Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Plus Six Arcana : Why All Fantasy Readers Should Join a D&D Party

[Note: This post was totally written and scheduled to go up tomorrow... until I saw the trending hashtag #GygaxDay on Twitter this afternoon! So, in honor of Gary Gygax himself, happy playing, and here's a new post for you!]

Earlier this year, I was absolutely blessed to join some of the most hilarious, smart, and savvy women I know to form a kick-ass Dungeons and Dragons party... and to be perfectly honest, I think you should join one, too! 

the origin story

In part, I have to blame my amazing younger sister, Delaney. Beyond being the "Ex-Cheerleader" - and current Sorority President of her chapter - she also did a stint last summer over in Yellowstone National Park, serving as a housekeeper at Roosevelt Lodge, willingly forgoing wifi and cell reception for days on end as trade for being surrounded by nature 24/7. Because of the Revenant-like technological conditions, her fellow housekeepers had taken up an inclusive game of Dungeons and Dragons as a means of passing the time, and invited her to join. Needless to say, she loved it.

Thus, one of the reasons she and I were factored into our current party. After so much time expressing admiration for Delaney's new hobby, I had been asked along for this new ride by my friends, and I requested a spot for her, as well. We soon became our party's healer and tank, which fits pretty well with our personalities, anyways. So many sessions later, I am constantly reminded of the dedication of my fellow players, the intense friendship we've formed, and the zany adventures I've loved being a part of.

[Side note:  I cannot tell you the unique and incredible perspective that I have in playing with a party made up entirely of women. Not just women, but sisters: everyone in our group is a Sigma Kappa - two of whom were also in my RC groups the two years I served with Panhellenic - with the only outlier being my own biological sister. While our characters are not all exclusively gendered, we are, and so we've been able to avoid a lot of different stereotyping or sexism that can sometimes cloud the game's presence elsewhere.]

As a group, we are by no means experts... I'm pretty sure for most of us, this is the first encounter we've had with the game. However, it hasn't impacted game play at all: figuring everything out together has been half the fun!

for fantasy fanatics

Now, for the real reason this topic made it's way into a blog post instead of just a ton of aesthetic posts on my Tumblr: a huge part of my gaming ability is also guided by the fact that I love to read! I know how story lines work best, I have practice both constructing and understanding characters based on the kinds of fantasy characters I've read in the past, and it's really like playing your own part in the construction of an epic story.

My fellow players - especially Delaney - have also poked fun at me for the fact that my character speaks so well (despite having a Charisma of +0) or that I can supply the perfect line for use in a situation. The reality is, I've already consumed so much snappy dialogue in my life, that it's gotten to be pretty easy to follow the framework!

In fact, there's plenty of reasons as to why fantasy readers should pick up a Player's Handbook

  • You already love reading about these kinds of settings, characters, creatures, and more, only this time, it's immersive. The fact is, you're a fan of fantasy, and that's already going to go a long ways in how much you get out of Dungeons and Dragons experiences (and yes, there's more to it than just dungeons or dragons). 
  • You get the chance to make the characters and stories yourself. Ever run into a narrator or love interest you didn't like, who soured the whole book for you? With D&D that's a non-issue... and if anyone ever makes you that annoyed, chances are you have a much better chance of killing them off in this arena. (My sister's character has already stabbed my character twice... in one game!) 
  • You probably have a lot of talent to contribute. Whether it's providing hilarious commentary, adding flair to your attack moves, or dreaming up just the perfect look or description, you've got a lot of history here. 
  • You might even have real-world talents to provide, too! For instance, one of the best things about our party is the fact that our DM also loves to draw, and illustrates our characters in various posts she adds to our party's Tumblr. A couple of random aesthetic posts I made for my sister and my characters earlier this Spring also got rave reviews from the group, and another friend recently made a post matching up our characters to headlines from The Onion that had me laughing until I cried. 
  • You thought your favorite fandom was cool? Wait until you start playing D&D. You have the global Dungeons and Dragons community, who are incredibly supportive and fun, not to mention enthusiastic about helping you pick your next dice set (shout out to the very cute boy who works at Golden Age Collectables in Pike Place). Even besides the people you meet out in the real world, the friendships that you form within your own party are so unique, it's like having an incredibly intense fandom with, like, eight people in it. 

Have I convinced you yet? Even if I haven't, here are some resources you can check out to determine if Dungeons and Dragons is right for you: 
  • Critical Role. An online live stream of D&D party sessions over on Geek and Sundry, this group of outgoing and enthusiastic players would already make for an interesting bunch to watch, even if they weren't all professional voice actors
  • Rat Queens comics. Following four badly-behaved, well-drawn female characters as they wreak havok across a fantasy realm, this comic book series already has a cult following, and even featured the characters from Critical Role as a cameo in a recent issue! 
  • Shit My Players Say and Out of Context D&D are hilarious Tumblrs which chronicle the silly, sordid, and downright stupid shenanigans players from around the Internet get into in their own sessions. For anyone who thinks D&D might be too intense or intimidating, there are plenty of quotes like "All departed souls go to Denny's" or "Roll a will save to ignore the chicken" to change your perspective. 
  • Honestly? Pinterest! I know it sounds nutty, but there's plenty of fun and interesting content on the world's biggest crafting and recipe receptacle, especially if you know what you're looking for. Browse through some of S. J. Maas' inspiration boards for a little inspiration of your own, or try a general search for funny memes or printable character sheets you can use yourself.

{a selection of the illustrations I use as headers for my gameplay session notes; a handful of us at a sorority event earlier this year!}

Despite the fact that I still consider myself a beginner, I can already tell that this is a hobby that's going to stick with me for a while. And it turns out that it's not just nerdy kids in a basement - or sorority girls in a well-lit, airy apartment - that play D&D, but celebrities, too: Vin Diesel, James Franco, Drew Barrymore, Stephen Colbert, and even Dame Judi Dench are all fans of the role-playing game. 

So, as you can tell by the length of this post, there's not only plenty of reasons for fantasy readers to start playing D&D, but plenty who already do! Because, let's face it: not everyone's cut out for Book Club. 

Have you played Dungeons and Dragons before, or do you do so currently? Would you want to hear more about my D&D experiences? Let me know, in the comments below!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

And Then We Were Six : My SIXTH Bloggoversary!

Yes, I know. I have no idea how we got here, either.

That's right, people. Today, this beautiful Playing in the Pages book blog turns 6. It's freaking me out, too. 

It's kind of like last year was the Sweet Sixteen... My big year of no book-buying was bisected by this one instance of being able to purchase books, so I bought five of them, in honor of my Fifth Anniversary, and I had been planning it for about a month ahead of time with a notes section I kept on my iPhone. There was a ton of build-up and decisions to make about it, and my parents had a running commentary from me about how it was all going to go down. 

This year, I forgot about it until earlier last week, and my parents didn't hear about it from me until last night (I sprung it on them during a late-night Pokemon Go session with my brother). Fifth Anniversaries are so cool, and I - and my blog - had grown so much! Now it's just like, another square in the pavement. 

Of course, that doesn't mean that things haven't changed around here since last year... or that I haven't celebrated it, either! 

how we've changed

  • For starters, as regular readers might have noticed, I recently added AdSense! I know, don't hate me too much. Basically, it's something I've been kicking around for a while now, and one afternoon this summer, I bit the bullet and tackled it all. And it really hasn't been that much of a hassle! My content isn't really that affected, and it's prompted me to work a little harder on figuring out how to make the blog monetizable. 
  • Even though I am focusing more on drawing more readers, I'm not so worried about constantly updating. I used to be in this constant panic about the fact that I wasn't uploading regular and current content, that I wasn't even enjoying the content that I did end up writing. Part of this change is due to...
  • The posts that I'm publishing now are of a lot higher caliber. I don't know if you are as proud of me as I have been about my current content, but they're a little more lengthy, a lot more informative, and way more interesting to me. I think some of my favorites have been tackling the importance of this year's Nebula Awards, recapping the contents of my Capstone on Thyra Samter Winslow, and discussing what multimedia forms of Nancy Drew have been successful. Not typical book blog fare, but they're what's cool about BookWorld to me... and hopefully, they help me stand out from the crowd a little bit. 

how I celebrated 

Well, like I said, I didn't exactly tell my parents what was really going on with me until at about 10pm last night, but this is, in my mind, how I celebrated. 

(Honorable mentions: seeing Gentleman's Guide at the 5th with family and my best friend; trying my hand at brush lettering; new Disney swag from a Tacoma thrift shop I adore)

  • Naturally, I had to go check out Barnes and Noble in order to pick up a couple presents for myself, so I made a beeline for the YA section to grab V.E. Schwab's This Savage Song. Of course, while I was running past the Recent Release table, I threw out an arm for the Hogarth Shakespeare retelling Vinegar Girl, by Anne Taylor, and when I was vaulting around the turns by the Graphic Novels department, my hand caught on volumes 2&3 of Rat Queens. 
  • Most importantly, my mother forced me to confront my status as an adult and begin sorting through the books of my childhood, as we're cleaning out the playroom of our house to prepare for a (hopefully avoidable) move home to Tacoma once my lease in Seattle ends in August. Cleaning out those old bookshelves unearthed a lot of physical memories - and a metric ton of dust and dead bugs - and I didn't think that I'd spend part of this weekend crying over the Cirque du Freak series, by Darren Shan, but lo and behold, I'm still the same person I was when I was 13. What better way to spend an anniversary than by reflecting on your youth? 

So, thank you all for journeying with me for another year around the sun, and plenty of fun around the web. This hobby of mine has turned itself into a network of friends, a portfolio of writing, a two-year fashion career, and several hundred books in my shelves and in my heart. Thank you, thank you, thank you, and if I could ever do anything for all of you in repayment, you need only ask. 

Thanks so much for spending time with me, whether it's been six years or six seconds. Love you!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Bits of Books: Callie is a Godsend and Lends Me Stuff

It's definitely not the first time I've mentioned Callie - my onetime Student Calling Center manager and current favorite book lending person I know - and it's certainly not going to be the last: Out of the eleven books I've read so far this summer, three of them are the result of a very generous book swap, courtesy of her! 

Subsequent to giggling our way through the newest Jane Austen adaptation Love & Friendship last month, we swung by her house, and after a very cute room tour, she loaded me up with three titles I'd not yet read, and sent me on my merry way. Being that we're trying to get together for coffee on Friday morning, I figured that it was a good enough time to finally upload all my impressions of those books she lent: Court of Mist and Fury, East, and Rebel Belle

a court of mist and fury, sj maas

The sequel to Maas' A Court of Thorns and Roses, the story follows Feyre adapting to her new life as a member of the High Fae. Unable to cope with what had befallen her Under the Mountain, nor feeling as connected to the Spring Court as she once had, Feyre begins to discover the truth about her newfound powers, though it may require Rhysand, High Lord of Night Court, to help her really harness them. 

Callie originally proposed this read to me in our English class this past Spring Quarter, with the tagline, "It's so much better than the first one!" She and I had both read the original, and found it to be severely lacking on a pretty spectacular scale, so the fact that she braved it and committed to reading the second one was really enough for me to do the same. And, of course, she was right. 

Almost all of the problems I had with the original were remediated and resolved in the sequel... originally fractional world-building got a massive expansion as Feyre visited some of the other Courts, underdeveloped characters got the in-depth treatment with more involved relationships and backstories, and an uninspiring cast got an exciting update via some of the newest perspectives on the Night Court. It's impossible to list all of the reasons this book was such a dramatic improvement without spoiling the whole thing, but damn. Thank goodness for Callie's stubborn need to follow through with a series.

east, edith pattou

Despite her superstitious mother's attempts to conceal the truth of her birth, Rose has always been the adventurous and troublesome type. However, even she couldn't predict the sudden trouble  of a giant white bear showing up on their doorstep, promising to save her sister and recover the family from ruin, only if Rose should come with him. What she finds through her journeys shows her there's more to the world than what's covered on her father's maps, and magic is more than possible.

Basically, it's a like a Norwegian variation on the Beauty and the Beast story, utilizing aspects of that particular country's fairy tales, while also exploring various aspects of other parts of Europe. For Callie, this book was one of her middle grade favorites - enough to still keep it on her collegiate bookshelves - and fed into a deep love of fairy tales from all over the world. Being that the latter is one of the many things we have in common, I was excited to explore this read.

The book is truly based off the tale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon," a Norwegian fairy tale that does bear great resemblance to both the Cupid and Psyche mythology and the best Disney animated movie of my youth. In terms of adaptations of classic stories that still manage to differentiate themselves from the original mythology, this is an incredibly effective variation on the  narrative, with unique cultural differences providing for new opportunities to build out the story even further. While retellings can often be a miss for me - I still feel like I'm one of the only book bloggers who really doesn't like Tiger Lily - this was incredibly unique to the genre, and I think that has a lot to do with its heritage. 

rebel belle, rachel hawkins

After high school wunderkind - head cheerleader, ASB president, Homecoming Queen, debutante, and more - Harper Price encounters a strange fight between two teachers in the school bathroom, she finds herself wielding more power than just what the high school social strata would normally allow. Able to perform martial arts and exert a strength she's never had before, she finds herself taking on the additional role of "paladin" beyond her extensive after-school schedule... tasked with protecting the "oracle:" her high school nemesis, David Stark.

I typically scoff at contemporaries, and Callie knows as much, but it didn't stop her from attempting to get me to read this book. While I initially demurred, and left it to the end of the list for my planned reads, I eventually gave in, knowing that it would only be an afternoon's work to finish and would help bump up my Goodreads Challenge tally.

I was right: it was an enjoyable afternoon's read, one that had me laughing at the right moments and left me engrossed in the action when I needed to be. While some parts were a little cringe-y - I would pay YA contemporary authors not to try and describe fashion - they were easy to ignore once you'd figured out that the entire novel is basically a variation on some kind of Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode. Not that bad... though Callie has warned me against continuing farther in the series, being that the sequel's not that good, either. All in all, it was exactly what I had expected it to be.

So there you have it! Thank you to Callie for letting me borrow her books; I took care of them just like I said. Maybe I'll have to do another post once she finishes up the novels I'm lending to her on Friday: John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things, Steve Augarde's The Various, and Naomi Novik's Uprooted!

Do you have a book lending habit? Have you read any of the books mentioned? Let me know, in the comments below!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Time is a Goon: Revisiting Jennifer Egan's 'A Visit from the Goon Squad'

When I was younger, I wanted to get a tattoo of a book quote. Well, that's an incorrect statement... I wanted to get many tattoos of books quotes, endless ink snaking around my skin like an  unsolvable riddle, as if somehow the act of printing words onto my physical person could turn me into a book, myself. Then I grew up, and after one too many chastisements from my disapproving mother, the foreshadowed terror of sagging skin and warped ink proved to be a suitable deterrent for my extreme bibliophilia (at least, in terms of my own attempt at transfiguration). I haven't really been tempted by the concept since.

Until, standing in my kitchen yesterday, waiting for tea to steep, when I read the words "Time is a goon." The act was immediately followed by the thought, "I need a tattoo of that."

The sentence comes from the acclaimed Jennifer Egan novel A Visit from the Goon Squad, which won the 2011 Pulitzer (as well as many other accolades, as if you clutched a fistful of gold-starred darts and overhanded them at a list of the world's top publishing achievements). It also formed the basis for my first-ever college-level English experience: my ENGL 111 class. An integral part of my Freshman Fall Quarter, the novel would become the best work I read in the whole of that year, and one that prompted one of the greatest author obsessions of my reading life.

I remember having classes on the second-floor of Bagley, UW's Chemistry building, located 20 walking minutes away, and becoming acquainted with our esteemed institution's overt apathy towards most Humanities programs. Our teacher was a graduate student whose disinterest in the question of us learning anything that Quarter, lead us to follow up Goon Squad with Jay Z's expletive-laced memoirs, then didn't allow us to use such language in class discussions or papers. I made friends in that class who, funnily enough, would go on to help define my Greek experience, as well as my scholarly one, and also gave me my first glimpse at my already-determined future as an English major.

While wandering through my bookshelf on a recent trip home, I saw my copy of A Visit from the Goon Squad wedged between my other Egan novels, and the title alone was enough to prompt me to a reread. Afterwards, I stumbled across the partial review of what I had written the first time 'round. I was fairly impressed with my description:
Instead of following a linear or chronological pattern when discussing [the novel's characters], Egan threads their stories together across the boundaries of time, traversing months, days, years and decades, to explore exactly how this seemingly unrelated cast came together. It's as if the entire book is a love letter to those six degrees that separate us from Kevin Bacon. It reinforces each of those chain links between us, that we may take for granted, and reminds us that strangers - or employees and bosses, girlfriends and one night stands, husbands and brothers and especially terrible fathers - may end up mattering more to us than we think, and we may still matter more to them.

In other words, if there was ever a book to remind you that every person you pass on the street has a past, a story, a family, a best friend, and especially a future, it's this one.
Rereading the complete post,  I was struck by how Freshman Savannah defined the work as an inherently hopeful one, as something that prompted outwards reflection, particularly in regards to the interconnections of the human community, the absence of moral absolutism, and most particularly, the idealism of hope. 

What was thrown into sharpest relief in that review, upon completing the reread, was the amount I didn't include. Themes of materialism, death (overcoming, succumbing, and bringing it about yourself), and ambition are ignored in the review, in favor of preaching kumbaya, which, of course, makes sense when you consider the mindset I was in when I was writing it: a scared freshman on the brink of four years of scholarship, what I needed to take away from the book was a sense of being less alone. 

(Then again, I wasn't wrong: flow chart artist Gillian James, of Tessie Girl, made this flowchart of Goon Squad characters back in 2013, and it's still not wholly representative!)

Now, as Senior Savannah, it's unsurprising that what strikes me the most about Goon Squad, is the malleability and consequentualitism of time. The nearly-nonexistent temporal delineations that once struck me as a device used to illustrate the power of meaningful human relationships, instead impress upon me distinct purpose: the whole is constructed on the foundation of the piece, the day is defined by its consequence in the ensuing year. The moment is catalyst, the rest is figuring out what that moment meant, and means.

The point is, that the point can be meaningful: plenty can happen in the years before, between, and coming, but it's preserving that moment that marks the difference. Each chapter forms a puzzle piece that, yes, casts a spotlight at a character and community, but they also illustrate realities of emotion, action, and change, on a definable scale. Yet, it's not just the individual chapters that make the book notable, but the entirety of it, just like it's not just one emotion, thought, or action that is most important, but the way they're all strung together.

Your best days and your worst days construct a complete and meaningful life; it's not Freshman Savannah in the act of reviewing a book or Senior Savannah in the act of reflecting on it, it's the inferred four years of experience, opportunity, and learning, dividing the two, that make them both so meaningful. You don't remember the number of books you've read, or the hours you spent confined in class, or the amounts of Diet Coke (and not Diet Coke) you drank during Finals Week... those are all the flotsam and jetsam that fill up the empty spaces of your life, but they're not the moments that truly build it.

Time is a goon - a bully, and a thug - but it's the collection of individual moments you're left with when the years are stripped away, the snapshot Polaroids of complete captured self that you string together into a story, that show the impact and importance of the whole thing.

I can't tell you all how happy I am that I decided to pick up this book again.

What book defined your college experience? If you could reread any book right now, what would it be? Let me know, in the comments below!