Tagged with " books"
Jan 15, 2012 - Game Theory, Literature    1 Comment

Straight Into Hell: Reverb Gamers #9 & 10

REVERB GAMERS 2012, #9: Have you ever played a character of the opposite sex? Why or why not? If yes, how did the other players react? (Courtesy of Atlas Games.)

I can only think of two male characters that I created and played–I’m sure I’ve played male pregens at cons over the years, but they don’t stick in my memory so much. The first was the aforementioned Wasabi Delmonico, the San Francisco Kid. He was for a pulp one-shot, a Chinese-American teenager who raced soapbox derby carts down the Bay Area hills and did other sorts of wacky stunts. I think we fought flying gorilla men. His name is clearly the most memorable thing about him; his gender wasn’t really a factor in the game.

Scottish pirates, burying William Kidd's treasure.The second male character I played was in a con game, but he’s lodged in my memory (and possibly those of other players) as firmly as any character in an extended campaign. My friends Lydia and Rob had raved about the fantastic sessions of Run Out the Guns! they’d played at Gen Con the year before, run by the game’s creator and historical-replica sailor Jason Hawkins. There’s a big focus on historicity and realism, for all that it’s a swashbuckling adventure game, so I didn’t want to introduce the anachronism of a female sailor, or deal with all the actual prejudice and liabilities that would come with portraying a woman accurately in the setting.

So I made a bosun’s mate named Hamish Macbeth, a brawny ginger Scot. I was thoroughly immersed in the BBC series based on the M.C. Beaton books at the time, so sue me for unoriginality if you must. I’m a pretty fine vocal mimic, so that same immersion meant that I could affect a mighty strong (and fairly accurate, if I do say so myself) Highland accent. Jason was an amazing GM–his extensive work on the Rolemaster system meant he could handle the technical aspects with a facility not associated with Rolemaster, and his deep knowledge of the setting and ships meant he made very complex things run with a wild, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, theatrical ease. The ship battles were epic, and it’s a bosun’s mate’s job to relay orders from the captain to the crew. I did this in a salty, broguey bellow that was, upon reflection, completely inconsiderate to every other game going on in the labyrinthine basement of Milwaukee’s Mecca Center. But, great good gods, did we have fun.

When the game was over, Jason shook my hand heartily and said, “Hamish, man, I’d follow you straight into hell with that voice!” I’ve shared that compliment often over the years, as one of the highlights of my game convention experience, but only upon thinking of my answer to this prompt did it occur to me that Jason and my fellow players referred to me and called for my attention all that night with male pronouns and epithets. I was so deeply into Hamish’s head that I honestly didn’t notice.

I’m not usually so thoroughly sunk in a character that I forget I’m not him/her, and the dissonance between my feminine self and a masculine character when I’m not completely in either world is the reason I don’t play male characters more often. I can’t possibly know what it’s like to be inside a man’s head, and I wouldn’t dare to suggest that I do, so I don’t trust myself to accurately portray a man’s motivations as I make decisions for that character. I think most game settings and GMs go out of their way to allow for greater gender balance than strictly historical mores would accommodate, so I haven’t felt restricted in my character choices by sticking with the gender I know.

REVERB GAMERS 2012, #10: Have you ever played a character originally from a book/TV/movie? How did the character change from the original as you played? If not, who would you most like to play? (Courtesy of Atlas Games.)

I’ve played a lot of great characters from book, TV, and movie settings I love, but for this prompt, all I can think about are the ones I despise. I’m going to bring some flak from earnest fans, but here’s the honest truth:

I HATE Sand from The Chronicles of Amber and Goldmoon from Dragonlance.

For those not familiar with these characters, here’s a bit of background. The Wikipedia entry for Sand and her brother Delwin, introduced in Blood of Amber, says this: “Delwin (brown & black) and Sand (pale tan & dark brown), twin brother and sister. They only lived a short time in Amber, preferring to live in the Shadow worlds and keep themselves removed from the affairs of their siblings.” I think it was the Diceless RPG by Erick Wujcik that introduced the idea that Sand has power over the dreams of others, but I’m not entirely certain of this. In any case, she’s a minor character, and she’s as flat and colorless as the substance for which she’s named.

And I’ve never played Goldmoon in a run-through of the Dragonlance adventures that didn’t make me wonder why Goldmoon and Riverwind didn’t take their toy and go home. In one particularly memorable campaign, Goldmoon met the rest of the companions as they punched Flint repeatedly, in an effort to render him senseless so they could cross the river. I’ve got lots of problems with the character, but frankly, I’ve never been able to get past that first, most essential obstacle.

The cruelest thing my Darling Husband has ever done to me was to make me play Goldmoon in a Dragonlance one-shot while we were hanging out with friends in New Zealand. Halfway through the game, all the characters “woke up” to discover that they were actually Amberites, being manipulated through their dreams. And Goldmoon was actually Sand.

At which point, the words “divorce” and “green card” and “one-way ticket home” were casually thrown into the conversation.

Ironically, though Cam writes RPGs for licensed properties, I’ve only played Smallville once; I’ve never had the chance to play Serenity, Supernatural, Demon Hunters, Leverage, or Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. This isn’t because I wouldn’t love to. Rather, it’s a function of not being able to afford babysitters for game nights, and game conventions being work rather than play for us, on the rare occasions in the last decade when we can arrange someone to stay with the boys so I can attend. Hopefully, that’ll change, and I can finally find out what all the buzz is about.

Jan 1, 2012 - Fine Arts, Psychology    No Comments

My Stuff, My Space: Reverb Broads 2011 #26 & 27

Reverb Broads 2011, December 26: Write about the things you collect, include photos, tell why these items are cherished by you? (courtesy of Catie at http://catiecake.typepad.com/catiecake/) and December 27: What does your office/home/bedroom tell others about you? (courtesy of Kristen at http://kristendomblogs.com/)

I collect a lot more things than I consciously set out to collect, which is why my house says things about me I’d rather not said out loud. But there are a few things I do set out to collect. They tend to fall into one of four main categories: toys, craft supplies, pictures, and books.

I like all kinds of silly toys, but I’m a total geek, so my toys tend to reflect that. Naturally, I’ve got a lot of Star Wars, comics, and movie-inspired toys. I also really like toys of things that wouldn’t normally be toys; I have a stuffed Anubis (the Egyptian god of the dead), a purple Lucite Ganesh statue, and a wind-up walking nun. I prefer monsters and villains over heroes, for the most part, so I have toys of my favorites, like Maleficent (the evil fairy from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty–in fact, one of them is our tree topper at the moment) and Japanese movie monsters like Godzilla and Gamera. And of course, I’ve got quite a few Muppets.

I’m also quite the craft ninja, and I’ve got a big wardrobe full of supplies, plus several large plastic tubs full of fabric, yarn, cross-stitch projects, jewelry supplies, and anything that might be improved by the application of hot glue. Crafters know that creativity could break out when you least expect it, and you’ve got to be ready.

I can’t imagine leaving walls–or any decoratable surface, really–blank, so wherever I am tends to be a visual feast of photos, posters, art, and anything else I can get to stick to a vertical surface. I’m a huge fan of Art Nouveau icon Alphonse Mucha, and Art Nouveau blends well with my passion for Celtic designs. I also like art that contains visual jokes or is multi-referential. For instance, I’ve got a huge bus-stop poster from France that shows a painting of Saint Peter (painted in rich Italian Renaissance style, with even an ornate gilt frame on the edges of the poster) as he reaches for a round of Brie floating above him. The caption at the bottom reads, “Il n’y a rien au-dessus de President” (There’s Nothing Above President [Cheese]). The absurdity of the elaborate art and the sacrilegious slogan (quite remarkable to find in a nominally Catholic country) tickle my funny bone. And I’m a very sentimental person who likes to be surrounded by loved ones, so I have photos of family and friends everywhere.

Finally, I would like to have ALL THE BOOKS RIGHT NOW THANK YOU. My husband actually asked me whether I wanted a Kindle for my birthday this year, and he really didn’t know whether I would enjoy it. I had to answer honestly: no, I prefer books. I can’t inscribe or annotate a download; I can’t press a favorite PDF into a friend’s hand with passionate entreaties to share my new find. I’m terrible about getting rid of books, too; I’ve felt less attached to some of my cats than I am to some of my books. I’ve got some incredibly cool autographed volumes, and some lovely old books (though I don’t collect old books just because they’re old, despite what my family thinks), but all my books are like beloved children. Sure, it’s time to let some of them leave the nest; I’m tired of carting hundreds of pounds of things I’ll never read again from residence to residence. But I’m rarely happier than I am in a room filled with books, those I’ve read and loved, and those that sit like treasure chests waiting to be discovered.

My desk at work reflects all of these things, except the books, because when I’m at work I’m not supposed to be reading anything but emails and roleplaying games. I’ve got my adorable sons, Captain Jack Harkness, The Beatles (that’s the corner of a black-and-white poster at the top right) and Eric the vampire to keep me company, and The Endless watch over my work from atop my monitor. My boys’ artwork and a picture of Padme Amidala in the style of Mucha adorn my walls, and a host of other little friends crowd around my keyboard.

What does it say about me? It says I’m a geek, of course. It says I haven’t grown up. It says I love color and cute men. It says my bosses are very cool and patient with my quirkiness. It says I’m ready for the kids who are sometimes in the office. It says I’ve got a lot going on. What it doesn’t say–but it’s good to know–is that there are always snacks in my top left drawer. Lots of tasty snacks.

My desk at the Atlas Games offices

I Can Read With My Eyes Shut: Reverb Broads 2011 #9

On my pilgrimage to the Seuss Landing at Universal Islands of Adventure

Reverb Broads 2011, December 9: What was your favorite children’s book? (courtesy of Niki at http://nikirudolph.com)

Pick a single favorite children’s book? What, are you people trying to kill me? No, I see it all now: you want me to do your holiday shopping for you…

I’m bad at the favorites game, no matter the medium. That whole “Ten CDs/Books/Movies/Games/Wombats On A Desert Island” meme is completely beyond me; in fact, the only thing I can do every time I say that, as soon as I post the list, I’m going to think of at least three I would have to change. So this is going to be more of a whirlwind tour than a deep reminiscence.

I literally can’t remember a time when I couldn’t read; I had maybe a hundred sight words by the time I was two. When they tested me for kindergarten, I was at a fourth-grade level. Pretty much anything I ever wanted to read, I just picked up and gobbled down. This doesn’t mean I didn’t love children’s literature. I did — I do.

So I’ll start in the place everyone who knows me would expect me to start: Doctor Seuss.

Yes, I spelled that correctly; please absorb that bit of knowledge and carry it forth into the world. And I know, I know you love him too. Who doesn’t? His stuff never gets old. But much like the Muppets, I just never let Dr. Seuss go as I aged. I memorized and did a dramatic recitation of Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose for Forensics in high school; I went to State on that story. And when I got to college, the first club I joined was the KU Dr. Seuss Club. I was its president my sophomore and junior years. We used to go into Lawrence’s elementary schools and read to kids, to validate our weekly meetings and impressive membership. I was even featured in a story about the club that hit the Knight-Ridder newswire (FYI: my maiden name was Perinchief).

But when I was the age when most kids are enamored of Dr. Seuss and other picture books, I was all about the nonfiction, too. I had several phonebook-sized collections of weird facts that I recited to anyone and everyone (this particular sin is being revisited upon me even as we speak). And there was a biography of Dolley Madison that I checked out almost every time I was at the library, and must have read a hundred times. My grandparents took me to the Wisconsin State Capitol when I was four, and I argued with the tour guide that Madison was obviously named for Dolley, because she saved the White House and what had her runty little lump of a husband ever done. This was not the first, nor the last, time in my life I’ve been stared at like a freakshow.

As I got older, my tastes evolved pretty quickly — I was a rabid Sherlock Holmes fan by the time I was in sixth grade — but some children’s lit still stands out in my memory. I adored The Westing Game, and I’m so happy to still see it on regular middle school reading lists. And The Phantom Tollbooth is as fresh today as it was 25 years ago; I’ve been loving all the anniversary celebrations this year. I still read A Little Princess from time to time, just to relive the delight and wonder of that story, and the movie is a little-known gem. Sure, I read my share of Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Babysitters Club, and Sweet Valley High, too. I was truly ravenous, and I could chew through one of those “age-appropriate” books in under two hours. But my parents never restricted me to the short-shelved section of the library, for which I remain grateful.

And now I have new favorites, but they’re my favorites from reading to my own kids. Books like Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs and Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton, the Charlie and Lola books by Lauren Child, and the Skippyjon Jones series by Judy Schachner are a riot and a joy to read aloud. In fact, there’s a thing called the E. B. White Read-Aloud Awards that’s been going for just a few years now that makes a great place to start finding those books you’ll never get tired of reciting at bedtime. And achingly sweet books like I Love You, Little One by Nancy Tafuri, God Bless the Gargoyles by Dav Pilkey (this one is NOTHING like Captain Underpants, trust me), and Polar Bear Night by Lauren Thompson still get me choked up, especially when my sweet boys fall asleep while I’m still reading quietly at their bedsides.

I read in my kids’ classrooms every few weeks, so I’m having to expand my repertoire to find short, funny stories that fourth-graders like. The Wayside School stories by Louis Sachar have been very well-received, but I’m always looking for new suggestions.

I figure, by the time I’m done reading aloud to my kids, their kids should be just old enough for some Doctor Seuss. And they’ll know right where to find Grandma’s copies.

Oct 7, 2011 - Literature    3 Comments

Time Enough At Last

Our house looks like a bomb went off. A small truck bomb, packed with multiplication flash cards, Star Wars guys, broken crayons, clothes, and empty cups.

And let’s not forget the printed material. There could’ve been a simultaneous CIA leafleting-from-the-skies campaign over every inch of our house, dropping readable matter like Minnesota snow. Fantasy books, romance books, picture books, chapter books, RPG books, video game guides, coloring books, workbooks, catalogs, newspapers, magazines, comics, junk mail, recipes, assembly instructions, maps, notes, drafts, calendars, phone messages, receipts, grocery lists, homework. Wobbly stacks, sliding drifts, impenetrable walls of paper.

Maddening as it is — like, “I’d like to drop a match in it before my mom visits for Thanksgiving” maddening — this is more or less how I grew up, always with something to read no further than my elbow. And if it’s there, I can’t not read it, if you know what I mean. The words go in as fast as I see them, so as I gaze around, I’m constantly bombarded by info; I’m not conscious of the time it takes to scan text. The inability to glance past things without absorbing them might be overstimulating for some people. Hell, it might be overstimulating for me, I don’t know; I’ve always been like this, so I don’t know any differently.

In fact, I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t read. I was spelling and mastering simple sight words at 18 months, and I tested at a fourth-grade reading level when they tried to figure out what to do with me in kindergarten testing. I was lucky to have parents and grandparents who were pretty relaxed about letting me chow through reading material far beyond my age level, and I satisfied my voracious appetite for it by simply keeping as many books going at once as I could. Even now, I’m rarely reading fewer than three or four separate titles at once.

Now I’m going to ask you to do something. Take all of what I’ve just described — in my home, in my youth — and erase it. Just use that little Photoshop tool and scrub every last piece of reading material out of the picture, like a neutron text bomb. Imagine a house messy with toys and clothes and dishes, but no books or magazines or newspapers or homework. Imagine a young child, hungry to learn, curious about the world, stuck gazing out a window or watching TV or sitting on a stoop. Try, just try, to imagine a setting with absolutely nothing to read.

To me, this is the purest science fiction. It’s the Twilight Zone. I can wrap my head around time travel, and quantum physics, and non-humanoid aliens, and a billion other things, but I literally can’t conjure the image of a home without books. I shudder to imagine growing up in one, and it is pure horror to imagine raising my kids in one.

I’ve been trying to imagine this all week, since I heard a statistic from a 2006 study publicized by the United Way. The study found that, in middle-income homes, the ratio of books per child is 13 books for each child, which is itself a ludicrously low number compared with the bounty to which I am accustomed. That won’t even fill a single shelf — they’ll keep falling over.

But in low-income neighborhoods, that number flips and sinks like the Poseidon. The ratio becomes only one book for every THREE HUNDRED CHILDREN. Let me rephrase: one poor child gets one book, and 299 poor children get none. No books. Zero. Inconceivable.

My kids’ school has about 450 children. If this statistic extended into that setting, the school in that low-income neighborhood would have two books. But at least in a school, those two books would get passed around. Households don’t usually do that, so that one book doesn’t make its way around among the 300 kids. The other 299 just do without.

My first impulse, of course, is to go directly into the boys’ bedroom with a trash bag and sweep up every single book they haven’t read in the last two weeks, and drive down to the poor neighborhoods and just start handing out books. I know that’s not practical, and I know there are groups designed to put books into exactly the hands that need them most. You can bet your backside I’ve been doing research into exactly which groups can use exactly which books, and how to make those donations — if I find anything beyond United Way that’s available on a national level, I’ll post it in comments.

Ever seen that episode of The Twilight Zone with Burgess Meredith as the harried bank teller who just wants time to read his book without his boss or his wife interrupting him? That episode’s what I named this post after. Eventually, he gets the time and the books, along with a cruel, ironic twist. But imagine if you had the time, and the desire to read, but no books. That episode’s playing all day, every day.


NB — Another point worth making: lack of access to books means lack of access to ideas that empower people to change their circumstances. Often, the ideas that motivate people to change their lives are found in banned books, which are even harder to access if you depend on schools and libraries, rather than your own purchasing power.

The Uprise Books Project aims to change that by putting free copies of banned books in the hands of impoverished and at-risk youth, exposing them to radical, perspective-shifting ideas. You can learn more and support the project here: http://www.uprisebooks.org/about/.