Sunday, January 6, 2013

Books I Read in 2012

Inspired by my brother's posting of books he read last year, I'm following his lead and doing the same here, though my list isn't going to be nearly as long as his. This only includes books finished during the year of 2012. Let's see how well I can remember them all...

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Format: Paperback received as a birthday present from my sister
Read all three books and listing them all separately, but only commenting here. I really enjoyed this first installment. It was gripping and kept me guessing as to what was going to happen next. Jared convinced me of the wisdom in Collins' writing of the second and last books, but I still can't claim to feel satisfied by them. I also feel like books 2 and 3 could have been combined into one book with some smart editing.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Format: Hardcover borrowed from a coworker

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Format: Hardcover borrowed from a coworker

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, vol. 2 by Alan Moore
Format: Trade paperback received as a gift from a coworker
The first volume of this series is better, in my opinion, but I have to confess that this is based mostly on my conservative values taking offense at some of the nudity and sexual content here. The story itself, the characters, and the artwork are pretty fantastic. Combining Victorian-era fictional characters and settings into a sort of old school Justice League is a lot of fun, and there's surprising depth in characters like Mr. Hyde, whose character arc is arguably the most interesting here. Click on the link for more info on the story.

The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
Format: Paperback collections legally borrowed or purchased
This series has constituted the bulk of my comics/graphic novel reading over the last year, having started with Compendium One, which collects issues 1 through 48, and carrying on in trade paperbacks up through #102 (TPB's collect 6 issues each). Kirkman is to credit/blame for my first foray into zombie territory. Usually horror genres, especially those involving stereotypical monsters, don't appeal to me at all, but I'd heard so much raving about the show that I gave it a shot, eventually being sucked in by a desire to check out the source material as well. What intrigues me more than the zombie attacks is how the living characters are written and developed as they cope with their surroundings. Most zombie stories seem to deal with people's reactions to an initial zombie outbreak. Kirkman addresses how humanity functions in the long term, and not just in the question of, "What are we going to do about these zombies?" but, more importantly, in the context of, "What does my relationship with my wife and son mean now?" or, "What is morality in this new/dead world?" Really fascinating stuff. Watch out for some strong language.

Hulk: Gray by Jeph Loeb
Format: Hardcover collection purchased from Amazon
Pretty short work dealing with the early days of Hulk and his interactions with General Ross. Got it on sale for super cheap, well worth it. The gritty visual take on these characters was total eye candy.

The Book of Mormon
Format: Leather-bound scripture collection gifted to me 12 years ago partially by my aunt and also posthumously by my grandparents. Long story.
Not sure if this counts since it's not leisure reading, but hey, I read it this year with my wife, and it's a great book. I don't often wax religious on this blog, but there it is.

The Ultimates, Vol. 1 by Mark Millar
Format: Hardcover collection of issues 1 - 12, purchased online
I re-read these as part of my anticipation for Marvel's "The Avengers" film that was released in May. Such a great read and an amazing, fresh take on the classic team. Highly recommended for anyone even remotely interested in comics or superheroes. Especially fond of Captain America's portrayal as a man out of time, truly struggling with coming to grips with his new surroundings, and Hulk as a much more Hyde-esque monster than any other version I've seen. He really represents man's unbridled passions here, in every sense I can think of.

The Ultimates, Vol. 2 by Mark Millar
Format: Hardcover collection of issues 13 - 24, purchased online.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
Format: Paperback Lord of the Rings collection purchased online
Yes, I know that technically The Lord of the Rings is considered one book, but I'm aching to show that I read something else other than comics this year, so I'm putting it down. At the time of this writing I'm about halfway through The Two Towers right now and taking a hiatus that should hopefully end soon. I am really enjoying LOTR thus far, it's just a lot to take in. So far I think The Hobbit is my favorite Middle Earth tale, however. I've read it twice and it amazes me how much Tolkien accomplishes with much fewer pages at his disposal.

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

People with the Names and the Sounds and the Confusion-Making and the Headache-Causing

Listen, people. Stop it with the names that sound the same but are just barely different, alright? Between myself and Emily, here's a list of some girls we know:

Sharookwanoonaynaynaynay Elizabeth

Can guess which one is Canadian/fake?

This reminds me of the first time I visited DC back in '04. I was approached by this gawky teenager dressed in hand-me-downs from the 80s. He invited me to this play that his religious organization was putting on that night at the National Mall, about a talking, suit-wearing ant who tries to warn humanity of impending doom, but nobody listens to him (and understandably so -- suits can be very off-putting). I had to run to catch up to my sister later that afternoon, so I expressed my regrets and shook his hand as I started to leave.

"What's your name?" he asked.

I quickly replied, "Mark."

"Marf ?" (And people wonder why I go by my nickname more often than not.)

"... No. Mark. With a k."


"And yours?"

"I'm Zerubbabel!"

Zerubbabel. Now THERE'S a name that's never going to be phonetically toyed with.

Protect your babies. Name them Zerubbabel.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

This Post... just an excuse to get my blog back to the top of Darrell's blog roll on the side of his webpage.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Culturama: Symphonic Fishing

The month of August brought about some fun. My friend BING! invited me to join her for an evening in Park City to attend a performance by the Utah Symphony. The featured work of the concert was Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," and there were some other numbers by Gershwin and Copland that were played.

The weather was a little ominous, but nonetheless beautiful if you can't tell by the color of the clouds in this photo. The last time I attended a concert at this venue was a couple years ago when the Symphony opened for Tony Bennett. Both evenings had similarities: lightning flashing around us (for Tony it was a few miles behind the stage, like the sky was some sort of celestial backup dancer), light sprinkles of rain now and then, and, of course, a bucket of chicken provided by yours truly. Gotta love them outside concerts!

Me and BING!, filled with classy tunes and fried chicken.

A few weeks later, old roommate and BFF Isaac was feeling a little lonely since his wife was out of town, so he organized a little outing for himself, myself, and Darrellself to do some fishing on the Provo River, followed by mountain biking at Sundance.

I used to fish these waters a lot when I took a fly fishing course at BYU. There's some good fly fishing to be had on this river, and you don't have to drive far to find it. Unfortunately, these guys weren't catching anything. My best guess is that (a) Darrell's cast wasn't so much a cast as it was random twirling of his rod directly above his head, and (b) both Darrell and Isaac were casting where currents were too strong. We weren't near enough to any natural pools where fish would be more likely to chill out and wait for a fly to land near them. Of course, I'm one to talk. I'm the wise guy who didn't bring equipment OR a license. I was stuck meandering around and in the river with my shorts hiked up to my thighs.

After a couple hours of epic fails -- including me rescuing Darrell from a baby garter snake -- we moved on to our next activity: riding the Sundance ski lift to the top of a mountain and zooming down the trails on a couple mountain bikes. Well, "zooming" was more like "creeping" for me. This was my second time attempting the Sundance trails, and I was a little more wary this time around. It probably has to do with the fact that after my last attempt, three of my limbs and my left hip came out looking like this:
Not to mention the bruises everywhere.

It was fun being in nature nonetheless -- I really missed the beauty of Provo Canyon while I was living in DC, so even while I waited for Isaac and Darrell to go down a couple trails without me slowing them down I found myself biking leisurely along the roads surrounding the Sundance Resort.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Culturama: Llama Fest!

Starting off the culture posts with a bang! Last weekend my friend Leanne and I hit up Llama Fest, an annual event held at the Krishna temple in Spanish Fork. I've always wanted to check this event out in years past that I've been here but never took the chance, and this year the promise of 75+ llamas in one location was too much for me to resist.

Unfortunately we were too late to catch any of the obstacle course that the llamas were subjected to, but we did manage to catch a glimpse of the award ceremony afterwards. A certain llama named Dennis swept the floor with the competition, getting a ribbon in almost every category, including first place in said obstacle course. We all felt a little jealous of that guy.

Between awards, we were treated to cultural dances from various individuals who represented several countries in South America. What's funny to me is that, after about 20 minutes of watching, I realized that the advertisement of these Latinos representing all these different countries was probably false. During the chunk of time I sat there, there was one group of adults and one group of children that alternated on the dance floor, taking turns so that one group could go backstage and change into appropriate costume for their next number! But entertaining nonetheless, especially the two little tykes who looked about age 6 and constantly looked to the other couple for guidance on what to do next.

We went on to explore the temple itself (pretty basic place, actually -- worship area upstairs where they were giving an interesting demonstration of their chanting while visiting children poked and climbed on statues of their gods, and a restaurant/gift shop downstairs) after I had led Leanne over to where the llamas were being held outside. The best part was probably feeding the llamas -- they were pretty vigorous when it came to hay. But petting the llamas was a very uncomfortable experience. Imagine a huge ball of dirty wool and then reaching out only to feel a very bony skeleton beneath. Seriously, you can feel every detail of every bone and tendon. It's really sick. Like cross-breeding a sheep with one of the Olsen twins. In any case, llamas aren't very social creatures. Like their cousin the camel, they were bred to labor.

There was one llama in particular that made us afraid. I didn't snap a shot of it in hopes that the memory escapes me one day. This little guy was about half the height of a normal llama, had eyes that were only half-open, and a lower lip that hung loose off his jaw, leaving a long trail of green saliva constantly oozing out. He kept drunkenly staring at us. He's basically the reason we left the petting area.

But after that we discovered the zebu! Read the wikipedia article for more info on these guys. They didn't really care that we were there to see them, but they stayed close enough for me to grab onto their fleshy humps on their necks. I'd never seen one of these before. It kind of made me want to buy a mini-wagon and hitch 'em up for a mini-trek to Springville.

I'm sure this experience would have been much more enlightening if I'd bothered to research why exactly this event even occurs (I assume it has to do with the fact that there's a lot of llama/alpaca ranching in Utah) and why at the Krishna temple of all places, but it was fun nonetheless and I learned a few things, like how llamas can withstand extremely cold temperatures yet are prone to heat exhaustion at about the same levels of heat as humans. In that sense, I feel like I can really relate with llamas now.

I think I'll name one of my kids Dennis.

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A Whole Lot of Writing -- with No Pictures?!

Well, I always swore I would never turn this blog into a public journal, but I've already broken that rule a couple of times, and feel it's time to admit that I might head slightly in that direction on future posts, including this one. Enjoy!

Cultural Adventure Posts
I decided I'm going to try to post something, even if it's brief, on a regular basis, regarding my experience re-immersing myself in the Salt Lake/Utah Valley culture. Mostly this is to motivate me to get off my duff and live life to its fullest, but I also think it'll be an adventure in discovering Utah again. My first tenure here was spent with too much focus on school. This time around, I've decided to be more committed to experiencing the richness this state has to offer -- the great outdoors adventures, the local art communities, the festivals, etc. Heck, even some of the campus events that I never got around to doing will be a part of this series (I sadly never went to a football game while a student here!).

I feel that too many of us that went to college in Utah and then left the state have decided to focus our memories way too much on a few bad experiences, blowing them out of proportion and forgetting the good. One of my goals in these posts is to not only rediscover what is great about life here, but to find new things to rave about this state. It's not just some place where a bunch of Mormons enjoy living in a cultural bubble -- it's an environment worth exploring!

Lord of the Muscles: Return of the Calves
Time to get back in shape. I believe I weigh more right now than I ever have, and that ain't right. After having settled somewhat in my new digs and recovered from my mountain biking accident (oh, the post is forthcoming, don't you worry), I've decided to get back into an exercise routine. This will probably take place in the evenings as I usually can't even see straight until after lunch time. In any case, I'm documenting and measuring this progress by snapping weekly photos of my left calf. When the golden calves have returned from under their fleshy curtain of solitude, you'll know I'm back in business.

Don't worry, though, I won't be posting these photos of the calves. That would just make me look like I have some odd sort of fetish! No, once I'm back in shape I'll probably just pick the best ones and make a slideshow to demonstrate my progress over time. That's what normal people do, right?

Growing Pains
First of all, wasn't that such a great show? Seriously, there are few '80s comedies that have stood the test of time, and this is one of them. It had some really witty jokes and most of the plots strayed from the cliched scenarios that were recycled throughout prime time television in those days. Oh man.

But I have decided that it's time to grow up just a little. I'm not totally changing my personality here, but let me share a few points I've been thinking about:

  1. I'm seriously cutting back the time I spend on a certain video game. I've never really been as hard core about it as the stereotypical gamer is, but as I thought about embarking on the aforementioned cultural journey I realized this could be a pretty big distraction for me. I may even delete it from my hard drive to purge myself. I don't regret playing or anything, and I certainly plan on continuing very casual use of my PS3, but I just need to make sure I'm well-rounded enough that I'm not ever even tempted to start on the path of introversion via video games.

  2. In a recent issue of the Ensign (for any non-LDS readers I may have, this is a monthly magazine that most Mormons in the US subscribe to), a British general authority wrote an article on how the gospel refines our tastes and language. It's made me think quite a bit, as he stated that one who has really lived the gospel over a period of time avoids casual language and colloquialisms (I think he gave an example of how God would never describe a good experience as "awesome"), and that said person also really appreciates classical music from centuries past and such.

    It was hard to swallow at first. I felt like he was telling me I'm wrong for regularly using the term "hard core" and listening to rock music. Heck, by his definition, even the Beatles aren't refined enough. In fact, a couple of people who I consider to be among the best understanders and livers of gospel principles are some of the roughest-around-the-edges people I've ever known!

    But as I got to thinking more about it, I am not so sure he meant what my knee-jerk interpretation figured. I think a lot of the things he mentioned are things that naturally occur over time spent in the Church -- as in decades. And you know, I'm okay with Old Man Shark speaking a little more maturely. I don't picture myself in my 60s and 70s constantly praising my grandkids by saying "rock on!" (note the inclusion of the qualifying word "constantly"). Also, I think the seeds for that appreciation of classic arts are already planted. I own and listen to Handel's Messiah now and then and in humanities courses I've taken, I've honestly been amazed by the musical progress made by our predecessors. That being said, I don't think it's wrong for Old Man Shark to pop in some Weezer or Beatles or what have you. I know this sounds weird in a Holy Roller sort of way, but when it comes down to it I believe that a lot of rock music is of God, and I don't think "Hard Day's Night" is going to be banned from Heaven, you know? These artists have also made some excellent contributions to cultural history and I think there's a lot of inspiration in some of this music.

    That being said, I've decided there are things I can and perhaps should do to not seem like such a slob in some regards. For the most part I refer to my language. I don't consider myself to be someone with a dirty mouth, but in the past year or so I've been more lenient on my uses of the words "hell, "damn," etc. ... some of the "lighter" curse words which I'll use maybe once every couple of weeks just for shock value or hyperbole. I think I'd like this to come to an end... Just a little personal thing that I want to give up to show a greater commitment to being a better product of my religion. I also need to re-tighten my standards a tad on some of the media I expose myself to. Again, I'm not into porn or dirty music, in fact I still don't watch R-rated films, but sometimes I feel I let things slide that maybe I shouldn't. So, expect future writings to be just as rockin', but with better ways of communicating said rock!

  3. I've gotten less snooty about the nickname. Don't get me wrong, I definitely still prefer going by "Shark" because I'm so used to it, but I've decided from here on out that I won't sneer (visibly or not) at people who decide to make use of the name on my birth certificate. Is it part of growing up? I'm not sure. I just know that I've felt like it's not worth alienating people. I don't care if someone looks down on me for having a "unique" nickname -- if they're too cool for school, that's their problem, not mine -- but there may be times I could reach out or be a friend to someone, and I'd hate it if I found out I had missed an opportunity to do so just because I had driven them away by insisting on being called something they were sincerely uncomfortable with. So, for the record, I still prefer Shark, but you can get away with calling me by my given name without incurring my wrath, though it may take some getting used to for me.

  4. I want to be like Darrell. I know this seems counter-intuitive under a heading about growing up (bwah bwaaah, just kidding Darl!), but I've always admired Darrell for his financial responsibility and I think it's time I join the game. I've already been doing much better lately at saving up money, but I can still do better. A lot of this stems from recent conversations I've had about being a good provider, both spiritually and physically, for my future wife and kids. I know already from experience in dating relationships that it feels terrible when you don't think you're being what your significant other needs. I'd hate to accept the responsibility of being a husband/father and not be able to support my loved ones in a way that they can be free to lead happy lives.
Well, this is one of the most personal posts I've written in a long time. Better enjoy it, as I'm not planning on being this sober all that often (hic!). So on that little note...


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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Car Names and Arch-Nemeses

Living in Provo again has its pluses: I'm back to my old barber who I know I can trust, dollar scoop night at Baskin Robbins guarantees fresh ice cream due to the high amount of traffic it gets, and cost of living is low enough that I can finally afford having a car again without feeling like I'm going to break the bank!

I'd been doing some research online for a few weeks prior to moving and had a general idea of what I wanted: a reliable car that will last a long time and get decent gas mileage. Not much different from what most people seek, I would think. Once I landed in Salt Lake last Thursday, I knew I wanted to get mobile as fast as possible so I could move to my new place and be independent again, so with the help of my dad I managed to get a decent deal on a car the very next day!

The new ride is a 2006 Nissan Sentra SE, with only 22.5K miles on it. This little guy should last me a while. And the best part, in case you can't tell from the photo, is that it's BRIGHT YELLOW! (A daylight picture would probably show this even better, but the only time I have remembered to snap a few shots was last night in the Smith's parking lot.) I never thought I'd own a car this color, but the mechanics of it seemed to be great and I figured that, heck, you're only a young, single bachelor (hopefully) once and I might as well have a little personality in my automobile.

And I'm already seeing the benefits! I went shopping at Wal-Mart on Saturday and had to park clear on the opposite side of the parking lot, almost at McDonald's. When I stepped out and had to remember which row I parked on, it took me about 2 seconds to see this bright yellow bumper barely sticking out. Yellow FTW. *cough*

In addition to the awesomeness of its color, the spoiler on the back has proven its worth in the few days we've been together. I was driving down I-15 the other day when I thought to myself, "Man, this 4-cylinder engine is really wailing! My old Lumina would have been about ten feet off the ground at these blazing speeds!"

Now let me make one thing clear: I've decided to NOT dub this car "The" Sharkmobile. It is certainly A sharkmobile and can be referred to as such, but I wanted to give this one a different label so as to separate it more from its predecessor who, in the end, gave me more grief than I'd anticipated.

One thing you have to know about me, though, is that I'm generally opposed to most people's naming schemes for cars. Firstly, it's odd that we feel this need to properly name our vehicles at all, as if they're our children. Secondly, most people I know tend to give their cars real-people names that are generally feminine, like "Barbara" or "Pam." That's weird to me, too. A car name should represent something unique about the car itself and, if using an actual PERSON name, should not be a name you would actually expect to hear on the street anymore. Here are some good examples of car names I've grown to approve:

-"Myrtle": JKC's car in college that his grandma gave to him. It was definitely an old lady's car and it ran like a prune, getting you to where you needed to be but about ready to die at a moment's notice. We were hoping that another roommate would get an old man car-counterpart that we could name "Baxter."

-"Lola": My sister's car, named such because, during its first long drives with the CD player on shuffle, it favored Barry Manilow music more often than any other variety.

-"Kiff": Cabeza's car. The license plate letters are "KFF," leading to this natural allusion to the hilarious "Futurama" sidekick, as well as many Zap Brannigan quotes.

Bearing that in mind, I present to you my car's new title: Professor Zoom! I imagine most readers won't immediately catch that reference. The explanation is as follows:

The Flash is my favorite superhero. His costume color scheme, as pictured, is solid red with a white circle and yellow lightning bolt comprising the icon on his chest. The Flash's arch-nemesis, the Reverse Flash, also known as "Professor Zoom," has an opposite color scheme: yellow base with a black circle and red lightning bolt comprising the icon.

Now, I'm not one to promote supervillainy, but Professor Zoom is a tragic figure who had a life that handed him nothing but disappointments. Of course, this is all to OUR benefit, because the results of said life have led to a lot of great Flash storytelling and character development. So why not repay him just a little for his hardknock existence?

I even broke in the car's new attitude by trying to establish its "wicked"-cool personality right off the bat: the first songs I played on my drive home from the dealer were "Tribute" by Tenacious D and most of the new Offspring album, which is about as bada** as rock can get. The stereo system ate it up (including the subwoofer in the trunk that was included)!

The name fits well -- the solid yellow body and black interior of my car are very reminiscent of the Reverse Flash. All that's missing is a little red, which should be fixed within the next few weeks as I am custom designing a Reverse Flash insignia to place on my rear window. All the closet nerds in Utah Valley who end up driving behind me will be eating their little hearts out.

Oh, but if your name is Barry Allen, you better watch out. I'm pretty sure my car plans on killing your fiance on your wedding day.

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