Wednesday, December 31, 2008

piss off, 2008 + December media update

I'm so glad that 2008 is almost over; what a shitty year. In the past, though, whenever I've had a really bad year, it always seemed to be followed by a really good (or at least tolerable) year. Whether that's karma or just a case of the new year looking damn rosy by comparison, I don't know. But I eagerly await 2009, especially because I definitely have something awesome coming up near the end of January:

Ten days in Costa Rica.

I planned and paid for this trip way back in September; otherwise, thanks to the unexpected expense of a new car, I probably wouldn't be able to go. Good thing I like ramen, because that's all I'm going to be able to eat for a while. (I can already picture myself piteously tugging on G's sleeve every weekend, begging him to take me out for Mongolian BBQ.) But it's going to be so worth it. Rainforests! Hot springs! Cocktails on the beach! Volcanoes! Sloths AND monkeys!

I gotta say, though, this warning in my brochure gave me pause:

As a reminder, when visiting the banana plantation, DO NOT WEAR SHORTS OR OPEN-TOED SHOES. There are deadly snakes that live in the plantations., those cocktails on the beach are looking better and better.

The holidays + nothing good on TV + football= lots of reading.

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; your mileage may vary.


1. Fault Lines* by Nancy Huston: This compelling novel is told in reverse chronological order, and each chapter is narrated by a six-year-old child from a different generation of the family. It begins with Sol, a whipsmart California boy with a horrifying penchant for masturbating to bestiality porn and pictures of war atrocities, then switches to his father, his grandmother, and finally his great-grandmother, whose story reveals the truth behind the family's ancestry. Disturbing and beautifully written, although the narrators all sounded far too mature for their age. (Then again, considering some of the things they go through, maybe not.)

2. Your Heart Belongs to Me by Dean Koontz: After receiving a transplant, a dotcom millionaire starts getting creepy gifts from a stalker who wants his heart in the most literal sense. As usual, Koontz occasionally strays into painful prose ("Needles of rain knitted together scattered scarves of thin fog, which then unraveled through whatever tree or shrub next snagged them"; seriously, Dean?), and then the plot takes a turn into WTF Land. Not a good turn, either. Pass. (Also, not that this is Koontz' fault, but the cover, showing a woman holding a lily that obscures half her face, is so freakin' inappropriate. It looks more like a romance novel than a thriller!)

3. Time of My Life by Allison Winn Scotch: A woman gets a massage to unblock her chi and winds up seven years in the past, where she tries to decide between her old flame and the man who would eventually become her husband. About as goofy as it sounds, but better than you might expect.

4. Escape from Amsterdam by Barrie Sherwood: A Japanese college student, deeply in debt to a loan shark, discovers that he and his sister have just inherited a group of very valuable paintings. Unfortunately, he can't collect the money without his sister's signature too, and she's been missing for a while. His search takes him to a weird theme park called Amsterdam, where he gets tangled up with the yakuza. Unusual and fun.

5. The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling: What, you thought I wouldn't read this?

6. The Sweet In-Between by Sheri Reynolds: Kenny is a teenage girl who binds her breasts and obsesses over the victim of an accidental shooting next door. When she's not worrying about her gender identity, she's worrying that her Aunt Glo (who's actually the girlfriend of her jailed father) will get sick of her and kick her out. There's no real plot to this book, but I enjoyed it anyway because the writing is so vivid.

7. Scarpetta by Patricia Cornwell: When a little person insists that he’s being framed for the murder of his girlfriend, Scarpetta is skeptical, but then things start getting too weird to dismiss. Infinitely better than Cornwell’s last couple of books (which I didn’t even finish), but still a far cry from her best work.

TOTAL READ IN 2008: 47


1. The Customer Is Always Wrong: A collection of essays about working in the retail industry. The best one was "The Bad Call" by Clay Allen, in which he details his stint working at Minneapolis' most notorious porn store, Sexworld, and the night a group of mentally challenged adults came for a visit.

2. American Shaolin by Matthew Polly: Tired of being scrawny and still tormented by memories of childhood bullying, the author traveled to China to study kung fu with Shaolin monks. An entertaining chronicle, especially the chapter about the man he calls Monk Dong, whose specialty was pulling a 500-pound stone roller with his penis. (And there's a picture!)

3. I Live Here*: This is actually a collection of four books enclosed in a foldout case. Each one covers a country in crisis: Chechnya (war), Mexico (the hundreds of young women being murdered in Juarez), Burma (ethnic cleansing), and Malawi (AIDS). The books combines journal entries, illustrations, photographs, short stories, poems, and comics from different contributors. As beautiful as the presentation is, it's certainly not all style and no substance; these books are heartbreaking and extremely unsettling.

4. Up For Renewal* by Cathy Alter: At 37 years old, the author was feeling stuck in a rut. Sick of getting her meals from the vending machine and having meaningless sex with a jerk in her office, she decided to see if she could turn her life around using advice from popular women's magazines. I loved this insanely funny (and occasionally thought provoking) book.

5. Creating Myself by Mia Tyler: A memoir about growing up as the daughter of Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, drugs, cutting, her contentious relationship with her mother, and her career as a plus-sized model.

6. Gastroanomalies by James Lileks: Horrifying photographs of disgusting recipes from old cookbooks, spiced up with snarky commentary from the author.

7. Comfort* by Ann Hood: A memoir about dealing with the unexpected death of her 5-year-old daughter Grace. Beautifully elegaic, and quite possibly one of the saddest books I've ever read in my life.

8. Everything But the Squeal* by John Barlow: Pork! Who doesn't love it? Well, I'm sure there are plenty of people who don't, actually, but I'm not one of them...and neither is the author of this book, who decided to spend a full year in Spain eating "everything but the squeal". In addition to lots of food anecdotes (some mouthwatering, some nasty), he also throws in interesting tidbits about everything from Spanish customs to a festival called Dirty Days, where one of the highlights involves pelting pedestrians with clumps of ant-infested soil. Now I'm determined to try iberico ham, which is basically the pork equivalent of kobe beef in both decadence and price.

9. Wishful Drinking* by Carrie Fisher: A bitingly funny memoir about everything from her parents' acrimonious divorce (after Elizabeth Taylor was widowed, Eddie Fisher "consoled her with his penis") to her struggles with addiction and mental illness to the fact that her husband "forgot" to tell her that he was gay. Way too short for my tastes (less than 200 pages, including lots of photos); I hope she writes another, longer memoir soon because this one was frickin' golden.

TOTAL READ IN 2008: 59


1. French Milk* by Lucy Knisley: An utterly charming account of the author's trip to France with her mother.

2. Short-Tempered Melancholic by Arina Tanemura

3. Love Com vol. 5 by Aya Nakahara

4. Arkham Asylum: Living Hell by Dan Slott and Ryan Sook

5. The Greatest of Marlys* by Lynda Barry

6. Laika by Nick Abadzis: Oh, sure, graphic novel about the first dog in space, you can have my heart and break it into a million pieces. I wasn't, you know, USING it or anything.

7. Mixed Vegetables vol. 2 by Ayumi Komura

8. Sugar Princess vol. 2 by Hisaya Nakajo

9. Re-Gifters by Mike Carey, Marc Hempel, and Sonny Liew

10. The New York Four by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly

11. Clubbing by Andi Watson and Josh Howard

TOTAL READ IN 2008: 103


1. Tropic Thunder: Wow, this totally wasn't as good as I thought it would be. I loved the fake trailers, Tom Cruise was hilarious (especially his dance at the end), and there were some great lines, but overall it was very disjointed and went on way too long.

Also, how has Robert Downey Jr. not won an Oscar yet? I mean, seriously.

2. Milk*: Speaking of Oscars, just go ahead and engrave Sean Penn's trophy now, because he sure as hell deserves it for his amazing portrayal of gay rights activist Harvey Milk.

3. The Incredible Hulk: I didn't have high hopes for this movie, but I actually enjoyed it. The CGI effects of the Hulk's face weren't particularly good, though.

4. The X-Files: I Want to Believe: A convoluted flick about everything from missing FBI agents to pedophile priests who cry blood to...two-headed dogs. There are a few good lines, but only the most hardcore X-Files fans need bother, and even they should probably just rewatch a couple of their favorite episodes.

TOTAL SEEN IN 2008: 70



1. "How It Ends" by Devotchka: AKA the song in the Gears of War 2 trailer that haunted me until I was forced to track it down.

2. "Goodbye Horses" by Q Lazarus: AKA the Silence of the Lambs song that Buffalo Bill dances around to while tucking his wang and saying "Would you fuck me? I'd fuck me."

3. "In Dreams" by Roy Orbison: AKA the song that Dean Stockwell lipsyncs to in Blue Velvet.

4. "It's Over" by Roy Orbison: AKA...well, nothing. I just like it.


When a distress call comes in from the Ishimura mining ship, space engineer Isaac Clarke is sent to check it out. He and his crew don't expect to find anything more than a mechanical problem.

What they find is much, much worse.

Turns out that the ship has been overrun with Necromorphs, nasty creatures who reanimate and mutate human corpses. They want nothing more than to make a tasty snack of Isaac and his crew, and Isaac must try to repair the ship and GTFO. He’s got an extra incentive, too: he keeps receiving holograms of his girlfriend Nicole, a crew member on the Ishimura, begging him to make her whole again.

Sound creepy? Yeah, you have no idea. The tag line should have been “In space, no one can hear you shit your pants”. It's not the scariest game I've ever played---that would be the original Silent Hill---but it's in the top ten for sure. Take a gander at this trailer:

This game is frickin' awesome. The sound design, from disembodied whispers to monster noises, is top notch, and the visuals are stunning. There are some really innovative levels, like zero gravity areas where corpses float around, streaming blood that drifts away like smoke. (I had to pass the controller to G for these areas, since the constant camera shifting made me nauseated.) You have access to a wide array of cool weapons that make short work of those ugly bastards. Isaac's health bar is displayed as a glowing blue "spine" on the back of his spacesuit, which makes it easy to tell when you need to use a med pack immediately, even in the heat of battle. The map isn't particularly helpful, but there's a great feature where you press the right joystick and a blue line points you in the right direction. And the plot gets deeper and darker as the game progresses, climaxing in several clusterfuck fights, an epic boss battle, and a stunning ending. I think I forgot to close my mouth for the last hour or so.

So if you like survival horror games, you must pick this one up. Just be sure to put a dropcloth down before you play; you wouldn’t want to ruin your couch.