Aug 13 2013

Other Media Reviews

It occurs to me that while I’m getting caught up in my book reviews, I haven’t given any plugs for the other types of media I’m into. So let me briefly say what I’ve been digging lately in TV, comics, and video games.

TV: The shows that I like enough to stay up past the kids’ bedtime for are all on hiatus right now: Downton Abbey, Doctor Who, Orphan Black. I also liked Vikings and The Walking Dead, or as I like to call it, “The Michonne and Darryl Show.”

Comics: Believe it or not, Hawkeye is really excellent right now. I’m also reading Batgirl, The Movement, and Red Sonja, because those are all Gail Simone titles currently. I follow B.P.R.D. in the trades. I’ve heard Saga is great and I keep meaning to check it out.

Games: I enjoyed the heck out of Shadowrun Returns. Also, A Dark Room.

I’m also still checking in every day with Animal Crossing: New Leaf, but I have a habit of leaving my gal on a tropical island, getting distracted, and picking the game up again five hours later. As a result, she’s tanned to the darkest possible skin color, which reads less as “tan” and more as “south Asian or maybe mixed race.” It’s adorable, don’t get me wrong, and I’ve had a great time getting her a purple-haired pixie cut and picking out cute little outfits that look great on her.

The thing that bothers me is, it’ll go away. When winter comes, her skin will pale-ify again, and there’s no option for creating a nonwhite character in this game. I think that’s wrong. Animal Crossing is a kind of non-game, a game where there are no specific goals, except to exist in the most adorable manner possible. You are a cute little person in a cute little town and you do cute things in the company of cute animals and it’s all exceptionally soothing and nice. I find it very relaxing.

But I’m sad that my swashbuckling little brown girl isn’t going to stay brown. I’m sad that the whole game is based on a default pale skin color and doesn’t allow for a more inclusive spectrum. There’s something very…not cute about that.

Aug 12 2013

Now We Are Six

We stupidly didn’t bring either of our cameras to Robin’s birthday party yesterday, but it went off well—we took a bunch of his friends to a mini-golf place in Alameda (hilariously called Subpar Golf) and they all ran around and got hyper on arcade games and cake and had a fine time. Robin’s Nonna and Pappy were there to celebrate with us, and we got to see both Pops and Mo and Nanita and Markie a few weeks ago, so both the boys have been showered with grandparental love recently.

I can’t believe that Robin starts kindergarten in just a couple of weeks. Today we will sit down and write thank-you notes—he can work on signing his name, which will be good practice for school!

Aug 9 2013

Book Reviews: The Ocean at the End of the Lane, American Gods (The Tenth Anniversary Edition)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors. There are certain writers that I’ll read anything published by, and he’s on that short list. (In no particular order, it’s Neil Gaiman, Neal Stephenson, Alan Moore, Gail Simone, Ursula K. Le Guin, Robin McKinley, Patricia A. McKillup, Louise Erdrich, Zen Cho.) The Ocean at the End of the Lane is Gaiman’s first novel for adults in eight years, so it was an automatic buy for me.

And I wasn’t disappointed. I will say that I didn’t find the book transformative the way many reviewers apparently did. Gaiman is generally a spare and restrained stylist, and the book follows a narrative arc that’s fairly conventional for its genre (starting out very grounded in real-world experiences and gradually yielding to a fantastic element), so nothing about the novel was immensely striking as I read it. I wasn’t “blown away.”

Instead, I found myself left with a lot to chew on after the last page had turned. What I find most impressive about The Ocean at the End of the Lane is its vulnerability and honesty around the subject of childhood—the way children know so much more than adults would like to imagine they do, and yet can be so easily stripped of any power or agency by even the well-meaning adults in their world. And how a malevolent adult is a true horror. I would say that the book deals with a theme of abuse, though not didactically or allegorically or anything like that. But it is about the dawning realization that things are bad, very bad; the despair of reaching out for help and not being believed; and the terror and guilt and shame as the situation escalates and every attempt at self-defense proves futile. And, in the end, it is about the triumph and grace that comes when that little claustrophobic sphere of helplessness is shattered and the former child (because this process is one of coming-of-age) emerges into a world of connection and meaning and powerful interdependence vaster than his juvenile self would have ever been able to comprehend.

It’s a good read, but probably an even better re-read.

American Gods (The Tenth Anniversary Edition)

Gaiman’s publishers have also recently put out an updated version of American Gods, restoring a number of cuts that were originally made due to the book’s length. The longer version, however, remains the “author’s preferred text.” And in this case the author was right.

American Gods is a huge, sprawling work, and most of the restored material is in some way ancillary to the main plot. But it’s important to the book nonetheless. Re-reading American Gods with the new material, I was mostly struck by Gaiman’s technical proficiency in maintaining a sense of urgency and forward narrative momentum even while weaving in and out of a huge cast of characters and a time span of centuries. Together the digressions work to create a sense of elegy and grandeur looming behind the protagonist and the foregrounded events of his story. It restores some of the sense of awe and wonder that really does belong in a book about gods—even diminished, near-forgotten gods.

American Gods is a markedly better book with the restoration of the original material. The new edition is very much worth getting.

Aug 5 2013

Ebb Tide

I’ve been maintaining this blog for a long time now, and one thing I’ve noticed is that I go in and out of periods where I feel like updating a lot. And right now it’s all I can do to tackle each day as it comes. We’ve had lots of visitors since I last updated, and I even flew across the country with Sol to be part of my best friend’s wedding. But the thought of writing about any of it seems exhausting; I just don’t have it in me. I wake up each morning and think: what’s got to get done, and what could be pushed to tomorrow?

Another thing I know from my years in blogging is that I have approximately two weeks of Internet silence before people (well, grandparents) start checking in with me. So let me just say: we’re fine, we’re all fine—we’ve enjoyed hosting all our visitors, and we’re looking forward to those who can join us for Robin’s birthday party on the 12th—but I’m exhausted and keeping up my blog has slipped way down on the list of priorities.