Saturday, October 17, 2009

As If I'm Not Hipster-y Enough Already....

OK folks, the show is changing venues. Please visit my all-new, all-singing, all-dancing tumblr for blogging goodness!


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

But Where Are The Pages? Some Thoughts on the Kindle & the Impending Apocalypse

This is my Kindle. Its name is Giles (yes, named after that Giles).

First, a bit of background information. I have loved books for the majority of my life (ever since I muddled out how the alphabet worked at a young age). I have read ebooks for about five years now, off-and-on. The platforms on which I have read ebooks are the Palm Zire 71 (what a great PDA that was!), my computer, and this summer, my iPod Touch. None of those reading experiences are comparable to the Kindle, as I will explain.

Most people have one of two reactions to the Kindle: 1) That's amazing! How cool! OR 2) What have you done and why do you want to invoke the end times? There's a sense of outrage, as if by purchasing a dedicated ebook reader, I wish to burn the rain forest and oh yeah, burn the Library of Alexandria again. That is errant nonsense. My commitment to the written word (no matter the manifestation) is why I purchased a Kindle. How can I resist a device that allows me to carry a library wherever I go?

Reading on a Kindle is neither like reading on a computer nor on a PDA. Computers and PDAs and iPhones are light-emitting devices; read on one for a while and then experience that fabulous sinus-shattering feeling from staring at a screen too long. The Kindle's display is electronic ink: that's why it works beautifully in direct sunlight and why reading it at night requires a light source. There's no glare, no dim reflection of your face (and glasses) on the screen. In short, it looks just like paper.

But neither is it like reading the fancy, leather-bound edition of your favourite book. The Kindle doesn't have gilded edges or a ribbon bookmark or a hand-cut bookplate in the front with your name on it. It does have the magic of always remembering your place in the book; the convenience of a built-in dictionary; the charming screensaver images of famous authors and the occasional woodcut or medieval manuscript image when the screen goes to sleep; and the ease of downloading books wirelessly from the internet.

One of the delights about the Kindle is that is does only one thing well: reading. The web browser is amusing to use, as if an abacus had ambitions to become a TI-83 Plus. It's fine for a quick Wikipedia search, but I'd much rather browse the web from my iPod or laptop. The best function on the Kindle is reading itself, not mobile web browsing, but the act of turning (electronic) pages. Such simplicity encourages healthy, productive unitasking, as others have noted. If the web browser were better, I would be tempted to go back and forth from email to books to blogs to websites. As it is, I easily become engrossed whatever text I am reading.

Not everyone loves the Kindle. That's fine with me. And I have my own issues with the device, above all the utter lack of shelves or folders to organize books. However, for now, it's an amazing solution that allows me to carry many books with me everywhere, and that's a wonder to behold.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Something New And Different: The Decemberists concert 06.03.09

and The Decemberists came on stage!

Longtime readers of my blog (hello, immediate family!) will remember that I saw The Decemberists in concert two years ago at the Tabernacle and had an amazing time. When I learned that they were coming back to the Tabernacle this summer, I looked into attending but was set back by the steep price. Due to some lucky circumstances and the intervention of Fate on Wednesday, I was able to attend the concert and had a marvelous time!

Blind Pilot opened the show; I wasn't previously familiar with their work but really enjoyed their set. Unlike the opening act from 2007, the crowd gave them a warm welcome and appreciated their music, rather than booing them offstage.

The main show was very different from the 2007 concert, largely because the setlist was the entirety of The Hazards of Love, their most recent album. I wasn't sure how well this would come off since most audiences are used to a mix of old and new tracks, not an entire new playlist of songs. Well. The Decemberists were joined by Becky Stark as Margaret and Shara Worden as the evil queen, and these ladies did not just sing: they acted their parts with dramatic gestures and costuming. Shara Worden in particular, clad in a short, steel-grey sequined dress, stole everyone's attention each time she swaggered to the front of the stage and belted her lines. Becky Stark set a beautiful contrast, swaying like a fairy princess as she sang of her love for William.

[Becky Stark as Margaret]

After the epic Hazards of Love, the band retreated, leaving the audience to wait hopefully for an encore. It was a long while before the band came back out (this time without Becky or Shara), about 25 minutes. That's not much of a wait unless you are dehydrated (should've stuck a Nalgene in my bag!) and sweaty (yes, I was back in the general admission, standing-only section). In any event, they came back out and did a 10-song encore. I was blown away, since I expected 4 songs, maybe 5 if we were lucky. Here they hit some classic favourites and more recent releases like "The Raincoat Song."

Overall score: 9.8

Setlist -- The Hazards of Love:
The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won't Wrestle the Thistles Undone)
A Bower Scene
Won't Want for Love (Margaret in the Taiga)
The Hazards of Love 2 (Wager All)
The Queen's Approach
Isn't it a Lovely Night?
The Wanting Comes in Waves / Repaid
An Interlude
The Rake's Song
The Abduction of Margaret
The Queen's Rebuke / The Crossing
Annan Water
Margaret in Captivity
The Hazards of Love 3 (Revenge!)
The Wanting Comes in Waves (Reprise)
The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)

July, July
The Bachelor and the Bride
Engine Driver
Shankill Butchers
16 Military Wives (with audience participation)
Dracula's Daughter (a.k.a. the worst song Colin Meloy has ever written, as he explained)
O Valencia!
Crazy on You (awesome 80s cover)
The Raincoat Song
A Cautionary Song

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

OK Fine!

Alrighty, insert standard "sorry I was away" apologies here.

What have I been up to? Let me count the things:

1. I said goodbye to my host family and many dear friends in Tours and Paris. It was very difficult to say goodbye since I have no idea when I will be in France again. The year was incredible and life-changing in ways that transcend all my cliches. I didn't end up writing any "what I will miss in France" entries because I was afraid that I would collapse into a puddle of pitiful emo child, completely unable to make it through to my flight home.

2. I came back home and stayed up for basically 24 hours with no caffeine, fueled by adrenaline at seeing my beloved Davidson family.

3. Being reunited with my parents and siblings (and then my grandparents, a special plus!) was wonderful. Eight months is a long time to be away!

4. My brother, coxswain extraordinaire, had a competition in Oak Ridge the first weekend after I returned home. I was delighted to see the Lightweight Eight take first place!

5. After a little over a week back in the States, I began my summer internship at Paste Magazine. I have loved Paste for four years now, so when I received the offer (after applying in January), I was quite excited about starting out! It has been awesome so far, with a brilliant set of winterns showing the new skinterns the ropes. Words cannot express how thrilled I am to be working there now.

And there you have 5 ever-fascinating things about my life recently.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Travelling, Treking, On ze road again

Today I'm leaving for Paris. Then I'm going to Corsica. Then I'm heading back to Paris. Then I'm coming back to Tours. Then I'm returning to Paris. Then I'm flying to the USofA!

So! During the approximately two weeks in Corsica-Paris-Corsica, I will have limited web or email access, so don't be hopeful for a sudden, miraculous surge of blogging. However, thanks to the magic of Twitter, I can microblog! It's on the sidebar but for those of you who are not sure how the scroll function works on your computer, here is the URL:

Happy microblog reading...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Won’t Want for Rock: A Review of the Decemberists’ The Hazards of Love [2009]

I decided to share my recent review of my favourite band's latest release, soon to be published in the Davidson Reader.

In the middle of the Decemberists’ fourth full-length release, The Hazards of Love, the song “An Interlude” provides one minute and forty seconds of quiet, instrumental relief. It’s a necessary pause in an album that barely lets up on pounding guitars and intense vocals. With The Hazards of Love, the Decemberists leave their well-trodden, comfortable territory of sprightly indie pop and enter the darker rock land that they explored with their 2004 EP, The Tain.
Like The Tain, The Hazards of Love is a tightly-wound concept album, centered around the much-wronged character Margaret. Listeners familiar with lead singer Colin Meloy’s distinctive elocution may find the presence of two female guest singers, Becky Stark as Margaret and Shara Worden (from My Brightest Diamond) as the evil queen, jarring at first. However, these female vocals mesh neatly with Colin’s and provide a rich avenue for the complex and morbid lyrics.
“Prelude” opens the album with nearly a full minute of silence; a deep resonance gradually awakens with a threatening atmosphere reminiscent of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. Soon the track cuts seamlessly into “The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won't Wrestle the Thistles Undone)” as Margaret’s tale of woe begins. There are three encores of the main “The Hazards of Love” theme as the album continues.
The advance single for the album was “The Rake’s Song,” about a murderous young father, easily the creepiest song on The Hazards of Love. His victims make a re-appearance in “The Hazards of Love 3 (Revenge)” as a bone-chilling children’s chorus join the already expanded ranks of vocalists. The album’s longest track is “The Wanting Comes in Waves / Repaid,” but this is no “California One / Youth and Beauty Brigade.” Instead, Colin and Shara take turns in a duet of debts and desire.
Still, The Hazards of Love is not a release to be sampled in morsels; it is intended to be a complete experience for listening from beginning to end. Tellingly, the Decemberists played the entirety of the album during their concert at SXSW; unlike most concerts where artists play a mix of new songs from the latest release and some old favorites, this one featured solely the tracklisting straight from the album. Only after an encore did Colin play two older songs. Just as that audience in the concert experienced, taking in the music during one fell swoop is the best way to appreciate The Hazards of Love.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

My Window Is Open


Sorry for the long pause in blogging! I have not been sitting idle, I promise. What have I been doing? Well -- traveling to Berlin, Lyon, cycling to Villandry, and re-discovering Normandy, for starters. Also, wrapping up my semester and preparing to return to the U.S. (!) in less than a month. I have loved my year abroad (lack of blogging updates notwithstanding) but still miss my friends and family.

I've also discovered Twitter (see side bar for the link). Now, I was always one of those people who thought Twitter was strange and faddish, but then I saw the error of my ways. It was my sister who piqued my interest in joining that group. However, I still refuse to use the words "twitterverse" and "tweet" (urgh) since they just sound horrid.

It's strange to request post topics, but is there something I should blog about? The parts of France I love and the parts that are "challenging"? The joys of public gardens and amorous teenagers? The amusement of badly-dubbed television? Tell me.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

BBC Meme

Oh memes. I usually ignore them, but this one was too fun (got a link to it via Facebook). It's a booklist, ostensibly from the BBC, though I have my doubts.

"The BBC believes most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here. How do your reading habits stack up?

1) Look at the list and put an 'x' after those you have read.
2) Add a '+' to the ones you LOVE.
3) Add a '- ' to the ones you HATE.
4) Tally your total at the bottom.

I'm also going to put an * by the ones I plan to read.

Then tag however many people you want and read their responses:

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen x +
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien x +
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte x +
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling x +
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee x +
6 The Bible x +
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte x +
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell x
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman x
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens x
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott x
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller x -
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (some, not all of them) x +
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier x+
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien x+
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger x +
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger x +
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot *
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams x +
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh x +
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll x
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame x
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis x +
34 Emma - Jane Austen x +
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen x +
36 The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden x
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne x
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown x
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez *
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery x
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood x +
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding x
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan *
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel x -
52 Dune - Frank Herbert x
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons *
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen x +
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens *
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley x
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck x
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt x
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas x
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac *
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding x
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville x
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker x
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett x +
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath *
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt *
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens x
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White x
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad x
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery x +
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams x
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas *
98 Beloved - Toni Morrison
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl x
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo x +

Total read: 49

OK. This list looks rather uneven to me. What is The Five People You Meet in Heaven doing next to Sherlock Holmes? I'm getting flashbacks to the Humanities curriculum, which seemed to think five female authors sufficient for a two-year study of literature and history. Anyway. I do have a quite a few classics to read still!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

And now, a musical interlude

I have been enjoying my Paste VIP Winter DVD Sampler. The musics videos have been a delight (with a few mediocre numbers -- Matt Costa, I'm talking to you) and I thought I'd share two favourites below. Both song titles start with "How" which is coincidental.

First, one from Greg Laswell:

And then a delightful ditty from The Watson Twins:


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Getting Things Done

I've previously mentioned the Getting Things Done system, but it deserves another shout-out. It truly made a revolutionary difference on how I look at tasks and projects. I was never a big to-do list person (though I did enjoy writing things down after they were done so I could still check them off) but since reading GTD, I am convinced of their value when used correctly.

After doing the "index cards held by a binder clip" system for a while (known on the street as a Hipster PDA), I decided to kick things up a notch (but affordably!). With a little postcard taping and fancy writing, I put together a spanking-new system that I quite like. I tried having little tabs to demark each section at the top, but found that they simply got too mangled in my bag and it looked messy (and I am never messy...never) so I just took them out.


St. Joan of Arc has fascinated me since primary school; she is one of the original female warrior figures, before superheros were invented and before Tolkien wrote about Eowyn and her prowess on the battlefield. Besides her obvious courage in war and perseverance, I've always been inspired by her determination and resolve as a young woman, though she was considered simple and uneducated by those around her.

Now that I am in her homeland, I will be doing an independent study this semester about her life and work, which I will chronicle at Jeanne la Pucelle. If anyone has recommendations on good Joan-related books that I ought to read, I would love to hear about it.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Live from Paris (well, sort of live)

So, the long-awaited parental visit to Paris was awesome.

Those of you who keep up with Parisian weather reports (don't try to pretend you don't...) may have read that Paris had a "tempest" on Friday. Yes, we were there.

Photos are here, with more on the way.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


One of the elements of the Getting Things Done productivity system is the "Waiting For" list. It's not complicated; it's simply a list of what you are waiting for from other people. The knowledge that you are waiting for someone else before a task can be completed can be vital; but if you forget about the task while you're waiting for a response, then you've dropped the ball.

The "Waiting For" list can also be a place for more exciting items, like packages of books (I speak hypothetically) or upcoming albums from one's favourite artists.

Anticipation is a lovely, elusive thing (I will avoid copying Emily Dickinson and will therefore not call it "a thing with feathers"). My parents' phrase was always "delayed gratification," which still holds much merit. Saving a new book for a trip, or having only one square of chocolate a day instead of an entire bar of Green & Black, or saving a special tea for an afternoon with a friend -- the enjoyment may not be immediate, but then one has a double-savouring of thinking about the event and then the event itself.

In less than two weeks, one of my major "Waiting For" items will come to pass. It's not written on any index cards; I don't need any memory aids for this one. There is not a chance that I could forget. It's been in the forefront of my mind since I arrived in France. And I cannot wait until January 17th.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Sunday, January 4, 2009

New Year, New Pictures

Ah, the first post of 2009! How very exciting. I have great hopes for 2009 to be a most excellent year.

I've been keeping busy during the holidays with trips hither and yon and much time spent knitting. There are many new photos up on Flickr from Brussels, Brugge, Amsterdam, Villers Abbey, and the continuous production of knitted items.

The new semester will start in a few days and then I'll back in the swing of things. I do plan on taking more pictures of Tours, though, as I've not posted many pictures of the city itself (besides the Loire, of course). The Cathedral is absolutely lovely, so perhaps I will do a little photoshoot around there.

In other news, I've become enthralled by GoodReads. For those of you who are not familiar with it, it's a book website that allows you to list books that you have read, hope to read, or are currently reading. It's a bit shameful to see just how many books I have in the works right now, but also extremely handy since I am always reading about new books to try. It's a convenient place to keep the future books list, and it's fun to see what other people are currently reading.