Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Reading list 2013

OK, so yes, I've been wildly neglectful of my blog over the last few months, but did you really think I'd let New Year's Eve pass without the traditional run-down of all the books I've read over the last 12 months? Of course I wouldn't. So buckle the hell-piece up because while I may not have blogged much in 2013, I sure as hell read a load of books: 50, to be specific, which I think ranks as the most I've ever read in the space of a year since I started keeping records. As usual, each title is graded, with A+ being a gold star, a pat on the head and a glowing report to the author's parents, and anything C or below ranking as a flaming turd being hurled at the author's front porch from a fast-moving vehicle. And of course there's links in case you approve of my fantastic taste in books and want to read some of them for yourself (I would lend you mine, but TIMMY DOESN'T LEND BOOKS).

Let's begin, yo?

01. John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood by Michael D. Sellers - Fascinating exploration of how Edgar Rice Burroughs' science fiction hero John Carter of Mars was brought to cinema screens 100 years after the first novel in the Barsoom was published, and how a mismanaged marketing effort and various studio blunders led to the film being branded one of Hollywood's biggest ever flops. A remarkable insight into the studio politics surrounding one of my favourite movies of recent years, although sadly the book is blighted by a large number of clumsy proofing errors scattered page after page that knocked me out of the narrative somewhat: B

02. The Final Solution by Michael Chabon (Kindle) - A short, breezy novella focusing on the efforts of an elderly retired detective (Sherlock Holmes, although never named as such) to track down a missing parrot who possesses knowledge that could turn the tide of the second World War. Enjoyable enough, although I felt as if the concept of an elderly Holmes could've been explored in far greater depth: B

03. The Broken Universe by Paul Melko - The sequel to The Walls of the Universe (which I read back at the beginning of 2011) finds universe-hopping John Rayburn recruiting legions of his own duplicates in an attempt to make a safe haven for refugees from various universes, only to attract the unwanted attention of a warlike multiverse-policing species. A fun story and an enjoyable read, though the sheer number of alternate versions of multiple characters sometimes got a bit confusing, and I found it lacking just a little when compared to its predecessor: B+

04. African Adventure by Willard Price (Kindle) - A Kindle omnibus edition bought because I wanted to reacquaint myself with one of my favourite childhood authors, this story sees Hal and Roger Hunt on safari in Africa where they find themselves capturing animals and facing the deadly Leopard Society. Some slightly antiquated phrases and plotlines aside (the Hunt boys are capturing animals for zoos and circuses!), this book reminded me just how enjoyable Price's writing remains: B+

05. Elephant Adventure by Willard Price (Kindle) - The real reason I bought this Kindle omnibus of Willard Price stories; as a child, Elephant Adventure was my favourite book in the series, and years later it remains a wildly enjoyable read; like African Adventure it appears somewhat dated - maybe even a little politically incorrect - in places, but such minor quibbles cannot detract from such a good story and great characters: B+

06. The Collected John Carter of Mars Vol. 1 by Edgar Rice Burroughs - The first three stories in the Barsoom series collected into one volume; I skipped A Princess of Mars as I read it last year, instead jumping straight into The Gods of Mars and its sequel The Warlord of Mars. Both stories are utterly brilliant pulp fiction in the grandest sense: A

07. The Average American Marriage by Chad Kultgen (Kindle) - An underwhelming sequel to The Average American Male, one of my favourite books of recent years. Moments of the inspired original shine through on occasion, but on the whole I found this a mostly unsatisfying and somewhat unnecessary follow-up: C

08. The Candle Man by Alex Scarrow (Kindle) - Fantastic Victorian-era set thriller that puts a fresh spin on the Jack the Ripper legend, bringing vibrant life to London of the 1880s and populating it with some fascinating characters. Scarrow's earlier novel, October Skies, was a brilliant read, and this gripping story just confirms him as one of the most entertaining writers around today: A

09. Burning Bright by Ron Rash (Kindle) - Great little collection of short stories which reminded me a little of Donald Ray Pollock's writing. Nothing really stood out as absolutely amazing, but I enjoyed all of the stories and would certainly check out some of the author's other work: B+

10. Star Trek Volume 3 - Third collected edition of stories set in the new Star Trek movie timeline, including new universe retellings of the original series episodes Return of the Archons and The Trouble with Tribbles. Like earlier volumes, these are entertaining enough stories, but I can't help but feel the new universe should be telling its own tales, not retreading familiar classics: B-

11. Star Trek Volume 4 - The fourth volume in the new universe series finally brings original stories to the alternate Star Trek timelines, and they're not half bad. Sadly, the second half of the book features a somewhat underwhelming retelling of Mirror, Mirror that draws heavily from Star Trek: Enterprise's In a Mirror Darkly, and is made worse by featuring some plain odd continuity errors (the wrong Enterprise design, blatant reuse of TNG-era display screens, etc) that just make it look like no one really cared about the story they were telling: B-

12. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower (Kindle) - A collection of short stories that I was drawn to by its comparison to the works of Donald Ray Pollock, one of my favourite authors. As it turns out, the comparison is a little odd, as these stories are nowhere near as gritty or as enthralling as Pollock's fiction; entertaining in their own right, but lacking that certain something that would make them truly unique: B-

13. The Collected John Carter of Mars Vol. 2 by Edgar Rice Burroughs - The second volume in the Barsoom series collects four novels: Thuvia, Maid of Mars, The Chessmen of Mars, The Master Mind of Mars, and A Fighting Man of Mars. With Carter himself making only brief appearances in these stories, I felt that they lacked a certain something when compared to the earlier Barsoom tales found in the first volume, but they nevertheless remain rousing adventure stories: A-

14. The Complete Peanuts 1977-1978 by Charles Schultz - Steadily catching up on Fantagraphics' ongoing chronological releases of Schultz's comic strip masterpiece; naturally, this is another wonderful addition to my collection: A

15. Star Trek: Devil's Bargain by Tony Daniel (Kindle) - After seeing Star Trek into Darkness I felt like reading a trashy Trek novel. This breezy read ticked all the boxes, was far more enjoyable than the dreadful last Star Trek novel I read, and was actually quite a good story with a real feel of the original series about it: B-

16. Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness by Mike Johnson, Art by David Messina - The comic book prequel to the movie Star Trek into Darkness finds Kirk and his crew involved in a violation of the Prime Directive on a distant planet, introduces a never-before-seen figure from Star Trek lore, and brings the Klingons into the new movie timeline. While asserting a number of themes that play out in the latest film (most notably the Prime Directive and the notion that war with the Klingons is inevitable), this prequel does little to expand upon the storyline of the latest Star Trek film, and as such lacks that certain quality that made Star Trek: Countdown a 'must-read' for fans of the last movie. Still, it's a fun read, and nice to see the new crew staring in an adventure of their own, rather than rehashed versions of the classic original episodes as seen in the Star Trek Ongoing comic books: B+

17. Star Trek into Darkness by Alan Dean Foster - After describing the author's adaptation of the previous Star Trek film as 'sadly lacking' back in 2009, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this novel of the 12th Star Trek movie proved to be a cracking read. Maybe not the best novelisation of a Star Trek film (I still rate J.M. Dillard's books higher), but a fun read that gently expands upon the storyline of Into Darkness, and fills in some little plot holes that you might be left wondering about after seeing the film: B+

18. Julio's Day by Gilbert Hernandez - A new graphic novel from one half of Los Bros Hernandez, charting the events of one man's life over the course of 100 years. Beautifully written and illustrated, with some incredibly heartfelt moments: B+

19. Marble Season by Gilbert Hernandez - A semi-autobiographical graphic novel from Beto which assembles a cast of children and looks back on times when collecting comic books and playing in the streets were the only cares in the world. Wonderful: B+

20. Star Trek: Destiny - The Complete Saga by David Mack (Kindle) - An epic book containing three novels (Gods of Night, Mere Mortals, and Lost Souls), which span thousands of years, multiple ships, crews, and characters, and tells not only the last Borg story, but also reveals the origins of the Collective. Destiny is a masterfully told story that leaves the Star Trek universe of the 24th century forever changed, but beyond that it proves that a Star Trek novel can be an engrossing, brilliantly written read: A

21. Star Trek: The John Byrne Collection by John Byrne - A beautiful hardback collection of legendary comic book creator Byrne's recent Star trek miniseries, from his Romulan saga to Assignment: Earth, Crew, and Leonard McCoy: Frontier Doctor. Wonderfully written and illustrated stories, but what's really remarkable about Byrne's Trek tales that wasn't necessarily apparent when they were first released as individual comics is how all the seemingly disparate series actually dovetail together. Thoroughly enjoyable, and among the best Star Trek comics I've read: A+

22. Invincible: The Ultimate Collection Vol. 8 by Robert Kirkman; art by Ryan Ottley - The latest volume of what I consider the best ongoing superhero comic book series in print today focuses less on the more character-driven elements that usually make Invincible so unique, and more on epic battles, and is not helped by the fact that the titular character is absent for much of this installment. Still more enjoyable than other superhero books, but perhaps not quite as good as previous volumes in this series: B

23. American Rust by Philipp Meyer (Kindle) - A quietly told novel that traces the fallout of one evening when two friends find themselves responsible for the death of a man, and how their lives take different paths in the days that follow. For the most part I found this a solid read, although not one that I found particularly memorable: B-

24. Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere by Poe Ballantine - The latest book by one of my favourite authors does not disappoint; by turns an honest glimpse into Ballantine's occasionally strained marriage, a touching look at the joys of raising his (possibly autistic) son, a witty insight into life in small-town America, and an attempt to bring closure to the horrifying unsolved death of a local maths professor. A remarkable read: A+

25. Maybe the Moon by Armistead Maupin (Kindle) - A beautifully written novel about Cadence Roth, a dwarf actress once famed for her role in a wildly successful film but now living her life in increasing obscurity while waiting for her return to the limelight. Touching and imbued with a gleeful streak of dark wit that reminded me of CD Payne's Youth in Revolt novels, I adored this book: A

26. A Thousand Suns by Alex Scarrow (Kindle) - The first novel by one of my favourite authors tells the story of Germany's last ditch attempt to win the Second World War by trying to drop an atomic bomb on New York. A Thousand Suns makes use of Scarrow's trademark storytelling technique which sees the narrative split across two time periods, and while not as accomplished as his later novels (October Skies and Candle Man) it remains a riveting and highly recommended read: A

27. The Complete Peanuts 1979-1980 by Charles Schultz - Another volume in Fantagraphics' ongoing Complete Peanuts project sees Charlie Brown and the gang still going strong as they enter their fourth decade of newspaper strips. By turns laugh out loud funny and heartbreakingly emotional, and nothing less than a joy to read: A

28. 11.22.63 by Stephen King (Kindle) - The story of a 21st century school teacher who travels back in time on a mission to prevent the assassination of JFK. Aside from meandering a little bit in the middle, the first King novel I've read was a riveting read that I rattled through at an astonishing pace for such a lengthy book: A

29. Star Trek Volume 5 - The fifth volume of stories set in the new movie universe is a collection focusing on the backstories of McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov. As these were originally published as individual comic books each story only has around 20 pages in which to be told, so they're ultimately entertaining if somewhat slight: B+

30. The Complete Peanuts 1981-1982 by Charles Schultz - More masterpieces from the mind of Charles Schultz; I particularly enjoyed the sequence where Snoopy's brother Marbles hilariously fails to understand his sibling's WWI Flying Ace fantasy. Obviously goes without saying: A

31. Star Trek: From History's Shadow by Dayton Ward (Kindle) - An intriguing concept that attempts to tie together individual moments from the various Star Trek episodes that depicted alien encounters in the 20th century. Despite this, I found From History's Shadow to be an ultimately unsatisfying read; the 20th century elements that formed the bulk of the story hung together too loosely to properly grip me, while the 23rd century parts featuring Captain Kirk and his crew felt tacked on and of little relevance to the overall story: C+

32. Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class by Bikram Choudhury - I decided to brush up on my yoga knowledge by finally reading this book that I bought at Teacher Training last year. Despite being written almost 40 years ago, the information contained within this book is easy to understand and remains relevant to this day. Not only that, but what made reading this a complete joy was the fact that Bikram's voice really shines through on each and every page, reviving memories of my nine weeks in LA with him. Educational, fascinating, and a joy from cover to cover: A+

33. Star Trek: Vanguard - Harbinger by David Mack (Kindle) - The first book in the Vanguard series took me pleasantly by surprise; a gritty, almost Battlestar Galactica-esque story set in The Original Series universe featuring some interesting new characters and and an intriguing premise. More importantly, Harbinger was brilliantly written and had me hooked from the outset and eager for more. A very unexpected: A+

34. Paul Joins the Scouts by Michel Rabagliati - For the latest in his series of semi-autobiographical graphic novels, Rabagliati returns to the younger days of his alter-ego Paul, detailing how he came to join the scouts at a time of civil unrest in Montreal in the early 1970s. Beautifully written and illustrated, Paul Joins the Scouts may lack the emotional punch of Rabagliati's previous book, The Song of Roland, but it maintains the high standard I've come to expect from his work: A+

35. Star Trek: Vanguard - Summon the Thunder by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore - Book two in the Vanguard series proved something of a disappointment after the compelling first instalment, and very much suffers from being a continuation of events from the first book while also introducing new plot lines that are left awaiting resolution in the books that follow. I was also felt that Vanguard's main characters who shone so brightly in Harbinger were sidelined a little here. By no means terrible, but lacking somewhat when compared to its predecessor: B-

36. The Collected John Carter of Mars Vol. 3 by Edgar Rice Burroughs - The third and final volume of Burroughs' classic science fiction stories is for the most part a wonderful read; three of the stories collected here - Swords of Mars, Synthetic Men of Mars and Llana of Gathol - mark a return to form for the Carter novels after the minor disappointment of some of the tales in the second volume. The fourth and final story - John Carter of Mars - is something of an oddity, however, beginning as a poorly written, somewhat childish story told in the third person, before its second part returns to the traditional first person perspective, and begins the tale of Carter's adventure on Jupiter - a story that was sadly left unfinished following ERB's death. A wonderful read, nonetheless: A

37. Star Trek: Vanguard - Reap the Whirlwind by David Mack - The third book in the Vanguard series delves deeper into the mysteries of the Taurus Reach and the story spun around the Vanguard starbase. Not quite up to the level of the first book, but more enjoyable than the second. Enjoyable stuff: B+

38. Star Trek: Vanguard - Open Secrets by Dayton Ward - Book four in the Vanguard series and another enjoyable read as Starbase 47's former commanding officer faces a court martial and war with the Klingons inches ever closer: B+

39. Love and Rockets: New Stories #6 by Los Bros Hernandez - As always, I loved this latest volume of stories by Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, although I did feel it wasn't quite as strong as some of the previous editions. But, y'know, it's still Los Bros Hernandez so… A-

40. Actor's Anonymous by James Franco - The second novel by the well-known actor is less a novel, more a collection of connected short stories, much like his first book, Palo Alto. While well-written and in parts entertaining, Actor's Anonymous felt like it was trying too hard to be clever, and in places felt more like a manifesto detailing Franco's thought's on acting and Hollywood than a narrative. Interesting but flawed: C

41. Star Trek: The Art of Juan Ortiz - Beautiful oversized hardback containing each stunning retro art print created by Ortiz for every episode of the original Star Trek series. Not much to read, but wonderful to look at: A

42. The Hive by Charles Burns - Continuing the story begun in Burns' previous book, X'ed Out, The Hive is both surreal, intriguing, and beautifully illustrated, yet suffers from the same criticism I levelled at its predecessor - as good as it is, the story remains unfinished by the end of this volume, and I can't help looking forward to the day when I can read the whole thing in one go without having to wait a year for the next installment: B-

43. The Children of Palomar by Gilbert Hernandez - Collected edition of the Ignatz Palomar stories that were published a few years back. Typical Beto, and all the better for it: B+

44. Star Trek Movies Omnibus - A collected edition of all the comic book adaptations of the classic Star Trek movies (I-VI). An enjoyable read full of faithfully told stories: B+

45. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples - Enjoyable graphic novel telling the tale of two alien beings from different sides of an interplanetary war who seek to escape the conflict with their newborn child: B+

46. Star Trek: Federation - The First 150 Years by David A. Goodman - A fictitious historical recollection of the first 150 years of Star Trek's United Federation of Planets, detailing everything from First Contact through to the end of the Kirk era. A riveting read that brings new life to Star Trek's future history, and adds intriguing details about previously unseen events such as the Romulan War: A

47. RASL by Jeff Smith - Beautiful oversized and full-colour hardback edition collecting the entire run of Smith's parallel universe spanning comic book tale. An engrossing, action-packed and intelligent story brought to life with incredibly detailed illustrations. Simply amazing: A+

48. The Complete Peanuts 1983-1984 by Charles Schultz - Another brilliant volume of this comic masterpiece: A

49. The Complete Peanuts 1985-1986 by Charles Schultz - Two more year's worth of Schultz's daily tales of Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang: A

50. Star Trek Volume 6: After Darkness - The first collected edition of comics set after Star Trek into Darkness puts a new spin on the classic original series episode Amok Time, and unlike many of the earlier retreads of old shows, it's a worthwhile and enjoyable tale. Good stuff: B+

And there you go. Pretty bloody comprehensive, I think you'll agree. Who knows if I'll read more than 50 books next year; part of me hopes not and that I'll manage to get a life instead, but we'll see. Whatever happens, though, Happy New Year!

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Your Best Ever Wedding Party

Hi, how are you? Yes I know, it's been a while hasn't it? Yes, I feel awful, I've been a bad blogger, but I've been busy, honest. Please don't say that, I feel bad enough as it is. Shhh. Please. Look, I know I've been a bad boy; just smack me on the bum and let's pretend the last seven months didn't happen, yes?

*ahem*

So yes, I've been a busy boy recently. Lots of yoga stuff, yes, but that's not what this is about. This is about some of the other stuff I've been getting up to.

Shortly after I was made redundant from all the Star Trek nonsense - I want to say last year, but I'm shocked to realise that it's actually two years ago - I found myself in a bit of a weird position (not *that* sort of position, you pervert); I was out of work but happy, embracing my newfound freedom but not quite sure how I was going to pay the mortgage (is it me or does that sound like an Alanis Morissette lyric?). As a result, and in an attempt to make my CV sound more interesting rather than just saying 'I've been playing around with starships for the last 12 years' I decided to hurl myself into some … let's say voluntary work. By that I don't mean I started serving homeless people soup, but rather that I wrote some music reviews, I wrote some film reviews and I started helping out selecting short stories for the brilliant Structo Magazine. One of my favourite bits of work, though, was designing flyers for a Toronto club night called Your Best Ever Wedding Party.

I remember exactly how I got this job: I'd come out of a Thursday night yoga class and was strolling back to my car while checking Twitter when I saw a tweet from former XFM DJ Marsha, who I'd gotten to know over the course of several years by constantly harassing her via email when she was on the radio and I was bored at work (she was also responsible for getting me on Twitter, telling me one evening that I would 'love it and be great at it,' so you've only got her to blame). On this occasion, Marsha was appealing for someone with photoshop skills who could put together a flyer for a new club night she was going to put on in Toronto, where she'd recently moved, based around the sort of music you'd step up and throw it down to at a wedding reception.

Being a bit of a dab hand at photoshop (if I do say so myself) and with nothing planned for the rest of the evening save for microwaving a sad jacket potato, I raised my hand and volunteered my services. The idea was to base the flyer around one of those awful Russian wedding photos - y'know the sort, where the bride has massive wings or the groom is tiny - and then make it a little bit more kitschy and ridiculous and over the top. After a couple of attempts we hit on something that we both though worked and flyer one was done.

To be honest I had no real idea that I'd do anything beyond that one flyer, but a month later Marsha came back to me with another awful Russian wedding photo and asked me to slap another one together in a similar vein to the first. And month and month she kept coming back wanting more and more and more. When I went to LA for teacher training I planned ahead and put together three flyers to cover my absence.

So why have I broken seven months of blogging silence and decided to talk about this now? Because like me Marsha's a busy person, and with lots of other exciting things going on in her life (checkout her website to find out exactly what) she has decided after two years to hold the final Your Best Ever Wedding Party next Saturday, September 14th, and I thought it would be fun to look back at the flyers because, y'know, I'm actually quite ridiculously proud of them.

So here they are, in chronological order: nearly two year's worth of flyers for Your Best Ever Wedding Party.

(serious stuff: while they might not look it, these things were heavily photoshopped; all the backgrounds were completely made from scratch using various different images I found online, with the brides and grooms all delicately cut out and popped on top. Suffice to say, the file sizes started getting ridiculously large as time and my ambitions went by, and I'm pretty sure I started rivalling JJ Abrams on the lens flare count)

In hindsight, flyer number one lacks the ambition of subsequent efforts, but it set the template for what was to come

I honestly don't know what possessed me to put a coach in the background

I defy you to look at this and not start thinking about wanting a Ferraro Rocher

If I was doing this one over again I'd apply a bit of a blue filter to the bride and groom as they look more cut-out and stuck-on then is probably healthy

This was an attempt to get out of the blue sky and clouds background that had dominated the previous flyers and pretty much marks the point where I started pushing the boundaries of what I wanted to do with these. Can't remember where I found the picture of the building, but I bet their electricity bill is horrific

One word: MONOBROW

Up, up, and away!

There were so many things going on in this one. The foreground, lake, mountain and sky are all separate elements, so it was a bit like putting a jigsaw puzzle together, but I think it came out OK in the end

I like this one as there's so much going on visually with all the people, although if I was being picky I'd say the colours could've had a bit more oomph

I like this one for the fact that I managed to squeeze the Toronto skyline in, something I thought Torontonians would appreciate. The menacing winged groom swooping over their city clutching a shrieking bride they'd probably appreciate less so

A nice simple one. This was originally put together for the August event, but pushed to September when August was cancelled (the event, not the month)

There's a lot of colour here, which is nice. And she looks so happy to be flicking off her new husband

I really like this one. The muted blues work well, and I adore the gleeful expression on her face as she's about to smack seven shades of shit out of her tiny hubby

Quite possibly my favourite flyer. I went properly overboard on the Christmassy vibe after the previous year's more restrained affair, and to be honest I think I could've gone even further

Whatever came after the Christmas one was bound to be a little step back, and in hindsight I really don't like the background image I used here. It's a bit too mundane and not 'wedding-y' enough. She's got a right proper face on too, the miserable cow

Nice colours here. Another attempt to step out of the blue background box

Probably my favourite 'regular' flyer. The bride and groom look great - her smile in particular really lights up the image - and I was really pleased with how the background came out. I wanted more doves but simply ran out of space

I'd started playing around with darkened vignette edges in some of the earlier flyers, but I think the effect really helped this one; without it, it looked a bit too ordinary 

The final event has two flyers. I immediately knew that I wanted a sunset background for this one as a metaphor for the sun setting on Your Best Ever Wedding Party (yeah, I'm well deep like that), but Marsha pointed out that the colours looked a bit off. I liked the background though, so simply applied a blue filter which I think work well

Whenever Marsha sent me the pictures of the Russian couples to use for a flyer she'd give it a short descriptive name, like 'Tiny Bride' or 'Glasses.' For this one, she simply and hilariously called it 'Bangers.' Just as I'd known straight away that I wanted 'Glasses' to show a sunset, I knew that 'Bangers' just lent itself to a Superman-style 'flying through the clouds' kind of image. In addition to this version, I also did one covering up the boobies - but wheres the fun in that?

Friday, January 25, 2013

The penis towel story

My penchant for a novelty towel to use while practicing yoga is well documented, with my favourite, and very first, being my legendary Star Trek towel. I mean, who wouldn't want to do full locust face-down in William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy? Exactly.

Well not anymore, because it has been RUINED.

I was practicing on Tuesday night, y'see, when Bikram Yoga Surbiton co-owner and all-round ace teacher Mandy glanced down and sniggered like a naughty schoolgirl. I glanced up and did a serious WTF?! face, at which point she pointed down to my towel and whispered the following five words:

"It looks like a penis."

Now let's bear in mind that I've been using this towel for the best part of three years in class, and this was said in a room full of a load of other students.

Outrageous! I thought, before glancing down at my towel to where she had pointed and conceding that, yes, maybe that artfully placed outline of the Enterprise's port warp nacelle did indeed look a bit like a penis.

DISTURBING.

To make matters worse, Mandy refused to let it go, continuously sniggering away on the podium and pointing to my towel during savasana (particularly the one where I lay looking to the right with my mouth to the, er, nacelle), leading to me folding over the corner of the towel with the offending engine component emblazoned across it in an attempt to dissuade her from making further upsetting comments. This only added fuel to the fire, however, and like the true professional she is she then proceeded to draw a comedy penis on her printout listing the names of all the students in the room before flashing it in my face.

As a result I started giggling, which of course disrupted the class a bit leading to Mandy having to explain to everyone what exactly we were laughing at.

And then when class finished I left the room, wrapped my towel around my waist, and like the classy fellow I am posed for this in no way suggestive photograph:

Behold my penis towel in all its masculine glory!
To top off the whole unsavoury episode, I was teaching a class this morning and happened to notice that one of my lovely students was practicing with her towel turned face-down. "Ooo, what's on your towel?" I enquired, innocently. She glanced back at me and without missing a beat replied "it's a map of Malta. We can't all have a penis on our towels, Tim."

Monday, December 31, 2012

Reading list 2012

New Year's Eve! That day of the year noticeable solely for the fact that tradition dictates I don my tweed jacket with the leather elbow patches (which, worryingly over the course of the last few years seem to have come back into fashion) and studiously run through all the books I've read over the course of the last 12 months. In all the years I've been doing this, 2012 marks the year where I read the fewest books - just 26 - but with good reason! I spent a significant portion of the first half of the year reading the Bikram Yoga dialogue both before going on training and while I was in LA. As such, it wasn't until I got back to the UK at the end of June that I really got to throw myself into the mass of books I'd built up on my bedside table. If I was counting the dialogue, I'm pretty sure 2012's tally would number in the thousands, because lord knows I read that thing cover to cover and back to front more times than I can remember.

As usual, I'm grading each book like a college professor would grade his students (A+ EXCELLENT, C or below, AVOID), and providing links to each title which will take you through to an appropriate online store where you can buy your own copy to cherish, clutch adoringly, or lick.

Anyway, let's crack on, yes?

01. The Devil all the Time by Donald Ray Pollock - Stunningly brutal novel that traces the entwined lives of a number of different characters over the course of several years. Pollock's short story collection Knockemstiff remains one of my favourite books; this debut novel confirms my belief that he is a masterful storyteller: A+
02. Pronto by Elmore Leonard - The first Leonard novel to feature Raylan Givens (the focus of the brilliant TV show Justified) sees the U.S. marshall trying to protect a Miami bookmaker who flees to Italy after being targeted by a mob boss. The character of Raylan really shines through in this book, but when he wasn't present I felt something was lacking and actually found this a little bit disappointing: B-
03. The Very Best of Dick Tracy: Bullets, Battles and Bad Guys by Chester Gould - A lovely collection of classic Tracy strips that makes you realise just how groundbreaking and brutal Gould's work was. The book serves as more of an introduction to the strip rather than a genuine best of collection, but it worked in that it left me wanting to read more: A
04. Power Pack Classic Volume 2 by Louise Simonson - The second volume of one of my favourite eighties comic books finds the Power Pack kids continuing to get to grips with their abilities, and includes the beginning of the story arc I have fond memories of as a kid: B+
05. The Complete Peanuts 1975-1976 by Charles Schulz - The first volume of this series that I've read for two years, and every bit as wonderful as I remember. Beautiful art and longer ongoing storylines really draw you into Schulz's classic, life-affirming comic strip: A+
06. Star Trek Volume 1 - Collected edition of the new Star Trek comic that retells episodes of the classic original series in the new JJ Abrams Star Trek movie universe, in this instance 'Where No Man Has Gone Before' and 'The Galileo Seven.' An enjoyable read, but if I'm honest these two tales don't differ significantly enough from the original episodes to make them an essential read - an indication perhaps of just how good those 1960s stories were: B+
07. Driven by James Sallis - gritty sequel to Sallis' novel Drive (the basis for the Ryan Gosling film of the same name) which picks up Driver's story seven years later when his attempt to fade into anonymity is cruelly ripped away from him with with the brutal murder of his girlfriend. It's a quick read - just 147 pages - but a worthy follow up for fans of the earlier book: B+
08. Son of Youth in Revolt by C.D. Payne - Book VII in Payne's ongoing Youth in Revolt saga sees the spotlight fall on Nick Twisp's 15 year-old son, Scott. The protagonist may have changed but the formula - the lust-fuelled adventures of a journal-writing teen - remains the same. However, while it was an amusing read, I felt this latest instalment in the series lacked the deft comic touch that made earlier volumes so memorable: B+
09. John Carter: Movie Novelization/John Carter of Mars - A Princess of Mars by Stuart Moore/Edgar Rice Burroughs - A nice hefty volume containing the novelization of the 2012 John Carter film and ERB's original 1911 story. The novelization is a perfectly good adaptation of the movie, while A Princess of Mars is a wonderful pulpy action adventure story: A
10. Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim - The story of two young men who shared a harrowing experience as children, leading one to believe he had been abducted by aliens, and the other to enter into a life of dangerous sexual encounters: B+
11. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach - Thoroughly enjoyable story of a young man playing college baseball and the lives of those around him. A solid story, well-written characters and a wonderful end, but I must admit I did get a little lost in the parts that were baseball-heavy. Still, worth a read: A-
12. The Adventures of Venus by Gilbert Hernandez - A slight, quickly read collection of all-ages stories focusing on Beto's Venus character. Not his best work, but charming nonetheless: B
13. Love and Rockets: New Stories #5 by Los Bros Hernandez - The latest L&R annual sees Beto's return to the fictional town of Palomar, and a new Vivian 'Frog-mouth'-centric story from Jaime. This issue was lacking in Maggie action after Jaime's stellar tales in the previous two volumes, but nevertheless remains a brilliant read: A-
14. The Song of Roland by Michel Rabagliati - The latest entry in Rabagliati's ongoing series of semi-autobiographical Paul graphic novels documents the latest developments in the character's life (moving his family to the suburbs) and the heart-wrenching final months of his father-in-law's life. Wonderful: A+
15. God and Science: Return of the Ti-Girls by Jaime Hernandez - Fantastically enjoyable superhero romp filled with the same depth of character and charm as the author's more familiar Locas stories: A
16. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson - An engrossing and insightful, often painfully honest, biography of the founder of Apple. Jobs' had an incredible life and Isaacson has written a fascinating glimpse into his world that does not shy away from revealing every aspect of his complex personality. Well worth a read: A+
17. Riding the Rap by Elmore Leonard - The sequel to Leonard's earlier novel, Pronto, finds U.S. marshall Raylan Givens searching for bookmaker Harry Arno, who's become the unwitting hostage of Palm Beach playboy Chip Ganz. A far more enjoyable and breezy read than Pronto, with some great dialogue, although I found the plot somewhat slight: B
18. Raylan by Elmore Leonard - Leonard's latest novel returns to the character of Raylan Givens following the success of the TV series Justified. While I enjoyed it for the most part, the book seemed to follow a number of plotlines that have already been covered by the show, making this feel more like a lightly padded novelization than an original work: B
19. Star Trek Volume 2 - The second collected edition of comic book stories set in the new movie universe tackles a retelling of the classic episode 'Operation: Annihilate!' and an original work entitled Vulcan's Vengeance. The retelling is a by-the-numbers revision of my favourite Star Trek episode, and suffers by failing to bring anything new to the table save for a little conflict between Kirk and his brother; Vulcan's Vengeance, meanwhile, at least expands upon the storylines and general universe brought into being by the 2009 movie. Two volumes in and as readable as it is, I'm still not entirely sure what the point of this series is: B
20. Batman: Death by Design by Chip Kidd; art by Dave Taylor - Beautifully illustrated, wonderfully written graphic novel that finds Batman investigating a series of architectural disasters in Gotham City. By far the best Batman story I've read in a long time: A
21. The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire - Haunting graphic novel about a young man trying to reconcile the loss of his father 20 years earlier as he faces the imminent arrival of his own son: A
22. I Just Want My Pants Back by David J. Rosen - Enjoyable story about a young guy coming to terms with what it means to be a responsible adult in the wake of losing his favourite trousers after a one-night stand: B+
23. Star Trek: That Which Divides by Dayton Ward - My first Kindle read was a decidedly average Star Trek novel. Maybe it's just me, because this has glowing reviews on Amazon, but I felt the story was overly long and lacking in excitement, there was too much explanation of technology and dry descriptions of locations, and the characters felt like pale imitations of the vibrant originals I'm used to from the TV show. Also, very odd, absolutely pointless hint of romance between Chekov and M'ress from the animated series. Meh: C+
24. Power Pack Classic Volume 3 by Louise Simonson - The third collection of Power Pack comics from the eighties contains the storyline that first got me into this series all those years ago. A fun, nostalgic read: B+
25. Superman: Kryptonite by Darwyn Cooke; art by Tim Sale - Enjoyable graphic novel recounting Superman's first encounter with the one element that can kill him: B+
26. Invincible: The Ultimate Collection Vol. 7 by Robert Kirkman; art by Ryan Ottley - Another fine collected edition of the most enjoyable superhero comic out there. If you want to see alien heads being ripped off left, right and centre in glorious fashion amidst an intergalactic war, this is the book for you: A

There you go then: some awesome books, some not so awesome books, and some decidedly average books. And as is usual for me, I've already got a load sitting on my bedside table just waiting to bung up the first few months of next year's list. 2013 is definitely going to see me getting some more Kindle action too; I can't wait to read some more stuff on my little glowing friend, and with a bit of luck they'll be better than the book I chose to pop my Kindle cherry with.

Happy New Year you cheeky little buggers.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012: The year in reviews (sorta)

OK, so it's here at this time of the year that I traditionally write about what books, films, TV shows and music I have enjoyed over the course of the last 12 months. But I'll be honest, 2012 has been a bit of a weird old year for me, specifically because I spent 10 weeks in LA but also because the months since I've been back have been some sort of weird old whirlwind; I genuinely don't feel like it's the end of the year even though I just had a lovely Christmas. More to the point, because the latter half of this year has been a bit odd, I really haven't had the time to catch that many movies or watch that much TV.

That being the case, I'm going to break with tradition and just kind of list the meagre offerings of things I liked rather than doing a top three countdown. That OK with you? Tough if it's not. BOOM!

Books!
I started the year with The Devil all the Time, a new novel by Donald Ray Pollock, which I loved, then followed it up with such great books as Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars, some new Love and Rockets, and Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, which is an insightful glimpse into the life of a remarkable man. Perhaps my favourite read of the year, however, was Michel Rabagliati's The Song of Roland, the latest instalment in his series of semi-autobiographical graphic novels featuring the character Paul; it's a heart-wrenching, beautifully written and illustrated book that's deserving of your time.

Along the way were some disappointments: I read three Elmore Leonard novels, none of which really grabbed me, and the latest in C.D. Payne's Youth in Revolt series was a bit of a let-down after the hilarity of earlier volumes.

Movies!
I know lots of other people hated it, but by far my favourite movie of the year was John Carter; it was, I thought, a wonderfully realised, slightly old-fashioned action adventure film that truly sold me on Edgar Rice Burrough's vision of Mars (or Barsoom, I should say). Well worth a look, in my opinion. Elsewhere, I liked Prometheus, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Dredd 3D, and The Dark Knight Rises, even if I did think it was overly long and lacking the coherent feel and strong antagonist of its predecessor. Oh, and Battleship. Everyone hated that but I thought it was immensely enjoyable.

Movies I didn't like? Not many, really - or at the very least not many I can remember. I seem to recall thinking The Avengers wasn't as great as everyone else thought it was, purely because I felt the first hour spent getting the team together was just a bit slow. Once the action got going it was good fun.

TV Shows!
OK, I've barely watched any television this year. I saw a few episodes of Archer's third season, which was great, and only half a dozen of One Tree Hill's final year. I started watching Friday Night Lights because everyone raves about it but found it a bit boring. Maybe it's just a bit too football heavy for me? Most recently I watched the first season of the original Twilight Zone which is fantastic, and I've got One Tree Hill Season Nine and Supernatural Season Seven to watch, so maybe they'll figure in my year in reviews next year?

I did watch the first season of I Just Want My Pants Back, based on the book of the same name by David J. Rosen, which I found to be a great little show - rather like a slightly more gritty, saucy, and more realistic version of Friends with a nice line in humour and some fun characters. Sadly it was axed in May after just 12 episodes, but don't let that stop you from giving it a whirl.

Music!
Saw Panic! At the Disco in concert in February who were as awesome as ever, as were Matchbox Twenty at Shepherds Bush Empire (their new album, North, is worthy of a mention too; bit different from their past records, but really good once I'd listened to it a few times) and Willy Mason who I saw at the Scala. Album-wise? I enjoyed the soundtrack to the Dredd 3D movie - really nice and grungy industrial sound - and there were fantastic expanded editions of the soundtracks to a few of the Star Trek movies. The Rolling Stones - who I didn't get to see live because the ticket prices were EXORBITANT - released a brilliant new song called Doom and Gloom, and Sufjan Stevens made my Christmas by releasing a new festive boxset mixing traditional songs with some utterly brilliant new tracks (the haunting Christmas in the Room and 12 minute long Christmas Unicorn among the most notable).

Other stuff!
Bikram Yoga Teacher Training in LA - perhaps the best thing I've ever done with my life. Wonderful city, wonderful people, and it all led to a wonderful new career at Bikram Yoga Chiswick and Bikram Yoga Surbiton upon my return. I genuinely don't think I've ever been happier, and it's ridiculous that I get to call what I do work; no one should be able to have this much fun and get to call it a job.

Elsewhere: Kindle Paperwhite: love it.

Same time next year? I promise to be more comprehensive then.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Mix CD 2012

I don't know what the hell happened, but two seconds ago it was September and now - BOOM! - here I am putting this year's mix CD together.

Unlike last year where I was really rather organised, this year's was slapped together last minute. But before you accuse me of just popping any old shit on a shiny plastic disc, let me tell you this: most of the leg work was actually done for me. How?! Well, before I strutted off to LA to do my Bikram Yoga Teacher Training in April, Big Bro gave me a playlist of LA-themed songs that he thought would work as a lovely soundtrack to my West Coast experience. And by jove he was right.

So basically this year's mix CD is an ode to my time in LA, my newfound love of California, and the incredible people I met on training. It's a combination of songs chosen by my bro for me, and a few that came to mean a lot to me while on training (though not, you may be relieved to know, Barry Manilow's Copacobana, which I couldn't get out of my head while we did posture clinics in the hotel's cabanas).

And so without further ado…

01. The Keeper by Chris Cornell
Big Bro has been banging on at me for years to try to get me to listen to Chris Cornell and this lovely acoustic song, which he put on my Going to California playlist, is the one that finally sold me. It's a really lovely, gentle tune, and the first song I listened to upon setting foot on U.S. soil - which was rather fitting as the opening words are "I come from far away, my boots don't know this ground, but they know it's real…" I listened to it a lot while in LA, and I never once tired of it.



02. Going to California by Led Zeppelin
I've always been able to take or leave Led Zep, not quite understanding why everyone raves so much about them, but this song, like The Keeper, just kind of encapsulated how it felt to uproot myself from West London and travel halfway around the world to spend a few months on the West Coast of America. It's got a lovely sunny, understated acoustic vibe about it - very laid back and honest, much like how California felt to me. A couple of lines in this track really stood out for me - "took my chances on a big jet plane" kind of tied in nicely with my need to conquer my fear of flying, and "I wondered how tomorrow could ever follow today" perfectly matched my mood after some of the very best days of my life were spent in LA.



03. Ain't Wastin' Time No More by The Allman Brothers Band
The first time I heard this song the opening piano reminded me of something from an old Peanuts cartoon. But seconds later it explodes into one of the gentlest, most laid-back rock classic rock songs you could ever hope to hear. I remember one day walking down to Westchester Village near the hotel where we did training and this song started playing on my iPhone. I got a little strut going on as I walked down the sunny sidewalk, pondering the lyrics "time goes by like a hurricane" and thinking how right the song was - how we should enjoy what time we have here as best we can.



04. Take it Easy by The Eagles
Nothing says sunny Californian vibes like The Eagles, right? Right. Love this song, and it took on added meaning one evening when Bikram himself said to us "you guys, you've been working hard. Take it eaaaaaasy."



05. Tumbling Dice by The Rolling Stones
I've loved this song for years - it's one of my favourite Stones songs, in fact - and it was a great choice by Big Bro to put on my Going to California playlist. I've got a load of different versions of Tumbling Dice, but the one I'm going with here is off the Rarities: 1971-2003 album. It's an off-cut from the Stones' Stripped acoustic album and how they decided to leave it off I don't know. I love how it starts out all ramshackle-like before exploding into life. And as a bonus, it reminds me off the night I spent on training teaching lovely Aussie trainee Dayna how to dance like Mick Jagger.



06. Say Shava Shava from the soundtrack to the film Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham
We were made to watch quite a few Bollywood movies while on training. Some were really great fun, some were … not so much. Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham was one of my favourites - it's actually a really entertaining and very funny film. This song - which I genuinely ADORE - became part of the unofficial soundtrack to the whole training experience, and we even took to doing the dance, complete with shoulder wobbles, hip-bobbing and full-on arm movements just like in the video below. We actually got pretty good at it. Long story short: you can't beat a movie with an epic dance sequence slap-bang in the middle of it.



07. You've Got the Love by Florence and the Machine
I've never been a big fan of Florence and the Machine, but that changed during training thanks to a lovely lady called Mari. Around the time we were all really struggling with the gruelling schedule, the late nights and early starts, and all manner of injuries and illness, Mari said something along the lines of "if you're feeling like shit just listen to this song and know there's always someone there to help." She was right, and every time I hear this track now I can't help but think of her and my fellow trainees and remember how we really were all there for one another.



08. A Billion Grains of Sand by The Californian
How could I compile a CD in homage to my time in California and not include a song by one of my favourite bands, The Californian? Simple answer: I couldn't. This track is by far my favourite song off the band's self-titled debut album. It's a short, spunky blast of perfection infused with that inimitable West Coast feel, and I listened to it A LOT while exploring the small part of LA that I came to call home for 10 weeks. My one disappointment about my time in Los Angeles was that I never got to see the band play live; hopefully I'll rectify that some time in the future.



09. California Waiting by Kings of Leon
I kind of went through a phase of loving Kings of Leon a few years back, then got bored of them and have basically ignored them ever since. This song, however, is just brilliant. It's another one of those tracks that I loved to listen to while wandering around LA, soaking in the atmosphere and getting horrifically sunburnt. I adore the simplicity of the lyric "every little thing is going to be just right," which was another of those little things that helped get me through some of the more difficult times at training, and it also helps that it's a song you can dance around to like a loon.



10. We Are Young by Fun.
Another song that became part of our training soundtrack, and I can remember exactly at what point. It was actually after training had finished and a few of us who'd stayed back in LA were in a car driving back from Manhattan Beach to the hotel when this came on the radio. We didn't know who it was but we all sang along to it, because after everything we'd been through, as the song said, we felt young, like we could burn brighter than the sun. Simple as that. As soon as I got back to my room I googled the lyrics, found out it was by Fun. and moments later had downloaded it.



11. Love Is life - Pyar Karo by Bikram Choudhury
Yeah, no kidding - this is a song by the guy who created the yoga I trawled over to LA to learn how to teach. Actually Bikram's got a couple of albums, and at the end each of his classes as we lay on our mats in savasana he would have one of his songs played out to us. Most were ballads, but this one, which I suspect he had kept back for the explosion of utter joy he knew we'd experience at the end of our very last class with him on the final Friday evening, is some sort of utterly phenomenal rave track. I remember like it was yesterday how this song started playing at the end of that class, and how we all jumped up and started dancing around the Radisson's ballroom/yoga room with a combination of relief, excitement and joy that we'd survived 'killing ourselves for nine weeks in Bikram's torture chamber.' This, perhaps more than anything else I've included on this CD, reminds me most of that remarkable time I spent in LA.

Sadly I can't find a link to it anywhere. But trust me, while it may not mean as much to you as it does to me, you NEED to hear this song at least one time.

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So there we go: another year, another mix CD. Thanks to Big Bro for his unwitting help in compiling this one; there were so many songs that he included on the playlist he made for me that I came to associate with specific moments from my time in California that it would've been impossible to include them all - he did a grand job. And big love to everyone I met at training who had a special song that meant something to them - HI GUYS! I miss you all each and every day.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How I learnt to love ebooks

Against everything I stand for, an incredible thing happened last week: I got a Kindle.

If you know anything about me one thing you'll know for sure is that I'm passionate about books - the way they look, the way they feel, and the way they smell; you can't beat the smell of a good book. Let's not beat around the bush - I'm basically a book pervert. I love them as objects; I love that every shelf in my house is heaving under the weight of gorgeous books.

But I also get the ebook thing. For a long time right up until I left my old company I was constantly banging on about digitising our old books and releasing them as ebooks. I released my own book as a digital version first, a good few months before the print one burst into life (while we're on the subject, here's some shameless whoring: whichever version shivers yer timbers YOU SHOULD TOTALLY BUY IT!). Anyway, I totally got that people wanted the convenience of having a small device that could hold loads of books rather than actually have loads of books. I just didn't necessarily want one myself.

I was basically the beardy dude who still buys vinyl while all the kids are downloading mp3s.

And it wasn't helped by the fact that early Kindles were pretty clunky looking things that looked like they'd fallen off the wall of a bad 1970s sci-fi film. They lacked the simple elegance of, say, my beloved iPad. I've dabbled in ebooks before, of course. I've read two on my iPad.

The danger here, though, is that I'm really easily distracted. With the iPad it's too easy for me to stop reading and start checking my email. And twitter. And Facebook. And, ooo, I'll just have a quick go on Angry Birds.

It took me weeks to read my first ebook, which is shocking because it was Winnie the Pooh and let's face it, that thing's hardly War and Peace in length.

So reading on my iPad was a BAD IDEA and Kindles were ugly. Hooray for real books!

But then all of a sudden kindles became quite nice looking things (dare I say a little bit sexy) and I kind of went 'ooo,' with a little high-pitched upturn at the end. The real turning point came when they announced the Kindle Paperwhite back in October - a touchscreen ereader with a lovely backlight so you can read it in the dark and I came to the realisation that I really quite liked the idea of being snuggled down in bed reading in the dark.

Another factor was that every now and then I like to read a really shitty Star Trek novel. I'm not a massive fan of Star Trek novels these days - I think they're pretty badly written stories by numbers - but who doesn't enjoy a crappy easy to read book once in a while? I reasoned that if I got a kindle I could hide my Trekkie shame away on a digital bookshelf rather than display it for all to see on my already straining real one.

And so I ordered a Kindle Paperwhite 3G.

It turned up last week and against all my ingrained expectations I love it, quite possibly a little too much. It's so refreshingly honest in the fact that it is only an ereader and does not try to be an all singing all dancing device like an iPad. It's light, a brilliant, compact size (I can hold it in one hand while holding a cup of tea in the other), and it's even got a bit of a grain on the screen to make it feel more like paper.

My first purchase was a shitty Star Trek novel, which is living up to expectations by being a bit shitty, but a remarkable thing is happening: the kindle genuinely seems to have reawakened my passion for reading. I'm pretty sure if I was reading the physical copy of the Trek book I would currently be stalled somewhere around page 50; with the Kindles I'm just excited about reading and am over halfway through at the time of writing. And I'm already thinking about what I want to read on it next.

Remarkably, I've also come to the realisation that it's not just shitty Star Trek novels I want to read on it, either. I can genuinely see myself buying a significant proportion of my books on it. Definitely not graphic novels or beautifully designed and packaged books that just demand to be bought as a physical item, but definitely most of the average paperbacks I would otherwise buy.

What's even more exciting is that a lot of old, out of print books are available on Kindle too. Yes, I can finally finish reading William Shatner's Tekwar series. You don't know how exciting I find that prospect.

Basically, I'm sold.

Now, we just need Glade to produce an old book smell plugin air freshener and the future will well and truly have arrived.