2017-03-21

That time that Swedish dude killed a kid in a submarine---a magical submarine

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043) Casanova: Acedia Volume 1 by Matt Fraction and Fábio Moon and Michael Chabon and Gabriel Bá, finished March 18

What a writing cast! And the art is a style I'm very fond of! Okay!


The real problem with this volume is that it's really not long enough. They should have waited to make a collection. Why must they all be the same length? This was super intriguing, but some of what made it intrigue also made it dissatisfy. For instance, there is, if I'm counting correctly, three ongoing stories (one of which is superbrief and meta and may be ignored as far as this argument is concerned). Which means the pagelength is split between the two. Which makes both even slighter than they would normally be in this sort of collection.

That said, both stories are genre-bending bits of bitesize brilliance (or at least curiosity). But was it enough to stick with me long enough to read more next time?

Ask Shutter.
one week



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042) Wolfie & Fly by Cary Fagan, finished March 15

This charmer (free from publisher) is about two loner kids (one by choice, one not) who find each other and embark on an adventure that is about three parts imagination to two parts reality.

It's fun and super simple. If you're looking to break a kid into chapter books, this could do it. It's smart and reasonably witty. It lacks the madcap strain on impossibility that you see in, say, Roald Dahl, but it's a dialed down entry into that same genre.
two noncontiguous days



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041) Cyrus Perkins and the Haunted Taxi Cab by Dave Dwonch and Anna Lencioni, finished March 13


I picked this up off the library's Adult Graphic Novels shelf and my nine-year-old read it before I knew it was in risk of being touched by a child. Luckily, this was okay. I mean---there's blood and ghosts and a demon and stuff, but nothing beyond your average Disney movie. Which is the great American benchmark for child safety.

Here's the story: cabbie picks up a fare who's been shot and dies en route to the hospital. The boy's soul is trapped in the cab and the cabbie feels obliged to solve the mystery of his death in order to, he hopes, set him free.

And so it goes.

What I like best about the book is its hints at richness---the sense that there is much more story to tell, characters to develop. The ghost in the cab is not close to the most intriguing element (though alas: it looks rather like it'll be adopting a ghost-of-the-week format going forward), but I recognize the value of less interesting stories while the larger arcs grow more naturally. Sure. That's fine. I get it.
two days over three days



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040) An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen, finished March 10

What a play! This is a thrilling read and make no mistake. First we have what seems like a great victory of the liberals over the conservatives. Then we learn the liberals are exactly the same as the conservatives. Then we see our hero leap into a tragedy-sized abyss. Then we realize the tragedy will be less literal and all the more horrible therefor. Then we see that suffering is the actual heroism. Then we close the book and sit back and wonder if we were manipulated into the correct opinions, or tricked into the wrong opinions.

I believe all I’ve read of Ibsen’s before is A Doll’s House, and this play has many similarities. The mix of secrets-vs-disclosures within a family is different but present, and the hero is set up for utter tragedy, but by embracing that seeming tragedy, somehow finds a complicated and beautiful “happy” ending.

But along the way, Enemy of the People presents its themes with much more energy and vim. This would be a lot of fun to watch on stage, done right. And a film version should be rushed into production Right Now. THIS IS THE TIME!

Phew.
probably a month reading only on some fridays








Previously in 2017

2017-03-09

Caesar! Bunnies! Poetry! Gaiman!

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039) Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, finished March 9

I first read Shakespeare my sophomore year of high school. Mrs Errecart said we were reading Julius Caesar and I was, I'll admit, pretty scared. Shakespeare??? It was going to be hard and boring and miserable.

Only it was not. I loved Julius Caesar. When I graduated high school, my parents got me Oxford's complete Shakespeare and he's been a big part of my life ever since.

But I've never again read Julius Caesar---which strikes me as rather remarkable, given how much Shakespeare I was assigned in college, not to mention the occasional for-fun reads.

But given the current climate, I thought this play might be a good choice. My AP kids are reading it next week and I just finished my first-ever reread in preparation.

And holy cow, guys. It's really good. So much fun to read. It's fast-paced and full of great dialogue. No fat on this baby.

Now to see if my students feel the same.....
couple weeks or so



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038) In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown by Amy Gary, finished March 5

So let's start by noting that Gary's professional life is dedicated to bringing out the voluminous, unpublished treasures Margarite Wise Brown left behind. This doesn't excuse that the purple-prosed hagiographic tendencies of this biography, but it does explain them somewhat. It's also worth complaining about that the biography tells a lot about what was flitting through its characters mind at any given moment, but the notes don't clearly back up that level of detail. The other thing that drove me nuts was how Gary would set up a storyline as important, then completely forget it. See her parents, for example, but the most egregious example, I felt, was her relationship with illustrator Phyra Slobodkina. They were working together at Margaret's Maine home when she parroted the anti-Semitic language heard from her America First Committee friends (and broadcasts). Phyra, being Jewish, was offended and left the next morning. Margaret felt awful and planned to make an apology. Did she? Dunno. In the remaining 140 pages Phyra's mentioned only twice in passing and there's nothing about the whole anti-Semite thing. That sort of thing is the book's biggest flaw.

But flaws aside, I really enjoyed this book. I didn't know much about Margaret Wise Brown coming in except she had written a whole lotta books. In fact, the only reason I checked this book out is because I had to talk to a librarian for checkout, was embarrassed by what I was getting, and had grabbed the closest respectable-looking thing off the NEW shelves as balance.

Even with the salt poisoning, I'm now convinced she was a genius. And not in the mystical sense, but in the sense of she had an unusual ability and spent her life working to refine it. Learning about how she got into the trade and the amount of time she spent with kids finetuning her stories was inspiring.

And her stupid, stupid death at the hand of a French doctor was shocking, even though I knew she was doomed to die young. She seemed to be on the cusp of her first healthy romantic relationship and then she was dead.

There are other biographies about her which I'll probably never read, but I now add her to the list of writers I admire. And the list of writers who were taken from us much too soon. I have to admit to a great, never-to-be-consummated desire to know what she would have done next.

(In closing, here's a you-never-know for you. During probate following her death, the estimated future worth of Goodnight Moon was estimated at $200.)
maybe a month?



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037) Ritual and Bit by Robert Ostrom, finished March 3

I really liked this collection. Even though some of the poems were dumb and some pushed a simple concept too far, I liked how adventurous it was and how it bounded about, sticking its nose in unexpected places and turning up all sorts of weird things, some of which even managed to be beautiful.

Here's to mating fun and ambition.
a week



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036) Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman, finished March 3

Gaiman's an interesting fellow. I stopped reading his novels for adults (not in an I've-sworn-them-off sense) because they just don't work as well as his shorter works---comics, short stories, novels for kids. And although I wouldn't call this new collection a 100%er, it's mostly good and mostly very good when it's good.

Gaiman's at his best when he's mining old myths and tales and melting them to ore to pour into new moulds. And there are some lovely examples of this here. (But also some examples where it almost seems like a Gaiman imitator taking his schtick too far. So it goes.)

I started this in the audio version. I enjoy listening to Gaiman, I suppose. He reads well. Though I'm not sure that his is always the best voice for a particular story. But hey: he's a rock star. No way around that. Give the fans what they want.
sixty-two days








Previously in 2017

2017-03-07

Redesigned Thmusings

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Thutopia has a cleaned-up look as of five minutes ago. A redesign was overdue, but my hand was forced by failed image hosting and Blogger's new set-up that doesn't allow the behind-the-scenes access to code I used to enjoy. No wonder everyone's moved to Wordpress.

The downside is this is just a generic Blogger look because, well, access to the code is extremely limited.

So.

2017-03-02

Lost Songs: “Just When I Needed You Most”

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Here's a really cheesy video that Google recommends when listening to this song:



I never know when I might start singing this song. When I was a kid it was probably because some dumb thing had made me think my life was a cesspool of sentiment and no song could better describe my forlorn state.

These days I guess it's just because the song has implanted itself deep into my musical dna.

Listening to it now, deliberately, yes, the song does show a few signs of age. But it is in fact a pretty great song. The fascinating way it emphasizes 'I'---in contract to how it emphasizes the word 'you'---is part of it. Randy VanWarmer suggested two reasons: one that nasty breakups are universal (though I love this song and have never gone through one) and the sweet autoharp break. My personal opinion is that it's the heartbroken pathos of his voice. And the fact that it is pathos and not bathos. He feels sincerely damaged, but not trying to wallow therein.

It's a beautiful song. It's not complicated. It's simple and therefore direct and therefore finds its way past my ironic barriers.

If you're interested, here's a Dolly Parton cover I just found.



The parts with the backup singers are hilariously badly aged. The parts with the actors, however....

I'm sure there are terribly saccharine covers out there, but the song doesn't require adornment. The simpler, methinks, the better.

2017-02-24

Poetry's okay I guess

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Twenty-seven of the thirty-five books finished this year are poetry and comics which explains how the numbers are already half of last year's. Of course, all those books added together don't match the word count of the pages read in Don Quixote last year.

Which I still haven't finished....






035) Under Brushstrokes by Hedy Habra, finished February 24

Two observations on this book.

1. Having such a large percentage of a book be ekphrastic ain't great, frankly. Just a list of paintings at the end (the end!) is way too much work for me, the casual reader. This should have been a coffeetabler....

2. Anyone looking for evidence of poetry in prose poems should check this book out. Lots of examples of high overall quality.
five days






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034) Rapture by Sjohnna McCray, finished February 20

The speaker of this book is the son of a black man from what our current president would call the inner cities and a Korean woman---an erstwhile prostitute met during the Vietnam war. His childhood involves the tension in this relationship and hints of other tensions---siblings by other mothers, inner-city crime, relatives, etc. The other primary angle the book takes is the speaker's adult love/sex life with other men. Hints of his homosexuality in childhood are too deeply buried for me to find. The closest thing to sex for himself is peeping on a naked woman with his cousins.

The final poem in the collection is multipart and eponymous and helps take the speaker from childhood to adult. We see him explore sex and the gay scene etc etc and find his own grounding as a man in meaningful relationships with other men.

My favorite part of the book comes in the final section of this final poem. Specifically, the underlined parts:


This captures something true about sex that I've never articulated to myself before, and I appreciate the insight.
two days



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033) The Destroyer in the Glass by Noah Warren, finished February 19

The foreword suggests this poet is great because hey, check out this poem, the first stanza makes sense and the rest of the poem makes no sense at all QED. I did not finish reading the foreword. I did, however, read all the poems, though I don't completely disagree with the foreword's assessment.

The best poems came in two types: long meandering personal histories, poems about specific and unexpected objects.

The best of the latter was probably "Automatic Pool Cleaner." This poem brilliantly and evocatively explores the cleaner and lets it become a metaphor on its own terms. And then it feels the need to explain it by getting obscure. It's a cheap trick and not an easy one to do well. Warren, I'm afraid, doesn't do it so well.

But he's young and although the collection has few very good poems, very good lines are scattered througout.
three days


Previously in 2017

2017-02-20

Finishing up some loose ends. Also poetry.

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032) Old Boy, Vol. 8 by Garon Tsuchiya & Nobuaki Minegishi, finished February 18

So when last we read Old Boy, I was demanding a huge payoff. Did I get it in this final volume.

. . . yes. Yes, I guess I did.

The weird thing is that it really wasn't a huge payoff. It was pretty dang small, in fact, really, by objective measures. But somehow that proved to be more honest than something huge.

Also weird was that I accepted the late addition of hypnosis to this story. That's not something I would normally go for.

I am curious about the movie, though. All it's famed violence---I'm not sure where it came from. I'm imagining it's a rather loose adaptation....
nighttime



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031) Ms. Marvel Vol. 6: Civil War II by G. Willow Wilson et al, finished February 18

More Ms Marvel!

Now that Ms Marvel is an established and important character, and thus being integrated into the greater Marvel universe, she's getting less fun to read. Certain storylines in this volume are overrushed, presumably in order to stay in sync with other titles, leaving character development and moral-dilemma development underbaked and insufficient.

Kamala's trip to Pakistan was similarly overrushed---and thus the growth she undergoes as a character didn't quite ring true.

And certain characters---notably Spider-Man, Nova, and a random woman I didn't realize until right now was her sister-in-law in new clothes---just came out of nowhere without introduction to those of us following only one title.

This is the problem with the large universes of Marvel and DC. The more committed you are to a title, the more your realize that title is not so committed to you. It's just trying to lead you into a more expensive comics habit.

Sigh.

Anyway. This volume, notwithstanding all these complaints, was also good.
evening



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030) White Sand by Brandon Sanderson & Rik Hoskin & Julius Gopez, finished February 18

What a blasted mess this thing it. It's boring for one thing. The plot is a clustertrump of events and happenstance. The dialogue only aspires to B-movie quality. The organization of panels is at times utterly bewildering. And the art is that mid-90s style where everyone looks like they were made of dried clay then hit with hammers. I really can think of nothing to recommend it or why I would look forward to further volumes.


boooo
fifteen or sixteen days



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029) Honest Engine by Kyle Dargan, finished February 17

Like a lot of the poetry collections I've been reading lately, Honest Engine got a bit dull for me towards the end. I wonder if there just aren't many poets who can excite me for a full 80–100 pages? This may reflect poorly on me.

This collection has a couple themes. Race in America. The brutality of men towards women even in consensual relationships. The death of a beloved grandmother. These ideas circle each other, biting and snapping, but not in an attempt to win. The collection is beautifully written, but it feels consigned. It is resigned to sadness and inefficacy.

But sadness coupled with an inability to change the world is very in right now.

Besides: best poem about fellatio I've ever read.
a couple weeks or a bit more






Previously in 2017

2017-02-17

Best, Old

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028) Best American Comics 2016 edited by Roz Chast, finished February 16

In some respects, this was a banner year for BAC. With one two-page exception, Roz Chast collected nothing but stuff I liked. On the other hand, there's nothing here I liked enough to go buy the book. And in series editor Bill Kartalopoulos's list of notable comics in the band is McCloud's Sculptor---which is better than anything in this collection.

Which would you prefer? Liking everying? Or loving some, hating some?

Highlights:
"Milk" by Joe Sacco

"Bike Fast," Coney Island," "Home" by Sophia Zdon

Adults Only by Lance Ward

Don't Leave Me Alone by GG
month and a half



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027) Old Boy, Vol by Garon Tsuchiya & Nobuaki Minegishi, finished February 16

The plot thickens! The payoff had better pay off. I can't imagine what it's going to be, but it had better be good....
three days



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026) Old Boy, Vol. 6 by Garon Tsuchiya & Nobuaki Minegishi, finished February 12

Compelling and perplexing. Must read on!
after midnight



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025) Old Boy, Vol. 5 by Garon Tsuchiya & Nobuaki Minegishi, finished February 11
024) Old Boy, Vol. 4 by Garon Tsuchiya & Nobuaki Minegishi, finished February 10
The mystery gets stranger. It never turns the way I expect and I'm as bewildered as the protagonist as far as predicting the villain's motivations or endgame. Excited to see where it's going Further comments withheld for now.

Except one: Even without any sex scenes in these two volumes, the books are still infested with bizarre sex. Does Garon Tsuchiya have some taboo checklist he's working off?
same sitting




Previously in 2017

2017-02-09

Make Mine Ms Marvel

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023) Ms. Marvel Vol. 5: Super Famous by G. Willow Wilson & Takeshi Miyazawa, finished February 9

I did not know I would someday laugh (quite outloudly!) at a Google Calendars punchline. Or that the same story could make me cry two pages later. If the film and television arm really wants to channel the world with something both beautiful and radical, they have their best option right here. (And who knows---with Captain Marvel and Inhumans movies en route, can Kamala Khan be far behind?

In short, I love our hero. I love the supporting characters (her brother has developed into something wonderful; the characters new to this volume are deftly drawn). I love the visiting icons.

Wilson's plucky Jersey girl is simply one of the best teenaged heroes---and one of the best heroes fullstop---on newsstands today. It's quality writing regardless of genre.
two days




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022) Ms. Marvel Vol. 4: Last Days by G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona, finished February 7
021) Ms. Marvel Vol. 3: Crushed by G. Willow Wilson & Takeshi Miyazawa & Elmo Bondoc, finished February 7

Although crossovers are fun, their writers don't capture the breadth of Kamala's character that Wilson does. They catch an aspect or two, but they fall short.

The story proper, however, as included in these two volumes, is excellent. Even the obvious boy twist was stronger than it deserved to be because of the roundedness of the primary characters. Special shoutout to Kamala's brother who is developing into a pretty awesome dude. To say nothing of her parents. A scene between Kamala and her mother made me tear up, and that's not a common occurrence in superhero rags.
same evening



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020) Ms. Marvel Volume 2: Generation Why by G. Willow Wilson & Jacob Wyatt & Adrian Alphona, finished February 6
019) Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona, finished February 5

Somehow I thought I needed to read these two to catch up to where I'd left off, but in fact I had only read the first and so it didn't take long to find new joys.

And "joys" is certainly the right word. Kamala is a brilliant character. Real enough you'll be sure you went to high school with her, yet thrown into an impossible world. Honestly, she's probably the best teenaged superhero since Peter Parker.

And the dialogue is a joy to read, the art---which shows just the right amount of influence from American manga and Bill Plympton--- is witty in it's own right. Every scrap of trash demands to be read and---is that Marty McFly?

I'm excited to keep reading. So far, it hasn't gotten caught in the quagmire of Marvel mythos, but as Kamala becomes a bigger deal, it seems more and more inevitable. Stay strong, Ms. Marvel!
a day each



Previously in 2017

2017-02-04

Let me tell you about some excellent comics

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019) Curses by Kevin Huizenga, finished February 4

This is an amazing and beautiful collection of comics not quite like anything I've ever seen before. I picked it up on Noah Van Sciver's recommendation, expecting something unusual but it kinda looks like anything in the genre so, you know, how unusual could it be?


In short, very.

It's a series of short stories, some very short, some quite long. All (except perhaps [perhaps] one) about everyman Glenn Ganges of Michigan. But the stories---especially (but not exclusively) the longer ones---have the rich complexity I would expect from Jimmy Corrigan or Asterios Polyx, not a short. Sometimes the stories are strictly realistic, sometimes they are fantastical---but they are always even-keeled and truthful. Some may stop your heart.

One technique that he employs with aplomb is bringing together seemingly random crap and turning it into coherent and moving poetry. Take the mid-sized piece about missing children and carpet cleaning and Somali refugees and American supermarkets. And it all ties together, yes, but not in the way I would have guessed. Not to say there's some big shyamalanian twist at the end---there is not---but that they do. And he does it by placing the weight of these heavy topics on the least significant of them.

Which sounds almost like a New Testament reference which is appropriate as the final two stories get overtly religious and come at Christianity from opposite ends. The first embeds a theological essay by a side character; the second shares a fictional bit of folk religion that deals with similar concerns. Almost like a superego and id of religious thinking bumping into each other on the sidewalk.

I'm not sure how to insist any louder. Just read the book.
maybe three weeks, tops



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017) Precious Rascals by Anthony Holden, finished January 31

I wasn't aware of Holden until a couple months ago, but now I am exceedingly aware of him. This book collects strips he's made over the years FOR his family, along with some commentary, turning it into an interesting hybrid of memoir and collection. The strips are genuinely funny and the look at his (very Mormon) family life is sharp and nuanced and layered and personal and, worth repeating, funny.

Highly recommended!

(I read a free pdf, but I just bought the paper version. That's how much I mean what I say.)
a week or so



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015 & 016) Anthem by Ayn Rand, finished January 31

I've read this book so many bleeding times. It's still useful for getting fourteen-year-olds to pull ideas from story, but the more I read it, the harder time I have accepting the shoddy worldbuilding. At first, it was just a nice fable---a tale short on plot on character but full of ideas. But when you're read it as many times as I have, the holes in Rand's fictional creation become more and more difficult to accept.

The good news: the freshmen are reading it for the first time and are just as amazed at its clever aspects as the first batch of freshmen were.
six nonconsecutive days



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014) Old Boy, Vol. 3 by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi, finished January 30

So far so good. The sex is a bit adolescent-fantasy but development of the mystery is enjoyable.
evening





Previously in 2017

2017-01-30

Sexy, sexy manbooks

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hubba hubba read on

013) On Jupiter Place by Nicholas Christopher, finished January 30

This burst of poetry is providing some nice results! Like Cynthia Cruz's book, this one dragged out for me at the end with its lengthier poem, but I found much to love here. His poem on Lois Lane is the superhero movie I've been waiting for.
three days



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012) Old Boy, Vol. 2 by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi, finished January 29
two days
011) Old Boy, Vol. 1 by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi, finished January 28
maybe three days

I first read volume one almost ten years ago, but now all seven volumes were at my local library. Of course, I wasn't starting new books last year, but months later in January they were still there. (They are what is called iFLOAT---which means they stay at whichever branch a patron last returned them to.)

They're a breezy read filled with sex and threats of future violence, and I can't yet tell if they are Good Literature or not (I'm skeptical, but keeping an open mind).

Here's the set-up: A man's spent ten years locked up in a secret private prison for reasons he does not know. Now that he's out, he intends to find out. And wuite likely take his revenge. We'll see! Still five volumes to go! And they're all by my bedside, so I'll be getting to them soon. (Indeed, I'm already well into volume three. Wanna race?)




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010) Summerlost by Ally Condie, finished January 27

Everyone seems to love Ally Condie, so I thought I would give her new book a spin.

If I taught junior-high English I would be tempted to teach this book for the same reason John Green's Fault in Our Stars tempts: the intertextuality teaches kids how to read well. It's not as blatant as Green's book but it's doing many of the same things (including some over-the-top symbolism near the end).

Okay. Enough of that.

The book plods a bit at times, but it has many more moments of lyrical beauty. And although some of the emotional beats seemed a bit undercooked, I prefer that anyday over being burnt.

In short, it's a pretty typical YA story---boy, girl, precociousness, a mystery, at least one bully---but it's a fine, fine example of its genre and we should all encourage her. Keep on, Ally! Guess i have to read Matched now!
weekish



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009) Heat Wake by Jason Zuzga, finished January 24

Some nice lines in here and a couple striking juxtapositions, but overall a total mess of half-formed images. The longer poems are ... self-indulgent.
four or five days






Previously in 2017

2017-01-19

Poetry on up

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008) How the End Begins by Cynthia Cruz, finished January 19

007) Delinquent Palaces by Danielle Chapman, finished January 19

I took a couple poetry collections with me to an elementary school function to aid in my antisociality. Chapman's I started first and thus finished there. It had its moments, but never really grabbed me. My favorite section was the long, multipart "A Shape Within" which gradually revealed itself to be a walk through a city and, you know, faith and despair and stuff. It's already a bit fuzzy because I immediately started in on Cruz's, which I loved---especially the first half when the connections between poems were less formal. But the witty morbidity of all the pieces hit me where I live. And the casual plainness of the read was instantly appealing.

Both made me want to write, which is always a commendation.
one evening



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006) Pilot by pd mallamo, finished January 19

I need to think about this before I write a real review. It has many marvelous qualities and it was also pretty irritating, so I'll work on correlating my reactions then probably write something longer for AMV.
over a month, which is kind of ridiculous, but we had a baby



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005) Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, finished January 16

I can make positive comparisons to Folk of the Fringe (especially) and The Road and Cell (to a lesser extent), but I think this is my favorite. It's nonchronological---it's home time, I guess, it's well after the apocalypse, but it makes daily life before the apocalypse as interesting and post, and both more interesting than the death of practically everyone itself. That's not possible of course, but the text gives more attention to the details of times less inherently car-crash compulsive which makes for a lovely balance.

Karen Valby, on the back cover, says that "The story feels spun rather than plotted" and this is true. I'm a bit tired, honestly, of the deliberate craftiness of much fiction---look-at-me cleverness as the author spins us through time and narrators. While this novel is doing much of this as well, it's honest. Spun, not plotted. Natural. And, as I said, it can take me from a postapocalyptic horror show to a normal day in pre-disaster Toronto without me being sad or impatient. Both equally interest me.

It's an astonishing accomplishment.
a couple weeks at most



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004) I Hate Fairyland Volume 1: Madly Ever After by Skottie Young et al, finished January 14

I'm pro-cuteviolence, but nothing about this volume really excited me. It frequently cuts away from the big action pieces because that is "funny" sequencing, and the lead character is not that interesting. The world is interesting, but we never really get to learn about it before everyone in this part of town is dead. It's a bit tiring, a bit dull. Juxtaposing things that just don't go together! is not sufficiently clever to carry a book, I'm afraid.

two days





Previously in 2017

2017-01-12

Starting the year off right!

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003) The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, finished January 12

Pull yourself up off the floor. Yes, I read a 662-page book in a week. Me. I don't think I've read a book with this many pages in this short a time since Harry Potter was new.

Like Harry Potter, this is the story of a boy with great parents (who are dead) who attends a school of magic. But other than the generic title of fantasy, a compelling readability, and a certain quiet artistry to the language, the books don't really have that much in common.

The Name of the Wind is one of those excellent novels that doesn't scream aloud I Am Literature and thus it can be easy to overlook the fact that it is.

I read this book because too many wildly enthusiastic people told me I must, that it was their favorite, that it would change my life. I don't think it did, but when three reasonable people make these claims during the twelve-month you're not starting new book, you begin the new year by picking it up. So I did.

But I couldn't renew it and so I considered just returning it as there was no way I was going to finish a book this length in the two weeks I had left.

Surprise surprise.

This is the first volume in an unfinished trilogy, and it is very much the beginning of something. One thing I don't understnad about the novel's boosters is how they can view it as a standalone object of excellence. I guess it is, but in some ways it's no more than chapter one of a Hardy Boys book. It is a beginning! I finely crafted and wildly fun first chapter, but this novel ends with a sense of anticipation, not completion. I think I would find that frustrating in a book that's changed my life. Or hopeful? I don't know. Anyway, meanwhile, the third volume is overdue. So I think I'll take a break before reading volume two. (Which is three-hundred pages longer and no one seems to like as much.)
a week give or take a couple days



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002) F in Exams: The Very Best Totally Wrong Test Answers by Richard Benson, finished January 10

You know the thing: real wrong answers from students are compiled and put together. Not high-brow stuff but definitely laugh-out-loud stuff. At least, I did. It was the perfect for-reading-while-waiting-in-the-car-for-somebody book. Except I already finished it....
two days



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001) States of Deseret by William Morris, finished January 10

So this was a copy-edit read and I'll be doing a couple more (and the book isn't even quite complete yet, given I haven't written the introduction yet), but I'm counting it and letting you know now: we have something special here. Put it on your must-buy list.
no comment





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* most recent post in this series *

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final booky posts of
2016 2015 = 2014 = 2013 = 2012 = 2011 = 2010 = 2009 = 2008 = 2007



2017-01-08

Nine-year-old svithe

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Middle Son surprised me by standing today to bear his testimony. I'm not sure about his exigesis, but it was a nice and well spoken bit of wordery and here's a rough transcription:
The scriptures are like Jonah and the Whale. he jumped in the water because he didn't believe in God then the whale saved him anyway and I think that's like the scriptures because you can not believe them and then you read them and see they're true anyway.



previous svithe

2017-01-01

Fresh Start Svithe

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I pinch hit for the bishop today; the topic was fresh starts and this is roughly what I said to introduce the speakers.

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I got new socks for Christmas. Later you should ask to see them because whatever you're imagining, you're wrong.

We also got a new baby this year. She's still less than two weeks old.

And today is a new year. I mean---there's no particularly astronomical reason today starts a new year---why not the solstice, twelve days ago? Why not spring? Isn't spring the symbol of new beginnings? Why now in the darkest and coldest part of the year, here in the Northern Hemisphere, are we noting a new year?

Well,
hope is born in darkness
faith is born in doubt
eternity is born in mortality

Let us march boldly forward together


previous svithe

2016-12-31

All the rest of the movies of 2016

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In theaters:


Doctor Strange (2016): We finally returned to the theater! For the Big O's birthday, to see a movie both he and his mother were excited to see (though perhaps not for identical reasons). It's a visual feast and reasonably intelligent. Certainly a quality entry into the Marvel canon. I guess next we'll get to see how it integrates itself. I know about nothing about the Strange comics so I can't speak to questions of adaptation, but as a film, it seemed pretty good to me.

Rogue One (2016): I expected (hoped?) this movie would be brave enough to be Seven Samurai in Space (although, in retrospect, maybe it's more a Dirty Dozen, given all the Normandy references in the film), and it was! But . . . I had a hard time really caring about the characters. The two temple guardians were the most interesting characters, but knowing when they would die (and how) well before they did didn't build a nice dramatic irony or anything---it just felt sloppy. And I was thrown off how Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia looked like expats from Tintin (my initial impression of Tarkin was an audible WOW . . . it was every other impression that was the problem). Other than the unVaderlike pun, I thought that other returning character was great. And the people around the Alliance table, they were good. Hhhhh. It's a hard thing, this balance of innovation and nostalgia they're trying to pull. In the details, they succeeded. I'm willing to watch the movie again a time or two before dismissing it, but . . . it wasn't the world, you know?



At home:


Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): For the first time, I liked a Marvel movie as much the second time I watched it! In fact, I may have even liked it more, as I found the bad guy better this time around. (Although of course Lee Pace's greatest role will always be the Piemaker.) This really is the best movie of its type outside the best of Star Wars.

Let the Right One In (2008): Although I new the gist of this film I was caught completely off guard by the beats it took to get to where it was going. It's weird to call a bloody vampire movie sweet and touching but inasmuch as such a thing is possible, this one is it. The saying of which probably puts me on some FBI watch list, but oh well.

Captain America: Civil War (2016): My hilarious complaint is that the cgi was distracting pretty frequently in this movie, specifically when certain characters were moving through space. But I never felt that way about Black Panther, even though he was recently revealed to be a purely cgi creation. Ha ha! Hilarious! Even though I found the crisis to be a bit engineered and less natural than my understanding of the comics' Civil War (which I have not read, but I understand it was more about something crossed between the Patriot Act and a superhero Kristallnacht---this was more like checks and balances against militarized police which really deserves a bit more attention than some moody scenes that end with fisticuffs. That said, the bad guy ultimately brought the depth and complexity to the problem that most of the movie skidded around. To my surprise though, I ultimately found the movie quite satisfying. I can't believe I've watched so many of these. (Though clearly I need to watch more. For instance, I had no memory of Sharon Carter.)

Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956)*: Except the two American films of the last twenty years, I've never actually watched an entire Godzilla movie. So we checked this out from the library. The kids decided to watch the American recut starring Perry Mason first, so that's what we did. The recut itself is pretty impressive. A couple scenes were a bit goofy in order to make it work, but overall, pretty stellar job remixing it into something new starring an American. I though the rubber-suit effects would be awful, but when the movie is good, we believe it's world. In its own way, the rubber suit works as well as King Kong's puppetry (see below). I'm excited to see the original Japanese version now and see if it is the movie I'm predicting based on what we saw here.

Gojira (1954)*: Although they did an impressive job injecting Perry Mason, the Japanese cut is more artistically coherent in almost every respect. The science is built up a little more (making it even more ridiculous), but every other aspect of the film is simply better. The underwater fantasia at the end is even beautiful.

Keanu (2016): 'Twas funny and fun and smarter than the usual movie of its type, but the pacing was off. It draaagged at times---could have been probably ten minutes shorter.

Shaolin Soccer (2001): Shaolin Soccer is one of a handful of films that changed my sense of what is possible in the movies. It's still fun and funny and charming and use-the-whole-bison creative, but it has also aged a little bit. I don't hold that against it, but I covet those rare This Changes Everything! experiences, and the knowledge that this movie can never give me that again is a bit bittersweet. I'm glad to say the kids enjoyed this film, though I'm not sure, in 2016, it changed much for them.

Mission: Impossible (1996): Man does this movie hold up! Sure the tech's aged, but who cares? Tech ages in every movie. The question is does it still speed your heartrate? This movie, methinks, will never cease to thrill. Dun. Dun. Du nuh. . . .

The Gleaners & I (2000): I heard of this film on a best-of-all-time documentaries list and it was free with Prime, so hey! The film probably felt a lot different in 2000 than it does after sixteen years of marriage to Lady Steed for whom many of the issues raised in the film are personal passions. Although interesting, it hardly blew my mind. And the artistic touches, though charming, did not grow my sense of the possible. Top ten of all time? Nah. But good and charming and interesting and funny and occasionally a bit moving. Worth gleaning.

The Abominable Bride (2016): In the end, this just pissed me off. It started with a PREVIOUSLY ON when I thought I was getting a true standalone. The cheeky references to Sherlock were amusing, but it wasn't until it embraced being period that it truly won me over. It was very funny while building real suspense. It had excellently used references to the original stories (notably "The Five Pips") and was an utter delight. Alas, it did get a bit maudlin at the end, and then it went haywire and started reincorporating contemporary Sherlock. I suppose it was playful enough, refusing to settle on which timeline is the real timeline, blah blah blah, but it just ruined for me what should have been a straightforward recreation. Trying to be clever and keep everything canon was just, as the kids say, extra. Part of the problem is that I'm not a big Moriarty fan in the best of times,* and Sherlock's Moriarty is probably my least of all. So I'm glad to hear he's dead; I am not at all glad that he still was turned into a cliffhanger. Enough already.

Fletch (1985): This might be my first Chevy Chase Movie (do you include Caddyshack?). I get the appeal. The film hasn't aged terrifically (casual sexual harassment as a source of humor, a blaring synthetic score), but it was still an enjoyable ride (no idea it had so much Utah in it). I'll probably always like him best in Community though. Sorry, Chevy.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016): First, the good. Matt Smith might now be Lady Steed's favorite Mr Collins. She enjoyed the film. Indeed, if you ignore its many failings, it's certainly an entertaining film. I do think they misthought their audience. Although I prefer the toned-down gore, PG-13 was the wrong rating for this film. Little shoutouts to fans of the book and previous versions of the film suggest this was aimed at people thirty and up. Adjusting the zombie violence to let middle-school kids buy tickets might have made sense in 1985, but it's a boneheaded move today. Now for the pedantic. Charlotte's lines kept getting spoken by Jane or Mrs Bennet. The beats of the film didn't match those of the novel, but they kept's the novel's beats anyway, even though they would only make sense if you were already intimate with the source material (see marketing note above). In fact, some of the beats were utterly backward. I couldn't sort out the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy, and even when you add zombies, that's kind of important. Of the two good things about the PPZ novel, one is excised entirely, and one simply disappears as they dropped the last third-plus of the novel for an entirely new plot. Elements of that new ending good, and that portion is, as one of the filmmakers says, "cinematic," but it also further confuses what makes a good P&P movie. The ending has nice kissing (and, perhaps I should mention, this film probably has the best cleavage of any P&P film and certainly the best legs), but the movie doesn't figure out how to properly end both a zombie movie and the ur-romcom simultaneously. Instead, it pulls a cheap summer-blockbuster trick and sets up a sequel I'm skeptical they ever expected to make (certainly, it's unlikely now). Hhhhhh. Anyway, here's the thing: if you think you might be interested in this film, just try not to think as you watch it and you should be able to enjoy it. Most of the time. Maybe bring some cough drops for Darcy. (Final note: the real trick might be to have low expectations because Lady Steed had a great time. I didn't expect much given its critical and box-office performance, but I still knew the movie had much more potential to be good than the book had realized.)

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989): The younger two wanted to watch this again, so I set it up without any intention of watching it with them. But you know what? This is a really, very compelling movie. So I set my mind to thinking about why, and the answer's pretty simple: The characters are compelling. Especially the historical characters. Even Joan of Arc or Genghis Khan---who don't really have any lines---are well drawn and fascinating. The actors and the director created space for a huge ensemble to thrive, even though that's not how I've thought of Bill & Ted. Even Napoleon, who is accurately described as a dick, has an arc that genuinely takes him somewhere. For a low-budget, throwaway, teen comedy, this movie has a lot going for it. It deserves to stick around.

I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story (2014): I watched this on a whim and was astonished by how moving I found it. Other than He's the Guy Who Does Oscar and Big Bird, I didn't know much about Caroll Spinney. I'm very glad to have gotten to know him. And it seems like his marriage is much akin to my own marital aspirations. . . . Shouldn't have watched this flick alone, I guess.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947): I haven't seen this movie in well over twenty years, but it was a holiday staple when I was growing up. Glad to tell you it still holds up! Watched it with my kids tonight and they dug it---laughed all through the court scene. AS ONE SHOULD. (Note: I saw the remake when it was still fairly fresh---on the airplane to Korean. I don't remember it that well, but I think it was a case of That Was Fine But What Was the Point? Don't have much desire to revisit it now, either. Why when the original holds up so well?

Scrooged (1988): Pretty much as good as I remembered. I've never had a screen before where you could actually see her nipples, so that was eye-opening. The final scene is too long, but not because Bill Murray doesn't carry it (he does) but because it strains credulity regardless. Speaking of regardless, a very fun watch.

Elf (2003): It uses the two creepiest Christmas carols at important plot points. What's that all about?

Crisis in Six Scenes (2016): I know, I know. It's not technically a "movie," but if you cut all the credits out it is the same length---and it certainly feels like a Woody Allen movie. Not one of his best (largely because Miley Cyrus's character is a lousy miscreation), but the "movie" has utterly exquisite moments---the greatest of which are frequently centered around the ladies' book club. All these brilliant older actresses who simply do not work enough. Get them their own show!

Mr. Holmes (2015): Considering the main bits I knew about this film going in, I'm surprised by how much it surprised me. And delighted me. And moved me. This film is a remarkable acheivement. Anyone who wants to see the difference between a sentimental film and one that follows the same beats with honesty should look here.

Wishful Drinking (2010): This was probably the best way to mourn Carrie Fisher's passing---and perhaps her mother as well, if you include the almost-as-long nearly unedited interview with her that's included on the DVD's special features. She looks and sounds like your aunt, the one you like who also slightly worries you. I have to admit that the same bits, heard the night before on NPR, fell flat in comparison---she's better playing off someone, but a good line is a good line. She had so many exciting years ahead of her, and those, now, I mourn most of all.

The Big Short (2015): For such a fun upbeat movie, it sure left me depressed. . . . And not very optimistic about our crummy future. Take out some swears and nipples, and I would show this to every student I know.

Café Society (2016): A pretty good movie for New Year's Eve, as it ends up. It ends as a new year begins. But it's melancholy, and---at least personally---I feel hopeful. Anyway, Jesse Eisenberg makes a great Woody Allen (who I like as narrator), and thank you whoever made the trailer: I had no idea what I was in for. It was a wonderful movie. But it does make me glad I don't have a large closet of could-have-beens. Auld lang syne, ladies.




Elsewhere:






Frankenstein (1931): I watched this three times in one day as part of a discussion of how ideas evolve within a culture and I think I enjoyed it more each time. It's old-fashioned, sure, in certain respects, and it seems to have only the vaguest notion of what the book was about, but there's something very honest about that movie. Now that I own the full Universal run, I'm curious to see what else they did with this set of memes.

Young Frankenstein (1974): This one holds up great with the exception of one detail. The, what we would now term sexual assault, has always made me uncomfortable, good little Mormon boy that I am. But now it also makes my students uncomfortable. I'm curious to see if this impacts its reputation, going forward.

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935): I like this movie even more than the first time I saw it. Now that I know the Bride will make only a brief appearance before the movie crashes to a sudden end, I can accept it and make it part of the film as a whole.

Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948): It's silly of course, but it's funny. I'm always nervous sharing old comedy with world-weary teenagers, but this won them over. For me, the most startling thing about it is some of the violence at the end. Those were some hardcore deaths.

The Babadook (2014): Wow! This is an utterly original horror film. Sure it shares DNA with everything from The Exorcist to Stepford Wives to The Sixth Sense to Dr Caligari to The Bad Seed to Eraserhead, but it's not any of those movies. The sound design is oppressive but functional, and it balances the shown and the not shown with aplomb. This may be a the greatest horror film for mothers ever. Certainly, I don't know of a better one. In a sentence: A mother and child are terrorized by sleeplessness and an unpleasant children's book. But it is absolutely about being a parent. And it's too true to be anything but a horror film.

Goodnight Mommy (2014): This movie made me crawl into a ball, scream once. The acting is good. The editing is amazing. The shots are lovely. The settings are perfect. The original title translates as I See I See which does a better job getting at the themes of doubling and twins and unmatched perspectives, etc. Even our own perspective changes, but rather than making it a twist, it comes gradually as we get more and more certain what is happening. The film has a few missteps, but I certainly enjoyed it. And it's another horror film about the tensions between parent and child.

King Kong (1933): I know it is, in some ways, a stepping stone to superior modern storytelling, and we wouldn't now do things the way this film does them (evidence), but I love this movie. It's a wonderful movie. And Fay Wray, man. Fay Wray.

Rounders (1998): I had forgotten John Turturro is in this movie too! Great cast. Probably the best movie ever made in terms of being about poker. Makes the game look both insanely attractive and also warns me far, far away. Language and strippers mean I'm unlikely to share it with my kids. Alas.

Ghost in the Shell (1995): This is one of a handful of anime movies I feel obliged to watch at some point, and with the live-action's trailer out now, I figured it was time to get educated. One thing about it is, not being Japanese, it's hard to see why the Japanese feel this film is quintessentially Japanese. Also, as far of science fiction goes, it fits into that tradition of ponderous-to-the-point-of-being-boring---like Blade Runner (in my opinion), 2001 (based on what I've made it through) or The Matrix (I fear, should I rewatch it now). That said, I think it's even more timely now than when it was released. Anyone into the film: are the static an near static frames intended to show an inhuman lack of motion or is it merely costcutting cheapness? (Asking for a friend.)

A Face in the Crowd (1957): This is indeed a masterful film. And unpleasantly prescient. The only thing it gets wrong is that, as it ends up, the people are only too happy to forgive their demagogue. Andy Griffith was a revelation. I'm amazed that this film opened his career. And that his career still traveled the road it did. (Of course, I've said the same thing of Fred MacMurray. And would of Anthony Perkins if, you know, it were applicable in his case.) Patricia Neal was new to me, and someone I would love to see again. She can do amazing things with her face.

Harold and Maude (1971): Watched this with high-school seniors and they were quite distressed by it. I think it'll stick with them and their opinion will slowly evolve. Here's what I think: it's a deconstruction of the manic pixie dream girl that arrived 40 years too soon to be read that way. Another tidbit: if you're going to use a strong soundtrack, not a bad idea to stick with just a guy and his guitar. Cat Stevens has aged much better than, for instance, the synthesized soundtrack of Fletch discussed above.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009): They say it's weird. I say it's beautiful.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990): It's fascinating to me that such a media-savvy generation has such a hard time with metafictional stories.

About a Boy (2002): As part of a last-week throwaway assignment on intertextuality, we watched this and they wrote about it. Lots of insights on expected connections (Christmas movies, Frankenstein), but also some interesting unexpecteds like Annie and The Karate Kid.

Stranger than Fiction (2006): Something about all three of these movies is how good the crying is. High-school kids always mock crying as poorly done, but not here. Interestingly to me here is how there was a general sense of a) no one should tell Harold he should die and b) Harold should have died. How about that!

Pride & Prejudice (2005): Although all three of these movies were beloved of their respective classes (and all three elicited sniffles), this was the only one that ended with applause. Although that applause might have included a tiny bit of sarcastic applause---they were frustrated with the film for making them wait so long for a Darcy/Elizabeth kiss. The frustration was peanut-butter-like in viscosity.

The Blood of Jesus (1941): Although aspects of this film are pretty amateurish (including the acting---so "melodramatic" if you prefer), it's scattered throughout with striking images, making a simple it-was-all-a-dream morality tale feels like a truly supernatural experience.




Previous films watched


2016

2015

2014

2013