Thursday, August 30, 2007

Living Biblically

I've come to appreciate many things about working at a bookstore. I assumed years ago that I'd enjoy such a job, and I'm happy to report that my presumptions have so far been accurate. One thing I've found curious though is that the perks of the job I enjoy most are the ones I was either unaware of or overlooked when I applied for the job. Seeing as how my last inclusion of lists was well received, I'll present said perks in a similar fashion:
  • Coworkers I can talk with about numerous topics.
  • Discounts on books, music, and items in the cafe.
  • Cute girls working in said cafe that I like to think I may, one day, muster up the courage to flirt with.
  • Access to a vast array of reading material on any subject (and I do mean that; rule 34 would have a hard time competing with this selection).
  • Advanced reader's copies of books.
Of all those perks, the ones I enjoy most are the cute girls in the cafe and the advanced reader's copies of books. I believe it's safe to presume that I don't need to go into detail about the cafe girls, but the concept of advanced reader's copies and the joy they've brought me I will extrapolate on.

The idea is that before a book is released, uncorrected editions are sent to reviewers, advertisers, and lastly, booksellers, so that they may read the book and give feedback before it's released. This is where those comments on the backs of books like, "This book wasn't a complete waste of my time!" and "With a heroine as sexy as she is deadly, you know this book will seduce it's readers just like the sensual bite of a vampire!" (I made the first one up, the second I wish I was making up).

I put 'booksellers' at the end of the list because we are the last ones to receive the book, usually no more than a couple weeks before it is released. We receive various books from stories about people climbing buildings while in college to Ira Flatow's new book based on his radio show "Science Friday" to the new book by John Skipp in
his 'splatterpunk' genre.

Before I continue, I need to talk more in depth about that last one. John Skipp, apparently a well-known horror/gore writer who, according to the cover, is famous, a legend in horror fiction writing, and on par with Clive Barker. How this is true I can't imagine. His most recent work, entitled The Long Last Call, is complete rubbish. I don't mean it's rubbish in that the plot is bad (it is) or that his graphic, gory descriptions are of poor taste (they are). I mean this book is rubbish in that the man seems to have no concept of how to write cohesively or with any degree of professionalism. Now, seeing as how this is an advanced reader's copy I understand that it is has some grammatical, punctual and spelling errors; I can easily overlook and forgive those. Those, however, are not what I'm referring to, either. What I'm referring to is a book that begins four consecutive paragraphs with an ellipsis, or, while in third-person omniscient narrative, describes a man as "the f***ing owner" or "he punched her right in her f***ing face." This is not a first-person narrative. This is not a person telling you of an event that happened. This is a work (used loosely) of literature (used very loosely) that is swearing in what I can only see as a poor attempt to add realism and emphasis to actions. What it does add is making the story sound like something a 7th grader would write; one who had never had a writing course, learned to talk growing up in downtown Brooklyn and has no idea what a narration is supposed to be. The flagrant sexual acts, the graphic detail of excessive, needless violence, a juvenile plot, faceless, flat, boring characters, and the pathetic, immature narration make it a truly horrific story to read (which isn't scary in the slightest and quite predictable). I'm almost tempted to read his earlier works just to try and understand why anyone could consider him talented or how he ever became a "best-seller" (which I'm starting to realize means squat).

Back to the topic at hand; the perks of advanced reader's copies. About two weeks ago, we received in a book titled The Year of Living Biblically. Initially I assumed this would just be another 'Christian Inspiration' or devotional book (a disturbingly large and popular section). Underneath the title, it says, "One man's humble quest to follow the Bible as literally as possible," and towards the bottom it simply says, "A.J. Jacobs, auther of The Know-It All." I was a bit taken back by this; I had flipped through The Know-It All and had found it rather interesting, but not interesting enough to purchase as I never saw myself actually reading it. This, however, is an advanced reader's copy - a book free for the taking to whomever claims it first from the lounge - and on top of that, it's about living Biblically, which could be really entertaining.

I was right. It is really entertaining.

Jacobs writes with such poignancy, such clarity, wit and style that reading this memoir is a complete pleasure. I've found myself bypassing television, video games, and many hours of sleep simply because I couldn't put the book down, or in some cases actually turning off the television because this book is more entertaining than television. Jacobs, who grew up in a secular household, undertook a challenge to live the Bible as accurately as possible and documented his thoughts along the way - seems simple enough. Still, he didn't just live the spirit of the law, or even the intent; if there was any question about what it meant, he followed it to the letter. Everything from dressing all in white, attaching tassels to the corners of his clothing, not shaving the edges of his beard, not touching women who are "unclean" (menstruating; including his wife) and even going so far as to stone adulterers (he uses pebbles), give money to widows and orphans (asking people if they're either widows or orphans so he can give them money), blowing a horn at the beginning of each month, and going to an Atheist organization meeting in Manhattan to speak with non-believers (that way he knows he's speaking with those who don't believe). One of the most entertaining things is that he cites all the passages and rules he's referring to, so if you don't believe it's actually in there, you can look it up yourself (some are very perplexing that I'd never heard of, like the rule about how, if two men are in a fight, if one man has another pinned, and the wife of the pinned-man grabs the groin of the other man, her hand is to be cut off. It's apparently often interpreted as a parable for saying "women shouldn't embarrass their husbands" or something similar...still, it's a weird one). He used several Bibles for references to make sure he understood what it meant, as well as Rabbis, Priests, and other knowledgeable men so if he had any questions he could ask them.

It's a truly remarkable book, a riot at times and very enlightening and heartwarming at others (seeing how living Biblically effects his outlook on life and those around him is quite endearing) and it really drives home the idea that a lot of things that may seem arbitrary about religion actually do have a purpose. For example, Jacobs mentions how the Bible says not to partake of gossip or speak ill towards others. As he begins to put it into practice, he writes about how he's found that those negative thoughts don't even enter his mind, that overall he has a more positive view of people and is nicer to those around him. It's also quite entertaining how, at first, he constantly finds himself telling little lies to explain why he does something because it's too awkward to say, "because the Bible says so," to people (though he does later begin to do so). His section about finding a Bible is quite entertaining as well. With this being an advanced reader's copy, I'm not supposed to quote directly from it, but retelling the story wouldn't do it justice, and A.J. Jacobs seems like a pretty easy-going guy with a good sense of humor, so I don't think he'll mind me quoting this (it's from page 8):
I go to a Bible bookstore in midtown Manhattan. It's a huge, Wal-Mart-sized store with fluorescent lighting and a long counter of cash registers at the front. My salesman is named Chris, a soft-spoken guy with the body of an Olympic power lifter. He shows me tables covered with dozens of Bibles of all shapes, sizes and linguistic slants - from the plain-spoken English of The Good News Bible to the majestic cadence of The Jerusalem Bible

He points out one Bible I might want - it's designed to look exactly like a Seventeen magazine: an attractive (if long-sleeved) model graces the front, next to cover lines like "What's your spiritual IQ?" and side-bars such as "Rebecca the control freak."

"This one's good if you're on the subway and are too embarrassed to be seen reading the Bible," said Chris. "Because no one will ever know it's a Bible."

It's an odd and poignant selling point. You know you're in a secular city when it's considered more acceptable for a grown man to read a teen girls magazine than the Bible.
It's a simple event: man goes in to buy a Bible, talks to the clerk, buys a Bible. Seems simple enough, but his writing is so wonderfully done that the story is perfectly visualized -
you can see Chris talking to him, you can see the Bible he's describing, you can see the story play out perfectly and it's topped off with a humorous afterthought to wrap it up.

It's brilliant writing. The entire book is written with such clarity. I'm enthralled with it.

His desire to live Biblically for a year has actually inspired me to try something of my own. I've always been fascinated with Islam, and the more I learn about it the more I respect it. In a similar fashion to Mr. Jacobs, I've decided that this year I'm going to try and do the fasting of Ramadan - go 30 days without food or water from sunup to sundown (there are other restrictions, as well). My faith usually asks for members to fast on the first Sunday of every month, but it's something I always did begrudgingly. It was more of an annoyance than a sacred act, and usually one I did only when my mother would remind me which led to me grumbling because I wanted my Lucky Charms in the morning. With a fast like Ramadan, it's something I know I'm going to be doing and is entirely voluntary and intentional. I'm doing so not as an inconvenience but as an act of piety and to (hopefully) raise my understanding and compassion for those less fortunate than myself.

I think it'll be a good experience. I'm actually kind of excited for it, even though it will definitely be a challenge to go 30 days without eating while the sun is up. I'm sure I'll make more than one entry during that time; it will hopefully make for an entertaining read.

[In The Year of Living Biblically A.J. Jacobs says he occasionally googles his own name to see what people think of his books - in light of being honest, I'll admit part of what made me write this post and use his name so much is because I think it'd be awesome if he read this. He even says he reads blogs that mention him to see what people think of his books.]

Friday, August 24, 2007

Professionalism

I've been reading over my more recent blog posts and have found something disturbing - I've lost the initial sense of professionalism I intended to have when I started. As the little quip under the title says, I'd like this to be something entertaining, something worth reading, not just another college kid's blog.

The irony of this is that this post itself I feel falls into the category of "amateur" or, in the worst case scenario, "generic-teen-blog-esque." I've started reading a new memoir by A. J. Jacobs (I state this because my next post idea is largely inspired by this work), and it's exactly what I want this to be. It's not full of entirely profound thoughts, though more than once I've been impressed by what he's written, but rather it's just well written to such a level that it's a lot of fun to read.

As I said, I'll go into more detail in the next post. Ideally, from here on, each post will attain a level of professionalism in the style as well as quality in the writing that will make them a pleasure to read.

Someday, I'd be tickled if someone ever found this entertaining enough to collect and publish as a memoir. The style, the ability to write a simple event like getting locked in a bathroom for 4 hours in such a way that it's fascinating to read is what I want this blog to be (this example is provided in part by A. J. Jacobs). I want to achieve that level of talent that A. J. Jacobs has achieved...which is probably a rather trite desire seeing as how he's the editor of Esquire magazine (among other things) and is exceptionally skilled in his craft. Aspiring to his level of manuscript writing is like an actor saying, "if I could only attain the skill of Ewan McGreggor," or a painter declaring that someday they'd like to be as good as Salvador Dali. That may be a little excessive; though I am currently enthralled with his new work, and I am truly impressed by his writing finesse, he's not Dostoevsky or Victor Hugo. I'd put him on par with Vonnegut, which alone is a great compliment in the world of literature and writing. He's good, maybe even great, but not legendary.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I want a new drug... err, car.

I hate my car. It's effectively a death trap at the moment. It has no air bag, the driver's side seatbelt is broken, the door only opens about half the time and the automatic transmission has trouble shifting sometimes. Of course, that's also not mentioning the poor gas mileage, the fact that it's not reliable enough to take outside the city, all the malfunctioning warning lights, the broken components (washer-fluid switch and the like) and the 240k miles on it.

It's been a good car for my family, but I'm freakin' tired of it and want something new.

What I want is where the issue comes in. I want a sports car; but not just a generic cheap one. The reason I say that is because it seems like everyone in this city owns a Grand Am, and though they look like sports cars, they aren't. If I have a car that looks fast and maneuverable, I want it to be fast and maneuverable. I've been looking at everything from Camaros to Firebirds to BMWs to Subaru WRXs to 3000GTs. The real problem comes in that I have about $9000 to spend on this thing...that severely limits the sports car market.

I've found a bunch of cars I like, but they're all in other states, so I can't go check them out. I went to various dealerships today and didn't really find anything that appealed to me in my price range; I did find a 1969 Camaro that was very sweet, but it cost about $19,000, so it's not really a possibility.

I'm being picky here, but that's because this is the first time I've ever actually had a say in my car. The cars I've had so far have been either a hand-me-down that half the family drove (the Pontiac I now own) or a cheap car my mother won in a drawing at dealership (a Plymouth Acclaim). They were good cars to start with and to get used to driving, but now I'm a 20-something male, almost done with school, and frankly, I want a freakin' sports car! Sure, it's not economical to do so, but when it will be economical to do so I'll probably be in my late 20's or early 30's and ready to start a family, in which case I'd want a nice sedan, not a sports car. Right now, I don't have a family nor am I about to, so a fast sports car with very little room is a somewhat logical choice, and it's one I'm making.

The search is on - I'll be sure to post how it turns out.

UPDATE: It's looking like my father is finally on board with this idea. I'm going in to the bank tomorrow to look into getting a loan and then I'm really going to hit the internet and newspapers hard scanning for a car...on a side note, does anyone have any experience buying cars online from out-of-state cities? Would that be a good idea or sketchy at best

Sunday, August 12, 2007

just keep swimming

I'm going to try and keep this brief. If I don't, I'm liable to go on for far longer than I should and far longer than is healthy.

I worked this morning. I shelved books, helped customers find books, and, when I got the chance, talked with a co-worker I have grown fond of faster than I should have. It was her last day...sort of. I found out she's staying on, just working one day a week now. Still, I know I won't see her as much, and that makes me sad. Initially I saw in her a girl I could have something more than a friendship with, but in the short few weeks we've talked, I've learned that that might not be possible. And I'm ok with that, I really am; in her I see a friend. I see a friend I can get to know better. I see a friend I can talk with, sit around and discuss literature, film, science, history, philosophy, whatever. She knows more than I on many subjects, I know more than her on others, and on more subjects still we're equally uneducated beyond what we've read in our spare time...but that's what makes the discussions so heartwarming and delightful to me.

I was also introduced to the song "Hey There Delilah," by Plain White T's...that's another entry, though.

As I said, I'm trying to keep this brief. Already I can see I'm failing.

What I meant to say was that I'm satisfied with just being friends with her. This happened recently with another girl to whom I have a long, beautiful, and painful past with. I am again happy to have her as a friend. I love her more than I can express in the purest way and wish her the best in her chosen career - I know she'll excel at it as I've seen the needed traits in her, and they're a part of what make her a girl I still love. But, that's another story and one I won't tell here. It's something too close to my heart, and something that will stay there. I love her still - I always will, and I can't imagine that could ever change - but I am not in love with her.

I cleaned my room today after work. It took a good part of the day doing laundry and washing my sheets. I also put together a frame for my bed so it looks more complete and less thrown together. It feels wonderful lying in my bed, satin sheets freshly washed, all my clothes hung in my closet or folded in my dresser, all the trinkets I've collected scattered around my desk, and a note that I found, now taped to my wall. I found the note in a drawer, and honestly I don't know where it came from. It's in my handwriting but I don't remember ever writing it. It's a blue, square piece of paper, and in black ink it says:

Let her go.

Which is what I need to do in my life. It was written about a specific girl; the way it's written, the piece of paper itself, and the fact that I've hung onto it make that obvious to me. What wasn't obvious at the time was what it means to me, what it embodies. That alone is my philosophy on life; I just need to let go. I need to let go of her. I need to let go of worry and doubt. I need to let go of the facades. I need to just let go. By holding on to these things I cling to the past, hoping to relive happier times and days when the future seemed so certain, so wonderful. I can't move forward while holding to the past any better than I can swim across a lake while staying on the shore; I need to let go. I want to let go.

I'm glad I kept that piece of paper. As I said, it's on my wall, across my desk, always there to remind me of what happened in the past while at the same time reminding me not to hold onto it. The past is beautiful, it should be remembered - especially if there's someone you love in those memories - but there's a difference between remembering and clinging. I want to remember. I don't want to cling.

With that, I resolve to let her go. The piece of paper was written about a single girl, but it applies to more girls than her and more than relationships in general. I've let her go. I'm going to keep swimming.

[I may add images to this later if any come to mind. At the moment, I think the text itself gives the correct atmosphere.]

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

(Happy) Jibberish

Bah weep granah weep ninny bong.

Iceman, ho!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Dare!

The 80's produced some of the best cartoons for kids. I admit the 90's has had some good stuff, but I don't think any of them can really compare with DuckTales, Super Mario Bros. Super Show, TMNT, G.I. Joe, and, the creme de la creme, Transformers.

Cartoons from the 80's were quite different from their contemporary counterparts. When the show was finished you always felt great. Nothing could compare to the high you got after watching an episode of G.I. Joe or Super Mario Bros. I remember waking up 2 hours early for school just to watch The Legend of Zelda on Fridays, and after that, you knew it was going to be a great day. You just walked away from those shows with self-esteem and knowing that you could do anything, which is really the whole idea of the 80's - the confidence to know you could do anything.

You can win if you dare!


That's what the spirit of the 80's was about; that's what those cartoons made you feel when the show ended.

Now, I admit, I'm too young to have enjoyed Transformers in their hay day on television. What I do remember, though, is the movie (the original one).

I was listening to the 20th anniversary edition of the soundtrack, and there's some great stuff on there. Stan Bush's memorable, 80's butt-rock, pump-up songs of "The Touch" and "Dare" both portray the soul of the decade, and it's impossible to overlook the theme song by Lion when they scream out "TRANSFORMERS!! Robots in disguise." The 20th anniversary edition of the soundtrack features some extracts from the score, particularly a medly of Unicron's themes and a track aptly named "Megatrong Must Be Stopped." Now, there are lots of ways for music to give you a great feeling, but when it comes down to it, a couple guitars, a drum set, and a synthesizer played along side the image of Optimus Prime kicking the grease out of the Decepticons and then taking on Megatron in fisticuffs is about as good as it gets in my book.

Dare - 'cause there is a place where dreams survive,

And it's calling you on to victory!

That really is one of the best moments in movies as far as I'm concerned. I took a class on the history of film recently, and so I've been recently acquainted with a handful of classics. Even with films like Citizen Kane, On the Waterfront, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and (I'll admit it's grown on me) The Graduate, I still think that Megatron's arrival on Earth and his declaration, "Megatron must be stopped, no matter the cost," followed by his monumental aristeia is easily in the top 10 of movie moments. It's got power, passion, and imbues that great feeling of being able to do anything (like being able to take on an entire army of Decepticons by yourself).

Then it's followed by the death of Optimus Prime, which of course is one of the 10 saddest moments in movie history.

During that scene, Prime gives the Autobot Matrix to Ultra Magnus who says, "Prime...I'm not worthy. I'm just a soldier," to which Prime replies, "Nor was I when it was given to me." The humility of Optimus Prime - the best of the Autobots and a transformer with Akhillean skill - is something that every kid who saw that film took to heart. Prime was a hero, and someone that kids could truly look up to. From that moment, Ultra Magnus takes the role as the temporary leader of the Autobots, but is never able to open the Matrix, even when he's surrounded by Decepticons and
believes it is their darkest hour.

But as the film progresses, one thing you get to see is how Hot Rod grows as a character. You see him as he goes from being a 20-something robot who thinks he's all that to finally maturing, taking on Galvatron (Megatron, post transformation by Unicron), opening the Autobot Matrix, turning into Rodimus Prime (who transformed looks like a Winnebago crossed with a hot rod with flames painted on the side), destroying Unicron, lighting their darkest hour and becoming the leader of the Autobots. He grows from someone that kids could relate to to someone they look up to and respect - which is really the main theme of the film, growing up to be mature and respectful.

You can fly, if you try leaving the past behind
Heaven only knows what you might find...
Dare - dare to believe you can survive

You hold the future in your hand!

Contemporary cartoons just don't give that same feeling of self-esteem and potential. It's something that the 80's had in excess, that the 90's showed apathy towards, and that the 00's seem to resent.

I miss the 80's, but I miss the 80's cartoon shows most of all.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

My future

I've decided what I'm going to do with my life.

I'm going to study for the next few months, take the MCAT, and go to medical school for radiology.

Loneliness

I'm just gonna come flat out and say it: I'm lonely.

I had today off and gave a friend a call. He was busy and thus was unable to do anything. From this, I realized something: I had no one else to call.

Over the past 8 years, I've had t
he same core friends, and over the years those friends have either moved away or I've just lost contact with them. Right now, I'm really only in contact with two of them frequently, and only see one with any regularity.

I've had a few other friends over the years, but again, they've all graduated or moved away...

I think that's why I've taken to fashion and suits so much recently. By buying a new suit, or a new outfit, I feel like I'm getting ready for a nightlife I don't have. I mentioned my new found hobby to my brother, and he calmly asked, "Where do you wear these suits?"

I didn't have an answer.

I don't have anywhere to wear these suits - no decent nightclubs or any such places that have dress codes. I don't have anyone to take to dinner in them; of course, living in this town there aren't any restaurants to wear them to. Now, for that matter, I can't really afford these suits, either. I worked out a budget today and realized that I can make ends meet, but not with much left over for suits or those other unnecessary things like food...

I suppose I like the idea of having a nightlife or job that calls for a suave, fashionable suit. Similarly, I really like the idea of taking a young woman out to dinner at a restaurant that actually has a dress code; one that would call for a nice suit for me and a dress for her, or at least a restaurant where I wouldn't look out of place dressed up as such.

This leads back to that loneliness thing. I'm ready for a nightlife (or at least, I like to think I am; though in reality I'm financially not ready), yet I don't have one, nor really much of a chance of one. At that moment, I don't have much of a social life at all, which is the real issue. I became so adjust to just sitting around, watching episodes of The X-Files or just random movies with my friends from high school that when I make new friends, that's all I can think of to do. I don't really know what people do when they hang out...I don't drink, so going to bars is pretty much out of the running, and in this city, that removes about 95% of all possible things to do. I've started to play frisbee golf thanks to my new brother-in-law, yet with spring flooding all the courses in town went to hell. I go running, biking, reading, all that stuff, but those are mostly single activities as well, not friend or date activities.


I don't really know where I'm going with this. And with that, I'm done.