Sunday, November 29, 2015

Book Binge

I can't control myself in an airport bookstore.

This past week, my family and I went on a trip to North Dakota to go hunting. Thanks to American Airlines, we spent way too much time in airports during this trip. Our plane had to deice, the gate we were leaving out of got changed, our flights got rerouted, and we even missed a connecting flight in Dallas, so for the second time this year, we were stuck in Dallas. This was horrible for my family, but not for me, mainly because of Chicago and Denver's bookstores.

When we landed in Chicago, we got off to see a large ceiling with giant Christmas decorations already hanging and unlit. The white snow and sky shone blindingly bright outside the large windows, letting us know that we weren't leaving any time soon. Chase and I walked from our gate into the large circular food court, with miniature restaurants on one half of the circle and tables and chairs littered within. On the side closest to us was a bookstore wrapping almost halfway around the circle.

Chase and I made our way inside and he immediately warned me that I shouldn't buy any books since I have yet to finish the third book in A Song of Ice and Fire. I completely ignored his advice, because I absolutely love buying books. I bought three books from that store, and ended up buying three more in Denver. (I bought a total of four Chuck Palahniuk novels because of the postmodernism project we did in AP Lang.) By the time we left Denver, I was carrying about twelve books with me to North Dakota, and only finished two. Of the books I bought, the books I read are:

Damned by Chuck Palahniuk:

Damned is the story of Madison Spencer, the daughter of an A-list couple who overdoses on marijuana and goes to Hell after her death. She meets what is essentially the damned Breakfast Club and they go on a crusade to make their time in Hell better by becoming telemarketers and go on a campaign to make Hell more beautiful by draining the Lake of Hot Saliva and painting the bats to look like birds. She also decides to make Hell better by fighting people like Hitler and banishing them to the most disgusting parts of Hell. Each chapter begins with a Judy Blume-like conversation, starting with, "Are you there Satan? It's me, Madison." This was the first book I finished on my trip and I really enjoyed it. I'd recommend it to anyone who's okay with some pretty dark humor and satire about adolescence and the afterlife.
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Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk

Doomed is the sequel to Damned, and follows Madison as she's made her way out of Hell, and, after a Halloween ritual by some of the rude girls from her boarding school, she's trapped on Earth as a ghost, essentially in Purgatory. She communicates now in blog posts detailing her experiences, and, after speaking with her grandmother's ghost, begins to realize the truth about that awful experience with her grandparents. She also gets to see how her parents have taken the afterlife advice she's given to an extreme she'd never imagined, and must deal with the news that Satan or God may have planned all the events that landed her in the grave and all those after. She must come to terms with the fact that it may be her destiny to patch things up between God and Satan. I also got to finish this book, and thought that it was a great sequel. I eagerly await the third book in the series.

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk (Currently Reading)

Haunted is a book about a group of writers who are propositioned to go on a three-month retreat to the house of Mr. Whittier to leave behind all the things that kept them from writing their masterpieces in their old lives. However, as their host begins making living conditions in the house more and more unbearable, the writers begin vying for who's going to be the star of the movie made from their shocking experience. The book is written in chapters which are prefaced by a poem about and a story by one of the characters. It's not for the faint of heart; when Palahniuk did a reading of a story from the book, "Guts", which made about 35 people faint. It satirizes reality television, but it is, according to the author, about the "battle for credibility" that comes about because of how easily one can publish something nowadays. I'm still reading this book, and I'm really enjoying it.

The other books I bought were Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and Slaugherhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I haven't read any of those yet, but I plan to read all of them by the end of winter break. I almost bought William Gibson's Neuromancer in Chicago, but I bought American Gods instead. (Sorry Brewer!)

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Spotify Stalker

I've been around the block with music streaming services, several times. My first experience with them was Playlist, which was a free music streaming website that opening in 2006. After playlist, I moved to Pandora, and then the now-defunct Grooveshark, and then 8tracks and Soundcloud until I finally stumbled upon my favorite one of all, Spotify.

I love Spotify. I love Spotify a lot. As I'm writing this, I'm listening to Spotify. There are a lot of reasons why I love Spotify, but the main one is how it turns listening to music into a social activity.

For those of you who don't know, Spotify is a music streaming service that opened in 2006 in Stockholm, Sweden and has come a long way since its inception, with various changes in the way you listen and the formatting of the app. But what sets it apart from most other major streaming services is the user community of Spotify. The way Spotify works is by having artists, albums, and songs available to listen to and to be added to playlists by the user. This allows for freedom and customization that isn't found in many other free music services like Pandora. However, it is similar to Pandora in its skip limit and ads. Premium members get no restriction on skips and no ads. It also allows users to have their listening history published for friends to see within the desktop version of the app and allows users to share songs or albums with friends and work on collaborative playlists.

I love Spotify because of how social it becomes. I often find myself looking to see what my friends are listening to and I really enjoy seeing when they're listening to playlists I've made or music I've shown them. Music taste is, to me, a very important quality of a person, and so I'm always really happy when someone decides to show me new music they've found or has a similar taste as me, and Spotify makes it really easy for that to happen.

That shows why Spotify is good for consumers, but Spotify has actually come under criticism for not fairly compensating artists. Spotify apparently gives much of the money it receives to major labels, but artists won't actually get to see any of it, according to a 2009 Guardian article. And while it is possible that some of these numbers may have changed since then, the flak hasn't. Most notably is the example of how Taylor Swift's albums aren't on Spotify. Because only 20 million of the 75 million Spotify users subscribe to Premium, the artists aren't able to make nearly as much money, and actually lose money by having people stream their albums on Spotify instead of buying it, as I am currently doing for The Neighbourhood's newly released Wiped Out!. 

So should I feel guilty for cheating artists out of money by listening to them? Maybe, but I don't feel like Spotify has been the main reason for this. In my opinion, the birth of piracy and streaming and the death of the physical album are the main culprits for scamming Taylor Swift out of even more millions. Why would you by any physical album, or digital one for that matter, when you can pay less than the cost of one album each month and listen to over 30 million songs?

I am one of the few people that actually buys physical media, so I try to absolve myself of guilt by doing that, as well as going to concerts whenever I can, and I encourage you to do the same. Music is one of my favorite things in the world, and I really don't want to see creative people being abused by corporations and unknowing fans. It's fine and dandy that you use Spotify for free, because that can help you find new music and easily be a consumer, but please try to buy the CD of your favorite album, and try your best to see your favorite artist live. These are really great experiences and they help your favorite artists directly, so maybe save your money on that Premium subscription and go see The Weeknd in concert or buy The Killers' new album when it releases.

You can check out my Spotify at