2011 Few-Books-at-a-Time episode titled "Is Jeff Lemire a Genius?" in which we look at some of his books --- five actually, just like we used to do in the old days.


013) Sweet Tooth: In Captivity by Jeff Lemire, finished January 30

012) Sweet Tooth: Out of the Woods by Jeff Lemire, finished January 30

011) Essex County: The Country Nurse by Jeff Lemire, finished January 30

010) Essex County: Ghost Stories by Jeff Lemire, finished January 29

009) Essex County: Tales from the Farm by Jeff Lemire, finished January 29

    two days or about twenty-four hours

First, let me the 45thousandth person to proclaim Essex County a masterwork. I just sat down and reread volume one then followed it immediately with volumes two and three. And I don't know if it's possible for me to overstate how excellent this work is. It's on par with the very best comics I know --- Jimmy Corrigan, Maus, Blankets --- it's high literature as Lemire's fellow Canadians have recognized.

What I don't know is whether or not Lemire is a bonafide genius. It's just too soon to say. Chris "Jimmy Corrigan" Ware is. Craig "Blankets" Thompson? Let's wait for the next book before we decide.

(Incidentally, speaking of Thompson, as his drawings in Blankets are what I wish I could draw, the style I wish I had, Essex's drawings are what I would actually draw. If, you know, I had a decent sense of perspective and the human figure.)

But whether he is a genius who can consistently hit the heights represented by Essex County or not doesn't affect at all the inherent worth of Essex County itself.

I admit I have a couple biases that help my opinion of him, viz:

1. Half my childhood was spent in the Idaho version or southern Ontario and I feel the honesty in his portrayal. It's clear he respects his past.

2. The drawing thing. But seriously. That ink....

See that crow? I have a thing for crows (add bias #3), but in the end, that crow is not just a crow. It is a symbol that helps tie all three books together into a single novel. I don't know whether Lemire planned it that way or not, but I've seen enough crappy pulltogether symboljobs to recognize the difference between a hack bit of lookatme and a genuine, brilliant metaphor.

For those waiting for some plot summary, Essex County is three stories about a pair of Essex County families. That good enough for you?

After my last post I want to mention briefly that all three stories contain or grow out of a single, pivotal, life-shaping sexual encounter. Nothing base or sexy here, just a simple fact: the power to create life does just that --- and not only directly, through conception.

I could wax rhapsodic about all three volumes, but I have another couple Lemire books to get to, and so just one more thing, about the first volume, Tales from the Farm. As I said in my introductory essay here, serious comics are in a transitional state --- they often require a bit of meta --- and Farm is no exception. The main character, a boy named Lester, wears a cape and mask, draws his own superhero comics. This is all done to terrific effect, but once again, it's a serious artist acknowledging comics' hackneyed past. (Not that I have anything against superheros, but they're just one small corner of all possible stories.)

I don't suppose it's possible to arrive at adulthood making comics without a relationship with superheros though. Love them, hate them, love/hate them, you know them.

And so, although I was surprised to learn that Lemire is writing Superboy and Atom, I wasn't shocked.

I found out by looking for more information on Sweet Tooth, the comic he's writing and drawing for Vertigo, DC's grownup house.

It's one of a zillion postapocalyptic stories out now, but a good one. I've read the first two collections and I'm hoping to read more. It's too soon to know whether or not it is evidence of Lemire's possible genius, but not to soon to know that it's good. It gets compared to Y: The Last Man and The Walking Dead and those comparisons seem apt. In this case we have a disease that's killed nearly everyone, weird mutated children, evidence of genetic science being the cause, a big man with guns who kills people, desperation, prostitutes, children in peril --- all that stuff. But its well written and drawn in a gussied up version of his Essex tales and certainly has the potential to be something special. I hope so. I'm expecting great things from this Lemire guy. Time to pick up some more books.

Previously in 2011 . . . . :

008) Magdalene by Morah Jovan, finished January 27

007) Knightfall Part Two: Who Rules the Night by a slew of DC folk, finished January 23
006) Bayou by Jeremy Love, finished January 17

005) Mr. Monster by Dan Wells, finished January 10
004) The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, finished January 6
003) The Mystery of the Dinosaur Graveyard by Mary Adrian, finished January 5
002) Batman - Judge Dredd: Judgment on Gotham by John Wagner and Alan Grant and Simon Bisley, with lettering by the famous Todd Klein; finished January 4
001) Batman: Venom by Dennis O'Neil et al, finished January 2


Book 8 of 2011
Magdalene by Moriah Jovan
(reviewed in connection with the LDS Eros project)


The LDS Eros series has been neglected for a while, but a new book by Moriah Jovan is all that's needed to jump right back in. In case you missed my lengthy comments on her first book or short blurb on her second, her books tend to involve that sex stuff. But more on that after some official-because-they-are-in-italics notices.

(NOTE: Although this book qualifies for protection under my MS POLICY, I will not be treating it in that way for a number of reasons. Most notably, the book is nearly finished, is being released in under three months and, for a third reason, see the following disclaimer.)

(DISCLAIMER: I am Moriah's editor. We have a business relationship. I have mercenary reasons for wanting this book to do well. Keep that in mind.)

008) Magdalene by Morah Jovan, finished January 27
    one month

Well. Where to start?

Let me start with some accolades.

Starting with Moriah's first book, I knew she was a writer to watch. With this book, I think she has arrived. She is now a significant voice.

But a statement like that can only have meaning within a certain context, and so let me clarify my meaning thereof.

Moriah is a romance writer, but I am not ensconced in the romance scene so I can't really comment on her significance within the world of romance. Moriah is a noted expert in ebooks, but "ebooks" is not really a literary scene so much as a technological and marketing scene so the question of vocal significance doesn't seem relevant. Moriah is also a Mormon writer and it here is where my personal knowledge can start to have relevance. Because, in my opinion, Magdalene is, now, three months before its release, already the Mormon book to beat in 2011. Now, I don't know if its sex will be hard for the Whitney Academy, but I really truly hope they do for reasons that are coming right up. I do think AML will give it a fair shake if they get it thrust into their faces by enough eager members, but we'll see. I hope so.

The provocative ad copy for this book is A MORMON BISHOP!!!!! AN EX-PROSTITUTE!!!!! A MAN WITH A VENDETTA!!!!! LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!!!!!!!!! ( !!!!!s not present in original but added by me for extra duper excitement) and that's as good a place to start as any. Because, and this is important, although this book does share characters with her other two books it is not a sequel and you do not need to read them first.

The MORMON BISHOP!!!!! is that most interesting creature that seems to exist more frequently in fiction than in real life, the widower bishop. He's also one of the richest men in America (he's in steel, if you're wondering).

The EX-PROSTITUTE!!!!! (very high end [not a crack whore], if that makes a difference to you) has since gotten her MBA and become a one-woman restructuring machine, moving into floundering companies and gutting them and saving the money from dissipating.

Our two protagonists meet through business and recognize something in each other they've never found before. But, that said and as you might imagine, they have rather different viewpoints on a number of important issues (eg, SEX!!!!!).

Now, it's no spoiler to say that this book has hawt and hevvy sex in it. What may be a spoiler though is that, in my opinion, this sex should not disturb a faithful Mormon audience. Clever people will be able to figure out why.

(If you're new to my LDS Eros posts, let me refer you to Part I which I will be referencing the next few paragraphs. Note though that the definitions I'm using today have different meanings in different posts. Today's definition of "pornography" for instance assumes it's a bad thing. But elsewhere I posit the possibility of a moral pornography. Keep that in mind if you start cross-referencing.)

D.H. Lawrence says that pornography is "the attempt to insult sex, to do dirt on it." Or (to obnoxiously quote myself), porn is "artless and ugly and serves just one purpose: to give your brain an unnatural (and unholy) injection of the sex drug."

This is bad.

Erotica on the other hand we'll describe in this way: while it "may titillate and arouse . . . that is not its sole purpose --- it also desires to be beautiful."

Which is in keeping with a Mormon viewpoint of sexuality, I think. Sex is one of life's beauties and may be celebrated as such.

So the question that will matter to Mormon readers is whether this sex is P or E.

First let's note again that this book has sex, actual sex, not just the-door-closed-and-suddenly-it-was-morning sex, but sex sex.

Second let's add the shocking should-be-a-spoiler-but-everyone-familiar-with-the-book-already-knows-it fact that this book's plot is modeled after the Gospels.

And now let's drop onto this pile of observations that for all the sex and religious allegory and big business deals and the sociopathic badguy and the other bells and whistles that make Magdalene a blast to read --- notwithstanding all of that --- ultimately this is the story of two people who fall in love. It's a character story. And how these characters change is The Whole Story. Really. When you come down to it, everything else is merely trappings to help the author tell her story of two characters and how they change to become one with another.

Forgive me if I state the obvious and say that sex should be part of this story.

Because here's the thing --- no matter how explicit the sex may be, no matter how much of it there may be, this novel does not contain one single sex scene that fails to develop the characters in serious and important ways. Every sex scene --- each and every one of them! --- provides us, as readers, access to the sex-doers' souls. We understand them in a way that can only be accomplished through their physical joining. We learn things about them we would never understand if the camera had cut away.

This sex is about people, not sex. And so no matter how explicit it may be, it is never gratuitous. Which is remarkable, really, that this much sex never drops into justfortheheckofit. Amazing for such explicity to be utterly unexploitative.


Besides the fact that the book is well written, besides the fact that it provides a compelling and accurate look at Mormonism for people unfamiliar with Mormonism, besides the fact that it goes places few Mormon books have gone before --- besides all these things, Magdalene is a significant Mormon book because it deals with subjects we consider sacred (sex is just for starters), places them in a broader world context, and forces readers both outside and inside the faith to consider their significance through an original lens.

This is not a trivial accomplishment. Mormons are always complaining that books appealing to "nonmembers" always present the Church badly or lightly or inaccurately. I for one have always rejected that view and here is a book that proves the point.

Whatever you do, don't let the sex keep you from this landmark (also, don't let the Mormons keep you from this landmark). And, sorry, if you just skip the sex (or the religion) you will not understand the characters. It's just not possible.

For the average national reader, this is a book that will demonstrate that Mormons should be taken seriously. For the average Mormon reader, this is a book that will demonstrate sexuality should be taken seriously.

Magdalene demands our attention and discussion. So don't let my puffery go unanswered. Read it for yourself and let's parse the difference between good and evil.

We'll never know until we eat the fruit.

(The book's not available until April 24, but if you would like a reminder, let me know in the comments. In the meantime, admitting that you don't have much to go on other than what I say, what do you think?)

Previously in 2011 . . . . :

007) Knightfall Part Two: Who Rules the Night by a slew of DC folk, finished January 23
006) Bayou by Jeremy Love, finished January 17

005) Mr. Monster by Dan Wells, finished January 10
004) The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, finished January 6
003) The Mystery of the Dinosaur Graveyard by Mary Adrian, finished January 5
002) Batman - Judge Dredd: Judgment on Gotham by John Wagner and Alan Grant and Simon Bisley, with lettering by the famous Todd Klein; finished January 4
001) Batman: Venom by Dennis O'Neil et al, finished January 2



Introducing NEW Books-read Policy
A few Books at a Time in 2011 (6-7)



    That post was really four posts. One on a couple Batman books I read. One post on a significant book from my childhood. One post on my literary relationship with Stephen Crane. One post on a host new YA book. And combining those posts into a single too-long monstrosity meant that this blog's constant desire --- to engender conversation --- was diluted and lost.
    From now on, I will be posting books not in sets of five, but at natural breaks.
    The essential rules remain unchanged.
    Today, a couple of comic books:


007) Knightfall Part Two: Who Rules the Night by a slew of DC folk, finished January 23

Uneven. At times rather thrilling, other times fully dull. Nice use of the Scarecrow though. Didn't really live up to its promise. So while I guess it was ultimately good, I was also ultimately disappointed. Maybe I should have found volume one? Maybe I should now read volume three? I dunno. I'm not thrilled enough to follow up.

a week or two


006) Bayou by Jeremy Love, finished January 17

Read my review here.

several days

Previously in 2011 . . . . :

005) Mr. Monster by Dan Wells, finished January 10
004) The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, finished January 6
003) The Mystery of the Dinosaur Graveyard by Mary Adrian, finished January 5
002) Batman - Judge Dredd: Judgment on Gotham by John Wagner and Alan Grant and Simon Bisley, with lettering by the famous Todd Klein; finished January 4
001) Batman: Venom by Dennis O'Neil et al, finished January 2


Sincere Poetry Theater: "Conversation"


You were here, I admitted,
when I was born.

Thank you, said the Earth.
That's all I wanted.

Predicting Tomorrow


We no longer do my Oscar game but, by the same rules (no repeated movies, etc), here are my prediction for tomorrow:


Best motion picture of the year
--------The Town

Best animated feature film of the year
--------How to Train Your Dragon

Achievement in directing
--------True Grit

Performance by an actor in a leading role
--------Colin Firth in King's Speech

Performance by an actress in a leading role
--------Natlie Portman in Black Swan

Performance by an actor in a supporting role
--------Christian Bale in The Fighter

Performance by an actress in a supporting role*
--------Jacki Weaver Animal Kingdom

Adapted screenplay
--------Rabbit Hole

Original screenplay
--------The Kids Are All Right

Best documentary feature
--------Exit Through the Gift Shop

Best foreign language film of the year

Best animated short film
--------Let's Pollute

Best live action short film
--------The Confession

Best documentary short subject
--------Killing in the Name

Achievement in film editing

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)
--------The Social Network

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)*
--------"I See the Light" in Tangled

Achievement in art direction
--------Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Achievement in cinematography
--------Winter's Bone

Achievement in costume design
--------Tron: Legacy

Achievement in makeup
--------Alice in Wonderland

Achievement in sound editing
--------Toy Story 3

Achievement in sound mixing

Achievement in visual effects
--------Scott Pilgrim vs. the World


Buddha is to Jesus as . . . . (a svithe)


Buddhism grew out of Hinduism is a manner somewhat like Christianity's growth out of Judaism. Then there are those who say Jesus spent his lost years in India studying Buddhism (a guy in our ward, however, treats it as settled fact that Jesus was in England mining tin with Joseph of Arimethea) (or I guess that's when they went mining together --- maybe I should have clarified).

Anyway, none of this is substantive. Mostly what will matter in my eventual point is that Christianity and Buddhism are both good-for-you religions (we can add Hinduism and Judaism to this list as well) and the picture starting this post is pretty cool.

Truth claims matter in religion --- of course they do --- but in a world filled with violent hatred for pretty much every religion (Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism --- and on and on), pretty much every religion has to ask themselves how vigorously to argue not about who is right, but whether or not others perceive others' rightness. If you follow me.

The funny ("funny") thing is, excepting, say, Moses or Mohammad on a bad day, most religious founders seem like they might have gotten along just fine. In Saint Young Men, Jesus and Buddha are even friends. of course, they also attend a Japanese high school, so, you know.

My point, if I have one, and I'm really starting to wonder, is not quite a smells-like-weed Peace Is Possible nor a whiny Rodney King Can't We All Just Get Along, but more of an invitation to step back. No matter how rational I think I am or You think You are, no matter how much the problem is clearly Them Over There, I think we always have the capacity to take one step further back. And once we're far enough back, it gets harder to tell me from you from them and our cities are both purple on the horizon and it's all just one pale blue dot and it's hard to imagine that even Moses or Mohammad meant some of those scarier comments and, well, yeah, peace is possible. We can all just get along.

And this comes from a guy belonging to a religion with really strong truth claims.

We're all pretty much the same.

I hope each year we can recognize a bit more that our fates are all tied together and if Jesus and Buddha can be high-school friends, then the rest of us can support each other too.

(So . . . did that all come together?)

previous svithe


Minireview of the fiction in Sunstone 161


Note: I've decided to attempt brief reviews of more LDS short fiction besides just what appears in Irreantum. This means I am going to make a greater effort to use the mormon arts tag, making it easier for anyone to peruse these posts.


"Angina" by Heather Walker Jones

    A woman tries to reconnect with her ex-husband, now a widower, after hearing he has been released as bishop.
    The climax is thrilling and moves breakneck as our heroine makes her attempt. However, I found the pages before and after to be clunky and difficult to believe. Plus, little illogical phrases here and there make it hard for me accept the story. I'm not good at overlooking little errors.
    (It wasn't helped, though, that it shares many similarities with a novel I'm reading now because the novel is just much better.)
    I find the story as an object though to be a very curious thing indeed. The way it plays with numerous Mormon tropes has potential. I think with a major redrafting and lots of nitpicking it could really be something. Ah well.


The fiction of Irreantum 12.2 (Winter 2010)


In his article this issue titled "Propaganda, Art and the Desire to Testify", John Allen writes that "Propaganda [in the form of fiction] does not trust that the world, messy and broken as it is, an testify of God and His grace. So it edits the world. It assumes that the world must be seen through rose-colored glasses before it can testify of God. In this, propaganda suggests that God is weak --- so weak, in fact, that He, the creator of all, must be buttressed up with the aid of bad writing, that His teachings must be propagandized to be powerful."

I, you may know, feel similarly. And no question this issue of Irreantum is certainly willing to show the world a bit broken and messy --- as well as holy.

A similar essay by Doug Thayer makes some of the same points, then is followed immediately by

Doug Thayer "Locker Room"

    The problem with "Locker Room" is that it does follow so immediately on the heels of his essay "About Serious Mormon Fiction" in which he lays out his philosophy of fiction and suggested a probable path for the future. Although I can't agree entirely with his premises or conclusions, I found the essay to be a thoughtful and compelling contribution to the discussion.
    Then, as I said, comes "Locker Room" which reads like a proof of concept. If the essay says serious Mormon fiction should deal with X, Y and Z, then the story's protagonist, we learn, is going through a period of life in which he is discovering X, Y and --- wait for it --- Z.
    Not that it's a bad story. It's a Doug Thayer story and all Doug Thayer stories are about the same (in my experience) in topic (boys coming of age) and quality (good). Uniform. If you like Doug Thayer stories, well, here's another one. Just don't read the essay first or it will seem even more formulaic than usual. I mean --- he even borrows exact phrases. I wish I knew which had been written first.
Ryan Shoemaker "Bing"

    Like the Douglas Thayer story that follows it, this is a story of a teenaged Mormon boy (or, in this case, boys) who grow up through a moment of unexpected violence.
    This one's set in a time period roughly equivalent to my own teenage years which may be one shallow reason I liked it better. Its two Mormon boys and their flamboyant friend with his wild tales and big talk led me on the same trip he took his friends on. In retrospect, a lot of aspects of this story have been done before, but they're done so well here that I didn't even realize I've been here before. Well written story. Shoemaker's one to keep an eye on.
Stephen Tuttle "Maybe the Kids Maybe"

    I've liked the Tuttle stories I've read thus far (1 and 2) and this one's good too, but.
    Like Doug Thayer, I now see that Tuttle might repeat himself a bit. Now, yes, I have only read three of his stories, two of which I thought were excellent and this third quite good, but now I'm seeing that in all three stories he has relied on some similar gimmicks. So if this is your first Tuttle story, you'll probably be blown away. If not then you might, like me, wonder what else he can do.
Eric W Jepson "17 Facts About Angels"

    On a lighter note, this is the fourth story in a row to include at least one teenaged boy as an important character. I can't imagine what the significance of this is, but it seems worth mentioning.
    I read the story backwards this time (having skipped it then being unable not to read it because I have issues) and I'm still pretty satisfied with it.
Heather Halcrow "Abominations"

    This story had a moment of utter sit-up-in-shock horror, but it ends up it's just your pretty typical literary story featuring the interior life of a character and starring the external metaphor of that inner life. Well written, and the only reason I can't appreciate it more is because I was so excited to be reading something deliriously different that when it ended up being the same sort of thing I read in other literary journals all the time, I couldn't help but be disappointed.
I'm coming off rather negative here, and that's just not right. The quality of the fiction in this issue was terrific and if I have any complaint, its solution will come from more Mormon writers competing in the literary scene. So get out there.


Note: The essays were of course good, both critical and creative, and so was the poetry. I was particularly blown away by Melissa Bradford's work. Just incredible. "House for Rent" was my favorite followed closely by "Bottled Fruit." Like three of the stories' focus on men and their issues, these poems (and Elizabeth Garcia's) focus on women's. The pregnancy conceit Bradford works with is brilliantly done. I also enjoyed the interview and the reviews (even if mine contains The Single Worst Typo of All Time and I feel utter guilt thereupon) and Irreantum essentially is still its excellent self. You should totally subscribe.


Classic Svithes:
Svithe: Success & Jealousy


This svithe originally published March 5, 2006.

You should also check out Jen's amazing svithe from today.


Being somewhat talented in words can, I am afraid, make me a bit of a snob. I am ashamed of this. I am ashamed to admit that I probably would not have listened as I should have to Moses (who said, "I am not eloquent ... I am slow of speech) or Enoch (who described himself also as "slow of speech"). I admit that I am impressed by--not sophistry--but good wordsmithery. And so it is no surprise that one of my favorite speakers among current General Authorities is Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. In particular, I return to "The Other Prodigal" again and again, attempting to turn myself into a good person.

He begins by retelling the parable:

CAn you see the well crafted wisdom dripping?
Among the most memorable parables the Savior ever told is the story of a foolish younger brother who went to his father, asked for his portion of the estate, and left home to squander his inheritance ... in "riotous living." His money and his friends disappeared sooner than he thought possible--they always do--and a day of terrible reckoning came thereafter--it always does. In the downward course of all this he became a keeper of pigs, one so hungry, so stripped of sustenance and dignity that he "would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat." But even that consolation was not available to him.

Then the scripture says encouragingly, "He came to himself." He determined to find his way home, hoping to be accepted at least as a servant in his father's household. The tender image of this boy's anxious, faithful father running to meet him and showering him with kisses is one of the most moving and compassionate scenes in all of holy writ. It tells every child of God, wayward or otherwise, how much God wants us back in the protection of His arms.

But today we're not talking about that son.

...being caught up in this younger sonÂ’s story, we can miss, if we are not careful, the account of an elder son, for the opening line of the Savior's account reads, "A certain man had two sons"--and He might have added, "both of whom were lost and both of whom needed to come home."

I am that second son.

I was out in the fields working today, dutifully, as I have always done. And when I arrived home, caked in sweat and dust, I saw a party in full force, celebrating my brother who ran away and squandered his share of the family's wealth and who is now being treated like a war hero.

I am bitter.

Feeling unappreciated and perhaps more than a little self-pity, this dutiful son--and he is wonderfully dutiful--forgets for a moment that he has never had to know filth or despair, fear or self-loathing. He forgets for a moment that every calf on the ranch is already his and so are all the robes in the closet and every ring in the drawer. He forgets for a moment that his faithfulness has been and always will be rewarded.

No, he who has virtually everything, and who has in his hardworking, wonderful way earned it, lacks the one thing that might make him the complete man of the Lord he nearly is. He has yet to come to the compassion and mercy, the charitable breadth of vision to see that this is not a rival returning. It is his brother.

Holland calls this a "fictional affront." And he's right. The only reason I have become suddenly unhappy is "because another has had some good fortune as well."

I am under the false impression that, if my father loves my brother, he therefore loves me less. "But God does not work this way."

He does not mercilessly measure [us] against [our] neighbors. He doesn't even compare [us] with each other. His gestures of compassion toward one do not require a withdrawal or denial of love for [another]. He is divinely generous to [all of us].

The trick is to learn to feel that way about each other.

An example:

Fob began as a place where a few writers serious about the discipline could gather and help each other grow. And, I think, Fob has been a success. But I will make a few admissions here:

When Master Fob finished his third novel before I started my second, I felt like he wasn't leaving room for me in the marketplace.

When Melyngoch broke my heart on paper, I felt I might as well microwave my computer.

When Queen Zippergut read scenes that my wife laughed at more than she ever has at my stuff, I felt like fading away.

It's as if I think that the amount of talent God has given the world is limited, and every ounce of talent someone else shows is one more ounce that has been denied me.

Quoting Elder Holland quoting Henri J. M. Nouwen:

In a world that constantly compares people, ranking them as more or less intelligent, more or less attractive, more or less successful, it is not easy to really believe in a love [or a God] that does not do the same. When I hear someone praised, it is hard not to think of myself as less praiseworthy; when I read about the goodness and kindness of other people, it is hard not to wonder whether I myself am as good and kind as they; and when I see trophies, rewards, and prizes being handed out to special people, I cannot avoid asking myself why that didnÂ’t happen to me.

We are trained to compare ourselves to others, to find our worth in being more than someone else.

We shouldn't.

I'm glad to say that my fellow Fobsters have never struck me as being hateful towards each another just because they are also good. They've been quite good examples to me.

Among Elder Holland's recommendations for overcoming these prodigal tendencies are applauding the work of others and serving others. Fob has applauded me so roundly as to almost make me cry. They've selflessly helped me craft better work, leaving me better than I was.

This is Zion. These are the people who love you as themselves and find joy in your successes. When Master Fob became the first of us to make money, I don't remember us being ashamed of ourselves or hating him. And that's right--that is how God is with us.

To quote Nephi (whose personality I find annoying, but that's just me being wicked again),

Hath he [the Lord God] commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.

Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden.

We are alprivilegeded. We are all equal candidates for salvation.

I know this is true. I still have many, many moments where I let another's success make me feel less, but I know this is a lie. I know God loves me like he loves you. And if I can learn to love you as he does, I can be truly happy for your successes--every bit as much as I am for mine--and I will do all I can for you. As you do for me.

Brothers and sisters, I testify that no one of us is less treasured or cherished of God than another. I testify that He loves each of us--insecurities, anxieties, self-image, and all. He doesn't measure our talents or our looks; He doesn't measure our professions or our possessions. He cheers on every runner, calling out that the race is against sin, not against each other. I know that if we will be faithful, there is a perfectly tailored robe of righteousness ready and waiting for everyone, "robes ... made ... white in the blood of the Lamb." May we encourage each other in our effort to win that prize is my earnest prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.



Previous svithe.


First! Five! Books!


The year is off to a brilliant start! Two good Batman books, a vital novel from my childhood, a classic read for the first time, and Mr. Monster. Let's start there and work back.

005) Mr. Monster by Dan Wells, finished January 10

At first I was unsure this book was going to reach the heights of its predecessor, but it did oh it did.

A little past the halfway point, the story took I turn I did not anticipate (but should have), making it the most terrifying thing I've read since JCO's Zombie. And honestly, I'm not sure I could have survived another hundred pages of that kind of mental stress.

Then the book took another unanticipated turn and I returned to a feeling of safety on one hand and the introduction of a Lovecraftian horror on the other (not exactly a fair trade; thanks a lot, Dan Wells.) And, the final paragraph, thrilled me to the marrow.

I don't often read the second book in a series anymore. I read for breadth, not depth. But these John Cleaver books are the most horrible fun I've had in ages. I really can't recommend them enough. Start from the beginning and hurry up. Book three's already available for preorder.

five days


004) The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, finished January 6

The Red Badge of Courage is no longer standard high-school fare and has not been for quite a while. I’m not sure why. It’s short, it’s terrific, it’s about a kid in war. Seems like an obvious book to keep around. How many of you read it in high school? Does any school still retain it?

I’m an unabashed fan of Crane’s poetry (though that may not be obvious) but I’ve never really read his prose. Which is bad since in my MFA applications (to write prose) I used my age in relation to Crane’s as a starting point for my personal statements and Red Badge in support of that metaphor. So it occurred to me that before any callbacks came in, I should make sure I had actually taken this book off my shelf and read it.

I’m glad I did. I’m not big into war stories, but no question they are an important part of exploring the human condition. This book now ranks among my favorites. It’s tale which, except for the opening chapters, takes place entirely within one boy’s couple hellish days, feels so true and honest, I feel like now I know how I would react, if ever forced into battle. And I understand why soldiers so rarely speak of what they’ve been through.

What amazes me most about Crane though is his importance. Not that he is important --- that doesn’t amaze me at all --- but that things he did were against the rules of fiction in his day. Describing emotion with color. No one did that.

I can’t imagine a literary landscape where Crane’s work is shocking --- he helped create our literature in such significant ways that his innovations are our norms.

And this is what makes innovation, yes? Somehow changing that no one else realizes can be changed. I admire that.


about a week


003) The Mystery of the Dinosaur Graveyard by Mary Adrian, finished January 5

You need to know about my history of this book before we move forward. I was a kid at AJ Winters Elementary School and this book was in the school library. I don't know when I first checked it out, but I checked it out over and over again until we left Idaho when I was in the fifth grade. When we moved, I had, singlehandedly, nearly filled out both sides of the book's check-out card. Assuming I read the book within 45 days of our moving, I last read the book in 1987.

In 2001 or 2002, Lady Steed and I were back in Montpelier and we swung by the old elementary-school library --- in large measure because I wanted to see if I could find this book that had played such a large role in my childhood. The librarian, incredibly, remembered me, and she was able to help me run down the name of the book even though it was no longer on the shelves. I copied its title down, its author, its ISBN, it's LoC number. I put it in my wallet where it remained for years.

When Amazon started carrying used books, finding a copy got too easy not to just buy the book, but something kept me from doing so. Was it my abject disappointment in reading the Hardy Boys again at age 21? I don't know. But I added Mystery of the Dinosaur Graveyard to my cart over and over again without ever actually buying it.

One time I nearly did and Lady Steed told me not to in a way that let me know I just needed to wait.

So now it's 2011 --- 24 years after last reading it, and the Big O gave me an old library copy from Louisiana for Christmas.

We've read it together over the last few nights and --- surprise, surprise --- it didn't live up to my new grown-up standards. But O and S were spellbound and loved loved loved the book --- couldn't get enough of it. The kids and their missing map and the hope for bones and the cougar sighting and the mysterious geologist and the pack rat and so on engaged them much, I imagine, as I was once engaged. Will they read it over and over again as I once did? I don't know. But I do know that now I want to also buy The Riddle of Raven Hollow. . . .

One thing I've long wondered about is whether or not reading this book would bring it all back in a rush or if it would be like reading it for the first time. Fact: Except for the cover, I really didn't remember anything. At all. It wasn't hard to guess ahead for most of the story (it's not terribly sophisticated storytelling), but it really was like reading it for the first time.

Next up: The Hotel Cat. Large S gave it to me for Christmas and I haven't read it since second grade. Not since 1984, almost 27 years ago. I can't wait.

since shortly after christmas


002) Batman - Judge Dredd: Judgment on Gotham by John Wagner and Alan Grant and Simon Bisley, with lettering by the famous Todd Klein; finished January 4

I don't know about you, but I never knew that Dredd was anything other than the presumably crappy source material for a presumably crappy Stallone flick. I had no idea he was a respectable European comic book.

So ignorant was I, that when I was given this book I wasn't even sure I could be bothered to read it. But I did and boy oh boy am I glad. Not so much for the writing which was just okay, but for Bisley's art. Big and bold and mythy and graphic and gory and heroic and just really darn great.

************Check out my Fob Comics post for pictures.************

two evenings


001) Batman: Venom by Dennis O'Neil et al, finished January 2

It feels like I haven't been reading very many good bulging-muscles comics lately (perhaps mostly because of the sour taste this left in my mouth), so i'm happy to report that venom was quite good. Batman gets addicted to a performance-enhancing superdrug is the story and it leads into the Bane stories (which I've never read but which are Important).

Mostly I'm impressed with the writing and since O'Neil ran the Batman stories for many years, I'm feeling a little sad I didn't develop an addiction to them myself, back during high school.

under an hour


100 movies, Thteeded


Señora H-B recently posted her progress on the 2007 version of the AFI 100-best list. Lady Steed and I once were working on the earlier lists, but haven't actively pursued said goal since having children. I thought though that it might be helpful to review our progress. (I'm only marking movies we have seen together.)

1. Citizen Kane, 1941
2. The Godfather, 1972*
3. Casablanca, 1942
4. Raging Bull, 1980
5. Singin' in the Rain, 1952
6. Gone With the Wind, 1939*
7. Lawrence of Arabia, 1962
8. Schindler's List, 1993*
9. Vertigo, 1958
10. The Wizard of Oz, 1939
11. City Lights, 1931
12. The Searchers, 1956
13. Star Wars, 1977
14. Psycho, 1960
15. 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968*
16. Sunset Blvd., 1950*
17. The Graduate, 1967*
18. The General, 1927
19. On the Waterfront, 1954*
20. It's a Wonderful Life, 1946
21. Chinatown, 1974
22. Some Like It Hot, 1959
23. The Grapes of Wrath, 1940*
24. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, 1982*
25. To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962*
26. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, 1939
27. High Noon, 1952
28. All About Eve, 1950
29. Double Indemnity, 1944
30. Apocalypse Now, 1979*
31. The Maltese Falcon, 1941
32. The Godfather Part II, 1974
33. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, 1975
34. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937
35. Annie Hall, 1977
36. The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957
37. The Best Years of Our Lives, 1946
38. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, 1948
39. Dr. Strangelove, 1964
40. The Sound of Music, 1965*
41. King Kong, 1933*
42. Bonnie and Clyde, 1967
43. Midnight Cowboy, 1969
44. The Philadelphia Story, 1940*
45. Shane, 1953
46. It Happened One Night, 1934
47. A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951
48. Rear Window, 1954
49. Intolerance, 1916
50. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001
51. West Side Story, 1961*
52. Taxi Driver, 1976
53. The Deer Hunter, 1978
54. M-A-S-H, 1970
55. North by Northwest, 1959
56. Jaws, 1975*
57. Rocky, 1976
58. The Gold Rush, 1925*
59. Nashville, 1975
60. Duck Soup, 1933
61. Sullivan's Travels, 1941
62. American Graffiti, 1973
63. Cabaret, 1972
64. Network, 1976
65. The African Queen, 1951
66. Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981
67. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, 1966
68. Unforgiven, 1992
69. Tootsie, 1982
70. A Clockwork Orange, 1971
71. Saving Private Ryan, 1998
72. The Shawshank Redemption, 1994
73. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969*
74. The Silence of the Lambs, 1991*
75. In the Heat of the Night, 1967
76. Forrest Gump, 1994*
77. All the President's Men, 1976
78. Modern Times, 1936
79. The Wild Bunch, 1969
80. The Apartment, 1960
81. Spartacus, 1960
82. Sunrise, 1927
83. Titanic, 1997*
84. Easy Rider, 1969
85. A Night at the Opera, 1935*
86. Platoon, 1986
87. 12 Angry Men, 1957*
88. Bringing Up Baby, 1938
89. The Sixth Sense, 1999
90. Swing Time, 1936
91. Sophie's Choice, 1982
92. Goodfellas, 1990
93. The French Connection, 1971
94. Pulp Fiction, 1994*
95. The Last Picture Show, 1971
96. Do the Right Thing, 1989
97. Blade Runner, 1982
98. Yankee Doodle Dandy, 1942
99. Toy Story, 1995
100. Ben-Hur, 1959

*Movies I'm fairly sure one or both of us has seen or that we own on DVD.