Below you will find pages tagged “Reviews”
Book Review: Hell's Well
Think of a disaster movie. Any disaster movie. Whatever the central threat, from Godzilla to malevolent extraterrestrials to climate catastrophe, there will be at least one scene full of people behaving at their worst: looting expensive luxuries from abandoned stores, smashing windows, screaming in panic, shooting at their neighbors. According to Hollywood, society is just one bad event away from near-total collapse, unleashing the Hobbesian wolves of our worst impulses and setting everyone against everyone else.
Pick of the Week: 50 Reps
Thanksgiving is over, and whether they traveled (inadvisably) to a big family dinner or did the responsible thing and stuffed their faces at home, many Americans are feeling even more over-fed than usual now. In normal years, this is when gyms start to fill up with newly enthusiastic exercisers. With a huge second wave of COVID-19 now sweeping the country, though, what are we to do? I previously recommended a great video game that can dish out a steady supply of vigorous workouts, but that requires a $400 console and at least some comfort with the basic concepts of gaming.
Pick of the Week: The Long Game
March of this year featured an extraordinary coincidence in the video game industry. Almost simultaneously, two games came out that seemed tailor-made for our suddenly isolated lives. One, the latest Nintendo blockbuster in the “Animal Crossing” series, invites the player to retreat to a tropical island and build their personal paradise. It’s a world full of adorable characters and unchallenging tasks, where the most valuable commodity is something many people now had plenty of: time.
Pick of the Week: More is Less
Hope Jahren’s latest book begins at the beginning: her beginning, that is. Born in 1969, her parents picked her first name with typical Midwestern directness, expressing their own hope that their daughter would live a life of plenty, a life better than theirs. Like most parents in our culture, they wanted their child to have more. The rest of the book focuses on how our culture has defined that goal, how we’ve pursued it, and what those choices are costing us and our own descendants.
Pick of the Week: Dinner with Atmosphere
In our household, I’m responsible for the food. Breakfasts and lunches are easy, as none of us mind eating the same simple things for those meals day after day (oatmeal in the morning, granola bars at noon for me), but dinner is a perpetual challenge. That’s our family meal together. It needs to vary from night to night, and be tasty, nutritious, and filling. But I really don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen every day, so with the exception of an occasional gourmet hobby project on the weekend, these high-quality dinners also need to be quick.
Pick of the Week: Cartoon Colonialism
No matter what your relationship is to video games, from seasoned e-sports professional to baffled grandparent, you’ve heard of Nintendo, and probably have at least a general idea of the types of games they produce. You likely even know at least some of their characters. So immense is their fame that the Prime Minister of Japan, looking to capitalize on one of his country’s most recognizable exports, appeared dressed as Mario at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Pick of the Week: Radio Activity
In March, as the coronavirus pandemic prompted the cancellation of nearly every activity besides sitting at home, one local hobby group I belong to was undeterred. Having prided ourselves for years on the reliability of our regular meetings, we continued to get together weekly, and even enjoyed a major increase in attendance. No, we’re not a bunch of covidiots flaunting public health recommendations. Our weekly discussion sessions just aren’t affected by something like a pandemic – or, for that matter, a power outage, hurricane, wildfire, tornado, earthquake, or zombie apocalypse.
Double Pick of the Week: Hyrule to High Intensity
As I explained in a post several years ago, I missed a long chunk of video gaming history, and never even owned a dedicated game console until 2013. Since then, though, ours has been a Nintendo household. The Wii U that served as our gateway to console gaming was never a great platform, but a few of the first-party games on it hinted at the Kyoto company’s potential for brilliance. Meanwhile, the other two console makers, Sony and Microsoft, both have histories of horrible antisocial behavior, so despite the Wii U’s limitations I was reluctant to switch brands.
Pick of the Week: Turtle All the Way Down
For the past several years, I’ve been working my way through one of the longest, best selling, best written, and certainly funniest series of novels in the English language: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. To provide an idea of the scope of this project, I started at the beginning and just finished book 26, which means I only have 14 volumes to go in the main series. That doesn’t count several companion works that have been published on topics such as the geography, biology, and physics of Sir Terry’s richly imagined universe.
Pick of the Week: Dark Times at Winden High
A couple of years ago, Netflix’s algorithm, no doubt inspired by our apparent enjoyment of “Stranger Things,” recommended a German drama series called “Dark.” It turned out to be a brilliant, compelling, tightly-written work of art that used the medium of a television series to its full potential. The third and final season, or “cycle” in the argot of the show, just dropped on Netflix this summer, so this is a perfect time to get into it.
Pick of the Week: Yes, You're a Gamer
For several years, my now-teenage daughter’s friends, and their parents, have found it quite amusing that her dad plays video games with her. It seems a lot of folks still have trouble expanding their image of a “gamer” to include a gray-haired guy with a wife, kid, mortgage and respectable career. A bit of probing, however, often reveals that these confused observers are, in fact, gamers themselves – they just don’t realize it.
Pick of the Week: Nothing Doing
Kicking off a new series here, this is my first book review. Those coming from my “Self-Care” post on the Turbid Plaque will already understand one reason why I’ve started doing this. Another reason, though, is that my perspective on the hellscape of the modern internet has changed and deepened in recent months. That’s a direct result of reading Jenny Odell’s thought-provoking book “How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy.
Pick of the Week: Trees a Charm
Everyone knows how to determine the age of a tree that’s just been cut down: count the rings. But did you know that the same general strategy can be used to track ancient weather patterns, explain the rise and fall of great empires, and construct detailed histories of long-vanished societies that left no written records? I do now, thanks to Tree Story, Valerie Trouet’s well-written and engaging dive into the fascinating science of dendrochronology.