Finished Books: February 2019

I made a goal to read 100 books in 2019. Immediately, I was filled with regret, as that seems like too many. Now, two months in, I’m surprisingly on track to achieve this goal, which is a big change from how I’ve read books in the past, say, 10 years.

Over the course of these couple of months, I’ve been asked questions about how I read these books so fast, eg. “HOW DO YOU READ SO FAST” (actual quote). The only thing I can say is that it’s a lot like I’m out in a desert, and books are a full canteen. I can’t get enough.

Here are some things about the books that I read in February 2019.

The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
A novel about immigration, homeland, love, loss, abuse, power, fear, and depression, Oscar Wao was a great story that showed just how much family history can impact our lives without realizing it.

Interviews with Francis Bacon by David Sylvester
Francis Bacon was a very sad artist, and David Sylvester was a very good interviewer. What follows is a selection of interviews that Sylvester held with Bacon over the course of his life, particularly about his work habits and how he felt about man’s relationship with creating something. Half of the book is Bacon rambling barely-coherently about his thought process, and the other half is Sylvester summarizing what Bacon just said in an easy-to-understand package.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale
Squirrel Girl is the world’s coolest superhero, mostly because she’s excited, brave, and has all the proportionate powers of a squirrel. If a super-powered teenager who talks to animals isn’t your bag, you won’t find anything to enjoy in this hilarious, delightful introduction to Squirrel Girl.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Had I known how many twists and turns Madame Bovary takes, I would have read it far sooner. Just as I began to write it off as a period piece that did little to hold my attention, well, everything kicks into high gear. It certainly lives up to the title of a “classic.”

IKIGAI: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles
I know, it sounds like a self-help book you’d find at CVS in January. But in actuality, IKIGAI delves in to the life habits and styles of the world’s oldest living humans, and wonders why most of them are living in Okinawa. Also, supercentenarians are really, really funny. Best line: “What’s my secret to living so long? I haven’t died yet.”

Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse
Is a good book made good because the writing is technically well-done, even if it’s lacking in personality? I ask because, either way, Billy Liar was not good. Billy’s obsessive-compulsive tendencies that were shown at the beginning of the story were incredibly intriguing, as I was diagnosed with OCD myself a year ago. One chapter later, when that aspect of his personality fell by the wayside and was shown to be merely a compulsion to lie, incessantly. His lies are not even always made to save himself, which could be said to be an accurate portrayal of a compulsive liar. While an accurate account indeed, it does not in this case equate to a captivating read.

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
Ah, Artemis Fowl. I have loved you since I was a child, and your first book in the series holds up incredibly well after all these years. I decided to pick it up again in anticipation of the movie adaptation releasing this year, and I daresay, nostalgia did not prove me wrong. It’s just as good today as it was in 2001.

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
As time decides to march on and everything gets bad, I find myself hurtling faster and faster into intense anarchism. Unfortunately, not everyone is super on board with Anarchy, so I decided to read up on Communism, mostly because I’ve heard it might be good now, and I used to be told it was bad. While I walked away with many wonderful thoughts and ideals, one takeaway I had was that, okay dude, we get it, you don’t like rich people. Nobody does. Explain to me how to make a community garden, please.
Editor’s note: this is satire. Read the book, double please.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Does a perfect book exist? No, but The Library Book comes damn close. A beautiful mix of the history of libraries, the history of the Los Angeles Central Library specifically, the ins and outs of what make the LACL run smoothly every day, a detailed account of the devastating 1986 fire that destroyed over a million books, and a reminder that libraries are integral to society, I’ve never read a more captivating book. It will make you want to be a librarian.
(in this house, we stan Mary Jones all day)

Room at the Top by John Braine
While it was published before Billy Liar, Room at the Top is yet another late-50s novel about a average-but-charming young man who lies constantly and only cares about getting what he wants (sex). In this case, he achieves it, but not before succeeding in destroying a few lives. Reading it 60 years later showed that it did not age well, and since the pseudo-charming young man trope didn’t stay a cultural touchstone but became an overbearing trait of the entire world, Room at the Top doesn’t even work well as an example of the time it was published in. It’s merely a reminder that too many times, people do bad things because they only care for themselves.

Mahatma Gandhi: From Beginning to End by Hourly History
Hourly History is a delightful series of biographies and historical summaries that are a pretty good overview of a certain topic, without taking up the space of a massive volume. I learned a lot about Gandhi that I didn’t know before, and I am really glad that I checked this out. Hourly History releases their new ebooks for free on Amazon on Fridays, so I will definitely be stocking up some reading material.

Boy Erased by Garrard Conley
I first heard about this book from the wonderful podcast, UnErased: The History of Conversion Therapy in Americaand while it lived up to my high expectations, it was still an incredibly tough read. Having grown up in a conservative church, I recognized and related to a lot of what Garrard described and expressed. The horrors of conversion therapy are clear in these pages, and I hope that soon we’ll be able to put an end to it.

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
I still can’t get over how beautifully Wells described his version of the future. The ups and downs of the Time Traveler’s week in the year 802701 were interesting to hear told, but overall the book felt kind of anticlimactic.

Cool! So these were the books I read in February, 2019. Check them out for yourself, let me know what you think, and I’ll see you again at the end of March.

I love you all.

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2019: It’s all about books, baby.

So, I may have done something insane.

I might have said that I want to read 100 books in 2019. Which, I mean, shoot for the moon I guess. But even though zooming out and looking at this challenge freaks me out and makes me think of how this trivial failure will feel in December, I am really enjoying reading again.

As I mentioned before, I started reading again, with great ferocity, towards the end of 2018. Since then, I’ve read through 13 books, which for somebody who hasn’t read that much in a long time, is a lot. So I figured, 100 sounds like a good number, right? Heck yeah. The fact that I’m apparently “1 book ahead of schedule” is pretty motivating, too.

I just finished out Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain. Bourdain is a personal hero of mine, and this book did not disappoint. And while it didn’t exactly spur me to join culinary school or attempt to climb the restaurant ladder from dishwasher, I did make a cheese sauce from scratch and had an honest attempt at mozzarella sticks, so I guess I learned some things.

Next on deck is In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs by Grace Bonney, which I am sure I will love because I love learning things and being inspired and women are smarter and more inspiring than men.

Wish me luck!

Best of 2018

This year, I thought I’d look back and share what I consider the Best Things of 2018. My reason for doing this is because everyone else is doing it, and I am a follower.

Here we go.

Music

This year, I listened to some good music. I’d like to share this music with you, and I’d like you to enjoy it.

Georgia Anne Muldrow – Overload

Georgia Anne Muldrow’s 17th album in 12 years is here to say that she’s still got it. An absolute joy to listen to from beginning to end, the entire album had me feeling like I was experiencing something beautiful from the other side of a window, and maybe I should stop staring in amazement, but I can’t bring myself to stop. Notable tracks include Vital Transformation, These Are The Things I Really Like About You, Bobbie’s Dittie

Matthew Thiessen & The Earthquakes – Wind Up Bird

I’ve been waiting for this album for 12 years, ever since Mono vs. Stereo put out the side project compilation My Other Band Vol. 1 in 2006. Matthew Thiessen of Relient K has three songs on the EP, which never received a second volume, and I was left with these three tracks for over a decade. He finally dropped a full album this year, and honestly, it’s very much just a sequel to Relient K’s latest, 2016’s Air For Free. This isn’t a bad thing! It still stands on its own as a solid first release by someone who has been putting out material for 20 years. Notable tracks: Forest, Man of Stone, Daydream

Diet Cig – Swear I’m Good At This

okay. I’ll admit, this album didn’t come out in 2018. But! 2017’s Swear I’m Good At This is easily the album I’ve listened to the most in 2018. It hits everything I love about music, and it’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had with my ears. Pop punk will love forever, especially with albums like this spinning in our heads for the rest of our lives. Notable tracks: Maid of the Mist, Bite Back, Barf Day

Books

This year, I realized that everything I read was a tweet or a status update. That sucked, so I deleted the Twitter app and replaced it with my local library’s ebook app. Over the past two months, I’ve read 10 books, which is more than I’ve read in 10 years. Some of them were great, some of them weren’t. Here’s the great ones.

Tim Mohr, Burning Down the Haus

Did you know that a key force in bringing down the Berlin Wall was underground punk rock? Tim Mohr covers a number of integral people who brought punk music to East Berlin and kept bringing it back in the face of oppression. He details how the police state set up a special team to investigate and punish punk teens, and how they fought back.

Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Refugees

In The Refugees, Viet Thanh Nguyen offers up a series of stories that capture and express the experience of being a refugee in America. It covers what makes them unique, and what makes us all the same. It is truly beautiful.

Various Authors, Our Stories, Our Voices: 21 YA Authors Get Real About Injustice, Empowerment, and Growing Up Female in America

Young Adult authors shape the minds of our youth, and provide some of the greatest tools with which readers can grow and determine who they are. This incredible collection of essays about their lives and coming into their own is a must read for everyone, youth or adult.

Games

I played a few video games this year, and some of them were good.

Celeste

Celeste is one of the finest games I’ve played in a long time. The beautiful art, delightful music, and fun gameplay aside, it also offered up a great view of mental illness that resonated with me all year, and helped me to face some things about myself. I also need to mention the great difficulty customization, which allows you to apply different scenarios on the fly. If you’re facing a particularly tough set of levels, throw on some invincibility, or give yourself an extra mid-air jump. Using these options doesn’t disqualify you from any part of the game, and it’s healthy to acknowledge when you need help, isn’t it?

Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator

In what can only be described as the ultimate dad game, you are a single dad who moves to a new home with your teenage daughter. As you navigate the intricacies of settling into a new place, you must also establish new relationships with the neighborhood dad population. You can take it as far as you feel comfortable with, and each prospective Dad has his own unique storyline with different mini games. Find love, find friendship, or focus on the true point of the whole game, your relationship with your daughter. The writing is hilarious, the dads are lovable, and your daughter is the coolest person you know. It was a joy from beginning to end.

Donut County

People keep disappearing since the raccoons moved in, and the common thread seems to be the donut shop. As you work backwards and uncover what happened, you play as a hole, dropping items 999 feet below town and growing as you go. Donut County was an absolute joy to play, with hilarious jokes and a game mechanic that stayed fun throughout. Plus, who doesn’t love donuts?

Video

I got some good use out of my Netflix subscription this year, and this is what I particularly enjoyed.

Queer Eye

How much praise can one show receive? All of the praise left on earth? All of the praise in space? Multiply that by a thousand and maybe you’ve praised Queer Eye enough (maybe). Each one of these amazing men is a national treasure, even if Antoni is the best one. (Ok, JVN. Ok maybe Karamo. No maybe Tan. Bobby? Yes. All of them.) Every episode has left me in tears, and with season 3 on the way soon, I’m preparing myself for more.

Hilda

There is no shortage of kid content on Netflix, and since all of it is usually streaming in my house, you can bet that when something like Hilda comes along, I jump on it. Centered on a brave, adventurous, curious girl who must leave the wilderness she calls home behind as her mother moves her to the City for the first time. She makes friends, who join her in magical adventures, and the entire thing is just delightful. I want a pet deer-Fox. Wood Man is the best there ever will be.

Best hug: one day my wife hugged me and it was wonderful. She hugged me all the other days, too, so they were all the best. I love my wife.

Podcast:

Stuck with Taryn Arnold. Taryn is one of my favorite people to follow. She’s affirming, caring, funny, and authentic, and she really wants to help other people be the best version of themselves. Every episode of her podcast, like her email newsletter before it, has been a fantastic time spent reflecting and growing, and I can not recommend it enough. Thanks, Taryn!

Best hot dog: I ate a hot dog in November that was topped with cheese fries, and it was like looking at the face of God.


I hope you enjoyed my list. It is a good list and I like it.

Remember that you’re great, and I love you.

Five Years with LEGO City: Undercover

This is the fourth time I’ve played LEGO City: Undercover. I picked it up when it first came out, back in March of 2013 (five years ago!), and I loved it. I even wrote about how much I loved the giant, open city, filled with hilarious asides and hidden secrets. LEGO City is by all accounts a LEGO Grand Theft Auto, and it’s done exceptionally well.

I finished the game back when it came out on Wii U, and then over the years, I traded it in. When my son started to grow (as kids apparently do) and took his own interest in video games, I knew that LEGO City would be a great option for him to run around and do his own thing. At almost 3 years old, he took to it immediately, exploring the city and learning game mechanics on his own.

Being a toddler and unable to read, story progression became a problem for him. So, I took to playing the game at night, unlocking new disguises and abilities, allowing him to further his adventures when he awoke the next day. When the remastered edition ended up on Switch, I knew this would be a good way to continue his play over to the new console. He complained to me for a month between our purchase of the console with Super Mario Odyssey and Christmas: “This is awesome, but when can we get LEGO City? I love this, Daddy! But… when can we get LEGO City?”

When he received the game for Christmas, he was elated…. until he realized that he didn’t have the same game progress as he did on the Wii U version. Being the wonderful father that I am (and desperately wanting to end the complaints), I spent another 20 hours between Christmas and New Years, playing through LEGO City: Undercover for a third time, ensuring that my son could get that jetpack that he wanted.

My son is capable when it comes to video games. He learns pretty well on his own, relying on the games to teach him through gameplay rather than text. He finished Super Mario Odyssey almost entirely on his own (I helped with boss fights) at age 3, and this was after accidentally restarting his save file halfway through the game. He made his way back through what he had deleted, and things were great. But then he erased his LEGO City data.

I am now finding myself playing through LEGO City: Undercover for the fourth time in five years, almost to the day. And I still love it! It’s at Nintendo-level polish; there’s still a lot of reliance on text and the guidance towards goals isn’t as intuitive as, say, Mario. But, it’s still a fantastic title that rewards exploration and reiteration. Returning to missions with new abilities always brings rewards, and the sheer amount of vehicles, disguises, and Super Builds across the map is staggering.

The remastered edition for Switch, PS4, and Xbox One added in co-operative play, allowing my son and I to tackle this latest play through together. This relieves me of the burden of playing quickly while he sleeps, and also allows me to teach him how to read a minimap or follow direction markers. Best of all, it’s extra face time I get with my son without his face pressed up to the Switch screen.

I’m not in love with the situation that requires me to play LEGO City: Undercover again. But, for all the work I’ve sunk into this title, I still enjoy it as much as I did five years ago. This time, I also get to see it through my son’s eyes. And for him, every moment spent in LEGO City is a brand new adventure.

I Like Golf Story in Spite of Itself

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Golf Story was, for many, a required buy for their Nintendo Switch in 2017. Nice pixel art, paired with the merge of RPG and golf mechanics, made better by wacky, absurdist humor? Golf Story received tons of acclaim. As of this writing, Sidebar Games is enjoying a second surprise release, this time on the Japan eShop.

For me, after I finally left the world of Super Mario Odyssey behind, I downloaded Golf Story. And yes, while I am having a great time driving down fairways and chipping out of bunkers, my joy is in spite the rest of the game.

The actual golf mechanics themselves are wonderful. Check the layout of the hole. Select the corresponding club. Aim around obstacles. Account for wind. Tap a button according to the slider bar to determine power and accuracy. Move on to the next hole. I’ve enjoyed every single time I’ve teed up in Golf Story, whether it was to win a tournament or to thaw out a frozen caddie.

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What hasn’t been as enjoyable, I’ll admit, is the rest of the game. Don’t get me wrong, the game looks wonderful from a visual standpoint. The pixel art is lovely, and it’s use of the Joy-Con’s rumble is very welcome. (More games should use the HD Rumble.) Everything is explained well and I’m never confused about what to do. The part if the game that I’m finding to be the weakest is actually the part that we spend the most time with: the story.

I’m finding it very hard to enjoy anything relating to the plot, characters, dialogue, or humor the game offers. It’s as if there’s too much absurdity, and no straight man to balance everything out. There’s not enough room for the game to breathe. The only time we get a break from the constant dialogue and silliness is when we’re out on the course, silently trying to win a round.

Golf Story begins to feel like it’s choking on its bits. As it rattles off joke after one-off after cutaway, things get too cloudy to stay engaged. I consistently find myself waiting for my next chance to swing, ignoring the text boxes bouncing around the screen.

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Tim Rogers of Kotaku once described Golf Story as a “Seinfeld of video games”. But unlike Tim, I don’t wish to hang out in this world. I don’t need the possibility of a bird hiding my balls in a bunker in the middle of a tournament. In fact, if Seinfeld was a show about nothing, I say the same for the plot Golf Story.

The game’s claim of being an RPG does hold true, in the vein of Earthbound or Mega Man Battle Network. And yes, the different side quests you can come across can be entertaining. The problem is they do little but to provide a way to get cash. Eventually, every character is a set piece to guide you to the next story beat.

There are some characters that get too little screen time, and are the right amount of bonkers. Sometimes, a joke lands quite well. But Golf Story can’t seem to decide if its own protagonist is a golf prodigy or just as inept as the rest of the cast. Unfortunately, instead of coming across as a flawed person with technical strengths and social weaknesses, the outlook of him ping-pongs back and forth from conversation to conversation. Jokes that should be quick asides hang for too long, losing the moment they had to be funny, moving into the realm of try-hard.

I’m not saying that everything in Golf Story that isn’t a power slider is bad. But the fact is, the meat of the game is the golf, and that’s where I choose to feast.

I Have Become The Machine

My son has started raging against the machine over the last couple of months, and unfortunately, I’m not talking about a sudden interest in Evil Empire – no, I am the machine.

I spent much of my life trying desperately to be liked by everyone. There’s a Michael Scott quote from The Office that sums it up pretty well:

“Do I need to be liked? Absolutely not. I like to be liked. I enjoy being liked. I have to be liked. But it’s not like this compulsive need to be liked, like my need to be praised.“

When Lucas was born (specifically when Lucas became my biggest fan), that feeling pretty much ended. I didn’t need anybody’s approval because there was a tiny version of me at home that gave me the most gratification.

Of course, kids grow and change and go through phases, and Lucas is currently in the middle of a great one: he’s a toddler. My wife affectionately calls him a “Three-nager.” Because he’s turning three and acts like a teenager.

He’s taken to trying to shut me down when I give him instruction, or say hi, or tell him I love him, or ask to play/cuddle/eat. Everything is a cry for Mama instead, which feels super great, man. The latest (and kinda hilarious) of these situations was last night, when I asked Lucas if he wanted to play hide-and-seek, and he dryly told me, “Stop asking me that.”

So what do we do? What do I do? As a father who is home much more often than my wife, how do I turn these clashes against me into great times?

The big and most important first step before getting sad (or, horrifyingly, getting mad) is to understand why your kid is mad at you. Is it really because he doesn’t like you? Is he holding a grudge because you didn’t let him watch Peppa Pig? Or is it really just that maybe he’s still a toddler who might miss your spouse? I’m not a full stay-at-home-dad, but with my job being only part-time, I’m home substantially more than my wife is, much to the dismay of both my wife and our kids. As such, Lucas misses his Mama, and is pretty bored with me by the end of the day. The downside of this is that his baby sister is still nursing, Mama is exhausted from her day at work, and Daddy still wants to play and have fun. He’s done with me, he wants her, and he’s not happy about any of it.

But instead of getting bummed out and wondering what the heck is wrong with my parenting style, it’s important to remember that it’s not that he hates me, it’s that he loves her. My wife and I both need to figure out how to strike that balance and spend quality time with our kids, not quantity time. At a certain point, as anyone who’s ever been on a family vacation knows, you can get sick of each other real quick, and sometimes that’s one-sided. By figuring out the best way to split it up, we can form one heck of a parenting team.

From there, we are united when it comes to home expectations in terms of respecting others and attitudes, and, if needed, a punishment. We fail at this one a lot because you don’t know what’s going on in another person’s head until it comes out of their mouth, so we always try to talk about what happened later on after the kids go to bed about what worked, what didn’t, and what is going to be the plan for the next time.

Kids being kids, “next time” is going to be radically different and surprising, but this is all half of the fun of parenting, right?

Kicking & Screaming

The title of this post is both a reference to the poorly received 2005 film Kicking & Screaming starring Will Ferrell and the stuff that my son did during the final 25 minutes of his first soccer practice this weekend.

Lucas doesn’t like gnats, man.

We signed him up for a fun soccer course with other toddlers which runs for a couple of weeks. He did really great for the first 20 or so minutes before the swarms of gnats took their toll. Unfortunately, we have received a lot of rain, it was an abnormally hot morning (compared to the recent weather), and the field hadn’t been mowed yet, so there was a perfect blend of variables to attract a ton of tiny bugs right at eye level.

All in all, he did better than I ever did at a soccer practice (I never played sports), and we are really proud of him for what he was able to accomplish out there. The expectations weren’t too high, and we’re confident that next week, he’ll be able to hold out a little bit longer with the aid of some top-quality bug spray.