Non-Blog | Channing Whitaker

What I've Been Reading: Dec. 2019

I was so taken with N.K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season, the first in her Broken Earth series, I launched right into the second book, The Obelisk Gate. The book picks up right where the first left off. It seems likely to me that Jemisin planned the continuation of the story from the beginning because the transition was seamless.

The story begins with Essun, the main character carried over from book one, finding a new home of sorts while the world continues to plummet towards ruin. Interestingly, as Essun's powers have made her the target of prejudice though her life, she finds a new openness to it in her new community. In fact, it seems they've actively been looking for people like her.

Through the book, we learn more about what brought the world to this point, more about some other sentient beings on the planet, the "Rock Eaters." Essun's relationship with her mentor reaches new heights. We see several tangential characters get a bit of development. And Essun even learns more about the power she holds. Amid it all, we get plenty of direct conflict and action, both between characters at odds, and civilizations at odds, and most of the social themes I found enriched the first book, carried on into this one.

Obelisk Gate has a satisfying climax and sets up intrigue to move into the third in the series as quickly as one slides into the second. It was an excellently executed middle, to what I believe is a three-book arc, and I'm anxious to dive into the next installment.

What I've Been Watching: Dec 2019

I started watching the new Watchmen series on HBO when it debut, however the Netflix age of binging may have gotten to me because I found waiting a week for a new episode lent to distractions. Thus, after a couple of episodes, I slipped away and came back when the season finished. Then I watched it in a couple of evenings.

If you're at all familiar, you'll know that the series ties into the Watchmen movie from 2009, which in turn was based on a comic book series of the same name from 1986-87. Though the new series is a sequel, largely set several decades after the movie's time period, the series also frequently jumps into the past, to the very start of masked vigilantes and even before that. The new series also introduces mostly new characters, and while their lives and the world acknowledge the characters from the movie, they are distinct, and the flashbacks serve more to develop the current characters than anything else.

I found the original movie, which was my first experience with the Watchmen universe, to be a compelling look at a more human and faulted version of superheroes. Not your Superman, or Batman, but truly multifaceted people. I love that. The villains aren't evil strawmen. The heroes aren't angelic. They're all just people, flawed, sometimes selfish, sometimes generous, and often egotistical as would be natural from having exceptional powers... people.

The series does an excellent job of keeping that theme alive while introducing and developing new, distinct, fascinating characters, taking them and us viewers on exciting and action-filled stories, and still ties it all into the source material. The story draws from the original, feeds into the original through flashbacks, and adds layers to it as well.

This is way more than just a sequel series. It doesn't just continue the story; it builds to new heights on it's back.  I imagine that was the goal going in, and I say they nailed it, plus the acting is fantastic.

Do yourself a favor, go back and watch the 2009 movie, then dig in on the 2019 series. Otherwise, who's watching the Watchmen?

What I've Been Listening To: Dec 2019

A couple of years ago, I heard a pair of songs from Jenny Lewis and thought they were pretty cool. I wasn't familiar with Rilo Kiley, or any of her other ensemble work, and like many things, something else came along and took my attention elsewhere. However, recently Lewis's 2019 album, On the Line, found its way to my iTunes account, I gave it a try, and I was smitten.

Lewis is an excellent lyricist and pairs her wit with a classic yet folksy rock sound. Her voice has a bit of an edge that reminds me of Bonnie Raitt. I'd say the album is easy to listen to musically, great for playing straight through, but also carries layers to contemplate if you care to give it a deeper listen. Lewis additionally draws from superb supporting musicians. Ringo Star plays drums on one song, and the organ solo on "Heads Gonna Roll" had me jumping back just to listen to it again.

After enjoying the album a few times through, I went back and tried a couple of Lewis's previous albums, and they're all fantastic. I'd say one could now count me as a Jenny Lewis fan. If you like smart lyrics, jamming to some old fashioned folksy rock, or both, give "On the Line" a try.
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