Watching X-Files with no lights on

Happy Sunday, y’all! I’m so envious of all the people getting excited for fall — we won’t be seeing that here in Florida for another month or two — but at least I can buy all the pumpkin spice everything and pretend. Next step: blast the air conditioning and throw on a sweater and six blankets to read under?

This week I’ve been…

This has been a much better reading week for me than past weeks, although it got off to a bumpy start. After reading The Stone Sky, I wanted something that required very little in the way of thinky thoughts, so I scoured my library stash and was thrilled to find the first two books in the new teen X-Files book series. As a huge fan of Dana Scully, I decided to read the second book of the series, Scully’s book, Devil’s Advocate, first, and boy. That was a mistake. I should have run away when the first line of the book was, “‘I want to believe,’ said Dana Scully,” but I wanted to believe that the book was better than that. It is not. I made it through about sixty pages of Dana having supernatural visions and going to new age crystal shops on purpose and some really terrible writing, too, and then I decided that life is too short for that.

Agent of ChaosI did still want my X-Files fix, though, so I grabbed the other book, Agent of Chaos. It was much better written, probably helped by the fact that it’s easier to write a book where Mulder believes a bunch of weird crap, although there was a LOT of weird crap that I wasn’t quite up for believing. In this one, Mulder gets caught up in a murder investigation, as teenagers in YA books are wont to do, and to solve it involves reading a fantasy novel and going to a new age crystal shop (yup, the same one!) and believing crazy people and being helped by shadowy figures and the Cigarette Smoking Man and totally hating on Pa Mulder, like, the entire time. It definitely fit my “no thinking” reading mood, as every little bit was painstakingly explained, and it wasn’t terrible, but I wouldn’t really recommend it.

The Underground RailroadOver the weekend I powered through my book club book for Tuesday, The Underground Railroad, which was a little disappointing when I found out that the book wasn’t really about the fact of its premise, that the Underground Railroad was a literal underground railroad. I had been pretty excited about that, but the railroad makes precious few appearances in the book. Its effects relative to a figurative underground railroad are definitely felt in the way that slavery and antislavery movements are presented in the book, though. Everything is just a touch different, at least, but it’s all still awful, as we see through the eyes of our runaway protagonist. I thought Whitehead did a great job of making everyone seem reasonable in their own heads even as they were completely unreasonable in reality, and I am very much looking forward to talking with lots of Southern people about this book on Tuesday.

Toward the end of the week I finally caught up on my podcasts, which had piled up over vacation and post-Irma busy-ness, so I was finally able to pick up an audiobook again. Of course, all my audiobook holds had long come and gone and been put on hold a second time, so I had to poke around a bit in my various libraries before I found Wild waiting for me as an acceptable substitute. I’m about a third of the way through so far, and I am already torn between a desire to grab my hiking shoes and make for the Appalachian Trail (she did the Pacific Crest Trail, but that’s kind of far for me…), a desire to hug my husband super tight and never let go, and a desire to punch cancer right in its stupid face. Is there a way to do all three of these things at once?

Scott and I stopped at GameStop yesterday to re-up his PowerUp Rewards in preparation for me buying all the used games for my Switch, and I’ve already put his account to good use in buying Mario Kart 8, which is absolutely delightful. I’m only a couple of Grand Prix in but I’m loving the art style and all of the cars and scooters I can make Toadette drive. It’s a little tough making the absurdly tiny Joy Cons work, but I have faith I’ll get the hang of it. Now I just need more people to come play with me, as it turns out my husband is not nearly as into adorable racing games as I am. Who’s in?

The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death, by Colson Whitehead

The Noble HustleA couple years ago my book club read Colson Whitehead’s Zone One, and I was one of the members who actually enjoyed it. So when I saw that he’d written a non-fiction book about playing in the World Series of Poker, I was like, yes, I will read that. There was a short time many years ago when I watched the heck out of TV poker, and although I am terrible at the game and unwilling to learn all the minute details that would make me better, I am fascinated by the people who do take the time to study probabilities and the proper way to bet and all that. (A similar process led me to read Word Freak, about professional Scrabble players.)

The one thing I forgot about Zone One, though, was that I had described its first chapter as a “Franzen-esque stream of big words that I had to look up and heady philosophical musings”. This book? No different. The first sentence is, “I have a good poker face because I am half dead inside,” and things only go downhill from there. A little bit of this book is about Whitehead going to the World Series of Poker; more of it is about Whitehead’s citizenship in a land called Anhedonia where everybody is dead inside and blah blah blah.

As you may guess, those latter parts are my least favorite. But the poker parts? Pretty dang good. Whitehead talks about playing his five-dollar buy-in “home game” and how it is vastly different from playing the $50 or $100 or $500 tables in Atlantic city and how that is vastly different from playing the $10,000 buy-in WSoP in freaking Vegas. The people are more serious as you get into the higher dollar values, of course, but the “rules” of the game turn out to be completely different when you’re playing with real competition. There are apparently all these tricks you learn about what hands to bet and when to fold and what it means when the dude across the table from you bets 1.5 times the whatever that I pretty clearly do not understand, and so I was greatly amused when Whitehead described trying to play poker with his friends using WSoP rules and losing lots of money to people who had no idea what they were doing.

Not that Whitehead has any idea what he’s doing; his crash-course in fancy poker is barely longer than the one he gives in writing this book. I am not really clear how he managed to convince Grantland to pay for his entry (this book is adapted from essays he wrote for Grantland) except that obviously he was going to write this insane account of it. He reads all the books and gets coaching from a woman who has actually played her way into the main tournament, but there’s no substitute for a) playing all the poker all the time and b) having some preternatural ability to know what everyone else is playing. So I feel less bad about not understanding half the poker stuff in here.

This is definitely not the book I thought I was going to be reading, but as with Zone One Whitehead’s dense prose grew on me over time and I was at least interested to see where this rambling sentence or that one was going to end up. And it made me pretty excited for my own upcoming trip to Las Vegas, where I will probably not be playing poker but now I will be looking around for the poker-playing types that Whitehead describes throughout this book, and also those misting stations because those sound like they’re going to be wonderful in the summer heat.

Recommendation: For those willing to read seventeen words where one would suffice and long rambles about not much at all. Not for people who just want to read about poker.

Rating: 6/10

Zone One, by Colson Whitehead

Zone OneSo I’m in a book club with a bunch of college friends, and one of them was like, “Hey, you guys ever read Zone One?” And I was like, “No, but you should make it your pick so that I have a reason to read it! ZOMBIES FTW!” And then another clubber, a friend whose opinions I tend to agree with, read the book and gave it two stars on GoodReads. And then hours later she changed it to one star. One star! I was concerned.

When I finally started reading the book, less than 24 hours before club time, I was already mentally preparing to come here and be all, I wanted to like this book but I really just couldn’t. The whole first chapter, which is like 100 pages long, is a Franzen-esque stream of big words that I had to look up and heady philosophical musings that seemed more than a bit out of place in a book I knew to be about ZOMBIES. I thought maybe this was going to be one of those books that’s just smarter than I am.

And it is, a little, because first chapter wow, but once Whitehead gets out of Friday and into Saturday (another 100-ish pages) and Sunday (the last 50), things pick up. The words get smaller or at least more commonly large, we start learning more about Our Protagonist Mark Spitz’s background, and the focus shifts from “This is the world now and this is what Mark Spitz is doing in it” to “Mark Spitz is wondering if maybe the world isn’t exactly what it seems oh here come the ZOMBIES.”

The aforementioned one-star-giver and other clubbers took issue primarily with the fact that Whitehead introduces a lot of stuff and brings up a lot of questions and basically the only one he answers is why Mark Spitz is called Mark Spitz and yes, it’s always Mark Spitz and never Mark or Spitz or whatever. On the one hand, I agree and am like “But wherefore zombies and also why do these ‘stragglers’ exist and what is the code on the highway and what the heck is Mark Spitz’s real name and and and….” On the other hand, with the different fingers, I am like, “So why are there zombies? I am intrigued by these stragglers and would like to know more. This book has left me with many things to think about.”

It’s a subtle distinction, sure, but I feel like I’ve learned enough about the situation as it stands over the three days of the novel that I don’t need to know why everything else exists or happened or whatever, because that’s not the point. The point is that Mark Spitz is living a really weird life and it concerns him a little bit but what is there to do about it, and at the very least the book makes me very glad I live in a world without zombies. For now.

Recommendation: For people who studied lots of SAT vocab, who are intrigued by the undead, and who don’t mind a book that doesn’t resolve itself in any useful way.

Rating: 8/10