Day 275: Star Wars Reads Day

Star Wars Reads Day

Star Wars Reads Day

What’s not to love about Star Wars Reads Day? It’s Star Wars, it’s books … it’s two of my favorite things rolled into one ball of awesomeness.

Star Wars Reads Day is set for October 10th this year and libraries, bookstores, and other retailers will be celebrating with author signings and all kinds of festivities.

I’m fortunate to live in a town that still has a Barnes & Noble, something I did not think would still be possible in this day and age. I’ve got a few unread Star Wars books on my nightstand so I was able to resist the temptation of the store’s display shown above.

Then again, there’s still a week left to go … hopefully my wallet will resist any and all of B&N’s Jedi Mind Tricks.

Day 258: Steve Jackson’s Sorcery


As a young teenager many moons ago, I loved Steve Jackson’s Sorcery!. This was a series of four books that was the prolific game designer’s take on Choose Your Own Adventure. After you read a page there were two or more choices that would take your story elsewhere. Choose one and go to the designated page to read the consequences of your action. Repeat until your story ended. It was a swords-and-sorcery tale, which appealed to my D&D-playing tastes at the time.

The best part of Sorcery! was the ability to learn spells and use them during your journey. There was a separate spell book that contained the spells and the codes for these spells. Every so often in your adventure, you would be given a choice of a few codes and had to pick one to cast the correct spell for the given situation.

I remember sitting in my local Vroman’s bookstore reading the spell book, trying to memorize the codes for the spells. It seemed like there were hundreds of spells, so after saving my allowance, I finally bought my own copy of the spell book, which made life much easier. I devoured the first two books of the series before my interest petered out. I bought the third book, but didn’t read it as much as the first two.

My waning interest coincided with my high school years and I’m not sure if I ever finished the third and fourth books. I’m sure they collected dust before being passed on to my brothers then Goodwill or the trash can.

I hadn’t thought about the books in quite some time, when last week I came across a website touting free Android games on Amazon. One was called Sorcery! and it sounded interesting, so I downloaded it to play later. Once the game was downloading I noticed Steve Jackson’s* name. I didn’t make the connection.

But once the title screen appeared, I nearly yelped out loud. I recognized that typeface and thought, No. Way.

I read the introduction and immediately recalled the familiar Shamutanti Hills setting.

Yes. Way.

It was the book I had spent so many hours as a youth reading and re-reading!

It’s been updated for today’s tech-savvy kids. The book is now an app with music, graphics, and a slick, user-friendly interface. Thankfully, it’s still the same wonderful fantasy story.

I have not geeked out on anything this hard in a while. Having Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! on my phone? My 1984 self would have been blown away.

In fact, so is my 2015 self.

*Update (9/16/15): All this time I thought that it was the well-known American game designer Steve Jackson. After I tweeted this post last night, the kind folks at Steve Jackson Games informed me that the Sorcery! author is actually a British game designer. My apologies for the mix-up. 

Day 230: Reading Is Fundamental

Reading Is Fundamental

Reading Is Fundamental

I ran across the photo above via my Google Photos. It’s from a few years ago, on a cold winter day when my wife and I were reading in bed. She’s reading on her tablet while I was reading an actual printed book.

We both agreed that books are still our preferred method of reading, but we’re not anti-technology, either. Any reading is better than none.

As the old saying goes, Reading Is Fundamental.

Day 218: Bill Simmons

Now I Can Die in Peace by Bill Simmons

Now I Can Die in Peace by Bill Simmons

I scored a copy of Bill Simmons’ Now I Can Die in Peace at my local used bookstore tonight. I’ve read it before, but didn’t own a copy, so one dollar made me the proud owner of a hardcover in excellent condition.

I read the first two chapters again and it was like seeing Jordan in his prime. You know how great Simmons was back then? Even a diehard Angeleno like myself would actually read and buy a book about a fan’s love for the Red Sox (and Celtics and Bruins). Simmons’ writing was brilliant, funny, and witty. Within those first two chapters are pop culture and political references that only he could pull off.

He was at the top of his game, back before his writing went downhill, thanks to his forays into television, podcasting, and documentary films. His television work was terrible; for as great a writer as he was, he was extremely bland on air. I liked some of his podcasts, but listening to him figure out NFL lines wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as reading his weekly NFL picks column.

Without a doubt, his 30 for 30 documentary series for ESPN was the best non-writing work he did. I’ve loved so many of those films, from Michael Jodan’s minor league baseball career to  Vlade Divac making amends with Drazen Petrovic’s parents.

It was quality television, which is why HBO snatched him up. I have my doubts about a weekly talk show featuring Simmons, but if he can contribute behind the camera like he did on 30 for 30, then he’ll continue to have a successful career.

It’s just too bad that one of my favorite writers is no longer known for his writing.

Day 196: Go Set A Watchman

Harper Lee

Harper Lee

Harper Lee’s highly anticipated sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird was released yesterday and there’s a lot of buzz about Atticus Finch. The hero of the first novel, Atticus has not aged gracefully, becoming a bigot and the antithesis of who he was. I’m looking forward to reading the book, but I’m not sure how I’ll react to the older Atticus.

The true hero of the real-life drama behind this book? Lee’s editor, Tay Hohoff, who saw the potential in the flashbacks to Lee’s youth and encouraged her to focus on those aspects, which led to the Pulitzer-Prize winning To Kill A Mockingbird. Imagine if Hohoff isn’t around? We lose one of, if not the, great books of American literature.

While there was no doubt that this sequel could not have lived up to its hype, it’s nice to see a book dominate the news headlines.

Day 152: APA Heritage Month Reading

American Born Chinese

American Born Chinese

Although Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month just ended, it’s easy to experience APA arts and culture throughout the year. Professor Timothy Yu posted a terrific list of Asian Pacific American/Canadian fiction (all published pre-1990) and I’m looking forward to making my way through this list; I can personally recommend the works of Carlos Bulosan, Maxine Hong Kingston, Joy Kogawa, and Bharati Mukherjee.

Here are a five more that I would add to the list of recommended books about the Asian-Pacific Islander experience. I’ve included a few non-fiction titles as well and linked to the Goodreads pages.

1. Big Little Man Eye-opening look at the perceptions and experiences of APA men, especially Filipinos.

2. Ghost Month Murder mystery set in Taiwan’s night markets.

3. Everything I Never Told You Coming-of-age mystery set in 70s middle America.

4. The Accidental Asian: Notes of a Native Speaker Thought-provoking collection of essays by former White House speechwriter Eric Liu.

5. American Born Chinese Outstanding graphic novel of the immigrant experience.


Day 132: Score

Used graphic novel and DVD

Used graphic novel and DVD

I love my local library, especially the adjacent Friends of the Library bookstore, which is where I’ve scored a lot of fantastic used (and sometimes new) books, DVDs, and other goodies. The items are typically in great shape and sell for a fraction of their retail price.

Today after my last appointment I stopped by the bookstore and couldn’t believe my luck. I found a near-new copy of Saga of the Swamp Thing, by one of my favorite writers, Alan Moore. And right across the aisle I stumbled upon the movie Prison On Fire, starring one of my favorite actors, Chow Yun-Fat. I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read or seen either of these classics, but thanks to the bookstore and a measly seven bucks, I’ll be enjoying them soon.

Day 130: Mother’s Day

Hanging out with Mom today.

Hanging out with Mom today.

I hope you, Dear Reader, were able to celebrate Mother’s Day with your mom, stepmom, and/or the motherly figures in your life. I’m fortunate that I’m able to spend time with my mom and I’m cognizant of the moments that I share with my her. I’m grateful for every single one.

Whenever anybody asks who my heroes are, I have a simple answer: my parents. They moved to the U.S. from the Philippines a lifetime ago, giving up their homeland for the opportunity of a better life in America and they’ve succeeded on so many levels. They raised three boys in a foreign land while supporting family members back home. They dealt with their boys acting out typical teenage rebelliousness. And they did it all with dignity and class.

Never have my brothers and I felt a lack of love from our parents, especially our mother. I remember a family party a few years ago where I overheard her talking to a relative: “It’s great when I talk to Ruel now. We’re friends.”

It was the best thing I’d heard in years. From anyone. I’ll always be her son, of course, but I’m thankful for our friendship that has evolved over the years. From our unofficial mother-son book club (we share a love of Tuesdays with Morrie and talked about it for hours) to our passion for going out to eat (we love cooking, too, but finding a new restaurant is something we both enjoy immensely), I cherish the time I have spent with mom as well as the time I will spend with her.

Call me biased, but she’s the Best. Mom. Ever.

Day 129: A Song of Ice and Fire

A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones

I’ve never been into fantasy literature. I couldn’t get into the Lord of the Rings series (although I did love The Hobbit), but I’m re-considering my position. Why? Three words …

Game. Of. Thrones.

I loved season one; I’m halfway through season two and enjoying it as much, if not more. So much, in fact, that I did something silly yesterday: I started reading the first book of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.

Yes, I’m reading the book that the first season of the TV show was based on while I’m binge-watching the second season. I’ll also be digging up my old unread copies of Fellowship of the Ring, etc. I won’t be buying any collectible swords or looking to play Dungeons & Dragons any time soon, but for now I’m all in for the Seven Kingdoms.

Day 108: Riverside Tamale Festival

imageToday was one of those great random-type days. My wife had told me about the Riverside Tamale Festival earlier this year and we promptly forgot about it. This morning she noticed a reminder on her phone about the event. After a late breakfast, we drove out to Riverside and walked into the festivities at noon.

The festival was held at White Park and there was a terrific, low-key vibe throughout the area. There were a lot of families, all chowing down on tamales. I thought there might be more fusion/experimental tamales, but most were traditional (pork, chicken, chile and cheese, beef, along with some pineapple and strawberry dessert tamales). We were too full to try the cajun fusion tamale, but we loved the vegan sweet corn and poblano from Gourmet Tamales. Pictured above is the chipotle pork BBQ tamale from Me Gusta Gourmet Tamales, which lived up to its award-winning hype. The sweet masa in this tamale paired well with the pork.

We hung out for a few hours, enjoying the mariachi performances and all of our munchies. Since one can only do so many tamales on a warm day, we were grateful for the vendors offering pepinos (cucumbers served with chile and lemon) and raspados (snow cones with various ingredients; we shared a delicious coconut and tamarind mixture).

Afterwards, in keeping with today’s randomness theme, we stumbled upon the wonderful Center for Social Justice and Civil Liberties. Located next to White Park, the center is a resource for education about civil rights and social liberty in the mid to late 20th century. In a nice bit of kismet, the center is also the home of the Mine Okubo collection: Okubo was the writer and illustrator of Citizen 13660, one of my favorite books from my college days. I had no idea she was a Riverside native and the entire second floor of the center was dedicated to her artwork, which was bequeathed to Riverside City College after her death in 2001.

As we explored the exhibition, I thought about the first time I’d read Citizen 13660. My memory is a little fuzzy now, but I think it was for an Asian American history class. What I do remember, though, is how cool I thought it was that a graphic novel was being used in a college course.

I kept my copy for many years until recently, when I gave it to my stepdaughter. I hope it moves her like it did me; it’s a remarkable work and a classic of Asian-American literature.