Posts in books

Media Update: Three Things I’ve Enjoyed Recently

Three Things I Have Recently Enjoyed

Audiobook: Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler

Cover art for the audibook Parable of the Talents

There are a lot of things that could be said about Octavia Butler's masterful writing and the perspective she gives us on our future (present and past as well.) For this short review I'll limit my comments to the three perspectives she uses to tell her story. Olamina, the protagonist of the preceding story, The Parable of the Sower carries the primary burden of narrative, but the additional perspective provided by her brother Marcus and her daughter Asha Vere give Olamina's story a balance that provides readers with a depth of perspective that gives us new insight into how to weigh the words and deeds of our characters.

I'm leaving unsaid the heavy parallels between "Phe Pox" as characters in the novel call the apocalypse and our lived experience in the United States in the year 2020. It is very rewarding to read Butler's words, but it can also be traumatizing, so consider carefully if you are ready for fiction that is very close to our daily experience.

Overall, Butler's novel and the Earthseed religion invented for it provide me with useful tools for coping with the daily challenges I face. On Twitter and other channels, many wise people are encouraging us to listen to black women. We should, starting with those we encounter in our daily lives. Beyond that, Octavia Butler is another voice that deserves to be heard and will richly reward the listener who pays heed to her vision.

Video Game: Wasteland 3

Wasteland 3 cover art

I am still playing this game, so I can't comment about the full narrative or how things are wrapped up, but I can say that I'm very happy with the first third-to-half of the game. The narrative is an interesting mix of the kind of absurd and juvenile humor that Fallout 2 (a game inspired by the first Wasteland game) was loved for and a more mature kind of apocalypse. The way each player role-plays their characters will influence how profound or how coarse the story is, but there will be plenty of both no matter how one plays the game.

One thing that stands out to me after fifteen or so hours of play is how the game mechanics and the game's story-telling manage to stay out of each other's way. While I enjoyed playing Wasteland 2, it took me quite a long time to find my rhythm with the game mechanics and that was a barrier to me getting into the story arc. I eventually overcame it, but when I played Wasteland 3 I was immediately immersed in the unfolding story without having to stop to think about developing characters that weren't constantly dying. It may be that I learned how to play the game in Wasteland 2 and that carried over, but Wasteland 3 is very polished, smooth, pretty and pulled me right in. I'm especially impressed with the balanced rewards and consequences of actions. When this is done poorly, a role-player feels like they have a choice between playing a witless ingenue or a sociopath. The social fallout for one's choices feel appropriate and balanced to me so far. It is also very possible (so far, in my progress) to play as a relatively peaceful character. There will be some violence, but players have the option of speccing a character who can find solutions to nearly every encountered scenario without having to fight. Reader be warned, I have a track record of playing games like this with non-violent builds that make it to the final boss only to lose every fight. However, I trust that the heritage of this game requires including an option to sweet-talk one's way to a successful conclusion.

On top of the game mechanics, narrative, and balance of the game; the polish is exceptional. The soundtrack is chef-kiss-fingers perfect. The animations and visuals are stunning without being distracting and if I've encountered any bugs, they did not break immersion or interfere in either the story or the mechanics. I don't have a ton of time to play games, but a half-hour here and there with my inside-joke sharing nerds and their post-apocalyptic posse is a welcome escape from our version of The Pox.

Music: at Budokan by Cheap Trick

Album cover art for Cheap Trick's at Bukodan

While I was born in 1971, I didn't encounter a lot of '70s rock standards growing up. Someone (thank you stranger with good taste!) on Twitter brought this concert album from 1978 to my attention and I keep coming back to listen to it again. I just love it and I may not have much more articulate to say about it than: "You gotta LISTEN to this, friend!" Back in 1997 I went to a premiere of Michael Moore's film The Big One where Moore was present to give a talk before the film. Rick Nielsen made a surprise guest appearance and I think he played a song or two for us.(At least he brought his guitar with him.) Then, Rick and Moore presented Studs Terkel (another surprise guest!) with a brick from a famous autoworkers strike and just putting me in the same room as Rick Nielsen and Studs Terkel has caused me to forgive Moore of a lot of his, um, excesses. I digress. Listen to this album. It's real good.

Discovering Myself As A Reader in 2020 So I Can Reinvent My Reader-Self in 2021

Person browsing for books between library shelves

The Project

The end of the year is a time for introspection and as much as year 2020 of the common era has felt endless, it is the first day of the last month of the year. After nine months I'm feeling my areas of struggle VERY acutely. My attention span and executive function are fragile and I'm vulnerable to my depression symptoms. I have also discovered new things to be curious about, new skills, and new areas of research; but these need tending and care before they can bear fruit. Acknowledging the challenges of the former and the opportunities of the latter I'm making an effort to become more aware of how I'm reading now and more intentional about how I'm going to go about reading in the new year. To do this, I'm breaking down my reading into four broad categories: news & social media, professional & research, pleasure, and hobby. I'll examine what I'm currently doing and then later plan how I might change this next year. As a note, I have a large bias towards text in how I think about information. My education was focused on text and while I've made some beginning efforts to think as critically about video and sound as I do about text, I have further to go. So, for this project, I'll consider documentary and how-to video as "reading" but keep cinema and entertainment video separate from pleasure reading. This isn't logically consistent, but it's where I am.

News & Social Media

Currently I spend far too much time on Twitter. It is the place where I connect with my friends, explore and express my values, professionally network, and pleasurably waste time. I can't live without some of those things, but I feel the need to manage it to better effect. The problem is I don't have an "off switch" when it comes to Twitter. Left to my own devices, it consumes my attention when I need to focus elsewhere. So in 2021, I'll need a plan. For now I'm tentatively considering taking a break for the month of December while I consider alternatives. For news, in 2020 I subscribed to the Washington Post. I'm not planning on continuing that subscription, but I need an alternative. I may subscribe to a local newspaper or I may develop a workflow for getting content from library newspaper databases on a daily basis. Another option is to listen to NPR news, which I subscribe to, but I do like reading a newspaper. So, in summary, I currently read too much Twitter and the Washington Post. I need to be more intentional and disciplined with Twitter and to find an alternative news source. Right now that looks like relying more on NPR, which I can compartmentalize into scheduled listening of national and local news shows in the mornings and something with Twitter that I haven't worked out yet. It will probably include curating my lists more carefully and scheduling certain days I'm allowed to look at the lists. (Yes, this is an aspirational goal.)

Professional Reading

In 2020, my professional reading plan was on an ad hoc basis. I read when I needed to know something and then I followed threads to new research that piqued my interest. For 2021 I'll develop a plan that supports my research agenda and my professional growth agenda. I am a person with great curiosity and I can lose myself exploring threads of research across disciplines and methods, but feeding my curiosity and building a clear research agenda are not (unless you are luckier than I) the same thing. So 2021 is going to me a more disciplined and ordered year with a focus starting on metadata for describing collections of born digital literature and also on video pedagogy for library instruction. I've been told (A LOT) that 2020 has been a great year for research because we all have more time to write. Let me tell you, friends, I have not written in 2020. I've worked on an article that is mostly finished, but much of the time I feel like I'm just moving letters around the screen, alternating changes until I'm back where I started. It has not been a great year for my research productivity. So to give my writing a metaphorical trellis of support and a place to grow, I'm going to develop a schedule of reading and writing for the new year. Right now I think that will include monthly check-ins to schedule weekly article assignments and monthly blog posts about what I've read.

Pleasure Reading

I've been a subscriber to Audible for over a decade, but I'm not renewing my subscription when it expires in January. That will shake up how I do my pleasure reading a lot. I have a huge backlog of unread titles and a similar backlog of unread Kindle titles that I can work my way through once the flow of new books is cut off. Once I've caught up with my digital backlog (Veronica Mars voice-over: He was never going to catch up on his digital backlog, you know that, right Marshmallows?) I want to move away from my digital-first preference for novels. Back when digital editions were new, there was a lot of overwrought worry that digital would replace print and print needed to be defended. The least insightful defenses of print annoyed me so thoroughly that I stopped reading print books nearly entirely. (It was as if I really thought this could un-publish Nicholas Carr's The Shallows.) Well, when I've run out of backlog (ha) or REALLY need something newly published, I'm going to source it through my local public library or Annie Bloom's books. Although I may not be able to resist the attraction of Amazon ebook/audiobook packages that keep track of my place across platforms.

Hobby Reading

Much of the hobby reading material I need is online (in YouTube or message boards) but I am teaching myself more about video and filmmaking, running w/ Atrial Fibrilation, and arduino hacks. I have an excellent digital library of reference books in these subjects through Humble Bundle (all but the running stuff) but if I need more I definitely plan on using the public library. For a career librarian, I've become far too committed to the digital hoarder lifestyle and I need to remember that borrowing books is okay.

Next Steps

Now that I've looked at how I'm currently reading (recap: digitally, purchasing from Evil Overlord Jeff Bezos or by spending too much time on Twitter) I'm going to think about this for a few days and then write another post with a prescription for fixing some of the things that cause me to be disenchanted with my reading these days. Making this a strict set of inflexible instructions will not lead to changed behavior, so I'm aiming for more of a roadmap that sets out my values and my reasons for reading. Making values and justifications explicit and visible are things that can lead to me changing my behavior. If this project is something you are inspired to attempt yourself, please do share your thoughts in the comments.

Love and Light,