Change of pace: Poems and poems and Matilda


058) Itself by Rae Armantrout, finished June 21

I know of two main schools of bad high-school poetry (this taxonomy is based on style, not content): tortured rhyme and rhythm; itty-bitty-lined free verse. Armantrout's new collection looks on the surface very much like this latter school. But her skill shows that, just as rhyme and rhythm weren't hackneyed in the hands of Donne or Frost, itty-bitty-lined free verse need not be either.

That said, I don't feel well prepared to say just how Armantrout manages to make her work better. Some lines absolutely shoot of the page. Some images and metaphors and conceits and juxtapositions are clearly brilliant. But sixty to ninety percent of the book isn't those moments. It's still "well written," but it might take a few more times through to figure out just what made it good. And I'm not sure I liked it enough for that.

Less than perfectly helpfully, after the poems had ended, at the end of the author bio, was this link: http://raearmantrout.site.wesleyan.edu/ and the promise of an "online reader's companion."

I'm not sure that's what I would call that site, Wesleyan.
a few days


057) Western Wind: An Introduction to Poetry by John Frederick Nims and David Mason, finished June 19

I loved this book. Maybe part of my love is that I'm no longer a harried undergrad having to cut corners, but a steady adult able to take as much time as I like, working my way through its 600 pages. Be that as it may, Nims's explanations of things such as metaphor and allegory are so helpful I've already incorporated them into my own teaching, and if I ever do get to teach a poetry class, this is the text I would want to use. Though I don't know how to get kids with constant deadlines to reproduce my experience with the book.

Ah well.

Although this is really a book about analyzing poetry, I think it's of even more use to poets. Self-proclaimed poets are a lazy bunch and Western Wind reveals how much craft goes into the finest poetic work. If you care about poetry and [accurately] believe you can get better, this book will be a powerful tool. Pick up an older edition on the cheap.
about nine months


056) Matilda by Roald Dahl, finished June 15

Although Matilda frequently comes up in lists of people's favorite Dahl novels, I've never read it before. I assume because it was his last novel, came out the year I turned twelve, and I was busy reading other things. (Though this was the time Henry Sugar was blowing my mind and prepping me for Dahl's adult work, so this excuse isn't quite airtight.) Anyway, I found myself waiting in line at Costco having left my book in the car. Next to the checkout is the (sadly diminished) media section where I saw a copy of Matilda separated from its boxset, so I picked it up and started reading it. I got a chapter or so in before leaving it with the cashier. The next day I was at the library and picked up the same edition. I was making quick progress until Big O stole it from me. Anyway, I've finished now.

In some ways, this is the quintessential Dahl novel. About a kid surrounded by miserable adults failing to care for her, but this time her salvation comes from inside her---and it's not just her salvation: she also saves an adult who had once been a child surrounded by miserable adults---and who still awaits redemption.

Matilda is a marvelous character. Her gifts and circumstances are no doubt shared by plenty of to-be supervillains, but Matilda never really loses her innocence, even when she is given greater stores of knowledge and tastes the pleasures of revenge. It's wonderful to watch.

Perhaps no Dahl book has been better served by its Quentin Blake illustrations, either. Matilda is small and birdlike and charming and clever and innocent. Her parents and the Trunchbull are horrifying and ugly and menacing and fearsome, while Miss Honey is kind and put-together with a vulnerability and hesitance that don't get in the way of her being a stone-cold fox.

You don't need any more proof of someone's mastery of anatomy and emotion and technique generally than to look at Quentin Blake and how he makes things look so dashed off. He astonishing really.

Another thing I admire about Matilda is how quiet its ending is. And understated ending to one of his quieter books. I would argue Matilda is more magical than, say, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, yet it is simultaneously much less mad.

The perfect ending, methinks, to a career.
about a week

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


let's see . . . more comics !


055) Bad Houses by Sara Ryan and Carla Speed McNeil, finished June 14

Small town, open secrets, young love, estate sales, hoarders, parents of adult children, loneliness, shame....

I don't remember what led me to track this book down anymore, but I was worth reading. I wasn't as overwhelmed as its blurbers apparently were, but it was a very human story and I enjoyed it.

two or three days


054) Star Wars Underworld: The Yavin Vassilika by Mike Kennedy and Carlos Meglia and whoever, finished June 12

These pre-Episode IV adventures of all your favorite smugglers and bounty hunters and gamblers and mobsters and suchlike have charm for boys but make the adult in you glad that they are not now nor will they ever be canon.
two days


053) Batman Vol. 5: Zero Year - Dark City by by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo (et al), finished June 11

This is book five in the New 52 reimagining of Batman so my perspective on it ain't complete, but I like this book a lot. Certainly a lot more than Batman's first having-sex-with-Catwoman-on-a-rooftop New 52 appearance. In part, because it was enough issues to tell a whole story, as opposed to most of the collections I've been reading lately with their slightly longer excerpts. But also because it was pretty darn good. Sure, it's trying to fit in as many oldtimey Batman references as possible (RRRRIDDLE ME THIS, BATMAN)---but most work, only a few are gratuitous. And this Dr Death character is a pretty terrifying new incarnation of a boring old supervillain. And seeing Batman and Gordon have some pretty serious issues and begin to resolve them was fun.

Something about the current generation of comics writers seems to want to make the Riddler into a true terror. I've seen this sputter but here it comes off pretty well. The Riddler is a horror in this book and not just a joke. Even if he does look a bit like my brother-in-law (it's the chops).
two days


052) Deadpool's Art of War by Peter David and Scott Koblish, finished June 10

I've never quite read anything that helped me understand why people love Marvel's psychopathic Spider-Man and Guildenstern, but this one gets close. Instead of seeming to be an attempt at recapturing spent wit, this seems reasonably fresh. Deadpool is retelling Sun Tzu's Art of War and causing all sorts of chaos as he demonstrates the theories. It mostly works. Certainly it results in more thought-out battles than we recently saw in X-Men. Although it does get a little crammed and sloppy at the end, I'm still tempted to make this required reading for any monthly writer who wants to do fight scenes that make sense and have dramatic purpose.

Plus, the covers were cool.

one day

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


American Movie


So after years of curiosity, I finally saw American Movie.

Then I found this . . . sequel of sorts. Starring Mormon (Morman?) missionaries:

Okay, kids! (a svithe)


Inspired by this fascinating tidbit from 1953, today's sacrament meeting was aimed at the kids. Speakers could speak on any topic, so long as their remarks were directed at the kids. In my introduction, I asked this riddle:
What is older than you
but shorter than you
and you're inside it right now?
The answer was sacrament meeting and we were off to the races. I shared with the kids a summary of that linked-to document (via time machine---paper has always been a time machine) and introduced the speakers and we were good to go.
Give your coloring books and Cheerios to your parents. Although, adults, Jesus told you do be as a little child as well, so you should be able to find something of use as well.
I heard a lot from adults who thought the sacrament meeting was truly excellent. My own kids gave it a decent review. Several adults wanted it to become a regular thing. I think maybe it will.

previous svithe


Let's see....comic book, comic book, comic book,
comic book, comic book and . . . . comic book


051) Men of Wrath by Jason Aaron and Ron Garney, finished June 10

'Tis the time of year when I find myself checking out lots of comics from the library!

This bloody thing is about violence passing down from one generation to another, and it's a nihilistic joyride, if such a thing is possible. It's not a clean thrill. The protagonist is quickly established as someone impossible to cheer for. Really, this entire Alabama is a people ripe for destruction. But it wasn't a story without purpose. Although any redemption is too small to have meaning, maybe future generations still have a shot? Maybe?

one night


050) X-Men: No More Humans by Mike Carey & Salvador Larroca & al., finished June 9

Here's the recipe for an X-Men comic:
Take some of the greatest and most varied and frankly interesting characters pop culture's produced in the last fifty years

Come up with a really terrific macguffin

Put in a lot of characters with deep-seated grudges and have them sorta kinda set them aside

Have every talk philosophies of love and piece while preparing to beat the crap out of each other

Stack bigger and bigger stakes upon bigger and bigger battles, none of which seems much more thought out than a four-year-old crashing his Hot Wheels together

Deus ex machina

Have someone give a moral to the story, but be certain no one internalizes it
That's about it.
two days


049) Alex + Ada by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn, finished June 9

At first I thought I was reading Her---it's a very similar world and the story unfolds in very similar ways. In this case however, instead of an OS, it's a beautiful android. And instead of her attaining sentience on her own, he has to arrange on the black market to have her set free. And that's where the story ends.

Although it took a long time for me to really care about the characters, by the end I did. But this was in spite of the art. The computer-drawn stylings of the characters render them all plastic and android. None of them feel particularly alive. That their lines are often just slightly tweaked from panel to panel only increases the sense of artificiality. (I've read an excerpt from another Luna book, Girls, and it suffered from the same problem. Beautiful people made out of plastic. Just playing with dolls, which gets in the way of having a real human connection. You can pose them, but they don't live for themselves.

Which is a shame, given the excellent worldbuilding and story potential these barbies were plopped down in.
two nights


048) Miracleman Book 2: The Red King Syndrome by Alan Moore (not credited by name) and a bunch of other people, finished June 6

This looked kind of dumb sitting on the library shelf, but the blurbs were ecstatic. So I picked it up and read it. And had a very hard time telling whether I was being punked re its alleged history or if this was legitimately a 1980s artifact. I mean---that's the most, rrm, accurate birth scene I've ever seen in comics. So when I finished I checked Wikipedia and ohhhh...... It's that book. Yep. This is pretty famous. It's a pretty big deal. And yeah, for the 1980s this WAS an enormously ambitious comic and hugely important in creating the modern scene. And mostly it's aged well. It's better than Coffin Hill for instance (see below), but ultimately I don't think it's all that great. I like how it uses backgrounds to add thematic elements (animals killing other animals, for instance), but it tends to be heavyhanded. It's like Moore realized comics can be art---even superhero comics---and he's not going to let ANYONE escape reading a bit of Miracleman without having plenty of art shoved through their irises. For instance, the lone black character has lots of symbolic dreams and thinks about the absurdity of how symbolic his symbolic dreams are, so we can't miss how many layers of crazy crazy symbolism are being packed in. But the evil Mexican hangs out with unlayered Nazis and la de da.

Anyway. It's probably good I've finally read this. It always comes up when anyone from the era that followed (eg: Gaiman, Allred) talks about the genesis of the late '80s / early 90s renaissance of ideas in comics. It's important to remember though, that just because something was good and important and led the way, does it is the best. I accept that it feels that way to those who were changed by it, but let's step back a hundred years and see what history has to say, eh?
two days


047) Coffin Hill: Dark Endeavors by Caitlin Kittredge and Inaki Miranda, finished June 6

I actually liked this volume much more, largely because it focused more on her days as a cop rather than the Big Cosmic Evil aspects of the story. I did have to go back to volume one to check a few things as times progressed. I wish they thought more about when to collect monthlies rather than just make them all the same size.....

Also, I feel constrained to say that the way this book scatters hot dead chicks in their altogethers around is lazy and prurient.
a couple days


046) Coffin Hill: Forest of the Night by Caitlin Kittredge and Inaki Miranda, finished June 4

This is the first collection of a monthly for-adults horror comic from Vertigo. It has a complicated mess of backstory focused in the last decade but going back centuries and still hasn't quite come together to make sense. Visually, it's pretty cool (though character design is pretty everyday), but ultimately I'm not feeling much substance (just a relly good facsimile thereof). Both this and volume two were sitting on the new-fiction shelf at the library, so, since I have it, I might read it as well. Maybe I'll like what comes next. As it is though, if I want to read beautiful New England girls with evil and magic and witches killed centuries ago, I'll just rerereread Rachel Rising.

But now that I've knocked it, I should add that I do appreciate that it didn't read like anything else I've read lately from the big monthly publishers. So props there.
under a week

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


Some of these things are quite delicious


045) Castle Waiting: The Lucky Road by Linda Medley, finished at midnight so either June 2 or 3

This is one of the most striking works of fantasy I've read in some time. It's a fully realized world dripping of references to fairy tales and nursery rhymes. The characters are as fully drawn as Bone's. It has bad people but isn't oppressed with the specter of an unspeakable evil such as Sauron. Although it begins with a woman on a quest, what she is seeking is simply refuge. She finds something even better---not mere safety, but also friends and welcome and a home.

All is charm and pleasantness.

Which may sound boring, I suppose, if you think fantasy should be running from one great battle to the next, but the rhythms of life at Castle Waiting are interesting and human and peopled with folk worth spending time with. It's quiet and quaint and pretty darn great.

Medley's published hundreds of pages more than were included in my volume. Which is to say that Castle Waiting is a place you could go to live as well.
under a week


044) The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami and translated by Ted Goossen, finished June 2

I know people love Murakami and now I can say I've read him in a gloriously overdesigned (by Chip Kidd) book-shaped short story. And it's the sort of silly surreal magical nonsense I was afraid it would be. Don't get me wrong: I didn't dislike it. But I've read better library hells and I've read better absurd writing and I'm relieved to be relieved of this obligation.

Strangely, before bumping into this book at the library, I had just taken Kafka at the Shore off my to-be-read bookshelf in a fit of realism. Great timing!
two and from school


043) The Round House by Louise Erdich, finished June 1

This was lent me by a fellow Little Hill English teacher with a glowing recommendation and I'm so glad I accepted the loan and read it. This is a marvelous book.

The story of a boy on the rez whose mother has been brutally raped and, because tribes are not allowed to prosecute non-Natives, will not see justice. That's the story, basically. Here are a few of the things I loved about it.

These boys are as randy as, say, Sherman Alexie's, but something about her matter-of-factness of it seems less pleased with itself. I'm not even sure if that's a virtue, but it's a weird age and she's a sixty-year-old woman and she nailed it. I'm impressed.

Speaking of sex, I enjoyed the dirty chatter of the elders in the novel. I love the idea of a culture where in old age you can finally get away with saying things about sex that generally just get swallowed. That seems healthy, culturally speaking.

The novel's grappling with both Catholicism and the native medicine struck me as fair and human---human not in the dismissive Hypocrite! sense but human in the more accurate striving sense.

The character development in the novel was stellar and clean. Although I don't see any compelling reason for her to have forgone quotation marks (can I assume this affectation will die with her generation?), the voices and mannerisms of the characters allowed for no more confusion than in a properly punctuated work of fiction.

The Round House should be read by anyone from a minority culture looking to see how to do exposition. Do it like this.

And at 317 pages it never hesitated, never dawdled. It was efficient storytelling---never rushed, just progressing. I'm not sure about the cluster of endings (or, more, about the final ending), but that's not because it was wrong in some way, but because it was an unpretentious complicating. The sort of ending likely to reward moments of quiet contemplation when laid over the more immediately satisfying and transparent pages.

Anyway. Erdrich's The Beet Queen was the source for the prose question on this year's AP Lit test. So she's basically canon now. Get on this train.
maybe two weeks


042) Best American Comics 2014 edited by Scott McCloud, finished May 31

I may have spent as long typing in and reading the websites Scott McCloud recommended as I did actually reading what was printed in the book. And that was AOK. Just use the look-inside feature on Amazon and search for thunderpaw and you'll be in the middle of some amazing stuff. And don't just read what's linked to. Bum around a bit and read some of the other work on those pages as well. You won't be disappointed.

McCloud went about this collection slightly differently (which seems rather common of the Best American COMICS editors). He broke the book into sections and introduced each separately. And although he seems (as seems rather common of the Best American COMICS editors) to feel obliged to include some of the ol' living masters, he does a better job justifying his choices, even if I don't always agree.

By grouping the comics together, he emphasizes various trends in the field. Which is great---that gives a better sense of what's going on out there.

I'd already read some of my favorites from this book, but of course it's given me another list of Things to Seek Out---which is one of the things I love about these books.

And, alas, this one too must go on a high shelf. There's always work not safe for kids in these collections. That will probably what gets me to finally stop buying them someday. But I'll find a way to keep reading them regardless.
a few months

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


The Joys and Glories of Creation


Last year in commemoration of Mormon Arts Sunday, we had speakers speak on creation one way. This year they spoke on creation/creators/creativity in another way.
God left the world unfinished for [us] to work [our] skill upon. He left the electricity in the cloud, the oil in the earth. He left the rivers unbridged and the forests unfelled and the cities unbuilt. God gives to [us] the challenge of raw materials, not the ease of finished things. He leaves the pictures unpainted and the music unsung and the problems unsolved, that [we] might know the joys and glories of creation.
Thomas S. Monson*

* The provenance has suddenly become less certain. Although I had a print version of Monson saying this decades ago, the God left the world unfinished for man to work his skill upon. He left the electricity in the cloud, the oil in the earth. potion of this quotation is attributed online to both George MacDonald (but I can't find it in any of his books) and to someone named Dr. Alan Stockdale. Unfortunately, I can't find my original paper source for Monson, but I think it was also in the 1960s. For today's purposes, because when I assigned the topic I gave credit to Monson---and since it appears the fullness of it is his, I'm leaving the citation to him at present. Thanks to Speaker One for alerting me to the MacDonald information.
All the speakers were excited by the assignment, especially Speaker One who about jumped out of the pew when I handed him a card with the topic written on it.

In brief:

Speaker One:
Creativity brings up to the joys and glories of creativity.
Speaker Two:
Spoke of creation in other contexts such as family.
Speaker Three:
Happiest time of his life was building a house of scrap wood at age ten.
Now go forth and celebrate in your own ward in your own ways.

previous svithe


A new favorite novel, a new favorite comic,
and some other stuff, mostly good


041) The Brothers K by David James Duncan, finished May 18

Shortly, this year's baseball book is one of the best novels I have ever read. This is no puffery, this is fact. I can't push it into your hands fast enough.

Here's the thing about reading books for me that is different than it was long ago: I read books for craft. I read something hilarious or something heartbreaking and I say to myself, hey! nice craft, that! I do not, however, laugh or cry.

Which is why I love this book so much. This book DID make me laugh. This book DID make me cry. And it did so through intensely well written prose and complicated storytelling.

Complicated's the wrong word. The book isn't hard to follow. But it doesn't have a simple "plot." It's the story of a family with all their starts and stops and loves and losses and discoveries and disasters. It's life, all packed into 716 pages. (That's another thing: when was the last time I read a book of 716 pages?)

Perhaps my favorite thing about the novel is that each character is fully drawn, and that that drawing is largely attained by showing them bouncing off each other---and the world around them.

This is the story of a ballplayer and his religious wife and their larger-than-life kids---and before you roll your eyes, let me remind you that we were all larger than life, at one time, at least according to our own perspective. "Amazing" kids do not, however, always grow up to become Wikipedia articles.

This is now my favorite baseball novel, my favorite Vietnam novel, my favorite Washington state novel...and it has the best explanation of Roger Maris I've ever read.

And more remarkable of all, Theric plans to reread it. And as we all know, Theric does not reread these days. But I'll be rereading this one some year soon when I'm considering my choices for annual baseball read.
since spring training


040) Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis, finished May 18

The movie was a favorite of my wife's. I can't remember for sure, but I think when we watched it together, I was not as sold. But when this book fell into my possession (with ecstatic period blurbs), I started reading it in my free moments at work (eg, while the kids are taking tests) and wrapped it up surprisingly fast. It's not nearly as funny in 2015 as I guess it was in 1955, but I did laugh a time or two. What was most enjoyable about it was the look at the time period. Midcentury classism! Racism in transition! Fashion trends I can't begin to understand!

What fun.

a month or two


039) Skandalon by Julie Maron, finished May 1

Yeah, so, hm. Anyway, this look at fame and art and whatever started intriguing and just got dumber and dumber until it got dumbest and was done. This French artist is sorta a big deal (you may have heard of the movie based on her previous book Blue is the Warmest Color, but I'm not impressed by her follow up. It's draped in philosophy and psychology, but the fanciest curtains don't change the hole in the wall.
two nights


038) The Final Story by Jeff Shaara, finished April 29

I don't read a lot of historical fiction, and the only World War II fiction for adults I can remember reading is Dean Hughes's Children of the Promise series, and this novel shares a lot in common with those ones' scenes of the Pacific. I remember very clearly the scene of one point-of-view character getting killed on the beach of Iwo Jima or Midway or one of those rocks. This book is similar, though grimier and with a few more bad words. They're also similar stylistically---great storytellers, middling wordsmiths. That said, I enjoyed the book, I learned a lot, I'm glad I read it.

It was lent to me by a WWII vet who served in Okinawa (the primary setting of the book). He was on a ship rather than on the ground, but he let me borrow it because a) I had given him my Gallery book (which he had liked) and thought I would do well to understand what the war was like in his theater. I'm looking forward to returning the book to him and having a chat. He's one of my favorites.
four months or so


037) Shutter Volume 1: Wanderlost by Joe Keatinge and Leila Del Duca et al, finished April 29

These comics just keep getting better! Though The Motherless Oven is more to my taste, Shutter is probably just as good. (I say "probably" because, as a serial, it remains unfinished.) In a world part Jules Verne, part Oz, part Hellboy, part Blacksad, part Dreaming, all awesome, our young hero is thrust back into the world of danger and adventure she had thought she'd left behind. Only now, instead of it being the family business, hitherto unknown family secrets are rising up to kill her.

In the lousy six issues collected here, the world---in all its alien insanity---is fully formed and the necessary character arc has been sketched out. And we care about her. We really do. Because we see this is a world where people die horrible, violent, irrevocable deaths. Plus she suddenly has a kid brother to care for, so there's that as well.

Anyway, after the other collections I've read recently, I haven't usually been upset they ended. They're a nice taste and I'm done. Not so with Shutter. I want more. More more more. It's been a while since I've been so tempted to subscribe.

two or three days

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


Why the Apple Watch is already a failure


Look. I'm not an early adopter and so no one really cares about what I think about new tech. And sure, I'll bet Apple sells a kajillion of the dumb things. But the product is still a failure at appling as Apple is supposed to do. The iPod, the iPhone---these truly disrupted the market and changed the nature of modern life. Especially---although it was a long time ago and hard to remember these days---the iPod.

The iPod got old people who had never really latched on to cds to skip a few generations of product and sign up for something new. Here in 2015, most people can't accept that I don't have a smartphone (or any cellphone for that matter), but I don't and I'm unlikely ever to get one. Why would I? They're expensive, intrusive, annoying, not something I want in my pocket, and an utter endless hassle. The Apple Watch is marketed to take away all the hassles of owning a phone. Except, of course, it only works if you carry an iPhone around with you.

So the Watch doesn't allow a willing leapfrogger like myself to leap some frogs. I'm trapped. Even though I recognize the world has passed me by and I'm getting anxious to rejoin it, even though I imagine it will be a wearable device that finally brings me back to the future, this wearable device that requires me to carry around a phone isn't merely redundant: It's backwards.

And that's a failure for any Brave New Device.

So try harder, tech companies.

Apple's leaving the door wide open on this one.

Svithe: Heavenly Mother on Mother's Day


This was my introduction to the talks last Sunday (molaq).


Some things are stupidly radical. Do you know what I mean? Radical because no one else is doing them; stupidly because WHY IS NO ONE ELSE DOING THEM???

One of Mormonism’s radical---if stupidly radical---doctrines is belief in our Heavenly Mother. According to a 2011 article in BYU Studies, Heavenly Mother has been spoken of dozens---maybe hundreds---of times in official settings by the Church’s general leadership. I’m aware of maybe a hundred poems by LDS poets about or mentioning our Heavenly Mother. And, as the Article of Faith says, we believe that many great and important things are yet to be revealed, so it’s reasonable to expect more insight regarding our Heavenly Mother going forward. But what apostasy led to this need for restoration?

It’s a more complicated question than the simplified answer I’m about to give, but almost three thousand years ago, much of what we call the Old Testament was molded by a group of scribes now called the Deuteronimist. Among other goals, they attempted to excise from the record any mention of the divine feminine. They were largely successful. Hence the Article of Faith stating we believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly. Hence the need for a Restoration.

Now we come to our stupidly radical plan for today: to rejoice in our Heavenly Mother. Yet, notwithstanding dozens---maybe hundreds---of mentions in General Conference and official statements, including the proclamation on the family, or the heartfelt statements of our poets (or of our own hearts), what do we really know?

Now, when knowledge of the Messiah was slight, we relied on types. Moses was a type for the coming Christ. He delivered his people. He raised a symbol of grace, that all who looked upon it might be saved. Adam is a type for Christ. As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. Through similarity and contrast, through magnificence and plainness, the scriptures set up mere mortals to teach us of our Savior and of our Heavenly Parents. Today we will examine three great women and consider what we can learn of our Heavenly Mother through them.

[X] will speak of Eve, the mother of all living, and a type for our Heavenly Mother.

[Y] will speak of Deborah, a mother in Israel, and a type for our Heavenly Mother.

And [Z] will speak of Mary, the mother of our Lord, and a type for our Heavenly Mother.

previous svithe


So you're interested in why the Latter-day Saints
feel a [doctrinal] need to care about the planet....


I would start *here* with some "official" thoughts then read *this* that they link to. Then I would check out *this* set of links from some Mormons particularly vested, and then settle into *this* which might be the finest single publication on the topic.


I read some comics




036) The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis, finished April 27

Hands down the best comic I've read in this burst of comics reading. (Harder to say how it compares to, say, the other books nominated for the Best Graphic Album---New Eisner, two of which I have read [The Gigantic Beard that Was Evil and Seconds] and both of which were good. Maybe tied for first with Seconds?)

Anyway. This is a black-and-white and, like some of the books below, starts in the sort of schools where everyone wears a tie. But it's nothing like anything at all. I picked it off the new-shelf in the library. The back led with the line THE WEATHER CLOCK SAID KNIFE O'CLOCK. / SO I CHAINED DAD UP IN THE SHED. I assumed it was about some psychotic kid and thought why not, I've done well with such in the past.

But I misjudged the book. I should have taken it a bit more literally:

This is not the world as we know it, even if the kids wear ties and speak with British accents. This is a world where kids make their nonhuman parents, where household gods never shut up, where your death is scheduled from the very beginning, where seasons can be turned with a switch, and where lions may eat you if you try to skip school.

I admire how Davis presents us with a fully formed world, but doesn't force his characters to explain every detail. The book ends with only slightly fewer mysteries than it began. In fact, you might argue that the mysteries deepen. And I think that's why the end is so emotionally moving. We had a chance to arrive somewhere and instead we're left trapped in the mysteries. As confused as we started. And heartbroken.

about five days


035) Zero Volume 1: An Emergency by Ales Kot et al, finished April 22

If you scan down to #34 you'll note my somewhat disappointed look at a school for assassins. Only one chapter (formerly: issue) of this volume is about assassin school. And it packs more uncertainty and pain and disaster and humanity into those few pages than Deadly Class did in its entire collection.

The rest of the book is largely about this student's adult life as a superspy and skips about in time with chaotic elegance. I can't imagine picking up an issue once a month and being able to follow the story, but collected it works nicely. It does take occasional turns to the scifi that are hard to figure out and I'll probably never pick up further volumes to get it straight. Ah well. It was an ambitious book and fun to read, even if I never find out just what the heck was going on.
fourish days


034) Deadly Class Volume 1: Reagan Youth by Rick Remender, finished April 19

This dark look at high school takes an orphan off the streets and puts him in a high-school for assassins beneath the bedrock of San Francisco. Much of the comic is heightened, but this succeeds more in making the horror horrific than pulling off other intended effects, such as humor. While the satire, of which there is not much, generally hits the mark, the parody, or which there is much more, generally falls flat. As if the text is purposefully not funny, then daring you not to laugh. Lest the text then slips a blade between your ribs.

The book also has some problems with clarity of chronology. It's strengths are developing secondary characters and using words and art to specific effects such as the protag's bad acid trip.

The book's postword by writer Rick Remender tells stories showing that this is a very autobiographical tale of his own violent youth.

Anyway. The book is flawed nonetheless. For instance, it spends time setting up the various divided-by-race cliques at the school, then sets off on a road trip with a black kid, an asian kid, a couple hispanic kids, and a white kid. Because diversity! Even though that would seem to contradict the original . . . . I dunno. Props for intent, I suppose. Execution though. *rimshot*
one evening and past midnight


033) Animal Man Vol. 4: Splinter Species by Jeff Lemire et al, finished April 17

Animal Man, like Swamp Thing (see below), is engaged in one of those nuevo mythologies DC delights in creating. In this case of these two titles, we have the Red (animal life), the Green (plant life), and the Rot (aka the Black---I'm not sure if it represents fungal life and bacterial whatsit or just entropy). Each force chooses a human avatar to represent it on earth and is ultimately unassailable (or was until they started writing stories about 'em all, natch).

Animal Man has an interestingish sideplot where the hero moonlights (and is better known) as a movie star. And I liked the way it managed social media. Probably the best use of social media I've seen in a comic.

But ultimately, I feel like Jeff Lemire's talents are being wasted here. I like that he's making a living, but man, I liked Essex County so much more.
one evening and past midnight


032) Swamp Thing Vol. 4: Seeder by Charles Soule et al, finished April 15

This was sitting in the library's NEW FICTION section. I wasn't that enthralled by earlier collections, but hey! Why not?Anyway, it skipped the previous Big Villain and is on to a new one who I think I like better but whom we don't really meet here. Till the next one appears on the NEW FICTION shelf!
two days

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


Changing weights of words


In 1955, it seems in this excerpt from Auntie Mame, black was a less acceptable term than colored.


Just some books I read


031) Small Gods by Terry Pratchett, finished April 6

This was my in-the-car book when Terry Pratchett died. I don't know if it was any more or less appropriate than any other Pratchett book to be reading at the time, but it certainly colored my reading. Not in an effable way, but I thought about the author more than I usually would.

Small Gods, I believe, takes place long, long, long before most of the Discworld books. The primary characters are Brutha, a young fellow none so smart, and the great god Om---whose religion we know from other books---reduced to one believer and life as a tortoise.

Although all the usual Pratchett gifts for satire and close observation are on display, in some respects, this novel feels more straightforward. Even when, at the end, unexpected, impossible things keep happening keep happening keep happening. I don't know how many times poeple turned to me as I was reading this book and said, "What?"

Anyway, it builds on the idea I think Pratchett popularized, but that we see often now in books starring gods as characters (one example from a Pratchett acolyte) that the strength of a god is commensurate to the amount of belief in that god.

The novel has much to say about faith and superstition and manipulation and government and philosophy and goodness and evil and a million other things (it is, after all, a Pratchett novel), but it is also immense fun and pure pleasure. It is, after all, a Pratchett novel.
i dunno maybe a month


030) The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith, finished April 2

First: Violet Kupersmith is a fabulous new talent and let's all of us be excited she's on the scene.

Second, this lovely cover is perfectly appropriate for the stories therein.

Third, this is a stupid cover for this book. Just stupid. This book has major crossover potential with genre readers and this cover will never draw them in. Plus, sadly, "literary" fiction is never released mass-market anymore and so this book will fade away instead of finding new life with another audience. Meanwhile the hibrows can enjoy reading something that tickles their fun organ while gloating that it's better than popular stuff.

What sort of stupid world is this?

And I have to say: the choice of story title to make the collection title is part of the conspiracy to keep this out of the hands of reg'lar folk. What a shame.

What we have here are stories set in Vietnam or among the Vietnamese community in Houston. We have stories with ghosts and monsters and memories and maybes, the supernatural collapsing casually upon the everyday world. And wow are they great. Surprising, unsettling, beautiful. So glad my wife randomly picked this up in the library. Because I doubt I would have.
about a month


029) The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey: A Graphic Novel of Jewish Wisdom and Wit in the Wild West by Steve Sheinkin, finished March 29

At the boy's elementary-school's book fair, I was intrigued by a pair of books by one Steve Sheinkin (Bomb and Lincoln's Grave Robbers). I looked him up on the library website when I came home and besides putting those on hold, I also found this comic book about an Old West rabbi. So of course I had to have that as well.

The Rabbi is wise and simple and funny and I had no idea the West had so many Jews. Remarkable! Now I need to look up the good rebbe's continuing adventures.

In short, I found everything I love about old Jewish wisdom tales and Isaac Bashevis Singer and Asimov's Jewish jokes, all done in sepia with some cards on the side. What's not to like?

three days


028) Vivian Maier: Self-Portraits edited by John Maloof, finished March 23

When I watched the film (link to review), I was struck by Maier's peculiar life history (what had brought me to the film) but even more I was struck by her photography. And so I got this book.

I'm so glad I did. Some of the shots she got are nearly impossible to explain (at least with my knowledge)---layers of images upon images. This is startling and moving work. And to think this most anonymous of women will someday likely be one of the most recognized faces of the last century. . . . And one of the most recognizable shadows, sinister in other circumstances, her arms akimbo, gazing upon her own absence.

The introduction by Elizabeth Avedon gets to this problem for scholars. Here we have an artist who is clearly significant and of lasting importance, but her era has already been explained away---without her---and so we don't know what the right, accepted things to say about her are. Avedon knows the right vocabulary but not what she's supposed to say about a recently unearthed enigma. It's a curious thing to observe.

I only wish it had been three times as many pages.
two or three days

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


First batch of 2015 feature films seen


In theaters:

Annie (2014): Although the 1982 film is a big part of my childhood, I haven't seen it in over twenty years. The only moment of oh-yeah recognition I felt here was at the name "Pepper." Everything else was either remembered or changed beyond recognition. Bits of the movie work well (and I'll admit the emotional climax got me), but overall it's too flawed to recommend. The biggest issue is character development which the writers and director seems to think means characters doing things out of their established character. Which I suppose on some simplistic level is sort of true, but no. Jamie Foxx played two or three characters well. The only major character who survived the whiplash was Annie---they still happened, but Ms Wallis is so grounded you might miss it. The humor usually falling flat's another major issue. And the movie's confusion over whether it's a straight-up musical or an ironic musical's a third. Anyway. Guess I need to go back in time thirty years and see how Carol Burnett holds up.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014): What a glorious mess this movie is. Crammed so full of stuff that the story is nearly strangled. In their desperation to connect the Hobbit movies to the Lord of the Rings movies, Wingnut sacrificed making the best possible Hobbit movie. I hope someone with sense convinces them to release a Special Edition Hobbit that's a single movie under four hours in length. Wouldn't that be nice? Anyway, we caught it on its last Bay Area screen and now we are done with them. I didn't even find this one as interesting to look at as the last two, which is all I was expecting. So while I was entertained, I mostly learned that the more armor you have, the more likely you are to die. (Incidentally, Lady Steed has the compelling theory that the manner in which orcs are grown is why they break down and die more easily. That does solve a number of problems.)

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015): It was funny. And filled with surreal ridiculousness. Didn't really congeal as a movie, but I laughed.

What We Do in the Shadows (2014): First, if you haven't seen the trailer already, DON'T. It doesn't give away some of everything, but it gives away too much of a little. Not cool, trailer-makers. Second, although not as HILARIOUS HILARIOUS HILARIOUS HILARIOUS HILARIOUS HILARIOUS HILARIOUS as the marketing claims, it was very funny; I laughed more at this than any in-theater film in a while. Note to the squeamish: Lady Steed thought it contained a bit too much squirting blood. Which is to say it contained any squirting blood.

At home:

Her (2013): Nostalgic cinematography and an utterly believable near future and a plot unlike any other I've seen. I never knew what was coming, but not because of any gotcha gimmicks. And the acting! Phoenix is amazing. Adams is amazing. And . . . I just can't get over how believable the bulk of it all was. What a great movie. Mundane science fiction at its best.

Moneyball (2011): Such a good movie. And, working as I currently am on a screenplay, so exquisitely constructed. And the acting. And the direction. What a great movie. And it captures so much so true about baseball. Gah.

The Gold Rush (1925): I'm not sure about that "1925." We watched the Criterion version, first their 2007ish recreation of the lost 1925 version, then Chaplin's own reworked 1941 version---what, I suppose, should be called the authoritative version. (Because of introductions, I say the beginnings of both, the ending of one, the middle of neither. I'm counting it anyway.) But "1925" is as a good a year as any. The real point is that the movie is great. The kids? Rolling. I do think 1941's narration changes the purity of the slapstick on some way. As Lady Steed put it, the fight over the gun seems more serious when narrated, more cartoony when silent. Regardless! Classic stuff.

Jaws (1975): The beach parts were scary, but once they're on the boat, it's an action movie---not a horror movie. I didn't know! My memory of Jaws is of 2 or 3 (the one at an aquarium) and it being scary. I'm totally okay with my kids watching this film. Exciting stuff. I get why it's beloved. [UPDATE: The 5yrold was very sad I returned this to the library without his seeing it and asked and asked and asked and finally I got it again so he could watch it. We skipped the first scene (and I was in and out) but he was glued and loved it. His older brothers kept getting hooked as well---then running away.]

The One I Love (2014): Wow. I was expecting a romcom structured like a horror movie and instead I got one of the finest bits of Twilight-Zoney science fiction I can remember seeing it. I loved this movie. I want to watch it again. Then maybe again. Then maybe again.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014): Before I get into what I thought of the film, let me say what I thought of renting from Amazon Instant: I HATED IT. It hiccupped constantly which would be upsetting in the shakycammest of speedcutty films, but this was mostly one fluid long shot, so it was pretty much the worst thing ever. I want my five dollars back. As for the film, I think I liked it, but the experience of watching it on Amazon Instant got in the way. The acting is incredible. The story is fascinating. The look backstage was enjoyable. The characters are clearly drawn without thick crayon lines. The writing seemed pretty great. The editing was amazing. I'm not sure how they did it---the intricacy of planning goes way beyond the cameras-into-the-back Hitchcock used in Rope, and I would love to know more about it. In short, I think I really liked this movie, but it's hard to be sure. Thanks a lot, Amazon. Who I'm freaking advertizing all over this post..... [:::::UPDATE::::: SIX DAYS LATER WITHOUT ANY REQUEST OR INPUT FROM ME, AMAZON REFUNDED MY MONEY. Thanks a lot, Amazon!]

The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (1967): This time, the California gold rush. This movie is one of the silly Disney liveactioners of the '60s, and every bit as much fun as that implies. I think my kids found it slowgoing at times, but at other times they were pounding walls with laughter. Me, I find the whole thing charming and clever. And I miss the bits of absurdity that films of that time felt free to incorporate. Realism has taken too strong a hold on comedy.

21 Jump Street (2012): So . . . that wasn't worth watching. I mean---it was what I expected, but it wasn't what many many many people with taste promised me. I laughed but I could've spent those 110 minutes better engaged. Ah well.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971): It's been a looooong time since I've seen this movie---probably over twenty years---but it's still familiar and, to my surprise, I really liked it. I can appreciate the tunnel scene better now (and the skills of the chicken lopper). And Gene Wilder's performance---add it to the short list of roles I admire in such a way that I'm jealous I didn't get to do it myself. So satisfying! So glad we made our kids watch this one first.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005): So this film has a handful of moments, but overall it's just . . . artificial. Starting with the plastic animation and routing over and over again through the bizarre mistake that is Willy Wonka, it just rings false. Sure, it's wonderfully manufactured nonsense, but sometimes a sequence of careful perfection ends in a pile of suck. Even the kids could tell that was the case. They preferred the handmade honesty of the 1971 version, even though this one had a pink boat rowed by Oompa-Loompas and the original song lyrics and squirrels shelling the nuts---even though this one, on the surface, was closer to the book in other words. Of course, it's still not as awful or unwatchable as Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. So it has that going for it.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013): I need to see this again so I can watch it without thinking about how it compares to the story (with which I am intimately familiar), but I think it was a very good movie. Certainly it had looked good and was well acted. Lady Steed really liked it and she's not familiar with the Thurber (and yet I married her). Ben Stiller's work is best when it has a serious undertone and is not just overthetop grossout silly. I need to watch it again, but I think it was good. Quite likely very good. And full of visual beauties. It was worth whatever they spent.

Finding Vivian Maier (2013): Fascinating movie. At times, I was too aware that the filmmaker's a bit of a hustler with a lot of money to make off this lost artist, but he addresses that and ultimately I forgive him because revealing Vivian Maier to the world is important and her work is beautiful and he's the one who revealed it. The film is structured such that it moves from mystery to her art to her story to her inner darkness to the redemption of art. This was a terrific movie and now I want to sit in a comfortable chair and move slowly through a 500-page volume of her self-portraits.***

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009): Watching this movie makes my screenwriting efforts feel so amature. What a great, great movie. I know Kohl disowns me when I say it, but it's my favorite Wes Anderson.


Duck Soup (1933): Always one more joke to pick out of the mess. And boy oh boy but is it a glorious mess!

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007): I don't know if it's precisely fair to say I "watched" this movie. It was on and I was in the room most of the time, but I was talking to another adult and wrestling with three crazy kids at the time. So I "saw" a goodly amount of it and "heard" a similar amount (though not always the same parts). Based on that, I think it's true that Imelda Staunton's Umbridge was quite good and that it's the best Harry Potter movie I've ever seen. (For those keeping track, in Theric's opinion, 1 is a travesty against humanity; 3 and 4 are dull and not very good but watchable.)

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010): I really really really really really really really wish this movie had done beaucoup box office and changed the boldness of studio executives forever. #ha #haha #hahaha

Frank (2014): Not sold by the ending, but the film still had a certain something that compels a day later. Maybe it's the music (a cross between the Magnetic Fields and King Missile). Maybe it's Michael Fassbender's compelling voice. Maybe it's that head. I don't know. I wouldn't recommend going out of your way, but I wouldn't attempt to dissuade you either. I'm not sure where I stand on this one.

Romeo and Juliet (1968): Brightest moment was my TA nearly crying. Warms my heart to know that souls still live.

The Princess Bride (1987): Even the parts that don't seem to work are perfect. Such a well constructed comedy.

Previous films watched




Aldous Huxley on James Joyce

Ulysses is obviously a very extraordinary book. I mean---I don't know exactly why he wrote it because a great deal of Ulysses seems to me to be taken up with showing a large number of methods in which a novels [sic] cannot be written. I suppose it's a great book.... I mean, although there are splendid passages, I don't think it's a success as a whole.
Hear the whole thing yourself including discussion also of Proust and Hemingway.


Two astonishing novels you should imagine
me pressing into your open hands


So here's something I'm learning about myself. My favorite form of fiction is the short novel. Below I'll discuss two that are utterly excellent and are both about a woman coming into her own. Both are just stunning. Both have killing closings that left me literally short of breath.

027) Passing by Nella Larsen, finished March 18

Holy crap. What a book! So . . . wow. Why the heck hasn't this novel ever been given a decent cover?

Anyway, it's the 1920s. The two main characters are African-American women---culturally. Were you to pass them on the street and see their white skins dressed in finery, you would be unlikely to guess. They can pass as white whenever they like, and one has chosen to pass permanently. She has married a white man and abandoned her black past entirely until she happens to meet the other women at a fine hotel restaurant. Thus setting in place a certain tragedy.

Irene, the woman who stayed, seems more troubled by the risks the passer takes as she returns to Negro society than the passer does herself. And the difficulties and risks increase as time passes.

Until the tragic end. I thought I knew what was coming, having accidentally read half a sentence from the scholarly introduction, but boy oh boy was I wrong. It was in fact much more ambiguous and complicated and awful and wonderful and savory and disastrous than that half-sentences suggested.

The pain of these two women---so different yet so similar in origin---is one of the most emotionally evocative things I've read in some time.

And it gives me a new lens to think about the us of today. Where are these women? Do they still feel trapped?

In the film, do we have Amanda Seyfried play the passer, or do we hunt for someone with one drop of Plessy's blood?
maybe three weeks


026) Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson, finished March 17

Holy cow I love this book. My expectations were ill-defined but this book managed to exceed them anyway. Since all I've previously read of Shirley Jackson is The Lottery and One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts and Haunting of Hill House, I suppose I expected a thriller and mystery and murder and the supernatural and suchlike. The cover certainly encouraged that:

Or check out the back, especially that money quote from the Chronicle:

(Incidentally, for a look at other old covers of the book, see this post. Some of the newer covers are better. Like the current American Penguin or, my favorite although not the most accurate, the current British Penguin.)

Anyway. Utter nonsense. (Although the book was published in 1951 and so people may have had a true-life horror story in mind as they read it. Not so anymore.) But then, maybe that's just because I'm insane. Looking around a bit, it seems like people are reading protagonist Natalie as crazy whereas I recognize her thought processes as much like my own and therefore not strange or surprising in the least. Dangerous? Sure. But no more dangerous than crossing the street. She's refective and solipsistic and confused and constantly narrating. You know. Like George Orwell.

Anyway, you can view it as a suspense story if you like, but to me it's simply a terrific bildungsroman. And one from the underserved female pov. Seriously. This feels like a glimpse into the secret female mind, an inner sanctum to which I should not have been allowed*.

Natalie is 17 throughout the book. She moves from high-school senior to college freshman (and if you're wondering if I would teach this book the answer is YES). She experiences horrors slight and serious (very serious), but primarily she's stumbling through life trying to find out who Natalie is. Will she uncover the adult Natalie? Will she even survive?

And that's the suspense. I don't like the way the cover describes its suspense because it makes it sound like Silence of the Lambs when the story it's telling is much quieter, much more internal. And much more universal. Natalie is the 17yrold every[wo]man. I saw myself in her. I daresay you will too.

Press this book upon those who are young and lost.

Another marvelous aspect of this book is its depiction of 1951. This isn't the sockhop Fifties, but for a 17yrold, World War II is already ancient history. It's an era often skipped over when we imagine the 20th century, neither the distant past nor the burgeoning present. It's a foreign country easily mistaken for home. (Although it will, I think, to my students simply be ancient.)

One last thing: the novel ever explains the title. Here's the explanation. Good luck with it.


(comments after reading reviews online)

Although at first I was resistant to the is-Tony-real angle (and still am---aspects of it are tough to jive), I now find it rather compelling. Certainly something to consider closely on a reread.

I failed to mention that the trauma I hinted at seems to have largely defined the course of the novel. Should have done so.

I should probably read The Bell Jar to compare and contrast.

I agree that the final paragraph is utterly beautiful.

"Turning its pages, traces of Natalie stained my fingertips."

"it’s the kind of book that sends you searching immediately for other people’s ideas of what it is you’ve just read"

see also
under a month

Previously in 2014 . . . . :