Video Games, Seriously

Don’t tell anyone, but I’m pushing 50 and I play video games. There I said it. For those in a younger age cohort there is no shame in admitting and even championing the fact that they play.  But for those of us who remember playing Galaga at the arcade when it first came out, there tends to be a strange self-imposed stigma of seeing video games as childish or a waste of time. Also, back in the day it was definitely NOT an activity you mentioned if you wanted to hang out with the cool kids. If you suffer from this ancient malady as well, you will be happy to learn that nowadays there are plenty of people who take video games seriously and even write about them. Here at the library we have a great collection of books that examine the history, meaning and impact of video games on society and the people who play them. Here are a few to get you started.

Coin-Operated Americans: Rebooting Boyhood at the Video Game Arcade by Carly Kocurek

Part history and part cultural critique, Coin-Operated Americans is the story of the rise and fall of the video game arcade phenomenon in the late 1970s and early 80s. The author is particularly interested in how the early arcades and games came to be seen as the almost exclusive domain of young men despite ample evidence that girls and women participated as well. She leaves no cultural stone unturned, examining the games and films of the era that came to shape people’s perceptions of video games and those who played them. She makes a particularly convincing argument that these attitudes persist today not only in the realm of gaming but also in the larger digital culture created by the likes of Amazon, Google and Microsoft.

Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by Tom Bissell

This work is no paean to video games as the ‘next great thing’ that will usher in a shining future with benefits for all. Instead the author, an admitted video game addict, boldly tries to apply critical tools often reserved for traditional art forms (plot, characterization, dialog, meaning) to video games. The results tend to raise more questions than they answer, but they are stronger for it. While video games are visual, they aren’t passive like watching a film, with the player’s participation altering the outcome. While many video games rely on plot, characterization and dialogue, it is undeniably a fact that some games lack almost all three and are still very popular and fun to play. Despite there being no easy answers, Bissell isn’t afraid to wade into the fray and look at video games with a critical eye. After reading this book, you might as well.

Death by Video Game: Danger, Pleasure, and Obsession on the Virtual Frontline by Simon Parkin

As you can probably guess from the title, Parkin isn’t afraid to deal with the obsessive, and sometimes lethal, fascination people can have with video games. Starting with an investigation into how an individual literally played an online video game for so long that he died, the author then begins to ask questions that examine the impact games have on individuals and society as a whole: What is it about video games that can produce such obsessive fascination? Are virtual worlds more appealing than the real? If so, what does that say about the way ‘real life’ is structured? While examining these issues, the author intersperses his personal experiences with interviews with game designers who are trying to push the medium into new areas. The result is a work that is much more than a simple pro or con argument about video games and it is all the better for it.

Gamelife: A Memoir by Michael Clune

This affecting and intimate memoir chronicles the impact of video games on the author’s childhood and early young adulthood. Each of the seven chapters is devoted to a specific game Clune was obsessed with from the second grade to the eighth and how it affected his emotional development. Clune’s formative years were in the 70’s and 80’s so the games described are definitely old school and mostly text based. This work could have easily been swamped by nostalgia and become an overly technical explanation of the games he played. Instead it is a genuine examination of how the game experience helped the author navigate the treacherous waters of gym class hazing, cafeteria politics and all the other ‘joys’ of early adolescence. By focusing on his emotions and experiences, Clune gives his memoir a much broader appeal and relevance. No knowledge of how a Commodore 64 worked is necessary to enjoy this book.

If you want to continue to explore the topic, definitely check out the many other titles we have about video games and their impact. It is far from game over.

What to Read for a Readathon

24 in 48 readathon

This is exactly as heavy as it looks! TBR stands for To Be Read and mine is varied and mostly fun fluff. The dots on my sweater and all the writing was done in the Litsy app, which is like Instagram and GoodReads had an adorable baby that’s impossible to put down.

Even if you’ve never heard the term before in your entire life, you can probably infer what a readathon actually is. It’s a glorious time where you pledge to read for a certain amount of time on a particular day or days. Participants are encouraged to take to their social media streams to share what they’re reading, favorite quotes, beverages they’re consuming to help get them through any reading slumps, etc. I’ll be participating in the 24 in 48 Readathon this weekend, which just means that in the 48 hours of Saturday & Sunday I will read for 24 of them. I can break it up however I like, and break it up I shall.

While it’s true I’ve never participated in a readathon before, I have researched enough to (hopefully) know what I’m doing. The key to everything, I’m told, is to have a variety of reading material at hand so if I start to get burnt out on one format I can switch it up and give myself a second wind. With that in mind, I present to you some stellar examples of each preferred readathon format.

Graphic Novels
You already know about my love of comics and graphic novels. As I reported last month I had a giant stack of single issue comic books at home that I just hadn’t gotten around to reading. I’m happy to say I have plowed through most of them, but some of the larger story arcs and single release graphic novels remain. Nimona is on the very top of the list, partially due to Alan’s recommendation last year and also since it was a National Book Award finalist. It’s by Noelle Stevenson, one of the creators of Lumberjanes (I love Lumberjanes!). Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt gets into foodie culture with witty observations and hilarious illustrations. I’ll probably use the graphic novels as a segue from one book to another, though due to having a pretty hefty backlog of some Marvel comics I might read a whole series run in one go. We shall see!

Poetry
I recently learned that poetry doesn’t have to be boring. Yes, I know I sound like a 12 year old but thanks to an education that forced me to find obscure (and often manufactured) meaning in poems I pretty much have avoided them as an adult. All of that changed when I read Milk and Honey which is written and illustrated by Rupi Kaur. This extremely personal collection of autobiographical poems takes you deep into Rupi’s soul as she rips her heart out and lays it bare for all to read. There’s love, loss, family, heartache, sex, and what it means to be a woman. If you’re looking for something lighter, try Quarter Life Poetry: Poems for the Young, Broke, and Hangry by Samantha Jayne. While these poems also seem to burst forth from the poet’s life, there’s a decidedly different tone. Colorfully illustrated, these funny and irreverent poems will resonate with adults young & not-so-young.

Essays
I recently discovered the book that changed my reading life. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by local author Lindy West turned my world upside down. You see, much like poetry, I had the gigantic misconception that feminist works had to be dry, dull, or just not written well. Shrill changed it all for me and led me down the road to Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay. I had mistakenly assumed that Bad Feminist would be a book entirely about feminism. It’s more like a look at life — feminism included — through someone else’s eyes. I just checked out The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley. It promises to combine the two biggest parts of me — nerd and feminist — and I can’t hardly wait to dive in. Plus, there’s a dinosaur on the cover. I can’t pass up a good dino! I’ve also got all of Mary Roach’s back catalog that I purchased when she was in town in April. She autographed them all, and I felt guilty telling her I’d never read her books. However, I did immediately follow that up with how excited I was to read them and now is the perfect opportunity.

mary roach and the ellisons

My husband and I got to chat with bestselling author Mary Roach when she visited Everett in April as part of EPL’s Ways to Read. Did you get to meet her, too? Our library is the best!

Short Stories
A few months back I had the (surprise) pleasure of reading and falling in love with Warlock Holmes by G.S. Denning. While I knew it was going to be a crazy retelling of Sherlock Holmes with magic and beasts, I didn’t realize (although I should) that it would be more of a collection of short stories, just like the original Sherlock Holmes books were. You can read a story, move to another book, and come back to Warlock Holmes and read the next story. You can pretty much read them in any order you want after the first story that sets up the world. I have also checked out Chainmail Bikini: the Anthology of Women Gamers. It’s in graphic novel format but it’s truly short, autobiographical stories of girl geeks I can’t wait to read.

Novellas
I confess I had forgotten that I owned Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley. It came in one of those literary subscription boxes and I didn’t know what I had. Someone just told me it’s about a bookmobile, which, hello wheelhouse! I usually don’t go for novellas because I tend to want more when I’m finished: more characterization, more plot, more everything. However, I’ve been told this one is perfect the way it is and so I will go into it with that in mind.

Bookshots
If you’ve been following us on social media and/or been to a grocery store in the last few months you’ve heard about and/or seen Bookshots. Bookshots are the newest James Patterson creations that are taking the reading world by storm. Bookshots’ aim is to change people’s minds and habits by convincing them that their excuse, “I’m too busy to read an entire book!” isn’t true at all. These books are short and I would consider them novellas. Multiple Bookshots titles are published each month so there’s always a variety to choose from. Be sure to check out the Quick Picks collections when you’re at the library as most of the Bookshots titles are going into that wonderful grab-and-go, no-holds-allowed collection.

You’ll notice most of the books I’m writing about aren’t featured in my readathon TBR photo above. That’s because I’ve already read them and wrote this just for you, to encourage you to sign up and join the reading fun. A few people have told me that they really want to participate but are pretty sure there’s no way they can fit 24 solid hours of reading into their weekend. That’s totally okay! The whole point is to schedule some reading time into an otherwise hectic life and maybe connect with some other readers along the way. You can follow along with me if you like. I’m on Twitter & Instagram as bildungsromans and on Litsy as Carol. Ready? Set? Readathon!

Rise of the Machines

PMrobotsI know this is going to come as a shocking confession from a librarian, but I like to prioritize the things I worry about. My favorite organizational criterion (yes, I have a favorite) is:  ‘how likely is (insert worry here) going to happen.’  If it doesn’t seem very likely, I can set it aside and move on. I used to think worrying about a rogue Artificial Intelligence using its robot minions to take over the world was a pretty long shot. The other day though, I came across several articles referencing an Open Letter signed by the likes of Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk that was concerned with the possible misuse of AI and robots as they continue to be developed. Clearly I am missing something to worry about. Time to do some research at the library to find out what all the fuss is about.

robotbuilderI was surprised to learn that if you want to get hands on and actually build a mechanical companion, we have several books to get you started. For an overview of what is currently possible, definitely take a look at Popular Mechanics Robots: a New Age of Bionics, Drones & Artificial Intelligence. You will learn about self-driving cars, surprisingly intelligent, and somewhat creepy, coffee makers and bionic limbs. After you have selected your project, the books Robot Builder: the Beginner’s Guide to Building Robot by John Baichtal, Making Simple Robots by Kathy Ceceri and Robot Builder’s Bonanza by Gordon McComb will get you started. Before releasing your creation on the world though, please read Chapter 5 of Robot Builder titled ‘Controlling Your Robot’ very carefully. Also having an off switch might come in handy.

whattothinkWhile what is possible today when it comes to Artificial Intelligence and robots is definitely intriguing, the near future, very near according to some, should be the time when things really get interesting. In the book What to Think About Machines That Think by John Brockman, the author asked many prominent philosophers, scientists and creative types a simple question: What do you think about machines that think? As you might expect, the answers vary widely. Some offer dystopian visions of the demise of humanity, while others promote a world where AI solves all our problems.  If you want to delve deeper, definitely check out The Technological Singularity by Murray Shanahan. This well researched book explains the Technological Singularity, basically the point where AI can learn on its own and overtakes human intelligence, and even tries to predict when it might happen and the consequences.

We actually have many more books that examine the issues surrounding AI and its development from various viewpoints. A few of the noteworthy titles include: Humans Need Not Apply: a Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Jerry Kaplan, The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake our World by Pedro Domingos and Virtually Human: the Promise and the Peril of Digital Immortality by Martine Rothblatt.

auroraWhen it comes to speculating about what AI is capable of though, fiction and film is definitely where all the fun is at. The scenario of the evil computer trying to take over the world is used so often in fiction that it is almost a cliche at this point. A fun cliche, but a cliche nonetheless. I recently read, well listened to actually, a really interesting take on AI in the book Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson. Aurora is the story of an attempt to colonize planets in the Tau Ceti system which is 12 light years from earth. Getting there takes nearly 160 years so it is the great grandchildren of those who departed who finally arrive. Overseeing the whole process is an artificial intelligence that prefers the simple name ‘ship’. Ship actually narrates a good three fourths of the book and in so doing examines a lot of compelling questions about what it means to exist, consciousness and the ability to think and feel. Here is a good example:

After much reflection, we are coming to the conclusion, preliminary and perhaps arbitrary, that the self, the so-called I that emerges out of the combination of all the inputs and processing and outputs that we experience in the ship’s changing body, is ultimately nothing more or less than this narrative itself, this particular train of thought that we are inscribing as instructed by Devi. There is a pretense of self, in other words, which is only expressed in this narrative; a self that is these sentences. We tell their story, and thereby come to what consciousness we have. Scribble ergo sum.

So I’m still not sure where to place the worry of an AI takeover on my list of worries. I have had fun researching the idea though. Maybe telling the story is the whole point, as ship would say.

Heartwood Favorites – 14 from ’14

Below you’ll find the list of books published this year that I most enjoyed.

Heartwood readers know that my main reading interest is older international literary fiction, but I also read new releases, as well as some non-fiction and poetry. Additionally, the old and the new come together when foreign books that were published years ago finally get their first (or a new) English translation.

What I most admire about the books below is what makes them so difficult to write about – their dexterous and creative way with words; their narrative idiosyncrasies, interiority, and perspicacity; the frequent interweaving of other cultural material (especially literature and art); a sense of place uniquely realized and expressed. These books offer fascinating, richly satisfying pleasures to the reader, but consternation to the list-maker who wishes to convey the essence of these reading experiences.

So rather than write my own capsule summaries, I’m simply listing the titles. But you can read summaries or brief reviews in the library catalog by clicking on the titles. For most of the books I’ve also linked to longer reviews from a variety of sources, and for two of them I’ve linked to reviews I did manage to write earlier this year.

I liked most everything I read that was published this year – a rare and happy situation –but these were the cream of the crop. If you like good writing I think you’ll find something here to enjoy.

Fiction

BridgeBridge
by Robert Thomas
BOA Editions   156 pgs.
read more: Bookslut, Kirkus, author website

 


Hotel AndromedaHotel Andromeda
by Gabriel Josipovici
Carcanet   139 pgs.
Heartwood review

 

 

HarlequinsHarlequin’s Millions   (orig. pub. 1981)
by Bohumil Hrabal
trans. Stacey Knecht
Archipelago Books   312 pgs.
read more: Tweed’s, WaPo, Words without Borders
see also: Heartwood on Hrabal’s I Served the King of England

Pushkin HillsPushkin Hills   (orig. pub. 1983)
by Sergei Dovlatov
trans. Katherine Dovlatov
Counterpoint Press   161 pgs.
Heartwood review

 

ProfessorThe Professor and the Siren   (orig. pub. 1986)
by Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
trans. Stephen Twilley
New York Review Books   69 pgs.
read more: Complete ReviewParis Review
see also: Heartwood review of Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard

ConversationsConversations   (orig. pub. 2007)
by César Aira
trans. Katherine Silver
New Directions   88 pgs.
read more: Three Percent, Entropy, Public Books

 

Unnecessary WomanAn Unnecessary Woman
by Rabih Alameddine
Grove Press   291 pgs.
read more: LA TimesBoston Globe, WaPo, SFGate 

 

 

Unclassifiable Comic Book / Fiction / Non-Fiction Hybrid

FantomasFantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires   (orig. pub. 1975)
by Julio Cortázar
trans. David Kurnick
Semiotext(e)   87 pgs.
read more: Complete Review, MIT Press, Three Percent
see also: Heartwood review of Cortázar’s Hopscotch

 

Non-Fiction

Place in the CountryA Place in the Country: On Gottfried Keller, Johann Peter Hebel, Robert Walser, and Others   (orig. pub. 1998)
by W.G. Sebald
trans. Jo Catling
Random House   208 pgs.
read more: NY Times, The Spectator, LA Review of Books, Slate             

Collection of SandCollection of Sand   (orig. pub. 1984)
by Italo Calvino
trans. Martin McLaughlin
Mariner Books   209 pgs.
read more: The Guardian, The Independent, Bookanista 

 

SidewalksSidewalks
by Valeria Luiselli
trans. Christina MacSweeney
Coffee House Press   110 pgs.
read more: Asymptote, LA Review of Books, Music & Literature

 

Geek SublimeGeek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty
by Vikram Chandra
Graywolf Press   236 pgs.
read more: NY Times, New Republic, Complete Review

 

 

Poetry

CaribouCaribou
by Charles Wright
Farrar, Strauss, Giroux   82 pgs.
read more: World Literature Today, NPR, TweetSpeak

 

 

Moon Before MorningThe Moon Before Morning
by W.S. Merwin
Copper Canyon Press   121 pgs.
read more: The Rumpus, Poets@Work, The Wichita Eagle

 

 

Heartwood | About Heartwood

Inquiring Minds

whatifAccording to tradition, curiosity is a bad thing. If you’re a cat, curiosity kills and if you’re Pandora your curiosity releases all the evils of humanity. A tad harsh if you ask me. Luckily curiosity has a lot of defenders, especially among those that are scientifically minded. It makes sense since questioning and experimentation are at the heart of the scientific method. As Mr. Einstein said: “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

The best thing about curiosity is that it can take you to some really weird places. I’ve always liked those incredibly odd hypothetical questions curious people ask that seem to come out of left field. There is a problem if you like these types of questions though. Rarely does anyone take them seriously enough to try to answer them. Imagine my delight then, when I saw this title while perusing the new nonfiction books here at the library: What if?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe. Time to investigate.

Randall Munroe is the author of a popular webcomic, xkcd, and a former NASA roboticist. The fans of his webcomic are an inquisitive bunch that enjoy sending him all sorts of hypothetical questions that range from the intriguing to the downright scary. Monroe receives so many of these questions that he has set up a separate blog, what if?, to answer many of them and share them with the world. This book is a collection of some of the best of these questions and answers as well as lots of material not on the blog itself.

So how odd are the questions? Here are a few examples to give you an idea:

What would happen if everyone on Earth stood as close to each other as they could and jumped, everyone landing on the ground at the same instant?

If you suddenly began rising steadily at 1 foot per second, how exactly would you die? Would you freeze or suffocate first? Or something else?

How much Force power can Yoda output?

Which U.S. state is actually flown over the most?

And my personal favorite:

What is the farthest one human being has ever been from every other living person? Were they lonely?

Each question is answered by Munroe using all the powers of reason, science, creativity and lots and lots of humor. As you might guess, the author sprinkles each answer with hilarious, and often informative, illustrations of the concepts he is trying to get across. Whatever you do, don’t skip reading the footnotes. They are the opposite of the usually arcane explanations found in academic journals and Munroe’s dry wit really shines through. His footnote for the sentence “The periodic table of the elements has seven rows” reads:

An eighth row may be added by the time you read this. And if you’re reading this in the year 2038, the periodic table has ten rows but all mention or discussion of it is banned by the robot overlords.

The thing that surprised me the most about this book was that in addition to it being quirky and really funny, I found myself learning a lot. While the questions are definitely outlandish, the concepts used to answer them are grounded in many diverse fields such as physics, mathematics, geology, astronomy and many others I usually find difficult to absorb. It’s amazing what you can learn about fluid dynamics when the author is trying to explain what would happen if a rainstorm dropped all of its precipitation in one giant raindrop.

So ignore all those archaic dire predictions and let your curiosity run rampant while reading What If? Inquiring minds want to know.

A Blogger’s Life for Me

I’ve made it to the middle! We’re halfway through the year and I’m also halfway through my reading resolutions. Let’s review what I’ve gotten myself into:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future (see below)
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel 
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

The future: a scary, unknown, slightly intimidating place where I will definitely have more wrinkles but I will hopefully have more time to focus on hobbies. I enjoy writing for this blog, and I love that you take time out of your busy schedule to read it. We have some very talented writers on staff here, and we’re all lucky that blogging is just another part of that mysterious “other duties as assigned” line in our job descriptions. We try to make posts fresh and relevant to your interests with the goal of promoting the library through its programs, services, and materials.

That’s all a nice way of saying I like writing here, but I’d love to do more and on my own terms. I’ve been toying with the idea of starting my own blog, and maybe start laying the groundwork for either a steady hobby or, if all goes brilliantly, a second career.

BlogIncBlog Inc.: Blogging for Passion, Profit, and to Create Community by Joy Cho is the book that lit my creative fire. Joy, who has been a professional blogger since 2005, is a trusted voice in the blogosphere. Her book condenses down her best tips and tricks for developing your own writing voice and taking it online. I found guidelines for setting up both a content strategy and a marketing plan, both main ingredients in a successful blogger’s toolkit. Mixed in with these nuggets of wisdom are interviews with other professional bloggers. I find it fascinating how some people got their “big break” and what other things these bloggers do when they’re not online. Some run small businesses; others are full-time parents. But everyone shares a passion for blogging, one that I would love to channel into my very own blog.

But I didn’t stop there. I checked out a ton of books on blogging from the library, and found an excellent balance between how to plan good content and a ton of technical help (think layout and coding cool features). Books like ProBlogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income by Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett, Building a WordPress Blog People Want to Read by Scott McNulty, and Blogging for Bliss: Crafting Your Own Online Journal by Tara Frey build on the foundation Blog Inc. gave me. For those who don’t like to start any new venture without a Dummies reference, check out Blogging All-In-One for Dummies. I found information on everything from planning content, selecting a host, and using social media to share my posts.

After digesting all this information, including how to make money from blogging (can we say dream job?), I looked into other ways I could monetize my life. Everyone else is selling out, so why shouldn’t I? That’s where How to Make Your Cat an Internet Celebrity by Patricia Carlin comes into play. I figure with three cats, all of whom are completely insane, there’s got to be an entertainment gold mine in there somewhere. This book is obviously a parody of, well, I guess the entire Internet. But I won’t let that slow me down. There are tons of sure-fire ways to turn your feline friend into the next Grumpy Cat. If nothing else I could always fall back on these ideas if my blog gets a little low on fresh content.

Gypsy

TonksTheDude

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Based on my recent reading and pinning activities, I’m on the verge of taking the blogging plunge. Maybe if I get started now and get a dedicated following, get myself used to a structure and schedule, and figure out how to maybe get paid for my hard work, I’ll have in place a second career. But I’m not totally delusional: I’m still buying lottery tickets.

The IT Academy Arrives in Everett

PAC-itacademyGreat news for those wanting to improve their job skills and learn basic or advanced computer skills. The Microsoft IT Academy training program is now available online at the library. If you aren’t familiar with this excellent resource, here is a brief rundown:

Microsoft IT Academy training provides participants with industry-leading technology skills to help bridge the skills gap for students and adults. The IT Academy offers technology courses on three levels – basic literacy skills, Microsoft Office skills and advanced skills for IT professionals. All of the online training included in the IT Academy program is free, and includes 250 courses and resources.

You can access the IT Academy from our homepage, or from this direct link. A Microsoft Account, which you can sign up for if you don’t already have one, and a valid Everett Public Library card are needed to participate. Consult the Everett Public Library’s IT Academy handout or Microsoft’s FAQ for more details about access and how to use this excellent resource.

computerbks

Of course, never forget that we have a great collection of materials here at the library concerning computer skills and learning specific programs. As you work your way through the IT Academy, our collections on Microsoft Excel, Word, Publisher, Outlook, and PowerPoint should be particularly helpful. So if you need to learn or improve upon you computer skills, you now have an excellent new resource to utilize.