Monday, February 14, 2011

Don't Forget To Be Awesome

John and Hank Green, the Vlogbrothers
Four or five years ago, author John Green had an idea. He and his brother, professional blogger and songwriter Hank Green, would spend a year without communicating by means of written word. No emails, no text messages, no online chats. John's idea became "Brotherhood 2.0," a series of YouTube videos John and Hank sent back and forth week by week over the course of a year through their "vlogbrothers" channel. By the end of the project, their videos had become wildly popular. Their massive following would eventually become known as Nerdfighteria, the way Stephen Colbert has the Colbert Nation. Hank and John are very active people on YouTube and still create several vlogs every week responding to each other or directly to their fanbase of "nerdfighters." They are both very intelligent people, and their videos contain a ton of hilarious, interesting, interactive, and often educational content. Nerdfighteria has a huge amount of inside jokes that are easy to pick up on and their videos are also only four minutes long, and as such, are never tedious or boring to watch. They stuff a lot into that period of time.

Many of you Blind Melons and friends of mine have seen me carrying around a number of books in the past three months or so with the name JOHN GREEN in large letters across the top of them. Yes, that John Green and this John Green are one in the same. Looking for Alaska, perhaps his most famous book, won the Michael J. Printz award for young adult literature in 2006. Green's writing is characterized by his highly intelligent, often quirky teenaged characters, his prose's beautiful marriage of hilariously funny and deeply thoughtful narrative, and his creative and unusual methods of organizing his books and presenting the story. These unusual methods include 1. strange chapter names such as "x days before" (x being a number) in Looking for Alaska, 2. the use of footnotes or graphs, and 3. the method I'm using to list these ideas, a method he picked up from another author, usually for comedic effect.

His other books include the Edgar Award (a big award for mystery writers) winning Paper Towns, the Printz Honor winning An Abundance of Katherines, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson, a novel he wrote with author David Levithan. These books are wildly popular all over the United States, and a few of them at least have been translated into several other languages. I'm consistantly surprised with how often people at St. Mark's see me reading one of these books and stop to tell me how much they love them. Another surprise is that most of them are unaware of the vlogbrothers channel. At the very least, two Spartan English teachers and a social studies teacher have read or are currently reading them, thanks to my friend and fellow nerdfighter, Merissa. Here is a slightly censored selection from Paper Towns:

"...I like to think that I am the type of person who wouldn't hook up with Becca Arrington. She may be hot, but she is also 1. aggressively vapid, and 2. an absolute, unadulterated, raging bitch. Those of us who frequent the band room have long suspected that Becca maintains her lovely figure by eating nothing but the souls of kittens and the dreams of impoverished children. 'Becca does sort of suck,' I said, trying to draw Margo back into conversation." (p. 38)

The whole book is like this. Green's books are incredibly entertaining to read, and whether you immediately realize it or not, they inspire deep thought and self-reflection in their readers. I have found that I would not like to hang around a lot of the characters in Green's books, (especially the moody but interesting Alaska Young,) and yet I still found myself eagerly still turning pages with no desire to put the books down. Even though the characters are flawed (sometimes annoyingly so,) it doesn't bother most readers. This is likely because everyone sort of is in some way, and so the characters are believable and thus the books become more authentic and realistic young adult literature. So far, I highly recommend any of them, especially Looking for Alaska. Also, if you decide to take them from a local library or even some bookstores, you may find a little surprise inside: a Nerdfighter Note.

Since we're talking about books, Hank and John have also popularized the fact that every single book title sounds a lot funnier when you add "in your pants" to the end of it. Here are some examples:
  • An Abundance of Katherines (in Your Pants) (John Green)
  • The Stranger (in Your Pants) (Albert Camus)
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (in Your Pants) (Mark Twain)
  • The Jungle (in Your Pants) (Upton Sinclair)
  • Brave New World (in Your Pants) (Aldous Huxley)

Hank Green and his guitar.
I could not possibly cover everything that is awesome about the vlogbrothers in this one single post, so I'll have to summerize from here. Since this blog is for a literature class, it was most important I think to focus on John and his books, but Hank is just as awesome. Click the links in this post for more information. (Trust me, all of the links are worth it.) Hank, who is literally an internet personality for a living, got his start running, a blog about technology and the world featuring stories on how tech is positively and negatively affecting our environment. He is also a fantastic geek rock songwriter. His songs include Strange Charm, a song about quarks, The Fermi Paradox, and the absolutely viral Accio Deathy Hallows. Hank is a lover of math and science and graphic novels, and his video about The James Webb Space Telescope was tweeted by NASA.

The vlogbrothers have also touched the lives of many and participated in wonderful charities such as the Project for Awesome.

Before I leave you, I just want to say that I am very excited to have ordered a PIZZA shirt to support the vlogbrothers. I've always wanted one, and it's just a funny shirt. For information on the origin of what I'm talking about, you can check out the video below:

Monday, February 7, 2011

Obligatory Blog About Music

Dr. Z. Randall Stroope
Thank you, those of you who were concerned about my absence from school last Thursday and Friday. No, I was not at home sick, but thank you for asking. I was actually feeling better than I have ever felt before. I auditioned for the All-State Senior Mixed Chorus this year, and I managed to make it in! Despite being listed as the last chair Bass I (the men's voice part that's not quite really high and not quite really low,) and as hailing from St. Elizabeth High School in the program, I was excited and happy to be there. Even more exciting was the chance to learn something new about being a good musician, not simply a good singer.

As a part of this very special group, I was given the opportunity to learn and perform very difficult, high-energy, and beautiful music. Another fantastic treat was being taught by our guest conductor, a professor at Oklahoma State University and man who wrote one of the pieces we were to sing. It was a lovely piece titled "Song to the Moon (La Luna)." While St. Mark's High School was dismissing students early and preparing for the teachers' luncheon on Thursday, eleven other students and I from our school were in Dover, DE for an all-day rehearsal beginning at 9:00 A.M and ending at 4:00 P.M. I didn't mind, though. I don't think many of us did too much. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me (and a fourth or fifth for some of the other St. Mark's students.) We performed a truly excellent concert last Saturday in a large and absolutely packed theater. The following video is not a recording of our concert, but it is a video of a piece we performed. For the quick, manic, and impressive"With a Lilly In Your Hand," view the video below. Have it playing in the background as you read.

Musically, the past few years have been very important to me. I've learned everything I know about music from joining the chorus (I was terrible at singing before making this decision,) playing in the bands, and performing the spring musicals. I've traveled from the St. Mark's stage to places all over Delaware and even as far as Myrtle Beach and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee (Dollywood) to perform with these groups. The band and I will be performing in Montreal this spring. I could probably write an entire blog post about being a drum major or my experience with the Drum Major Acadamy, so I will save those stories for a future post. I must say, though, that when I graduate, I will leave this school a drum major who is without words to describe how proud he is of his band.

Music You Should Know About

This Canadian sensation is all about well-made, funny music with a lot of heart behind it. I have been a fan of them ever since my dad bought me their album Stunt. I'm sure all of you have heard of at least one song on this CD: "One Week." It's the one that has a ton of really fast rhymes and mentions Chinese chicken, X-Files, and Sailor Moon, remember? They also were the genius behind the song "If I had $1000000," which is another one absolutely everyone knows. I highly recommend looking them up if they're your style. FYE sells their older CDs for $4.00 each. So far, I've picked up a copy of Stunt, Everything to Everyone, and Gordon. If you don't want to go out and buy a CD, I highly recommend listening to any of "The Bathroom Sessions" videos on YouTube, though those are just guitar and vocals. Oh, yeah, and they perform the theme song from The Big Bang Theory, too.

While the Barenaked Ladies are my favorite band, Jonathan Coulton is my favorite solo songwriter. A graduate of Yale University, JoCo worked in software engineering for several years before quitting his job in 2005 to start a career writing and publishing his own music. He writes hilarious songs that fall into various degrees of the rock and folk genres about robots, monkies, zombies, and other popular geek rock subjects. And trust me, it is a lot better than it sounds. I skipped the Ring Mass last year to attend his concert with a bunch of friends, I reference the guy and plug him on the blog every chance I get, and even Mrs. Mattick is a fan! You can listen to all of his music for free on his website, and it's all released with the Creative Commons Liscense! What are you waiting for?!

If you have heard of or ever listen to BNL or JoCo, be sure to say so in the comments and/or tell me what your favorite song is! What kind of music do you listen to, readers? Please leave a comment and share the blog as I leave you this video of Dr. Z. Randall Stroope's "Song to the Moon (La Luna.)"