Saturday, 22 April 2017

Sunday Afternoon Reader, Part 5

Wow! It’s been over a year since I did one of these…so I guess I’m technically within the limits I set myself, but it’s definitely been too long nonetheless. Here’s three books I’ve made my way through recently. And hopefully Part 6 will be weeks away, rather than months.

Publisher: Ecstastic Peace Library
Year: 2011

I’ve mentioned once or twice *cough* on here my love for heavy metal, and it’s near impossible to talk about the recent history of the genre without talking about Mayhem. I’ve always been kind of ambivalent about them (though I very much enjoyed Live in Liepzig), but to deny the influence they’ve had would be a fool’s errand – and when I saw them live in 2010, they put on a crushing live show. 

This book is primarily a collection of photographs, punctuated with short essays from Jorn “Necrobutcher” Stubberud, who’s the sole original member of the band these days. It would have been interesting to hear some thoughts from the others too, but of course most of them are simply dead now – buried by time and dust, in the band’s own parlance. But the photos are fantastic (witness one of the band members wearing a Bon Jovi shirt; could you imagine that now?) not only for their historic value to Mayhem but for their insight into wider European metal culture in the 1980s.

Publisher: TSR, Inc
Year: 1989   

Back in the 1980s, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was insanely popular. In addition to the core game and its supplements (quite expansive in its own right), it had spawned its own animated series, video games, a metric ton of tie-in novels and all manner of unusual merchandise. An art book is a logical extension of the game’s products; but by manufacturing AD&D beach towels I feel like there may have been some misunderstandings about the game’s core demographic.

The art in here is primarily drawn from the mid to late 80s, and exudes an impressive sense of professionalism, accompanied by commentary from some of the artists themselves. Most, if not all of it is easily available online, but it’s a nice relic from an era when the game was arguably at its peak popularity. Gone are the crude but charming line drawings of the 70s, and no doubt there’s plenty who would complain that it was emblematic of TSR’s shift from hobby product to milking a cash cow. 

There may be some fairness to that criticism, too; in less than a decade, TSR would find themselves absorbed into Wizards of the Coast, victims of bloated product lines, poor business decisions and mismanagement. What kept the business running as a hobby doesn’t necessarily scale to a global level. But Dungeons & Dragons lives on, with the 5th edition released just in 2014 – it doesn’t look to be going away anytime soon.

Publisher: Harper
Year: 2007

As a kid, I was a massive fan of all things Peanuts, and was devastated when Charles M. Schulz died back in 2000. I had originally wanted to read this way back on first release, and have vague memories of flicking through it in Borders (remember them?) but probably couldn’t justify the cost. Waiting 10 years did mean I scored it for only $6, and I’m sure there’s a Charlie Brown-esque moral in there somewhere.    

Schulz’s family has been fairly critical of the book, and I can see why; though his personal life was far from enigmatic, author David Michaelis takes a deeper look than most previous biographers, and it stands at odds with some of the conventional hagiography that often grows around beloved public figures.

That said, though Michaelis’ commitment to uncovering the truth is commendable, it’s not a perfect book. It dwells far too long on certain subjects (like the dissolution of his first marriage) and not nearly enough on others that Peanuts fans might find salient (his involvement in the animated specials, his friendships with other cartoonists). I’m glad I read it, but don’t feel that I missed out for having waited this long.     

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