Friday, June 28, 2013

Review: Building Stories

From the moment I heard about Building Stories by Chris Ware, I was intrigued (and a bit daunted). It's a graphic novel of sorts, told over multiple works housed in one big box. It took me a while to get around to it (and a while for one of the few copies in my library network to make it to me), but once it was in my hands, I settled in for a marathon of reading.

The title would imply that the stories all revolve around one building (a 3-apartment building), and for a while, they do. The 14 pieces of the story can really be read in any order, but I read it from largest to smallest (mostly), which kept things more or less in chronological order. The later pieces veer away from the apartment building, following just one of the characters as she moves out of the building and moves on with her life.

And there lies my largest problem with the whole book. I wanted the story to completely remain within the apartment building, or at the very least, follow all the participants. Instead, by focusing more firmly on just one of the people, it made the stories of the other two apartments feel more trivial. In particular, there is the unhappy couple that lives on me second floor - why are they so unhappy? how long do they live in the building? Why should I care?

If you enjoy the graphic novel form, then you can't miss this one, based on its form alone. The nonlinear format trumps the not-so-fulfilling story. It actually left me pretty depressed, partially because nothing is wrapped up and partially because the content itself is not terribly happy. Don't read this in one go on a rainy day like I did.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Review: You

I will read just about any novel a that involves video games. Frankly, the gold standard on the subject, Ready Player One by Ernie Cline, has potentially ruined the genre, simply because it is just so damn good. That doesn't mean I won't keep reading, though.

So without knowing too much about You by Austin Grossman other than something vague about video games, I was eager to read it. And jumping into a world of video game development set in Boston in the '90s, I was intrigued. 

And yet somehow, I found that it took me more than a week to read. I don't normally read that slowly, except when a book can't hold my attention. I was rooting for this one all along, but it just didn't do it for me.

The biggest flaw in this book was the concept that gave it its title. Every once in a while, the reader is treated to a section written in second person ("you") describing the play of the video game. I really like the idea of this, because video games are usually about immersing yourself in a world (sights, sounds, actions, feelings, etc) enough to make you feel like you're really there. But in the book, I felt less immersed in the world than rushed through it. The narrator, Russell, is the one playing through the games, but I felt less like I was looking over his shoulder and more like he was telling me about it after the fact. Add to the fact that occasionally the second person reads like it's from the point of view of yet another character, the deceased genius behind the video game company, and I was really lost. Without these second-person interludes, this book would have been much, much stronger.

If you enjoy video games, then this would be a fun but not earth-shattering read. If you're not already a gamer, this is not going to make you one, and frankly, might just confuse you.