Happy Leap Day


Without question, this is the greatest Leap Day episode of any tv show ever.


Good old books. Remember those?


018) Good-bye, Chunky Rice by Craig Thompson, finished February 26

I first read this book not long after first reading Blankets by the same author. Since I had loved Blankets so much, I checked Chunky Rice out of the library. And proceeded to be grossly disappointed. It felt like a brief bit of nothing in comparison to the Grandness of Blankets.

But then, while I was looking for images for my most recent review of Blankets, I found this article about Chunky Rice vs. Blankets. And since I had already ordered Thompson's Habibi from the library (see review below), I decided to pick this one up as well and give it another run.

I liked it better this time.

Perhaps something I didn't recognize the first time around is that this is a smaller story. It's not trying to be about everything in the way Blankets (and especially Habibi do.

(Related: I disagree with the article that Chunky Rice is so much more chock full of comics tricks. I don't think he can prove that.)

So. The turtle Chunky Rice (described in the afterword of the next book down as a "serious animal") whispers, "My home is on my back," and leaves his love for a new life. To what end? He does not know. He feels he may be making a terrible mistake. But he is compelled and he must leave.

This is simply to story of his goodbye.

And while it's supplemented with a couple other parallel tales, essentially, that's all it is: goodbye.

Which is where I got caught up last time. Chunky doesn't even get to the first stop in his journey before the book ends. Not exactly a story, this book. Just a snapshot of goodbye.

And it packs a healthy amount of pathos into that snapshot.

Goodbye, regrets, loss, hope.

Not bad for a little book about a turtle.

about half an hour


018) Madman 20th Anniversary Monster HC by [everybody], finished February 25

As you can see from this image of Mike Allred himself and a couple of kids, this book is physically enormous. And I'm happy to say many of the contributing artists made smart use of the space. Not everyone. Some of the pages are just old pinups and some of those weren't rescanned to get a high enough resolution for this new size, but ah well.

The book celebrates twenty years of Allred's seminal Madman. Basically, everyone from Chris Ware to Craig Thompson to Jeff Smith to a slew of Hernandez brothers wrote brief stories or drew pretty pictures for the book. Unlike last year's Super Ginchy Special, however, this volume's really worth your time. (Whether it's worth the money is another question. This book ain't cheap.) My personal favorite page is Eric Powell's which makes me guffaw fiercely every time I reglance at it. Clearly I need to check out his The Goon.

Which is the secondary reason for the book: to sell the contributor's comics to Madman fans. This is not unreasonable---and really, the book is an expression of love from these artists to Mike and Frank---but there is an advertorial element to the affair.

If you're a fan though, don't let that stop you. This book is a lot of fun. And even the parts that aren't "fun" range from nice on up.

fairly quickly though I took a long time to read that last page in which guest writer complimented the world


017) Billy Hazelnuts and Crazy Bird by Tony Millionaire, finished February 25

like the last in the time before bed

016) Billy Hazelnuts by Tony Millionaire, finished February 25

perhaps half an hour

You'll need to click on this too see both pages in full:

I don't suppose it should be a surprise that Tony Millionaire's surreal style which he has employed for effects both sweetly childlike and graphically obsene can be suitably employed in the service of children. Kids love Oz and Alice and Coraline and L'Engle and every weird thing. Billy Hazelnuts is definitely that. As you can see if you clicked the image above.

Billy's made of trash and he lives in a world where that's not crazy and where a local dump is filled with old planets. Weird crazy cool.

The second book is as violent (though more gently violent, fwiw), but much much sweeter as Billy develops some kind of weirdly caring relationship with an owlet that wants to eat him.

Recommended if you fear your kids spend too much time in the real world. These'll throw 'em out in a moment.


015) Habibi by Craig Thompson, finished February 20

I've been sitting on this review for many a day now and I'm still not sure quite what I think of this book.

Here are some objective observations to start us off:

Habibi is a tour de force of the comicmaker craft. It does so many interested and complicated and disparate yet connected things that studying it in depth could be a master class in style and possibility for anyone entering the field.

Habibi is very much of its comics generation. Like Jimmy Corrigan or Duncan the Wonder Dog or Asterios Polyp or American Born Chinese or Thompson's own Blankets or [many many others], it chops up the stories chronology, moves backwards and forwards, interweaves metafictional/traditional/metaphorical tales along with the primary tale, etc.

Habibi required an amount of work that is staggering to imagine. I remember a panel at Comic Con where a couple guys talked about Habibi when it was a work in process. Jeff Smith was one of them. Can't remember the other guy. Anyway, they were in awe of what he was doing. And, yet, this book is astonishing. Thompson is revealing his phenomenal craftsmanship. He's created a book worthy of a genius.

But is the book a work of genius?

I can't tell. I don't know.

I suppose the thing to do is reread its ~670 pages a few times and work through it, but the book is loaded with so much sex and violence---much of it involving children---that I really don't think I can do that. Not right after having just read it, anyway.

It's almost Finnegan-like in it's complexity (though unlike Joyce, Thompson goes to great effort to make sure no one gets lost, and he even has a bibliography of sorts at the end), and I wonder if that would provide a payoff for those more connected to Middle Eastern culture (or if they will hate it either because Thompson's often wrong or because it's not exactly the most flattering depiction of said culture). For me, it just requires a reread.

So I don't know. Brilliantly made, yes. But is it a "good book"? Is it "a great work of fiction"?

I just don't know.

about five days


014) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1910 by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill, finished February 15

The first book? Loved it. The second book? It was okay. This book? Bluh.

This book feels obligatory---like Alan Moore needed a quick buck so he whipped together a new volume. To keep it interesting for himself, he made the unsavory characters refugees from a musical (while at the same time reducing them to a retread of a technique he used in Watchmen.

Just an utter disappointment. Even the characters inside know they're living a disappointing story. But they're pointing us to the next volume so I'm sure the payoff will be awesome. Because that's the way Moore's career is going.

On the bright side, O'Neill's art is keeping its standards up.

an evening

Previously in 2012 . . . . :

Read the reviews of 12-13.
013) Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell, finished February 12
012) Black Hole by Charles Burns, finished February 11

Read the reviews of 6-11.
011) The Complete Peanuts: 1979-1980 by Charles M. Schulz, finished February 4
010) Blankets by Craig Thompson, finished February 4
009) Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, finished February 2
008) The Millstone Necklace (forthcoming) by S.P. Bailey, finished January 31
007) American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, finished January 27
006) Across a Harvested Field by Robert Goble, finished January 23

Read the reviews of 1-5.
005) Hark! a Vagrant! by Kate Beaton, finished January 21
004) The Death of a Disco Dancer by David Clark, finished January 12
003) Bucketfoot Al: The Baseball Life of Al Simmons by Clifton Blue Parker, finished January 9
002) Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror by Chris Priestly, finished January 9
001) What of the Night? by Stephen Carter, finished January 5


Two brands of disappointment.


013) Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell, finished February 12

It's been, golly, almost ten years since I read (and loved) The Partly Cloudy Patriot, Sarah Vowell's collection of America! essays. I've owned Assassination Vacation (and now The Wordy Shipmates) for years now, but somehow have never read it, despite its thematic similarity to my beloved Patriot. Why not? Because, despite all the praise it received generally, Lady Steed did not much care for this one. And now I understand why.

Lady Steed complained that AV spent too much time preaching current politics. And it does spend A LOT of time preaching current politics. (Or what was current in 2005---amazing how much the book has already aged.) I actually don't mind this in theory; connecting the past to the present is a worthy pursuit. What I mind is her attitude. Basically, that if you don't share my politics you are a fool. And while I mostly do share her opinions (mostly), I still take umbrage at being prevented the capacity to think for myself whilst reading her book. C'mon, Sarah.

Another thing I had issue with in reading AV (and this might be petty) is that I could not hear Vowell's voice. Her voice is so striking---when I read Patriot I heard her intonation all the way through. Now, in one way, not hearing her is good: I can read a lot faster than she talks on the radio. But still. Who doesn't want to hear Violet Parr talk about the McKinley assassination?

So that was a bummer too.

But don't get me wrong. The book is a decent read and full of great facts. But the conceit of her garnering these facts while touristing is sometimes so far in the background as to be meaningless and sometimes so far in the foreground that the book becomes 90% vacation and 8% trivia and only 2% assassinations. Frankly, I would have preferred ditching the alleged "vacation" angle entirely. Instead structured the book more like a Mary Roach book. The attempt to make her research congeal into one "vacation" just never worked. Alas.

Also, as long as I'm complaining, some tangents seemed to be utterly out of her control.

But, for all that, I still will absolutely pick up and read The Wordy Shipmates someday. And probably the new Hawai'i book too.

I'll bet she's figured out booklength essays by now.

about a week


012) Black Hole by Charles Burns, finished February 11

I first read this book in 2006 while visiting friends in Utah. Because I read their copy between Doing Things, I've always thought that maybe I didn't give it a fair shake and maybe it is better than I thought at the time. After all, isn't it constantly getting listed on best-comics-evah lists?

Yes. Yes it is.

Somehow, even though it's filled with normafied drug use and sex and violence, Black Hole ended up in my high school's library, so I checked it out and brought it home and suffered through another read. Because, a second read confirms, it's just not very good.

First, let me rush to say I love Burns's stark graphic style. What you see here is his self portrait that appears on the book's backflap and at the Fantagraphics author page. His portraits are an integral part of The Believer and whenever they appear, I'm glad to see them. I love the way he wields black and white.

He does not, however, have the breadth necessary to tell a story like Black Hole (inasmuch as Black Hole has a story). His faces don't have enough variety or consistency.

Like X'ed Out, Black Hole is a collection of weirdness for weird's sake. Not much under the surface here. Take all the vaginas, for instance. Here are the first three pages of the book:

At this point, please feel free to accuse me of just seeing vaginas everywhere because gee whiz but it takes a bit of imagination to see a vagina here.

Fair enough.

But read this book and if you can still tell me that the constant barrage of vaginal imagery is accidental, fine. But it ain't. I won't care what you say. (Here's some NSFW proof.) The literal and symbolic use of female sex organs pervades the books.

And that makes for a good example of my next complaint with the book.

Vagina? Useful symbol, sure. So are teenagers. So is sex. So are drugs. So is the woods. So is disfigurement. So are STDs. So is the ocean. So are long car rides. So is a pistol. All these things are terrific symbol and Burns has made sure to pack every bleeding page with them. Sometimes he interrupts the "story" to have a dream sequence in order to pile them all up in heaping mounds in case you managed to miss the more "subtle" examples.

My opinion? Big heaping piles of symbols do not great art make. You need a point. And while maybe there's some love and nihilism or something going on, who can tell and who can care?

This book has lovely art, but it's crappy storytelling.

Back to Burns's faces, though the black-and-white is lovely, emotion is important if you, you know, want to tell a stories about humans. And more than one emotion per person, preferably. (One mopey character is genuinely mopey. All the time.)

Check out this character. In the Xth panel, she is suddenly yelling angrily.

Could you tell which panel? Could you even tell which character? If not, feel free to click it now to read the words

These people are hollow automatons. And they might as well be. This world is built for them.

So to sum up?

This book is filled with sex and violence and other great things (I'm not joking: I give a lecture every semester on how all great literature is sex and violence), but to no purpose. It's like taking sugar and cinnamon and cream of tartar, shaking them up together, and calling them snickerdoodles.

Black Hole is not snickerdoodles.

about a week

Previously in 2012 . . . . :

Read the reviews of 6-11.
011) The Complete Peanuts: 1979-1980 by Charles M. Schulz, finished February 4
010) Blankets by Craig Thompson, finished February 4
009) Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, finished February 2
008) The Millstone Necklace (forthcoming) by S.P. Bailey, finished January 31
007) American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, finished January 27
006) Across a Harvested Field by Robert Goble, finished January 23

Read the reviews of 1-5.
005) Hark! a Vagrant! by Kate Beaton, finished January 21
004) The Death of a Disco Dancer by David Clark, finished January 12
003) Bucketfoot Al: The Baseball Life of Al Simmons by Clifton Blue Parker, finished January 9
002) Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror by Chris Priestly, finished January 9
001) What of the Night? by Stephen Carter, finished January 5


the Because-I-know-Orson-Scott-Card-totally-doesn't-care-about-being-plagiarized-I-stole-this-lovely-story-from-a-1977-Ensign svithe


This is the sort of Saint I long to be. Though I must admit I like having a couple hundred Mormons around . . . .

Neighborliness: Daines Style

Robert Henry Daines bent over his microscope, looking for fungi. He was a student of ecology at Rutgers University in the early 1930s, long before ecology became a household word. He was also the only Latter-day Saint student in the school.

As he and his fellow class members worked in silence, an older graduate student opened the door and stuck his head in.

“Mr. Daines,” he asked, “which is it—Mormon or moron?”

Robert Daines looked up and cheerfully answered, “Either one is correct.”

He went on: “I’m a Mormon. Which are you?” The graduate student closed the door. Chances are he did not ask that question of another Latter-day Saint.

When Robert Henry Daines and his wife, Anna, first came to New Jersey when Robert was studying for a doctorate, they had every intention of moving back to Utah as soon as possible. As Anna says, “We planned that if Henry graduated at noon on any given day, by 1:00 on the same day we’d be on the road west.” After being brought up in predominantly Latter-day Saint communities, they did not relish the thought of raising their children in an area where, at that time, the Church was only a tiny minority.

But when Robert received his Ph.D. in 1934, the Depression was in full swing and jobs for plant pathologists were hard to find. Out of thirty-six graduates in his class, only Robert and one other man found jobs in their field. But what a job! His achievements had been so noteworthy as a student that Rutgers University asked him to join the faculty. It was too good an offer to refuse.

So instead of packing up and moving back to Utah, the Daineses stayed in New Jersey. That was almost forty-three years ago, and they still live there.

Do they regret it? Not at all. In those four decades they have had a tremendous influence for good. They have worked to keep the standards of the community of Metuchen, where they live, as high as possible. And they have worked to help countless other people see the Church in a favorable light.

“Since we couldn’t go ‘back to Zion,’” they say, “we decided we would make a sort of Zion where we were.”

They looked for a home. A real estate agent showed them a house in Metuchen, New Jersey, but they felt at that time that it was not what they were looking for. They continued renting—and looking—but finally they came back to the agent. “Show us that house in Metuchen again,” they said. “It hasn’t been sold, has it?”

The realtor answered, “Oh, I haven’t even shown that house to anyone else. I knew it was for you.”

But before they moved in, a Latter-day Saint family that had joined the Church while living nearby warned them that after their baptism they had had so much opposition they finally moved away. A series of anti-Mormon speeches in the area had prejudiced many people against Latter-day Saints. “Please don’t try to live there,” the family said. “You could never live in that area and raise your family. They’re so anti-Mormon.”

But they had already signed a contract, and they moved into the house. At first everything seemed fine—the neighbors were very nice, and the children seemed to be accepted in school. After a while, however, they noticed that even though other children came to the Daineses’ house to play, the Daines children didn’t get invited to other houses.

And then there was the local YMCA. For a short time the Metuchen Branch met in the Daineses’ home. As branch president, Brother Daines checked with the YMCA about the possibility of renting a room for church meetings. The executive secretary responded warmly, “Of course. That’s what the Y is for, to help the churches.” He did not call back for several weeks. When Brother Daines contacted him to find out what was happening, the executive secretary explained that he hadn’t called because he was ashamed to tell them that the local board of directors had turned them down. “I’m very sorry,” he said. “But they said they could not have the facilities used by Mormons.”

Robert and Anna Daines discussed the problem for quite a while. They could move, of course, though in those housing-short depression years it wouldn’t be easy.

But they decided not to run away from the situation: they would try to change the community’s attitude toward them and the Church.

They divided their efforts: Robert worked on the school system and Anna worked on the YMCA. They began immediately, for they had no time to lose. Their children needed to grow up in an atmosphere that was not tainted by prejudice. And perhaps if the Daineses could become an influence in the community, they could help maintain the high standards of the local schools.

The YMCA in Metuchen was popular with the young people, the focal point of many of their activities. So they enrolled their oldest son—and Sister Daines joined the Mother’s Auxiliary.

As with any other volunteer organization, there was a lot of work to be done, work that very few people were willing to do. Anna did it. She became indispensable in fund-raising projects, and by the end of the first year she was asked to be president of the auxiliary. When her two-year term ended, she was asked to run for one of the three women’s positions on the YMCA board of directors. She won without opposition, and so joined the very council that only a few years before had refused to let the Saints meet in their building!

But her work wasn’t over yet. She kept on helping in every way she could: many nights either Brother or Sister Daines was at the YMCA chaperoning a dance or cleaning up after a party.

When their oldest son was about to graduate from high school, they ran into a problem. It was the custom in their town that after graduation the seniors would have all-night parties in various homes and then at dawn drive to the beach, some twenty miles away. “We didn’t want our son in the drinking-party atmosphere. We didn’t want him making that dangerous drive after a night without sleep. But we also didn’t want him in the embarrassing position of having the other kids say, ‘Oh, the Daines kid can’t go.’”

So they got the parents together and changed the tradition! They planned an all-night party right at the YMCA. They opened the pool and had a chaperoned swimming party and a dance. At 4:00 A.M. they served breakfast and the seniors went home to sleep before they went to the beach. Many of them didn’t go to the seacoast at all. It was a safer, better quality celebration, and it became a new tradition for graduation parties for many years.

At the end of her first three-year term on the YMCA board, Anna Daines was reelected. Two terms are the most any board member can serve, and a man who had served that amount of time was leaving. They had a farewell dinner for him. After the dinner, this man took Sister Daines aside and said, “I must tell you before I leave that I was the one who spearheaded the campaign not to let the Mormons use this hall. I didn’t know anything good about the Mormons; I had never known a Mormon. But from the things I’d heard about them, I didn’t want to know any.

“I feel that I owe you an apology,” he said. “After seeing what fine people you are, I’m embarrassed to think that I did that.”

While Anna was working in the YMCA, Robert Henry Daines was working in the schools. The approach was the same: service. They joined the Parent-Teacher Association in their local elementary school and worked hard. Soon they became copresidents of that small group.

A great opportunity came when a citywide PTA meeting was held to decide whether the PTA should recommend uniting the Metuchen school system with other school districts in the area or staying separate and going it alone. They realized that they just didn’t have enough evidence to make a recommendation. So the combined PTAs asked Robert Daines to choose a committee and study the question.

After two years of study, Brother Daines’ committee made their report. The recommendation? The Metuchen schools shouldn’t consolidate with others. The studies showed that by maintaining local control, they’d have a better chance of keeping up the high community standards.

Shortly after this quite a few people urged Brother Daines to run for the board of education. Friends got together the sponsoring signatures to put his name on the ballot. But once again prejudice surfaced—there was quite a bit of talk against the idea of a Mormon running the schools.

In spite of the whispers, Robert Daines won. And though to a lesser degree the talk continued, Brother Daines was reelected twice—the last time by the largest majority in the Metuchen board of education history. Whispered rumors could not counteract people’s good experiences with this gifted and dedicated couple.

While Brother Daines was on the board of education, he made a point of becoming friends with the clergy of the various churches. Almost all of them responded well. In fact, only one pastor resisted, and even he signed letters supporting Daines for the board of education.

But sometimes there was friction. For years the leading Protestant church had held the high school baccalaureate services in their meetinghouse. This was years before the “ecumenical movement,” and at that time the local Catholic leaders refused to let their young people enter another church. The result was that a significant minority of the students were completely unable to attend their own high school baccalaureate for religious reasons.

Brother Daines decided that something needed to be done—the situation really wasn’t fair. So he urged the board that the schools should not keep on with a practice that kept half the seniors away from their own baccalaureate. “I think,” he said, “that we have to hold services in the school. We don’t have an assembly room large enough, but we do have a gymnasium. Let’s bring chairs in and have the baccalaureate there.” The board agreed.

The Catholics were pleased, as were several other minority groups, like the Jews and a Black congregation. But many Protestants were upset that the baccalaureate would not be held in a church.

So Brother Daines, as a member of the board, called a meeting of all the town’s ministers. At the start he announced that because it was a school meeting, he would preside. The minister of the leading church didn’t like that much—he didn’t think it was right for a layman to preside over the clergy. But Brother Daines insisted—and he called on himself to open with prayer!

He prayed that everyone there would put the interests of the community first, “that we would be big enough to do the things that were best for all the youth.”

And there was a spirit of harmony—not a dissenting voice in the whole meeting.

At the baccalaureate service in the school gym, all the churches were represented. As a Latter-day Saint, Brother Daines gave the opening prayer. The monsignor of the Catholic Church gave the address. The minister of the Black congregation had a part, as did the Jewish rabbi and the various Protestant ministers. And despite the deep feelings that the change caused at first, this has been the pattern ever since.

Robert and Anna Daines saw the achievement of most of the goals they had set when they were first confronted with anti-Mormon feelings. Not only had they helped eliminate prejudice against the Latter-day Saints, but also they had made a definite contribution to the community.

And there was another way in which Brother Daines brought the Church into favorable light—not only in their community but also throughout the eastern seaboard.

As a plant pathologist, Brother Daines had headed the Rutgers University team that helped develop and apply Standard Oil Company’s product called Captan: It could be used as a broad-range fungicide. After the method of application was perfected by Dr. Daines’s team, Captan became a valuable tool for apple and peach growers throughout the eastern United States. Apple trees that farmers had always thought were biennial began producing a crop every year, and rough, fungus-ridden apples became as smooth as the red delicious apples of the Northwest. Captan also saved the grape crop of France one year, and today it is still widely used throughout the world.

Naturally Brother Daines became prominent in his field. He began to study the effects of air pollution on the crops of New Jersey farmers. Because of his work he was made secretary to a New Jersey legislative committee on pollution. The result was the New Jersey antipollution law, based on his recommendations—the first such comprehensive statewide law in the United States. It became the basis for much of the U.S. Clean Air Act, and Brother Daines was called before a U.S. Senate committee to testify on the effects of air pollution on agriculture. He had been so instrumental in the passage of the act that President Lyndon B. Johnson invited him to the signing of the bill.

Brother Daines was asked to speak about pollution before many groups along the eastern seaboard, and he was seen on television newscasts. He took every opportunity to let it be known that he was a Mormon, which often led to his having a chance to talk privately about the Church.

The Daineses had accomplished much, and they were very happy when, after many years in New Jersey, they were at last offered a chance to return to Utah. The job Brother Daines was offered was a prestigious one, and Sister Daines was overjoyed at the prospect of her children actually attending MIA and Primary, with the full Church program that was not yet available in their area.

But when they visited Utah to be interviewed for the position, President David O. McKay took a few moments to talk with them. “Brother and Sister Daines,” he said, “go back to New Jersey, and be happy there. Raise your children in the Church in New Jersey.” President McKay looked Robert Daines in the eye and said, “Brother Daines, you have a mission to perform in New Jersey.”

Anna couldn’t help being disappointed. She didn’t say anything, but President McKay “was reading my soul,” as she later said, when he took her hand and said, “Sister Daines, you can raise your family to be good Mormons in the East.”

After several incidents which seemed to them to confirm President McKay’s words, Robert and Anna Daines ended their visit to Utah and went back to New Jersey, content to know that the Lord wanted them there.

And President McKay’s promise was fulfilled. When the last of their children to marry went through the temple, all the others were worthy to attend the ceremony. All their sons and sons-in-law served missions. All their children married in the Church. They have served in bishoprics, stake presidencies, and quorum presidencies. And they discovered that even where the Church is weak in numbers, it is strong in the Spirit.

“I had prayed for so long for the Lord to let us go back to Utah where we could raise our family among Mormons,” said Anna Daines. Once she said to a priesthood leader, “The Lord just hasn’t answered my prayer.” But her leader said, “Yes he has. The answer was no.”

The answer was no, they should not go back to Utah. But it was yes, her children could be raised as righteous Latter-day Saints—and would be.

The Church grew in New Jersey. Stakes came. Robert Henry Daines was called to serve as counselor in a new stake presidency and later as president of the New Jersey Central Stake. Just months ago he was released as president of the East Brunswick New Jersey Stake, presiding over the full Church program that they had always dreamed of having in those early years.

Of course, the Daineses were not alone. The goodwill the Church now has in that area comes from the righteous lives of many Latter-day Saints. What matters is that they were never content to insulate themselves from their community, to shelter their children from everyone around them. Instead they reached out into the community and helped other good people make it a wholesome place for all.

Not all their neighbors and friends have joined the Church. But they have felt the impact of the Church in their lives, and the effect has been good.

It is clear to President and Sister Daines now what President McKay meant when he told them they had a mission to perform in New Jersey. It is the same mission the Savior gave to all the Saints:

“Ye are the light of the world. …

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works.” (Matt. 5:14, 16.

previous svithe


I'm closer to reading all of Vonnegut's novels than I'd thought


Player Piano (1952)
The Sirens of Titan (1959) ✓
Mother Night (1961)
Cat's Cradle (1963) ✓
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965)
Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) ✓
Breakfast of Champions (1973) ✓
Slapstick (1976)
Jailbird (1979) ✓
Deadeye Dick (1982)
Galápagos (1985) ✓
Bluebeard (1987) ✓
Hocus Pocus (1990)
Timequake (1997) ✓


Books for friends


011) The Complete Peanuts: 1979-1980 by Charles M. Schulz, finished February 4

I started to keep track of particular moments I wanted to share, then someone pulled out my bookmark. Sigh.

Still. You are buying and reading these, right? They are . . . wonderful . . . .

about a month


010) Blankets by Craig Thompson, finished February 4

The astonishing thing is that this book is even better than I remembered it. And I've been talking it up pretty much since it came out. I've been telling people to read it and that it's one of the great comics and

it's even better than I remembered it.


Of course, there's also nudity which I'd forgotten, so sorry nonnudity people who've followed my advice.

Thompson's book is painfully beautiful. It's a coming-of-age story so poignant and true that it gets someone like me---who treats the coming-of-age label as a reason to stay away---to utterly get sucked into a first love and a crisis of faith and . . . a coming of age . . . and to live it so completely that a burning photograph can register as actual, literal, physical pain, somewhere in the depths of my chest.

This book makes me so happy and so melancholy.

I finished this reading and had to put it down and sit quietly for half and hour, just living that much longer in the world he created.

Wow but does this man know how to draw, how to write, how to tell a bleeding story.

It's too excellent not to read. Please do.

two days


009) Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, finished February 2

I am now teaching this book for the first time. All I really remember about reading this book when I was taught it in high school (c. 1992) is the following:
1. Mrs. Teague, when she first read it in college, hated the book so much she threw it across the room against a wall and let it sit there for days.

2. I loved it.

3. I started reading Vonnegut --- perhaps the final author in my reading life that I fixated on.
I reread the book shortly after Lady Steed and I were married (2000) and was disappointed not to be blown away again. But I was looking for my old experience, not what the book still had to offer.

This reading I've gotten myself put back together---and I frankly loved Cat's Cradle this time round. It truly is a brilliant book---probably Vonnegut's best---and if you haven't reread it in ten years or so, it may be time.

about a week


008) The Millstone Necklace (forthcoming) by S.P. Bailey, finished January 31

As this book is still unreleased, I won't say much yet (this parenthetical will someday link to my AMV review), but know that this is a fun and thrilling little adventure to keep a lookout for.

two days


007) American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, finished January 27

As per my original (bitty) review, this book is terrific. It holds up. Even knowing the end from the beginning does not get in the way (which says a lot in this case, as Yang has built a complicated Rube Goldberg contraption of plot and symbols here). If you haven't read it yet, you should.

Or if you have yet, like me, have not read any of Yang's other books, let us ask ourselves Why?

one day


006) Across a Harvested Field by Robert Goble, finished January 23

Make sure you get the pretty good cover and not the pretty bad cover. My full review's over on AMV.

more than one week less than two

Previously in 2012 . . . . :

Read the reviews of 1-5.

005) Hark! a Vagrant! by Kate Beaton, finished January 21
004) The Death of a Disco Dancer by David Clark, finished January 12
003) Bucketfoot Al: The Baseball Life of Al Simmons by Clifton Blue Parker, finished January 9
002) Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror by Chris Priestly, finished January 9
001) What of the Night? by Stephen Carter, finished January 5


The Mediator / Super Bowl Svithe


I remember watching this video as a teenager and being very moved by it:

I still think it's pretty good.

And I'm using President Packer's story in my Sunday School lesson tomorrow ("inspired by" this).

We'll start with reading John 3:16 in honor of the Super Bowl, and take turns saying the third Article of Faith. The, the assigning of parts. Then,
Narrator: Let me tell you a story—a parable. There once was a man who wanted something very much. It seemed more important than anything else in his life. In order for him to have his desire, he incurred a great debt. He had been warned about going into that much debt, and particularly about his creditor. But it seemed so important for him to do what he wanted to do and to have what he wanted right now. He was sure he could pay for it later. So he signed a contract. He would pay it off some time along the way. He didn’t worry too much about it, for the due date seemed such a long time away. He had what he wanted now, and that was what seemed important. The creditor was always somewhere in the back of his mind, and he made token payments now and again, thinking somehow that the day of reckoning really would never come.

Listener: But?

Narrator: But. As it always does, the day came, and the contract fell due. The debt had not been fully paid. His creditor appeared and demanded payment in full. Only then did he realize that his creditor not only had the power to repossess all that he owned, but the power to cast him into prison as well.

Debtor: I cannot pay you, for I have not the power to do so.

Creditor: We will exercise the contract, take your possessions, and you shall go to prison. You agreed to that. It was your choice. You signed the contract, and now it must be enforced.

Debtor: Can you not extend the time or forgive the debt? Arrange some way for me to keep what I have and not go to prison. Surely you believe in mercy? Will you not show mercy?

Creditor: Mercy is always so one-sided. It would serve only you. If I show mercy to you, it will leave me unpaid. It is justice I demand. Do you believe in justice?

Debtor: I believed in justice when I signed the contract. It was on my side then, for I thought it would protect me. I did not need mercy then, nor think I should need it ever. Justice, I thought, would serve both of us equally as well.

Creditor: It is justice that demands that you pay the contract or suffer the penalty. That is the law. You have agreed to it and that is the way it must be. Mercy cannot rob justice.

Narrator: There they were. One meting out justice, the other pleading for mercy. Neither could prevail except at the expense of the other.

Debtor: If you do not forgive the debt there will be no mercy.

Creditor: If I do, there will be no justice.

Listener: So both laws can’t be served?

Narrator: They are two eternal ideals that appear to contradict one another.

Listener: Is there no way for justice to be fully served, and mercy also?

Narrator: There is a way! The law of justice can be fully satisfied and mercy can be fully extended—but it takes someone else.

Listener: And?

Narrator: And so it happened this time. The debtor had a friend. He came to help. He knew the debtor well. He knew him to be shortsighted. He thought him foolish to have gotten himself into such a predicament. Nevertheless, he wanted to help because he loved him. He stepped between them, faced the creditor, and made this offer.

Mediator: I will pay the debt if you will free the debtor from his contract so that he may keep his possessions and not go to prison.

Creditor: Hmmm.

Mediator: You demanded justice. Though he cannot pay you, I will do so. You will have been justly dealt with and can ask no more. It would not be just.

Creditor: Very well.

Listener: And what did he say to the debtor?

Narrator: He said—

Mediator: If I pay your debt, will you accept me as your creditor?

Debtor: Oh yes, yes! You’ve just saved me from prison! Shown mercy to me!

Mediator: Then, you will pay the debt to me and I will set the terms. It will not be easy, but it will be possible. I will provide a way. You need not go to prison.

Narrator: And so it was that the creditor was paid in full. He had been justly dealt with. No contract had been broken. The debtor, in turn, had been extended mercy. Both laws stood fulfilled. Because there was a mediator, justice had claimed its full share, and mercy was fully satisfied.
Having reached this point, I will point out that President Packer himself has said that any metaphor will break down if you take it too literally, and there is one way in which I think this story is particularly weak.

At which point we will read and discuss the following:
2 Nephi 9:7–9, 21–22

Doctrine and Covenants 19:16–19

2 Nephi 2:4

2 Nephi 10:24
And, for the record, a Boston team and a New York team? I could not possibly care less who wins.

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