From the Bookshelf: Mia and Jake, Eurogames, Ponderables

These aren’t comics or about comics, but they’re vaguely related, and readers may be interested. All were sent by publishers for the purpose of review.

Mia and Jake: Finding the One
by Sherri Starr
illustrated by Robbie Hildebrand
Sea Hill Press, $14.95

If you want a cute little gift book for a single-but-still-looking friend for Valentine’s Day, Mia and Jake: Finding the One fills the bill. It’s a flip hardcover, almost a picture book for adults, with half telling Mia’s story and the other showing Jake. They’re stereotypically two-dimensional, with Mia trying to find a guy by obsessing over her supposed flaws and seeking out way too much advice from friends and books. Jake, on the other hand, just goes about surfing and hanging out until they meet.

Although pitched as equivalent, this is clearly aimed at women. They’re the only ones who would buy it, for one thing, but more telling, while Mia is introduced as “a pretty happy girl”, we meet Jake as “a great catch”.

The simple figures are cute, with the occasional really funny image, such as the “too hairy” blind date. It is weird when Mia suddenly grows boobs, though, during the Mexico trip section. Her bikini top looks like tennis balls hanging from her arms.

We’re told that Mia is, aside from her search for “The One”, happy and satisfied with life, but you can’t tell it from this book, since its short caption format only allows for a small amount of content. Still, those in similar straits will likely find it comforting.

Eurogames: The Design, Culture and Play of Modern European Board Games
by Stewart Woods
McFarland, $40

This book perfectly sums up the problems with most of McFarland’s publications. It’s an interesting topic, one I’d like to learn more about after being introduced to new-style board games through a co-worker a couple of years ago, but this book won’t do it.

It’s a republished thesis, which means it’s full of definitions and endnotes and citations; instead of talking about the games and how you play them, it’s more about their meaning and history and mechanics. It’s a chore to read. A book about how exciting and imaginative games are should be much more fun, with examples of what people get out of them. But then, that’s asking for a much different publication, a more colorful work with a lot more pictures and a more exciting format.

Most annoyingly, Eurogames has almost no illustrations, and the handful included are in muddy black and white. It’s also ridiculously expensive for what it is. I’m guessing the only people who will buy it are academic libraries and those who have to own it, perhaps as a source for their own research and writing on the topic.

Even worse is something like Role-Playing Game and Collectible Card Game Artists: A Biographical Dictionary, from the same publisher. How can you do a directory of fantasy artists with absolutely no art included? This should have been a website — and much of the information in it is, based on the cites, already available on the internet.

Mathematics An Illustrated History of Numbers
Edited by Tom Jackson
Shelter Harbor Press, $24.95

This is one of a series of books called “Ponderables: 100 Breakthroughs That Changed History”. Each well-illustrated, attractively designed coffee table book contains a cornucopia of fascinating facts and historical capsules.

Mathematics An Illustrated History of Numbers is, obviously, about math. I found it fascinating. The topics are wide-ranging, from the obvious (such as the invention of zero or the concept of prime numbers or infinity) to the obscure. I’d never heard of the Rhind (Ahmes) Papyrus before, for example, and most have forgotten the slide rule. Some are just party tricks, but still interesting, such as Magic Squares. I particularly liked the more diverse explorations, like the Golden Ratio or the calendar.

Each section is just an overview, as it has to be to get so much material in 140 pages, so this is a starting point, with the interested likely to read further elsewhere. However, the content here will keep you busy for a long while.

The book also contains an end section with definitions, information on types of numbers and proofs, a section on as-yet-unproven problems, and profiles of famous mathematicians (all men). There’s a 12-page removable timeline history of math in a pocket on the back cover as well. The backside has some mathematical puzzles, including a lot of the digits of pi and a Mandelbrot image.

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