In our monthly book club, we discuss whatever we happen to be reading and ask everyone in the comments to do the same. What Are You Reading This Month?
The Need by Helen Phillips
Thrillers that double as artful confessionals of refined literary grace are a rare breed, but Helen Phillips has managed something truly impressive with her fifth book, The Need, as it retains a thoughtful, heady fascination from page to page, yet never flags in its pacing. I’m going a little heavy on the flattery, but it’s deserved in this case: I rarely get the chance to feel like I’m reading a novel both intellectually stimulating (with lovely prose, to boot) and layered with the lurid fun of an especially enjoyable Lifetime movie, albeit with a sci-fi twist. Without saying too much about where it goes, the story follows Molly, a paleobotanist (it’s a thing!) who has been dutifully working on the same dig for years. But wider interest is stirred when she starts finding strange cultural artifacts amid the detritus of her organic materials: a century-old Bible with key terminology changed; a mid-’50s Coke bottle with a logo that never existed; an Altoids tin that was never produced. She thinks it’s a prank, but a curious public is more than a little passionate (especially about that problematic Bible). Still, all of that pales in comparison to the night she’s up with her kids, and her daughter looks down the hall of their home and says, “Who’s that guy?” Gripping and meditative, it delivers on the fun while making a beautiful case for the foolish insanity of parenthood. [Alex McLevy]
Blood, Sweat, And Pixels by Jason Schreier
As someone who thinks about why video games are bad on a professional basis—I have other duties, but that’s the one I like the most—my focus is usually on the end product. But the truth is, in an industry that relies as heavily on distributed labor as gaming does, a single bad decision on the screen is often the result of hundreds of awful ideas from people up and down the line, each screwing up in their own individual (and institutional) ways. That’s the joy of Blood, Sweat, And Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made, written by our colleague Jason Schreier over at Kotaku, which charts the troubled history of 10 big-name games from the last 10 years, outlining where things did, and did not, go wrong. Part of the pleasure of Schreier’s meticulously researched text is pure schadenfreude. I got a deep thrill out of knowing that Dragon Age: Inquisition, a game I quietly loathe, was just as much of a soulless mess in its internal workings as I’d always suspected. But it’s also a perfect picture of one of the youngest, most lucrative, and virulently mutation-prone industries in the pop culture world. Even two years out from its initial publication, Blood, Sweat, And Pixels still hits almost everything that’s dominating the gaming world behind the scenes today: Crowdfunding, the increasing desire to treat games as constantly updating services (rather than standalone products), and, of course, the boogeyman lurking beneath every lushly animated 3D world or lovingly rendered cutscene: the life-destroying specter of 80-, 90-, and 100-hour work weeks that’s colloquially known as “crunch.” [William Hughes]