Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Best and Worst Books of 2016

Oh hi! It's time for the one post a year I put up on this blog - best and worst books of the year. Even if I posted more, this would be my favorite post because I love lists. I love best and worst of lists. Best and worst of lists are on my "best of" list of life. Before I start, here are a few notes about mine, in list form of course:
  • The books in this post did not necessarily publish in 2016. I just read them in 2016.
  • This post does not include rereads. These are all books that I read for the first time in 2016.
  • All of the books in this post are books I read in their entirety. It's not fair to rate a book I didn't finish because maybe it got awesome after I gave up on it and I'll never know. 
So, here are my top 5 fiction books of 2016:

#5  The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

Toward the end of the year, I read a few short story collections. Liu writes effortlessly in either science fiction or fantasy and weaves Chinese history and religion throughout. "The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary" broke my heart and I loved it.

#4  Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

The book blurb comparison to World War Z drew me to this book. The comparison turned out not to be apt, but I still enjoyed this a lot and am looking forward to the sequel in April. A girl is riding her bike and crashes through the forest into a giant metal hand. Where did it come from? Why does it exist? This might be shaping up to be a story about space kaiju. Awesome.

#3  Mostly Void, Partially Stars by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

I love Welcome to Night Vale so much. I have a hard time listening to podcasts because I zone out too easily. But Night Vale's community radio format is perfect. This first volume of transcripts (and the second one, which came out at the same time) is one of my favorite things published in 2016 because it allowed me to revisit episodes of Night Vale that I binged last year and catch all of the details I missed. This is also a great book for people who want to give Night Vale a shot but feel like there's too much catching up to do. I would encourage anyone to read this book, but also don't deprive yourself of Cecil's lovely voice.

#2  The Ghost Network by Catie Disabato

This book was like reading a season of Lost. There are stories within stories within stories in different time periods that all connect in various ways. And so much weirdness. A pop star goes missing on the eve of a huge concert event. Her personal assistant teams up with her biggest fan and a mysterious guy (who derives sexual pleasure from architecture) to find out where she went, and that's just the surface story. 

#1  The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

This book was just so much fun. Myfanwy Thomas wakes up in a park surrounded by dead bodies and has amnesia. To make matters more confusing, whoever she was before this incident seemed to know that it was going to happen and has written her a series of letters. Also, she has super powers. Oh, and one more thing... she's a highly placed government official. The Rook is a little bit Orphan Black, a little bit X-Files, a little bit X-Men, and quite a bit of Kingsmen. It also features my favorite non-romantic relationship in all of literature. Myfanwy Thomas and Shantay Petoskey ace the Bechdel Test with their eyes closed.

Top 5 graphic novels:

#5  The Wicked and the Divine vol. 4 by Kieron Gillen

This series has been one of my favorites from the beginning. A pantheon of gods and goddesses are resurrected every 90 years into the bodies of teenagers. They're treated like royalty, but have only two years to enjoy it before they die. In this volume, it was good to have Laura back after a long absence. Well, kind of Laura. We also get to know a bit more about Minerva and Baphomet. A few questions get answered, which is satisfying, but by the end, even more have popped up. As an aside, I think it's eerie that the pop star/gods based on Bowie and Prince have died in this series in that order.

#4  Bitch Planet vol. 1 by Kelly Sue Deconnick

Read. This. Book. Yes, it's hyperbolic, but hyperbole has roots in reality. Donald Trump is going to be our next president. The only reason non-compliant women won't be threatened with being shot off to a prison planet is because we don't yet have that technology. And you might be wondering what non-compliant means. It means being disobedient, being educated, questioning men, not meeting a certain physical ideal, disobeying reproductive rules, etc. While this book isn't straight up fear-based propaganda - there is a great story in here that holds its own no matter what the real world political climate is - it's chilling to think that we came several steps closer to oppressive reality this past November. Volume two is out in early 2017 - title? President Bitch. If only.

#3  Step Aside, Pops by Kate Beaton

The only reason I don't call Kate Beaton a national treasure is because she's Canadian. If Bitch Planet is deadly serious commentary on misogyny, Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant comic takes the same subject matter and allows us to laugh at it. And I did. Until I cried. And wheezed. Beaton is both smart and silly. She's a history and classic literature buff but also a nerd. Her comics comment on both the atrocity that is Wuthering Heights and what happens when Wonder Woman gets tired.

#2  Unfollow vol. 1 by Rob Williams

This comic pushes so many of my interest buttons, the main one being the Battle Royale. The multi-billionaire creator of Headspace (Twitter) is dying and decides to give his wealth away to 140 lucky individuals. If you're one of those people, an app called The 140 shows up on your phone and money shows up in your bank account. But one day the app reads 139 and a little more money shows up in your account. What do you do? My favorite character is Akira, a Japanese author who cut off his own legs as a form of performance art. I am so ready for volume 2.

#1  Paper Girls vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan

This book came out before Stranger Things, but if you liked Stranger Things, get to reading Paper Girls. It's 1988 and a group of girls have fought hard for paper delivery turf in their neighborhood. They're out in the wee hours one morning doing their job and come across a weird spacecraft. One of them disappears. There are giant dinosaur geese, and maybe time travel. Also, Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang are my comics dream team. They totally deliver.

Best Nonfiction:

The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

This book isn't specifically for teens or 20-somethings. I just wish it had been available for me to read then. But, better late than never. Hurley addresses gender in geekdom, touching on Gamergate and SadPuppygate, among other things. She also writes about her personal life, letting readers know that the struggle is in fact real, and it's okay to be dealing with it.

Worst books of 2016 (all genres/mediums):

#5  Rat Queens vol. 3 by Kurtis J. Wiebe

What do you do when the main artist on a comic you really like is publicly accused of beating his wife? And then is replaced by a female artist, who is a feminist but also doesn't really capture the essence of the characters the way the artist who co-created them did?  But maybe that's not entirely her fault because the writing seems to be going nowhere in this volume? And in the middle of publication, new artist is surprise fired and wife beating artist is re-hired and all of the dirty laundry is aired online? The politics behind this volume make it hard to read. It's also hard to read because it's not very good (and I say this adoring the first two volumes, pre-knowledge of spousal abuse). I'm not a fan of the art either. This makes me sad because Rat Queens was a really good book

#4  Trees vol. 2 by Warren Ellis

This comic gets mega bonus points for punching heteronormativity in the face. But those are kind of the only points it gets. This comic is boring. Nothing happens. I'm sure something will happen eventually, but two volumes in, I've stopped caring. 

#3  The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

This book is poorly written. The premise seems interesting - magicians go to a magic school and learn how to do magic but they can only specialize in one medium and once they're bonded to that medium, they can't ever work with anything else. This book quickly turns into a teacher/student love story and it turns out the main character is super special and can do all the magics so she doesn't have to be sad anymore. Ugh. No. It should be called The Mary Sue by Mary Sue.

#2  Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Hex is not number 1 on this list, and I'll get to why down below. But it is quite possibly the worst book I have ever read. I don't usually finish books that make me this angry but it was so ridiculous that I had to see it through. It's about a cursed town that has it's own witch - a woman long ago murdered - who just shows up in places and creeps on you. Her mouth and eyes are sewn shut so she can't curse anyone, but some kids try to open her mouth in the process of sexually assaulting her. Ugh. Look, this is just so bizarre. You can read my full review here, but this book is so misogynistic that I think the author might have a phobia of women or at least boobs. There's a weird dream sequence type thing at the end involving all of the town's children being turned into a giant tit and a grown woman spewing pate out of her vagina that I will never be able to unsee.

#1  Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling and John Tiffany

Oh shit, here it is. This book may not be the worst book I read this year, but it managed to ruin seven other books that I used to enjoy quite a bit and that's why it gets the number one spot. I've had time now to sit with this and think through my issues. Time to calm down. Time to think about whether or not my reading of this has fundamentally changed all of the other Harry Potter books. The fact that Harry grew up to be an insufferable, selfish, attention whore - all of the things Draco accused him of being as a child - will stick with me forever. That's only the most problematic part of this book. There is so much wrong with it. The time travel aspect is painful. Missing characters are distracting. Other characters behaving completely out of character made me want to cry. If you love Harry Potter and have not read this book, just step away. Love the original seven books and leave this one alone.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The List of Shame

I woke up like this.

I guess I lied about not making anymore posts this year. I was trying to be positive with my notable books list and with the exception of Slade House by David Mitchell, I really liked all of the books I listed. But as the day went on, I thought maybe it was time to throw a little shade. In no particular order, here is the List of Shame:

Book That Was the Equivalent of Telling Your Dog You Will Take Them to the Park and Then Taking Them to the Vet: Trust No One by Various

I was so excited when I found this book. I was two days away from payday but overdrafted my checking account to purchase it. That's how excited I was. Those of you who knew me in high school and college know that The X-Files was my life. I went to my first ever convention - an X-Files convention - in 1998 and just being in the same room as Gillian Anderson was like finding god. But this book... The intent is good, but the stories all read like bad fanfiction, and not even sexy bad fanfiction. "Mulder and Scully went to a small town and there was a lot of sexual tension and at one point Skinner calls to yell at them, but wait, they're not supposed to be hanging out together so Krycek shows up to spy on them, right? But then Mulder solves the case and Scully makes up some science but when they try to get proof of this alien thing, all they find is a smoking Morley cigarette. The end." It was like the authors went to an X-Files wiki and crammed every X-Files related word into a thing that resembled a story. Biggest letdown ever.

Book That Was Like a Really Good First Date Until You Lean In For the Kiss and They Say They're a Trump Supporter: Read Between the Lines by Jo Knowels

This book crapped all over itself in the last chapter. I was so on board with this book. It starts out with this poor kid who breaks his middle finger in gym class and now has to wear a cast that flips everyone off. Every chapter focuses on a different student and they are all interconnected. One chapter might show a student being terrible and the next would make their actions sympathetic due to information we did not previously have. You know how it works. This book had all the feels. It really sent the message across to be compassionate because you never know what another person is dealing with. Until the last chapter. The last chapter is about one of the teachers reflecting on how much she hates her job because all of these kids are little shits. Why? Why was this chapter in there? It completely ruined the rest of the book.

Book That I Had to Stop Reading Because I Was in the Hospital and Didn't Need Anything Else to Cry About: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

I love Margaret Atwood and maybe it isn't really fair of me to put this book on the List of Shame. I was stuck in the hospital after surgery and on several different pain medications and antibiotics. I started this book and it made me so depressed. I couldn't finish it. It's about a couple who are trying to make their way in a world that has experienced economic collapse. I didn't even get to the part where they sign on with a sketchy corporation. I'm sorry, Margaret. I have every intention of giving this another shot.

Book I Had Every Intention of Reading Until Matt Damon Ruined Everything: The Martian by Andy Weir

This book seemed interesting. I wanted to read it but it got lost in the shuffle of the 8 million other books I also want to read. But then everyone started reading it. And then Matt Damon made a movie. And everyone started saying they were going to "science the shit" out of things. I don't care how good it is or how much you think I will like it. I already hate the main character and everyone who has read it who now thinks they're Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

Book That I Read Against Everyone's Better Judgment But Still Don't Quite Regret: Life and Death: Twilight Re-imagined by Sephenie Meyer

I read this book so you wouldn't have to. I did it for you, dammit! The gender bending was silly and actually disproved all of the things Meyer wanted to say. Bella and Beau could feel the exact same things about the exact same situations but they will be perceived differently because gender is something we all perform even if our performance is not performing it. Gender exists and in and of itself it is not a bad thing. No point on the gender spectrum is any better or worse than another and it's okay for a male character and a female character to react differently to things. The gender bending wasn't done well - there were a lot of pronoun changes and name changes but overall it was ineffective. Beau was just as much of a potato as Bella was. But, I can't bring myself to regret reading this or the original series. It's just a thing that happened.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

It's the 2015 Notable Book List!!

Oh hi, Jujubee!
I usually do a best book/worst book blog post at about this time of year. And because I am hella lazy with this blog, it appears to be the only post I will do this year.

However, I'm going to do things a little differently. There were so many books in 2015 that I had strong opinions about for many different reasons that I'm just going to go through the most notable ones and give them their own categories. So, here is my list of most notable books in 2015:

(Disclaimer: not all of these books were written in 2015 - they are books that I read in 2015.)

Prettiest: Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson

This was a really excellent story but Dodson is also a book designer and he pulled out all the stops with Bats of the Republic. This book has gorgeous drawings and handwritten chapters. The pages are nice and thick and there is a super secret envelope in the back that says DO NOT OPEN. The cover is so silky smooth and pretty that I had a hard time reading it instead of petting it with my face.

Best Under the Radar Graphic Novel: Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch

This was probably the most fun thing I read this year. Rat Queens mocks and pays homage to the culture of Dungeons and Dragons. It also tackles some complicated character development and Serious Issues all underneath a thick layer of straight up debauchery.

Best Graphic Novel on Everyone's Radar: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

I first discovered Stevenson through the Hawkeye Initiative, where she drew Hawkeye in all of the ridiculous poses that male artists think female characters can do. Maybe if those female characters didn't have spines or digestive tracts... Anyway, Nimona is both adorable and serious - the two are not mutually exclusive. It's a story about belonging and doing the right things or the wrong things, and maybe some dragons.

Best Sequel: The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

I'm not going to spoil this book - it's a sequel. But this was the sequel that all other sequels should aspire to be. I could not put it down. The first book (The Queen of the Tearling) was good, but this was better.

Most Haunting: Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

This is Link's latest book of short stories but the first one I read. I then promptly devoured everything I could find by her. If fiction writing had an uncanny valley, her work would be in it. This book in particular left me with a deliciously creepy feeling without being able to articulate the exact point of creep factor.

Best Book With Realistically Queer Characters: A Crown For Cold Silver by Alex Marshall

Sure, this is a sword and sorcery fantasy book but the queerness factor is as real as it gets. Or, as real as we all wish it were in our own world. No one is tragically gay or secretly trans. Everyone is out and open and no one gives a shit. The main character is bisexual. A side character is both asexual and gender queer. Another character is a cis woman with a glorious mustache. And a male character is in an arranged marriage with another dude. Oh, and there are guys who like girls and girls who like guys - everyone is sexually happy and the one thing no one kills anyone over is the junk in their pants. Or skirts. Or whatever.

Best Book That I Read to Myself in the Voice of Someone Else: Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

I am a late comer to the land of Night Vale, but when I fell for it, I fell hard. This book is not a story of Cecil, but I read the entire thing in Cecil's voice. It's the story of Jackie Fierro, eternally 19, and Diane Crayton, mother of a shape shifting son. They are both haunted by slips of paper that say KING CITY and the constant appearance of a weirdly smiling man. Is King City real? Who is this smiling creeper? And what is with these plastic flamingos all over town? Read, if you dare - but whatever you do, don't get the book from your local library.

Most Interesting Non-Fiction: The State of Play, edited by Daniel Goldberg

You don't have to be a gamer to read up on gamer culture and games theory, or sympathize with the victims of Gamergate. This is a book of essays from all walks of gaming that looks at all of the ways in life that we play. And what is play, really? From Call of Duty to Depression Quest, this book looks at all of the ways that games impact our lives.

Weirdest Author: Ainslie Hogarth

This year I read her second book, The Boy Meets Girl Massacre (Annotated) and Hogarth has maintained her WTF-ness after her first book, The Lonely. I read this book in one sitting and it occasionally made me nauseous. Noelle has a job at the Boy Meets Girl Inn, which is also the scene of several grisly murders, including her own. Don't worry - that's not a spoiler. Trust me. She also has a hideous and growing scab on the back of her head and an awful father. There's a pick-ax involved, but also some cats. Oh god, I just remembered the cats.

Book That Made Me Angriest at Book Club: Slade House by David Mitchell

I liked this book but I didn't want to. I had to read it for a book club I'm in. But I got mad at what a literary asshole David Mitchell is. Who writes whole passages of a book in French without translation? I mean, that was The Bone Clocks, but Slade House is an offshoot of The Bone Clocks. All of Mitchell's books are offshoots of each other, but in really stupid ways.This is a book about immortal soul suckers and their victims. I am a very smart person, and even I had to take notes to keep things straight. Whatever. Just fuck off with your unoriginal time jumping premise, David.

Best Wrestling Book: Wrestling For My Life by Shawn Michaels

I read a lot of books about professional wrestling this year. I liked wrestling a lot as a tween and teen in the late 80s and early 90s. I've gotten back into it in the last couple of years. Michaels was one of the baddest heels when I was a kid, and this was before the Attitude Era. He's written a decent memoir here of finding god, getting clean, and continuing to enjoy a career that makes sticking with god and staying clean kind of hard.

Fine. If I Really Have to Have a Favorite Book (OMG it is so good!): Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

I love 'chosen one' narratives. I can't help it. Wish fulfillment fiction can be so satisfying. Rowell takes the chosen one narrative and messes with it so hard. The character of Simon Snow first showed up in Rowell's book Fangirl (which is also amazing and has cover art by Noelle Stevenson) and is the subject of eight books by fictional author Gemma T. Leslie. In Fangirl, Cath writes slash fic about Simon and his nemesis, Baz, as they attend a magical boarding school a la Harry Potter. Carry On is the the eighth book in the series even though books 1-7 actually don't exist. Simon has to save the magical world, but how? And from what? Baz has to stop him because... reasons? I don't want to give away more than that. But this book is so delightful and also mind-bendingly meta.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

My Best and Worst Books of 2014

I love Best Of and Worst Of lists. December is a magical month for me when every media outlet compiles lists of everything that was awesome or terrible in the previous 11 months, from pictures of cats on Roombas to bullshit gluten free recipes for cronuts. I'm really only qualified to rank books. And by qualified, I mean I have a big enough ego to think I can tell other people what they should and should not be reading.

Disclaimer: These are all books I have read in 2014. They didn't all come out in 2014. This list also doesn't count books I re-read this year. And finally, it doesn't include books I couldn't finish. I don't feel right completely judging a book I didn't finish because maybe it got awesome in the parts I didn't read. Probably not, but it's a possibility - a Schrodinger's Cat kind of thing.

Best Books of 2014

5. Reality Boy by A.S. King

This book spoke to me. I hate saying corny shit like that, but it's true. When Gerald was 5, his family was on a reality television show called Network Nanny. Gerald's original problem was punching holes in the walls when he got mad. Then he started crapping on things. Like the kitchen table and his sister's bed. Gerald is a teenager now, and boy is he angry. King goes back and forth, trading Gerald's current narrative with stories of his life as an unwilling reality television star. It's one thing to know in your head that reality television isn't real and quite another to be able to peek behind the scenes. Gerald's life is a lot more complicated and tragic than Network Nanny ever let on. Gerald is one of the most sympathetic characters I have ever read without crossing into the pathetic, minus the sym. I understood his anger and frustration. There were times that I thought this book was written specifically for me. I know that's silly, but if an author can make you feel that, they've gone above and beyond good writing.

4. The Stand by Stephen King

This book was definitely not written in 2014. I'm super late to the game, but I'm glad I decided to give Stephen King a chance this year. I spent a lot of time hating on King because my brother liked him and my brother has shitty taste. I also dismissed him as a hack because anyone as prolific as King can't possibly be good, right? The Stand was awesome. I went into it without spoilers and while I thought the ending was a little anticlimactic, the journey was everything.

3. Noggin by John Corey Whaley

You can indeed judge a book by its cover. Look at that. It's genius. Who wouldn't want to read that? I had a few moments of doubt with this book early on because I'm tired of books about sad cancer kids being sad. 2014 was the year of terminal illness romanticism. Stahp. Please. But Noggin is different. Travis does die of cancer but comes back to life five years later with his head attached to a healthy donor body. His girlfriend might be engaged to someone else, but she and Travis never technically broke up, so they're still together, right? Even though she's 21 and he's still 16? This book really made me think about time and how we take it for granted. Five years can feel like a blink or a thousand lifetimes. It also forced me to think about death. What if it didn't have to be permanent? How hard must it be to say hello again to someone to whom you've already said goodbye forever? This book also made me laugh. And cry. A lot.

2. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

This book was so much fun. I'm really fascinated with online alterna-worlds. Yeah, I play Warcraft. There's so much to MMOs beyond shooting orcs in the face. Whole political systems and economies grow in a good MMO. Ready Player One takes the MMO to the next level. Most people these days operate in OASIS because the real world is so awful. Wade Watts aka Parzival is one of these people, but he also has a mission: to crack the clues left by OASIS's creator and win more money than he could ever use. This book is a love letter to 80s pop culture but you don't have to get all of the references to enjoy what is also a super fun adventure story. I am so looking forward to Cline's next book, Armada, which isn't coming out soon enough, dammit.

1. The Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price

I read this book back in February and spent the rest of the year reading everything in comparison to it. The one word I think of in regard to this books is "refreshing." I read a lot and sometimes feel like I'm reading the same thing over and over again. Silvers was like a high voltage zap in the ass. Yeah, alternate realities have been done before but not quite like this. Price provides readers with a plot that starts with the end of the world and never slows down. There is also a cast of characters that are unique but still easy to relate to. I kind of have a crush on Zach Trillinger, but don't tell Amanda Given... Price walks that fine line between accessibility and wtf just happened? with his plot. This first book in what I hope is a long and engaging series answers just enough questions to keep readers satisfied but asks many more that will make your head explode with awesome. Silvers was my favorite book not just of 2014 but of several years before that. I talk about it so much that I think my coworkers are ready to beat me to death with a copy.

Worst Books 2014

5. Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

This book goes on the list for having so much wasted potential. The gimmick of this book was so clever, but that's all it was - a gimmick. The book is physically designed as a mock IKEA catalogue, complete with furniture diagrams that get more and more upsetting as the book goes on. It's worth a read through, but beyond the idea of a haunted IKEA-like store, there really isn't anything there. Hendrix's characters are forgettable and the plot was neither particularly funny or horrifying. I also got tired of Hendrix explaining every single reference and joke. Have some faith in your readers, man.

4. Dangerous Women ed. by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

There's not much to say about this collection of stories except that it was a hot and bloated mess. I mostly bought the book for the Lev Grossman story and the George RR Martin story, but figured I would get some exposure to other authors as well and maybe discover a few that could become new favorites. No. Many of the works included in this volume were just boring, with a few bordering on offensively bad. The Grossman story was good but I later felt cheated when I read it as part of The Magician's Land. The Martin piece was like an exceptionally dry textbook. I say that having read the Song of Ice and Fire books multiple times. I also found the definition of dangerous women as presented by this volume a little off-putting. I thought I'd be reading a lot of Strong Female Characters, but mostly the women here just had axes to grind against men who wronged them in the past. This collection was just really not good and I'll be ignoring the second volume.

3. Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

It hurts me to put this book on the list. A lot. The first two in this series were incredible. Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight are superb. I still love them. I refuse to let the conclusion of the trilogy ruin the first two books. Angels, demons, artists, blue-haired girls, wishes made real, puppets, and Prague - freaking Prague! This beautiful series succumbs to teenage melodrama in the third book. What started as an engaging and epic story of family, war, and betrayal turned into 500 pages of Karou trying to figure out if she could still love Akiva after he murdered what was left of her entire race. I don't know... I feel like the answer should kind of be "no."

2. Deathnote by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata

This was my attempt to get into manga. A lot of the teens who come into my library like it and I figured I would make an attempt at connecting by reading it. I just didn't get it. Teenage sociopath with supernatural powers vs. teenage detective with preternatural powers of deduction. Death Note got boring and repetitive really fast. Maybe I would have liked this series better when I was younger.

1. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Ugh. Ugh. I'm going to spoil this entire book right now in the review, so if you don't want spoilers, stop reading. Spoiled rich girl and spoiled rich cousins are tired of being used in their family's spoiled rich politics and drama. Spoiled rich kids get the brilliant idea to burn down spoiled rich racist grandpa's house to teach him a lesson. But spoiled rich kids don't understand how fire works and all but one of them die. And the family dogs die too. The one kid that survives is still spoiled and rich but now she is sad because her cousins are dead and grandpa is still rich and racist. There was nothing sympathetic or relatable about anyone in this book. I didn't feel like I learned anything after reading this book. I finished it and was only sad that I spent time with it. And yet, people love this damn book. It's won a bunch of awards and will likely be a 2014 Printz contender. Ew. Why? No, really, why? Someone please explain to me why this is a good book.

What's on your best and worst of 2014 lists?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Minecraft: What? Why?

I'm really smart. I know this about myself and I'm not going to be shy about it. But there are different kinds of smart and unfortunately, I am not the right kind of smart to make decent money with my brain or survive a potential Lost type of situation. Once, when I was in college, I put the wrong sized light bulb in a desk lamp and almost burned down the house I shared with three other people. My roommate said I was the stupidest smart person she had ever known. I'm the type of smart that could win at Jeopardy! but things like computers, cars, and overly complex word problems are like magic.

Recently, I've been humbled by the video game Minecraft. And by humbled, I mean forced to admit I'm really bad at it and had a temper tantrum. I don't get it. I just. Do. Not. Understand.

This looks like a diseased penis with a face. I mean, is it?
Oh, I understand that you're a guy named Steve and you're supposed to rip up the land to build shit, but why?! WHY?! Part of the issue is that you have to or the diseased penis up there will arrive in the night and eat your face. But if that's the only reason, why play the game at all?

Okay, I'm starting over. Minecraft makes me a little angry. I'm trying really hard to understand it because I work with teens at a library and a few of us have gotten together to try and develop programming based on Minecraft because everyone seems to like it. And in order to get people inside the library, you have to entice them with things they like. Like Minecraft.

I bought a copy of the game and played it for about a half an hour, digging holes in the ground and punching the shit out trees but got frustrated and died because I got attacked by one of these things when I couldn't figure out how to build a door for my three walled dirt house:


Next, I did what I usually do when I get frustrated by something but can't just kick it and move on. I read some books and got my learn on. I read Minecraft for Dummies and Minecraft: the Unlikely Tale of Markus "Notch" Persson and the Game That Changed Everything. Here is a short list of the things I learned from these books and my half hour of game play:
1. There is no point to Minecraft except for the points that you create yourself. For example, if you want to log on and build a Hadron collider - do it. If you want to log on and lay in a hole and build crude dicks and butts out of dirt and rock, you can do that too.
2. There's a very vague storyline with an end boss but you can ignore it if you want to. The process of getting to this end boss is also mildly Satanic and may or may not involve a blood sacrifice.
3. You can eat zombie flesh, but it has an 80% chance of giving you food poisoning.
4. Zombie pig men are in this game but they won't really hurt you unless you hurt them first.
5. You can make a saddle and ride pigs. However, one of my coworkers has informed me that Minecraft also has horses.
6. Markus Persson is a gaming god and he always wears a fedora.
My problem with Minecraft is that I try too hard to find meaning where there is none. This game is all about the building and creating. But when you don't have an ounce of engineering enthusiasm in your body, what's left is the story. And to me, the story is thus:
You're a guy, dropped into a world alone. There are other people, but they're few and far between and they're much more primitive than you. Maybe you fell out of a spaceship? Or a wormhole? These people are too stupid to take care of you, but you don't seem to be phased by your own displacement anyway. So you navigate this world and learn that if you don't hurry up and build a house, zombies, creepers, and spiders will murder you in the night and take all your stuff. And you can keep on living this way, day after day, in a dirt house, your life becoming nothing more than the avoidance of a violent death. Or you can use your daylight hours to build fantastic structures that no one but you will ever appreciate and serve no purpose other than being a more elaborate way to stave off flesh eating pixel beasts. Or, you can travel to The End and kill a giant dragon, but the other people in this land won't even thank you because they had no idea it was there in the first place. And you can sit in your dirt house or to-scale replica of the Enterprise and weep silently for the life you were so crudely ripped from while breeding blue sheep and eating mushroom stew.
And this is why I'm not the right kind of smart for Minecraft. I can't comprehend gaming without a set objective. Even Pong has a purpose, which is to beat the other guy. I need structure. I need narrative. I need a definitive in-game goal or I will get bored and just come up with stupid ways to kill my avatar like building a house in The Sims and not putting in a toilet.
So, this has been my Minecraft experience. I'm going to keep trying because my patrons love the hell out of this game. But I may never really understand it. And I guess that's okay. For now though, I have to go. I have to level up my human hunter on World of Warcraft.