Thursday, December 31, 2009

Books Read in 2009

The other day I discovered that you can paste your book reviews and ratings into a blog. You give me something to copy & paste online which results in the opportunity to overshare... is a great social networking site focused on books: you can share and read reviews of books, let others know what you're reading and snoop around your friends' virtual bookshelves to look for recommendations. Goodreads also offers an app for facebook to automatically add your books & comments to your profile (which could still use some improvement).

I'm not sure if I'll post my super short reviews/ratings here every time I read a book, but for now here is my list of books read in 2009. Note that this year I was part of a "guilt-free guilty pleasure" book club - so there are lots of books about girl detectives and girl vampire lovers and girl detectives that love vampires...

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A very engaging, moving, informative and easily-read journey through four decades of Afghan history and culture from the perspective of two Afghan women and their families.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
The holes in the story, the religious superiority, the "Fabio in the 90s (1990s vision of 1790s)" descriptions of the male vampires and the repetitive chummy language, spoiled what could have been a thrilling read about a tough, yet somewhat dimensional, female vampire slayer solving crimes.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Entertaining - but I don't think I'm going to run out and get the rest of the series.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What a dark laugh - especially when read out loud with a friend.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Dark, devastating and beautiful. Among such bleakness there is hope for love and compassion to survive. If only for a little while.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This is based only on the 40 pages because I actually put the book down. There's a good chance I'll give it another shot later and like it better - but for right now: too many good books, too little time. The idea of mixing Pride and Prejudice with zombies is very cool and the execution is actually very well done. It's funny and even witty. But I just couldn't ENJOY reading the book because I was so aware of the inserting of new paragraphs/zombie content and the merging of genres. It wasn't possible for me to get into the story because I kept thinking: oh, look here is a new paragraph, but wait, did he also change this sentence? Darcy didn't say that in the real book, did he?...

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Fascinating new perspective through showing the Dark Others' point-of-view. More interesting characters, more twists, more theories... no one is just good, everyone is just a pawn... or maybe not? A sequel that doesn't disappoint.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
At times depressing, at times inspiring, the statistics and fascinating examples given in this book mostly confirmed certain suspicions/theories I already had about why some people are extremely successful and others aren't. The insights about what goes on in an airplane's cockpit were eye-opening... and a little scary.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
More of the same - yes, page turner, yes, new fascinating factoids, yes, some interesting contemplations arise, yes, cool to surf for images of real things on the internet along with the descriptions in the book -- BUT then it's hit-you-over-the-head formulaic (especially if you've read the previous books). And there's the bugging thought that you don't know which facts you can actually believe and which ones are totally made up. And last but not least while some of the theories are interesting, the "solution" in the end seemed very weak and ultimately wasn't worth the whole mystery (neither setting it up nor dying over nor solving it).

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Page-turner, unique world & characters and makes you think. Nice. Cannot wait to read Day Watch.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It captures well that college-age time as it played out for certain people: when all you know is that you don't quite fit in and you somehow want something more from life but haven't quite figured out what and how to get it so you just kind of drift meaninglessly through nights in Hamburg and south of the Elbe.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Beautiful and sad. Rather visceral and in a way always just right out of reach (which can also get a little frustrating when so many things go unsaid or appear out of order). Fascinating choice to jump around in time and change who the narrator is speaking to (talking about Stella or to Stella) within the same paragraph. Like a sad and beautiful dream.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Great premise: not only the time-travel (which to me relates to many people's desire to have known their loved one when they were a kid or when they're old), but also the idea of portraying a love relationship from beginning to "end" with all it's typical ups and downs). Great beginning. Inspires meaningful contemplations. But then it just gets so long and needlessly wordy with endless descriptions of plain factual details of boring events and inconsequential actions. Mixed into the mundane then is the melodrama. And yes, it does seem like a book for women only.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I think I liked this one even more.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Total page-turner. So many levels to the book - fascinating story lines, characters, settings, insights... However, the need for the gruesome details are questionable to me as well as certain moral implications after revelation of the huge crimes. But I definitely can't wait to read the next book in the series to follow the main characters' journeys.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Charming, but the ending was a bit of a let-down.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I wanted to love it. (I really like the idea of it.) But I just didn't. I probably would have appreciated it a lot more during my school years when I was obsessed with Kafka. Maybe there'll be time for it again in the future.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Fascinating insights into life in Botswana. Likable characters, interesting story lines. Most charming are the contemplations of ethics and culture. This second book seemed to have more to offer in regards of provoking thought than the first one. But I am not a big fan of the simplistic style of the writing, both in language, characters and over-all structure (again there's one major interesting case that starts early on but won't be solved until the end, several smaller cases appear in starts and stops throughout the book, personal story line of main character weaves through the book without many plot points or major conflict).

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Hat das Gefuehl der ersten Naechte in der neuen Stadt genau festgehalten und so einige Erinnerungen hervorgerufen. Man kann sich durch das Buch treiben lassen genau wie durch solche Naechte. Ausserdem hab ich daraufhin Lust "Herr Lehmann" noch mal zu lesen, um zu sehen wie es denn bei allen weiterging.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Quite outstanding how he can create a whole universe true to itself full of fascinating characters and a suspenseful story.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Fascinating and memorable - yes. But in the end it might just be a little too absurd and incoherent for me to really embrace it as much as some of his others.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What a beautiful, important, well-written story about a very diverse group of people coming together during the 2nd world war - each with their own agenda and yet all playing a part in doing the same good thing. Very surprised this wasn't on my school's reading list.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A great contemplation on age, life, love, friendship, responsibility and ethics.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Mixed bag of Christmas-themed short stories. I got it for the Sookie story, which in this case didn't play into the "saga" as much as some of the other short stories published outside the novels.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

'Chain The Dogma' Review of "All God's Children"

He not only reviewed the film but expanded his thorough research and made some fascinating connections between the Christian and Missionary Alliance (who ran the boarding school where the abuse occurred) and Children of God (now The Family International), e.g., the fact that Children of God founder David Berg had once been a C&MA minister - but probably more importantly the similarities in some of the ideology that became so harmful to the children in both organizations.

A sentence in the article that struck me especially:
"Christian dogma, such as 'sacrificing' or giving up your children in order to do God's work, adhered to by both groups [C&MA and CoG], is directly responsible for many of the systemic abuses committed within them."

Perry Bulwer escaped from the cult Children of God in 1991 and now maintains the blog Chain The Dogma - Beware of God!, which provides an incredible resource of articles, book recommendations and other media about Religion & Child Abuse, Religions & Cults and other related subjects.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy (Sunny) Holidays!

In case you were wondering where Mr. White Christmas (aka Mr. Snow aka Mr. Icicle aka Mr. 10 Below) is hanging out to avoid the blizzards up north: he's in Florida trying to steal the show from Santa Claus and wishing you happy holidays on behalf of Scott & me.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Brooklyn Blizzard Night

We had a wonderful snow storm last night - and yes, today is a beautiful day with sparkling white snow piles under a blue sky. But today I have to work (I will get this film finished!) - so Scott and I enjoyed the snow storm in our enchanting neighborhood for all its worth last night: on a walk to Sarah's birthday party and on our way back home...

... meeting Scott Colthorp for a warm reprieve at this oasis in the snow...

... and among a group of people taking over the avenue...

This morning our cat Jarmo was confused upon looking out the backdoor at the snow covered garden.

He doesn't know what he's missing out on.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

SantaCon Video Special: "The Story of Baby Santa Jesus"

Last year, during the NYC SantaCon 2008, the guys from Dirty Brownstone shot the 3-minute short film "The Story of Baby Santa Jesus", which is premiering today as part of SantaCon NYC 2009. All the voices are done by our funny (possibly funniest) long-time friend, Joe Cecchini, who, a gazillion years ago, was our collaborator in the Reitz Bites Shorts series (which you will probably NEVER see).

If you're Christian and easily offended, you might want to skip this one. If you have a sense of humor and want to see what Santa Elvis brings as a present upon the birth of Baby Santa Jesus, you don't want to miss this.

Scott took on the online distribution of this video - so if you think it's funny, please spread the word, share the link, embed the video, comment, add it to your playlist, rate, rave... and have a wonderful holiday season.  

Places where you can find the video:
on Vimeo
on VodPod

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

iTunes Smart Playlists

Luci & Jacquelyn or "1 Bottle of Wine, 2 Blonds, 3 Monitors"
(photo by Scott)

Last night my friend Jac asked if I knew how she could get her "Recently Added" Playlist back, which seemed to have disappeared from the left column in her iTunes.

The "Recently Added" Playlist is one of the playlists that are automatically included in iTunes and that automatically pull music from your library based on some variable (e.g., songs added recently to your library).

Regular playlists you can easily create yourself:
  • Click on File -> New Playlist. 
  • A new playlist pops up in the left column.
  • Type a new name over the highlighted words "untitled playlist".
  • Drag songs into the playlist from your music folder. 
  • Hit play.

Well, I didn't know the answer to her question but came up with a smug response almost instantly: Teach a woman how to set up her iTunes and she’ll be listening to music. Teach a woman how to use google search and she’ll be a computer expert for life.

But seriously, it actually wasn't all that easy to find simple and clear instructions on how to re-create the "Recently Added" (or similar automated lists). So here is the run-down in case you deleted a  playlist.

(Re) Creating "Recently Added" Playlist and other Smart Playlists in iTunes: 
  • Go to: File -> New Smart Playlist.
  • A window will pop-up like the one pictured below.
  • Select items from the various drop-down menus according to the picture: "date added", "is in the last", "weeks" and type in "2" (or whatever timeframe you'd like).
  • Make sure “live updating” is selected (check the box).
  • Click “OK”.
  • A new playlist will show up in the left column – name it “Recently Added. 
  • Watch it change whenever you add new music to your library.

For other smart playlists, just select other variables in the drop-down menu (e.g., certain artists, genres, years, last time played, recently purchased - or select: NOT certain artists or NOT played in the last month). The main difference between a regular and a smart playlist of course is that it will automatically update as you get new music, add new information or based on what you've been listening to.

(Btw, it did occur to me that maybe all that information could easily be found in the iTunes help directory. But does software still provide help directories? Does anyone still read those? Doesn't everyone google for advice & instructions?)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Traveling through the world - one video at a time

Do you know those times when you check out one website "just real quick" and then follow a link to another engrossing site, where you find another link that takes you to yet another great page and suddenly you're traveling through the web discovering one world after the other - and you totally forget you had work to do? Yeah, I just got sucked into one of those joyrides.

I thought this interconnected string of websites is totally worth sharing - especially because they all fit so nicely into one fascinating category. If only I could come up with a nice title for that category... my attempts: time-restricted city-video assignment, journal-ism, city v-log, (collaborative) city portraits, day-life-city portraits... Basically all these websites host very short videos that portray a day or a moment in the life of a certain location (mostly cities) - some are all by the same creator and some are by different people from all over the world. All of them however feel personal and not like "a web show", but they also aren't all about the videomaker as in the typical vlog fashion.

Hopefully you'll enjoy the ride as much as I did and discover some new worlds for yourself... or be inspired to make your own video...

First, I just stumbled upon 30 Second Life: A Series of 30-Second Shorts About My Life in Park Slope, Brooklyn by Greg Reitman, who's married to Erica (one of the people behind the blog Fucked in Park Slope, which provided the first link). This one feels a lot like someone's personal journal - but made more universal by using a music soundtrack instead of personal narration.

I was sidetracked by V.log Lady, who makes enthralling and somewhat experimental videos about life in Argentina: "a video per week, a week per video."

Then I discovered my favorite: 2min15. It is the epitome of random creative people giving you a glimpse of their city - with no commercial purpose and with refreshingly different perspectives and visions. Very cool!

2min15 Bogotá, urbana. from le flâneur on Vimeo.
Video by Nats Alarcon in Bogota

Video by Fabian Neuhaus in London

That then led to city one minutes. A great concept coming from a documentary TV channel in Holland (Holland Doc 24) and The One Minutes Foundation. Unfortunately, some videos didn't load in smoothly but came in stutteringly.

That site actually also led to The One Minutes, which is a list of all the other One Minute assignments, like: countries one minutes, train one minutes, abstract one minutes, etc.
The One Minutes Projects are going on right now - you can still submit to be considered for the  Awards by January 15th.

Last but not least, I went digging for a true travel video site, where any traveler can share videos of their observations and adventures: the video page of TravelPod, the social-networking site for travelers.

I'm sure there are a lot more sites like this - but I need to get back to work! If you know of any or have your own, please add them through the comments function.