Reading & listening in 2018

Every year I keep a list of the books I’ve read and then add the list to the Books Read List page of this blog. If you look at the Books Read in 2018 list and compare it to the last couple of years, you might think that 2018 was a poor year for reading.

Well, I would counter, it wasn’t as bad as 2013 or 2015. Even so, I would admit that I feel a little bit of disappointment in seeing that 2018’s count is twenty books fewer than 2017’s.

Screenshot_PodcastsBut then I would remember that 2018 could also be described as the Year of the Podcast and the Year of the Non-Traditional Narrative: in 2018 I began listening to and watching actual-play D&D campaigns podcasts and web series, Eberron Renewed and Critical Role.

For the past few years I have chosen a book series to binge-listen to during my long commutes for my summer teaching job. Instead of choosing a book series in 2018, I chose to listen to my friend’s D&D podcast Eberron Renewed. Some 90 episodes later (each weekly episode running between an hour and an hour and a half), I estimate that the amount of time I’ve spent listening to this podcast is the equivalent to about a dozen audiobooks. Eberron Renewed is just a very long narrative being “written” collaboratively and in improv.

And if I had been reading instead of watching Critical Role? Well, that’s another very long narrative being told in real time that also amounts to about 15 books in terms of hours. (Though I could just as well have been watching other TV shows to be honest, which I haven’t had the time for.)

Then there are the BBC and PRI news and linguistic A Way With Words podcasts I listen to at work, when I could be listening to audiobooks.

So it’s not that I’m not getting healthy doses of narrative, fiction, news, ideas: I am. I’m getting them from not only reading and listening to audiobooks, but also from unexpected, non-traditional narrative sources by following along other players’ D&D campaigns. Getting my entertainment from these sources and from playing RPGs myself with my friends has had me thinking about role-playing games as narrative sources, as sources or modes of entertainment: a form of oral narrative, community narrative, an exchange between those who create entertainment and those who are entertained by it and the nexus of when those groups happen to be the same people gathered around a table with character sheets and dice.

I’ll be exploring some of the ideas that have sprung up in my musings about RPGs as non-traditional narrative sources in an upcoming blog series.

Do you keep track of what you read? From what sources do you get your doses of fiction?

Blackout/All Clear

Willis - Blackout coverOpening line: ‘Colin tried the door, but it was locked.’

Their assignments were straightforward: Eileen, posing as a maid in a manor house, was observing evacuated children in 1940. Polly, after observing FANYs during the V1 and V2 attacks in 1945, was going to observe civilians in London during the Blitz in 1940. Michael, whose research focus was ordinary-people-turned-heroes, was going to Pearl Harbor and a handful of other important moments in American and British history, including Dunkirk. But their supervisor, Mr. Dunworthy, has been  rescheduling drops, sometimes even cancelling assignments entirely.

Willis - All Clear coverHistorians can’t alter events, they’ve all been told. The continuum wouldn’t allow it. The drop simply wouldn’t open, or there would be enough temporal or locational slippage to prevent the time-travelling historian from interfering where they weren’t supposed to. But what happens when it looks like a historian does alter events — through influencing someone they meet, or by saving a life?

And what happens when they can’t get home?


Blackout 
and All Clear by Connie Willis is a single story split into two volumes, chronicling the lives of three historians from 2060 and their experiences in 1940’s Britain. Willis again demonstrates her ability to translate an impressive amount of research to bring the daily experiences of ordinary people in the past to life, and then succeeds in doing so through the quality of her fiction. In Blackout/All Clear, Willis weaves time travel, the Blitz, Dunkirk, the evacuation of children, the fire-watch of St Paul’s Cathedral, the V1 and V2 attacks, Bletchley Park, Fortitude South, Agatha Christie, Shakespeare, and more to create a tapestry of unsung heroes, each doing their bit to win the war.

It is difficult to summarize the book too much without giving anything away, because nearly everything is important (even if you don’t know it yet), so instead I will say that Willis’s writing improves over the course of her Oxford Historians series. The Doomsday Book is good, but To Say Nothing of the Dog is better, and Blackout/All Clear are even better in terms of the tightness of the prose, the presentation of different timelines or storylines, and of characterization.

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the joys of audiobooks

One of the major counter-culture-shocks I experienced upon moving back to Texas from Scotland was the amount of driving I had to do. I had lived without a car for six years in the UK and managed both daily life and international travel without one. I took public transport, cycled, or walked. There was no need for a car.

Not so in Texas.

2017-07-01 - Highway 380

I may live only 2.6 miles away from where I teach, but the public transport that connects where I live and where I work takes 45 minutes for what is a 10 min drive; there are no bicycle lanes and Texas drivers don’t know how to drive around cyclists; nor are there footpaths/sidewalks between there and here; and also, it’s too hot for me to walk or cycle even if there were the appropriate lanes and paths for me to do so. The same problems apply for if I wanted to go to the grocery store, or anywhere else in my city.

Add to that: My best friends live in another city 30 miles away (approximately 45 minutes without traffic), my second job is in a different city also 30 miles away (40 minutes without traffic), and my church is in a third city (20 minutes without traffic). My health specialists are also scattered across the north DFW area and range from 35 min to an hour to get to, without traffic. Have you noticed a theme here? Without traffic. It seems like all of the major arteries in the metroplex have some amount of road construction, meaning that more often than not there is traffic.

2016-10-14 - I35 modern ruins

I haven’t mentioned yet that I hate driving. I get bored in the car. I find it stressful. I get tense even when the roads are relatively clear. I hate having to find parking. The first year or so back in the States I avoided driving as much as I could. I tried to use public transport. I tried cycling and walking. I didn’t go to weekly game nights at my friends’ house because I didn’t want to drive that far at rush hour. I didn’t have a church in my city. It was lonely.

That’s when K. handed me her copy of The Hobbit on audiobook. She hates driving, too, and also wanted me to come over more often. She promised that listening to audiobooks would make driving more bearable.

And it does.

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