Ready Player One – Ernest Cline. I have a weird fascination with what I’ll call, in very broad terms, fantasy games. In that I include fantasy sports, traditional desktop role playing games, and online RPGs. I say fascination because I love the idea of creating an alternate world where we are in control of characters and teams. But when it comes to the execution of the game, I lose interest. Drafting a fantasy baseball team is fun. Dealing with the team for six months, not so much. Same goes for RPGs. I always enjoyed the rolling up of characters, deciding how to equip and align them, and then the first few games more than spending months or years playing with a group of friends as you broadened your character’s abilities and possessions. When computer RPGs developed, I was always kind of interested, but the idea of spending hours playing these online games when I could be doing other things kept me from ever checking out Warcraft.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that this book appealed to me. Set twenty-plus years in the future, it focuses on an epic, online quest that will end with the control of OASIS, a virtual, online world that pretty much everyone spends all their free time plugged into, in the hands of either the hackers who promise to keep it open, or a giant corporation that views it as a source of endless monetization opportunities. The quest is full of puzzles, alliances, and battles between good guys and bad guys. In short, it has all the elements of a great fantasy game without me actually having to play it. And as a bonus, the creator of the quest was a Gen Xer. Thus all the players attempting to solve his puzzles must dig through massive amounts of 1980s pop culture to find clues. I don’t know that someone who is 55 or 25 will enjoy it as much as readers my age will.

Safe At Home – Richard Doster. I bought this ebook sometime last year, when it was on sale. And it sat in my Amazon account, untouched, ever since. I finally decided to (virtually) crack it open last week, which ended up being perfect timing. It’s a story about breaking the color line in minor league baseball, and last week was the celebration of Jackie Robinson doing exactly that in the Major Leagues.

This takes place in a small southern town, where a class C team is struggling to find a way to remain relevant in a society where TV is beginning to keep people home for their entertainment. After a chance encounter with a family from the city’s black high school, a sports reporter suggests that perhaps the team should sign the school’s budding star and lure black fans to games. This opens all kinds of cans of worms, as this particular town seems perfectly comfortable keeping the “separate but equal” lines between the races intact.

The kid is signed, there is controversy and anger and violence. The ending is not a happy, bow-tieing ending but rather an uncomfortable one where you don’t feel like anyone really learned anything.

Which is probably pretty accurate for 1950s southern America. The books draws on many famous moments in Jackie Robinson’s, and other black baseball players, early days as pros. But the context of a small town gives it an original element. I expect the scenes from the town are fairly historically accurate. I hope any reasonable person who reads this will be infuriated at how we treated fellow citizens not too long ago.

This isn’t a great book, but it is a nice little read that sucks in both baseball and the massive gears of change that were beginning to crank in America 60 years ago.

Gentlemen – Bob Gendron. This was my second crack at the 33 ⅓ series of music books, a series in which authors tackle a specific, significant album in roughly 100 pages. Previously I had read Christopher Wein’s take on Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back and thought it was interesting, but just ok.

Here, Gendron examines The Afghan Whig’s overlooked work of genius, Gentlemen. It’s clearly from from a fan’s perspective, and thus is a bit over-written. But it tells the story of the band and how they arrived at the recording of their fourth studio album in 1992. There’s an unevenness to the writing, though, which detracts from that story. The 33 ⅓ books force authors to hone in on a narrow focus because of their length restrictions. I didn’t think Gendron ever found that solid, central focus and instead tried to pare down what should have been a longer book into this format.

I’ve loved this album for nearly 20 years, but knew little of its back-story. So I did learn much about both the band and their masterpiece. But I felt like the story could have been told in a better way.