Empty Bookshelf’s First 100 Reviews


Oh, those kids. Always at it. You guys really shouldn’t’ve.

So here we are at the first of what may be a few reviews of our first milestone, 100 reviews. Not only is this the first review of this milestone, but of what could be very many milestones. We here at the Bookshelf like the word “milestone“, and don’t believe in Thesauruses. So here we go, our first hundred in a nutshell.

The first actual review happened way back in October of 2005… remember that time before the Steelers won the superbowl, before “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” movie, before Dick Cheny accidentally shot his friend while hunting, and before Bristol, United Kingdom celebrated the 200th birthday of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (actually April 9) by relighting the Clifton Suspension Bridge?

Dan’s first review was aimed at complaining about post-game hype surrounding an extremely long baseball game. Of course our readers probably care about boring Astros-Braves baseball games as much as they seemed to care about my terrible review of the dictionary. Even though that picture was good, it was nowhere near the five star quality of this image. I too tried my hand at reviewing food, but it was an utter failure. On the plus side, my review of the letter to the editor is one of my favorites, and my first review actually got eight comments, including this link. The few following that grilled chese review focused mostly on music, my opinion of “Good Night, and Good Luck”, a particular episode of Trading Spouses, and Dan’s opinion of My opinion of “Good Night, and Good Luck”. Dan also said that the Colbert report wouldn’t last, which seems to have been proven false.

October seemed to be us finding our footing.
***

November saw Dan’s Cleveland Trifecta, a diatribe against horses, a road that he liked, an episode of “Coach“, and his complaints about how much he aches, now that he’s an old man. I started the month strong with the Beth review, but struggled through the rest of it, with lame reviews like Thursday, a type of tooth”paste” that doesn’t work for me, and an insightful, yet completely unnecessary complaint about my nosebleeds. My FAO Schwarz review kinda made up for them, but the highlight of the month involved Dan and I sparring about how Christmas is coming earlier every year, and something about me being a time-traveling sheep.

November didn’t see much improvement over October, but the Christmas stuff was entertaining.
***½

December got a bit better, even with a few less reviews. I busted out the old NES games, for a few reviews that I swear are not trying to copy off of XE, another personal favorite, Christmas Cards, Adam’s first review, Dan throwing the hate down on Pitchfork media, and a suprising amount of people commenting on Roger Ebert’s take on video games. The biggest advance in December was the pop-ins, that added added some clarity to our parentheses-obsessed-writing.

December was a highly engaging and entertaining month, even with only nine reviews.
****½

2006 rolled around, and January saw Dan get political, review half of a book, not like warm winters a lot. I only contributed three of ten reviews that month, but all three of them were relatively alright, mostly because “Where In Time is Carmen Sandiego“, and “The Simpsons” after season 9 is so easy to complain about.

January’s topics fell off a little.
***½

February, while being the shortest month, was also a monster for us, as far as number goes. A whopping twenty-one reviews. To be fair, 17 of them came in our envelope-pushing live superbowl reviews, the biggest stunt pulled in the history of reviewing anything and everything on a five star scale. The only other reviews of any substance were my Gauntlet Review of the Beatles albums, and Dan’s digging up of our one-issue underground high-school newspaper.

Despite the big stunt, and two good reviews, February was kinda lacking.
**½

March just plain sucked. Four reviews total. One by me. Three megareviews by Dan.

½

April was slightly better, with another of my top five of my reviews, Legacy of the Wizard. The other four I would give an average of 3 stars to, but since there were only four during the month, that’s going to cancel out the Legacy of the Wizard bonus and take it down a half star.

**½

For my money, May was our best month yet. Dan’s contribution was the lengthy three-part TV landscape review. I threw out quality stuff with my Songs for Silverman, and Degree Navigator reviews. The shorter American Dreamz and Davinci Code video game reviews were serviceable, but my immense LOST season 2 review tops everything.

*****

June fell off a bit. Four reviews total. Split two and two. Mine were based on a ridiculous news story, and anger at other people for coincidentally coming up with the same ideas as me. Dan tried to put everything into perspective by seeing how well the entire history of human ingenuity and artistry stacked up in the interstellar community, and complained a little about how the national geography of roadways isn’t designed to suit his needs.

**

July was filled with the (I gotta admit my ignorance as to the relevance of this phrase… and wikipedia does nothing to help) Navel Gazing set. I was had for a few minutes by a Jimmy Kimmel hoax, and I thought the critics were a little too harsh on Shayamalan. Despite the mediocre numbers for the month, I’d give it a 3.5

***½

This gives us a per-month average of 3 stars, which isn’t too shabby.

In my first ever review, I reviewed the concept of this website. I claimed that we wouldn’t be able to keep it fresh, that we’d run out of ideas, and that we wouldn’t be able to stay somewhat funny at least. I believe my exact quote was “It has the potential to provide hours of entertainment for readers, and shape their lives for years to come. However, the downside is that it could get old real soon, and provide us with nothing but an excuse not to get real jobs.”

Well, I think we’ve significantly proven wrong every single point that I just brought up. We have 29 categories, 19 subcategories, and even two sub-sub categories. We’re still writing about reasonably different things, and while we may have slacked on the funny in recent months, we still bring the ‘A’ game on occasion. As far as my quote goes, I’d be willing to bet that we’ve provided maybe a few hours of entertainment for a handful of people, which probably did nothing to shape their lives for even the near fututre. On the upside, it hasn’t gotten old, and we have gotten real-ish jobs.

For all of these reasons, I’m willing to up our star rating by half a star, over the average rating of 3. I’ve also realized that my method of calculating the rating might not be the best, so I’m gonna throw in another half star for a final rating of 4 stars out of five.

****

And for those of you playing along at home, yes, this technically is the 100th review and so therefore should be included. This review receives 3 stars for not having much to offer in the way of witty musings, and for having a faulty overall rating method, but for packing so many subjects and links into one review.

***

The Last 200 Years of Human Creative Output

I hope that I’ll be able to post with some more frequency in the next coming while. Look for some smaller reviews in the next couple days.

Humanity, I’m calling you out.

I was doing some thinking the other day about what we’d do if aliens showed up. Obviously, the first course of action would probably be to make sure they’re not going to kill us and eat the delicious delicacy between our ears, but all things considered, these aliens had the means to make the trip from their home planet one (or two) bazillion miles away to Earth, so I’m not sure we’d be able to do too much to stop whatever their plan for us would be, evil or friendly. So, assuming their first step of their visit isn’t “killing them humans good”, they’d probably want to see the pinnacle of what we’ve accomplished as a planet during our shared, human history.

voyager
If part of your skimming of our reviews involves looking at the picture and reading the caption, hoping it will be funny, you’re all out of luck this time.

They wouldn’t be impressed with our technology, so anything we’d mention about that would go as such:
Us: And here’s a bridge that spans a whole mile!
Them: A bridge… as in it spans, uh, water?
Us: Yeah, isn’t it a great testament to our ingenuity?
Them: Oh yeah, that’s really great. We just flew millions of light years to get here, and you’re trying to impress us with something that’s designed to keep your ground-based transportation from getting wet.

As an aside, I could see Apple running a TV ad where aliens are given the tour and they’re not impressed by anything, then they use an Apple and are transfixed. The Apple logo is shown, then we see the aliens replacing the computers on their spaceship (running Windows, of course) with Apples. You heard it here first.

With our comparitively puny technology, we’d be left to show them our artistic achievements. We sort of did this already on a much more limited scale with the golden records sent on the Voyager probes, but odds are, those aliens probably aren’t going to figure out how to make them work. Not because they’re not smart enough, but for the same reason that if cave men would have thought to leave a message for the future, we’d struggle decoding it. I hesitate to sound unnecessarily profound, but there’s something to be said about technological context. In 200 years, the concept of an optical disc will be foreign to us; imagine 2,000 years or 200,000 years. Now imagine that we’re aliens whose definition of “visible light” might be completely different than ours.

Anyway, we’re giving a tour of humanity to these apparently friendly aliens. Technology’s out, human history has just become insignificant (and not just because the aliens won’t care), as from the moment the ship is seen for the first time, everything will be measured as being either “before” or “after” that moment. This all means that the only thing left for us to show off and be proud of would be our art. First things first, we’ll investigate what we’ll consider “art.”

  • Paintings? – Sure. Let’s just remember how easy it is to create absolutely awful paintings though
  • Music? – That, too
  • Sculpture? – Eh, paintings do the same in a more portable medium. Sorry.
  • Architecture? – Hmm. Tough call. I’ll take the easy way out and say that it’s more of an engineering discipline than anything else, that it doesn’t count. Besides, aliens would have different ergonomic needs than we do. If the aliens rolling on the ground and slept hovering in mid-air, our architecture wouldn’t do too much for them.
  • Photography – Too new of an artform, and most successful “photos as art” are more “neat” than transcendent unless they’re pictures of landscapes. Hmm… maybe we’ll use those photos to convince the aliens not to raze our planet and turn it into some sort of intergalactic parking lot. The biggest thing against photography is the fact that its most affecting imagery is usually more journalistic than artistic.
  • Literature – Sorry, you’re cut: aliens don’t know Earth languages, and reading requires too much of a time commitment
  • Movies/TV/Video – eh, too much context in those media (discussed later)
  • Food/Culinary? – Nope. Aliens wouldn’t appreciate the same tastes. Heck, our food might even kill them.
  • Video Games? – HA!
  • Performance Art” – Hey aliens, I’ve heard they have delicious brains!

So that leaves painting and music. Thinking on both of those forms, what would we include? For music, we have any one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos (among countless other things of his that could be included – one of the Brandenburg Concertos was included on the Voyager records, so let’s consider it the example for Bach), we have a selections of “Beethovens”: Fur Elise, the Moonlight Sonata, and excerpts from the 5th, 9th, and even 7th symphonies to choose from. Handel has Music for the Royal Fireworks, but after that, the remaining selections get a bit thin. The 1812 Overture is quite an achievement, but remembering what I had said before about context and how aliens wouldn’t care about history, it’s not detached from its context (the Napoleonic wars — As Americans we don’t care about them, and aliens would care even less); when someone listens to it, they invariably say it sounds like fighting music. So it (and most any other event/history-inspired piece of music-think Finlandia, The Ring Cycle, etc.) is out of contention because it doesn’t transcend its context. The Brandenburg Concerto has the name of a place in it, yet as music, it’s completely detached from its namesake. Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks also has a very context-heavy title, but what in it evokes a fireworks display without talking in artsy-fartsy “painting with music” terms or even explicitly calls out the “royal” aspect of it?

I’ve just looked into baroque, classical, and romantic music, and anything made before those three was made primitive by Bach’s baroque – and for music of the 20th century, well, let’s take a look. Aaron Copland wrote some nice music, unfortunately, it’s not alien-worthy. There’s some sort of experimental or even reactionary sense to it, purposefully having instruments out of tune for effect and having some intangible “American” sound, sometimes taking existing folk songs and incorporating them into some larger work. That’s great and all, but aliens don’t deserve experimental music in any capacity. We should be proud of what we’ve figured out, not the steps it took to get there.

Looking at less academic music, there’s jazz, blues, swing, etc., etc. of the pre-Rock times, and all of those are out — if the music has little significance today, it’ll have even less in the future. Now, the Beatles are probably the most significant popular music artifact of the 20th century, but as Nate implicitly said, the music didn’t get very interesting until they started with the drugs. Nothing against the Beatles, but I’m not sure drug users make the best musical ambassadors. (Yeah, Bach, etc. probably used snuff or whatever was popular, but no one says, “Wow, he must’ve been high when he wrote this.” John Lennon, I’m looking through at you.) Also, the Beatles music has words, and as much as I’d like English to be Earth’s language there are two issues: 1) I don’t want the Queen‘s English to be the official one and probably more importantly 2) aliens don’t know English, the Queen’s or otherwise, much less any Earth language.

The other musical heavy hitters of the 20th century? Led Zeppelin – drugs; Pink Floyd – more drugs; Michael Jackson – yeah, that’d be a good idea; (I hate to admit it) Garth Brooks – I don’t even need to provide a reason. Yanni’s quite popular in his own weird way, and he has the language thing taken care of, but his music is too generic for representing human-kind. Yeah, there’s the non-Western World’s music, but let’s be honest: they’re all wishing that they were us by enjoying our pop music scraps we give to them years after their popularity here. It’s the Western way or the highway.

Conclusion: Nothing musical that’s alien-worthy after Beethoven. He died in 1827. Way to go humanity.

On to artwork: Well, the most well-regarded of today’s artists (by art-critics/snobs) is Matthew Barney. Take a look around at that link, and you’ll see that not only is his “work” not alien-worthy, it’s barely human-worthy. Like music, a lot of the more notable recent-ish artists had drug problems (Picasso) which directly influenced their art, “great” or not. Van Gogh wasn’t the most stable (cutting his ear off and all), and Dali – well, his stuff is interesting only because we view it as humans and react to it because of what we expect or don’t expect of what we consider “art.” Aliens have no reason to react in that same way. Also, Mary Cassatt did the whole impressionism thing in an Georgia O’Keefe did for “precludes its inclusion.

Just like with the music, we end up looking back to the “masters:” Rembrandt, the Ninja Turtles (whose work doesn’t really need introduction – except for maybe Donatello, that underachieving I-talian),

The Last 200 Years of Human Creative Output is given one disappointing star due to its absolute lack of providing anything we’d give to alien ambassadors as the pinnacle of human achievement. Beyond that, because there have undoubtedly been enjoyable snippets since then, we, as fans and humans, can only be distressed once we realize that it/they can’t hold a candle to the previous work. Now, let me prefend (come on people, it means defending yourself before someone has put you in a defensive position) myself here: I am a loud opponent of the “it was first, so it’s absolutely significant and ‘good'” mentality. Beowulf, The Ramones, Sex Pistols, Elvis, Sputnik, The Wright Flyer, and on and on – all overrated in any sense other than “first ~.” None of my picks were real “firsts” (except for Bosch and Bach – and Bach only sort of – but he was not the only game in town for that time of music when he was around), so I’m good to go, principles intact. Please, leave suggestions for the alien art and music presentation below.

Food (supplied by Primo)

Mmm…. mozzarella, prosciutto, and other Italian words I probably can’t spell very well. The Suprimo and Turkey Diablo.

primo.jpg

Best sandwiches ever. 1/2 star off for a necessary lack of variety.

****½

Quiznos Steakhouse Roast Beef Dip

Site note: We’ll be having our first night of live reviewing on Sunday, February 5 during the Superbowl. That’s right; we’ll be reviewing all aspects of the game while it’s still in progress: we’ll review plays, people, commercials, the foods we’re eating, you name it. Be part of our reviewing milestone starting at 6pm EST on Sunday Feb. 5.

MINI-REVIEW!


Quiznos? More like Quiz-MAYBES!!!

I had this sandwich the other day, and I suppose while I can’t really claim to have expected there to be any more to it, it was very underwhelming. Having not lived under a rock for the past however many years, I realize that ads for food usually exaggerate (or “overrexaggerate” as friend of The Bookshelf Josh Calloway would say) the overwhelming deliciousness that said foods provide, and that Quiznos is a big purveyor of such underhanded tactics.

First of all, and yet a side note, Quiznos likes to pretend that their prices are cheap when they’re anything but. When you hear them speak of just 2.99, you automatically jump to the mindset that Subway instilled in us about subs being 6-inch or footlong, however that’s not the case. It’s more along the lines of 4, 8, and 14 inches, or something like that, and so the 2.99 price is for the small. I’m willing to forgive the higher pricing as the sandwiches are mostly considerably more “gourmet” than subway, but the fact that they advertise them as cheap without saying the actual size, essentially preying on this mindset, really grills my flatbread.

Back on topic. So the sandwich looks all big and stacked full of slow cooked roast beef and melted swiss cheese, when in reality, all it is is a regular roast beef sandwich (the beef hasn’t been specially cooked or anything), with swiss cheese, served with a cup of roast beef juice, known better by some french term that i’m not going to stoop to saying. The sandwich was hot, but I’m not giving them the special credit for that because they toast all of their subs. Basically this was a plain roast beef sandwich, made to look all important, and the price that the people paid for it probably wasn’t worth the letdown.

Not saying that the sandwich wasn’t good (it was quite tasty), but I probably would’ve been better off with the Chicken Carbonara sandwich, the classic italian (minus the olives), or the more expensive black angus sandwich, but hey, I wasn’t paying for it, so nothing to lose.

***

This sandwich gets three stars, due to the fact that while it was good, it was small, and didn’t even have the filler (lettuce, tomato, etc.) to make it more substantial a meal. Add to it that the roast beef was actually cold in spots, due to the hasty toasting of the sandwich, and the fact that the commercial makes it look substantially more overwhelming than it turned out to be, the sandwich leaves a good amount to be desired.

Footnote: While I understand that I am again using the argument that a product did not live up to my prior expectations as a gauge by which to judge said product, this case is different from before in the sense that the company itself was inducing false presumptions, and not other noted reviewers.

grilled cheese

\"I\'ll Even the Virgin Mary Love grilled cheese!!!\"
Even the Virgin Mary Loves Grilled Cheese!”

It’s like someone knew exactly what I wanted. They took the two greatest food inventions in history: sandwiches, and frying things, and put them together. And added cheese. Wonderful. Here’s a simple delicious sandwich you can cook in five minutes, and it eats like a meal. Enjoy it with any kind of soup and you’re good to go. It’s got a golden-brown, crisp outside and a gooey inside that complement each other very nicely. And. it’s. fried. What more can you ask for? Maybe if you batter dipped it and deep fried it. Deee-lish.

****½

The grilled cheese sandwich gets 4.5 stars because most of the time it’s made with the disgustingly awful KRAFT cheese food product, and not something like meunster, cheddar, jack, mozzerella, or provalone. Oh, man. This makes me hungry.

Soft Shell Crabs

soft shell crab
½
Soft shell crabs earn a .5 out of 5 stars due to the fact that when one eats a soft shell crab, he (or she) is no longer of the realm of man…he becomes an animal. Let’s see: take one whole crab, steam it, eat it. Notice, there’s no preparation or “removing of the entrails.” It makes me think that people would eat whole cows if their mouths were big enough. The .5 comes from any character one might build while eating all of a sea creature that is widely considered the ocean’s garbage man.

Dan