Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Accidental Billionaires

The Founding of Facebook: a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal
by Ben Mezrich

I guess I'm on a bit of a nonfiction kick this summer, which almost never happens.

I thought it might be interesting to read about the two guys who started Facebook. It's amazing how it's become such a phenomenon. I mean, I have a Facebook application on my phone; I never have to be without Facebook access. Crazy, right? When you think about it. What I think is even greater, is that it was created by two college geeks...who just wanted to meet girls. Classic. This book made me wish I were a genius with computers and could create something marketable. Instead I'm good at...reading...and singing. Not exactly marketable skills. But that's beside the point. This book also made me wish that Facebook was more like the way it was when it started. More exclusive. As soon as Facebook opened up to everyone, it started to loose its appeal. And now it has all those stupid quizzes and applications and you're bombarded with emails and notices and crap about these little things that do nothing but take up your time when what you could be doing is reading a book instead of staring and mindlessly clicking at your computer screen. ...Sorry. I spend too much time on Facebook, and I miss the way it used to be. Reading this book, about how simple and sleek Facebook used to be, I was moved to clean up my own Facebook page. A kind of modern spring cleaning. And I feel better for it.

Anyway, I found this book incredibly interesting. It makes me glad I never wanted to become a business major. Business is brutal. And there is so much emphasis in this book about how things weren't personal, "it was business," or that whatever was done was done "for the best of the company." But those are justifications that don't stand up when you really look closely at things. If I were Sean Parker, I would have been painfully frustrated and given up on Silicon Valley altogether. I suppose that says a lot about his character - and about mine...

The author does have a tendency towards the overly verbose. The majority of the chapters begin as jarringly poetic and flowery, which is especially unexpected considering what the book is about. It's out of place and almost laughable.

The one problem I found with the book, is that a lot of it is hypothetical. Many of the episodes began with phrases like, "we can imagine him..." So, I guess that makes the book less reliable, in a sense. But, I read it for the story, not for a biographical account, per se.

"Accidental Billionaires" is a great book, and a great lesson about dreams, reality and the loss of innocence. I suppose everyone has that one particular moment in their life when they become abruptly disillusioned and lose their sense of innocence, regarding "the real world." I don't believe I've had my big "ah-ha!" moment yet, but I can say that after reading what the Facebook developers, partners, and oppositions went through, I'm not looking forward to it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

American Idols LIVE

I actually went to the American Idols' concert last night in Hartford, which is hilarious, because I basically hate American Idol. Being good at American Idol is like being really great a karaoke.

The best part of the concert, without a doubt, was Adam Lambert. He's a terrible singer. I mean, he has incredible vocal skill, but his execution is ridiculous, and not in a good way. However, he is an exceptional performer. Truly unparalleled in comparison to the other top 9. He has so much energy, so much stamina, and puts on a phenomenal show. Plus, his musical choices were the best, by far: Led Zeppelin (though no one can touch the real thing), Muse, and Gary Jules's "Mad World." He's like my musical soul mate. After seeing him perform, I've decided that I want to be Adam Lambert's best friend. And if you ask me, it's almost cruel to make anyone perform after him.

Seeing American Idol 2009 Kris Allen after Adam Lambert was really anticlimactic. By the time he got on stage, I was hot, uncomfortable, and ready to go home. I was over it. As far as his musical choices, I was not so thrilled. I hated what he did to "Ain't No Sunshine." "Ain't No Sunshine" is a bluesy R&B song, not a rock song. Live with it, don't try to change it. I think Kris Allen will do much better singing his own songs rather than messing with classics.

As for the rest, let's see. I can't remember all their names, to tell you the truth. But I'll try.

Michael was alright. Good looking, good sounding, not a great performer.

Megan Joy was...interesting. "Three Little Birds Sat on My Window" sounded good. That song really suited her. But her Amy Winehouse cover was terrible.

The blind guy...Scott? He was ok. I liked his cover of the Keane song. It got better as he got more into it. He's got a nice sound. But it's a little old and very different from the rest of the Idols.

Anoop was fun. That's about all.

Lil Rounds was terrible. It sounded like she was close to losing her voice too.

Matt was great. He was fun to watch. You can tell that he really loves what he's doing. Plus he is a great piano player. I really enjoyed his performance...although I can't remember what he sang...

Allison was interesting. She's a throw-back to 60's female rockers. It's like, she's over the audience, doesn't put a lot of stock into her performance or public opinion. For all I know, she's on drugs. Her cover of Pink's "So What" was bad. She kept turning her head away from the mic and looking down at her guitar. That leads me to believe she doesn't actually know how to play the guitar. And her singing style is more like...yelling. I think she only sang a total of about 10 words. But there's something really compelling about it. The way she uses the entire length of the stage and throws herself around, it's kind of great.

Danny Gokey. I was expecting to like him a lot more than I did. He was...ok. It sounded like he was over-singing and starting to lose his voice too. I didn't like "Pretty Young Thing." His Rascal Flatts covers were good though. But he was yelling too much. It hurt my vocal chords just to listen to him. And he's a music teacher! He should know better. That was disappointing.

The concert was fun. But, again, it was like a giant karaoke competition. And there are some songs that simply shouldn't be messed with. I don't care who you are.

But I'm serious: Adam Lambert? Need a new best friend? Look me up!

Monday, August 10, 2009


By Chuck Palahniuk

My interest in "Last Orders" has been increasingly waning (oxymoron. ha!). Yesterday I wandered around the library (when it was slow!) looking for something else, anything else to read. After perusing the new shelves, the "donated in the name of" table, and fiction shelves A-P, I settled on Chuck Palahniuk's "Diary."

I have a friend who is a big Palahniuk fan. He's probably read close to all his novels, if not all of them. I, however, am not a fan. I hated the movie "Fight Club." I liked that the main character was schizophrenic. Good twist. But as soon as the movie became about forming an army to blow up a credit card company, or something, that is where I cried, 'Too Far.' I couldn't follow him on that. But I decided to give Palahniuk a second chance. After all, I only saw the movie "Fight Club."

I had no desire to read the book "Fight Club" (and coincidentally, the library does not own it), so that was out. I know a little about "Snuff" and "Choke", neither of which I wanted to read either. "Diary" was the next book of his I came across, (Now that I think about it, his novels clearly aren't in alphabetical order on the shelf and I'll have to fix that.) and thought I'd give it a try.

Just for the record, "Diary" is immediately intriguing. It is impossible not to get sucked into the personal mesmerizing coma that is Waytansea Island. I didn't know quite what I was reading when I began, but I was decidedly hooked, and had to keep reading.

"Diary" is dark and dirty and raw, and it's great. Such a compelling story. Struggling with demons and a fate she can't control, Misty is an tortured character. I felt myself rooting for her, wanting her to discover what it is that could make her want to really live.

Granted, the novel gets weird, but it unfolds like a mystery, which propels the reader forward. The parts of the story - the writing on the walls, the clues left around the island - they all come together like pieces to a puzzle.

My question, having only read one of his novels, is does Chuck Palahniuk write formulaicly? Do all his novels end with some catastrophic disaster? He almost lost me at the end, with the fire at the hotel, but I was willing to overlook that and go along with the end of the plot. That was the one plot stretch I did not care for. It felt almost like a deus ex machina. Don't know what to do with all these secondary and fringe characters who could ruin your nice neat ending? Kill them off!

Regardless, I really enjoyed this book. I even liked the repetitive lines: "What you don't understand, you can make mean anything."

Side-note: When Misty comments on the weather saying "Just for the record, the weather today is"... reminds me of the Panic at the Disco song with the line "just for the record, the weather today is slightly sarcastic with a good chance of A) indifference and B) disinterest in what the critics say." The book probably came before the song, but that line put the song into my head.

"Diary" is a very cool book with plenty of unexpected turns. It requires a suspension of belief, but doesn't become overly unbelievable. I do believe in the old adage that creative brilliance requires suffering. I'd like to say I don't believe that's true, but I do. This novel addresses that concept to a disturbing degree.

It could be argued that the book begins to get preachy towards the end. Quoting Plato about how life is remembering what you've already learned from past lives, about being stuck in the pattern of past lives, about how everyone is lost in their own personal coma, but it didn't feel preachy to me. It did feel like something I've heard before, but I think Palahniuk addresses these cliches in a way that makes them feel new. I think "Diary" is a great, unique novel.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Julie & Julia

I don't make it a point to blog about movies, because that's not what I'm about. Don't get me wrong, I love movies. I'm all about escapism. Some of my top faves: "The Visitor," "Once," "The Live of David Gale," "Good Night and Good Luck," "Finding Neverland," and, of course, "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" and "Office Space," among others. Not current films, I know. I don't write about movies because I don't know enough about film to talk about them with any kind of authority. However, today, I will make an exception.

This afternoon I went to see the movie "Julie & Julia" and I loved it. Such a great story. I think there are very few, if any, people who can't relate. What person doesn't, at some point or other, feel stuck in a rut? There is a lot to be said for creative outlets. They nourish the soul. They're downright necessary to survival.

And talk about persistence. To cook over 520 (524? I think? 542? Maybe I'm dyslexic.) recipes in 365 days is a big undertaking. And to not quit after a major meltdown says a lot about a person's character.

But to spend 8 years of your life working on a book is astounding. That's one hell of a commitment. I don't know if I would have that in me. My attention span is considerably shorter than that. I think Julia Child's dedication and passion is admirable. And the belief she had in herself is inspiring.

I think Amy Adams is adorable. She's a lovely actress and a joy to watch on screen.

And there truly are no words for Meryl Streep. She is exquisite. Without a doubt one of the best actresses out there. She has the ability to immerse herself in a character which is unparalleled.

This movie makes me wish I had any kind of talent for cooking. The food they create looks so delicious, especially the bruschetta - and I don't even like tomatoes. I can bake well, but that's about it. Too bad I can't live off of cupcakes.

I am compelled to the read the book now. I think I'll add that to my list.

"Julie & Julia" is well worth the $7 or $10 you have to pay at the theaters. Go see it. It's adorable and funny and just a wonderful film.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Breaking Dawn

By Stephenie Meyer

My reading of Graham Swift's "Last Orders" was temporarily interrupted by a long anticipated arrival.

Monday afternoon a woman came into the library where I work. She came up to me at the desk and said, "You're Liz, right?"

"Yes," I said, wondering who this woman is and why she knows my name.

She held out to me the fourth and final book of the "Twilight" saga, "Breaking Dawn," and said, "I wanted to hand this to you in person. I know you've been waiting for it. You're going to love it."

I was so excited, I couldn't contain myself. I smiled and smiled and said, "I am so excited! You have no idea."

She said, "Yes I do. It's just a great as the others. Enjoy!"

I began writing this blog in pieces, gradually as I made my way through the book. The first draft started out with things like, 'I don't love this book as much as the others; I think I may be outgrowing the whole thing,' 'I still think Jacob's character is manipulative and rash,' 'I think it's ridiculous that Bella is pregnant, and to push the idea of the martyrdom of motherhood on top of that!,' etc. But I've thrown those thoughts to the way-side.

In this book, I have to admit, I warmed up to Jacob. I would still take Edward over him any day, but Jacob definitely grew up in this book, which is just what his character needed. And, as for Bella, I still think she is far too self-deprecating. She feels she is unworthy of the love she has received in her life. No one is unworthy of love (Ok, fine, it gets a little dicey regarding serial killers). However, once she became a vampire, her character drastically changed. Not nearly as self-deprecating or mopey. She finally became a character I could appreciate. I didn't find myself skipping over her internal reactions.

Even though I originally found Bella's being pregnant too far-fetched, - I realize the whole thing is fantasy - as soon as Jacob imprinted on Renesmee, I reneged that statement. What a great twist! Maybe other readers saw it coming from a mile away, but, I have to admit, I didn't see it coming at all. But how perfect! - Maybe a little too perfect though. A nice neat plot. No loose ends... Regardless, I was completely captivated by this book, even more so than the others, except, maybe, for the first book.

My biggest complaint about "Breaking Dawn" - and I use the term "big" relatively - is that it was too long. I felt that this last book could almost be split up in two; the second book being Bella's life as a vampire and the impending doom of the Volturi. There was too much down time in the preparation for the Volturi's arrival and it slowed things down. But, outside of that, I can think of no other complaints!

Beautifully and simply written, I greatly enjoyed the final "Twilight" book, "Breaking Dawn." And what a nice change to read a book with such a perfectly pure happy ending. I think the "Twilight" series is positively bewitching. I'm glad I read it, even if it did make me feel like an obsessed teenie-bopper. Worth it.