My 2021 Reading Stacks #1

Owen Books 2020!

Two different 2020 releases, each about a youngster named Owen who acquires great power that makes others jealous, but only one of them can handle it.

Welcome once again to our recurring MCC feature in which I scribble capsule reviews of everything I’ve read lately that was published in a physical format over a certain page count with a squarebound spine on it — novels, original graphic novels, trade paperbacks, infrequent nonfiction dalliances, and so on. Due to the way I structure my media-consumption time blocks, the list will always feature more graphic novels than works of prose and pure text, though I do try to diversify my literary diet as time and acquisitions permit.

Occasionally I’ll sneak in a contemporary review if I’ve gone out of my way to buy and read something brand new. Every so often I’ll borrow from my wife or from our local library. But the majority of our spotlighted works are presented years after the rest of the world already finished and moved on from them because I’m drawing from my vast unread pile that presently occupies four oversize shelves comprising thirty-three years of uncontrolled book shopping. I’ve occasionally pruned the pile, but as you can imagine, give away one unread book and three more take its place.

I’ve previously written why I don’t do eBooks. Perhaps someday I’ll also explain why these capsules are exclusive to MCC and not shared on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites where their authors might prefer I’d share them. In the meantime, here’s me and my recent reading results.

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Stranded 40 Feet from Home

My car, stuck at the foot of our stupid driveway.

Cold day. Cold irony.

This week the teeming cloud hordes of Old Man Winter barreled across the American skies and bludgeoned entire states and regions into total pandemonium. Blizzards dumped heavy swaths all around as if half the United States were now honorary Minnesotas. Schools and other community activities that had opened their doors to welcome COVID-19 and its carriers reneged and locked their doors. Power grids failed. Water pipes seized up. Numerous utility companies faced wrathful accountability for their shortsightedness, for skimping on precautionary upgrades, and for being smug greed-heads. Homes became inhospitable and even dangerous, forcing families to seek shelter, charity, and survival elsewhere. The turmoil dragged on for hours and days even after the snowfall ceasefire. Millions of internet users distracted themselves by logging onto their devices by candlelight, their batteries down to 15% or less, and channeling their unchecked rage into scathing verbal attacks on the Zodiac Killer. This week was like 2020 all over again, much like all the 2021 weeks that preceded it, but, like, somehow in its own way even 2020-ier.

Me? I got my car stuck at the end of our driveway.

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Sunday Morning with Two Valentine’s Day Early Birds

Yellow rose in a restaurant vase.

A yellow rose in full bloom. A dining room with empty tables. Yet another illustration of The Duality of Man™.

It’s that time again! It’s Valentine’s Day and the internet reactions are more divided than ever. One camp hates the occasion consistently annually and never wants to hear about it again, which is fair. Another camp is bitter because current events and has exercised their freedom of choice to be captivated only by endless sources of bitterness. Meanwhile, Anne and I escaped the house for a short while to enjoy each other’s company before the rest of the world emerges to glut up all the establishments.

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Delighting in Delicacies, Not Pounds of Pasta

Agnello & Caprino!

Dinner for Anne at Catellos: the Agnello and Caprino — rack of lamb atop pappardelle in a red wine sauce with shallots and herbs on a bed of goat cream sauce.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: last fall we shared our tips for supporting local restaurants in person during the never-ending pandemic without a churlish kill-or-be-killed approach. We still don’t dine out too often because COVID-19, but when we do, that listicle’s ten bullet points remain firmly at the forefront of my planning anxieties.

That entry was written during another Devour Indy occasion, a twice-yearly citywide event here in Indianapolis when local restaurateurs — nationwide chains need not apply — offer specially priced prix fixe menus to entice new customers to come sample a few of their wares. My wife Anne and I are fans of the event, but we usually skip the sale items and check out what’s on the main menu. It lets us try places we’ve never been, and it helps them recoup the considerable costs of participation. A few weeks ago, it was that time again.

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Best CDs of 2020 According to an Old Guy Who Bought 5

Five new CDs I bought in 2020.

Per tradition, my annual personal tiny album chart.

It’s that time again! The annual entry where I look back at the previous year as one of six people nationwide who still prefers compact discs to digital. I don’t splurge too much because it’s increasingly tougher for new music to catch my ear as I grow older and more finicky, and as my favorite acts of yesteryear die, stop recording, or turn toward musical directions that take them beyond my zones of interest. That usually means missing out on what the majority loves, thus further dragging me down the long plummet into total irrelevance. Story of my life.

Even in 2020, though, I tried my best to keep abreast of the latest in album-sized tune collections and found a handful of artists and labels releasing new distractions and rays of hope amid the pandemic. It took until September before I finally spent a dime on new music, but the feeling was one of relief that at least one aspect of life had found a way to proceed as normal, or a close approximation under duress.

The following list, then, comprises all the CDs that I acquired last year that were 2020 releases. None were bad, but we’re not into 5-way ties here on MCC, so somebody has to give. Curiously, the longest one clocks in at 42 minutes; the shortest barely saunters past the half-hour mark. I’ve never been one to complain about getting the most bang for my buck out of every CD, so I can deal with it. Part of me is pretty okay with bloated 70-minute albums being a thing of the past if it means we’re hearing more finesse than filler.

On with the countdown!

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Okay, Fine, NOW I Get Baby Yoda

life-size Baby Yoda statue.

Not mine, a coworker’s. But if he retires before I do and forgets to take it with him…

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: my wife Anne and I subscribed to Disney+ a year behind the rest of the world and are doing our best to catch up on the content that matters most. So far that means Pixar’s Soul and the Star Wars universe. On a more inessential note I also watched Cars 3, which was better than the second one, which wasn’t too high a bar to jump.

But our primary objective has been Star Wars because for the past year everyone around us has been “Mandalorian” this and “Baby Yoda” that and of course they had to take turns asking us every ten minutes, “Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet?”

YES, WE HAVE DISNEY+ NOW. Um, finally. Sorry for shouting.

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Old Guy With a PS3, Year 6: There’s No Pandemic in Skyrim

Skyrim Claudia Christian!

Yep, that’s me in the dragon plate armor I forged myself, hanging out with my favorite blacksmith, voiced by Claudia Christian.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover, at the beginning of 2016:

As a kid, I frequented video arcades regularly. As a parent, my son and I spent a good decade playing games together on his various systems. When he graduated and moved away to college, he took all his systems with him, leaving me with only my old Nintendo that won’t play cartridges unless you keep the Game Genie firmly inserted, and an Atari Plug-‘n’-Play Controller I got for Christmas a few years ago that interested me for about two weeks. On Black Friday 2014, I decided I wanted back in the 21st century gaming mode and picked up a used PS3.

Naturally I started off a generation behind the rest of the civilized world, but I didn’t care. After fifteen months without, holding a controller felt abnormal and rusty for the first few weeks. Once I got used to it again and figured out how to disable the “Digital Clear Motion Plus” feature on my TV, I could shake the dust off my trigger fingers, choose the games I wanted to play, sprint or meander through them at whatever pace I saw fit, and try some different universes beyond Final Fantasy and our other longtime mainstays…

…and it’s been a minor MCC annual tradition ever since. In an average year I would play three times per week, maybe two hours per session, and get through four to six games. Except for that time I spent thirteen months on Borderlands 2. Or that other time when when I spent nine months of 2019 on Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. Perhaps my definition of “average year” is stretching a bit.

And then there was 2020. Without conventions, family gatherings, friendly outings, work-related events, holidays, out-of-state vacations, or restaurants I could enjoy without terror or paranoia, I had a lot more time on my hands for hobbies. Especially this hobby, as it turned out.

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Yes, There’s a Scene During the “Wonder Woman 1984” End Credits

"Wonder Woman 1984" poster at AMC Perry Crossing.

A rare sighting of a movie poster in its deserted natural habitat.

Yes, we are going to stubborn lengths to avoid subscribing to HBO Max. Thanks for asking!

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Precautionary Shoegazing: Our 2020 in Pandemic Floor Decals

Donut Shop social distancing floor decal.

Can’t remember which donut shop in Avon has this decal. We visited three of them in 2020.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: pandemic! Pandemic! PANDEMIC!

Among the 6,000 things we hated doing differently for our own safety in 2020, one of the easiest yet weirdest was going into businesses to buy whatever, approaching the register, and having to take standing lessons from social-distancing floor decals. Because in a world where those infected with the coronavirus could unknowingly kill innocent bystanders with their breath like a clumsy ninja Godzilla, some folks were poor judges of distance and/or medical hygiene. As always, in a pandemic or otherwise, some people need practical advice.

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Comics Update: My Current Lineup and 2020 Pros and Cons

Alphabetized piles of comic books published in 2020.

The annual photo of a year’s worth of singles in alphabetical piles. Curiously, no titles starting with C, N, T, Y or Z this year.

Comics collecting has been my primary geek interest since age 6, but I have a tough time writing about it with any regularity. My comics-judging criteria can seem weird and unfair to other fans who don’t share them. I like discussing them if asked, which is rare, but I loathe debating them. It doesn’t help that I skip most crossovers and tend to gravitate toward titles with smaller audiences. Whenever a larger company axes titles for the sake of their bottom line or internal politics, my favorites are usually first on the chopping block. I doubt many comics readers follow MCC anyway, so it’s really the best possible place for me to talk about comics unharmed, albeit all to myself. So far I haven’t had to ban myself for flaming or trolling myself, which is nice.

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