Archive for October, 2009

Life is a Mystery: The Busman’s Honeymoon

Busman's Honeymoon Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Confession: I’m not into mystery.

I’m not just talking about handsome, brooding men with a secret past (although I’m not really into that, either. Except maybe the handsome part. Secret pasts and brooding, though: no, thank you). I’m talking about the literary genre.

To be fair, my lack of enthusiasm has more to do with my lack of exposure to the genre. I refused to read science fiction until a coworker forced me to read Ender’s Game, which is now one of my favorite books of all time.

A friend that I know, love, and trust is a huge Dorothy Sayers fan, and she happened to have an extra copy of The Busman’s Honeymoon. Apparently, a “busman’s holiday” is a working vacation, more or less. I’d never heard the term before this book.

Lord Peter Wimsey has just been married and whisks his bride off to her childhood home in the country for a secluded honeymoon. Things take a turn for the worse when the previous owner of the home is found dead in the basement.

The mystery part of this book was decent – I think I’ve been spoiled by too many plot twists, which is de rigeur in both lit and film these days. But the dialog was clever, and the cast of characters is tons of fun.

It did take awfully long to get to the mystery, though. I counted over a hundred pages before the body was finally discovered. If (like me) you haven’t read the series from the beginning, you might find this part a wee bit dull.

The book was a solid train read, but I do kind of wish I’d read the other Lord Peter Wimsey books before reading this one. There’s kind of a huge spoiler in the beginning, which takes away half the fun. But if you’re looking for a gentle introduction to the mystery genre, then I’d say that this series is a solid pick.

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He Probably Drank Dos Equis, Too: Music is My Mistress

Music Is My Mistress (Da Capo Paperback) Music Is My Mistress by Duke Ellington

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I was six years old the first time I ever touched a piano. Being the stereotypical Korean parents that they were, my parents insisted on my taking piano lessons before my feet could even touch the pedals.

Thus began my tempestuous relationship with classical music – I loved to listen to it and hated playing it. I went from being a mediocre pianist to a downright awful violinist. I certainly never blossomed into the prodigy that my parents dreamed of bragging to their friends about.

But I’ll always be thankful for the piano lessons because they paved the way for me to understand and appreciate jazz music.

And jazz has no greater hero than Duke Ellington.

Ellington penned an autobiography in 1973, when he was seventy-four years old. The life experience he’d racked up at that point was impressive. He’d traveled all over the world and become a household name in a time when blacks were allowed to play the hottest clubs, but not to frequent them. His was a truly a life less ordinary.

Ellington describes his childhood, his family, and his introduction into the music scene with no less flair than you’d expect from one of the forefathers of jazz. While his writing doesn’t necessarily flow (he was better at the music than the words), some of his anecdotes about the people he met on his musical journey had me on the floor. When you’re a musician, you meet some real interesting cats.

There are some drawbacks to reading a man’s account of his own life, however. He’s free to omit whatever he chooses. He speaks constantly of his son Mercer, but never mentions who Mercer’s mother was. I had to hop on Wikipedia to discover that her name was Edna Thompson and that she was Duke’s childhood sweetheart. I had to go to WikiAnswers to find out that they were married from 1917 to the late 1920s. Beyond that, I’d probably have to read a biography of Duke Ellington.

But reading Ellington’s firsthand account of his musical escapades was worth the while. It’s almost as good as living it myself.

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The Writers’ Strike Wasn’t All Bad: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

I love musicals.

I mean, singing, dancing, people dropping what they’re doing to join in on the big numbers – what’s not to like?

Well, my good friend Monster knows this, and so she’s been insisting for months that I must watch Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

Neil Patrick Harris plays Dr. Horrible the villain/hero.

Neil Patrick Harris plays Dr. Horrible the villain/hero.

Written by Joss Whedon and his brothers, the musical web short stars Neil Patrick Harris as Dr. Horrible, Felicia Day as his love interest Penny, and Nathan Fillion (SQUEE!!) as his arch-nemesis Captain Hammer.

Having seen and been unimpressed by Whedon’s famous musical episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” ”Once More with Feeling” (I get that the idea was genius, but the execution and the music were awful), I wasn’t 100% sold on the greatness of Dr. Horrible. But because of the ossomness of Harris and, of course, The Fillion, I had to click the link that Monster so conveniently posted to my Facebook wall.

Needless to say, my expectations were more than met. The story was cute, the writing was hilarious, and the acting and singing were all superb. Harris really carried the day with his nuanced Dr. Horrible, but The Fillion certainly contributed with his perfectly smarmy Captain Hammer. Felicia Day made for a sweet Penny, too, but I was just absolutely blown away by the other two.

I was especially surprised by the catchiness of the tunes and complexity of the parts. There were several really skillfully written duets in there. I found myself humming the tunes the next day and wishing that my sister would watch and learn the songs or that Monster would learn to sing so that I would have someone with whom to sing the duets (in private, Monster. I promise).

And Whedon’s story was satisfyingly unique. A superhero spoof that makes the villain the protagonist? I’d expect nothing less from Whedon. A villainous protagonist who struggles with the tension between his attraction to a pretty do-gooder and desire to be recognized as the evil genius that he is? Classic Whedon yet again.

But the ending really threw me for a loop. For a web short that had me laughing, it sure left me with a knot at the pit of my stomach in the end. But I can respect Whedon for that – he never gives you just what you expect. Maybe I didn’t like the way it ended, but it certainly was intriguing.

And, in my opinion, a sequel wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Lord knows there have been sequels to crappier movies.

By the way, if anybody ever hears of a community theater trying to put on a stage version of this show, please alert me immediately. I so want in on that.

What Came First, the Misery or the Music: Fingerprints Music

“Do we look like the kind of store that sells “I Just Called to Say I Love You”? Go to the mall.”
– Jack Black as Barry, High Fidelity

I’m no hipster.

I wish I had more indie cred. I enjoy indie movies, but I don’t know anything about indie music and, as all hipsters and aspiring hipsters know, music is the heartbeat of the indie scene.

Well, I recently had an amazing musical experience that might also have been my initiation into independence.

And of course it happened at Fingerprints.

Fingerprints is an independent record store. And when I say “record,” I mean “record” – they boast a fine collection of vinyl on top of an excellent stock of regular CDs (mostly for indie newbies like me). It’s a smallish place with a hippish vibe worthy of comparison to Championship Vinyl (if you’ve never seen High Fidelity, go and rent it. IMMEDIATELY).

The owner may not be as hot as John Cusack (no offense, dude), but he could certainly go head-to-head with Rob Gordon in a “Top Five” challenge. He always has two fingers firmly on the pulse of the indie scene and he’s a master at keeping the store up-to-date and relevant.

But my favorite thing about Fingerprints has to be the in-stores.

Fingerprints will occasionally invite indie artists to play a show in their store. They’ll shut down for the night (or the afternoon, if the in-store is on a Sunday) and anyone who buys the artist’s CD (usually about $12-$13) gets free entry for himself and a friend.

Space is limited, so the shows are always intimate. And the artists are unlimited, so the shows are always amazing.

Sure, they’ve featured known artists like Ingrid Michaelson and, more recently, The Swell Season. But they’re also committed to supporting local indie artists. They know that this helps them as well as the artist. And it certainly doesn’t harm the fans who come to see the shows.

If you’re a budding hipster, then I’d highly recommend that you check out Fingerprints. Not only will they give you a quality indie education, but they’ll ease your transition to the road less traveled – and have you dancing down it to the beat of a different drummer.

Fingerprints Music
4612-B E 2nd St
Long Beach, CA 90803
(562) 433-4996
www.fingerprintsmusic.com

A Dream Achieved: The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes

The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When I’ve seen someone do something really well, it often inspires me to try it for myself – especially as it pertains to writing. When I read a really good book, it makes me want to write fiction. When I hear a really good performance, it makes me want to write songs.

And after reading The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, I want to write poetry so badly that all of my thoughts have been forming in blank verse for days.

I first discovered Langston Hughes in high school. I was part of our school’s Academic Challenge Bowl team (yes, it’s even nerdier than it sounds) and one of my assignments was to read through this fat anthology of American Literature. The book had a section on the Harlem Renaissance. For the most part, I felt like a poser whilst reading it – I hadn’t really experienced the oppression or suffering in my fourteen years of life that Arna Bontemps and Claude McKay were describing. It made me vaguely uncomfortable to try to understand – how could I, an Asian teen living in the mostly-Caucasian suburbs and attending a predominantly Hispanic school, understand the woes and triumphs of a black man fighting for human rights in 1920s Harlem?

But then I got to Hughes.

***
What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

***

I knew what it meant to have a dream deferred. In some ways, a dream deferred is worse than a dream completely crushed. When a dream is crushed, you can let it go and start to heal. But a dream deferred leaves you with hope, leaves you hanging on. Sometimes you think you’ll never heal. And the reactions to this situation can vary from day to day. You might be angry one day, despondent the next, okay with it a few days later, and then back to anger by the end of the week.

Langston Hughes understood it. And I understood Langston Hughes. And, suddenly, I felt like I could read Bontemps and McKay and understand them, too.

I started picking up all the Hughes I could get my hands on. I haunted the library that summer, looking for poems I’d skipped over. I didn’t care much for poetry at that point in my life, but reading Hughes changed that almost instantly. Suddenly, I loved the lyrical quality that separates poetry from prose.

So when I ran into this book at Barnes and Noble a few years back, I just had to get it.

And I’ve been slowly reading through it ever since, savoring the verse and the rhythm and the words.

Hughes writes about a rainbow of topics, not all of them serious. He writes about love, freedom, poverty, oppression, beauty, pain – and every other shade of life experience you can imagine.

He’s famous for his contribution to the Harlem Renaissance, but his work transcends the movement. Hughes is relatable. He took his specific suffering and sees in it the thing that connects us all – humanity. He had a gift for showing you that glint of commonness amongst all the differences.

But Langston Hughes didn’t just write about the plight of the black man. I love that this volume includes his verses for children – fanciful verse, without a trace of the fire and sorrow that surge through so many of his poems for adults.

Through the course of reading this book, Langston Hughes has been cemented in his position as my favorite poet. He expresses so perfectly the gamut of the life experience. He understood it. And when I read him, I can, too.

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Falling Slowly: The Swell Season at Fingerprints

A while back, my friend Monster lent me a DVD. “You have to watch this. You’re gonna love it.”

Monster’s tastes and mine run in the same circles, so I trusted her and watched the movie.

A film like this only comes along once in a lifetime.

A film like this only comes along once in a lifetime.

That movie was Once. The rest is history.

I had the opportunity to see The Swell Season the last time they were in town, and they were amazing. When I heard that they were back in town, I breathed a heavy sigh. You see, I’m an out-of-work writer, masquerading as an underpaid all-purpose girl at a wretched Korean property management company. I can’t afford luxuries like a mind-blowing live performance on a perfect autumn evening.

But thank God for Fingerprints. Located in beautiful Belmont Shore, Fingerprints is the indie record store to end all indie record stores. Championship Vinyl’s got nothin’ on them.

They occasionally have musicians come and play special acoustic sets for a small crowd. When Monster found out that The Swell Season was coming to Fingerprints, she wasted no time (or effort — she had to redial for two hours before she finally got through) in procuring entrance for both of us.

When I arrived at Fingerprints on Tuesday evening (thanks to my fat commute), the place was packed. I found Monster quickly and we waited for the show to begin. And then the owner came out to introduce the band, and the rest of the world just fell away.

Glen Hansard, formerly of The Frames, plays with a vigor that you’d expect from someone as energetic as he is. The moment he takes the stage, you can feel his passion. There is no mellow with this guy. Even his slower songs are charged with electric emotion. He doesn’t sing sad songs — he sings heart-wrenchingly mournful ones. Whatever he does has movement to it.

And that’s not even counting his physical movement. Hansard is so fun to watch — he doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve, he wears it right on his face. And his quick sense of humor adds to the fun. He loves interacting with his audience and it shows.

And that voice — oh, that voice. That’s what raw emotion sounds like, people. It has a roughness to it that seems to embody the heart behind his songs — this is a guy who’s been kicked down by love time and time again, but continues to believe in it enough to keep wanting it. Some would call it rough — I call it real.

Contrast this to the calm beauty of Markéta Irglová. Her voice is so pure — almost childlike in its innocence. But it has an almost deceptive versatility. When she’s harmonizing to Hansard, she provides a delicate counterbalance to his raw emotion. But when she takes the lead herself, her voice conveys all the same yearning behind Hansard’s loudest shouts.

When I first heard her sing, I thought she had a nice voice, but nothing special. But something about it just cuts right to the soul and makes you think about the most broken your heart has ever been. Hansard wears his heart on his face. Irglová wears hers in her voice.

I’ve just described two completely different artists. But like French fries and soft serve ice cream, you wouldn’t think they’d work together, but combine the two, and — magic.

Afterwards, they signed autographs for a really long time. Despite having just played an amazing show and the sight of a line of fans around the block, which couldn’t have been wholly welcome at 9pm, they stuck around and signed autographs and took pictures and were generally really nice to everyone.

Just me and Monster and The Swell Season (and some dude who works at Fingerprints -- lucky).

Just me and Monster and The Swell Season (and some dude who works at Fingerprints -- lucky).

I saw Hansard initiate handshakes with anyone who seemed too shy to proffer their own hand (including me — I was momentarily flustered at being so close to a musician right after a show. The shekinah glory must have temporarily blinded me). Irglová, who was fighting a cold on top of having just performed, smiled bravely as she signed posters and posed for pictures. She even complimented my Czech.

They asked for each fan’s name and personalized every autograph. These are people that care about their fans and understand that they owe a lot to these people who pay money (well, except for me — thanks, Monster!) to hear them play.

And this is part of why “The Swell Season” is such an appropriate name for the band. Their music, their talent, even who they are — it swells the heart to almost bursting. I’ll take that over boredom any day.

The Swell Season’s latest album, Strict Joy, drops on October 27, 2009. You can click here to pre-order from Amazon.com or, if you’re too cool for Amazon, go to fingerprintsmusic.com.

A Simpler Time is Still the Same: To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
To Kill a Mockingbird is a book about growing up, civil unrest, racism, hatred, love, friendship — it’s about life. It’s a classic that most kids read in high school. I had a friend who refused to read fiction, but he read and liked this one.

Perhaps it’s the way that Lee lays bare not only the thoughts, but the very heart of a young girl growing up in the Civil-Rights-era South. It’s remarkable how reclusive Harper Lee was able to so perfectly capture the voice of young Scout Finch.

Told from the perspective of a young tomboy (the aforementioned Scout Finch), the book is by turns funny, maddening, and heartbreaking. It’s a complete picture of Scout’s life — everything from acting out the stories about neighborhood mystery Boo Radley to the trial of Tom Robinson and the toll that it takes on the entire town.

It’s a great reminder that, although times are different now, people are essentially the same, families are essentially the same, friendship is essentially the same, and growing up is essentially the same. Whether you learn from television or from events unfolding in your own hometown, there comes a point where you realize that the world can be a cold, unfair place, and there’s no going back to the way things were.

But the book ends on a hopeful note — the world can be pretty harsh, but if you have people who care about you and that you care about, you’ll be okay.

Seriously. Must read.

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Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor… and 20% of Your Retail Purchases: The FairTax Book

The FairTax Book The FairTax Book by Neal Boortz

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I got this book from a friend who recommended it because he agrees with the concept.

Written by a politician and a libertarian pundit, this book explains the FairTax proposal.

I first heard of the FairTax when Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee backed it during his 2008 presidential run. Getting this book from my friend provided me with the opportunity to finally find out what the FairTax was all about.

It’s an interesting proposal, certainly. I can understand the appeal of having a flat percentage sales tax that comes with a monthly stipend for living expenses since I spend far less than I earn (You mean some people out there spend more than they earn? *chuckles* Oh, to be young and naїve again). And there certainly is a lot that I hate about our current tax system.

I know that some detractors claim that it would be too easy to cheat the FairTax system. But I wonder why I, an honest taxpayer, have to suffer because some chump decides to try and cheat the system. We honest folk are the ones who suffer most when someone else cheats on his taxes. We bear the cost of the countless amendments and changes to tax law. I’d be thrilled if more money was put into finding and punishing tax evaders as opposed to pumping money into reforming our current tax system.

However, the FairTax leaves some gaping holes that make me very uncomfortable. According to the book, the best way to implement the act would be cold turkey — i.e. starting January 1st the year after it’s passed, we would just start issuing the tax. No mention is made of whether retailers would adjust their pricing to reflect the new tax or if they would be given any help to understand the new policy. No mention is made of what would happen to the thousands of IRS employees that would be unemployed (yes, I understand that the fact that we need thousands of IRS employees just speaks to the current system’s inefficiency. I never said that the current system was working fine).

And my biggest problem with the book was Neil Boortz’s often inflammatory language. It smacks of propaganda to me and it makes a book harder to read for me, even if I agree with the policy underneath it all. I understand that Boortz is a radio talk show host and that this is just kinda how they talk. But I just didn’t appreciate the tone of the book, that’s all.

At the end of the day, though, I think we can all agree that the current tax system leaves much to be desired, and I have to admire Boortz for trying to bring a potential solution to the nation’s consciousness and Rep. John Linder for sticking to his guns for ten years. It’s more than I’ve done, I’ll give them that.

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I’m Just Here for the Food: Mario’s Peruvian Seafood Restaurant

Oh, Lomo Saltado, I wish I knew how to quit you.

The dish I dream about for days after eating: Mario's Lomo Saltado.

The dish I dream about for days after eating: Mario's Lomo Saltado.

Guess you know what my favorite dish at Mario’s is.

I’ve been to their Melrose location and thoroughly enjoyed the food whilst simultaneously hating the parking. But as an addition to my mile-long list of free birthday meals, a bunch of old coworkers surprised me at Mario’s La Mirada location!

The parking is plentiful and the interior is as cheesy as some of the other reviewers have stated. But if you want a nice ambiance, go to a fancy restaurant and blow a hundred bucks. Me, I’m here for the food.

I, of course, got the Lomo Saltado. I’d really like to try some of their other menu items, but I just can’t stay away from that flavorful jumble of beef, onion, tomato, and delightfully crisp fries!

I usually taste my friends’ selections and comment on them, but, this time, I was simply lost in my Lomo Saltado.

Our waitress was excellent — she kept checking on us and refilling our water without being a nuisance. When she took our orders, she listed some of the more popular items and my friend ordered the #32. Later, the waitress came back to ask for clarification because the dish she described had all different kinds of seafood in it, but the #32 only has shrimp. My friend had indeed ordered the number that she wanted, but I was impressed by the waitress — she didn’t have to come back and check. She could just as easily have just brought out what my friend ordered and dealt with the fallout later.

I’m so glad that there’s a Mario’s closer to home.

Mario’s Peruvian Seafood Restaurant
15720 Imperial Hwy
La Mirada, CA 90638
(562) 902-8299

I’m Just Here for the Food: Daikokuya

After hearing all the hype, I just had to come and check out Daikokuya for myself.

Daikoku Ramen is, in a word, perfect.

Daikoku Ramen is, in a word, perfect.

The friend who recommended it to me told me that I had to get the combination, which comes with Daikoku Ramen and another dish from a list of options. I opted for the Pork Cutlet and my friend got the Tuna Sashimi Bowl.

The cutlet wasn’t the greatest – it was rather soggy with sauce, unlike the rice, which was hardly sauced at all.

The sashimi was decent – I mean, it’s sashimi – all you do is cut it, really. Once again, too much rice.

But the ramen – oh, the ramen.

Nuts to the combo – all I need is the ramen from now on! It’s perfectly cooked and the broth is perfectly seasoned and comes with a perfectly-done soft-boiled egg and some perfectly-tender pork belly. And the portion is perfectly ginormous.

In a word: perfect.

I’ll definitely be back for a huge bowl of ramen on a cold day.

Daikokuya
327 E 1st St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 626-1680
http://www.daikoku-ten.com

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