Thursday, May 23, 2024

The long-running Dire Literary Series of readings at the Out of the Blue Art Gallery has announced its lineup for Friday, starting with Ethan Gilsdorf, the Somerville author of travel memoir and pop culture investigation “Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms.”

In it, Gilsdorf makes clear the escape role-playing games gave him from a grubby reality, and especially from a mother — changed dramatically by illness — he no longer understood. From the book:

My crappy house faded around me. The peeling wallpaper, the mounds of dishes, the cigarette smoke, my mother’s limp. All of it disappeared.

“Uh …” I stalled. I can do this, I thought. But I don’t know what this game is. I don’t even know what a morning star is. Or an orc.

“Uh, I’ll attack? With my sword. Do I have a sword?”

JP rolled the dice. Squinting his eyes, he flipped through some books and papers and looked at a chart. “OK, your short sword strikes its shoulder. Black blood spurts out. It screams, ‘Arrghhh!’” JP demonstrated, knocking himself backward against the wall. “You whack it for four hit points.”

“Cool.” I wanted to ask what a “hit point” was, but it didn’t matter. I was hooked.

The book has resounded with reviewers, calling it an “emotionally affecting” “fun ride” that is, in the words of National Public Radio, like “‘Lord of the Rings’ meets Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road.’”

Gilsdorf — described as playing D&D “religiously” in the 1970s and 1980s — also contributes travel, arts and pop culture stories to The New York Times, Boston Globe and Christian Science Monitor and has been published in dozens of other magazines and newspapers worldwide.

Also reading Friday is Daniel Nester, the New York author of “How to be Inappropriate,” in which he

determines the boundary of acceptable behavior—mostly by disregarding it. As a here-to-cut-a-hipster-swathe-through-the-city man, he looks for love with a Williamsburg abstract painter who has had her feet licked for money. As a teacher, he tries out curse words with Chinese students in ESL classes. Along the way, Nester provides a short cultural history of mooning and attempts to cast a spell on a neighbor who fails to curb his dog. He befriends exiled video-game king Todd Rogers, and reimagines Terry Gross’s Fresh Air conversation with—and invents a robot version of—Kiss bassist Gene Simmons.

And Lewis Robinson, the Maine author of “Water Dogs,” a sort of mystery that follows a fisherman’s disappearance during a snowbound paintball game. The Times called “Water Dogs” funny and compelling and lauded Robinson for the way he does

socioeconomic oppositions, menacing undercurrents and small-town absurdities. … Robinson is especially good at putting two characters at either end of a bar or boat or car or dartboard and letting them argue things out. He can be funny, too: when Bennie and Helen head up to LaBrecque’s hometown to look for him, they find no fewer than seven Ray LaBrecques. “This guy here,” a man named Zander tells them, “that’s my second cousin Ray LaBrecque. We call him Dog. . . . And that guy over there, the drunk guy with the green hat, he’s Ray LaBrecque, too. They call him Sid, for some reason.”

Finally, Gager is also on the bill. Gager, of Somerville, is the author of eight books of short fiction and poetry. His latest, “Treating a Sick Animal: Flash and Micro Fictions” features more than 40 stories, many previously published in literary magazines. In addition to hosting the Dire Literary Series, he is the co-founder of Somerville News Writers Festival.

The Out of the Blue Art Gallery is at 106 Prospect St., Cambridge. The event begins at 8 p.m. It begins with five 15-minute open-mic slots, but people signing up must show up at 7 p.m. to be included.