Where are the sister series to 33 1/3?

or, “Let’s Build a Canon”

I’m a big fan of the 33 1/3 series of music-crit books published by Continuum Books. I appreciate the diversity of authors and approaches they’ve published, from book-length interviews to song-by-song analyses to New Journalistic anecdotes to short fiction to essays in aesthetics, written by everyone from Douglas Wolk to John Darnielle to Colin Meloy to Chris Weingarten to Dan Kois.

33 spines

Boing Boing commenter “Jack” has a great point:

…the concept has potential since in the MP3 world we live in it’s hard to have a physical connection with an album.

We really are physically disconnected from our media — not just music, but TV, video games, news, blogs, webcomics. If you’re like me, most of the stuff you consume is in digital form, and even that which isn’t ephemeral (a dwindling amount, as our media shift from our hard drives to the cloud) is still untouchable.

This is the appeal of the webcomic T-shirt — it’s a way to substantiate an insubstantial thing that we love. You can’t cuddle with your favorite characters, but you can have the next best thing. I’ve never actually owned a physical copy of Low, but I own Hugo Wilcken’s 33 1/3 book on Low, and that makes me feel — however irrationally — like I own it more than I would otherwise. I’ve demonstrated a commitment to it.

(I think of this as part of a larger pattern of active consumption, i.e. the set of actions that readers take in response to a work, as a way of “claiming” it. Fanfiction, mounted art & posters, cosplay, cover songs, claiming communities, shoutboxes, etc)

At any rate. Offworld linked to these sweet mock book covers by Olly Moss. They’re inspired by the staggeringly design-y design history of Penguin Books. I wish they were real.

GoldenEye by Olly Moss

GoldenEye by Olly Moss

And it got me thinking: why aren’t there little books, critical retrospectives, for video games? The potential audience is in the millions, and they’re eager for a tangible connection to the ephemeral electronic entertainments of their youth. You don’t need permission from the copyright holders.

The critical turf is a little different — as I understand it, video game history seems to be about a few gigantically popular games that become cultural touchstones for a generation, and then a second tier of considerably less popular games, and then the recognition level drops even more steeply. That’s probably changed somewhat as the industry has matured and widened, but this enterprise inherently needs a little distance — at least ten years since release. So you’re either facing the challenge of writing the definitive book on Mario 3, or you’re writing about Ghouls ‘n Ghosts and trying to sell enough copies to break even.

There’s an additional challenge, of course, because old games are generally “out of print” in a way that albums aren’t. Thank God that emulation is starting to make some older titles legally available via programs like Nintendo’s Virtual Console, but it’s not the same, is it? And for computer games… God help you if you want to play Warcraft II on a modern machine.

Legend of Zelda by Olly Moss

Legend of Zelda by Olly Moss

Still. I want a half-dozen 100-page books on my favorite half-dozen games. Call it D-Pad Books. Come on, world. Make it happen.

For that matter, where are the books on great movies? I know there are hundreds of books on Citizen Kane, but where is the 33 1/3 series for films? Hmm… a quick search reveals that Macmillan is doing it, with the BFI Film Classics series. And, uh, they have been for years, without me noticing. Whoops. Anybody have any experience with those?

(By the way, Olly’s also done some sweet vintage movie posters of modern movies.)

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8 Responses to “Where are the sister series to 33 1/3?”


  1. 1 Katherine Farmar January 29, 2009 at 1:56 am

    The BFI books are pretty good, although obviously the quality varies depending on the author. In my experience, they’re breezy and unpretentious, which is good. (And they also cover some TV series, which require a slightly different approach than films.)

    10 years, huh? That means my own personal Best Game Evar, Planescape: Torment, falls into the net. I could write a book about PS:T, and for all that it never got popular enough to be a sales juggernaut, it’s got a cult following. “What can change the nature of a man?”

  2. 3 Chris February 11, 2009 at 10:54 pm

    I would be all over these.

  3. 4 Drew February 12, 2009 at 7:11 am

    The video game books is a great idea. If you ever start this up then I call dibs on “Rush ‘n’ Attack”

  4. 5 Tucker Stone February 19, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    I’ve read most of the Modern Classics from BFI–they all vary, although the stand-out ones are pretty impressive. Most of those cats write for Sight & Sound as well. It’s been awhile since they released a new one, and I think it’s all considered an overall “Film Classics” series now. Really great stuff.

  5. 6 DerikB February 28, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    What about the ones for comics!? I would totally love a series like that, hell, I’d try to write one… maybe I should?

  6. 7 Jordan May 16, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    There are actually some half-way decent methods for playing old games. I have a fair number that I run on my Mac through a program called DOSBox. The emulation is pretty solid and you can always tweak the virtual processor speed for games that were built to run as fast as the CPU would go.


  1. 1 Intelligent Artifice / Bookmarks for February 20th through February 22nd Trackback on February 22, 2009 at 3:00 pm

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Leigh Walton talks comics and maybe other arts. (RSS)
He also works for the very excellent publisher Top Shelf Productions (which does not necessarily endorse the views and opinions, etc, herein).

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