Ploughshares 40.1
(Spring 2014)


So, yeah, I'm definitely not reading these in order. But I have finally figured out where to read them (some things get read walking to work, some in bed, some on the toilet---ends up Ploughshares is one of the latter) so I may get through all the ones hanging around. However, this issue is pretty much everything I hinted at not liking last time. The big problem with the fiction in this issue is stories that do not end. The first story, for instance, "The Rink Girl" by Mark Brazaitis. It's brilliantly written---beautiful stuff, really. The teenagers, their relationships, their inner and outer lives. The plot is understated but compelling and important---to the characters and thus to us, the readers. And then? At the end? Instead of completing the story, Brazaitis cops out. He's like, "Hhhhhh! This is taking forever! Here, hang on. [rustling in bag] Here. Have a symbol."

I'm going to skip most of the stories and stick with the ones like "Rink Girl" that have frittered merit.

Next up, "The Sky in the Glass-Topped Table" which uses as its title an unimportant image. Another well crafted teenage lead. This time her story ends with an awful violence perpetrated against her which instantly becomes a huh!-type learning experience. Author Elizabeth Evans seems to want to show off a Troma-esque disinterest in the consequences of evil. Well. Lovely.

The most successful story in the issue was "Go-Between" by Peter Rock. This one too, arguably, ends prematurely and this one too, arguably, underserves life's unpleasantness, but its dreamlike atmosphere and unclear connection to the real makes these issues immaterial. This one too is about teenagers. Which I find remarkable---the best works in the last issue I read were also about teenagers. I wonder what the explanation is.

Anyway, that pattern is broken by the fourth story in this issue with merits enough to mention, Donna Trump's "Seizure." This story's about a man whose life and body have fallen apart, and how he attempts to remain, at very least, an involved and loving father. It's quite moving. Parts of it were genuinely painful to imagine. You can read the guest editor's comments here (and get a sense as to why she doesn't let stories end properly). I think my dissatisfaction with this story might not be the story's fault. In this case, it might be my adoption of the protag's own dissatisfaction with himself.

Anyway, this is a grumpy post. And will probably get me some hate from the literati. I mean---don't I know that all these stories I claim to like and yet still bash have more beautiful sentences than almost everything published in the most recent issue of Pulp Literature, which I just praised? Sure I do. And a couple of the stories I praised in that post could have benefited from more beautiful sentences. (Though I rush to point out that I'm not saying those stories had bad sentences. Just that, see my own next sentence.) What I'm saying is that beautiful sentences are not enough. A story needs to be completely a story. I'm not satisfied by beautiful pieces alone. What am I? A serial killer?

Anyway. I still have more issues to catch up on. I hope to say more positive things in the future.


Pulp Literature 5


Although of a consistent aesthetic, this volume is strikingly different from its predecessor. Take "Stella Ryman and the Four Digit Puzzle (Mel Anastasiou) and, to a lesser extent, "The Pledge" (Stephen Case). These stories are utterly mundane, yet told through pulp conventions. The first takes place in a retirement home and the hero's big case is trying to learn the code to open the front door. Yet it's complete with hair-breadth escapes and tall drinks of water and arch enemies, etc etc. "The Pledge" stars a literal PI, but his case is as dull as possible---and investigation reveals it's just as dull as it seems---although misunderstanding on the edges of the case does result in violence and police action.

Although I wouldn't suggest the editors adopt a diet of pure mundane adventure, I really loved these stories. I love the application of pulp convention to the unheralded vagaries of everyday life.

In other news, I loved the mix of plainfaced violence with bildungsroman and everything-old-is-new-again lesbianism in the lead story, Eileen Kernaghan's "The Robber Maiden's Story"; and Margaret Kingsbury's "The Longing Is Green When the Branches Are Trees" delving into a single-item apocalypse (rather like Connie Willis's "The Last of the Winnebagos" mixed the fantastic with the sf in pleasurable ways.

Speaking of stories that seem to be engaging with sf classics, "Some Say the World will end in Fire" by R Daniel Lester reminds me of the Ray Bradbury stories where the characters of books (or dead authors, depending on the story) are stranded on, say, Mars, alive, until the last of their books have been destroyed. In this case, the living (but unfinished) characters wish to die, and at the hand of their creator. A very different sort of arrangement than the one Bradbury presented---and an open question as to "what it all means."

Anyway, another good issue. This has been a good investment. Plus, check out this awesome back cover!

So be excited for that.


Return of "The Avon Lady"


My story "The Avon Lady" appeared a few years ago, but is now out of print. And will remain out of print until the end of this month when Faed comes out.

Click to preorder on Kindle (other sellers will have it out soon).

If you can handle a monster story called "The Avon Lady."

The publishing group, A Murder of Storytellers, was great to work with. And I'm not just saying that because of how many lovely compliments they payed my work. The seem like genuinely on-top-of-it people.


First five books of 2015!


005) The Complete Peanuts: 1991-1992 by Charles M. Schulz, finished January 10

Schulz is experimenting more with his use of panels---full weeks of single-panel strips for instance---and the percentage of strips that whose majority payoff is sweet has gone up---though I laughed out loud---a lot---and I'm still filled with joy each time I begin---read---end a book.

I'll never grow tired of his lines or these characters.

17 days


004) City of Brick and Shadow by Tim Wirkus, finished January 9

three or four or more weeks


003) Harem Scarem in El Cerrito by Neva Calvert Carpenter, finished January 4

I loved this book. I found it constantly delightful. Why, when I didn't feel the same about the very similar if arguably better written Hooligan?

It comes down to one thing:

When I read Hooligan I tried to recreate the Provo of Thayer's boyhood in my mind and couldn't quite pull it off.

When I read Harem Scarem, that was no problem at all. Practically every event in the book takes place within a few blocks of my current house (within months of being the place I have lived the longest), and of the few that don't? I've driven past them in the last week. (Except for Arkansas.)

I read these childhood memoirs that try to recapture a specific place, it needs to be a place I'm familiar with so details like street names, and locations of stores and school are immediate in my mind. Provo doesn't do that for me. El Cerrito does.

It's local history and it makes me happy.

I hope your town has a book every bit as good.
about under a mouth


002) iPlates Volume II: Prophets, Priests, Rebels, and Kings by Stephen Carter and Jett Atwood, finished January 4

I would have done well to reread Volume I first, but I still enjoyed the book quite a bit. Full review on AMV.
week plus


001) Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, finished January 3

Finally finished my summerly Vonnegut read! I didn't like this book when I read it c. 1995 and I still don't. I know it's a lot of people's favorite, but for me, this is the novel where Vonnegut finally pushed his technique too far and the novel broke. Sorry, Kurt. You know I love you.
six months

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


They Might Be Giants invented the modern world.


They Might Be Giants invented the modern world. Or it might more be accurate to say that they prefigured the modern world. They were They in the 80s and by by the 00s, the world was catching up to their genius for song distribution and audience engagement.

I wouldn't really put them on the cutting edge anymore, but that's not because they's less innovative but because they've the Rollings Stones of geek rock. They can overcharge and precharge and preovercharge [see comment's for tmbg's rebuttal] and so they do---it's hard to blame them. They took that too far about ten years ago, but with a course correction I think they've found a nice balance between being elder gods and the They Might Be Giants of yesteryear.

For instance, they've reinstituted Dial-A-Song for 2015. You can call 1-844-387-6962* and get the same over-the-wires lo-fi that a huge percentage of their fans are too young to have ever experienced before. But it wasn't only a connection to the band that Dial-A-Song provided:

Anyway, the new Dial-A-Song is online but for $30 you can get all fifty-two songs emailed to you a day early. Which is great for the classic TMBG audience who has that money and might still care about owning things. And then is available free online a day later. Which matches the classic TMBG ethos from that moment into eternity.

Here: watch the video of the first song. It's pretty fun:

Aside: Remember when Radiohead released In Rainbows and you could pay whatever you wanted? And they made a ton of money? For all the people predicting this would be the new model, may I remind you of what Eric Garland said at the time: "Step one: Be Radiohead."

Which is what I mean when I say TMBG isn't so cutting-edge anymore. They're no longer showing new bands the way inside the marketplace or the hearts of fans.

But it's also why I'm wrong. What they're doing is showing how their original model is best applied to established bands. So kids in garages, you can pick up some hints from TMBG, sure, but bands playing to dyed hair and boob jobs at county fairs? You should have paid attention thirty years ago and you should pay attention now.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Incidentally, regardless of what you personally think of TMBG's music, this is why I think it's a travesty they weren't a first-ballot Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. The influence they've had on the industry is much vaster than even their vaster-than-realized fanbase. Frankly, the kid albums should be a vote for and not against. And anyone who thinks that Green Day being bigger makes them more important is going to look back in fifty years and wonder what they were thinking.

some history via tal and sarah vowell


On Ploughshares 40.4
(Winter 2014-15)


I've been a subscriber to Ploughshares for a while now--two or three years I'ld guess. And this is the first time I've written about an issue, mostly because nothing that I've read has seemed important to write about. By far my favorite issue was the Spring 1984 poetry issue edited by Seamus Heaney sent as a free bonus for subscribing. I loved that one and keep it next to my document cam at school: in case we have a little extra time to talk about poetry, I open it to one of many dogeared pages and we read one. (Fun bonus: it featured a poet named Joyce James.)

This gets to one of my favorite things about Ploughshares: its use of guest editors who, presumably, keep the content from getting staid by bringing fresh perspectives. I admit I have not given a serious shake to every issue I've been sent yet (I'll get to them!) but it seems like the resulting variety appears only within a very narrow band. It's not like they're bringing in guest editors totally outside what they usually publish (literary work that is well crafted but only occasionally soulful).

Anyway, two stories in the latest issue really got me, and, happily, both are available free online. You should definitely read them.

The Case for Psychic Distance” by Jennifer Hanno
Both stories involve public education and teachers and students, which actually makes me more exact as a reader rather than more forgiving. The story is also in second person which, as you know, is usually a mistake no matter how well written. Hanno sidesteps the problem through a metameta conceit which, again, should't work but does. Something about writing-about-writing-that-ends-up-being-the-writing-written-about-writing tends to the painfully cute, but Hanno's managed to turn cute into the adverb while making painfully into a noun. The hero of her tale intends to use writing as an escape, but fails and fails until she turns it burns into a rage that acts as catalyst for grief.

I'm being vague. That's because, dang it, I gave you the link and I want you to read the thing yourself. Seriously. Go read it. Go read it. Go read it.

Rosalee Carrasco” by Tomiko M. Breland
I absolutely love the form Breland uncovered for this story. In brief, each character gets three sections---I is the character's past; II is the character during The Incident; III is the character after The Incident. (She does something simple and bold that makes me very very happy with one of her IIIs. You'll know which one instantly. You might even see it coming, but that won't change your delight.)

The Incident is a school shooting, though one very different from the sort that gives the 24hr news cycle two weeks of material. And the story is about how real people end up becoming what they become. How children become teenagers. How teenagers become adults. And as simple, flashlike, inandout character studies, the story is a great success. Largely because, like all great flashfiction, it's not simple at all. Read as a short-story-in-flashes, it's dense in lightness (if you will). But what's particularly remarkable about the story, however, is that, at the end it turns into an indictment on a certain aspect of modern American society. And not the indictment that had been casually hinted at throughout. In fact, indictment is the wrong word entirely. Found guilty does a better job.

Two things I like (and am unlikely to ever write about).
Here are two ongoing Ploughshares features I admire: Plan B is a writer writing about what else life offers (or could have offered); Look2 revisits and gives deserved attention to work not approved by the Church of What's Happening Now.

A note on the poetry.
The poetry is all over the place. Some I really like (eg, Beck's "Correcting My Mother's Essay") and others don't stick with me at all. But in honor of the recently completed #MormonPoetrySlam, here's a nice little number from Lance Larsen.


2014: Movies of the final quarter


In theaters:

The Invisible Man (1933): It's only the end of the story; it has almost too many laughs. But Claude Raines is awesome. One of the great masked roles in movie history. And to see it for the first time big was lots of fun. Only 71 minutes (too short for proper character development by modern standards) but an enjoyable 71 minutes.

Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914) / The Pawnshop (1916) / The Rink (1916) / The Immigrant (1917) / The Adventurer (1917): Although technically these posts aren't supposed to include shorts, but I took the kids to this show in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Little Tramp character's debut and they loved it. How could they not? So dang it this was a movie. The first in the program was the first or second Little Tramp short ever and had no story. Just the Tramp trying to get on camera while the cameramen try to get him out of the way of the race. Went on a bit long. Then it was great short after great short after great short. His recurring cast was strong and I wish we had room in modern popular culture for such eyebrows and facial hair.

Big Hero 6 (2014): Character design and acting are great. The design of the city is awesome. The villain is one of the best I've seen. (So good the filmmakers had to cheat to give the heroes a chance.) But the movie left me utterly disappointed. Sure I had some laughs, sure they manipulated my emotions successfully a few times, but I rolled my eyes over and over. Every plot point was painfully predictable moments (or minutes) (or acts) before. Nothing in this movie, in terms of story, was at all interesting. Even the short was generic and derivative of recent premovie shorts. Disappointing. Why didn't we go see Boxtrolls?

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014): Not as thrills-a-second as the first two movies, but that slowness was good, actually. Made for a much more grown-up movie. I'm not surprised this one isn't making as much money, but I thought it was fine. Also, it felt short, which was nice in this era of bloated epics. Not a lot happened, but I'm okay with that. Especially knowing how stupid the rest of the book was and that we may not have Philip Seymour Hoffman footage for the final film.

Interstellar (2014): Beautiful film, more moving than I expected, fantastic cast well used. Not perfect but very good and I want to see it again on IMAX.

At home:

Sullivan's Travels (1941): Hard to know what I think of this movie after only one watch. Especially when you consider that the only reason I haven't seen this movie already is because I've been afraid of loving it either too much or too little. As it is, I laughed a lot, was startled by its tonal shifts, am not sure what to make of it. In other words, a similar reaction to how I often feel when first watching Coen Brothers films---fitting as they've been rather publicly influenced by Sturges's work. As it is, the film feels important. Not so much as a treatise in favor of comedy, so much as a portrayal of what America might be, as it moves from the caricatured "Colored Chef" to its climax as the poor of America find a generous, almost postracial equality in their brief escape from misery. It's visionary.

The Fisher King (1991): Wow. I'd kind of decided Terry Gilliam is a gimmick-first-gimmick-last director, like Tim Burton, but this film---though certainly with gimmicks extant, is a great movie. Enough to make me willing to see any Gilliam films I've missed. Great script (Richard LaGravenese) and great acting, especially by the two leads, Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams. Thanks to those, particularly Luisa, who insisted this be the film I see to commemorate Robin Williams. The perfect choice. A beautiful, multilayered, mythic story of friendship, love, and redemption.

Unicorn City (2012): What a grave disappointment this was. After hearing so many good things, I expected more of them to pan out. Moments of good performance were generally overwhelmed by tired cliches and ancient solution. Just a few changes early on would have necessitated a new trajectory that would have prevented the larger errors. For instance, if the gamer utopia hadn't ben prerequisited by the lead needing a job, the writers would never have been tempted to have him turn down the job later to Make a Point which needed not be made. Sigh.

Step Brothers (2008): More than any other comedy of the last ten years, I think this one is cited most by the teenagers in my acquaintance as their favorite, as the funniest---it seems to be the most quoted and the most beloved. And is it worthy of that love? Well. Um. I guess so? It's about what I expected. Maybe a bit funnier than average, but not really astounding. Good casting is the secret to any successful comedy though, and that's the case here as well. So yeah: casting. Good casting can float a lot of dumb crap.

The Cabin in the Woods (2012): If you, like me, mostly know that this movie has some curves it's best not to know before seeing it, then see it and come back. I'll be vague, but not vague enough for you. So yeah: typical slasher-in-the-woods with some minds behind the horror. Some nice banality of evil combined with increasingly eldritch undertones, ending in a climax that is purely gruesome while horrifically humorous and undertoned with a more existentially weird terror than is normal in slasher flicks. In other words, this film manages to be a whole lotta things at once and does almost all of them very well. It plays weaknesses of one level against strengths of another. The only actual disappointment is probably the final shot. But hey---I'm not complaining.

ParaNorman (2012): Surprisingly scary. The final act's a bit bloated and wholesome, but ultimately just about everything in this movie works and works well. Laika continues to impress. x2 Still a bit bloated, the bit with the witch, but actually better the second time around.

Paprika (2006): I don't remember what attracted me to this film eight years ago, but it wasn't enough to get me to theaters. Then a former student sent me a look at Kon's editing which is wild and fascinating and led to this viewing. And I loved it. A bit of Bill Pympton madness in a better dreamworld that Inception and yes: fascinating and wild editing. Brilliant and beautiful. Some of the same cultural thinking in films like Spirited Away while having some very different things to say. I don't yet know, for instance, what to make of its take on gender. Lots of unpack here.

The Shining (1980): Jeez, what a disappointment. I've been too terrified to watch this movie, always bumping it to next October, and I watch it and it's just a bunch of Technique. Sigh. Well. So it goes. We'll see if it shows up in my dreams..... (So annoyed I wrote a post.)

The Night of the Hunter (1955): I was expecting an M-esque thriller. Instead, I got a much more balanced look at the good and evil promised by the reverend's knuckles, including a performance of honest goodness from Lilian Gish (I know! Lilian Gish!) that ultimately beat out Robert Mitchum's evil. At times, almost absurdly formalistic in composition (both visually and auditorily), each bit added to the whole. I'll have to watch it again sometime, knowing what I'm getting into. See how it plays then. (Also: I need to do some reading, see how people interpret the animals.)

Million Dollar Arm (2014): While, sure, a bit predictable, the Indian leads are compelling actors (it's the guys from Life of Pi and Slumdog Millionaire) and it's a thrill to watch them move up and down. Jon Hamm's fine; I didn't think to check if he was wearing underwear.

Mary Poppins (1964): A practically perfect bit of filmmaking. Every song is excellent. Bits of recurrent symbolism there for the picking or the ignoring as you please. Julie Andrews beautiful in face and voice and oh so poised. Dick Van Dyke the physical comedian I still aspire to be. Plus, having seen the machine Ub Iwerks invented that made this film possible before greenscreen at the Walt Disney Family Museum, thinking about the craftsmanship this time was all the more pleasurable. Truly timeless.

Dans la Maison (In the House) (2012): Swirling layers of storytelling and it's hard to tell when the Scheherazade, with his Joker-like smile, is honest and when he is not. When he is manipulating words and when he is manipulating people with words. Is he a young sociopath finding his way? Is he simply lonely and alone and desperate for human connection? As a whole, the movie worked well, though the ending stuttered. As one character says, the best ending is the one the audience did not see coming but feels to them inevitable. By giving us so many endings, the filmmakers hoped that would, of necessity, happen at least once. I'm not so sure it did. But I have a very strong suspicion that the French is much more beautiful than the English subtitles. Ah well. C'est la vie.

Safety Last! (1923): Considering how much I love Chaplin and Keaton, it's remarkable that I've never watched Harold Lloyd before. But what better way to start than him hanging from a clock? The physical comedy is, as expected, brilliant. The romantic plot is underpinned by lies and bad decisions in what will become classic sitcom fashion---and it painful to watch. In a good way, I suppose, but it's not my favorite basis for comedy. The building climb though is AMAZING. Tense and funny and frickin AMAZING. Totally lived up to expectations. Which was a lot of expectations, I assure you.

The Pride of the Yankees (1942): Gary Cooper isn't much good at playing twenty-plus years younger, nor is he a particularly good playful roughhouser---but when the film gets serious he excels. I didn't cry where I was supposed to, but the film is sticking with me in surprising ways. I doubt I'll ever watch it again, but I definitely enjoyed it this time around. Sure made me like those Gehrigs.

Why Worry? (1923): The kids loved this Harold Lloyd. Madcap all the way through. And the giant reminds me of Fezzik and Sweetums. What a great tradition film has! (We'll have to check out Volume 1 again to finish the features.)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014): Not as provocative as the trailer promised but a terrific action movie in all respects. Made me want to rewatch the first one. New characters to delight and more mythology to overwhelm. But a net win.

Ernest & Celestine (2012): As delightful as promised, with some interesting parallel structure and allusions to all sorts of film from dystopian prison films to interracial love stories. In fact, regarding that last one, I'm fascinated by how they crossed a child-friendly story of friendship with some serious sexual tension. ...Or was that just me?


William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (1996): Movies that are interesting to look at and technically adept---as well as well written and well acted---are easier to rewrite. Watched this time on the largest screen I've ever seen it on and noticed details I'd missed before---such as Mercutio's wig getting bigger in the dance scene.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (2000): The Reduced Shakespeare Company needs to record a new version. The topical humor ain't topical anymore. Also, I don't understand how Adam Long hasn't become one of the most sought-after voice actors in Hollywood. The way he passes from ridiculous to deeply emotional soliloquies is amazing. Although his performance is usually buffoony and absurd, elements of his performance are so pure and honest that I can't understand how he switches from one to the other in moments.

About a Boy (2002): This movie is still so great. If you look at the careers of the folks behind the camera, it seems a bit black swanny, but who cares. This movie is about perfect in every way. The acting the writing the direction the editing. The clever bits of parallelism and other terrific structural devices. One of the best uses of narration I've ever seen. How they painted a romcom over the top while not being a romcom at all. The planting of important details in a couple seconds in a way we always remember them. Just a great movie.

Previous films watched




Lost Songs: 김종서 edition


When I came home from Korea, I found it difficult to listen to much American music (Blondie and the Moonps being notable exceptions). And no although my favorite Korean bands were girl-fronted, no songs mattered more to me than this pair from Kim Jeongseo, the first of which I can still sing along with the whole way through. Which is remarkable figuring I can't do that to songs in English. Regardless: one of my all-time favorite melodies.

The second was made with former bandmate Seo Taiji (who had gone on to invent everything folks love/hate about modern K-Pop) and appeared on both of their solo albums.

Running down these songs tonight on YouTube felt so so good.


Nearing the end, destroyed by our friends


103) The Gigantic Beard that was Evil by Stephen Collins, finished December 26

Beautifully made book. Lovely to touch and to hold and to open and to read.

It's a morality tale warning us against the conformity and gets a bit heavy-handed in the middle, but as they take Dave and his beard and remove him from the once-safe Here and cast him to the unknown chaos of There, the novel redeems itself by sliding back towards ambiguity.

Of course, like so many comics today, this one is ultimately about story itself, but it's about story in a somewhat new way---which makes early moments like this stronger in retrospect:

Nice layering of details though makes this a terrific bit of literature, regardless of your or my personal opinion on its final level of success. Check it out!
two days


102) Amsterdam by Ian McEwan, finished December 16

How I love McEwan's writing. Even in a book with an overly projected and contrived "tragic" ending, just reading McEwan is a delight. His words and sentences and paragraphs are joys. His adeptness with metaphor and dialogue and the whole dang toolbox.

This story pits humans against their work and I find myself taking art's side even though the tale warns me again and again that's a mistake. It's a startling balance.

Plus, the novel is short, under two hundred pages. This is a more natural length for me as both writer and reader. It's nice to be reminded in this post-King era that short books are still allowed.
under a week


101) Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley, finished December 10

[reviews of Scott Pilgrim]

Bryan Lee O'Malley has done it again. He has managed to put utterly realistic characters into a contemporary world of metafantasy and made us care about them and understand their insane journeys. Seconds is about a late-twenties chef and her manic ability to screw up her life and the magical gift she's given to fix her mistakes.

Since O'Malley credits a drawing assistant and a colorist and a letterer, I'm not sure how single-artist this novel actually is, but regardless, it's freaking amazing. And not just the execution of the story. The execution of the detail. He's taken manga's genius and alternating between detail and no detail and put it to proper use. He does amazing things with panels that are pure black. His characters are truly cartoony but somehow are shaped and move like realistically drawn humans.

The story devolves into chaos but never loses its way---not an easy feat---and the ongoing tension between Katie and her narrator is delightful and instead of throwing the reader out, keeps us close.

If I were willing to make a scan and write all day, I could keep talking about this book for hours. But I got other stuff to do. Read it yourself.
a few days


100) Paradise Vue by Kathryn H. Kidd, finished December 10

I believe I first learned about Paradise Vue from Storyteller in Zion (but I can't check because I can't find my copy), and so for twenty years I've looked forward to reading what is, according to its back copy---presumably penned by Card---"the funniest Mormon novel ever published. . . . [and] also the best." I finally bought it last January and finally picked it up recently.

Only to be pretty much immediately and constantly disappointed. It doesn't help that Card's introduction talked about how much he loves the book, dropping comparisons to Austen and Twain and Dickens like anyone who reads the book will feel the same.

The novel has a hard time settling on anything akin to a plot. Which isn't unforgivable---I don't mind a bit of picaresque now and then---but all the nonce characters and situations are set up with some lazy tell-not-showing then disappear again. At the end, where the novel decides it needs to have a point, that moral/resolution is projected much too strongly. Somehow, the final chapter manages to work even though I still don't really care about the widow's widowness or the cuckquean's husband leaving her. Maybe I'm just a very generous reader....

I'm not being too harsh, but I should point out that the novel has moments where it almost works. But there are much more moments like this:

As she grew more familiar with the group, Doris developed a sense of camaraderie with them. She barked orders and encouragement to each woman individually. (61)

If ever there were a moment to expand with actual diologue and business, it's this, right?

Or maybe not. After all, Doris will never appear again.

Which is probably for the best. When first introduced, Doris seems like she will be an interesting character. But then she devolves into being characterized solely by saying funny Asian things like "Dericious" (66).

I think one thing that made this book impressive in 1989 is how Transgressive!™ it is. The characters drink Pepsi and Diet Coke like Nick and Nora drink cocktails, and every hell and damn is italicized to make it extra realistic.

I can't get over how disappointed I am. I'll admit I might have been expecting too much, but gee whiz. It should at least have been a good book, you know?

Card started Hatrack River to publish books more honest than the extremes on either end being published by Deseret and Signature. His writings on this topic inspired me to get involved with writing Mormon fiction. But reading this novel---? I suppose I'm just thirteen years old and learning my parents aren't perfect all over again.

I would like to know if anyone's read other Hatrack titles and could tell me of any of them are more successful?
a couple weeks maybe


099) Calvin and Hobbes: Sunday Pages 1985-1995 by Bill Watterson, finished December 6

I'd seen this book around before but never picked it up. I had all the Sundays here or there, so why bother?

But when Little Lord Steed chose it from the library, we checked it out and brought it home. I'm so glad we did.

Just a few years after Calvin disappeared from newspapers, Ohio State did an exhibition of Watterson's originals alongside the colored printed versions. Sure, I've read all these strips before, but this book gets you one delicious step closer to the originals. Wonderful.

And even better are the notes from Watterson on his changing process. I could read something much much longer with these insights.

So great book. Just wish it was much much much much more.
two or three days or i don't even remember

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


Dental Daniel


Sure, I collected Garbage Pail Kids when I was a wee thing. Of course I did. They were great. Haha and gross and so on. Everything cool. But of all of them, this fellow has stuck with me most. I have, in fact, lived in terror my whole life of accidentally thrusting my brush through my cheek. I think of it once a week, at least, this threat to cheek integrity.

On December 5 of this year, I was brushing my teeth and watching Gotham at the same time and at a jump scene I jumped and stabbed the roof of my mouth with the toothbrush. I ran back to the bathroom and stood over the sink bleeding, bleeding, bleeding, whimpering, unable to speak. The hole left in my palate was as grotesque (and is taking as long to heal) as the tonsillectomy holes made in the back of my throat two months ago, complete with constant need for drugs (without which I could not move my tongue or jaw to speak) and giant white scabs. I now carry around a bottle of KANK+A with me and may, at any moment, may paint the roof of my mouth with anesthetic.

So it's finally happened. I have become Dental Daniel. In terms of preventing permanent aesthetic alteration, my palate was probably a better thing to stab than my cheek. I hit that bone so hard.... I may well have torn through my cheek had I been brushing different teeth at the moment.

Lesson: stick with romcoms.




098) The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, finished November 28

I can see why Sir Arthur felt the best thing to do was to kill off Holmes at the end of this sequence of stories. He was sleepwriting through most of these stories---even given the creation of important characters to the mythos such as Mycroft and Moriarty, these tales just weren't as developed as the first collection's. Largely, they consist of a summing up of past events rather than a reliving thereof. And while some of this disconnect can be attributed to Watson's marriage, that's hardly excuse sufficient.
about six months


097) FF - Volume 2: Family Freakout by Matt Fraction & Lee Allred & Mike Allred & Joe Quinones, finished November 26

This charming fan favorite is filled with metacomic humor and charming kid supers and gives Mike Allred everything he needs to be at his best. Plus, because it's meta, we get to see how he draws himself and the missus. And brother Lee, when he comes in to take over writing from Matt Fraction, not only nails a seamless transition but excels.

All good stuff. Probably even better if you've been baptized into the Marvel ethos.
two or three or four days


096) A Bag of Marbles by Joseph Joffo and Kris and Vincent Bailly, finished November 24

I'd never heard of the original memoir, but the comic adaptation is a compelling look at French Jews staying alive under the Vichy, specifically two boys. They through in a bit about marbles on the first couple pages, but otherwise I have no idea why Joffo named the book what he did. I am glad however to have bumped into his story. It's simple but moving and very very different from other WWII-Jew stories I've read. Adventure and running and the worst of annihilative dangers.

One detail I admired. After a full book of denying their Jewishness, one of the boys, upon the end of the war, cops to his Jewishness to save a Vichy a*****e who had protected him and housed him and fed him---in ignorance of his Jewishness. And so, even after all this denial of self to save A from B, he returns to his identity to save B from A. Fascinating bit of parallelism.

Also interesting to see how secular Jews of the time didn't have a clear definition of what a "Jew" was. I wonder if WWII's ugliness had the silver lining of saving an ethnic identity. I mean---I know people have written about this, but seeing it in story made it live.
three days


095) Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design by Chip Kidd, finished November 23

There're other books on graphic design for kids, but I hadn't read them. So I have no basis for comparison when I say this is by far the best design book for kids I've ever read. It was a good design book for me. Frankly, you should buy this book for every ninny who's making their own book cover.

Kidd's inspired me before and I hope this time I can get him to inspire my kids. (So far, kids not cooperating....)
about a week

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


Some white guy's thoughts on Ferguson


First, feel free to ignore me.

Second, I'm not going to say what the grand jury "should" (or "should not") have decided. They had more information than me and anyway that part of all this is over now.

Third, I'm not going to tell people to be civil. That's way too easy for me to say. I don't live in a city where people my color make up 70% of the population---and 0% of the city council and 0% of the school board.

I will say that once the passion has burned off, I hope we see fewer white folk running unopposed for public office in Ferguson.

Also, I hope that we'll see more of the whole pushing-for-equality thing here in America. And, historically, the only way that works is when we're mobilizing economic power. So consider Hands Up Don't Spend. Yeah. You can do it. Take a breath. It's possible not to spend money this weekend.

Look: America has gotten a lot better over the last couple hundred years. But we're not done yet.

The flag we fly is more a symbol of what we aspire to than, I hope, what we now are. But sometimes we get complacent and then we need to reconsider. And don't forget: the flag is also just a piece of cloth. It doesn't hurt you if someone sets it on fire in the middle of the street.

But hey: If someone is burning a flag? The flag is still a powerful symbol and they are thus engaging in powerful symbolic speech. So don't just get mad. Ask yourself if that symbol you love is failing someone. Ask yourself if it's become a symbol of our lazy satisfaction instead of a symbol of American aspiration.

Anyway. That's what I'm thinking about. You?

Read any good books lately?


084) Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman, finished November 22

A short and charming folktale about a boy and the Nordic pantheon. I've not much else to say about it.
an evening


083) The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, finished November 20

I'm of two minds. On the one mind, it's great that we're getting as many Pratchett books as possible before his mind is completely melted away On the other mind, these cowritten books just aren't as good as pure Pratchett goodness. I know nothing about this Baxter guy, but I don't even think Good Omens is all that great and people love that book. Anyway.

The Long Earth, even though I found it generally tiresome and frequently outright boring, is still one of the most interesting looks at parallel worlds I've ever seen. And although I found the implementation troublesome, I still think the vocabulary's pretty great as well.

Ultimately, it's sort of like the Long Earth is supposed to kind of a more serious, realistic Discworld. I'm guessing Pratchett and Baxter planned together then Baxter executed, trying to capture Pratchett's capacity for scattered madness without much success. Pratchett can transcend reason. That's a remarkable skill. But the scattered glimpses through the Long Earth just don't work here.

And frankly I don't care about the next four books in the series.
i thought like a month but according to the receipt in the book it's been over three


082) Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean by Sarah Stewart Taylor and Ben Towle, finished November 20

I love how the Center for Cartoon Studies includes publishing books as parts of its mission, but I'm rather happier when it's student work rather than faculty work. That said, this is a nice little look at Earhart starring (I think) a fictional teenage journalist in the small Newfoundland town that Earhart flew out from when she crossed the Atlantic. It's a smart choice, both in terms of keeping the story small and providing an outsider's perspective.

This is a good book but unlike, say, the Center's Helen Keller book, not a great one. Honestly, the intro affected me more emotionally than the comic itself. But still a good book and made me really like ol' Amelia.
under twelve hours including a night's sleep


091) Space Usagi by Stan Sakai, finished November 17

Although I could not enjoy it quite as much as feudal Usagi, this volume too represents some serious storytelling chops from Sakai. And---can't help but to notice such things these days---this one uses its female characters a little better.
three days


090) Clear the Decks! by Daniel V. Gallery, Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.), finished November 7

This WWII memoir started flat-out hilarious and never left off the funny though it also dipped into the tragic, the exciting, the surprising, the human, and the moralistic (mostly about the boneheads who would dismantle the US military after the end of each war---a policy I don't quite agree with and his reasoning at time seemed a bit paranoid . . . but then again, he has some good examples which kept me humble). I'm sad these memoirs aren't still in print and I hope to hope that some enterprising company gives them a big push at an upcoming significant WWII anniversary. They're too good to be forgotten.
many months---maybe a low number of years---as it was my in-the-car book

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


Some tragically lost memories


Boy, I sure wish I could remember when I first had Nutella. I know the story of the first time my wife had Nutella---easily a decade before we met---but I don't remember my first time!

I guess you just don't know which food you're trying for the first time will be a memory worth preserving. Which foods will matter more and more? Which will be one and off? Which will be delicious but never revisited?

I remember my first time having falafel---at a San Jose dive my mother-in-law saw on Food Network. I didn't like it. I've had good falafel since then, but it's certainly not anything I seek out. Hummus however has become an absolute staple of my diet.

Yet I have no idea when I first tasted hummus nor what I thought.

Stupid brain.

That reminds me.

I haven't tried brain yet.

Maybe on a burrito---?


I'm not Sir Paul and neither are you


For fifty years now, Paul McCartney has had time to come to grips with the fact that someone, somewhere (probably manyones manywheres) is singing a Beatles song or listening to a Beatles song or picking out a Beatles song on the guitar or talking about a Beatles song. In fact, this is probably true of "Yesterday" all on its own.

But what about us little people?

I think about this now and then, most recently as I was falling asleep with "Stupid Things" playing in my head. When I woke up with "Watching Goonies at My House" (another Sarah Dooley song) I figured I should write about it.

We all know that people talk about us when we're not present---just as we talk about people when they're not present---and we will never know more than a fraction of what's said. So in a way, what people think about art is more likely to be discovered, but at the same time, you never know if when how, and what does come out might be hard to predict. And will only ever be a small percentage of the total.

We all get thought about sometimes. Someone may be remembering a bonmot of yours right now.

At core, I think we're all solipsists.

So really: isn't this fact the weirdest the universe has to offer?


Pulp Literature


I became aware of the rag Pulp Literature shortly after their first Kickstarter campaign and was immediately intrigued by their positioning and decided I would subscribe as soon as my Ploughshares subscription died. (I only allow myself so many litrag subscriptions at a time. As it ended up, I accidentally let One Story lapse [bummer] and so I picked up Pulp Literature when I realized. When Ploughshares finally quits coming, I'll pick One Story back up.) In the meantime though, I've been following their Twitter feed, reading their blog, and generally being impressed by the brand and the women behind it.

Anyway, my first issue came and I am happy with it. It's classy. Lots of white space. The illustrations are great too (though a few reproduced too lightly). Some of my favorites among the writing:

Soldier, Wake by Susanna Kearsley:
Mythic redemption, beautifully writing, pure and simple horror. Also, Scotland.

Blackthorne and Rose: Agents of DIRE by KG McAbee:
Terrific steampunk/zombie/romance/adventure novella with diction that won't let you read it out of a proper English accent. (Author's giving away a lot of her other work for free right now.)

Below the Knee by Susan Pieters:
Delicious little story mining the same vein as "The Lottery"---but more modern in a way as it ends with an emotion rather than an action. Also, the smallness of it feels appropriate for 2014, just a girl and her leg.

The Death of Me by KL Mabbs:
Time-travel stories are tricky and I'm not going to parse this sentence by sentence trying to catch the author in error. In the end, this story kept coming to mind for days and each time I reevaluated it---each time at a slightly higher valuation. It twists and it circles and it asks more than answers.

intimacy requires more by Daniela Elza:
In appearance, seems to be the sort of poetry I have very little patience for. But some of the lines are just incredible.

Granted: my primary response to Pulp Literature's tagline "Good books for the price of a beer" is to be glad I'm a teetotaler. But I'll tell you what else: the fourth issue was well worth each Canadian penny I sent them. Part of their success no doubt comes from their Kickstarter beginnings, getting enough money to pay their contributors right. As a general rule, you get what you pay for. And a publication that pays, gets offerings worth paying for.

So my recommendation is to head over to Kickstarter and subscribe now to the coming year---or pick up last year's offerings. (Some of the deals on offer seem a bit too generous.) Either way, if we can generalize from 25% of their total output so far, you'll be glad you did.

And today's their halfway point---if you subscribe via Kickstarter now, you get a free novella from the twisty time-travel author mentioned above.


Yeah, yeah. More books.


089) Masterful Marks: Cartoonists Who Changed the World edited by Monte Beauchamp, finished November 4

Sounds like a great idea, talented comic artists writing short in-comics biographies of luminaries (an all-male list consisting of Charles Addams, R. Crumb, Walt Disney, Edward Gorey, Hergé, Hugh Hefner, Al Hirschfeld, Jack Kirby, Harvey Kurtzman, Winsor McCay, Dr. Seuss, Charles Schulz, Joe Shuster, ‎Jerry Siegel, Osamu Tezuka, Rodolphe Töpffer, Lynd Ward). But, sadly, most of them fall flat. Just a bunch of exposition. And, frankly, if you know much at all about one of these people, you're unlikely to be surprised. And although I love Edward Gorey as much as the next person, seems odd he beat out, say, George Herriman. And considering how many times Fredric Wertham came up, maybe he should have just had his own story?

I get how these things work. You have an idea. You get people involved. You hope for the best. You can't know ahead of time that it'll be two chickens walking in the rain, one of them reciting an encyclopedia article. You hope for the best, put it together, send it out. If you're interested and are starting from scratch, this is a good enough place to start.
over a week


088) The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison, finished November 2

Pretty terrific book. Expect more than one post on AMV.
under a week


087) Fences by August Wilson, finished October 31

Sure, it's a bit obvious in places, but it's obvious in beautiful and poetic ways.

My students loved this book. I'm just glad to finally get around to reading it.

Terrific look at American culture---midcentury, black, sports, work, family, you name it. Simple---follows Aristostle's unity of place---but layered. Great book for kids to write about. I'll be teaching this one again.
three days


086) Richard III by William Shakespeare, finished October 18

What I know about Richard III before beginning to read it is that he's the evillest guy out there (save Iago), and at the end of the story, he'll be desperate with regret and mortality, willing to trade everything for a horse. As it ends up, I'm not convinced that latter bit is the best interpretation of his kingdom for a horse, but your interpretation works just fine, sweetie. I'm not here to say you're wrong.

I do think Richard is a more complex character than he's often given credit for as well. Sure, he's a scumbag and a megalomaniac and a machiavellian pile of crap, but . . . is he really that much worse than other people in the histories? I mean---all other characters say he is, but of course they would say it. Take the interesting arguments Queen Margaret has with people, telling them how awful Richard is---which they don't disagree with--while simultaneously having them remind her how awful she is. Or take Anne, who begins one scene hating on Richard for killing her family only to end it thinking, well, he does think I'm pretty and that would make me queen. . . .

They all walk his talk.

And take the final speeches on the field of battle. Both were good, but Richard's was better. In part because it was more honest. Not completely honest, but more honest. Richmond's is wholesome and cheery, but by putting Richard's second, he shows the holes in Richmond's argument.

I suspect Shakes was annoyed at how poorly people had uncovered irony in the St Crispin's Day Speech and didn't want his audience to pretend any of these royals were that much better than any others. Richmond's and-now-we-shall-live-happily-ever-after speech is half ironic commentary on what didn't happen next and half political argument for acting as we pretend we should.

Anyway. It's a swift play, hollow in sections, demands a lot of previous knowledge to get the nuance, etc etc, but it starts out craaaaazy and keeps things happening all the way to the end. That's Shakespeare, baby.
over a week


085) Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, finished October 16

I picked this book up with the idea that it would hold my attention and distract me from my upcoming surgery. Good job, book. But then it grasped onto my fevered recovery mind and that was less good job. The novel's tightly constructed though it did a bit too much explaining for my taste and pulled a double-twist at the end I found a bit cheaty. But it was a quick read and the monsters felt real. That's the best thing a monster book can do.
one week

Previously in 2014 . . . . :