Behind the Scenes for Winter 2022/2023

This winter hasn’t really felt like winter. It’s just been so warm. Snow was here and gone within a week… It’s been warm and wet, which is not what an Ohio winter should be. I ended up spending a lot of time indoors because of the rain, and also it was frankly just depressing to go outside in January and be met with 50-60 degrees weather, so I wound up reading a lot. I also had a lot of substacks kick off in January so the “In Progress” section has gotten pretty big and so will be going under a cut.

A pile of comics and books leaned up against a pile of blankets. The back row has "Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel," "Strixhaven," "Candlekeep Mysteries," and "I Had Trouble getting to Solla Sollew." The front row has the first two issue of "Harley Quinn, The Animated Series: Legion of Bats!"  and "The Adventure Zone: The Eleventh Hour."


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – A Christmas classic that I’d never actually read before. I was scared of the illustrations in the copy my mom had when I was a kid and then I converted to Judaism and couldn’t be bothered with Christmas—the primary Jewish irritator in December. But I do still adore “A Muppet Christmas Carol,” and there was an email substack like Dracula Daily called A Dickens December, so I thought, why not? I enjoyed it immensely, especially in seeing what made it into the Muppet adaptation. The answer is quite a bit.

I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew by Dr. Seuss – I lived and breathed Dr. Seuss books as a child, but had never read this one. I was gifted it for the holidays this past December because my mom had been recommended it for the philosophy of the book. What did that mean? I wondered, having not read the book. Well, this is the “Now my troubles are going/To have trouble with me!” book that I have seen quoted all over the place on Tumblr. It’s a Dr. Seuss meditation on handling the troubles life throws at you and it’s great. 10/10 would recommend.

Harley Quinn: The Animated Series: Legion of Bats! Issues #1 & 2 written by Tee Franklin – Harlivy limited series TWO! Following “The Eat, Bang, Kill Tour” and season three of “The Animated Series,” which I have still not seen. I am simply not a man who has time for playing TV show catch up, and, honestly, picking this up without watching is no different from picking up any comic series for the first time. Most comics reference things that happened in previous issues/series or other associated titles, and “Legion of Bats” and “The Eat, Bang, Kill Tour” are even more explanatory than most, since the TV show audience and comics audience aren’t necessarily a 100% overlap. I’m a prime example of that. Anyway, Harley is fighting crime with the bat-fam and Ivy is set up to take over the Legion of Doom, what could go wrong!

Letters from Watson: The Gloria Scott, The Musgrave Ritual, The Spotted Band, The Resident Patient, The Noble Bachelor, The Second Stain & The Reigate Squires by Arthur Conan Doyle – Much like A Christmas Carol, I’ve seen a variety of Sherlock Holmes adaptations, but I’d never actually read the original stories. I’m enjoying them a great deal, especially seeing how they’ve been presented in a roughly chronological fashion rather than publication order and we can see Holmes’ and Watson’s relationship develop. My favorite currently is “The Spotted Band,” which, while not the first to involve a murder, was the first presented about solving a murder.

Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos – So, I know I’ve said before that D&D books often don’t need to be read from beginning to end, but when you’re developing your own campaign from scratch sometimes it’s a good thing to do. Strixhaven is also a really cool setting, though the pre-written campaign bits that come with the book don’t do a ton for me, they’re fun, just not my cup of tea when adventure planning. What I do adore, however, is the emphasis on accessibility and queer inclusion. There is official book art featuring disabled students and same sex couples, a whole sidebar about accessibility magic at the school, and flavor text for an NPC about her work running a support network for transgender students.

Candlekeep Mysteries – Another D&D book, a collection of campaign modules based on the sprawling library of Candlekeep and very easy to adapt for a variety of settings. There are some really interesting stories in this collection, each based around a book held at Candlekeep. My personal favorite is “Mazfroth’s Mighty Digressions,” which presents not only a mystery about why a book has suddenly turned into a monster but a moral question about monsters and what makes a monster. There’s also another module that has an explicitly nonbinary NPC.

Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel – This is another collection that offers modules with some really fabulous and nuanced moral conundrums. It also provides 15 new settings/civilizations based on various cultures of color and written by people from those backgrounds. I’ve talked about this book before here, but at the time I had only read the set up and introduction to the book and the citadel itself and a few of the new setting gazetteers. I cannot recommend enough reading through the whole module and not just the gazetteer, even if you don’t think you want to run it because a lot of world building is captured within the modules themselves.

The Adventure Zone: The Eleventh Hour by the McElroys, illustrated by Carey Pietsch – So this was by far the most changed of the TAZ: Balance arcs adapted as a graphic novel so far. Entire subplots are cut, traps are altered, motivations are changed, Sazed becomes Phillipe. I really don’t get why that last changed happened, but the rest of them I do understand. The Eleventh Hour was a long arc, with a lot of exploring and fucking up and exploring again. There were also a lot of classic ttrpg traps and puzzles in this one that might make a good game and podcast, but don’t make such a good graphic novel. That said, I am sad we lost Chekov’s bush. All the changes are really good though and make for a great, cohesive graphic novel.

Continue reading “Behind the Scenes for Winter 2022/2023”

Fall 2022 Behind the Scenes Reading

We’re back to our normal sections of “In Progress” and “Finished,” though I’m still making a few tweaks to post structure. I think I’m going to include an ongoing “Partial” section going forward, for books that don’t necessarily get read cover to cover, such as D&D books or when you revisit a single chapter/essay/story in a book you’ve already read. That seems like a better way to handle books that I read portions of, but then effectively stop reading.


Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter – This book is half “the making of ‘Hamilton,’” and half score annotated by LMM. I had the opportunity to see the current touring production of “Hamilton” in September and afterward I decided it was the ideal time to pull this tome off my shelf to read it. It’s a really fascinating look at the show behind the scenes and if you’re really into “Hamilton” I would very much recommend it.

Jews in Old China: Studies by Chinese Scholars translated, edited and compiled by Sidney Shapiro – This a really fantastic book for anyone looking for an introductory text about the history of Judaism in China, particularly because it encompasses such a large scope of historians and scholars, each with their own theories. Between textual references to other historians and a bibliography of both Chinese and Western scholars, this book makes an excellent jumping off point for further research while also being an incredibly rich resource itself. While it was originally published in the 1980s, because of the historical nature of the research, it still holds up quite well. It is improved further by an expanded edition from 2000, which is the edition I would recommend getting if you can. 

Dracula by Bram Stoker – So… I fell of the “daily” part of Dracula Daily pretty significantly in October. In my defense, the longer entries are much harder to read in fits and starts during the day when I’m at work. It made for a fantastic binge over Halloween weekend, however, since October was The Hunt™ kicking into highest gear. I always forget how the ending really goes, because it’s never how it’s done in film adaptations. 

Madhouse at the End of the Earth by Julian Sancton (audio book) – This is the story of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition, largely considered to be the expedition that kicked off the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. They were the first to overwinter in the Antarctic pack and they went a bit insane about it (see title). We also meet my main man, Roald Amundsen, right at the beginning of his prolific career, and Frederick Cook, the expedition doctor and only American on the expedition. Roald “sleeps with the windows open during winter in Norway” Amundsen and Fred “It’s not lying, it’s the time honored American tradition of exaggeration” Cook are also insane in ways unrelated to the Antarctic winter. 

In Progress:

The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard & the Diary of Robert Falcon Scott – We wrapped up the first few chapters of “Worst Journey” and in October I watched “The Last Place on Earth” and also listened to the “Worst Journey” BBC audio drama (highly recommend, especially if you want to hear grown men weeping.) This all in preparation for starting the real time release of Scott’s diary, which began on November 25th, making now a great time to jump on.

Moby Dick; Or, The Whale by Herman Melville – Whale Weekly has begun! Join me in a weekly reading of Moby Dick a la Dracula Daily. Tragically, this book has proven nigh impossible for me to parse on a screen. Thankfully, I not only own a hard copy and can follow along, but the emails provide you with alternatives and helpful supplements, including links to a chapter summary, annotations, and an audio book version. The links are right at the top of the email and make this one of the most accessible classic novel substacks I’ve seen so far.  

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – I’m listing this as in progress even though it won’t start properly until January, because prior to the novel starting we are being given helpful reading guides about character names, family histories, historical context, etc. in order to help readers get through what is widely considered to be a notoriously difficult novel. It’s also going to come out daily, which is going to be a tall order for me to keep up with alongside “Moby Dick.”   

Sealed with Honey by the Magpie Artists’ Ensemble – I can’t believe I almost forgot to include this, because, while letters have slowed down in their frequency, things have gotten INTENSE. A letter that Gabriel entrusted to a friend did not get mailed leading to some fraught misunderstandings! I yelled. No one is happy right now and we are all waiting on pins and needles for the resolution.

Different Loving edited by Gloria and William Brame – I’m another chapter down in this book. This time focusing on power and power exchange and what draws people to dominant or submissive roles during sex and debunking common myths. Contained the line “William Reich was right,” which sent me for a loop, because I only knew Mr. Reich from his orgone energy sex box. Some of his earlier work, however—before he entered his cosmic sex energy phase—was actually quite forward thinking about sex and contraception.

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