4. Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say) (Frankmuzik Remix)
5.  Paparazzi (Stuart Price Remix)
6. The Fame (Glam As You Remix)
7. Bad Romance (Starsmith Remix)
8. Telephone (Passion Pit Remix)
9. Alejandro (Sound of Arrows Remix)
10. Dance in the Dark (Monarchy `Stylites Remix)

I don’t really like remixes in general, but for every single, Gaga releases some kind of remix EP. They tend to get better as they go along. For instance, I hardly like any of the Just Dance remixes, the Richard Vission mix is the one included here, and from what I can remember of it I’d prefer the original. They went with the obvious Poker Face remix, the LLG vs GLG mix, and no, I have no idea what that stands for, but this mix is very similar to the original. My favorite Poker Face remix is the Jody Dean Broeder mix.

An unlikely pair, or a perfect match? You decide.

Next we have the Ghettohouse Fix featuring Marilyn Manson for Lovegame. If you haven’t heard this mix, you should, it’s a more fast-paced version of the original but musically not too different, and it actually features guest vocals from Marilyn Manson (he screams “Fame!” in the background and sings the second chorus alone). Eh, Eh is next, and this is my least favorite Lady Gaga song. I seem to get the idea that I’m not alone in that opinion, I find Eh Eh to be annoying for the most part, it sounds like aggravating 80’s glam-pop palm tree music to me. I’ve heard her do a live version with the piano that’s much better, but anyway, addressing the remix, I haven’t heard this one, but most remixes of Eh, Eh are pretty much as undesirable for the original in my opinion, but you decide for yourself. Hey, I can’t be expected to like every single song.

Ah, now we get to a good one. This is in my opinion possibly the best remix to a Lady Gaga song, and it really takes the cake as remixes go: the Stuart Price mix of Paparazzi. I love this version, it actually made me tear up a bit when I first heard it, it just has such a tragic and beautiful feel to it, it’s one of the remixes that shows off how dark Gaga’s songs actually are musically, but you usually can’t tell beneath the pop effects and instrumentation. This remix is a must-hear. Go listen to it on YouTube right now. Or maybe when you’re done reading this.

There’s a remix of The Fame, which in general is not my favorite song. We now move into songs from The Fame Monster, and at this point you may share my opinion (especially after just listening to The Fame) that The Fame Monster is so much better than it’s predecessor that it’s ridiculous. It’s like Gaga’s ability got ten times better over the course of one album. Of course, it might have something to do with the fact that she was able to work with bigger and better producers on this album, but nontheless, a direct comparison between The Fame and Bad Romance absolutely cements my point. Well, at least to myself. A lot of the songs on The Fame (The Fame for instance, Money Honey, and Summerboy to name a few) felt like filler.

But as I was saying, Bad Romance is our next track. My personal favorite mixes of Bad Romance are the Skrillex mix, and the Bimbo Jones Remix, but after giving the Starsmith remix a listen I actually enjoy it too. It has a very fashion show feel to it. Kind of like all the music in The Devil Wears Prada. Did anyone else notice that all the songs in that movie were very relaxing fashion pop? I find them relaxing anyway. They opt for the Passion Pit remix of Telephone, a very lengthy but very pretty remix with a lot of slow instrumental sections. I haven’t heard either of the final two remixes; Alejandro finally grew on me after a bit, it was my least favorite song of the album for a while though. I’m ready for Dance in the Dark to be released for radio, both because I’m tired of hearing “Ale-ale-jandro Ale-ale-jand-a-ro!” and because Gaga will have reached her 4-single minimum, and maybe we can get the new album sooner.

Did I mention she’s completed her third album? She’s just waiting to release it now. If The Fame Monster is any indication, her albums are growing quite exponentially better. I probably would have preferred that The Fame be as brief of an album as The Fame Monster, some tracks (like The Fame, oddly enough, Money Honey, and Summerboy) just felt like filler, and weren’t very interesting. The Fame Monster is so much more engaging of an album.

So there you have it. Let’s review. The Remix will be released in the US, white cover, ten tracks, one remix each. The Fame Monster’s fourth single should be Dance in the Dark from what I understand, and I think the public will react well to that one, and besides I’d like to see a video for that song. Hopefully it will contain less cutscenes. Short films are good and all, but maybe we should keep it down to a shout, Gaga. Finally, the third album, currently untiltled from what I understand, is complete and just waiting to be released. It has been mentioned that it won’t be out by Christmas though, so it’s most likely going to be a 2011 release. Somehow, though, I just don’t think that makes much sense, unless they’re planning five singles for The Fame Monster or something.

Anyone bored from all my overly detailed statistics yet?

I got a new book! Since I plan on focusing on music and literature when I go to college, I do want to be somewhat well read, and besides that I just enjoy reading “the classics.” For one, because I enjoy a good book, and I’m tired of looking in the teen fiction section for something good, because there’s very little there that’s truly gripping. And besides, I’ve been though the Twilight series, and I’m not going back.

I have read at least one staple of classic literature, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I bought it when I was still in my vampire phase, but didn’t actually read it completely until later. It was a surprisingly witty and romantic book, I really enjoyed the dialogue. Everyone was so polite and corteous, and it wasn’t boring or dry, it was in fact very engrossing. Most of the book centers around the two female characters, each of whom are preyed upon by Dracula, and after the first few chapters of the book, Dracula himself only makes about two or three appearances before the end of the story. I have to admit I found the ending a little anticlimactic, but altogether it was a very interesting book, I very much enjoyed the characters, and especially the good English spoken amongst them. Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent a good deal of time in teen fiction novels, most of which are written with a lot of slang, and that tends to annoy me after a while.

This version is zombie free.

Apart from Dracula, I’ve also gotten ahold of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. It seems to be a pretty quick read, but I haven’t finished it. I’ve read the first couple of chapters and found them very interesting and easy to follow. And so now I have added one more volume to my collection of classic literature, a quaint little paperback copy of Pride and Prejudice. I’ve gathered that many Austen readers prefer Emma, but I’ve been told that you can’t really appreciate the novels humor if you’re not already familiar with Jane Austen’s style.

I was honeslty hooked from the first sentence. I’ve only read the first chapter so far, but I think it’s going to be a great novel. The characters seem to be very witty, and it feels like a very fun book. I would like to venture into Dickens eventually, and perhaps try my hand at the Divine Comedy, which of course our society of dark, vampire-loving youth have grappled on to, but it might be like Dracula, and turn out to be fantastic. Good literature is good literature, a fan base doesn’t change it’s power. There was an episode of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart where the guest was promoting a book about Heaven, and society’s various perceptions of it. She said that her personal favorite interpretation of Heaven was Dante’s, in which the main aspect was that there was a brilliant light through which everyone was intimately connected with God. I’m probably not phrasing it as well as she did, but what she described did sound very beautiful, and I’m sure the Divine Comedy is an inspiring piece of literature. I’ve only glanced over it, and from what I can tell it seems to be written in verses. I have a feeling that might cause me a bit of aggravation, but I’m sure I’ll get over it if I ever read it.

That’s really all that I have to mention today, I had some other things I thought I might share my opinions on, but I’m not exactly in an articulate mood, I’ve been staring at television and computer screens for the better part of the last couple of days, and my head is a little to swimmy for me to put together any good reviews on anything.

Warning: the next couple of paragraphs deal exclusively with Final Fantasy VII. If you haven’t played the game, you probably will be lost and bored.

Random information! I’ve restarted my file on Final Fantasy VII. Why? A few reasons. First, because I was adventurous this time, and didn’t use any of my normal characters (my favorite party tends to be Cloud, Vincent, and Cid); I went with Tifa and Nanaki. Both are characters I like and who I’ve never completed the game with, but altogether, though I do enjoy Nanaki, I found him to be a little anticlimactic. His weapons are few and far between, his double materia growth weapons are all found nearer to the beginning of the game and don’t have a lot of power, and his Limit Breaks, while not bad, just weren’t satisfying enough for me. Tifa’s limit breaks are really cool, she’s the only character in the game who uses every limit ability consecutively, and she wasn’t a bad character, I may use her again but I have a feeling I’m going to revert to my classic party this time; she may travel with me for a while until then, I’m not sure yet.

Aside from that, I used Materia that I never normally used this time. I’ve always been very focused on magic materia, and rarely ever used the character’s physical attacks. This time I minimized magic usage, for the most part I didn’t own more than one piece of each magic materia (previously, I’ve always gotten two or three Lightnings, Ices, and Fires). I also equipped things I normally don’t, like Cover and Sense, just for the fun of it and so that my stats wouldn’t be beaten up by all of the magic materia. Once you start getting the powerful magics and summons, they really starting draining your attack power. Another reason I want to restart is because I failed to get the Huge Materia from outer space, which means that if I wanted to master all of the assist materia and fuse them, I wouldn’t be able to, and I also didn’t get Bahamut ZERO. I tried twice, and it was very aggravating both times. Next time, I’m just going to look up the combination to get the Huge Materia out on Game FAQs or something, Cid was a real pain.

Oh yes, there’s another reason I want to restart: I didn’t use Cid. Upon the party’s first meeting with Cid, he’s a mysogonist pig and a cruel bastard. But I can’t help it, I just like Cid. I usually even think that cigarette in his mouth at all times is gross, but I don’t care, I just like Cid. Besides, he’s one of the only characters with a weapon that has triple materia growth, so when it comes time to level up materia, you really need to include him in your party whether you’ve been using him or not. Besides, he is one of the character’s you’ll be controlling for a little while, and I’ve found that having Cid on your party and not including Tifa is much easier than the other way around.

Because who else in your party transforms into a minotaur or the Frankenstein monster when they get mad?

I do like controlling Tifa though, and using her in the chocobo races, but I think I’m going to stick with my classic party of Vinent and Cid. Vinent just looks cooler than everyone else in all of the cutscenes; he has a cape on for crying out loud! Just look at his sprite: fully covered in a cool red getup, cape following him at all times, lots of gymnastic moves, and his Limit Breaks are one of the game’s most unique sets. I can’t help it, I felt weird not using Vincent or Cid. Although, I have been giving thought to including Cait Sith in the party, but I think if that were to happen it would just be temporarily; for instance, until I get Vincent and Cid, I might just use Yuffie (I like her sprite too) and… well, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Who knows? Maybe I’ll go crazy and actually use Barret for once! But probably not. He’s an eco-terrorist for crying out loud! Besides, his racist stereotype antic are kind of annoying.

And those are today’s thoughts. Perhaps I get a little to engrossed in details, but I enjoy my details, I have to be knowledgable about something, it might as well be the things I’m interested in. My reading list is getting larger and I still have hardly finished any of the many books I own, if I count all of my books that I’ve begun and need to finish, the list is: The Rivers of Zadaa, Animal Farm, The Looking Glass Wars, Vampire Hunter D, The Vampire Lestat (stopped reading that one a long time ago), Memoirs of a Geisha (looking forward to that one), and Redwall. There are certain books I want to finish (The Looking Glass wars, for instance) just to have them finished, so I can tuck them onto a shelf and be done with them. I did it with The Innocent Mage, didn’t I?