Articles by " Michael"
15 Oct
2015

It’s National Grouch Day – But Who Cares?

Hello and welcome.  It is my temporary displeasure to be discussing with you today a holiday that I celebrate pretty much every day of the year.  But today, October 15th, you non-grouches get to join in the non-fun.  That's right, folks, it's National Grouch Day.  I'd use an exclamation mark here, but expressing enthusiasm wastes unnecessary energy.  Period.

You probably don't realize this, but there is a certain art to being grumpy.  Being a grouch is a bit of a balancing act: one must never appear too jolly, for fear that it would inspire others to speak with and/or discuss their feelings with you.  And yet, at the same time, one must never unleash the full power of one's sourpussery; this would permanently scare away one's friends, family, coworkers, and hairdressers.  Rather, a grouch must supply the illusion of being merely in a bad mood, a momentary malaise that might (but, of course, never does) go away tomorrow.

The grouch, as you undoubtedly know, has no natural predators.  He is at the top of his food chain, reproducing by chipping away at nearby individuals' happiness until they hit an emotional low, whereby some biological transmutation occurs and one grump becomes two.  It operates on the same unshakeable principles as vampirism or zombie infection.  Spreading unhappiness provides an indefatigable source of sustenance for the grouch, much like spreading misinformation about national issues has turned Sarah Palin into an inexhaustable (but, at the same time, incredibly exhausting) Alaskan Energizer bunny.

If you or a loved one is considering becoming a grouch, give these brief points some contemplation:

(1) Are you able to watch an episode of Gilmore Girls while exhibiting a neutral emotional response?  If yes, why the hell are you watching Gilmore Girls in the first place?

(2) Do you tip your bartender or barista?  If so, why?  Is it because: (a) you are a good person?  (b) you got dat dough to throw around?  (c) you are hoping to get laid?

(3) If you were able to build a school for the magical training of wizards and witches, where would be your first choice and why?  Would you allow students of mixed magical blood to attend your school?   Would you charge them a nominal fee for this privilege?

This was not a test, but if it were a test, you would have failed.

28 Jul
2015

Michael’s Picks!

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Vicious by V.E. Schwab - This book has: unconventional superheroes! Moral ambiguity! Resurrection! (*mild spoiler*) A dog that does not die in the end! Other stuff! This book does *not* have: two-dimensional characters! Tropes! A sequel! Though, really, it should.

 

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A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab - An urban fantasy that has elements of both Neil Gaiman and China Mieville (who are two other authors you should obviously be reading). There's a swashbuckling, gender-bending lady pirate, an inter-dimensional blood magician, AND A WHOLE LOT OF MAGIC. And queer characters. Winnnnnnn.

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Seraphina & Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman - Dragons, mostly, with a Game-of-Thrones-esque attention to world building. The titular character here is a sassy flautist with psychic abilities and she COMPLETELY steals the show. Can I compare this series to Game of Thrones again? Fine, I think I will.

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Shadow & Bone, Siege & Storm, Ruin & Rising (The Grisha Trilogy) by Leigh Bardugo - More magic (are you sensing a theme here?). Elemental magicians, alchemists, and shadow- and light-wielders fight and flirt in this Russia-inspired trilogy about a nation divided by dark magic. The characters are basically sexy versions of Hogwarts students. So, yeah.

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Railsea by China Mieville - A Moby-Dick retelling set in a vast desert instead of the open seas. Giant burrowing owls and massive moles terrorize anyone caught out in the sand. There's also a legend about angelic trains that guard the railways and protect travelers from danger. Need I continue?

22 Sep
2014

Today’s All About You: It’s ‘Dear Diary’ Day!

Lemme tell you about diaries, because today, September 22nd is their time to shine!  Diaries are wonderful portals into the inner mind and we really should value them more.  Isn't it better to leave your grievances against the world safely ensconced in a bound journal instead of BOUNCING AROUND THE INTERNET FOR EVERYONE TO READ?  Seriously, this is advice that many a cybertroll ought to be heeding.  Provided you don't have nosy siblings prying into your diary every other day, there's little likelihood that anyone else will set eyes on your most precious secrets.  Unless, you leave it on top of your pillow or something - then you're just asking for it.

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On the surface, writing about yourself every day may seem awfully narcissistic, but it really isn't!  You're not saying things like, "Look at me - I'm amazing at everything," or "ZOMG.  Everybody wants to be me."  And if you are, then you're probably Regina George.  Regina George's diary, I'm sure, would make wonderful bathroom reading material, but you should write about what's important to YOU.  What are your hopes/dreams/regrets?  Who are you crushing on?  (And don't pretend like you don't have any crushes; I'm twenty-four and I have a new one every week.)  And crap like that.  Yes, some of it is bound to be pretty quotidian, but that's life.  And, if you do see your life settling into an uninspiring pattern, this is your cue to start switching things up!

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There's so much value to journaling, but I think the biggest payoff is just to be able to get these thoughts off your brain.  As soon as you write down something that's bothering you, it's out of your head and onto the page.  That's mostly just psychological trickery, but it really works.  It's similar to how making a to-do list and then crossing tasks off that list just makes you feel better; it's a weight off your chest.  The other benefit of writing in a diary is that it's basically a time machine, allowing you to relive specific days and even hours in your life when you were doing a certain thing or feeling a certain way.  Sadly, I don't make a habit of journaling every day, but I always take notes about my day when I travel abroad.  If you've been out of the country, you know that these are the times when your mind takes off down some pretty weird paths.  Going back and reading journal entries a few months later can be a lot of fun.

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So, like, start keeping a diary today!  It's important that you work it into your daily routine (at night before bed is best), so that it becomes a habit.  And make sure you find a good hiding spot for it!  Beware the numerous snoops (myself included) just waiting to get their dirty mitts on it.  You don't need that stress in your life.

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15 Sep
2014

Katie Reviews This Month’s Book Club Pick!

Here's what Katie has to say about The Girl In the Flammable Skirt:

flammable skirtA fantastic debut collection of short stories by one of my favorite authors, Aimee Bender.  Stories like "Loser," the tale of a boy who has the magical ability to find any lost object - except what he himself has lost - or "The Rememberer," whose protagonist deals with the loss of a relationship when her boyfriend begins to experience “reverse evolution," read like modern-day fairy tales, the absurd elements illuminating the complex, relatable emotions under the surface.  This quick read made me want to search out and read everything that Aimee Bender has ever written. Weird in the best way possible, well written and completely original, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt stays with you long after it’s put away on the book shelf.  Try it out and let us know what you think!

Book club meets at the store on Sunday, September 28th at 6pm!

9 Sep
2014

We love video games! Do you?

So, like, listen.  There's this little holiday on September 12th that few people have heard of (though I'm trying my darnedest to raise awareness).  It's Video Games Day, you guys!  How much do you want to jump up and punch the air when you hear that?  Seriously, we here at KU comprise a group of pretty avid gamers, and we'll be celebrating the holiday by reminiscing on all the super awesome (and super crappy) video games we've come across over the years.

When people ask me what I like about video games, I always point to the storytelling.  Some games suck at it, but on the whole it's been getting better each year.  I'm sure you've heard of The Last of Us (featuring fake - or is it real? - Ellen Page), which debuted last year and was the source of salivation for many a nerd.  I've played it and I can't WAIT to play it again.  These days, video games are like movies (or books - although regular paper books are pretty awesome too, guys) on steroids.  This game felt like an hours-long zombie flick with some nature film footage thrown in for good measure.  The pretty moments in The Last of Us are quite endless, like this one scene where you're hunting a deer with a bow and arrow and tracking it by its blood trail.  I mean, that sort of makes me cry, but OH MY GOSH IT'S SO BEAUTIFUL, SO I'LL LET IT SLIDE.

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Duuuude, I know!

I have two favorite video games, one silly and one serious.  The silly (but also quite serious) one is Banjo-Kazooie, which came out on N64, like, nearly two decades ago now?  I FEEL LIKE A GRANDPA.  What I love about this game - besides the contagious collectathon atmosphere, and the world-hopping, which are components of numerous other games of that generation - is the dialogue.  This game makes fun of itself in such an endearing way.  Like, one character will use a terrible pun, and the other will insult him.  To a younger me, those sorts of gags were amazing.  And, also, IT'S A LOT OF FUN!  I love jumping between the worlds and hearing all the musical scores for each environment.  Banjo-Kazooie's sequel, Banjo-Tooie (I'm not really sure if these hyphens are necessary, but we're going for it), is also great, but, I think, ends up introducing too many confusing and complicating elements into the gameplay.  Like the numerous different types of eggs you can collect, and the fact that you have to use portals to travel around a single world because they're that vast.  Which I think was something that was supposed to be impressive, but ends up being exhausting.  Anyways, enough about that.  If you're familiar with these games, you'll want to listen to a song featured in Banjoo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, a TERRIBLE GAME - AVOID, AVOID...but the music is fantastic.  This little diddy always puts a smile on my face.

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Like I said, I'm pretty old...

My serious pick for favorite game is Final Fantasy X, the first game in the series that I ever played.  Friends tell me that earlier iterations are even better, but I can't get into them.  FFX is epic for sure, but it's also funny, moving, and, at times, really sexy.  There's that one scene where Yuna and Tidus are inexplicably underwater for like five minutes, and (subtext is that) they're having sex.  I felt so guilty - and secretly thrilled - watching that as a youngun.  And THE ENDING.  Always makes me cry.  And, again, that music is spot-on.

Needless to say, I'm very excited too see (and play) the future of video games.  But, for now, I'm more than happy to replay the ones that I already know and love.  Have fun gaming!

14 Jul
2014

Notes from Our July Book Club Meeting!

Hello, hello!  Time for another round-up of the highlights from our latest book club meeting.  This month we discussed Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, the best-selling mystery novel of all time.  It's one of those books that I had been meaning to read for a loooooong time, so I'm really glad we finally got to it in book club.  If you're unfamiliar with the story, it's about a group of strangers who are all invited to a mysterious island off the coast of Britain - but once they arrive, they learn that they've fallen straight into *someone's* murderous trap, and the guests start falling like dominoes.  Also, bizarre side note: there were 10 strangers in the book and EXACTLY TEN PEOPLE AT OUR BOOK CLUB MEETING.  Eeerriieeee.

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This is not us. Although I wish it were. Let's start dressing up for book club? Can that be a thing?

This was the first Agatha Christie book I've read, and I have to say it lived up to expectations.  I worried that I might be bored by it (and, admittedly, it wasn't as gruesome or as graphic as I thought it would be), but Christie certainly knew how to build up the suspense.  There were some great passages in the book that were just bits of internal dialogue from all the characters, jumbled together, so even though one of the characters was saying things like "I think I'll get him next..." you never really knew who the killer was until the big reveal.  If you've already read this one and you're looking for another AC book to read, I'd recommend Murder on the Orient Express, which I believe is her second best-selling book.  AND IT HAPPENS ON A TRAIN!  Don't see many of those around anymore.

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Not *this* train. Though shut up, that would actually be pretty cool.

Also, one of my favorite films of all time is "Clue" and I could not get over the resemblance between the two.  A house full of crazy people who quickly fall victim to paranoia?  Obviously, the film is much more (intentionally) humorous, but I felt like Christie placed a few funnies in her book for readers, too.  Like, there's a scene where one of the characters reveals that he brought a gun to the island, and another character is all "WHAT??!! YOU HAVE A GUN?!!! WHO BRINGS A GUN ON VACATION?!! THIS KINDA STUFF ONLY HAPPENS IN BOOKS."  Which is a wonderfully self-aware statement, if I do say so myself.

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Haven't seen this movie? Run! Run fast! Go see it immediately!

As far as our next book goes, we had some fantastic recommendations but the victor was Slaughterhouse V by Kurt Vonnegut.  Perhaps his best-known novel and one of the most accessable, too.  I haven't read anything else by him, but I'm excited to re-read Slaughterhouse.  I think it will get me interested in the rest of his work.  Our next meeting is scheduled for Sunday, August 24th at 6pm - feel free to call and reserve your copy of the August book club pick, or stop in and grab one.  See yinz soon!

23 Jun
2014

Notes from Our June Book Klub Meeting

Hi again! Great to see all of you last night.  For those of you who missed the meeting, our group just finished reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, which someone at some newspaper somewhere once described as "a dark, contemporary Alice in Wonderland."  We at KU are eternally Gaimanophiles (we're making that a thing), so it was nice to hear that most people enjoyed the book!

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Gaiman was inspired to write "Neverwhere" after looking at a map of the London Underground, which included the derelict and uncompleted stations in the subway system. #triviaisfunnn

Here are a few of our talking points from the meeting:

(1) Magical realism vs. fantasy - someone brought up a great point, which was that characters in magical realism tend to accept supernatural plot devices at face value (I believe the example was, "Oh, I just gave birth to a snake.  That's nice."), while characters in contemporary fantasy are more like, "WTF!!! That f***king rat just spoke to me!!!.  So, oftentimes, fantasy is more relatable to readers because we can identify with the protagonist's confusion.  (And many people admitted that they imagined themselves bumbling along as Richard throughout the novel.)

(2) We also discussed general themes found in Neverwhere, like the idea of personal fulfillment, which is a common theme in fantasy.  And also destiny or fate, and whether or not a person has the ability to affect their path through life.  Someone also mentioned that this was a great book because you could examine it from multiple characters' perspectives and end up with a completely different narrative.  Obviously the story follows Richard's journey, but what if it had been told from Door's perspective?  Or the Marquis?  Then things would take on an entirely different tone.

(3) As far as Neil Gaiman's storytelling techniques, we talked about style (a favorite quote: "This was not the kind of river you fell into and got out of again, it was the other kind."), plot twists (which few of us saw coming, and even if we did, no one really minded), and character description, which, for some characters, was extremely sparse.  Door's age, for example, was kept pretty vague, and certain characters' backgrounds (i.e. the Marquis, Hunter) weren't really explained in great detail.  A reader mentioned that this is often the case in life, though, where you might interact with a person - even on a daily basis - without ever learning too much about their personal history or character.  So really it's another way Gaiman makes the story more relatable to his readers.

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Before it was a novel, "Neverwhere" was a TV show on the BBC and was recently rebooted as a radio play, with voice actors including Benedict Cumberbatch, that actress who plays Margaery Tyrell in "Game of Thrones," and that other guy who plays young Professor X in "X-Men!" #nowyouknow

That about covers the meeting.  What's next, you ask?  Well, we had a lot of great (and varied) ideas, but in the end the majority of us voted for And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.  I've always meant to read her, so I'm thrilled to finally be getting to it!  Really the only thing I know about Christie is that she enjoyed eating cream straight from the can.  That's all I got.

Our next meeting is scheduled for Sunday, July 13th at 6pm!  This is a relatively fast-paced read, so everyone should have plenty of time to finish it.  Hope to see everyone there!  And here's a list of the other books people suggested.  We'll include them in future votes:

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (the inspiration for Orwell's 1984)

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

 

23 Jun
2014

13 Books About Children Who Stumble Through Magical Portals Into Alternate Realms

The title says it all!  Perhaps a common trope in fiction, but no less fun.  Children have been losing themselves in make-believe lands since Alice first tumbled into Wonderland, journeying through fairytale forests and fields of poppies, befriending all manner of strange and marvelous creatures, and, perhaps, growing up just a teensy-weensy bit in the process.

(1) The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

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(2) The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

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(3) Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

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(4) Coraline by Neil Gaiman

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(5) The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

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(6) His Dark Materials Trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) by Philip Pullman

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(7) The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

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(8) Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

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(9) The Inkworld Trilogy (Inkheart, Inkspell, Inkdeath) by Cornelia Funke

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(10) Reckless, also by Cornelia Funke

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(11) The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

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(12) A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle

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(13) The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship of Her Own Making by Cathrynne M. Valente

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