An Unexpected Top Book of 2017 Pick: It’s All A Game

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I can honestly say that today’s book came out of left field as a Top Book of 2017 pick, andI never expected to be so absorbed and engaged by a book about the history of board games.  We received It’s All A Game: The History of Board Games from Monopoly to  Settlers of Catan by Tristan Donovan from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Board games have been with us longer than even the written word. But what is it about this pastime that continues to captivate us well into the age of smartphones and instant gratification?

In It’s All a Game, British journalist and renowned games expert Tristan Donovan opens the box on the incredible and often surprising history and psychology of board games. He traces the evolution of the game across cultures, time periods, and continents, from the paranoid Chicago toy genius behind classics like Operation and Mouse Trap, to the role of Monopoly in helping prisoners of war escape the Nazis, and even the scientific use of board games today to teach artificial intelligence how to reason and how to win. With these compelling stories and characters, Donovan ultimately reveals why board games have captured hearts and minds all over the world for generations.

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Upon reading the blurb for this one you may, as I initially did, think, “Hmm.  That sounds mildly interesting”.  On picking up the book and reading the introduction, which discusses the decline and rise of board game shops and cafes in various major cities around the world you might say to yourself, “How quaint! I wasn’t aware of those!”  And by the end of the second chapter, having read about the ancient game of Senet and the history of Chess, you would be forgiven for ignoring friends, family and important duties in your pursuit of further knowledge about the history of board games.

This book was bizarrely absorbing.

I struggled to put it down.

Since I finished it I have been pondering and planning how to (a) acquire more board games and (b) seamlessly integrate board game playing time into the lives of the fleshlings of the dwelling.

Honestly, this book is bizarrely, weirdly, totally absorbing.

I could not have predicted any of the fascinating and useful (for trivia nights, if nothing else) information about the creation of various board games.  Did you know Chess originated in India?  That Monopoly began its life as a game promoting the evils of capitalism?  Were you aware that the Japanese used table top board games to plan and role play the bombing of Pearl Harbour?  That rigged board game sets were sent to Allied prisoners of war in World War II in order to provide prisoners with tools they would need for escape?  That Cluedo originally had a bunch more characters?  That one of the most famed board game makers in America suffered from crippling paranoia that workers might leak developments in the factory?

I bet you didn’t.

I certainly didn’t, which is why I found this in-depth examination of board game playing and its social history endlessly fascinating.  The book is divided into chapters dealing with either specific board games (Chess, Backgammon, Monopoly, The Game of Life, Cluedo and Trivial Pursuit are all included, amongst others) or some aspect of society that has been influenced by the use of board games (the use of table top military manouvring games, the development of electronics and new forms of playing surface in board games, the rise of games for adults and “adult” **wink, wink** games, how characters or elements of games were switched to appeal to their cultural context).  The chapters have sections that are almost written in a narrative nonfiction style as the stories of the game inventors (and frequently their loss of expected fortune) are recounted.  Surprisingly, the stories often involve backstabbing, theft of intellectual property and not quite the number of rags to riches tales as you might expect.

What was most surprising, and inspiring, was the observation that board games and their variations are seemingly in high demand again as more people begin to look for non-screen-based ways to connect with family and friends.  If you have any interest at all in popular culture and the playing of board games, I highly recommend giving this book a read – mostly because I want to see whether it really is as endlessly fascinating as I experienced it – but also because by reading it, we might all kick-start a revolution toward face to face experiences again.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Scaling Mount TBR: My Name is Leon

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This one may have only been on my TBR list for six months, but by gum it feels good to knock it over anyway.  We received a copy of My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal from the publisher via Netgalley, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A brother chosen. A brother left behind. And the only way home is to find him.

Leon is nine, and has a perfect baby brother called Jake. They have gone to live with Maureen, who has fuzzy red hair like a halo, and a belly like Father Christmas. But the adults are speaking in low voices, and wearing Pretend faces. They are threatening to take Jake away and give him to strangers. Because Jake is white and Leon is not.

As Leon struggles to cope with his anger, certain things can still make him smile – like Curly Wurlys, riding his bike fast downhill, burying his hands deep in the soil, hanging out with Tufty (who reminds him of his dad), and stealing enough coins so that one day he can rescue Jake and his mum.

Evoking a Britain of the early eighties, My Name is Leon is a story of love, identity and learning to overcome unbearable loss. Of the fierce bond between siblings. And how – just when we least expect it – we somehow manage to find our way home.

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There is a certain charm to books for adults that feature a child protagonist and My Name is Leon certainly exhibits that charm throughout.  Leon is an immediately likable lad, with his fierce loyalty to his mother despite her obvious flaws and unfathomable depth of love for his baby brother Jake.  His foster carers, Maureen and then Sylvia, are also lovable in different ways, while the folk from the allotment grow on the reader with every interaction.  The laid-back but determined Tufty steps in as a replacement father figure for Leon in some ways and while Mr Devlin has a few odd behaviours on the outside, he proves himself to be one who can be counted on in a pinch.

The main focus of the story of course, is Leon’s up-and-down life as he bounces between foster homes, loses his brother to adoption and waits for his mother to get his act together.  This alone would have been a rich vein to mine, but de Waal has also included a sideplot about race riots that, while relevant to Leon and his situation, seemed slightly out of place with the tone of the rest of the story.  Having said that, it does provide a rather exciting end to what could have otherwise been a reasonably predictable story arc!  I would have liked to see a bit of information about this part of the story in an author’s note – were the events based on actual events, and if so, where and when and in what social context did these happen?  If not, why were they included?

Overall, this is an uplifting story that shows the reality of many foster children’s lives today, even though it is set in the 1980s.  The story did feel a bit hefty at times, particularly in the middle, as Leon is developing his relationship with the folk of the allotments, but the richness of the relationships developed between the characters is a satisfying pay-off for this.

Until next time,

Bruce

Utopirama!: Consider the Clothesline…

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imageToday’s Utopirama is sponsored by everyone’s favourite massive ball of incandescent gas, the Sun! And Echo Publishing, who kindly sent us today’s book for review.  When I saw the title of this gorgeous photo-filled coffee table book, it was instantly apparent to me that to pass it by would be a grave dereliction of my blogging duty.  I give you: Consider the Clothesline: Vibrant Images of Laundry and Life by Frances Andrijich and Susan Maushart.  Here is the blurb from Echo Publishing:

Photographer Frances Andrijich’s unusual fascination with the clothesline has made the world just a little brighter. Paired with Susan Maushart’s witty and illuminating text, these images are by turns whimsical, meditative and transgressive, and have all the intoxicating freshness of a basket of sun-dried sheets.

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Quick Overview:

While an homage to the ever-growing washing pile might seem to be the antithesis of utopia for many people, a leisurely flick through this hefty tome, accompanied by a cup of tea, while the incessant churn of the washing machine providing background music, is certain to heighten your mood and have you revelling in the breezy, everyday joy of a chore well done.  The images in this book are absolutely beautiful and run the gamut from a string lashed between two trees to the iconic Aussie Hills Hoist and everything in between.  There are plenty of pictures taken in Australia’s various desert environments and having gazed upon the endless red dust that covers the land in these locales, it really is a wonder that anyone out that way gets anything clean at all!

The book also contains some fascinating little tidbits that absolutely boggled my stony mind.  Did you know that in some places it is illegal to hang out your washing? ILLEGAL!! Fancy denying people the right to use perfectly free wind and solar power to dry their washing and instead force them to use energy-sapping dryers!  Surely the reverse should be the default option: everyone should be required to air their dirty laundry unless they can show good cause as to why a dryer is needed. But I digress.

Although the topic might be one that doesn’t necessarily spring instantly to mind when selecting a tome to raise your mood, the mundane act of hanging out the washing, when captured in such stunning photography, really does provide a sense of serenity and good feeling.  This book should be distributed amongst the waiting rooms of counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists everywhere.

Utopian Themes:

Eco-friendly reading

The human condition

Summer breezes and seaside gusts

Mentioning your unmentionables

Protective Bubble-o-Meter:

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4 out of 5 bubbles for the comforting snap of sheets in the wind

I am also submitting this tome for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge 2016, hosted by Escape with Dollycas:

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You can check out my progress toward that challenge here!

Until next time,

Bruce