Saturday, August 29, 2015

The 306 Greatest Books #130 - The Grapes of Wrath

The next up on my reading of the 306 greatest books is The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. This book can be found on the Sybervision, BBCand My Book Lists.

Often, when I start out reading a book, I set goals for myself, such as 10 pages a day, or a chapter a day. The purpose for this is to keep me on pace and finish in a reasonable amount of time. I had done that with The Grapes of Wrath as well, setting my pace at 20 pages per day. One of the first things I noticed about the book, though was how easy it was to read. Twenty pages would fly by and I would keep on going, partially due to the ease of reading the story but also because I had become enraptured with the characters and the story. My page goal almost became a moot point, with the story drawing me along. The story is about a family from Oklahoma during the 1930's dust bowl, who believe they will find better fortune in California after being run off their land due to unpayable debts. And that is it. The family moves around during the Great Depression trying to find work and dealing with the situations that are happening all around them. This story became a cultural and political wake up call to the US government about how bad conditions had become in the country. I don't believe Steinbeck set out to write a social commentary, mostly because the worst of the things that happened to many of the migrants happened only to the auxiliary characters, or were isolated to portions of the text not following the main plot. In many instances the main characters thrived in situations where a normal person would have been dealt a bad blow. They managed to get into camps that just happened to have an opening, or find ideal jobs when others are getting half the pay they get. I felt that Steinbeck played it safe with his primary characters in instances where today an author might not. It was the ending that really got to me though. Reading through this whole novel, I started to wonder where it was going. I felt that the characters could go on in this fashion for a long time, but clearly the novel is drawing to a close. It is when I hit the final two pages that I realized where Steinbeck was going. The ending provides the quintessential essence that the new generation must support the old, because they have become unable to do it themselves. The layout of the story was interesting, with every other chapter focusing on the main characters and the other chapters giving a parallel story not focused on the main characters, but written as a commentary on the social problems of the time. Overall, I felt the writing was fantastic, which produced a smooth read through of a fantastically well-written story. A high recommend. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

2015 Personal Goals - Month 7 Update

7 months in. On the down slide.


1. Finish 1st Draft of my Novel
Start - Again on the list.

2. Drop weight to 167
Start - This has also been on the list since the beginning. Starting at 183.3
Month 1 - 184.0
Month 2 - 184.3
Month 3 - 183.0
Month 4 - 183.5
Month 6 - 177.5
Month 7 - 179.4

3. Read 1 of the Top Ten Books on Zane's List
Start - In the middle of The Stories of Anton Chekhov.

4. Read 5 books on the Sybervision Book List (including 1 in the Science or Philosophy sections)
Start - Current count is at 85.
Month 2 - Started Don Quixote.
Month 6 - Finished Don Quixote. 4 books to go.

5. Finish 1 more Geological Movie Review
Start - Earthquake still looks like the best bet.

6. Watch 10 of the 100 Greatest Movies of All Time
Start - Current count is at 75.

7. Finish 50 things on the Blog/Website, with 25 specifically on my To Do list.
Start - My To Do list currently has ~150 things on it.
Month 1 - 4 things done. 46 to go.
Month 2 - 8 done. 42 to go.
Month 3 - 13 done. 37 to go.
Month 4 - 14 done. 36 to go.
Month 6 - 18 done. 32 to go.
Month 7 - 28 done. 22 to go.

8. Finish 8 things on the House Things to do List
Start - The list currently has 29 things on it.
Month 2 - Replaced the bathroom sinks. 7 to go.
Month 3 - Multiple projects in the works.
Month 6 - 2 more projects done. Redid bricks in the backyard and added landscape lighting. 5 to go.
Month 7 - 1 more project done. Replace back sliding door. 4 to go.

9. Finish skinning the top of the hovercraft
Start - Hopefully I can make some time to get to it this year.
Month 7 - Added the upper skirt attach strips.

10. Get my 5K time under 25 minutes
Start - My current best is 28:32

11. Collect and photograph all of the Star Wars Comics
Start - I changed strategies towards the end of the year on this. Currently I have 3 comic boxes complete and with pictures. Now I need to finish collecting the comics and photograph all of them resulting in 8 total boxes. Currently the remaining 5 all are partially done.
Month 1 - Slowly collecting more comics. Almost finished off box #4.
Month 2 - Box #4 is complete. 4 boxes to go.
Month 6 - I have about 30 comics left to get before I have completed my collection.
Month 7 - Winding down. I have ~15 left to go on the main collection.

12. Submit my Masters Thesis for Publication 
Start - This was the last big thing I had left to get published which I wrote before.
Month 7 - Have been prepping to get this finished.

13. Defeat 5 Star Wars Games
Start - With collecting so many games that I have not had time to play I want to set aside some game time.
Month 4 - 1 game done. 4 to go.

--------------------------------------Other items of Note------------------------------------------

I was able to catch up on a bunch of reading and some blog posts this month. Had a much easier time at work and it has been nice. Starting to get ramped up on some major home remodeling projects so that will take a significant amount of work when that gets fully underway.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Top 25 Musicals - #6 Mary Poppins

I am in the process of watching all of the Top 25 Musicals according to AFI and reviewing them for my list (

The current film I just watched is Mary Poppins. 

   Mary Poppins is a musical comedy about a magical nanny who interjects herself into a household in order to mend familial problems that abound. Although not the first movie to combine animation with live action, this was likely one of the best earlier efforts to that effect. The scenes where the characters are fully immersed in the cartoon/drawn world actually work pretty well. I love how the live action merry-go-round horses tear up the ground every time the go down as they hop up and down across the scenery. Within the cartoon world, the green screen effects also aren't that bad and the primary actors, Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews do a very good job of convincing us that they are indeed interacting with the cartoons. This leads us to the primary driving force of the movie, which is the main actors. They perform the roles perfectly, becoming almost live action cartoons themselves, with Dick Van Dyke taking the brunt of the cartoonishness. Without these two actors, I don't think this movie would have been a fraction of what it turned out to be. There isn't much else in the movie without them. The movie also contains a surprising amount of women empowerment, especially given the time when it was released. The green screen effects during other parts of the movie, especially when Mary Poppins is removing over-sized items from her bag, are dated and I'm surprised that the studio hasn't attempted to "fix" it with modern techniques. Although the movie contains many memorable songs, many of the songs are just a rehashing of the main songs, like the repetitive reuse of the Chim Chim Cher-ee song throughout the movie. The children in the movie are barely tolerable though and I would greatly appreciate it someone else had been hired. Overall, I would say that the greatest strength of the movie is the interactions of the live action and cartoons, especially given Van Dyke's cartoonish persona adopted through the movie and the often subtle humor interjected throughout. In general, the movie is enjoyable for me, though with limited rewatchability.