We here at The Addison Recorder read stuff. We also watch stuff. Sometimes, that stuff is interesting. Sometimes we just need to talk about whatever pop culture ephemera occupies our time. Which brings us to this column. Parrot on.
Every summer, I like to try and establish a project for myself. This can range from reading Ernest Hemingway to marathoning various TV shows that I’ve been meaning to watch for years. (I’m really bad at TV watching…I think I’ve seen one episode of Mad Men, I JUST watched the series finale of The Office, and I know that Bryan Cranston used to be on Malcolm in the Middle.) This summer, I decided that I would re-read A Song of Ice and Fire rather than try something new. Game of Thrones is approaching the zenith of its popularity on HBO, and the pop culture references are thick in the air this summer in Chicago. Plus, it had been a while since I read the first four (I was still in college), and I wanted to see if they would hold up. Keep in mind, I started this project to keep myself busy all summer long. I started reading two-and-a-half weeks ago. As of yesterday, I’m running out of books.
The five novels are incredibly addictive. George R.R. Martin writes with a deliriously infectious pace that holds no punches, yet still manages to paint a breathtakingly thorough portrait of the mythical lands of Westeros. Described by some as “dragons with boobs”, it is so much more than that. The characters are drawn with broad strokes and then filled in with minuscule details that make them all the more human. It’s hard not to care for most of the characters at one point or another, and the book seems to reinvent its definition of what makes a hero every hundred pages or so. Of course, somebody important’s usually dying every hundred pages or so. Anyway, they’re still just as good as I remembered. Now, hurry up and get to whenever Book Six: The Winds of Winter comes out. I’m out of things to read.
In the past month, I’ve ridden over 100 miles on my bike all around Chicago, ran my first 8K, and decided to move out of my apartment. I’m woefully behind on my pop culture consumption, I am sorry to say. But! I continue to rely on people like my friend Margaret to provide me with tailor-made pop culture recommendations which I will now share with you. Thanks to her, I have been listening to First Aid Kit, a Swedish folk duo. Their new album, “Stay Gold,” just came out and it’s currently my summer 2014 soundtrack. Also, I am halfway through a book I’d been looking forward to reading: Rainbow Rowell’s “Eleanor & Park.” This YA book has been ringingly endorsed by not just Margaret but also Pop Culture Happy Hour’s Linda Holmes (NPR) and my speed-reading traveling friend Stef, who read it on the road this past week. It’s about two teens in the 80s who gradually bond over The Cure and comic books every day on their bus ride to school and back. This book will make you want to fall in love and make someone a mix tape.
When I haven’t been World Cupping or making cocktails this month, I’ve been playing a lot of tabletop games. It’s convention season for comics & games, so there’s a lot to play. I’ll be reviewing Spiel des Jahres nominee Splendor in a separate post, and there have been a lot of games of Lords of Waterdeep and Love Letter. Print & play previews of a couple upcoming Asmadi Games, Heat and Red. Thus, while I’m tempted to write about how The Thermals are back on heavy rotation in my playlists, or how I eagerly await the next issue of Rat Queens, I’m going to stick with gaming.
Storium is an online storytelling game that is currently in its public beta-testing phase. It combines group storytelling with elements of role-playing games, using gaming mechanics to guide players into a collaborative narrative. Each game/story consists of a Narrator and 1-4 Players who take the roles of Characters. The Narrator will set the scene, create the challenges, and guide the flow of the narrative. The Characters have cards, which represent individual strengths, weaknesses, assets, and motivations. They play these cards onto the challenges, narrative the action and dialogue that accompanies them. The turns are asynchronous, and the pace is decided upon by the group, so as to give all players a chance to add to the tale. It’s a ridiculous amount of fun. Since Storium is both a game and a group story, it provides that perfect amount of creative inspiration and joy of discovery.
June has been a month of old-school piracy for me. The kind with sailors singing shanties, crossed cutlasses, men in pantaloons, and the un-ironic use of the word “avast” in conversation. Which is to say that I spent this past month playing the hell out of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. It’s the 7th game in a franchise (don’t let that Roman numeral fool you) that lets gamers parkour around various historic periods and places dealing death from the shadows. The main joy of this game is just getting to be a pirate. It sounds super-dorky, but the thrill of commanding my own (virtual) brig was something I didn’t know I wanted until I did it. Attacking Spanish and British treasure fleets, bombarding naval forts, exploring Mayan ruins, running across the rooftops of Havana, and diving for treasure are just a few of the adventures the game features. It’s tremendously fun and absorbing, and kept me up well past midnight dozens of time this month. I’ve yet to try the downloadable add-on, Freedom Cry, where you play as liberated Trinidadian slave named Adéwalé in a quest to break the slave power in the Caribbean. But I bet that’s where a lot of my July is going.
The Goldfinch is the first novel I’ve read in a few months, and it made me remember why I love fiction. Donna Tartt has spun a world full of compelling characters struggling with death and drugs, characters who are haunted by art and question art’s place in our lives. There’s been some exhausting talk on whether or not the novel is “Literature,” but that’s beside the point. Any 800-page book that has me so engrossed that I nearly miss my train stop, where I make “dates” to read it, is worth the time.
In honor of our second anniversary, I decided to check one item off of my literary bucket list and read the original Addison: Joseph Addison, who with his writing partner Sir Richard Steele wrote two of the most influential newspapers of all time, The Tatler and The Spectator, during the reign of Queen Anne in the early 18th century. Addison and Steele’s work can be counted as forerunner to The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and many online periodicals. They eschewed politics and international news and instead used the happenings around them as the basis for sharp observation and comment on human nature and society, with a fair dose of reviews thrown in. Some of the content hasn’t aged well, but stylistically the essays, especially Addison’s, are superb teaching tools on how to write great journalism; how to keep it brief, tightly structured, yet conversational and engaging.
The cold and bitter land of Skyrim called me back this June. I had stopped playing a couple months ago, under the weight of so many caves, so many bandits, so many jazbay grapes I had to collect. But I’m finding new life with mace and shield, smashing my way through enemies where I used to skulk by them in the shadows. Using a radically different play-style has made the game new again and made the fetch quest slog more enjoyable. And the kill cutscenes are damn cool. My enemies fall to the Mace of Malog Bal and make me more powerful. All but the chickens. Those bastard chickens.