Guess who was quoted in The New York Times Book Review last Wednesday?


Me, that's who.

Their review of the book under discussion is a good one too, if you care to follow the links.


Svithey toves outgrabe


The great desire of postenlightenment minds seems to be clarity, but sometimes religion does not easily provide that. In reading Jared Diamond's The Third Chimpanzee this week, I came close to "understanding" the divinity-directed genocides in the Old Testament. And, as I think pretending they don't exist is a mistake, surely therefore working to understand them is a virtue? But is something so . . . that . . . possible to fully understand? And if not, is it worth wasting brains on? And if not, then am I a head-in-the-sand religionist?

To be a postenlightenment religionist is to grapple with these question.

So. How shall we grapple?

last week's svithe


The Worth of an Eyeball


As an editor of anthologies, I would like to pay the people who contribute. And pay something meaningful. Yet the one anthology pays a meager $25 a page and the other no money at all.

But, I've heard it said, the real currency of the information economy is attention.

So allow me to posit this question: What is the monetary equivalence of attention? Is it measurable? Is it always measurable through the same means? What thinkest thou?


The Jalapeno-v-Grape Svithe


Today I heard a simile from Carlos which, he alleges, originates from Richard G. Scott. But I am too lazy just now to confirm.

Here it is:

The Holy Spirit is like a grape, a soft and sweet taste.

In our plugged-in world, with all our zangwow, we are trying to taste the grape while simultaneously eating a jalapeno.

Not easy.

previous svithe


5th5 (books)


25. True Grit by Charles Portis, finished May 21

I had no idea the movie John Wayne got his Oscar for was based on a book until the Coens said they were going to remake it, sticking, this time, closer to the book.

Then I happened to see it at the school library --- about ten copies thereof, actually. Apparently this book used to be a book everyone read.

And rightly so. This book is hardcore, folks. the world's toughest fourteen-year-old girl seeking to avenge her father's death with the help of, depending on who you ask, either John Wayne or Jeff Bridges.

One of the most one-thing-after-another scenes I've ever read occurs in this book and I can't tell you about it because it happens at the very end but holy smokes does it leave Tom Sawyer's cave adventure in the dust. And it only lasts maybe a couple hours.

The book's about 180 pages. So you can fit it into your schedule if you're interested.

three days

24. Old Man's War by John Scalzi, finished May 15

I enjoyed this book immensely. It's not great art by any means, but it's a crazy fun bit of space fightery and I loved it. I was all set to return this one to Recession Cone and borrow the next in the series until I read the few pages of extract from it and changed my mind.

See, one of the artistic elements I did appreciate was the decision to stay out of the alien povs. But that clip was all alien pov and apparently, beneath the alien exteriors, they're the same as us. Sigh.

But, that said, the hero of this volume turns seventy-five, visits his wife's grave and then joins the army where he's sent to space, given a new body, and enters a new world of violence.

Veddy fun.

couple weeks

23. Pandora's Nightmare: Horror Unleashed, finished May 13

I've already talked a bit about this, but a couple more comments, notes really, that I jotted in the book as I read:

If I (meaning specifically the story I wrote) and Neil Gaiman, then Blake Casselman's terrifying tale is Stephen King. (You'ld have to read the stories to see what I mean.)

I'm impressed by the breadth of stories possible with Pandora. And also the breadth of obviousness that can be found as well.

Although I bit sloppy, I liked how Jessy Marie Roberts's story found a connection between Pandora and Bluebeard that I had never thought of before.

M Sullivan's story needs another rewrite and a better ending, but I would republish it. Reminded me of one of my all-time favorite short stories, "Daddy" by Earl Godwin.

A good idea is not necessarily a good story.

Neil Coghan's piece ended too soon. A crime I myself commit much too often, so it's hard for me to forgive. But it was a great story.

Has the circular tale been a cliche for ages and I just never noticed, or is this a new phenomenon?

With good enough execution, a gimmick can be a delightful read.

Overall, a fine book and I'm happy to have had my work included in it.

i think between one and two months

22: Anthem by Ayn Rand, finished May 11

Apparently I decided not to list this book last year when I read it with a class. This time I am.

It's a fun book to read with a class because for the first fifty pages you can stop and talk about practically every paragraph. And whether they like or dislike Rand's philosophy, at the very least they get it and they have a lot to say about it. Dystopias in general are excellent conversation builders and Anthem has the additional value of being short and sweet.

under two weeks

21: Look! It's Jesus!: Amazing Holy Visions in Everyday Life by Harry Choron and Sandra Choron, finished May 9

A collection of photos showing Mary and Jesus and friends as they've appeared in tortillas and woodgrain here there and every where. Takes some real imagination to see some of them and it's a fun exercise in the brain's capacity for gestalt.

And although the text is often ironic, it is never sarcastic.

A pleasant hour's read.


Previously in 2010 . . . . :

020) Travels in the Scriptorium: A Novel by Paul Auster, finished May 5

019) Suburban Folklore by Steven Walters, finished May 4

018) The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall, finished April 30

017) Gracie: A Love Story by George Burns by George Burns, finished April 20

016) The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley, finished April 15

015) Dispensation: Latter-Day Fiction edited by Angela Hallstrom, finished March 24

014) The Best American Comics 2009 edited by Charles Burns, finished March 22

013) Icon: A Hero's Welcome by Dwayne McDuffie and MD Bright, finished March 17 012) There's Treasure Everywhere by Bill Watterson, finished March 15

011) Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool. Finished right at midnight between March 13 and 14

010) Teen Titans: Year One by Amy Wolfram et al, finished March 7

009) The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, Book One by Bill Watterson, finished March 6

008) Apparition & Late Fictions: A Novella and Stories by Thomas Lynch, finished March 5

007) Stone Rabbit #1: BC Mambo by Erik Craddock, finished March 2

006) The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen, finished February 23

005) Missile Mouse 2 by Jake Parker (MS POLICY), finished February 5

004) Heroes of the Fallen by David J. West, finished February 4

003) Still Life in Milford by Thomas Lynch, finished January 19

002) Rapunzel's Revenge by Hales Shannon Dean and Nathan, finished January 16

001) Mormoniana by Mormon Artists Group, finished January 13


What Malcolm said (it being his birthday)


Children have a lesson adults should learn,
to not be ashamed of failing, but to get up
and try again. Most of us adults are so afraid,
so cautious, so 'safe,' and therefore so shrinking
and rigid and afraid, that is why so many humans
fail. Most middle-aged adults have resigned
themselves to failure.

Haley, Alex, and Malcolm X. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York, NY: Ballantine, 1993. 418. Print.


Toy Story 3


Saturday night, Lady Steed and I went to Pixar and watched Toy Story 3 and now I understand all the frustrated ShoWest reviews --- people desperate to explain just how great the movie was and yet unable to share any proof. Now, I've not been required to keep mum, but the parts I reeelly want to talk about I should not lest I ruin the experience and, baby, this movie is an experience.

First, a brief note: Although the first three quarters of the movie were very good with excellent moments and big laughs, it was a rather typical caper/escape/adventure/comedy film in a Toy Story shell. Perfectly enjoyable but unremarkable.

Then comes the end of the movie, starting with the villain proving just how villainous he could be --- a moment I hoped would happen but doubted. That scene is the immediate precursor of one of The Greatest Scenes in Film History. I'll call it the orange scene. You'll recognize it. This scene I bought 100% and from the beginning of that scene to the end of the film I could not stop crying. I've never cried so many movie tears in my life.

Brilliant, brilliant movie. Don't miss it. I know I'll definitely see it again. Though I'm not sure about taking my kids. This is one intense --- and at times genuinely scary --- film.

I also need to see it again to figure out a couple things that confused me: Hey, Lee --- how did Slink get down? for instance.

But if I have one complaint it's that we didn't see more of Bonnie's toys because they were easy to love.

One question that'll up for debate is whether they "left it open" for a TS4. I suppose the answer is yes, but only if Pixar becomes Dreamworks. The three movies taken together make one full arc, so a fourth movie? Hard to imagine it being anything other than superfluous.

That said, I would be happy to take a job engineering TS4 if, you know, Pixar wants to offer me a job.

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

A commentary on the whole getting-a-job-at-Pixar thing:

Longtime readers of Thutopia know that we have a running gag here, viz: Open letters to Pixar muckymucks like John and Andrew in which Theric acts like he's on a firstname basis and casually mentions that he is hireable and would be happy to start up at Pixar.

I stopped making those jokes when I got a Pixar-working neighbor who lets me do things like see WALL-E before its release date because, should he happen to see such a joke, he might feel used.

Besides, disregarding my innate awesomeness, why would Pixar hire me? Pixar, as you know, is an unprecedentedly perfect studio with nary a misfire to their credit. With that perfection has come audience love and barrels of cash and the ability to hire anyone they want. So why hire me, even if I am a skilled storyguy, when you could instead hire your brother-in-law or a Pulitzer-Prize winner or that animator down the hall who also has wicked story chops? The nature of six billion humans is that there'll always be someone who rivals my skills, so when skills are all I have, how can I compete with someone who has skills plus Something Else?

But that doesn't mean I wouldn't change my current plans to work for Pixar.

Here at Thutopia we're going to keep not making jokey pitches, but! I'm still available, Pixar! I'm already local, I wouldn't be offended by a trial period, I have lots of storytelling experience (outside of film) and I love sharing the story-creation process with groups of minds. I'm also nice, ask anybody), but I'm a terrible yesman. And while Pixar has avoided the Curse of the Yesman so far (by their fruits, etc), yesmen are the always pressing disaster of any successful creative enterprise. So know that I Theric am very good at saying things suck.

Hmm. What else? I have a few book projects moving forward right now, my teaching's coming to an end with the school year, and I have a year before I intend to make any big life changes. So you have time. Think it over. Then shoot me a line.

(He said to the cavernous empty room.)


Pandora's Nightmare: Are Anthologies the New Genre Mags?


So I just finished reading Pandora's Nightmare: Horror Unleashed from Pill Hill Press. And while I wish the overall quality of the work therein was higher, overall it was a satisfying read. Keep that in mind while a gripe for a couple paragraphs, then we'll get back to my main points.

My primary complaint is the lack of decent copyediting and I have to lay that blame on Pill Hill. I contributed to this anthology and a couple errors I fixed when I received a proof copy made it into the final book. And the editor's story had five typos (that I caught) including, twice, the main character's name.

And some of the stories were underdeveloped or gimmicky and could have used a more rigorous editing process.

(All these points, incidentally, I am trying to learn from as we continue work on Monsters and Mormons.)

That said, there was good work here too. I did like the editor's story, I found the bookend stories a terrific idea, and I left with some favorites including stories by JW Schnarr, Neil Coghlan, Ruth Imeson and Blake Casselman. Some, like Nye Joell Hardy's story, began weakly but ended strongly, and some, like George W. Morrow's, started strong and blew the ending. A few were just bad, but I won't mention those.

Overall, as I said, a good read.

The only genre rag I've ever subscribed to is Asimov's. And while I don't remember typos, otherwise, all my compliments and complaints listed above could be applies as easily to it. Works I thought were terrible. Works that lacked something in the execution but which I still think of eight years later. Works that were unquestionably brilliant. And since, as I understand it, short-story magazines are dying, I'm wondering if anthologies are stepping up to fill that void.

Could be. Some advantages:

1. Those working on the project are not making ongoing commitments, but smaller bite-sized, finite projects which can be begun and finished in a reasonable amount of time.

2. A themed issue gets lost in a sea of covers. A book is its own entity.

3. POD means that the finished volume never has to disappear.


1. Writers get paid even less. (In this case, one contributor's copy.) Meaning less incentive for authors to hone their craft. And meaning that already established authors won't waste their time.

2. Sometimes you have to stretch to fill 250 pages on one topic.

With the rise of ebooks, I think we'll be seeing new ways of packaging short stories, but I do think the rise of the small-press POD anthology is, overall, good for short stories.

Go looking around and buy yourself one today.


Note: My short story is called "The Avon Lady" and I must warn you that it's dang good. I'm just saying.


Dead Chinese Kids


Here's one version of the news story, outlining the most recent horror and a few other recent ones.

First sentence: "A man hacked to death seven children and their teacher with a kitchen cleaver yesterday, in China's latest bloody schoolyard rampage."

Not good.

The articles have all said that these men were disatisfied (duh) and possibly disturbed (duh) and unemployed ---

But here's what I want to know:

Were they married?

Is this what happens to a society that is man-heavy, in which you have no hope of ever finding a nice girl or having kids of your own? You kill kindergartners with a meat cleaver? Is this what China's one-child-and-probably-a-boy policy hath wrought? Is this what men with no link to the future will end up doing?

I want to know if these men were married.


A free post for abortion advocates in which I court controversy by kinda sorta equating abortion and female circumcision


I am well on record as being against genital mutilation (as you can tell by my use of the word mutilation). Generally I've spoken out against circumcising boys as that procedure still has some cultural cachet in America (here's an example of my railing). But as female circumcision has never been very popular here, I haven't felt much need to talk about it.

Now the American Academy of Pediatrics has decided we should allow "pediatricians to reach out to families by offering a ritual nick as a possible compromise to avoid greater harm." Now, I'm opposed to this, but they make a good point: If you can draw a drop of blood and satisfy people who otherwise might go to Africa and cut off the labia and sew the vagina shut, then yes --- a nick is the better choice. Still wrong, in my opinion, but better than genuine mutilation. And so this proposed change to federal law is worthy of consideration.

Now. To relate this to abortion.

(Unfortunately, I can't the link I want at the moment, but please believe that I am not making this next paragraph up.)

I read, about a year ago, an essay by a prominent American feminist suggesting that abortion advocates were doomed to philosophical failure until they admitted that, yes, abortion is killing something human. The prolife people are not wrong about that, she said, and we need to be honest with ourselves and them and just admit that simple fact. And, having done so, we can then start looking for robust philosophical arguments that prove abortion can be necessary and a net good even though it involves killing a potential human being.

I agree with this. I believe that abortion is nearly always wrong. When it is right, it is only because the right is greater than the still existant wrong.

This is much like the argument the AAP makes. Not that female circumcision is a "good" thing, but that,0 in certain cases, the wrongness of an AAP member doing it is much more right than letting a family take care of it themselves. Which is where I see abortion: a wrong that might, sometimes, be more right than other wrongs.

And if the abortion cabal wants to make inroads with those who disagree with them, they should start by admitting what is plain to any child: Abortion is a wrong. Then prove that it's necessary anyway.

It's like tug-of-war --- giving an inch is good strategy.

Free advice. Take it or leave it.


Fourth Five Books


Man alive but am I finishing few books this year. At this rate, I'll be lucky to hit sixty --- half of last year's total. What is wrong with me, I wonder?

Travels in the Scriptorium: A Novel 020) Travels in the Scriptorium: A Novel by Paul Auster, finished May 5
    A brief personal aside on restraint: I almost bought this book new from Cody's books (I rarely buy new hardbacks) but I restrained myself. Saturday I found the paperback at the dollar store. Good for me. Bad for Auster. Bad for Cody's, RIP.

    Anyway, this is a short 118-page book. Starts off with classic amnesia set-up Man Wakes In White Room With No Knowledge of Who He Is.

    If you've never read any Auster before, your enjoyment of this book will be limited.

    If you've read but a little Auster before and love him (like me) you might be the best audience for this book. It wasn't until after page 100 that I realized what was going on. I stopped walking and pulled the book from my face, shocked.

    But I shouldn't have been. Classic Auster move. Which is why I think having read all his books six times might mean you can't enjoy is much. You probably realize what's happening in the first half-dozen pages. But, in that sense, this is like a love letter to his fans.

    I don't want to say more. I don't want to ruin anything. And one wrong word could do damage.

    I will say I'm sad Joseph Heller didn't get to read this. It's a perfect companion books to his POTAAOM. He would have loved to hate it. But alas, he is dead.

    five days

019) Suburban Folklore by Steven Walters, finished May 4

The Lonely Polygamist: A Novel 018) The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall, finished April 30
    So, first of all, I love it and recommend it. It's better than The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint: A Novel, if you're interested in comparing Udall's books against each other. It's long --- almost 600 pages, but it's a fast read. A hundred pages can slip by in no time. Blah blah blah.

    Now, I'm also writing a response for Motley Vision that'll probably go up Monday (the book's officially out Tuesday, but plenty of stores have already put it out on the shelves) (note that I am writing this on Friday, April 30) and a longer review for Irreantum's fall issue. So what I'm doing here, now, is just throwing some ideas down in more of a brainstormy fashion.

    First --- and this is meaningless unless you hear it from actual polygamists --- but I feel like I really understand something now about that lifestyle and some of the realities of what it must be like to live The Principle.

    I once worked with the daughter of a polygamist. She went about being a "plyg" much like I've gone about being "Mormon": unapologetically. And I always appreciated that.

    (Incidentally though, she desperately wanted to be on Survivor, yet her background both increased her odds of being selected but also eliminated her from trying. Her family lived a quiet life in two adjacent Salt Lake suburban homes connected through their back yards and drawing attention is the last thing polygamists need.)

    Golden has four wives and 27 living children as the story opens. How can such a man be lonely?

    Well, let's take a step back and admit he can never be alone. With only three children I feel like I hear nothing but Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! as they angle for their share of my attention. With thirty people who want a piece of you? Forget it.

    And if that's the case, another corollary is that no one child (or wife) can ever get enough of you to be satisfied either. You are a single sheet of paper for twenty essayists. After you have been shared, there is nothing left for anyone.

    This is Golden's life.

    But what I am doing now is telling you something. Udall instead takes us into his life. He provides us with three point-of-views --- the husband's, a wife's, a child's --- and through them we run the gamut of emotions.

    This family is nearing crisis and the story takes us through disaster to near-disaster to disaster, finally providing them with catharsis, if not clear solutions.

    I can see why this book is being buzzed about as a potential bestseller. I hope it is. And I hope the polygamists feel they were treated fairly. Granted, they're unlikely to want people thinking they behave quite like this family, but I hope they feel they were treated fairly. Because the feeling I'm left with is a greater love and respect for their ostracized culture.

    Plus, it can't hurt that we got a bit of sex and violence thrown in, am I right?

    about a month

017) Gracie: A Love Story by George Burns by George Burns, finished April 20
    My friend Scott in middle school had this book at the top of his closet. I don't know why. But I was always curious about it. The book's title was the first time I had ever heard of Gracie Allen who, within a couple years, I would be a big fan of. Burns and Allen is still, in my estimation, one of tv's greatest sitcoms. And given that it was also one of the first, that's a remarkable achievement.

    And the radio show, if anything, was better.

    Now fastforward twenty years and I pick up my own copy at a library sale. I don't open it for over a year, but now I have and boyohboy but was it a delightful read. Funny on every page, warm and loving, charmingly oldschool, with neartears on the final page.

    Whether Burns and Allen are an important part of your personal history or not, this book will delight you. Now I'm off to find a copy of Damsel in Distress and a few more of their 299 tv shows and a how many hundred of their radio shows still exist.


    under a month

016) The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley, finished April 15
    The first nine chapters were dull as unpolished spit. Then it got interesting. Then it got compelling. Then it got moving. And Alex Haley's hundred-page epilogue is can't-miss reading as well (although the final pages of post-death stuff gets repetitious). Not to mention the intro, forward and other extras (though all of them will mean more if you read the bookproper first).

    No wonder Malcolm X is a controversial figure! He does not try to change his past or cover his errors or ape divinity. He's more human than we generally want anyone to be --- let along a might-be hero. And the evolution of his thinking is admirable and startling. And following that evolution one step at a time, without any heavyhanded foreshadowing of future developments, is quite the ride. In many ways, this is the history of a great mind --- and I've never read its like.

    This book is guaranteed to make anyone openminded ask themselves a lotta lotta questions. So if you think you can handle that kind of self-analysis, I highly recommend you pick up a copy and get started.

    under a month

Previously in 2010 . . . . :

First FiveSecond FiveThird Five


the Happy-Heavenly-Mother's-Day svithe


Of all the mysteries in Mormonism, perhaps the most perplexing is the seeming absence of the requisite Heavenly Mother. I don't have an answer to that question, nor am I choosing to let it bother me at this moment, but it does remain a source of curiosity.

So happy Mother's Day. A day of mysteries.

last week's svithe


Time to melt


It's that time of the year and frankly I'm sick of all this solidity anyway.


Three links you should follow


My first of several takes on Brady Udall's The Lonely Polygamist is up on AMV: The Radioactive Family.

My interview with Annie and Kah Leong Poon is up on Mormon Artist. They're cool people. And when you're done, read the rest of the special New York issue.

Don't know if you heard, but Natalie Merchant has a new cd, Leave Your Sleep. I'm very excited you're getting it for me. Thank you!


A special svithe for Berkeley Warders


I am currently a regular substitute teacher in our ward's Sunday School. But I will be late this week. These are my notes for whoever takes my place those first few minutes, to get things started:

    Here is a well known story ending in a moral we often like to cite, Numbers 11:24-29 (have someone read)


    Moses chooses 70 men to assist him and the Lord sends his Spirit. Then there are these two other guys. (A slightly clearer translation (NIV) of verse 26: "However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the Tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp.") Why do you suppose they still received the Spirit even though they missed their meeting?

    Why even have a meeting if you could skip it and still get the blessing of the Spirit?

    Regarding verses 28 and 29..... 

    Why was Joshua alarmed?

    Why wasn't Moses?

    Do we feel more like Joshua or Moses?

    What is the lesson here?

    Now let's skip ahead to the next chapter. Aaron and Miriam (but especially Miriam) get in trouble for talking bad about Moses. Even though they've been kind of emergency backup prophets in the past. Now notice how God phrases his displeasure with them in Numbers 12:6-8 (again in the slightly clearer NIV):
    [God] said, "Listen to my words: 
           "When a prophet of the LORD is among you, 
           I reveal myself to him in visions, 
           I speak to him in dreams.

     But this is not true of my servant Moses; 
           he is faithful in all my house.

     With him I speak face to face, 
           clearly and not in riddles; 
           he sees the form of the LORD. 
           Why then were you not afraid 
           to speak against my servant Moses?"

    And then Miriam has to be leprous for a week to learn a lesson.

    My question is this: Is God's take on our chapter 11 discussion more akin to Joshua's or to Moses's? Explain.

    previous svithe