025) Long After Dark by Todd Robert Petersen, finished March 23
- Let me start with a bit of puffery: This is one of the greatest short story collections I've ever read. So much better, for instance, than its overwritten misleading foreword which one would be wise to ignore.
The collection consists of 15 short stories (some no more than a couple pages) and a 64-page novella to cap things off. I want to start by talking about the novella, because its penultimate page contains what might be called the thesis statement for the entire collection (philosophical SPOILER alert):
These stories don't get told much in our church, David. We want stories of success without having to hear about the struggles of sin. . . . There has to be an opposition in all things, otherwise we could not be redeemed. And the opposition is part of the whole. . . . Please consider that as you write our history. Please record all of us. Let our lives be of use."
Now I'm going to give a bit away of the novella's structure to explain that quotation. If you don't want to read it, skip the next two paragraphs.
The structure of "Family History" (the novella) is a bit of memoir written by the father, a bit of memoir written by the mother, a bit more from their son.
The first part includes a lot of Vegas monkey sex (more on that in a moment) that the father was ashamed of and wanted destroyed. His mother wanted it included--she wanted their whole story to be told.
And that's what Long Before Dark is all about (one could argue): nothing against the stories published by Covenant with chintzy covers, but these stories deserve to be told too.
I read the title story aloud to the Large S to help him fall asleep and when I finished, Lady Steed wouldn't let me stop--she made me finish the story. Then she tool the book off my nightstand at every opportunity and loved the whole thing. Except for the Vegas monkey sex. (See what you spoiler-skippers missed out on?)
"Long Before Dark" is the story of a woman, a bit older, the evening after her release. She had been the stake Relief Society President for so long and now? Now what? Her children have moved out, she's married to an old intellectual--not that there's anything wrong with intellectuals--and now what is she supposed to do with herself? What is left for her? It's a lovely story.
"Now and at the Hour of Our Death": Luis is a good Mormon father. Raised Catholic, he still lives in Buenos Aires, where he always has lived. His wife loves him. All is well. And then a boy breaks into his house and tries to rob him and shoots at his children and Luis kills him. One shot was enough to do it. But what haunts him is how much he wanted to pull the trigger one more time....
"Quietly" might be the most striking story in the collection--John is a Rwandan Saint, sent by his American branch president to dedicate a grace. John's never dedicated a grave before. And he also knows that walking to a strange place in a white shirt and with a religious purpose is not enough to guarantee that he will survive this trip. But he has enough bread to last the day and Nephi-like faith not knowing beforehand the things which he should do. When was the last time Deseret Book published a beautiful story about the Rwandan Saints? Or, for that matter, when was the last time you read something with an ending so simultaneously ambiguous and satisfying? Because that doesn't happen very often.
"Where It Comes From, Where It Goes" deals with the seeming violence between art and religion these days as observed in the outer details of the inner turmoil of a Mormon jazz genius. That sounds silly. But it's not. I know a lot of people who will find themselves in those four short pages.
This is not to say I loved all these stories equally. I didn't find much for me in the polygamy story or the Prodigal Son redux, but the teenage-mother story is almost unbearably sad. And "A Strange Thing to Behold" about the junkie who finds Jesus--or at least a picture of him--might be a masterpiece.
I can't recommend this book highly enough. And I'm extremely excited for Rift.
But given the publisher's track record, I won't hold my breath on the eve of its August release.
a couple months perhaps
024) The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, finished March 21
- This is the first 700+-page book I've finished in quite a while--and the first book in about as long whose cover made Lady Steed embarrassed to be seen with me.
Someone--Stephen King?--described the process of buying a book as reading the back flaps, flipping it open to see if the writer's on his game, then making a decision to read. I often try this, but rarely does a random paragraph catch my attention. This did, however:
- "My name," said Locke Lamora, is Lukas Fehrwight." The voice was clipped and precise, scrubbed of Locke's natural inflections. He layered the hint of a harsh Vadran accent atop a slight mangling of his natural Camorri dialect like a barkeep mising liquors. "I am wearing clothes that will be full of sweat in sevral minutes. I am dumb enough to walk around Camorr without a blade of any sort. Also," he said with a hint of ponderous regret, I am entirely fictional."
Camorr is a city in a beautifully realized fantasy world. The author, Lynch, doesn't hit me again and again to force to recognize his cleverness. He lets his world speak for itself and it's . . . a pretty amazing place. Scott Card would be proud.
This is the first mass-market, glary-covered fantasy novel I've read since high school, and overall it was pretty good. The most profanity laden sure, has a lame "joke" (not sure if it was supposed to be a joke) on the last page sure, underdeveloped gang member sure---but the tale of these con-artists plying their trade, then taking a vulgar revenge, is completely satisfying and I recommend it without equivocation.
It's a shame I don't tend to read seconds anymore.....
well under a month
023) Robot Dreams by Sara Varon, finished March 10
- This marvelous book is not only a great read, but also a perfect example of what's wrong with comics.
The story is of a dog living in a world peopled by anthropomorphic animals. He builds a robot to be his friend, but loses him. The robot is stuck on the beach, rusting, for nearly a year until he is taken to a trash yard. Eventually, both lonely dog and lonely robot find new friends and are happy. It's a short, mildly touching story told without words. It takes no time to read.
But here's the problem: it costs seventeen bucks.
I'm not usually in favor of reading entire books inside the bookstore, but with this there was no reason not to. I turned pages and was soon finished. And, yes, if I bought it, I would probably read it again, probably share it with my sons, $16.95? For a five-minute read? It was a nice looking book, sure, but the amount of entertainment-time provided doesn't seem to match the cost.
That's why I don't own Blankets--not because it isn't excellent (because it is most excellent), but because it costs s'dang much. And if I, a rabid comics lover, can't justify the expense, how long can this print-comics renaissance continue?
(click on the image to read an excerpt)
five minutes or so
022) The Complete Peanuts 1963-1964 by Charles M. Schulz, finished March 9
So. Yeah. This one's awesome too.
Me, I'm off to the next one. To meet Peppermint Patty! And a Sopwith Camel!
I'm so excited!
almost three months
021) Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, finished March 7
- I'm so relieved. I thought I had lost this book forever. I had been reading from it nearly every day and then it just disappeared. I looked and looked and finally decided I must have left it on a train or at a school. Then, a couple weeks ago, I pulled an old button-missing jacket out of a closet and there it was, in the pocket. Yay!
In case you don't know, SPA is a collection of poems, each written from the point of view of a different person. Each of these people is interred at the Spoon River cemetery and each has something to say. After these poems--most of which are quite brief--are two longer works, "Spooniad" and "Epilogue" (both of which are pretty lousy and not worth reading).
The Anthology itself however is pretty damn good (get it? get it?). I wish I could wax specific, but I read almost all the book months and months ago, and as I usually read from it as I was walking, I did very little underlining or notetaking or margin-writing.
The poems are all interconnected as the people dish on each other and and certain stories about militant teetotalers and abortions gone terribly wrong and friends run off to Europe and industrial accidents slowly become clear as each new point-of-view is revealed and I discover one person lied and another never knew the truth. The poems can be read as a wildly untraditional novel about small-town life. And a good one, too.
Some of the ideas Masters brought to this book are so good that even I might have been able to execute them.
Often I would be flying along reading reading reading when POW! one would suddenly sock me right in the gut.
Unfortunately, out of context from the other poems, even the best of them seem less sparkly. Which is a shame (but I guess explains why they are so rarely taught in schools).
And one last note before I share one that I think does okay standing alone: It's fascinating to hear the same arguments about America and what it means to be American that seem so fresh and modern today, spouted by these hundred-year-old corpses.
Anyway, the dearly departed:
Dippold the Optician
WHAT do you see now?
Globes of red, yellow, purple.
Just a moment! And now?
My father and mother and sisters.
Yes! And now?
Knights at arms, beautiful women, kind faces.
A field of grain—a city.
Very good! And now?
A young woman with angels bending over her.
A heavier lens! And now?
Many women with bright eyes and open lips.
Just a goblet on a table.
Oh I see! Try this lens!
Just an open space—I see nothing in particular.
Pine trees, a lake, a summer sky.
That’s better. And now?
Read a page for me.
I can’t. My eyes are carried beyond the page.
Try this lens.
Depths of air.
Excellent! And now?
Light, just light, making everything below it a toy world.
Very well, we’ll make the glasses accordingly.
a year more or less
020) Unorthodox Practices by Marissa Piesman, finished March 5
019) Happy Hour at Casa Dracula by Marta Acosta, finished March 4
018) A War of Gifts: An Ender Story by Orson Scott Card, finished Leap Day
017) Watership Down by Richard Adams, finished February 26
016) Old Boy Volume One by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi, finished February 25
015) Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, finished February 18
014) Ultimate Spider-Man: Ultimate Collection, Vol. 1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley, finished February 15
013) Trusting Jesus by Jeffrey R. Holland, finished February 11
012) Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall by Bill Willingham et al., finished February 11
011) Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach, finished February 4
010) The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, finished February 3
009) American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, finished LDotFMotNY
008) Zombification: Stories from National Public Radio by Andrei Codrescu, finished January 22
007) Marriage Lines: Notes of a Student Husband by Ogden Nash, finished January 22
006) Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, finished January 20
005) The Salmon of Doubt:: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time by Douglas Adams, finished January 14
004) Lord of the Flies by William Golding, finished January 10
003) Rising Sun by Michael Crichton, finished January 7
002) The Marketing of Sister B by Linda Hoffman Kimball, finished January 2
001) Animal Farm by George Orwell, finished January 1