Though I hadn’t planned it this way, I read newcomer Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One at the tail end of a long string of video game books this year: Jeff Ryan’s Super Mario, David Kushner’s Masters of Doom, and Harold Goldberg’s All Your Base Are Belong to Us. This book is, uniquely among them, a fictional narrative, but exudes every bit the same sort of geeky joy that the others did.
In my review of John Dies at the End, by Cracked’s pseudonymous senior editor David Wong, talked briefly about how the resurrected humor magazine’s new online format works surprisingly well. I find it consistently funnier than, say, The Onion, whose satire is more biting but which I find terribly formulaic.
The relative success of the new website and its list-based articles eventually spurred the editors to do what most successful humor websites eventually do: take their existing content, add a couple of new pieces, and attempt to sell it to fans that have already read the material online. See Stuff White People Like and Maddox’s The Alphabet of Manliness for just two examples.
We were a Sega household growing up; I’m not sure what drove my parents to wrap up a Genesis one Christmas instead of a Nintendo, but my childhood was nonetheless more about Sonic the Hedgehog than Mario the “plumber”. That being said, we had no shortage of interaction with Nintendo products either before or after, generally playing them at friends’ houses. Or, as was the case for a number of years, occasionally renting an original NES from the video store for the weekend.
It was impossible to avoid Nintendo’s cultural impact in the late 80s and most of the 90s, even as other manufacturers began to make inroads into the console market; and far from being simply a video game company, Nintendo cultivated a brand that included magazines, mail order merchandise, and a two-hour commercial called The Wizard. And while Nintendo had various hits, and its name alone could sell swag, its name was intrinsically linked with a little Italian named Mario Mario.
Ken Jennings may always be known as “that guy from Jeopardy!“; that’s certainly how I tend to think of him. For those of you who don’t know, Jennings became a minor celebrity in 2004 when he won 74 straight games of the popular TV quiz show, winning just over $3 million total. I expected a brief time in the limelight for Jennings; when he wrote a book called Brainiac, about his experience in quiz shows and the broader world of trivia buffs, I was unsurprised and wrote it off as a gimmick. When he wrote a second book, Ken Jennings’s Trivia Almanac, I once again took it for an easy way to ride the short-lived wave of fame that carries intellectuals.
But then I saw Maphead, a book about cartographers, self-proclaimed map geeks, and the strange, occluded subculture of geography and maps. My curiosity got the better of me: I gave it a try.
I’ve never been much of a comic fan; my brother liked them for the both of us. Despite a flirtation with our local comic store’s annual summer clearance sale, and a long-lived passion for the 6-issue Double Dragon series in 1991, the medium left me largely cold, and I eventually became enamored of the long-form novel.
As a result of either my age or my eventual indifference to the format, I was unaware or unimpressed of most of the important happenings in the medium. I learned most of the historical ones—e.g., the origins the Batman and Superman, and their eventual censorship or transmogrification during the panic of the 1950s—from David Hadju’s The Ten-Cent Plague, and many of the latter-day events either from first-hand knowledge—e.g., hearing about Bane breaking Batman’s back or Doomsday killing Superman—or finally reading the graphic novels themselves—e.g., Alan Moore’s critical 1980s work The Watchmen and V for Vendetta. For what it’s worth, I tried reading Roger Stern’s 1994 The Death and Life of Superman, though it was beyond my 9-year-old self.