The Year of Focus

Review: Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It

Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It
Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It by David M. Ewalt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s wildly difficult to write a first-person account of a phenomenon. The reason: Authors-as-characters only work when they become surrogates for the reader. Too often writers inject themselves into the story, which breaks the narrative flow by separating the reader from the action of the book.

When Of Dice and Men is at its best, David M. Ewalt paints an interesting tale that follows the birth, demise, and rebirth of both Dungeons & Dragons and tabletop role-playing. While the territory of the game’s history isn’t new, Ewalt nevertheless wrote a fan’s history, which painted a tough by understandable picture of the original founders. I flew through those parts of the book, oftentimes finding myself up well after my wife had fallen asleep. I wanted more of that.

Unfortunately, the book has two major narrative flaws that frustrated me. The first was the author’s injection of himself into the story, which didn’t give me a better understanding of the game, its psychology, or its community friendships. Instead, Ewalt assumed the reader understood those ideas (in contrast to his excellent descriptions of how these games are played).

The second was that the author didn’t trust the reader. Ewalt diverges repeatedly throughout the narrative to explain how much of a nerd he is (while simultaneously trying to tell us that it’s not just nerds who play), as if that’s imperative to appreciate and understand the phenomenon. He also peppers the narrative with overblown descriptors to artificially create drama.

My headlong leap into the deep end of D&D gave the trip an almost religious significance: I started to think of it as my version of the hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. An expression of devotion; a chance to seek wisdom; a time to show unity with my brethren.

It’s this dichotomy that concerned me. The book is clearly written for people who don’t understand D&D and role-playing games (RPGs) based upon the lengthy descriptions of the various games, and yet Ewalt never settles on exactly who the “people who play” are.

Despite the narrative imbalance, people who enjoy D&D and RPGs will find this a satisfying, quick read and those who have never held a 20-sided dice won’t be intimidated by lots of geek-speak.

View all my reviews

Review: Mitt, a Netflix Documentary

If you have Netflix and 90 minutes, I’d highly recommend you settle in for Mitt, a Netflix original documentary that follows Mitt Romney and his family through 6 years of presidential campaigning.

This isn’t a political documentary so don’t expect lots of policy wonks or behind-the-scene battles over strategy like The War Room. Since the film’s thematic subject isn’t politics, it seems unfair to critique the piece through that lens. Instead, the filmmaker seems to have made Mitt as a counter-point to Romney’s public record, which is forever implanted in the public consciousness. This is the last chapter of “A Man in Full” (if I may steal a line from Tom Wolfe).

Instead of a linear narrative that pulls us through an election, this is a series of vignettes built around very specific, very public events. By using those moments and pulling the curtain back, the film both humanizes the process of campaigning and paints a mosaic of the Family Romney.

For me, the two most interesting elements of the film:

Read More

January: The Year of Focus Update

We know that the best way for humans to change their behavior patterns is through tracking mechanisms. If you want to lose weight, you have to count (somewhere) what you are eating. If you want to get stronger in the gym, you have to count what you are doing.

Without that tracking mechanism, we lose accountability.

So each month, I’ll update the blog with an summary analysis of what I have tried to do in the Year of Focus, in which I have laid out 4 broad goals.

Phase I: Know More

Read More

The Year of Focus

SummerOfRun7I think thematically.

As each year comes to a close, I spend December sitting with the work of my previous year. I sift through what I’ve created, I look at what I didn’t create, and conceptualize what I want my next year to become.

I’ve always been methodical and particular in my thinking, but I’ve become much more directed in that thinking in my sobriety and as I get older.

Just in the past few years, I’ve dedicated my time to:

Each of those represented a singular goal on which I could affix my gaze. No matter what happened during each of those time frames, I could always pull myself back to the center.

This year as I’ve been evaluating my life’s work this year, I’ve started asking myself a very serious question: “What’s next?” My answer, while still in flux, is coalescing around the idea that I have lost focus in my life. I’ve become too complacent, allowing myself to be pulled along by the tidal forces around me.

Read More