January 30, 2016

Elizabeth Lev: The unheard story of the Sistine Chapel (Video)

This TED talk hits all my sweet spots - a fun combination of art, history, travel and passion. Pour yourself a hot (or cold) beverage and enjoy.

The Sistine Chapel is one of the most iconic buildings on earth — but there's a lot you probably don't know about it. In this tour-de-force talk, art historian Elizabeth Lev guides us across the famous building's ceiling and Michelangelo's vital depiction of traditional stories, showing how the painter reached beyond the religious iconography of the time to chart new artistic waters. Five hundred years after the artist painted it, says Lev, the Sistine Chapel forces us to look around as if it were a mirror and ask, "Who am I, and what role do I play in this great theater of life?"

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

January 28, 2016

Cinemascope: A Little Chaos

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 2014.

Plot line: In 17th-century France, King Louis XIV's chief landscape architect (Matthias Schoenaerts) makes an unusual decision to hire a woman (Kate Winslet) to create a lavish garden at Versailles.

I'm a Kate Winslet fan, so will watch anything she does. This one has the late Alan Rickman, who also directs. I'll be the first to admit that this movie does not live up to its potential, but the setting is lovely, and I love the feminist themes in it. If you are in the mood for a slow period piece, give this one a try.

You can see the trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is a movie worth watching.

January 27, 2016

I Am NOT Black, You are NOT White. (Video)

Something we all know but so often forget.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

January 25, 2016

Recent Reads

171. The Song of Achilles
What you need to know about me before you read this review is that I am huge fan of Greek mythology and the Trojan Wars in particular. When there was a chance we would not be able to take a tour of Troy on a recent trip to Turkey, I was ready to declare war myself.

Now to this particular book. I'd read such rave reviews about this one that I was actually leery of picking it up. That so many people rated this book so highly makes me wonder if we read the same book.

This is the story of the Trojan War from Patroclus' point of view. He meets Achilles at a young age, and soon the boys become tightly bonded, and it is not a spoiler to say, then lovers. I liked how the author creatively filled in some of the gaps in the original story, but the writing is not good, the characters bland, and the story rather boring. How one makes the Trojan War boring is something that still stuns me. This read like a cross between a sappy romance and chick-lit novel, and while I liked how it started, the only reason I did not bail after about 50 pages was because I did enjoy visiting with Achilles, and all the other characters that I know so well.

So, while it won the Orange Prize and is loved by many, I am not the right audience for this book. There are many wonderful books written about the Trojan War, but this was unfortunately not one of them. Rating: 1 star.

172. Travels with Charley: In Search of America
I love travelogues. As Steinbeck says, no two people have the same journey, though our itinerary might be similar. We bring who we are to our travels.

I started this on a long road trip, which by the way is the perfect time to read about the author and his dog taking an American road trip, and the audiobook is well narrated by Ron McClarty.

The writing is direct without any flourishes, and I really loved how the memoir started. However it lost me somewhere about a third of the way through, and then it meandered in a manner that made no sense to me at all. While most pet owners can relate to the long conversations we have with our pets, we at no time share the content of these conversations with others. Steinbeck decides to let us in, and while there are some fun parts, it really sounds like the ramblings of someone who needs to get out more! This was first published in 1962, and the somewhat misogynist overtones did not sit well with me either.Thankfully, the last hour or so of the book gets back on track, but I do confess that the only reason I finished the book was because it was by Steinbeck.

I'd give this a 2.5 star rating, and will round up due to the wonderful opening sections of this story. Rating: 3 stars.

173. The Sketchbook Project World 
Blurb: Destined to go down as one of the era's most astonishing global art projects, the Brooklyn Art Library's Sketchbook Project has, in less than a decade, amassed more than thirty thousand sketchbooks submitted by people of all ages and artistic abilities from more than 130 countries.

Books like this just make me happy. This book is a curated set of pages from this project, and it makes me happy thinking about the wonderful ways people are creative all over the world. Yes, you could go online and look at the digitized pages, and I'd recommend that you do that, but sometimes you just want to hold a book in hand while you sip a beverage of you choice.

Not for everyone, but if you keep a sketchbook, or want to, check this one out and see if you don't get inspired to pull out your art supplies too. Rating: 4 stars.

174. The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking
Book Blurb: This gorgeous, fully illustrated handbook tells the story of sketchnotes--why and how you can use them to capture your thinking visually, remember key information more clearly, and share what you've captured with others.

There are things I liked about this book, and things I did not. I am a really good note taker (not bragging, this is just a fact), and I refer to my notes often. I am however not a visual note taker. I do not have sketches or diagrams in my notes. Arrows, and some key notations yes, but my pages do not look like a sketched flow chart.

This book highlights some of the various way to incorporate flows and sketches into your note taking, and if that works for you, or is something you'd like to try, this might be the perfect book for you. I found it too short and way too repetitive, though I did agree with the general premise, and liked the various example styles shown. Rating: 2 stars.

January 24, 2016

An Underwater Art Museum, Teeming with Life (Video)

So many things about these art installations make me happy.

For sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, the ocean is more than a muse — it's an exhibition space and museum. Taylor creates sculptures of human forms and mundane life on land and sinks them to the ocean floor, where they are subsumed by the sea and transformed from lifeless stone into vibrant habitats for corals, crustaceans and other creatures. The result: Enigmatic, haunting and colorful commentaries about our transient.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

January 21, 2016

Cinemascope: Mr. Holmes

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 2015.

Plot line: Long-retired and near the end of his life, Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) grapples with an unreliable memory and must rely on his housekeeper's son as he revisits the still-unsolved case that led to his retirement.

I so enjoyed this quiet movie about an aging Sherlock Holmes. If you are Sherlock fan, you might take issue with the time frame of the movie, but honestly, I didn't care on whit about that. I quite liked the notion of an older Sherlock, who is struggling with early stages of Alzheimer's, and how the various threads in the story come together. If you are fan of period pieces, give this one a try.

You can see the trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is a movie worth watching.

January 19, 2016

2015 December Daily Art Project (Video)

I had challenged myself to create art every day in the December, and I did it. As usual I love some pages in my journal better than others, but overall, am so pleased with the creative process and results. Below is a video of the completed pages and the supplies used. I'll be posting individual page photos with write ups in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for that.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

January 18, 2016

Recent Reads

167. Supreme: Blue Rose
This volume collects Issues #1-7.

I'll be the first to admit that most of the time I was reading this graphic novel I was clueless as to what was going on. There seemed to be stories within stories, and multiverses, but somehow I simply got lost, and could not find my bearings. Is that what the authors intended? So, not one I'd recommend, though I did find the art interesting. Rating: 2 stars.

168. The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition
Stephen King's novels are something of a tradition for me. I start and end each sailing season by listening to one of his novels, and they bookend my favorite seasons of the year. So, here we are at the end of the November, and I'm another King down.

I've heard about The Stand for ages, and have been saving it. What for? I sure as heck do not know, but clearly it was the right book right now. I decided to go with the audiobook of The Complete and Uncut Edition - might as get the full King effect right? The book is narrated by Grover Gardner, and he gets five stars for this one, which clocked in at just under fifty hours.

What's it about? A super flu wipes out most of the people in the United States, and probably the world. The survivors in the US are gathering into two large groups, and a show-down of sorts is in the cards.

I love how King writes. He is a natural yarn spinner, and he skillfully creates people and situations that grab a hold of you, and don't let go. I love how he weaves supernatural events into the natural world order so seamlessly, that he makes the hairs rise on the back of your neck. The ancient story of Good versus Evil gets the King treatment here.

You know what I did not love? The lack of developed women characters. Every single woman was somehow defined by how fuckable she was to the men around her. What about Mother Abigail you ask? Do not get me started on the "magical negro" trope. So, no interesting women characters, but as least there were women survivors. The same cannot be said for people of color. Sigh.

Clearly I had issues with this one, and it is particularly annoying because King has written wonderful women characters in novels like Dolores Claiborne and Misery. If you have yet to read those, do. Still, this has been a really fun ride, and I enjoyed every minute I was not annoyed with Mr. King, and that is why it gets as high a rating as it does.  Rating: 4 stars.

169. What We See When We Read
Book blurb: A gorgeously unique, fully illustrated exploration into the phenomenology of reading - how we visualize images from reading works of literature. What do we see when we read? Did Tolstoy really describe Anna Karenina? Did Melville ever really tell us what, exactly, Ishmael looked like?

This book clocks in at 425 pages, but don't let that scare you away, and is a must read for anyone who loves to read. It explores what happens in our brains when we read novels, especially as it relates to the characters on the page. How much does the author really tell us, and how is it that we feel like we know certain characters so intimately?

The book itself is chock-full of drawings, maps, diagrams, and images to help illustrate the point the text is making, and it can be read in a couple of sittings, though I took my time with it to let things really sink in.

This book made me really think about, and examine how it is that I create worlds and characters in my head, and I have no doubt that this is one that I'll read again once I've had time to marinate on this first reading. Rating: 4 stars.

Marvel 1602

Book Blurb: Neil Gaiman presents a unique vision of the Marvel Universe set four hundred years in the past. Classic Marvel icons such as the X-Men, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and Daredevil appear in this intriguing world of 17th-century science and sorcery, instantly familiar to readers, yest subtly different in this new time. Collects issues #1-8.

Holy Molly, but this is such a fun read. I love both historical fiction and graphic novels, and this combines them in such a creative way. Not only do we meet some of the superheros before they they arrived in the Americas, but the story is set in Elizabethan England, and the art is wonderful. 

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Neil Gaiman rocks the graphic novel genre. Rating: 4 stars.

January 16, 2016

Adele Carpool Karaoke (Video)

I did some really hard things this week, and this video made me smile. Just what I needed.

While home in London for the holidays, James Corden picks up his friend Adele for a drive around the city singing some of her classic songs before Adele raps Nicki Minaj's "Monster."

If the embedded video does not work, https://youtu.be/Nck6BZga7TQ.

January 14, 2016

Cinemascope: Mad Max: Fury Road

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 2015.

Plot line: Years after the collapse of civilization, the tyrannical Immortan Joe enslaves apocalypse survivors inside the desert fortress the Citadel. When the warrior Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) leads the despot's five wives in a daring escape, she forges an alliance with Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a loner and former captive. Fortified in the massive, armored truck the War Rig, they try to outrun the ruthless warlord and his henchmen in a deadly high-speed chase through the Wasteland.

Remember the Mad Max days of old? Well, this ain't them. The franchise has an updated Cirque du Soleil vibe and effects, and Charlize Theron is wonderful as the bad-ass Furiosa. This movie has great special effects, almost no dialog, and very little in terms of actual plot, but it is a visually fun (if violent) way to spend a couple of hours.

You can see the trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is a movie worth watching.

January 13, 2016

Chris Abani: On humanity (Video)

The power and value of a good storyteller is something we do not often appreciate. This talk moved me and made me cry. A heads up that while there is humor, there he also talks about tough things.

Chris Abani tells stories of people: People standing up to soldiers. People being compassionate. People being human and reclaiming their humanity. It's "ubuntu," he says: the only way for me to be human is for you to reflect my humanity back at me.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

January 11, 2016

Recent Reads

163. Crenshaw
Book blurb: Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There's no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.

"Imaginary friends are like books. We're created, we're enjoyed, we're dog-eared and creased, an then we're tucked away until we're needed again."

This is a sweet story about a tough topic, and the tone is just right for middle grade (8-12 year old) readers. The chapters are really short, and there is just the right mix of tough stuff and humor, however as an adult reader, I felt at more of a remove from the story.

I would recommend this as a way into exploring these themes with kids, and it would make a good read-aloud/discussion book. Rating: 3 stars.

164. Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova
The world is big.
Anna is small.
The snow is
and all around.
But one night . . .

See how wonderfully this picture book for kids starts? I love the idea of biographies that little kids can read, but this one had text that was too bland and boring, especially considering that it was a biography of the ballet star Anna Pavlova. The art however is wonderful and folksy and conveys a fairy tale mood that works well.

I'd rate the text 1 star, and the art 4 stars, so that's a 2.5 average, that I'll round down as I disliked the text so much. Rating: 2 stars.

165. Humans of New York: Stories
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” ― Plato

This book is collection of photos and text lifted from a very popular blog, and I had such fun dipping in over the course of several days. I was reminded of the Plato quote, and found myself falling in love with humanity all over again.

If you have yet to check it out, I would highly recommend the Humans of New York (HONY) blog or Instagram feed to get a daily fix. Rating: 4 stars.

166. An Unnecessary Woman
Book blurb: Aaliya Sohbi lives alone in her Beirut apartment, surrounded by stockpiles of books. Godless, fatherless, divorced, and childless, Aaliya is her family’s "unnecessary appendage.” Every year, she translates a new favorite book into Arabic, then stows it away.

I read this one for my book club, and I don't even think I can put into words how much I loved it. Yes, it is "a love letter to literature and its power to define who we are," and yes, it is a "breathtaking portrait of a reclusive woman’s late-life crisis," but honestly I struggle to explain myself.

There are sentences like this:

"The children grew up embarrassed, if not horrified by their mother. She was so desperate for each of them to have a better life that she raised them not to have a place for her in it. She shows up at all their events and gatherings, incredibly proud of them, and they ashamed of her."

The book is littered with sentences and observations that made me stop and take a breath, and then re-read, all the while shaking my head at how finely the author (a man) is tuned-in to a woman's inner life.

When I first started this one, I was dismayed by all the author name dropping; was this another intellectual showing off his muscles? But once I got past the first twenty or so pages, I realized that there is a purpose to the names dropped. I'll confess that I did feel at times that I was reading this book without taking a prerequisite class, and there are many references I simply did not get. Oh, but entire universes opened up with the ones I did.

A note on the reading medium: I read this one in print form. I had the audio, but found that I needed to pause and re-read, or simply shake my head in wonder too often for the audio to be effective.

I found a reader who complied a list of the authors and books mentioned, so my TBR pile has expanded exponentially, and I have little doubt that I'll be reading this one again at some future point.

This beautifully written novel is indeed an ode to literature and readers, and is quite a feminist novel to boot. The majority of my book club loved it too, and the fun and lively discussions this one sparked was worth of price of admission. Rating: 5 stars.

January 9, 2016

Robert Waldinger: What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness. (Video)

Something we all already know, and yet somehow forget again and again.

What keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life? If you think it's fame and money, you're not alone – but, according to psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, you're mistaken. As the director of a 75-year-old study on adult development, Waldinger has unprecedented access to data on true happiness and satisfaction. In this talk, he shares three important lessons learned from the study as well as some practical, old-as-the-hills wisdom on how to build a fulfilling, long life.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

January 7, 2016

Cinemascope: When Marnie Was There

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 2014.

Plot line: Sent from her foster home in the city one summer to a sleepy town by the sea in Hokkaido, Anna dreams her days away among the marshes. She believes she’s outside the invisible magic circle to which most people belong – and shuts herself off from everyone around her. Anna never expected to meet a friend like Marnie, who does not judge Anna for being just what she is. But no sooner has Anna learned the loveliness of friendship than she begins to wonder about her newfound friend.

I love Japanese animations, and I loved everything about this girl centered story. The art is wonderful, the story really good, and the main character Anna, is someone I will think about for a long time. This is the story of love, loss, friendship, and art, and would be a great one to watch with the little ones in your life as well.

You can see the trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is a movie worth watching.

January 4, 2016

Recent Reads

157. The Screaming Staircase
Book blurb: For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions.

I've read this author before, and am a huge fan of the Bartimaeus Trilogy, so decided to try some of his newer work. This one sounded promising and perfect for Halloween week, but I found it boring and after 60 pages decided to quit. This book is targeted for the middle grade/ high school reader, but unlike my beloved Bartimaeus, this one is missing that magical touch. Rating: 1 star(Did Not Finish).

158. Blacksad
Book blurb: Private investigator John Blacksad is up to his feline ears in mystery, digging into the backstories behind murders, child abductions, and nuclear secrets.

This graphic novel collects three stories, and if you are a fan of mystery/crime/noir stories, you'll really like this one too. The stories are multi-layered and complex, and I loved the art. It's not that these are anthropomorphic animals, it's that the authors use animal faces, bodies and expressions to wonderfully highlight the essence and individuality of humans. Also note, that in spite of all the animals, this is one for adults only. Rating: 4 stars.

159. Alex + Ada, Vol. 1
Book blurb: The last thing in the world Alex wanted was an X5, the latest in realistic androids. But after Ada is dropped into his life, he discovers she is more than just a robot. Collects issues #1-5.

I am conflicted about how I feel about this book. I liked the art, the futuristic setting, and the notion that humans are surrounded by robots of various skills and types. What annoyed me is that yet again, the most interesting ideas and concerns surrounding AI are wrapped up in a sex toy. Really guys? Is that really what people (read men) think about regarding bots - how they might have a sex slave who is not only programmed to obey every command, but is sexy with a barbie doll body?

This story has potential though, and I've got the next two books of the trilogy on my nightstand. Keeping fingers crossed. Rating: 3 stars.

160. Alex + Ada, Vol. 2
This volume collects issues #6-10.

As in the first volume, there are interesting themes that could be explored but are not. This almost reads like the sugary sweet romance novels I read as a teen, and I am not pleased with the way the story played out here. Bots that are cute and made of sugar and spice do not interest me, but based on the rave reviews this series gets, there are loads of people who love it. I've got the final volume in hand, but at this point do not have high hopes. Rating: 2 stars.

161. Chew, Vol. 2: International Flavor

This volume collects issues #6-10.

Okay, this volume settles it for me. I was hoping that the plot and characters would be better developed, but disappointingly they were not. There is not enough meat on the bones of what is a fabulous premise for me, so have bailed on the rest of this graphic novel series. I actually had the next four volumes in hand, and have returned them unread to my library. Don't you just hate when that happens? Rating: 2 stars.

162. Alex + Ada, Vol. 3 

Collects issues #11-15

This is the final book in this graphic novel trilogy, and unfortunately my low expectations were met. Old tropes are recycled with no new light or angle shed on them, and I simply did not care what happened. As for the end? Puhlease. Rating: 1 star.

January 1, 2016

2015: My year in books

'Twas a good year indeed. Bring on 2016.

You can see an overview of my reading year here.

Stay tuned for my best reads of 2015.