Thursday, December 31, 2020

Dungeons and Dragons Art & Arcana

Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual HistoryDungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History by Michael Witwer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History chronicles the history and evolution of Dungeons & Dragons, specifically the art.

I was a heavy D&D player from ages 14 to about 25 so this piqued my interest. Fortunately, my wife bought it for me for Christmas.

This weighty tome chronicles the history of Dungeons and Dragons, from the original pamphlets printed up by Gary Gygax in the 1970s through the most recent edition. It's not an in depth history, focusing more on the look and feel of the art over the years, from high school chuckleheads Gygax knew in Lake Geneva to heavy hitters like Larry Elmore and Erol Otus and beyond.

I knew most of the behind the scenes stuff from other books up until 3.5. Fourth edition's resemblance to World of Warcraft makes a lot more sense now. Is fifth edition still hung up on using miniatures? This book wasn't clear...

Anyway, the art is the star of the show, as it should be in a book of this type. The book is easily two thirds artwork spanning the lifetime of the game. Some of it was new to me but other pieces were as familiar as a ragged character sheet. I recently watched Eye of the Beholder, a documentary covering a lot of the same territory on Prime Video. I recommend watching that as well.

To be honest, my only gripe with this book is that it could have easily been 1000 pages bigger. There are a lot of memorable pieces from 2nd and 3rd edition that didn't make the cut. Hell, Spelljammer and Planescape got 2-3 pages apiece and Dark Sun fared about the same.

Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History is an essential coffee table book for any longtime Dungeons and Dragons fan. Five out of five dragons.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Is This Anything?

Is This Anything?Is This Anything? by Jerry Seinfeld
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Is This Anything? is a collection of Jerry Seinfeld's jokes, from way back in the seventies through the post-apocalyptic train wreck that is 2020.

Seinfeld was my favorite TV show for years, from when it was originally on until my dad and I watched back to back episodes on TBS and quoted most of them to my mom's chagrin. I saw the Comedian documentary film in the theater and even drove to Nashville from St. Louis to see Seinfeld on tour in the early part of this century. My brother and I used to read Seinlanguage aloud to one another while we were sitting in a parking lot ditching church on Sundays. So, naturally, when I saw Seinfeld had another book out, I had to have it. Fortunately, the Christmas gods smiled upon me and here we are.

This book is surprisingly hefty at 480 pages but most of the length is due to the way the book is formatted. I think it would easily fit in 300. I guess we'll see how small they manage to make the paperback. It's divided by decade so it's easy to navigate, though I wolfed it down in three sittings.

If you like Seinfeld's standup act, you pretty much know what you're getting here. Lots of bits about cereal, the airport, the movie theater, going out to restaurants, and things of that nature. It's a fun book to read out loud to your wife, even if she's not a fan of the Seinfeld television show.

A lot of the jokes seemed familiar to me but that's only natural. This book contains all the bits that survived, road tested and tweaked through years of performing. I watched his Netflix special not too long ago and some of those jokes made it into the book.

I don't know what else to say about this. Your enjoyment level depends on how much you like Jerry Seinfeld as a comedian. Since he's shaped my sense of humor since I was a teenager, I'm giving it five stars.

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Monday, December 28, 2020

Under the Black Hat

Under the Black Hat: My Life in the WWE and BeyondUnder the Black Hat: My Life in the WWE and Beyond by Jim Ross
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Under the Black Hat is the second volume in the biography of wrestling commentator and personality Jim Ross.

While I was a little let down by Slobberknocker, thinking it was a little insubstantial given Jim Ross's career, I was open to reading the second book. My wife got it for me for Christmas and I breezed through it the following Monday.

Under the Black Hat starts with Jim Ross becoming head of talent relations and ends with him leaving the WWE after calling one last Wrestlemania less than two weeks after his wife of 25 years was tragically killed and hits a lot of high and low points in between.

Vince McMahon sounds like a real mother fucker to work for but the WWE was pretty much the only game in town for almost 20 years so I guess Jim didn't have much of a choice other than to come back whenever they called despite being fired a few times.

Anyway, events like the death of Owen Hart, exodus of Jeff Jarrett, and retirement of Steve Austin are explored from Jim Ross's point of view. Ross gives an inside view of the pressures of working for the WWE during the Attitude boom. It sounds like it was a continuous dick measuring contest between Vince McMahon, the wrestlers, and good old JR.

There are topics I wish he'd spent more time on but overall I thought this was a much better book than Slobberknocker, with more emotion showing through. I could feel Ross's sadness and frustration at times. It had to be hell to have your dream job but constantly be in fear of someone yanking the rug out from under you.

Under the Black Hat is a great closing chapter to Jim Ross's WWE career. Four out of five stars.

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Strong Style

Strong StyleStrong Style by Scott Norton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Strong Style is the biography of wrestler Scott Norton.

This book was on my radar for a long time but I didn't pull the trigger on it since I didn't think I had time to read it. Fortunately, the stars were aligned. My in-laws got it for me for Christmas and due to the pandemic, I found plenty of time to read it over the long weekend.

The book opens with Norton wrestling a bear and doesn't let up much after that. Norton goes from being a high school athlete to the arm wrestling circuit pretty quickly. Even though he didn't go into wrestling until he was around 30, the writing was already on the wall since he grew up with Rick Rude, Curt Hennig, and Road Warrior Hawk in the Minneapolis area.

After a disappointing stay in the AWA, a hellish tour of Canada, and a stint in Portland, Norton winds up in New Japan, where he'd spend the bulk of his career.

Norton's style hooked me right away. He's a straight shooter and surprisingly humble. The road stories are great but the core of the book is his relationship with Masa Saito, the Japanese wrestler who took him under his wing and was like a second father to him.

I've read accounts of wrestling in Japan in other books but Norton goes pretty deep into it, like sleeping in closet sized hotel rooms, for instance, and trying to deal with veterans trying to keep their spots like Vader. I've heard of Antonio Inoki's Wrestling Peace Festival in North Korea but I'd never read about what a nightmare it was behind the scenes before now.

Norton goes into injuries and even a parasite he contracted while eating sushi that left him paralyzed for days. He mentions an aborted stint in WCW in 1995 and talks about WCW during the Monday Night Wars and ultimately choosing New Japan over WCW in the twilight of his career.

Strong Style is an A+ wrestling book and if I wasn't already a Scott Norton fan, I would be now. Five out of five stars.

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