I’ve been having a weird thing with the internet lately. I’ve written more than a few variations on that sentence here over the last few years, but it’s even more weird now because it’s not even all that antagonistic. Unlike previous episodes, I’m not disgusted by the internet, or depressed or angry or any of that. I’m on a brief hiatus from Facebook – not for the first time – but this time it feels different because I’m actually sticking to it, and that’s because I don’t particularly miss it. I mean: I miss the people that I know on it; that’s what made social networking so attractive in the first place. But Facebook isn’t about my friends anymore. It’s about advertising and branding and algorithms and nonsense, and I don’t miss that shit at all.

This is kinda how I feel about politics right now, too. I reached my anger limit about a year ago – who knows what specifically set it off – and ever since then I’ve been at the exact same level of disgust. I’ve reached maximum disgust, is what I’m saying. And as much as I’m disgusted by almost everything that I read about current events, I also know that we’re in a weird little phase here where nothing is going to happen until the Mueller report comes out. The current government shutdown is arguably one of the stupidest political shitshows of my lifetime, and yet it’s barely in the top 10 of the stupidest things that Donald Trump is responsible for during these first 2 years (or is it 40?) of his presidency*.

What I’m trying to say is that I am, quite literally, exhausted. And I want to conserve my energy for when it’s actually needed. Living in a state of perpetual outrage is unhealthy. I’m not saying that it’s good to stay uninformed – but I am saying that it is good to allow for a psychic vacation (so as to better avoid a psychotic break).

What I’m doing to fill the void, then, is to finally conquer my absurd Kindle backlog. We’re not even one full month into 2019 and I’ve already finished reading eleven (11) books. I traded in my Kindle Voyage for the new Kindle Oasis, the wildly unnecessary Rolls Royce of e-readers, and I’ll be goddamned if it isn’t totally worth it. (My one and only complaint is that it is just too wide to fit into my back pocket, which makes toting it around during the day a bit of a pain in the ass.)

What have I been reading, you ask? I’LL TELL YOU.

  • The Last Equation of Isaac Severy, by Nova Jacobs. A pleasant, low-stakes intellectual thriller; it doesn’t really go anywhere, but it’s certainly enjoyable.
  • My Sister, The Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite. Short, wicked, savage.
  • The Overstory, by Richard Powers. Simply put, one of the most beautiful books I’ll ever read.
  • Ghost Wall, by Sarah Moss. A heartbreaking story of a daughter caught up in the wild madness of her father’s reenactment fantasies. To say more would spoil it; it’s quite short.
  • The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, by Denis Johnson. I’d been aware of him for years but this was the first book of his that I picked up; had I been more of a fan, I supposed this would’ve packed a heavier punch. I enjoyed this enough to want to read more, for whatever that’s worth; whether it’ll be Train Dreams or Up In Smoke or Jesus’ Son remains to be seen.
  • The Claire DeWitt trilogy (City of the Dead, The Bohemian Highway, The Infinite Blacktop), by Sara Gran. Loved this series – I hope it continues. Her ear for dialogue is unparalleled.
  • The Word is Murder, by Anthony Horowitz. A pretty good detective novel, though not quite as meta / 4th-wall-breaking as I was anticipating.
  • Twilight of the Gods, by Steven Hyden. I’ve been aware of Hyden’s work as a critic for years, and this study of classic rock as it slowly fades away is quite enjoyable – provided you’re prepared to read several hundred pages about white males. (In fairness, he discusses that specific issue in the book as well.)
  • A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin. How did I not read this earlier? How have I been without this for so long? It’s a masterpiece. And since I have no idea when Patrick Rothfuss is going to wind up his Name of the Wind trilogy, I might as well keep reading these books, because it’s clear from just the first few chapters here where Rothfuss’s books are coming from.

I have not done all that much in the way of playing games. My son and I finished the Darker Side of the Moon in Super Mario Odyssey, but that’s not enough for him – he wants to play the whole thing from the beginning again, for the 5th time. I did finally finish the four main questlines in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which means this is as good a time as any to take a break before diving into the DLC. I think the one-two punch of Odyssey and Red Dead 2 kinda broke me, a little bit, in terms of devoting that much time into a game; I just don’t know that I want to do that anymore, especially since the return on my time investment didn’t feel particularly satisfying. Weirdly enough, I’m kinda sorta doing a New Game+ run of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, if only because playing so much Assassin’s Creed reminded me of the Tomb Raider games, and I wanted to see if Shadow was as unmemorable as I thought. (And also because I want to see the new DLC, and in order to do that I need to remember how to play the game in the first place.)

February is when I should be starting work on finishing my album, though who the hell knows what’s going on with that. I just ran across a piece of advice that John Lennon gave to George Harrison, which goes something like: if you’re starting to write a song, don’t stop until you finish it completely. Otherwise it fades away and you’ll never get it back. I kinda feel that way about the tracks I’ve got so far. I still really like what I recorded all the way back in 2015, and I’ll probably go back and re-record the good stuff (rather than just overdub over the original tracks), but I probably want to include newer stuff as well. I don’t have any newer stuff, but as soon as I start working in earnest I’m hopeful it’ll arrive.

That’s what’s happening. Hope you’re well.

I’m a thousand words into my Games of 2018 post without even having settled on a definitive ranking of my Top 9, for whatever that’s worth – and then I considered trashing the whole column and doing something similar to my Books post (which coincidentally looks a lot like Stephen Totilo’s recap), BUT:

Last night I played the first hour of Astro Bot on PSVR and now everything is in flux. I hadn’t turned on my VR unit for pretty much the whole year, but I’d rented Astro Bot, Tetris and Moss and figured I’d give them each a fair shake before deciding if I should just get rid of the thing. Tetris is basically super-trippy Tetris, which is either your thing or isn’t. (I like Tetris, but I’ve never been particularly good at it, and I’m not sure that VR is the extra kick in the pants that I needed.) And I haven’t even put Moss into the PS4’s disc drive.

But Astro Bot…. wow. Even for a relatively simple platformer, it genuinely feels like a new thing, and it’s also just so goddamned cute and charming and delightful. It felt like magic. I finished the first world and was absolutely floored by it. And given that games aren’t often a vehicle for pure joy these days, I am definitely going to need to finish the whole thing before I can fully reconcile the rest of my Games of 2018.

And speaking of which, one of the games that gets a substantial write-up in that post would be Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which I’ve now sunk over 70 hours into and I’m starting to see the finish line off in the distance. I’ve wrapped up 2 of the 4 major campaign storylines, and the other 2 are somewhat tied into each other anyway, and so that’s where I’m spending the rest of my time when I’m not in VR-land. (Or when I’m not playing the hard parts in Super Mario Odyssey for my son.) I would like to see the credits roll before I figure out where to rank it inside the AC franchise; it has so much in common with Origins that it’s hard to think of the two as separate games, and I don’t think I actually made it to the “end” of that one, either. In any event – it’s good! It’s janky and clunky, as AC games tend to be, and it’s really hard to play it without thinking of Red Dead Redemption 2 (and vice versa), but in and of itself it’s quite something.

In other news, I’m upping the ante on my Goodreads challenge – 40 books, instead of 30, which still shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Since I put up that Books post, I finished 4 more:

  • Jeff Tweedy’s excellent memoir “Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back)”;
  • Bethany Morrow’s art deco sci-fi story “Mem”, which has a really interesting premise but also a lot of unanswered questions;
  • Ottessa Moshfegh’s astounding “My Year of Rest and Relaxation”; and
  • Tara Westover’s mesmerizing “Educated”, which deserved every bit of praise it received.

And I’m already 2 books into 2019 – I finished Nova Jacobs’ “The Final Equation of Isaac Severy”, which was pleasant but slight, and Oyinkan Braithwaite’s short and savage “My Sister, the Serial Killer”, and now I’m reading Richard Powers’ “Overstory”, which is just absolutely gorgeous. There is something to be said for escapist fiction – it’s easy, it’s fast, it’s something else to think about for a little while – but there’s also something to be said for reading a real-deal Novel, where the language is more like music than anything else. I’d read a previous novel of his, “Orfeo”, and I appreciated his poetry even if the novel fell a little flat; but “Overstory” feels like a genuine work of beauty.

Anyway – this is just to say that the 2018 Games post will be coming eventually, and that in the meantime I’m still here. Hope you’re all doing well.

Considering that 2018 took about 10 years to finish, it should come as no surprise that I ended up finishing over 60 books. That’s not necessarily that big a number, but it’s the most I’ve read in years – or at least since I kept track of this sort of thing. As an ironic counterpoint, though, since 2018 was a year filled with anxiety, dread, and depression, I made it a point to try to emphasize quality over quantity. Anything that didn’t immediately grab me, I put down. Fortunately, most of what I read this year was excellent.

The other thing, with respect to everything I read this year, is that I tried my damnedest to expand my reading horizons beyond primarily white cis men. I read more women this year than I think I ever have before, and I read more than a few books translated from other languages.  I say this not to earn a pat on the back; I’m just saying it because it’s true.  

An earlier draft of this post was going to have a few words on every single book I read or attempted to read, but I soon realized that wouldn’t be fun for anybody.  So I’m gonna condense a bit on focus on the highlights.

Spoonbenders

The year started off with a bang, as the first book I finished turned out to be one of my favorites:  Spoonbenders, by Daryl Gregory.  It’s a lively, fun cross that felt like a mashup of Royal Tenenbaums and  Carter Beats the Devil.  This was soon followed up Fire And Fury, which was as trashy as it was depressing.  (That was also about as much Trump-related prose I could handle; I didn’t read the Woodward book.)

Next up was Nick Harkaway’s Gnomon, which was enjoyable even if it never quite lived up to my hopes for it.  (I’m not sure anything will ever top The Gone Away World, which is one of my all-time favorites, but if anybody can do it, I’d like to think he could.)   Then there was Void Star, which I sadly couldn’t get into – I would like to give it another shot – the premise is really interesting – but the writing was almost too poetic and flimsy.

At some point I decided to dip back into my backlog and finally read Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, and, well, yeah, that book is incredible.  I followed that up with some earlier George Saunders that I’d never gotten around to – In Persuasion Nation and CivilWarLand in Bad Decline.  (This was, as it turns out, the beginning of this year’s infatuation with short story collections – I also finally got around to Laird Barron’s The Imago Sequence.)  I should also note that the afterword in CivilWarLand is one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever read.

The Immortalists

And then we arrived at my first nominee for Book of the Year:  The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin.  An absolutely breathtaking portrait of four siblings, each given the date of their death by a psychic, and the ensuing aftermath that comes with that knowledge.  I adored this book; it’s moving, tender and thoughtful, and is compulsively readable.  This book set a very high bar for the rest of the year.

And then I read The Sky Is Yours by Chandler Klang Smith, a fun bit of world-building with three great and distinct characters; Tim Wirkus’ The Infinite Future, which never quite delivered what it promised; A.J. Finn’s The Woman In The Window, which is a fun homage of Rear Window that will certainly make for a fun movie; and then The Gone World, which is a time-traveling murder mystery which gets buried under its own flowery prose.

And then we got to Red Sparrow, which was the year’s first book I deliberately and angrily put down and refused to finish.  Shitty premise, shitty writing.

At this point I needed to cleanse my palate a bit and decided to re-read the first two mega-epics in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, so as to then read Edgedancer (a mini-novel that bridges the gap between book 2 and book 3) and then Oathbringer.  I appreciate Sanderson’s prolific nature, and his world-building continues to be among the best in the business, but that’s 3500+ pages of nonstop Sanderson and I definitely needed a palate cleanser.

So I read a bunch of short fiction.  Samantha Hunt’s The Dark Dark was not quite what I thought it was going to be, but it was really quite good; Stephen King’s The Outsider was a really good way of bridging the gap between his procedural Bill Hodges trilogy and his usual supernatural horror; Fuminori Nakamura’s The Thief was a very interesting and brief philosophical meditation on pickpocketing.

I finally got around to reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, which was staggering.  It didn’t necessarily knock me out the way it did for friends of mine, but it’s still quite something.

Florida

I feel bad about how I treated Lauren Groff’s Florida.  I started reading it in June, but didn’t get around to finishing it until a week ago.  I’d put it down only because I felt like I needed to switch things up from all the short stuff I’d been reading; I certainly didn’t mean to give it short shrift.  In any event, I’m glad I finished it, and I do plan on reading the rest of her stuff that I’ve got in my to-do list.  

I think I wrote here earlier this summer about Phenomena, Annie Jacobsen’s non-fiction account of the US Government’s research into paranormal activity, which is definitely the sort of thing that scratches certain itches of mine.  It’s a fantastic read, well researched and full of remarkable revelations.

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And then we get to what might very well be my favorite book of the year:  Claire North’s extraordinary The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.  I have a soft-spot for time-travelling stories, and this is one of the best ones I’ve ever come across.  Indeed, I ended up going on a bit of a Claire North bender after this – her Gamehouse trilogy was excellent, and 84K was also quite brilliant, and Touch wasn’t quite as great as everything else but it’s still quite good.

At this point I started moving to some darker fiction.  Joe Hill’s Strange Weather is probably the best stuff he’s written – at any rate, I do think I prefer his short fiction to his novels.  Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin At the End of the World is seriously fucked up, which is to be expected from Tremblay.  Harold Schechter’s Hell’s Princess is a lurid and morbid true-crime story that never quite arrived at any conclusions, which kinda defeated the book’s purpose.  The Price You Pay, which is written by “Aiden Truhen” (a pseudonym that might belong to Nick Harkaway) is essentially what the Crank movies would look like if they were books.  V.E. Schwab’s Viscious was, well, viscious – I do need to get to the sequel.  Arkady Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic is a perfect example of why reading books from other cultures – especially science fiction – is so necessary.  Laura van den Berg’s The Third Hotel did not quite wow me as much as I’d hoped it would, but it was remarkably surreal – as was Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream, which is exactly what it sounds like.

I’m trying to keep things moving along but I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention David Demchuk’s The Bone Mother, a super-spooky collection of dark stories, and Karen Dionne’s The Marsh King’s Daughter, which was deep and dark and moody and absorbing.

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Moving on… I finally got around to John Crowley’s Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr, which is just absolutely gorgeous.  I think I wrote about this book earlier in the year; I don’t know how to describe it other than that it’s an astonishing modern myth.  I have a bunch of Crowley in my to-read pile, and I look forward to setting aside a long period of time in which to soak them all in.

I was one of the many who got sucked into the Netflix adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, but I made sure to read the book first.  I understand why fans of the book hate some of the choices that were made in the series; I still liked them both.

Emma Donaghue’s The Wonder was fantastic, and I can only wonder how I’d react to it if I weren’t a parent.  There’s certainly a straight line running between this and her earlier Room, to be sure.

Tana French’s The Witch Elm was a refreshing break from her Dublin Murder Squad books; it also might be one of the best things she’s written.  Likewise, Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commendatore was much better than the last few books he’s written, though it suffers from some of the same weird tics he’s developed (i.e., super-creepy attempts at erotica, passive protagonists, etc.). 

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Then I got to this wondrous book:  Juan Gabriel Vasquez’s The Shape of the Ruins.  I’d originally bought it because it sounded like it had a Foucault’s Pendulum sort of vibe, albeit based in Colombia; but it turned into something both larger and more intimate.  JGV is a marvelous writer and this translation is wonderful.  I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I put it down.  Indeed, it might be my favorite book of the year, except that I then read…

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Tommy Orange’s There There should be required reading for every American citizen, even if only for the prologue/introduction, which is among the most gut-punching things I’ve ever read.  This book concerns what it means to be a Native American in a country that has been taken away from it; how to retain one’s culture while assimilating into another that is thrust upon it; it is vibrant and gorgeous and utterly necessary.

I also got to Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry, which I liked, though I’m not quite sure the third section held together for me; I also suppose I need to start reading Philip Roth (I have three of his books in my to-read list, of course).  And Ling Ma’s Severance got quite a lot of end-of-year hype, and for good reason; I’ve read quite a lot of apocalyptic fiction in my time but this was a unique take on it. 

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But the last book I finished (as of today, 12/19) was Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s harrowing, bleak and utterly brilliant Friday Black.  This collection of stories is somewhat reminiscent of Black Mirror, if Black Mirror wasn’t afraid to take on race head-on.  It is startling and vivid, dark and urgent.  The final story in this collection will haunt me for a very, very long time – they all will, actually.  Again, along with There There, this is absolutely necessary reading.

All in all, this was a tremendous year for reading; there wasn’t much that I didn’t like, and even the lesser things in my pile were very quickly devoured.  If there’s one good thing about living in a nightmare, it’s that I’m very easily distracted, and nothing helps the time go by like getting lost in a ton of great books.

So, there it is.  My 43rd revolution around the sun.  It was uneventful, as I’d hoped it would be; for the last few years I’ve noticed that I tend to get a little weird and moody around my birthday, for reasons I don’t quite fully understand.  I don’t want to make a big deal out of it, basically; I’m uncomfortable being the center of attention, especially when I didn’t do anything of note except continue to exist.  I recognize that this is ironic, coming from someone who has maintained an online diary since 2001.  

If I’m ever going to compile my Games of the Year, I’m going to have to reconcile my feelings about Red Dead Redemption 2, and it’s much harder to do that than I’d anticipated.  For one thing, that game has pretty much exhausted me, as far as gaming in general is concerned.  My to-play list, which is primarily backlog at this point, feels inconsequential.  Furthermore, RDR2 has made me surprisingly intolerant of, for lack of a better word, “jank.”

Case in point:  I’d recently rented Darksiders 3 and Just Cause 4, sequels to franchises that I’m rather fond of, and I found myself absolutely loathing both of them after only 15 minutes of play.  The controls were imprecise; the AI was stupid; in the case of Just Cause 4, pretty much everything felt broken.  And instead of soldiering on, I gave up.  I have no patience for unfinished business.  

For all of RDR2’s faults – and they are legion – it is a game that was clearly developed with a finely-tuned sense of detail.  I didn’t encounter that many glitches or bugs, which is incredibly surprising given the game’s vast scope.  I am also aware that the game took 7 or 8 years to develop, and the infamous comment regarding 100-hour workweeks never left my mind during my entire run through the campaign.  All that work is up on the screen; in a way, you might call this game an extreme example of artisinal craftsmanship.  

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

This is also why I’m so conflicted about how I feel about it.  Nothing that happens in that game is an accident; everything was carefully considered and deliberately chosen.  The tediousness of the game is absolutely part of the experience; this is less of a Western adventure game and more of an outlaw simulator.  Brushing and feeding your horse is necessary if you want your horse to be able to run quickly and for long periods of time, and because there’s no real fast travel, you have to do this quite often.  

But even then, let’s get to the real heart of the matter here.  Consider the beginning of the game’s first epilogue.  You finish Arthur’s story by dying alone on a hill (and if you’ve been redeemed, nobody else knows about it), and then you pick back up as John Marston; your first objective as John is milking a fucking cow, and then – not 5 minutes later – you are literally shoveling cow shit out of a barn.  I actually had to put my controller down and walk away from the game because I started getting a tension headache.  

Rockstar has done this sort of thing before, of course.  Let’s recall that in the final heist in GTAV, one of your tasks (as Michael) is to pretend to be a janitor, which means that you quite literally have to mop the floor of a high-rise building.  It’s funny at first, but then you realize that you actually have to do it – there is an actual gameplay mechanic that you have to engage with in order to progress – and it’s ridiculous.  This sort of thing happens ALL THE GODDAMNED TIME in RDR2, which means that it’s intentional, which means that I can’t tell if Rockstar intends this sort of thing to be fun, or if they’re trolling me at my own expense.  

And yet, and yet, and yet.  Even as I found myself annoyed, bored, or perplexed, I was still ultimately wholly and fully absorbed in RDR2’s world, perhaps more than I’d ever been before.  At times I appreciated the languid, slow pace of the game, because it allowed me to linger and take in the astonishing beauty before me.  (Which makes it all the more frustrating that there isn’t a proper in-game screenshot utility.)  

In any event.  

I found myself racing through the campaign and yet I’m still somehow at 82% completion.  I know there’s a ton of stuff I haven’t seen, and because I didn’t do it during the main part of the game I’m sure there’s a bunch of stuff that I simply can’t see, because I’m no longer playing as Arthur.  Would I replay the game in a New Game+ situation?  Possibly, but would I allow myself to put up with every ridiculous decision again?  

I don’t know, man.  I don’t even know where it goes in my top 10.  

I remain confused as to what I’m gonna be doing with this blog.  Indeed, I remain confused about what I’m doing on the internet, as a general rule.  I turn 43 at the end of this week and I am feeling old and uncool and yet I’m also feeling that I don’t have to care anymore about trying to appear cool, because it literally doesn’t matter.  This is not the place you go when you want to know if something’s cool.  This is the place you go when you’re curious as to what’s going on in my brain.

So maybe, now that Tumblr is gonna die a very quick death in a few weeks, and Twitter is, well, Twitter, and Facebook is rapidly becoming a place for kid photos and Twitter screenshots, maybe this here site will become what I originally always meant for it to be:  a blog.  Blogs aren’t cool.  But I’m gonna be 43 and I’m not cool, either.  My hair is grey and I’m overweight and as an adult and a parent I am far more involved in the state of the world than I ever thought I’d be, and because the world is fucking insane* I overindulge in various media and medications, both recreational and non-, because otherwise I’d be in a padded room muttering about emoluments.

So let’s get cracking, then.  

I have finished Red Dead Redemption 2 and I don’t know how to talk about it.  It’s gonna get its own post, for sure.  But the short version is akin to something I said on Twitter the other day, that it feels less like a game that I played and more like a show that I binge-watched obsessively for 2-3 weeks – not all of it was fun, but it was engrossing as all hell, and the feeling of the world is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced from a game.  For those of you that are my parents (i.e., you don’t watch TV), it’s also sorta like being wrapped up inside a huge novel and then emerging afterwards and not knowing what day it is.  

Here are other things I am in the middle of enjoying, because I feel obligated to spread positivity:

I was gonna start working on my Books of 2018 post, and then I started reading this book, and HOLY SHIT everything changed.  If nothing else, I urge everybody who is reading this post to go to their local bookstore, find a copy of this book and read the preface.  I dare you to not buy the book immediately afterwards.  Tommy Orange is a major talent with an incredible voice, speaking in a language that none of us know as well as we should.  

https://www.stereogum.com/2023673/the-1975-a-brief-inquiry-into-online-relationships-review/franchises/premature-evaluation/

I don’t know if I’m gonna do a Music of 2018 post, if only because my music listening habits have become far more idiosyncratic than I can manage and I have no idea how to take stock of everything I listen to anymore.  Hell, I haven’t even written about my headphones, which are without question the best headphones I’ve ever used in my entire life.  And, again, I’m old and the music that’s popular these days makes me feel even older.  Anyway.  The 1975 are a band that I probably shouldn’t like, but I’ll be goddamned if this song isn’t kicking my ass all the way around the block.  For a bunch of 20-something British blokes, they’ve got some serious balls making an album this strange – while also including absolutely gut-wrenching anthemic singles like the above.  

*this is maybe the most appropriate metaphor for what it feels like to be alive right now*

It’s mid-November, which means that, whether I want to or not, I need to start thinking about my end-of-year lists.  I used to be way more excited about this; the idea of spending hours and hours recapping my entire year’s progress through various forms of media was a fun and informative way for me to revisit the year, to revive long-lost memories, to rejoice and revel in a year’s worth of extravagant impulse purchases.

It has become harder and harder for me to go through this process in recent years.  I’m not even sure I bothered with one last year.  Having a kid means I consume media with a completely different and re-wired brain; having a day job whose busy season is November/December means I have little-to-no opportunity to carve out the necessary time.  (These things used to be thousands and thousands of words long.) 

More than anything else, of course, it’s become very difficult to feel celebratory when the world is on fire.  Does it matter that I can’t decide if Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is better than Red Dead Redemption 2, when I haven’t finished either of them and also that our President is completely fucking insane?  Could I really rank Spider-Man below Yoku’s Island Express if only because Yoku filled me with a sense of calm and tranquility that not even the finest Ativan could provide?  

And what of books and music?  I could potentially come up with a few thousand words for BOTH of those lists, because I devoured far more on both fronts than usual.  As noted above, it turns out that having an insane shithead with access to nuclear weapons be the POTUS means that I end up really craving distraction. 

I used to be afraid of flying, and one of the ways I got over that fear was to do crossword puzzles while the plane was getting ready for takeoff.  Now, I’m afraid that climate change is irreversible and that there very well might be a civil war, and so I buy books and games by the truckload.  (Ordinarily I’d feel guilty about not buying music and instead only relying on Spotify, but I need to pay the mortgage somehow and I don’t want my wife to divorce me.)   

Therefore, it looks like I will be doing some sort of year-end thing here.  It doesn’t matter if anybody reads it, or disagrees with it, or whatever – I just need to do it because, above all else, I need something to do.  

Re: the new 2018 stereo remix of The White Album

It’s never been my favorite Beatles album.  Lots of great songs on it – especially from Lennon, which I’ll get to later on – but there’s also a fair amount of stuff I tend to skip over.  Even though my first exposure to the White Album was at summer camp at least 30 years ago, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve listened to “Good Night” all the way through, and that’s because I also can’t physically sit through Revolution 9 without getting anxious.

I feel compelled to back up for a second and give some context here.  Feel free to skip this little mini-bio, though it’ll hopefully explain where I’m coming from.

I am a Beatles nerd, though I would never in a million years consider myself an expert.  (At some point I need to get my hands on one of those coffee-table books that detail every single recording session, because there’s tons of fun trivia in there that I still don’t know about.)  I am a devoted fan of everything from Rubber Soul onward, and my favorite album at any given moment is either Revolver or Abbey Road.  When the stereo (and mono) CDs came out on 9/9/09, I took the following day off from work and binged.  (Also played a fair amount of Beatles Rock Band, I believe.)  I took a deep dive into those new releases with my kick-ass headphones and suddenly heard a ton of stuff I’d never noticed before.  And while my ultimate ranking of albums didn’t end up changing all that much, I did gain new appreciation for pretty much everything.   (Also, for whatever it’s worth, I found that the mono remixes were far better than the stereo remixes, if only because the stereo remixes were still very much hard-panned, making them distracting to listen to over headphones.)

I’m a nerd also in the sense that I tend to approach their albums with this weird sense of reverence, as if the albums were sacred texts meant to be studied, as if they were caverns of knowledge in which I have to entomb myself inside.  I never just pop on a Beatles album; I isolate myself from the rest of the world, put on serious headphones, and dive very, very deep.

Anyway, these new 5.1 surround-sound stereo mixes are something else entirely, and I adore them because they sound like what my memory of Beatles songs sound like – they are suddenly and quite vividly three-dimensional.  In the same way that “Getting Better” on the new “Sgt Pepper” suddenly sounded extraordinary, I have to give props to the new mix of “Birthday”, which is a song that I normally skip over at every opportunity, because it is dumb as hell.  In this new mix, however, it fucking rocks the fuck out.  Do yourself a favor and listen to what happens after the drum break following the first verse:  the gigantic E chord that comes in after that break sounds absolutely enormous.   (Hell, go back and A/B the old stereo mix with this new one, too:  it’s still a completely different animal.)  It’s the sort of jaw-dropping sound where you can just tell that the engineers went “holy shit, that sounds AMAZING” when they played it back.  And the whole album sounds like that.

My favorite Beatle has always been Paul, even though – or perhaps because – he is a cheeseball who writes extraordinarily beautiful melodies.  The Beatle that I feel the closest kinship with is George, because he – like me, when I was in bands in college – was the youngest, and while he was an incredible songwriter in his own right, it’s awfully hard to fight for album space when you’re competing with Lennon/McCartney (and this is also how I felt trying to write songs for those bands back in the day).  This being said, I’d also have to say that the White Album contains the best overall collection of Lennon-penned songs.  I mean, yes, “I Am The Walrus” is probably my favorite John song in the whole catalog, followed very closely by “Come Together”, but it’s hard to beat “Dear Prudence”, “Sexy Sadie”, “Cry Baby Cry”, “Yer Blues”, “I’m So Tired”, “Julia”, “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide…” in terms of sheer consistency.

I have not yet given the bonus material enough passes to offer any definitive statement on them, beyond that they sound fantastic and they’re super-fun for someone like me, who likes to hear how these “sacred texts” originally formed and evolved.  (As an example, they include Paul noodling around and then finding that little “Can You Take Me Back Where I Came From” thing that follows “Cry Baby Cry”.)

I can only hope that they go back and give this deluxe stereo treatment to everything else.  Especially Revolver, because holy shit I can only imagine what “Tomorrow Never Knows” will sound like.

Re: Killing Commendatore, by Haruki Murakami

I used to be a huge Murakami fan, and then “1Q84” came out and disappointed me so much that I started to reconsider if I actually liked the stuff I used to like.  I didn’t know if it was the translation that was off, or if it was the actual text, but it felt like a thousand pages of nonsense, interspersed with surprisingly and shockingly juvenile attempts at erotic writing.  I have continued to buy his stuff but I very rarely feel motivated to give it a proper go.  That said, I have this enormous backlog and I feel obligated to get through it, and I’d heard enough positive things about KC that I figured it was finally time to give it a shot.  And, well, I’m not yet finished with it, but what I’ve read thus far has been excellent.  I’ve come to realize that part of what annoys me about Murakami is how utterly passive his main characters are; everything happens to them, they never go out and make any decisions on their own.  That still happens here, to a certain extent, but at least it’s justified by what’s happened to the main character before the book begins; without spoiling anything, his passivity makes a bit more sense.  I don’t know if it will stick the landing, but then again, in a book this surreal it’s hard to say what the ending should be.  To put it another way, I’m still invested in what’s happening and I’m willing to see it through the end.

Re: Red Dead Redemption 2

I have some complicated feelings about RDR2, the long-awaited sequel to one of my favorite games of all time.  On the one hand, quite a lot of it is incredibly tedious, and when compared to other open-world games that the original inspired (i.e. The Witcher 3, Assassin’s Creed Origins / Odyssey), it feels almost antiquated in terms of quality-of-life stuff.  On the other hand, it is staggeringly beautiful and almost begs you to play it while “in character”; the slow pace and tedium is a deliberate choice by the designers to make you feel like you are inhabiting the actual persona of Arthur Morgan.

And, of course, on the third hand is the knowledge that this game was built under extreme crunch conditions for quite a lot of its staff, and there’s a guilt that accompanies my purchase, because my purchase equals acceptance of harsh working conditions.  It also doesn’t help that all that extra work is absolutely shown on screen.  The attention to detail in this game is simply extraordinary.

I’m still somewhere in Chapter 3, which means I’ve got at least another 40 hours left to go.  I’m sure there’ll be a few quality-of-life patches between now and then, too, which may address some of the weird bugs and glitches (not that there’s been a lot, mind you, but there’s certainly a fair share).  So I’m not quite ready to get into how I’m feeling about it, especially since I’m still figuring that part out.

But I will say that it’s engrossing and beautiful and overwhelming, and in these troubled times we’re living in, it is very much what I need right now.

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