What I’m reading: June 2021

Some bite-sized thoughts and reflections on the items I’ve been reading, listening to, or watching this month.

Also: Did you read, watch, listen to, play something this month that you particularly enjoyed? Feel free to share in the comments! I’m always looking for recommendations.

Note: The following post contains mostly vague/light spoilers for Shadow and Bone (the Netflix series), Six of Crows (the book), Days Gone (the PS4 game), The Nanny, The Magicians, and Superman & Lois.

What I’m reading for work

ACRL Instruction Section Teaching Methods Committee Selected Resources List:  Every year, the ACRL Instruction Section Committee puts together a list of Selected Resources on library instruction and assessment. Resources included on this list are chosen for their innovative discussions of teaching methods, assessment tools or techniques, and/or instructional design in library instruction. As a member of the committee for the last four years, I’ve had a hand in helping select and annotate the resources that go on this list each year and this year I also had the honor to notify the authors that they’d been selected, which was a lot of fun. So I’m not exactly unbiased in recommending this particular resource, but if you’re interested in library instruction and assessment, there are some great articles, books, and other resources on the list this year. Highly recommended!

What I’m reading for fun

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo: Like a lot of people, I tuned in to the Shadow and Bone series on Netflix when it first premiered a few weeks back. Also like a lot of people, I found myself much more interested in the three “crow” characters and their story than the standard Chosen One/Love Triangle narrative happening in the main plot. Come to find out, these characters (Kaz, Inej, and Jesper) were actually imported to the TV series from a different series of books by the same author that takes place in the same universe (got that?). After watching the first season of Shadow and Bone and reading through some background materials online, I decided it was safe to skip reading the Shadow and Bone trilogy (for now) and go straight to the duology starring the three characters I was more interested in. So far, I feel like that was a good choice. The characters that I liked so much on the screen are even better on the page (though the actors who play Jesper and Inej in the series were particularly well-cast) and even though some of the lingo around Grisha and magic and politics are a little harder to keep track of than they might be if I’d started from the beginning, I feel like I understand the context well enough that it’s not preventing me from understanding or enjoying this particular story. It’s been a long time since I tore through a book this quickly and I’m already looking forward to getting my hands on the second installment.

What I’m playing for fun

Days Gone on PS4: I broke down recently and paid for a Playstation Plus membership as a way to discover new games that I didn’t necessarily want to buy. One of the first free games I downloaded was Days Gone, which I have since discovered is basically The Last of Us but on motorcycles. I can’t really explain how much I hated this game for the first few hours I played it. It starts with a high-speed motorcycle chase that if you get it right the first time should probably take less than two minutes to complete. But I am terrible at video games and terrible at “driving” in video games especially. I ended up playing the same scene over and over and over again for close to 2 hours. I’m not even kidding. Mostly because I couldn’t stop getting stuck in ravines or running into walls. Or falling off my bike and then taking FOREVER to get back on. By the time I finished the scene, I was so stressed out I could feel it in my teeth. But I stuck with the game for some reason and, based on what I’ve played so far, I’m actually really enjoying it. Yes, it’s derivative of other, better games in terms of its story and characters but what I like about it is that, with the exception of high speed chases (which I have yet to master), I feel like I basically understand how to play it. This is much different from my recent attempt to try to tackle The Witcher 3 and its overly elaborate and poorly explained inventory and crafting systems for the second or third time.  In comparison, Days Gone is speaking a gameplay language that’s very much like Horizon Zero Dawn, which was the first “open world” video game that truly clicked for me. Not everything works perfectly (there are a lot of weird glitches) but I like that I’ve only played the game a few times and I already know when and how to approach a scene using stealth versus when and how to approach one using melee or ranged combat (or how to combine different approaches). I also like Deacon as a character, the fact that he’s tough and competent but also gags and complains whenever he gets near a zombie nest (because who wouldn’t?). This game might be derivative, but it’s derivative of the parts that I personally like best and it feels like exactly what I need right now when it comes to gaming.

What I’m watching for fun

The Nanny on HBO Max: Like a lot of people, I’ve been spending some time revisiting The Nanny ever since it started streaming on HBO Max. I was a little worried that watching it would make me feel old but I’m happy to report that though I’m old enough to remember this show from when it was first on, I’m not old enough to understand *all* of the cultural references or recognize *all* of the guest stars, so crisis averted (for now). (1)  That said, I’ve spent the last year or so re-watching some classic sitcoms from the 1960s and 1970s, including The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and The Bob Newhart Show and in a weird way The Nanny feels much more dated than any of these series even though it aired 20-30 years later. Maybe it’s the constant Trump jokes (which were much more benign back then, when the Trumps were just cartoonish tabloid figures). Or the fat phobia. Or the occasional instances of gay panic. Or the weirdly mean way the show treats C.C. as a professional woman who happens to be single in her thirties. Basically, there are a lot of elements to this show that wouldn’t fly if it were made today whereas those other series could air now with relatively few changes and seem mostly fine.(2) That said, I’ve enjoyed re-watching the first two seasons of The Nanny so much that I’m willing to forgive  most of its more glaring faults. In some ways, the show makes that easy to do because it’s so willing to make fun of itself. I’m also glad that the recent attention it’s gotten has led to a conversation about Fran Drescher and her unique comic voice (literal and figurative). Plus, thanks to the magic of closed captioning, I now know all the lyrics to the theme song! But seriously: my kingdom to anyone who can help me get it out of my head.

Superman & Lois on CW Seed: I’ve been a casual fan of the CW’s various DC superhero series for a while now. Mostly I enjoy them for the first season or two and then get bored and wander away and forget to go back except for maybe an occasional check-in.(3) Because of that, I know little or nothing about Tyler Hoechlin and Elizabeth Tulloch’s appearances as Superman and Lois Lane on those shows which, based on what I’ve read in the reviews on AV Club, is just as well since this new series is basically a reset for the characters following the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover, which I heard about but didn’t see. Anyway. It’s weird to see the guy I know mostly as a broody werewolf from Teen Wolf (another show I wandered away from after a few seasons and never went back to) play a dorky dad who happens to also be Superman but within the first few minutes of the pilot, I was pretty much sold on his performance here. Really, everyone here is pretty great, even the teenage kid characters. The reviews of the show seem to indicate a concern that the tone is too serious for a Superman series but for me it works really well. Maybe that’s because the main problem I had with most of the other CW/DC shows is their inherent cheese factor. Cheesy superhero stories can be fun but also cringey at times. Like, I cringed a lot watching The Flash and Supergirl. By contrast, Superman & Lois feels a bit more grown-up to me and I feel like the show has actually found a pretty good sweet spot between the cheesiness of other CW superhero shows and the grim darkness of Zack Snyder’s take on the Superman character. Obviously, that’s a personal preference but I’m glad I gave Superman & Lois a chance and if the show sticks around for a while, I can see myself sticking with it.

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(1) I’m also happy to report that Charles Shaughnessy’s relatively recent stint as a pedophiliac children’s book author on The Magicians has somehow managed not to ruin Mr. Sheffield for me.

(2) This is not to suggest that these shows don’t have elements that would be considered “problematic” today, particularly with regard to race and gender politics, but the general approach and humor of these shows would still largely work if they were made today in a way that The Nanny’s wouldn’t quite.

(3) The Legends of Tomorrow being the one exception to this. I haven’t watched the more recent episodes but I stuck around after the okayish first and second season because I’d heard the series got a lot better as it went along. I was not disappointed.

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