2024-06-08

And a vibrator makes it five dozen.....

.

I've been reading so many clever women lately! That, and James Faulcolner.

Based on the people I know who count him as a mentor, I suspect he's pleased with the company.

.

054) The English Understand Wool by Helen DeWitt, finished May 25

I've been looking for the review that led me to this book and I am not having success. Regardless, there was a review [UPDATE: found it] and it led me to this book which I have now read.

It's part of a series of books intended to be read in an afternoon. Which I guess is the 2020s less threatening word for "novella."

Anyway, I almost put it down early on (and may have if I wasn't sitting on a bench with nothing else to read) as it was all about rich people and the way they do things and honestly, it would take real effort to care less. But then it became something more interesting. And as our 17yrold protagonist moves through her own plot rather than merely recounting her past she becomes something rather heroic. And succeeds at doing something I suppose every writers has wished to do.

The author's note talks about the artiste's need to make her work beautiful, even if that artiste is a writer. Illustration and layout etc matter. But honestly the Storybook NDs are kinda ugly. They do have great art (but why this painting, I could not say) but otherwise they feel rather . . . patchworky. Rather like the outfit the editor wears to lunch in The English Understand Wool.

Regardless, I will now be on the lookout for their distinctive covers. The novella—excuse me—the afternoon book is long overdue for a great revival. I love that someone is being intentional about publishing them.

one sitting


055) Mosiah: A Brief Theological Introduction by James E. Faulconer, finished May 26

Most of the books in this series try to find a framework to which all the pieces of the book under discussion may be hung. At the end, you have a coherent whole-book understanding. It's been great.

While chapter one of this book talks about the format and shape and why of Mosiah, the later chapters discuss only chapters 1 and 4 and 15 without trying to generalize them to the whole. And not even the entirety of those three chapters are covered—only five verses are covered of 15!

But this is exactly what I should have anticipated from a Faulconer book. He is the author of the Made Harder series (OT, NT, BofM, D&C) which I greatly admire. (I'd wanted to write similar books myself, but hey—let the expert do it.) In those volumes, all he does is ask questions about individual verses. No answers. All exercises left for the reader. And in this book on Mosiah he demonstrates just how much exercise may be taken, done properly.

A side effect is that this "brief introduction" while the same length as the other books manages to go into much greater depth and is therefore a much more challenging read. This is not the volume to give a skeptical uncle who's not sure theology is for them. This is a heavy lift.

And while I greatly appreciated the analysis of 15:1–5, there's no simple way to distill it into a Sunday School comment. If someone wants to understand what Faulconer has to say about Jesus being the Father and the Son, they just need to read his chapter five themselves.

In other words, smart stuff I'm not likely to retain without multiple rereads that . . . I probably won't do. But at this moment, I am a much smarter Mormon!

about a month

 

056) Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirstin Bakis

I remembered the original cover of this book when I read about the author's second novel, just out now, more than twenty years later. My library didn't have it but I proposed they get a copy and they did. And now I have read it and . . . 

I'm underwhelmed.

I get the appeal of walking talking dogs and assembled text and eavesdropping glamour and the sense of magic, but the nature of the text (letters, journal entries, an opera---glued together by our fictional author's memoirs) strikes me as lazy. And I know that's because I personally find it an easier way to make a text, which makes me allergic, and is very unfair, but there you have it.

I kept almost not picking it back up. If it weren't so short, I probably would not have finished it.

perhaps three weeks


057) 100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write: On Umbrellas and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, and Theater by Sarah Ruhl, finished June 1

I liked her short poems but I like her short essays even more. She has very smart and interesting and worth-listening-to things to say about the intersections at life and art and whatnot. I added over half a dozen quotations from this book to Wikiquote including this one:

I found that life intruding on writing was, in fact, life. And that tempting as it may be for a writer who is also a parent, one must not think of life as an intrusion. At the end of the day, writing has very little to do with writing and much to do with life. And life, my definition, is not an intrusion.

If that sounds like someone you might want to hear more from, do.

Highly recommended.

about ten days


058) Our Malady: Lessons in Liberty from a Hospital Diary by Timothy Snyder, finished June 4

This is by the author of On Tyranny. It is similarly short and packaged in the same small, square giftbooky form.

In some ways it's a more serious read. On Tyranny consisted of twenty snacksized "lessons." Our Malady is more sustained: only four much longer lessons. But they are wise and they are important.

I wish all our politicians would read this book.

Instead, I'm certain that we will forget the pandemic as quickly as possible and just keep paying more to die younger in the name of freedom.

But aren't we more free when we are more healthy? Why should freedom be defined by the amount of money flowing to our oligarchs?

The book was published in 2020 so Snyder had no idea just how bad things would get. Sometimes he almost comes off as naive, even though he has passed through death and understands politics and has intensely clear sight and the ability to explain what he sees to those of us who don't realize things could be different.

His rage might make it difficult for him to convert those thoroughly convinced things are just as they should be but . . . do those people actually exist? Don't all of us have at least a spot of rage aimed at our healthcare system buried somewhere inside us?

one school year


059) Dead Man's Cell Phone by Sarah Ruhl, finished June 6

Having read her poems and essays (see above) I checked out the two plays my library has.

This one's terrific. A man dies in a cafe and, when she answers his ringing phone, a woman sitting nearby gets pulled into his life. There's lots of fun metaphysics and such. And, as promised in one of those essays, the stage directions are not in parentheses. Also, they are quite delightful. I loved her notes to the director that followed the play.

one day

 

060) The Next Room, or the vibrator play by Sarah Ruhl, finished June 8

I liked the last play but this one is incredible. No wonder it won a Tony. It debuted here in Berkeley when we lived here. Wish we'd gone!

Anyway, yes, it does involve vibrators and medical orgasms and suchlike that probably never happened, but ultimately such persnicketiness is not the point of art. And this play captures a lot of wonderfully true things. Most of which are really left up to the actors and it's actors who will make this all real. But hey. It's good on the page, too.

 two days




PREVIOUSLY THIS YEAR


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

 2024 × 10 = Bette Davis being Bette Davis

001) Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke, finished January 1
002) The Complete Peanuts: 1977 – 1978 by Charles M. Schulz , finished January 6
003) The Sandman: The Kindly Ones by Neil Gaiman et al, finished January 10
004) Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke, finished January 17
005) Touched by Walter Mosley, finished January 19
006) Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel & Ebert Changed Movies Forever by Matt Singer, finished January 20
007) Evergreen Ape: The Story of Bigfoot by David Norman Lewis, finished January 24
008) What Falls Away by Karin Anderson, finished February 1
009) Peanuts Jubilee: My Life and Art with Charlie Brown and Others by Charles M. Schulz, finished February 3
010) Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke, finished February 3


 A few of my favorite things

011) Roaming by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki, finished February 3
012) The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke, February 9
013) Things in the Basement by Ben Hatke, February 10
014) A Charlie Brown Religion: Exploring the Spiritual Life and Work of Charles M. Schulz by Stephen J. Lind, finished February 10
015) 1st Nephi: A Brief Theological Introduction by Joseph M. Spencer, finished February 10
016) Dendo by Brittany Long Olsen, finished February 11
017) The Ten Winners of the 2023 Whiting Awards, finished February 12
018) The Peanuts Papers: Writers and Cartoonists on Charlie Brown, Snoopy & the Gang, and the Meaning of Life edited by Andrew Blaune, finished February 17
019) Do Not Disturb Any Further by John Callahan, finished February 17
020) Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke, finished circa February 19
021) 2nd Nephi: A Brief Theological Introduction by Terryl Givens, February 24

 

Let's start with the untimely deaths

022) The Life and Death of King John by William Shakespeare, finished February 28
022) Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke, finished February 29
023) Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez, finished March 4
024) Millay by Edna St. Vincent Millay, finished March
025, 026) The Life and Death of King John by William Shakespeare, finished March 6, 8
027) Murder Book by Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell, finished March 11
028) A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
029) The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett and Paul Kidby, finished March 15
030) Karen's Roller Skates by Ann M. Martin and Katy Farina, finished March 18

 

Four comics could hardly be more different

031) The Sandman: The Wake by Neil Gaiman et al, finished March 18
032) The World of Edena by Mœbius, finished March 23
033) Three Rocks: The Story of Ernie Bushmiller, the Man Who Created Nancy by Bill Griffith, finished March 23
034) Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke, finished March 23

 

Jacob says be nice and read comics

035) Jacob: A Brief Theological Introduction by Deidre Nicole Green, finished March 24
036) Starter Villain by John Scalzi, finished March 27
037) Mister Invincible: Local Hero by Pascal Jousselin, finished March 30
038) The Toon Treasury of Classic Children's Comics, edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly, finished March 30
039) Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass by Mariko Tamaki and Steve Pugh, finished April 1
040) The Super Hero's Journey by Patrick McDonnell, finished April 5  

 

Eleven books closer to death

041) The Stranger Beside Me: Updated Twentieth Anniversary Edition by Ann Rule, finished April 9
042) Huda F Are You? by Huda Fahmy, finished April 13
043) Enos, Jarom, Omni: a brief theological introduction by Sharon J. Harris, finished April 25
044) The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson, finished April 27 
045,046,049) The Mysteries by Bill Watterson and John Kascht, finished April 29, 30; May 3
047) The Children's Bach by Helen Garner, finished April 30
048) No. 1 with a Bullet by Sehman/Corona/Hickman/Wands, finished May 2
050) Over Seventy by P. G. Wodehouse, finished May 7
051) The Happy Shop by Brittany Long Olsen, finished May 16
052) Shades of Fear, finished May 21
053) Love Poems in Quarantine by Sarah Ruhl, finished May 21

 

2024-05-31

Maybe movies, maybe films

.

May is always a good month. It's the month AP English Literature and Composition turns into AP Writing about Film (if CollegeBoard doesn't like this, then they can tell my school to end classes after AP testing). So I'm guaranteed a few good things packed into whatever's getting watched anyway. You can probably guess which are which.

Plus, we went to theaters to watch to underperformers that were actually really great and which each make strong argument for a stunt-team Oscar. Rumor has it that's finally happening. If this is the year, expect them both to get nominated.

And now: On with the show.

.

HOME
Prime Video
Hunting the Northern Godard (2013)

Small town ennui, Quebec style. The film tries to play with visual lanugage in an interesting way but it mostly comes off as revealing the lowness of the budget. The lead is beautiful and the mom is an incredible actor. Otherwise, meh.

Wildly, I recognized the pub band. I thougth I was wrong because in the movie they were Les Tragédiens, but I was right. It was Les Breastfeeders.

Please deliver my hipster cred directly to the door.


HOME
Internet Archive
The Arizona Express (1924)

I found this via Bluesky recommendation and boy oh boy was she right. This movie's incredible! It made me laugh and gasp and I could never guess where it was headed next. It's one of the most edge-of-my-seat thrillfests I've seen recently. Plus it amnages to be classic typical 1920s boilerplate at parts and really cool shots and amazing action sequences later. The murder scene was very cool and [SPOILER REDACTED] and [SPOILER REDACTED] and [SPOILER REDACTED] were topnotch film- and stuntwork.

My main complaint from a hundred years later is that all the women look the same. They have 1920s brunette bobs with dramatic eye makeup and teenytiny cupidbow lips. It wasn't until the good girl dressed like the bad girl (turning her into Some Like It Hot Tony Curtis) that I was able to pick up on the differences of class and morality that the clothing was supposed to be projecting.

I was riveted, people. Riveted.


THEATER
Rialto Elmwood
Hundreds of Beavers (2022)

I just heard of this movie. Its slow crawl through theaterspace happens to have it in town these past two weekends. Some of the kids really wanted to see it but "not tonight" which is fine because it was only convenient at the Elmwood which is an old theater diced into four tiny theaters with too-thin walls. Also, it's more expensive. We don't go there very often. But it seems like once a year they're the only place with the movie y'wanna see.

Anyway, the movie is wild and fun and surprising. It doesn't draw on silent comedy alone, but also video games (from Frogger to Lemmings) (and beyond), Orson Welles, you name it. It gets existential. It gets horror. It goes all over the place. It's been called "a hilarious slapstick comedy in the vein [of] Looney Tunes and Adult Swim cartoon[s]," and that seems about right.

Don't know how you'd manage it, but if you can get a full theater to see it in (ours had six people), I think you'll laugh your head off. We merely laughed a lot.


THEATER
Hilltop Cinemark
The Fall Guy (2024)

Look: I'm not here to argue this movie is great or important or whatever. But it was pure fun, a great ride, a joy factory. And that counts for a lot. We need escapism that's quality and this movie delivers. I loved it.

And it may actually prove important for one reason. It makes the argument, and well, that stunt teams deserve Oscars. Everyone seems to feel that Oscar may finally be about to happen. I don't see how The Fall Guy can do anything but accelerate that.

(Also, Metalstorm looks terrible.)

(Also, I want that neon suit.)


HOME
library dvd
The Nice Guys (2016)

It keeps getting brought up and since we watched Ryan Gosling doing action and being funny in The Fall Guys it seemed time to finally finally watch it.

And it was fun stuff. With lots of sex, violence, and alcohol, to boot. If you're into those sorts of things.

The dramatic irony of the villain's motivation fell a bit flat for me, but otherwise the film felt very true to me. And the party was straight out of the era. (One of the scarier badguys may have even been modeled after the fellow from that older movie.)


ELSEWHERE × 2
our dvd
Pride & Prejudice (2005)

I love this movie. And it holds up so well.

How do I know?

Because teenagers love this movie as well.

QED, baby.





ELSEWHERE × 2
our dvd
Frankenstein (1931)

I love it.

It has precious little to do with the book.

This viewing, however, I had some breakthroughs in my own long-gestating adaptation (not that the world needs another). I'm already about halfway through a treatment.





ELSEWHERE
Prime Video
Love & Friendship (2016)

Not sure I loved it as much as before but perhaps that's simply because high-school students tend not to laugh when they think something's funny.

💀







ELSEWHERE
Prime Video
Paterson (2016)

Split this into two days. After day one I wasn't so sure about it. By the film's conclusion however I'd come around. The scene with the Japanese tourist was wonderful.

I think the best poem was the girl's. I'm not sure if that was intentional.

But the slow rotation of daily life. And the important question of how art fits in. And how art's importance is realized. These things are addressed with a measured lovely calm.


HOME
library dvd
Simon of the Desert (1965)

First, I didn't expect Luis Buñuel to be so coherent. While I won't deny the term surreal, it moved from point to point from beginning to end. I was startled by how it ended—or perhaps by when it ended—bit otherwise it made sense.

And for a guy who made atheism such a key part of his identity, for all its satrical tinge it seems to be saying things worth saying and from a place of, even if bemused, understanding.



HOME
library dvd
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

It's possible to know all the reasons why a movie changed the game and still not quite understand it. I take it this violence was worse than what had gone before and I guess I can see the counterculture vibes and undercurrent of optimistic nihilism and certainly the look is cool. But it's hard to believe it was as huge and important as it was, even if I see echos in movies near and far.

So I went back and read Roger Ebert's review. He was a young guy then and he was one of the few contemporary critics who predicted Bonnie and Clyde's position in movie history. And reading his analysis, I'm convinced.

It is a good movie. Maybe a great movie.

And it's saying something we still need to hear.


HOME
Paramount+
Days of Heaven (1978)

I came in with so many misconceptions. I thought this was the Wild West. And I also thought it was Badlands. And that Richard Gere wasn't in it. None of that is true.

Although it continued on past where I thought it would end (twice, overall this has a pretty straightforward plot. But it pauses to take in the beauty of the landscape both at large and in microcosm. And the images are so powerful that it feels like it's a fully s*y*m*b*o*l*i*c as a less plotty film like The Tree of Life.

I really wanted people to be a tad more clever. A tad better at lying. Or at being honest. Or at thinking ahead. Or recognizing what moment they're in.

But I suppose real life isn't like that.

And then the locusts come.

Anyway. I loved it. So when I say it felt as long as Tree of Life, I mean that in the best way possible.


HOME
Paramount+
Tropic Thunder (2008)

I remember reading a review in one of the altweekly's that were still nice and thick when this movie came out. It was the first of years and years of praise. It's generally considered one of the best comedies of the new century. Smart and hilarious.

Now, Ben Stiller can be a skilled director but this movie really suffered from me having watched Every Frame's Edgar Wright video earlier today. Now, Tropic Thunder isn't as bad as the examples cited in that vid but it doesn't really use the medium for comedy that much. And the second half largely turns into an '80s action film. Oh. Which reminds me of another Every Frame. Why can't a movie be both funny and action-packed? I bet Ben would do a better job today.

Anyway, I lauched a few times in the first ten minutes and once in the last ten minutes. But . . . it's not that funny a movie. I guess it scratched an itch or something in 2008 but I don't think generations that missed it in theaters will be that impressed.

A lot of ink has been spilled about Robert Downey, Jr. in blackface and Ben Still in "full retard" (mostly favorable) but I think favorable because the film comments on both of these and uses them to make fun of actors. But I've only ever heard positive takes on Tom Cruise's comic turn. But he is in full animalistic Semite costume and that's just who is character is in this movie. How have I never heard about this? I thought he was just bald but it's much, much more than this. Elizabethan nose and red-wig updated for the 2000s.

But the main thing is I didn't think it was funny. Sixteen years people have been talking up this movie. Cannot meet the hype.


ELSEWHERE
our dvd
Spirited Away (2001)

Did you know the Disney dvd has two separate English-language subtitle tracks?










ELSEWHERE
our dvd
The Iron Giant (1999)

Tear report: fewer this year. None actually left my eyes.











ELSEWHERE
Tubi
Freaks (1932)

Honestly, I don't think it's that great a movie. But I do appreciate the humanity it gives the freaks themselves, even if, perhaps, that's not the "right" answer. The siamese twins and the armless woman are simply presented as beautiful women, albeit with a twist. Frieda is the very picture of dignity throughout.

It's possible that audiences have matured enough that now we can identify with people once intended only to be looked at, but I have to believe that's what Browning had in mind all along. He was a circus guy. Not every normie hates the freaks. I think he knew what he was doing. It doesn't reflect well on the contemporary audience that the film was so upsetting it was pulled from theaters.


ELSEWHERE
our dvd
It's Such a Beautiful Day (2012)

Don's touring the movie now, doing Q&As. I'm bummed the SF show was sold out by the time I heard about. I wish I could have gone.









HOME
Tubi
Grendel Grendel Grendel (1981)

John Gardner's beloved novel turned into this strange thing. (The Wikipedia article includes the phrase "Because of its limited appeal.") The character design reminds me a bit of Sixties animation like Yellow Submarine. The colorblocking reminds me of the first draft of a digital animation or perhaps the back of the cel. It has needless songs like an 80s featurelength toy commercial (aka Care Bears or My Little Pony). It has 70s philosophizing characters. It has occasional bloody violence and a bit of full-frontal nudity (thank you, only human female) but otherwise feels like it's aimed at children.

The movie's been largely forgotten (consider the length of the Wikipedia article or that zero screenshots are available on the IMDb page or that there is no critic score on Rotten Tomatoes) so I'm not certain how I came to put it on my to-watch list. (I had it narrowed down to this, Birds of Prey or Rashamon; I suspect I chose wrongly...)

I don't regret watching it. It's an interesting experiment. But I'm not surprised that it proved a dead end in the evolution of animation.


HOME
library dvd
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

I suppose a movie can only blow you away by exploding your expectations but once, but even in our living room this is an amazing experience. And then we stayed up over another hour, well past midnight, watching half the special features, because the boys wanted to know more about how.

I love that. Movies are amazing.

Give stunt folk their own Oscar!


HOME
our dvd
Pride and Prejudice (2003)

The 7yrold picked this out and . . . did not like it. The 14yrold also watched and found it . . . varied in quality.

I last watched the first half when I showed it to a class, gosh, over eight years ago? They didn't want to finish it the second day.

It's entirely possible it's been 18+ years since we last watched it. And if I can see it's not quite the gem I once thought it was, I still enjoy it. And the amount of nostalgia it inspired in me and Lady Steed would get it a pass even if it were terrible, which it is not. It has a number of perfect moments (use of color, character, quotable lines). Not for no reason did I once imagine Andrew Black making a Byuck movie.

It's also exquisitely 2003 in music and fashion and Provo. I mean. I was there. You can see my apartment in one shot. I would know.


THEATER
Cinemark Century
Hilltop 16
Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024)

So I loved it. But I'm not sure it quite works without having seen Fury Road. And I thinkn George Miller knows that since the credits are intercut with major plot points from Fury Road, which is the true end of Furiosa's journey.

That said, the worldbuilding is good. The villain is good. The two actors playing Furiosa are good. The new relationships are good. The action is good.

In fact, I could praise all those elements to high heavens. My only real complaints are surprising ones (why did they use cg on someone climbing a wall or getting on a horse?). In short, I liked the movie a lot. But if I hadn't just watched Fury Road, I think it would have been much less satisfying.

But really: two excellent Furiosas. Excellent stakes. Excellent dilemmas. Great movie.

Just no Fury Road.


HOME
Tubi
Moonstruck (1987)

I like how this movie is about mature people and mature relationships. That said, the suddenness and impulsiveness of the main relationship is confusing. And thus I'm not quite sure why I find this movie so deeply satisfying. But I do.

Also, parts of it are wonderfully funny.





ELSEWHERE
Kanopy
L'Age D'Or (1930)

Like a lot of famous-for-being-shocking works of art, is it?

I mean, there are some startling images and some silly stuff, but that's all par for Surrealism. Maybe we're too far away? But Un Chien Andalou came out first and was wildly popular. And then this one was banned for decades. Why?

I know the historical answers. But it's still mysterious.

Showing it to a room of high-school seniors was instructive. Some hated it. Some were bored. Some were startled. Some were confused.

But I don't think any of them were quote-offended-unquote.

UPDATE: I just read all their write-ups and yes. Plenty were offended. 100% hate rate. A couple called for it to be banned again. So maybe I'm just jaded from too much time in the Surrealist swimming pool.


ELSEWHERE
Tubi
The Kid (1921)

In my opinion? It's the least of Chaplin's features (keeping in mind I haven't seen The Circus or Limelight), but it is still charming and wonderful and, important when considering which to show a kid, only an hour and costars a brilliant child (of whom Chaplin said he was his favorite costar).

That said, perhaps a bit too sentimental to be the first you show teenagers.



ELSEWHERE
Kanopy
Lady Bird (2017)

It's a beautiful movie.

And not the same movie to each watcher.

Your age does make for very different experiences.

I'm not surprised teenagers love it entirely and hate it deeply. But I'm glad the ratio seems to be about 5:1.




ELSEWHERE
YouTube
Disney Channel's Theme: A History Mystery (2022)

I've been looking forward to the new Jim Henson documentary that drops today, so when I saw a Slate headline saying that the ultimate Henson doc was already extant and made for YouTube, I wanted to watch it. Weirdly, Slate didn't link to it. So I went to the YouTuber's channel and, for some reason I can't explain, I watched this one instead. I don't even know that four-note mnemonic! I'm too old to have watched Disney Channel in the Oughts!

But I did love watching Kevin Perjurer (unfortunate surname for a documentarian) track down lead after lead. It's a solid example of what "doing research" is like.

I've seen a couple shorter Defunctland videos before. Maybe I'll make space for more feature-length ones too. Certainly, there are topics that interest me more than this one.



2024-05-21

Eleven books closer to death

.

I'm astonished to realize that this list includes an Australian classic as well as Ted Bundy. Not because I'm surprised I read these things or because I have forgotten that I did, but holy smokes. Those books feel so, so long ago. And, I mean, it has been forty-plus days. I suppose the Bible would tell me that's a long time. So maybe it's okay to feel that it is.

One side effect of making these posts (since 2007!) is that I might be measuring time—my life—in books.

There are worse ways, I'm certain. Better to throw books into the darkness.

.

041) The Stranger Beside Me: Updated Twentieth Anniversary Edition by Ann Rule, finished April 9

I picked this up because of Murder Book (#27). The Stranger Beside Me was the first true-crime book she reads and it's arguably the book that created the modern ideal for true crime. First published in 1980, then updated in 1986, 1989, and (the one I read) 2000. Those editions add 82 pages.

Ted Bundy is the first criminal I remember hearing about. Circa 1986, I remember a woman I knew and trusted speaking with absolute hate and venom, hoping that Ted Bundy would die. I remember how I felt, hearing this.

I don't remember his actual, successful execution, even though I was reading the newspaper by then.

Ann Rule received a contract from Norton to write about the disappearing women in Washington long before Ted Bundy was identified. But after she had already come to know him as they worked a crisis hotline together. The awkward and ethically suspect position this put her in as her reporting and this book turned her into a phenomenon is a fascinating subtext to consider.

I'm not sure it's possible to live in America over the decades I have and not know the general shape of Bundy's story. But Ann Rule's telling is very human. It's as much a memoir of her believing in him to being ready for him to fry.

We only have so much patience for monsters.

perhaps three weeks


042) Huda F Are You? by Huda Fahmy, finished April 13

I like that this is a comics memoir of a hijab-wearing American girl. But I didn't really like the art (I didn't like the Extra Credits-like floating hands, but issues with perspective and the like just felt sloppy) and I didn't feel like it had much depth. It's great for 12-year-olds but I don't think it's apt to appeal to anyone older. Which is a shame because I think the Muslim American voice is an important one, right now. In most of the country, they are seen as indelibly foreign no matter what. And since we're all accusing everyone else of failing to be properly American, those who are most in that situation surely have something to teach us.

as I stood


043) Enos, Jarom, Omni: a brief theological introduction by Sharon J. Harris, finished April 25

This is split into three parts, one for each book. Sensibly, really. To start at the end, I wasn't really sold by most of the analysis and argument for Omni, but the conclusion, combining Latter-day Saint notions of Jesus and family into one great whole, was excellent.

Jarom was my favorite. The thesis that most intrigues was that Jarom lives in the middle. We live in the middle. The Church is established. The finale is (likely) far away. We're muddling around in the in-between, living our lives best we can. We live in the short books. And this elevates Jarom's demure silence from the least interesting portion of the Book of Mormon to something deeply personal and relevant.

As for Enos, she made some points about its chronology I hadn't thought much about, but the highlight is her exploration of the concept of self-emptying. That's worth checking out. It provides a new way to make Enos a path forward.

a month

 

044) The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson, finished April 27

This story of North Korea won the Pulitzer a decade ago and keeps coming up as a book people remember and were glad they read.

I feel the same. I'm certain I will remember parts of this book a long, long time. These details and images from a real dystopia (mixed accuracy but all so real in context) are not easily shaken off.

The novel's structure is curious. The first part, much shorter, runs like a proper novel. The second and much longer half weaves three kinds of storytelling together from which you see different things through different lenses and thus the reader has to assemble them.

I'll admit part of the reason I took so long to pick this up is because it's a novel about Korea by a guy named Adam Johnson. But I was one over.

Seems to matter that Kim Jong Il died just as the book was released.

Anyway, it's all the worst parts of Nineteen Eighty-four rendered not just believable but contemporary. You'll believe it is happening Right Now.

maybe three weeks

 

045,046,049) The Mysteries by Bill Watterson and John Kascht, finished April 29, 30; May 3

I'm leading a discussion on this for the faculty book club this week so I thought I'd try to fit in daily rereads. I kinda love this book but I'm still not sure how I want to think about it. The turn it takes is remarkable.

a few minutes per

 

047) The Children's Bach by Helen Garner, finished April 30

I was more interested in Monkey Grip but this is the one my library had. When it arrived, I wasn't even going to take it home but then I saw how short it was so I decided to give it a shot.

Garner's voice is calm and melodic. She flits through time without worrying to much about us keeping up. She's like a more reasonable Weetzie Bat. And the people are likable normal people who find themselves genuinely sucking in truly awful ways.

I get why people love it but I don't feel compelled to recommend it to anyone.

two days

 

048) No. 1 with a Bullet by Sehman/Corona/Hickman/Wands, finished May 2

At the end of this graphic novel you'll find a series of interviews with women who are writers, cosplayers, lawyers, gamers, etc. The interviews reveal powerful women who have bumped into the awful ways men treat women. It's worth mentioning these interviews don't come off as preachy or anything. It's just the way it is.

The comic is about a women who was filmed having sex without her knowledge. The video leaks and now the world has come down on her. There's violence and mystery and startling imagery. It's near-future fiction (by which I mean like three years from now) and there's stalkers and LSD and Johnny Cash quotations (an excellent choice, incidentally) and dirtbag lawyers and good cops and crummy friends and ambiguous lovers. It's a fine entertainment and, like the interviews, it explores heavy and important issues without telling you what to think. Not that you won't arrive at the correct conclusions, but it lets you find them all on your own.

Most of the story I felt we were falling into some artsy cliches, but by the end it's revealed to be doing interesting things with those elements. The ambiguities at the end do seem a little overdone. It's not a perfect book. But a worthy read.

about a week


050) Over Seventy by P. G. Wodehouse, finished May 7

This sorta autobiography was a brief and gratifying read. Made me laugh many times. There were three spots where a word choice was made to allow casual racists to laugh in superiority which was offputting, and the world-these-days parts are very 1950s, but otherwise the book has aged well.

The conceit is somebody from some little newspaper wrote to ask him a couple questions for a column about folks over seventy and Wodehouse rambles and tangents his way through answering them all.

I tracked the book down because I heard it had an essay about footnotes. This is not strictly true. The foreword is about why the book doesn't have footnotes. But perhaps that is the same thing.

a couple weeks


051) The Happy Shop by Brittany Long Olsen, finished May 16

This is kind of a perfect Brittany book: sincere, fantastical, emotive, short.

one day then a few weeks then another day


052) Shades of Fear, finished May 21

Look, the bad news is this isn't a very good book. I don't regret backing it, but the end project is not that great.

But the fact is these kinds of anthologies fill a very important role is giving comics makers a chance to flex their muscles and discover what works. And a lot of really cool stuff is happening in these stories. They're all short enough that they end up not quite coherent, but all of them pull of at least one really cool moment with the art. Permission to experiment—before an audience—is what any young artists needs. And I suppose middle-aged schmucks like myself should be paying them to do so

So, as I said, no regrets.

But nothing here quite takes flight.

I sure hope they keep trying.

a couple weeks but really two or three days

 

053) Love Poems in Quarantine by Sarah Ruhl, finished May 21

I haven't actually finished a book of poems brought home from the library in quite a while. I don't know why this one made it over the finish line other than I liked the poems.

That they are all very short certainly did not hurt. (I am, after all, the founder of Quatrain.Fish.) Some of these poems are wonderful. Some are . . . not. But the average quality is high enough (and the average length short enough) to carry us through. That I remember very well the first year of covid certainly is a bonus.

What I'm most impressed by is Ruhl's ability to fit a meaningful volta in the smallest spaces. Well done, ma'am! But the little moments with children and dogs, sex and isolation, ring true. Plus, there's a goodly dose of humor. We appreciate that, don't we, folks?

a week, maybe



PREVIOUSLY THIS YEAR

2024-05-13

It would be politically and morally reprehensible to force all conservatives into one party and all liberals into another.

 

This is so alien to my entire adult life as an American. It’s so far away that even though I like much of what is said in this article, I’m not sure I even fully comprehend it.

What are political parties fighting over if not politics? Is it just a matter of inheriting party from your parents? Which political machine has the best cupcakes? Your feelings on Strom Thurmond?

It’s weird to know so much about this history and yet to read this half-century-old essay and to find it utterly perplexing.

Yet the predictions of this article seem to have largely come true.

How, one is compelled to ask, does one undo this alignment? Dr. Durham, tell us!

2024-05-01

April Film She Will

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Ten movies in thirty days. What endurance! What exceptional fortitude!

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THEATER
Rialto Cerrito
Dune: Part Two (2024)

So I liked this much more than Part One. Granted, it's easier to have swifter pacing when more stuff is happening, but still. It's a more fun movie. And while a lot of new characters are introduced, you get a good sense of them. Though it's wild how a character can appear and be gone so quickly in something as short as a really long movie. (I'm thinking of Austin Butler's monster here.) But as a whole, the movie does extremely well making us feel like time is passing, passing. And Zendaya was put to good use here. The characters are asked to make astonishing leaps of development and her character's more subtle parallel-but-opposite development is what gives the movie most of its heart.

While I'd like to give the actors most of the credit for the movie's visual success, the effects deserve props as well. To make wormriding not only work on the screen but make sense is a real feat. So well done, yall.

The movie also makes me excited for Dune: Messiah. Maybe I'll have to read it? Seems like the movie probably won't be here for five years, after all....


HOME
our dvd
Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

The girl wanted to watch this on recommendation of Son #3 who is away to Santa Cruz with a friend's family. Amazingly, she made it through the movie. She's exceedingly sensitive, but she made it. As the movie went on and got more scary, she managed it better. Peculiar.

Hanging with Gen Zers as I always am, it's easy to read this film as superqueer, supertrans, but it's also an argument that everything is queer, everything is trans. What's more trans than changing from a young person to an old person, after all? And, with a spot of luck, we all make that transition.

Anyway, I love this movie. It's so intriguing. Someday I want to understand all its details. But I know that's not the point. And might, in fact, be antithetical to the point. So few things ask us to accept the mystery. And isn't mystery our path? I think it probably is. I think it probably is,


HOME
library dvd
The Prestige (2006)

2006 was a very poor year for us so even though I was high on Nolan's Batman, we didn't see this movie. Years passed. And now I have. And you know what? Not worth the wait. Spoiler alert going forward. But the moment I figured out it was all real (telegraphed from the first shot of the film), the whole thing was obvious. A couple details still had to be cleared up but the whole thing unspooled. Fallon's terrible wig didn't help.

Frankly, although the realness of Tesla's magic irritates, once you see how Borden's tricks work they're even less believable. And cheapened by the actual magic. Although the plot holds together, the world falls apart.

Anyway. I didn't really like it.


HOME
Paramount+
The King of Comedy (1982)

With the clock on Paramount+ ticking, I picked this off the list of to-watches and watched it. And . . . it was very strange. It was good. Like . . . After Hours only from the perspective of the mad people surrounding the hero of that movie. Robert De Niro was nuts but he was easier to feel for than Sandra Bernhard was uninterruptingly unsettling.

People broadly remarked that this film was one of the inspirations for Joker and that's very easy to see. It's hardly a carbon copy (gotta get that Taxi Driver in there too) but the intersections are many and various. And honestly, I think the overlap made this all the more stressful a movie to watch.

One important difference (assuming I remember Joker correctly) is that this film lets us into the leads madness much more quickly. (Though that he is actually mad and not just imaginative takes a while to become clear.) It also ends more ambiguously.

Also, does anyone know if the woman standing next to Scorsese in that one scene is Thelma Schoonmaker?

I should also mention I've never liked Jerry Lewis more. The secret is he barely does anything. He's good at subtle as it ends up.


ELSEWHERE
Hoopla
The Illusionist (2006)

I read the story this was based on early summer 2004 when it was published in Zoetrope: All-Story, back when I was subscribed. I really liked it and looked forward to the upcoming movie (why Zoetrope reprinted it). I don't remember much the story anymore (mostly its poetic voice) so I can't talk to it as an adaptation (though it felt accurate enough).

The movie came out the same year as The Prestige (see above). The Illusionist came out fifty days earlier and was vastly less popular. We were deeply poor and I was torn between the one I'd been looking forward to and the one made by the guy who'd just made that great new Batman movie. So I've been meaning to watch them back-to-back ever since. I've finally (almost) done it.

My perception is that The Prestige has become Chris Nolan's underappreciated masterpiece and The Illusionist has been forgotten. I will grant the former finer craftsmanship. Particularly The Illusionist's opening and closing sequences, less well aged VFX, and the sex scene (which I think may have been less an artistic way to get racy and keep the PG-13 but a metaphor for the slight-of-hand to come). But that said, The Illusionist is a better watch. I still saw the twist coming but it wasn't obvious to me how it would work (and I wish they hadn't bothered the weak attempt at Paul Giamatti's figuring it out). Also, the twist obeyed the rules of a magician movie, after making me think it had not. Which is exactly how a magician movie should work. As explained very clearly in The Prestige. (Don't let me get started on The Prestige again. I have more complaints but I don't wanna make'm.)

Anyway, I'm 18 years late to the conversation, but although The Prestige is more finely crafted visually, in the end that pizzazz comes off like an empty boast. The Illusionist actually delivers.

(And both might fall apart if you think too closely. So just enjoy the rides. I hope you love both.)

Note: They both use Ricky Jay as well. Wild how duos like this just happen.


HOME
Hoopla
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

This has been on my to-watch list for decades. And I think I've conflated it with another silent classic. In this one, Ryan Gosling's been cheating on Drew Barrymore but in a sudden switcheroo of symbolism, the city ends up being good for their marriage. Murnau is up to his regular tricks though this is a more restrained/relaistic work than Nosferatu or Metropolis.

It's astonishing so much story was backed into sub one hundred minutes. I'll be watching it again soon.

I didn't know as I was watching it that the sound was all part of the film so I guess I need to repent of thinking that it was a bit presumptuous at parts.

Of course, I've been wanting to watch this since high school because this film won the Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Picture, an award only given the first year. Presumably equivalent to Best Picture (then Outstanding Picture), but Best Picture was, that year, more like the proposed Academy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film, while Unique and Artistic Picture was more like the platonic Best Picture winner of today. If you see what I mean.

Anyway. Still haven't seen Wings either.


HOME
Tubi
The Suicide Squad (2021)

James Gunn makes good movies. This one is very funny with real human connections and gives Margot Robbie an Oscar-clip speech that is utterly insane. It attaches itself to a dozen other stories and does so with utter seriousness and friendly mockery all at once. He makes fun of the full-cast-walking-toward-the-camera scene twice to different effects. The film is much more bloody than my own tastes prefer, but it is a marvelous entertainment.


HOME
Kanopy
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2021)

The little girl and I watched this together. It's faux cinema verite, quiet and slow. It takes a looong time to pay off. Basically the entire movie. And yet she was deeply into it from go. And even though we kept getting interrupted and it took us three days to finsh it, she was never opposed to returning. Even asked for it. I'm impressed, honestly. If I'd known it was like this, I'm not sure I would have proposed it. (After seeing the trailers for it, Monsters Inc., Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and Anastasia, she picked this one. I think because it seemed the least scary? Still. Kids will watch more than we sometimes give them credit for.

Anyway, it is very charming.


HOME
Hoopla
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Ah. It's not what I expected because I was thinking of The Last Laugh. Which I still need to see. And he didn't direct Metropolis. That was Fritz Lang. Egad. I should trust my memory a little less.

Anyway, I think I might have enjoyed it more the second time. I've heard the movie called a simple fable, but no. It's not. The city is both a source or terrors and joys. And The Man's redemption doesn't quell his inherent violence. And he buries his face in both women's bellies but it means entirely different things. And she serves him bread and he serves her bread but neither time does anyone partake. But when the wine arrives? Ah, then they partake. And so on. It's complicated and strange.


HOME
library dvd

Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

I can't remember where I read about the remarkable story of SIxto Rodriguez, but I do know that it turned into me getting his album posthaste and now seeing the doc. Which is a wonderful journey and I highly recommend it. I am left with some questions that count as spoilers:

Does he have no nonwhite South African fans?

What about Australia?

What the heck is up with the money?

Incidentally, the dvd's two short films provide some more context to other things (and raise more questions) but in short, check out his music and watch the movie. It's beautiful.




2024-04-25

Unfinished Books from the past (which was worse) and the future (which may be better)

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Hyoo. Library books! You just don't own them. And other people want to read them.

Let's start with the past.

Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World by Tom Holland (not this one)

This was recommended to me by a friend of mine and the time I've spent in this book has been time well spent. Essentially, it explains how the truly terrible world of the past became the world of science and enlightenment today. The secret? Christianity.

This isn't a great secret or anything but it feels like it has been largely forgotten and certainly most of us don't think about the process of Christianity making our reality with the kind of detail, insight, and splendid writing Holland does over 500-page book.

Anyway, I do want to finish reading it. I'll have to get it again before we start the New Testament again. The number of fascinating details and stellar insights per page is unbeatable. And I'm only on page 84, learning thing about Galatea I never did know.

The ancient world, in short, suuuuuucked. (But this we knew already.)

Anyway, get yourself a copy and we can read together late 2028.

And now for the future.

Limitarianism: The Case Against Extreme Wealth by Ingrid Robeyns


 

Robeyns is the leading thinking re Limitarianism and this is her new book for the popular audience (but you don't have to go popular). The short version of Limitarianism is that there are limits to how rich individuals should be. Most folks find this pretty commonsensical and large percentages of the wealthy do work to divest themselves of their overabundance. But our system continues to create wealthy people. And not just billionaires but lots of lots of decamillionaires whom she also targets.

The argument is self-evident but self-evidence is insufficient to convince people who do not want to believe the sun is out when the sun is out. And so there's plenty of research and thought and argument and persuasion and cetera herein. It's good stuff. And the library bought it on my recommendation. But now other people want to read it. So I'm returning it.

I may return to it because I would like to have its arguments fully in my brain and available to me, but I also feel like the info in Poverty, by America might be more immediately useful so maybe I'll finally crack that first. We'll see.

Regardless, as someone born into this world created by Christian thought—with our beliefs in the value of the individual, the responsibilities we have to one another, and rational thinking—I fully endorse Limitarianism and commend it to you all.


2024-04-05

Jacob says be nice and read comics

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035) Jacob: A Brief Theological Introduction by Deidre Nicole Green, finished March 24

A couple of Deidre's most important observations about Jacob that I hadn't seen as thoroughly as she explain them in this book:

• salvation is social
• we should learn from those we look down upon
• or, in other words, despising those we despise prevents us from receiving the revelations God would give us through them
• "...life is full of ambiguity, and...human existence, even for the faithful, is [often] characterized by the uncertainty and sorrow of Holy Saturday rather than the reassurance and rejoicing of Easter Sunday"
• "failure to take at face value the overarching theme of equality and justice in scripture in order to justify selfish whims is destructive not only to one's individual soul but also to an entire society"
• "while men can take away women's sexual agency, no one can take away another person's chastity because it is determined by consent"
• salvation is consensual; Christ will never force you

Anyway, terrific book.

a month


036) Starter Villain by John Scalzi, finished March 27

I've read one Scalzi book before and quite enjoyed it. This too was pure potato chips, but what potato ships! A guy inherits his uncle's supervillain business and is thrown right into a mess of villainy. There are superintelligent cats and powerful lasers (inadvertently paid for by the USDA) and more more more.

 
One thing I found interesting is that our first-person protag is a lot like the pov protags from comedic invisible-man novels like The Invisible Saint and Memoirs of an Invisible Man. A hapless but likable fellow put into impossible circumstances that come weighted with a lot of moral uncertainty. The first thid of the book felt like it was making more or less the same comedic beats. I'm happy to say that the protag develops into more of a Saint than a Memoirs sort of fellow. In other words, you won't mind spending 262 pages with him.

By no means Great Literature, but a certain entry into Fun Literature. Maybe I'll check out Kaiju Preservation Society next.

weekish


037) Mister Invincible: Local Hero by Pascal Jousselin, finished March 30

I love this book so much! I love the way it plays with the comics form to reimagine the superhero genre.

Here's an example:

Best recommendation I've ever gotten from a first-grader and his younger brothers!

Mostly the translation is terrific, but there are a couple moments that are confused, particularly when Mister Invincible visits America and half the characters are supposed to be speaking English.

But that's a minor complains about an utter joy.

two or three nonsequential days


038) The Toon Treasury of Classic Children's Comics, edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly, finished March 30

When this book was released a decade and a half ago, I deeply wanted to read it. But it was a little trickier to find than anticipated and I eventually forgot. Until recently when I heard a replay of the editors' interview promoting it and when on the hunt again (it's the most recent episode—and may always be so, alas). It's still hard to find, but I managed.

And it was worth the journey. Lovingly reproduced in all their dotty glory, it's a mix of pagelong gag strips and longer stories and packed full of favorite artists known from comics and elsewhere like P. D. Eastman, Jack Cole, Harvey Kurtzman, Carl Banks and more more more.

I'm not just disappointed this huge (expensive) book wasn't a giant bestseller. Because that disappointment gets to why we haven't see another dozen volumes by now. Alas, alas, alas.

a few weeks


039) Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass by Mariko Tamaki and Steve Pugh, finished April 1

Look. I'm just going to be spoiling things left and right, mkay?

Mkay.

I saw this book recently at my local used-book store (and I don't think I made the connection to a book I'd recently read). I decided not to buy it (but don't feel bad; I spent $20 bucks there that trip and $20 more the next day) but to get it at the library.

It played a few games I found irritating. I'm kinda over the DC CHARACTER BUT THEY'RE A KID phenomenon, and Harley does come off as too quirky for this attempt at adjacent-to-realism, but she's still a charming character and she works.

What also works is making Joker a high-school student. I mean—of course someone who spews that nonsense is going to be a self-important high-school boy. Of course.

And I like that by the end, Joker isn't Harley's love interest but her arch-rival. That shows promise.

And while I hate Jokers with known backstories, the great thing about a catalogue like DC's is you can do anything with it. It's sorta like working in the public domain except the suits can shut you down whenever they feel like it. But they're bright enough to usually know that flexibility of mythos is a big part of what makes this stuff work.

I like the characters. The drag queens are real. Ivy is real. The Joker design is terrific. Harley is almost unpleasantly cute. It's fun! And it sets things up for a new version of Gotham and Batman, etc. As far as I can tell, no sequel has appeared in the last five years (alas).

My only real complaint is that this Harley has no education. But I guess no reason to give notes if there's no chance for more. C'est la DC.

saturday and monday


040) The Super Hero's Journey by Patrick McDonnell, finished April 5

What a strange book this is. Original pages and panels from 1960s Marvel comics shuffled with McDonnell's idiosyncratic art. It's a cool experiment. I didn't really love it, but I'm glad it exists. And I'd love to see more experiments along the same lines.

two days


 


PREVIOUSLY THIS YEAR