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.

***

When Your Reach Exceeds Your Grasp (aka “The Husky’s Bite”)

For those unfamiliar, please peruse this PDF of the first (and only) issue of the publication in question. Feel free to right-click and “save as” on that file so that you end up reading both it and my review. If you’ve used the internet before, you probably already have Adobe Reader installed, but if you don’t, you’ll need to download it here.

The year was 1999. It was sometime in early Winter. It was also just about the end of the “good old days,” and arguably, our little foray into journalism accompanied the starting of what are now known as “the bad old days.” Similar to what kicked off this very site, I (and the “others”) were feeling very opinionated and somehow disenfranchised for disenfranchisement’s sake. We were fed up with our high school’s policies and felt like we were getting the short end of the stick. We also had free time. Lots of free time.

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Don’t we all. click the image for a picture of the whole first page (it’s the same as the first page in the pdf)

Being that we have now conquered all media (similar to the “King of all Media,” Howard Stern), it’s important to remember that there was a time when the only conquered medium had been VHS tape. And by conquered, I mean “Let’s write a review entitled, ’13 and Oblivious: The 8th Grade To Kill a Mockingbird Video’.” Anyway, 1999. I said, “Why don’t we make an underground newspaper?” Yeah, no one’s done that gem of teenaged rebellion before.

We rounded up a crack team of writers and gave them free reign on topics. As always, the topics seemed wonderfully, well, topical for the time, but needless to say, they haven’t aged well and bare a striking resemblance to the articles found in any “underground” high school newsletter. Topics ranged from complaining about the (then new) ID policy, complaining about the prospects of having to do a High School Graduation project (that’s basically just what it sounds like), complaining about the cafeteria foods (way to go, me. very original), complaining about obnoxious teachers/security guards on “lunch duty,” and finally one senior student complaining about his fellow gifted/honors classmates.

As you can see, none of these are pressing issues; in fact most none of them are particularly, well, anything. The issue would be that we really thought we were getting something done. As if the principal would read it, and say, “ahh, so that’s the pulse of the students.” In fact, we thought it/we would be/were so important that we devised pseudonyms, for, you know, “just in case.” Hindsight makes it obvious that not only were our points of contention of the “tough sh*t” category, some were just complaining for the sake of complaining, any remaining legitimacy lost due to the “editor in chief’s” name being Jarvis P. Fundlebottom. My (er, Jarvis’) take on school lunches is probably the worst offender if only because it’s a topic that’s been beaten to death since the invention of the tray/plate combo. What makes it worse is that I wrote pretty much the same article when I was in 5th grade, except in 5th grade I didn’t bring up Chaos Theory incorrectly (read the article in the PDF to see me butcher Jurassic Park).

Little of the “expected” controversy manifested itself with the “publishing” and distribution: keeping in mind that we used fake names (though we were so proud of our accomplishment that we gladly told everyone and anyone, teacher or student, of our involvement, usually at great detail) and, again, to anyone that would care about what we thought was “controversial,” what we wrote about was simply inconsequential. BUT, what did cause some controversy (according to the word on the 1999 street) was the opening article, titled, “Skip the IQ Test, We’re All Dumb Anyway.” Ian Cofre (under the “Spike Spiegel” alias) wrote the article, but I’ll very much take credit for the headline.

Now, at the time (and in very different way, now) comparing the intelligence of the student body to that of a fictional canine boarding school in Wisconsin was hilarious. I’d hate to think of myself as being “politically correct,” but I would think twice about “publishing” something with all of my accumulated maturity. I don’t mean to speak for Ian (and I’m sure that he hasn’t put much thought to it since then– heck I only re-read the whole issue because I recently re-discovered it on one of my backup CD-Rs), but I’d assume that he (or anyone, really) might think twice about the content. In his article, aside from the references to the MCOS (Milwaukee Canine Obedience School), he very much and very directly called out his classmates. Granted he was probably right, but (again, 1999 word on the street), it didn’t go over well with said classmates. Obviously it’s beyond water over the bridge for everyone at this point, and even then, it probably wasn’t a big deal. The significance is that as sort of “editor” of the whole thing, I didn’t think twice about why that might not be the best sort of thing to include in a “publication” we really thought was going to “make a difference.” I didn’t even think in terms of “most of our articles our less than five paragraphs; that doesn’t sound like in depth, hard-hitting commentary.”

Nate, as “Martin Stephenson,” wrote two features, one of which detailed the (then new) graduation project process and actually did contain some disturbing facts about how different school districts and even schools within districts interpreted the “state-wide” guidelines differently. Nothing wrong with including that article, but it’s just funny that back then, we really thought it would affect something. Now we look at it and say, “of course it didn’t, why would it?” but they call it hindsight for a reason. In classic move common to inconsequential journalism, his second article about cafeteria “issues” managed to highlight the supposed unfairness in having students and teachers follow different codes of conduct (namely: a student yells, he gets in trouble; a teacher makes a lot of noise, no big deal). Again (more of that “hindsight” stuff), of course this is the case, but back then, we thought we wouldn’t stand for it. No, I’m not calling out the Junior Staff’s article; if I remember correctly, we had jointly brainstormed ideas for that article, and I definitely didn’t see any issue in that very immature/uneducated/etc. line of thinking; maybe it was even my (bad) idea, and I’d think that Nate would agree that the “angle” of the story was merely a product of being a subjugate in an high school environment.

Wrapping up the articles discussion, Josh Shaffer (spelling?) wrote a well-organized, very coherent (click on the link on his name to understand why I’m including that adjective) take on having to wear ID’s while in school that pretty much covered all of the issues, and showed how ridiculous and reactionary the policy was. Naturally, my 10th grade self decided that was by far the most boring of the articles, while it would be the first one I’d hand to someone if I said I was involved in an “underground newspaper” in high school.

The first issue of The Husky’s Bite was also the last issue though we promised future issues and even future years of it by including not only “issue number” but “volume” on the header. The last page of the issue included a call for submissions, which generated one actual article the very same day we distributed copies and one promise of an article about the Jr. ROTC program. Needless to say, the publishing of something about Jr. ROTC probably wouldn’t have been a good idea (and we were never given an article anyway), and the first/only article submitted was a vulgarity-filled and particularly detailed rant about how all the cheerleaders were sluts. Needless to say, the author (hey, we respect our promise of anonymity!) had been wronged (in his opinion) recently by his cheerleader (ex)girlfriend. I can’t remember the details of the letter, but I do think it included this gem: “All [the cheerleaders] are good at is spreading there [sic] legs and yelling ‘Yeah!'” No, that wasn’t going to make it into issue two.

Of course, there was no issue two. Not long after distributing the copies of the first issue and the “buzz” had left, we realized that we were basically just looking for something to complain about, and we hit pretty much all of the big, non-complicated, non-nuanced ones in that first issue. I don’t remember if we even got to the point of discussing details of what would be in the second one after we realized we didn’t have anything easy to complain about anymore and recognized how much work putting together an issue was. Sure, a lot of that work was waiting for the “writers” to be done writing their articles, but having been tasked to put the issue together, that was a “not wanting to have to do this again” amount of work. Not that it’s the most demanding program in the world, especially in its Office 97 form, but I learned to use Microsoft Publisher while I was laying out the issue, and as we’ve learned, some companies don’t like to hear that you’ve learned to use a program by teaching yourself as you’ve worked on a project. Making the charts (well, chart), headlines, etc. all took considerable effort (check out the barfing stick figure on page 3!), so made me understand that future issues would not be released in any short, regular length of time.

**

When Your Reach Exceeds Your Grasp (aka “The Husky’s Bite“) receives two stars due to the ridiculousness of the content that made it into the debut issue: whether the use of pseudonyms, general concept of the articles, or the “just plain dumb in hindsight” highfalutin attitude we had about it. (To be fair, we got past that within a school week or two of distributing it.) Much of my current opinion on the newsletter can be attributed to hindsight, but that doesn’t mean it’s unfair. Part of the whole “reach exceeding your grasp” thing is that you don’t realize it until after the fact. With that in mind, the font selection is uninspired (there’s an obscene number of different fonts throughout it). When I couldn’t figure out formatting, I just let it go. Check out the sexy horizontal rules that just plain cover-up some lines. All that isn’t to say that we didn’t finish it or that we didn’t have some measure of fun while doing it. It’s what we use as our “newspaper example” when we call ourselves “Kings of All Media.” Simply, it was once. It was fun. It was done.