30 November 2009

Precious (2009)

People have been talking about this movie, pushing it into the "must see" ranks. After watching it, I participated in three separate conversations about it. The first, huddled in Lilly's car post-movie, trying to come to terms with what we just saw. The second, in the parking lot outside my favorite ramen house, and then another extended conversation in my friends' living room later that night. This movie was made for talking.

First things first. The movie is good. It's done really well, the acting is incredible (Mo'Nique should win an Oscar), and I'm definitely glad I watched it. However, the buzz and pre-hype around the movie bothered me and I definitely didn't walk out thinking I'd just watched something illuminating or fantastic. I felt slightly manipulated and didn't feel much better after talking it out. Slate's Dana Stevens called it "poverty porn," and it's hard for me to disagree.

Precious depicts and showcases a lot of issues that should give it weight. Emotional abuse, rape, incest, poverty, physical violence, the education system, etc. It's a laundry list of things and part of me recognizes that while all these terrible things do happen, some of it felt over the top. Then again, one of my friends pointed out that she knows people who go through these things, in combinations more intense and numerous, so perhaps I'm just overly sheltered and unaware. Still, it felt like a game of "how low can you go."

A few critics have come out harshly against the movie, some pointing out that the movie is receiving the highest praise from mostly white audiences and that it's reinforcing negative stereotypes of black America. I watched it in Hillcrest, with a crowd of older white folk, and I think the experience would have been very different with say, a black audience. There was a hearty round of clapping as the crowds rolled and nary a boo.
"Not since The Birth of a Nation has a mainstream movie demeaned the idea of black American life as much as Precious. Full of brazenly racist clich├ęs (Precious steals and eats an entire bucket of fried chicken), it is a sociological horror show."
-Pride & Precious-
Anyway, take a cruise through the reviews about this movie, both good and bad. And then we'll talk because there's a lot to talk about. Which makes it a worthwhile movie, I guess.

And yes, that is Robin Thicke's wife, Paula Patton. And does she not look just like Alicia Keys? I know it's not just me.

28 November 2009

You Don't Know...

Listening to: Jermaine Stewart, "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off." Dedicated to/from a friend, High Entropy. They just don't make songs like this anymore. And probably for good reason. Sample lyric: "But I'm not a piece of meat, still you like my brain."

We have discovered the greatest party game since, well, Catchphrase? My list of fantastic group games is pretty short but this one has vaulted into the top five immediately. Buzz! is a Jeopardy style triva game for the Playstation 3 that allows you to go head to head with up to seven other people.

The questions range from super easy to slightly obscure but never too difficult. And even if there are a string of easy questions, most of the game modes reward you for answering quickly so it's still very competitive at all times. The controllers that come with the game are like phasers and are wireless, effective, and easy to use. Basically if you like trivia (and aren't quite hardcore enough for Trivial Pursuit), this is a really great compromise and everyone can be involved and entertained, even if they're not directly playing.

There have been a few versions of Buzz in the United Kingdom but the series has only made its way Stateside recently. We played Buzz Quiz the other night but the more recent version, Buzz World is far better. Throw in downloadable content, fun character animations, the ability to make customized quizzes, and it'll be the best sixty dollars you can spend on a Friday night.

The only bad part about Buzz is that it requires a Playstation 3, a television, and the game -- not to mention friends. But for something this exciting, it's worth befriending PS3 owners. So yeah, I'm taking applications now for new friends, but only ones with Playstations please.

Okay and the other thing that has consumed our Thanksgiving week is Papaya Farm. My friend Lil'Ho got her iPod Touch and insisted that we play this game. So I joined after she told me that you can steal each others' vegetables and fruit. I'll play just about anything that involves theft. So Papaya Farm is similar to Farmville or that zoo thing you've seen (way too much) on Facebook. I've avoided these games successfully until now so this was my first foray into that world.

Basically what happens is you plant things, wait for them to grow, steal the occasional fruit from your friends, and then wait a few days to level up so you can repeat the cycle with new seeds. I've decided the game is totally inane but somehow it's fired up my competitive juices. For example, I was upset as all hell when I tried to steal some potatoes and got bit by a friend's dog, thus losing 200 hard won respect points. My sister sets her phone alarm in order to make sure she harvests her crops before anyone can log on to steal them.

My favorite part of the game is participating in serious talks with other players while your other friends wonder if you've gone loony. "Hey! Come over and plant something in my friend patch. And water my plants please." Or "What do you think we should do with this carrot blender, use it or give it away?"

Basically the game is a total time waster, requires no skill or strategy, doesn't really reward you as you progress, and goes against everything I stand for in games. Yet I play because I refuse to be left behind. I even downloaded Mafia Wars and Epic Pet Wars for an evening before deciding that one stupid time sucker is plenty. I hate you Papaya, but I can't quit you. If you are a fellow farmer, please friend me so I can get enough points to buy a dog to ward off would be thieves. Thanks.

24 November 2009

Shut It

Listening to: Girls, "Hellhole Ratrace." Apparently frontman Christopher Owens has quite the origin story. My friend Victor who recommended the band likes this track.

I was at a Container Store the other day and wondered what these little plastic boxes were for. Storage obviously, and the bigger sized ones seem useful, but they have these tiny thumb sized ones that I can't begin to imagine what people buy them for. All adult uses seem creepy to me. Kids using these tiny boxes, I totally get. You can put in the first tooth you lost, a treasured pebble, a lucky bead, a bit of pixie dust, something. But what is an adult doing with them? Anything you'd want to store -- earrings, screws, one pill -- seems nefarious or inefficient since you could just get an organizer with many compartments. Nobody's getting organized by using a dozen of these tiny things, even if they do come in a nice assortment of colors. If I pulled open someone's drawer and saw a stack of mini boxes, I'd immediately turn tail and run. I recommend you do the same.

While wandering around looking for a spice rack, I tweet asked some friends the following: "Who would you rather date? A guy who knows his way around Home Depot or the Container Store?" The answers were mixed but according to my very scientific poll, the Container Store won by a narrow margin. One telling answer was: "I'd date Home Depot for actual usefulness, but I know I'd like Container Store guy better." Two guy friends tried to submit write-in answers: Target and Fry's Electronics. In related news, they're both single.

23 November 2009

The Bloggers League

This Saturday was Bananas, the first ever Asian American bloggers gathering and round table discussion. The whole thing was organized and co-hosted by Lac Su, author of "I Love Yous Are For White People" (aka, the greatest title ever) and Steve Nguyen, a Los Angeles based film and video producer. I've had the event on my calendar for awhile but almost didn't make it. Waking up early enough to drive two hours to USC by three pm is not my strong suit. But I'm glad I made the conference because it was definitely well worth the time and incredibly interesting. I had high hopes of doing a running diary on the event but (a) I got there late (b) there were no power outlets and (c) at least four video cameras were taping the proceedings for posterity. So instead I spent my time taking notes, jotting down some questions, cruising the featured bloggers' sites, and trying to find their Twitters to get insta-commentary.

A lot of bloggers came out but unfortunately I missed most of their names and introductions so bear with me when I mess it all up. Here's a post panel picture of everyone. I was familiar with a lot of the sites but by no means a steady reader or follower of all of them. I was psyched to recognize Ernie (Little, Yellow, Different), who is blog royalty and well, someone I've been following for years. Immediately upon seeing him I wondered about the possibility of asking him to start another blog reality game -- heck, combine two things and have a blog reality game with Asian American bloggers. If someone knows and can influence Ernie, get him to do one asap, thanks.

When I walked in, the discussion was focused on the gender divide in the Asian American blogging world. Someone commented and said that this event had felt very male dominated so far. As I took my sweet speed limit time up the freeway, I'd actually been wondering what the male to female panelist ratio would be. As it turned out, the split was nearly fifty fifty and it was interesting because for this particular group of panelists, the women seemed to have a lot more to say.

For example, I really liked the things that Christine (pop88), Taz (Sepia Mutiny), Oiyan (APAs for Progress), Sylvie (Antisocial Ladder), Erin (Hyphen Magazine), and Julie (Kimchi Mamas) pointed out. Many Asian cultures traditionally value silent and weak willed women and these bloggers proved that they weren't going to play into that by being consistently eloquent, thoughtful, super educated, and willing to share their perspectives across the board.

To be fair to the guys, they definitely had some really well formed opinions and thoughts to share too but some of the topics -- blog stalkers, sexism -- didn't provide them with the opportunity to chime in much. Overall, I did wonder why the guys weren't speaking up as often though. I mean, I really liked a lot of what Byron (big WOWO) and the guy from Bicoastal Bitchin had to say and wanted to hear more from them.

I was actually hoping to get some perspective on the whole scene from the bloggers who were doing this pre-blogging. People like Nelson (AA Rising) and Gil (Nikkei View). They've been online since the early days of the Internet and I really wanted to hear what they had to say about the roles that these "new" bloggers had, the changes they might have witnessed or experienced, and what niches they saw being filled by this generation of blog writers.

A lot of the discussion actually wasn't focused on anything blogger-centric. Outside of some bits dealing with censoring comments and tips on overcoming writer's block, most of the topics were similar to things you'd find at the APA conferences you attended in college -- I mean, if you did, I went to school in the Midwest, we had a lot of them. I thought there would be more focus on blogging and since the group was diverse and clearly had different viewpoints about many things, I was hoping there would be some more insight into specifics as far as content covered, what friends/family/significant others thought about them becoming public figures, maybe some of their blogging inspirations, and if they felt like a part of the broader blogging community versus just an Asian American one. Of course, I could probably find answers to these questions by going through their blogs, so um, I'll just go ahead and do that.

One thing they did talk about was that the next forward step was to reach an audience of non-Asian Americans. Angry Asian Man revealed that a large part of his fan base isn't Asian at all and gave some insight into how and why. A follow up question, related to the blogging audience issue, was if it was easier to "preach to the choir." Actually, why am I recapping this thing? The video of the event will be up at some point I'm sure. So go watch it when it's ready.

One last thing though, speaking of diversity, Taz (Sepia Mutiny) asked Lac to bring up her question about whether or not Sepia Mutiny was invited along to be the token brown folk. Which was an amazing point. Out of all the panelists, the group definitely skewed heavily toward the "traditional" Asians. Chinese, Korean, Filipino, etc. Next year, will there be more South Asian bloggers represented, some Persians bloggers, some Indian bloggers? I'd hope that the guideline for "Asian American blogger" would be expanded. I'm not exactly sure how Hyphen delineates but maybe their definition would be a good rule of thumb? And part of expanding that diversity will come as more bloggers appear. As Lac mentioned, he wasn't able to find any Vietnamese bloggers for example.

I realized listening to everyone talk was that these bloggers (and the ones who couldn't be in attendance) are clearly the growing voice of Asian Americans nowadays. People know Angry Asian Man, they know Disgrasian, they know 8asians. When I interned at A Magazine post-college, they were close to shutting down and another influential magazine, Yolk, shuttered soon afterwards too. Since then, these bloggers have helped by stepping into the breach and they do it out of an honest love for the community, for activism and awareness, and to simply express themselves.

Attending Bananas was exciting because it echoed what it was like when blogging first started picking up steam in the early 2000s. The Asian American blogging world is really new and it'll only continue to proliferate, become more influential, and many of the voices that weren't represented here will be here in the near future. So for that alone, this was a landmark event and Lac and Steve really did a great job putting it together and pulling it off in a short time. At the end of the event, there was definitely a spirit of unity and hope for more community based togetherness and action.

The night certainly stirred my mind and opened me up to a slew of new sites. My Reader is packed. So yeah, even more time to spend on the computer. Fantastic.

Recaps of Banana from AA Rising and Nikkei View. Oh and from Absolutely Fobulous, who were also in attendance. Actually, I feel like a lot of the people in the crowd were Asian American bloggers, but unfortunately I didn't catch all their names. Obviously I need to learn to take better notes.

Update: Additional recaps from big WOWO, Hyphen, Julie from Kimchi Mamas, Minority Militant (plus apology), and AzN and CBruhs of Bicoastal Bitchin. Plus Channel APA, Asian American Movement, and Dariane of Racebending
Strange but true:
  • The guy from Militant Minority started off seated at the tables, added a few (mildly cogent) comments here and there, left to refill his drink, came back, moved off the stage to sit in the front row, moved back again to sit next to his friend, and then left the event entirely about an hour into it. Aside from being rude I couldn't help feeling like it was Puck-ish. If this were a reality show, he would definitely be the polarizing figure. The thing is, after checking out his blog, it's actually compelling and well written. So I guess his behavior can only be explained by the alcohol? Perhaps he was demonstrating that indeed, Asians can't hold their liquor.
  • One audience member asked/stated a meandering non-question about Asian women being the new blondes or something and his convoluted point got him a hasty "next question!" and a hearty hand clap from the crowd when he exited. I think he was driving at something about if the bloggers wanted their children to eventually marry non-Asian for a better future? I dunno, something offensive anyway. Afterwards I overheard him going on about the same thing and wondered if he could really be serious about his viewpoint. I kind of wanted to ask him how he arrived at some of his conclusions about the hierarchy of Asian-Americanness (he wasn't Asian). Wikipedia? Ouija board?

21 November 2009

New Moon (2009)

You know how it took Natalie Portman a few years to recover from her epically wooden performances in the Star Wars movies? Well, Kristin Stewart is facing an even bigger uphill battle. Not that I blame Natalie or Kristen too much. It is much better to go for the paycheck and name brand recognition when you're young, and still have plenty of time to build a solid career while making some bank along the way. But while I love Kristen, it can't be ignored anymore: she's terrible in the Twilight movies. It's not really her fault though. There's not much to do as Bella except sigh, run, fall, scream, cry, and look like she's smitten. If an actress as wonderful as Natalie can be hampered by a bad script, it's no wonder Kristin sleepwalks (and trademark squints) her way through these things.

Actually, there's still no clear answer on if Kristin is actually a good actress. She was perfect as an almost mute girl in Speak, par for the course in Adventureland, good with her limited screen time in Into the Wild and In the Land of Women. And I'm embarrassed to admit it but I've YouTubed her scenes in Zathura: A Space Adventure just to see what the hell it was about. I guess her upcoming Joan Jett biopic, The Runaways, will tell us right? I feel like there's an iconic movie coming from her, and I have to remind myself that she's still just nineteen and has many more movies to come.

So is New Moon good or what? I expected the Twilight series to follow a similar book/movie path to the Harry Potters. The first few movies would be shaky but things would get better and at some point the right book would result in a good movie (for Potter it was "The Prisoner of Azkaban"). Well, it looks like the opposite is happening. New Moon wasn't nearly as exciting as Twilight and seemed choppy throughout. If you haven't read the book I feel like there's a lot of unexplained motivations going on. Not that there's much to figure out, or much depth to be plumbed, but New Moon the movie lacked any sense to urgency, adventure, mystery, or emotional heft.

The good news for fans is that Taylor Lautner buffs up and becomes a fitting competitor for Edward. While I'm definitely Team Ed all the way, it's hard to make fun of Team Jake anymore. I'm a sucker for giant wolves, what can I say? I've decided I can forgive homewrecker Jacob since he's a nice guy and really has Bella's best interests at heart. Meanwhile, Edward is kind of heartless as he tells Bella she won't ever see him again -- even if he's doing it to keep her safe. Way to send her into an emotional tailspin buddy.

And Charlie has to be the most obtuse dad ever. He's really the chief of police? He doesn't wonder how/why all these boys are driving Bella home in her truck and then just loping off into the wilderness? Never mind the whole "there are multiple murders here in this tiny town every few months" thing, Charlie would be more believable if his day job were, say, a baker. Not a sheriff. His powers of perception are not strong.

I guess my take on the movie is that if you're a Twi-hard, you'll watch this and love it. If you're not, well, what can I say? Buy Exclusively Chloe?

During the previews, I noticed that Amanda Seyfried from Mean Girls (the "I have ESPN!" girl) is the lead in two upcoming romantic comedies, Dear John and Letters to Juliet. I'd be pissed if I was Lacey Chalbert. All those years on Party of Five and she can't get at least one romantic comedy to star in? I'd consider going blonde right away if I was Lacey. And how does Lindsay Lohan feel having not one, but two, of her former costars have more successful careers five years post-Mean Girls? Then again, I'm not so sure Lindsay cares much about her "career" anymore.

20 November 2009

Oh Brother!

You might be only familiar with Jonathan Franzen because of his whole "I don't think I want to be an Oprah book selection" drama. I've never actually read "The Corrections" but his non-fiction stuff is fantastic. I picked up his 2002 book of essays, "How to Be Alone," a while back and loved how smoothly and intelligently he wrote. I'm going through his book of memoir essays and it's really great so far. For example, here's an excerpt from his piece about Peanuts.
"On my night table was the Peanuts Treasury, a large, thick hardcover compilation of daily and Sunday funnies by Charles M. Schulz... Like most of the nation's ten-year-olds, I had a private, intense relationship with Snoopy, the cartoon beagle. He was a solitary not-animal animal who lived among larger creatures of a different species, which was more or less my feeling in my own house. My brothers were less like siblings than like an extra, fun pair of quasi-parents. Although I had friends and was a Cub Scout in good standing, I spent a lot of time alone with talking animals. I was an obsessive rereader of A.A. Milne and the Narnia and Dr. Dolittle novels, and my involvement with my collection of stuffed animals was on the verge of becoming age-inappropriate.

It was another point of kinship with Snoopy that he, too, liked animal games. He impersonated tigers and vultures and mountain lions, sharks, sea monsters, pythons, cows, pirahnas, penguins, and vampire bats. He was the perfect sunny egoist, starring in his ridiculous fantasies and basking in everyone's attention. In a cartoon strip full of children, the dog was the character I recognized as a child."
-"The Discomfort Zone"-

17 November 2009

Little Earthquakes

Listening to: A Fine Frenzy, "The Minnow and The Trout." It can't be easy to make a song about fish so charming. I love the lyrics. "Help me out said the minnow to the trout / I was lost and found myself swimming in your mouth / Help me chief / I've got to plans for you and me /I swear upon this riverbed / I'll help you feel young again"

Blondes have more fun, brunettes are smart, and who doesn't love a red head? I know I certainly do. My friend obsessed over Alison Sudol a few months ago and since we were on similar Pandora tracks, we were both similarly enchanted. He saw her last weekend in San Francisco, I saw her yesterday in San Diego. He told me to watch out for her gyrating hips. And yes, her hips do gyrate and she moves in this very magical way that we believe only she can pull off. I mean, it's pretty difficult to do the hands above the head sing and dance thing but she does it effortlessly and naturally.

Of course, the thing A Fine Frenzy is noted for isn't her dancing but her singing. Most people are probably familiar with her haunting "Almost Lover," and rightfully so, but she's got quite a few fantastic songs. Her voice is incredible, even more so in person, and she's got a tremendous amount of stage presence and energy. I thought her concert might be low key and ballady but it was nothing of the sort. She and her band kept the excitement level high, she was luminescent, and she did fun covers like "Heart of Glass."

The fact that Alison is dizzying beautiful also helps keep your attention. I think I could just watch her on a stage taking the GMATs or LSATs or something. "Oh, she pursed her lips, this is a hard one... Oh, she smiled, she knows the answer! Goooaaaalll!"

The Del Mar crowd was a bit lame (we saw her at the Belly Up) and when she asked for people to sing along, there was barely a murmur. Afterwards she flashed her dimples and joked, "You guys are the cutest chorus of mice." Which is the same as saying, "You guys are lame-o." I wanted the crowd to return her energy but it seemed like the slightly older fans were only capable of some enthusiastic hand clapping after songs. And by slightly older I mean me.

From reading her Wikipedia, I suspect Alison is a shy person at heart but has honed her stage presence over the years. It also said that she was known to mingle after concerts and talk to people and I had my topic of choice all ready (talking about children's books) but alas, she did not make a beeline off the stage to hang out with me post-encore. Shocking, I know.

This July, A Fine Frenzy hit a million Twitter followers and she currently has over a million and a half. She was an early featured act by Twitter and she's been apparently very good about using social media to grow her fan base. I know when she was in the Bay, my friend and I were definitely tracking her progress through the city. Tracking, stalking, whatever.

I did a quick Twitter search while we were waiting for her to appear (her opening act was Landon Pigg, the romantic lead from "Whip It," who's arguably a better musician than actor) but could only find one other Tweeter there. I thought maybe we should say hello to each other via tweet but then thought that might be weird.

The conversation with a complete stranger would have basically started and stopped with: "You're here for a concert, and you tweeted about it! So did I!" Cue silence and awkwardness. Right, so why put yourself through that? I'm not gonna lie though, I was kinda hoping the other person would tweet me because I've never met a random person off Twitter before and secretly hoped to. Oh I dream big, it's true.

16 November 2009

New Eclipse

Listening to: Ce Ce Peniston, "Keep on Walkin." I didn't know who Ce Ce was before but now I'm all caught up. And I'm ecstatic she's in my life. From her Wikipedia: "Among the list of those who have personally requested Peniston at private engagements are Aretha Franklin at her private birthday celebration in Detroit, Michigan, Pope John Paul II in Rome at The Vatican, and President Bill Clinton at both of his inauguration ceremonies in Washington, D.C." She's definitely invited to perform at my non-wedding.

There should be a statute of limitations on how long you can dislike somebody. You always hear how important it is to make a good first impression but what if you fail to do that? Should you be disliked for life based on twenty minutes of bad interaction? And on the reverse side, how long can you hold a grudge for until it becomes necessary to give the other person another chance? Initially I thought maybe these things should be reevaluated every two years. That seems like it should be enough time to get the bad taste out of your mouth. But then again, two years seems awfully short. Say you only interact with this person at birthday parties or something. That's once a year. Two sightings will not make you feel better about anyone. So the limit needs to be extended.

I gave it some thought and have decided that the new rule of thumb is four years. Just like U.S. Presidential elections, the Olympics, relationships, and the World Cup, personal grudges need to be dusted off every so often. So four years is how long I'm giving people (and myself) to get over something. For example, if two of my friends don't get along and would rather not be in the same room together, I'll respect their wishes and keep them apart whenever possible. At the end of four years however, sorry, you'll have to try again. Open your hearts, maybe it'll be different this time around.

A mini-real life example. A few years ago, a friend of a friend came into our house as we were preparing for a Halloween party. He sat down, said hello to some of us, and then at some point wandered over to the kitchen and poked through the cabinets for food. Note that this wasn't a party, an after party, or anything like that. Plus, he hadn't been invited to go anywhere in the house aside from the living room. But there he was peering into the refrigerator when the owner of the house walked up.

The stranger had the gall to ask, "Hey, got any milk?" That was it. We hated him. You don't go wandering around somebody else's house looking for milk unless you know them already. That's terrible. However, more than four years have passed so that incident can no longer be discussed or related to in anything other than "oh we've let that go." Clean slate.

If he did it again though, then you can get another four year cycle started.

Exceptions to the four year rule: Exes, people who have stolen your girlfriend or violated a bro/ho code, people who have broken your heart, people who treated you badly when you were children. Those people you can hate forever and I'll be more than happy to add my hate to your hate to create ultimate hate. You're welcome.

13 November 2009

Jingle All the Way

Hello Bay Area folk. I'll be up here in December doing a few author things as part of the Holidaze With the Debs events series. The end of 2009 approaches and there's only one more Debs release to go, Rhonda Stapleton's "Stupid Cupid." That means fifty-plus Debs books have already been released into the world and everyone is working hard and out there promoting, promoting, promoting. Remember, the holidays are the season for giving!

So yeah, I'll be with my fellow Bay Area Debs Lauren Bjorkman (My Invented Life), Cheryl Herbsman (Breathing), Malinda Lo (Ash), C. Lee McKenzie (Sliding on the Edge), and Sarah Quigley (TMI). I'm looking forward to our big week because it's going to be massive fun and I'm going to get posters made of the Exclusively Chloe cover. For use at the events and to hang on my walls of course. Wouldn't you want an EC cover plastered all over your room? Sure you do. Nothing would give you more cool points, not even skinny jeans and stylish hair. Those were so this year anyway.

Remember, at our last event we all randomly met George McGovern. That set the bar pretty high (and my covert Wikipedia search afterwards was done expediently I assure you) and I'm hoping for a similar brush with fame this time around. High on my wish list: Larry Bird, Orson Scott Card, Jodie Foster, and okay, if she insists on being there, Natalie Portman. So come join us!
Holidaze With the Debs
We are pleased to announce Holidaze With the Debs, a series of author events in the U.S. and Canada this holiday season. At bookstores, libraries and schools in the New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Toronto areas, members of the 2009 Debutantes will talk about their own books and other 2009 favorites. (I'll be at the following events)

Dec. 5, 3-4 p.m
Borders
588 Francisco Blvd. West
San Rafael, CA
Including: Lauren Bjorkman, Cheryl Renee Herbsman, Malinda Lo, Sarah Quigley, J.A. Yang

Dec. 8, 7 p.m.
Menlo Park Public Library
800 Alma St.
Menlo Park, CA
Including: Lauren Bjorkman, Cheryl Renee Herbsman, C. Lee McKenzie, Sarah Quigley, J.A. Yang

Dec. 9, 12 p.m.
Petaluma High School*
201 Fair St.
Petaluma, CA
Including: Lauren Bjorkman, Cheryl Renee Herbsman, Malinda Lo, Sarah Quigley, J.A. Yang
* Open to the public, but visitors should check in at the school office when arriving

Dec. 12, 2-4 PM
Barnes and Noble
The Shops at Tanforan*
1150 El Camino Real
San Bruno, CA
Including: Lauren Bjorkman, Cheryl Herbsman, Malinda Lo, C. Lee McKenzie, Sarah Quigley, and J.A. Yang
*Change of venue from Colma Borders
Also, the 2009 Debut Library contest is still going on till the end of the year. There's a 46 book set of debut novels ready to be gifted to one lucky library. It's incredibly easy to enter and if you win, think of how the citizens of Your-ville will celebrate! There will be rejoicing, dancing, and yes, probably lots of reading. Which is always a good thing.

10 November 2009

For the Longest Time

Listening to: Mayer Hawthorne, "Just Ain't Gonna Work Out." MH went to my friend's high school in Ann Arbor and he's been adamant about pushing his music on me. Listen to the song and if you don't already know what Mayer Hawthorne looks like, you'd be shocked to see that's he's a goofy looking white dude. Nice old soul sound though.

I can't even remember when I figured out there was no Santa Clause. I doubt we were told because my parents seem like the types that would have just kept the myth going. I wonder if George or I found out first. And if we kept the revelation from the other one -- and if we did it to feel superior or kind. One of us would have said, "Oh Santa brought me a bike!" Meanwhile the other one is rolling his/her eyes and thinking, "I can't believe how stupid he/she is. How are we twins?"

Then again, would my parents have gone through the whole trouble of pretending there was Santa if the truth was already revealed to one of us? As a parent I think it would be easier to just dispense with the milk and cookies once one child had it figured out. And at what age would you start to be really worried if your kid still fervently believed in Santa? I say seven. That's the cut off for me before I start to question their reasoning skills.

And as a friend pointed out, maybe skew that younger if they were exposed to hourly employees dressed up as Santa and still couldn't put it together -- especially if they were ethnic Santas.

Things you lose faith in as you get older (meaning from your 20s to your 30s): Careers, soul mates, the government. Feel free to add on to the list.

09 November 2009

Game Time

I bought Bill Simmons' "The Big Book of Basketball" when it was released two weeks ago. I'm nearly done with it now and it's not because it's taken me that long to finish it but because I've been going as slowly as possible. Like I won't allow myself to read it for more than an hour or so at a time. See, I don't want the experience of reading it (for the first time) to end. But yet I want to know what happens. Yes, I know, it's a non-fiction book largely devoid of plot, but a lot of things happen. Like Bill reconstructing the Hall of Fame in pyramid fashion, Bill figuring out who the most invincible NBA champion was, and Bill digging deep into the reasons for a basketball team's success -- unearthing "The Secret."
"But how do you keep stats for 'best chemistry' and 'most unselfishness' or even 'most tangible and consistent effect on a group of teammates'? It's impossible. That's why we struggle to comprehend professional basketball. You can only play five players at a time. Those players can only play a total of 240 minutes. How those players coexist, how they make each other better, how they accept their portion of that 240-minute pie, how they trust and believe in one another, how they create shots for one another, how that talent/salary/alpha-dog hierarchy falls into place... that's basketball. It's like falling in love. When it's working, you know it. When it's failing, you know it."
This thing is super thick. Like 700+ pages thick. The list of books I've read with similar page counts is pretty short. The Bible, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, some of the later Harry Potters, maybe one of the Twilights and um, that's about it. This isn't really a seven hundred page book though, because there are lots of footnotes and you can pick it up and put it back down pretty easily. Bill himself says, "At the very least, it's a book that you can stick next to your toilet, read 5 pages at a time and finish five months from now."

Though I'd love to recommend this book to anyone interested in basketball, I'll be honest and say that unless you're a die hard fan, you probably won't get that much out of it. It's chock full of references to NBA history, insider jokes, and things like that so if you're only aware of basketball because of that Michael Jordan guy, you'd probably get lost pretty quickly. Here's a quick test for you. If you can get a passing grade on this Sporcle quiz (and love taking it because it's hilarious), you should read this book. And if you do turn out to be a basketball loony, this is the book you've been waiting for. There's a reason I've been waiting so long for this book and it's the same reason I've been trying to take my sweet time devouring it. Because yes, it's fan-tastic.

One of the many reason to love Simmons is his take on many things pop culture and his numerous theories on life. For example, this one is a doozy, The Tipping Point Friend. I have much to thank Bill for in this life and this is just one of them.

Actually, I tried to go see the mighty BS when he came down to San Diego for his book tour last weekend. I knew I wouldn't have time to get him to sign my book but I wanted to see him in person anyway. Like pay my respects by attending, if only for fifteen minutes. At seven o'clock, I hopped into the Borders and it was packed. Like there were a million guys jammed in there (plus a few obligatory wives and girlfriends dragged there). Not a recommended place to hang out on Friday night if you're a single male -- actually, the guy-girl ratio wasn't that far off from what you'd see at some of the local clubs I guess, but I digress. Anyway, there were two lines: one to buy the book and another to get Bill to sign it. Rough estimates put it at a two hour wait. I was running to a movie so I just jammed into the crowd to sneak a few pictures to prove I was within hailing distance of Simmons and then jetted. Sigh, he's my hero...

And I can't imagine this would interest anyone but my keeper basketball league has just reset and restarted with sixteen owners. For the last two weeks we've been email drafting and I've been more attached to my iPhone than usual. We're keeping six players each season in perpetuity and it's going to be like running a real NBA team (okay, not really). I've chosen to build around Deron Williams as my franchise guy. Our league blog is here, SlamNation.

06 November 2009

An Education (2009)

I'm glad we managed to catch "An Education" before it rotated out because it's easily the best movie I've seen since early March (Revolutionary Road). The plot is pretty simple. A teenage girl meets an older man and he courts her. That's about it. But the performances are extraordinary, the dialogue is dry and witty, and lead Carey Mulligan is being touted as the new Audrey Hepburn. Or as my theater companion kept saying, "she looks just like Katie what'shername?" She meant Katie Holmes and there's no doubt an eerie resemblance. But Mulligan is ten times the actress -- and I'm a huge Dawson's Creek fan.

There's a whole bunch of familiar faces in this movie (even if you won't remember their names) and I was shocked to find out that Mulligan and co-star Rosamund Pike played Kiera Knightley's sisters in Pride & Prejudice. What have they been doing in the meantime? They're both fantastic and ditzy Pike has some of the funniest lines.

The screenplay is by Nick Hornby, king of the 20-30ish male book set. I love Hornby and having him behind this story made it even more of a reason to watch. Adapting Lynn Barber's memoir, Hornby creates and captures the era and Jenny perfectly.

Plus, Danish director Lone Scherfig, part of the Dogme 95 school, previously did "Italian for Beginners" which I remember liking. Anyway, just watch this movie, it's good. Not perfect, but really really good.

04 November 2009

Fifteen Hands

"What I learned from editing that book [Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit] was just how important it is for a book to actually leave you with a feeling. I had been a very analytical guy up to that point, in terms of my editing. For nonfiction, I had always assumed that if it made sense and was well written and had an important point to it, people would respect it and like it. But that isn't what it's about, ultimately. People have to be moved by it. And there was something going on between the lines in that book, from beginning to end. I could give you lots of reasons why I think it's moving. It's a terrific transformation story: The horse is transformed by these three men, and the three men are transformed by the horse. It's about winning. It's about overcoming adversity. And the writer's reasons for writing the book were pure and personal. It was infused with a kind of passion that you very rarely encounter in nonfiction -- and that passion was augmented by a degree of focus and precision that you rarely find. So the book worked on every level. It worked on a prose level, it worked on a story level, and it worked on an emotional level."
-Interview with Jonathan Karp-

01 November 2009

This Is It (2009)

Listening to: Michael Jackson, "I Just Can't Stop Loving You."

If you're planning on watching "This Is It," stop right now and don't read this review. I'll ruin it for you. It's best to enter untainted by anybody else's opinion. For everyone else (if you've already seen it or aren't planning to watch it), what would you say if I told you that there was a documentary about the other MJ, Michael Jordan, but only covering his second return to basketball, when he came back to play with the Washington Wizards at age thirty-eight? You'd pass right? You'd rather remember the MJ of Finals success and fame right? And forgo seeing a neutered Jordan way past his prime? That's the whole experience of watching this movie. Michael Jackson can still do it, and he's still fucking Michael Jackson, but watching him go through the motions isn't very thrilling.

As everyone should know, this movie is a clear money grab. This footage was never intended for public consumption and there's no way Jacko would have allowed this to be shown during his lifetime. Not because it shows him in an unflattering light, but mainly because this is practice footage. Michael is rehearsing and sleep walking his way through the dances, the singing, and the emotions. You can't blame him because that's what he's supposed to be doing -- he even says he's going half speed multiple times throughout the movie. He was saving himself for the fifty show tour. It's insanity that Michael was still capable of all this at age fifty and his practice moves and singing can still awe and inspire but ultimately it just leads to a boatload of unintentional comedy.

I mean, thank goodness we watched this in a near empty theater. There's just too many funny scenes and moments, and it's impossible to not make fun of many of them, out loud and obnoxiously. Watch it and you'll know what I mean. This isn't Michael Jackson at his best, it's Michael Jackson with the curtain pulled back, and there's a magic that's lost in seeing all this practice footage. I mean, you want to believe that Michael is effortless and amazing every time he steps on the stage. That every time he moonwalks, head bobs, and shoulder shimmies, he's going all out. Of course that's impossible, because practice is practice and the show is the show. So that's what this documentary was missing: actual show footage.

Take Jay-Z's fantastic behind the scenes documentary of his "last" concert, Fade to Black. It was so awesome because you got to see the King of Rap work toward a moment, build to a 110% performance, and then deliver. With this movie, we only ever get Michael at 75% and it's jarring because we've seen him at his absolute best and even to the undiscerning eye, there's a spark and intensity missing. I have no doubt that Michael would have given 1000% during his actual concerts, and his popping and locking would have been sharp and convincing, and his singing ridiculous and tear jerking, but we don't get that because, well, Michael passed away. And this documentary does him a great disservice by showing him preparing for a superhuman return, but knowing full well that he'll never get the chance to actually return. They should have kept the tapes in the vault. We don't need to see MJ like this. Not ever.

Having said all that, if you did watch this movie, you probably had a fantastic time. There were quite a few really awesome moments -- all the backup dancers' scenes were fantastic. So one minute you're laughing (and feeling like a terrible human being about it) and the next minute you're getting that tingly "Wow!" feeling. And if you watched this movie within earshot of me, Hong, and Lilly, you heard a barrage of comments and side conversations. We had so many questions and so few answers.

A short sampling: Is "This Is It" the dumbest title ever? That actually wasn't a question, but a definitive "Yes, yes it is." Now for the real unanswered questions. Why are they suddenly and sporadically subtitling Michael? Why are his fingers taped? Where does he buy his clothes, or are they all just left over from before? Is that his real hair, no way right? Why do all his dancers look like they're stuck in the 90s? Did he really just do that weird hip thrust / hand wave move on purpose? Twice? Do you think the dancers laugh at Michael behind his back? Who is that crazy Jackson brother look-a-like doing backup vocals? (He was scarier than any of the Thriller zombies.) Is Mo Pleasure the trumpet player's real name? Did half the band use a porn name generator to come up with their stage names? Why was Lou Ferrigno the one getting Michael back in shape? And of course, on a scale of one to ten, how sexy is Michael Jackson? The answer was, "One and a half. Two if he's dancing." And if you're wondering who he beats on that scale, my poll of one revealed, "Rush Limbaugh. And Joe Jackson." Watching Michael interact with real life women is just odd. Even if they're just faking sexual intensity and attraction for stage purposes. This man has fathered multiple children (allegedly). What?!

To his credit, while we laughed heartily at Michael's hands-on performance management -- his inner ear is very sensitive apparently -- he was damn right with all of his comments. He knows how to create a show and he really notices every detail. He was looking for perfection and gave this show his all. So yeah, go watch it. Go when it's a matinee so you can make snarky comments with your friends. And remember, god bless you. God bless you all. Sir.

I would re-watch this movie immediately if it was marketed as a sing and dance-a-long. Most certainly. Can somebody do this already?