The Monday Check-In ~ 10/23/2017

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

In an otherwise busy week of work, I had two great brushes with cultural life. One, I went with my son to see a wonderful hula performance over the weekend. And two, I GOT TICKETS TO SEE HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD ON BROADWAY! Granted, the tickets are for June, so that’s a pretty long time from now, but I’m still super excited!

What did I read last week?

Guts: The Anatomy of the Walking Dead by Paul Vigna: Clearly, you have to be a fan to enjoy this one… but since I am, I did. My review is here.

Elsewhere on the blog:

Check out my post summing up the glory of listening to the His Dark Materials trilogy audiobooks.

Outlander !!

The print shop! It was the reunion of the (18th) century last night on Outlander! I’ll have my reaction post up later today or tomorrow.

The Walking Dead:

If I spend all day yawning today, blame the premier of The Walking Dead! Couldn’t stop thinking about it, therefore didn’t get much sleep, and I’m likely to spend the day looking like this:

Life is hell before my morning coffee…

Fresh Catch:

Another batch of my E-Bay Georgette Heyer purchases arrived this week:

I also treated myself to two books from the new Tor collection of mini-hardbacks:

I posed them here alongside my Funko Pops to give a sense of their size. They’re really adorable little hardcover books. Find out more about the collection here.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:
 

La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust, #1) by Philip Pullman: I’m so excited to be started this! I’m only a few chapters in so far, but loving it.

Now playing via audiobook:

Indexing by Seanan McGuire: Fairy tales are real! This audiobook is lots of fun. Should be done by the end of the week.

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott: My book group’s classic read! We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week.
  • Lord John and the Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon: Outlander Book Club is doing a Lord John readalong — we’ll be reading all of the Lord John novels and stories in story chronology. Let me know if you’d like to participate! All are welcome.

Via Serial Reader:

  • I decided to finally dive in and start Great Expectations! I’m using the Serial Reader app, and really liking it so far.

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: Guts: The Anatomy of the Walking Dead

In this first and only guide to AMC’s exceptional hit series The Walking Dead, the Wall Street Journal’s Walking Dead columnist celebrates the show, its storylines, characters, and development, and examines its popularity and cultural resonance.

From its first episode, The Walking Dead took fans in the United States and across the world by storm, becoming the highest-rated series in the history of cable television. After each episode airs, Paul Vigna writes a widely read column in which he breaks down the stories and considers what works and what doesn’t, and tries to discern the small details that will become larger plot points.

So how did a basic cable television show based on Robert Kirkman’s graphic comic series, set in an apocalyptic dog-eat-dog world filled with flesh-eating zombies and even scarier human beings, become a ratings juggernaut and cultural phenomenon? Why is the show such a massive hit? In this playful yet comprehensive guide, Vigna dissect every aspect of The Walking Dead to assess its extraordinary success.

In the vein of Seinfeldia,Vigna digs into the show’s guts, exploring its roots, storyline, relevance for fans and the wider popular culture, and more. He explores how the changing nature of television and media have contributed to the show’s success, and goes deep into the zombie genre, delineating why it’s different from vampires, werewolves, and other monsters. He considers why people have found in zombies a mirror for their own fears, and explains how this connection is important to the show’s popularity. He interviews the cast and crew, who share behind-the-scenes tales, and introduces a cross-section of its diverse and rabid viewership, from fantasy nerds to NFL stars. Guts is a must have for every Walking Dead fan.

 

I’ve only recently become a convert to the cult of The Walking Dead. After years of turning up my nose, I finally broke down and gave it a try this past spring, and immediately became completely hooked. I binge-watched the entire series to date within about 2 months (not bad for 99 episodes!), and read all of the graphic novels as well. So naturally, when I heard about Guts, I had to read it, and the timing couldn’t be better, as season 8 of The Walking Dead starts TOMORROW. *jumping up and down and hyperventilating with anticipation*

Guts is a truly fascinating book about the show, examining it from all angles and giving thoughtful consideration to its popularity and relevance in today’s world. The author includes recaps of the major events of each season so far, and covers the show’s history, the background of Robert Kirkman, who created the comic series and is an executive producer of the TV series, some anecdotes from behind the scenes, and the ups and downs of production, including the still-ongoing lawsuit by the first showrunner, Frank Darabont, against AMC.

The book also includes interactions with fans, including some observations from a day at Walker Stalker Con, a fan event at which fans interact with cast and crew. The description of the vibe at Walker Stalker shows the deep impact of The Walking Dead on its devoted fan base.

Most interestingly, author Paul Vigna goes deeper than the pop culture tidbits (such as fan favorites, iconic weaponry, and best episodes) to show the philosophical underpinnings of The Walking Dead, connecting the show’s impact to sociopolitical and economic climate of the era. He examines the religious themes that find their way into the show, as well as the political constructs of the various societies and the ways in which both Maslow’s hierarchy and Hobbesian views on the natural state of man can be discussed in relation to themes of community and family as shown in TWD.

Some random and various pieces from the book:

Hobbes argues that the natural state of man, as in a state without the collar of a central government, is one where every man is at war with every other man. There is no industry or security, no artistic pursuits, just the “continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” Hobbes writes… In Hobbes’s argument, people enter a social contract and surrender some of their personal freedoms in exchange for the kind of security and permanence that will release them from the terror of that brutish life in the wild.

Like giving up their endless wandering to join the community of Alexandria, right?

On political structures in TWD:

What seems to matter most is that a leader in the post-zombie apocalypse is decisive… Negan and the Governor are homicidal and suicidal, but they are also decisive. Negan may be as liable to throw you into an oven as feed you a spaghetti dinner, but in his decisiveness, he can bring some sense of comfort — so long as you don’t cross him.

Acknowledging that “Rick has made enough mistakes to fill a book,”, the author comments:

Now, I don’t have a problem with Rick making mistakes. It wouldn’t be realistic for him to make the right choice every single time. Rick’s greatest quality, apart from an uncanny survival instinct, is the ability to simply choose. In a world where life is measured in hours and days rather than decades, that is an essential quality to have.

Further thoughts:

The biggest key to survival, really, is how quickly you can shed your old morality and discover a new one.

And finally, a quote from the season 7 finale, spoken by Maggie, that sums up the essence of TWD. This is who the main characters are and what they do — and what makes us love them:

To sacrifice for each other, to suffer, to stand, to grieve, to give, to love, to live, to fight for each other.

This is what Rick, Maggie, and all the other characters in Alexandria, the Hilltop, and the Kingdom represent, and why we keep tuning in, season after season.

If you’re a fan of The Walking Dead and happen to be inclined to dig in and go beyond the blood and gore, definitely pick up a copy of Guts. It’s a quick, interesting read, with just the right mix of plot points and food for thought.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Guts: The Anatomy of the Walking Dead
Author: Paul Vigna
Publisher: Dey Street Books
Publication date: October 3, 2017
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Non-fiction/entertainment/pop culture
Source: Library

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Thursday Quotables: Guts: The Anatomy of The Walking Dead

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Welcome to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!
A little programming note: While I’m mostly back to weekly postings, I find I’m not at 100% yet! I’ll continue to post Thursday Quotables most weeks. If I happen to skip a week when you have a post to share, feel free to link up to whichever TQ post here is most recent. Many thanks!
Onward with this week’s Thursday Quotable:
Guts: The Anatomy of The Walking Dead by Paul Vigna
(published 2017)

I’m actually very late to the party when it comes to The Walking Dead and its fandom. I only started watching the series this past spring, but after some marathon binges, I’m all caught up and completely hooked. Naturally, I couldn’t resist this new release. Please excuse me for fangirling out over Guts!

For my Quotables this week, first, something I just thought was funny:

The Walking Dead’s zombies are mostly “live,” which means they are actors under makeup playing out their horror in real time, though for certain shots the crew will add computer-generated effects (they did not, for instance, cut the actress Melissa Cowan in half for her role as Bicycle Girl).

Sorry about the sick humor. This makes me laugh.

And here’s a paragraph that helps to explain why so many of us love this show so, so much:

That deeper level is something that comes after special effects, after jump scares and exploding bodies. It’s something that can be explored not through the dead, but only through the living. What makes The Walking Dead work is that it shows people who are broken, afraid, courageous, insane, upright, duplicitous, noble, foolhardy, and just plain hardy as all hell. In a word, it explores what’s in a person’s heart.

And finally, the author quotes a writer for a TWD fansite:

“A show like The Walking Dead tells us that no matter what happens, if you are loyal to the people you love, […] you can conquer anything.”

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Add your Thursday Quotables post link in the comments section below… and I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week too.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

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TV Time: What’s Lisa watching?

It’s fall TV season! So much goodness. So much to watch. So few hours in the day.

I thought I’d do a quick round-up of what I’m loving right now:

Outlander. Obviously. In case you couldn’t guess from my approximately 5 billion previous mentions, I’m a fan, and I’m in heaven now that we’re “in season”. Except for the fact that there’s no new episode this week, but that will make next week’s super-sized episode even sweeter, right?

 

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is back! Season 3 started this past Friday night. If you ever need something to make you giggle in all sorts of slightly inappropriate ways, here’s a show for you. Here’s one of the two new musical numbers from this week’s episode:

 

In sadder news, one of the hidden gems of cable TV is saying good-bye this weekend after four hilarious, touching, and on-point seasons. Farewell, Survivor’s Remorse! A show that’s been consistently funny, often uncomfortable, with a mix of humor and food for thought that’s never lazy, and certainly never fails to entertain.

 

And then we have a show all about people riding horses fast along seaside cliffs. Kidding, kind of. Poldark! It’s season 3, and the story is still totally engrossing, and the scenery and people are as gorgeous as ever.

 

Can’t forget about my most recent obsession, the show that has me counting the days until season 8 premieres on October 22nd. The Walking Dead returns… and it’s time for All Out War.

 

And finally, there’s The Good Place, which is just consistently funny and surprising and utterly enjoyable. The 2nd season is off to a great start!

 

Yes, there are a bunch of other shows I have a more casual relationship with — I watch, I enjoy, but they don’t rule my waking thoughts the way my favorites do. Other stuff I’m enjoying right now:

  • Speechless
  • Will & Grace (kind of — fun so far, but verging on feeling a little tired)
  • Adam Ruins Everything — something to enjoy with my son (I wrote about it last year, here)
  • Blackish — I haven’t watched consistently from the beginning, so I’m working on catching up
  • Grace & Frankie — in my free moments, I’ve been trying to pick up episodes here and there. I like! Just haven’t had time to truly binge.

**Updated to add: As soon as I hit “publish”, I realized that I left out This Is Us, which I love and which continues to be excellent. My bad.**

What are you watching this fall? What are you most excited for?

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Dramatic plot vs. happily-ever-after: The perils of emotional investment

Fear. Anxiety. Dread.

And it’s all the fault of fictional characters.

I have a tendency to binge when I get into something new, TV or books, and then — oh my stars — it’s so hard to separate. Because what happens when you fall in love with characters, but then have to witness them going through hell? All I want to do is scoop them up and keep them safe, but that’s not the way good stories work.

Clearly, I have a problem.

Take my newest obsession, The Walking Dead. Yes, I am super late to the party, but thanks to finally getting Netflix (again, super late to the party), I’ve been indulging. I started The Walking Dead, season 1 episode 1, in mid-May, and apart from a couple of weeks while I was out of town, have been watching the series straight through. So here I am, a month and a half later, slightly past the middle of season 6, and while I can’t wait to see what happens next, part of me wants to just walk away.

[SPOILERS AHEAD! FOR EPISODES THAT AIRED OVER A YEAR AGO, BUT STILL — SPOILERS!]

I’m at a place in the story where, as usual, the characters’ lives were hanging by a thread. Their supposedly safe haven, where they can finally build a life for themselves and plan for the future, has been overrun by hordes of the undead. All seems doomed, but finally, there’s this totally awesome battle scene (truly, a thing of beauty), and the good guys win! What follows is one of the most chill episodes ever, taking place a few weeks later, where everyone is safe again, rebuilding, relaxing, and starting to make things better.

Guys, they’re smiling! Rick and Daryl are out on a supply run and it’s actually funny! There’s even a sexy, romantic scene! (No, not Rick and Daryl.)

Man, I’m loving this show. I adore Rick Grimes. I want to cuddle Daryl Dixon (after a good bath, maybe). Carl is the cutest. Michonne is a total bad-ass with a heart of gold. And this is where my over-investment comes into play.

Because part of me wants to turn off the TV, pretend that’s the last episode, and walk away. Because then THEY’D ALL LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER. And I wouldn’t have to watch all these people I love get tortured again and again. No going hungry. No machete-ing walkers through the brain. No fighting off evil human attackers.

Imagine the possibilities, though, if everyone got to stay happy. The Walking Dead could become a sitcom, with charming little conflicts — uh oh! Craziness ensues when Carol’s favorite knife goes missing! Little Judith’s first word is “walker”, and it’s adorable! Abraham runs a fitness class, and Eugene is his best student! And don’t get me started on Rick Grimes and all the possibilities for him as the cool dad whose teenage son has an attitude.

Anyway…

This can’t be, obviously. Dramatic tension is necessary for good storytelling. If everyone on The Walking Dead remained safe in Alexandria behind secure walls, with enough food and medical equipment to lead healthy, safe lives, the story would be over. It’s wonderful for the characters, of course, but there would be nothing further to keep the show going.

Likewise in books. Let’s take my favorite series, Outlander (duh). These characters never get a break. Yes, there are plenty of happy moments, and plenty of swoonworthy scenes of Claire and Jamie basking in each others’ arms after a blissful night of lovemaking… but things just never go well for long. These folks are in the middle of a war, always. There’s always some bad guy or another lurking around the corner, ready to kidnap, shoot at, plot against, or otherwise cause harm to our beloved characters.

[SPOILER AHEAD — MILD — FOR OUTLANDER SERIES]

Book #7 in the series, An Echo in the Bone, ends with not just one, but 4 or 5 major cliffhangers. The agony of waiting years for the next book while pretty much everyone is in jeopardy! Flash forward a few years to Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (book #8), and after 145 chapters, everyone we care about ends up in a pretty good place. Yes, there are some small questions left unanswered but (spoiler) Jamie and Claire and Brianna and Roger and Ian and Rachel and, well, everyone, are safe and happy and together!

Part of me wanted to just say to Diana Gabaldon — okay, great! Stop now! Let these people live out the rest of their days in the peace and comfort and love they all deserve!

But no. I need and want and crave more of the story, and book #9 is in the works… and what would an Outlander book be if everyone was safe and happy all the time? So while I can’t wait for a publication date to finally be announced, I’m also dreading diving back in and finding out what hideous new dangers await my beloved Claire and Jamie and the rest of their family up on Fraser’s Ridge.

So, am I crazy for wanting my favorite characters — TV or books — to just get a chance to be happy?

We all love happily-ever-afters, right? But they just don’t make for great storytelling. There’s a reason most fairy tales don’t continue past the HEA. We can be happy for people who find happiness, but stories are driven by tension, suspense, conflict, and crisis. If there’s no obstacle to overcome and everybody just enjoys mundane daily lives, what more do we need to know?

Sigh.

I know that great drama demands all of the above. As for The Walking Dead — well, hell yes, I’m going to keep going. And I’ve stumbled across enough spoilers before I started watching the show to know that VERY BAD things are coming soon for characters I care about, and I’m going to end up heartbroken once again.

In the choice between walking away at a happy moment or continuing with a story I love despite the unhappiness to come, there’s no question — I’ll always choose to continue.

But isn’t it nice to daydream about a life in which Carl Grimes’s greatest worry is about impressing a girl, and not fighting for survival while covered in zombie guts?