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100 Greatest Novels: The Sun Also Rises, The Secret Agent, & Nostromo

Another fairly large span of time between the last post and now. Sorry about that. I’ve been studying for my state exam working towards my teaching certificate. Anyways, let’s get to the novels. As we get closer to the halfway mark, here’s three more of the 100 greatest novels.

Hemingwaysun1The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Following a group of American and British citizens in Spain, this novel deals with numerous themes. Love and love lost plays heavy on the story. I really enjoyed the dry and direct writing which was very similar to the attitude and personality of the protagonist, Jake Barnes. Really, the whole novel is full of characters with strong and distinct flaws. From the promiscuity of Lady Brett Ashley, to the impotency of Jake, and the drunkenness of Mike Campbell, they’re all damaged by either the times or by their experiences in World War I. This novel also serves as a stark and interesting depiction of Spain in the early 1900s. Some Spanish citizens are friendly to foreigners and others aren’t but all of their reactions to the characters lend hilarious and sometimes dark scenes to the story.


SecretAgentThe Secret Agent 
by Joseph Conrad

The first of two books by Conrad next to each other in the list, The Secret Agent was an interesting departure from most of the novels on this list. This novel follows the protagonist’s dealings as a spy and how his job effects those around him. The novel is written in a way where not only do you get the point of view of each and every character, but the point of view moves from character to character each chapter and sometimes in the middle of the chapter. These switches makes for slow revealing of the plot but gives you a chance to see events and characters from numerous viewpoints. From chapter to chapter, a character can seem strong and resolute and then suddenly vapid and unimportant. The plot itself is actually very interesting but it almost becomes second place to the inner workings of each character. It really makes for an interesting read.

200px-Nostromo1stNostromo by Joseph Conrad

This novel took a while to get going for me but by the end, I really enjoyed it. I think the reason for the slow start was because during most of the first half, Nostromo is barely a named minor character. So much time is spent learning the histories of other characters and I was just thinking the book wasn’t named for them, let’s get to Nostromo. But beyond all that, the story was an interesting take on a fictional government in South America trying to find it’s way between colonialism and their own democracy. You learn of numerous coups and then the story goes into yet another one. Nostromo plays a major part in this revolution and the story follows him until the conclusion and beyond.

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Great! Let’s keep going. Currently, I’m on The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence. Thanks for keeping up with all this.

 

 

 

 

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Share the Sounds

From the beginning of its history, music always borrowed from itself. When travelers discovered new cultures, they borrowed their sounds. Christian hymnals borrowed melodies from drinking songs sung in the taverns and pubs of Europe. Jazz musicians borrowed sounds and melodies from pop music and vice versa. And most recently, hip-hop borrows pieces of recordings from any and all genres to combine and create something completely new and original. There’s nothing new to this practice and it’s really a beautiful thing.

I told you all that just because I wanted to share with you a collection of songs that led from one to another. The first is a song from 2009 by Lady Gaga, Poker Face. Fairly simple pop song, nothing too out there. If you’re not familiar, here’s the video:

Next, the same song covered by Lea Michele and Idina Menzel in the TV show Glee. Stripped down to just two singers and a piano, the song takes on a totally different atmosphere. Here’s the scene from the show:

Then with the oddest leap of genre, this song is by the rapper Kid Cudi. Produced by Kanye West and featuring Kanye and Common, Make Her Say uses parts of the above Glee cover of Poker Face for the music. It’s really a great sounding and unique hip-hop song. Warning, explicit lyrics.

Anyways, just wanted to share with you guys a few videos. Hope everything is going great.

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2014 in Music

 

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100 Greatest Novels: A Dance to the Music of Time & Point Counter Point

First, let me sincerely apologize for not blogging in such a long time! It is inexcusable and I’ll try to not let it happen again. The first book is actually book one in a twelve book series. After reading the first book, I couldn’t decide to continue with the series or go on through the 100 great novels list. So instead, I read a few other books that I’ve been putting off. Then I decided it wasn’t economical to continue with the aforementioned series because each book was $8 a pop ($8×12=$96!!) so I moved on to the next novel in our list. With all the excuses out of the way, let’s get to the novels.

A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell

9780226677347The first book in this series, A Question of Upbringing, introduces us to Nick Jenkins. He is the narrator of the story and this novel follows him from his last school days up until he starts at a university. As far as plot or conflict, not much happens. I think it’s mainly because this is the first novel in a 12 book series so it’s more setting up the characters than telling an engaging story. I would like to ultimately finish this series because the characters are interesting enough and the writing is very clear and simple so I wouldn’t mind finding out what happens to Nick. But other than that, there’s not much to say about this introductory novel.

Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley

PointCounterPointComing from the same author that wrote A Brave New World, this novel and all his others are completely overshadowed. And while I love BNW, it’s sad that not many people (including myself until this list) know or have read this novel. Set in London in the during the 1920s, the novel follows numerous characters in the intellectual and artistic classes of England. Similar to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s works, the novel reads as an expose of the the excess and irreverence of the ’20s. Characters succumb to passion, allow decorum to override emotions, and argue about politics and religion and the importance of arguments about politics and religion. While an incredibly enjoyable read, the novel finishes with the biggest hypocrites being the happiest and well, you can probably guess the rest.

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Again, sorry about the wait. I hope to not do that to you again. Next up is The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. Onwards we go.

 
 

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Favorite Albums of 2013

It’s that time of year again! I love collecting my favorite albums of the year into a blog post every December. I always get a great response about what albums I missed or why I’m stupid for having a certain album on the list. Anyways, another great year for music. So here they are:

10. The Ash & Clay – The Milk Carton Kids

This duo has some of the most haunting and most beautiful folk music around. With an incredibly unique writing style, harmonies that are very reminiscent of traditional folk, and impressive guitar playing, everything these guys do is magic. Here’s one of their few upbeat songs, “Honey, Honey” featuring Amanda Seyfried driving a car:

9. The Great Gatsby (Music from Baz Luhrmann’s Film) – Various Artist

Whether you love or hate this adaptation of Fitzgerald’s novel, there’s no denying that this is a killer soundtrack. Produced by Jay-Z, the recordings perfectly blend 1920s jazz and todays pop and hip-hop. Some might be turned away by the modern music but I think the reasoning is to make comparisons between the excess and extravagance of the ’20s and of today using music to show the parallels. And it’s great. Here’s Fergie’s “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody.” Give it a shot:

8. Foreverly – Billie Joe + Norah

Now I just recently reviewed this record so there’s no need to go into too much detail. Quick overview: Jazz pianist Norah Jones and punk singer Billie Joe Armstrong team up to recreate an Everly Brothers album of traditional folk and country songs. Here’s “Long Time Gone:”

7. Bankrupt! – Phoenix

Every Phoenix record is full of great pop/rock music. Of course, this record is no different. From the Asian-sounding melody at the beginning all the way through, they never let up. Seeing them live at ACL this year was a great experience that gave me a new side to all the songs. Live, they put way more emphasis on the drums and guitars and it seemed way more of a rock show than their records ever do. I guess we’ll listen to “Entertainment,” the first track and single off the album:

6. The Lone Bellow – The Lone Bellow

This band is what happens if a folk band listens to too much U2 and lives in New York. And it’s great. I reviewed their record when it first came out and still love it now as much as I did then. Also, being front row at their ACL performance was an incredible experience. They were such humble performers and even had to play on borrowed instruments because an airline lost their luggage earlier that day. Anyways, here’s “Bleeding Out:”

5. The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars

One of the few bands deserving of their name. First, their music and lyrics have always been about conflict and dissonance. Then the two singers (Joy and John) are now so mad at each other that they aren’t on speaking terms. So we now have a real civil war inside the band. And this record exemplifies all of this perfectly. Dark, haunting, dissonant, and beautiful. “The One That Got Away:”

4. Reflektor – Arcade Fire

After winning Album of the Year at the Grammy’s a few years ago, everybody knows and loves Arcade Fire. And for good reason. They make great rock music. Thought-provoking, heavy, and complex. And danceable..

3. Yeezus – Kanye West

Well, let’s get kind of controversial now. Rap music with incredibly minimalistic production. Lyrics touching on fashion, racism, religion, and some of the most misogynistic lines ever. And of course, Kanye himself is a love him or hate him character. All that said, this record is beyond killer. It’s polarizing sounds draws me in over and over. I can barely go a week without having to spin this another time. There’s no video for my favorite song, “New Slaves,” but you can listen to it here:

2. Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend

Really, this was the surprise album of the year. I’ve always enjoyed Vampire Weekend’s stuff. Fun and simple rock music. Then they came out with this record and it’s pretty unbelievable. Boundary-pushing vocals, layered and deep lyrics, and some incredibly beautiful songwriting. The whole album is a great journey through their perception of New York and really, any city. I want to share two songs with you. First is their only “fun” song from the record, “Diane Young.” After that will be the track titled “Step” that has some great vocal melodies.

1. The 20/20 Experience – Justin Timberlake

Originally released in two parts, this has to be the perfect pop record. Containing everything about classic, modern, and future pop, there’s a little bit of everything. These songs are way more fleshed out than you would expect from a pop star. The track lengths range from 4:32 to 11:31 with most falling in around 7 to 8 minutes. And not all of these songs are dance tracks. JT proved that pop music can be art (as Lady Gaga weeps). The first single features Jay-Z and is a great track, “Suit & Tie:”

A few months later he announced part two with this disco-influenced single, “Take Back the Night:”

Then in October, he released his most recent video for the single “TKO.” This one sounds a little more modern then the last two videos:

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How about some honorable mentions? Here’s 10 artist in no particular order that almost made my list: Sara Bareilles, Janelle Monae, Portugal. The Man, Jack Johnson, Jay-Z, The Avett Brothers, Gavin DeGraw, Jamie Cullum, Paul McCartney, and Lorde.

Well, that wraps it up for this year. I guess we’ll meet back again next December.

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2013 in Lists, Music, Music Review

 

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Punk/Jazz/Pop/Blues/Country…

Now this combination might sound strange. But don’t knock it until you give it a chance. Greater things have come from weirder combinations.

Let’s start off with the singer of the punk band Green Day, Billie Joe Armstrong. He finds an old vinyl by the Everly Brothers of them covering traditional folk and countries song titled Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. He decides to recreate the album. Needing another singer (because the Everly Brothers are obviously known for their close harmonies), he tags jazz pianist Norah Jones. She has previously dabbled in country music on a few of her songs and numerous collaborations so it was a perfect fit.

Billie_Joe_Norah_Foreverly

Titled foreverly, this album is a beautiful homage to country, traditional music, the Everly Brothers, great singing, and everything else I can think of. Well, let me let you hear some of it before we go any farther. Here’s the first song they released in the form of a lyric video, Long Time Gone:

It reminds me of the album Robert Plant and Allison Krauss did a few years ago. Two voices, a few acoustic instruments, and heartbreaking lyrics. Honestly, I don’t think Norah Jones can do any wrong and as of yet, she hasn’t. Want to watch their second single, Silver Haired Daddy of Mine? Let’s do it:

Anyways, go buy it. Good stuff.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Music, Music Review

 

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100 Greatest Novels: The Heart of the Matter, Lord of the Flies, & Deliverance

Well, the next three novels just got darker and darker. I guess it’s fitting being right before Halloween and everything. Anyways, here’s three more of the 100 greatest novels.

175px-HeartOfTheMatterThe Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

Set on the West Coast of Africa, this was a great look at England’s colonies in Africa during World War II. Major Scobie is one of the few honest English workers at the colony. Whether it’s the strain of his work, the climate of West Africa, Catholic guilt, or all the above, Scobie’s mistakes and actions ultimately lead to his destruction. Even when it seemed unnecessary.

I haven’t read any of Greene’s work before but I really enjoyed his writing style. Halfway through the 20th century, British authors seemed to drop the unneeded over-explanation you find at the turn of the century. The writing became simpler, the storytelling clearer. I’ve noticed this a lot in this greatest novels list, especially ones I was previously unfamiliar with: Greene, Evelyn Waugh, E. M. Forster, and of course George Orwell. The Heart of the Matter is a great example of this clear writing style and it made for an enjoyable read.

200px-LordOfTheFliesBookCoverLord of the Flies by William Golding

Here’s where things start to get a little darker. This novel is about children being stranded on a deserted island after a plane crash. There are no adults and they have to take care of themselves. Their ages range between 5 to probably 12 or so. Early on, the kids try to create a society resemblant of the adult one they left behind. They choose a leader, create rules, etc. Over the course of the novel, things slowly break down. First, the littlest ones cannot or will not follow any rules from the older kids. Then the chosen leader, Ralph, is repeatedly challenged by the headstrong Jack. Finally, the fear of the unknown starts breaking down all the children’s mental state until most of the children embrace a savagery not expected from civilized British children.

Lord of the Flies can be somewhat difficult to read because the rules and the order created at the beginning of the story would be so easy to follow. Simple mistakes made by the children lead to the break down of their “society.” By the time the kids’ savagery leads to deaths, you just want to scream at the children that, well, they’re just children. They seem to forget it and sometimes us readers do too.

Dickey-DeliveranceDeliverance by James Dickey

4 middle-aged men that live in a Georgia city decide to take a weekend trip canoeing down the river in northern Georgia. Simple enough, what could go wrong? After a couple deaths, a broken leg, rapids, rock-climbing, and even sodomy, I guess a few things can go wrong.

This intense novel was written and set in the 1970s. I know I said Lord of the Flies can be difficult to read but that has nothing on this story. Although there are some incredibly difficult passages, this novel actually has some beautifully written narration. Narrated by Ed, one of the four city men, we see his first experience in true wilderness perfectly. The writing is simple yet descriptive which makes for clear understanding, even when you don’t want to understand what’s going on very clearly. There is a movie that was produced a few years after the release of the novel that I’ve heard is as difficult to watch as the novel was to read. But in the end, it was worth it to experience this life-changing weekend with Ed.

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Next up is a series of 12 novels by Anthony Powell titled A Dance to the Music of Time, which I think is kind of cheating. 12 novels getting one spot!? I bought a 4 volume set that contains all the novels. We’ll see if I make it through all 4 volumes before going ahead. It’ll take a week or so for the books to get in so until then, I started reading the 1897 horror novel Dracula by Bram Stoker to get ready for Halloween. Onwards we go.

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

100 Greatest Novels: The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Howards End, & Go Tell It on the Mountain

Well, we keep trucking along. Getting closer to the halfway mark.

200px-BridgeOfSanLuisReyThe Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

This book is really small. My copy was 117 pages. With that in mind, you wouldn’t think Wilder could put in so much emotion in to so few pages. In the 1700s, an old Incan rope bridge in Peru collapses. Five people were on the bridge when it collapses and the rest of the book gives us short histories of each person and how they came to be on the bridge. With the book being so short and fitting in the histories of five different people, I didn’t expect to get emotionally attached to anybody. Well, that was a wrong assumption. But ultimately, the books is about love. The last sentence:

There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.

Howards_EndHowards End by E. M. Forster

For fans of BBC’s Downton Abbey, this novel follows three families and their connections to an old family home named Howards End. Set at the turn of the century, this is another novel about English aristocracy and how they relate to each other, poorer people, and their possessions.

What sets this novel apart is the characters (two main characters are children of German immigrants instead of the normal British heritage) and Howards End, the home that takes on as important a rule as any character. More of the novel actually takes place in London instead of at the home but the home still affects the actions and reactions of multiple characters.

200px-GoTellItOnTheMountainGo Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin

Written in the 1950s, this semi-autobiographical novel is set in New York during the early 20th century. The novel follows John, a 14-year-old African American, and his life living with a strict father who’s a deacon at a charismatic church. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn about the history of John’s family members. Starting back in the south, the novel follows each character as they deal with hardships, move to the north, and find God.

What makes this novel difficult to read is seeing the characters use their faith in God to punish themselves. Every little bad mishap is proof that they are living in sin and that God is punishing them. Children need sin beat out of them. Adults need to be shunned because of their life of sin. Only one character can see the truth. And all this creates an intense and sometimes difficult novel.

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Getting into the 40s on the list of the 100 greatest novels, next is The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene.

 

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