2014-07-11

Rachel Rising × Three

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058) Rachel Rising Vol. 4 : Winter Graves by Terry Moore, finished July 10

Though it would be gorier than most movies I sign up for, I would love to see this as a film. It's reliance on women characters, the smartness of the dialogue, its ambivalence in defining good and evil people (its people never being that simple)---this is what we need in film, methinks.

Anyway, volume four ends this story arc. Not everything has been quite explained (which is fine) and some major things remain unresolved (a second story arc has begun, so that's fine too), but I am utterly satisfied. My worries in volume two that it might fall into old storylines proved unfounded. This is a book that just kept on giving. Can't wait for volume five so I can read them all again.

two days



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057) Rachel Rising Vol. 3 : Cemetery Songs by Terry Moore, finished July 9

It's getting more complicated and further away from expectations. It might be messing with chronology which is throwing me a bit, but I'm excited to see what happens next. This is great stuff.

officially three days



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056) Rachel Rising Vol. 2 : Fear No Malus by Terry Moore, finished July 8

This second volume is every bit as perfectly crafted as the first although I'm a bit bummed to see the strangeness of it all normalize a bit into demons and witches and Lilith. That said, it's still unlike anything I've ever read before and I admire how normalized everyone is. The quirks of each person exist without comment. This may be a world of fantasy, but the people are as human as any I've seen. This is must-read comics.

one night


Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-07-08

LDS Eros: Mo' Moriah, mo' Jovan

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055) Paso Doble by Moriah Jovan, finished July 7

If you're not familiar with Moriah's work, you might check out my reviews of The Proviso or Magdalene. Paso Doble shares their DNA. As with all the Dunham books, the lead characters are enormous, godlike figures who tower over the landscape. Victoria is a Dunham cousin and 1) a multilingual polymath and a leading scholar of ESL, 2) a wildly talented lounge singer, 3) the most beautiful woman in Europe. Emilio is a close friend and mentor to a Dunham cousin and 1) the greatest matador of his generation, 2) an exquisitely talented lovemaker, 3) a genius chemist. These are the sorts of things we expect from Jovan protagonists. But they are difficult characters to hate because they are also deeply flawed---and their flaws flow from their godlike attributes.

Victoria, aware is a genius and beautiful, pushes everyone's buttons. She can't get tenure and no man can put up with her. Especially since, as a devout Mormon, she's keeping her garments on until marriage. Most guys can't put up with her nearly long enough for that. Plus, she has very little patience for other people and, being incapable of taking offence, can very easily offend. She's become emotionally distant from just about everyone.

Emilio is also emotionally distant---he's as desired by the opposite sex, but his distance comes from frequent partaking. He has not room for emotional depth because he gives a little to so many. Plus, he's a natural introvert and finds people exhausting. His reputation as a notoriously sexed-up tabloid-popular matador gets him blacklisted from university jobs and he can't stand working as an assembly-line chemist. And so he's trapped in a glamorous career he's grown out of.

So these two sad and lonely gods must collide.

I've labeled this post part of the LDS Eros series because what I'm most interested in from a Mormon-literature standpoint is Moriah's navigation of this relationship between a "manslut" and an "ice-vagina." Or, more importantly, someone for whom sex has been cheap and someone who holds it so dear she demands another's life in exchange for access. (That might sound melodramatic, but I think it's a fair description of how it seems on the outside to many people.)

It's a clash of sexual cultures---and cultures that are diverging at speed. People embarrassed to be virgins at 20 are written about with the same bemused pity as those who choose virginity until marriage at age 29. We have two soulmates and the rules state they must get together. But in addition to the little navigations every relationship must make, they have a massive gulf between them called divergent sexual norms. And that's the most striking element of their story.

Additionally, speaking as a male writer, Moriah's descriptions of Victoria's (female) sexual need and confusion provide me with vocabulary I would not otherwise have. I know her work is too explicit for many Mormon writers, but I think you shoudl read her anyway. We need to deal with sexuality more as a people and reading her work is a great place to consider how it can be done. Even if most of us will not show her happy delight in the word cock.

So how does Paso Doble stack up against her other works? I've read the first three and (I'm well into the fourth and will start the sixth [about Victoria's twin] before the week is out) and I would rank the one's I've read this this (in terms of IMPORTANCE):
1. Magdalene
This is simply great literature. In my opinion, one of the most important Mormon books in recent memory.
2. The Proviso
A flawed novel, but massive in scale and quantity of ideas. My least favorite, but you can't deny its ambition.
3. Paso Doble
Charming fun. Interesting work with sexuality but clumsy in the penultimate chapters and while a delightful lark, not IMPORTANT.
3 (tie). Stay
Equal to Paso Doble, though cleaner in execution. More ideas here, less there. It's a wash.
In the end, Paso Doble is a fun read, especially if you like to laugh at the foibles of gods---while falling in love with them yourselves---and a useful read, if you want to think about ways to attack sex from a Mormon standpoint.
two months



Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-07-05

Through fifty-four

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054) The Best of Connie Willis by Connie Willis, finished July 4

I love Connie Willis. More than any other SF writer, when I read her, I want to return to the genres I imagined spending my writing career in. I love her nearly-now worlds and her thoroughly recognizable human characters, and the transparency of her sentence-level art. She's something.

This new collection includes all the stories that won Hugos and/or Nebulae, along with comments on the stories and three speeches (one never delivered). Reading those too make me view her as the best possible model for aspiring writers. Just love her.

You won't have the context of just reading the book, but this comes after the book's final story, which takes place in a world in which dogs---and, nearly, RVs---have gone extinct, and covers almost everything I had planned to say in this review:

about three weeks or so



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053) Battling Boy by Paul Pope, finished July 27

This book is awesome! I suppose it treats the Greek gods slightly like the Nordic ones are treated in Marvel's Thor, but somehow this is just a thousand times better and aimed at a kid audience. And because it's Paul Pope, the writing and art are both excellent. I'm glad to hear a couple prequels have been released, but I want to read on with the story! At least, I suppose, at least I'm so excited to read on I can't yet be heartbroken that reading on is impossible.

Srsly. The writing is sharp, the characters are drawn instantly---both good and bad---and it's awesome and scary and inviting all at the same time.

two days



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052) Prophet Volume 2: Brothers by Brandon Graham, Fil Barlow, Giannis Milongiannis, Simon Roy (Contributo, Farel Dalrymple; finished June 26

If I had known this was volume two, I wouldn't have taken it home from the library. Not that I think it would have made much difference. The book has the sense of being of being enormous and universal and mythic in a way that beginning at the beginning or ending at the ending don't really seem like meaningful concepts.

Prophet was one of the Image comics I remember seeing on the shelf back in the '90s. And like most of those Image comics, they were ugly (even though I knew enough to say the art was "good" and "super realistic") and unwelcoming. The art in this new version is much more compelling. I'm surprised this character was resurrected after under twenty issues more than twenty years ago, but this version's massive mythic scifiness was apparently not part of the original run. In other words, this is pretty much whole cloth. I won't be picking it up again, but I enjoyed the trip.

weekish



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051) Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach, finished June 26

Mary's on top form here. I loved this book as much or more as any of her books (and I've read all of her noncollections save Packing for Mars, but only Spook and Bonk since beginning the five-books project). This one takes us from food's entrance to our body along its exciting journey to the toilet. The intestines seem a bit neglected, but along the way we learn why fat Elvis wasn't exactly fat and why not being exactly fat was what killed him. We learn that sticking dirty fingers in your mouth isn't what gives you a cold---it's sticking them in your nose. We learn that if you eat enough organs, you don't need fruits and vegetables (making my regret growing out of a willingness to eat cow liver and chicken hearts).

Mary Roach is one of the most witty writers we have going (and she shares my love of unnecessary but fully delightful tangential minutia) and if you haven't read her yet, chastise yourself the way you would if you'd never read Bill Bryson or Calvin Trillin. And maybe add her to your any-five-people tea-party list.
coupla weeks



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050) Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets by Dav Pilkey, finished June 24

This is an early book. The good captain can't even fly yet!
about an hour






Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-07-03

Single paragraphs on flicks flicked during the second quarter of 2014

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In theaters:


The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014): As visually arresting as anything Wes Anderson has done, though I found the story less riveting. In part, I think, because the the nature of its violence threw me out of the story. It was sudden and horrible, and vague and distant. Which may be like real life, but I never had a sense of what was what. No doubt I will like it better should I watch it again with adjusted expectations.

Muppets Most Wanted (2014): Not to the level of excellence at the reboot, but still a top-half Muppet movie. I laughed quite often and quite loudly even if ultimately it wasn't quite as satisfying as I would have liked. Nice that Sam finally got a starring role. Far overdue. Nice to see old 70s Muppet acts come back, even if some of my favorite minor characters barely made appearances. Bummer to learn about Jerry Nelson's passing from closing credits, though. . . .

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014): I love the first movie and I hoped for the best here. I was not disappointed. I don't know much about this Dean DeBlois guy, but I'll be trying to remember his name going forward. One thing I love about this movie is it didn't just pick up where the last left off. The kids are twenty now and the town has changed and they have changed---their relationships have changed---nothing's the same as we left it. Take the development between hero Hiccup and father Stoick---it's not as we last saw it, but the script doesn't pander to us or explain every new nuance. It doesn't need to because the nuances are there to be seen. (Though maybe they were covered in the tv show?) I hope in 3 we see more change. I would love to see Hiccup and Astrid married and so forth. I'll bet I would end up crying even more than I did in this one. By the way, fun fact, Cate Blanchett didn't do her own singing.


At home:


Babe: Pig in the City (1998): I haven't seen this movie since the first time I saw it. That time, I thought it was better than Babe. I may have been right. This is a beautiful movie both as written and as executed. Visually, it reminds me much of the late lamented Pushing Daisies. (and Nazi horror films). As for the writing, the use of the Greek (mouse) chorus is not as impressive as the first movie, but otherwise, this is in no way inferior to Babe. Astonishing, really, that out of such piling horrors so much joy and humanity can be found. Catharsis is a marvelous thing. In other words, though the visuals are clearly aging, they will remain timeless. (We miss you, Rhythm and Hues.) This must be one of the greatest duologies of all time.

Heathers (1988): I love how artificial this movie is. And while it could never be made today, I'm glad it exists. I laughed a lot and was appropriately horrified by the real life that followed.

Damsels in Distress (2011): Can't remember the last time I laughed so much during a movie. I loved it. This is the kind of movie I want to write: intricate dialogue delivered without affect, and bad tap dancing. Heaven.

Super 8 (2011): First, since most of what I know about JJ Abrams can be summed up in the phrase "lens flare" let me say that even so, at time I felt like I was watching a JJ Abrams parody. So many lens flare. It was absurd. Story? Adequate. Monster? Eh. But what makes this movie worth watching anyway is the actors, especially Elle Fanning. Those Fanning girls can really act. Her sister seems to have reached adulthood relatively mentally healthy and I hope the same fate awaits Elle because I want to keep watching her emote on screen. She's the real thing. And the other young actors are pretty good as well. The plot and adult characters are a half-baked macguffin. The kids are what matter. And they come through.

Moneyball (2011): This stupid bootleg copy is all screwed up. I probably spent thirty minutes trying to skip twenty minutes. Upsetting. Every moment in this movie's worth watching. It's great stuff. Guess I just need to get my own copy. In other news, could this be the year Billy wins the last game of the season? It's looking like a strong maybe.

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004): Little Lord Steed was anxious to share this movie with his parents, having seen it at his grandparents'. I haven't seen this since it first hit dvd so I had forgotten most of the gags, and was thus able to enjoy it as he hoped I would. It's not one of the All Time Greats or anything, but it's fun and manages to find a movie-length story which so many cartoons never pull off.

The Last Unicorn (1982): I haven't seen this movie for about 27 years. Certain images from it have stuck in my mind after all this time, but little else. I can see why now. There's little else to recommend it. With the exception of Alan Arkin, the rest of the cast never gets it together. Most of the jokes probably weren't good in 1982 and are bad now. The animation is both static and herkyjerky at the same time. The songs kill forward momentum (and the one sung by the unicorn is bad in a Miss Piggy way without Miss Piggy's ironic intentionality). Almost every scene takes unjustifiably long to fruit. Even the moments I remembered (the red bull pressing forward, the unicorns disappearing into the sea) have less weight than they seemed to have when I was a child. I'm utterly mystified how it's still finding new audience.

Eraserhead (1977): This is one of the finest works of surrealism I've ever seen. It's all about the taboo fears connected to love, marriage, and parenthood, but it only deals with them in images. It never says outright what it means. So all the spermatozoa and vaginas (which things traveling both in and out, sex and birth) are there to be missed if you're so inclined. Really, I can't think of a horror film that deals as well with the hidden terrors of parenthood. I'm still a bit mystified about the title and I'm still surprised the film ended in redemption, but now that I've finally seen it, I'm off to the internet to see what else has been said about the movie. For me, I noticed distinct connections to silent comedy (the early shots felt like humorous yet funniless takes on the Little Tramp), early Corman films---and a bunch of other stuff. I should have been taking notes. If I had intended to write more than one paragraph, I would have paused it about ninety seconds in and grabbed a pen and pad. Lots of stuff here. Lots of stuff.

Frankenweenie (2012): Even though I'd heard good things about this movie, it was Tim Burton. Disappointment is par. So I'm delighted to say this movie is crazy enjoyable and fun and even a bit scary. Scary enough it's good my older two weren't home. My only real complaint is there's some thematic confusion---is it pro-science or anti-science? The film is utterly confused on this point. But ultimately it's all about heart or something anyway so whatever.



Elsewhere:


Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977, 1997): Due to DVD difficulties, they switched from the new to the old halfway through (not to my complaint though I did have to see Greedo shoot first before teh switch was made). This time my thoughts were filled with how nearly the movie came to being a B-movie disaster. It's success is more than slightly amazing in that light. Still. I know I love it.

V for Vendetta (2005): Refreshing to watch a blockbuster-intended superhero film that is really only interested in playing games with symbolism. Sure, it can be a bit heavyhanded, but the editing and acting keep it fresh and interesting. Rewards multiple viewings.

Rushmore (1998): I've long noticed the Peanuts connection, but I think this was the first time I noticed the Christmas special's "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing" playing in the barbershop at the moment of reconciliation. Love.

Idiocracy (2006): Question---are we being encouraged to laugh at dumb people and then fight against them . . . or to realize we are them?

Duck Soup (1933): I didn't feel this way when I first watched it, but I'm now in the camp that calls Duck Soup the greatest of the Marx Bros movies. It's more chaotic and less sensible, but it's a satire of war. It's Beckett, it's Vonnegut, it's madness. It's war. Plus, it's hilarious. Even nonsense adds up eventually. If the final picture's a mess, that doesn't make it any less a picture. It might make it more of one.

Casablanca (1942): Heroism. I can't remember if I've ever had a class clap at the end of a film before. What a movie.

Spirited Away (2001): Miyazaki has a gift. He represents children such that those of us who have forgotten can remember. This film may be fantastic, but it is also closely observed realism. That is, methinks, part of its magic.

The Iron Giant (1999): I can't remember crying in class before. Nor seeing so many red-eyed kids. And the applause was even better than for Casablanca. And afterwards they had so many smart observations. If you're doing a writing-about-film unit, consider throwing this on your syllabus.

Jurassic Park (1993): Although the class made snide comments all the way through (some of which we're smartly analytical, eg noting that Grant's seatbelt problems were caused by nothing but females yet life found a way), they still jumped at appropriate points and clapped at the credits. They did not, however, by the T. Rex's final appearance. Fascinating.

Citizen Kane (1941): Sure, sure, sure. But I just don't like it enough to watch it enough times to really appreciate that it's THAT great.

The Muppet Movie (1979) and Monsters, Inc. (2001): While babysitting at a Relief Society function, I was in the movie room for the first half of the former and the second half of the latter. And I was singing Rowlf's number, that I had left just before, the entire interim. Plus, Frank Oz stars in both movies so they're practically the same anyway. And I love them both.

2014-06-24

Telling the truth about sports and monsters.

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049) Big Nate: In the Zone by Lincoln Peirce , finished June 23

I'm not sure I've ever bumped into Nate in the newspaper funny pages, though he's been there for over two decades. Anyway, if I have, he didn't make an impression. These books though, beloved by my kids and amusing to me, have made an impression. I find the packaging interesting. Instead of booking the strips chronologically, year by year, they're thematic. This one is sports-themed. The first section is basketball, the second baseball, the last soccer. In true Charlie Brown fashion, their baseball team is the most hapless.

I was going to post a strip from the book here, and I've found quite a few sports-themed strips at gocomics.com, but none from the book. Looks like it could have been twice as long. And you'll just have to look for yourself.
two days



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048) Lying by Sam Harris, finished June 23

I haven't read much by the New Atheists (occasionally bumping into them in online videos is grating enough), but Harris's arguments against lying are some of the best reasoned and replicable I've read. This is a terrific book I highly recommend. It's crazy short (you could easily read it in an afternoon) and inspiring. I've been moving away from justification of white lies for a long time and I'm now going to redouble my efforts.

If you feel that lying to get out of engagements or to make people feel better or to avoid conflict is justifiable, I encourage you to think again. Let Harris take a crack at your antipathy.
just over a week



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047) Donald Duck Adventures 17, finished June 23

Three stories which lack much sense but succeed as goofy tales.
a couple nonconsecutive days



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046) Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell, finished June 22

I bought this book for the middle child, in hopes that townspeople delighted to be scared would give him some tools for dealing with his anxiety. In fact, the better lesson was from the hapless monster, overcome with feelings of inadequacy who has to find his inner monsterness in order to reach his heroic potential. He likes the book. I hope it will be good for him.

As for me, I enjoyed it. Bright art, attractive lines, witty wordplay. I was startled by the bad language (I'm using this gterm very liberally---it wasn't awful or anything, but I'm not used to seeing bloody hells in a children's comic) and the use of colors in the word bubbles seemed to have no consistent reasoning. They don't identify characters and that inconsistency is confusing. Plus, sometimes they're just regular white for pages. I have no idea what the thinking was here. And there are no female characters to speak of.

But all that said! Fun book.
one sitting



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045) Swamp Thing (the New 52) Volume 1: Raise Them Bones by Scott Snyder, Yanick Paquette, Marco Rudy, finished June 21

I'm also reading the Snyder-penned Death of the Family (it's okay) and have read the first many issues of American Vampire (which I really liked, though that started off being cowritten by Stephen King, worth noting). This first collection of his Swamp Thing is good, but just a taste of where things are going. In true superhero fashion, our hero is battling the end of life, the universe, and everything. With a love story thrown in. Of course, he's in love with the enemy. It's pretty good, but impossible to judge just yet.

It's a horror title, and it is certainly horrific---the amalgamations of dead bodies is something to see. Some tropes I hate though. For instance, the child who seems like a child until it's revealed he's a supervillain then talks like he's been hunting Bond for decades. What's up with that? Can't the devil be a child? It would be more interesting, possibly more terrifying, and feel less manipulative.

The layouts are at times impossible to follow. I can't decide if that's more the penciler's fault or the colorist's, but they really need to work that out.
through the day



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044) The Antler Boy and Other Stories by Jake Parker, finished July 19

Having been hit in the head with a rock, Little Lord Steed just wanted to hold ice to his bandaid and be read to after we got the bleeding stopped. And this is what he wanted to read. And he would like more Lucy Nova and Hugo Earhart, please.
all at once





Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-06-23

ULTRAVIOLENCE: A Return to the Ambivalence of Lana Del Rey

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I'm only listening to her new album through for the first time now as I'm writing this post (correction: the first song's just begun again). Spotify's got the version with the badwords blanked which I find more distracting than salving, but what do you know.

Last time Lana was promoting pedophilia and this time she's glamorizing domestic abuse. Last time I excused her as a satirist; this time I'm not sure. I suspect there's at least an emblem of satire, but she plays it so straight it's hard to be sure. Lorde, love her seventeen-year-old self, paints pretty clearly in satirical colors. So she's not dangerous. We can nod our heads and feel cool as a Kiwi. Lana never tilts her hand and so, well, how do we know if she's the hero or the villain? Whatever she's doing, it's more complex than either plain glamorization or straight satire.

I hadn't intended to write about Lana Del Rey again, but today's story on NPR got me thinking about her in new ways. In fact, I came to see her, at the end of the story, as a bit of a soulmate. Even if I find Ginsberg practically unreadable and am always giving his last name a soft g. She embraces her subject matter as worthy of attention, however she gives it, and views her work as coming from a position of spirituality. Which I find delightful and I'm sure enrages right-thinking people everywhere. Good for her. As someone who spends most of my time thinking about religion in fiction yet publishes largely gory murders of Santa Claus and homo-erotic piranha stories, I feel simpatico with her sentiments.



Anyway. Some early thoughts about the new album:

1. Her voice gets almost uncomfortably vulnerable in "Pretty When You Cry"---the title of which is intriguing as she actually sings "I'm pretty when I cry" in the chorus. This sense of identity displacement seems to suggest something worth suggestion, don't you think?

2. This album's less hiphoppy than Born to Die. Which means you can't count on the bass drawing you in as quickly as it did last time. But once drawn in, I'm finding as much to like.

3. I'm still thinking about how to read influence into the fact that she's been produced this time by one of the Black Keys guys.

4. "Money Power Glory" gets into the old courtesan career path. "F****d My Way to the Top" seems to have a more obviously ambivalent take on the same ideas. I'm interested in how she's directly addressing the historical and current fact that sex is coin of the realm.

5. Before I even heard it, thanks to this article, I was looking for a song taking melodic points from the Nina Rota theme for Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet. It includes lines like "the power of youth is on my mind" and phrases that could well be from an older and wiser Juliet. Should such a Juliet ever have existed. Rota's melody is one of the 20th-century's best, but Lana's version takes from it its high points of pleasure and redemption. Last time Lana referenced Romeo to talk about the downsides of youth and wealth and passion. This time she's doing something similar, though less explosive, more inclusive.

I've now found and switched over to the deluxe version of the album which includes bad words and more songs.



6. "The Other Woman"---I don't remember this from the other album so I'm wondering if this is a different production thereof or perhaps I was just distracted. I'm not checking. Sounds like a ballad from the late Sixties or the Seventies---the sort of torcher I would sneak out of bed to listen to when it came up on the radio and my parents were sitting in the kitchen doing whatever it was they did back then.

I'm now headed into the extra cuts, songs I haven't heard before. So I'm going to floss and to listen to them.

I encourage you to do the same.

And I encourage you to engage with Lana Del Rey with the same seriousness we generally save for fiction and poetry not set to music. Let's stop dismissing music either because it's pop or because it's not pop. That's a pretty thorough dichotomy. But hey---Lana Del Rey manages to be both.

2014-06-17

So a dead girl, an evil empire, a mouse,
and a miser walk into a bar . . . .

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043) Rachel Rising 1: The Shadow of Death by Terry Moore, finished June 16

Praise BAC for introducing me to another marvelous comic! Beautifully drawn, smartly written---Rachel Rising is topnotch stuff. I suppose it's "horror" but it feels like everyday life. And if it is horror, what subgenre is it? Zombies? Witches? Ghosts? I really couldn't say. It's that unique. Combine excellence with the unique and what do you get? Something to read, that's what. Buy this comic so Moore will have the money to keep making it.
two days



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042) Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World by Carl Hiaasen, finished June 9

What's great about this book is not that contains any surprises regarding what makes Disney rather awful and terrifying and so so so compelling. What's great about it is the details. In just eighty-three pages, Hiaasen shares the native Floridian's view of what it's like to be invaded and have an enormous Stepford corporation take over. Disney is both dystopian and charming, and Hiaasen's view from inside Florida---remember he started life as a topnotch journalist---is insightful and focused and, even though sixteen years old, highly recommended.
couple weeks though most of those I did not have a copy



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041) Missile Mouse: The Star Crusher by Jake Parker, finished June 8

Although Lord Steed has been "reading" this book pretty much every day, today he asked me to pick up where we'd left off a few weeks ago and read the last hundred pages.

Epic stuff. I don't understand how gravity works in space, apparently, but the tale is mythic in scope.
two nights about a month apart



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040) Silas Marner by George Eliot, finished June 5

I've never really thought much about George Eliot until recently. Then a read a reminiscence on Middlemarch that placed it atop my must-read list, then I learned that writers I admire admire her (most emphatically Steve Peck---ask him about her). Then I read a clip from an anonymous novel on an old AP test that delighted me. Ends up it too is George Eliot. As these things are happening, I pick up an old paperback of Silas Marner which is slender, large-print, unabridged, and slender. An obvious place to start.

I'm not ready to pass judgment on Eliot regarding her greatness yet, but no question: Silas Marner is great. It started slow and frankly unpleasant. But she somehow took these unpleasant people and, though their unpleasant humanity, redeemed them. And before I knew it, I loved them. It was . . . magic. And so many bits of wisdom hidden within.

I'll have to finally open Middlemarch up on my Nook. After all, it's been there since I first time I added anything to it.

under two weeks





Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-06-16

The good old TSA

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TSA: Turn on your laptop.

Fellow: Can't. It's broken.

TSA: Why would you fly with a broken laptop?

Fellow: My brother fixes them. Told me to bring it along.

TSA: And what's that attached to it?

Fellow: Cooling fan.

TSA: No such thing.

Fellow: Dude. This is one right here. It's see-through. You can see the blades.

TSA: Blades---?

Fellow: Fan blades.

TSA: I'm afraid I'm going to have to break these things with a hammer.

Fellow: What?

TSA: Don't worry. I'll give you a receipt.

Fellow: But why? If you seriously think there might be a bomb in there, how is hitting it with a hammer making anyone safer?

TSA: Hey, Jim? Can you tase this guy? He said bomb.

2014-06-12

Sarah Dooley is my new favorite person

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I heard a snippet of Sarah Dooley on NPR one morning as I was lying in bed still grasping sleep with both hands. But what I heard was so good I googled the NPR story when I got to school and added her album to my 2014 Spotify list. I've been listening constantly since then. It's now the first album of new music I've purchased for myself since Spotify arrived in these United States.

I bought it for two reasons:
1. To make a copy for listening in the car.

2. To get the lyrics.
But she pulled a Sunfall on me and the lyrics were not included.

Darn you, Dooley! I need those lyrics! (For a screenplay I'm working on, I'm secretly imagining "Teenage Elegance" over the closing credits*, but before I get too attached or take any signals from it, I should know what it's actually saying. And I never know what songs actually say.)

Anyway, she's aesthetically a bit like Regina Spektor though she isn't Regina Spektor (which doesn't mean the similarities are accidental). With imagination, you can see the Fiona Apple comparison also. I think I smell some TMBG as well, but that remains undocumented.

Here's her kickstarted video to give you an introduction:


But it's not just music. Her promotional videos are painfully delicious as well (1 2 3). And her old web series about college gets better each awkward minute.

I don't know if she'll make her living as a screenwriter or a songwriter or a performer of some sort or, most likely, a 21st-century alchemical mixture of all, but she's going to be part of our lives going forward. Get to know her now.

2014-06-10

Introducing heterosexuality

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Back in 2005, back when this blog was still called the apparently inscrutable Tehachapiltdownman, I posted this:

There is something I would like to tell you all about, something I would like to get off my chest, something I don't want to pretend about anymore.

I like girls.

I remember when I first discovered I liked girls. It was early 1999, shortly after I had moved to Provo, Utah. I had volunteered to give a girl a ride in my automobile and after she got into my car and put on her seatbelt, I turned on the car and prepared to back out of my parking space.

"You like girls, don't you?" she said.

"What?"

"You like girls."

She gestured to my cd player which was, I believe, playing K's Choice, a Belgian band fronted by a woman.

"Everytime I get in your car, there's a girl singing."

I thought back and realized she was right. Moonpools & CaterpillarsJuju ClubNatalie Merchant. Even aLilith Fair cd! How could I have been so blind! 

I was stunned and could give no answer but this:

"I guess you're right."

And it's been downhill from there.
Since that point, I've linked to this post endless times as I've been writing about women who sing (next in this series coming Thursday). Today I'm taking a moment and marking as many of these posts as I can find with the new tag heterosexual. Because let's face it:

Women who sing are the very purpose of my meager life. And I am totally okay with that. I mean: The Sundays. Amirite?

2014-06-06

2013-14

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*****_*___*_*****__*****_*___*_***__
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2014-06-04

Thing die in book.

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039) Screwed by by Tyler Kirkham, Keith Thomas, David Miller; finished June 3

Tyler gave me a copy of this trade collection when I was at FanX. Because of his contract with DC, he couldn't do the art for this story, but the idea is his---it's just written and drawn by other people. All of which is very Zenoscope which, if you are familiar with the publisher, let's you know that this is just the proverbial tip:


The story is designed to allow for maximum carnage which is at least as violent as Ottley (whom I did not meet at FanX as he was never at his booth) but more pervasive and without that sly humor Ottley employs.

In brief, a Frankenstein monster / hot lesbian wakes up in a hospital. She has superstrength but thinks everyone she sees is a monster (with one fellow hot-chick exception). Violence and breasts follow.

Which breasts I found distracting because I kept trying to decide if, even though they were enormous, they were "realistic" in shape. I didn't reach a conclusion. Though this might in part be because the art itself seemed inconsistent. Tyler drew the covers (what you see here) and those I thought were pretty good. The interior art however, although apparently by one person, did not stay consistent in stylization. I don't know how to account for this. Sometimes it was '90s Image Jim Lee lines-everywhere ugly; other times with was different kinds of ugly. (But usually ugly. Mostly intentionally so.) But regardless of the style, both men and women were absurd caricatures of "sexy" in that adolescent comic-book way.

I understand a sequel's coming. Maybe with the origin out of the way, they can do interesting things with this character. My favorite thing about the book was the lead, with her good intentions and evil outcomes. Her I could read more of. (Maybe she could even get a pair of jeans?) And since pretty much all the other characters are dead, maybe she's all I would see more of.

This interview with Tyler talks about his motivations.
week



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038) Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, finished March 2

I read this book primarily to the youngest, and he primarily liked it, though I think mostly he could tell things were supposed to be funny rather than were funny. I know I enjoyed returning to these pages. (I also enjoyed checking the occasional footnote as this is a copy meant for Korean students. What was footnoted did not seem terribly consistent, but then: what do I know about how they teach English?)
week



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037) Missile Mouse: Rescue on Tankium3 by Jake Parker, finished May 30

My kids have been digging Jake's work, lately. They've been carrying the two Missile Mouse books and Antler Boy (though they don't like "Antler Boy") around, from chair to couch, to bed. I've read the MM story in Antler Boy several times, and parts of the full-length Missile Mouse books, but this is the first time I've read one all the way through in ages.

Good stuff. Very mythic.

Check out his new online project.
evening



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036) Undeath & Taxes by Carter Reid, finished May 26 or maybe a couple days earlier

A gratis copy Reid gave me at the SLC Comic Con FanX after seeing the other zombie-ish freebie a Mormon artist gave me. (Reid made the traditional moan that his work was so awful his people will hate him. I made my traditional eyeroll and showed him the competition. He felt better and gave me a copy of his book.

Zombie Nation tastes and is branded like a webcomic and now that I'm typing up my thoughts, I check, and yup. It is. So you can read what I've read and more besides.

What you won't find (I don't think) is the book's bonus art---celebrities done up zombie-style, guides to the typical varieties of movie zombies, etc. So that's the reason to buy it.

The humor is . . . very webcomicky. Ineffably webcomicky. I mean---without knowing it was webbased, I could immediately tell it was a webcomic. If anyone's written about this webcomicky flavor and what makes it so identifiable, I would appreciate the link. I need some vocabulary to help me explain this new thing.

Zombie Nation's humor is grotesque and silly-sexy and heavy on pop-culture referents.


(And now you can get two books and the eyeball flask.)
about a month





Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-05-23

Mormons, Novelists, Poets, & Vikings

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035) Of Many Hearts and Many Minds: The Mormon Novel and the Post-Utopian Challenge of Assimilation by Scott Hales, finished May 22

I suppose this is as much a comment on my interests as on the work itself, but this is perhaps the quickest I've ever read a doctoral dissertation. I find Scott's tools for analyzing the Mormon novel compelling. Ignoring the introduction and the conclusion, it consists of five chapters. The first gets into what he means by post-utopianism and Mormon fiction, etc. Chapter two is the best treatment of Nephi Anderson to date. Admitting his flaws and his strengths in appropriate measure, Hales of course is focused on this concept of post-utopianism (which, no, I'm not going to define---you'll have to wait for the published version) but even with that narrow focus, this chapter's a great introduction to Anderson and his work.

Chapter three gets into faithful realism, eg, The Backslider and its generation of "disaffected" fiction. Again, with his lens, Hales isn't focused on the novels' relative merits as fiction (this is not a list of reading-list recommendations, alas) but his analysis is insightful and useful when considering the evolution of the form.

Chapter four I started out by skimming (I've no great interest in Mountain Meadows fiction), but it eventually drew me in.

Chapter five attacks a topic I'm greatly concerned with, what Scott calls going transnational. I feel woefully unprepared for this issue of Mormon artistic output serving a global community, but it is something I'm trying to grapple with in my own work.,

The most highlighted section of my reading though was the conclusion that explicitly articulated many of my own nonfully expressed personal artistic goals. In fact, to me, it read much like a manifesto. (I suppose having Byuck cited didn't hurt, but really: although couched in the stolid impartiality of the observing academic, to me it tasted of revolution. As a manifesto, we could do worse.) New Mormon Fiction!

A delightful little work. I hope he finds a publisher. With the explosion in Mormon-studies publishers and the singularity of this work, I'm hopeful that he will.
almost a month



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034) Field Notes on Language and Kinship by Tyler Chadwick, finished May 21

Even though I read this book with a notebook open to jot down poems (this book does more than inspire poetry, but that it does very well), I read it at a tear. I forced myself to set it aside when I had Whitney reading to do, and my picking it back up was a tad slow, but I enjoyed the final quarter no less than the first three. Both the poems and a full review will go up soon. These will turn into links when they do: review / poems

about seven months



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033) The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson, finished May 20

You may have noticed that I don't really pick up 500-page books. Life's too short. But Lady Steed's bookclub was reading this one and I picked it up from her side of the bed to read Michael Chabon's intro---and he totally sold me. I knew I had to read it, long or not.

I loved it.

If it helps, think of it as four short novels, or two normal-sized novels (how it was originally published in Swedish). Hard, of course, to parse the difference between Bengtsson's writing and the translation by Michael Meyer, but regardless of who gets what credit, this is is a beautifully written book. Calm and plain---it tastes like an ancient book, but you get occasional wisps of its modernity (it was published in Swedish in the 1940s and first in English in 1955). Part of the pleasure of this book is not just the adventure and violence as its hero goes a-viking, but its sense of the utter mundanity in the year 1000. Their lives accept levels of awful (by our estimation) that is unfathomable. But the narrator's bored attitude toward rape and murder do more toward building the reality of this world than anything else.

Another engaging part of the story (that seems remarkable to modern eyes but which the narrator makes seem as everyday as spit) is the encroachment of Christianity into these Northern lands and the manner in which old and new gods run into one another.

Really: if you're looking for a summer book, you cannot do better than The Long Ships. Get your copy today.
about twenty weeks




Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-05-16

Unifinished Book: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

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Doctorow's book had so many people calling it both IMPORTANT and thrilling that I felt obliged to pick it up. Which I did, from the school library. It's been next to my bed for a couple years now and I never got more than a hundred twenty-some pages in. When I was reading it, I found it compelling (the politics---the tech manages to be both still-futuristic and already-dated), but when I set it down, I would forget all about it. So I'm calling it quits.

That said, it's still a book I would recommend to young readers who maybe don't get the references in this title and the main character's nom de hack w1n5t0n. Because it's a thriller, we send w1n5t0n to Miniluv before a hundred pages have passed, then let him loose to start forming The Brotherhood with his teenage buddies.

Politics I like. Exciting pacing. Even takes place in a well captured Bay Area. Surprised I didn't just power through? Me too. But I think the first-person narrator was part of the problem for me. Even though it's obligatory for YA lit these days, I'm a bit sick of it. And for a Nineteen Eighty-four pastiche, it's a bizarre choice. It limits how broken the protaganist can become which limits the amount of risk he can possibly undergo. In other words, the choice of first-person necessitates jetissoning a large measure of suspense and danger. In other words, it makes the novel much much safer. And that, I think, undercuts the politics and the pacing leaving a moral-of-the-story, characters I hopefully like totally love, and some good pizza recommendations for next time I'm in the Mission.

Not enough.

2014-05-13

Nephite-centric svithe

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Though a minority, the prophets of the Church in Book of Mormon times were always Nephites. This may have been a contributing reason to their society's eventual demise due to interracial warfare.

Good thing we have the Book of Mormon, that we may learn its lessons.




previous svithe

2014-05-08

Brrrrks

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032) Mormon X: Confessions of a Latter-day Mutant by Ben Christensen, finished May 8

This roman à clef slash allegory about a young BYU student has been interesting to watch unfold. I think I knew where it would end up before the author did (or at least before the author admitted he knew where it would end up. And it's been interested to watch the MoHo community come out and support the book. Ben consulted with me regarding the ethics of letting people assume the book was in fact about a Now! BYU student and he followed my advice, but catching up now on the last couple weeks of posts, there are a number of commenters who seem so emotionally involved in the story that I wonder, retroactively, if some sort of disclaimer mightn't have been more appropriate. Ah well.

At any rate, I imagine this book will be more successful at proselytizing young Mormons to atheism than to the mutant lifestyle. It is certainly a trememdous piece of propaganda though, largely because of its honesty and "real"ness from the very beginning. Real characters undergoing real change will always inspire readers to feel as they feel.

I anticipate the posts being collected and reformatted and released as an ebook in the near future. So if you don't like reading backwards, you will soon be in luck.
just under six months



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031) Consenting Adults; or, the Duchess Will Be Furious by Peter De Vries, finished May 6

I can't remember how I heard about De Vries even though it was only a month ago. Looking at him online now, I suspect I decided to read him as America's funniest-yet writer of religion. But the local library system is down to two volumes---neither of which, do I think, is specifically religious. But the two left are the one about sex (this one) and the one with the best title. So I checked them out.

It's a classic example of midcentury humor and thus can largely be skimmed. The character is erudite and much too aware of it and while amusing, it is also tiring.

The other worth-talking-about aspect of this book is its engagement with changing sexual mores. It's aged peculiarly and makes me wonder if writing about contemporary sexual mores will always be the surest way to age a book. That said, he did hit upon some [I refuse to commit to any particular adjective] ways to describe acts of hankypanky. E.g.:
What memories. Snooky laughing gently as I reached my peaks, with a woman's deep, deep joy at bringing a man to such ecstasy. Snooky drinkiing off a last lingering dewdrop, squeezing it forth like sap from a flower stem. She said she plagiarized the gesture from Lady Chatterly's Lover, though I have scoured my copy in vain for the precedent.
I don't know how our angry duchess compares to the prurient novels of Roth or Updike, but there you go.

As a novel, the structure seemed bad. The bulk of the novel is in the smalltown Midwest, then our hero goes to New York where the same laws of nature and expectation do not seem to apply as the plot speeds up without going anywhere (while going everywhere simultaneously)---the universe existing primarily, it seems, to fit in such un-fit-in set pieces as satire on the theater, two men and a woman, and a man with triplets. Almost as if he'd conceived the book purely as a vehicle for those sex scenes (the flapcopy backs this theory up) and so he had to cram them in at the end. That's what happens when you spend too many scores of pages engaging in humorous rhetoric.

Anyway. I imagine I would enjoy his nonfiction more.
about a month



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030) The Sleep of Reason edited by C. Spike Trotman, finished April 30

I put some money towards this on Kickstarter and almost immediately started to regret it. At first, I figured it wouldn't make its goal and so this was just a vote for comics. Then it made it and the updates kept coming, but instead of getting excited, pretty much everything I saw made me dread the final product. (And not in a good way.) It finally arrived with its hideous cover and I stuck it on a shelf and it might have remained their forever except the shelf was getting full and this is a big book, so I took it off and gave it a read.

And holy crap but if it isn't the best horror anthology I've read in . . . . You know, as far as multi-creator collections go, I can't think of a better one. And I'm not talking exclusively comics here.

Twenty-six stories making up almost 360 pages of content and although there are a couple soft-hitters and a couple that require me to keep this book away from the kiddos, overall, this is a fine fine collection of scary stories and one I happily recommend to anyone interested in the intersection of comics and horror. Wildly original in several places and greatly divergent from each other. These stories are all over the place (in a good way).

Here's a quick flipthrough in spooky lowlighting:


just under two weeks



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029) Ruby's Secret by Heather B. Moore, finished April 12

The movie would be better than the book. See more at the AML blog.
weekish, moreish



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Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-04-17

SLC Comic Con Fan X

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In between visiting relations, I will spend this weekend's Saturday afternoon speaking on three topics:
Representations of Mormons and Utah in Comics

Monsters & Mormons

Sherlock Holmes in the 21st Century
It will be a crowded madhouse. You won't want to miss being one of the 800ish people I tell jokes to this weekend.